Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Price of Gasoline

Do you know why gasoline prices rise so fast when the price of crude oil jumps? It's called LIFO (Last In, First Out) accounting. Refiners buy quickly when crude prices rise so that they can charge the highest price possible even though they have lower cost crude in inventory. When crude prices drop, they wait as long as possible to purchase crude until the cost basis of their inventory drops below the current price. Then they'll start purchasing again so they can charge higher prices. And who monitors to make sure they are honest about this? THEIR accountants. The same accounting principle applies to retailers.

What I want to know is whether all these transactions are actual or paper transactions. I expect the latter. Refiners certainly don't take delivery of crude oil from the Middle East and refine it before raising prices. Retailers certainly don't wait until they get delivery of inventory before raising prices. We certainly wouldn't be seeing immediate price jumps so quickly if they were.

The more "honest" way of doing accounting is FIFO (First In, First Out) accounting based on actual delivery of product and not counting paper transactions. Prices would rise and fall more slowly, and consumers wouldn't get ripped off. So, why do our government officials not deal with this exploitation of the consumer? You guessed it! Who do you think bankrolls the coffers of legislators' campaign funds? Consumers? No! Corporations? You bet! And the Supreme Court recently gave rich Corporations the same rights as poor taxpayers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jesus on the Use of the Title “Rabbi”

I am an educated man. I hold a bachelor of arts degree with a double major in mathematics and English from a well-respected university. I have earned three post-graduate degrees (a master of religious education, a master of divinity, and a doctor of philosophy in New Testament) from a theological seminary that was highly respected for its academic excellence at the time I studied there. I spent a total of thirteen-and-a-half years in the pursuit of post-secondary education. When I was a college professor, I was “Doctor Fink.” I liked the sound of that, though I still chuckle at the headline of an article in the local Indiana newspaper announcing my academic appointment: “Fink Named to College Post” (or something like that). With a name like Fink, you need something good to go with it.

When I left the academic world and went to work for a denominational publishing house, I moved into a new environment where almost everybody who was somebody wanted to be called “Doctor.” Seminaries had begun to offer professional doctorates that provided status to pastors and others who hungered for the title but didn’t want the academic rigor of a “true” doctorate. In this new, non-academic world, I occasionally found myself bristling at the pomp of the pseudo-doctors who frequently held true academics in disdain. I recall with special pain one occasion when an announcement was published where five superiors at the publishing house and I were listed as part of a delegation: Dr. So-and-So, Dr. Number Two, Dr. Number Three, Dr. Number Four, Dr. Number Five, and Mike Fink. Two of those “doctors” didn’t even have a professional doctorate much less an honorary one, and I was listed without any title. Ugh! Such is the world of egos.

These days in retirement, hardly anyone knows or cares that I hold a doctoral degree. About the only people who still call me “Doctor” are my former students, and I have tried to dissuade most of them of that affection. As you can see, however, issues of status and ego constantly gnaw at us. Colleges and universities bestow honorary doctorates on benefactors and names buildings after them; but I hardly ever see a benefactor use the title “doctor” based solely on an honorary degree. Yet in religious circles I constantly see the concern for status, titles of honor, and proper deference for the office held. All of this is background for the really important matter—what Jesus had to say about the title “Rabbi.”

Matthew is the only Gospel in which Jesus speaks with reference to the use of the title “Rabbi.” That teaching is recorded in Matthew 23:1-12, where the title “Rabbi” is used twice. The usage is in the midst of an extended passage of seven “woes” directed at the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. That should capture the attention of any teacher, any moralist, or any committed believer. The entire passage deserves our attention, but I want to focus on Matthew 23:6-8 (NASB):
“They [i.e., the scribes and Pharisees] love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.”

Matthew seems to take this teaching seriously, for he applies the principle throughout his Gospel. No one should claim the title or uses it except for the “One teacher,” Jesus himself. Matthew did not stop there, however; for Jesus is correctly called “Rabbi” twice in Matthew’s Gospel—but by whom? Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer (26:25,49)! And note where those honorific titles were used by Judas. In Matthew 26:14 Judas is reported to have approached the chief priests with a plan to betray Jesus. In the very next paragraph, the Passover Supper is planned. When at the Last Supper Jesus revealed that one of his disciples would betray him, the disciples one after another cry out, “Surely not I, Lord?” The last to offer this query, was Judas, who said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Note that Judas not only used the term Rabbi, but Matthew records that he used it in the place of “Lord,” the confession made by the other disciples. A little later the same evening, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas, however, led an armed band to the garden. He approached Jesus. He spoke the words, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and then kissed Jesus, the sign arranged as the way of identifying the one to be arrested.

Everything Matthew records about the title “Rabbi” is negative, and Matthew generally is viewed as the Gospel most designed to speak to a Jewish audience. Perhaps he is pointing out to his audience that the leaders of their rabbinic schools, the leaders of their religious court (the Sanhedrin), the leaders of their temple and its worship—all those who have longed for prestige and power, all who have striven from positions of power and influence, and all who have lusted after the title Rabbi have been impediments to what God is about in this world. Matthew took all that Jesus said in Matthew 23 seriously. Go back and read that entire chapter and see what other conclusion you could reach about those who longed to be called Rabbi. Then ask yourself, what about those who strive today for similar goals?

Now let me get personal. Many of us are willing to make Jesus our Rabbi. We are willing to study his teachings, follow him in his ministries to the poor and needy, give to support the churches founded in his name. When the final test comes, however, the issue will not be whether or not Jesus is your Rabbi. Instead it will be, “Is Jesus your Lord?” We can say, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” We can give “Greetings, Rabbi” every Sunday morning, and every Sunday night, and at every Wednesday night prayer meeting, and at every church visitation night, and in every Lord’s Supper celebration, and in every blessing we give at the family table. And we will be right in every case that Jesus is the one true Rabbi. But when we with Judas-like intents try to take matters into our own hands, and try to shape the course of destiny in directions we think it ought to go, and try to pocket some silver coins, and becomes hypocrites or impediments to anything that God really counts as important, then the title “Rabbi” won’t cut it because the real word we ought to be uttering is “Lord.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Nature of the Bible

I am going off-theme today, using one of my Facebook posts written in response to one of my former students who asked how we can reconcile the seeming disparate emphases in the Bible.

The tension you sense, it seems to me, grows out of the expectation that the Bible will present one, coherent, and unified message that consistently runs from Genesis through Revelation. If you shift your assumption from one message to one God revealing God’s self to a wide variety of people in different times, places, situations, and circumstances, you see the story unfolding through various lenses and being presented via various templates. If God’s revelation unfolds with clarity in each generation, the message must shift and be adapted to the circumstances, often in response to human caprice, whimsy, or vacillation. Those who insist on unison voices miss the symphonic splendor of the harmony and the occasional dissonance of a full orchestra. They insist on a crescendo that builds to one grand fortissimo, when in reality the score moves back and forth between pianos, pianissimos, fortes, and fortissimos. Some want the symphony always to be in a major key, to repeat constantly the same theme, to resolve each dissonant chord consistently. The Master Composer, however, has a broader understanding of the dynamics of the composition. We spiritual musicians must seek that broad understanding as we work our way through the Master’s score.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Use of “Rabbi” and “Rabboni” in the New Testament

The Greek loan words drawn from the Hebrew rabbi and its Aramaic equivalent, rabbouni (in English, spelled rabboni), are used 17 times in the New Testament. Luke did not use the terms at all in his writings, probably reflecting his intended Gentile audience. Matthew and Mark employed them four times each, and John used them nine times (the count includes the one Aramaic usage each in Mark and John). The term is not used outside the Gospels.

The title “Rabbi” in the New Testament is mostly applied to Jesus. Only once is it applied to someone else (i.e., John the Baptist by his disciples in John 3:26). On nine occasions the title is used by an individual in addressing Jesus.

1. In John 1:49, Nathaniel, in his initial encounter with Jesus, called him “Rabbi,” “Son of God, and “King of Israel” in response to Jesus’ disclosure that he knew more about Nathaniel than would be normally expected and revealed a vision he had had of Nathaniel.

2. In Mark 9, six days after Peter’s pivotal confession of Jesus as the Christ (or Messiah) and Jesus’ rejection of Peter’s understanding of what that title meant, Jesus led Peter, James, and John up into the high mountains around Caesarea Philippi. There he was transfigured before them (9:2); and Elijah and Moses appeared, talking with Jesus. Peter, though frightened and confused by the strange experience, in customary fashion felt compelled to speak. “Rabbi,” he said, “it is good for us to be here.”

3. Later in Mark, when Peter observed that the fig tree that Jesus had cursed (11:14) had withered from its roots by the very next day, Peter again addressed Jesus as “Rabbi” (11:21).

4-6. Judas called Jesus “Rabbi” in three passages: Matthew 26:25, 49 and Mark 14:45—all near the end of Jesus’ ministry.

7. In Mark 10:51, a blind man addressed Jesus using the Aramaic “Rabboni.”

8. Mary Magdalene also used the Aramaic “Rabboni” in addressing Jesus after he revealed himself to her at the empty tomb (John 20:16).

9. In John 3:2, a Jewish leader and member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus, addressed Jesus as “Rabbi.” This is a pretty startling declaration for a prominent member of the establishment.

On four occasions (all in the Gospel of John) Jesus is called “Rabbi” by two or more of his disciples: John 1:38 (specifically Andrew and Peter) and John 4:31, 9:2, and 11:7-8 (“his disciples”). Only once do the crowds apply the title “Rabbi” to Jesus (6:25).

The other two uses of Rabbi are by Jesus himself. I will address those in the next post.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Earliest (Pre-Tannaitic) Rabbis

The earliest Jewish rabbis are classified as “pre-Tannaitic” because they came before the rabbinic system of teaching that involved “repeating” the oral laws. Twenty-two of these rabbis are named in the Mishnah, though ten of them are only referenced once or twice. Most of these rabbis are paired as contemporary couples (called “Zugot” or sometimes “Zugoth” in being derived from the Hebrew). Five sets of Zugot are named in the period from 142 B.C. to A.D. 10. According to tradition, one of each pair served as president (nasi) of the Great Sanhedrin (the Beit Din HaGadol or Supreme Court), while the second was the “father of the court” (Ab beit din in Hebrew) or, in essence, the vice president. The Sanhedrin gained significant influence after the role of High Priest in the Temple had become politicized.

Hillel and Shammai are the most widely recognized Zugot and were the last of the pre-Tannaitic pairs. Hillel had studied in the school of Shemaiah and Abtalion (the fourth Zugot). Though the exact dates of their deaths are unknown, Hillel and Shammai both might well have been among the teachers that Jesus encountered in Jerusalem when he visited the temple at the age of 12 (Luke 2:41-48). (Note: Jesus’ birth is widely recognized today as having been around 6-4 B.C., and the last Zugot were certainly alive in A.D. 6-8.) Hillel and Shammai founded opposing Tannaitic schools (sometimes designated as “houses”). Hillel was progressive, while Shammai was more conservative in his teachings. Gamaliel, the rabbi under whom Paul studied (Acts 22:3), was a grandson of Hillel and maintained (“repeated” in the Tannaitic tradition) the teachings of the School of Hillel.

One citation from the Mishnah might give you insight into the way the traditions were carried forward in the Tannaitic period. Berakoth 1:3 records: “The School of Shammai say: In the evening all should recline when they recite [the Shema’], but in the morning they should stand up, for it is written, And when thou liest down and when thou risest up. [Deut. 6:7] But the School of Hillel say: They may recite it every one in his own way, for it is written, And when thou walkest by the way. Why then is it written, And when thou liest down and when thou risest up? [It means] the time when men usually lie down and the time when men usually rise up. Rabbi Tarfon said: I was once on a journey and I reclined to recite [the Shema’] in accordance with the words of the School of Shammai, and so put myself in jeopardy by reason of robbers. They said to him: Thou hast deserved aught that befell thee in that thou didst transgress the words of the School of Hillel.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Jewish Implications for Discipleship, Part 5

Because of their revived and intense commitment to the Covenant and the Scriptures that embodied the Law, mainline Judaism from the time of the Maccabean Revolt through the following four centuries (roughly 200 B.C. to 200 A.D.) stood intentionally outside the Hellenistic world in its academic focus. By that conclusion, I do not mean that no written documents were produced or collected in libraries. Indeed, the Apocrypha (generally the collection of books that were included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, but were intentionally excluded from the Hebrew Scriptures around A.D. 90), the Pseudepigrapha (a large group of Jewish writings that were composed in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and often were falsely presented as the writings of great Old Testament characters), and even the Dead Sea Scrolls (the writings of the Essene community that were discovered at Qumran) indicate that the Hellenistic influence was broad and deep. Indeed, the period prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 likely represented a must more cosmopolitan Jewish society than the one that emerged after A.D. 70 and especially after the Council of Jamnia (Jabneh) in A.D. 90. The primary example of that is the demise of the Sadducees, who seem to have provided a vital alternative to Pharisaism prior to A.D. 70.

Mainline Judaism, however, with its rabbinic schools and intense focus on maintaining an orthodox Judaism, intentionally sought to remain outside that Hellenistic stream. That focus emerged with the Maccabees and it reached its zenith in the Mishnah. While the “academic” tradition was literary in its focus, the Mishnah was oral. Indeed, the word “Mishnah” comes from the Hebrew word, shanah, which means “repeat” and thus focuses on teaching by means of repetition. After A.D. 10, rabbis often are classified as Tannaim, literally “repeaters” of the oral law. Thus, the “Mishnah” is the collection of interpretations of the law that were transmitted orally from teachers to their disciples. The fact that these traditions were not finally compiled until the time of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch (around A.D. 200) indicates the intentional separation of the written law (the Torah) from its oral interpretation and application embodied in the Mishnah. [One side note here: the Gospels recount the teachings of Jesus in much closer proximity to the original teachings (within 40-80 years after the fact) than does the Mishnah in quoting the earliest pre-Tannaitic rabbis (190-400 years).]

Scribes (in Hebrew soferim, which shares its derivation with our English word cipher) play a role in the New Testament and deserve attention here because they had a role that obviously was literary in its focus and might be considered an exception to the oral emphasis of the rabbinic tradition. Scribes generally were wise men of understanding whose primary focus was on gathering Israel’s sacred literature and interpreting it. They were copyists of the sacred texts, editors of the textual tradition, and guardians of the textual purity of the Scriptures. We might describe them as teachers or protectors of the Law in contrast to the rabbis, whose focus was on the detailed application of the Law to everyday life. The Scribes focused on expounding on the Law, while the rabbis focused on applying it to the daily experiences of life.

Let me close these reflections with a quotation from Herbert Danby’s introduction to The Mishnah: “’The Law’ (Torah), which it was the Mishnah’s purpose to cherish and develop, is a complex conception. It includes the Written Law, the laws explicitly recorded in the Five Books of Moses; it includes also ‘the traditions of the elders’ or the Oral Law, namely such beliefs and religious practices as piety and custom had in the course of centuries, consciously or unconsciously, grafted on to or developed out of the Written Law; and it includes yet a third, less tangible element, a spirit of development, whereby Written Law and Oral Law, in spite of seeming differences, are brought into unity and interpreted and reinterpreted to meet the needs of changed conditions.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jewish Implications for Discipleship, Part 4

Beginning about the time of the Maccabean Revolt (175-164 B.C.), a new focus began to emerge in Judaism. The synagogue and the study of the Scriptures had provided a firm foundation for a Jewish identity forged during and after the difficult circumstances of exile. The return from exile was not easy, however; and the plight of the struggling people was suddenly deepened by the conquests of Alexander the Great. The military prowess of the Hellenic armies led to the conquest of a region that stretched from Macedonia and Egypt (including Palestine) in the West to India in the East. Upon Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., his empire was carved up among his generals and their descendents. Palestine was under the control of Ptolemy and his descendants until 198 B.C., when the descendants of Seleucus took and maintained a semblance of control until the Romans arrived in 63 B.C.

The Seleucid rulers held great disdain for the Jewish faith and practices, and their attempts to suppress the Jews actually produced a revival of sorts among the people. Not only was the Maccabean Revolt fomented, but a parallel revival of religious faith resulted. This was especially seen in a revival of interest in keeping the laws of the covenant. This revival began the development of a distinctly Jewish identity that has continued into our own time.

Christians and Jews share the common base of the Old Testament. [You will notice that I am using the traditional Christian designations for the Hebrew Scriptures and for historical dates. This is done in the interest of a general readership and does not reflect a lack of sensitivity to the broad issues involved in our choice of terms that might be offensive to some.] The New Testament became the identifying marker that shaped the expressions of the Christian faith. A similar shaping took place in Judaism in the development of the Mishnah, a book that is relatively unknown outside scholarly circles. The Mishnah, however, does provide us with clues to how the role of teaching rose in importance among the Jews and how discipleship was molded and shaped within the milieu that birthed both Judaism and Christianity as we know them today. The Mishnah deserves more of our attention.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jewish Implications for Discipleship, Part 3

Our concepts of the “academy” as a place of learning and the “academic” enterprise as the focus of education grew out of ancient Greek influences. Plato (427-347 B.C.), strongly influenced by Socrates and his approaches, was one of those who began the formal and continuous teaching that resulted in a “philosophical school” in Athens. Around 385 B.C., Plato developed a school about a mile outside of Athens near the grove of Academeus; thus, the derivation of our word “academy.” The influence of this school cannot be overstated. Plato’s academy continued in existence until A.D. 529—over 900 years.

Aristotle (384-322 BC), who entered Plato’s academy at the age of 17, founded his own school in Athens in 335 BC. While collecting manuscripts and building a library were important contributions Aristotle made, he also created an educational community with rules, common meals, monthly symposia, and a strong emphasis on scientific research. The foundations of discipleship had been laid.

These philosophical schools, I think, provide the background and context for teaching and disciplining followers in subsequent generations. The intellectual structures of philosophical inquiry were spread with the Hellenic influence embodied in the conquest of Alexander the Great (who had been tutored by Aristotle) and the centuries of influence exercised by Alexander’s Hellenistic successors. While the philosophical bent of the Western mind did not totally overwhelm the Oriental tendencies toward concrete thinking, the means of transmitting intellectual knowledge through intention, inquiry, and instruction cannot be over-emphasized. In addition, preserving historical insights and advances in manuscript form paved the way for the development of libraries and the wider dissemination of knowledge.

While the Hellenistic spirit exerted deep influence on the Jews, the confluence of influences took a particularly Jewish “bent” with the Maccabean revolt in 175-164 B.C. Many Hellenistic influences were incorporated into Jewish life without being stigmatized as a foreign influence. The Jewish synagogues with their focus on Scripture reflect the influence of the Hellenistic academic zeitgeist; but so do the rise of rabbinic teachers, rabbinic schools, and the preservation of rabbinic teachings. These new “institutions” began to replace the family as the hub for cultural training and instruction, and they gained an important status over the Temple by their accessibility to believers in every location where a synagogue could be founded. These settings provided the background and the models for Jesus’ own disciplining ministry.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jewish Implications for Discipleship, Part 2

A second immediate implication from the Old Testament and inter-biblical Judaism for our consideration of discipleship is the model of the rabbinical schools that emerged in the last two centuries before the birth of Jesus. We cannot understand these schools, however, without setting them in the larger context of their time.

While we obviously think of the Bible as a special book (though it is only one book among millions that are available to us), we often forget that the ability to read and the ownership of books was rare in the ancient world. Even when ancient societies had a written language, they primarily were oral societies. Written works were not broadly distributed, and we find no trace of a reading public until the end of the 5th Century B.C. Education was primarily oral, and the educator generally was an immediate family member or close acquaintance. Education focused on family and tribal traditions and on practical skills that directly related to daily life. Resources that contained a variety of viewpoints and a wider world-view were scarce. Interchanges with other cultures and societies were equally rare, and the interchanges that occurred frequently involved warlike conflict and efforts to protect the local status quo.

In the biblical world, things begin to change with the rise of powerful enemies like Assyria and Babylon; but more significant changes were beginning to take place that would have a much wider influence. Perhaps the greatest influence that led to cultural change was set in motion by a Greek philosopher named Socrates (469-399 BC), generally recognized in the West as the first thinker to turn people’s minds toward questions of morality and the conduct of life. While some might dispute that classification, we can argue that Socrates was the first to apply serious critical and philosophical thought to these questions. Additionally, Socrates emphasized the importance of examining systematically the fundamental assumptions from which philosophical debate could develop. Because each question was approached by examining what others had said about the topic, the preservation of views became an important part of intellectual inquiry. Recording and preserving these views gained in importance among the educated elite.

Although Socrates was accused and condemned to death for having subversive influence on the minds of the young men associated with him, he gathered a devoted circle of friends who were drawn by his intellectual ability and his genial temperament. Some of these followers founded philosophical schools and began to expound their own diverse views in the Socratic manner. These philosophical schools provided a model for future generations, including the Jewish schools that began to appear in the earlv 2nd century B.C.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jewish Implications for Discipleship, Part 1

I see two immediate implications from the Old Testament and inter-biblical Judaism for our consideration of discipleship. The first of these is the lay emphasis that emerged in Judaism during the inter-biblical period. This emphasis was based in the synagogue, was primarily lay-led, had a strong emphasis on Scripture, and espoused a piety that tended toward Pharisaism.

The emergence of the synagogue during the Hellenistic period with its Greek name and its Diaspora setting illustrates a culture under attack. The devastation wrecked on Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews by the Assyrians and the Babylonians stripped Judaism of its essential core. The land, the family, the Temple, the monarchy, and the priesthood all suffered; and the roles of these institutions in maintaining the core identity of the People of God also suffered. Those scattered and dispersed among pagan populations had to adjust to their new settings and to the challenges of maintaining faith in the Lord, who seemed to have abandoned the Chosen People.

The synagogue became an enclave for the Jews in the midst of foreign peoples, but even in Palestine it had its place for a people under the control of the descendants of Alexander the Great and ultimately of the Romans. Powerless in the face of heathen governments and overwhelmed by the influx first of the Greek language and culture and then by Roman power and institutions, Judaism was under the constant constraint of its political powerlessness and the persistent threat of syncretistic influences from pagan religions and the irreligiousness of many of their dominators.

Maintaining fidelity to Israel’s core values (covenant, family, Scripture, piety, worship) became the mandate of the synagogues. Only ten adult males were required for a synagogue to form; and these small, close-knit, insular communities became the core of Judaism, especially in locales far from the Temple in Jerusalem. In a sense, the synagogues became the schools where Judaism was practiced and perpetuated. In many ways, the children of the synagogue members were discipled by their parents and other lay leaders in the synagogue. They were taught the Hebrew Scriptures, the commands of the covenant, the laws of the Torah, the prayers and rituals of worship—all in the context of their long history as the people of God.

Much of what we call “church” today follows the pattern of the synagogue. We sense our increasingly pagan culture, and we see its devastating influence on our children and grandchildren. Our tendency is to make the church an enclave, a fortress, a rampart that protects us from the corroding influences around us and protects our values. If this is the discipleship we adopt intentionally or by default, we will fall far short of what Jesus initiated and what he intended for his followers.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Discipleship in the Old Testament, Part 2

If you search the Old Testament for models of discipleship, you will come up short; and the primary reason is that the role of “teacher” is notably absent in the Old Testament. Because we are so familiar with the Rabbi, “my teacher,” in the New Testament (or even its Aramaic equivalent, Rabboni), we assume these roles had a long heritage. In reality, the role arose in the inter-biblical period under Hellenistic influence.

Have you ever wondered why the Greek word “synagogue” rather than some Hebrew term is used for the primary local meeting place for Jews? It is because the whole concept of a place of gathering for worship and instruction arose in contexts where secular influences were strong and regular worship in the Temple was practically impossible. Even the word we use to describe the setting in which the synagogue arose, the Diaspora (the Greek word meaning “scattering”), shows Hellenistic influence. We probably should not be surprised, then, to discover that the role of teacher and the relational association of disciples with teachers also arose from the same non-Jewish origins.

Teaching in the Old Testament was a family affair set in the context of a supportive community of fellow practitioners of the faith. Prophets proclaimed the word of the Lord, but prophets didn’t set up schools or seminaries or even synagogues. “Sons of prophets” are referenced in the Old Testament, and they certainly were more than offspring of the prophets; but they do not appear to be students of the prophets. First Samuel uses terms like “band” (10:5) or “company” (19:20) to further describe the prophets, and 2 Kings depicts them more like a guild of professional prophets associated with places of worship (e.g. Bethel) or larger cities (e.g. Jericho) than a school led by a single prophet.

The close relationship of Elisha to Elijah may come closest to the idea of a disciple, but Elijah anointed Elisha as his successor and then discouraged Elisha from “following” him (1 Kings 19:19-20). Elisah “followed” Elijah, but he seems to have been more of a “servant” to the aged Elijah than an intentional disciple (19:21). Indeed, the very next scriptural references to Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-12) are in the context of Elijah’s ascent into heaven.

The Hebrew rabbi is not found in the Old Testament. Its roots are found in a verb that means “to become many or much.” The noun rab is used of a chief (chief guard or officer in Jeremiah, chief sailor in Jonah, chief eunuch, chief soothsayer, etc.). After the Old Testament period we find it used of lords and masters, and rabbi meaning “my master” or “my teacher” emerges as an extension of this post-Old Testament usage.

Obviously, we will have to look elsewhere for the origins of discipleship; and the hint of Greek influence already is pointing us in one direction while famous Rabbis (like Shammai and Hillel who founded “houses” or “schools” in the last two centuries B.C.E.) provide a further path of exploration.