Busted Halo
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Ann Naffziger :
94 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.
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…

December 17th, 2011

“Swaddling clothes” can also be translated as “cloth strips,” “bands of cloth” or even “rags.” It is likely Mary and Joseph used what little they had on hand at the end of an unanticipated 70 mile trip to Bethlehem that would have taken them several days to a week to walk. This is one of several details in Luke’s Gospel that suggest Mary and Joseph were poor parents bringing a child into the world in a tenuous situation. (Luke 2:1-24)…

December 9th, 2011

If you were to read all four gospels thoroughly in search of Jesus’ teachings on homosexuality it would be a futile endeavor. Not only would you come to the end of the gospels without finding anything attributed to Jesus on the subject, you wouldn’t even find a single reference to the issue in any context…

October 21st, 2011

These two terms are often used interchangeably, although in the synoptic gospels the apostles generally refer to the 12 men explicitly called by Jesus to follow him while the disciples are a more inclusive larger group that can be thought of as including the apostles.
The apostles listed in these gospels are: Simon (also called Peter), Andrew, James son of Zebedee, John, Philip, Batholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot.
The larger group of disciples include others both named and unnamed who encountered Jesus and attended to his message: his mother Mary (sometimes called “the first disciple”) Levi, Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, Bartimaeus,…

October 14th, 2011

Generally speaking “Israelites” refer to the ancestors of the Jews whose story is told in the Old Testament. In the book of Genesis, Abraham’s grandson Jacob was renamed “Israel”(Genesis 32:28) and following that renaming, Jacob’s descendants were commonly referred to as Israelites. It was centuries before the religion of the Israelites coalesced into the more unified practices we sometimes associate with Judaism in Jesus’ time. Even then there were many ways to practice “Judaism,” just as today there are a myriad ways that Christians practice Christianity. Consequently, it is more accurate to refer to Jesus’ (and our) distant ancestors in religion as Israelites, rather than Jews.…

October 7th, 2011

The Pentateuch is the technical term for the first five books of the Bible (“penta” = five, teuchos = book): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It is also sometimes called the Torah or referred to as the Five Books of Moses, since traditionally their authorship has been attributed to Moses, although scholars know now that is a false assumption.
The Pentateuch begins with the creation of the world, traces the story of the great patriarchs and matriarchs (Abraham/Sarah, Isaac/Rebeccah, Jacob/Rachel, Leah) down to the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt, narrates the Exodus from Egypt under Moses’ leadership, follows them for 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and ends with…

September 30th, 2011

Bathsheba is sometimes misrepresented as the woman who committed adultery with King David, although from the story in 2 Samuel 11-12 it appears that David either seduced her or even raped her. In the original Hebrew, the phrase in 2 Sam 11:4 makes clear that David was the active subject and Bathsheba was the object of his actions. He sent his messengers to bring Bathsheba to him and then “he went into her,” (the Hebrew euphemism for intercourse). In the original text, there is absolutely no connotation of Bathsheba seducing the king. In those days, a woman who had very little social status and whose husband was an employee of the king could have done little to protest the desires of that all-powerful king, and would…

September 23rd, 2011

Certainly there are Old Testament passages that portray a harsh God that many of us would find difficult to accept. For example, God smites the Egyptians and indiscriminately strikes down their firstborn in Exodus, or God comes off like a bad parent who threatens punishment to followers in an attempt to coerce good behavior. Contrary to popular belief, though, some sections of the New Testament reflect similarly disturbing images of God. “Fire and brimstone” Christianity is a legacy of Matthew’s gospel in particular, because it is in that gospel that Jesus tells parables that conclude with various offenders being thrown “into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”…

September 16th, 2011

Mark’s gospel is sometimes called “the gospel with no Christmas and a shaky Easter” because it tells us nothing about Jesus’ birth, and the oldest manuscripts we have of the gospel ended at 16:8a: The women “fled from the tomb and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Therefore, there is not even an “Easter,” so to speak, in this gospel.
In the original Greek, the last word in verse 16:8 is an unusual word with which to end a sentence, and the sentence certainly would have been an odd way to end the story of Jesus’ life and death. Some have wondered if Mark died before finishing the gospel or if the original ending got torn off the parchment somehow. Scholars overwhelmingly agree that Mk…

September 9th, 2011

We don’t know how old Jesus was historically when he died. Luke’s gospel tells us “Now Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry” (Lk 3:23). This is the only allusion to Jesus’ age in the Bible. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) seem to suggest that Jesus’ public ministry lasted about a year because they recount one time when he went to Jerusalem for an annual festival (Passover). John’s gospel relates that he went to Jerusalem for three annual festivals. Thus it is Luke’s comment that he was about 30 years old added to John’s insinuation that he ministered for three years that give us the tradition that he was 33 years old at the time of his death. We will never prove if he did…

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