Would you be surprised to note that only 46 verses in authentic Pauline letters – 7 letters with a total of 1475 verses – refer to Jesus' death? This constitutes only 3.1% of the Pauline writing. How about the fact that the earliest material in Luke and Matthew – the Q Source – says very little about Jesus' death? Consider too, the fact that the Didache (early Christian teaching manual) and the Gospel of Thomas, another early writing, are almost silent about Jesus' death.
This is only a sampling of the challenges Dr. Arthur Dewey, Professor of Theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, raised when he made the first presentation in the Lenten Series at Christ Church Cathedral on Wednesday, February 27. This year's Lenten Series is titled: A Problematic Situation: The Execution of a Savior. His two-part presentation is titled: Without Sanctuary: Making Sense of a Shameful Death.
Prof. Dewey invited the audience to wrestle with this question: How did Jesus' followers understand and deal with Jesus' Crucifixion? It was a shameful death, humiliating in every respect. He used a modern-day depiction of lynching in America as the best illustration. There were spectators, mocking and spitting on the condemned.
To answer the question he proposed examining Hellenistic Jewish cults of a noble death as exemplified in 4 Maccabees 16:16-23; and 17:8-22. He also cited parallels from the Greek biographer and philosopher Plutarch (ca. 46-120 AD) who saw Alexander the Great's conquests as part of the larger idea “that all things on earth were subject to one principle and one government, that all humans were one people, he conformed himself in such a way” (On the Fortune of Alexander 1:8). There are parallels here with Philippians 2:5-11.
Prof. Dewey will continue his presentation on Wednesday, March 7, when he explores the Citation Tradition in the Gospels. The presentations begin at 7 pm after a light supper which begins at 6:30 pm. If you are a seeker of deeper knowledge and spiritual challenge and growth, you don't want to miss these presentations.