Home » Intertestamental Judaism
Category Archives: Intertestamental Judaism
I have pointed out earlier in this blog and now in my recent commentary (Seven Congregations in a Roman Crucible) that many Graeco-Roman pagans also believed in postmortem punishment in the afterlife. You might not be aware, however, that they actually believed they had discovered some of the entrance portals to Hell, Hades, and the underworld where one encountered smoky streams and lakes of fire and sulfur. Think of the science fiction TV series Stargate SG-1, but imagine a portal that does not transport you to another region of the universe, but into the underworld where the dead reside. Or, perhaps better known to those of us more familiar with earlier science fiction culture, think of Jules Verne’s 19th century work Journey to the Center of the Earth. This view about entrance points into the underworld was generally accepted in antiquity and even Jesus spoke of gates into the afterlife/underworld (Matt. 16:18). In Graeco-Roman mythology this type of site was called a Plutonium, named after the pagan deity of the underworld, Pluto, a.k.a. Hades.
It has been known for a long time that one such imagined portal into the underworld was located in the city of Hierapolis, not far from the city of Laodicea mentioned in Rev. 3:14-22. Paul’s letter to the church of Colossae (4:13-15) also mentions Hierapolis and Laodicea as all three of these were located in the Lycus Valley, about 100 miles east of Ephesus. Recently Italian archaeologists have extended their excavations at the site of the Plutonium in Hierapolis and even created some digital views of what it might have looked like.
Both friend and foe of the biblical message have acknowledged that the writers of Scripture often used the common language of the day to communicate Christian doctrine, values, and ideas to the surrounding culture. This is clearly the case regarding ideas about the afterlife, at least at times. 2 Peter 2:4, for example, contains the Greek verb ταρταρόω, tartaroō which means “to cast into Tartarus.” Tartarus is defined in the best lexicon for the Greek NT as a location, “thought of by the Greeks as a subterranean place lower than Hades where divine punishment was meted out,” and was also viewed this way by the Jewish author Philo and also in “Israelite apocalyptic” literature (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, eds. Walter Bauer & F. W. Danker). It is no surprise that the archaeological museum at Hierapolis contains a clear example of the Greek deity Hades.
So if and when you make your way to Hierapolis, Turkey try to get your guide to show you the remains of the Plutonium. If and when you make your way into the Gospels or the book of Revelation, keep two points in mind. First, Jesus and his earliest followers certainly felt compelled to announce the painful consequences of rejecting God and his ways. Secondly, when apostolic authors did announce this, they did it in a way that was intelligible to their audiences by using the vernacular to communicate their theology.
With almost eschatological fervor I am expecting the publication of my commentary Seven Congregations in a Roman Crucible. A Commentary on Revelation 1-3 within weeks rather than months. It has been a long journey for my family, for Harding School of Theology, and for me personally. Part of the issue was the major reformulation of the focus of the commentary. The decision I made a few years ago to do a more thorough job of integrating the text of Revelation with theological trajectories from the Hebrew Scriptures and Intertestamental Judaism meant I had to slow down and incorporate and quote not only more Jewish texts, but also a small fraction of secondary literature.
Those who know my other publications are aware that I do not believe that the early church existed within a historical vacuum, devoid of significantinteraction with its pagan environment. This belief requires the incorporation of primary sources, e.g., Graeco-Roman literature, inscriptions, coins, papyri, and architecture. Even if readers of this commentary feel comfortable with the settings and theological perspectives of sacred writers such as Jeremiah or Zechariah, they might not be as comfortable with and knowledgeable of Greek and Latin authors such as Aelius Aristides and Apuleius or, to move beyond the literary elite, Anatolian inscriptions or Roman numismatics. My decision to not only reference Graeco-Roman sources but to also quote them at times and to supply some secondary literature certainly required a significant increase of time, energy, and pages.
In addition to the expansion into Jewish materials, both canonical and non-canonical, and into Graeco-Roman sources, a third area also retarded earlier goals for completion. So many impediments stand in the way of our hearing John as he intended to be heard that the task is always extensive and labyrinthine. Some assistance can be provided by visual materials that literally bring the ancient world to light. So, I have attempted to use some images in the book to enhance the reader’s appreciation for the world of John and his first readers, an effort with a steep learning curve both for me and the publisher.
My first fantasies about this commentary included it being available as an ebook with color images, video, and hyperlinks. Issues such as markets, ebook readers with footnote abilities, and distribution outlets deflated that balloon a couple of years ago. I then attempted to locate a print publisher who would do 4-color images. Some of the obvious publishers embrace views about Revelation totally different from mine. Beyond the initial cost, the idea of self publishing in color seemed imprudent unless I wanted lots of copies sitting in a warehouse somewhere since I have no personal distribution outlets. I was delighted that Wipf & Stock agreed to publish my commentary, but it will be printed with grayscale images, supplemented with color images on this blog, richardoster.com.
As soon as the commentary appears I will have an Amazon.com link to Seven Congregations in a Roman Crucible. A Commentary on Revelation 1-3 on this blog. I have also been invited to present two classes on this at the Pepperdine University Bible Lectureship, April 30-May 4, 2013.
Graeco-Roman Antiquity & the New Testament