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Baptised by John | Mark 1:9–11

Jesus was not unique as a first century Jewish popular preacher and teacher. This was a time of considerable religious diversity in Judaism. During the first century BCE, various Jewish religious movements existed in Judaea and there were a number of teachers and supposed miracle-workers who attempted to live the prophetic tradition of Elijah and Elisha. John and Jesus fit into this milieu and were by no means exceptional.

John the Baptiser Appeared | Mark 1:4–8

Ultimately, this is the point of John in the wilderness, and like the prophet Hosea he is calling the people back out into the wilderness to re-encounter their God: ‘I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her’ (Hosea 2:14). The language of Hosea here, and so the metaphor here in Mark, is positively erotic. Rather than punishment for infidelity, the imagery is about winning back — alluring an unfaithful people to the place of encounter and speaking words of tenderness to them.

Sacrifice to Yahweh | 1 Samuel 1:3

Accepting the archaeological and textual evidence that Israelite religion was, at most, a regional variation of wider Canaanite religion, we must ask whether or not Israelite sacrifice was only to Yahweh. It is unlikely that Israelites sacrificed only to Yahweh. The Yahweh alone theology is a later development that has been inserted into the narrative.

Samuel of Ramah | 1 Samuel 1:1–3

An interesting contradiction is exposed in the Hebrew Bible’s wider Deuteronomistic ideological framework by Samuel’s priesthood. His birth is described within the context of the Bible’s most fully developed barren mother narrative — that of Hannah (1 Samuel 1 and 2), and in fulfilment of the promise she made to Yahweh at Shiloh his mother dedicates him to Yahweh’s service as a priest (1 Samuel 2:11).

Stealing Saul’s Victory at Michmash | 1 Samuel 14:23–35

Yet, a closer inspection of the text reveals that Saul has done nothing wrong. In fact — and while the authors and redactors of 1 Samuel have gone to considerable lengths to ignore and downplay it, King Saul has done everything right. He was a good king. He secured victory and delivered the people, and he did this in the context of a holy war — which demanded that the army fast (Judges 20:26–28).

You are the Messiah | John 11:17–27

Close analysis of the text shows that the scribe — or perhaps an editor — has changed what had been a single sister of Lazarus, Mary, into two sisters, Mary and Martha; even going so far as to change the number in the verbs from singular to plural. What makes this the more interesting is that ‘Martha’ appears to have been created by the replacement of a single letter. As can be seen from this section of 𝔓66, the iota (ί) in Μαρία — the Greek for Mary — has been scratched out and replaced with a theta (θ), giving us Μαρθα — or ‘Martha.’

You Have Kept the Good Wine Until Now | John 2:1-12

Six of them! That is something like 540 to 816 litres or 720 to 1,088 standard 750ml bottles of wine — an inordinate volume of vino by any estimation. At a stroke, Jesus had guaranteed this would be a wedding no one would forget — or, more likely, no one would remember.

The Remnant of Israel | Amos 3:10-12

The book of the prophet Amos addresses a crisis, but it is not entirely clear which crisis it addresses. Towards the end of the eighth century BCE, during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel, the crisis took the form of the Neo-Assyrian Empire’s westward expansion into the Levant. This is the historical context in which the prophecy of Amos is set, but there are a number of problems assuming this Assyrian crisis to be the crisis addressed by the book. Amos presupposes, for example, the destruction of Samaria and the exile of Israel, and the oracle against Judah (Amos 2:4–5) — if indeed it is a later insertion — undermines this assumption. The presupposition of the fall of Samaria and the possible Judah insertion point to a later crisis — the Babylonian crisis of the late sixth century.

David and Goliath | 1 Samuel 17:1-58

Anyone familiar with The Iliad of Homer will immediately recognise the scene set by the biblical author at the Valley of Elah; this is a Greek heroic contest where each army would send out a champion to fight to the death to determine the outcome of the battle. This trial by combat was a sacred rite in the warfare of the Greeks, and so it is entirely fitting here in 1 Samuel in a depiction of a battle between the Philistines and the Israelites. The Philistines were one of the Sea Peoples who arrived from the Aegean into the Levant at the end of the Bronze Age. These were carriers of Mycenaean culture, and so it should not surprise us that this episode right from the pages of a Greek epic appears in the biblical narrative. But the parallels don’t end here, and neither do the complexities.

Writing the Torah | Exodus 17:14

Some scholars have argued that scribes would have used papyrus and hides, materials which would not typically survive long enough to make it to the archaeological record. This argument does have some merit, given that we do have evidence of their use in the region from as early as the late Old Kingdom period in Egypt (c. 2300 BCE). Yet, Professor Israel Finkelstein from Tel Aviv University in Israel makes the salient point that it is unlikely a literate society with a scribal culture capable of producing material comparable to what we find in the Hebrew Bible would not also leave evidence of writing on seals, ostraca, and inscriptions. That we find nothing of this nature in Israel or Judah before the eighth century would strongly indicate that these were pre-literate societies before this time.