Tuesday, July 27, 2010

325: Paul is Greeted in Jerusalem

Acts 21-23
"The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar." - Acts 21:30-31

On Paul's way to Jerusalem many people urge him not to go to Jerusalem "through the Spirit". Can't the Holy Spirit just tell Paul directly what it thinks? Regardless, how can he disobey the Holy Spirit and still be called righteous?

Paul is then confronted by a man who steals his belt. The man uses this belt to tie himself up. He tells Paul that the Holy Spirit has told him that this is how Paul will be tied up in Jerusalem. Paul says that he's willing to die in Jerusalem and "The Lord's will be done." Again, if it's the Lord's will to have him killed then why is the Holy Spirit persuading all these people to try to stop him?

Paul eventually gets to Jerusalem and meets up with the disciples. He tells them all the progress he's made with the gentiles and they all praise God. Not to beat a dead horse, but why didn't the Holy Spirit tell them this good news? I guess the Holy Spirit only tells you the bad things that have happened/will happen.

After being in Jerusalem for awhile, Paul is told about a rumor that spreading among the Jews. The rumor is that Paul has been telling the Jews to stop being circumcised and stop following Moses. Because of this false accusation Paul is arrested (more like kidnapped by a large mob), as the Holy Spirit apparently predicted. Of course, it could also be that the people of Jerusalem already knew about this rumor against Paul and used their reasoning skills to conclude that he was going to be arrested. "The Holy Spirit told me" sounds better though.

The mob of Jews seizes Paul and starts trying to beat him to death. News that Jerusalem is in an uproar comes to the commander of the Roman troops in the area. The commander sends some men to break up the riot and arrest Paul.

When the commander gets there he asks the crowd who Paul is and what he has done. The commander can't get a straight answer so he orders that Paul be taken to the barracks. Once Paul is in the barracks the commander asks him if he is the Egyptian that started a revolt. I'm not sure where he got that from. Paul answers that he is a Jew, and asks the commander if he can speak to the crowd. Strangely, the commander agrees. Why would he allow the person causing the riot to go talk to the crowd?

Paul proceeds to defend himself with the story of how he was converted by the heavenly voice of Jesus and had visions sent by God. After this impassioned defense, the Jews yell "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live". I guess they're not convinced by a man hearing voices and having psychotic visions.

The commander orders that Paul be taken back into the barracks and flogged to make him tell the commander why the Jews hate him. As Paul is about to be flogged, he asks if it's legal to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been charged. The commander takes him on his word that he's a Roman citizen and decides that he can't be flogged. Why doesn't everyone use this "get out of flogging free" card?

The commander then orders that Paul be brought before the Sanhedrin so he can figure out why the Jews hate him. Paul claims, before the Sanhedrin, that he is a Pharisee and is being persecuted because of his "hope in the resurrection". The Pharisees, apparently, believe in the possibility of resurrection while the Sadducees don't. This causes a big argument among the Sanhedrin and the commander orders Paul be brought back to the barracks.

The next day 40 Jews start conspiring about Paul. They end up vowing not to eat or drink until Paul is dead. They tell the Sanhedrin to ask the commander to see Paul again, to get more information about his trial. It's when he's before the Sanhedrin that they will kill him. Long story short, the commander finds out about this and decides to transfer Paul to a different city.

The commander ends up sending two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to escort Paul. Why is this one Roman citizen so important to the Roman commander that he sends a small army to protect him? The chapter ends with Paul waiting for his accusers to arrive at this protected location for his trial to begin.

I think this was the most boring/most scripturally unenlightening section of the New Testament thus far.

An Augusta State University graduate student has been ordered to drop her Christian religion or drop out of college. Of course, there's a little more to this story:
“Augusta State ordered Keeton to undergo a re-education plan, in which she must attend “diversity sensitivity training,” complete additional remedial reading, and write papers to describe their impact on her beliefs. If she does not change her beliefs or agree to the plan, the university says it will expel her from the Counselor Education Program.”

The nature of Ms. Keeton’s beliefs were ascertained through private conversations with classmates and classroom discussions. The teaching staff decided on this basis that “Jen’s ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations.”
Oh, so this actually has nothing to do with her religion, it has to do with her homophobia. As a part of this "diversity sensitivity training" Keeton has to prove that she has denounced her homophobic beliefs or be kicked out of the program. Keeton obviously disagrees with this and is suing.

The real question here is should this woman have to change her beliefs, even if those beliefs are (some say) a basic tenant of her religion? I'm not even sure why this is a question. Hint: the answer is "hell yes she has to change her beliefs or get the fuck out".

If a medical student has the solemn belief that he can cure his patients with the Holy Spirit (this could be justified with the bible), then that's perfectly fine. But if he decides that, instead of using modern medical science, he's just going to lay his hands on people, then we don't give him a medical license.

In the same way, a counselor can have the solemn belief that being gay is a sin and is wrong. Of course, this is also contrary to modern medical science. So why should Augusta State University be obligated to keep her in their program?

The final nail in this bigot's coffin (and hopefully the coffin of her lawsuit) comes directly from the American Counseling Association's website:
Counselors who conduct this type of [gay conversion] therapy view same-sex attractions and behaviors as abnormal and unnatural and, therefore, in need of "curing." The belief that same-sex attraction and behavior is abnormal and in need of treatment is in opposition to the position taken by national mental health organizations, including ACA. [FULL TEXT]
No legitimate mental health association thinks that homosexuality can be "cured" (nor is it abnormal or unnatural), just as no legitimate medical association thinks Spirit healing works. Why can we kick crazy medical students out, but not crazy prospective counselors?


  1. Bryan,
    The thing about the Egyptian leading a revolt came from Josephus, either his book Jewish Wars or his other major work, Antiquities.

    Here is the verse from Acts 21:38:
    ""Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists [lit. sicarii] out into the desert some time ago?"

    This is a conflation of three consecutive passages in both of Josephus' books. In them, there is a section where Josephus discusses various kinds of troubles in Palestine in the 40s and 50s CE. In one part, he first discusses the sicarii, which were a society of assassins that hid in crowds in the cities, striking at random and terrorizing the population.The word sicarii is Latin for assassin, which Josephus adopted into Greek as a name for this specific group of terrorists. Shortly thereafter, Josephus mentions false prophets who led people out into the desert "under the belief that God would give them tokens of deliverance. A little later, Josephus mentions a certain Egyptian would-be Messiah figure (he doesn't give him a name; just calls him "the Egyptian") who led an assault on Jerusalem with thousands of men. Note that these are 3 distinct groups, with nothing in common with each other, other than that Josephus happened to mention all three near each other in his books. They weren't all necessarily from the same time period either.

    Luke has taken information from all 3 groups and blended them into one sentence that is chock full of inaccuracies: The sicarii were not religious zealots and had no reason to go out into the desert, since their MO only worded in crowded spaces; and the Egyptian led men into Jerusalem, not out into the desert. Not only has Luke mixed these 3 ideas up, but he uses same of the same vocabulary as Josephus, such as his word sicarii, and doesn't supply a name for the Egyptian either.

    Thus someone has derived these associations from (a misreading of, or misremembering of) Josephus. Since a man who had lived through that time period wouldn't have made these mistakes, it was not the Roman soldier. Thus either Luke is responsible, or he used a source that made the error. Either way, Luke is dependent, directly or indirectly on Josephus, and since there's plenty of other evidence that Luke used Josephus, direct dependence is the mos likely explanation.

  2. Acts 21-22

    Acts 21:5-6. Typical Lukan hyperbole. All the disciples of Tyre sent them off. Presumably Luke was just guessing that everyone went home immediately afterward.

    Acts 21:10-11. Agabus is an old school prophet, like Jeremiah (Jer 13.1) or Isaiah (Isa 20.2). And Caesarea is already in Judea, so how did Agabus "come down" from there?

    Acts 21:18. Luke mysteriously drops out of the narrative again. It's like he's an escort for Paul - is he a chauffeur?

    Acts 21:28. "Men, Israelites!" The Jews speak this way, too.
    Acts 22:1. "Men, brothers, and fathers." Paul (actually, Luke) is so predictable.

  3. Acts 22-23

    Acts 22:1. "Men, brothers, and fathers." Paul (actually, Luke) is so predictable.

    Acts 21:38. I covered this verse in a separate comment.

    Acts 22:2. Why would a mob who wanted to lynch Paul become quiet just because he speaks Aramaic? Think of how Alexander was treated in Epheseus when he tried to speak.

    Acts 22:3. It is extremely unlikely that Paul, a diaspora Jew who their viewpoints seem to have been diametrically opposed, even from early on. (Gamaliel defended the Xians; Paul wanted to exterminate them.)

    Acts 22:5. Paul speaks as if the High Priest and Council haven't changed in the 20 years since he left.

    Acts 22:8. "Jesus the Nazorean" (in Greek) again. Even Jesus calls himself that.

    Acts 22;8,10. Paul is not helping his cause here by calling Jesus "Lord" instead of God. The mob would've stoned him on the spot.

    Acts 22:9. The Greek actually says that Paul's companions did not hear the voice, in flat contradiction to Acts 9:7. The Greek word that is translated as "hear" in 9:7 has been translated as "understand" here in the NIV to disguise this.

    Acts 22:18. Paul gives here a different reason for why he left Jerusalem than in Acts 9:29. I guess he figures he can say anything to the crowd - it's not like they can independently verify it.

    Acts 22:21. If Jesus commanded Paul to go to the gentiles, why didn't he mention this at the conference in Acts 11? Why does he waste so much time at every stop speaking to the Jews when Jesus told him to go to the Gentiles? Maybe God was intentionally making the Jews resistant to Paul's preaching so that he would get the message and ignore them, but he was too stubborn to get it.

    Acts 22:24. There was no rational reason for the Romans to be holding Paul, let along flogging him. But then, Pilate had no reason to flog Jesus either.

    Acts 22:25. Why didn't Paul mention that he is a Roman in 21:29?

    Acts 23:1,6. Paul begins, "Men, brothers." I never would've guessed. Also in 23:6.

    Acts 23:6. I don't know what's more unlikely, that Paul is a Roman or a Pharisee. (Well, we know that he is no longer a Pharisee from Phil 3:5.) It seems like Paul will say anything to get himself off.

    Acts 23:12. I hope those Jews broke that oath.

    Acts 23:16. How did Paul's nephew hear of this plot?

    Acts 23:19. The commander acts like he knows that Paul's nephew wants to tell him a secret. Why does the nephew disappear from the story (and indeed the Xian record) after this?



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