Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category


The graves of Karl Barth, his family, and his assistant

Charlotte von Kirschbaum, in Basel, Switzerland.


My doctoral dissertation at the University of Virginia, from which I graduated with a Ph.D. in 1991, was “The Social Ontology of Karl Barth.” It was subsequently published with the same title by Christian Universities Press (International Scholars Publications) in 1994.  It is out of print, and according to WorldCat.org it is found in 62 libraries.

Here is the description that I wrote for Amazon.com:

“The theme of the “Other” dominates post-Cartesian thinking. Specifically, what is the relation of the knowing subject to the Other (who is neither object nor alter ego), if both self and Other are supposed to be counterparts and partners–a Thou meeting the other’s I–and if each exceeds the other’s experience? Twentieth-century theology, too, has reconsidered the Cartesian basal subject from which the existence of others and God proceeds. Karl Barth (1886-1968) is a major representative of one approach to this theme. Throughout his theological career Barth tries to overcome a subject-centered theology wherein God is not allowed to appear as God and wherein the claim of the human Other goes unheeded. In Barth’s earliest theology, the believer’s subjectivity is the locus for God’s otherness yet the claim of the Other is said to lodge in God’s kingdom as manifested in social democracy. During his “dialectical” period, Barth rejects cultural and social norms, as well as the objectification of God, so that he may affirm the total divine otherness and the divine freedom to speak the Word. In the Church Dogmatics, Barth locates God’s otherness in God’s triune being, the divine self-correspondence and the divine correspondence to human beings. Human otherness is defined in terms of the human being’s being-determined as covenant partner with God and being-for and being-with others in analogous correspondence to the divine self-othering in Christ. During all of Barth’s theological periods, otherness is grounded in the unique otherness of Christ, so that the conditions of subjectivity and intersubjectivity alike are grounded in the Incarnation. Stroble suggests lines of dialogue between Barth’s theology and postmodern thought, showing paths for future theological reflection.”

Wow!  That’s deep. 🙂 But the exploration of Barth’s philosophy of human interrelatedness was formative for my subsequent interests in ministry and service.

Since the work is copyrighted in my name, and since it is out of print, I thought I would scan and then post here the two chapters pertaining to Barth’s mature theology, along with the introduction and bibliography.  This way, anyone doing research on these aspects of Barth’s theology may have an additional chance to find my modest work.

Anyone wishing to read the other chapters, concerning Barth’s pre-Church Dogmatics philosophy, may find the book on interlibrary loan. I should tell you, however, that there are other, excellent books (published before and after 1994) that more thoroughly address topics in Barth’s theology of the 1909-1931 period than my two chapters, which are more like preludes for chapters 3 and 4.

The original doctoral dissertation—which is in manuscript at the University of Virginia—had an additional chapter that discussed Michael Theunissen’s book, The Other: Studies in the Social Ontology of Husserl, Heidegger, Buber, and Sartre, translated by Christopher Macann (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1984), and my own chapters (the fourth, especially) placed Barth in additional dialogue with these four philosophers.







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I purchased this picture of Jerusalem in that city in 1983 and have displayed it in our homes over the years.

A post from my “Bible Connections” site….. I’ve a Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary (hereafter ZPBD) that my grandma Crawford gave to me when I was 14 (1971). I was appreciative but mostly uninterested, but the book became a keepsake after Grandma died just a few months later. Then, when I was 18, I began to take faith more seriously. I kept the book and still use it, over forty years later, along with some of my other reference books. I took it down the other day to take a few personal notes about the subject of Jerusalem in the Bible—references I can continue to study over time.

The subject of Jerusalem is much longer and more involved than my few modest notes. A good Bible dictionary can give you the many references to the city in the two testaments. The biblical citations alone are numerous, and also one can take into account the extra-biblical historical materials about the ancient city, along with its importance for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—not to mention the long history of the city into our contemporary time. Not only was it the capital of David’s kingdom but was also the site of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ visits to and ministry in Jerusalem are interesting to study, as is the early church in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts, and the concern of the Apostle Paul (in some of his letters) that the poor of Jerusalem be supported by Gentile Christians around the empire.

Later, Jerusalem becomes central to Muslim faith. It was the destination of the Prophet Muhammad on his Night Journey, recorded in the Qur’an. Today, the beautiful Dome of the Rock stands upon the site of the Jewish temple (destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE) in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem also is important in the Baha’i faith.

For now, I mostly want to write down a few biblical references about its founding and also its symbolic significance. It is a pre-Hebrew place, called U-Ru-Sa-lim in ancient times (later in Hebrew Yerushalayim), that is, “city of peace.” The earliest biblical reference to the place is the story of Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Gen. 14:18). So although Jerusalem does not became an Israelite city until the time of David, it begins to figure in the Bible a thousand years earlier in Abraham’s time. That connection of Jerusalem to “peace” (Salem or Sa-lim, in Hebrew shalom) is found in Haggai 2:9, Psalm 122:6, Isaiah 66:12, and other scriptures (ZPBD, p. 417).

The city’s name Yerushalayim appears for the first time in Joshua 10:5, and then later in the book (15:8, 18:28), where the text tells of Joshua’s failure to drive out the Jebusites, although the Israelites may have inhabited part of that area (Judges 1:21).

It is worth consulting a Bible dictionary about the parallel history of another city, Shechem, which eclipses Jerusalem in importance to the Israelites prior to the time of David. It is the city deeply associated with Abraham (Gen. 12:6-7, Jacob (Gen. 33:18-19, Gen. 34), Joseph (Gen. 37:12-14, Joshua 24:32), and Joshua (17:7, 24:1), and Shechem continued in importance for the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:1, 12:25, 2 Chron. 10:1, Jer. 44:5ff, Psalm 60:6, 108:7). Shechem falls from the biblical record, although the Samaritan woman of John 4 met Jesus in that area (ZPBD, 780-781).

The city of Shiloh is another important early city, the place where the Israelites under Joshua set up the Tabernacle, thus making Shiloh the center of the Israelite theocracy until the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant 400 years later (1 Samuel 4:3). Psalm 78:60 says that the Lord forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh. It was one of the worship centers during the time of the northern kingdom, but Jeremiah refers to it as a desolate place by his time (Jer. 7:12, 14) (ZPBD, 785-786).(1)

As for Jerusalem, David captured the city from the Jebusites during his reign (2 Sam. 5:6-10, about 998 BC). That is the first reference to the word Zion (ziyon), of uncertain meaning but perhaps citadel. David brought the Ark to Jerusalem, thus sanctifying Zion Hill (2 Sam. 6:10-12). Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem on the proximate Mount Moriah, which meant that the name Zion was applied not only to the particular hill named Zion but also the temple mount (Isa. 8:18, 18:7, 24:23, Joel 3:17, Micah 4:7), and eventually all of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:21, Ps. 48, 69:35, 133:3, Isaiah 1:8, and others). The name Zion came to also apply to God’s people (Ps. 126:1, 129:5, Isa. 33:14, 34:8, 49:14, 52:8), and in the New Testament, for heaven (Heb. 12:22) (ZPBD, 914).

A very different biblical theme is the prophetic image of Jerusalem as God’s unfaithful wife! On this theme I recommend an excellent book by a former classmate, Dr. Julie Galambush:Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel: The City as Yahweh’s Wife (Society of Biblical Literature, 1992).

Jerusalem as God’s city, sometimes unfaithful but overall a symbol and reality of God’s peace, is found many times in the scriptures. The glory of Jerusalem itself is also found in the references to the place as the city of the Lord (Isa. 45:13, 60:14, Ps. 46:4, 48:1, 87:3), the mountain of the Lord (Isa. 2:3, 11:9, 56:7, 66:20), and many other lofty and praising references. It is called Hephzibah, “my delight is in her” in Isa 62:4) (ZPBD, 418).

The image of the New Jerusalem is also a powerful image in the concluding chapters of the Book of Revelation, one that connects to earlier texts like Ezekiel 40-48 and Zechariah. (The image also appears in noncanonical books like 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and some of the Qumran writings.) As depicted in Rev. 21-22, the New Jerusalem becomes an aspect of Heaven, or is Heaven itself, and is the reconciliation of God with all things. The peace of Jerusalem is the peace of God.

Altogether, you begin with that first, pre-Hebrew reference to Salem in Genesis 14, and then reconnect to the city in the histories following Deuteronomy, and then trace the references to the city (historical, prophetic, and symbolic) through the rest of the Bible, you do see how the city of peace is another pervasive theme, bringing the many biblical texts together.

I’m a member of a local Jewish-Christian dialogue group on Middle Eastern issues, which meets at Eden Theological Seminary. I enjoy learning from my colleagues about challenges faced by Israelis and Palestinians, including the complicated social, citizenship, and political issues of East Jerusalem (pre- and post-1967) within the overall municipal area. Discussion-friendship groups like this are one important way for us all to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” as taught in Psalm 122:

 I was glad when they said to me,
   ”Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
   within your gates, O Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem—built as a city
   that is bound firmly together. 
To it the tribes go up,
   the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
   to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 
For there the thrones for judgement were set up,
   the thrones of the house of David. 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May they prosper who love you. 
Peace be within your walls,
   and security within your towers.” 
For the sake of my relatives and friends
   I will say, “Peace be within you.” 
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
   I will seek your good.

As I’ve taken these notes, a song has been stuck in my head. Grandma’s Bible dictionary gives the names of other Christian hymns, like “Jerusalem the Golden.” I learned another old hymn in Sunday school as a child (words by Isaac Watts, refrain and music by Robert Lowry). The city thus became nostalgically lodged in my childhood faith, years before I ever went there.

Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
Join in a song with sweet accord
And thus surround the throne,
And thus surround the throne.

We’re marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We’re marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.

To conclude these thoughts, I want to recommend a lovely 2-CD set of music called “Jerusalem: City of Two Peaces,” which I discuss here: http://paulstroble.blogspot.com/2012/11/jerusalem-city-of-two-peaces.html


1. The fact that Jerusalem became more significant than Shechem and Shiloh—and only in the eras of David and Solomon—reminds me of my page about the biblical monarchy, where I discussed the ambivalence in the biblical sources about an Israelite king. Some passages (that I discovered and discussed there) affirm that Yahweh is Israel’s true king and thus was not according to God’s original plan—as, one might argue, these other two cities were God’s original places of importance and worship. But God incorporated the monarchy—and specifically King David—as a “type of God’s kingdom.” And so the career of David—and now, we can add, the Jebusite city that he conquered for the Israelites—became significant for Israel’s messianic hope. It is interesting to reflect theologically about the way God seems to adapt and be reflexible in these aspects of Israel’s experience.

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Watching the news of the Oklahoma tornados in May, where numerous people including children were killed, made me recall the following thoughts written after the March 2011 Japan tsunami. During that first week following that tragedy, I noticed a friend’s Facebook status update. I think he borrowed it from somewhere else, so I don’t know the author, but the quote urged us to stop calling disasters “acts of God,” but rather “acts of nature.” The quotation went on to call acts of compassion “acts of God” because God does not send disasters. Instead, God sends us out to care for and help other people, to pull together, and to bring good things out of tragedy. I liked the quotation so I borrowed it, with credit to my friend, for my own update. I’ve been noticing similar posts in the aftermath of the new tragedy.

The quotation led to an interesting exchange of ideas among some of my other Facebook friends, centering around the nature of God’s presence amid disasters and tragedies. One friend introduced several scriptures that do affirm God’s control over natural processes.

Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s (Ex. 9:29).

When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen (Ps. 77:16-19)

When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, and then they pray towards this place, confess your name, and turn from their sin, because you punish them, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk; and grant rain on your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance (1 Kings 8:35-36).

The mountains quake before him, and the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who live in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and by him the rocks are broken in pieces. (Nahum 1:5-6)

Our Facebook discussion continued for several more comments. Some of our group argued that God allows disaster to happen, whether by giving Satan a short leach, by setting up creation to function in a certain way, or by exercising at least some control over the circumstances. Even allowing for poetic imagery in the above scriptures, the biblical witness is such that God’s authority over Creation is difficult to deny; the Bible’s God is not the “lesser god” of Tennyson’s poem, who creates but lacks force to shape creation properly. Nevertheless, we don’t understand God’s ways or why God does allow (or guide) certain events. But we can affirm that God does work for good (Romans 8:28), expresses compassionate help to the suffering, and moves us to love and serve people who are suffering.

As it happened, I was at that time doing research for a church curriculum lessons, which used the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. I kicked myself for not thinking of that passage during our Facebook discussion; it would’ve added some spice! The passage famously indicates that God was not in the wind, fire, and earthquake, but rather in the gentle silence afterward. God clearly was present in some way during Elijah’s crisis but God was not “in” the destructive natural occurrences. So…. where was God in the “natural disaster” of 1 Kings 19? Any natural disaster? Isn’t it inappropriate to affirm God’s sovereignty when innocent people are suffering or have been killed?

One other source for my freelance research was John Wesley’s sermon “The Cause and Cure of Earthquakes”: http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-129-the-cause-and-cure-of-earthquakes/ To the other scriptures discussed so far, Wesley adds Psalm 104:32 and Ps. 97:5, as well as Ps. 18:7, 114:7, Isa. 13:11, 13, Isa. 24:1, 18-20, Isa 29:6. Clearly the Bible is rich in praises for God’s supreme divine power, somehow present within natural circumstances.

But Wesley’s sermon raises even more urgently the question of God and natural disasters—where is God when they occur, and why does God allow them to occur? Wesley stresses that God uses earthquakes to punish sin and to awaken people to repentance. Wesley gives examples to show how good and bad people alike suffer and are killed in disasters like earthquakes, which is all the more reason to repent and strengthen our relationship with God.

Although Wesley reasons from Scripture, the awakening of repentance is a too human-centered and simplistic way to interpret the providence of God within these natural occurrences (although one wouldn’t rule out circumstances in which the Spirit did indeed awaken in someone a new relationship with God due to crisis). You’d never tell a farmer, discouraged about crops amid a too-wet summer, that God had arranged rain storms in order to awaken the farmer and surrounding community to repentance for some sin. You’d never tell someone in Moore, OK that God used the tornado to remind us to be godly.

Writing from a Reform Jewish perspective, W. Gunther Plaut notes that the doctrine of “chastisements of love” (yisurin shel ahavah) is found not only in Deuteronomy 8:2-3 but also Psalm 94:12-13 and 119:71. He notes that, for Jews, this belief that God sends hardships in order to guide the people was upheld in Judaism until Maimonides, who argued instead that we suffer because of natural occurrences, social occurrences, and our own imperfection. While the biblical passages interpret the divine-human interaction in those situations, Plaut argues that the doctrine no longer has application in Judaism following the Holocaust, far too horrible an experience to attribute to a loving God (W. Gunther Plaut, ed., The Torah: A Modern Commentary, New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981, 1390-1391).

This is such a difficult philosophical, theological, and pastoral issue. I don’t want to take a deistic, “watchmaker God” kind of interpretation: that is, God simply created and wound-up the universe to function on its own, and then withdrew for the most part. The tragedy of physical life is that, short of the final redemption, suffering and death happens to everyone, regardless of whether we deserve it or not. It’s human to wonder where God is amid tragedy, though all of us are mortal and live among many, many potential dangers, just in the course of living. For whatever reason, God intervenes in many situations, but we do not see a divine role or perceive a divine purpose in many other circumstances.

But I do come back to Matthew 25:31-46, which does answer the question of “Where is God?” God (in his passage, Christ) is with the suffering, and therefore that’s where we need to be, too.

(After I posted this, I noticed this article with a similar theme: Evangelical author John Piper had tweeted verses from Job concerning the death of Job’s children in a wind storm. He was subsequently criticized for thereby implying that the Oklahoma tornado had something to do with God’s judgment. As one person quoted in the article stated, “Piper was highlighting God’s sovereignty and that he is still worthy of worship in the midst of suffering and tragedy,” but one writer’s response, with which I agree, is that “Christians have to stop the idea of responding to tragedy by suggesting God is inflicting his judgment.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/23/john-pipers-tornado-tweets-stir-up-a-theological-debate_n_3328857.html?1369350389&ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009 The article also points out a real dilemma in times of tragedy: what gives one person theological comfort may be distressing to someone else. )

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Remember the Lord

I went to my office and got out a favorite book, When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings by Thomas H. Green, S.J. (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1979). In other blog posts I’ve thought along with Fr. Green on the idea of “floating in God’s tide.” Today, I opened the book and I noticed the page where he recalls his father. The family had sent out a memorial card that read, “Remember with joy George C. Green,” and his life dates. Fr. Green says that memories of his father brings joy to his heart.

This was helpful to me as I continue to process my mother’s death last fall. My mom was a worrier, who lived in constant physical pain, and sometimes (to her family) saw the glass as half-empty, which in turn added to the pain of our concern for her well-being. Once she commented she wished I’d made better grades in school, when in fact I’d graduated cum laude; meanwhile, my dad was more unconditionally proud of me. It’s important to acknowledge such things and to put them in a larger context; she wasn’t always like that and was, throughout my life, a nurturing and supportive mother. Remembering the whole of my parents’ lives helps me avoid a “half empty” outlook and embrace a variety of feelings, as I work through grief toward contentment and joy in my memories.

Fr. Green (writing in the context of his discussion of St. Teresa and the relationship of will, understanding, and imagination) comments that his remembering of his father brings joy, and so can the memory of Jesus. “When Jesus was about to die, he was anxious that we remember his love for us, that we remember him… As one of our most beautiful contemporary songs puts it: ‘All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.’ When our prayer becomes more ‘quiet’… our understanding and our imagination become the organs of remembering the Lord and his love for us. This remembering moves the will to love him, just as my memories of my father touch my heart; this is to ‘remember with joy’” (p. 49).

Fr. Green’s thoughts reminded me of those of a Lutheran writer, the New Testament scholar Nils Dahl, who describes Philippians 2:5-11 as not so much a confession of faith but a “commemoration [remembering] of Christ,” and other early Christian liturgies and practices, including the celebration of the Lord’s Day (Sunday) can be called commemorations of Christ—ways by which we remember Christ.(1) Remembering Christ in turn involves both an understanding of the gospel and the way God wants us to live, a “rule of conduct.”(2) These passages are very much in keeping with Old Testament calls to remember the Lord and his commandments, promises, and mighty acts, for instance the book of Deuteronomy, thoroughly a call to remember as a means to ongoing faithfulness.

Remembering God’s blessings and mercies through Christ is inextricably linked with those described in the Bible, bridging the centuries so that those mercies and blessings are within our own comparatively meager stories. Reading and hearing the scriptures are ways we remember Jesus, and certain passages—Ephesians 2:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:5, 2 Timothy 2:8, 2 Peter 3:1-2, and others—are specific calls to remember. Likewise, the liturgical words of the sacraments. The words of the Eucharist include the reminder to remember Christ, his death and resurrection, and his promise to return; otherwise we don’t have a sense of why we’re sharing the elements. The sacrament of Baptism evokes the name of Jesus and thus the memory of who he is and what he did on our behalf.(3)

Much of our faith is a remembering of Christ, whether we think of it that way or not. For me, some of my faith struggles have in turn arisen when I’ve forgotten to remember, as it were. That is, I’ve gotten so caught up in my everyday affairs, and in my own tendency to be anxious, that the blessings of my life and God’s unfathomably deep love become submerged in mind amid a storm of temporary concerns.

But I think, too, that remembering Christ helps us to process the disappointments and griefs in our lives. There are always things in our lives that hurt, things large and small, things we wish hadn’t happened—and we wish God hadn’t allowed them to happen. We feel discouraged with God. Remembering is a way to reassure that God is good and loves us, when we’re distressed, as the psalmist of Ps. 143 prayed when he faced a serious crisis:

I remember the days of old,
I think about all your deeds,
I meditate on the works of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.


1. Nils Alstrup Dahl, Jesus in the Memory of the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1976), the essay “Amamnesis: Memory and Commemoration in Early Christianity,” 20-21.

2. Dahl, Jesus in the Memory, 25.

3. Dahl, Jesus in the Memory, 20.

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75064_10152401239955587_649944757_nThis week, some of my devotional periodicals contain pieces reflecting on Gilgal stories in Joshua 4: the Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan River, and the construction of a twelve-stone memorial to the event. Those devotions led me to a familiar book, the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on Joshua.(1) I was going to think about those memorial stones, but my reading took me in a completely different direction.

Robert Coote’s section on that book is fascinating. The book is a portion of the (conjectured) source, the “Deuteronomistic History,” which brought together older sources and which supported the soveriengty of the house of David and the primacy of the Temple of Jerusalem, as Josiah reformed Israelite worship and attempted to regain land that had been part of the original heritage of Joshua’s conquest (pp. 556, 559). Coote’s introduction contains essential information about the reforms of Josiah in the 600s and shows how the Deuteronomistic Historian of Josiah’s time crafted the book of Joshua, giving the Conquest (five or six hundred years before Josiah) an interpretation that brought together many stands of Israel’s history. Coote is also very helpful in drawing connections among Joshua and other scriptures. Here are a few.

* Focusing on the crossing of the Jordan in Joshua 4 and 5: one of the perhaps obvious connections can be made between the crossing of the river, and God’s promises to Abraham. Abraham would have many descendants, and they would live in the land provided by God.

* Psalm 114 connects the splitting of the sea in Exodus and the splitting of the river in Joshua, calling attention to God’s sovereignty not only over Israel but also creation itself (p. 600). So Psalm 114 allows us to trace God’s work in Israel’s liberation with Genesis 1-2.

* Although the Battle of Jericho is well known in Joshua, the splitting and crossing of the river is surely the most influential event in terms of Old and New Testament references (p. 599). But the ritual of crossing the water may have also been a Passover ritual, connecting to the splitting of the sea in Exodus 14 (p. 600). One of the key aspects of Josiah’s reforms would have been the renewal of long-neglected feasts like Passover.

*The Deuteronomistic historian of Josiah’s day wants us to connect the event to the reconquest of the land by the power of God centralized in the ark (p. 599). The event is also referred to in Micah 6:4-5, among God’s mighty works. Verses 1-5 there has a Deuteronomistic tone, Coote writes, in the use of the characteristic phrase “in order to know” the Lord. (p. 599).

* A further link in the Deuteronomistic account is to David. Gilgal was the place where Samuel anointed Saul as king (1 Sam. 11:14-15) and also the place where Samuel rejected Saul (1 Samuel 13:8-15); cf. Joshua 7:1-8:29) and anointed David instead. A key theme of the Deuteronomistic history is the authority of the Davidic monarchy and the centering of the Temple in Jerusalem (p. 606).

* I posted about Jesus’ baptism in a January 2013 piece. His baptism in the Jordan is not just a happy coincidence—rivers have plenty of water for baptism, after all, and the Jordan was handy. No pun intended, but the use of the Jordan River goes deeper than just its availability as a water source. John the Baptist might have set up shop at the Sea of Galilee, after all.

Coote notes that in the early church, Jesus is connected to the suffering and raised servant of Isaiah 40-55. But that suffering servant, in turn, is part of Second Isaiah’s message to the returning exiles: as God redeemed his people in Joshua’s time with the gift of land, so will God redeem his people as they return from Babylonian exile. So Jesus’ presence within the waters of the Jordan fulfills God’s promise to Israel in Isaiah 40-55 and also Joshua 4 (p. 602-603).

* The connection of Jesus to Joshua 4 is further deepened with references in Mark’s Gospel to Elijah. Elijah announces the “day of the Lord” in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5. But Elijah is significant in two more ways: his call of fire down from heaven (2 Kings 1:8-12, Mark 1:6), and Elijah’s own crossing of the Jordan in 2 Kings 2:1-14) (pp. 602-603).

* But a further connection of Joshua 4-5 and the early church, is in the fact that the Israelite men were circumcised as they were camped at Gilgal (Joshua 5:2-9). Coote notes that the early church struggled with whether Gentile male converts to Christianity needed to be circumcised according to the Jewish law. “By making the rite of baptism and the baptism of Jesus a primary basis of his version of the gospel, and by showing how baptism recapitulates the basic themes of the exodus and the crossing of the Jordan under Joshua, Mark lays a basis for understanding the inclusion of the Gentiles in terms of just those scriptural texts that most clearly formed the basis for distinguishing between Israel and the Gentiles. In this sense, the Gospel of Mark represents a radical reinterpretation of the old Joshua in terms of the new Joshua, or Jesus” (p. 604).

* You could certainly also draw the Davidic link between the primacy of King David, affirmed by the Deuteronomistic history, and the new and different kind of king, Jesus of David’s line, who is baptized in the Jordan.

I found all this fascinating, not only because I love discovering links and connections and allusions in the Bible, but also the question of why was Jesus baptized. That’s a topic often raised in Bible study groups: if Jesus was sinless, why was he baptized, and it must’ve been because of his identification with sinful people like you and me. But Coote’s interesting commentary shows that there are numerous significant aspects within scripture to show that Jesus’ descent into the Jordan waters is really tied to the whole history of biblical Israel.

One might also add a popular image from “old time” hymns: that of crossing the Jordan as an image of being with the Lord forever.

I’ve said this elsewhere on this blog; a big interest of mine these past several years has been deepening my understanding of ways the whole Bible fits together. Something at our previous church alerted me to the fact that many, many churchgoers aren’t clear on some essential Bible material, including the Hebrew/Jewish foundation and framework of the New Testament. The conquest of the land under Joshua is a culmination of God’s promise to Moses and, before that, God’s promise to Abraham, “a triumphant finale to the Bible’s foundational epic of liberation” (p. 555). But that epic underlay the affirmation of the Davidic monarchy, the promises to God’s people voiced in Isaiah 40-55, and the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.


(1) Robert B. Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. II (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), pp. 555-719. In his introduction, Coote also cautions us to understand the violence and mayhem of the book of Joshua. There is the difficulty of verifying the account based on what is known archaeologically of the region, and there is also the fact that the book depicts ancient realities—-Iron Age tribal societies, the importance of land for both nomadic and settled tribes, and settlement shifts in Palestine—rather than our modern ideas of nation-states, nationalism, and civil rights (pp. 556-558).

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A post from my “Journeys Home” blog for Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. …. I’m thinking about the Baptism of the Lord, which in some churches is celebrated on the Sunday following Epiphany. Of course, Jesus approached John to be baptized, and according to the scriptures the Spirit appeared like a dove and proclaimed the blessedness of Jesus, who came to John not to be served but as a servant.

When I was a kid, my relatives who belonged to a denomination that practices only adult-baptism by submersion saw in this story proof of the correctness of that rite. Jesus came up out of the water; John didn’t sprinkle him!

Also, my relatives cited this verse in Colossians:

…when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (2:12).

When we’re buried, we’re not buried with a little dirt on our heads. We’re buried all the way under!

I disliked that argument but didn’t know why. I was relieved when a United Methodist pastor pointed out that the thief on the cross was not baptized by any mode and yet was promised salvation. Eventually, I read a little further in Colossians:

[W]hy do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence (2:20b-23).

While I wouldn’t call baptism a “human command,” the author worries (in this and the whole section 2:8-23) that we need to be careful not to substitute the living Christ for rituals and practices—not to substitute the goal for the means to the goal, so to speak (see also Gal. 5:16-26, 6:14-15).

But my older relatives are long passed away. I’m not sure I could’ve argued doctrine with them anyway, for they were quite set in their views, and I’m not really a debater.

One of my great-aunts expressed mild horror when we joined the United Methodist Church—a “sprinkling” denomination! I wonder what they’d think if they knew I was enjoying an Orthodox Christian prayer book this feast day.

A former Honors College student who is now a Byzantine Catholic nun commented on Facebook about the beauty of prayers in the Eastern tradition. Unfamiliar with that aspect of the tradition, I asked her for a recommendation of a prayer book and she recommended The Festal Menaion. This edition is translated by Mother Mary of the Orthodox Monastery of the Veil of the Mother of God, Bussy-en-Othe, France, and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware of the University of Oxford: South Canaan, PA, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1998. For the past few days I’ve loved exploring this beautiful book with its Orthodox liturgical texts, and praying some of the prayers during personal quiet times.

My most recent post had to do with the symbolism of water and sea, a coincidental serendipity. In Benjamin Britten’s operas, returning to the sea becomes symbolic of the cycles of life, the redemption of returning to waters, the vast unknown into which we’re ultimately cast. As I delved into this prayer book, the-ten-commandmentsI thought more about water—the reality of God’s power over water, God’s presence in the power of water itself, the scriptural connections of water with salvation, and water’s significance in the rites of churches—-as I encountered several readings and tones for the Eastern feast of The Holy Theophany (January 6). These scriptures give me much to reflect upon in the overall context of Christ’s baptism:

*  The power of the sea over the Egyptians, who perished once the split sea returned to natural course (pp. 339-340).

*  The day the Jordan River split, allowing dry ground to form as the Israelites with Joshua crossed over into the land, and they “were passed clean” (Joshua 3:7-8, 15-17: p. 341).

*  The power of Elijah’s mantle that also split the Jordan, allowing him and Elisha to pass on dry ground (2 Kings 2:6-14: pp. 341-342).

*  The story of Naaman, the captain of the Assyrian armies, who through the miraculous power of God evoked by Elisha, could bath in the Jordan and become clean from his leprosy (2 Kings 5:9-14: pp. 341-343.).

*  The saving waters of the Nile that carried the ark containing baby Moses to safety (Ex. 2:5-10: 344-345).

*  The dew that appeared on Gideon’s fleece, signifying God’s favor (Judges 6:36-40: p. 345).

*  The story of Elijah soaking the altar and its trench with abundant water, which would not quench the heavenly fire (1 Kings 18:30-39: pp. 345-346).

*  The healing of the waters by Elisha at Jereicho (2 Kings 2:19-21: pp. 346-347).

*  The blessing of water in the post-exilic prophesies of Isaiah (55:1-13: pp. 349-350).

*  Paul’s connection of the waters of the rock at Meribah in Exodus 17, and Christ the Rock with his spiritual drink (1 Cor. 10:1-14: pp. 350).

After thinking about these readings, I loved this prayer for The Holy Theophany by Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem (pp. 353-355). Here is a portion:

“O Trinity supreme in being, in goodness, and in Godhead, almighty, who watchest over all, invisible, incomprehensible, Maker of spiritual beings and rational natures, innate Goodness, Light that none can approach and that lightens every [one] that comes into the world: Shine upon me Thine unworthy servant….

“Today the glittering stars make the inhabited earth fair with the radiance of their shining. Today the clouds drop down upon making the dew of righteousness from on high. Today the Uncreated of His own will accepts the laying on of hands from His own creature. Today the Prophet and Forerunner approaches the Master, but stands before Him with trembling, seeing the condescension of God towards us. Today the waters of the Jordan are transformed into healing by the coming of the Lord. Today the whole creation is watered by mystical streams. Today the transgressions …. are washed away by the waters of the Jordan. Today Paradise has been opened …. and the Sun of Righteousness shines down upon us. Today the bitter water, as once with Moses and the people of Israel, is changed to sweetness by the coming of the Lord…..

“Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world is filled with gladness. The waters saw Thee, O God, the waters saw Thee and were afraid. The Jordan turned back, seeing the fire of the Godhead descending bodily and entering its stream. The Jordan turned back, beholding the Holy Spirit coming down in the form of a dove and flying about Thee. The Jordan turned back, seeing the Invisible made visible, The Creator made flesh, the Master in the form of a servant. The Jordan turned back and the mountains skipped, looking upon God in the flesh; and the Light of Light, true God of true God. For today in the Jordan they saw the Triumph of the Master; they saw Him drown in the Jordan the death of disobedience, the sting of error, and the chains of hell, and bestow upon the world the baptism of salvation….” (pp. 353-355).

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Biblical Roads


Roman road in Syria, from http://www.geolocation.ws

Before the Advent season, I sat down with some of my Bible reference books to learn about biblical highways. There were several major Middle Eastern highways in the biblical land, in addition to the local roads that Jesus and others traveled. Here are some of my notes from several Bible dictionary articles.

The major road of the ancient Near East was the Via Maris (way of the sea) or in Hebrew, derekh hayyam (Isa. 9:1), also called the Great Trunk Road. It was the most important road from Egypt to Babylonia and many parts of the Fertile Crescent.(1). The road began at Memphis, went first through Gaza. As Barry J. Beitzel puts it, Gaza “sometimes served as a launching pad or Egyptian campaigns through Palestine and Syria. Thus is was an important highway for the security of Egypt.” In Exodus 13:17 it was called the “way to the land of the Philistines”.(2)

The Via Maris then reached Megiddo and had at least three different branches, one along the Sea to Syrian Antioch, and another route eastward to the city of Beth-shan and then north to the Sea of Galilee and then along the western shore of that see to Gennesaret. The third branch crossed the Jezreel Valley, through the hills of Nazareth and near Mt. Moreh, and then made and eastward then northward path where it met the road from Beth-shan near the Sea of Galilee. From the northern places then road continued to other areas , including a long road from Aleppo along the Euphrates River to Babylon, Uruk, Ur, and the Persian Gulf.(3) If you consult a map that illustrates this route and shows you these towns, you can get a better idea of the extensive reach of this particular highway system.

There was also the King’s Highway (derekh hammeleskh). The King’s Highway connected with the Via Maris at Damascus.(5). Gregory Linton writes, “Since the work of Nelson Glueck, historians have used the phrase to refer to a major international route in Transjordan that descended south from Damascus and passed through Ashtaroth, Ramoth-gilead, Rabbath-ammon [Amman], Heshbon, Dibon, Kir-hareseth, and Bozrah until it reached Elath on the Gulf of Aqaba. Its northern section from Heshbon to Ashtaroth was called ‘the road to Bashan’ (Num 21:33, Deut 3:10).”(4). Linton notes that the derekh hammeleskh appears in Num. 20:17 and 21:22, but also may be referred to in Gen. 14 and Num. 33:41-49; thus it was one of the roads of the Israelite wanderings. The King’s Highway was also the trade route fought over in 2 Kings 10:33 and 2 Kings 16:7).(6)

Another important ancient highway was the Assyrian-Hittite Road, which passed through major Assyrian cities toward Kanish, and through Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Psilidia, also intersecting with Laodicea, Philadelphia, Sardis, and Ergamum. (7)

Still another key road was the National Highway through the Israel highlands, passing through Jezreel, Samaria, Shechem, Bethelem, Jerusalem, Hebron, and Beersheba. Jesus traveled around Galilee and areas like Judea, the Decapolis, Samaria, Phoenicia, and Paneas. Yet another major road passed south from Damascus through Capernaum and Tiberius southwest toward Megiddo then to Caesarea and south along the coast toward Egypt.(8)

Of course, small local linked with international trade routes. In his article, Lincoln Blumell lists several scriptures that detail Jesus’ childhood travel and his adult years. (9)

Michael Vanzant notes that these highways “were more curse than blessing for Israel” when the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian armies traveled on them. Josiah, in fact, was killed at Megiddo—itself a frequent area of conflict—on the Via Maris while opposing the Egyptian army, in 2 Kings 23:39.(10) As indicated above, the King’s Highway was the trade route fought over in 2 Kings 10:33 and 2 Kings 16:7.(11)

On the other hand, the highways through the Land helped build the Davidic empire. Vanzant writes, “Key to the success and expansion of the kingdoms of David and Solomon was control of the Jezreel Valley and the key routes leading to both Phoenicia and Damascus. During the divided kingdom period, the presence of these two major trade routes in northern Israel created not only financial opportunity but also the religion syncretism seen within the Ahab-Jezebel-Elijah stories (1 Kgs 16:29-22:40). Control of the trade led to great wealth, reflect in the oracles of Amos against the northern kingdom of Israel in the mid-8th cent. BCE.” (12) Of course, the Israelites “were not seafaring peoples,” although Solomon had a fleet and port at Ezlon-geber on the Red sea (1 Kings 9:26-28). (13)

Gregory Linton goes on to describe roads of the Assyrians, and the Persians improved the Assyrian system. Classical Greece had no well developed system of roads, while the Romans had a sophisticated system of thousands of miles of roads.(14) Also the fact that Roman roads were not only well constructed and paved (with flat stone) and capable of high volume traffic, but they were also straight, and marked with mileposts. (15) The apostle Paul used a Roman road from Antioch to Tarsus, Derbe, Iconium, Lystra, and Pisidian Antioch during his second missionary trip (Act 15:41-16:6), and also the Via Egnatia from Neapolis to Philippi and eventually Thessalonica (Acts 16:11-17:1). Linton also says that he would have used the road to Apamea, Laodicea, and Ephesus (Acts 19:1) during his third trip. He also would’ve traveled the famous Appian Way (Acts 28:13-16). (16)

The kind of highway named by the Hebrew word derekh (Num. 20:17, 19, Judg. 21:19) “was the most common type of road in ancient Israel, formed through continual use compressing the soil and removing vegetation, and sometimes improved. The mesilla (built-up road) was intentionally constructed with a high center and drainage on the edges. This type only became common in the Roman era.” The usage of the words was variable: the derekh of Jeremiah 18:15 is not built up, while the derekh of Job 19:12 is built-up. (17) As reflected in passages such as Prov. 15:19, Prov. 22:5. Isa. 40:3, Isa. 57:14, Isa. 62:10, and Hos. 2:6, a typical road was constructed by filling holes on the path, removing large stones and brush, and leveling the path.(18) Roman highways, however, were famously much more sophisticated and lasting.

Michael Vanzant goes on to say that highways are figurative images in the Bible, like Prov 15:19, 16:17, Jere. 18:15, 31:21. “Isaiah 35:8 notes a ‘built-up’ derekh called the Highway of Holiness, the route of returning exiles.”(19) A related image is that of God’s peace. “Often the image of ‘the way’ or a ‘highway in the desert’ that is leveled, open, or straight metaphorically denotes a period of peace, usually a prophetic view of the future. ‘A voice cries out “….make straight in the desert a highway for our God”’ (Is. 40:3). Road systems that were free, protected, and in good condition represented prosperity and peace for the people and nations of the ancient world.”(20)

Among the different reasons for travel in biblical times were religious purposes, such as visits to temples and shrines of particular God, and for Jews, too, the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. “Josephus reports that so many Jews would travel to Jerusalem for Passover that the city was literally overflowing with visitors during the time of its celebration.”(21)

Of course, we think of the Jericho road where the Samaritan of Jesus’ story became Good. Emmaus (at least the place archaeologists believe the town existed) was about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem, and it was along that road where Jesus met the two downcast disciples in Luke 24. And the Via Dolorosa is today a Jerusalem street but was a portion of a Roman-era road that passed through the city.


1. Lincoln Blumell, “Travel and Communication in the NT,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5, S-Z (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), 656-657.

2. Barry J. Beitzel, “Roads and Highways (Pre-Roman), The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5, O-Sh, (New York, Doubleday, 1992), 778

3. Beitzel, “Roads and Highways (Pre-Roman), 778-779

4 .Gregory L. Linton, “King’s Highway,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, I-Ma (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), 523.

5. Beitzel, “Roads and Highways (Pre-Roman) 779.

6. Linton, “King’s Highway,” 523.

7. Beitzel, “Roads and Highways (Pre-Roman), 780.

8. Lincoln Blumell, “Travel and Communication in the NT,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5, S-Z (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), 654

9. Blumell, “Travel and Communication in the NT,” 654

10. Michael Vanzant, “Travel and Communication in the OT,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5, S-Z (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), 657

11. Linton, “King’s Highway,” 523.

12 Vanzant, “Travel and Communication in the OT,” 657

13 Ibid.

14. Gregory L. Linton, “Road,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, Vol. 4, Me-R (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), 826.

15. Linton, “Road,” 825.

16. Linton, “Road,” 826.

17. Michael G. Vanzant, “Highway,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, Vol. 4, Me-R (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), 654.

18. Linton, “Road,” 825.

19. Vanzant, “Highway,” 654; Linton, “Road,” 825.

20. Vanzant, “Travel and Communication in the OT,” 656-657.

21. Blumell, “Travel and Communication in the NT,” 653.

See also:

F. F. Bruce, “Travel and Communication in the NT,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 6, Si-Z (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 648-653.

David F. Graf, Benjamin Isaac, Israel Roll, “Roads and Highways (Roman),” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5, O-Sh (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 782-787.

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