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Ann Naffziger :
98 article(s)

Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.
January 4th, 2013

The Gospel of Barnabas is an account of the life of Jesus purported to have been written by Jesus’ disciple Barnabas.The only two known manuscripts of the Gospel of Barbabus are dated to the late 16th century and were written in Spanish and Italian. Note that the four gospels included in the Christian Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were all written in Greek in the first century after Jesus’ life, so there is a 15 century gap between them.
The Gospel of Barnabus narrates Jesus’ ministry, much of which it echoes from the four gospels. At other times, however, it contradicts the New Testament accounts and instead leans toward an Islamic interpretation of Jesus’ identity, for instance by describing…

December 28th, 2012

Like all of the human authors of the Bible, Paul writes from his particular cultural context of life in the first century Roman Empire. He lived in a hierarchical, patriarchal society that presumed the rightness of a woman’s subordination to a man, a child’s subordination to a parent, and a slave’s subordination to a master. In fact, there are several places in the New Testament (Col 3:18-4:1, Eph 5:21-33, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Titus 2:1-10, 1 Peter 2:18-3:7) where such “household codes” mirror secular lists of the ancient world. We can say that Paul “never tries to change the existing social conditions in the name of Christian teaching” (Joseph Fitzmeyer).
Still, it’s not hard to be puzzled or even…

December 17th, 2012

For centuries, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Exodus) were thought to have been written by Moses. However, in the mid-1800s, a scholar named Julius Wellhausen noticed that there were four distinct writing styles among these books and that some stories were told more than once with different language, emphases, and details. For example, there are two distinct creation stories, two versions of the flood, two accounts of God’s covenant with Abraham, etc. This led Wellhausen to hypothesize that there are four primary writers or schools of writers who authored these books. These authors are referred to by the first letter of the names Wellhausen gave them. “J” is shorthand for the writer…

December 3rd, 2012

The first verse in the Letter attributes the writing to “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” but otherwise the letter gives us no further biographical information on the author. There are a few references in the New Testament to a “James, the brother of Jesus” (a Greek word that can be translated to “cousin”). Perhaps the author of this letter was writing under the authority of this James or “borrowing” the name to give its teaching more weight, a common practice in the ancient world.
James was writing to an organized Christian community. This indicates that it was written later than the letters of Paul because Paul wrote to fairly new, loosely formed, and often mixed communities…

November 29th, 2012

A Pope is a human being like any of us, so the fact of being the leader of the Church does not mean he is always right, i.e. the Pope says eating Cheerios is better than eating Raisin Bran for breakfast. The Pope is not “infallible” in this sense.
If you are asking if a Pope is always said to interpret scripture “infallibly,” the answer is no, because the definition of papal infallibility is very narrowly defined by the Church. In fact, no Pope has ever invoked papal infallibility when interpreting scripture. On the other hand, we are always called to seriously and prayerfully consider what the Pope teaches or preaches, as he does have extensive knowledge of scripture. Also, he has at his disposal the expertise…

November 22nd, 2012

Throughout human history, the act of sharing food together has suggested a level of bondedness between the people sharing the meal. Some of the significance has been lost in this day and age of American drive-throughs and eating on the run, but certainly in the Jewish culture of the Middle East at the time of Jesus, a shared meal connoted a level of intimacy between eaters. (For this reason Jesus was consistently criticized for sharing food and drink with tax collectors and sinners.) The Passover ritual that Jesus celebrated as his Last Supper included the practice of sharing food from common bowls, not unlike in various cultures and ethnic restaurants still today. In this sense, Judas can be accused of betraying…

November 20th, 2012

It is not that modern books aren’t “good enough” to be in scripture, but that they aren’t “old enough.” Church leaders decided in the first several hundred years after Jesus’ lifetime which books should be included in the “canon” of the Bible and then they closed that canon. One of the criteria used to decide which books would make the cut was if the books were “ancient,” meaning written and handed down from our early Jewish heritage or in the first century after Christ’s life.
The teaching continues that since Jesus Christ was the invisible God made visible and the one who perfectly showed us who God is, we do not expect any new public revelation before his second coming. Since no one writing…

November 16th, 2012

The short answer is no. There are many people in the world who do not know Greek, but have a strong understanding of the Bible academically as well as spiritually. It is unlikely that any Christian you know, including your parish priest, is able to read the New Testament in its original Greek…

November 8th, 2012

There are some extraordinary biblical scholars teaching, researching, and writing in the field of scripture studies. A few of the best known are Raymond Brown, S.S., Jospeh Fitzmeyer, and Roland Murphy, co-editors of the tome The New Jerome Biblical Commentary and past presidents of the Catholic Biblical Association and the Society of Biblical Literature. Raymond Brown also wrote a well-respected Introduction to the New Testament. Both are go-to references for homilists and students of the Bible.
A look at the editors and contributors of the two most commonly used Bibles in Catholic and mainline Protestant churches, the New American and the New Revised Standard Version, call to mind some other well-esteemed…

October 30th, 2012

The Latin Vulgate, or simply “Vulgate” as it is more commonly known, is a Latin translation of the Bible done in the late fourth century A.D. St. Jerome is credited with being the primary translator. By the Middle Ages, his translation had become the most commonly used translation, and it was declared the official Latin translation of the Catholic Church for centuries to come.
The Vulgate was notable because it was perhaps the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Latin from the original Hebrew (others were translated from Hebrew to Greek and then to Latin). Similarly, the New Testament was translated directly from the Greek into Latin. Later, many translators used the Vulgate as their source for…

October 7th, 2012

In the world of biblical studies, there is no degree or certificate conferring “official” status as a biblical translator. Rather, scholars with higher degrees — generally PhDs — in scriptural studies or biblical languages work individually and in groups translating the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek. Generally, scholars are better versed in one language or the other, one Testament of the other. (The Old Testament was written almost entirely in Hebrew, the New in Greek.) On the rare occasions when a biblical committee calls for a new translation of the Bible or a revision of a translation, the committee invites well-respected academics to collaborate in the translation. To give…

September 28th, 2012

There aren’t any stories in scripture of Jesus fighting with his disciples, per se, but there are certainly examples of Jesus being exasperated, indignant, and disappointed with his friends/followers, for example Mark 10:14. There are times when Jesus told parables or tried to make a point but the disciples didn’t understand and he expressed impatience with them. Once he overheard the disciples arguing about who was the greatest among them, which he found maddening (Matthew 18:1-7). Another time, Peter tried to insist that Jesus shouldn’t have to suffer and die, and Jesus retorted, “Get behind me, Satan. For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mark 8:33).
Maybe you…

September 14th, 2012

Five books are generally categorized as wisdom literature: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Although the literary style between these books varies, much of wisdom literature is characterized by short, pithy sayings like “Pride goes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The general focus of wisdom literature is a reflection on the realities of life, for example: how to cope with suffering (Job), finding order amidst what appears to be random, and dealing with the ambiguities of life. Wisdom literature attempts to pass on advice, warnings, insights, or moral exhortations that have proven to be helpful to others in the past, for example: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but…

September 7th, 2012

What’s the Apocrypha and why is it part of some Bibles and not others?…
The Apocrypha is the set of 15 books generally placed between the Old and New Testaments that is included in Catholic but not Protestant bibles. The set includes the books of Tobit, Judith, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, and portions or additions of other books in the Old Testament. None of these apocryphal books were a part of the original Hebrew scriptures (what we generally call the Old Testament). However, they were written in Greek and were included in early Greek versions of the Jewish scriptures.
Hundreds of years ago Protestants decided that since they weren’t a part of the Hebrew scriptures

August 31st, 2012

What translation of the Bible should I be reading? There are a lot to choose from — which one is the best?

If you want to sit down specifically to pray and meditate on scripture, I recommend you use whatever translation you have on hand that is familiar, comforting, and appealing to you. If you love…

August 17th, 2012

This is where a good study Bible or biblical commentary comes in handy. In the last century biblical scholars have been trying to parse out historical facts from the extensive literature included in the Bible. They have been studying the literary genres to give them more clues about what sections or books were never intended to be read as scientific data, for example, the creation stories in Genesis. In their study and archeological findings, scholars have found others sources that corroborate some historical facts, such as the Israelite monarchy before the Babylonian exile.
But this kind of background knowledge isn’t common to many readers of the Bible, so reading the introductory sections in The Catholic…

August 10th, 2012

Jesus lived in an agrarian society in which the majority of people would have had experiences living on farms or working with food crops and/or livestock. His audiences would have included shepherds, grape growers, wheat farmers, laborers in fruit orchards, and families raising livestock as just a few examples.
As the son of a carpenter in the Middle East 2,000 years ago, Jesus would have had exposure to the agrarian lifestyle even if he never worked on a farm himself. His family might very well have raised chickens and tended a vegetable plot, which would have taught him about the manner of a hen mothering her flock, or the surprise of weeds growing up among the crop that had been sown, or how some seeds fall on good…

August 3rd, 2012

We celebrate the Feast of the Ascension forty days after Easter, and many people, like you, will be pondering just how it was – or if it was – that Jesus literally ascended bodily into heaven as described in Luke 24:50-52 and Acts 1:9-11. Did he jump really high? Did he sprout wings and fly? Did an invisible hand lift him gently upward? It’s a natural question, especially since our modern sensibilities generally lean toward wanting to read the Bible as history.
The Catechism (#115-117) and the writings of Vatican II teach us that the Bible works on two levels, the literal/factual and the spiritual. We believe the Bible teaches the spiritual truth, even as Catholic and mainline Protestant teaching…

July 27th, 2012

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of references to alcohol (primarily wine) in the Bible. The references fall into three categories, having one of the following connotations: neutral, positive, or negative. Countless examples are neutral in the sense that they indicate the commonality of drinking wine at mealtimes with no moral judgment being given for the practice. Many, many positive references use wine as a symbol of abundance and blessing (think here of Jesus’ miracle in changing the water to wine at the wedding at Cana) and sometimes it is specifically called for in rituals and festive celebrations. Jesus is portrayed as being a regular imbiber. The Bible does portray alcohol negatively when…

July 20th, 2012

Daniel relates that he saw a vision of four beasts that originated in the “great sea,” a symbol for chaos and the power of evil. He then relates that the vision continued with an image resembling a human being or “one like a son of man” coming from above “with the clouds of heaven” (Dn 7:1-14). The beasts are considered to be symbols of pagan kingdoms while the “son of man” figure represents someone from the kingdom of the Most High. In this context, the son of man is not meant to refer to a historical person, but is a figure of speech which later developed into a term for the Messiah himself.
Interestingly enough, in the gospels it is only Jesus who uses the term “Son of Man” to refer to himself, and he uses…

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