Category Archives: History

It Was His Dog

Moving post from Greg Sykes. An excerpt:

I’m reminded of one of the greatest scenes of such frustrated captivity in modern literature. In Eugene Sledge’s phenomenal memoir of WWII, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, Sledge has spent over two months in brutal, subhuman combat on the filthy, stench-ridden island of Okinawa. He has seen atrocities that would destroy the most hardened soldier — and it did in many cases.

He had watched the Japanese strap dynamite to civilian babies and children, sending them into close proximity to the Marines so they could be exploded by gunfire. He had fallen into a hole with a decaying corpse and had the grubs and rotting flesh slide within his own shirt and dungarees. He had killed innumerable enemy soldiers in their suicidal Banzai charges, and he had watched many of his closest friends die.

But he endured the misery and soldiered on . . . until he received a letter from home (Mobile, Alabama). As he read the letter, he finally crossed his breaking point — tears racked him and he lost control. The days and months of being forced to do things that no man should be forced to endure finally caught up to him and the captivity of his role as a Marine in the Pacific overwhelmed him.

And what was in the letter, you ask? Sledge’s mother had written him to tell him that his dog had died.

Reasonable or not, that information shook Sledge to his core. Yes, he had seen atrocities — on a daily basis — that made the death of his dog seem insignificant. But, as he kept telling his companions, that was his dog. He had raised it from a pup. And he should have been there to see it die. It was his dog, he kept saying, as if that explained it.

Read the whole thing for Sykes’s reflections on what we can learn from this.

 

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Josephus on Alexander the Great and the Book of Daniel

A good deal of biblical scholarship on the book of Daniel assumes that Daniel 7–12 was written after 165 B.C. This date is very difficult to reconcile with the actual historical evidence. For instance, the book of Daniel was embraced by all sects of Judaism, whereas other literature produced after the schisms took place was only embraced by particular groups within Judaism.

As noted in an earlier post, the covenanters at Qumran appear to have gone to the shores of the Dead Sea soon after 200 B.C., and there are at least 8 manuscripts of Daniel at Qumran. Is it plausible that a book produced at that time would be accepted by all groups within Judaism, so that even those who separated themselves from the corrupt temple and retreated to Qumran would take this newly produced book with them to the desert? Amid such fierce controversies, would such a book also have been held sacred back in Jerusalem?

The point of this post is to highlight another piece of historical evidence from the Jewish Antiquities by Josephus. Flavius Josephus describes an event that he presents as having taken place in 332 BC (for the date, cf. the Loeb Classical Library ed. of Ant. XI 317, p. 467 notes c and e):

“. . . he [Alexander the Great] gave his hand to the high priest and, with the Jews running beside him, entered the city. Then he went up to the temple, where he sacrificed to God under the direction of the high priest, and showed due honour to the priests and to the high priest himself. And, when the book of Daniel was shown to him, in which he had declared that one of the Greeks would destroy the empire of the Persians, he believed himself to be the one indicated; and in his joy he dismissed the multitude for the time being, but on the following day he summoned them again and told them to ask for any gifts which they might desire. . .”

Two things to note here: first, Josephus clearly regarded Daniel to be the author of the book of Daniel, “the book of Daniel . . ., in which he had declared . . .” Second, Josephus placed this event in 332 BC, so Josephus believed that the book of Daniel had been written by then.

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Crossway ESV Bible Atlas

If you don’t have a Bible Atlas, this is the one to get. If you already have an older one, the updated graphics and information in this one are, in my opinion, compelling reasons to update. This thing is beautiful, and what a blessing to have such resources! Enjoy.

Crossway ESV Bible Atlas, John D. Currid and David P. Barrett

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Fred Zaspel on The Theology of Warfield

I’m really excited to see this new book from Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary. It gives me another nudge to read Warfield himself, which I’m eager to do. So many books . . .

Justin Taylor interviewed Zaspell on the book here.

And the Crossway blog has a link to an audio interview with him here.

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A New Fragment of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter

David Brakke has published a signifcant essay with a fresh translation of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter:

“A New Fragment of Athanasius’s 39th Festal Letter: Heresy, Apocrypha, and the Canon.”  Harvard Theological Review 103 (2010): 47-66.

He points to some of the implications of a “new fragment of the Coptic text” of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter:

“When I read the letter in the mid 1990s, I argued that Athanasius’s promotion of a biblical canon supported a parish-based, episcopally-centered spirituality in opposition to other forms of Christian authority, namely, the teacher and the martyr. I still think that is the case, but the new fragment does suggest that I underestimated the specifically anti-heretical intent of the letter and of Athanasius’s canon. That is, Athanasius promoted a biblical canon not only—as I argued earlier—to support one form of Christian piety, social formation, and authority in opposition to others, but also to refute the specific teachings of persons and groups that he deemed ‘impious’ and ‘heretics.’”[1]

As for what’s new in the new fragment:

“ . . . . These other passages do not, however, include brief descriptions of each heresy’s distinct false teaching as the new fragment does.”[2]

“While the beginning and end of the fragment merely extend or supplement what we already knew of Athanasius’s argument, the brief catalogue of heresies with the biblical passages that refute them in its central section is genuinely new . . .”[3]

Brakke makes an observation that supports the notion that the early church rejected pseudepigraphy/pseudonymity, writing of Athanasius:

“. . . he devotes considerable attention to two particular themes. . . . The second theme is that no ‘apocryphal’ books really come from Isaiah, Moses, Enoch, or any other authoritative figure. They all published their teaching openly, and any ‘apocryphal’ books attributed to them must be recent inventions of heretics.”[4]

This comment adds to a lot of other evidence that when early figures in the church wrongly cited extra-canonical books as Scripture, they did so thinking that the attribution to some ancient inspired prophet was genuine. In other words, had they known the document was pseudepigraphical or pseudonymous, they would have rejected it. To my thinking this adds to the evidence that there were clear notions of authorship in the ancient world, that Jesus accepted the traditional claims about who wrote the books of the OT (e.g., Moses wrote the Pentateuch, Isaiah wrote Isaiah, Daniel wrote Daniel, etc.), and that the early church followed Jesus on this point.

Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter is not saying something new about the canon. Rather, Athanasius sees himself re-stating ancient tradition. Brakke writes:

“As Athanasius and others like him present the matter, when legitimate officeholders of the church (bishops) teach, they are faithfully passing on what Christ told the disciples, who subsequently informed their Episcopal successors, and so they are not really teaching at all. Athanasius claims this about himself in our letter: ‘I have not written these things as if I were teaching, for I have not attained such a rank. . . . I thus have informed you of everything that I heard from my father,’ that is, Bishop Alexander of Alexandria.”[5]

Athanasius was a shepherd seeking to protect the flock from wolves:

“Although most scholars remain focused on the lists of books, the greater importance of the letter is that it reveals the role of canon formation in supporting one form of Christian piety and authority and undermining others. . . . The new fragment . . . makes clear that in establishing a defined canon Athanasius sought to undermine not only a general spirituality of free intellectual inquiry and its academic mode of authority, but also the specific false doctrines to which he believed such a spirituality gave rise.”[6]

A fresh translation of the entire letter, with a revised version of the new Coptic Fragment, follows on pages 57–66.


[1] David Brakke, “A New Fragment of Athanasius‘s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter: Heresy, Apocrypha, and the Canon,” Harvard Theological Review 103 (2010): 48.

[2] Ibid., 50.

[3] Ibid., 51.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 53.

[6] Ibid., 56.

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Mullin Reviews MacLeod’s Biography of Woods

From the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals:

Book Review:  A. Donald MacLeod.  C. Stacey Woods and the Evangelical Rediscovery of the University.  Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007.  pp. 283.  $25.00

by Miles Mullin

Donald MacLeod, Research Professor of Church History at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, has produced a much-needed biography of the indefatigable C. Stacy Woods (1909-83).  Although less well-known than other evangelical luminaries, Woods’ contributions to evangelicalism are immeasurable, having influenced countless university students towards Christ.

Read the whole thing.

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