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Ann Naffziger :
104 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.
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…

September 2nd, 2011

You are correct in noting that our Sunday lectionary cycle revolves around the synoptic gospels of Matthew (year A), Mark (year B) and Luke (year C) yet we don’t have a year dedicated to reading from the gospel of John. The only times we hear accounts from the fourth evangelist are occasionally in the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, but not during ordinary time (i.e. the majority of weeks during the calendar year when we’re not in one of the particular seasons listed above.)
In general, the synoptic gospels lend themselves more easily to brief, succinct and self-contained readings. John’s Gospel contains significantly fewer healings, miracle stories, and episodic narrative events, replacing…

August 26th, 2011

Regardless of how much you search and how closely you read the text, you won’t find an account of what we know of as the sixth station of the cross, Veronica wiping the face of Jesus, because it isn’t in the Bible. It is one of our Catholic legends that grew up after the Bible was written. The sources of the legend are varied, but it is noted in some medieval texts and includes the detail that after Veronica gave Jesus her veil to wipe his face as he walked to his death on Calvary it bore an imprint of his face. In the 1800s, a Carmelite nun, Sister Marie of St. Peter, reported a vision of Veronica wiping away the spit and mud from Jesus’ face. The name Veronica itself is sometimes said to derive from “Vera Icon” meaning…

August 19th, 2011

Mel Gibson took some “creative license” in his movie, including making the unfortunate connection you mention here.
John’s gospel recounts a story of a woman, unnamed, who is caught in the act of adultery (Jn 7:53-8:11). As she is about to be stoned, Jesus says “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” There is no mention of the woman’s identity, and certainly no evidence to suggest any connection with Mary Magdalene. For some reason, some Christians like Mel Gibson have repeatedly marred Mary Magdalene’s reputation by making this unfair and biblically unwarranted connection.
Contrary to being identified as an adulterer or otherwise sexual sinner, the portrait…

August 12th, 2011

It takes some detective work to parse out the information about the various Marys mentioned in the gospels. The episode you mention is particularly confusing because there are four different accounts with varied details in each of the four gospels.
Mark and Matthew both mention an unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ head with either nard or ointment. Luke tells us of an unnamed woman “who was a sinner” who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed them with ointment, and dried them with her hair. Then, to add even more confusion, John describes Mary of Bethany, aka Martha’s sister, anointing his feet with nard and wiping them with her hair. Only in John’s gospel is the woman named as Mary of Bethany.
That…

August 5th, 2011

The evangelist Luke wrote of a biological relationship between the mothers of Jesus and John the Baptist. Reportedly, the angel Gabriel told Mary “your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son.” (Lk 1:36). The original Greek text does not tell us exactly how they were related, but common tradition has held that because their mothers were related, Jesus and John must have been cousins. After this detail, however, nothing else in our Bible mentions any interactions between the two during their childhoods. Indeed, the description of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist suggests that might have been their first meeting, which could then explain John’s question about Jesus’ true identity…

July 29th, 2011

According to legend in Western Christianity, there were three “wise men,” their names were Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar, and they were of various ethnic/racial origin. However, Matthew’s account of the magi’s visit (which is the only reference in the Bible to these famed visitors) tells us none of these details.
Because Matthew tells us that the magi brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, popular imagination has pictured three gift-bearers, although Matthew didn’t say how many there were. In fact, in the East, tradition has generally pictured 12 magi. It was later tradition, not Matthew, who named the magi. A document dated to about 500 A.D. lists the names of Melchior, Caspar,…

July 22nd, 2011

Sometimes a Catholic who reads from the New American Bible (NAB) can be overheard telling a Protestant who uses the King James Version (KJV) that she has more books in her Bible than he does — as if it’s a bragging right. The KJV has 39 books in the Old Testament, all written in Hebrew. However, the Old Testament of the NAB contains 46 books, including an additional seven (Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch) which were part of an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint. These seven books are variously referred to as the “apocryphal” or “deuterocanonical” books.
Because the NAB was translated in 1970 — more than 350 years after…

July 15th, 2011

At a Catholic service, the presiding priest or a member of the parish staff will provide a list of scripture readings from the lectionary from which the couple may choose. The suggestions will include options for both Old and New Testament readings. If the couple has a preference for other biblical texts that are meaningful to them or have a particular significance in their lives, the presider may allow those instead.
The couple is encouraged to reflect on what they feel called to in their lives together and to choose readings that will encourage, console, strengthen and/or challenge them in their calling. Readings that remind them of God’s promise of love and faithfulness in their journey together are also…

July 8th, 2011

Among the four gospels in the New Testament, Mark is widely accepted as the earliest gospel account. It is dated to approximately 70 A.D, while Luke, Matthew and John were composed in the following 20 years.
There were other gospel accounts written that were not canonized, and these are lumped together under the category of “apocryphal” gospels. The majority of these were almost certainly written decades or even centuries after the four canonical gospels with the exception of the Gospel of Thomas, a list of sayings attributed to Jesus. Some scholars believe Thomas was already in circulation at the time that Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were written and that they used it as a source in their own accounts. Others…

July 1st, 2011

Hosanna is derived from a Hebrew term meaning “Save, now!” or “Please save,” as used in Psalm 118:25. Christian usage of the word is typically understood as a shout of adoration or praise, as when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the people shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9). The celebration of Palm Sunday commemorates this event and conveys the sense of praise.…

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