Aaron M. Gale is an associate professor of religious studies at West Virginia University as well as the director of WVU’s Program for Religious Studies. He earned his doctorate from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 2001. Dr. Gale’s research has centered upon the Jewish roots of early Christianity, specifically as it relates to the community associated with Matthew’s Gospel. This research has resulted in various publications including the book Redefining Ancient Borders: The Jewish Scribal Framework of Matthew’s Gospel (T&T Clark). He is a fellow at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Biblical Archaeology and is an area supervisor at the Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel, where he mentors university student volunteers each summer.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XX, November 17 – 19, 2017
Examining Evil and the Devil in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, or, Which Witch is Which?
Often it is assumed that the origin of the Devil in the Judeo-Christian traditions derives from a specific story or two in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, things are much more complex than that. For example, many early Biblical images associated with evil and the supernatural, such as those of demons and sea monsters, may in fact trace their roots to foreign cultures like the Mesopotamians, Canaanites, and Phoenicians. In addition, the evolution of Jewish thought itself necessitated a shift in conceptual thinking concerning the nature of God and evil. This in part resulted in what we call today “The Philosophical Problem of Evil.” How could an all good and loving God allow for the existence of worldly evil? Who is ultimately responsible for it? Therefore, in this presentation we will examine the progression of ancient Jewish Biblical thought concerning evil and the Devil which ultimately found a permanent home within the confines of the late first century Christian Scriptures. We will seek the answers to many questions in the course of this study. What do the Hebrew Scriptures themselves say regarding evil? Who was “Satan” in texts such as the book of Job? What influence did outside cultures such as the Persians and Greeks have on the development of Judeo-Christian conceptualizations of evil? How did Christian Biblical texts such as the Pauline Epistles and the Gospels view the role of the Devil in the context of the first century material world?
Bible & Archaeology Fest XIX, November 18 – 20, 2016
Jesus and the Rabbis; the Great Paradox? What Have the Talmud and Gospels in Common?
Jesus is rarely mentioned, and according to some sources, censored altogether from early rabbinic texts such as the Talmud. However, in reality, is it possible that early rabbinic thought actually permeated its way into the teachings and exhortations of Jesus as portrayed in gospels such as Matthew? At times, it seems various Jewish principles and precepts found in the Gospels reflect an interest in the same concerns as those found in the Talmud (divorce, forgiveness, the world to come, etc.). Hence, is it possible that the interpretation of gospel pericopes (particularly those related to Jesus’ teachings) may be aided via an understanding of the Torah as interpreted through the minds of the early rabbis? For example, the story of the rich young man who seeks entrance into the Kingdom of God (“eternal life”; Matt 19.16-22) finds Jesus seemingly mandating that one must give up his/her possessions and give to the poor in order to earn a place in the world to come. In reality, from a Jewish perspective (likely Jesus’ own), this is not cogent. The Talmud makes clear that Israel already has a place in the world to come, regardless of the performance of certain actions (m. Sanh. 10.1). What does giving to the poor have to do with Jewish thought anyway? Can we find the answers in the Talmud? This presentation will therefore attempt to shed light on various passages in Matthew’s Gospel by comparing rabbinic thought with Jesus’ own teachings.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XVIII, November 20 – 22, 2015
In the Words of Jesus: ‘Go to Galilee.’ Galilean Archaeology as a Basis for Matthew’s Jewish Gospel
This presentation seeks to fuse together two methods of scholarly inquiry (Biblical criticism, archaeological research) in order to show how the biblical scholar and archaeologist may both benefit from a close, fruitful dialogue that yields possible exciting new insights into the world of the Bible. It can be argued that some biblical scholars do not take advantage of the constant flow of incoming cogent archaeological data that can shed light on the nature of the various Old and New Testament communities and their corresponding cultures. Conversely, it may be said that some archaeologists do not devote time to relevant methods of biblical inquiry. Using Matthew’s Gospel as a test case, I will attempt to show how recent archaeological evidence may complement and augment a literary analysis of the text as it pertains to two areas of study: the economic status of the Matthean community and its prevailing Jewish inclinations. In particular, I will examine archaeological evidence related to Jewish urban identification and economic production in Galilee in order to provide a brief picture of first century life in the region. Textually, I will focus on specific passages in Matthew pertaining to wealth and/or religious inclination, including 5.17-18; 12.1-8; 18.23-35; 19.16-22, and 20.1-16. Ultimately, I will place the two spheres of study side-by-side in order to ascertain whether it is plausible to theorize that the Matthean community was a wealthy, urban Jewish Christian community located in Galilee that still adhered to the laws of the Torah.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XVII, November 21 – 23, 2014
Kings, the Condemned, and the Christ: Roman Identification in Matthew’s Gospel
This presentation will explore how the Roman Empire was viewed by the author(s) of Matthew’s Gospel. Dr. Gale utilizes archaeological evidence in order to sketch the scope of Jewish Galilean life within the first century Roman world before re-examining aspects of Jesus’ birth narrative (2:1-18) and their relationship to King Herod and Rome. This presentation focuses on three key points in particular: Herod’s role in the story as it relates to Roman history and kingship, the meaning of Jesus as the “true” king (in both Jewish and Roman contexts), and Matthew’s intended message for a (still) predominately Jewish audience. The lecture concludes with an examination of several short but important pericopes related to Jesus’ Galilean ministry (4:15, 23-25; 11:20-24; 13:54-58; 15:21-28) in order to try to discern whether Matthew’s Gospel was shaped and/or influenced by prevailing Jewish views of the Roman Empire. For example, why does Jesus condemn his own fellow Jews in Galilee? Is his condemnation the result of a larger agenda (beyond religion) that was linked to the Roman Empire? Ultimately, the aim of this discussion is to shed light on the relationship between Rome and Gospel.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XVI, November 22 – 24, 2013
Did the Devil Really Make Me Do it? The Evolution of Evil in the Bible
It has long been theorized that the Biblical authors borrowed from other ancient traditions as they recorded the various Old and New Testament texts. Early examples of this syncretism include the Mesopotamian tales of the Epic of Gilgamesh and Enuma Elish. In conjunction with this presupposition is the idea that the origins of evil also evolved as Judaism was exposed to the ideas of other cultures such as the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Yet how did this progression of thought actually occur within the Biblical texts? Utilizing Biblical and archaeological evidence we will examine how the forces of evil worked their way into the Bible. Some questions that may be considered include, “Why didn’t Moses encounter the Devil, while Jesus (who some say represents the “new” Moses) did?” “Where did demons come from?” “How did a shift in the Biblical understanding of evil necessitate an ethical and spiritual change among the various Biblical cultures?” Ultimately, we hope to shed light on how evil evolved from a vague concept in much of the Old Testament to a complex framework of ideas that became linked to ethical and theological principles by the time the New Testament is completed.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XV, November 16 – 18, 2012
Matthew’s World, or Archaeology and the First Gospel: Who Was the Matthean Community?
Recent archaeological discoveries in Galilee can shed much light on the nature of early Jewish Christianity, specifically as it relates to Matthew’s Gospel. In fact, archaeology is often under-utilized and in some cases ignored as a valid tool alongside scholars’ textual analyses of the Gospels, particularly as it relates to historical and socio-economic reconstructions of the various communities associated with these biblical texts. Using Matthew’s Gospel as a test case (and presuming that the text was written from Galilee), this presentation will fuse textual and historical methods with relevant archaeological evidence in order to try and produce a clearer picture of this Gospel community. This presentation will focus on two aspects of Matthean studies: the community’s economic status and religious inclination. I contend that the archaeological evidence, when coupled with a textual examination, will prove that the Matthean community was wealthy and remained a conservative Jewish Christian group that still adhered to the Torah laws. Hence, this study will show that archaeology remains a vital partner in the relationship between scholar and text.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XIV, November 18 – 20, 2011
Studying Stones and Scripture: Archaeology, Judaism, and Christian Origins
The study of world religions continues to fascinate both student and scholar alike. In fact, there are many different methodologies (historical, phenomenological, sociological, etc.) that may be utilized in the exploration of world cultures and traditions. These methodologies have become especially important in the realm of biblical studies, which can help to shed light on the complex evolutions of both Judaism and Christianity. In fact, Judaism’s link to early Christianity is undeniable, and archaeology has played an important role in unlocking some of the mysteries involved in the study of these traditions. Therefore, this presentation will provide some examples of how archaeology has impacted and/or altered our understanding of the histories and relationships that exist among the two great faiths of Judaism and Christianity.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XIII, November 19 – 21, 2010
Reconstructing Ancient Borders: Archaeology and Contemporary Gospel Scholarship
Recent archaeological discoveries in Galilee can shed much light on the nature of the early Jewish Christian communities found in the Gospels. In fact, archaeology is often under-utilized and in some cases ignored as a valid tool alongside scholars’ literary and textual analyses of the Gospels. Using Matthew’s Gospel as a test case (and presuming that the text was written from Galilee), this lecture will examine archaeological, literary and historical evidence in order to produce a clearer picture of this Gospel community. In focusing specifically on the community’s economic status and religious practices, this presentation will demonstrate that archaeology remains a vital partner in the relationship between scholar and Biblical text.