Month: ח׳ באלול ה׳תשס״ט (August 2009)

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Prayer: Form or Free Verse Part 1 by John Knapp II

Do you follow a pattern¹ when you pray alone?  Or do you just sort of wing it and let your heart take flight?

(Be aware: Once again, don’t overlook the numbered endnotes!)

I believe both ways are important in approaching God, but I, the English teacher, am going to spend the next few paragraphs telling why I think “form” is useful for more than just assembling poetry and creating ways to have effective discourse.

Then I’m going to present a prayer form I’ve put together, and have revised and revised.   I’m not going to tell you how to pray.  For the most part I consider that sort of thing private.  As is my private prayer life.  But this is the best thing I’ve written and I’d like to share—and defend—it.

Many churches and synagogues haven’t been short on handing us ways to pray together.  Strangely though, both Old and New Testaments of the Bible—except for Jesus’ 30-second lesson that we call the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer,” and his admonition to approach God with humility²—offer no required patterns or postures for publicly or privately harnessing Godward adoration, expectations, requests, thoughts, or whatever.

In the Bible, there are many examples of people praying, and the urging of others to do likewise, but ironically few detailed directions about how to proceed³.  It’s as if everyone was born knowing how. Still there are many examples of specific prayers⁴—long and short—made by people with good or bad reasons; and it would be interesting to find and analyze what they said and why.

But that’s not where I’m going.

Let me first emphasize that the “free verse”⁵ posture of talking to—even crying out to God in joy, anguish, frustration, and even anger—has the stamp of approval in the Bible through accounts of those who believed in God and took him seriously.

A person can open himself to God and say whatever he wants as, we hope, moved by God’ Spirit.  This is what matters most.

But how do we keep our lives in balance as time passes?  And not forget what God taught us yesterday?  Last week?  Last year?   Let’s not forget that if we forget history we often repeat it.  What about the everyday memory loss in our personal life?

A form prayer, despite being branded by some as a crutch, a vain repetition, or a mindless “babbling,” can be useful—unless it replaces all personal, unrehearsed prayer, or degenerates into little more than a public performance.  Spontaneous personal prayer is the foundation of our relationship with God.

That said, here’s a prayer that I wrote years ago and have revised at least seven times.  Use this as you will, but please, only to supplement personal conversations with God.  Better yet, modify this or create your own form prayer, setting down principles or teachings you’ve learned to keep a properly aimed—and balanced—picture of yourself before God.  The personal version of my prayer appears below; the group, or corporate version will appear next time along with about a hundred Bible references that apply to both.

(Both versions, properly formatted for 8½˝ X 11˝ paper, can be freely and more easily copied at “Resources” on my website,  There you can also “jump ahead” for Bible passages that relate to continuation of this discussion.)

Parts will be numbered for future discussion.

                                      A 21st CENTURY PRAYER

                                          (A Personal Version)

                                              by John Knapp II

 1          O God, my Father,

                           through the power of your Holy Spirit

 2          May I love you as I should:


 3          May I seek you daily for what I must know.

 4          May I understand your Word

 5          And may Truth be my guide

                           with the help of

                           and in spite of,

                                          the several traditions that

                                          bear your name.

 6          May I share your love with those around me.

 7          May I actively serve in your Church

                           wherever I live.

 8          May I properly obey authority

                           wherever I go.

 9          May my eyes open

                           only to what I should see;

10         May my ears open

                           only to what I should hear;

11         May my lips open

                           only to what I should say,

                           to what I should eat and drink.

12         May I dwell upon what is true,

                          pure, right, holy,

                          and proper.

13         May I not lie to myself.

14         May I see any sin that hides in me.

15         May I confess, turn from,

                          and be forgiven of

                                    any sin in my life.

16         May I not cause anyone to stumble;

17         And if I sin against others,

                         may I stop

                         to ask their forgiveness.

18         May I also be quick to forgive others

                         as you have forgiven me.

19         May I live to please your Spirit.

20         May I be bold at the right time

                         and quiet at the right time.

21          May I run when I should run,

                         walk when I should walk,

                         wait when I should wait.


22          May I follow the path

                         you have pressed under my feet.

23          May I obey you in all things.

24          Thank you for all you have given me:

25          May I accept and use those special gifts

                         you have given me;

26          And may I give wisely and generously

                         to those in need.

27          May I not be dulled

                         by the false brightness around me;

28          May your light shine in me

                         the remaining minutes of my life.

29          May your kingdom come

                         and your will in everything

                                    be done.

30          And may my life forever rest in your hands.

31          May I be part of all you desire,

32          And may I desire what you want

                         every day.

33          In Jesus’ name,

34          Amen.

This summarizes most of what I regularly want to bring before God—minus details about private things: the names of people with ongoing needs, certain needs of my own, special projects and plans, fears and hopes, appreciation of things I’ve recently seen and learned about God and his creation, and so on…

Next time I will present a group, or “corporate” version of this prayer, discuss why I said what I did, and I’ll present Scriptures that, I hope, support my words.

 by John Knapp II


¹Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic, has recently observed—and rightly so, though he doesn’t intend it as flattering—that Transcendentalists (i.e. religious believers) “tend to believe that everything is interconnected [which to him it obviously isn’t] … for a reason” and introduces the intriguing term “patternicity” (Scientific American, Sept. 2009, p.30).  That’s a great term, however, and is friendly to where I’m heading!  Those who take the God of the Bible seriously are “patternists” (my term), looking for and seeing purpose in creation and living.  Praying, especially with a pattern, helps individuals connect the dots about what has happened, what is or is not happening, and what should happen in daily living.  Of course, every pair of dots doesn’t demand a line between them.

²Mt. 6:9-13 and Lk. 18:10-14.

³This perhaps does seem a bit unusual.  My suggestion to the believer, one considering becoming a believer, or even a “card-carrying” skeptic (see above) is that if a person wants to pray—out of joy, or simple inquiry, or desperate need—a simple calling out to God in ordinary familiar words is acceptable.  Even with sincere doubts, starting with “God, if you are there, please…” or “God, if you exist…show me what I need to know” is something God can handle—and often has.

⁴The Bible offers little pattern for regular, everyday “ordinary” prayer other than “The Lord’s Prayer” cited in Note 2.   But “patterns” by example of key believers for special times are frequent.  For example are Moses (troubled by the burdens of leadership), Numbers 11:11-15; David (many psalms in the book of Psalms are by David and are directed to God in sorrow, gratitude, praise, etc.); Solomon (dedicating the temple he built), I Kings 8:22-53; Hezekiah (when Jerusalem was surrounded by an enemy), Isaiah 37:15-20; Daniel (about the future of the Jewish people), Dan. 9:4-19.

⁵Though I am using “free verse” as a synonym for “without form” as most people do, to prosody (or form) aficionados this is naïve.  I know better, but let me not waste time saying why.  Here I simply mean “not employing any set pattern or order.”

A common criticism of form prayers is that when used often (particularly in public) they can become too repetitive and familiar turning the mind off, and with it sincere communication.  Yes, that can happen.  However, I maintain that many who eschew forms to be more open and “heartfelt” often fall into the very error they criticize, uttering over and over hackneyed jargon inferior to the crafted form they want to avoid.

⁷At “Resources” on click on “21st Century Prayer personal version” to get a clean copy on one sheet of paper, plus some additional info.  This can be folded “in quarters” neatly so it can be tucked into a Bible.

⁸Take a sneak preview of much of my next article!  At the website above click on “21st Century Prayer, Corporate Version” and get a clean copy of a group version of the same prayer, plus the bonus feature of some brief discussion and more than a hundred Bible citations as to where these 34 parts come from—again, all on one sheet.  And if you’re on friendly terms with your printer, you can get both versions (see above note) all on one 8½˝ by 11˝ sheet—front and back.  These may be used, as is or adapted, freely according to directions on the sheets.  If you use this, please let me know through the website here!  Then I’ll know I’m not alone in my computer corner. 

Why Galilee? Part 4 by E.A. Knapp

In our previous installments in the “Why Galilee?” series we made the case for a widespread popular expectation of one or more deliverers who would appear in eastern Galilee – the “wilderness of the peoples” or the “wilderness of Damascus” as the Qumran sect referred to it during the Second Temple Period. Tradition held that the deliverer(s) would appear in this area because of its association with several of the most prominent past deliverers of the Hebrew people, in particular Moses, Elijah and Elisha. As it turned out, this geographical location provided the setting for a number of pivotal revelations of Yeshua’s identity as recorded in the Brit Hadashah (New Testament), as well as serving as the backdrop for most accounts of his teaching and ministry.

But the role of the Galilee in the Brit Hadashah, particularly with respect to the expectation of a coming redeemer, was much more extensive than merely these select scenes. Several other Galilee-related scenes must be included in our discussion in order to fully explore the role of the Galilee in redemptive history. The Gospels report that following the resurrection Yeshua and the angel of the Lord told his followers he would go before them into Galilee (Mt 26:32; Mk 14:27; Mk 16:7). The salience of the phrase “to go before” may be missed by the casual modern reader, but to a 1st-century Jewish reader it was immediately evident that this recurring phrase was laden with meaning.

It is clear that this phrase is a reference to Micah 2:13 “The breaker (the Messiah) will go up beforethem, and their king will pass on before them,” but does this explain the full meaning of the phrase with all of its allusions? By no means. As it turns out, this phrase and all its extensive connotations has been explored in depth by Israeli professor Naphtali Weider. Rather than recount his entire investigation of all of the usages of the phrase “to go before” in Jewish literature I will simply quote at length from his conclusion:

“Here, then, (in the phrase, “to go before”) we have a messianic belief that is rooted in the Prophets; held by the author of II Maccabees, by Philo, and by Rabbi Akiba; articulated in the Palestinian Targum on the Pentateuch and Targum of Jonathan on the Prophets; embodied in the Qaddish and Qedushah; reflected in the ceremony of the installation of the Exilarch in Babylonia; and shared by the schismatic Karaites – a belief which is epitomized in the key expression “to go before.” The pronouncement I will go before you ascribed to Jesus has now to be inserted into this distinguished chain of tradition. In using this formula Jesus was not only alluding to the prediction: The breaker (the Messiah) will go up before them, and their king will pass on before them, but was, in effect, announcing the re-enactment by himself – as the new Moses and leader of the messianic Exodus – of the incident of the Shekinah going before the people.”

As we can see the phrase “to go before” was well known throughout Jewish communities and closely associated with popular messianic expectation for many centuries. In light of this information the angel’s and Yeshua’s statement that he would “go before them into Galilee” is cast in an entirely new light, abounding with meaning and expectation. Redemption! Further, the new redeemer who will lead the people as Moses did is even expected to be accompanied by the pillar of fire and cloud that led the Israelites through the desert day and night. The return of this pillar of fire and cloud at the dawn of the messianic era is actually forecast in Isaiah 4:5, and 2 Maccabees 2:8 anticipates the return of “the cloud as in the days of Moses.” This association of the messiah with the pillar of fire and cloud can also cast new light (pun intended) on Yeshua’s words recorded in John 8:12:

“And Yeshua spoke again to the people and said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”

Placed in the context of the pillar of cloud and fire this teaching takes on a fuller significance. Compound that with the understanding that “the light of life” was a common Hebrew idiom for resurrection and this passage pregnant with meaning.

A well-known later Talmudic tradition even makes use of an aggadic (legendary) pun to tell a story about the messiah, whom it refers to as the “bar nefali” (בר נפלי  ) based upon Amos 9:11. The lynchpin of this story is the pun “nofelet/nefali” נפלת – נפלי  [that is fallen] in which the word “nefali” [my fallen one] represents the homophonic (same-sounding) Greek word for “cloud” – “nefelei” (νεφελη). This entire story requires the reader to understand the pun which results in the messiah being referred to as the “son of the cloud.” Scholars have suggested this story was rooted in this association of the cloud with the messiah.

Returning to the more general issue of the expectation that the messiah would appear in the Galilee, the question has been asked in academic circles why there are so few traces of this belief in later rabbinic literature. Professor Weider suggests that the de-emphasis of this belief, despite its extensive allusions in non-rabbinic literature, is due to the competition that developed between post-Second Temple Judaism and fledgling Christianity. In other words, in response to religious competition the rabbis downplayed this belief in an attempt to further distance themselves from the Christian movement. This competition also inspired other surprisingly dramatic changes in Jewish worship such as the elimination of the mandatory reading of the Ten Commandments in the synagogue service on account of Christian claims that these commandments have special pre-emptive status. Judaism undertook a similar dramatic step when it banned kneeling in prayer in response to persecution.

Returning to the more general issue of the expectation that the messiah would appear in the Galilee, the question has been asked in academic circles why there are so few traces of this belief in later rabbinic literature. Professor Weider suggests that the de-emphasis of this belief, despite its extensive allusions in non-rabbinic literature, is due to the competition that developed between post-Second Temple Judaism and fledgling Christianity. In other words, in response to religious competition the rabbis downplayed this belief in an attempt to further distance themselves from the Christian movement. This competition also inspired other surprisingly dramatic changes in Jewish worship such as the elimination of the mandatory reading of the Ten Commandments in the synagogue service on account of Christian claims that these commandments have special pre-emptive status. Judaism undertook a similar dramatic step when it banned kneeling in prayer in response to persecution.

In short, it appears that as time went on this belief that the messiah would appear in Galilee was suppressed by the rabbis because it played into the hands of their fledgling Christian competition. This maneuver by the rabbinic authorities proved effective and the powerful connotations of the promise that Yeshua would “go before them into Galilee” was lost to most Christian readers until the present era. Yet, for the first generations of believers the implications of this phrase alluding to Yeshua’s role as messianic deliverer was obvious. It is no accident that the Gospel of John dedicates its entire final chapter to Yeshua’s appearance to his followers on the shores of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) where they experience a miraculous catch of fish and dine together. While it may be slightly stretching the scope of the “I will go before you” teaching, it is interesting to note that the Gospel concludes with Yeshua repeatedly telling Kephas (Peter) to “follow” him.

The emigration from Jerusalem of the Jewish believers in Yeshua just prior to the Roman attack on Jerusalem offers us one final piece of evidence supporting the widespread belief that the messiah was expected to appear at the end of days in the eastern Galilee region. As the Roman siege on Jerusalem approached in 70 A.D., 40 years after Yeshua’s prophecy that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, the Jewish believers in Yeshua left Jerusalem and settled in Pella in the northern Transjordan, south of Damascus. According to tradition this happened in response to an oracle received by members of the community, coupled with their interpretation of Matthew 24. The historicity of the details of this migration is hotly debated in academic circles, but ancient writers such as Hegesippus, Epiphanius and Eusebius attest to the presence of Jewish believers in Yeshua dwelling in eastern Galilee (i.e. the “wilderness of Damascus” or the “wilderness of the peoples”) in towns such as Kokhaba, Batanaea, Paneas, Pella, Beroea and Basanitis (the region of Bashan). The fact that these communities sprang up precisely and almost exclusively in this region where the messiah was expected to appear and finally deliver the Hebrew people from their manifold travails can hardly be coincidental.

Hopefully in light of the last few articles we can now appreciate with a new understanding the words of Matthew 26:31-32:

Then Yeshua said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Author: E.A. Knapp

Earth Is Not Alone… Perhaps by John Knapp II

“Will there be fiction in Heaven?” asks the English teacher.  “After all, if there’s no conflict there’s no story.”

Since I suspect the answer is “No,” I’ve been scrambling before it’s too late to create a novel called Earth Is Not Alone¹ because I like stories that, along with science, scratch the itch caused by our curiosity.  Here’s a preamble to what I’ve done.

First, stories are not necessarily lies; they may recount history or lean heavily into it, but the ones we call “fiction” spring first and foremost from the imagination, sifting the mind for plausible details, images, and connections to entertain or say something that we think matters.  Even Jesus did this when he told parables.

Consider for a moment the imago deo (a la Dorothy L. Sayers², perhaps) as godlike (small “g”) writers tiptoe past divine history³ into mystery and other fiction in order to ponder what is, what really was, or what later may be.  Is it bad to do this?  Or too presumptuous?  Perhaps if writers and the readers fail to distinguish speculation from history.  Level-headed people can do that, but there’s always risk.

Fiction about the Bible has a long and fascinating history.  Much of the biblical Apocrypha, found in many Bibles, purports to have been written centuries earlier than it really was, or so say the scholars in their convincing notes.  And portions of it are obviously fiction, though in cases these accounts more or less follow actual history, helping us learn about the past.

My favorite stories are “Susanna” (which introduces wise young Daniel), “Judith” (where a strong and beautiful Jewish widow decapitates an Assyrian general and saves her people), and “Bel and Dragon” (a mystery which a now-older Daniel solves)⁴.  Are these “pious frauds” as some have claimed?  Not damning ones if we accept the tagalong commentary.  If they’re in Bibles, they’re usually grouped and come after the standard sacred canon.  But they clearly originated in the imagination, going far beyond real history.

After the Apocrypha—from then until now—have come thousands of fictional musings by writers energized by the Bible, who’ve sought to instruct and/or entertain by presenting problems, issues and conflicts in the context of a biblical world view.  Why more fiction?  Because the passing years teach us more about everything.

And—listen carefully—because the Bible only says so much.  We must look through and beyond it to learn much about God’s world: about science, material objects, energy, social structure, communication, the nature of human life, mental illness, deviant behavior, the size of our “world,” the galaxy, and the universe, and our responsibility it to it.  I could go on and on.

And “story” helps us do this.  (Note that one role of rabbinic aggadic—legend—midrash is to fill out “missing parts” of the biblical story.⁵)

Let’s not foolishly assume that we should never leave God’s house and go outdoors.  In practical ways we do this every day.  Of course, danger lurks in the forest beyond Scripture, but you wouldn’t even see this warning without tools made by those who left before you.

As to the growing body of enchanting fiction—setting aside stories with little religious association—many writers have cared about Bible ideas, and if I make any list—say Dante, Hugo, Dostoevsky, Lewis, Tolkien, L’Engle, Rivers, Peretti, Lawhead, (LaHaye &) Jenkins, for example—I would probably surprise or shock you by who I’ve put in and left out.   What about balance, depth, style, or awareness of the modern world?  The Bible of course is an antique we accept, but what about newer “old” stories that test brand-new knowledge?  For example, what about C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy⁷ in the light of today?  It’s still memorable, though it would have been cast a bit differently if created last year.  If written at all.

So what can I—the English teacher/science educator⁸—bring now to fiction that has a Bible worldview?   Perhaps my age, my experience, my passion for Scripture, for folklore, and the influence of nearby Cape Canaveral, when I’m in Florida.  In 2009 so much has happened in space:  repairs on the Hubble telescope (in May); the launching of the Kepler spacecraft with the expressed purpose of seeking out Earthlike planets (earlier in March); and actually finding another “earth,” an exoplanet named “Gliese 581 e” 20 light-years away (on April 21)¹.  Is there other life, human life, out there—far, far away?

And there’s my concern about nuclear weapons; and my awareness of the very real danger of electromagnetic pulse (EMP)¹¹  that’s been with us since 1962, and now has the potential of destroying all microcircuitry, electrical power, and erasing electronic (modern) records.

With change, or the threat of it, we seek answers; but ironically, on the road to greater certainty sometimes, instead, we need to entertain larger, more fundamental, questions.  The Bible reminds us about when Job’s personal world long ago suddenly changed, that God responded to Job’s agonizing bewilderment and restored him, not with answers but with dozens of totally unexpected questions¹².

Large questions.

Prepare now for a blizzard of my own.

As a planet, are we prepared to go backwards?

How vulnerable is our technology?   And how much do we depend on it?  What would happen after a series of EMP explosions?  Why is EMP a terrorist’s dream?

How does the Bible help in such a difficulty?  What does it say about the possibility of finding humans created in the image of God—and fallen—on other planets?  How should we respond to such creatures as Earthings?  As Americans?  As Christians?  What does the Bible say?   And (now in my adventure/romance) how should we think about two strange, recently discovered folklore-sounding, extrabiblical stories?

What about nonbelievers in the middle of such things?  In particular, (according to my story) suppose a highly moral (but “doesn’t need God”) atheistic teacher in the mountains of Pennsylvania who’s determined to expose and punish his two best students, who are superstitious Christians— a local boy and a mysterious girl “without a past”—for an absurd act of cheating?

Is it possible—and wise—to connect with a person (with similar appearance and DNA¹³) from another planet?  To love—and fall in love with—that person?

How does the once-for-all birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection (see Hebrews 9 & 10), and second coming of Jesus fit into all this?  And traditional end-time scenarios?

And what if there were a “Macedonian call”¹⁴ from “out there”?  How far can—and should—our missionary arms reach?

According to a recent review of Earth Is Not Alone from New Zealand:   “This is…the first book I’ve ever seen that truly tackles the concept of life in other worlds from within a Christian worldview.  If there were aliens elsewhere, how would they be covered by our theology since it was here on Earth that Jesus lived?  We begin to see how it might be plausible, through a complex series of discussions and connections……an entertaining and highly unusual read—a novel novel, as it were—and I look forward to more from this author.”¹⁵

And here you may have wished for less.

To go further you can read the first two chapters of EINA and explore other facts and ideas on my website,, and at there are reviews and random “inside the book” selections.

Imago deo.  I wonder how Darwin would explain such faith and wild wandering?

Author: John Knapp II

¹For more info see, or

²The imago deo according to Sayers, a scholar and detective writer, is essentially the assertion that the common characteristic to God and man is the “desire and ability to make things” based on Sayer’s The Mind of the Maker. You can easily Google this for more.

³“Divine history” is my quick way of saying, without defending it, that when the Bible itself is reporting events, it’s reporting real history, not fiction.

⁴Two popular Bibles (among many) which include the Apocrypha are The New Oxford Study Bible, (Oxford, 1977) and The HarperCollins Study Bible, 1993.

⁵I have been reminded by my colleague E. A. Knapp that “fleshing out [minor] characters” and creating “legendary back story” was an important part of midrash in ancient Jewish history.

In the Left Behind series while Tim LaHaye did much of the planning, Jerry B. Jenkins did the bulk of the writing.

⁷C. S. Lewis’s trilogy (in order) are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandria, and That Hideous Strength. This is adult fantasy and can be easily obtained many places.

⁸In my website, hit the “bio” tab; when there hit “short.”  I was probably the only tenured university full professor of English in the U.S. with a Ph.D. in science education, rather than English.

Notice I capitalize “Earthlike” and usually “Earth.”  If Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and now Gliese 581 e all get caps, how can we do less for Earth?

¹See blog portion of my website for sources and discussion of these space events in 2009.

¹¹Read Ch. 2 of my novel on my website, or Google “electromagnetic pulse” or just “EMP” for a weekend of fascinating, perhaps disturbing reading, reading.

¹²Job chapters 38 through 42.

¹³It could be interesting to hear proponents of Intelligent Design discuss this with naturalistic Darwinists.

¹⁴“A Macedonian call.”  See Acts 16:9.  God gives St. Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia asking for his help.   This is a common Christian expression, jargon, if you will, for a person said to have experienced, or received, a specific missionary call to a specific place.

¹⁵Review by Gail Bridges on Sept. 23, 2009 at  It’s now archived.  Go there and click on “books” and go to the alphabetical listings.

The Genealogy of Yeshua from Nazareth by Rabbi Baruch

There are many genealogies in the Bible. It is important to realize that many of the genealogies are not solely for the purpose of revealing who begat whom. Often there is a theological message contained in these genealogies. This message can be related to the reader through a variety of means. The means that Biblical genealogies employ are most unique and challenge a western view of accuracy. For example, David was the eighth son of Jesse. This fact fits nicely with the Hebraic significance of the  number eight. The number eight has theological significance of “newness” and / or “redemption”. From where is this derived?  There were eight individuals who lived through the flood, Noah and his three sons and their wives (see I Peter 3:20). G-d reestablished the human race a new after the flood through these eight individuals. Also a male child under Torah law is circumcised and brought into a new relationship with the people of Israel. Of course circumcision takes place on the eighth day. The idea of “newness” is so emphasized that the son does not even receive a name until he is circumcised reflecting this new identity which he received on the eight day.  Early Christian churches were often built in the shape of an octagon in order to reflect that Messiah, who resurrected from the dead, did so on the eight day (Sunday, the first day of the week plus the seven days of the previous week 1 +7=8). This emphasis on the number eight was to teach the correlation between the resurrected Messiah and redemption.

David, the eighth son of Jesse, brought a new era to the children of Israel and the Messiah / Redeemer will do this same thing but even in a greater way in the last days; therefore the Messiah is called the son of David. Although David was the eighth son of Jesse, what should one make with the verse within the genealogy of Judah from I Chronicles 2,

“And Jesse begat his firstborn Eliav, and Avinadav the second, and Shimah the third, and Netanel the fourth, and Rahdai the fifth, and Ohtzehm the sixth, and David the seventh.”  I Chronicles 2:13-15

This is a perfect example of how genealogies are used to convey a theological message rather than an absolute fact. The Chronicle passage is not ignorant of the fact that David is actually the eighth son of Jesse, but prefers to list him as the seventh son. The number seven carries a meaning of “set apart” or “sanctified”. Therefore the writer of First Chronicles chose to list David as the seventh son in order to speak to the fact that David was sanctified (set apart with a purpose) to be the son of Jesse who would be king. Some scholars suggest that perhaps one of David’s brothers had died and now David was in fact the youngest of seven remaining sons of Jesse.  Whether this is the case or not is not relevant because Jewish genealogies convey revelation and are not simply the restating of a chronological order of who is the father of whom.  Another important aspect of Biblical genealogies is the meaning of “father”. There are numerous examples in genealogies where although the reader is told that X begat Y, yet it is clear that X is not the father, but grandfather or some other male relative. For example in Yeshua’s genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew one reads,

“Asa begat Y’hoshafat, Y’hoshafat begat Yoram, and Yoram begat Uhziyahu.” Matthew 1:8

In actuality Yoram did not beget Uhziyahu; rather there are three generations missing. These generations are Achazyah, Y’hoash, and Amatzyahu. Many of the Biblical genealogies skip generations not because of a lack of knowledge but due to some theological concern. Sometimes, as previously mentioned, the one who is said to begat is not even a grandfather or in the straight lineage at all but a relative. Case in point is Matthew 1:12 and Luke 3:27. In this verse we are told that Sh’altiel begat Z’rubahvel. This is also stated by Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai; however in the genealogy of I Chronicles 3:17-19 it is stated that in reality Z’rubahvel was the son of Sh’altiel’s brother P’dayah. Scholars give a variety of explanations for this, as perhaps P’dayah died and his brother adopted Z’rubahvel. Once again there is no reason to speculate, but simply accept that Biblical genealogies take liberties to make a point that may or may not be understood by the readers today.

Now let us consider  Yeshua’s genealogy in Luke. There is no question that from Joseph to David there are considerable differences with Matthew’s account. How can one explain these changes? The most common response is that Luke is actually tracing Yeshua through His mother Miryam (Mary). There are a few problems with this claim. First of all the genealogy itself never claims to be through Miryam,

“Yeshua was about thirty years old when He began (His ministry) being considered the son of Yoseph, the son of  Eli.”  Luke 3:23

There is not even any hint of Miryam in Luke’s genealogy or in all of chapter three. Furthermore Jewish genealogies are not traced through the mother. When one examines Yeshua’s genealogies in Matthew and Luke it becomes clear why there are such differences between them. All one has to do is go to Luke 3:31 to find why there are these discrepancies,

“…the son of Nathan, the son of David,”

This verse is different from Matthew’s genealogy which has Shlomo (Solomon) as the son of David instead of Nathan. It is now clear that while Matthew traces Yeshua’s genealogy through Shlomo, Luke does so through a different son of David, Nathan. What are the implications of this? We have already seen how genealogies may use other male relatives for a variety of reasons. To say emphatically, like a large number of Christian commentators that Luke traces the lineage of Yeshua through Miryam as the reason for these differences is without foundation. This standard response seems to stem from a desire to defend Yeshua’s royal lineage, as Shlomo represented this lineage and not Nathan. But as we have learned from the fore-mentioned Biblical genealogy of Z’rubahvel, which lists an uncle as his father, this is not a problem for Jewish genealogies. Instead of offering an explanation based on speculation one should accept the Biblical genealogies for what they are and in the manner they are given, because only when one does so can he receive their intended purpose.

Why does Luke prefer to take Yeshua’s lineage through Nathan and not Shlomo and what problem(s) if any does this cause? There are those who state that Luke’s genealogy actually disqualifies Yeshua’s Messianic claim because of what one reads in First Chronicles,

“Behold, a son is born to you, he will be a man of rest and I will give rest from all his enemies around for Shlomo will be his name; and peace and quietness I will give to Israel in his days. He will build a house for My Name he will be to Me for a son and I will be to Him for a Father and I will establish the throne of his kingdom upon Israel forever.”  I Chronicles 22:9-10

If Yeshua is from the lineage of Nathan and not Shlomo as Luke asserts then it would seem that according to this passage that Yeshua is not a viable candidate for Messiah. There are two flaws with such a view. First, the New Covenant is a unit and one must let it speak as such. Matthew’s Gospel has already established for the reader that Yeshua is a descendant of Shlomo so there is no need for Luke to repeat this fact. Rather Luke is following the tendency of Scripture and desires to make an additional point. He wants to present Yeshua as the Messiah and do so without any connection to Y’hoyachin, who Jeremiah prophesies is cursed by G-d and that none of his descendants will sit upon the throne (see Jeremiah 22:28-30). This in one sense poses a serious problem for G-d’s promise of the Messiah. How can there arise one who has a legitimate claim to the throne, i.e. a descendant of Shlomo; yet not be a descendant of Y’hoyachin?

Matthew boldly proclaims Yeshua as a descendant of Shlomo (Mt. 1:6-7) and also includes Y’hoyachin (verses 11-12) in his genealogy. Matthew handles the obstacle of Jeremiah’s prophecy with stating that Yeshua was conceived by a virgin by means of the Holy Spirit. Therefore Yeshua is not the biological son of Yoseph, but nevertheless according to Jewish law, a legal descendant of his. This allows for Yeshua to meet the qualifications of Davidic lineage through Shlomo, but not a biological descendant of Y’hoyachin. Luke does not speak of the virgin birth, not because he was unaware of it or doubted its authenticity; but rather simply used a method very much accepted by Judaism and took Yeshua’s lineage through Nathan instead of Shlomo to avoid the issue of Y’hoyachin altogether.

An important point which must be made is that it is most disingenuous for scholars out of Judaism to attack and attempt to discredit the New Covenant and Yeshua’s Messianic lineage due to idiosyncrasies within the two genealogies when such characteristics are also found in the genealogies of the Old Covenant. If one applies the same standards to the New Covenant as the rabbis allow for the Old Covenant, then the results are that the New Covenant is just as reliable and inerrant as the Old Covenant.

In conclusion, due to the nature of Jewish genealogies and the liberties that they employ, one should heed the admonition of Paul, who wrote,

“And do not give heed to fables or endless genealogies which give rise to speculations, rather than godly edification in faith.” I Timothy 1:4

By Dr Baruch Korman

Why Galilee? Part 3 by E.A.Knapp

In the first two installments of the “Why Galilee?” series we looked at a variety of religious traditions, both within the Hebrew Bible and without, that reflect a popular expectation that a returning messiah(s) would appear in the region south of Damascus and move into the ancient land promised to the twelve tribes of Israel. A new, utopian era was expected to begin in Damascus, or in the region just to the south which the Qumranites dubbed the “wilderness of Damascus.” This area included eastern Galilee and Transjordan. This expectation is not widely recognized in modern scholarship and I would like to suggest that this expectation was in fact widespread and well-known among the common people in ancient times. Due to the vagaries of history this belief was not passed down to us explicitly in any of our existing literature but is nonetheless reflected implicitly in many writings from the late Second Temple period and subsequent centuries. The case for this was spelled out in our last two articles.

To reorient ourselves let’s glance back at the Hebrew Bible for our first example, to see where the foundation of this messianic expectation was laid.

The Jordan River valley begins in the southern portion of the eastern Galilee/Transjordan region that we are discussing. Throughout Hebrew history a number of pivotal events occurred here. Notably, Moses kicked things off by dying and being “buried by God” just across the river after being refused entry. Joshua subsequently led the people into the land by crossing the Jordan. Elijah picked up Elisha, his apprentice, in the Jordan valley and eventually made his exit by ascending to heaven in a chariot of fire after crossing the river out of the Promised Land.

In similar fashion Yeshua was baptized and his identity was first publicly revealed here in this same locale, in the region where Moses and Elijah made their dramatic exits from the stage of history. Doubtless this fact was not missed by the many followers of Yochanan HaMatbil (John the Baptist). Yochanan’s followers were asking him if he was Elijah, the Prophet (expected to be the new Moses) or the Messiah. Why were they asking this? Perhaps because they knew where they were standing: in the place near where Elijah had departed. And perhaps because they were familiar with the words of Malachi the prophet, the last true prophet, with whom prophecy had been sealed up (according to the rabbinic teachers) until the end of days, who said:

Be mindful of the Teaching of My servant Moses, whom I charged at Horeb with laws and rules for all Israel. Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord.

As we can see, the history of the place and the expectations associated with it provided context and imputed meaning to the actions of Yochanan HaMatbil and Yeshua. Without this context much of the meaning of what transpired is missed. This example sets the stage nicely for us, and armed with this new awareness we can now take a fresh look at a number of well-known historical events, some recorded in the Brit HaHadashah (the New Testament), and some reported to us by later historians.

The Transfiguration

The transfiguration of Yeshua, when he ascended a tall mountain –either Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon according to various traditions – took place in the region of eastern Galilee/Transjordan. If it was Mount Tabor then it was in Galilee. If it took place at Mount Hermon it would qualify as being in the region of the “wilderness of Damascus.” What is significant about this scene? Let’s review it briefly, according to the account of Matthew 17:1-9:

…Yeshua took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Yeshua, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Yeshua came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Yeshua himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Yeshua ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

This scene is noteworthy because in it Yeshua, standing alongside the other two expected deliverers of the Hebrew people, reveals his identity. And where does this take place? In the very region where that deliverance was expected to begin. I am inclined to believe that the scene of this event was Mount Hermon, which is precisely on the northeastern border of the Promised Land, within view of the city of Damascus. In any case, it is clear that where this scene takes place is almost as important as what actually occurred.

Peter’s Confession
This pattern played itself out several times. Consider the case of Peter, the leader of the disciples, in Matt. 16:13-21:

Now when Yeshua came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Yeshua answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. From that time on, Yeshua began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Caesarea Philippi was a small town at the base of Mount Hermon, in the far northeastern corner of Israel. Here Peter, the original leader of the followers of Yeshua first “discovers” or confesses Yeshua’s identity as the messiah, the son of God, which Yeshua confirms to those gathered. Again in this story the where is every bit as important as the what. This revelation of Yeshua’s identity to his followers took place in the same region where many expected the apocalyptic deliverer to appear.

Paul on the Road to Damascus

Sha’ul, later known as Paul, the leader of the mission to the Gentiles, had an even more dramatic experience, recorded in Acts 9:

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Yeshua, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” … But the Lord said to him (Ananias), “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Yeshua, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Yeshua in the synagogues, saying “He is the Son of God.”

It is no mere coincidence that this scene plays out on the road in the wilderness south of the city of Damascus – the same place where Yeshua first revealed his identity, and where Peter, the leader of Yeshua’s followers first understood and confessed Yeshua’s identity as messiah and son of God. A close inspection of the Brit HaHadasha reveals that virtually all the prominent revelations of Yeshua’s identity took place precisely in this region.

As an aside, it is interesting to contrast this widespread belief in a messianic deliverer from northeastern Galilee/Transjordan with the statement made by the Chief Priests and Pharisees in the Temple. Yeshua was speaking in the Temple and Nicodemus spoke to the Priests and Pharisees who were seeking to arrest him in John 7:51-52:

“Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”

This sentiment by the Chief Priests and Pharisees provides an interesting contrast with our thesis that there was a widespread expectation of a messianic deliverer who would appear in the region south of Damascus. As it turns out, this statement by the authorities in Jerusalem reflects a well-known controversy between the Judeans and the Galileans, which was characterized by a general disdain among Judeans toward their Galilean comrades. One way this disdain manifested itself was in Judeans stereotyping Galileans as uneducated and Torah-ignorant. They looked down on popular Galilean beliefs and traditions. The evidence of history strongly contradicts a number of the tenets of the Judean stigma however, as synagogues were in fact widespread in Galilee and prophets in previous centuries had in fact come from Galilee. Further, in their argument they focus specifically on a “prophet,” ignoring the messianic aspect altogether. In a further irony, subsequent centuries saw rabbinic teachers turn around and prophesy that the messiah would, in fact, appear in Galilee, with names like “Menachem son of Amiel,” mentioned in the Book of Zerubabel and others.

In our next installment we will look at some final examples from the Brit HaHadasha and the subsequent decades and highlight some ways in which this popular expectation surrounding the region south of Damascus influenced events in the history of the Yeshua-believing community.

Author: E.A. Knapp
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