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End of the Year Reflections on the Blog

So, it’s the last day of the year, and I thought I would take a moment to reflect on life, meaning, and the state of the blog.  Mainly, for now, the state of the blog.   Some statistics would be useful, both of what I wanted to accomplish before the year was out (which will be in five and a half hours, my time) and what we did accomplish. So, to start with, my plan at the outset. I really didn’t know how the blog would go, whether it would have any success at all or be a complete dud.   My computer guru for the site, Steven Ray, and I worked for months getting it set up.  Well, actually, he worked for several months.  I dilly-dallied and told him what to do.  He had earlier designed my website, , which I liked very much (and still do like), and so I asked him to set up the blog.  He did almost all the work, and I still think it looks fantastic and works great.  Any [...]

2013-11-07T17:19:27-05:00December 31st, 2012|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Why Was The Letter of Barnabas Attributed to Barnabas?

QUESTION: So why was the Letter of Barnabas thought to have been written by Barnabas?   BACKGROUND: This question was asked in reference to my discussion of “Gematria” in the Letter of Barnabas. For fuller background, if you’re interested, you should refer to this post: “Another Instance of Gematria (For Members)” (the search function on the blog is very good, btw; it is in the upper right hand corner of your screen). In that post I note that the “Letter of Barnabas” was not actually written by Barnabas. In fact, it could not have been, since it is almost certainly to be dated to the 130s CE (for reasons I could explain if anyone really wants to know….). Barnabas, the companion of Paul, must have died no later than the 70s CE, more likely the 60s – some seventy years before this letter was written. So Barnabas couldn’t have written it. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, THE YEAR IS [...]

Introductions to The Lost Gospels

As many of you know, this past year my colleague Zlatko Plese and I published a bilingual edition of the Apocryphal Gospels. Actually, it was quadrilineal. We included all the Gospels of the early centuries (up until the Middle Ages, and some important ones even from then) in Greek, Latin, and Coptic, with the original language on the left side of the page and a new English translation on the right. This past summer, after it came out, I decided that it would be really nice to have an English-only edition of these texts for people (this would be most people) who aren’t interested in seeing what the original languages say. There are about 40 Gospels altogether that we included, with short introductions. To produce the English version we are simply reproducing our translations, with Introductions geared for general readers rather than for scholars. So I’m touching up the introductions to try to get them at the proper reading level/expertise/level of interest. I’d like to get some feedback. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log [...]

2020-11-24T18:58:36-05:00December 29th, 2012|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|

Responses to Reactions (on “Christmas Longings”)

Thanks to all for your feedback on my “Christmas Longings” (yesterday’s post). It was/is interesting indeed to see the enormous range of reactions. I’ve not seen anything like that for any other post over the blog’s nine-months of existence. I will not respond at any great length to any of them here – or even make comments on all of them in the comment section – though I will respond there to a few of them that seem to me to require comment. But I appreciate all the feedback, one way or the other. After this short post, I will get back to the business at hand: Christianity in Antiquity (I’m working on an English edition of the Other Gospels just now, and have some things I want to post about it, starting tomorrow). But by way of shorthand, in brief response to the responses, I can say the following. For those who have wondered: No, I am not planning on going back to church regularly or to become a Christian. Don’t see how I [...]

2020-04-03T19:06:39-04:00December 28th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Christmas Longings

So we have managed to make our way through another Christmas season.  I had a number of posts leading up to the big day, and now I’d like to make a couple of others looking back upon it from this side.   But first let me say that I hope all of you – whether fundamentalist (not too many of *you* on this blog!!), liberal Christian, Jew, Muslim, agnostic, atheist,  or none of the above – had a very nice, relaxing, rejuvenating, and fulfilling holiday.   I did. In the opening chapter of my book God’s Problem, I talked about going to church on Christmas Eve in 2006 with my wife Sarah and brother-in-law Simon, in Saffron-Walden, a market town in England where Simon lives, not far from Cambridge.  It was a somber but moving Christmas Eve service, and yet one that had the opposite of the intended effect on me.  It made me realize just how estranged I was from the Christian faith, from the notion that with Christ God entered into the world and took [...]

2018-01-01T01:17:08-05:00December 27th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Reflections on the Season

I will need to take a break from posting to the blog for a few days.   I am in London and the next few days will be visiting family; I will be incommunicado until the day after Boxing Day (as they call it here).  For those of you who don’t know, my wife Sarah is a Brit, and her family is all here.   We have a flat in London (Wimbledon, actually) and we spend 2-3 months out of the year here.  This time of year there is a lot of seeing family.   It’s not *exactly* the twelve days of Christmas, but sometimes it feels like it – opening presents with one part of the family, then another, then another. This really is one of my favorite times of the year.  When I was a kid, as is true for a lot of kids, Christmas was a big deal for me.   I loved all the trappings: Christmas trees, Christmas shopping, Christmas lights, Christmas presents.   And as a kid I very much appreciated the religious aspects of it as [...]

2018-01-01T01:17:35-05:00December 24th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Luke’s First Edition

In my previous post, ostensibly on the genealogy of Luke, I pointed out that there are good reasons for thinking that the Gospel originally was published – in a kind of “first edition” – without what are now the first two chapters, so that the very beginning was what is now 3:1 (this is many centuries, of course, before anyone started using chapters and verses.) If that’s the case, Luke was originally a Gospel like Mark’s that did not have a birth and infancy narratives. These were added later, in a second edition (either by the same author or by someone else). If that’s the case then the Gospel began with John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus, followed by the genealogy which makes better sense here, at the beginning, than it does in the third chapter once the first two are added. But is there any hard evidence that a first edition began without the first two chapters? One of the reasons it is so hard to say is because we simply don’t [...]

Luke’s Genealogy

In my previous posts I have already said a number of things about the genealogy in Luke – possibly most of the important things: it differs from Matthew’s in numerous ways, many of them irreconcilable; even though it too is a genealogy of Joseph, rather than Jesus, it traces Joseph’s line through a (completely) different set of ancestors back to Nathan, son of David, rather than to Solomon Son of David; it is not, however a genealogy of Mary, but is explicitly said to be Joseph’s; it is not clear why a genealogy of Joseph is given, since the whole point of a genealogy is bloodlines, and Jesus is not in the bloodline; Unlike Matthew it begins with Joseph and works backward from there (that is not a discrepancy, of course, just a different way of doing it); And unlike Matthew it does not stop with Abraham but goes all the way back to Adam – as in Adam and Eve. And it goes in fact a step further, indicating that Adam was “the son [...]

2020-04-03T19:06:58-04:00December 22nd, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

The Women in Matthew’s Genealogy

Another bit drawn mainly from my undergraduate textbook, but of relevance to my current thread on the birth narratives of Jesus. There is one other interesting and frequently-noted feature of Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (actually, not of Jesus, but of Joseph). That is the fact that it makes explicit reference to women among Jesus’ ancestors. That is highly unusual. Women scarcely ever appear in most ancient Israelite and Jewish genealogies;, which invariably trace a person’s lineage from father to son (or vice versa) all the way back through the family line; see, as I pointed out earlier 1 Chronicles 1-9. Where are the women? For ancient genealogists, as a rule, they were not important enough to mention. But Matthew not only ends his genealogy by mentioning Mary, Jesus’ mother, but he also includes reference to four other women: Tamar (v. 3), Rahab (v. 5), Ruth (v. 5), and the “wife of Uriah” that is, Bathsheba (v. 6). Stories about all four of these women are found in the Jewish Scriptures (Tamar: Genesis 38; Rahab: Joshua2, [...]

2020-04-30T11:54:29-04:00December 21st, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Women in Early Christianity|

Another Instance of Gematria

From my last post on the gematria at work (possibly) in Matthew’s genealogy, I can’t resist adding a note about the Jewish use of gematria – or its Greek equivalent – in another early Christian writing, the epistle of Barnabas. First: two bits of background. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, NOW'S YOUR CHANCE!!! The epistle of Barnabas was seen as part of the New Testament by a number of early Christian writers.  It almost made it in.  It is attributed (not by the author himself, but by later readers) to Paul’s traveling companion – mentioned in Acts – Barnabas.  But the book itself is anonymous, and it was certainly not written by Barnabas, who was long dead by the time it was produced.   Scholars generally date the book to around the year 130 or so (Barnabas would have died at least 70 years earlier).   The book represents an attempt to show its Christian readers that the Jews who [...]

Matthew’s Genealogy: The Number “Fourteen”

Like my previous post, this one takes material over from my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. I pointed out in the previous post that Matthew presents a numerically significant genealogy of Jesus in order to show that something of major significance happen every fourteen generations:  from Abraham, the father of the Jews, to David, the greatest king of the Jews: fourteen generations; from King David to the Babylonian Captivity, the greatest disaster for the Jews: fourteen generations; and from the Babylonian Captivity to the Messiah Jesus, the ultimate savior of the Jews: fourteen generations. It’s a terrific genealogy.  But to get to this 14-14-14 schema, Matthew had to manipulate the names in a couple of places, for example, by leaving out some of the generations and by counting the final set of names as fourteen, even though there are only thirteen.   And so, we might wonder whether the number fourteen, in particular, was for some reasons significant for Matthew.  Why not 15, or 12? Over the years interpreters [...]

2020-04-03T19:07:23-04:00December 19th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

Matthew’s Genealogy

As I have pointed out, the reader who first comes to the New Testament, and so begins at the beginning, with Matthew chapter 1, first finds him/herself confronted with a genealogy. This may not seem like an auspicious beginning, but the genealogy is highly significant for understanding Matthew’s Gospel, since this genealogy is mean to emphasize Jesus' "credentials" precisely as the messiah. And so v. 1 indicates that Jesus he was "the son of David, the son of Abraham." (“son of” in this context obviously means: “descendant from”). And why highlight his relationship to David and Abraham in particular, before giving the details in the genealogy? It is because Matthew's ancient reader would realize full well that Abraham was “the father of the Jews,” and David was the greatest king in the history of Israel, whose descendant was to resume his rule, enthroned in Jerusalem, reigning over a sovereign state of Israel as God's anointed. This son of David would be descended from the Jewish greats and would, in fact, be the messiah. Thus Matthew [...]

2020-04-03T19:08:28-04:00December 18th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

Genealogies of Matthew and Luke

One of the differences between the stories of Matthew and Luke in their infancy narratives is in their genealogies of Jesus (which for Luke, oddly enough, does not actually occur in his infancy narrative!). I know that genealogies are among the least favorite reading for many students of the Bible, and one may be a bit dismayed in starting to read the New Testament, with the very opening of the very first book, Matthew, to find a genealogy! But I tell my students to suck it up: this one is only sixteen verses long. If they want a REAL genealogy, they should go to the book of 1 Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible: NINE chapters (count them, nine) of genealogies. When I was in college I took a correspondence course on the Bible and for the course we had to memorize verses as part of the assignment. I think the designers of the course had in mind verses like John 1:1; 1:14; 3:16; Romans 3:23 and so on. For my verses I chose some out [...]

2020-04-03T19:08:36-04:00December 17th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

More Responses to My Newsweek Article

When the editor at Newsweek ask me if I would be willing to write an article on the birth of Jesus, I was hesitant and wrote him back asking if he was sure he really wanted me to do it. I told him that I seem to be incapable of writing anything that doesn’t stir up controversy. It must be in my blood. Still, he said that they knew about my work and were not afraid of controversy, and they did indeed want an article from me. What’s interesting to me is that I’ve been getting it from all sides. I don’t know why that should surprise me. It seems to be the story of my life. For years my agnostic and atheist readers were cheering me on from the sidelines as I talked about the problems posed by a critical study of the New Testament: there are discrepancies and contradictions, the Gospels are not written by eyewitnesses, and the stories they contain were modified over time, and many of them were invented, in the [...]

2020-04-03T19:08:44-04:00December 15th, 2012|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Religion in the News|

Responses to my Newsweek Article

My Newsweek article this week has generated a lot of response.  I have no idea what kind of comments they typically get for their stories, but so far, as of now, there have been 559 on mine; and most of them are negative – to no one’s surprise – written by people (conservative evangelicals and fundamenalists for the most part, from what I can tell) who think that the Gospels are perfectly accurate in what they have to say about Jesus – not just at his birth but for his entire life.  A lot of these respondents think that anyone who thinks that the New Testament contains discrepancies is too smart for his or her own good and blind at the same time (not sure how it can go both ways, but there it is). I’ve also been getting a lot of email from incensed readers, including a sixteen-year old girl who tells me that she is a Pentecostal Christian who has read the Bible 160 times and is now starting her 161st; she was [...]

The Infancy Narratives Compared

In two previous posts I’ve detailed what happens in Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth and then in Matthew’s.  I will assume those two previous posts in the comments that I want to make in this one.  The problem people have with reading these two accounts, usually, is the problem they have reading the Gospels (and the Bible as a whole) generally.  Or at least this has been my experience.  It’s the problem of assuming that one account is basically saying the same thing as some other account. People do that with the Bible all the time.   With the New Testament, people tend to read Matthew as if he’s saying the same thing as Mark; John as if it’s the same thing as Luke; Paul’s letters as if, at heart, they’re the same thing as James; Revelation as if it’s the same thing as John.  And on and on and on. One of the most important tasks I have as an undergraduate teacher of the New Testament is to get students to see that each of [...]

2020-04-03T19:08:51-04:00December 13th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

Cover Stories on Jesus

Apologies to all for being “off” the blog for a couple of days. I’ve been in D.C. getting ready and primed for a new course that I’ll be doing with the Great Courses; it will be an audio course (no video for this one) called “The Greatest Controversies in Early Christianity,” where I deal with some hot topics, including two that I’ve been hitting here on the blog lately (Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem? And Was Jesus’ Mother a Virgin?), and others I haven’t (Was Paul the Real Founder of Christianity? Did the Jews Kill Jesus? Did Constantine Decide Which Books Would Be in the New Testament? Etc.) – 24 lectures altogether. I’ll be taping in February. (Now that I’ve thought about it, I think every lecture could be given with one word: No!) And while I was in D.C. – just yesterday – I learned that a story I wrote for Newsweek on the birth of Jesus was made the cover story this week. It’s kind of a goofy cover, but hey, I had [...]

2020-04-03T19:09:05-04:00December 11th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Religion in the News|

Matthew’s Version of the Birth of Jesus

Yesterday’s blog was about the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke; today I talk about Matthew. Even a casual reading shows that these are two very different accounts. Matthew has nothing about the birth of John the Baptist, the Annunciation, the census, the trip to Bethlehem, the shepherds, the presentation in the Temple. Matthew’s version, as a result, is much shorter. Most of his stories are found only in his account. And some of the differences from Luke appear to involve downright discrepancies, as I will try to show in another post. For now: Matthew’s version. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus. Luke also has a genealogy, but it is given after Jesus is baptized in ch. 3, instead of where you would expect it, at his birth in ch. 1. I’ll explain my view of that in a later post. After the genealogy of Matthew in which Jesus is traced to David, the greatest king of Israel, and to Abraham, the father of Israel, we move right to the birth story. Mary has [...]

2020-04-03T19:09:12-04:00December 8th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

Luke’s Version of Jesus’ Birth

Now that I’ve had several preliminary posts about the accounts of Jesus’ birth, I can get into some of the details from the surviving texts. As I’ve indicated, it is only Matthew and Luke that tell the tales of the infancy narrative, and the annual “Christmas Pageant” that so many of us grew up seeing is in fact a conflation of the two accounts, making one mega-account out of two that are so different up and down the line. And so, the Annunciation to Mary is in Luke, the dream of Joseph in Matthew; the shepherds are in Luke, the wise men in Matthew; the trip to Bethlehem is in Luke, the Flight to Egypt is in Matthew, and so forth and so on. You can compare them yourself, up and down the line, and see the differences. In this post I want to focus on Luke’s account. Then I will look at Matthew’s. And then I will compare the two in a couple of key points in order to show that the differences between [...]

2020-04-03T19:09:19-04:00December 8th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|

The Christmas Story: Some Basic Background

Now that I have posted a couple of my earlier published reflections on Christmas, I can make some comments in a series of posts, going into a bit more detail. This first post more or less states some of the basic information that most readers know, but that it’s worth while stressing as a kind of ground clearing exercise. To begin with, we are extremely limited in our sources when it comes to knowing anything at all about the birth of Jesus. In fact, at the end of the day, I think we can’t really know much at all. Just to cut to the chase, I think that it is most probable that he was born in Nazareth in the northern part of what we today think of as Israel (back then, in Galilee), where he was certainly raised from the time he was a child. His parents were Jewish by birth, religion, culture. I’d assume their names were really Joseph and Mary. We don’t know anything about them other than the fact that Joseph [...]

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