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Among the New Testament Gospels, Matthew most emphatically stresses the continued presence of Jesus throughout his ministry and with his disciples after Easter. This is despite sensitivity to the challenge of the cross and experiences of absence or deprivation. Structurally, the Gospel develops this affirmation in relation to the narrative of Jesus’ birth and incarnation, to his ministry, to the governance of the Christian community in its apostolic mission to Israel and the nations. Matthew never quite articulates how this continued presence actually works, whether in spatial or sacramental or pneumatological terms. And yet the emphatic correlation of ‘Jesus’ and ‘Emmanuel’ confirms that each is constituted by the other: being ‘God with us’ (Matt 1.23) means precisely to ‘save his people’ (1.21), and vice versa.
For Paul, where is Jesus now? The Apostle's Christ-mysticism provides one important clue to his sense of continued personal presence, but this coexists with an important eschatological dialectic that involves absence as much as presence. Moreoever, straightforward sublimation in terms of the Holy Spirit in no way exhausts the register of Jesus’ personal presence for Paul, which also finds specific application in repeated visionary experiences, as well as in the church gathered for worship, baptism, and eucharist. The dialectic of absence and presence appears on the one hand personally attuned in the assurance of Paul's Jesus that ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Cor 12:7), but it is also eschatologically and spatially articulated in the promise that ‘the Lord is near’ (Phil 4:5).
Recent decades have witnessed a near-consensus of critical opinion (1) that the idea of God's creation of matter ‘out of nothing’ is not affirmed in scripture, but instead (2) originated in a second-century Christian reaction against Gnosticism's convictions about matter as evil and creation as the work of an inferior Demiurge. (3) Judaism's interest, by contrast, was generally deemed late and philosophically derivative or epiphenomenal upon Christian ideas. This essay re-examines all three convictions with particular reference to the biblical creation accounts in Palestinian Jewish reception. After highlighting certain interpretative features in the ancient versions of Genesis 1, this study explores the reception of such ideas in texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and early rabbinic literature. It is clear that the typically cited proof texts from biblical or deutero-canonical books indeed do not yield clear confirmation of the doctrine they have sometimes been said to prove. Genesis was understood even in antiquity to be somewhat ambiguous on this point, and merely to say that creation gave shape to formlessness need not entail any creatio ex nihilo. This much seems uncontroversial. Nevertheless, closer examination also shows that the Scrolls and the rabbis do consistently affirm Israel's God as the creator of all things, explicitly including matter itself. Graeco-Roman antiquity axiomatically accepted that ‘nothing comes from nothing’, which also meant the pre-existence of matter. To be sure, the conceptual terminology of ‘nothingness’ came relatively late to Christians, and even later to Jews. Yet the substantive concern for God's free creation of the world without recourse to pre-existing matter is repeatedly affirmed in pre-Christian Jewish texts, and constitutes perhaps the single most important building block for the emergence of an explicit doctrine of ‘creation out of nothing’. In its Jewish and Christian origins, therefore, the idea of creatio ex nihilo affirms creation's comprehensive contingency on the Creator's sovereignty and freedom. This in fact is a point which has been rightly and repeatedly accented in both historic and modern Christian theology on this subject (e.g. by K. Barth and E. Brunner, J. Moltmann and C. Gunton). Well before its explicit articulation in dialogue with Hellenistic philosophy, the doctrine of God's creation of all matter was rooted in biblical texts and their Jewish interpretation, which in turn came to be refined and enriched through Christian–Jewish dialogue and controversy.
In the pleasant early days of August 1498, Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) caught his first glimpse of the South American mainland. On turning from Trinidad, off Northeastern Venezuela, into the Gulf of Paria between the mountainous Venezuelan headland of Marabal and the island of Trinidad, he ran into a mass of fresh water from the mouth of the Orinoco River and was enraptured by the idyllic climate and sights of what faced him there. “Holy Scripture,” he famously recorded in his logbook,
testifies that Our Lord made the earthly Paradise in which he placed the Tree of Life. From it there flowed four main rivers: the Ganges in India, the Tigris and the Euphrates in Asia … and the Nile, which rises in Ethiopia and flows into the Sea at Alexandria … I do not hold that the earthly Paradise has the form of a rugged mountain, as it is shown in pictures, but that … by gradually approaching it one begins, while still at a great distance, to climb towards it … I do believe, however, that, distant though it is, these waters may flow from there to this place which I have reached… All this provides great evidence of the earthly Paradise, because the situation agrees with the beliefs of those holy and wise theologians and all the signs concord strongly with this idea.
The social and intellectual vitality of Judaism and Christianity in antiquity was in large part a function of their ability to articulate a viably transcendent hope for the human condition. Narratives of Paradise - based on the concrete symbol of the Garden of Delights - came to play a central role for Jews, Christians, and eventually Muslims too. The essays in this volume highlight the multiple hermeneutical perspectives on biblical Paradise from Second Temple Judaism and Christian origins to the systematic expositions of Augustine and rabbinic literature. They show that while early Christian and Jewish sources draw on texts from the same Bible, their perceptions of Paradise often reflect the highly different structures of the two sister religions. Dealing with a wide variety of texts, these essays explore major themes such as the allegorical and literal interpretations of Paradise, the tension between heaven and earth, and Paradise's physical location in space and time.
Contrary to periodic challenges from a viewpoint of historical scepticism or relativism, Jerome's late fourth-century description of Simon Peter may be said to represent a critical and consensual account of the Apostle's demise in Rome as this was reflected in early Christian memory of the first two centuries, both in the East and in the West. Three centuries earlier, the much-debated passage in 1 Clement 5 represents (for all its ambiguities) an integral strand of such living memory – citing the founding apostles' death for their faith according to local Roman tradition while discreetly airbrushing the specific circumstances of their demise. It is significant, finally, that local memory of Peter's martyrdom remained confined to Rome and was never subject to competing claims elsewhere.
1974 (repr. 2004). Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching. SNTSMS 27. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1978. Interpreting the New Testament Today. An Inaugural Lecture in the Chair of New Testament Studies, delivered on 14 November 1978 and published by King's College, London. Repr. in Ex Auditu 1 (1985): 63–73.
1989. The Gospels and Jesus. Oxford Bible Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Translated into Japanese and Korean.)
1992. A Gospel for a New People: Studies in Matthew. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
1995. Gospel Truth? New Light on Jesus and the Gospels. London and Valley Forge: HarperCollins and Trinity Press International. (Translated into French, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian.)
1997. Gospel Truth? Today's Quest for Jesus of Nazareth. 2nd edn. London: Fount.
2002. The Gospels and Jesus. Oxford Bible Series. 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2003. (With Patrick Collinson and Richard Rex.) Lady Margaret Beaufort and her Professors of Divinity at Cambridge: 1502–1649. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2004. Jesus and Gospel. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
BOOKS EDITED OR CO-EDITED
1983. The Interpretation of Matthew. Issues in Religion and Theology 3. London and Philadelphia: SPCK and Fortress.
1994. (With Stephen C. Barton.) Resurrection: Essays in Honour of Leslie Houlden. London: SPCK.
1995. The Interpretation of Matthew. SNTI. 2nd revised and expanded edn. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.