Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Glossary of Terms

Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

The following glossary of terms is available in pop-up windows through hypertext links in Clippings.
Acts of Paul and Thecla
This book tells of Thecla, a young woman engaged to be married, who upon hearing Paul preach becomes a Christian, abandons her husband to be, and leads a chaste life as an evangelist. Demas, Hermogenes and Onesiphorus appear in this book, as they do in 2 Timothy, and the cities mentioned are the same: Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. But unlike 2 Timothy and the other Pastoral Epistles (q. v.), this book demands that Christians refrain from marriage and practice strict asceticism. While 2 Timothy and Acts of Paul and Thecla probably drew on common traditions, their understandings of Paul were very different.

Acts of Pilate
An apocryphal account largely of the trial of Christ under Pilate. It depends heavily on the accounts in the four Gospels, but supplies some new material. Probably composed not earlier than the 4th century.

About 2400 BC, King Sargon of Akkad became the first great Semitic ruler to break the power of Sumer. (Sumer was the first great civilization in the world.) Akkad, a site now south of Baghdad, was a town in the middle of Mesopotamia. Sargon built an empire that stretched as far as Syria. After the fall of Sumer and the short-lived empire of Sargon, northern and southern Mesopotamia gradually developed in different directions. The southern half, Babylonia, remained a cultural centre; the northern half, Assyria, developed strong trading connections and a more warlike character. Akkadian was the language of Babylon and Assyria.

doctrine concerning angels.

In the Hebrew Bible, Angels were initially divine beings subordinate to Yahweh. Although both the Hebrew (mal’ak) and Greek (angelos) terms mean “messenger” their function was not limited to that of messenger. Forming a divine council in heaven, angels also performed functions which became one of mediation between an increasingly transcendant God and humanity. This also became a role in the New Testament.

Later Christian theologians constructed elaborate schemes of hierarchies of angels.

In the 100s BC, the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes attempted to terminate Judaism (see Maccabees). Jewish thinkers, in this time of persecution, believed that he would be vanquished by “the holy ones of the Most High” (Daniel 7:18-23). It was then believed that a Messiah would terminate persecution. Early Christianity continued the depiction of the enemy of the faith as an individual, the one who will be defeated when Christ returns. This is probably the one whom 1 John and 2 John call the “antichrist”.

Antinomian comes from two Greek words, anti and nomos. Anti, as in English, means opposed to or against; nomos means law, rule, standard (as in norm), or rule of life or of moral conduct. So to be antinomian means to have a disregard for, or even a contempt for, law, nomos.

Antiochus Epiphanes
See Maccabees.

Antiquities of the Jews
This book by Josephus (q. v.) traces the history of the Jews from the creation of the world to the beginning of the Jewish war. Down to 400 BC the book mainly reproduces the biblical narratives. It refers to Christ in two places, although we probably do not have the words that Josephus actually wrote about him. They have probably been edited by Christians.

See Type.

In New Testament Greek, verbs may be in any of six tenses: Present, Future, Imperfect, Aorist, Perfect and Pluperfect. The Aorist tense is used in various ways; which use is intended affects the translation, and possibly the interpretation. The uses are:
  • the Ingressive or Inceptive use indicates the beginning of an action, as inthey became silent (Luke 20:26)
  • the Constantive or Summary use describes the successful completion of an action, or looks on an act that may have continued over a considerable period of time, as in “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years” (John 2:20)
  • the Aorist of the Immediate Past use, where the present tense is the only possible translation, as in “we remember what that impostor said” (Matthew 27:63)
  • the Gnomic use, in which the aorist indicative is used instead of the present indicative to describe general truths of a proverbial nature, which are timeless, as in “For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes” (James 1:11)
  • the Epistolary use, sometimes used in epistles instead of the present tense when the author considers a present or future act as past, as it will be when the letter is read, as in “I sent him to you at once” (Acts 23:30)
  • the Culminative use views the end of the action or the state-of-being resulting from the action. It is very like the perfect tense, as in “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23)
  • the Dramatic use expresses a state-of-mind just reached, or expresses a present fact as past for dramatic effect, as in “Now the Son of Man has been glorified” (John 13:31).

These uses are drawn from various scholars, and may overlap.

Apocalypse of Abraham
An apocalyptic work describing a vision attributed to Abraham. It dates from the first or second century CE.

Apocalypse of Peter
For apocalypse, see apocalyptic book. This work narrates a visionary experience in which Jesus shows Peter the true events surrounding the crucifixion. The immortal, spiritual Saviour laughs at the futile attempt to kill him, warns Peter of the opposition to the gnostics (q. v.) from church authorities, and establishes him as the foundation of gnostic revelation. Clearly, it is a gnostic work, not a Christian one. It was written between 125 and 150 AD.

Literature of a revelatory nature, generally involving such elements as dreams, visions, angels, and focusing on the destruction of the cosmic forces of evil and the restoration of the People of God (Israel or the New Israel). This literature is highly symbolic, and mainly comes from the period of 250 BCE to 200 CE. First developed within Judaism, the form was also used in Christian writings.

Examples include Daniel, Revelation, 2 Esdras.

Apocalypse, apocalyptic book
The word apocalypse comes from the Greek and means revelation. Apocalyptic books report mysterious revelations that are mediated by angels and disclose the supernatural world. They focus on eschatology (q. v.), which often entails cosmic transformation and always involves the judgement of the dead. Such books are usually pseudonymous: they are attributed to ancient heroes, not to the real author. Daniel and Revelation are apocalyptic books. While Christians continued to write apocalypses into the Middle Ages, few Jewish ones were written after 100 AD.

Apocrypha, apocryphal
Apocrypha refers to books which are not normally included in Protestant Bibles, but which some mainline churches include in a separate section. Roman Catholic Bibles include these books within the Old Testament. These works include such writings as the Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch and so on. They are found in the Septuagint (q. v.) translation, but not in the Masoretic text (q. v.). They are not considered canonical within Judaism. Some churches read apocryphal books for edification but do not use them as a sole basis for doctrine.

The Revised Common Lectionary includes occasional apocryphal readings, but in these cases, always provides an alternative reading from the Old Testament for those whose scruples will not permit reading from the apocrypha.

The term apocryphal is sometimes used by scholars to refer to a work of which we no longer have copies.

Apollinaris of Laodicea
Apollinaris was born in Beirut in about 310 AD. He became bishop of Laodicea (south of Antioch). After the Roman emperor forbade Christian professors to lecture or comment on the works of poets and philosophers of ancient Greece, Apollinaris and his father strove to replace the literary masterpieces of antiquity with new works. He wrote extensively, and was the author of commentaries on the Old and New Testaments. Most of his writings have been lost.

Apostolic Constitutions
This is a collection of ecclesiastical law dating from 350-400 AD. It almost certainly comes from Syria. A part of it is based on the Didache (q. v.) and another is liturgical material, including an elaborate version of the Liturgy of Antioch. The work gives us a valuable insight into the religious practices and beliefs of the period although its claim to being the work of the Apostles has never been accepted as such by the Church.

The Areopagus was a small hill in Athens near the Acropolis. There were stone seats on the hillside for the council that met there. The council’s power had declined since ancient times but it did rule on certain local social and moral issues. Acts 17:19, 22, 34 tell us that Paul spoke there and converted Dionysius, a member of the council, there.

A distinction can be made between the divine (God) and the created. The divine is eternal. Christians believe that Jesus was and is divine but Arius (c. 250 - c. 336) held that Jesus was created, not divine: that the Father had created him (as he does humans) and bestowed on him the title Son of God in recognition of his godliness. Spread of Arius’ beliefs led to the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The opponents of Arianism defined the faith in the co-eternity and co-equality of the Father and the Son, that they shared in the same substance. Arianism had a significant following and continued to be a force in western Christianity for another three centuries. It is a form of subortionist Christology.

Aristotle held that an idea exists only as expressed in an individual object, that something only exists if it has both form and matter; only then is the something real. He asked: what caused form and matter of a thing to come together? He said that there is a causative agent, itself a thing. This thing, in turn, had been caused to exist by a thing. This led him to the notion of a First Cause, i.e God. While seen as suspect in the early centuries of the Church, because he seemed to emphasize materialism, in the Middle Ages theologians rediscovered Aristotle and expressed Christian theology in his terms, including the soul as the form of the body. Aristotle is the father of Logic and Physics.

Armana Tablets
These tablets, bearing cuneiform script, were excavated at Armana in Egypt. They show that in 1370 BC Pharaoh Amenopis IV Akhenaton (the monotheistic pharaoh) received repeated appeals for protection by Canaanite city-sates from organized gangsters called Habiru. This name can be equated with “Hebrews”, but cautiously.

Ascension of Isaiah
New Testament authors found valuable background for understanding the mystery of Christ in interpreting the book of Isaiah. In the Ascension of Isaiah, Isaiah is granted visions of the life of Jesus and of the Church. These visions concentrate heavily, as does the book of Revelation, on the struggle between the church and the supernatural prince of evil. The work is composite, with some parts that are Jewish and others that are Christian.

Asherah was a Canaanite goddess. Ugaritic (q. v.) tradition was that she was the wife of El, but in Palestine she was the consort of Baal. In the Old Testament, asherah can also mean a cult object or objects. It is thought that an asherah was a representation of the goddess carved from wood. Asherah poles are also mentioned. In Israel, there was always the danger of exalting a divine couple: either El and Asherah or Baal and Asherah. These couples were sexually endowed, but Yahweh (q. v.) was not to be thought of as a sexual being.

Assumption of Moses
In scholarly usage, Assumption of Moses may refer to either of two works:
  • the Assumption of Moses quoted in writings down to the six century but then lost, or
  • the Testament of Moses, a work that reached its present form in the early years of Christianity and of which most of the text is still available.

From the writings of early church fathers, it appears that the Assumption of Moses dealt with the death of Moses and his reception into heaven after a struggle between Michael and Satan for his body. It seems that this is the book to which Jude 9 refers.

The Testament of Moses purports to be Moses farewell exhortation to Joshua. In it, Moses reveals the future history of Israel from the entrance into Canaan until the blessed era after the General Resurrection.

Augustine of Hippo
Augustine (350-430) grew up in the Roman province of Africa. His mother was a Christian but gradually he lost his the faith. He tried a pagan religion, but after some years found it unsatisfactory. After a time in Rome, he accepted a professorship in Milan, where he heard bishop Ambrose preach. Over time, he came to accept Christ. He was baptised in 387. Returned to his birthplace, Thagaste, the following year, he established a monastic-like community there. Initially he did not wish to be in orders but when the people of the neighbouring town of Hippo convinced him, he was ordained priest. He became bishop of Hippo. He wrote many books, of which the best known are Confessions (his journey to faith) and The City of God. Augustine has been called the greatest theologian since Paul, and the father of the western Church. His thought dominated the Middle Ages. In the 1500s, both the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation were rediscoveries of Augustine.

Aural torah
So important was it for Jews not to break Mosaic law that they built up a protective layer of unwritten commandments round it. This is known as the aural torah. Later, after Jesus’ time on earth, many of these ordinances were incorporated in the Mishnah (q. v.).

2 Baruch
This book is not in the Bible, is sometimes called the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, and is called 2 Baruch to distinguish it from Baruch, which is the Apocrypha (q. v.).This book gives a Jewish response to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Baruch fasts four times after the fall of the city, lamenting, issuing warnings, and receiving three visions that explain the tragedy. It is called Syriac because it was long known only in a Syriac translation.

3 Baruch
In Jeremiah 32, 36, 42, and 43, Baruch, a royal official and scribe, is associated with the prophet Jeremiah. He had experienced the destruction of the first (Solomon’s) Temple. In an age when literary works were often given authority by being put on the lips of a respected figure from the past, Baruch was a natural spokesman in works that grapple with the destruction of the first and second temples. Both 2 Baruch and 3 Baruch are apocalypses (q. v.) written late in the first century AD. They present Baruch as the recipient of a heavenly revelation meant to instruct and console the Jewish community. Written in Greek, 3 Baruch is also known as the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch.

The Beatitudes are Jesus’ promises of end-time (q. v.) blessings (or happiness) pronounced in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11) and in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-22). In Matthew there are eight (or nine) blessings of a spiritual nature, available to all, whereas in Luke there are four blessings, spoken to the disciples, which are balanced by four woes. The Beatitudes describe the qualities of Christian perfection.

Beloved Disciple
At the Last Supper, John 13:23-25 tells us that: “One of his disciples - the one whom Jesus loved - was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’”. John 19:26-27 says that “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her [at the foot of the cross], he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home”. On Easter morning, this disciple outruns Peter to Jesus’ tomb (20:2-12). Then, in Galilee, he identifies for Peter the figure standing on the shore as the risen Jesus (21:7). Finally, an exchange between Jesus and Peter is introduced with “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them” (21:20-23). At the end of the gospel, we read: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true” ( 21:24). Many have speculated on who this disciple, the beloved disciple, is. Perhaps he is the author of John.

A benediction or blessing is an authoritative pronouncement of God’s favour. Examples in the Old Testament is the blessing of Isaac in Genesis 27, liturgical (q. v.) blessings of people in Numbers 6:22-27, and liturgical blessings of things, such as food, in 1 Samuel 9:13. In Christian liturgy (q. v.), blessing has a place, especially in the blessing of the elements in consecration, as Jesus did at the Last Supper (see Matthew 26:26). Blessings are given to individuals both in liturgy and less formally.

Biblical Criticism
See Historical-critical Method.

Book of Jubilees
Presenting itself as being dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai, this book is really a rewriting of the stories in Genesis 1 and Exodus 14. Its name comes from the framework in which it places the history of the world from creation to the time of the Sinai covenant; it divides this time into 49 periods of 49 years, a jubilee being 49 years. In Jubilees, a year, being 364 days, is solar ( as against the lunar calendar used in Israel after the Exile). The book gives great attention to the priestly tribe of Levi. It contains the earliest attestation in Palestine of an afterlife; it stresses the immortality of the soul but not resurrection of the body. Jubilees was written in Hebrew and dates from176-140 BC. It may be the same as the Apocalypse of Moses.

Born in 1509 in northern France, John Calvin was the greatest systematic theologian of the Reformation. His teaching is the basis of the Reformed churches. After King Francis I launched a vigorous assault against critics of the Roman Catholic Church, Calvin moved to Switzerland. Much as he would have liked to spend his time in study, he was persuaded to minister to Protestant congregations in Strasbourg and Geneva. Among his many literary works are commentaries on books of the Bible.

Canon, Canonical
Canon ("rule") may refer to Church Law or rules, but in the context of the Bible, it refers to the books that are accepted as part of Scripture. One might use the term "the Canon" to refer to books that are accepted, or "the New Testament Canon", for example. Properly speaking, the Canon also fixes the sequence of the books.

The Hebrew Canon was fixed c. 200 CE, though Christian Bibles vary in their sequence of books. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Canons include apocryphal books, while most Protestant churches do not accept these as canonical. Some Protestant editions of the Bible include the Aprocrypha / Deutero-canonical books in a separate section.

The Apocrypha are said to have deutero-canonical status - secondary authority. (The Revised Common Lectionary includes some readings from the Apocrypha, but always with an alternative text from the Old Testament for those who do not wish to read from the Apocrypha.)

The New Testament Canon was fixed in a process lasting up to 367 in the East and 405 in the West. The current canon of 27 books is universal except in Ethiopia, which to this day has 38 books in its New Testament, including such works as the Shepherd of Hermas and the two letters of Clement. These and other works were earlier included in the canon, but later rejected by most churches.

There are a host of other, non-canonical books from the Old and New Testament periods.

Catechesis, Catechetical
Catechesis is basic instruction in the doctrines of the faith. In the fourth century, catechetical instruction was given to the newly-baptized. Most mainline church today associate such instruction with the process of confirmation.

Chiasm is present when a passage has a sandwich-like structure. For example, Psalm 26 is chiastic. In this psalm, walking in integrity and fidelity are found in v. 1-3 and v. 11-12, and temple and ungodly appear in vv. 4-5 and vv. 8-10. Vv. 6-7 tell of a different idea.

This psalm might be pictured as a sandwich: bread on the outside, buttered, with cheese in the centre. The structure can be represented schematically as A-B-C-B-A. Other structures also occur in the Bible.

Christology, Christological
Christology is the branch of theology which refers specifically to the Christ - the Second Person of the Trinity. Traditionally, the work of the Christ is primarily understood to be salvation / redemption. The Christ is described in three categories, as Prophet, as Priest, and as King.

A biblical passage may be said to be christological when it particularly contributes to or fleshes out an aspect of the understanding of Christology.

Educated in law at Antioch, John Chrysostom felt a call to the monastic life, but the need to care for his mother prevented this for a time. He later became a hermit living under austere conditions. He became a deacon in 381 AD and a priest five years later. His bishop assigned him to preaching, at which he excelled; hence his name: Chrysostom means golden-mouthed. He was known for combining the spiritual meanings of Scripture with immediate practical application. He became Patriarch of Constantinople in 398; he was a great reformer of court, church, and civil affairs.

1 Clement
This letter-treatise was from the church of Rome to the church of Corinth. Although the author is not mentioned in it, it was attributed to Clement, a key figure in the governance of the church in Rome. Scholars date it to the 90s AD because it seems to refer to the persecutions of that time and contains memories of those 30 years earlier. So it may have been written before some of the late New Testament books. The purpose of the book is to persuade the Corinthians to restore presbyters, who had been deposed by young upstarts, to authority. It is notable for the idea of a succession of authority, having its root in the Father’s giving of the gospel to Christ. Jesus gave it to the apostles who in term appointed bishops and deacons.

Clement of Alexandria
Clement was born into a pagan Hellenic family about 150 AD. After his conversion, he travelled widely and studied with various Christian teachers. He became the leader of a Christian philosophical school in Alexandria in 202 or 203 BC. Challenged by gnosticism (q. v.), Clement sought to present the true faith in an intellectually viable way. He sought to show that one can investigate philosophical and intellectual questions without being a heretic. He died before 216 AD.

Code of Hammurabi
Hammurabi, a great lawgiver, was king of Babylon from 1792 to 1750 BC. Written on a stone pillar, the Code was found in Susa, an Elamite city, in 1901. (Susa is in modern Iran.) The laws on it may either be updates to older laws or a sample of good laws. Many of the laws are like those found in the Pentateuch (q. v.). For example two of Hammurabi’s laws can be compared with Exodus 21:23-24 (“... eye for an eye ...”). Sometimes Israelite law is even more demanding than Babylonian, but Israelite law is humane compared with Assyrian law of the 1100s BC. Babylon and other ancient Near Eastern nations share with Israel an ideal of justice for the nation. At the end of the Code, Hammurabi states that he has written the laws with the purpose of protecting the weak from the strong.

Codices were manuscripts in leaf form, with the leaves sown together, much like books today; as such they were more durable than scrolls. While synagogue copies of the Old Testament were (and are) scrolls, early copies of New Testament books are almost always codices. The word codex is also used as part of the proper name of a manuscript: for example, Codex Siniaticus. Such usage indicates a codex which contains most of the New Testament. While earlier manuscripts were written on paper made from papyrus, from about 300 AD they were usually written on parchment.

Codex Alexandrinus
This codex (q. v.) dates from the mid 400s AD. It appears that it came from Alexandria to Constantinople. Originally it contained the whole of the Old Testament and New Testament, together with 1 and 2 Clement and Psalms of Solomon, but most of Matthew is now missing. Now in the British Museum, it was the first great manuscript made accessible to scholars.

Codex Sinaiticus
This codex (q. v.) contains the whole of the New Testament plus the Epistle of Barnabas (q. v.) and the Shepherd of Hermas (q. v.). It was handed to Count von Tischendorf in 1844 by the monks at the Monastery of St. Catherine’s in the Sinai Peninsula, taken to Russia, and then sold to the British Museum. It dates from about 350 AD.

a text or passage that is created by fusing together two separate texts. The resulting text may contain details from both originals, such as two names for the same person.

Cosmology is a coherent interpretation of the universe in its ultimate origin, nature, order and destiny.

Council of Jerusalem
Acts 15:1-29 tells us the reason for this Council, and its decision. Christians from Jerusalem come to Antioch insisting that all Christians must be circumcised and keep other Mosaic law. Paul and Barnabas do not agree, and are sent to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the Church leaders there. When the Council meets, after much discussion, Peter cites his own experience &ndash that converted Gentiles had already received the Holy Spirit without observing the Law. James supports his view, citing texts from Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah. The Council agrees that Christians not be bound by Mosaic law except in two small ways. Salvation is solely as a result of God’s love.

Creed of Nicea-Constantinople
This creed is the most commonly accepted, and used, creed among Christians. Arius, a priest from Alexandria, believed in a radical monotheism: to him, only the Father is God; the Son was a creature, as humans are (one who had been created), so he began to exist at some particular time in history; it was through the Son that the world was created. The Church met at Nicea in 325 AD to consider the question: what do we believe about Christ? They agreed that Jesus Christ is:
  • “begotten of the Father, that is from the substance with the Father”,
  • “true God of true God, begotten not made” (created).

The creed formulated at the Council of Nicea ends with specific condemnations of points on which Arius deviated from the consensus.

In 381 AD, the Church met again to counter heresies at the Council of Constantinople. They amplified the earlier creed of Nicea. On this occasion:

  • While the earlier creed simply said “We believe ... in the Holy Spirit”, the new creed speaks of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and states his distinct functions (although he is not directly called God).
  • They added that the Son “was made flesh from the Holy Spirit and Mary the virgin and became man”, thus emphasizing that Christ really did take on being human when he was born.
  • They removed some of the anti-Arian polemic.

Much later, it became customary in the western church to add “and the Son” to “We believe .. in the Holy Spirit ... who proceeds from the Father”. While this addition helped to precipitate the break between the eastern and western Churches, many western denominations have now reverted to the form without the filioque (“and the Son”) words. Hence what we call the Nicene Creed.

Cynic philosophers stressed the sense-perceived individual and refuted the idea that there are universal objects of knowledge. They held the refinements and conventions of polite society in contempt, and saw virtue as the only good and pleasure as evil. They said that self-control is the essence of virtue. A wise person despises material needs and the comforts in which worldly people find happiness. Cynics shared with Stoics (q. v.) the idea that certain truths were, through preaching, within reach of the common person.

Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur
In Old Testament times, there were sins which could be forgiven and those that could not. Each year the Day of Atonement (Hebrew: Yom Kippur) was an opportunity for people to be freed of the sins which they had committed unintentionally. The high priest made an offering of incense in the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple, the only time in the year when he entered this room. The sins of the people were symbolically placed on a scapegoat. One tradition is that this goat was driven out into the wilderness. The ordinances for this day are found in Leviticus 23:27-32 and Numbers 29:7-11. Hebrews 8-9 draws on the Day of Atonement ritual to explain Christ’s sacrifice.

Deutero-Isaiah, Trito-Isaiah
Most scholars believe that Isaiah was written by at least two, and possibly three, authors or schools of authors. All ascribe chapters 1-39 to the prophet Isaiah himself. There are two schools of thought about chapters 40-66:
  • some see all of these chapters as written some two centuries later; they call chapters 40-66 Deutero-Isaiah (or Second Isaiah)
  • others see chapters 56-66 as written later still (after the Exile); they call these chapters Trito-Isaiah (or Third Isaiah) and chapters 40-55 Deutero-Isaiah.

Deuteronomic, Deuteronomist
One of four sources identified by scholars in the Pentateuch (q. v.). This source is identified primarily (though not exclusively) with the author of Deuteronomy. It is characterized by an emphasis on the Law and on Moses’ speeches exhorting the people of Israel to keep it. This source also mandates a centralization of the cult of Yahweh (q. v.), and the suppression of the Canaanite cults. It probably dates from the seventh century BC, and is associated with the Deuteronomic reform of c. 621 BCE under King Josiah. 2 Kings 22:8ff tells of this reform; scholars say that the “book” mentioned there is Deuteronomy. Commentaries often indicate the Deuteronomic source as D.

Jews who lived outside Israel after the Exile, especially around the Mediterranean Basin. They mainly spoke Greek and the Septuagint was their Bible.

The diatribe was a style of argument popular with Greek philosophers. The diatribe features dialogues with fictional characters, rhetorical questions, and the use of the emphatic negation (e.g. “may it never be!”) to advance a line of argument. This style is found in Paul’s writings and in James. For example, Paul uses this style in 1 Corinthians 9:1: “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?”.

An early church manual, dating from the first or second century. The Didache (meaning teaching) is divided in two parts. The first is an account of the “Two Ways” (“the Way of Life” and “the Way of Death”), a common form of moral teaching at the time in both Jewish and Christian circles. The second part gives instruction on prayer, fasting, baptism, eucharist (q. v.) and other practical matters concerning ecclesiastical life.

Dionysius the Elder
Dionysius the Elder, ca. 430-367 BC, was tyrant of Syracuse. (Tyrants were champions of the poor in their fight for rights.) As well as being a writer of tragedies and a patron of the arts, he was a general. He was also an inventor: his catapult (ballista) was a weapon of war for over a thousand years.

Domitian was Roman emperor from 81-96 AD. He gradually took for himself despotic powers and demanded that he be worshipped publicly by all as Lord and God. This Christians were unwilling (and unable) to do. At the end of his reign, he ordered the persecution of Jews and Christians. Although there had been local and regional persecutions before 96 AD, this was the first empire-wide persecution.

Doubling occurs when a verse is repeated, sometimes using slightly different words. For example, Exodus 16:12 repeats ideas which have appeared in Exodus 16:8. Scholars consider this an indication that the verses are from different traditions: that an editor has merged two versions of the story.

A doxology is an ascription of glory (doxa in Greek) to God, most commonly to the Persons of the Holy Trinity in a liturgical setting. In the New Testament, a doxology may be in praise of the Father or of Christ.

In Old Testament times, the land of Edom extended eastwards from a line between western shore of the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. The northwestern part was a fertile valley and contained copper mines. To the east there was an arable high plateau, and beyond it desert. Caravan routes ran through the area. Genesis 36:1, 8 considers Edom to be a descendant of Esau. Edom is derived from a Semitic root meaning red or ruddy. The sandstone in the area has a reddish tiny, and Esau Genesis 25:25 tells us that, at birth, Esau had a “red” or ruddy complexion.

Eighteen Benedictions
The Eighteen Benedictions are used at synagogue services. There were three blessings of praise, twelve petitions, and three concluding ones of thanks. Today there are thirteen petitions. While the initial and final three at used at all services, selections are made from the petitions, depending on the occasion. The Benedictions are first prayed silently by the congregation and then repeated by the reader aloud.

Literally "gods" in Hebrew, Elohim is often used as the name of God in the Old Testament. The use of the plural form to describe the One God is explained as a "plural of majesty".

One of four sources identified in the Pentateuch (q. v.). This source, the second-oldest of the four, normally uses the Hebrew term Elohim for God. The Elohist source is generally thought to have originated in the Northern Kingdom in the ninth or eight century BC, and is characterized by a northern setting for Genesis accounts, communication by God by means of dreams or angels, and an emphasis on prophecy. Commentaries often indicate the Elohist source as E.

The end-times refer to the period of cosmic history as the world is brought to an end. These are depicted in apocalyptic (q.v.) literature as times of both disaster and fulfilment of history. The wicked will be judged while the righteous will be saved and brought into perfect communion with God. For Christians, this is the time when Christ will come again.

1 Enoch
a pseudepigraphical book of apocalyptic writing, written in the name of Enoch, seventh in the line of Adam and father of Methusaleh. A composite work, it dates from between the third century BCE and the first century CE. 1 Enoch is quoted in the New Testament by Jude (verses 14-15).

2 Enoch
This book is a brilliant apocalypse (q. v.) with penetrating insights into our universe and humanity. It is only extant in Slavonic; the original Jewish core probably dates from the end of the first century AD. It was around that time that 1 Peter was written.

Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who lived from 340 to 270 BC. He held that the senses, as the one and only source of all our ideas, provided the sole criterion for all truth. On this basis he denied immortality. He did not reject the existence of gods but refused to concede their interference in human affairs. He sought the goal of human conduct in pleasure, maintaining that prudence was the chief virtue, seeing it as the surest way of attaining happiness.

Epistle of Barnabas
Despite being attributed in ancient times to Barnabas, Paul’s companion, and being included in Codex Sinaiticus (q. v.) as part of the New Testament, the Epistle of Barnabas is a treatise of the early 100s, probably about 130 AD.

Eschatology, Eschatological
Doctrine focused on the last things, or the end times. Eschatology is generally concerned with the end of earthly history, the final judgement and salvation, and the disposition of individual souls, the People of God and of the whole of humanity.

the culmination of history and the end of time, at which Christ has promised to return.

An ascetic sect of Judaism, mentioned by Josephus. The Essenes seem to have originated in the second century BCE and came to an end in the second century CE. Little is known of their life, but it is known that they were highly organized and communistic. In some ways their lifestyle might be compared to later Christian monastic communities. Some scholars have identified the Essenes with the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The sect never spread beyond Palestine.

Strictly speaking, etiology (or aetiology) is the science or philosophy of causation. In ancient literature, including biblical literature, an aetiological myth is a story about the beginning or origin of something. For example, the punishment of the serpent in Genesis 3:14 is in part an aetiological myth explaining why snakes have no legs. Similarly, the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) in part explains the origin of different language groups.

The Greek word, eucharistos, means thanksgiving. The service begins with the celebration of the word of God (in readings from the Bible). The consecration of the bread and wine, as the body and blood of Christ follows. Christians then partake of the consecrated elements in the communion. We believe that Christ is truly present in them. The centre of the corporate life of the Church, the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper. It represents the new covenant (or pact) with God, effected by his death and raising to life again, through which we are reconciled with God and with each other. It also anticipates Christ's coming again to bring to complete fulfilment the Kingdom of God. The Eucharist is also known as the Mass, Holy Communion, and The Lord's Supper. It is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in which Christ is present as sacrifice and victim; it symbolizes the sacrificing service to others to which we are called.

Eusebius (c. 260 - c. 340) was bishop of Caesarea and a church historian; he is often referred to as the Father of Church History. His Ecclesiastical History is the principal source for the history of the Church up to his own day. Though Eusebius wrote several other works, notably a Life of Constantine and Preparation for the Gospel, he is principally known for his Ecclesiastical History. He participated in the Council of Nicaea (q. v.) and other great events of the early Church.

Eusebius (Greek for pious, devout, godly) was a very common name in the early Church. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church lists no less than six bishops named Eusebius - five of them from the fourth century alone.

The Greek word exegesis means bringing out the sense. Exegesis is interpreting the meaning of biblical texts. As well as trying to establish what the authors of the Bible intended to say in their original contexts (i.e. what the text meant then), exegetes also interpret the text for today (i.e. what the text means now).

The Babylonians deported Jehoiachin, king of Judah, with military leaders, troops and craftsmen in 597 BC. More people were deported from Judea to Babylon in 587 BC, after the destruction of the Temple built by Solomon. Deportation was practised by conquerors in the ancient Near East. After about 60 years, deportees began returning to Judah. Return happened gradually, and some never did return.

Farewell Discourses
In the Gospel of John, a series of discourses and a prayer in the context of the Lord’s Supper are found in 13:1-17:26. They meditate on the nature, meaning and significance of the passion of Jesus, and are followed by the passion narrative. John explores the meaning of Christ for the believer and for the Church. After the opening dramatic scene (13:1-30), the discourses are presented as a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples (13:31-14:31), a monologue by Jesus (15:1-16:15), a second dialogue (16:16-33), and Jesus’ prayer for the Church (17:1-26). They prepare Jesus’ followers for his departure.

Feast of Tabernacles (Booths)
The Hebrew name is sukkoth, meaning huts. This was one of the major pilgrimage feasts of Judaism. Celebrated for eight days in September-October, it was Israel’s joyous, thanksgiving autumnal harvest festival. During it, the people lived in booths, simple lean-to structures made of branches, commemorating God’s protection during the wandering in the wilderness during the Exodus. The ordinances regarding this feast are found in Leviticus 23:34-36, 39-44; Deuteronomy 16:13-15; 31:10-13. John 7 tells us of Jesus’ activities during this feast. By his time, the feast included triumphal processions with the people carrying branches and palms.

Feast of Weeks
The Feast of Weeks was celebrated 50 days after the beginning of the barley harvest, i.e. of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Thus it came to be known as Pentecost, from the Greek word for fiftieth. It marked the end of the harvest, and was celebrated with the offering of leavened bread. Jewish Pentecost later acquired even deeper significance by being related to the exodus. It was seen to coincide with the Israelites’ arrival at Mount Sinai and was the occasion on which the giving of the Law was commemorated.

General Resurrection
During the last centurires before Christ and for several centuries after Christ, many Jews believed that at the end of time all the dead would be raised. There were two lines of thought. One line was that only the ungodly would be judged by the Messiah; the other line was that both the godly and the ungodly would be judged. Both lines of thought agreed that the ungodly would be found guilty and be condemned to annilihation. Whether judged or not, the godly would enter a blessed estate. The grounds for judgement would be fidelity to God's ways.

Genesis Apocryphon
This scroll was found in a cave at Qumran (q. v.). It is a midrash (q. v.) on Genesis 1-15. Various patriarchs recount experiences that are expansions of those in the biblical narrative. It claims that Noah was born miraculously. Some stories in it are also found in the Book of Jubilees (q. v.). From the quality of the Aramaic scholars date it to the first century BC.

Genre refers to the type or category of literature of a given passage, whether historical narrative, myth, hymn, poetry, parable, or other forms. Knowing the genre of a passage is essential for understanding how to read and interpret the text.

A modern example of genre is the Whodunit.

Gilgamesh Epic
This is a Babylonian story of an ancient king, Gilgamesh, who sought immortality but failed to find it. In the process, he hears the story of the great primaeval age from Utnapishtim, who built an ark and was saved by the gods. There are many parallels between this story and Genesis 6-9, the story of Noah and his ark.

Until the invention of printing, one person read from a manuscript and others wrote down what they heard. At times copyists made mistakes when they did not properly distinguish between some vowels and diphthongs. Occasionally a reader did, at times, miss a line. A gloss is a case where a scribe tried to improve on the text and wrote comments in the margin; when copies were made from this copy, a reader might include comments as part of the text, thinking that they were part of the reading.

Gnostic, Gnosticism
Gnostics are a collection of sects with certain common characteristics. The chief element in gnostic teaching is a division between the spiritual and the physical (called dualism). Physical creation is seen as intrinsically flawed. Therefore salvation, according to gnostic teaching, involves rescue from the physical sphere. This is accomplished by obtaining gnosis (Greek for knowledge) which comes from Christ as emissary of God. Gnosis may be seen as stimulating a divine spark within the believer.

It is notoriously difficult to sort out precisely what the various gnostic systems taught as the chief sources for them are the writings of their orthodox opponents. However, their teachings seem to be an amalgam of pre-Christian pagan speculative philosophy with some elements of Christianity incorporated. Without exception, gnostic teachings have been declared heretical. Some of the later epistles, such as 1 John and the Pastoral Epistles, denounce false teachings that appear to have gnostic elements.

Gospel of the Hebrews
This Jewish-Christian work is not in the New Testament. We know it only from quotations in the writing of several Christian authors in the early centuries of the Church. It treats the descent of the pre-existent Christ into Mary, the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism, a post-resurrection appearance to James at a eucharistic (q. v.) meal, and wisdom sayings of Jesus.

Gospel of Thomas
An ancient collection of sayings of Jesus, which claims to have been edited by St Thomas. Although there are points of contact between the Gospel of Thomas and the Q source (itself a hypothetical source for common elements of Luke and Matthew which are not found in Mark), Thomas appears to be of gnostic origin. Fragments of a Greek manuscript exist, but the full text is preserved only in Coptic.

Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers, the others being Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus. (Cappodocia was un Asia Minor.) Gregory of Nyssa was the most intellectual of the trio. For almost twenty years he was bishop of Nyssa, except for a period when he was deposed and replaced by an Arian (q. v.). The Fathers are remembered especially for their opposition to Arianism and for their trinitarian teaching. They fused together the Nicene belief that Father and Son are of one substance and Origen’s (q. v.) belief that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three beings. They would say that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three ways of being God.

Hades (pronounced hay-dees) was the Greek god of the underworld, and came to refer to the place where the souls of the dead were said to dwell. It is in this sense equivalent to the Hebrew term Sheol. It is usually a neutral term, as opposed to describing a place of punishment, and thus is not quite equivalent to the English term Hell.

During the second century before Jesus was born, Judea was on the border between the Seleucid (Hellenic, q. v.) and Ptolemaic (Egyptian) empires. The Hassidim or Hassidians were a group in Jerusalem who fought actively against being absorbed into Hellenic culture and religion. They are mentioned in 1 Maccabees 2:42; 7:13 and 2 Maccabees 14:6.

Hellenistic, Hellenic, Hellenist
These terms refers to the culture in Greece and Asia Minor during the time when the New Testament was written. Hellenistic or Hellenic, rather than Greek, is used to differentiate this period from the golden age of Greece in earlier centuries. By the time the Church was emerging, the culture had changed, due to foreign influences, particularly from the east. A Hellenist was a person of another culture who had adopted Hellenic culture.

Herod Antipas
Herod Antipas was tetrarch (ruler) of Galilee during Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was also ruler of Perea, a district east of the Jordan River. He was a son of Herod the Great. For the Herod family tree, click here.

This term appears in both Mark and Matthew. Scholars suggest that Herodians were supporters of the rule and policies of Herod Antipas (and perhaps of other members of the Herod family), and thus of the Roman authorities. Both gospels portray them, with the Pharisees, as putting Jesus in a difficult position regarding payment of taxes to Caesar.

Hippolytus lived from about 170 to about 236 AD. He was a great theologian in Rome. The earliest baptismal rite we have is found in his book, Apostolic Tradition; indeed he tells us that candidates were prepared for several years and that baptism took place during the Easter vigil.

Historical-critical Method
This is the general term for the modern scholarly approach to understanding the Bible. While in common parlance to criticize carries with it negative vibes, in biblical studies criticism does not. The word criticize comes from a Greek word meaning to judge, to discern, or to be discriminating in making a judgement. There are some 30 approaches (or critical methods) of which the most common are:
  • textual criticism, which seeks to establish the original wording of the scriptures,
  • historical criticism, which tries to clarify the date, first context and intention of a biblical book,
  • form criticism, which analyses and classifies the styles of biblical speech and writing (e.g. parables, miracle stories),
  • tradition criticism, which investigates the process by which units now in scripture were handed down orally and in writing, and
  • redaction criticism, which studies the motivation and mindset of the authors in editing their inherited traditions, and the meaning and message they wished to communicate to their particular audience.

Homiletics is the art of crafting sermons. In the context of Comments a homiletical statement might refer to an attempt to flesh out the application of a text for us in our context, rather than its meaning more narrowly conceived.

Household Code
Early Christian conversion was communal rather than individual - entire households converted to Christianty. These included extended families and slaves all living under the same roof. Household Codes are guidelines for Christian living within this group

Guidelines may be given for the behaviour of four groups: slaves, wives, husbands and children.

Examples are found in Ephesians 5:22-6:9; Colossians 3:18-4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:18-3:7.

The Hurrians first appeared in northern Mesopotamia about 1800 BC and inhabited Syria a little later. There were Hurrian garrisons west of the Jordan River in the early 1600s BC.

A hymnody is a collection of hymns belonging to a religious community.

Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius was the second or third bishop of Antioch. Probably born in Syria about 35 AD, he was martyred in Rome in about 107 AD. As he travelled from Antioch to Rome under guard, he was welcomed by members of Christian communities and wrote letters of encouragement to various churches. Quotations from his letters in the works of fathers of the Church and circulation of letters written in his name show how highly he was regarded. He was a man passionately devoted to Christ. He insisted on the reality of both the divinity and humanity of Christ, and that the life of Christ continues in the Eucharist (q. v.). To him, the bishop is the best safeguard of the unity of the Church.

An inclusio is the repetition, at the end of a section, of a word or phrase used at the beginning. They are used to indicate the limits of a section and to emphasize a particular notion.

Inter-testamental literature
This term refers to works written after the writing of the last book in the Old Testament and before the first book in the New Testament. Scholars vary as to when this period begins and ends: 165 BC to 55 AD is an informed guess. Some of the intertestamental literature is in the Apocrypha (q. v.), some of it is Pseudepigrapha (q. v.).

An interpolation is a word or phrase added to the text by a copyist in the interests of clarification. Scribes who thought about what they were writing were more likely to make changes than those who did not!

Irenaeus lived from about 130 AD to about 200 AD. He became Bishop of Lyons (in France) in 177 AD. His main contribution was in refuting heresies; Against Heresies is a detailed attack upon gnosticism (q. v.). He was one of the first to speak of books now in the New Testament together as Scripture, alongside the Old Testament. Initially, Scripture meant the Old Testament. The apostolic writings were granted authority but only gradually were they generally recognized as the New Testament.

Jerome (340?-420 AD) translated the Bible into Latin from Hebrew and Greek; his translation is known as the Vulgate (q. v.). He was born in what is now Croatia, and studied in Rome. After being baptised in his late teens, he devoted himself to an ascetic and scholarly life. He became a Hebrew and Greek scholar, and collected a large library of classical literature. He spent several years as a hermit in the Syrian desert, surrounded by his library. After returning to Rome, finding himself out of a job, he set off for the East again, and founded a monastery at Bethlehem. It was there that he translated and wrote, and died.

Jewish Wars
This work by Josephus (q. v.) surveys the history of the Jews in the Hellenistic-Roman period and of the first Jewish revolt against Rome. Written in the 70s AD, most of the account is considered reliable even though its tone is pro-Roman.

The Johannine literature is the name given by modern scholars to the five books of the New Testament that are attributed to an author named John: the Gospel according to John, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation. Of these books, only Revelation gives the name of its author in the text; the others are traditionally attributed to him. We do not know who this “John” is, nor even if all five books share an author, but there are similarities.

Joseph and Aseneth
This is a tale told by Joseph and his Egyptian wife Aseneth. Genesis 41:45 tells us that the pharaoh gave her, a daughter of an Egyptian priest, to Joseph in marriage; Genesis 41:50 and 46:20 identify her as the mother of Manasseh and Ephraim. Joseph and Aseneth seeks to explain how an upstanding Israelite could marry a pagan, inferring what later interpreters thought must have happened. It tells of her conversion from paganism to the worship of God. Scholars dates this work between 100 BC and 200 AD; it may be Jewish or Christian.

Josephus (c. 37 AD - c. 100 AD) was a Jewish historian who became a Pharisee (q. v.). He took a leading part in the first Jewish-Roman war and witnessed the siege of Jerusalem in 70. After he surrendered to the Romans, he was greatly honoured by Emperor Vespasian. He wrote Jewish Wars, a somewhat biased account of the events from about 160 BC to the outbreak of the war. He writes from the viewpoint of a Jew trying to gain the sympathy of the Roman public. He brought out his second great work, Antiquities of the Jews (q. v.) in 94.

A Jubilee year occurred every fifty years (or forty-nine, after the Exile). It occurred after (or in the last year of) seven cycles of seven years. In this year, all land was returned to its ancestral owners, all Israelite slaves were freed, and the land was left fallow. It is described in Leviticus 25:8-17, 23-55; 27:16-25 and Numbers 36:4. Jubilee comes from the Hebrew word for ram’s horn; the year was marked by the blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram’s horn.

The Book of Jubilees is an ancient commentary in the style of a midrash on Genesis and part of Exodus. It dates from the second century BCE.

A Judaizer was a member of a Christian community of Jewish origin who insisted that to be Christian one has to keep Mosaic law, particularly the ordinances regarding ritual purity and diet. Because keeping of various feasts is mandated in Mosaic law, Judaizers expected Christian communities to celebrate these occasions.

Judges were charismatic leaders who arose within Israel in times of crisis. As God's representatives they provided the necessary leadership to deal with the situation at hand. Israel had judges between the settlement of the Promided Land and the emergence of the monarchy.

Justin Martyr
Flavius Justinus, known as Justin Martyr, was born in Neapolis (now Nablus, ancient Shechem) about 100 AD. He sought for ultimate truth in various Greek philosophies (Stoicism, Aristotelianism, Pythagoreanism, and Platonism) but did not find it there. He met an old man near the sea who pointed him to Christianity. He was not just a Christian seeking to relate Christianity to Greek philosophy; he was a Hellenist who had come to see Christianity as the fulfilment of all that was best in philosophy. He died a martyr in Rome.

The term kerygma is a Greek word meaning the act of proclaiming or the message proclaimed. It is the core message which announces God’s decisive act and offer of salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is augmented by detailed instruction about Christ and Christianity. The gospels are clearly kerygmatic, for they set out to announce the good news.

Lachish Letters
Lachish was one of Judah’s fortified towns at the eastern edge of the Palestinian coastal plain. The Lachish Letters date from the early 580s BC, shortly before Jerusalem definitively fell to the Babylonians. They are messages, written on broken potsherds, from observation posts to the defenders at Lachish. They give us some snapshots of the Babylonian conquest, including confirmation of statements made in Jeremiah 34, 37 and 38.

Lament, lamentation
When we hurt physically, we cry out in pain; when we hurt religiously, we lament. In the Old Testament, some laments are individual and others focus on the community or nation as a whole. Job 3-31 contains an example of an individual lament. Of the Psalms, some 40 are individual laments and at least twelve are communal or national laments. Their formats include: the invocation of God’s name, a description of the present need, prayer for help and deliverance, reasons why God should help the one (or many) praying, vow to offer praise or sacrifice when the petition is heard, and grateful praise to God.

Law of talion
This is the law of retribution. (Talion comes from the Latin talis meaning such, the same.) When Jesus quotes it in Matthew 5:38 as “‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’”, he goes on to say “‘Do not resist an evildoer’”. Part of Mosaic law (in Leviticus 24:19-21 and Deuteronomy 19:21), it is also found in the Code of Hammurabi (q. v.) and in Roman law. It sounds barbarous today, but its original intention was to limit revenge, e.g. only one eye for one eye, not two or three. When first introduced, it was genuine moral progress. By Jesus’ day, the religious authorities considered it to be too harsh, and began commuting the penalty to fines.

Levirate marriage
Should a man die before his wife had born him a son, then his brother had an obligation, per Deuteronomy 25:5-6, to marry her. The first son she bore for her new husband was considered the dead man’s son; he succeeded to his estate. This was the law of levirate marriage.

Generally, a Levite is a member of the tribe of Levi; however some passages seem to use the term as a description rather than a tribal name (for example, in Judges 17:7, a Levite is mentioned who is a member of the tribe of Judah and is a kind of priest). The Hebrew root of the word may show that Levites were those particularly closely attached (joined) to God.

In Deuteronomy, Levites are priests who sacrifice and transmit and administer divine law throughout the land. With the centralization of worship in Jerusalem, they were subordinated to the Temple priesthood, in servant roles. Thus by the time of the Exile, priests and Levites were distinct. After the return from exile, both Levites and the priests proper were considered to be descended from Levi, and the levitical order came to include all Temple personnel other than priests. Some levitical duties were higher than those of priests. For example, only Levites might carry the Ark, the Temple’s most holy object. They retained their high status through to the end of the Temple in 70 AD, as Luke 10:32 (the story of the good Samaritan) indicates.

The word litany comes from a Greek word meaning petition or religious procession. A litany is a prayer, or series of prayers, in which a cantor recites a series of petitions to which the congregation repeats a fixed response, e.g. Lord, have mercy. The cantor, other officiants of the service, and sometimes the choir, process around the church during the chanting of a litany. The form of Christian litany is rooted in certain psalms where an acclamation is repeated (e.g. Psalm 118).

The word liturgy is derived from two Greek words, laos and ergon, meaning people and work. It is the action in which we, the people of God, come together to worship him. We do this in words, music, corporate prayer and ritual, usually in a way that has a defined shape; thus we do liturgy.

Livy was born in Padua in 59 BC. Living most of his life in Rome, his life work was History of Rome; it begins with the founding of the city in 753 BC and ends in 9 BC. Livy was far from being a modern historian: his book reflects his admiration for the civilization of early Rome; while he used as his sources many previous authors, he did not evaluate these sources critically. He believed that the importance of history was its applicability to contemporary life.

Logos is the Greek for word; it was associated in Hellenistic (q. v.) Jewish thought with divine wisdom, as God's creative presence. In Stoic thought, logos was understood as the ordering principle of the universe. In the prologue of John's Gospel, the Logos is made incarnate.

In the second century BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Hellenic (Seleucid) king of Syria, ruled Judea as well as other areas beyond Syria proper. In Judea, he decreed that only Greek deities be worshipped; he even caused a pagan altar to be erected in the Jerusalem Temple. It was a member of the Maccabees family, Mattathias, who led the guerilla force that sought to restore Judaism. When he died, his son Judas Maccabeus led the revolt. This force was successful in restoring the Temple to its proper use.

Magnificat is the name given to Mary’s praise of God after she learns that she is to be the mother of the Lord. It is found in Luke 1:46-55. Magnificat is the first word of the Latin translation. For many centuries it has been sung as part of the daily offices of the Church.

Marcion, who died about 160 AD, was a heretic who rejected the Old Testament completely on the grounds that the God there is one of Law while the Christian good news is wholly a gospel of Love. To him, Paul understood this contrast between law and godly love but the Evangelists did not. So he claimed that the only canonical (q. v.) scriptures were the ten epistles of Paul and an edited version of Luke-Acts. The success of his movement forced the Church to consider what scriptures should be accepted as scripture and what should not.

Masoretic Text
A definitive Hebrew text of the Old Testament produced by mediaeval Jewish scholars (Masoretes), and incorporating the Masorah ("tradition") - a system of vowel signs, accents and marginal notes. The complete Masoretic Text (MT) is found in St Petersburg, Russia, in a manuscript dating to 1009 CE.

Ancient Hebrew did not include vowels. The standardization of the correct reading of the biblical texts gave rise to the notes and vowels which were incorporated in the MT.

Medes and Persians
The Medes were an Indo-European tribe that by the 800s BC inhabited northern Iran/Iraq; they had probably been there for millennia. They conquered Assyria in 625 BC. Their independence as a kingdom was short-lived. Once vassals of the Medes, the Persians overthrew their overlords in 558 BC. Rather than treating the Medes as a conquered people, the Persians integrated them into their administration and society. In the book of Daniel, the Medes and the Persians are treated as one people. 2 Kings 17:6 tells us that the northern tribes were exiled to “cities of the Medes”. The Persians were also Indo-European. Under Cyrus, they captured Babylon in 539 BC, and soon expanded their Empire to include territory from northern India to Asia Minor. Darius the Mede was a king of Persia.

A figure of speech in which a pair of related objects is named, which comprises a totality including everything between the pair. Examples: God made heaven and earth; “you know when I sit down and when I rise up” (Psalm 139:2).

The word messiah is from the Hebrew massiah, meaning anyone anointed and sent by God. In early usage, it referred to kings who would come to continue the line of King David, and to priests. It was also applied to anyone whom God had appointed to a task that affected the destiny of God’s chosen people. Kings of David’s linage were rulers chosen by God; so messiah came to be associated with the expectation of an ideal king whom God would raise up to occupy the throne of Israel.

Christos is anointed in Greek. In the gospels, Jesus is reluctant to accept the designation messiah without qualification. For example, Peter’s confession in Mark 8:29 is immediately corrected by the announcement that Jesus is the suffering Son of Man. It seems that Jesus avoids being seen as an earthly future king of Israel. After his death and resurrection, messiah takes on a specifically Christian usage as a title that refers only to Jesus: he is the crucified agent of God, who has died for our sins. He is the one vindicated and exalted by God.

Messianic age
As foreseen after the return from exile, this would be a time of universal peace. It would be inaugurated by God’s definitive intervention to save his people.

Messianic banquet
The idea is that life in the kingdom of God will be a banquet at which the Messiah (Christ) will preside. The Eucharist (q. v.) anticipates the messianic banquet. Jesus presents such an image in the parables of the Wedding Feast (in Matthew 22:1-14) and of the Great Banquet (in Luke 14:15-24). In the Old Testament, see Isaiah 25:6-10a.

Messianic secret
Scholars have recognized that there are in Mark several instances where Jesus commands people to be silent about his action or identity (see 1:34, 44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26, 30; 9:9). This is known as the messianic secret. One possible reason for his is that Mark is accounting for the fact that Jesus in his public ministry neither claimed to be the Messiah (q. v.) nor was recognized as such. The thrust in Mark is that the real meaning of Jesus’ messiahship became clear only with his death and resurrection. Jesus may also be avoiding being seen as having political and military intentions, which Jews at the time expected of the Messiah.

The Midianites were descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham and his concubine Keturah (see Genesis 25:1-2). When Abraham expelled Isaac’s rivals “to the east country” (Genesis 25:6), Midian was included. The “land of Midian” in Exodus 2:15 probably refers to that part of northwestern Arabia east of the Gulf of Aqaba. Being nomads, they travelled widely through the ancient Near East. Moses spent time in Midian, and married the daughter of a Midianite priest.

The Hebrew word means investigation or research. Midrash is a method of Jewish interpretation of the scriptures developed after the return from exile. It aimed to edify by eliciting from scriptural text associations and applications which went beyond literal meaning. A midrash begins by asking a question, for example Why, in making woman, did God choose Adam’s rib (rather than any other part of him) as a starting point? Rabbis proposed several answers, recognising that more than one might be correct. In proposing their answers, they freely used verses from elsewhere in the Old Testament, without considering the original context. Midrashim is the plural of Midrash.

Midrash Rabba, Midrash Genesis Rabba
Midrash Rabba is a collection of homilies, interpretations and commentaries from ancient Jewish sages. It includes midrashes (q.v.) on the five books of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number and Deuteronomy), Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. It dates from the early rabbinic period (roughly the 200s AD). One of the principles of Midrash Rabba is that various interpretations are possible.

Minor Prophets
The prophetic books in the Old Testament which are much shorter (but no less important) than the longer ones (Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel). The minor prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah. Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Zechariah and Malachi. Sometimes called The Twelve.

A collection of Jewish legal texts, based on study of the Scriptures and the Oral Law. The definitive version is attributed to Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (c. 135 - c. 220), and its study is an essential part of Jewish education.

Genesis 19:30-38 tells us that Moab was an illegitimate son of Lot, so the Moabites were descended from him. Moab was the name of the territory to the east of the southern part of the Dead Sea.

The Hebrew word means dedicated or consecrated. Nazirites were people who entered a consecrated state upon their own or a parent’s vow. Numbers 6:1-21 states the requirements for being a Nazirite:
  • to refrain from wine and other intoxicants
  • not to allow a razor to touch one’s hair, and
  • not to go near a dead body

One became a Nazirite for a period of time, not necessarily for life. Drinking wine was permitted after an initial period. Joseph is called a nazir in Genesis 49:26 (NRSV: “set apart”) and Deuteronomy 33:16 (NRSV: “prince”). Samuel is never explicitly named as a Nazirite but the vow made by Hannah, his mother, strongly suggests that he is: see 1 Samuel 1:11. Samson is explicitly named a Nazirite in Judges 13:7 and 16:17. In Matthew 2:23, it is likely that a significance attached to Jesus being called a “Nazorean” is that he is a Nazirite in that he was consecrated to God’s purposes from the womb, as were Samuel and Samson.

Numeric values of Hebrew letters
The first nine letters in the alphabet have the values 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. The next nine letters have the values 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90. The last four letters have the values 100, 200, 300 and 400. Five letters are written differently when they are at the end of a word. They have the values 500 to 900. For a word or phrase, the values are added together.

Old Latin versions
By the end of the second century AD, books of the Bible were being translated from Greek into Latin both in North Africa and Europe. These are known as Old Latin versions. They varied significantly, were often inaccurate and at times interpreted rather than translated. To our knowledge, no one translator translated the whole Bible into Latin at that time.

Being of the essence of someone or something

Origen was born about 185 AD to Christian parents in Alexandria. His father was martyred in 202, and he was later tortured for his faith. He was head of the school which instructed those who were to be baptised. He was a great scholar and a prolific writer. His writings fall into four groups: biblical (translations and commentaries), systematic theology, rebuttal of heretical writings, and practical works. Unfortunately many of his works have been lost.

Orphic rites
Orphism was a mystic cult of ancient Greece, believed to be drawn from the writings of the legendary poet and musician Orpheus. In this religion, it was believed that only when out of the body did the soul reveal its true nature. The physical body was seen as a prison for the immutable, true essence of a person. Individuals were caught in an endless cycle of reincarnations until purification was completed, with the soul being released from matter’s deadly grip.

Parts of the P46 papyrus are now in the Chester Beatty Collection in Dublin, Ireland and parts at the University of Michigan. This papyrus were found in a graveyard in Egypt in 1931. It consists of 86 leaves of New Testament Pauline letters dating from about 200 AD, including Romans, plus Hebrews but not 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Portions of the letters are missing. Romans 16:25-27 appears at the end of chapter 15.

This codex (q. v.), dating from about 200 AD, contains considerable portions of John. We have two other partial copies of John but P66 is particularly valuable because it contains almost all of the book. The P designation indicates that the manuscript contains considerably less than the whole New Testament.

There is no other generic term which is completely satisfactory to describe the land which was promised to Abram in every age and generation. The Promised Land has been fought over and occupied by so many different tribes, kingdoms and empires, and borders have been so fluid over the centuries, that to use any specific name as though it referred to a politically stable entity would be misleading and nearly always anachronistic, nor would it ever be completely politically neutral. Roughly speaking, the territory in question corresponds to the land of the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. (Deuteronomy 7:1; see also Joshua 12:8, which omits the Girgashites). For a brief time this was consolidated into a unified Israelite kingdom, then split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, both of which were subsequently conquered. Over the centuries the territory, or part of it, has been part of a variety of foreign empires, including the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Seleucid, Roman and Ottoman empires. It has been under the control of the Egyptians, of Alexander the Great, the Arabs, the British and others. The term Palestine dates at least to the fifth century BCE, when it was first used in writing by Herodotus of Halicarnassus. (see The Persian Wars, book 4, chapter 39). Comments follows Herodotus and most other scholars in using the term Palestine neutrally to refer to this much- contested and blood-soaked land, without making any claim or comment on political jurisdiction.

Papias lived from about 60 AD to about 130 AD, and was bishop of Hierapolis (in the Nile delta). Our knowledge of his writings is limited to quotations in the works of Irenaeus (q. v.). One of these fragments states that he understood from an authority that Mark, as interpreter of Peter, set down accurately, though not in order, everything that he remembered of the words and actions of the Lord.

A literary device common in Hebrew and other Semitic poetry, in which related thoughts or phrases are juxtaposed.

Parallelism (sometimes called thought rhyme) is a balance not only of form but also of the though between successive members in a poem. A line of poetry is divided into parts. Parallelism is more than mere repetition of words or ideas in successive parts. The second part is a specification, often an intensification, of the first. Where there is a third part, the third complements the thought of the first part.

In synonymous parallelism, the same thought is expressed in successive parts; the second part simply repeats the sense of the first in slightly different terms.

In antithetic parallelism, the thought expressed in the second part is in contrast to that of the first part.

In formal parallelism, also called synthetic parallelism, a verse contains neither repetition in different terms nor contrasted assertions. In it the thought of the first part is carried further and completed in the second.

In climactic parallelism, the characteristics of synonymous and formal parallelism are combined. The second part echoes or repeats a phrase in the part and also adds to it an element which carries forward or completes the sense.

In staircase parallelism, the second part of the verse develops the thought of the first, without quoting words from the first part.

In internal parallelism, the balance of form and thought is between individual parts of a verse. In external parallelism, there is balance not only within but also between verses.

In complete parallelism, each term in the first part is matched by a corresponding term in the second part.

Greek for coming, advent, presence as of a deity or emperor. In Christian usage Parousia developed into a technical term referring to the coming of Christ as judge at the end of the era. It is equivalent to Second Coming.

Passover commemorates the Israelite’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. The name comes from Exodus 12:13, where God promises that if they sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintel of their houses “I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt”. By Jesus’ time, it had been combined with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Exodus tells us that the Israelites fled before their bread had risen, so yeast-less bread is eaten during the week-long festival.

Pastoral Epistles, Pastoral Letters
The Pastoral Epistles (or Letters) are 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. They are called pastoral because they express a pastoral concern for the addressees, and because they exhibit a concern for the orderly pastoral care of Christian communities.

Patristic Age
the period of Church history after the sub-apostolic age, beginning after the middle of the second century CE, marked by great theological developments and the writings of the Church Fathers, from which the name comes (from the Latin pater, meaning father). The writings from, and study of, this period are often referred to as Patristics.

Pausanias was probably born in Lydia (in Asia Minor). He was a Greek geographer who travelled to many lands around the eastern end of the Mediterranean. He wrote Description of Greece, a sort of tourist guidebook. In writing about Athens, he discusses the pictures, portraits, and inscriptions recording the laws of Solon; the great gold and ivory statue of Athena in the Parthenon; and the monuments to famous men and of Athenians who died in battle. He lived in the 100s AD.

The first five books of the Bible (Greek for five-volumed work), traditionally attributed to Moses. Also referred to as The Torah (meaning law).

This Hebrew word means literally “to explain”. Pesher is an application of Old Testament scripture with little concern for context of the passage. The authors assume that the Old Testament authors were speaking to an audience contemporary with those who wrote peshers. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are peshers on Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Malachi and Psalms. The pesher on Habakkuk simply takes Habakkuk’s references to the Chaldeans and applies them to the Romans without any effort to justify the application.

The Pharisees were a sect of Judaism, or a religious party, which arose about a century before Christ in protest against laxity in keeping the Law and the introduction of foreign customs into Palestine. Their emphasis on the exact observance of dietary and ritual rules led to the movement known as rabbinic Judaism. They believed that the soul survives death and is punished or rewarded in another life. They were admired by the people. Paul says that he is a Pharisee in Philippians 4:5 and Acts 23:6. They were distinuguished from the Sadducees chiefly in their belief in a two-fold Law: written and oral.

Philo (ca. 20 BC - 50 AD) was a Jew who lived in Alexandria; he was a statesman and a philosopher, and the most prolific author of Hellenistic (q. v.) Judaism (i.e. the non-Palestinian branch of Judaism influenced by Hellenistic cultures). Philo combines a fierce loyalty to Judaism with a profound love of Greek philosophy to present a literary defence of Judaism to his racially troubled city and extensive allegorical interpretation of Scripture that made Jewish law consonant with the ideas of Stoic, Pythagorean, and especially Platonic thought. The Gospel of John, the Pauline letters, and the letter to the Hebrews reflect to some extent Philo’s philosophical terminology and milieu.

In explaining the Christian faith, we couch it in the thought patterns of our society. In the early days of Christianity, these were the patterns of Greek philosophy. Plato was a Greek philosopher who lived from 427 to 347 BC. He was a native of Athens. Plato distinguishes being from becoming. In this world, everything is subject to change and decay. Nothing is unchanging &ndash it is always becoming something else, rather than being what it is. But he also held that there is realm of being which is eternal and unchanging.

Premillenarianists believe, influenced by apocalyptic writings (q. v.) and based on a literalistic interpretation of Revelation 20:1-7, that when Christ comes again he will reign on earth for a thousand years &ndash until the final defeat of Satan and a definitive entry in glory. In the early centuries of the Church, some mainline Christians use the word millennium in their writings but in the context of an allegorical interpretation of scripture. Since Augustine of Hippo (q. v.), this belief has been limited to some fundamentalist groups.

Priestly Source
One of four sources identified in the Pentateuch (q. v.). This source is characterized by concern with matters of ritual and religious observance, describing in detail the keeping of festivals, vestments, rites of ordination and sacrifice, the tabernacle and its furnishings. It also deals extensively with genealogies (“these are the generations....”, e.g. Genesis 2:4) and covenants. Though probably dependent on earlier sources, it was given its final shape after the end of the exile (sixth or fifth century BC). The Priestly Source gives The Torah (q. v.) its present shape. Commentaries often indicate the Priestly source as P.

Psalms of Solomon
A pseudepigraphical collection of eighteen psalms in a style similar to the biblical collection of Psalms, probably written near Jerusalem in the second half of the first century BCE (c. 50-1 BCE).

The term Pseudepigrapha is Greek for writings with false superscriptions, or documents whose authorship is falsely attributed. The term is now used mainly because of accepted custom, but is not used literally as a value judgement, although the attributions of authorship are generally accepted to be incorrect.

The Pseudepigrapha are a collection of some 65 documents, most written between c. 300 BC and 200 AD. Many are attributed to Jewish patriarchs and other Old Testament characters, such as Adam, Enoch and Abraham. They cover a wide range of literary styles including apocalyptic (q. v.), psalms, legends, visions of the future and wisdom literature.

Ptolemy dynasty
Alexander the Great ruled much of the Near East. He captured Jerusalem in 332 BC. When he died in 323 BC, his empire split up. Ptolemy, one of his generals, captured Jerusalem in 320 BC. While the Ptolemaic line continued to rule Egypt for centuries, in 198 BC a member of the Seleucid dynasty, Antiochus III, captured Jerusalem.

From the German Quelle, meaning source.

Q is a hypothetical document which is the source for passages found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark. This material consists largely of sayings of Jesus. Whether this source was in oral or written form is not known definitively. Many scholars believe that such a document must have existed, but to this day no physical evidence of one has been discovered. Either way, it is a useful way to refer to material common to the two Gospels.

The site at the Northeast corner of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, beginning in 1947. Occupied between the mid-second century BCE and the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 CE); some scholars believe the inhabitants to have been the Essenes, while others disagree.

Qumran literature refers to the scrolls found on the site. This literature reveals the Qumran community to have been well outside the mainstream of Jewish teaching at the time. The architecture of the site indicates a highly communal lifestyle.

Qumran literature
Near the ruins of Qumran (q. v.) Community building, various scrolls were found in caves. Some of these scrolls are of Old Testament books; others appear to have been written by the community. The latter are known as Qumran literature. The best known are the Rule of the Community, the War Scroll, and the Hymns. The literature also includes commentaries and para-biblical works.

Redact, Redaction
Redaction is another term for editing. As applied to biblical studies, it refers to a process of producing a new version of a text, either by incorporating new material, or by combining two existing texts.

A rubric is a ritual or ceremonial direction printed at the beginning of an order of service or in the course of the text. The name comes from the Latin word for red; rubrics were (and are) often printed in red type to distinguish them from the text of the service.

The Sadducees were a Jewish party which took its name from Zadok (see 1 Kings 1:32-34). From about 200 BC it consisted chiefly of the aristocratic priestly and lay families. They were conservative theologically, rejecting the oral traditions which had grown up around the Old Testament, as well as belief in the general resurrection of the deceased &ndash expected by some (including the Pharisees, q. v.). Politically, they were concerned primarily with maintaining good relations with the Roman occupying power.

Salvation history
Salvation history is a technical term for the historical process through which we come to understand God and his ways, as revealed in the Bible, culminating in Christ.

Samaria, Samaritan
When the united monarchy of David and Solomon split up, Samaria became the capital of the northern kingdom, Israel. After the conquest of 721 BC, the Assyrians brought people of other lands into the north; over the centuries, there was significant inter-marriage. By New Testament times, the Samaritans worshipped Yahweh (q. v.) in their own distinctive way. Samaria can refer to the city or to the territory. Samaritans lived not only there but also elsewhere around the Mediterranean. Jews disliked them for their lack of racial purity and deviant religion.

Samaritan Pentateuch
The Samaritan scriptures are limited to the first five books of the Bible, Genesis to Deuteronomy. Written in the Samaritan alphabet, it is an early form of the Old Testament text. While there are many differences, they are mostly small, being grammatical or spelling. In many of its variants it agrees with the Septuagint (q. v.).

A sanhedrin was a council of leaders. In the New Testament, this term sometimes refers to local councils (see Matthew 5:22; 10:17; Mark 13:9; Acts 22:5) and most often to the supreme court of chief priests and elders in Jerusalem. Sanhedrins served as courts. According to the Passion narratives (e.g. Matthew 26:59), the Jerusalem Sanhedrin judged Jesus, and examined and punished the teaching and activity of Jesus’ early followers (see Acts 4-6; 23-24).

The seder service is the highlight of Passover celebration, a family banquet held on the first and second evenings of Passover. A wine cup beside each place setting is used for the four cups of wine, each a symbol of joy and gratitude for God’s saving acts in history. The ceremony is a dramatisation of the story of the Exodus.

This word is probably a liturgical direction, added to the original text of the psalm. It may mean lift up, either to indicate the lifting up of the voices of the singers in a doxology, or to call for lifted-up instrumental music in an interlude in the singing.

After Alexander the Great died, his empire split into three parts, with one of his generals governing each. Seleucus governed from Asia Minor to the Indus River, and Ptolemy governed Egypt. Initially, Palestine was under Ptolemaic control but by 200 BC the Seleucids had gained control of this territory. Antiochus IV Epiphanes (q. v.) was the last of the Seleucid rulers.

Seneca (ca. 4 BC – 65 AD) was a Roman moralist. His brother, Gallio, Proconsul of Achaia, is mentioned in Acts 18:12. A Stoic (q. v.), he was the tutor of the future emperor Nero and influenced him greatly in the early part of his reign. He wrote essays and tragedies. His works have been much studied for the similarities and contrasts between Stoicism and the ethic to which Christians are called.

Septuagint (LXX)
The Septuagint was an ancient translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) into Greek. The translation was probably done in Egypt for Greek-speaking Jews in the third century BCE. Traditionally it was believed to have been done by seventy-two scholars, which is the origin of its name. Often referred to as LXX (Roman Numerals for 70).

The Septuagint contains some material not found in the Hebrew text. This material is now known as the Apocrypha.

The Septuagint was the usual form of the Bible used by the earliest Christians. It is almost always the source of scriptural quotations in the New Testament.

Servant Songs
Four poetic sections of Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) are designated Servant Songs.

These all describe the person and work of the Servant of the LORD. The precise identity of the Servant is unknown, though various scholars identify him variously as Israel, Moses, Isaiah, or one of the kings of Israel. Christian theology has generally interpreted the Servant as a prophecy of Christ. The last of the sections speaks of redemption through suffering; hence the term Suffering Servant.

Servant theology
In the Old and New Testaments, servant is a translation of words which literally mean slave. A slave belonged to someone else and so had no legal rights, but did share in Israel’s culture and religion. Thus Israelites (and Jews) recalled their own bondage in Egypt. Psalm 119 calls the righteous person a servant, and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon and Job are all called servants of Yahweh (q. v.). The most striking case of servant theology is found in the Servant Songs (q. v.).

The Shema is the Jewish confession of faith. It is made up of three biblical passages: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11; Numbers 15:37-41. Its name is derived from the first word of the first of the verses in Hebrew: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone”. It is recited every morning and evening by observant Jewish men. In Mark 12:28-30, when a scribe asks Jesus “Which commandment is the first of all?”, he answers “‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one ...’”.

In ancient Jewish cosmology, Sheol was the place of the dead, or the underworld. Often translated as “the Pit” (e.g. Job 17:13-15) or “the grave” (e.g. Psalm 49:14), Sheol is not to be confused with the later concept of Hell as a place of punishment, but was simply the place where all the dead were supposed to go. Its existence in cosmology indicates an undeveloped idea of an afterlife, which later became more definite. It is approximately equivalent to the Greek idea of Hades (q. v.).

Shepherd of Hermas
This document is from Rome in the early 100s AD. It contains a revelation given to a person called Hermas in the form of an apocalypse (q. v.) consisting of visions, mandates, and similitudes (which reveal and instruct through images and parables). The name comes from the person who reveals, a shepherd.

Sibylline Oracles
Sibyl was a prophetess mentioned in a Greek work written about 500 BC. Over the centuries, the concept of women who were filled with divine spirit being channels for prophecies from the gods spread throughout the Hellenistic (q. v.) world. Jews and Christians composed sibylline oracles of their own. Some of the Sibylline Oracles date from about 150 BC; others are as late as 650 AD.

Socrates was a Greek philosopher who lived between 470-399 BC. Partly through engaging in debate in the marketplace in Athens, he turned public attention to questions of ethics and virtue. At the age of 70, he was convicted of atheism, treason and corruption of the young. He was sentenced to death. His way of questioning to seek answers laid a foundation for today’s scientific method.

Sophists were travelling teachers who were prepared to teach anything – for a hefty fee. Others did not charge for teaching wisdom. Whether they knew a subject or not, they were prepared to teach it. They first appeared ca. 450 BC. In ancient Greece the most popular career was politics, so there was an opportunity to teach young men rhetoric, the art of argumentation. The search for truth was not a priority; rather they trained their students in how to persuade the multitude of whatever they wished them to believe, true or not; hence our word sophistry, the use of fallacious arguments knowing them to be such.

Soteriology, soteriological
Soteriology, meaning doctrine of salvation, is the systematic interpretation of Christ’s saving work for human beings and the world. Recognizing how Christ died and rose to save sinful humanity, the New Testament holds together inseparably the saving function and personal identity of Christ as Son of God. Jesus’ saving work is understood in various ways – above all, as victorious liberation, atoning for sin, and transforming love.

The name of this Greek philosophical school comes from the place where they met, a stoa (colonnade) in Athens. While scholars of this school developed theories of physics, cosmology and logic, they are best known for their emphasis on moral conduct. They held that the entire universe was a living creature animated by the divine Logos (reason or mind), whom they identified with Zeus. Every person was a slave of the ruling Logos. Whatever happened in the universe was governed by this universal law of nature or providence. Enduring hardship was seen as a test of character. Stoic or stoic-like elements are to be found in several Old and New Testament books.

Strabo was a writer who lived from about 64 BC to about 20 AD. He studied in Rome and Alexandria and became a geographer and a historian. He wrote a 17-volume work called Geography in which he described all parts of the known world.

Suffering Servant
See Servant Songs.

A syllogism is a form of logical reasoning. From two given (or assumed) prepositions which have a common (or middle) term, a conclusion is reached. The conclusion does not include the middle term. For example: all philosophers are people; all people are mortal; therefore, all philosophers are mortal.

The Synoptic Gospels, or Synoptics for short, are Matthew, Mark and Luke. (Synoptic means view together). These three contain many similar, and in places identical, passages. It is therefore almost universally agreed that the three are literarily interdependent. It is generally (but not universally) held that Mark is the earliest of the three, and that material common to Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark, came from a common lost source, referred to by scholars as Q (q. v.).

A synopses of the three Gospels may be viewed on-line or purchased; they present the various related passages in three columns for ease of comparison.

Syro-Ephraimite War
In the mid 700s BC, Assyria was expanding westwards. Israel (the northern kingdom, Ephraim) and Syria formed an alliance in the hope of stemming the expansion, and invited Judah to join it. When Judah (under King Ahaz) refused, Israel (under King Pekah) and Syria decide to co-opt Judah by force, but failed. Judah appealed to Assyria for help. When Assyrian forces captured Damascus in 733 BC, they deported its people and killed King Rezin of Syria. Judah ended up a vassal of Assyria, paying a heavy tribute. Assyria made Galilee and Gilead Assyrian provinces. See 2 Kings 16:1-20.

Tacitus was a Roman historian. He was born ca. 55 AD and died a few years after 117 AD. In his Annals, he mentions the persecution of the Christians by the Emperor Nero, who, he says, made them scapegoats for the fire of Rome (64 AD). He asserts that some were thrown to dogs, some crucified, and some were burned. This is one of the earliest mentions of the Crucifixion in non-Christian literature.

Tale of Aqhat
Aqhat was the champion of archery. The goddess of war coveted his bow and offered him immortality in exchange for it. He refused her offer. This work is from Ugarit (q. v.); it dates from c. 1300 - c. 1450 BC, or perhaps earlier.

The two Talmuds are systematic commentaries on the Mishnah.

The Palestinian Talmud (c. 400 CE) comments on the portions of the Mishnah devoted to Agriculture, Appointed Times, Women, and Damages, but not Holy Things. Its structure is derived from the Mishnah.

The Babylonian Talmud (c. 500-600 CE) comments on the portions of the Mishnah devoted to Appointed Times, Women, Damages and Holy Things, but not on Agriculture. Its structure is derived from the Mishnah but also includes extensive passages of Scripture.

In the last centuries BC, because Hebrew was no longer spoken by many Jews both in Babylonia and Palestine, when Old Testament texts were read in the synagogue liturgy (q. v.), they began to be rendered orally in Aramaic. Before the time of Christ, these renderings began to be written down, and were read in synagogues. They are known as targums. While some adhere closely to the written text, others elaborate and introduce narrative material that goes far beyond the text. Some are of particular interest to Christians. For example, one on Isaiah 9:6 says that “the child” there is the Messiah.

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225) was an African Church Father. Raised as a pagan, educated in literature and rhetoric, Tertullian converted to Christianty late in the second century.

He wrote many apologetic and theological treatises, and several letters and other documents concerning controversies of the day.

Tertullian eventually joined the Montanist sect, attracted by its rigourous asceticism. Nevertheless, his orthodox writings remain foundational for Western theology.

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
The literary form of the testament or farewell discourse was well known in Judaism and the Hellenistic (q. v.) world. It was a speech given by a famous figure just before his death in which he leaves a spiritual or material legacy to children or followers; however an author wrote the testament long after the figure’s death. The patriarchs represented in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs include Levi, Naphtali, Dan, Issachar and Judah. When these works were written is unknown, but a Christian theologian, Origen (185 &ndash c. 254), quotes from them, so they existed by his time.

a literary subform in which the author combines related quotes (usually from Scripture in our context) in order to support and develop an argument.

Theodore of Mopsuestia
Educated at a monastery in Antioch, Theodore became bishop of Mopsuestia (on the south coast of Asia Minor). At a time when most understood the Bible in allegorical terms (i.e. with what is mentioned standing for something else), he used scientific, critical, philological and historical methods in his commentaries. He lived from 350 to 428 AD.

A theophany is God showing himself to men and women. In the Old Testament, theophanies are often associated with particular holy places and with particular events, e.g. the commissioning of Isaiah in Isaiah 6. In the gospels, theophanies occur at Jesus’ baptism and at the Transfiguration. On the road to Damascus, Christ appears to Paul.

The word Torah literally means teaching. While it is used in this sense, The Torah (or The Law) refers to the first five books of the Bible.

This Hebrew word means supplement. The Tosefta is a collection of early Jewish traditions dating from the first century AD. The material in it is earlier. For the most part, it consists of parables, legends, stories and folklore.

See Deutero-Isaiah.

Trajan was Roman emperor from 98 to 117 AD. He saw himself as divine, and required that he be worshipped. We have correspondence from 111-113 between him and Pliny, the Roman governor in the area east of Byzantium (Istanbul). Pliny tells him that he has caused the many who have insisted that they are Christians to be executed, and asks whether this is a proper policy. Trajan answers that it is, but that rather than having Christians searched for, Pliny should restrict himself to those who are denounced to him.

Type, Typology, Antitype
Typology is the practise in the New Testament or early church whereby a series of events or a person in the Old Testament is interpreted as foreshadowing a person (nearly always Christ) or element of the Christian faith. The term type comes from the Greek word typos meaning example, pattern or model. For example, in 1 Peter 3:19-21, the story of Noah’s Ark is seen as a type of baptism. In Hebrews 11:17-19, Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is understood as a type of the resurrection of Jesus.

Scholars sometimes speak of an antitype; it works in the opposite direction: looking back from the later to the older. Thus baptism is the antitype of the story of Noah’s Ark.

Ugarit (modern Ras-Shamra) is in coastal northern Syria. Excavations begun in 1928 have shown that the site was occupied from the seventh or sixth millennium BC. The period of biblical interest is from 1500 to 1200 BC. Cuneiform texts have been found, some of which throw light on the Old Testament. Ugaritic is a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Aramaic. These texts have been important in understanding the history and literature of ancient Israel and her neighbours, and have given scholars a better understanding of ancient Hebrew as found in the Bible.

Vassal treaty
In the ancient Near East, a vassal treaty was a covenant between a great king (suzerain) and a subject king (vassal). The suzerain asserted absolute sovereignty, demanded total loyalty and service, and promised to protect the vassal’s realm and dynasty. In return, the vassal pledged faithfulness and loyalty to this great king alone and agreed to depend only on this suzerain for protection. The pact (often in written form) called on the gods to witness the agreement and to carry out specified curses if the covenant was violated.

The first person to publish an English translation of non-biblical Qumran literature (q. v.) was Geza Vermes. He followed the numbering of the Qumran Hymns commonly thought to be correct at the time. Since then, other scholars have proposed a different numbering which Garcia Martinez follows in his translation. Clippings gives both numbers.

Until Jerome’s translation of the Bible in the early 400s AD, the translations of New Testament into Latin varied and were not particularly accurate, few Western scholars being well versed in Greek. Jerome not only knew Greek well, but also Hebrew. For the Old Testament, he worked from Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts (rather than from the Septuagint (q. v. ) translation), but retained the order of the Septuagint’s order of the books and the numbering of the psalms. Commissioned by Pope Damasus, the Vulgate eventually became the official translation of the Roman Catholic Church.

Western Text
The Western Text is a group of New Testament manuscripts which scholars in the late 1800s classified as being from, or used in, early western Christianity. This group includes bilingual Greek-Latin manuscripts, Old Latin (q. v.) translations and quotations from works written in Latin in the early centuries. Modern scholars have found that other manuscripts, from early eastern Christianity, contain readings which are identical to those in western texts. The Western Text is very early, being from about 150 AD. Copyists explained as well as writing what they heard; some explanations have crept into the text.

Wisdom Literature was a common form of writing across several cultures of the Ancient Near East. It involved such elements as reflection on the meaning of life and instruction for living well.

The Biblical Wisdom Literature includes Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Elements of Wisdom are also found elsewhere in the Bible, notably in some of the Psalms.

In this literature, Wisdom is often personifed as a woman - Lady Wisdom - who may instruct and guide. To live wisely was to have knowledge of the world, both natural and social, and to use that knowledge well. Wisdom - as opposed to Folly - was understood to have an ethical component. The Fool was ethically deficient. The fruits of Wisdom were often understood to include long life, prosperity, abundant offspring and favour with God and in society. Wisdom tends to have a human-centred basis, and is dependent largely on human intelligence to discern the wisdom in creation and then apply it.

In the New Testament, Wisdom is seen as incarnate in Christ, and the letter of James exhibits features of Wisdom Literature.

An approximate transliteration of the Hebrew word for the name of God, also variously transliterated as Jehovah or YHWH. The term is referred to as the tetragrammaton.

Most English Bibles, such as the NRSV, usually indicate the use of the tetragrammaton by the convention of printing “LORD” or sometimes “GOD” in capitals.

This is the worship of God as God of Israel.

One of four sources identified in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). This source normally uses the Hebrew term "YHWH" (the tetragrammaton) for "God". In English, YHWH may be printed as "Yahweh", "Jehovah" or (in the NRSV) as "LORD" or sometimes "GOD" in capitals.

The Yahwist source is characterized by emphasis on the promised land, on descendants, and anthrpomorphic representations of God. Originally dated to c. the ninth or tenth century BCE, more recent scholarship has suggested the Yahwist source may be post-exilic.

Often abbreviated as "J", from German spelling "Jahwist". In some sources the German spelling is used with an anglicised pronunciation.

Yom Zippur
See Day of Atonement.

When the Promised Land was divided among the tribes, the tribe of Levi did not receive a portion; instead, the Levites were to be priests. There were several regional temples. A family provided the priests at each of Shiloh, Jerusalem, and Bethel. Zadok was the priest at Jerusalem under David. When Josiah abolished the outlying temples, descendants of Zadok became the senior priests in Jerusalem. The Zadokite priesthood continued down to the Exile, and after the Exile until the Seleucid (q. v.) takeover of the Temple.

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