Book Review: The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor

This review was published in the Sunday Star on 21 May 2006

James Tabor. Tabor comes across as an archaeologist who has patiently collected and coordinated solid evidence to support his bold thesis. The Jesus Dynasty bears the marks of a well-researched academic book.

At the outset, The Jesus Dynasty argues for an alternative history of the origins of the Christian faith in Jesus the Messiah. Some of its provocative theses include the following:

1) There was no Virgin Birth. Mary, the mother of Jesus was either seduced or raped by a Roman soldier named Panthera (whose grave Tabor allegedly found in Germany). This claim, if true, would shatter Christian faith considerably.

2) Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist, from whom he got his understanding of the Messianic vocation. John and Jesus took on the role of Jewish Messiahs and preached the coming of the Kingdom of God amidst political turmoil. Jesus included his four blood brothers in the Council of the Twelve which he formed the in anticipation of his success in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.

3) Christianity traditionally identifies the “beloved�? disciple as John. Not so, says Tabor. It was actually James, Jesus’ brother. After Jesus was crucified by the Romans, his brother James – the ‘Beloved Disciple’ – took over the leadership of the Jesus Dynasty and ‘ruled’ for 30 years, although to say ‘ruled’ might be exaggeration since he had no more than motley band of impoverished, persecuted Christians in his charge

Book Review: The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor. Publisher: Simon & Schuster

At first glance, The Jesus Dynasty seems like another dubious book cashing in on the notoriety of Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code. However, a quick perusal of the book will dispel this notion, given the academic credentials of the author, James Tabor. Tabor comes across as an archaeologist who has patiently collected and coordinated solid evidence to support his bold thesis. The Jesus Dynasty bears the marks of a well-researched academic book.

At the outset, The Jesus Dynasty argues for an alternative history of the origins of the Christian faith in Jesus the Messiah. Some of its provocative theses include the following: Continue reading “Book Review: The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor”

Augustine Model of the Trinity

Krisis & Praxis is back online,after three days of service interruption due to breakdown of the server at Streamyx. That it took Streamyx three days to fix the computer problem in the 21st century says a lot about the expertise or seriousness of Streamyx. I am reminded of Augustine’s words that there is no difference between kingdoms (regna) and bands of robbers (latrocinia). I guess Augustine would also put monopoly in the business of computer service provider at the same level with kingdoms and robbers.

Anyway I post here a full exposition of Augustine’s Model of the Trinity, as promised:

Augustine’s goal is to not to prove the doctrine the Trinity given his presupposition that faith precedes understanding and that understanding must inform faith. His ‘De Trinitate’ represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

Augustine on the Trinity

I) Persons as Relations
Augustine’s goal is to not to prove the doctrine the Trinity given his presupposition that faith precedes understanding and that understanding must inform faith. His ‘De Trinitate’ represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

For Augustine the doctrine of Trinity is already revealed in Scriptures but it may be clarified using an adopted philosophical framework which in his case is Neo-Platonism. He assumes that man is made in the image of God on the basis of Scripture. He proceeds to explain how the Trinitarian structure of the inner man illuminates our understanding of the Trinity. His approach is arguably circular, but this is acceptable so long as we accept that his end goal is to explain the Trinity rather than to prove the Trinity. Continue reading “Augustine Model of the Trinity”

Augustine’s Model of the Trinity – Preview Trailer

Summary Diagram of Augustine’s Model of the Trinity – On the Relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Following the grand tradition of the media industry that takes delight in teasing its audience with ‘trailers’, I have decided to post one of my own. This should be natural since I am introducing our own theological superstar whose fame and popularity has endured 1500 years. Of course, I am talking about none other than Augustine.

I give below a diagram that summarizes his doctrine of the Trinity Continue reading “Augustine’s Model of the Trinity – Preview Trailer”

The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd

The public often receives seductive calls coming from religious ideologues who promise us spiritual peace if only we submit to a power alliance between religion and government: Public order will prosper if the unchanging laws of God are implemented, if not imposed, by a central sovereign. Law, politics and religion form a threefold cable that cannot be easily broken and offers itself as a well nigh irresistible seduction to citizens who are disturbed by the breakdown of morality in modern society.

Political power is often legitimized by sophisticated ideological rhetoric. The difficult and delicate task of exposing the damaging consequences resulting from the entanglement between religion and politics requires a close analysis of the dynamics of power struggle between the protagonists. Social conflict is guaranteed precisely because the clerics are rigidly imbued with a sense of righteousness that must impose their religious vision upon pluralistic civil society without compromise and without any regard for citizens of different convictions. What is conflict but a disregard for compromise in the public sphere?

Book Review: The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd

Ng Kam Weng
Thomas Hobbes once described the life of natural man as solitary, poor, brutish and short. This vivid image becomes palpable when society degenerates into chaos and violence in the absence of strong political leadership. In such times, politicians as such are quick to exploit the fearful scenario and counsel that it would be wise for frail citizens like us to surrender our precious freedom into the hands of a strong government.

Even more seductive are calls coming from religious ideologues who promise us spiritual peace if only we submit to a power alliance between religion and government: Public order will prosper if the unchanging laws of God are implemented, if not imposed, by a central sovereign. Law, politics and religion form a threefold cable that cannot be easily broken and offers itself as a well nigh irresistible seduction to citizens who are disturbed by the breakdown of morality in modern society. Continue reading “The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd”

T. F. Torrance on Perichoresis (Mutual Indwelling of Persons within the Trinity)

Torrance wants to go beyond the category of substance and applies the term perichoresis (πε�?ιχώ�?ησις, co-inherence, inter-penetrating and mutual indwelling) to highlight the dynamic, spiritual and intensely personal relationships in the Trinity. We are reminded of the model of indwelling love proposed by Augustine. Perichoresis refers to that eternal love between the Father (lover) and the Son (beloved) and the Holy Spirit (Spirit of love that binds both the lover and the beloved).

T. F. Torrance on Perichoresis (Mutual Indwelling of Persons within the Trinity)

Ng Kam Weng

It may be noted that Nicene probably was focusing on the generic meaning of ousia (substance) or homoousia(of same substance) since its immediate concern was to refute Arianism which asserted the Son did not share the same nature/substance as the Father. But theologizing beyond the Nicene context requires a deepening of the term to include the dimension of numerical identity for the term homoousia. Such was what Athanasius discovered when he sought yo draw out the theological significance of Nicene in framing an adequate doctrine of Trinity. Continue reading “T. F. Torrance on Perichoresis (Mutual Indwelling of Persons within the Trinity)”

Exploring the Role of Orientalism

There is defensiveness among some of the Asian literati who wax eloquent on the need for cultural planning and censorship to defend national culture against Western influences. These literati often justify their anxieties by claiming that Western powers have historically exploited the intellectual discipline called Orientalism to undermine not only the dignity and self-identity of Orientals but also the will to resist their colonial masters.

Exploring the Role of Orientalism
Ng Kam Weng

Book Review: J.J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment

Hermann Goering, Hitler’s henchman, once quipped that whenever he hears the word “culture” he reaches for his pistol. The remark is most surprising. After all, culture is synonymous with the high achievements of refined societies. Enrichment, rather than violence, should be associated with culture.

There is defensiveness among some of the Asian literati who wax eloquent on the need for cultural planning and censorship to defend national culture against Western influences. These literati often justify their anxieties by claiming that Western powers have historically exploited the intellectual discipline called Orientalism to undermine not only the dignity and self-identity of Orientals but also the will to resist their colonial masters.

Scholars may be tempted to dismiss such anxieties as paranoia except for the forceful argument mounted by Edward Said in his landmark study, Orientalism. Said’s thesis relies on Michel Foucault’s social epistemology which rejects the possibility of pure knowledge. According to this view, knowledge is a tool to legitimatize power and control. Continue reading “Exploring the Role of Orientalism”

Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 2)

A more succinct discussion on Substance (ousia) and Object (hypostasis) is given by G. L. Prestige in his book Fathers and Heretics.

Notes on Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 2)
Ng Kam Weng

A more succinct discussion on Substance (ousia) and Object (hypostasis) is given by G. L. Prestige in his book Fathers and Heretics.

The terms have a similar meaning but are not identical [cf., etymologically, the Latin substantia is an exact translation of the Greek hypostasis.

“‘Substance’ means an object consisting of some particular stuff; it has an inward reference to the nature of the thing in itself, expressing what logicians call a connotation. ‘Object’ means a substance marked off as an individual specimen by reason of its distinction from all other objects, it bears an outward reference to a reality independent of other individuals, and expresses what logicians call a denotation.” (FH 88)

To clarify further let me give an illustration inspired by Prestige’s discussion. Continue reading “Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 2)”

Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 1)

My earlier essays on the Trinity focused on demonstrating logical coherence rather than conceptual clarification. Admittedly, discussion of logical coherence is appealing, but such discussion can also be beguiling. The discussion maintains an appearance of austere logic, and follows the suggestion that once the logical structure of the argument is unpacked, there will be agreement.

That agreement seldom happens is because the philosophers covertly smuggle in their own meaning of the terms deployed. This in turn results in different criteria of logical coherence. Inevitably, even the best minds fail to resolve the logic of doctrinal agreement.

It is imperative that we should at least be clear about what we mean if we want to use the terms to analyse of the doctrine of Trinity. In this regard, we need to go back to the original formulation of the doctrine in the early Church.

Trinity – “the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence” (BB Warfield)

Substance – That by virtue of ‘what it is’. ‘What it is’, as distinguished from something else [essential characteristic) in contrast to accident.

Accident – \What has no independent and self sufficient existence but exist only in another being. What may change, disappear and be added while substance remains the same.
————–

The simplest way to determine meaning of technical Greek terms is to refer to standard lexicons such as Liddell & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, BAGD (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker) and Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon.

However it soon becomes clear that terms assume wide semantic range over the centuries. It takes considerable lexicographical skills and extensive citation of usage to establish the exact shade of meaning used in a particular context. Continue reading “Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 1)”

Covenant Politics and Pluralist Democracy for a New Asia (Partially Restored Copy)

Covenant Politics and Pluralist Democracy for a New Asia
An Asian Christian Social Vision
By Ng Kam Weng

Asian Politics at the Crossroads
“The Asian way: Regional Thinkers Put Homegrown Ideas before the World.” This was the provocative title for a leading article published in the March 2 1994 issue of Asiaweek. The article described how Asian thinkers are asserting that global issues should not be discussed on terms set by the West alone. The time has come for respectable Asian intellectuals to make contributions from Asian traditions which defend “strong family values, respect for authority, consensus in decision-making, and supremacy of the community over the individual.” Continue reading “Covenant Politics and Pluralist Democracy for a New Asia (Partially Restored Copy)”

Thomas V Morris: The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation or Possibility of Incarnation (Part 2)

It must be pointed out that the charge of incoherence of the Incarnation assumes we know the exact nature of human and divine properties to be able to assert that there can be no joining together of human and divine properties in an individual.

John Macquarie’s response to such a presupposition is pertinent, “Part of the trouble with the doctrine of incarnation is that we discuss the divinity and even the humanity of Christ in terms of ready-made ideas of God and man that we bring with us, without allowing these ideas to be corrected and even drastically changed by what we learn about God and man in and through the incarnation.�?

Thomas V. Morris’ landmark book, The Logic of God Incarnate suggests the two-minds model as one possible demonstration of the coherence of the incarnation.

For Part 1 – The Possibility of Incarnation LINK
Ng Kam Weng

Ahmad Deedat in one of his debates with carefully chosen pastors – meaning, those who are ill-equipped to match him – retorted that Christ cannot be God since he displayed human characteristics like hunger and need for sleep. At a more sophisticated level, A. D. Smith says: “If Christ is God, then he cannot have begun to exist at a certain point in human history because God (and his Son) are necessarily eternal. But then nothing can count as a man, a creature, which does not have a beginning in time and which is thus coeval with God.”

These objections are of course variations of the common charge that the idea of an incarnate God is incoherent. It must be pointed out that the charge of incoherence assumes we know the exact nature of human and divine properties to be able to assert that there can be no joining together of human and divine properties in an individual.

John Macquarie’s response to such a presupposition is pertinent, “Part of the trouble with the doctrine of incarnation is that we discuss the divinity and even the humanity of Christ in terms of ready-made ideas of God and man that we bring with us, without allowing these ideas to be corrected and even drastically changed by what we learn about God and man in and through the incarnation.”

However, even if one should grant an open mind to resolve the tension between the divine and the human properties, the task of demonstrating the coherence of the incarnation remains. Thomas V. Morris’ landmark book, The Logic of God Incarnate suggests the two-minds model as one possible demonstration of the coherence of the incarnation. Continue reading “Thomas V Morris: The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation or Possibility of Incarnation (Part 2)”