Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Star Hymn of Ignatius: Advent of Christ destroys death

Whilst we might be more familiar with gospel stories in Matthew and Luke, in his Epistle to the Ephesians 19, Ignatius of Antioch writes an imaginative and cosmic version of the seasonal message:-

And hidden from the Prince of this world were the virginity of Mary, her giving birth, and the death of the Lord--three loudly shouting mysteries accomplished in the stillness of God. How were they revealed to the aeons? 

A star shone forth in heaven, 
brighter than all stars, 
and its light was ineffable 
and its newness caused astonishment. 
All the other stars with the sun and moon 
gathered in chorus around the star, 
but its light was greater than all. 
And the result was the dissolution of all magic 
and the abolition of every bond of evil.
Ignorance was removed
and the old kingdom was destroyed
for God was revealed as human
for the newness of eternal life.

Hence what had been prepared for by God received its beginning
All things were disturbed because the abolition of death was being planned.

We see in the so-called star hymn three phases: the advent of the star and its effect followed by reactions to the star from other cosmic beings and finally the beneficial result of the star's presence. The ineffable brightness of the star provokes a chorus of all other celestial bodies which, when combined with the star, effects the destruction of all magic and evil. 

There is no single way to interpret the meaning of the birth of Jesus. We already have three versions in the gospels: John's focus on the incarnate Logos, Matthew's focus on the joy of foreign visitors to the house where Jesus was born, and Luke's on divine attention to the mothers of John and Jesus: Elizabeth and Mary. Whereas the focus of Matthew and Luke stories of Jesus' birth are more mundane, Ignatius' star hymn interprets cosmic implications of the incarnation: accomplished in the silence of God, the appearance and birth of Christ is both the beginning of the plan of salvation for humanity and a shake-up of the heavenly realms which results in the final end of death. 

While Ignatius might not see it this way, it's possible to see that since the birth of this child causes cosmic disturbances, Ignatius' focus on the silence of God serves to secure the safety of recently born vulnerable children and their mothers. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Commentaries on Matthew's Gospel

For those who would like suggestions for the upcoming lectionary gospel Matthew, here are some recommendations.

The commentary on Matthew by R.T. France (Eerdmans 2007) is superb. The Kindle edition is here. The RBL review by Leslie Robert Keylock is here and it concludes with this paragraph:

This commentary is a tour de force that culminates one man’s career. Only a person who has spent his life on Jesus research could produce such a magisterial commentary in four years. Not everyone will agree with all his interpretations, of course, but that is true of any commentary—or book, for that matter. I will not at this point detail my evaluations of those interpretations; I have throughout this lengthy review drawn attention to most of  France’s provocative interpretations so the reader will know how France handles matters 
that are most likely to arouse disagreement. But this commentary on Matthew’s Gospel 
will certainly take its place with the best commentaries on this  Gospel that have been 
written in our time, and every  Gospel scholar will want to have a copy in his or her library.

feminist companionUlrich Luz has worked on Matthew's Gospel for years. Here is a link to some of his Matthew publications especially the three-volume commentary in the Hermeneia series. The great contribution of Luz to Matthean scholarship is his interest in the history of the effects and interpretation of the text (German: Wirkungsgeschichte). No one does it better. 

In the Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries series, O.Wesley Allen has written the one on Matthew. The link has samples from this text including the Introduction and Chapter 1. 

Amy-Jill Levine analyzes Matthew in the Women's Bible Commentary  third edition and she edits A Feminist Companion to Matthew (Pilgrim Press 2001) wherein lie excellent essays by a variety of scholars. 

There is also a 2006 commentary on Matthew written by Stanley Hauerwas. Of the reviews, perhaps this one describes his approach best:

While most commentaries strive to connect contemporary readers to the first century, Hauerwas also gives heed to Matthew’s vast interpretive history, a noteworthy achievement. . . . Anyone wishing to become acquainted with theological exegesis should consider this volume. Hauerwas offers a fresh perspective on Matthew that is aberrantly insightful, colorful, compelling, and powerful. Well-written, fast-paced, and accessible to laity, Hauerwas delivers thoughtful and thought-provoking conversation between Matthew’s gospel and American culture that aims to do no more than ‘position the reader to be a follower of Jesus.’”Thomas SeatPrinceton Theological Review 

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