Archive for July 31st, 2008

This past Sunday, David Faust, President of Cincinnati Christian University, preached at our church, with the key passage coming from 2 Cor 2:14-15

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

This brought to mind a rather interesting (at least to me) topic I’d been meaning to write regarding the layout of the Gospel of Mark and its parallels to the coronation celebrations of the Caesars.

In the quoted passage from 2 Corinthians, a number of pastors will frequently tie the “triumphal procession” to Jesus’ parade entry into Jerusalem during Holy Week. However, the “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem was a term coined centuries later by church historians, and when understood in context, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem would not fit the type of procession being described by Paul.

David Faust and others, though, recognize that the likely procession being referred to by Paul is the Roman Triumphus, a ritual celebration first used to recognize the return of conquering generals, and later as a way of coronation of Caesar as a god on Earth. This ritual was quite detailed, and the first century traditions surrounding it have been preserved by Roman historians of the time.

The Triumphus

In the Roman Triumphus, there were a number of steps which were followed:

  1. The Praetorian Guard, the elite of Caesar’s troops and personal bodyguards, would assemble in the Praetorium, surrounding the Caesar, along with his key supporters (the senate, magistrates, etc.)
  2. A golden olive-wreath (signifying a crown of victory) was removed from the Temple of Zeus, along with a purple robe (signifying royalty) and a scepter (symbolic of the full authority of Rome) were brought to the Caesar, who would wear the wreath on his head, the robe on his body, and carry the scepter to show his authority.
  3. The Praetorian Guard would chant “Hail Caesar! Triumphe! Show us you are a god!” over and over, in recognition of him, paying personal homage before the public procession.
  4. Chanting, the procession would go out from the Praetorium, through the streets of Rome, led by the Roman soldiers, followed by Caesar. Behind him, or along with him, was the sacrificial bull that would be sacrificed to give him entrance into the pantheon of the gods. A servant would accompany the bull, carrying a large axe, which would be used to sacrifice the bull to the gods. Additionally, soldiers would carry burning incense to spread the scent of victory for the Caesar – so that his aroma would be throughout the city.
  5. The procession continued to the top of the highest hill in Rome – the Capitoline, whose name means “Head Hill” (based on the myth that an undecayed human head was found there during the building of Rome) and stop in front of the Capitoleum.
  6. There, at the Capitoleum, the emperor would come forward with the bull and the servant/executioner, where he would be offered a bowl of wine mixed with myrrh. He would refuse the bowl and pour it out onto the bull, symbolically placing something from himself onto the bull so as to symbolically share its fate. As soon as he had poured out the wine, the bull was killed, so that the linkage of the sacrifice and Caesar’s godhood were clear to all of the people.
  7. Taking his first-in-command on his right and his second-in-command on his left, the Caesar would ascend into the Capitoleum to the throne and symbolically to godhood.
  8. When he got to the top of the steps, the crowd would continue to acclaim him – “Hail Caesar! Triumphe! Show us you are a god!”
  9. They would then wait for the gods to send them a sign that the gods were recognizing him (On at least one occasion, there was an eclipse on the same day), after which Caesar was declared to be a true son of the gods.

The people of the Roman Empire had witnessed this multiple times during the middle of the first century – at least with Nero, Claudius, and Caligula. Paul’s imagery in speaking of triumphal procession to the church in Corinth was more likely to conjure up this spectacle than Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem during holy week. However, he turns it on its head by making the One true God and His Son the objects of the procession, and not Caesar.

The Book of Mark

John Mark, the gospel writer, was traditionally a Roman disciple of Peter, who recorded Peter’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry, primarily to a Gentile, Roman audience. As such, a number of contemporary scholars have noted how, during the story of Jesus’ passion, Mark calls out specific details which seem to mirror that of the Roman Triumphus, as does Matthew (who had been a Roman tax collector).

Let us examine this:

  1. Jesus is brought to the Praetorium and surrounded by the company of soldiers (Mark 15:16) – note that a company of soldiers is 6,000 people! Matthew and Mark both call out the place as the Praetorium (which is not a Greek word, and is unusual to be called out specifically, using the Latin word).
  2. Jesus is given a purple robe and a crown (and is beaten with a scepter) (Mark 15:17-19) – According to Roman law, only those with a rank of Equestrian could wear purple (with Pilate and Herod as the only eligible people in Judea), yet they found one to borrow to use on Jesus.
  3. The soldiers chant “Hail, King of the Jews!” and pay homage to him (Mark’s words) (Mark 15:18-20)
  4. Jesus is taken in procession out to the streets, where Simon the Cyrene follows along with him, carrying the instrument of execution. (Mark 15:21)
  5. They took Jesus to a hill called Golgotha (which literally translates “Head Hill”). (Mark 15:22)
  6. They offered him wine mixed with Myrrh, which he refused. Immediately after this refusal, they crucified him. (Mark 15:23-24)
  7. They crucified two zealots/terrorists with him, one on his right and one on his left. (Mark 15:27) (NOTE: The term for ‘robbers’ indicates that they were likely political prisoners who were zealots, rather than common thieves.)
  8. “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!’ In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Mark 15:29-32)
  9. Then, darkness fell over the land for three hours (Mark 15:33), and God gave a sign by tearing the Temple veil in two (Mark 15:38) and caused an earthquake and mass-resurrection of many holy people (Matt 27:51-53) and a Roman soldier declared that Jesus was surely the Son of God. (Mark 15:39)

So what should we make of this?

First off, we are given a perfect example of a meta-narrative in which Jesus is being coronated as the Son of God and he is contrasted with Caesar, who can only pretend to be a god. This was a highly subversive message, particular between Nero and Trajan when people were executed for not recognizing the “godhood” of Caesar, and it is a subversive message for us today.

(Skeptics often question why the Gospel accounts differ on certain points, and how they could be inspired. This is just one demonstration of how Gospel writers would emphasize and include certain details with omitting or deemphasizing others in order to best proclaim a message to their listeners/readers.)

Tying it Back

Going back to Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to join him in triumphal procession – what procession have we been invited to join? It is certainly not the procession that cried “Hosannah!” one day and crucified him less than a week later. It is not a procession of conquest and gross indulgence. Rather, it is a procession of submission and sacrifice, a triumphal procession which was led by the Bridegroom of the Church, the true Son of God.

I would like to acknowledge this article’s sources, which were primarily lectures and/or discussion with Ray VanderLaan and Dr. Tim Brown, along with an archaeological journal article that I have since lost (though I will credit it here, should I find it again).

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I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping the past few weeks and I’ve gotten in the bad habit of staying up late (this comes naturally to me anyway).  The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson comes on during the 11th hour and one of his guests tonight was author/singer/musician/producer Tom Sullivan.  Tom was on the show promoting a new book and as usual much of the interview ends up being more about the person than the product (which I think is good attribute of the late show genre). 

Immediately we find out that Tom is blind and soon discover that he was born that way.  During the course of the interview, Craig asked Tom if he thinks about what it would be like to see, or about the possibility of him to have his sight restored.  Tom paused for a moment and then he told a story about his morning run on the beach.  Tom gave one of the most extensive, concise, and beautiful descriptions of one of the more mundane routines of life that I have ever heard.  The way he was talking I thought he might be a Christian.  His appreciation for creation, life, and others expressed in words is befitting of a Psalmist.

You see, Tom is not defined by his lack of eyesight.  That is not who he is and that is not how he lives his life.  He has a vision for life that pervades every aspect of his life, from recreation (golf & skiing) to work (see above) to his personality.  When we Christians allow ourselves to be defined or to define others by anything other than who we are in Christ, we wind up treating eachother in an unChristian manner.  We lose the vision for life that God has given us in Christ.  Our world becomes negative, full of complaining, grumbling, anger, pride, and even malice.  We revert back to the kind of people we were before the Spirit of God took up residence in our lives.  There is much to say about this, but I want to share with you this passage from 2 Corinthians which really resonated with me:

Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was,  will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?  If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!  For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.  And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.  We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.  But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.  Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.  But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.  Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:4-4:6

I once was lost in the decrepidness of my evil desires, but I was found by Christ and given a new heart, a new identity, a new vision.  I am being transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Who am I?  I am Christian.

*Added material in this post is italicized.

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