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Rene Salm at the SBL (2)

In my post yesterday I began to explain why René Salm’s claim that Nazareth did not exist in the days of Jesus is dead wrong and is rejected by every recognized authority – whether archaeologist, textual scholar, or historian; whether Jewish, Christian, agnostic, or other . Here is my second and final post on the subject, again, with apologies to those who have read it already, lifted from my treatment in Did Jesus Exist?   ***************************************************************************************************************** Salm also claims that the pottery found on the site that is dated to the time of Jesus is not really from this period, even though he is not an expert on pottery. Two archaeologists who reply to Salm’s protestations say the following: “Salm’s personal evaluation of the pottery … reveals his lack of expertise in the area as well as his lack of serious research in the sources.” They go on to state: “By ignoring or dismissing solid ceramic, numismatic [that is, coins], and literary evidence for Nazareth’s existence during the Late Hellenisitic and Early Roman period, it [...]

2020-04-03T19:10:51-04:00November 29th, 2012|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Rene Salm at the Society of Biblical Literature Meeting

Several people have sent me private emails asking why René Salm was put on the program at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting, given the fact that he is not a scholar and has no credentials in the field. For those of you who don’t know, Salm has written a book claiming that Nazareth did not exist in the first century, so that Jesus couldn’t be there. He argues this in part because he doesn’t think Jesus existed and so wants to discredit the Gospel stories by saying the Christian authors made the whole thing up. Several scholars (well, everyone who mentioned it to me) were outraged that Salm was allowed to be on the program. This meeting is of a learned society and is to be for scholars with established expertise. It is not to be a venue for people without qualifications to spout their wild theories. Salm claims that those who oppose him have a theological or religious bias against his views, but this simply is not true. EVERYONE who is an expert [...]

2020-04-03T19:10:59-04:00November 29th, 2012|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

The Pope’s New Book

So, I read the Pope’s new book last night, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.  It wasn’t what I expected.  I don’t know why it wasn’t what I expected:  about thirty seconds solemn reflection should have told me what it would be.  But I believed the media reports and was led astray.  The press coverage stressed the things I pointed out in my post yesterday:  we don’t know what year exactly Jesus was born, since the calendar devised by the sixth-century Dionysius Exiguus was off; we don’t know if Jesus was born on December 25; there is no NT record of an ox and an ass at the manger scene; etc. etc. But as it turns out, these are very, very minor points in the book, and not what the Pope is interested in at all.  As it often does, the media cherry picked the parts of the book, minor as they are, in order to stress what seems (to the media) as sensational and newsworthy.  But these things are not what the book is [...]

2020-12-17T16:28:41-05:00November 27th, 2012|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Religion in the News|

The Other Gospels and the Birth of Jesus

Right now I have the “other” Gospels on my mind.   It’s true, I often have them on my mind, since they have been a focus for a good deal of my research over the past few years, and will continue to be for some years to come.  But just now, they are particularly on my mind even though the book I’m currently writing (How Jesus Became God) is about something else. They’re on my mind for three reasons.  First, I’ve agreed with Oxford Press, to produce, along with my colleague Zlatko Plese, an English-only edition of The Apocryphal Gospels, which came out in a Greek/Latin/Coptic-English edition last year; this new edition will include only the English translations with new introductions geared for a general audience.  So I have to rewrite all the introductions, and the am bound by contract to do it by the end of January. Second, I have agreed to write a brief (2000-word) article for Newsweek this week, to be published in a couple of weeks, about the birth of Jesus, and [...]

2020-04-03T19:11:19-04:00November 26th, 2012|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|


Hearty apologies to anyone (if there is anyone! :-) ) who has come to expect daily posts from me. As with so many other people on the planet (well, in America) this has been an inordinately busy time for me, and I just haven’t had the spare 45 minutes that I daily try to devote to the blog. Right on the heels of the packed Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Chicago (starting the next day) was the Thanksgiving preparations and with family coming in from literally all over the country, it’s been hectic. The frenetic pace is starting to die down now, and tomorrow I return to my normal ways and go on a very serious diet…. On Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday. Christmas I love as well, even though, obviously, I do not celebrate it as a Christian. But I celebrate it and love Christmas trees and Christmas music, of all sorts, and giving presents (not buying them; that’s a pain. But I love giving them!), and being with family and eating and [...]

2020-04-03T19:11:27-04:00November 26th, 2012|Reflections and Ruminations|

The SBL Meeting

I’m just back from the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting, which took place, this year, in Chicago.   This is a professional meeting that always occurs the week before Thanksgiving, where professors of biblical studies from around the country (and less-so, around the world) come together for about four days to give and hear academic papers on an enormous range of topics related to biblical studies.  Maybe 5000 or 6000 of them/us?  The vast majority of people in that camp are themselves religiously committed in one way or the other (mainly Christian, fewer Jews); some of us are not believers but are simply interested in the Bible for historical, cultural, or literary reasons – although even most of us in that boat started out in our academic lives as believers. I read two papers at the conference.  One was actually at a meeting going on in conjunction with it, rather than part of it, the Biblical Archaeology Society Fest – where they bring in twenty scholars, most of the archaeologists, to discuss with the lay [...]

How Do I Read Books?

QUESTION: How do you go about reading books? Which methods do you use in order to read as much as possibile? How do make plans how much to read? Do you highlight things in books? Do you you’re your own comments? Summaries? Any other tips? RESPONSE: Ah, this is an interesting question. As it turns out, there’s not an easy answer. That’s because there are many different ways I read books, depending on what kind of book it is. I realize we’re talking about books dealing with scholarship – not Victorian novels! But I read different books differently depending on what it is, what it’s about, and what I want/need to get out of it. When I was in graduate school I had a friend who insisted that anyone should be able to read an entire book of scholarship every day. I had trouble believing him, but in fact it’s true. In fact, when you get good at it, you can read much more than that. It all depends on what you are reading it [...]

2020-04-03T19:12:30-04:00November 19th, 2012|Book Discussions, Reader’s Questions|

Modern Interest in the Apostolic Fathers

An interest in the "church Fathers" emerged in Western Europe among humanists of the Renaissance, many of whom saw in the golden age of patristics their own forebears -- cultured scholars imbued with the classics of Western Civilization, concerned with deep religious and philosophical problems. No wonder, then, that the humanists focused their attention on the writings of the "great" Fathers of the church such as Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, the Cappadocians, and the like, while showing virtually no interest in their comparatively "primitive" and "uncultured" predecessors, such as Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, and Hermas, who on no reckoning were cultured scholars or brilliant thinkers. When a “most ancient” church Father like Irenaeus was mentioned, it was usually in order to show the unrefined nature of his theology and to censure his aberrant doctrinal views, which failed to reflect the more mature and nuanced statements of later times. The Reformation provided some impetus for the study of Christian writings immediately after the New Testament period, but even then few scholars evinced an [...]

The Collection: Apostolic Fathers

About a week or so ago I talked about translating the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library. Some people have asked me to say more about the Apostolic Fathers. It may be useful to devote a couple of posts to this collection: when were these authors first gathered together? Who decides which books should be included in the corpus? On what grounds? Etc. For much of this I draw from the Introduction in my edition. The term “apostolic father” first occurs in the Hogedos of Anastasius, the seventh-century anti-monophysite abbot of St. Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai, who spoke of “the apostolic  father Dionysius the Areopagite.”  Somewhat ironically, the works of Dionysius the Areopagite, allegedly the convert of the apostle Paul (Acts 17:34), have never been included in modern collections of the Apostolic Fathers: since the sixteenth century they have been recognized as forgeries of later times (possibly the early sixth century).   (They are still fascinating reading: but they are not writings by someone from the generation after the apostles.)  In any event, neither Anastasius [...]

Thomas and the Other Gospels

One of the benefits of teaching at a research university with a graduate program is that – at least where I am – there are periodic reading groups with other faculty members and graduate students. I go to a couple of these a month, including one that I organize. As it turns out, last week I went to two. The first was mine, the (other ) CIA, in which we typically read someone’s work-in-progress. That week’s presentation was a paper by my former student and soon-to-be faculty member in early Christianity at Duke Divinity School, Maria Doerfler, an exceptionally bright and erudite human being, who gave a paper on a virtually unknown letter by the famous fourth-century bishop Ambrose in which he condemns – ready for this? – cross-dressing. I have to admit, I knew nothing about it, or the issues that it raises (about fourth-century understandings of masculinity as they played a role in the then burgeoning Christian church). And the next night there as a New Testament Colloquium at Duke, organized by my [...]

Lost Gospels That Are Still Lost 4: Q

Several respondents on the blog have asked me whether I would consider Q to be a lost Gospel that is still lost. My answer is direct and emphatic: yes I do! And to the question, also asked several times, if I had one lost Christian writing that I could have turn up tomorrow, what would it be? – again, unless someone imagines that there was once something like Jesus’ lost autobiography (!), my answer is: Q! Some members of the blog may not know what we’re talking about when we’re talking about Q, so let me explain. In the nineteenth century, some NT scholars became obsessed with the question of why Matthew, Mark, and Luke agreed frequently in so many ways and yet also have so many differences. These three are called the Synoptic Gospels (as opposed to John) this because they do indeed have so many stories that are the same, often in the same sequence, and often with precise word-for-word agreements, so that you can put their stories on the same page and [...]

2020-04-03T19:13:03-04:00November 15th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha, Reader’s Questions|

Lost Gospels That Are Still Lost 3: The Greater Questions of Mary

I have been discussing some of the Gospels that we know about because they are mentioned, or even quoted, by church fathers, but that no longer survive. Another, particularly intriguing, Gospel like this – one that I desperately wish we had, for reasons that will soon become clear -- is known as “The Greater Questions of Mary” (i.e., of Mary Magdalene). My following comments on it are more or less lifted from my Introduction in the recent Apocryphal Gospels volume. One of the “great questions” for scholars is whether such a book ever really did exist. It is mentioned only once in ancient literature, in a highly charged polemical context by Epiphanius of Salamis, a Christian heresy-hunter who was prone to exaggeration and fabrication, who was incautious at best in his attacks against heretical sects in his book the Panarion (= “Medicine Chest”; in it Epiphanius supplies the “antidotes” for the “snake-bites of heresy”). The most notorious of the groups that Epiphanius attacks were known by a variety of names, including the “Phibionites.” According to [...]

Forgery and Counterforgery

Forgery and Counterforgery is the first comprehensive study of early Christian pseudepigrapha ever produced in English. In it, Ehrman argues that ancient critics–pagan, Jewish, and Christian–understood false... [button url="" target="_blank" size="small" style="teal grey" ]Learn More[/button]

2020-04-03T19:13:24-04:00November 14th, 2012|Book Discussions|

It Has Arrived! Forgery and Counterforgery in Early Christian Polemics.

I have rarely – ever? – been so pleased with the appearance of a publication in my life.   Last night when I got home from running some errands, a box was waiting for me, from Oxford University Press.   It had my ten author’s copies of Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.  I’m very excited about it, like a kid who has just gotten a fantastic present.   In my opinion, this is the best book I’ve ever written, years in the making.  As I have said before on this blog, it is written for scholars, although a number of people have commented that it seems, from the quotations I’ve given, to be accessible to laypeople as well (normal people, as opposed to abnormal scholars).   I’ll say a bit more about it in the next post, for now, I thought I would simply give you a taste, by quoting the very first, opening, paragraphs (without the footnotes): *********************************************************************************************************************** Arguably the most distinctive feature of the early Christian literature is the degree [...]

2020-04-11T15:37:29-04:00November 13th, 2012|Book Discussions, Forgery in Antiquity, Public Forum|

Lost Gospels That Are Still Lost 2: The Gospel of Basilides

In my previous post I started a mini-series on Gospels that we know about but that are still lost. One of the early Gnostic figures mentioned by the late-second century heresy-hunter Irenaeus was a man named Basilides. As with the Cainites, we do not have any writings from Basilides or any of his followers, and so all we know about these people and their writings is what authors like Irenaeus tell us. That is somewhat like asking Karl Rove for a fair assessment of Obamacare. You have to take the description with a pound of salt. We don’t know if Basilides actually had a Gospel, but Irenaeus does tell us of an episode from the life of Jesus from one of the writings used by Basilides, so it’s completely plausible that this was found in a Gospel book available to him (alternatively, it could simply have been a tradition he passed along). It has to do with Jesus’ crucifixion. And it’s an amazing story. To understand Basilides’ account of the crucifixion, it’s important to realize [...]

Lost Gospels That Are Still Lost 1

QUESTION: Are there any lost gospels mentioned by early Christian authors that have not been discovered yet? RESPONSE: Ah, this is a great question. The answer is definitely yes. But I don’t think I know all of them, and it would be worth while compiling a list. Maybe someone has compiled one already. In fact, someone probably has! I just don’t recall ever seeing one. But there are indeed Gospels mentioned by Christian authors that we no longer have. I think I’ll spend a few posts talking about some of them, starting in this post with the best known instance – one that no longer applies since it has now been found. This of course is (not the Gospel of Jesus’ wife – which is never mentioned by any ancient source – but) the Gospel of Judas, mentioned by the church father Ireanaeus as used by the Gnostic sect known as the Cainites, but until just a few years ago, completely unknown. I was involved with the publication of the Gospel of Judas – National [...]

The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations

I mentioned in my previous post that by a matter of serendipity, I decided to produce a bi-lingual edition of the Apocryphal Gospels. My idea was to make available to scholars who wanted easy access to (virtually all) the non-canonical Gospels in the original language a one-volume edition, and to make available to everyone, whether scholars or not, solid and new English translations of all these works. The original idea was to include all the early and important Gospels (up to the Middle Ages) in Greek, Latin, and English. But when I switched publishers to Oxford, I realized that I could do more than that, and decided to include some in Coptic as well. Had I been really ambitious I could have gone for some in other languages, but that would have stretched me too far. The Coptic itself was a stretch.  I had read Coptic at a fairly basic level for years, but I was no expert.   And so I decided to ask my colleague Zlatko Plese to join me in producing the volume.   [...]

2020-04-03T19:13:50-04:00November 9th, 2012|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha, Heresy and Orthodoxy|

Serendipity 3: The Apocryphal Gospels Volume

I mentioned in previous posts that a good deal of my career has developed because of serendipitous moments. As I look back on it (from this halfway point ), most of the good things that have happened to me seem to have come about by pure chance. Of course, I took advantage of the chances as they came along. But still, no one can deny that a major chunk of life is all by chance. In those two earlier posts, I talked about how my first teaching position at Rutgers was pure chance – a professor of NT there had to take emergency leave in the middle of a semester because her husband had been diagnosed with cancer (and if I had not, as a result, landed that job, I never, ever would have been hired at the University of North Carolina, and could well be pursuing an entirely different career, as a result; I’ll say more of that in another post). And, far less momentously, I discussed in another post how I lucked into [...]

2020-04-03T19:13:58-04:00November 8th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|

A Stranger Problem with Lake’s Translation

Other problems with the edition of the Apostolic Fathers done by Kirsopp Lake relate to the period when he produced it. This is scarcely an avoidable problem, of course; but the reality is that his time is not ours. Lake was born in 1872 and was given, then, a solid Victorian education in the classics in Oxford. And there are passages in his translation where his cultural milieu shines through, none more clearly than in Barnabas 10, where Barnabas is discussing some of the food laws of the Old Testament in order to show that Jews have misconstrued them in a literal way -- misled as they were by an evil angel -- when in fact God meant them to be taken figuratively as indications of how one was to live. And so, for Barnabas, the commandment not to eat pork, for example, does not literally mean not to eat pork; it is a command not to live like or associate with people who are like pigs -- who grunt loudly when hungry but are [...]

Problems with Lake’s Translation of the Apostolic Fathers

Some people have asked if I could give some examples of the problems with the translations of the Apostolic Fathers in the original edition done by Kirsopp Lake. It’s a fair enough question – although I do want to stress for the 29th time that I think on the whole he made a very fine translation indeed. But there are some serious and widely recognized problems with it. As one might expect, the translations are dated in places. No longer do we use intentionally archaizing language in translations to indicate their sacrality or antiquity. Lake did do that. It’s like speaking King James English, though, when talking about religion, instead of just talking as one normally talks. Technically it’s not wrong, but it’s a bit strange. Even the authors of the Bible (not to mention the Apostolic Fathers) spoke in the language of their day, not stilted language of 400 years earlier (despite what you hear from the people who still think the King James Version is the one and only inspired translation of the [...]

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