“New culture, yes—coup, no”: A Review of C. Kavin Rowe’s Theo-Political Reading of Acts

C. Kavin ROWE. World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

With the present volume alongside his previous Early Narrative Christology: The Lord in the Gospel of Luke (Baker Academic, 2009), C. Kavin Rowe has emerged as an important and self-consciously interdisciplinary contributor to ongoing conversations in Luke-Acts. Where Early Narrative Christology employed narrative criticism to track the meaning and usage of kyrios in Luke’s Gospel, in World Upside Down, Rowe blends traditional biblical exegesis, narrative criticism, political theory, and constructive theology to marshal an argument about the theo-political logic of Acts (7).

In Rowe’s reading, Acts sits uncomfortably within Greco-Roman culture. On the one hand, Acts is not, as some have posited, a kind of apologia for Christian quietism within the empire. On the other, neither is it quite anti-imperial propaganda, either. Rowe is after a reading that eschews such false dichotomies, and he upsets both old scholarly orthodoxies and newer assumptions by arguing that Acts is “a highly charged and theologically sophisticated political document  that aims at nothing less than the construction of an alternative total way of life…that runs counter to the life-patterns of the Graeco-Roman world” (4). Rowe argues that there is a “profound tension” in Acts, as Luke presents the nascent Christian movement as both a threat to Graeco-Roman politics, economics, and religion as well as a movement whose kyrios is not in direct competition with Caesar.

Rowe explores this tension in Acts between cultural collision (chapter two) and avoiding direct competition with the Empire (chapter three). In narrating the elements of Acts that conflict with Graeco-Roman culture, Rowe assists his readers in paying close attention to the responses garnered by Paul and his compatriots when they take their message out into the world. In Rowe’s framing, the story of Paul and Barnabas refusing sacrifices after the healing of a paralyzed man in Lystra in Acts 14 is “the summons that…involves the destruction of an entire mode of being religious” (21). Similarly, Rowe reads Luke as further destabilizing Graeco-Roman piety by emphasizing that, for example, even the name of Jesus Christ is enough to displace a pagan pneuma/daimon and exorcise it from a slave-girl (Acts 16:14ff). Rowe is a careful exegete and well aware that “religion” should not be reduced to a discrete element of human life and thus contends that the implications of these stories upset multiple levels of religious and civic life. When Paul and Silas exorcise the spirit of divination from the slave-girl, her owners are correct to be outraged: Luke’s version of the Christian confession has (negative) implications for their economic practices. Rowe contends that other characters are quite savvy to notice just how disruptive the Christian movement is to every level of pagan life. Public responses at Thessalonica, Athens, and Ephesus to the Christian movement further illustrate the multiple strata of cultural disruption that Luke’s confession causes.

Rowe’s argument is a nuanced one, however, and he stops short of baptizing Acts in the waters of modern day politically-subversive wishful thinking. Acts is not, Rowe contends in chapter two, a direct threat to Caesar and Roman rule. Rowe shows how Luke narrates the Christian movement as dikaios—innocent—of any charges of sedition towards the emperor. Here Rowe illustrates the “profound tension” of Acts particularly well: yes, the Christian confession destabilizes multiple spheres of pagan life and Acts’ non-Christian characters are right to name the writing on the wall, but no, the Christian movement of Luke’s narrative is not interested in seizing upon Caesar’s throne. As Rowe memorably puts it: “New culture, yes—coup, no. The tension is thus set” (92).

Chapter four moves further into the tension that is the theo-political imaginary of Acts as Rowe shows how the confession and practices of the nascent Christian movement eclipsed, but did not directly challenge, the Graeco-Roman ways of knowing and being in the world. The Christian confession of Jesus as lord, practice of mission, and the formation of mixed communities of followers signal Luke’s mixed-bag of theological politics (135). The Christian movement was not founded in response to Roman rule or other aspects of Graeco-Roman culture; rather, it was founded on this confession and these practices, all of which signaled a fundamental break with Roman culture and jurisprudence—truly, a “world upside down.”

In chapter five, Rowe moves from the ancient world to our own and allows the political imagination of Acts to speak into, and perhaps even shape, our own. Rowe writes as a Christian and, in this chapter at least, is engaged in the work of constructive Christian theology. Rowe does not, however, cheaply port over the theological politics of a small messianic movement from the backwaters of the Roman Empire to modern-day, Western contexts. The differences are too vast and Rowe’s theological acumen is too strong for such easy moves. Instead Rowe uses his final chapter as a kind of exercise in thinking with Acts—embodying its particular Christocentric epistemology—to come at modern politics, and even the practice of critical biblical scholarship, from an Acts-inspired perspective derived from apocalyptic claim in the story of Acts that Jesus is lord of all (176).

The present volume is a must-have for all serious readers of Acts. Although Rowe, who teaches in the Divinity School, rather than the Religion Department, at Duke University, writes with theological aims in mind, his work must be engaged by anyone who would make a claim about the political life of the post-Easter Christians. This text would be a welcome addition to any graduate or upper-level undergraduate course on Acts, and would be a helpful conversation partner for ministers, religious leaders, and thoughtful laypersons looking to read Acts carefully and with an eye for questions of theology and politics in the shadow of empire.


Paul and the Pothetic Love of Christ: A Review of David E. Fredrickson’s “Eros and the Christ”

FREDRICKSON, David E. Eros and the Christ: Longing and Envy in Paul’s Christology. Paul in Critical Contexts. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013.

To begin, a banal truism: biblical exegesis, like all historical inquiry, is an act of cross-cultural exploration. The past is foreign to the contemporary reader, and it is the task of the historian to catch a glimpse of and describe for others what once existed across that “ugly, broad ditch” of history. Things are unimaginably different on the other side of Lessing’s ditch; the people “over there” are profoundly unlike us. History-writing, like understanding between contemporary cultures far removed, is difficult, for it must attain the dual goals of both highlighting the differences of the ancient culture and making the culture and its differences in some way intelligible to a modern reader.

In my view, Fredrickson’s Eros and the Christ is an example of good historical inquiry. It stands out among recent scholarship on Paul’s letter to the Philippians in part for its creative de-familiarization of an incredibly familiar text, the so-called “Christ Hymn” of Philippians 2:5-11. First, Fredrickson reminds us that the Christ Hymn and its writer are ancient, and therefore might differ, perhaps even sharply, from the interpretive frames we have placed them in. As the reader progresses through Fredrickson’s argument, though, the de-familiarized text becomes intelligible once again within a new interpretive frame. Even when Fredrickson’s exegesis is not fully convincing, his creative act of textual comparison is still fruitful and provides a theological and hermeneutical seedbed of new questions and ways of approaching one of Paul’s most famous writings.

For Fredrickson, Philippians displays “Paul’s longing for the [Philippian] church and for Christ and Christ’s longing for mortals” (3). As Paul longs for the church (1:8), so Christ longs for communion with humanity. Whereas most Christian interpreters of Philippians 2:5-11 have read it as the obvious account of the condescension of the all-powerful second member of the Trinity, Fredrickson places the text alongside Greco-Roman poetic expressions of pothos, the physically-felt and self-emptying longing of the lover for the beloved. Fredricksen forwards the thesis that the Christ Hymn is comparable to other Greco-Roman poetic traditions of longing and that this might helpfully frame Christian theological reflection on what this text says about the nature of Jesus Christ. Fredrickson thus reads the passage “as if it were a narrative of longing, as if the motivation for the incarnation, life, and death of Jesus had been the Son of God’s impossible desire for communion with humanity” (1). Thus Fredrickson’s project is not a historical-critical denial of Christian theology but, rather, a literary re-contextualization of it. Although focused most intently on Philippians 2:5-11, Fredrickson’s reading supplies insights into the whole of the letter as well as the ancient practice and goals of letter-writing.

Chapter one problematizes the traditional assumption that ancient letters served for the audience as substitutes for the presence and voice of the author (13). While the establishment of authorial presence is indeed the goal of ancient letter writing, Fredrickson cites epistolary evidence to point out how fragile a conduit ancient letters really were, especially when author and recipient longed to actually be in one another’s presence. Fredrickson highlights the longing Paul himself expresses for his audience in the letter (1:3-8) and shows how authorial “absence comes around the corner just as presence and voice seem established” (15). The fragility of authorial presence, such as it is, simply served to make the heart grow fonder. This distance, which is at best only partially mitigated (if not also reinforced) by Paul’s letter, is the hallmark of the Philippian epistle in Fredrickson’s reading.

In chapters two and three, Fredrickson builds on this argument by further contextualizing Philippians as a letter of longing, highlighting the ways in which Paul characterizes himself and his Christ as marked by pothos. Fredrickson translates 1:8 as “For God is our witness how we long for you in the innards of Christ Jesus” (35, emphasis added). Compare his translation to the NRSV rendering: “For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.” Although the NRSV better translates the first-person singular character of the verb ἐπιποθῶ (epipothō), Fredrickson’s glossing of σπλάγχνοις (splanchnois) as “innards” highlights the bodily compassion Paul and Christ both feel. “Love happens in the innards. That is where pothos [longing] lodges. The innards were also known to melt away in longing for an absent beloved” (36). Such longing melts the innards and the lover empties herself, as she longs for communion with the beloved. Kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ, has traditionally been imaged as having to do with the self-limitation of Christ’s divine power through the act of incarnation. Within Fredrickson’s framing, Christ’s self-emptying is a bodily event (64), a deep sorrow that has lodged itself in the divine “innards.” Alongside Greco-Roman love poetry, 2:6-7 has less to do with the self-limitation of divinity and more to do with “the wasting effects of love” upon the body. Overcome with desire for communion, Christ “emptied himself” and took on the form of a slave—a slave of his beloved humanity (69).

If chapters two and three contextualize the love of Paul and Christ in Philippians as being marked by longing, chapters four, five, and six highlight the non-exploitative character of this love in Paul’s Christology and vision for the Philippians’ lives together. Christ “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,” and, therefore, neither are other people in the Philippian community things to be exploited. That “something to be exploited” (ἁρπαγμὸν, harpagmon), Fredrickson contends, can also be rendered within the semantic register of rape in antiquity. “Erotic seizure” was common among both gods and men. As Fredrickson playfully puts it, ancient “gods can do whatever they damn well please,” which places Christ’s refusal of such seizure in starker contrast (90). Erotic seizure, like modern-day rape, is not necessarily about sexual attraction or desire; rather, it is an expression of power and abuse, whether human or divine. Fredrickson contends that Paul calls the Philippians to embody Christ-like, non-exploitative, loving power in their community (105). This non-coercive leadership, like Paul’s longing for Philippi and Christ’s self-emptying pothos for humanity, are all profoundly physical expressions of Christian theology. Longing, and the communion it desires, is mapped onto and felt by physical and social bodies (143).

A good piece of biblical scholarship stands out among its peers not necessarily because its thesis is overwhelmingly persuasive, or because every element of its argument is unassailable to peer review. While interesting, Fredrickson’s “pothetic” reading of Phil 2:6-11 is not fully persuasive. Fredrickson seems to be on surer ground in highlighting Pauline longing in 1:8, but it is less evident to me that traditions of ancient rape stand behind ἁρπαγμὸν in 2:6 (the term can carry connotations of robbery and non-sexual force as well). Within the context of the verse, it is not “Christ’s refusal to abduct mortals” or rape them (94), but rather his refusal to exploit divine equality. Potentially more destructive to Fredrickson’s argument that Christ’s kenosis (2:7) has to do with longing rather than divine self-limitation is the immediately preceding verse, 2:6. Read together, vv. 6-7 are more easily read as Christ’s choice to refuse exploitation of divine equality, which in turn leads directly to his self-emptying, slavery, and obedience to death. Fredrickson’s comparison of this passage to Greco-Roman letters of longing is interesting, but it does not fully overturn the consensus reading of this passage as “Christ’s humble subordination to God’s will” (63).

These criticisms aside, I still reckon Fredrickson’s monograph to be an excellent contribution to biblical scholarship. Good biblical scholarship can stand apart because it attempts to muddy the waters of the biblical text for a reader—querying, problematizing, and even upsetting old interpretive paradigms by offering up a new reading of the relevant data or, better yet, offering up new data that sheds a different shade of light on a very old interpretive problem. A good biblical study will generate new questions instead of simply rehashing old orthodoxies, theological or scholarly. Fredrickson’s monograph is such a book. Inhabiting the kind of humility often read into the Christ Hymn (somewhat ironically, as this is a reading the author ultimately rejects), Fredrickson offers up a reading of the possible, of what might be animating the apostle’s rhetoric in Philippians (e.g., 2; 92). By assuming such a posture, Fredrickson succeeds in not only making an interesting argument but doing so in a winsome way. Biblical studies, as a field, is dominated by the rhetoric of certainty; Fredrickson’s study, on the other hand, is characterized by creative and humble questioning. Even when Fredrickson’s argument can be critiqued, his work still presses fresh questions to the biblical text and, in doing so, creatively opens up new passages for further explorations into the text and its ancient context. 

The Centurion, Son of God, and Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles

I am absolutely thrilled to share the news that my article, “The Centurion, Son of God, and Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles: Contesting Narrative and Commemoration with Mark” will be published in Horizons in Biblical Theology in late 2016 or early 2017!

This article grew out of an argument I’ve been trying to articulate about the Markan death of Jesus since I took a seminary course on the gospel in 2010. The argument was renewed and made more urgent for me this past fall, as I returned to Mark’s gospel and read it anew alongside the then-developing story of Kelly Gissendaner, the widespread support for her clemency, and her execution in September, 2016. I blogged about Kelly here. This article is my attempt to make good on that blog-post, to tell Kelly’s story truthfully, despite the counter-narrative given her by her executioners. Here is the abstract for my article:

Against a longstanding tradition of ascribing religious conversion to the centurion who witnesses Jesus’s death in Mark 15:39, I argue that his acclamation of Jesus as υἱὸς θεοῦ is better understood within the narrative as the words of a conquered enemy. The centurion’s confession parallels the responses of unclean spirits and Legion, two other vanquished enemies who, in the moment of defeat, see and name Jesus υἱὸς θεοῦ. By framing the centurion as a defeated enemy, Mark contests the meaning of Jesus’s crucifixion: rather than remembering it as a performance of Roman rule, Mark commemorates it as the summary victory of the rule of God. Turning from an ancient capital offender to a contemporary one, I recast the memory of Kelly Gissendaner, who was executed in Georgia in 2015, and attempt to narrate and commemorate her state-sanctioned death in light of the Markan Jesus’s.

If I am being very honest: this particular article means a lot to me. Mark’s story holds a very special place in my life and continues to tutor me in the way of discipleship and, when necessary, faithful resistance. As I mention in the piece, “this is not ‘disinterested scholarship.'” This is me at my most kerygmatic—my most Christian, my most honest—about how I see the world.  I am happy that it is my first “major” publication in the field.

Once published, I will share the piece here in full. Until then, here’s a portion of my conclusion:


Stamps in Sinaiticus

While looking through the digital edition of Codex Sinaiticus, I’ve noticed at least two pages (so far) emblazoned with this stamp:

Q35 F1r

This screen-grab was taken from quire 35, folio 1 (recto), but I’ve seen the stamp also on the first page of Tobit in Sinaiticus. Since 43 of Sinaiticus’s leaves are housed at University of Leipzig, I take this to be an emblem of that university. Is there a better explanation for it?

Furthermore, what purpose does it serve? Does it simply show ownership? Was the physical alteration of antiquities to show ownership common practice in the 19th century? Did no one think that altering an ancient manuscript might not be ethical? With the Green Collection, its mummy masks, and the (still unpublished) putative first-century fragment of Mark, have handling practices changed all that much?[1]

If anyone adds to these words…

On a lark, I thought it would be fun to check whether a modern editor/handler of Sinaiticus added anything to the end of Revelation. Luckily, they did:

Q91 F2r with circle

On the page immediately following Rev 22:18-19 and it’s dire warning against adding to and taking away from the words of the prophecy (quire 91, folio 2 [recto]), a modern handler has penciled-in the number “334.” Perhaps the Almighty will be gracious with him or her, since s/he only used pencil and, furthermore, most of the page belongs to Barnabas rather than Revelation!

[1] See, for example, Josh McDowell’s explanation of Green Collection handling practices: “It was in here that we discovered Mark, the oldest ever: back to the first century. Before then it was 120-142, the John Ryland Papyri [sic]. Now, what you do, you take this mask [chuckles]…Scholars die when they hear it, but we own them so you can do it. You take these manuscripts, we soak them in water. There is a process we use with huge microwaves to do it but it’s not quite as good. We put it down into water at a certain temperature and you can only use Palmolive soap, the rest will start to destroy the manuscripts; Palmolive soap won’t. And you start massaging it for about 30-40 minutes you’ll pull it up and ring it out, literally ring it out, these are worth millions, and you’ll put it back in for 30-45 minutes.” Read more at http://www.bricecjones.com/blog/the-first-century-gospel-of-mark-josh-mcdowell-and-mummy-masks-what-they-all-have-in-common

Intentional Scribal Changes and Textual Threats

One of my current interests lies in an attempt to answer the question of why some ancient scribes felt free to make intentional changes to the NT traditions as they copied them, while other scribes conducted their work more conservatively and tried, to the best of their ability, to reproduce their exemplars perfectly. Answers have been offered for particular kinds of scribal editing (e.g. Ehrman’s Orthodox Corruption of Scripture), but I am wondering why, given the apparent fixity of text, such habits even existed in the first place. Leaving small editorial changes, like alterations to spelling, to one side, let’s think about a few examples of scribal changes—two of which are quite major and have become much-beloved by many Christian readers.

Mark’s Ending, Bezae’s Luke, and the Pericope Adulterae

Off the top of my head, I can think of three examples of the NT gospels growing through the additions of later scribes: the endings of Mark 16, Luke 6 in Codex Bezae, and the Pericope Adulterae in John 8:1-11. Of course, I am tipping my hand to some of my assumptions on these debated texts: I think Mark ends at 16:8, Bezae’s addition to Luke 6 (otherwise unattested) is not original, and that the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is a much later addition to John’s text. But these contested texts are just some particularly good examples of the phenomenon I’m talking about; the so-called “free text” manuscripts of the gospels (e.g. P45) are more ho-hum examples of scribal freedom to alter the traditions being copied.

Mixed-Media Culture, Chirography, and Textual Threat

It’s interesting to me that the technology of chirography (handwriting) gave rise to a heightened system for fixing and securing traditions, even while some scribes persisted in editorial freedom. I wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with the mixed media culture of antiquity. Early Kelber wasn’t so off-base; there is something to the shift in medium from oral to written that affects the shape of the tradition. Writing allows for some movement towards stability, if for no other reason than written documents are very concrete aids to memory. You don’t have to recall the tradition from memory; you can look at it. It’s right in front of you.

But still, some scribes persisted in making their changes; some of them smallish and relatively unobtrusive, others striking and and obvious. Is the freedom to alter a ‘hangover’ from a predominately oral media culture in which small changes were allowed, so long as the tradition remained largely intact? Might some scribes have been operating akin to oral performers, whose task was to retain the gist of the tradition, in the reproduction of their texts?

Chirography also affords authors some ability to secure the tradition by textual threat. Revelation 22:18-19 famously threatens any scribe who would add to or take away from the text with divine plagues and denial of the benefits of the tree of life. Such a textual showing of force is not unique. As R.H. Charles points out in his classic commentary on Revelation, there are more than a few examples of ancient authors of written texts proscribing the alteration of their text: Deut 4.2; 1 Enoch 104.10-11; Letter of Aristeas 310-311; 2 Enoch 48.7-8; Josephus, Contra Apion 1.8; Irenaeus in Eusebius HE 5.20.2; Rabbi Meir in Sota 20.[1]

As the reasoning goes for laws, I suppose you don’t threaten against what isn’t already happening. Are these textual threats evidence that relative levels of freedom in scribal activity were common in antiquity?

What are the Rules? Why Changes?

I’ll end with some questions, and would welcome your responses: Was there a sense that some texts, but not others, could be changed? Was there some kind of media-cultural rule set governing which was which? Or do the above examples give us the “default setting” for expectations of scribal activity? If so, why so many examples of intentional scribal changes?

[1] R.H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, vol. 1, 2 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1920), 223–4.

The Sign of Jonah: The Legacy of a Prophet and the Destruction of a Tomb

About a month ago, militants of ISIS (or ISIL) destroyed the traditional tomb of Jonah, a prophet from the Hebrew Bible whose character, story, and legacy are important to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. There are many reasons to doubt that the remains of the actual prophet Jonah were housed in the tomb, but all that is beside the point. What is most striking to me, and what has remained in my thoughts ever since, is just how unfortunately and deeply ironic the tomb’s destruction is when compared to the biblical story.

The Legacy of a Prophet

Despite Jonah’s typical reception in churches and children’s Sunday School curricula, the eponymous prophet is not the ‘good guy’ in the story. He is the protagonist, to be sure, but throughout the story Jonah is always working at odds to the aims of God. When God calls upon Jonah to preach repentance to Nineveh—a city of Israel’s enemies; infidels, perhaps—the prophet runs away. You know the story well: Jonah flees, God cuts off his escape and Jonah, finally and begrudgingly, lands in Nineveh and proclaims a message against them. Shockingly, everyone in Nineveh—even the animals!—fasts, dons sackcloth, and repents (3:5-9). Here readers might expect Jonah to be pleased: preachers are typically happy when their message is well-received.

Not Jonah. The news of Nineveh’s repentance is “displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1, NRSV). He offers up to God a prayer not of thankfulness but disgust: “Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (4:2). The subtext is clear: Jonah is frustrated because God did not pour out his wrath on Israel’s enemies, the Ninevites. Jonah is enraged that God’s mercy and love could extend beyond the borders of Israel. Jonah believes the love, mercy, and favor of God belong only to his people. He wishes only wrath on Nineveh, and finds God’s mercy for the city utterly incomprehensible.

He never comes around, never admits the error of his ways. Jonah is an ethnocentrist, a xenophobe. An extremist, in other words, who wishes his tribal God would simply destroy the damnable Ninevites, wipe them from the face of the earth and reserve his blessing and mercy for Israel alone.

It is the Ninevites, in the end, who exhibit the behaviors we might expect from a faithful Israelite. They, not Jonah, are the true ‘good guys’ in the story. They, not Jonah, repent.

Although Jonah is the only character from Israel in the narrative, it is still an Israelite’s story. Before Jonah’s story was important to Muslims or Christians, it was an Israelite—and then a Jewish—tale. In the story, Jonah reflects none of the qualities of a good Israelite, but that is how the narrative works: it is an Israelite story for Israelite listeners about how not to be Israelite, a via negativa for faithfulness that insists that the mercy of Israel’s God is not limited to Israel alone.

The story of Jonah ends with the prophet bemoaning God’s mercy, wishing Nineveh had been blotted off the map. Since God will not destroy Nineveh as Jonah wishes he would, Jonah decides it would be better to die rather than live in a world in which the tribal deity becomes universal and the tribe’s enemies become Israel’s brethren (4:1-3, 8, 9-11).

The Destruction of a Tomb

The destruction of Jonah’s tomb is unfortunate and sad for many reasons, but it is also an unfortunately and sadly appropriate summation of the biblical character’s legacy. Jonah and ISIS/L share a particular bent, a way of seeing the world that is not limited to extremists from the Middle East, but lives on wherever people cry out for the destruction of their enemies. Jonah and ISIS/L see the world in black and white, us/them. ‘We’ cannot be ‘them’ and ‘they’ cannot be ‘us.’ ‘We’ are God’s people and ‘they’ are our enemies. ‘They’ must be destroyed and ‘we’ must be blessed.

And so Jonah’s tomb was destroyed because it belonged to ISIS/L’s enemies and was deemed ‘idolatrous.’ ISIS/L continues its march against its ‘enemies’—religious and cultural minorities who do not share their theology and anthropology—and does for themselves what Jonah wished God would have done on his behalf.

Jonah’s tomb is gone, but his legacy lives on. ISIS/L have unwittingly picked up Jonah’s mantle, contributed to his legacy, and perpetuated the violent xenophobia that marked Jonah as unfaithful. The story of Jonah is now historical.

‘And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

Jonah 4:11

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’

Matt. 12:38-39.