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Ann Naffziger :
103 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.
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…

July 13th, 2012

Indeed, Jesus was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” The phrase is found in Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34 where Jesus contrasts himself to John the Baptist who was known for his asceticism in both diet and drink. Opponents of the two managed to find fault with both styles of living.
Certainly the Bible, especially Luke’s gospel, portrays Jesus as someone who sometimes feasted well and enjoyed a good party — think of the wedding at Cana. However, except for the above accusation, the gospels don’t give us any evidence of Jesus acting drunkenly or inappropriately. There are also examples of Jesus abstaining from eating and drinking (ex; the forty days in…

July 6th, 2012

Before even buying a book about the Bible, the first step is to buy a well-reputed study Bible. The Catholic Study Bible, the New Oxford Annotated Bible, or the Harper Study Bible are excellent Bibles for both prayer and study. The advantage these Bibles have is that they have well-documented footnotes and cross-references, introductory material before each book of the Bible, and they include maps and timelines.
An introduction to the Bible for very beginners is God’s Library: A Catholic Introduction to the World’s Greatest Book by Joe Paprocki. It teaches how to locate certain books in the Bible, how the numbering system and abbreviations work, and how to sort out “fact” from “fiction.” For something…

July 4th, 2012

Despite all of our scholarly and historical research, no one can pinpoint exactly who the human authors of most of the books of the Bible were. The writer we have the most biographical information about is St. Paul (ex: The Letter of Paul to the Romans), but otherwise, the ancient writers gave us very little to no information about themselves as authors.
When the books of the Bible were being written 2,000-3,000 years ago, only a very small percentage of people would have been able to read and write. Of those, even fewer women would have been educated. That is not to say that women couldn’t have written parts of the Bible or contributed to its compilation, just that they would have been in the extreme minority.
Even…

April 6th, 2012

The sections of the gospels that tell of Jesus’ suffering and death are commonly referred to as the “Passion narratives” or his “Passion.” The term is derived from several instances in the original manuscripts that mention Jesus’ pascho, the Greek verb meaning “to suffer.” Later when the Bible was translated in Latin, this Greek word was translated as passio. Since then Jesus’ passion has been synonymous with his betrayal by Judas and Peter, the agony in the garden, his trial, crucifixion, and death. In Christian belief, the Passion includes not just his physical suffering, but his mental and spiritual anguish as well.
The resurrection stories are not considered part of the Passion narratives…

March 30th, 2012

You are in very good company indeed in asking this question for the ages. For thousands of years humans have struggled with the question of why bad things happen to good people or why God seems to put humans to the test. If I had the answer to this question, I would surpass even Job in wisdom, for at the end of the book of Job even he admits that God’s wisdom is a mystery beyond human understanding.
In some ways the book is about Job being put to the test to see if he will remain faithful to God amidst his trials. Some people accept this as an adequate reason for their personal trials, even if they don’t blame God for bringing them trials, but rather accept them as a fact of life in a broken world. In this way of thinking, God isn’t…

March 23rd, 2012

With all the talk in Catholic circles these days about the move toward a “direct equivalence” translation of the mass parts, some may not realize that the translation of scripture (the “spoken word”) we hear at mass has not changed. Yes, some of the priest’s words and the congregation’s responses have changed to more directly reflect the words from the Latin mass. However, the first and second readings, the psalm responses, and the gospel readings have not been re-translated from their original Hebrew and Greek. We still hear the New American Bible translation read, and the NAB falls solidly in the middle of the continuum between dynamic and direct equivalence. That said, whenever unfamiliar or…

March 16th, 2012

Although some words to the mass have changed, the stance of scripture scholars to translating the Bible hasn’t. Any serious scholars and translators of the Bible have to make choices in translation. They must either render words or phrases more word-for-word, focusing on literal fidelity sometimes at the expense of the comprehension in English (direct equivalence). For example, the Spanish phrase “Tengo 25 anos” gets directly translated as “I have 25 years.” Or translators may attempt to accurately convey the thoughts of the original text, sometimes at the expense of literalness (dynamic equivalence). The dynamic equivalence of the above is “I am 25 years old.” Of course neither approach…

March 9th, 2012

Your question presupposes the literal historicity of the story of Noah’s ark found in Genesis 6-8. Although the story was assumed to be literal for hundreds of years, since about the 19th century mainline scripture scholars have rejected a literal interpretation of this story. (In fact, hundreds of ancient cultures recorded stories of a great flood, and some of these were written before our biblical account.) Even though some people continue to search present-day Turkey for remnants of the ark, Catholic teaching since Vatican II instructs us that the Bible is not to be read without taking into account particular literary genres. For example, we are not to read mythological stories, such as this one, as historically…

March 2nd, 2012

The Book of Jonah is a very short prophetic book. In it, Jonah ran away from his calling (God asked him to preach repentance to the wicked city of Ninevah) only to endanger the sailors whose ship he had boarded. A great storm arose that threatened to sink the ship. Jonah volunteered to be thrown overboard in an effort to quell the storm, and God provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah. He spent three days in the belly of the fish where he had a radical change of heart before he was spewed out upon the dry land.
God again instructed Jonah to preach repentance to Ninevah, and he did so without hesitation. The people repented, and God spared their city. The book abruptly ends with Jonah sulking that God’s gracious mercy extended…

February 24th, 2012

Did Jesus know how to read? Someone told me he was illiterate.
The vast majority of the population in Palestine in Jesus’ day would have been illiterate, with some historians suggesting that less than 10% of the population would have been able to read. Members of the peasant class, of which Jesus’ family would have been a part, rarely had the time or luxury of learning to read. That was usually only the privilege of the wealthy elite. However, Luke’s gospel narrates a story in which Jesus is said to have read publicly in the synagogue in Nazareth. “He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is…

February 17th, 2012

No literature from the Sadducees has survived, so we have little historical information about them. What we do know is that like the Pharisees, the Sadducees comprised a sect of Judaism around the time of Jesus who usually appeared in opposition to Jesus in the gospels. They were part of the wealthy power elite of Jerusalem and they dominated the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court that convicted Jesus. They were conservative in their interpretation of the Law, and unlike the Pharisees, only accepted the Torah, not oral tradition, as scripture. They rejected a belief in the resurrection of the dead in contrast to Jesus and the Pharisees.
Editor’s note: You can remember this last fact about the Sadducees…

February 10th, 2012

The Pharisees were lay leaders, a sect of Judaism that held great influence among Jewish people of Jesus’ day. They were characterized by observance of both the written laws (the Torah or Old Testament teachings) as well as oral tradition. In contrast to the Sadducees, the Pharisees also believed in the resurrection of the dead, angels, and demons. In general, the Gospels portray the Pharisees quite negatively, painting them as hypocrites and strict legalists, often in opposition to Jesus. Such a portrait is probably unfairly exaggerated, reflecting polemics between Christians and Jews at the time the Gospels were being written. Although some clearly opposed Jesus, it is fair to assume that others were…

January 4th, 2012

Let me begin by stating who the “magi” were not, at least according to Scripture. There is no evidence in Matthew’s Gospel (2:1-18) — the only one to mention the magi — that they were “three kings.” This tradition may have evolved because Psalm 72, which was perhaps a coronation psalm, contains a reference to kings rendering tribute and homage to Israel’s king.
The New Testament also does not state that there were three of them. Probably the number three became associated with them because they offered three gifts. In fact, artwork has portrayed them in varying numbers through the centuries, and the Eastern (Orthodox) Church has always depicted them as 12 in number. They were not named…

December 30th, 2011

Christmas pageants often show the shepherds leaving the stage to make room for the magi who have come to worship the newborn Jesus. Yet according to Matthew’s Gospel (the only one mentioning the magi) Jesus was probably significantly older by the time the magi found their way to him. This detail is suggested by the fact that King Herod “sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men” (Mt 2: 16) who had informed him previously of the star which rose heralding Jesus’ birth. Also interesting to note is that when the magi arrived, they found the baby Jesus with his mother Mary in a house (!), not a stable as we commonly…

December 27th, 2011

It is Luke’s Gospel that gives us the famous picture of the newborn babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Lk 2:1-20). Luke never specifies that Jesus was born in a stable or a cave; he only states that there was no room for them in the inn. Many have come to imagine the birthplace as a stable because of the note about the manger, another name for an open box or feeding trough for livestock. The image of a cave can be traced back to the apocryphal “Infancy Gospel of James” (probably written in the mid-second century), which places Mary and Joseph there at the time of Jesus’ birth.
Another possibility that scholars have offered is that the Holy Family might have ended their journey in the courtyard…

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