“Ask a Scholar” at Bible Odyssey

The Society of Biblical Literature has mounted a new/recent web-resource for the “general public” entitled “Bible Odyssey” here. People are invited to lodge questions, and to each a relevant expert is asked by the SBL to make a response. I’ve had my own first go at doing this here, in response to a question about the origins of treating Jesus as divine.

-Dr. Larry Hurtado
“Bible Odyssey: Recent Web Site”
Larry Hurtado’s Blog

That’s a good, short description of a very interesting new resource on Biblical scholarship which has recently become available to non-scholars.

However, Bible Odyssey is more than just a place to ask a scholar a question.

You can learn how scholars view the different notable people in the Bible such as Abraham, Daniel, John the Baptist, and Jesus. The same treatment is given to specific places in the Bible like Antioch, Corinth, Jerusalem, and Rome. Have a question about a particular passage in the Bible? You can learn more about the Binding of Isaac, Jesus and the Money Changers, the New Covenant, and more.

But as Dr. Hurtado pointed out, one of the most exciting opportunities this web site offers is the ability to ask a Biblical scholar a question and receive a detailed response. Just click Ask a Scholar to get started, but keep this important proviso in mind:

Please keep in mind that this site is focused on the historical, social, literary, and cultural contexts of the Bible, rather than on theology, spirituality or personal religious beliefs. Selected questions that fall within the purview of Bible Odyssey will be forwarded to scholars.

If you just love getting into theological or doctrinal debates, that’s not going to happen here. Chances are, not all of your personal theological or spiritual beliefs are going to be supported by each and every response. I don’t know that each person listed as a contributor will be answering reader questions, but they’ve all provided content to the web site. In fact, one of my favorites (besides Dr. Hurtado) is on the list, Magnus Zetterholm.

Here’s an example of how “Ask a Scholar” works.

Someone asked a question about Jesus Worship:

When did the worship of Jesus, as God, rather than Messiah, Lord, and Savior, begin? And by whom?

This is right up Dr. Hurtado’s alley, so to speak, since he’s written extensively about the early worship of Jesus as God.

I found one portion of Hurtado’s response particularly interesting (I’ll put the relevant section in bold text below):

But I presume that you actually mean “when and where did Jesus first come to be reverenced as somehow really sharing in God’s status, or glory, and so the rightful recipient of worship along with God?” This has been a contested question for at least a century or more. Pretty much everyone is agreed that Jesus didn’t receive worship during his ministry. The key questions contested are how soon and where after Jesus’ crucifixion did it begin.

Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but it sounds as if Dr. Hurtado is drawing a distinction between God and Jesus, and that Jesus is alongside God as opposed to the embodiment of God as God’s Son.

Admittedly, the Divine nature of Jesus has always been rather mysterious to me, and I know that most Christians take it as a matter of course and don’t ask questions. Also, Hurtado isn’t answering the question about how Jesus could be God, just when did people begin giving him the same worship and devotion as God.

Dr. Hurtado finishes his response with (and again, I’ll bold what I think is the most interesting part of the text):

The Aramaic liturgical expression, “Maranatha” (= “O/our, Lord, come!” cited in 1Cor 16:22), is one of several pieces of direct evidence that Jewish, Aramaic-speaking believers invoked the risen/exalted Jesus as “Lord” in their corporate worship gatherings. The basis for this remarkable development was apparently the convictions that God had exalted Jesus as “Lord,” that Jesus now shared God’s glory, name and throne, and that God now required Jesus to be reverenced accordingly (e.g., Phil 2:9-11).

This makes it seem as if God took some sort of action that resulted in Jesus gaining exaltation as “Lord” and enabled Jesus to then share in God’s glory, name, and throne, thus requiring that his followers now revere Jesus in that light (as opposed to Jesus having eternally been God from “the beginning”).

Of course, I could be wrong in how I’m interpreting Dr. Hurtado’s response, but you’ve got to admit that this is a bit different from what you’ll hear coming from the pulpit on any given Sunday, at least it is in my experience.

And that’s the exciting part about being able to ask a Biblical scholar a question. It’s pretty rare for any current Biblical research to filter down into any particular Pastor’s sermon and thus into the church pews. From my own background, what we typically hear in sermons and Sunday school is a traditional interpretation of the Bible that’s been handed down for years, decades, or generations, filtered through specific denominational biases, and untouched by any recent or current Biblical scholarly findings.

For the person who wants to become a more serious student of the Bible but who isn’t a scholar nor likely to take a degree in Biblical studies, this is a terrific resource that is easily accessed.

A few technical problems.

The link to the page containing previous answers to “Ask a Scholar” questions is, as of this writing, broken (Addendum: the link has since been fixed). It leads to an error page. But on the error page, when you click the link to return to the Home Page, you go nowhere because there’s no .org extension after “bibleodyssey/”.

I reported the first problem, so hopefully someone will look into it. My guess is that the designer of the site still needs to do some more testing before it becomes fully operational.

All that said, I’m glad to pass along this information and hope that folks find it useful and illuminating.

15 thoughts on ““Ask a Scholar” at Bible Odyssey”

  1. I agree with you about the interesting text that Dr.Hurtado cited (Phil.2:9-11). I’ve often cited this passage beginning from v.5 to point out to folks that Rav Shaul did not subscribe to the later Christian notion of Rav Yeshua as a part of some multiple-personality “godhead”, but rather as an exalted human neshamah which also had exhibited the anthropomorphic “Logos” characteristics (not an actual independent person apart from that entire neshamah) that Yohanan cited in the opening verses of his besorah. Instead, this description resembles that of the Metatron character of other Jewish literature, who was an exalted/transformed/glorified Hanoch ben-Yered (cif: Gen.5:20-24). Hence post-resurrection references to Rav Yeshua as “Lord” were not to be understood as references to “G-d” (i.e., HaShem), but as references to their greatly exalted Master Teacher/Rabbi — not unlike similar references to him prior to his resurrection.

    Now, my knowledge of Aramaic leaves something to be desired in the fine details of interpretation, but I’ve never quite understood the interpretation of “Maran ata” (“מרן אתא”) as “O Lord, come!”. The Aramaic term “Maran” means “Master”, and the “ata” is comparable to Hebrew terms such as: “atah” meaning “you”, or “eta” meaning timely or “now” (though in Hebrew an ‘ayin” is the first character rather than an aleph for timeliness — however, such spelling differences for phonetic similarities between these languages is not uncommon). This would seem to render the expression as “Now, Lord”, rather than “Come, Lord”, though I suppose it might have carried the same feeling as the modern ‘Habadnik slogan “Bring Moshiach Now!”.

    Another issue that might be worthy of the “Ask a Scholar” website is the relative usage of Aramaic and Hebrew in the first century, and in what regions in and around Israel. The Dead Sea Scrolls include material that demonstrates the common usage of spoken and written Hebrew, even in personal correspondence. However, this was a fully multilingual environment, in which Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and even Latin were in common use. My understanding is that Aramaic may have been more common in the Galil, into northern Israel and onward from there through Syria unto Babylon. A number of older Jewish prayers and liturgical poems are expressed in a Jewish form of Aramaic, such as the Kaddish that still features in modern siddurim, while others of equally early vintage, such as the Shm’a and the Amidah, are in Hebrew. A history of Aramaic liturgical phrases and literary usage may have something to do with the appearance of a few Aramaic phrases in the gospels and the expression or slogan “Maran ata!”, despite equally common Hebrew usage. Likewise, the Jewish-Greek “Koine”, which was familiar from literary history such as the widespread familiarity with the Septuagint translation, was also in common use, at least by Hellenistic Jews.

    However, while all of the above paragraph represents the best summary impression of the language usage that I have been able to gather during the past several decades, it could be interesting to obtain confirmation of it from current scholars, based on clear literary evidences, or perhaps to obtain a better, more accurate, summary from a more current collection of literary evidence.

  2. I wrote this after reading something at Chabad, and cheerfully appropriated it for an Orthodox Messianic Forum I drop into now and then…

    There is this description of the Oneness of G-d…which does a good job of leaving the reader to infer that G-d’s Oneness has a Non-Material Being (YHVH) as well as a Material Being (Yeshua).

    When I run across these things in Rabbinical Jewish Thought, I always wonder how they manage to escape the connections to Yeshua as Mashiach even as they leave opening for Yeshua haMashiach to fit into the description of the Oneness of G-d.

    Chapter Ten: One, As Only He Can Be
    Adapted by Eliyahu Touger

    E-mail Discuss (1)
    « Previous
    The Way G-d Knows
    Next »
    From His Vantage Point
    Tanya , ch. 20; Torah Or, p. 55b;
    Derech Mitzvosecha, pp. 23, 120;
    the maamar entitled VeYadaata 5657;
    the series of maamarim entitled Yom Tov Shel Rosh HaShanah 5666, p. 242;
    Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, p. 11ff.,
    Vol. VXIII, pp. 225-226

    R. Benyamin Kletsker was a successful timber merchant in Russia and a ‘chassid’ who would spend hours in deep meditation and prayer. Once, after preparing his annual balance sheet and calculating the hefty profit he had earned, he wrote as the bottom line: Ein od milvado, “There is nothing else aside from Him.”

    His partner chided him for his ostentatious display of his chassidic beliefs. To which R. Benyamin answered that he had not written the statement consciously; it was as if the words had written themselves. “Just as we occasionally think of business in the midst of prayer,” he explained, “it is possible to think of prayer in the midst of business.”1

    Who Knows One?

    The Shema praises G-d as being “one.” The Shulchan Aruch2 explains that the Hebrew word “one,” אחד (echad), implies that G-d is one in the heavens and the earth. The א stands for G-d who is “the L-rd3 of the world.” The ח stands for the seven heavens and this material earth, and the ד stands for the four directions of this material world. G-d’s oneness permeates the heavens and every corner of our material existence.

  3. PL & James,

    G-d says He made all things in the universe alone–by Himself (“I am the Lord maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself” Isaiah 44:24).

    So then how can Scripture say that Yeshua made all things (“…there is one Lord, Yeshua HaMoshiach, through whom all things were created” 1 Corinthians 8:6 and “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made,” John 1:3.

    G-d is the only Ceator; Yeshua is the Creator; Yeshua is G-d (“…the Word was God,” John 1:1).

    It’s that simple.



    1. @Peter — You could benefit from improving your translational skills relative to the source text. 1Cor.8:6 makes a distinction between the “one G-d, the Father, from Whom are all things”, and the “one master, Yeshua the Anointed, through whom [we perceive] all things and … to whom we belong”. I’ll grant you that the Greek is sketchy relative to the way English would express what is meant. Rav Yeshua was not the Creator, it was the Word (“Logos”) that was HaShem’s agent in producing the Created order and which represented also some of the characteristics within Rav Yeshua’s neshamah that became enfleshed to dwell among men (see Jn.1:14). The reference in Jn.1:3 is to the fact that everything was created by HaShem’s use of the spoken word, in the form: “Let there be …, and there was …” That’s a far cry from the claim that Rav Yeshua was the Creator. In my first post above I cited the Philippians passage that shows how Rav Shaul did not subscribe to a view of Rav Yeshua as G-d — Who, as you pointed out from Is.44:24, acted alone in creating the cosmos. Yohanan was telling us that the Word was within Rav Yeshua, not that the Word *was* Rav Yeshua, and that the Word was *with* HaShem as the instrument that represented His action fully in the acts of creation; thus the Word *was* G-d in effect rather than ontologically.

  4. PL,

    You said that the Word is the agent of G-d. An agent-principal relationship requires 2 completely different individuals (an agent authorized to act on behalf of a principal). So your statement makes it logically impossible for the Word to be G-d. You are explicitly saying that the Word was not G-d.

    Your statement directly contradicts the Scripture that says: “the Word was God.”





    1. @Peter — I believe I was clear about identifying HaShem as the principal actor or do-er, and the Word as His agent. Depending on your perspective and what you are able to “see”, the agent is indistinguishable from the actor — hence, the statement that the Word *was* G-d. However, upon closer inspection, one may perceive both the actor and His agent — hence, the Word was *with* G-d. Thus both statements are true and not at all contradictory. They merely represent a range of varying perspective.

      Similarly, from one perspective, Rav Yeshua seems indistinguishable from the Logos; and from a closer view the Logos is a set of characteristics embedded within the flesh-and-blood human appointed to serve as the suffering servant messiah (ben-Yosef) who ultimately will rule as the King Messiah (ben-David). In both cases, the communication skills and executive skills that were visible in the Logos of Genesis were at work also in Rav Yeshua, and they will be so again in the work of the King Messiah.

  5. @Peter: In quoting Dr. Hurtado’s commentary on when Rav Yeshua first received worship as Divine, I was not stating my personal opinion on the Divine nature of Messiah, just commenting on thoughts Hurtado’s small article brought up. I wasn’t stirring up the pot regarding this age-old question of the nature of Moshiach.

    However, I will watch, with interest, any debate on the topic, since this represents a mystery without parallel.

  6. I am really enjoying this conversation and the information that you (James) posted about the “Ask a Scholar” web-site. I have recently got myself in a lot of hot water by telling some people (when asked; I didn’t volunteer it) that I didn’t believe in the “trinity” as taught by the church. Some long time friends have even ditched me (broken fellowship) over what I told them and I have some family members upset as well. Anyway, my observation is that most of the scriptures that are used to support the trinity, the concept is read into the scriptures instead of the plain reading of them. Also I think the concept is counter to some plain statements by both Yeshua and Shaul for example John 17:3, 1 Corinthians 8:6 (quoted in a comment above) and 1 Timothy 2:5-6. As I said I welcome comments and discussion on this topic and look forward to learning from those on this site (and others) who are more educated than I am.

  7. PL,

    Your argument is that the view that “the Word was God” expressed in John 1:1 is based on a faulty perspective, that in reality the Word was not G-d at all but rather a distinguishable agent acting on G-d’s behalf and helping Him to make creation, and that this Scripture is therefore false and misleading in declaring otherwise.

    Not only would you have us believe that John 1:1 is false and misleading by declaring that the Word was G-d but you’d have us believe that Isaiah 44:24 is false and misleading by declaring that G-d made the universe alone–by Himself.

    Since your argument involves declaring parts of Scripture to be false and misleading, I must reject it. Rather, because I believe that the Scripture is entirely True, I must accept that G-d acted alone in creating the universe and that the Word (Yeshua) really is G-d.



    1. No, Peter, my argument was most emphatically *not* suggesting anything faulty about Yohanan’s opening statements, nor his sense of perspective. Quite to the contrary, he was providing a broad set of perspectives — or at least two — which I affirmed as true. Sometimes, Peter, I think you don’t read what is actually written in my replies.

  8. I’m going to go out on a small limb and suggest that Peter represents the classic Christian understanding of the nature of Messiah, and PL is reading the same source material from a Jewish perspective. It’s amazing how changing perspective alters the appearance of the entire landscape.

  9. James,

    Richard Bauckham wrote an entire book (“Jesus and the God of Israel”) about how Second Temple Jewish literature reflects the Jewish belief that HaShem is the sole Creator: “However diverse Judaism may have been in many other respects, this was common: only the God of Israel is worthy of worship because he is sole Creator of all things and sole Ruler of all things. Other beings who might otherwise be thought divine are by these criteria God’s creatures and subjects,” Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, pg. 9. And he writes, “…again and again, in a wide variety of Second Temple Jewish literature, [it is written that Adonai] is sole Creator of all things…”

    He’s talking not just about numerous passages in Torah but also extra-biblical Jewish sources such as 2 Macc. 1:24; Sir. 43:33; Bel 5; Jub. 12:3-5; sib. Or. 3:20-35; 8:375-76; Sib. Or. frg. 1:5-6; Sib. Or. frg. 3; Sib. Or. frg. 5; 2 En. 47:3-4; 66:4 Apoc. Ab. 7:10; Ps-Sophocles; Jos. Asen. 12:1-2; T. Job 2:4.

    This is not the Christian view being represented.

    This is the ancient Jewish view found in Torah and found in numerous 2nd Century Jewish writings. You went out on the wrong limb, James.



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