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Re: the poor in spirit

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  • Jim West
    ... pietistic, ... Perhaps because western pietism has its roots in the ancient soil of Jewish pietism (as represented in various of the NT texts). ... Yes.
    Message 1 of 11 , May 13, 1999
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      At 10:13 AM 5/13/99 -0500, you wrote:

      >This seems all to modern and "westernly" introspective, not to mention
      pietistic,
      >to me.

      Perhaps because western pietism has its roots in the ancient soil of Jewish
      pietism (as represented in various of the NT texts).

      >Can we be sure that in Palestinian Judaism of the first cent. C.E. there
      >was a perception of a "spiritual" as distinct from some other type of insight?

      Yes. Its hard to read any first century Jewish document (like those found
      in the NT!) without seeing something of the piety of the age. Think of
      James for instance.

      I really dont think I am reading anything "western" into Matthew at this
      point. I think western pietism stems from Matthew in this regard.

      Best,

      Jim

      +++++++++++++++++++++++++
      Credimus in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, universorum creatorum, regem
      saeculorum, immortalem et invisibilem.

      Jim West, ThD
      email- jwest@...
      web page- http://web.infoave.net/~jwest
    • Thomas R. W. Longstaff
      Greetings, I find the dialogue that began with Mark Goodacre s question about the meaning of the poor in spirit in Matthew very interesting. Before I jump in
      Message 2 of 11 , May 13, 1999
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        Greetings,

        I find the dialogue that began with Mark Goodacre's question about the
        meaning of the "poor in spirit" in Matthew very interesting. Before I jump
        in (and assuming that I can do so before I depart for Israel in about two
        weeks) with suggestions about how this phrase might be read, I want to do a
        little more reading.

        I do, however, have one problem with Jim West's line of reasoning. In
        response to the comment:

        > >This seems all too modern and "westernly" introspective, not to mention
        pietistic,
        > >to me.

        he replies:

        > Perhaps because western pietism has its roots in the ancient soil of
        Jewish
        > pietism (as represented in various of the NT texts).

        Herein lies my problem. I do not think that New Testament texts are the best
        place to look for examples of ancient Jewish piety. By the time most of the
        New Testament was written, Christianity was well on the way to becoming a
        predominantly Gentile movement and was certainly deeply influenced by the
        culture of the Graeco-Roman world (as was, of course, Judaism - but perhaps
        not in precisely the same ways). I think that it would be more accurate to
        say that western pietism has its roots in earlier Christian pietism. It is
        not clear that western pietism preserves much of the piety of ancient
        Judaism. In many ways I suspect that it does not. To take only one example,
        one finds little akin to the piety expressed in the story of the martyrdom
        of R. Akiba in Christian views of Pharisaism.

        > >Can we be sure that in Palestinian Judaism of the first cent. C.E. there
        > >was a perception of a "spiritual" as distinct from some other type of
        insight?

        > Yes. Its hard to read any first century Jewish document (like those found
        > in the NT!) without seeing something of the piety of the age. Think of
        > James for instance.

        Again, if one wants to talk about unambiguously Jewish documents from the
        first century, the New Testament is a poor example. There is so much more in
        the literature of Judaism (should we, with Jack Neusner, be talking about
        "Judaisms"?). While there may be elements of Jewish piety in New Testament
        texts, those texts give us a better view of early Christian piety which
        differed in many ways from much (probably most) of first century Judaism. In
        the New Testament there is nothing akin to elements of Jewish piety that
        incoroprate Sabbath observance, the rules of kashrut, circumcision, Torah
        observance, temple ritual, Passover, Yom Kippur ... need I go on?

        Comments?

        "'But he hasn't got anything on,' a little child said."
        --from "the Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Andersen.

        Dr. Thomas R. W. Longstaff
        Crawford Family Professor of Religious Studies
        Colby College
        Waterville, ME 04901
        Email: t_longst@...
        Office phone: 207 872-3150
        FAX: 207 872-3802
      • Jim West
        ... I hardly think this is true of Paul- certainly NOT true of Matthew! What we have in the NT are Jewish texts (save Luke ). Christianity was, until the mid
        Message 3 of 11 , May 13, 1999
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          At 12:58 PM 5/13/99 -0400, you wrote:

          >Herein lies my problem. I do not think that New Testament texts are the best
          >place to look for examples of ancient Jewish piety. By the time most of the
          >New Testament was written, Christianity was well on the way to becoming a
          >predominantly Gentile movement and was certainly deeply influenced by the
          >culture of the Graeco-Roman world (as was, of course, Judaism - but perhaps
          >not in precisely the same ways).

          I hardly think this is true of Paul- certainly NOT true of Matthew!
          What we have in the NT are Jewish texts (save "Luke"). Christianity was,
          until the mid 2nd century, still a Jewish sect. That is certainly how the
          Romans saw them.

          > I think that it would be more accurate to
          >say that western pietism has its roots in earlier Christian pietism.

          Which in turn is simply jewish pietism. I dont think the spilt between the
          synagogue and the church took place as early as it is commonly assumed. In
          fact- I date it post bar Kochba, when Jewish messianic expectations really
          suffered the death blow.

          >It is
          >not clear that western pietism preserves much of the piety of ancient
          >Judaism. In many ways I suspect that it does not. To take only one example,
          >one finds little akin to the piety expressed in the story of the martyrdom
          >of R. Akiba in Christian views of Pharisaism.

          Christian views from when?

          >Again, if one wants to talk about unambiguously Jewish documents from the
          >first century, the New Testament is a poor example. There is so much more in
          >the literature of Judaism (should we, with Jack Neusner, be talking about
          >"Judaisms"?)

          yes we should- and Christianity is merely one expression of that
          multifaceted Judaism.

          . While there may be elements of Jewish piety in New Testament
          >texts, those texts give us a better view of early Christian piety which
          >differed in many ways from much (probably most) of first century Judaism. In
          >the New Testament there is nothing akin to elements of Jewish piety that
          >incoroprate Sabbath observance, the rules of kashrut, circumcision, Torah
          >observance, temple ritual, Passover, Yom Kippur ... need I go on?

          Yes- for example, Matthew's Jesus proclaiming that it is necessary to keep
          the law utterly and that anyone who teaches otherwise will not see the
          kingdom of heaven!

          Best,

          jim
          +++++++++++++++++++++++++
          Jim West, ThD
          email- jwest@...
          web page- http://web.infoave.net/~jwest
        • Thomas R. W. Longstaff
          I still have problems with Jim West s attempt to define ancient Jewish piety on the basis of Christian (New Testament) texts. Without quoting all of the
          Message 4 of 11 , May 13, 1999
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            I still have problems with Jim West's attempt to define ancient Jewish piety
            on the basis of Christian (New Testament) texts. Without quoting all of the
            discussion (which is probably well-known to readers and available in the
            archive), let me attempt to take the discussion another step forward by
            responding to some of Dr. West's points.

            > I hardly think this is true of Paul- certainly NOT true of Matthew!
            > What we have in the NT are Jewish texts (save "Luke"). Christianity was,
            > until the mid 2nd century, still a Jewish sect. That is certainly how the
            > Romans saw them.

            Well, to the degree that Judaism is defined by Roman perceptions, you have a
            point. More important, though, is the question of whether you can cite
            Jewish sources that portray Christianity in this way, i.e., as a Jewish
            sect. Furthermore, Paul's letters still do not seem to me to be a good
            source of information about first century Jewish piety. While Paul took a
            certain pride in his Jewish identity, his letters are clearly are addressed
            to Christian communities that include a significant proportion of Gentile
            members (probably the majority) who are not required to become Torah
            observant Jews (or any other kind of Jews) in order to become members of the
            church. Furthermore, I know of nothing in Jewish piety that would be even
            remotely close to Paul's statements about circumcision in Romans 2, I
            Corinthians 7 or Galatians 5 & 6. It seems to me an inaccurate
            oversimplification to say that Christianity was, until the mid 2nd century,
            still a Jewish sect. From the time of Paul (and perhaps earlier)
            Christianity was a sect with mixed membership, both Jew and Gentile. Quite
            apart from whether the Romans saw Christianity as a Jewish sect (which I
            think is irrelevant, especially when one reads the other things that some
            Roman authors have to say about Christianity) the key question for me is
            whether Jewish authors do. Would any Jew have seen those uncircumcised,
            non-kosher, non-Sabbath observant Christians in the Pauline churches as
            examples of Jewish peity? Yes, there are elements of Judaism in Paul's
            letters but these letters are Christian texts, not Jewish ones. They are
            addressed to Christian churches - not synagogues. Can you point to any other
            examples of first century Jewish piety that treat Torah observance as Paul
            does?

            I agree that Matthew is closely in touch with the Jewish origins of
            Christianity (perhaps, in some ways, more so than Paul) and has, in many
            passages, a very Jewish perspective. I think that Matthew considered himself
            and members of the church that he addressed to be observant Jews (although I
            suspect that many Jews would not have thought them so). Still, even in
            Matthew's Gospel, Judaism is redefined in a specifically Christian context
            and the Gospel of Matthew must be understood as a Christian text - not a
            Jewish one. At most it is a Jewish-Christian text which I maintain is
            different in substance from a Jewish text.

            So, it still seems to me methodologically unsound to define first century
            Jewish piety on the basis of New Testament texts.

            > > I think that it would be more accurate to
            > >say that western pietism has its roots in earlier Christian pietism.
            >
            > Which in turn is simply jewish pietism.

            Are you serious? In Paul and Matthew (indeed in most of the Christian
            tradition) piety involves following Jesus, often expressed as taking up the
            cross and following Jesus. It involves baptism, participation in the
            eucharist, the confession that Jesus is Lord, the affirmation that Jesus has
            been raised from the dead, and much more. To identify Jewish piety this way
            borders on Christian triumphalism, ignoring important elements of Jewish
            piety which do not carry over into Christianity. It seems to me that while
            there may well be important similarities between Jewish and Christian
            pietism that in significant ways the two are also very different.

            >I dont think the spilt between the
            > synagogue and the church took place as early as it is commonly assumed.
            In
            > fact- I date it post bar Kochba, when Jewish messianic expectations really
            > suffered the death blow.

            Your view seems to require a certain centrality for messianic expectation.
            To be sure, messianic expectation is central in Christianity. Do you find
            evidence that it is equally central in Jewish life? While it is undeniable
            that there were messianic expectations in Judaism, it is not at all clear
            that they were as central as they became in Christianity. Furthermore, one
            of the reasons why it is difficult to talk about the split between church
            and synagogue is that we have so little evidence for what the situation was
            before the split. What kind of "unity" do you envision that was rent asunder
            in the "split," and where do we have any concrete evidence for that unity?
            It seems to me quite clear that Jews and Christians had a great deal in
            common (among other things burial practices) but that does not mean that
            there were not very significant differences as well.

            > >It is
            > >not clear that western pietism preserves much of the piety of ancient
            > >Judaism. In many ways I suspect that it does not. To take only one
            example,
            > >one finds little akin to the piety expressed in the story of the
            martyrdom
            > >of R. Akiba in Christian views of Pharisaism.
            >
            > Christian views from when?

            From the first century onward.

            > >Again, if one wants to talk about unambiguously Jewish documents from the
            > >first century, the New Testament is a poor example. There is so much more
            in
            > >the literature of Judaism (should we, with Jack Neusner, be talking about
            > >"Judaisms"?)
            >
            > yes we should- and Christianity is merely one expression of that
            > multifaceted Judaism.

            And if this be so, I would suggest, one that was not very representative of
            the whole, therefore my objection to defining first century Jewish piety on
            the basis of New Testament texts as you propose.

            > . While there may be elements of Jewish piety in New Testament
            > >texts, those texts give us a better view of early Christian piety which
            > >differed in many ways from much (probably most) of first century Judaism.
            In
            > >the New Testament there is nothing akin to elements of Jewish piety that
            > >incoroprate Sabbath observance, the rules of kashrut, circumcision, Torah
            > >observance, temple ritual, Passover, Yom Kippur ... need I go on?
            >
            > Yes- for example, Matthew's Jesus proclaiming that it is necessary to keep
            > the law utterly and that anyone who teaches otherwise will not see the
            > kingdom of heaven!

            But it seems to me that you must recognize that the same author who wrote
            Matthew 5:19 also wrote Matthew 19:20-21. Matthew may believe that keeping
            the law is necessary (would Paul, your other example of Jewish piety, make
            the same claim?) but that's not enough. Something more is required too,
            something that becomes very important in Christian piety and, as far as I
            know, is completely absent from Jewish piety: "follow me."

            You and I may have to agree to disagree. It seems to me to state, as you do,
            that early Christian pietism is, in turn, simply Jewish pietism either
            strips Christian piety of its central affirmations of faith or imposes those
            affirmations of faith, in a triumphalist fashion, on first century Judaism.
            I must confess that I am also at a loss to understand why you would turn to
            New Testament texts (Paul and Matthew) for examples of Jewish piety while
            making absolutely no reference to other Jewish texts, of which there is an
            abundance. Even were I to grant, which I don't, your point that Paul's
            letters and Matthew are Jewish texts, the sample is an inadequate one to
            define Jewish piety.

            Returning (at last!) to the main thread: Matthew's "Blessed are the poor in
            spirit" does stand in contrast to Luke's "Blessed are you who are
            poor....but woe to you who are rich," and may well focus on piety rather
            than social (economic) justice. The interesting question would then be
            whether this is (1) an expression of Jewish piety (I tend to think not
            because of the later statement, in the same context, "Blessed are you when
            men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you
            falsely on my account" - the last three words of which connect this to
            "following Jesus"), (2) Christian piety rooted in Jewish piety (what I
            suspect this the case but want to pursue further), or (3) Christian piety,
            somewhat different from anything that we find in Judaism. I just re-read the
            stuff on "spirit" in the Harper's Bible Dictionary and am attracted to the
            idea that "poor in spirit" might well mean "powerlessness" (note, not
            inability or incompetence). This would be consistent with the other
            Beatitudes. But now, I wonder, has this idea roots in Jewish piety?

            I'm sorry that this is so long but I think that Dr. West and I have very
            different methodological perspectives that were worth exploring. Thank you
            for your indulgence.

            "'But he hasn't got anything on,' a little child said."
            --from "the Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Andersen.

            Dr. Thomas R. W. Longstaff
            Crawford Family Professor of Religious Studies
            Colby College
            Waterville, ME 04901
            Email: t_longst@...
            Office phone: 207 872-3150
            FAX: 207 872-3802
          • Jim West
            ... I think this is the heart of our disagreement. I am simply curious, at this point, why you exclude the New Testament texts from being examples of Jewish
            Message 5 of 11 , May 13, 1999
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              At 09:53 PM 5/13/99 -0400, you wrote:
              >I still have problems with Jim West's attempt to define ancient Jewish piety
              >on the basis of Christian (New Testament) texts.

              I think this is the heart of our disagreement. I am simply curious, at this
              point, why you exclude the New Testament texts from being examples of Jewish
              piety. They were written for Jews by Jews and drink at the fountain of
              Judaism. They are similar to the piety of Qumran and nascent rabbinic
              Judaism. So what makes them specifically Christian? Jesus? But surely the
              Qumranites belief in the leadership of the Teacher of Righteousness does not
              exclude them from being considered part of Judaism. And neither does Akibas
              belief that Bar Kochba was the messiah. My point- being rather badly put
              (after a long day) is this: Christianity is Jewish at its roots and in its
              heart. If such texts are not examples of Jewish piety, what are they?

              Best,

              Jim

              +++++++++++++++++++++++++
              Jim West, ThD
              email- jwest@...
              web page- http://web.infoave.net/~jwest
            • Rick Strelan
              How is the dative [TWi PNEUMATI] to be understood? What chance blessed by the Spirit are the poor ?? Rick Strelan Dr Rick Strelan Studies in Religion
              Message 6 of 11 , May 13, 1999
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                How is the dative [TWi PNEUMATI] to be understood? What chance 'blessed by
                the Spirit are the poor'??

                Rick Strelan

                Dr Rick Strelan
                Studies in Religion
                University of Queensland
                Australia 4072
              • Antonio Jerez
                ... I don t know exactly which verse Jim West has in mind but I suppose it must be GMtt 5:19: Whoever, therefore, abolishes the least significant of these
                Message 7 of 11 , May 14, 1999
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                  Thomas R. W. Longstaff wrote:
                  > . While there may be elements of Jewish piety in New Testament
                  > >texts, those texts give us a better view of early Christian piety which
                  > >differed in many ways from much (probably most) of first century Judaism. In
                  > >the New Testament there is nothing akin to elements of Jewish piety that
                  > >incoroprate Sabbath observance, the rules of kashrut, circumcision, Torah
                  > >observance, temple ritual, Passover, Yom Kippur ... need I go on?

                  Jim West replied:
                  > Yes- for example, Matthew's Jesus proclaiming that it is necessary to keep
                  > the law utterly and that anyone who teaches otherwise will not see the
                  > kingdom of heaven!

                  I don't know exactly which verse Jim West has in mind but I suppose it
                  must be GMtt 5:19: "Whoever, therefore, abolishes the least significant
                  of these commands and so teaches the people, he shall be of the least
                  significance in the kingdom of Heaven, but whoever shall observe and
                  teach them shall be prominent in the kingdom of Heaven."
                  If this is the verse Jim is referring to then he is a bit mistaken in paraphrasing
                  the verse as Matthew's Jesus claiming that those who do not keep the whole
                  law will not see the kingdom of Heaven. The really interesting thing about
                  the saying is instead the fact that it does NOT restrict entry of the anti-nomians
                  to Heaven but appears to give them a less prominent position than the ones
                  who keep all of the Law. Since the anti-nomians have access to heaven they
                  must be some sort of Christians. Which kind of Christians is Matthew pointing
                  finger at? The most natural assumption would be anti-nomian Paulinists and
                  particularly a Paulinist like the author of GMark. One of the reasons of Matthew
                  writing his gospel is precisely to correct the anti-nomian picture of Jesus that
                  AMk has given.

                  Best wishes

                  Antonio Jerez
                  Göteborg, Sweden
                • Dan Eumurian
                  Dr. Longstaff: 1. Did not Jesus did address some of the external expressions of piety to which you refer, although perhaps from a different perspective than
                  Message 8 of 11 , May 14, 1999
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                    Dr. Longstaff:

                    1. Did not Jesus did address some of the external expressions of piety
                    to which you refer, although perhaps from a different perspective than
                    that of some of his fellow Jews?

                    2. Is there not a theme in the Hebrew Scriptures regarding internal more
                    than external piety? A few examples could be the "uncircumcised hearts"
                    of Lev. 26:41, the "meaningless offerings" of Isa. 1:10-20, and "Rend
                    your heart and not your garments…" in Joel 2:13.

                    > Furthermore, Paul's letters still do not seem to me to be a good
                    > source of information about first century Jewish piety. . . .
                    > Furthermore, I know of nothing in Jewish piety that would be even
                    > remotely close to Paul's statements about circumcision in Romans 2, > I Corinthians 7 or Galatians 5 & 6.

                    See Deut. 10:16, the Leviticus reference mentioned above, and a word
                    study of "heart" in the OT. In psychology, as I recall, "higher-order
                    thinking" refers to internal rather than external motivation. If I may
                    be allowed a personal example, a young woman of my acquaintance years
                    ago came back from a weekend religious conference with her parents
                    having forsaken all I had tried to teach her about freedom and
                    responsibility in favor of a distressing, ineffective legalism. I can
                    relate to Paul's dismay and anger.

                    > Would any Jew have seen those uncircumcised, non-kosher, non-Sabbath > observant Christians in the Pauline churches as examples of Jewish
                    > peity? (sic)

                    Would Abraham and the Hebrew Prophets have approved of reducing piety to
                    circumcision, kosher observance and Sabbath observance?

                    > Are you serious? In Paul and Matthew (indeed in most of the
                    > Christian tradition) piety involves following Jesus, often expressed > as taking up the cross and following Jesus. It involves baptism,
                    > participation in the eucharist, the confession that Jesus is Lord,
                    > the affirmation that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and much
                    > more.

                    I submit that these expressions of Christian piety are not merely set
                    forth as arbitrary substitutions for outward expressions of Jewish
                    piety, but touch the heart and spirit of the Hebrew Scriptures. The
                    substitutionary atonement, I suggest, fulfills the sacrificial system,
                    which is no longer practiced in Judaism, to my knowledge. I have
                    wondered for some time whether the "I ams" (EGW EIMI) of GMark (6:50;
                    14:62) related to those of GJohn, esp. 8:58, to Exod. 3:14, and to the
                    confession that Jesus is Lord. [Comments welcome.]

                    > To identify Jewish piety this way borders on Christian triumphalism, > ignoring important elements of Jewish piety which do not carry over > into Christianity.

                    The triumph of Jesus over sin and death is intended to benefit Jew and
                    Gentile by engendering a piety, devotion and love which sum up and give
                    deeper meaning to the LORD's commandments.

                    > Your view seems to require a certain centrality for messianic
                    > expectation. To be sure, messianic expectation is central in
                    > Christianity. Do you find evidence that it is equally central in
                    > Jewish life? While it is undeniable that there were messianic
                    > expectations in Judaism, it is not at all clear that they were as
                    > central as they became in Christianity.

                    Thou sayest. I submit that Jesus fulfilled not only the messianic hope,
                    but the typology of animal offering (Gen. 3:21) and sacrificial Lamb
                    (Exod. 12), prophet like unto Moses (Deut. 18:18), king forever in the
                    line of David (2 Sam. 7:16), and more. Pardon my musical reference, but
                    see the musical cantata "God With Us" from Integrity Music of Mobile,
                    Alabama, USA, and Isa. 9:6-7.

                    > It seems to me to state, as you do, that early Christian pietism is, > in turn, simply Jewish pietism either strips Christian piety of its > central affirmations of faith or imposes those affirmations of
                    > faith, in a triumphalist fashion, on first century Judaism.
                    . . .
                    > Matthew's "Blessed are the poor in spirit" does stand in contrast to > Luke's "Blessed are you who are poor....but woe to you who are
                    > rich," and may well focus on piety rather than social (economic)
                    > justice. The interesting question would then be whether this is (1) > an expression of Jewish piety (I tend to think not because of the
                    > later statement, in the same context, "Blessed are you when men
                    > revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you
                    > falsely on my account" - the last three words of which connect this > to "following Jesus")

                    Are you suggesting that a reason for refusing to call a statement an
                    expression of Jewish piety is that the speaker warns that those who heed
                    him will face opposition? Exit Moses, Abraham, David,….

                    > "'But he hasn't got anything on,' a little child said."
                    > --from "the Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Andersen.

                    "They stripped him…." Matt. 27:28
                    "but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,…" Php.
                    2:7
                    "I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can
                    become rich; and white clothes to wear,…." Rev. 3:18

                    > Dr. Thomas R. W. Longstaff
                    > Crawford Family Professor of Religious Studies
                    > Colby College
                    > Waterville, ME 04901
                    > Email: t_longst@...
                    > Office phone: 207 872-3150
                    > FAX: 207 872-3802

                    Dan Eumurian, B. Mus. in Mus. Ed., M.A. in Theol. St.
                    1634 Barlow St.
                    La Crosse, WI 54601
                    (608) 788-8637
                  • Thomas R. W. Longstaff
                    Please note: I have replied to Dan Eumurian off-list since the discussion has changed from one relevant to an analysis of the synoptic gospels to a debate
                    Message 9 of 11 , May 15, 1999
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                      Please note:

                      I have replied to Dan Eumurian "off-list" since the discussion has changed
                      from one relevant to an analysis of the synoptic gospels to a debate over
                      theology in which I found myself responding to what I understood to be
                      "successionist" or "triumphalist" forms of Christian faith.

                      As one of the moderators of this list, it seemed to me that the thread
                      had gone on long enough and was probably evolving into a debate not
                      related to the purpose of the list.

                      Dr. Thomas R. W. Longstaff
                      Crawford Family Professor of Religious Studies
                      Colby College
                      Waterville, ME 04901
                      Email: t_longst@...
                      Office phone: 207 872-3150
                      FAX: 207 872-3802
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