Categories
History of the Bible

What is the History of Easter?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Writer for Foundations by ICM

 

What is the history of Easter? We can all agree about where it started – with the resurrection of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago. But where does Easter fit in, and what’s with all the bunnies and eggs? Many recent studies have concluded that Easter is based on ancient pagan celebrations, that the date and perhaps especially the name of Easter are pagan through and through. In this estimation, Christians merely adopted the pagan holiday and attached the story of Jesus to it. In this blog, I want to introduce you to a counterpoint to this pop history. 

How it All Began?

To summarize the popular premise, at least the most common among many, “Easter” got its name from a pagan goddess named Eostre. This Eostre is a semi-mythical figure dating back thousands of years before Christ. She was a ruler to whom were ascribed the traits of a god – specifically a god of fertility and life. It is said that a yearly festival was established in her honor and that eggs and rabbits were part of that celebration. 

Fast forward a few thousand years and pagan people across the world still celebrated this holiday. Christians, with the best intentions in mind, co-opted this holiday but replaced Eostre with Christ because…you know…resurrection and life. Seemed like a good fit. So Easter became a Christian holiday in much the same way as Christmas (we have a blog about that, too!). At least, that’s what we’re told. 

What’s In a Name?

But let’s talk about that name for a moment. This seems to be the central point of contention for those who argue for the pagan roots of Easter. Did early Christians use the name Easter? Certainly not. Originally, Easter was called Pascha. This name refers to the Jewish Passover, not an ancient fertility goddess.2 In fact, for the early Church, Pascha was simply Passover after the resurrection of Jesus. Pascha comes from the Hebrew word Pesach, meaning ‘to pass over,’ and refers back to the Exodus story.

Ok, but everyone calls it Easter these days, right? Not nearly. Most Eastern Christians call it Pascha, and the word for Easter in many non-English languages translates to Pascha (e.g, Spanish Pascua, Italian Pasqua, Portuguese Páscoa, and Romanian Pasti). Calling it “Easter” is a Western, Anglo addition likely deriving from one of many German words. 

Think about it. If the original name is not Easter but rather this name was added later by Western, Anglo society, then the very idea that Easter is a pagan holiday because it has a pagan name is an entirely anglo-centric argument. Think about it, the argument is essentially saying ‘It’s pagan because English-speaking peoples call it by a pagan name’…that does not seem like a good argument. It ignores the long history of what the church has called the celebration of the resurrection and it ignores the reality that its origins are Middle-Eastern. 

So, even if the word Easter is pagan (and this is a big if, but one that we don’t have space to talk about here), that doesn’t make Easter, or rather Pascha, a co-opted pagan celebration. 

How Was the Date of Easter Determined?

But what about the date of Easter? Isn’t it based on the pagan Eostre celebration? Going hand-in-hand with the discussion of the name of this holiday, the timing of our celebration centers on Pascha, or the paschal moon, not on an ancient holiday. In the early church, the timing of Easter was a point of considerable debate. The prevailing sentiment of the Church, however, was that the Christian Pascha celebration was to be celebrated separately from, and in most cases after, Passover.

Why does this matter? Because it is abundantly clear that the date for Easter is based on the Jewish festival, not the pagan holiday. While originally the idea was that Easter should be celebrated after Pascha because Jesus ate the Passover meal before going to the cross, a change in calendars meant a change in dates. When the West switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the original connections faded, but the idea remained. The date of Easter is far from having a pagan origin.

Where Do the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs Come From?

The argument that Easter is a co-opted pagan holiday is perhaps strongest in regard to some of its peripheral elements – bunnies, eggs, lambs, etc. Some are easier to explain than others. The lamb, for instance, has clear connections to the Christian story.

But what about the brightly-colored eggs? How are they religious? Well, ancient Easter practices included the season of Lent where certain foods were forbidden, including eggs. As a result, when Easter came and the restrictions were lifted, it became customary to give an egg as a gift. As the custom grew in popularity, the eggs began to be painted or decorated. In Russia, the tradition was so widespread that the nobility would gift egg-shaped, jeweled ornaments – think of the Faberge Eggs. So, far from being pagan symbols of fertility, eggs merely celebrated the fact that people could start eating whatever they wanted again.

Ok, then what about the Easter Bunny? Surely that must be pagan, or at the very least entirely commercial? To that objection I could merely concede as there is much less evidence for the religious roots of the bunny… and yet, even he likely came in through the Church. 

You see, as the Lent tradition mentioned above was practiced by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, early protestants rejected the practice of giving up certain foods before Easter. Instead, some protestant groups began what could be seen as a very early Christian meme meant to poke fun at their Catholic neighbors. So, as the joke goes, why don’t Catholics eat eggs until Easter? Because the Easter Bunny hides them. In some accounts, the bunny itself even lays the eggs, but I won’t even try to speak to the religious significance of that.

What is the History of Easter?

Putting this all together, Easter, or rather Pascha, is thoroughly Christian and dates to the beginning of the second century A.D. at the very latest. The date of Easter has Jewish and Christian roots, and even the elements that seem least religious have cultural and historical significance for Christians. Only the name, Easter, appears to have pagan roots, but even that is likely a historical coincidence as the word Easter more likely derives from one of many Christian terms (such as the German word for Resurrection). 

The oft-cited pagan history of Easter is anglo-centric and anachronistic. It lacks a basis in real history, instead of creating a pop history. Don’t fall into the trap this Easter season when you see popular theories showing up on your social media feed. Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with confidence knowing that the church, from its inception, has considered this the most sacred of days of the Faith.

 

1Also known as Queen Semiramis, wife of Nimrod, who later became known as mother goddess Ishtar or Eostre.
2The main historical evidence that ties the word Eostre with Easter comes from an 8th-century monk named Bedewho briefly mentions the connection in one of his writings

Categories
History of the Bible

The Taxman Cometh: Why Did Jews in the Bible Hate Tax Collectors?

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

If you had to nominate a group for “Most Hated People in Scripture,” tax collectors would probably be the first to mind. In fact, tax collectors are singled out for scorn directly or indirectly over 30 times in the gospels. 

In democratic societies, the tax collector plays an important, but annoying role in sustaining a system that ultimately benefits the citizenry. In the gospels, however, the tax collector is a whole different animal and Jewish hatred for them is palpable. Thus, people do not respond well when Jesus embraces them in repentance as followers and even makes one as His close disciple.

 

The Question

So a natural question would be: “Why do the Jews of the gospel era feel such a profound hatred for tax collectors?” 

The answer to this question is a bit of a history lesson. So, bear with me while I tell you a story. The tax collectors don’t come in until the end, but when they do, perhaps you will hate them just as much.

 

The Story Answer

The Jewish self-consciousness of Jesus’ day is intimately bound up with the lost glory days of the Davidic kings and the centuries of struggle under foreign rule following their exile. 

David himself establishes as free of a society as one might hope for in the ancient world. It is like a proto-constitutional republic. The people covenant with the house of David to be their kings. The sons of David are sworn to rule by Torah, and by principles of shepherd leadership, as spiritual equals with the people. Given the corruptive nature of power, this doesn’t always work out so well, but between exodus and exile, they are at least ruled by brothers and not foreigners. Throughout these years they are fed spiritually through the prophets on the promises of a reestablished Davidic rule, where Messiah will restore all things to proper order. 

After being in exile, the Jewish people are allowed to return to their homeland, but they remain under foreign control. They are kicked about like a soccer ball for a few centuries between competing empire builders. Life is not too terrible when these foreign rulers leave the Jewish people to their own devices in exchange for tribute raised through taxes. 

During the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, however, things take an ugly turn. Antiochus hates the Jews and is determined to crush them through various means. He seduces Jewish youths to the dark side of Hellenistic life. He also bans Torah, interferes in Jewish religious practices, and defiles their sacred sites. 

The Jews push back hard against Antiochus and win their freedom, living under their own brother rulers for the first time since the exile. This is no Davidic Messianic reign, but it does seem to the Jews to be an important step in that direction. When Messiah comes, surely their Jewish rulers will hand over power to Him.  

Not surprisingly, Jewish power struggles get messy and some 60 years before Jesus’ birth, hard-won Jewish freedom is lost to Rome. The Jews find themselves yet again under foreign rule. Rome begins by working with existing Jewish leadership, but the level of Roman control and interference grows steadily as the decades pass. 

Herod the Great, a pseudo-Jewish Roman representative, proves despotic in psychotic ways. Upon his celebrated death, Rome divides power between Herod’s surviving heirs, and, eventually, appoints purely Roman prefects over various parts of old Davidic territory. Dreams of Messiah never seem less likely, and are, for that very reason, most pronounced. If ever the Jewish people needed Yahweh to fulfill His Messianic promises, it is then. 

 

The Taxman Cometh

So what do we have? We have a people nurtured on unprecedented levels of freedom, nursed on great Messianic hopes for a divine peaceable kingdom, raised in the great light of Torah, who descend into the madness of pagan domination for centuries. They have been abused, bullied, tormented, tortured, and murdered. They are daily prevented from being the people they believe God has called them to be, and the oppression of it weighs heavily upon them. 

It gets worse. Taxes under the Roman Empire are complicated and layered. Companies buy the right of taxation for regions, guaranteeing Rome a certain income into their coffers, and receiving in exchange a free hand to pick the pockets of the people. It is a thoroughly corrupt system greased and protected with bribery. The lowest men are appointed at the bottom rung to do the dirtiest job; the actual confiscation of funds. These are men who take special pleasure in exercising power over others and pressing every advantage they have over them to the full. 

There are crown taxes, income taxes, property taxes, produce taxes, bridge taxes, road taxes, harbor taxes, import taxes, export taxes, town taxes, special taxes on certain goods, some as high as 12 ½ %. Any attempt to move goods to market involves constant harassment. On command, farmers have to unload their goods, allow them to be searched, assessed, and taxed at the discretion of the tax collector. 

Common people are always vulnerable to false accusations and the penalties for nonpayment by cash-poor farmers can be extreme. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-34 tells it true, saying, “…since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made,” and we find, “seizing him, he began to choke him, … and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.” 

It gets worse still. Many Jewish people throw in their lot with the oppressors. The common Jewish person might not be able to say much about their leaders whose power and wealth was largely dependent on continued Roman support of their leadership, but another class of betrayer is ready at hand for their ire—the Jewish tax collector. They are the greedy, smug, sneering, mocking face of Roman oppression worn by fellow Jews, who, but for their abandonment of faith in the promises of God, would have been brothers in arms. They are ranked with murderers and the grossest of sinners. 

 

Good News, Bad News

It is just too much to bear. In the complex experience of this betrayal, frustration boils over. It is important, as we read the gospels, to feel the depth of it. We must know their crimes, and look on knowingly with the crowds and Pharisees as Jesus says to one of the chiefs of these wicked men, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today,” and then, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”  (Luke 19:5-9)  We must feel what it was for the people to look on as these turncoats come to Jesus, like prodigal sons fattened upon the stolen wealth of their brothers, and to find Jesus accepting their repentance and rejoicing, He claims, with the angels. 

It should affect us deeply. Jesus’ forgiveness does not diminish their crimes, rather, it exalts the grace and mercy of God. Indeed, no class of sinner is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit’s conviction or the Father’s forgiveness.

And that is good news for you and me, the Chief of Sinners. 

 

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Categories
History of the Bible

When Was the Bible Written?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

Bible Timeline

(all dates are approximate)
BC
1900-1600 – Job
1445-1405 – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
1405-550 – Psalms
1405-1375 – Joshua
1150-900 – Judges, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, 1-2 Samuel
900-800 – Obadiah, Joel
800-700 – Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah
700-600 – Isaiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk
600-500 – Ezekiel, Lamentations, Jeremiah, Daniel, Haggai
500-400 – 1-2 Chronicles, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Malachi

AD
40-50 – James
50-60 – Matthew, Mark, Romans, Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians, 1-2 Thessalonians
60-70 – Luke, John, Acts, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, 1-2 Peter, Hebrews, Jude
90-96 – 1-3 John, Revelation

Most of the books you and I will ever read were written within the last century. Perhaps certain classics of literature date back two centuries. It is remarkable to realize, then, that the Bible is not just old, it is truly ancient. What is more, no other book in the history of the world can claim even a tenth of the span of years over which the individual documents in the Bible were written. Still, as long ago as that was, understanding these details is more than just an exercise in abstract history. Learning when, how, and why the Bible was written helps us to understand what God is doing. Looking back through the lens of history can teach us a great deal about what the Bible meant to its original audience, and, therefore, what it means for us today.  

The very simplest answer you can give to the question “When was the Bible written” is to say, “a very long time ago.” Even this seemingly useless answer can be helpful. You see, when we read the Bible as if it were written during our own time, we will read it wrongly. Knowing that it is an ancient text will help us to take a step back and think about details like, ‘to whom was this written?’ ‘What was happening at the time?’ ‘What did that mean in their culture, place and time?’ and so on. These are important questions to ask as you study the Scriptures. The Bible itself provides enough information to give context to the stories it tells. 

Now, if we stop with the simple answer, we will miss a great depth of truth. Therefore, we will spend some time among the details, answering the question specifically for each section of the Bible. 

The Old Testament

Let’s begin with the oldest book in the Bible. Perhaps you will be surprised to find out that it is not Genesis. No, the book of Job was written half a millennia before any other book in the Bible, making it the oldest by far. The events of Job take place somewhere around 2000 years before Christ. Unlike the rest of the Old Testament, we must use our best guess to come up with a date for Job, but it is likely that it was written between 20th and 17th century BC. 

With the details that God provides in His Word, we can reliably date the books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy, to around the middle of the 15th century BC. The last books to be written are known as the post-Exilic books, written around the middle of the 5th century BC. So, we can say that most of the Old Testament was produced over the course of 1000 years, between 1445-400 BC, with Job being the lone outlier. 

The book of Psalms is also an interesting exception in that it has many authors who lived at different times. The Psalm of Moses, Psalm 90, was written during Moses’ lifetime in the 15th century. Most of the Psalms were written by David in the 11th and/or 10th century. Some may have been written as late as the 6th century BC. So the writing of the Psalms spans nearly the same length as of the Old Testament itself. 

Now, there is considerable debate about these dates, with two significant views emerging. The main difference between these views is whether Scripture itself is historically reliable. The dates given above assume that the events of the Old Testament happened in the way that the Bible says they happened. The other view relies on something called the Historical-Critical Method. It assumes that the stories in the Bible were written long after they happened through a process of gathering and compiling ancient source materials. According to this view, the stories of the Bible did not necessarily happen the way they are told, but they are included in Scripture to teach important lessons. It dates the final compositions of the Old Testament books to a much later time, asserting that the majority of it was produced during the 5th century, and assigning Daniel to a mere century and a half before Jesus. 

This is an important debate, but it is one that will have to wait for another time. For the purpose of the Foundations course material, we believe that the Bible is historically reliable. The older dates we provided up front are trustworthy. We also believe that, when the Bible attributes a book to a certain author, and discusses the lives of particular characters it is giving accurate information. 

For most books in the Bible, this means we can know when they were written if we know when the author lived. Moses, for instance, wrote during the 15th century. David wrote during the 11th century BC, followed by Solomon in the 10th. Many of the Prophets’ lives can be dated by their proximity to the Exile, with most writing between the 8th and 6th centuries. The post-Exilic books (those written after the Exile of Israel), including Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi, among others, were written between the 6th and 5th centuries, BC. The Bible gives us clear historical markers by which we can date nearly every book in the Old Testament. Take a look at the chart at the end of the page for a complete listing.

The New Testament

While dating the books of the Old Testament is not difficult, dating the New Testament writings is remarkably simple. This is because every book of the New Testament was written within the first century AD. If you go on to study this in greater detail, you will find that there is considerable debate over the exact year that many of the books were written, but these are most often differences of 1 or 2, maybe up to 5 years. 

Furthermore, we know that almost every book of the New Testament was written after Christ ascended to heaven, but before the year AD 70. This latter date marks an extremely significant event in the history of the Church: this is when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. No book in the New Testament makes references to the destruction of the Temple or any of the events that followed, save for Revelation alone. So, we can date the writing of every book other than Revelation and John’s letters to between the years AD 35 and 70. In fact, the great majority were written in less than a 20-year time span, between the years 50 and 68. 

John is the one outlier. John, the Apostle wrote Revelation and his three letters when he was an old man. We also know from multiple early sources that John wrote Revelation while he was in exile near the end of the reign of emperor Domitian, who died in AD 96. With these bits of information, along with details from within the texts themselves, we can say that John wrote 1, 2, and 3 John, along with Revelation, between AD 90 to 95. 

As we conclude, let’s answer our original question; “When was the Bible written?” The Bible was written over the span of 2000 years, between the 20th century BC and the 1st century AD. As you read and study the Bible, take a moment to recall this information, and be amazed at the remarkable unity of a book that was written by around 40 different people through multiple millennia. Indeed, this book must be the Word of God.

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Categories
History of the Bible

Who Wrote the Bible?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

There is no question that the Bible is a literary masterpiece. It is the most sold, most translated, most influential book in the history of the human race. This raises an important question. Who wrote such an important book? 

Most books list their author on the cover, but the Bible doesn’t make it this easy for us. While attempting to answer the question, “Who wrote the Bible?”, we will need to keep several important considerations in mind. 

First, we call the Bible the Word of God. What does that mean, and how does that relate to its authorship? 

Second, the Bible claims that many different people wrote the Bible. If so, how can we call it the Word of God? 

Third, if many people wrote the Bible, who decided to put it all together into a single book that is accredited to God Himself? How can we trust that they got the right books? 

Of course, each of these considerations deserves far more attention than we can give here, but let’s think of this as an introduction to these issues.

The Word of God

When we say that the Bible is the Word of God, we mean that the words we see on the pages of Scripture actually come originally from God Himself. The Bible attests to this, saying in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God…” The word “Inspired” literally means “breathed-out.” The Greek word translated as ‘inspired’ is theopneustos. This combines two Greek words into one. We find theo meaning ‘God’, and pneustos meaning ‘to breathe.’ Thus, Paul, who penned 2 Timothy, believed that Scripture is the Word of God in a literal sense. 

So, we could answer the question, “Who wrote the Bible?” by saying, “God did!” 

If we stop there, however, we will run into some problems. How, exactly, did God write Scripture? Did a finger appear to write the words on a wall, as it did in Daniel 5? Or perhaps God carved it into tablets, as He did for Moses in Deuteronomy 10

Of course, He could have done those things, but God had a more specialized instrument in mind when He decided to write. Just as God uses people to accomplish His mission and build His Church, God used people to write His book. As an artist wields a paintbrush or an author a pen, God wields men as instruments to record His words. This process is known as “Inspiration.”

The Inspiration of Human Authors

As God inspired men to write the Scriptures, He empowered them by His Spirit to write the words that He wanted them to write. This task, however, was far more complex than simple dictation. God worked with His human instruments, allowing their experiences, personalities, and even attitudes to come across on the page. As we dig deeper to determine who wrote the Bible, we find that there are around 35 to 40 human authors. They came from almost every imaginable walk of life. There were kings, princes, priests, warriors, musicians, farmers, shepherds, fishermen, carpenters, housewives, tent makers, medical doctors, and even a once despised tax collector.

Indeed, it is not an insignificant fact that the greatest, most influential literature in the history of man did not come from the world’s great philosophers or even rise from its great civilizations. Rather, from the least likely of places and the least likely of people at the least likely of times, these people came forward from all walks of life claiming to have had a prophetic encounter with, and a divine message from, the creator of all.

Now, each of these backgrounds shaped the content of their writing. David’s interest in music greatly impacted his writing of the Psalms, whereas Luke’s career as a physician led him to include many details that other writers would leave out. God did not simply turn the authors of Scripture into puppets so that He could say He wrote it through human agents. So, the question is, if each of these authors wrote the words they wanted to write, how can we say that God was writing through them? Perhaps an analogy will help.

Have you ever seen an orchestra playing a piece of music? If not, just imagine any group of musicians coming together to play a song. Each member has an instrument which they have individually learned to play. Not only that, but they play it with a certain style or flair all their own. Yet, the composer dictates where and how each musician plays. Thus, the final composition is under the ultimate control of the composer; and yet, each individual musician contributes his own unique personality to it. In a similar way, God is the composer of Scripture. He is ultimately in control of everything that is written, yet each individual author contributes something unique and personal. Understanding this, we call Scripture a Divine-Human work. God brings free human agents into the process, but it is accomplished through His supervision and by His power. 

The Bible as We Know It

Now, it is one thing to believe that God wrote the Bible through men, but that happened a long time ago. How can we be sure that the Bible we have today is the actual Word of God? There are many other books written by some very holy people, but they are not considered Scripture. Who decided which books got in and which ones did not? 

While there is a great deal of depth to the discussion of how we got our Old Testament, the simple answer is that it was assembled by prophets, kings, and leaders over many centuries. The Pentateuch, which comprises the first five books of the Bible, were well established as Scripture from the very earliest days of the Hebrew nation. Through the centuries, other prophetic works of history, prophetic oracles, and poetry were added. The final collection of the books Christians label “the Old Testament,” came some 400 to 500 years before Christ. When Ezra the priest and prophet returned from exile to find that the Jewish people had forgotten the laws of God, he led a national revival. Part of this revival included the rediscovery of the Jewish scriptures and efforts to organize, expand, and preserve them. 

The New Testament, on the other hand, appeared suddenly. While the Old Testament recounts the entire history of the world from Creation through the Jewish return from exile, the New Testament is about the life and works of Jesus and His disciples. These events span years rather than centuries. The books that make up our New Testament are those written by men who were directly taught by Jesus or His inspired Apostles. These books were used as Scripture by the church almost immediately. We can see that, even while the New Testament was being written, the Church was recognizing the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, we see Peter refer to Paul’s letters as “Scripture,” placing them on equal footing with the entire Old Testament. Thus, our New Testament came together organically as God directed men to write. 

In A.D. 325, Church leaders held a council where they recognized and canonized Scripture. The Council of Nicaea, as it was called, did not make editorial decisions about which books to include or exclude; rather, it made official and forever unalterable what the church had been practicing since its earliest days. They affirmed that these are divinely inspired works. 

As we conclude, remember: if we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then it is ultimately God who we should trust to deliver His Word to us faithfully. God has gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that His Word has been written precisely the way that He wants it. Jesus says in Matthew 5:18 that “Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished.” So, we should not look to men like Ezra or the council of Nicaea to know whether Scripture is reliable. God has seen to it that it was faithfully written, faithfully collected, and faithfully preserved. If we can trust the God of the Bible, then we can certainly trust the Bible that is from God.

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