Journey ‘Away From’ Scotland, ep. 8- The Epilogue: Toronto Return

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          At this moment, the lack of motivation, time, and general overall stability has kept me from writing on this blog, 2000 words a week, as per my original discipline, but I had to let life happen. Coming back to Toronto, the city I remembered as the winter tundra land I visited in December and had every desire to leave again, greeted me with much more warmth, both metaphorical and literal, this time around thankfully. For economic reasons I had to depart from Edinburgh, a city that had stolen my heart, and everyday I still miss it terribly- the history, the beauty, the friends I had made, student life in general, the pubs, the clean air, the confidence and stability, the joy of living independently, and (as a recall to my first post about my journey) the spirituality of learning how to live as a Christian disciple as best as I could conceive of it. Before I let you all know how I have adjusted and ‘settled’ (will I ever be again?) in Toronto, I would like to do something, at least in an informal manner, something I’ve wanted to do for awhile- list some practices and disciplines that I would ideally follow to become a better disciple of Jesus throughout life. My current reading, that of Leo Tolstoy’s The Gospel in Brief (1896), has in part inspired this, for while I do not agree with Tolstoy in every respect concerning the Gospels and the Christian faith, I have appreciated very much his desire to distill Jesus’ teaching into very simple monastic-rules- orthopraxy is just as important as orthodoxy. Some of these I had begun to do in a very devoted manner back in Scotland, while others are yet to be realized, but its all what I have contemplated.

  • Give away all the change in my wallet to any homeless person I may see on the street- a spirit of radical generosity has to be cultivate before critical suspicion can have its way.
  • Have friends over for tea once a week- no need to spend money vainly to have friends, hospitality will always beat entertainment.
  • Write once a week, 2000 words- reflection is important for an active mind, as it allows one to build upon one’s experiences, and helps others to learn from them.
  • Schedule readings, both Bible and otherwise- often we find that we don’t think we have time to read, but once its scheduled it gives structure to instruction.
  • Begin prayers everyday as a review- when anxious, I find that looking outside of myself, both at external circumstances and other’s own situations that it helps to get out of the tyranny of emotional subjectivity that often drive us to fear, anxiety, and despair.
  • Have as few possessions as possible- the less you own, the less responsiblity you devote to those things, and the more you devote to wealth in heaven.
  • Abstain from the sports industrial complex- the amount of money and suffering caused by it, is absolutely obscene.
  • Abstain from debates over any textual medium such as computers or phone- text, depersonalizes a person’s thinking, allowing one to become more vicious in an argument and actually miss the point.
  • Devote one self unconditionally to a Church community, as if they were your own family- Let me just refer you to this last essay :)

These are just my causal ruminations of course, but it’s a start. Now onto TORONTO!

          One of my chief goals in having returned into Toronto was to get some sort of a job in order to pay off the immense amount of student debt I accumulated over the past year (though it was totally worth it!!!), and thankfully the Lord more then readily provided. Within a week and a half I landed two interviews, took the one job, and am awaiting a second interview for the second job later in October. The first job is as an overnight tasking position at the Indigo store at Bay and Bloor- looks like a lot of my earnings will go toward books!! hahaha, well hopefully I can have some self-control. It has been a bit of an adjustment to work 10pm-6am, but thankfully the Lord has kept my mind steady and awake to get the right sleep and to enjoy the work the best I can. The second job, I can’t talk much about but its for a pastoral position of sorts at a Church downtown. I have had meetings with them, and the much more formal interviews will be taking place in October. If you’ve kept up-to-date with me, you’ll know that this past year in Scotland has brought me great clarity as to how God wants me to invest my time and abilities. Trading the lectern for the pulpit, though someday day I may return to the lectern, I have decided to pursue the ministry, so needless to say I’m really hoping that this second job turns out well. I’ll most certainly Skype or meet-up with anyone who wants to know more about how I have decided to pursue the ministry but in the shortest terms possible: everything in my life has prepared me for it, everyone in my life saw it, and now I’ve just admitted the vocation with joy to myself!

          Returning to Toronto has also had the blessing of seeing many of my good friends again, including a man who is my very heart, Greg Matthews, who is getting married soon and I’m delighted to attend :D I was thankfully able to rally many of my friends to a pool hall to catch-up, and to all my friends in Scotland (and around the world now I guess haha)- I hope that one day I’ll be able to get you all in the same room!!! I would love to see Ryan chat up politics with Jared! I would love to see everyone enjoy Sida’s amazing cooking! I would love to see Tobi and Mo chat it up about Hip-Hop! And two of my spiritual mentors, Dave Smith and David Nixon chat about theology! One day friends, one day!! While I have missed many things about Scotland, like the food, the scenery, and the clear air (did I mention that Toronto recently has smelled like weed has been laced in the air almost anywhere you go?), I have missed serving and ministering at Carrubbers Christian Centre. I’ve learned more about what it must be like to be a pastor in a year there then many years in Toronto combined (no offence to my home church though!).

          Another thing I can give everyone a bitter-sweet update about: Hip-Hop. As some of you may know, while I’ve been doing my Master’s degree and all (no biggie, haha), I’ve also been at work writing, and assembling production from all the homies- like Rel McCoy, Fresh Kils, Royce Birth, and others- for my second album ‘Help My Discontent’, loosely based on my life interacting with the dilemma of gratefulness vs. discontent- well described, if I may say so, in this essay of mine! While I’m happy to say that I’ve written all of it (except for the features) and have it all put together- with even a first draft of recordings I did back in Scotland, thanks Tobi and Nick for coming with me and being an extra set of ears for that!- it most likely won’t be completed until sometime next year due to lack of funds that I can commit to it right now. I have an immense amount of debt and I need to take responsibility for it- I can’t commit any more money to HipHop right now, plus I’ve only just put out The Audacity of Dope last year!!! What you can anticipate however is that it will be as brilliant as the album cover prepared for me by my wonderfully talented friend Karima Dieleman!


Anyways friend, I don’t have any epic conclusions, only my love to send. If you like to skype sometime, here’s my name: caleb.upton. – Please contact me! :) I miss you all very much and I hope this post has been good to suffice as to how I’m doing back in Toronto

Peace and Love


Journey Through Scotland, ep. 7- The Finale

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          ‘To begin a goodbye is also to start a new hello’- is something I’ll repeatedly have to remind myself over the next couple of weeks as I say goodbye to a city, which has stolen my heart as the best placed I have ever lived. Toronto, I am sorry for being so overly critical of you over this past year, but Edinburgh is the perfect size, perfect mixed of natural beauty and human architecture, perfect cultural centre, perfect walking, and perfect weather city, I have thus far lived in. Speaking of cultural centre, I have been spending my last close-to-a-month now, catching various (well, not THAT various, as most of them have included some element of rap) shows across the city as part of Edinburgh’s historical Festival Fringe, which is the world’s largest arts festival, that runs through the whole month of August. Let me give you just a little brief on some of the highlights of  the shows I have seen:

1) Off the Top- basically a Canadian rapper freestyles as his neuroscientist wife explains what happens in the brain when someone improvises material. During the show they invite other performers around the Fringe to do improvised material and get the audience involved. And yes, to answer your question, I did a lil’ freestyling for the audience myself! Lindsay Abrams summarizes the research of the brain activity well: “The areas implicated in processes like organization and drive were marked by an increase in activity, while those parts responsible for close self-monitoring and editing were deactivated. In this context, the authors explain, “self-generated action is freed from the conventional constraints of supervisory attention and executive control,” allowing sudden insights, seemingly unbidden, to emerge.In other words, in order to turn on their creative flow, the rappers had to switch off their inner critic. And in fact, the researchers believe that when they’re freestyling, the artists are actually occupying an altered state of mind.” Needless to say, this was a extremely fun show.- The MC is Baba Brinkman, check him out.

2) The Philosorap Cabaret- basically a spoken word artist, Charlie Dupre, does a history of philosophy course, all while impersonating different philosophical figures as rap artists representing what they’re all about. One particular highlight was something, which, let’s be honest, we’ve all wanted to see for sometime now, a rap battle between God and Richard Dawkins. My personal favourite character of his was act as Friedrich Nietzsche as basically a crazy scrawny white kid with a superman hat that asked everyone if they liked Top Gun or some other apocalyptic movie. Brilliant.

3) The Rap Guide to Religion- Performed by the same Baba Brinkman that did the Off the Top show, Baba takes the audience through his rap album explaining the evolutionary history of Religion as a form of tribalism and species propagation. I was actually very impressed by his skills as a story-teller and how he was able to translate a lot of academic jargon into more simple speech. Of course, I’m not certain that I agreed with all of his arguments but I did love very much as to how gentle it was, it wasn’t aggressive or hostile to religious belief, though he himself is an atheist. If you would like a listen to the material, and possibly, being in love with it, want to support its animated album companion, check out: http://music.bababrinkman.com/album/religion-evolves AND of really awesome interest is his TedTalk on the History of Rhyme, for all of you that want to know what we’re all about :)

4) God on Trial- I originally saw in this its movie version, but as a play it was even more emotional. The basic story line is that a group of Jews during World War Two at a concentration camp have an emotionally heated but also quite substantial debate over whether the God of Israel is guilty of breaking his covenant with the Jewish people, due to the fact that their survival as a group is now severely in question. The ‘trial’ is also an excellent reflection upon the diversity of the Jewish people throughout Europe, from those who did not know they were Jewish, to the younger intellectuals, and to the older village rabbis. Most of all, what I really enjoyed about the story was how much it actually covered concerning the topic of theodicy/problem-of-evil without being overtly academic or heavy-handed. Its a really excellent script for anyone dealing with the problem-of-evil or the problem-of-suffering both in an intellectual and emotional way.

5) Hamlet- As my favourite of the Shakespeare plays, I knew I had to see a live production of this. Along with two other really good friends of mine, I saw the famous play take place in a surveillance society- the apparitions appeared on security cameras, several conversations were done over Skype, and scary techno music played the entire time. Most impressive was that the entire play was played by three actors who continually changed characters! So good.

          Aside from all the joys of the Fringe festival however, I’ve had a really great time saying goodbye to many of my classmates and people from church. ‘Everyone has a season in their life when they don’t know quite what the next step is, and now its my turn’ is what I would say to each of them in order to explain how, while I have decided to pursue the ministry, its not something they let one into very easily, and in the meantime I gotta pay some mean student debt. If I should work a retail job, I would really love a bookstore, so quite and peaceful. The smell of new book pages, helping customers find the ‘right’ next read, watching those in the coffee area attempt to write their own masterpieces- in many ways the bookstore is the university of the layman. But all and all, I just need to hustle, in the good ole’ fashion sense. I’m in the process of my second album, which, in order to get SOME revenue, I am going to have to sell, as opposed to letting people download it for free- I can’t afforded that right now (hahahaha). I’m going to try and send more of my many pieces I’ve written on this blog to various publishers, magazines, online stuff and what not, and see if I really could pursue writing or some king of journalism as a legitimate careers option- lord knows most media outlets have poor correspondents on religion. I’ll hopefully be giving some more sermons at my home congregation- I have this one three-part series in mind on the ‘two Christians’, the prophet and the custodian, and why we need both (don’t worry, it’ll sound a lot more profound once I’ve worked it all out :p ). Who knows what else I’ll pursue, but I got make the dough by almost any avenue possible over the next year to significantly decrease this over-bearing debt. Unless the revolution goes down, I gotta play the game.

          How should I end this? Well, I hope and am near certain that this will not be ‘goodbye’ forever, only the next little while. I have appreciate the generosity of many of the saints here such as David Dixon, Paul Barlow, Ray and Julia Kelly, Thom and Caroline Cunningham, Michael Reed, Tobi Oladipo, Nathan Nixon, the entire Gaspar family, Dr. Helen Bond- for being such a great supervisor- my classmates, Danny Daley, Elena Dugan, Elizabeth Corsar, Edel Ni Chorragain; my flatmates, Ryan DeMarco, Sida Wang, Leo Kitagawa, Yichirin Jin (who is honestly the weirdest person I have ever met, LOL)….and so many others! I love you all very much :D I’ll be sure to write a pt. 8 epilogue of this to let everyone know how I’ve settled in Toronto and I will put up my dissertation for everyone who wishes to read it once it is marked!



Let this song carry ya to think about Home

We are N, nor are We Alone- What Christian Solidarity in Martyrdom Means

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Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Heb. 13:3, NRSV)

          When many a people group are all being slaughtered indiscriminately around the world, it may appear pointless to show any partisanship with any particular group. As Jared Walker, a good friend has remarked in conversation, “Yes there are Christians dying all over the world and that is terrible but there are also many other non-Christian people that are being slaughtered and that is equally as terrible.”* While not wishing to dispute this in the least, it does seem that within the Christian theological tradition a special importance or meaning is attached to the deaths of “…the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given…” (Rev. 6:9, NRSV). The special importance laid upon the deaths of these ones is noted by their name in Greek, μάρτυς, which means ‘witness’, also known in its anglicized form as martyr. With the recent upheaval in Mosul, Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and in particular the death and expulsion of almost the entire Christian population in the region- Emil Shimoun Nona, the archbishop of the Chaldean Catholics in Mosul has estimated that from the time of the Iraq war of 2003 until now, the Christian population in Mosul has dwindled from 35, 000 to 3, 000- it may be appropriate to ask the right questions, from a Christian theological perspective, of such things as, what is the purpose of martyrdom? Why attach special importance or meaning to the deaths of Christians over others? Who qualifies as a martyr? Lastly, with what purpose do those Christians who are not persecuted strive to stand in solidarity with those who are?

          Let us take them in reverse order. We can see in the examples of twitter pictures and Facebook statuses, almost a secular version of prayer, in that people will send out messages in times of great desperation though no one may be listening with the hope that the messages will be answered “…because of their many words” (Matt. 6:7, NRSV).wearen-twitter-avitar2 The international attention to the very real and horrible persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East has produced some of the most benign but endearing forms of solidarity and protest, such as the social media campaign #WeAreN in which the ‘N’ is for Nasrani meaning ‘Nazarenes/Christians’, also the same Arabic letter tagged on the homes of Christians in Iraq (see left). When the writer of the letter to the Hebrews asks us to ‘remember’, how does the remembrance take place? Should we disparage the twitter campaigns or think of them like crosses on a necklace, an appropriate symbol? In an earlier essay, a distinction was made between protest and proclamation, in that protest is action that effectively breaks out of the matrix and means of that which one is protesting, whereas in proclamation a reminder of the larger vision of justice is given through ritual. The #WeAreN campaign is of the latter, and therefore we should recognize that it is a ritual much like prayer, but does the writer of the letter to the Hebrews have more than a ritual-like reminder in mind when he admonishes remembrance? Does he have something like stigmata in mind? Is this what Paul was talking about when he said, “I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body” (Gal. 6:17, NRSV)? Controversially, it is argued here, that the remembrance is of more than a ritual reminder, though important that is, for it is also an awareness that your life is intimately bound up with those whom you are remembering. It is not only that you should remember them in twitter and prayer as if you are bound up with them though you sit at ease, it is also the awareness that as far as you share identity with them you are or will be bound up with them in some sense. What the death of these Christians in Iraq and elsewhere testify to is not only that there have been changes in the Middle Eastern political-cultural climate but that those changes will have repercussions around the world, as takes place all throughout history to people groups who claim a different and higher alliance than the state. The martyrdom of these Christians signals that an extremely important discussion will hopefully emerge concerning a group’s relationship to a state. But perhaps that for another time. The fate of Christians in Iraq will have consequences for Christians in Africa, throughout the Middle East, Europe, North America, and unto the ends of the Earth- for if the vine bled, and other branches are now bleeding, who will say whether or not your branch will bleed as well.

          What makes one a bleeding branch however is unfortunately a question that has become much muddled in Western discourse between those Western Christians who, having now lost their political dominance cry ‘persecution’, need to be told to ‘grow up’ to those Christians who may be ‘persecuted’ or ‘mocked’ not because of their faith but for other reasons such as they actually are criminals or actually are a great annoyance. Lost in this question, furthermore, are questions concerning statistics, such as Nelson Jones at the NewStatesman, who appears to think that challenging the claim that ‘Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world’ is a worthy endeavour. He says, “It’s almost certainly not the case that Christians are the most “persecuted” religious group in proportion to their numbers.” As if the importance of Christians being persecuted around the world was secured on the fact that more of them are being killed than Muslims. As if, that if there were fewer Christians being killed than Muslims, it would be a non-issue. But nonetheless he does raise an interesting argument that, “…by and large we are dealing with group rivalries, hatred of minorities, political struggles and only rarely a persecution based in the specifics of Christian theology.”

          Dietrich Bonhoeffer in this regard is an extremely interesting example, for while he is commemorated as a martyr by many for his opposition to Nazism, Bonhoeffer himself understood that if his blood were to bleed, it would not be an innocent martyr’s death that he would receive, but rather, in speaking about himself and his comrades in the Abwehr, “…the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness.”** Bonhoeffer understood that if he were to die a convicted criminal, for the crime of attempting to assassinate a political leader, that he would not die a martyr’s death. The death of a Christian by another does not automatically  that mean in their death they had become a martyr. Likewise if a Christian in Iraq were to be killed in a crossfire, as tragic as it is, it would not mean that they were a martyr. Rather, going back to the original name, a martyr is one who is killed for being a witness. When then the ‘N’ is sprayed painted on their houses, it testifies to the fact that the homes of those being killed belonged to those who were witnesses to the crucified and risen Nazarene. They were not killed merely because they did not fit the social order, they were not killed out of some accident, they were not killed because they were grouped in with other religious minorities, they were killed precisely because they were Christians.*** For Jones to think that Christians being persecuted by secular and Islamic governments alike has nothing to do with the content of Christian theology is simply non-sense from someone who clearly cannot understand why anyone would possibly fight over doctrines or ‘beliefs’ let alone die for them.

          Now that we have established what purpose there would be in remembering the persecution of Christians in Iraq, and elsewhere, in solidarity with them, and what qualifies a martyr, we’re still left with the question- why remember or pay special regard to the deaths of Christians specifically? What makes it different than remembering any other atrocity done to any other people group? It is here where some ancient Church wisdom, so often neglected, is of such use to us. St. Bede, in his A History of the English Church and People (early 8th century), records Pope Gregory’s response to St. Augustine’s fifth question concerning incest in the late 6th century, and has Pope Gregory recount John the Baptist’s protest of such marriages against the rulers of Judea, saying of his death,

“For which thing also John the Baptist was beheaded, and obtained the crown of holy martyrdom. For, though he was not ordered to deny Christ, and it was not for confessing Christ that he was killed, yet inasmuch as the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, said, “I am the Truth,” because John was killed for the truth, he also shed his blood for Christ.” (Chapter 27)

What an astonishing mode of reasoning is employed here! Gregory wishes to anoint John the Baptist a martyr but in knowing that John was killed because of his protest against incestuous marriages within the royal family, argues that because John was killed for the truth that that equalled being killed for the sake of Christ. Dying for the sake of truth, justice, peace, and love are not separated categories from dying for the cause of Christ, as if being a Christian and dying a martyr’s death was a matter of dying for metaphysical beliefs about the afterlife. The death of a Christian imitates the death of Christ in exactly as it exposes the depths of human sinfulness in how we create entire systems that are dependent upon the death of victims, as it exposes that the human desire to become gods inevitably becomes evil in craving to kill even the most innocent.+

          In that sense, to give special recognition to those who die in the name of Christ in the Christian tradition is not to privilege the deaths of them over others, or to say that their deaths were of some value, or that they were more valuable than other people, or even that we need to save Christians from their persecution at the expense or in precedence of saving other groups from their persecution but rather that the death of a Christian testifies to the death of Christ, and the death of Christ was the event that saved all of humanity from these systems of oppression, death, sin, and destruction. Christ, in the Christian tradition, died for many reasons but one of which was to expose empire and make a mockery of their whole system of killing enemies by holding charges of guilt over peoples heads, for “…erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15, NRSV).

          To end here then, we should honour and remember the life of the Professor of law at the University of Mosul Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, who stood up against the ISIS’s persecution of Christians, believing that it went against what God had commanded in the Islamic faith. While he did not die in the name of Christ, in the Christian tradition we cannot but recognize that he, like John the Baptist before him, died for the truth, and in dying for the truth he also shed his blood for Christ.


* Slight paraphrase from a personal conversation.

** Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Fortress Press, 2000), 795

*** On a personal note, I find it somewhat disgusting the attempts by some Evangelicals to disassociate themselves from the title of ‘Christian’ because of some negative connotations the word has accumulated throughout our culture. At a time when myriads are being killed for being identified as such, some in the Evangelical community cowardly step away from the same title because it makes them uncomfortable at parties. Grow-Up, and consider yourselves lucky that you are merely being mocked and stereotyped. 

Richard Bauckham makes a most excellent point in this regard (though my dissertation would substitute ‘Rome’ for ‘Jerusalem’, the issue is still the same), in commenting on Revelation 18:24, when he says, “Rome is indicted not only for the martyrdom of Christians, but also for the slaughter of all the innocent victims of its murderous policies. The verse expresses a sense of solidarity between the Christian martyrs and all whose lives were the price of Rome’s acquisition and maintenance of power.” – Bauckham, Richard. The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation. 1st Edition. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark, 1993., 349.

The Cosmology of Authority: The Ascension Narrative of the Acts of the Apostles (Edited)

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Authorial Note: After hearing a sermon in which Jesus was an astronaut because he ascended into heaven, I finally decided to tackle in an academic way, the best that I could, the ascension narrative of the Acts of Apostles. For one such as myself, it is this narrative, and not the resurrection and other miracles even, that is the moment of apparent embarrassment when it comes to the ‘primitive’ views of ancient peoples found in the New Testament. Were we really expected to believe that a man flew in the sky past the clouds?ADD It be firmly honest, I still have not reconciled this narrative in its entirety to my own reason, but the following is an attempt to understand the function of the narrative better, though the historical puzzle will perhaps never leave my side. 

        The Lukan narrative of the ascension of Jesus at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:6-11) posed a challenge of alternative authority within the setting of the Graeco-Roman world of 1st century C.E. to the wider dominion of the Roman Empire. Often questions surrounding such a narrative inevitably get bound up with questions concerning cosmology, the place and location of heaven, and how exactly the story of the ascension of Jesus functioned not only within the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles but how it may have been heard by hearers within both Graeco-Roman and Jewish milieux. We may lament, along with Mikeal Carl Parsons that, “Too often the question ‘How did the event happen?’ grinds discussion to a halt, so that the larger question ‘How does the narrative function?’ remains untouched…” (Parsons 1987, 14–15; likewise Sleeman 2009, 37). But, while addressing how the narrative functioned, we will find that the question of ancient cosmology cannot so easily be evaded. Douglas B. Farrow, rightly reflecting upon our present inquiry, says, “From Homer to Stephen Hawking the word ‘god’ is liberally sprinkled on the pages of human reflection about the universe, indicating that the ancient bond between theology and cosmology is not easily snapped…” (Farrow 1999, 165).

        It is with sensitivity both to the narrative function of the ascension story and to its cosmological background that we will compare the narrative of Jesus’ ascension with four similar narrative-traditions within the same period; two from the Jewish milieu, those of Enoch (Gen. 5:24; 1 Enoch 12; 2 Enoch 67:1-3;Jub. 4:16-26) and Moses (Philo, Life of Moses, 2.288-292; Ezekiel the Tragedian, Exagoge, 67-89), and two from the Graeco-Roman milieu, those of Apollonius of Tyana (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 8:29-30) and Romulus (Plutarch, Romulus, 27.4-28.3; Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1.16). As part of our comparison we will be looking at how these four narrative-traditions functioned with respect to their central figure and how the assumed cosmology of such narratives reflects the function of the narrative itself. In addition, while it will be important to keep in mind the form-critical distinction made by G. Lohfink between ascension stories of a heavenly journey of the soul (Himmelsreise der Seele), and ascension stories involving a full rapture of body and soul (Entrückung) (with the Lukan narrative being categorized in the latter; Zwiep 1997, 21-22), this distinction will not be invested in too heavily, for in fact it will be argued that heaven (οὐρανος) cannot be a sphere/realm/place too easily separated from earth in our narratives. The cosmologies of the narratives will be shown to have immediate implications for the function of such narratives, and it will be argued that the Lukan ascension story is much closer both in cosmological assumptions and in function to the stories of political figures such as Romulus and Moses, than to the stories of holy-sagacious men like Enoch and Apollonius.

      The Lukan narrative of the ascension of Jesus has a number of interesting features, all of which are appropriate in considering when analyzing its cosmological assumptions and functional role. Contrary to much of popular belief about ancient cosmology within the Graeco-Roman period, the assumed cosmology of many was not as simple as a three-tiered universe structure. As J.B. Davies elaborates,

…it has to be admitted that the Hebrew regarded the universe as a three-storeyed construction of which heaven was the first and earth the ground floor with Sheol as the basement. Yet it would be a mistake to regard this as in any sense a systematized conception. Heaven itself had been created by God, but the Hebrew never asked where God was before this act of creation took place. Again, it was recognized that “the heaven of heavens cannot contain” Him, and so God could not be said to be confined in space, although one might also affirm that heaven was His throne. (Davies 1958, 57)

In fact, it was noted by E. Haenchen that, in comparison to apocryphal narratives of the ascension story, such as found in the Gospel of Peter, the Lukan narrative “…ist unsentimental und von fast befremdender Nüchternheit’…” (quoted in; Zwiep 1997, 13) for the story does not divulge into long descriptions about what heaven looks like or how many layers it has such as later Enochic traditions do. Rather, heaven appears to function in the Lukan narrative not as another place that could be described, but instead as a realm or “significant setting” in the narrative that serves to “critique these other spatial perspectives” (Sleeman 2009, 146:9, 75). Contrary to Bishop John Spong and Richard Holloway’s assertion that a local transition narrative like a ascension would presume a mythological cosmos, the Lukan narrative does not present a cosmology where Jesus’ ascension is akin to a “space voyage” (Dawson 2004, 31; 39; 34), but rather presumes a relational notion of space. Thomas F. Torrance most adequately differentiated between a receptacle notion of space and a relational notion of space when he spoke of a relational notion as defining space “…in accordance with the nature of the force that gives… [it its]… field of determination”, so that earth would be humanity’s space because of the activity of human beings and in the same way heaven would be God’s space because of the activity of God (Torrance 1976, 130–131). We will find in our further comparison that receptacle notions of space and relational notions of space are found throughout our other four narrative-traditions .

          In addition to the presumed relational cosmology of the Lukan narrative, we also find that the role of the narrative is neither for preservation of a body for a further eschatological role (contra Zwiep 1997, 78–79) nor is it simply ascension terminology being used for the ascent of the soul to heaven, for then the resurrection narrative would be left purposeless (noting the unique structure of the Jesus narrative; Farrow 2011, 2). The purpose of the Lukan narrative is made quite clear by the speech reported of Peter in Acts 2:22-36, in which, by quoting from Psalms 16:1-8 and 110:1, he points out that for many early Christian communities the ascension narrative served to show that where other Davidic kings had died, Jesus fulfilled the role as the proper Messianic king of the Jewish people. Furthermore, this kingly/political role of the narrative is further accentuated by the fact that, as Matthew Sleeman as pointed out in relation to the geographical conceptual framework provided by Ed Soja, ‘heaven’ in the Lukan narrative serves as a ‘thirdspace’ whose “…impact on earthly spaces within Acts challenges and reshapes both (firstspace) material locations and (secondspace) ideational projections, crafting constructions of places incorporating and exceeding conventional binary oppositions” (Sleeman 2009, 146:46). One can see this immediately in the preceding words of the Lukan Jesus before his ascension in Acts 1:7-8, where Jesus begins to dismantle not only the disciples’ presumptions about the temporal aspects of the eschaton but also their spatial presumptions found in 1:6. As Sleeman notes, by introducing the three firstspace locations of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria in order firstly to reconceptualise their notions of what firstspace Israel is, he then separates Israel as a whole from their secondspace conceptual framework for the eschaton, by introducing his secondspace of the ‘ends of the earth’, thus effectively “…Jesus does far more than predict the witnesses’ future schedule: he (re)defines their space, and with them, that of the wider world” (Sleeman 2009, 146:72). As we will see, this redefining of firstspaces and secondspaces, by the thirdspace of heaven as the place of the ‘right hand’ of God, is a function of politically shaped ascension narratives focused on relational notions of space, as opposed to ascension narratives shaped by the role of holy/sagacious men and receptacle notions of space.

            Beginning with looking at the narrative traditions of the ascensions of Enoch and Apollonius of Tyana, we will look at both their cosmological assumptions and their functional role for their narratives main figures. The narrative tradition of the ascension of Enoch begins quite humbly with a vague reference in Gen. 5:24 of God ‘taking’ (לקח) Enoch, presumably from the LXX translation for his piety (εὐηρέστησεν τῷ θεῷ). From here however his position is elevated to having a role as a eschatological prophet as witnessed by his being referenced even in early Christian literature (Jude 14-15). Much of the Enochic tradition as witnessed by 1 Enoch 12 is concerned with Enoch’s role in having a separate space to be “hidden” (1 Enoch 12:2), which is defined as the space of the Watchers, so that he may record the misdeeds of these fallen angels. What we clearly see in 1 Enoch 12 is a receptacle notion of space, with heaven (presumably) as a separate space to put Enoch alongside of the Watchers, for while even the space is functionally a place for Enoch’s activity, it is not defined by Enoch’s activity. It is also clear what Enoch’s role is, for Enoch’s ascension into heaven does not redefine any geography nor is it to assume any authoritative role, it is so that he may perform his role as a “scribe of righteousness” (1 Enoch 12:4). We do later however see a remarkable mutation of Enoch’s ascension story in 2 Enoch 67:1-3, where we see a remarkable resemble to the Lukan narrative of the ascension of Jesus. The common elements between them are: the conversational setting, the ascension actually being described, the role of eyewitnesses, the attempt at an explanation for such a ascension, the worship of God as a response, and the return of the eyewitnesses to their original starting point (all noted in Zwiep 1997, 50). However, even in this case we must remember Arie W. Zwiep’s own caution that, “Similarities of language and form do not necessarily imply ideological correspondence…” (Zwiep 1997, 39–40). It is with this caution that we must ironically disagree with Zwiep’s own conclusion that the ascension of Enoch in 2 Enoch 67:1-3 exemplifies the basic formulaic structure for the Lukan narrative and that therefore they have the same function, that (in Zwiep’s estimation) of the preservation of a figure for an eschatological role.

          It is quite clear that later in the narrative of 2 Enoch the function of the narrative of Enoch’s ascension is precisely to confer authority upon someone else, namely Mefusalom, as Enoch’s son to be priest over the people (2 Enoch 69:1-7). In addition to the function of the narrative as conferring authority upon someone else, because now Enoch serves in a priestly role before God, the cosmological assumption of the narrative is still a receptacle notion of heaven, with no hint as to the relational aspects of how heaven interacts with earth or any other space. Lastly in our consideration then of the Enochic narrative-tradition of Enoch’s ascension we will look at the account in the Book of Jubilees. Here we find the most interesting mutation of the narrative, for here the ascension of Enoch, while transferring him to another location, precisely does not take him to heaven but instead to the Garden of Eden, so that he may perform both the priestly role assigned to him in 2 Enoch and the scribal role assigned to him in 1 Enoch (Jub. 4:23-26). It is interesting that here, while obviously there is a receptacle view of space in this cosmos, the receptacle is not heaven but Eden, for God in this narrative has four special places on earth:  the Garden of Eden, the Mount of the East, Mount Sinai, and Mount Zion (Jub 4:26). So while we do get a quasi-redefinition of secondspace notions about God’s residing place, this is not caused by a thirdspace to which Enoch is brought, but simply by the recognition of a larger secondspace than first imagined of where God’s residing place is on earth, the firstspace. On the whole, then, the Enochic narrative-tradition neither has the same cosmological assumptions, nor does it have the same role as the Lukan narrative of Jesus’ ascension.[1]

            From our example of a Jewish holy/sagacious figure who is raptured, we move on to analyze the smaller and yet still popular Graeco-Roman narrative-tradition of the ascension of Apollonius of Tyana.[2] Philostratus in his narrative notes that the Damis memoir he has been using does not include a death story and that there were a variety of traditions concerning Apollonius’ death and/or ascension. The ascension tradition we have of Apollonius is small but significant, for in the account of his death in Lindus he simply disappears within the temple of Athene, but in the account of his ascension in Crete it is said that he escaped from his imprisonment and was welcomed by a choir of angels to be brought up to heaven (Life of Apollonius, 8:29-30). In comparing the cosmological assumptions of this narrative with those of the Lukan narrative, at first their mutual lack of description of heaven might lend itself to think that Philostratus’ narrative has a relational notion of space, but as is quite clear from the story, heaven is a receptacle space of refuge to receive the fleeing Apollonius. Now while it is important to note that the gateway to heaven is found within the temple of Dictynna, suggesting that Dictynna is thought of as an important secondspace construction, it is nevertheless not expounded upon exactly how or in what manner the space of heaven defines either the firstspace of Crete nor the secondspace of the temple of Dictynna. As for the function of the narrative, this appears to be two-fold. The first is the aforementioned explanation of Apollonius’ escape from the guards. The second function of the narrative, however, appears to be so that in his immortal state he can continue to visit his disciples to teach them about the immortality of the soul (Life of Apollonius, 8:31). Of note here, then, is how both Apollonius and Enoch are still serving very much sage-like roles even after their ascension, answering inquiries and delivering messages concerning the heavens and the deep mysteries. It is of interest to point out this explicit function of the ascension stories of Enoch and Apollonius because it is precisely not what we find throughout much of the New Testament and, most pertinent to our study, especially not the Acts of the Apostles. After the ascension story the apostles are left on their own to cast lots for the new disciple (Acts 1:26), they are given the Holy Spirit for communication and as a sign of the ‘Day of the Lord’ (Acts 2:1-20), and in the dispute concerning the gentiles they must rely on the judgment of James (Acts 15). In fact the only thing the post-ascension Jesus appears to do in the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles is commission Paul (Acts 9:1-19). Present in the narrative-traditions of both Apollonius and Enoch then, are the cosmological assumptions of a receptacle view of space and the functional role of their ascensions to be for the deliverance of holy/sagacious men to a place safe from danger so that they may give their post-ascension wisdom/revelations/instructions. It may be safe to argue that neither of their narrative-traditions is well suited to understand the Jesus ascension narrative.

        The Lukan narrative presumes both a relational notion of space, where heaven is a thirdspace, and the functional role of the ascension as the enthronement of their main figure for political authority. It is with this in mind then that we’ll explore the narrative-traditions of two political figures with ascension, namely Moses, and Romulus. The narrative-tradition of Moses’ ascension and all its components is too immense to cover fully, but what can be gleaned from both Philo’s account and Ezekiel the Tragedian’s record of a dream confirm quite well that kingship/royalty/politics was a key factor in understanding Moses’ ascension to heaven. Beginning with Deuteronomy 34:4-8, it would seem quite odd, given this clear description of his death and burial that there should be a ascension tradition about Moses, and yet it appears that because of the unknown location of the burial (v.6), speculation grew. The tradition appeared, as evidenced by 2 Baruch 59:9-11 and Jub. 1:1-4, 26, firstly to unfold from the notion that Moses’ ascent up Sinai to receive the law in Exodus 24, was not merely an ascent up a mountain but into heaven itself. In fact, the furthest expansion upon this idea appears in Ezekiel the Tragedian’s Exagoge, in which Moses has a dream of ascending Sinai and finding a heavenly throne. The one seated upon the throne, who in this case we can only presume to be God, remarkably gets up from his throne and gives all the royal accessories to Moses. Jethro, Moses’ father in-law interprets the dream as a sign that Moses shall lead a great people and shall raise up a “mighty throne” (Exagoge, 67-89). As John J. Collins, has rightly pointed out, is that “What is implied in the vision, then, is the virtual apotheosis of Moses” (J. J. Collins 1995, 51). Moses, like Enoch, in this dream is allowed to see all times and place, even with the stars underneath his feet (Exagoge, 77-89). However, as rightly pointed out by Zwiep, this scene and the traditions before it, do not quite represent an entire full-body rapture as the conclusion of the figure’s life (Zwiep 1997, 65–66; so also Collins 1995, 51).

          From this point, however, we have both the accounts of Philo and of Josephus that appear to narrate or imply a rapture story. In Philo’s Life of Moses we get a similar tradition to 2 Baruch and the Book of Jubilees, where Moses is given the world as his possession in sharing God’s own possession, allowed to see the inner mysteries of the heavens, and is declared both “god and king of the whole nation” (Life of Moses, 1.155-159). While the source of Moses being called ‘god’ may be made clear by Exodus 7:1, the tradition of Moses being a ‘king’ comes from Rabbinic Midrash from R. Tanhuma, who in interpreting Numbers 10:1-2 brings together Moses being declared ‘god’ with the implication that Moses shared in God’s kingship (Meeks 1968, 355–357). However, at the end of the account of the Life of Moses, we get an account- which while arguably, alongside of the Assumption of Moses and the ‘duplex Moses tradition’, describes the ascent of the soul to heaven (Life of Moses, 2.288-292)- is grouped with both Enoch and Elijah and uses vivid ascension terminology  (Zwiep 1997, 66n2). Lastly with regard to the narrative tradition of Moses’ ascension, we have the account from Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, IV 8.48), in which Moses is said to have “gone back to the divinity” (πρὸς τὸ θεῖον ἀναχωρῆσαι).[3] The phrase “gone back to the divinity” is a technical phrase used in Josephus, otherwise only used with reference to Enoch, and furthermore much else of the terminology in the narrative such as verb ἀφανίζομαι is used with reference to both Elijah and Enoch (Zwiep 1997, 67; so too Tabor 1989, 227). In fact, the account of Moses’ ascension in Josephus is so vivid that James D. Tabor is forced to argue that Josephus wanted to both describe the ascension of Moses as like the ascension of Philo’s Moses or Dionysius’ Aeneas and Romulus, and yet have it not so (Tabor 1989, 237–238)! In agreement with Zwiep however, we must find Tabor’s argument unpersuasive, for it appears that Josephus intends to record that “…Moses, knowing in advance of his coming rapture (like Elijah!), apparently wanted to avoid any notion of merit on his own part” and thus wrote his own burial account (Zwiep 1997, 69). Furthermore, this was not done on Josephus’ part as “…a conscious resistance…” to such traditions about other figures (as in Tabor 1989, 237) but rather to explain the discrepancy of why there were both accounts of Moses’ ascension to heaven and of his burial. What we have then in the narrative-tradition of the ascension of Moses as a whole, while not necessarily a full bodily rapture such as our Lukan narrative, is both the cosmological presumption of a relational view of space and the function of the narratives to confer political authority on their main figure.

        The heaven of this narrative-tradition, while serving quite secondarily as a receptacle space to explain the disappearance of the body of Moses, is also clearly a thirdspace that defines the secondspace of Moses’ ruler-ship as the whole world. The function of the narrative-tradition appears solely to be that of conferring political authority upon a national figure, and not upon any existing institution such as the Hasmonean kings (Meeks 1968, 366). Having looked at one national figure, we shall move to our last narrative-tradition for comparison, that of Romulus. In Plutarch’s account of Romulus’ ascension we have, first, the oddity of the disappearance of the body, then the conjecture that the senators had indeed murdered him in the temple of Vulcan, then finally the story that a dark cloud had descended upon Romulus in a public assembly meeting, taking up him to heaven to be not merely a god but a king. At first many accused the senators of themselves fabricating the story to trick the people, but then upon the testimony of Julius Proculus having seen a heavenly vision of Romulus, the people began to worship Romulus as the god Quirinus (Romulus, 27.4-28.3). Livy’s account of this apotheosis is quite similar to Plutarch’s in that it too has the disappearance of the body, the rumour that the senators themselves had killed Romulus, the public assembly setting for the thick cloud that hid Romulus from the sight of the public to take him up to heaven, and the worship of Romulus by the people as a god (Ab urbe condita, 1.16).[4] In addition, however, Livy’s account of Proculus Julius’ account of his heavenly visitation of Romulus gives not only a clearer indication of a relational view of space, but also of the specific function for the post-ascension Romulus. Plutarch’s account does indicate the pre-existence of the deity of Romulus and instructions for the Roman people so that they may be at the height of humanity (Romulus, 28.2), but Livy’s account contains a fuller account of the function of Romulus’ ascension.

         In Livy’s account we have the post-ascension Romulus declaring it to be “…the will of heaven that my Rome shall be the capital of the world; so let them cherish the art of war, and let them know and teach their children that no human strength can resist Roman arms” (Ab urbe condita, 1.16.7). Quite clearly, then, we can see the relational notion of space in view here, for heaven acts as a thirdspace in order to redefine the secondspace of the capital city of the firstspace, the world. It is true that the receptacle notion of space is also in view, so that heaven is the space where the mysterious disappearance of the body of Romulus is explained, but beyond this it is clear that the establishment of Rome is achieved by Romulus’ having authority in heaven, the thirdspace. Furthermore, this scene, as Adela Yarbro Collins rightly points out, is very similar to the commissioning scenes in the Gospels of Luke and John, and most especially, the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20 (A. Y. Collins 2009, 30). In this light we may see Acts 1:8 as a commissioning scene in and of itself, where the disciples, like the Roman people, receive their power from ‘on high’ and are commanded to go out to be witnesses to the power of the post-ascension figure.

      As we have seen then, the Lukan ascension story is much closer both in cosmological assumptions and in function to the stories of political figures such as Moses and Romulus, than to the stories of holy-sagacious men like Enoch and Apollonius. With Enoch and Apollonius, it was clear that in their narrative-traditions the emphasis was upon a receptacle view of space, for whom ‘heaven’ was a receptacle in which to receive their body but in no way had any relational aspect with earth. We also found with both of these figures that the function of their narratives was both for the escape of the figure and for their post-ascension instruction of their disciples, but it was not connected in any way to political authority. The_Ascension_of_ChristIn contrast to them, we have found that while the narrative traditions of both Moses and Romulus do have a receptacle notion of space, so that heaven is a space for which to put their mysteriously missing bodies, this notion was strongly overshadowed by their relational notion of space. For these narrative-traditions, ‘heaven’ served as a thirdspace, much like it did in the Lukan narrative, which, after the entrance of their main figure redefined secondspace conceptions. In addition, we saw how with Moses and Romulus, their ascension narrative-traditions served to confer upon them a distinct unique political authority, much like our Lukan narrative as we saw from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:22-36. Aside from characteristic features and specific terminology of our narrative traditions,[5] we have seen how in both cosmological assumption concerning space and in the function of their narratives, the Lukan ascension narrative concerning Jesus is much closer in resemblance to the political figures of Moses and Romulus, than to the sagacious figures of Enoch and Apollonius. Lastly, we may even see this political dimension in the response of the angels in the Lukan ascension narrative to the disciples (Acts 1:10-11), in which it appears that “…Idly gazing into heaven is an inappropriate reaction to Jesus’ ascension…Implicit in the angels’ words, of course, is that the disciples ought to busy themselves in light of and because of Jesus’ absence” (Parsons 1987, 182).

Works Cited List

Primary Sources

Andersen, F.I. 1983. “2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) ENOCH (late First Century A.D.) Appendix: 2 Enoch in Merilo Pravednoe- A New Translation and Introduction.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 1:91–221. USA: DoubleDay & Company, Inc.

Society, Jewish Publication. 2004. The Jewish Study Bible. Edited by Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael A. Fishbane. USA: Oxford University Press.

Isaac, E. 1983. “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) ENOCH (Second Century B.C.- First Century A.D.) A New Translation and Introduction.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 1:5–89. USA: DoubleDay & Company, Inc.

Klijn, A.F.J. 1983. “2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) BARUCH (early Second Century A.D.)- A New Translation and Introduction.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 1:615–652. USA: DoubleDay & Company, Inc.

Levine, Amy-Jill, and Marc Z. Brettler, ed. 2011. The Jewish Annotated New Testament. New Revised Standard Version. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA.

Livy. 1919. Livy Books I and II. Translated by B.O. Foster. Vol. 1. 14 vols. The LOEB Classical Library. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Philo. 1984. Philo- On Abraham, On Joseph, and De Vita Mosis. Translated by F.H. Colson. Vol. 6. 12 vols. The LOEB Classical Library. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Philostratus. 1912. The Life of Apollonius of Tyana- The Epistles of Apollinus and the Treatise of Eusebius. Translated by F.C. Conybeare. Vol. 2. 2 vols. The LOEB Classical Library. London, England: Wm. Heinemann.

Plutarch. 1914. Plutarch’s Lives- Theseus and Romulus; Lycurgus and Numa; Solon and Publicola. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Vol. 1. 11 vols. The LOEB Classical Library. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Robertson, R.G. 1985. “Ezekiel the Tragedian (Second Century B.C.)- A New Translation and Introduction.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 2:803–819. USA: DoubleDay & Company, Inc.

Wintermute, O.S. 1985. “Jubilees (Second Century B.C.)- A New Translation and Introduction.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 2:35–142. USA: DoubleDay & Company, Inc. 

Secondary Sources

Collins, Adela Yarbro. 2009. “Ancient Notions of Transferal and Apotheosis in Relation to the Empty Tomb Story in Mark.” In Metamorphoses: Resurrection, Body, and Transformative Practices in Early Christianity, edited by Turid Karlsen Seim and Jorunn Okland, 1:41–57. Religious Experience from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.

Collins, John J. 1995. “A Throne in the Heavens: Apotheosis in Pre-Christian Judaism.” In Death, ecstasy, and other worldly journeys, edited by John J. Collins and Michael Fishbane, 43–58. USA: State University of New York.

Davies, J. G. 1958. He Ascended Into Heaven A Study In The History Of Doctrine. Great Britain: Lutterworth Press.

Dawson, Gerrit. 2004. Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. Great Britain: Continuum.

Farrow, Douglas. 1999. Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cosmology. Great Britain: T. & T. Clark.

———. 2011. Ascension Theology. India: Continuum.

Meeks, Wayne A. 1968. “Moses as God and King.” In Religions in Antiquity: Essays in Memory of Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough, edited by Jacob Neusner, 14:354–371. Studies in the History of Religions (Supplements to Numen). Leiden, The Netherlands: BRILL.

Parsons, Mikeal Carl. 1987. The Departure of Jesus in Luke-Acts: The Ascension Narratives in Context. Edited by David E. Orton. Vol. 21. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series. Great Britain: JSOT Press.

Sleeman, Matthew. 2009. Geography and the Ascension Narrative in Acts. Vol. 146. Society For New Testament Studies Monograph Series. USA: Cambridge University Press.

Tabor, James D. 1989. “‘Returning to the Divinity’: Josephus’s Portrayal of the Disappearances of Enoch, Elijah, and Moses.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (2): 225. doi:10.2307/3267295.

Torrance, Thomas F. 1976. Space, Time and Resurrection. First edition. Great Britain: The Handsel Press.

Zwiep, Arie W. 1997. The Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology. Vol. 87. Supplements to Novum Testamentum. BRILL.


[1] For our purposes we will not be considering the identification of Enoch as the Son of Man in 1 Enoch 70-71, for not only its notorious textual problems but also because the dating of that narrative is quite the matter of dispute (Zwiep 1997, 51–58).

[2] Admittedly the sample of stories upon which we are drawing from the Graeco-Roman world and Jewish milieu is quite small in comparison with the vast literary tradition of such figures that include Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18), Baruch (2 Baruch 76:1-5), Phinehas (Ps-Philo, Liber Antiquitatum, 48:1), and Heracles (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca II 7, 7; DiodS, Hist IV 38, 5; Euripides, Heraclidae 910; Lysias  2, 11; Lucian, Cynicus 13; Hermotimus 7; Cicero, Tusculanae I 14, 32), and many more besides, but for sake of brevity we must. (All these examples are discussed in; Zwiep 1997, 38; 58–63; 71–76)

[3] The translation for this passage come from: Tabor, 1989

[4] It does seem clear however that neither Plutarch or Livy actually believe this account to be true, but the importance of their reporting of a narrative-tradition is no less important for that.

[5] On which, “The ascension of Jesus in Acts more closely resembles the Greco-Roman literature in terms of characteristic features- clouds, angels, and mountains seem to play a more significant role in the pagan texts than in the Jewish literature. The Lukan terminology, on the other hand, is much closer to the Jewish literature, particularly the Elijah texts” (Parsons 1987, 40). In addition however, the argument here gets beyond the impasse of Graeco-Roman vs. Jewish influence debate, for the argument does not emphasize the Jewish nature of the story as in contrast with the Graeco-Roman nature of it or vice-versa.

From Union to Family: What kind of a Community is a Church?

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Authorial Note: Most of the following proposal comes from my own personal experience of having arrived in Edinburgh and deciding that I would stick to the first church that I attended, Carrubbers Christian Centre. During this experience I learned much about the formation of human community, and the perversion of the notion of Church community within our capitalist and market based society. For more about my own personal experience see: Journey Through Scotland, ep. 4.

            To live and commune with a people whom you like, on a voluntary or involuntary basis, is easy. To live and commune with a people whom you don’t like, on an involuntary basis, is difficult but one could learn the art of toleration and peaceful co-existence. To live and commune with a people whom you don’t like, on a voluntary basis, seems irrational and an experience filled with such agitation it could only make one wonder, ‘Why don’t they just stop living and communing with them? If they dislike it so much, why continue to be a part of that community?’ It is the motive of the last of these situations that needs to be outlined to explain why being part of a Church community is important, for any other basis is not extraordinary enough to merit the attention of the disciple of Christ. The idiom quite common amongst people who settle into a new area, looking for a Church community to be a part of, is ‘Church shopping’. The disgusting assumption built into this idiom is that communities are commodities, from whom we get certain things like ‘spiritual experiences’ or ‘good music’ or ‘inspiring sermons’ in exchange for our tithes, and more often than not, just our very attention span. The community as a place of market exchange is the implicit assumption found throughout various voluntary associations, clubs, sport teams etc… of a capitalist and market-based society. One joins a bowling league because one wants to bowl with people and in exchange you pay some money for a shirt. One goes clubbing because one wishes to ‘hook-up’ and this will probably be in exchange for your money, your phone number, and more often than not your dignity. If one treats various Church communities in and around one’s area in this manner, one has mistaken a family for a union.

            One can see this mistaken form of Church community even in the example of Atheists churches, or ‘godless congregations’. Lee Moore, founder of the Godless Revival, decided to break off from the original Sunday Assembly,mlyn1447l because he feared that the Sunday Assembly was essentially watering down its atheistic overtones in favour of a more “humanistic cult”.* What’s even more interesting is what Sanderson Jones said in response to this split, which was “We are only one flavor of ice cream, and one day we hope there’ll be congregations for every godless palate.” Anyone familiar with protestant church settings especially, knows that the language both Moore and Jones are speaking in is essentially church marketing, something which evangelical have long been masters at. What is disturbing though is that it is clear that the notion of ‘community’ found within these types of settings, is essentially community as a product for individuals, and when the product no longer serves the consumer needs, the consumer can leave. Communities are ice cream to be devoured. The entire centre of community formation is based around the self-interest of individuals, in other words, a union.

            We can see well the contrast between understanding one’s community as a union verses one’s community as a family for instance, in the example of the debate held on Premier Christian Radio’s Program Unbelievable, (May 31st, 2014) between the famous Catholic theologian Hans Küng and a lesser known more conservative Catholic, Peter D. Williams of Catholic Voices.** It is here where, in response to a question concerning why Prof. Küng is not a protestant, that he effectively exhibits what a familial notion of community looks like by effectively arguing that he has been a priest in good standing with the Roman Catholic Church for decades and has no intention of leaving it. Implicitly he argued that one’s membership in the Roman Catholic Church does not depend on one’s particular beliefs, of which millions of Catholics share his, but upon one’s commitment to the community. Prof. Küng, while being a ‘liberal’ Catholic is actually much more orthodox than Williams, who argued that he was part of the Roman Catholic Church because he thought it was the truth. From Williams’ stand-point, one’s commitment to a community depends on whether that community caters to your sense of truth and beliefs, which (while he himself does not acknowledge this) can change and when they do change you separate yourself from such community because it no longer serves your interests. Whereas, from Prof. Küng’s standpoint, while one may disagree with many of the teachings and beliefs of one’s community, to even the point of being asked why one still is committed to the community, one is nevertheless based in the community by love and commitment to the community itself. The entire centre of community formation is based around the self-sacrifice of individuals, in other words, a family.

            In addition to the different centres of community formation, i.e. self-interest vs. self-sacrifice, there are many other differences between communities that are unions and communities that are families. Another of these is membership. In unions, one gets to choose one’s members but in families, one does not get to choose one’s family members. Speaking from a Christian theologically standpoint, what this insight means then is that if the church is to be a community based upon self-sacrifice and not the useless-narcissistic basis of self-interest, if the church is to be a family and not a union, is that while ‘liberal’ Christians can proudly proclaim Martin Luther King Jr. as a brother, they must also except Pat Robertson as one as well.  Likewise, for ‘conservative’ Christians this would mean proclaiming Martin Luther as a brother, but also excepting Brian D. McLaren as one. Let us be clear: this does not mean that we have to agree with all such figures, for our community is not based on shared beliefs and interests, rather it means that we do not get to decide who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’ for ourselves. We do not get to decide who is worthy of our time, attention, and love. Drawing back to the beginning of this essay then, this means that if the familial notion of community means that we do not get to pick our family members, it may often be the case that our particular family members will be people we don’t like or agree with. Most troubling, it means that we might voluntarily be parts of communities whose people we don’t like, or whose beliefs we may not always agree with, because, paradoxically, while from our perspective joining a Church community may appear to be voluntary, we must act and commitment as if we did not actually choose the Church, if the Church is a family whose centre is self-sacrifice and whose membership is not up to our preferences.

            The last aspect of a familial understanding of Church community then, in addition to its centre being self-sacrifice and its membership not open to our choosing, is that the way one then chooses which family members to spend time with, cannot be out of belief agreement or general ‘warm-fuzzies’ with the people you spend time with, rather the way ones chooses which Church community to join oneself too, is by asking, ‘Who needs me most?’ It is for this exact reason that if one believes that a particular Church community has a distorted theology, one has all the more reason to stay with them, for clearly (at least in one’s own thinking) they need some better teachers. It is for this exact reason that someone like Prof. Küng is much more likely to reform the Roman Catholic Church than any of its critics who refuse to be associated with it.  Is it not true that often the effective critics of a tradition are those who are identified with it? Or, to take the situation from a different angle, if the particular Church community is somewhat of a loveless environment, then one should take up the line in the Franciscan prayer that reads, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love”, and even furthermore, “Grant that I may not seek so much as to…be loved as to love.”

            The Christian Church then is not a community of spiritual commodity to be shopped for, rather it is the family whom we are called to love, to whom we have been given, not one that we have chosen, whose centre is self-sacrifical love. At this concluding point we would be remise to not reflect on a passage from the New Testament which shows most exemplary all of that which has been discussed. In the first Epistle of Peter, the author argues, that the Christian Church is “…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” (1 Peter 2:9, NRSV), now while much can be said let us reflect on one of some the most interesting implications of this familial understanding of the Church community. Some of the ‘practical’ implications for what has been discussed then, taken in reverse order, are: (1) when an individual or biological family is looking for a Church community to join in the midst of their area, they should imitate Christ in self-sacrifical love by joining the community, not that best suits their ‘needs’ but rather who needs them most. (2) When one is considering the beliefs of the community, one should not fear the accusation and guilt to be accumulated by association with, for the community is not based on mutual agreement of belief, but love and commitment. Truly if one is to join the family of love, one is called to love even the crazy uncle whom those outside the family hate. (3) If a Church community is seeking to build up its own community, it should not bother with marketing or trying to be better entertainment than sunday night football, for by doing so it has already appealed to people’s self-interests, and not to the people of the self-sacrifical love of Christ. Rather, a Church community should seek not even to build its own interests and numbers, but rather be the one community in the world who intentionally breaks open its body and pours out its blood in love and sacrifice in imitation of its central ritual the Eucharist.

            ‘But what of the implication of the Epistle?’- it is later argued in the Epistle that one should “Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17, NRSV). Most readers only notice the last clause, ‘honor the emperor’, as if to see that in here were the seedbeds of the later corruption of the Church embodied in Roman Catholicism, without reading the first clause, ‘honour everyone’. What has been done here is nothing less than the categorizing of the emperor with everyone else. It is here where we leave to leave with a central question of community formation that could not be written about here in its entirety: Is the Christian Church suppose to love its members before it must love those outside of the community? Or would the privileging of the Church communities over other communities, quench its very spirit? The dualism of ‘Us-vs.-Them’ may be entirely unescapable,*** but now that we have argued that the posture within Us should be self-sacrifical, what the community as a whole’s posture should be toward Them, is another question entirely.

“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Remember this saying. And as for you…go out beyond these walls, but in the world you will abide as a monk.”

- Elder Zosima, The Brother Karamazov


Engelhart, Katie. “After a schism, a question: Can atheist churches last?” CNN Belief Blog. CNN Belief Blog, January 4, 2014. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/04/after-a-schism-a-question-can-atheist-churches-last/

** To be accessed here: http://www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable

*** Often one hears that a society of tolerance should not tolerate the intolerant, and one has the sneaky suspicion that nothing profound is being utter but only the same rule almost all communities hold- ‘We like us, but we cannot like those who are not us’. 

Help My Discontent: A Prayer for the Disgruntled

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And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood.  It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”  Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things are given to the one who is grateful.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, 

“I am grateful; help my discontent!” 

 When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!”

(Mark 9:20-25, NRSV- Adapted)

            We in the Christian tradition are caught in a terrible conundrum between aspiring to be like the Apostle Paul who had “…learned to be content with whatever…” (Philippians 4:11, NRSV), and yet also recognizing the impulse of ultimate discontentment with this life, so well described by C.S. Lewis,

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” (Mere Christianity)

Caught between the cessation of a desire for more so as not to complain, and yet having a deep inner cry of the spirit yearning for healing- how to escape this? Is it a matter of striking a balance, such as remembering to be grateful while jokingly complaining to let off steam? Is it a matter of being totally content in all things, and having no desire to change anything or for the creation to be healed? Or is it a matter of admitting defeat in never being satisfied with anything in life, strive for utopia, and living out one’s old years wondering what could have been? The first seems to be what many do, as most of their lives they complain about the little things then have a one day celebration for giving thanks. The second seems to be that of a person whose own peace of mind is more desirable than anyone else’s peace. The third finally appears to be a burden of a tremendous amount of anxiety, being the revolutionary that carries the weight of the world upon her shoulders, who can never be satisfied with less than the perfection of the world which they strive for, even out of a motive of justice.

            Why is the above passage from the Gospel of Mark adapted as it is, and how might it help us with our discontent with the sickness of the creation, and yet the need to be content in order to receive all things? Notice in this adaption the boys sickness appears as if it could be a suicidal mental disorder, a boy driven by immense amounts of anxiety possibly due to tax collection or the harvest or some related issue. The father cannot accept the situation as it is, he cannot be at ease with it and nor should he. To be at ease with the sickness and anxiety of the creation, would be a sign of callousness, not peace of mind. Naturally the father turns to the holy man of the town in a world of little resources, even the random ‘alternative’ healer would be called upon. The response of the holy man at first appears to be an arrogant reply equivalent to, ‘How dare you question if I can heal him, of course I can!’, but if this were the attitude in which the reply was made most certainly the local holy man would want to show the doubter his skills…but of course this is not what happens. The holy man points to the fact that it is not entirely up to his ability as to whether the boy would be healed or not,* but it was rather dependent in part on the man’s own posture toward the creation.** Jesus, the holy man, says, in reminiscence of the father in the story of the prodigal son (‘all that is mine is yours’- Luke 15:11-32, NRSV), tells the father, that ‘All things are given to the one who is grateful’.

          To parse out exactly what this enigmatic saying might mean, it would be helpful to look at the story of the prodigal son. In the story, the elder brother is upset that his younger brother has come home and got a party, whereas the elder has never left home and yet has never gotten a reception like his brother. It is to this discontent that his father tells him ‘All that is mine is yours’, but the problem was that the elder brother did not perceive the ‘all-that’ as ‘ALL-THAT’. He was not grateful, therefore he did not receive it as a gift. One never receives a gift as such unless one understands that it is a GIFT. Whatever one may receive, if one receives with a posture of entitlement, will never be a gift, only a due. What then Jesus, in our adaption of the story then is saying to the father is that the gracious gift of the health of his son would only be received as such if the father knew that he was not entitled to such treatment. If the father felt in anyway that Jesus owed him something, or was bound to do this for him, even then if Jesus did heal the boy, the father would not appreciate it, but merely rejoice that he had received his just due.

          In our contemporary cynical age we might read such a prompting as, ‘I’ll heal you’re boy, but you better be grateful for it!’ Is this, however, how we should read the prompting of Jesus about the father’s posture of gratitude? No, rather, Jesus’ concern is that the man in the midst of his and his son’s suffering, still rejoices with Job, “…the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21, NRSV). The desire to make sure someone is grateful and content can often be the only way to make sure someone does not devour their own soul with their discontent. Instead of an arrogant- ‘you better be grateful!- Jesus’ prompting is to make sure that the father was grateful and desired the healing of his son because he was grateful for the gift of his son, and not out of a soul-devouring posture of discontent and entitlement. The father’s reply to Jesus’ prompting is “I am grateful; help my discontent”.

         The father’s reply is what anyone, caught in the terrible conundrum described at the beginning, should pray. For the father acknowledges, that he is caught in the conundrum, and not in the cynical manner that we are often caught up in. The father does not jokingly complain about things to let off stream and give thanks to maintain credibility. Rather, the father recognizes that his discontent about the sickness and anxiety of the creation is present right alongside of his utter gratitude for what he has been given. After acknowledging the conundrum, he affirms his gratitude and asks for help with his discontent from Jesus. Despite his discontent in life he still proclaims that he is really and truly grateful for the gift of life, or as the Elder Zosima’s brother, Markel said, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov, “…why, I myself want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you…Let me be culpable before all, and then all will forgive me, and that will be paradise.”  He owes the creation a debt of thanks in his loving gratitude toward the creation and his son as gifts from the one who knows how to give good things. But what of the second-half of the father’s cry, ‘help my discontent’? Is he asking for a peace of mind about the world’s cares so that he may be content with what is? Is he asking that his desire for better may be quenched so that he will no longer complain about the injustices of this creation?

         The important question to ask then, is on whose behalf is the father asking for healing and what drives the desire for something better? He is asking on the behalf of his son, and his drive is the gratitude and love that he already has for the gift of his son. The striving for a better creation should come from the gratitude and love for the way that the creation is already received by us. If the gift of the creation is rejected, we will wander as discontented gruntled souls looking for a better home then the one we inhabit, or if the gift of creation is not received as a gift we will continue to receive the joys of life as entitlements and ‘rights’ only to never be content. The father in our story does not wish that he had never been born, as Job later comes to cry in his story (Job 3, NRSV), nor does he feel that it is Jesus’ duty to heal his son, that his fair share has not been given.  Rather the father knows that he is grateful for the creation as a gift that has been given to him, and as he stares into the eyes of the one who first gave him his son he cries for the healing of the creation that is sick out of gratitude and love. He is not disgruntled or filled with complaint about his lot in life, rather he is grateful- ‘I am grateful!’ Furthermore than this, his ‘discontent’ is driven, not by a sense of lack or a sense of  unfairness on his own part, but rather by a sense of  love on behalf of the gift he has been given.

       The cry to ‘help’ our discontent is not a cry for us to be rid of it, it is right that we are caught in this conundrum.  The cry to ‘help’ our discontent is to say,

Lord, Help My Discontent this day

I am grateful and content in all things

 The creation owes me nothing,

I owe everything to everyone

When I reject a gift or disparage the day I was given it

Remind me that

Their is no satisfaction in other than you have given of yourself

When I receive a gift as a due and sense a lack

Remind me that

‘All things are given to the one who is grateful’

When I see that a gift is sick and anxiety ridden

Remind me that

It was given in love, and so shall it be restored



* In terms of the original story, the observations thus far offered about the Holy man, may be equally applicable, just framed in the context of ‘belief/unbelief’, instead of ‘gratefulness/discontent’ 

** In the original story its about the man’s level of belief. In this adaption it is about how he regards what he has already been given.

The Sweet Old Lie: “Violence is Virtuous”

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“Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace;
but when I speak,
they are for war.”

(Psalm 120:6-7, NRSV)

            The words of the Psalmist are echoed throughout the world, off the walls of reality do they bounce, and into the ears of those who sharpen the weapons are they heard. In quoting the words of the Roman poet Horace, Wilfred Owen in the awake of the first world war told his country that if they knew the terrors and horror of war they would not teach their children, “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori“-“How sweet and right it is to die for one’s country”. The Psalmist also knew well that one could only be convinced of the goodness of the pursuit of war by “lying lips” and “a deceitful tongue” (Psalm 120:2, NRSV). As to how deep the venom of the deceitful tongues flows into the caverns of our thoughts that bring forth majestic Babylonian trees bearing the fruit of violence and war, is another question entirely. The lie must consist of its virtue, of its ‘sweetness’,  because if the lie consisted in its effectiveness, it is very much doubtful whether many would believe it at all. If the appeal to its virtue is what makes itself pleasing to the human heart, then it is this very ‘virtue’ that needs to be cut at the root so as to withdraw the venom out. What will appear as a destructive act of everything we knew and were told by the deceitful tongues, will in fact be the only way of salvaging our minds from the ‘old lie’, which runs through the manifestations of our society from war propaganda to innocent children’s sports. The sweet old lie is not only perpetuated in our media, but in the works of our theologians and major thinkers to the point of pure blasphemy and, in the strongest Christian terms, distortion of the very Gospel of the Prince of Peace, with whose banner they often lift in their pursuit. In the terms of the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for the academic and careful voice, and there is a time for the prophetic and reckless voice. This instance is of the later.

            The goal here in expounding upon the false virtue of the sweet old lie is not originality or innovativeness but reveal things in the starkest and most blunt of terms, sensitivities will be disturbed, and things cherished will be mocked. Let’s begin with the teaching of Mixed Marital Arts (MMA) to children throughout Ontario after the ban of such things was lifted in 2010. The UFC and its associated practices have often been compared to Roman gladiatorial games, and it still remains to be seen why the comparison is not apt other than the lame moral bar of- ‘Well the intention isn’t to kill the opponent in UFC’..yes quite right, it is only to beat him or her into an inch of their life, and what an inch it is!romans-amphi-gladiators1 The Toronto Star headlined its story as “MMA for kids: Teaching violence, or values?”, which is entirely wrong because there is no question that it teaches violence, and furthermore it teaches violence as a value. One instructor of the sport, Mel Bellissimo said, “Don’t look at 15 seconds (of UFC) on television and then make a judgment,…Come to a place like Lanna MMA and watch what the kids do. And you tell me whether or not this is about violence or whether this is about learning and making words like respect, honour and hard work not just words but words to live by.” How wonderfully charming it sounds- ‘Don’t look at our superficial images in the media, that’s all hype! Come see for yourself how wonderfully your kids are disciplined into respecting those bigger than them, how honourable their meaningless competitions are between each other, and how much hard work they put into learning to kick each other in the stomach!’- Is not the truth however that the images portrayed on TV  (you know the violent bloody ones?) are actually the real form of fighting, as they so like to pat themselves on the back for? Whereas the fighting that occurs in the training centre is the highly controlled superficial environment of rules and regulations from instructors and paternal authority? In relation to war then, it is not to difficult to see how the very teaching of violence is seen as a value because it contributes to other well-known virtues like honour, respect, discipline, and hard work. The exact same sort of rhetoric is of course found within militaries the world over, as military reform schools are seen as what teaches someone values and how to become a valuable citizen. As Nigel Biggar, in his new work In Defence of War (Oxford University Press: 2013),* says, “Anger, hatred, rage, the sheer pleasure of destruction: these are all powerful emotions on the battlefield, but they can be governed…Whether or not they will be governed depends crucially upon the military discipline instilled by training…” (89). The idea both with MMA fighting and the military is that ‘yes while anger, bullying, violence raw are terrible, you can be taught in extensive training in these arts the values of discipline, hard-work etc…’ The false virtue then to be seen is that hard-work, discipline, honour, etc… are goods in and of themselves regardless of the end of violence at which they are aimed- ‘if you kid has trouble finishing his homework on time, train him to be a soldier, then he’ll learn discipline to finish his homework!’- as if the teaching of violence was the only possible way of instilling these ‘virtues’, which again are no virtues of ends, only of means. The honest message of the sweet old lie, which is still a lie but is nevertheless more honest in its intentions, can be whispered as: violence in moderation is possible, so don’t worry, indulge what little you need to, enjoy!** 

            Alongside of arguing that teaching violence is a virtue because it instills other virtues, is also the notion that dying for one’s country out of self-sacrifice is an honourable thing. Stanley Hauerwas has outlined the particular American history of this idea that the war is a needed and noble sacrifice for the freedom’s of one’s country in his essay, “Why War Is a Moral Necessity for America or How Realistic Is Realism?”***, in which he writes,

“…after the Civil War Americans think they must go to war to insure that those who died in our past wars did not die in vain. Thus American wars are justified as a “war to end all wars” or “to make the world safe for democracy” or for “unconditional surrender” or “freedom”…War, American wars, must be wars in which the sacrifices of those doing the dying and the killing have redemptive purpose and justification. War is America’s altar.”

The same kind of justification with strong nationalist undertones can of course be found in any country, despite increasing internationalism and globalism. The wars of national purpose will be rewritten as wars that defended human rights or some other just international ideal, with that same idea however that they were a blood sacrifice. Every remembrance day or whatnot will remind the citizens of a particular country, that we need to pay homage to our soldiers, not only the ones past but the ones in the present, because they fought and are fighting for our political freedoms, which we should honour and be grateful for. man-of-steel-national-guard‘They had to die so that we might live’- is the notion presented. Outside of the Christian tradition, if one is a secularist, or a nationalist or a humanist of a particular sort, then yes, quite possibly the soldiers did die for your freedoms, because despite the fact that ‘modern’ society has believed itself to surpass our ‘barbaric’ ancestors, it still devoutly believes in the system of atonement for sins.+ If the speech of the politicians were explicit, it might appear something like this: “To pay for the sins of the science of eugenics, racism, and many other evils of modernity, soldiers were sacrificed in world war two to save us from the Third Reich so that we might enjoy the fruits of modernity, having now cleansed our consciences. The soldiers who gave themselves up for the task defended our liberties, our rights, our way of life, and to them we will be grateful by erecting statues, wearing flowers…(though actually caring for veterans is another matter entirely)…and in imitation of their brave example  (and Superman, the Man of Steel!!!) we invite you to join their ranks, so that we may continue to live the lives we do. The world is retaliating against us and is jealous of our freedoms, let us appease the discontent of our populous and the gods who have taken away their favour, with a war to show our devotion to the rights and elevation of humanity given us by Prometheus.”

            In fact, because soldiers are viewed in a self-sacrifical manner, they are often compared to Jesus. In the Gospel of John Jesus is portrayed as saying, “No one greater love than this, to lay one’s life down for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NRSV), and this is the acclaimed love of the soldiers. In the Christian tradition, self-sacrifice is the highest form of love, and therefore throughout much of theological rhetoric in justifying and making a virtue out of violence by the soldier’s practice, violence and war are given a divine character and blessing. However, it must be said that it is difficult to conceive of many things more blasphemous in the Christian tradition than to compare the violent destructive activity of soldiers to the sacrifice of the one who, though about to be executed by soldiers, “…yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter…” (Isaiah 53:7, NRSV). The false virtue found in the notion of the self-sacrifical soldier in a violent endeavour, is precisely that they are not self-sacrifical, they sacrifice others and then are killed in an act of resistance. In what sense is it even believed that soldiers are self-sacrifical? It is believed that they sacrificed their lives, when in reality they did not sacrifice their lives but they risked their lives. One risks their life by sky-diving, one does not sacrifice their life by sky-diving. ‘Should not the risk be honoured? Did they not risk it on our behalf?’- no, they died on the behalf of ‘future’ generations, they did not know you, but furthermore and more importantly, they not only risked their lives, but they risked their lives in the pursuit of sacrificing and killing other lives, as any combatant does, including the other-side of the conflict.++ The honest message of the sweet old lie, which is still a lie but is nevertheless more honest in its intentions, can also be whispered as: violence is redemptive, risk your lives, offer your sacrifices, and enjoy your crop!    

            Lastly in the list of deceits to be revealed as such- in addition to the false virtues of (1) that hard-work, discipline, honour, etc… are goods in and of themselves regardless of the end of violence at which they are aimed  (2) that soldiers are self-sacrifical, instead of the sacrificers, and killed in an act of resistance- is simply that something can be rendered virtuous by its ‘necessity’. For instance, in our present day, a humanities professor at Stanford University, Ian Morris, can write an opinion piece in the Washington Post, in which he argues that the process of war, “…yet despite the Hitlers, Stalins and Maos, over 10,000 years…” has “…made states, and states made peace”. Furthermore, it is when such a professor can write something like the following secular theodicy, that   a ‘religious’ person can deeply understand how disgusting all ‘religious’ attempts at a theodicy or an explanation of the evils of the Holocaust can be,

“War may well be the worst way imaginable to create larger, more peaceful societies, but the depressing fact is that it is pretty much the only way. If only the Roman Empire could have been created without killing millions of Gauls and Greeks, if the United States could have been built without killing millions of Native Americans, if these and countless conflicts could have been resolved by discussion instead of force. But this did not happen.”

How would we ever know such a ridiculous proposal that it could not have been otherwise? Have any societies that we’ve ever known of tried the alternative of civilization without war?!?!? Notice the way Prof. Morris simply assumes that the brutal course that history took, was inevitable and necessary for our peace and abundance. ‘If only [it] could…’, as if we knew it could not have. For Prof. Morris, the process of enslavement, exploitation, racism, and much else can be described as, “…the winners of wars began incorporating the losers into larger societies…” More than this however, is the much larger lie that even if humanity’s past violence was necessary for our peace that that therefore makes it good and right. In other words, alongside of the very questionable premise of whether war and violence are ‘necessary’ is the false virtue that even if it were necessary this would mean it would be good, which is non-sense because in a realist worldview (of which it can only be presumed that Prof. Morris is) there could be such a thing as a ‘necessary evil’. But let us peel one more layer back and ask what the honest message of the sweet old lie, which is still a lie but is nevertheless more honest in its intentions, can be whispered as, in this case. Is it not?- Go, indulge your violence, history will thank you for doing the ‘necessary’ dirty work of violence, enjoy! 

            In sum then, what can we see? The false virtue of violence can have three separate parts, namely: (1) that hard-work, discipline, honour, etc… are goods in and of themselves regardless of the end of violence at which they are aimed  (2) that soldiers are self-sacrifical, instead of the sacrificers, and killed in an act of resistance and (3) simply that something can be rendered virtuous by its ‘necessity’, even violence. But what we have also seen is something much darker, which are the honest messages of the sweet old lie of violence as virtuous, which consist of: (1) violence in moderation is possible, so don’t worry, indulge what little you need to, enjoy!,  (2) violence is redemptive, risk your lives, offer your sacrifices, and enjoy your crop!, (3) go, indulge your violence, history will thank you for doing the ‘necessary’ dirty work of violence, enjoy! What do these whispers of the tongues of deceit appeal to in order to make itself pleasing to the human heart? Grimly its simply that the human heart already desires violence and all it needs are preachers, professors, media, and others to give them the justification for that which they already want to do. Violence is what we already want to commit, we just have to make sure that we don’t seem ‘crazy’ and over-indulgent to those with a conscious, and that we exercise moderation. Violence is what we already want to pursue, we just have to justify to the remainders of our conscious that its a redemptive thing to do. Finally, violence is something we already have decided on, we just have to convince an audience that we did the ‘necessary’ thing for which we should be thanked.

It must be confessed that I have not read the entire book yet, though I do intend too.

** Without much deciphering, it can also be said that this is the exact message of rape culture to young men, ‘Boys will be boys! Just make sure she’s unconscious, use a condom, and make sure she’s of age. We all understand that you have those violent impulses, just be disciplined about it. If people weren’t so sensitive and over-protective about the word ‘rape’ on the news and actually come to a frat house, they would see that the kids are having fun, they would understand that this is completely normal, and probably healthy too because it lets out sexual frustration.’ 

*** Which can helpfully be accessed herehttp://criswell.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/ctrhauerwasformatted3.pdf

On which, see Mr. Upton’s essayhttp://calebdupton.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/the-reinstatement-of-the-sacrificial-system-or-its-abolishment-atonement-theologys-abuse/ 

++ In addition, this false virtue is also similar to the previous false virtue in that it is a virtue of means, rather than a virtue of endsYes, self-sacrifice is a virtue, but the Christian tradition has never praised self-sacrifice in and of itself, rather it has praised self-sacrifice on behalf of the love of neighbour and on behalf of the Gospel.

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