Why was Joseph buried in Shechem? (Q&A)

 Q:  I was rather astonished to realize, in reading Joshua 24, that they buried the bones of Joseph in Shechem instead of in the cave of Machpelah, where Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried...  Do a word-search on Shechem and you'll find that it is a rather nefarious place. Why did they bury him there?  I was also a little distressed to realize that Stephen, in the book of Acts, says that Abraham bought the land in Shechem, but Moses wrote that it was Jacob that bought land there. –Sarah P.

A:  Welcome to the tension between the north and the south in Israel that we see in the division of the kingdom after Solomon and then again later in the tension between the Samaritans in the north and the Jewish people in the south in New Testament times.  Those in the south wanted to ignore the claims of the north and vice versa.  

Let’s begin with the burial place of the twelve patriarchs, the sons of Jacob.  Acts 7:16 seems to indicate that the twelve sons of Jacob were buried at Shechem (the antecedent of “they were removed” in vs. 15 is “our fathers”).  That the brothers were buried at Shechem certainly makes sense, as the children of Israel under Joshua came into possession of this area before they did of Hebron, and it seems logical that they would bury the others where Joseph was buried (Joshua 24:32)—though the Bible only mentions the bones of Joseph being brought along in the Exodus (Exo. 13:19).  Nothing is said, except in this verse, about his brothers. 

If the Philistines were Greeks, why did they worship Dagon? (Q&A)

 Q:  In my devotions the other day I was reading about when the Philistines captured the ark, and how God showed the Philistines that he was greater than Dagon…  If the Philistines were Greeks, why don’t we see them worshipping any of the Greek gods – only Dagon? --Sarah P.

A:  You’re right that the Philistines have now been identified as Greeks of some kind—or at least that they developed from an original core of Greeks that settled in what is today Israel and intermarried with the local population.  This is the result of both DNA analysis, pottery analysis, and the similarity of cultural practices that point to a connection with Greece and/or other areas of Greek influence (such as Cyprus, Crete, and western Turkey).  These include the bronze greaves worn by Goliath, the Philistine hero that was overcome by David (1 Sam. 17:6), and even Goliath’s call to one-on-one combat (representative warfare), otherwise unknown in the area.  However, the connection of the Philistines is with a very early time in Greek history known as the Mycenaean Age (15th-11th cent. BC).  This was long before the Classical Age of Greece (5th-4th cent. BC) with its well-known Greek gods (the Olympian gods).  It was even before the Archaic Period (8th-6th cent. BC) in which Greek writing first appears and we first hear of these new gods.  (See diagram)

The Pater Noster Church, Jerusalem

The Unfinished Reconstruction of the Eleona Church (foreground)
in front of the Pater Noster Church (facade at back partially hidden by a palm tree);
the cave is under the platform in the foreground

      ·         The Traditional Location of Jesus’ Endtimes Teaching on the Mt. of Olives 
                 (the “Olivet Discourse,” Matt. 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21)
·         Site of the Byzantine Eleona Church (the “Olive Grove” Church, also known 
           as the Church of the Disciples)
·         Site of a Crusader-era chapel associated with Jesus’ teaching of the Lord’s Prayer
·         Currently the location of the Pater Noster Church commemorating Jesus’ teaching 
           of the Lord’s Prayer as well as the partly rebuilt Eleona Church.

Biblical events remembered here:
(1) Jesus’ Endtimes Teaching (the “Olivet Discourse,” Matt. 24-25),
(2) Jesus’ Teaching of the Lord’s Prayer

The Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem

The Chapel of the Ascension and Surrounding Courtyard
  • The Traditional Site of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven
  • Site of the Byzantine Imbomon Church (Church “On the Hill”)
  • Current location of the Crusader-period Chapel of the Ascension

Biblical events remembered here:  
(1) The ascension of Jesus into heaven forty days after his crucifixion and resurrection;
(2) The return of Jesus with his people at his second coming.

Possible historical site of:  
(1) The Jewish fire signal used to announce the sighting of the new moon,
(2) The burning of the red heifer to produce the ashes used for cleansing from the impurity of contact with the dead,
(3) The burning of the sin offerings offered up on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). 

The Angel of the Lord: A List of Verses

One of the most important contributions of the early Jewish-Christian community to our understanding of Jesus is the connection they made between Jesus and the Angel (or Messenger) of the Lord.*  This mysterious being appears in several places in the Hebrew Bible.  He has the appearance of a man, yet speaks and acts like God.  This identification was an important early step in the development of the idea of the Trinity:  that the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Word of God, is God himself, yet is distinct from the Father. 

What did Paul mean in his rebuke of Peter in Galatians 2:11-14? (Q&A)

Q:  I’m almost finished reading your Jewish Roots of Christianity book. I’ve appreciated learning so much history that I never knew, but it makes me sad to think that people who have called themselves by the name of Christ have acted so horrendously… It helps me to understand a little better the anti-Semitism that we saw (and were SHOCKED by) in Ukraine.

I’m meditating on the thought that you bring forth in the book that Messianic Jews still need to follow the law… What do you do then with Paul’s remarks in Galatians 2:11-14, where Paul calls Peter on the carpet for reverting back to following the laws when the circumcision party shows up in Antioch? Paul certainly talks here, and in other places, like he is not following the dietary laws at least…

Infant Baptism? (Q&A)

Q:  [In response to our teaching, “The Washing of Water with the Word”:]  I'm going to get into trouble here, but here goes anyway....please notice that the verse you mention says that the Messiah does the cleansing by the washing of water with the word.  We don't do it.  Therefore it is a gift, just like our name from our parents.  So there is no need for someone to wait until they are "ready" for baptism.  It is a gift that we cannot by our own power or will do anything to be "ready" to receive.  Moral of my story is --get your kids baptized and don't wait another day.  –Stephanie K.

A:  Thanks for your enthusiasm in defending infant baptism--a long-held and widely practiced tradition of the Church.  But this tradition ignores a key component of the original idea of baptism:  that receiving the word of God—being “cleansed...by his word” (Eph. 5:26)—requires being able to understand that word.  Traditional churches themselves admit to the inadequacy of infant baptism by their practice of confirmation, a rite mentioned nowhere in the Bible.  Having teenagers confirm or accept their baptisms is a recognition that infant baptism is incomplete without the conscious and believing participation of the one being baptized.  And that's exactly the point.  Baptism is the outward, public response to an inner faith:  the sign of a conscious repentance of sin and a decision to follow Jesus.  This decision brings an inner cleansing (Acts 15:9), while baptism completes the process with an outer washing:  “the outward sign of an inward grace,” as Augustine of Hippo put it.  There is just no other way to make sense of the Biblical description of this rite as a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins," unless there is an actual repentance on the part of the person being baptized (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24, 19:4).  This requires a conscious appeal to God (1 Pet. 3:21) by faith (Col. 2:12).  Infants are completely incapable of doing these things.