I recently finished a rather interesting book on Christianity and wealth, specifically from the periods 350 to 550. This post isn’t going to be a book review or anything like that, just some things that I learned from the book that I think are important. The author, Peter Brown, travels through the Western Roman Empire during late antiquity following various characters; from the pagan nobleman Symmachus to the North African titan of theology Augustine. In following these characters; their writings, their arguments, their biographies, their communities—Brown weaves a history of wealth, the view of wealth, the position of wealth, the power of wealth, in the west during late antiquity.
In this article, we have a great reminder by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart of just how alien first Century Christianity was to our contemporary culture. What is and is not taken literally, or seriously, in the New Testament; or what is, or is not, read back into early Christianity often depends on the cultural and ideological framework of the reader. As Hart points out this is obviously apparent when it comes to the issue of wealth.
Modern liberal/capitalist ideology insists that property, wealth, and the maximization of profit are simply eternal laws of nature, period. The laws of the market are prior to all other law, even moral law; so when someone steeped in that ideology encounters the New Testament text, there is somewhat a dilemma. Hart puts it this way:
A Theist is someone who believes in God or a god, an atheist is someone who lacks such belief. Is it that simple? Is Atheism simply a lack of belief? Obviously there must be more to it then that, since that would mean that dogs are atheists, and babies may or may not be atheists, but generally we those we call atheists are expected to at least consider the possibility of a Deity. So how about defining an atheist as someone who might otherwise believe in God, or a god, but lacks such belief for whatever reason, and nothing else.
In first kings 21 you’re gonna see an example of a wicked king who wants to buy private property from a citizen. You know what the citizen tells him? No, and so then there’s a woman named Jezebel … who sees the king all distraught … He wants the guys property, they guy tells him No, he’s the government … But you know what she does? Jezebel actually forges something to have the State go against the guy, and they claimed and they found false witnesses to say that he actually blasphemed the king, and so then they kill him. They kill the guy, Jezebel has him murdered, so that the king can actually take his land.
Whenever an American conservative Calvinist decides to preach on politics you can be sure you’re going to get as much shallow and cheap theology as you’ll get when listening to a liberal Episcopalian talking about homosexuality. Jeff Durbin, a few months ago, put out a sermon on the topic of “socialism” and “biblical economics.” Just as expected, it was full of misapplication of scriptures, full of shallow and fallacious theology and really beneath anyone who takes biblical theology seriously.
Most of his argument comes from the commandment not to steal. To make that argument apply to questions of Economic institutions or legal arrangements he tries to derive a defense of private property as foundational from scripture. After reading the story of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5 he says:
Continuing from the last post, talking about fragments from Qumran and their relevance to messianism, let us move on to the fragment from Qumran called the “Heavenly Prince Melchizedek” (11Q13) or the “Melchizedek document.” This fragment gives us a pointed look into the mindset of at least some Jews in the century prior to Jesus. Like the Messianic Apocalypse, the Melchizedek document is dated to the early first century B.C.E. Here is the fragment:
I’ve made the connection earlier in this blog between Jesus and early Christianity and the Jubilee, especially in Jesus’ Mission statement. Christianity wasn’t the only form of Judaism that made the connection between messianism and the Jubilee; the idea had been around in Judaism for a while.
To demonstrate various views of the Messiah and his connection to the Jubilee, I want to look at some documents from the Dead Sea Scroll first of all the Messianic Apocalypse (4Q521). The Messianic Apocalypse is dated to the early first century B.C.E. and is made up of 2 fragments, the first one reads: