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Knidos, 1 June 2016

Merhaba!  I'm now in southwest Turkey. From the minaret of the nearby mosque, the muezzin is calling the faithful to prayer. After the great city of Istanbul, from where I sent last week's bulletin, I joined the archaeology tour in Izmir, biblical Smyrna (Rev 2:8) -- and also the city where Polycarp was martyred, about 155 AD. The next stop was Bodrum, ancient Halicarnassus, location of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Then we sailed to Cos (Greece), the island where the great physician and "founder of medicine" Hippocrates practiced in the 5th century BC, and from there to Knidos.

"We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus," wrote Luke as he and Paul sailed into a storm (Acts 27:7). (Cnidus [Knidos] is where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean.) But today in southwest Turkey, the sailing couldn't be any smoother. Visiting the biblical sites by Gulet (a traditional wooden sailing vessel -- photo below) is a great way to go. It's also how ancient mariners preferred to travel, hugging the shore. We're visiting some 21 sites in all. There are loads of pictures at my Facebook pages.

It isn't every day that I can visit places of such historical interest, or spend time with world class scholars like Ben Witherington, Jeff Weimau, Mark Fairchild, and Dana Harris (New Testament), Mark Wilson and Sarah Yeomans (Archaeology), or Carl Rasmussen (Old Testament)! It's fascinating to explore ideas, eavesdrop on theological conversations, and learn from experts in the field. I ask a lot of questions, and fortunately they are patient in their replies.

This is my 2016 "continuing education": fourth visit to Turkey, but first time to be surrounded by so many scholars who can show me the ropes and, at the end of the day, help me improve as a tour guide. Perhaps one day you will join one of our tours to biblical Turkey or elsewhere (like Israel, 24-31 Oct 2016 and 24-31 Jul 2017). And now to our topic.


Why did Jesus select Twelve?
I've heard it said that 12 is the number of organized religion. 3 is the number of God, 4 the number of the earth, and so 12 is the number of God's people on earth, or "perfection of government." Maybe so. (I'm not convinced.) The answer lies beyond the scope of this series, though others may be able to tell you.

What we do know is that there were 12 patriarchs in the Old Testament, the sons of Jacob (Gen 42:13; 49:28; see also Acts 7:8). (Jacob had a daughter, too, but no tribe was named after her.) There were two earlier series of 12 patriarchs. The first was descended from Noah (Shem to Jacob), a long series of fathers and sons. The second was the offspring of Ishmael, ancestor of 12 tribes (Gen 17:20), mirroring the 12 tribes of Israel. (Israel wasn't just a place -- the Promised Land -- but also the covenant name of Jacob, as in Gen 32:28.)

Nearly all the "12s" of the O.T. relate directly to the number of the patriarchs. (Check it out in any concordance.) With this in mind, we are able to grasp what was implicit in Jesus' selection of the Twelve (Mark 3:14). The parallel between the twelve apostles and the twelve patriarchs is obvious. But it's more than just a parallel. The Lord's bold selection telegraphed a message to all the Jews. The corrupt priesthood / Temple system is being replaced. New wine cannot be accommodated in old wineskins (Mark 2:22). It is the followers of the Christ who are the true Israel (James 1:1; see Matt 21:43). God is making a new beginning. 

Why 2 x 12 Elders?
Why are there 24 elders in Revelation (Rev 4:4,10; 5:8; 11:16; 19:4)? It has been suggested that the 2 x 12 elders represent the 12 patriarchs + the 12 apostles. Or perhaps the 24 elders correspond to the 24 courses of priests who served in the old Temple (1 Chr 15:7-18). I prefer the first interpretation, since in Christ the old covenant is fulfilled, the saints of both covenants celebrating salvation together (Heb 11:40). Revelation is painting a picture -- this is quite different from the (literal) twelve apostles or the twelve that appears in our next passage.

What about the double-12 in the gospels?
Let's consider one last incidence of the number 12. While Jesus is on the way to undo the death of a 12-year-old girl, a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years interrupts him (Mark 5:25-43; Luke 8:48-56; also Matt 9:18-16). This woman has been suffering -- and throwing away money on worthless physicians (Job 13:4) -- for the entire span of the child's life! One might be tempted to seek a deeper meaning; after all, is it likely the double-12 is coincidental?

It's no coincidence. Yet that doesn't require a deeper numerological meaning -- like the age of accountability or a time limit on medical care. In the oral period during which the stories about Jesus were passed on (27-65 AD, or whenever the first gospel was penned), it would have been easier to recall both stories because of the 12-year commonality. The stories attracted each other, in other words. Then, as now, memory devices (mnemonics) help us, whether we are students preparing for a test or older folks trying to remember where we parked the car.


We've now touched on the numbers 77, 1000, and 12. Next we'll consider 40: is it literal or symbolic? Does 40 years = a generation? And what about the longevity of Moses (3 x 40); did he really live to 120, or could there be something else going on? Find out next week.

With thanks from Cnidus,
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