Archive for November, 2020

3 things you should know about vines (Jn 15)

Nov 24 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

Jesus told his closest followers, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5) He talks about pruning as well. The metaphor rises and falls on our knowledge of growing and tending vines.

Here are three things to keep in mind from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History written in the first-century.

  • Vines require space but not too much space.

The space between every two vines in a soil of medium density should be 5 feet, in a rich soil 4 feet at least, and in a thin soil 8 feet at most. (Pliny the Elder, Natural History 17.35.171)

  • Vines are pruned and pruned again. And the pruning is drastic.

A quickset (a cutting of the vine) placed in a vineyard after two years is cut back right down to the ground, leaving only one eye above the surface. . . . In the following year also it is again lopped in a similar way, and it acquires and fosters within it sufficient strength to bear the burden of reproduction (italics added, 17.35.173).

  • There is a big difference between growth and bearing fruit.

…in its hurry to bear fruit [the vine] would shoot up slim and meagre like a bulrush and unless it were restrained with the pruning described would spend itself entirely on growth. No tree sprouts more eagerly than the vine, and unless its strength is kept for bearing, it turns entirely into growth (17.35.173).

Jesus was a carpenter by trade, but he knew something about vines in order to craft such a rich metaphor.

No responses yet

Cross-Branding Jesus, Part 2

Nov 19 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

I suppose we could say that Jesus and super-heroes have some things in common. They help people. They have supernatural powers. They uphold truth and justice. They are somewhat misunderstood by those around them.

On the one hand, there is enough information in the Biblical Gospels to give us a pretty good idea of who Jesus was. On the other hand, the writers leave out or assume a considerable amount of day-to-day detail in Jesus’ experience.

As readers, we supply day-to-day attitudes and actions from our experience and from virtual options like comic books and movies. So Superman flies, and Jesus walks on water. Inevitably, we develop a storyline around Jesus from our cultural expectations.

But there is a disconnect. In Superman’s story, he made headlines all over the world for his exploits. Somehow, Jesus, in spite of his miracles, was relatively unknown in the wider world. For some centuries, detractors wondered if Jesus existed at all.

No responses yet

Jesus, Meet Perseus

Nov 17 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

Greek mythology has seen a resurgence in cinema over the last few years with the adventures of Perseus and Percy Jackson among other films.

Perseus is a fascinating character because his origin is both historical and mythological.

Herodotus,  who wrote around 450 BCE, investigated the history of the Greeks and Persians and their wars. In his study of Greek kings, he writes,

…what I write I follow the Greek report, and hold that the Greeks correctly recount these kings of the Dorians as far back as Perseus son of Danae—they make no mention of the god [Zeus]—and prove these kings to be Greek; for by that time they had come to be classified as Greek. (Hdt. 6.53)

Herodotus, in fact, goes on to say that he can’t find the name of Perseus’ father at all.

So Perseus is one of the first Greek kings at a time when the Greek civilization was forming out of cultures like the Dorians. This is really ancient history!

Where Perseus’ origin gets interesting is in the book about the Persians where Herodotus mentions Perseus again, this time “the son of Danae and Zeus” (Hdt. 7.61). Yes, that’s the Greek god Zeus. While this passage has some chronological issues, suffice it to say that legend had developed around Perseus’ origin.

To the modern ear, son of god has a distinctive ring, reserved among titles. To people in the first century, the concept was still unique, but Perseus was one relevant example among several.

Herodotus, trans. by A. D. Godley. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920. Last Accessed: 10/23/2013.

No responses yet

Cross-Branding Jesus

Nov 12 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

In front of the receptionists desk stood an easel with a map of the world. It was the first thing you saw as you entered the office.

On the map were dots marking a travel path and a small cut-out of the Man of Steel. It was clear that Superman marked the traveler’s current spot on the itinerary of dots.

The disconnect was that this office housed the support staff for a speaker who was internationally-known for talking about Jesus. Was it the intent of the office to send a subliminal message, or was the choice of Superman a Freudian slip?

It raises an important question. Was Jesus more like Superman or more like a mere mortal, i.e. like me?

No responses yet

Painting the Edges of Experience

Nov 03 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

Have you seen the Brooklyn Museum’s collection called “The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (La Vie de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ)” by French painter J. James Tissot (1836-1902)?

Tissot combined the stories he read in the Biblical Gospels with the contours of the land and the experiences of people he observed while traveling in Israel in the late 1800s (before cars, elevators, and other mechanizations began to change the landscape).

By studying the context of land and customs, Tissot desired to present the scenes with increased historical authenticity. Tissot’s 350 paintings provide a vista of Jesus’ experience.

I share Tissot’s impulse — to provide the contours of experience. To explore the physical and social setting of Jesus’ life impacts his story.

At a glance, it’s easy to paint Jesus as kind or patient while teaching attentive crowds on a quiet hillside. It’s even easier when — in extreme cases — he bends the rules and walks on water.

But is Jesus as kind and patient when stuck in holiday traffic? Or when walking through water on the way to Jerusalem?

No responses yet