Who are the people listed in Romans 16?

As I was reading in the latter half of Romans, reaching the end of the book brought about an interesting chapter. Chapter 16 struck me as rather odd; there was a giant list of names, thirty four to be exact, and an actual declaration of who wrote the letter in verse 22:

“I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.”

The text mentioned that this list of personal greetings were to people in Rome, several of which were partners of Paul for the early Christian ministry. This last chapter serves as an acknowledgement of the importance of the “little people” of the early church, but I wanted to know more. Who was Tertius? Did any of these people hold office in the early church? Why were the women mentioned? I hoped my research would bring to light the answers I sought.

Tertius

The first question I tackled was Tertius. Declared a saint by the Orthodox Catholic Church, he is credited with being the amanuensis of Paul who transcribed Romans. “Amanu-what?” I asked myself, incredulous at not understanding this Latin-based word. The word amanuensis means “one employed to write from dictation or to copy a manuscript” (Merriam-Webster), or in other words, a glorified and trusted scribe. This position was often a profession, and guaranteed flawless grammar, legibility, and easy access to the best writing supplies (Christianity Today). The influence of a professional scribe could be enormous; Tertius had the ability to alter anything Paul said, reword or edit grammar, and perhaps even change the style of Paul’s message; though speculation, I would say that could account for any possible discrepancies between Romans and any other Pauline letter when it came to using style or form as evidence of authorship. Tertius’ personal life is obscured by the cloud of history, and bibliographical information on him was scarce. Conjecture lists him as a Roman Christian living in Corinth due to his Roman origins of nomenclature (Bible History), while historical documentation places him as the second bishop of Iconium (Orthodox Church in America), in Galatia or modern Turkey.

My curiousity trickled from Bishop Tertius to the thirty-four other names listed in Chapter 16. Were any of these people bishops? Research told me yes, that twenty of the thirty-four names listed were bishops (St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church), members of a group known as the “seventy apostles”; these men were chosen by the twelve original apostles of Jesus, and were sent out to preach the gospel. This included: Andronicus, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus, Rufus, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Hermas, Philologus, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus.

the 70 Apostles

Over half of the names were accounted for, listed as early church leaders and influential missionaries that spread throughout the Roman Empire. A mere fourteen names remained. For some, the text answered who these people were. Epaenetus was the first convert in Asia Minor, obviously holding an important place in the early church. Junia was a female member of Paul’s family and a fellow prisoner of Rome. Phoebe is listed as a servant at the church established by Paul in Cenchreae, a Corinthian port (Biblehub). Prisca (often translated as Priscilla) and Aquila were a married couple, most likely tentmakers, who led a church in Ephesus (The Apostle Paul’s View of Women Leaders). The others, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, were also women that held important positions in the church, suffering the same trials as the men who worked to spread the Christian message (New Life). Nereus is attributed to a member of Junia’s household (Bible History), while Patrobas is believed to be a member of the then current emperor’s household (Bible Apps). The only names that I couldn’t find a historical background for were Timothy and Olympas, the final two of the full list of thirty-four significant figures in the history of the early church as influenced by Paul.

Paul’s Journeys throughout the Empire

Paul’s letter, Romans, mentions the early church’s government with a list of names and salutations for each person, giving equal enthusiasm to both the men and women. Tertius himself includes a salutation for the early church, completing the greeting of Romans. I had found the answers to my questions; I knew who these people were, why they were listed at the close of Romans, and the identity of Tertius.

 

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The Spread of Christianity after Stephen

This week I chose to do my blog on the significance of the death of Stephen, the first recorded martyr of the early Christian church, because he had been my favourite saint when I was growing up. I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, and had always been fascinated with the martyrs; an image of young Stephen, eyes upraised and hands folded with a group of men lobbing stones at him, had been imprinted upon my mind when looking through a book of saints. For those who are unclear, the Catholic Church defines a saint as “persons who were eminent for holiness who distinguish themselves by heroic virtue during life and whom the Church honors as saints either by her ordinary universal teaching authority or by a solemn definition called canonization,” (Catholic Culture) while a martyr is defined as “a person who chooses to suffer, even to die, rather than renounce his or her faith or Christian principles.” (Catholic Culture) One who is martyred is automatically a saint in the Catholic Church.

Stephen

In our text, the story of Stephen is a hero story; he is moving about the people, performing miracles and preaching about Jesus, despite the opposition of many conservatives in the area. Those who opposed Stephen even went as far as to ‘set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.’ ” (The Literary Study Bible, Acts 6:14) In the following chapter, Stephen delivers a history of the Jews, from Abraham through Moses. He chastises the people he is preaching to, which only further enrages them. The boiling point for the large crowd around Stephen is his declaration of his vision of Jesus, in Acts 7:55-56:

“But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ ”

Infuriated, the people rushed Stephen and stoned him. What I found interesting was his later mention in Chapter 11 as the cause of persecution of Christians that led to the spread of the Church into Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. I wanted to know if the historical spread of the Church matched the biblical account.

Stephen’s martyrdom is placed around 34 CE (All About Following Jesus), and this dispersion could be placed from around 30 CE to 313 CE as various Roman emperors offically persecute the fledgling Church (National Geographic). The fear instilled from persecution would be enough to drive any Jew or Christian from their home, seeking a new, peaceful place to live. Every Jewish Christian that fled would take their message to established Jewish communities and synagogues, whispering it to willing and open-minded ears. The entire book of Acts describes the spread of the Church, as various Christian disciples spread the message of Jesus, most famously Paul.

The trio of geographical locations cited in reference to Stephen, Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, are in today’s Lebanon and Syria, Cyprus and Turkey. These three are neighbors, making the trade of both commerce and ideas easy. It makes perfect sense that Christian Jews from Judaea, located just below Phoenicia, would flee northward, away from persecution. They wouldn’t flee to the south because Egypt and the Jews have a history of persecution (Moses, anyone?) as well.

The spread of Christianity into Syria and Lebanon can be attributed to Paul. His converstion was in 34 CE, the year of Stephen’s death. He moved through Phoenicia on his way to Antioch, and by the end of the first century, Christianity had spread through Edessa or Turkey, which containt Antioch. For the next six centuries, Christianity strengthened, grew and spread outwards throughout the Middle East. (EWTN)

The spread of Christianity into Cyprus is attributed to Barnabas and Mark, both apostles, in 46 CE (Orthodox Wiki). However, Paul may also be cited for Cyprus’ Christianization as his first miracle was performed on the island (Ring of Christ). Another striking source for Christianization is from Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead; legend stated that after fleeing Bethany on account of death threats from the chief priests, apparently Lazarus ended up in Cyprus, and was later ordained by Barnabas and Paul to head the church in Cyprus. This was confirmed in 890 CE, when his grave was discovered (Ring of Christ).

The already-mentioned Antioch is obviously attributed to Paul in the mid 30s CE, and the estimated 45,000 Jews that lived in Antioch as well as Gentiles were given the message of Jesus. Barnabas followed a few years later, solidifying the church’s foundation in Antioch, which would eventually spready through Turkey (Silouan). However, a member of the first deacons from which Stephen originated, can also be cited as a source of Christianization for Antioch. This man is Nicolas, who later is attributed to the Gnostic Christian sect called Nicolaitanism (Bible Tools).

Most obviously, the spread of Christianity was swift after the martyrdom of Stephen. Through the work of many disciples including the famous Paul, the Christian church began spreading throughout the Roman Empire, solidifying itself as the next big religion, growing into what we know it as today.

Healing Mud: Jesus and Misty Day

As I was reading along in John, verse 6 from chapter 9 sparked my neurons to produce a vivid reminder of a particular character from a television show I had seen a few weeks earlier:

“Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “ Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”

Obviously, a miracle performed by Jesus is described. Jesus heals a man from blindness by using mud. The character I thought of was Misty Day from the third season of American Horror Story, a swamp witch with significant parallels to Jesus Christ. For a little bit of background, American Horror Story is a television show produced by FX that focuses on individual horror tableaus for each season. Each season is self-contained, meaning that each has its own set of characters, setting and plotline. The third and most recent season was entitled Coven; it featured a prominent coven of witches that battled against a group of voodoo practicioners in New Orleans, Louisiana, taking place in the late 1800s as well as current time. The coven is run by a witch known as the “Supreme”, a witch born every generation that is the most powerful of all, and able to achieve the Seven Wonders of Witchcraft. These Seven Wonders include telekinesis (manipulating objects with one’s mind), transmutation (transporting physically from one area to another), divination, concilium (mind  control), pyrokinesis (controlled arson with one’s mind), vitalum vitalis/resurgence (reanimation of the dead), and descensum (spiritually descending and returning from hell). The current Supreme is dying, so the next must be found. The entire season follows the coven as they search for the next Supreme; murder, manipulation, and finally a test of the Seven Wonders makes the Supreme apparent.

One of the forerunners of the group is Misty Day who is introduced to the viewers as a beautiful, humble girl and member of a rural Pentecostal church. In the first episode, she brings a small bird back to life in the middle of a baptismal ceremony. Her fellow church members declare her a necromancer, drag her to a swamp, and burn her at the stake for her biblical crime. This is the first instance of her parallelism to Jesus; murdered for playing outside of the established religious community’s guidelines.

The second parallel is that she can resurrect the dead. This small bird isn’t the last of her resurgence gift being displayed. Misty resurrects two people from the dead over the course of the season; one is Kyle, a fraternity boy who falls in love with one of the witches, and the other is Myrtle, another powerful, older witch who had also been burnt at the stake.

The most significant parallel between Misty and Jesus, in terms of resurrection, would be the resurrection of herself after death. After being murdered by religious extremists for her abilities, she sinks into the swamp mud, and is shown being healed by the mud that encases her. The show later explains that Misty’s power of resurgence is what brought her back to life.

The other feature of Misty Day’s character that is similar to Jesus is her ability to heal, particularly with mud as evidenced by the above-mentioned verse from John. Misty uses the mud late in the season to coax a nearly dead plant back to life, practicing her gift of resurgence. But plants aren’t the only things healed by the mystical mud. Kyle’s resurrection was a mess; his body had been in parts from a bus accident caused by telekinesis, and sewn back together by two young witches who attempted a guilty resurrection spell. Misty Day arrives at the morgue where the necromantic trio are, and is deemed responsible for having the power to bring Kyle back to life. She then takes him back to her cabin in the bayou to nurse him back to health, as he is in a zombie-like, scarred state. Various episodes show her coating Kyle with mud, and when asked if the mud will really work, she is quoted in the second episode: “I know it will. This stuff is the shit. Literally. Louisiana swamp is full of Spanish moss and alligator dung. Amazing healing properties.” She also uses this mud concotion when healing Myrtle, whom she resurrected as well.

Misty Day has obvious similarities to Jesus as evidenced by her actions and traits throughout the third season of American Horror Story. Other characters recognize this quality, as Myrtle later compares Misty to Jesus: “She brought more people from the dead than Jesus Christ.” Between her murder for being abnormal to her religious community, her ability to heal through swamp mud, and her resurrection, Misty Day could be deemed a messianic type character.

Lucy, Daughter of the Devil as a New Testament Allusion

For this week’s blog, I chose to do an allusion pertaining to a certain story of temptation that transpires in the books Matthew, Mark, and Luke. After his baptism, Jesus wanders the desert of Judea in a strict fast for fourty days and nights. The devil pops up to tempt the meandering messiah. Mark is very short and to the point, merely stating that Jesus was “sent…out into the wilderness…being tempted by Satan” (Bible Gateway). The other two books provide a more detailed tale of Satan’s coaxing Jesus into damnation, listing each temptation.

Original Logo of Lucy, Daughter of the Devil

This story jogged my memory; a most hilarious show surfaced from deep within my mental phylacteries. The show I recalled was a computer-generated cartoon from Adult Swim that officially ran in 2007 (The Culture Shock). Created by Loren Bouchard, Lucy, Daughter of the Devil featured the devil as he tries to enlist the help of his daughter Lucy, most obviously the Antichrist, as he attempts a myriad of schemes to take over the world and kill off his opposition, Jesus. Each character is an exaggeration of stereotypical societal expectations. For example, Satan is bright red, with long pointed horns, and a perpetual, mischievous jokester. Lucy, who is avoiding her pre-determined fate as the Antichrist, is an aimless art school graduate with teensy little horns. She begins dating a local DJ named Jesus. Yes, I did just say that Jesus (pronounced hey-zeus), is a disc jockey. The comedy doesn’t stop with this trio, however. Other biblical and traditional Christian references run amok throughout the show, such as Judas, the DJ’s assistant, and three members of the Catholic clergy on a mission to kill the Antichrist.

The show’s fourth episode focuses particularly on the temptation of Christ. Brought to a modern setting of Burning Man (the famous week long event of art and community expression), Satan attempts to tempt DJ Jesus as he travels to the festival. Unbeknownst to the participants of the festival, a major prophecy is in play— if the DJ doesn’t arrive on time, a supernatural massacre will happen at Burning Man. Satan uses this prophecy to his advantage, and decides to tempt the DJ to make him late. He causes the unsuspecting Jesus’ car to crash along his way to Burning Man. The first biblical reference in this episode is a quote from Satan as he explains to his secretary, Becky the Devil’s Advocate, why he chose this particular plan: “Beck, everything doesn’t have to be about temptation, but sometimes it’s hard to resist.”

Satan trying to tempt DJ Jesus

The show doesn’t waste time belabouring the point. Five seconds after the credits, DJ Jesus explains that he has been walking for a long time in the desert, confirming that this episode is about the biblical story of the temptation of Christ. The next reference is immediate as Jesus replies to Satan’s questioning that he is indeed hungry: “I haven’t had food or water in fourty minutes”; this is a direct nod to the fourty days denoted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In the Bible, upon noticing how hungry the wanderer was, Satan suggests that Jesus turn stones to bread. In Lucy, Satan offers Jesus some food as well— in the form of either teriyaki chicken or mangoes from beautiful women at a food court mirage. In both stories, Jesus rejects Satan’s offer.

The next scriptural connection is based more in Matthew, but may also connect to Luke’s description. These authors state that Satan led Jesus to “a very high mountain” or “a high place” and offered him many kingdoms and the “splendours” of the world. Jesus again turns the devil down. In Lucy, Satan attempts a similar plot. The “splendours” of the world is spun into a disc jockey’s dream; Satan tries to convince Jesus that he should take the offer of home electronics, as shiny big-screen televisions with extended warranties and surround system glisten into existence in the middle of a sandstorm. DJ Jesus again backs away from this temptation, denying the devil once again. Satan tries once more to cause the DJ to misstep in his mission of spreading love. He takes DJ Jesus to a brothel, Temptasia, which is upon a “small mountain slash hill” that can only be reached via an incline train. On the ride, Jesus tells Satan that they have differing opinions, and that is the end of things. This statement reinforces the biblical idea of rejection of temptation. The final allusion of the temptation of Christ is when Becky the Devil’s Advocate holds out the deed to Temptasia Mountain at the behest of the devil. This allusion is the very detail of Matthew and Luke in which Jesus turns down Satan on his offer of the world’s kingdoms.

Finally, after the DJ rejects the final offers of Satan, he tells the devil to “get behind him”, another Christian joke. The scene wraps up with DJ Jesus mentioning that if Satan really wanted to party, he should go to Burning Man, which is “like Sodom and Gomorrah”. Ironically tempted by this offer, Satan drives Jesus to the festival to relieve Judas from DJ-ing duties and to keep the deadly prophecy from being fulfilled. Manna rains down from the heavens above as DJ Jesus takes possession of the booth.

In conclusion, one cannot help but notice the funny connections that span from Lucy, Daughter of the Devil to the Bible. Each episode is eleven humourous minutes of biblical and Christian traditionalism in the form of well-written witticism.

What is the Jewish concept of hell?

Upon reading this week, I discovered a smattering of words in Matthew Chapter 5 that prompted a serious question. The chapter cites both a “hell of fire” and just plain, ol’ “hell”. I wondered if there was more than one hell, if there was a difference between these hells, or if these separate references were simply the same concept. What is the Jewish concept of hell? Is there a difference between the Jewish hell and the Christian hell? I discovered the answers to my questions via some fascinating research.

Hades, Sheol, Gehenna, and hell are words that are perpetually interchanged but have entirely different meanings, as I have learned reading through various blogs and Jewish doctrine sites. Olam Ha-Ba, Hebrew translation for “The World to Come”, is the name of the Jewish afterlife, a concept entirely non-dogmatic for its practitioners (Judaism 101). The entire concept is a matter of personal belief, to the point of the inclusion of resurrection and reincarnation. Judaism focuses on the life we live currently, rather than what happens after death. Regardless of being either traditional or progressive, it is entirely possible for a Jew to believe in innumerable theories of the afterlife. The concept of hell, in particular, varies in theoretical possibilities.

Firstly, hell can be commonly defined as a place of eternal punishment for the wrongdoings of one’s soul. In Judaism, this entire definition is torn to pieces and redesigned. The Jewish hell can be described as either Sheol or Gehenna; Sheol is a place of punishment while Gehenna is a place of damnation for souls (The Jewish Chronicle). These two places are entirely distinct from each other.

Sheol

Sheol, Hebrew for “pit”, “destruction”, or “abyss” (Jewish Encyclopedia), is the “present” hell, in which the lost souls go to await judgment—resulting in either Gehenna or resurrection (Berean Bible Society). Sheol is merely a temporary place for souls. It is not eternal, and both evil and good souls arrive in this spiritual waiting room post-life (Hell Part 2).  Sheol is unlike the Christian concept of hell, more like a deep, dark, shadowy netherworld, is commonly called the “Land of Forgetfulness” (My Jewish Learning). Sheol is flame-free, therefore not the “hell of fire” reference I found in Matthew. The dead are cut off from the living as well as the grace of the Protagonist, their existence a strange faint stain on the metaphysical plane. Every soul will go to Sheol, despite its bleak description. Another common translation of Sheol is Hades, and can also be described as being within the earth (Matthew 12:40). The geography of Sheol/Hades can be split in two halves. One section is for evil souls, while the other side is for the righteous souls waiting for resurrection.

Gehenna

However, Gehenna, Greek for “lake of fire” (Berean Bible Society), is considered the “final” hell, or the place we most commonly think of when referencing hell. This lake of hell was designed for Satan and the fallen angels to be tormented eternally, and is entirely free of humans at this time. I say “at this time” because according to Revelation, the lake of fire will be filled with evil humans at the time of the true Messiah’s resurrection (Berean Bible Society). In addition to their souls, the actual human bodies will enter Gehenna as well. Gehenna is described as a torturous punishment, full of fire and brimstone, similar to the Christian hell. Another theory suggests that a soul must reexamine his or her life, and then repent for any wrongdoings. This concept of hell is the permanent, here-for-all-eternity, place of punishment.

In conclusion, I discovered that there was a difference between the Christian hell and the Jewish hell, as well as the hell of Judaism being conceptually diverse. Sheol and Gehenna, two separate hells, are distinct and individualistic. The reason for a soul’s existence in shadowy Sheol involves a waiting period for the good, or temporary torment for the evil. The reason for existing in fiery Gehenna is pure, eternal torture after the Messianic age. Either way, hell is a matter of opinion for those prescribed to a Hebrew slant.

Why does an offhand comment about baldness condemn forty-two youths to death?

Just as I was deciding to write on Elijah’s fiery exit from this earth in chapter two of Kings II, I noted at the end of said chapter that Elijah’s prophetic successor, Elisha, lashes out rather vengefully against some youths from Bethel in verses 23 through 25:

“He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.”

 

What struck me first about these verses was the absolute calmness in which Elisha handled the situation. It takes a cool character to curse some mocking kids to be mauled to death by bears and then mosey on about his day as if nothing happened.  Why was their insult so terrible? What was significant about Elisha’s baldness that made the youths’ offense punishable by death? Why was the punishment death by bear mauling? Did the Protagonist really wipe out three and a half dozen children over Elisha’s battered ego?

Stained glass, yet still bald, Elisha.

I started with the prophet himself, Elisha. The previous prophet, Elijah, and his heir, Elisha, had been traveling through Israel, turning the people back to the Protagonist and away from idolatry. Immediately after the fiery whirlwind of chariots and angels that sweep his teacher into the heavens, Elisha must take up the mantle of prophet of Israel and continue on with the duty of mediator between the Protagonist and His people. Throughout Kings II, the Protagonist obviously favours Elisha as he fulfills his prophetic responsibilities by performing miracles and helping Israel win battles against Syria.

Apparently, Elisha is also bald. Baldness in the Bible is specifically mentioned in Leviticus 13:40-41, stating that a man is still clean after becoming bald (Belgravia Centre). Being a man of some notoriety now, Elisha was probably like most bald men—quite sensitive about his hairless head.  The chapter noting Elisha’s baldness does not state how he became bald. His lack of hair could be attributed to anything from male-pattern baldness to having been scorched off by the flames of Elijah’s ascension, or perhaps even shaved off to symbolize the beginning of his role as prophet, similarly to how Nazarenes shaved their heads to re-consecrate themselves after defilement in Numbers 6.

Upon further research, I found that baldness was considered a disgrace by non-Jewish cultures, a very obvious symbol of personal deterioration in either hygiene or spirituality that brought on the punishment of hair loss (Bible.org).  I inferred that the insult of “baldhead” was of a most malicious nature, and that the youths were implying that Elisha was beneath them. The case of Elisha was the exact opposite of what the youths implied; he was literally on a mission from the Protagonist as he traveled through Bethel, and then on to Mount Carmel and Samaria.

The other part of this insult was more harmful than mocking Elisha’s baldness. The youths suggest that Elisha “go up”, definitely a reference to what had happened earlier in the chapter to Elijah. The youths were suggesting that Elisha ascend, truly meaning that they wanted the prophet gone in the terrifying way of Elijah’s departing the world. These wounding words directly spat in the face of the Protagonist, proposing that Elisha should not carry on with the duties of his position. The youths of Bethel are purposely setting themselves against the Protagonist’s spokesperson (Professor Obvious). In essence, if one mocks the spokesman, one mocks the Protagonist.

The prophet swiftly addressed the two-part insult, rather calmly, as he cursed the “boys”. To remedy the upset feeling the word ‘boys’ evoked, I dug further into research to know if the translation had muddied the truest meaning of this verse. I found that I was correct; “boys” did not indicate the little children harmlessly mocking an older man that had initially come to mind. The original Hebrew phrase neurim qetannim actually translates to young lads or men, meaning that this group of youths was anywhere from twelve to thirty years old (Christian Thinktank). In addition, some basic logic helped me to realize how large of a group Elisha faced. The verse states that forty-two of the boys were killed. Forty-two of the group, as if that is an inconsequential number, makes me think that this gang the prophet was confronted by was a great deal larger and more hostile than the Bible verses seem to let on. In a tense situation between one man and a mob of angry youths, Elisha’s reaction of ferocity now seems to be the proportionate use of force. Violence only begets more violence in this chapter, as was righteously so, as Elisha was expected to continue on in the role of the Protagonist’s prophet.

 

Finally, I delved into the actual punishment provided by the curse: the two she-bears mauling the youths for their mockery. The bear, in many cultures, symbolizes ultimate power (Universe of Symbolism).  In fact, the Bible mentions bears quite a few times as reference to someone’s power. For example, David kills a bear with his bare hands in I Samuel 17:34-37; this verse is what convinces Saul to allow David to fight Goliath, and in turn, become the next hero of Israel (Bible Study Tools).  Female bears are specifically pointed out as well in II Samuel 17:8, Proverbs 17:12, and Hosea 13:8 (Bible Study Tools), as their fury when robbed of their offspring is unparalleled. A medieval rabbi, known as Radak, included in his biblical commentary that “a bear’s offspring is born with a thick amniotic sack and it takes much care, toil and difficulty to bring it in to this world; more so than any other animal. So much so, that when a bear loses a cub it experiences greater anguish and loss” (Mi Yodeda). Applying this quote to the story of Elisha, the Protagonist can be seen as a literal mother bear, and to threaten Elisha is to threaten the Protagonist’s plan for His people. The Protagonist’s rage is so great that the curse plays out in literal detail.

Levitical Extremism in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

cover of the book

For our allusion this week, I chose to cover the first book of the Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. Known especially for its dark, feisty heroine, Lisbeth Salander, the book takes place in Sweden in the early 2000s. The plot focuses around Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist who had recently been convicted of libel, as they investigate the 35 year old disappearance of a young girl from a prominent family, the Vangers. Her uncle believes that she has been murdered by a member of the Vanger family because she disappeared during a family party. However, the deeper the detective duo digs, they discover a darker secret connected to the Vanger family—a string of brutally gruesome murders.

  

 (Rooney Mara from the American film on the left versus Noomi Rapace

from the Swedish film on the right: Who is the better Lisbeth?)

Though Sweden was officially neutral during World War II, the Vanger family was connected to the Nazi party, and its anti-Semitic ideas leached into the younger generation, including Harriet’s father, Gottfried, and her brother, Martin. In addition, the Vanger family owns one of the wealthiest corporations in the country, for which both Gottfried and Martin travel to work. Gottfried sexually abused both of his children, introducing Martin to a taste for violence towards women. Both men then started to murder together, but in a most peculiar fashion. Every girl was brutally killed according to a verse found in the book Leviticus; in addition, every girl had a name of Jewish origin. Lisbeth and Mikael had found this information within Harriet’s journal, listing the names along with numbers. At first thought to be phone numbers, and next dates, the two struggled to put together what the possible significance of the list could be to Harriet. The information they worked with looked as such:

Magda—32016

Sara—32109

R.J. —30112

R.L.—32027

            Mari—32018  (213)

How were these two sleuths supposed to decipher such a code from the depressed, twisted mind of an abused young woman? Typically, the Swedish population lacks a belief in God, though many religions have a following in the country. The book addresses this by having every character in the book seemingly atheist, except for two women, Harriet Vanger and Mikael Blomkvist’s daughter Pernilla. Both of these women are religious, therefore quite familiar with the Bible’s contents. As every other character seems to lack an intimate knowledge of this holy book, these two characters are the key to solving the mysteries of the identities of the serial killers as well as the disappearance of Harriet. During a visit with her father, Pernilla notices the list of names and states that quotes on his wall are “gloomy and neurotic” (317).  Mikael is nonplussed until he finds a Bible to look up the verses. What he finds is staggering.

 

(Michael Nyqvist in the 2009 Swedish film v. Daniel Craig in the 2011 American film: Who does Mikael ‘Kalle’ Blomkvist better?)

The phrase, Magda—32016, translates to 3:20:16, or Leviticus (the third book of the Bible), chapter 20, verse 16 which states: “If a woman approaches any beast and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.”

Sara—32109 translates to Leviticus 21:9, or: “And the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.”

R.J. —30112, in turn, translates to Leviticus 1:12, or: “And he shall cut it into pieces, with its head and its fat, and the priest shall lay them in order upon the wood that is on the fire upon the altar.”

R.L.—32027, is found to be Leviticus 20:27, which states: “A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned with stones, their blood shall be upon them.”

And finally, Mari—32018, is decoded as Leviticus 20:18, or: “If a man lies with a woman having her sickness [period], and uncovers her nakedness, he has made naked her fountain, and she has uncovered the fountain of her blood; both of them shall be cut off from among their people.”

Each of these phrases is connected to a murder that one of the Vanger men committed during Harriet’s teenage years. Lisbeth Salander is the one who tracks down each murder from the surrounding towns closest to the Vanger family residence. Each murder that occurred coincided with a business meeting at which Gottfried or Martin Vanger was present. The killers were never caught because the murders were never connected due to the lack of an obvious pattern, which our two investigators linked with Leviticus.

Lisbeth discovered that each girl was killed exactly in accordance to Leviticus. The first murder was of Rebecka Jacobsson, listed as R.J., in which she was killed by having her head placed on smouldering coals—Leviticus 1:12. Next was Mari Holmberg, a prostitute who was strangled with a sanitary napkin—Leviticus 20:18. Third was Rakel Lundel, listed as R.L., had a hobby of reading tarot cards and palms, which got her stoned as she was tied to her laundry-drying frame—Leviticus 20:27. After Rakel was Magda Lovisa, a farmer’s wife who “approached” animals daily, brutally tortured and killed in a horse stall—Leviticus 20:16. The fifth murder was Sara, the daughter of one pastor and the wife of another, was found strangled and her apartment set ablaze—Leviticus 21:9. The victims on Harriet’s list were the first of many, as Lisbeth discovers three other possible murders from around the same time, with each one dealing with a verse from Leviticus.

Each woman’s name was of Hebrew origin. Rebecka equated Rebecca. Mari is the Swedish spelling for Mary. Rakel, when Anglicized, become Rachel. Sara needs no explanation. Madga is paired with another one of the later cases, Lena, as both names are short for Magdalena, a name taken from Mary Magdalene. Another to mention is Lea, or Leah in the Bible. The final victim was named Liv, meaning to live, which can also be traced to the name Eva, or Eve. These names of Jewish heritage made these women targets to the serial killing pair of Vanger men. Their “crimes” that led to them being victims were obviously warped perceptions of the fanatically tainted biblical knowledge of the killers.

 

(photograph of Harriet Vanger from the American film adaptation)

Harriet knew her father and brother were murdering women across the country according to their extreme anti-Semitic and violent tendencies. Because she knew this, she was targeted with harsher abuse by her father, Gottfried. In an instance of desperate self-defence, Harriet killed her father and had to flee Sweden to avoid anyone suspecting her involvement with his death. This is why she disappeared so suddenly from the family gathering—she wasn’t missing, she relocated to avoid any criminal implications. The biblical samples of Leviticus within “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” are most obviously an allusion because the truth of Harriet’s disappearance would never have been revealed without having the familiarity of the book’s verses.

What’s the big deal about body hair and skin markings?

Reading through Leviticus was slightly tedious. All of these laws, demands, and rules for living under the covenant of God must have weighed heavily upon the Israelites. In Chapter 19, God very explicitly lays out his blueprint for the day-to-day lives of the Israelites. This chapter covers a variety of pragmatic matters from servant wages to keeping two kinds of cattle from breeding with each other. The verses of 27 and 28 caught my eye in particular:

“You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.” (Lev: 27-28)

I recalled that this whole book’s purpose was for the Israelites to be holy as their Lord was holy—in other words, to be different because the Protagonist was different. So what was it about body hair or markings on the skin that the Protagonist wanted the Israelites to set themselves apart from? What culture was so displeasing to the Protagonist that the Israelites were to be completely different from them?

 

Let’s start with the beards and the hair. According to certain historians, the time period of Leviticus can be set between 1495 to1455 BCE (Bible World History). Coinciding with this was the Dynastic Period of Egypt, in which body hair was a big deal. The priests of Egypt saw body hair as unclean (History of Shaving), which would be an offense to the gods, so it was entirely shaved off. Even the pharaoh removed parts of hair, regulating his beard shape. The people of Egypt spent a great deal of time and effort policing their body hair (Art of Manliness). Now if I were the Protagonist who wanted to have my people, the Israelites, set apart, wouldn’t I want for them to stop using the cultural norms of another people, especially the people I had just rescued them from? By not marring the beard nor shaping the hair at the temples, the Israelites would be distinguishable from the Egyptians, their former enslavers. In addition, the Israelites’ less rigid depilation schedule freed up time to focus their attentions on all of the other rules of the covenant.

 

Hebrews = the Duck Dynasty of their generation.

Amunet’s tattoo placement

 

 

As for tattooing, this again could be tied to the Egyptians. Amunet, a mummified priestess of Hathor, was discovered with extensive tattooing around her lower abdomen and on her arms and legs (Tattoos of the Egyptian World). Hathor, the goddess of fertility and sexuality, is believed to have been honoured by the tattooing of Amunet. Though not widespread, the tattoos of the Egyptians seem to have been a form of ritualistic practice to celebrate the gods (Tattoo Temple). Tattooing was considered a mark of slavery or submission to a deity, so it is obvious that the Israelites were to avoid this form of dedication to a false idol (Jewish Virtual Library). The people of the Protagonist were to be dedicated only to Him and His covenant, not to the gods of a bygone era of their lives.

 

Mmm, mummy flesh.

Mummy tatts.

To continue the idea of marking the body, Leviticus states that the Israelites may not cut their bodies for the dead. The Amorites were a culture who often cut their flesh if a member of their household had died (Torah Insights on the Weekly Parsha). The Amorites, a Semitic tribe, were extremely well known for their military prowess, as they helped contribute to the downfall of the Sumerian empire’s Ur (Egypt Origins). They also worshiped a god other than the Protagonist (Who Were the Amorites). Obviously, the Protagonist isn’t going to allow his chosen people to align themselves with another culture’s religious practices or to seek out human glory over revering Him.

The Protagonist set the rules of the covenant before the Israelites in Leviticus to differentiate them from the surrounding cultures of the area. By following these rules, the Israelites would be holy as their Lord was holy, and then gain the benefits of being in a contract with the Protagonist: as a nation, they are promised a fruitful existence protected from their enemies.