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Textual Problems in the Apostolic Fathers 2

In my previous post I discussed a textual problem in the writings of Ignatius, simply as a way of illustrating the kinds of textual decisions that need to be made when one publishes a new edition of any ancient text. There are lots and lots of textual variants in the various writings of the apostolic fathers. As with the New Testament (where there are thousands more manuscripts and hundreds of thousands more variants), most of the variant readings do not matter for much. But some of them are of real importance. Another important textual problem is found in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, our earliest surviving Christian martyrology – that is, the first account, outside the New Testament, of a Christian being martyred for his faith. It is a fascinating account – required reading for anyone interested in early Christianity! In it, the old man Polycarp, Christian bishop of Smyrna, is tracked down and arrested by the local officials, who take him to the arena for public judgment. When he refuses to renounce his faith, he [...]

Textual Problems in the Apostolic Fathers 1

In my previous two posts I discussed how I was asked to do a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library. In the previous post I mentioned several difficulties confronting anyone doing a bi-lingual edition of a text. Among other things, there is the problem of knowing what to print as the text to be translated. The problem is that (a) we do not have the original texts of any of the Apostolic Fathers (just as we do not have the originals of any book of the New Testament, or of the Hebrew Bible, or, well, of any book from the ancient world) and (b) the copies we have all differ from one another. And so which copies do we trust? For each of the apostolic fathers there are different sets of problems along these lines, because these writings were not circulated, before the 17th century, as a group, but separately, for the most part. And so, manuscripts that have the Letters of Ignatius do not also have the Martyrdom of [...]

The Loeb Apostolic Fathers: The Challenges

To continue my thread about translating the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs…. So, the editor at Harvard Press, Peg Fulton, asked me if I would be interested in taking on the task of doing a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs. She wasn’t offering me the opportunity then and there. She was suggesting that I write up a prospectus that she could take to the board of the Loebs, in which I described the need for a new edition and explained how I would go about making one. After I thought about it for a while, and got advice from my friends, I decided to go for it. I had never (ever!) planned doing a serious translation project for publication. I had lots of other things I wanted to write – scholarly monographs, textbooks, and so on. But I thought it made sense to do it, both personally and professionally. So I wrote up the prospectus and the editorial board agreed it was a task that needed to be done – and [...]

The Apostolic Fathers: Serendipity Strikes

It seems that much that has happened in my professional life has been because of serendipity.  Back when I was a believer, we called it Providence.  (!)   It’s how I got my first job at Rutgers in 1984; how I got my current position at UNC in 1988; how I got asked to write something other than a technical study involving the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament – a textbook for undergraduates (in the early 1990s), and thus, in a sense, started my publishing career; how I had my first bestselling book (Misquoting Jesus) become a NY Times bestseller in 2005; and, as it turns out, how I came to undertake my first major translation project, a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (starting in 1999; published in 2003). I may tell the other stories at some point (I think I’ve told the first one already on the blog; I’ll have to look to see). For now, the Loebs. So in 1999 (I *think* that was the year [...]

2020-04-03T19:16:22-04:00October 28th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Proto-Orthodox Writers|

Translating the Apostolic Fathers

In my last post I answered a question about whether I would ever publish a translation of the New Testament. (Short answer: almost certainly not!). But I want to take a couple of posts to talk about the work of translation. There is a very big difference between being able to read an ancient text in its ancient language (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, whatever) and producing a translation of it for publication. You might think that it’s all basically the same thing: if you can read it, you can publish a translation of it. But as it turns out, it’s not that simple. I didn’t realize this for years and years, until I started publishing translations of ancient texts. My first experience was about fifteen years ago now, when I was asked to do a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library. Here I’ll give some background on that project and the series it appeared in, and in the next post I’ll talk about the difficulties of producing a translation. FOR [...]

My Translation of the NT?

QUESTION: Do you have any plans to publish your own "best" version of the NT in English? From reading several of your books, it does seem as though you probably already have a translation sitting in a drawer somewhere. I have not been able to find scholarly reconstruction that was produced in the last three and a half decades. Most of the newer "translations" are theologically motivated and sound more like modern slang. Have any of your colleagues/ students produced a readable version you would recommend? (Thousands of footnotes do not make for a readable text!) I would very much like to see your translation/interpretation sitting on a bookshelf. RESPONSE: No, as it turns out, I have never written out a full translation of the New Testament.   For several reasons.  First, there are a number of excellent translations already available that have been done by some of the best NT scholars on the planet.  My translation would be different, but not necessarily better.  Of course, I would think that where mine differed it would be [...]

Lincoln’s Watch and Eyewitnesses

A fascinating news item has appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine. At first it may not be obvious how it connects to Christianity in Antiquity. But I think it does. It is about a watch owned by Abraham Lincoln. Here is the link to the full story, with a photo: So the deal is this, as described in the article On April 13, 1861, Irish immigrant and watchmaker Jonathan Dillon, working for the M.W. Galt and Co. jewelers in Washington, D.C., was repairing President Abraham Lincoln's pocket watch, when he heard of the attack [on Fort Sumter). Forty-five years later, Dillon told the New York Times what he did that day. "I was in the act of screwing on the dial when Mr. Galt announced the news. I unscrewed the dial, and with a sharp instrument wrote on the metal beneath: ‘The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try.'" Note that the watch maker himself revealed what he had inscribed on the interior of [...]

2020-04-03T19:16:50-04:00October 25th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Memory Studies|

Secret Followers of Jesus?

QUESTION: Tangential to the discussion here but what do you think of the idea symbolized by the Joseph of Arimathea character that there may have been closeted sympathizers or even fellow travelers of the Jesus movement among members of the Sanhedrin? RESPONSE: It’s a good question.  My sense is that it is virtually inconceivable that there were followers of Jesus, closeted or otherwise, in the Sanhedrin.  For a lot of reasons.  The main one is that according to our earliest accounts, Jesus’ entire public ministry was spent teaching in Galilee.  He was unknown in Jerusalem (I know that John puts him there earlier on several occasions, but that’s a later conceit).  I think the first time anyone in Jerusalem had ever even heard of Jesus was when he caused the ruckus in the Temple the last week of his life.  So he almost certainly had no followers among the aristocratic elite there. In addition to that, I think the later Christians who told stories about Jesus wanted their hearers/readers to “know” that Jesus had a [...]

Pilate and Barabbas

I have received a number of interesting responses to my comments about Pontius Pilate, the Romans’ use of crucifixion, and the likelihood that, as a rule, Romans did not allow decent burials for the victims but left them to scavenging birds and animals -- helpless, defenseless, and in agony. A couple of people have suggested that since Pilate had the custom of releasing a prisoner to the crowds during the Passover, this would show a basic interest in placating the crowds and might suggest that he would indeed be willing to observe Jewish custom and law by removing the bodies and allowing for proper burial. This account of Pilate’s willingness is, of course, in all the Gospels (Matthew and Luke have picked it up from Mark) (it is not in the fragment of the Gospel of Peter that we have). I appreciate this comment, and I realize that there was something going on in the back of my mind that I should have put up front even before I started talking about Pilate not caring [...]

Decent Burials for Crucified Victims

In my previous post I quoted a number of ancient sources that indicated that part of the torture and humiliation of being crucified in antiquity was being left, helpless, exposed not just to the elements but to scavenging birds and other animals. These sources suggest that the normal practice was to leave the victims on the cross to be pecked and gnawed at both before and after death; in some instances there are indications that this would go on for days. And so the question naturally arises if the same thing could be expected in the case of people being crucified in Judea around the year 30 CE. As I pointed out John Dominic Crossan maintains that this was indeed the case and that Jesus corpse probably met the same fate. I used to think that was a ridiculous position to take, but now I’m not so sure. To decide the issue, one needs to consider the ancient evidence, not simply go on what your personal opinions are based on what you’ve always heard and [...]

Crucified Bodies and Scavengers

As I have indicated in earlier posts, some years ago now, New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, one of the leading scholars today discussing the historical Jesus, made the argument that rather than being properly buried, Jesus’ body may have been eaten by scavenging dogs. You can see his discussion in his popular book, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. (Crossan does not believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead; but he does consider himself to be a Christian.) At the time I thought that it was an outrageous view, and that Jesus was almost certainly buried by Joseph of Arimathea immediately upon his death. In some of my posts I have raised some reasons for doubting the Joseph of Arimathea tradition. Recently I finally got around to doing some actual research on the question. It turns out that it was widely known and accepted in antiquity that to be crucified meant to be food for scavengers. This was part of the torture (while living) and humiliation (after death). The crucified person was unable to [...]

Women Who Did Not Doubt the Resurrection

In my post yesterday I noted something unusual about the doubting tradition in the resurrection narratives (i.e., the tradition that some of the disciples simply didn’t believe that Jesus was raised) – in addition, of course, to the fact that there is such a dominant doubting tradition! (itself a fascinating phenomenon) – which is that there is no word anywhere of the women who discover the tomb doubting, but clear indications (either by implication or by explicit statement) that some or all of the male disciples doubted. This is true of three of our four Gospels. Mark 16:8. (This one is by implication only) We are told that the women never tell anyone that they have found the tomb to be empty. So, the disciples are not said to believe and, in fact, so far as we know from this Gospel, no one does come to believe. (Obviously someone did, otherwise we wouldn’t have the Gospel!) Luke 24:10-11. The disciples think the tale of women told that Jesus has been raised as he predicted is [...]

Disciples Who Doubt the Resurrection

QUESTION: Are we to understand from this that some of the actual disciples, the inner circle, doubted? Is this the origin of the “Doubting Thomas” character in John? Maybe not everyone got a vision of the risen Christ? Perhaps these are hints that after the crucifixion some of the group ran away and DIDN’T come back! RESPONSE: This is a question specifically about the stories of the resurrection of Jesus, and it is one that I’ve been pondering myself intensely for a couple of weeks. It would help to have the data in front of us. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Otherwise, your DOUBTS AND QUESTIONS WILL NEVER BE ANSWERED!!! The tradition that the disciples doubted that Jesus was raised from the dead – even though they have seen him – is in every Gospel that has resurrection appearances (i.e., Matthew, Luke, John; it may be suggested in Mark; and it is clearly implied as well in Acts) Matt 28:17.  Jesus appears to the eleven, but “some doubt.”  [...]

2020-04-03T19:18:13-04:00October 17th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Why Was Jesus Killed?

QUESTION: I don’t see the rationale for the Romans to crucify Jesus. It doesn’t appear that he verbalized any anti-Roman propaganda nor was anything anti-Roman alluded to in Josephus’s couple of lines on Jesus. Pilate probably didn’t even know who Jesus was (possibly the bouncing back and forth between Herod was legend). RESPONSE: Yes, it’s a great question and completely central to the story of Jesus: why was he crucified? First off, I agree the Herod story is almost certainly not historical. It’s found only in Luke and is part of Luke’s attempt to show that Pilate was innocent and wanted nothing to do with Jesus’ execution (he tried to fob him off on the ruler of Galilee). Herod too finds him innocent. So if the ruling authorities aren’t to blame, who is? It’s those blasted Jews! It would take an entire book to answer your question adequately, but I do want to say a couple of things about it.   The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans is one of the most secure facts we [...]

2020-04-03T19:18:19-04:00October 16th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Anti-Judaism in the Gospels

QUESTION: It is in my understanding that it is of common scholarly opinion that the Gospel writers (at least Matthew, Luke, and John) were rather anti-Semitic in nature. Correct? How would you respond to that claim? After reading “The Origin of Satan” by Elaine Pagels, it is a subject that deeply interests me, and I would love to hear your professional opinion on the matter. RESPONSE: This question actually ties into some of the things I’ve been thinking about with respect to the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and so it seems appropriate to answer it now rather than in a separate blog. I won’t deal with the question on the very broadest level, but will consider one feature of the Gospels that shows that with the passing of time they become more and more anti-Jewish. I should say at the outset that I do not think that the Gospel writers, or anyone else in their time, was “anti-Semitic.”   The idea and reality of anti-Semitism are modern, and are based on modern sense of [...]

Books and Icebergs

A couple of snapshots of my life right now, followed by a comment. Snapshot One: Snapshot one:  I’ve had a couple of people ask me why I’m reading so many books and articles about the resurrection right now, in preparation for my book How Jesus Became God.  The resurrection, of course, is key to answering the question of the title, since if Jesus was thought to have been executed, and to have stayed dead, not only would there never have been anything like Christianity, but Jesus himself would have been thought of by posterity as, possibly, a Jewish preacher who ended up on the wrong side of the law, or a failed messianic pretender, or yet another prophet who met a bad end, or something else – but not God.   The resurrection itself did not immediately make anyone think Jesus was God (at least that’s what I’m going to argue in the book), but without the resurrection, the thought process that eventually declared he was God would never have been set in motion. But back [...]

2020-04-03T19:18:34-04:00October 14th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions|

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: Another New Development

In earlier posts I talked about the “discovery” of the tiny credit-card sized fragment of a Coptic Gospel, with several lines of text on it, in one of which Jesus is recorded as speaking the words “my wife.” The text has been named “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” As I mentioned in a previous blog, there are heated discussions of the fragment’s authenticity, with a large number of experts contending that it is a modern forgery. We will probably not know for certain until the tests on the ink have been conducted and published. But in the meantime there is one interesting development. In my last post on the topic I discussed an article by Francis Watson of the University of Durham, England, and author of Text and Truth, and Gospel Writing, who argues that every word and phrase of this fragment could easily have been lifted from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas – with one exception: the very phrase that everyone is interested in, “My wife.” Watson’s argument is that someone (recently) who is [...]

2020-04-30T13:31:45-04:00October 13th, 2012|Christian Apocrypha, Religion in the News|

Were the Disciples Martyred for Believing the Resurrection?

QUESTION: Another very very popular evidence put forward for the resurrection is “the disciples would not have died for what they knew was a lie, therefore it must have happened.” I hear this all the time. You note that they really believed they saw Jesus after he died so they were not lying. However, is there evidence (historical or literary) that they were killed because of their belief in Jesus’ resurrection? RESPONSE: Ah yes, if I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this comment over the years, I could retire to a country-home in Maine…. Several other people have responded to this question on the blog by saying that we have lots of records of lots of people who have died for a something that they knew, literally, not to be true. I am not in a position to argue that particular point. But I can say something about all the disciples dying for believing in the resurrection. The way the argument (by Christian apologists) goes is this (I know this, because I [...]

2020-04-03T19:18:50-04:00October 12th, 2012|Reader’s Questions|

Was Jesus Given a Decent Burial (By Joseph of Arimathea)

One of the most pressing historical questions surrounding the death of Jesus is whether Jesus really was given a decent burial, as the NT Gospels indicate in their story of Joseph of Arimathea. Even though the story that Joseph, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, received permission to bury Jesus is multiply attested in independent sources (see, e.g., Mark 15:43-47; John 19:38-42), scholars have long adduced reasons for suspecting that the account may have been invented by Christians who wanted to make sure that they could say with confidence that the tomb was empty on the third day. The logic is that if no one knew for sure where Jesus was buried, then no one could say that his tomb was empty; and if the tomb was not empty, then Jesus obviously was not physically raised from the dead. And so the story of the resurrection more or less required a story of a burial, in a known spot, by a known person. For some historians, that makes the story suspicious. There are real grounds [...]

2020-04-03T19:18:58-04:00October 10th, 2012|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Paul and the Resurrection of the “Flesh”?

QUESTIONS: But what is a BODILY resurrection without the flesh? And doesn’t this indicate that the flesh (the corpse) didn’t matter anymore and could be left behind, rotting and decomposing? Isn’t it all about the spirit finally getting this new, better, perfect, divine ‘body’? Addendum: The Greek for ‘spiritual’ (like in spiritual body) is pneumatikos, right? According to Strong’s that means: pertaining to wind or breath, windy, exposed to the wind, blowing. Now those wouldn’t be obvious words to describe something physical or made out of matter, would it? They seems to rather define something ‘intangible’ RESPONSE: OK, I’ve been getting a lot of questions along these lines (some on the blog itself). So I need to try to clarify the whole matter. It’s not easy, for a variety of reasons. But I’ll do my best. First thing to stress: the ancient apocalyptic view of the human that Paul had is not the view of the human that WE have.   This is one instance where it becomes crystal clear that we have to try to [...]

2020-04-03T19:19:05-04:00October 9th, 2012|Afterlife, Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|
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