Thursday, May 9, 2013

Did Jesus Appeal to Evil Eye Magic?

Scott B. Noegel from the University of Washington has dedicated much of his career to academic study of Ancient Near Eastern magic.  If ancient animal entrail divination, dream interpretation and Canaanite cults of the dead are your thing you can check out Noegel’s Jewish magic bibliography.
You’re also probably single.
Apotropaic Roman mosaic from Antiochia,
House of the Evil Eye. Source: 
John R.
Clarke: Darmstadt: Primus 2009
One of the issues raised in Noegel’s bibliography is ancient Mediterranean evil eye magic and the Bible.  Evil eye magic was an extremely pervasive and powerful belief in the Bible’s historical-geographic context (still is in the Mediterranean and a tremendous amount of other world cultures today), and it’s no coincidence the Old and New Testaments share the technical language associated with the belief.  Interestingly, Jesus Himself appeals to the evil eye in His Sermon on the Mount. John H. Elliott (from the University of San Francisco) has written on this in this Biblical Interpretation article.
Is Jesus’ appeal to a false pre-scientific belief system a problem for inerrancy?  Before you stone me to death with Norm Geisler textbooks my answer is no, and a case like this is a great object lesson in divine condescension.

Take for example Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  Why did Jesus chose to ascend bodily before His ancient audience?  Paul Seely in the Westminster Theological Journal (along with scads of other scholars like Horowitz, Geer and Walton) has shown that everyone in that context believed in a solid sky dome (Seely’s article). Heaven was usually considered to reside geographically above this dome.  In fact, the first culture Seely could find that propounded some concept of an atmospheric sky was the Chinese in the third-century. “As late as the sixteenth century a Jesuit missionary to China wrote home saying the idea that the sky is not solid is ‘one of the absurdities of the Chinese’!” (Shows how much he knew.)

The dilemma then is this: We know the throne of God is not geographically located in outer space (errr… at least everyone who isn’t Mormon does).  It is not sitting above a sky dome made of a hard crystal substance to which “the stars are fixed like nails” like Aristotle thought.  Why then did Jesus choose to ascend physically taken up "in a cloud” (Acts 1.9) before His audience when He was going to be with the Father?

Either (1) Jesus is still flying out in space somewhere on his way to heaven.
Or (2) Jesus was condescending to his audience. i.e. meeting them where they were intellectually and using their pre-scientific beliefs as a vehicle for conveying a more important message in a way they would understand.

Talk about a firm grasp on the obvious! God speaks to His audience in their historical situation in terms they can understand.  No Ken Ham, God doesn't need to systematically alter the scientific worldview of His audience in order to communicate with them.