Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, by Justo Gonzalez

This is a required book for a class at Western Seminary, which is supposedly the "conservative" seminary in the Bay Area.  The book is by Justo Gonzalez, who is a professor at a United Presbyterian seminary.  We should note that the United Presbyterians are the world's fastest shrinking religion at the moment.  I just have a few remarks since I am just starting this book.  There were a number of things that didn't quite pass the "smell test", but I will select just a few.  In 70AD the city of Jerusalem was completely destroyed, but the Christian community survived because it packed up and moved a few years earlier:

Eusebius, History of the Church, book III, chapter V:

"But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed by approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella."

Gonzalez pg. 28:

"Soon thereafter, the leaders of the Christian community in Jerusalem decided to move to Pella, a city beyond the Jordan River, the population of which was mostly Gentile.  This move seems to have been prompted, not only by persecution at the hands of the Jews, but also by Roman suspicion regarding the exact nature of the new religious sect."

This is an example of what bugs me with histories.  It would have been a shorter read to include the original source, but instead a longer version is included that contradicts the original based on modernist speculations.  These speculations, however, aren't even defensible, since the church in Jerusalem had already survived several decades of persecution and poverty.  Why make the move?  The end result is a conflicting narrative, not only about this specific move, but involving just about everything associated with Christianity's reaction to the destruction of Jerusalem.  Much of the problem here seems to be an emphasis on an evolutionary meta-narrative regarding Christian consciousness that was probably dreamed up in the 19th century.

Gonzalez pg. 27-28:

"In that early church, authority was vested primarily in the twelve (although some scholars suggest that this emphasis on the authority of the apostles appeared slightly later, as part of an effort to tighten up the system of authority within the church)."

Scholars have speculated every possible permutation of the origin of the Bible, so I don't quite know what this is all about.  Eusebius places a great emphasis on the settling of the Biblical canon, which Gonzalez doesn't really engage with, except to invoke (without credit) the minority position of Eusebius that Revelation couldn't have been written by John the Apostle because the Greek is different from the gospel and letters of John.

Regarding the execution of Christians by Pliny the Younger under the reign of Trajan, Gonzalez offers this:

Gonzalez pg. 50:

"Not quite convinced that this was the whole truth, Pliny put two female Christian ministers to torture."

Compared to what Pliny actually wrote:

"I thought it the more necessary, therefore, to find out what truth there was in this by applying torture to two maidservants, who were called deaconesses."

Other translations refer to two female slaves, but retain the term deaconesses.  My sense is that the Gonzalez variation is reflecting a bit of the modern feminist religion, but can't be quite sure.

And so I will proceed with the usual attitude towards wikipedia:  Don't Trust, But Verify.

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