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More on Recent Manuscript Discoveries

As I am taking a break from my Christological posts for a couple of days, I’ve received several inquiries about other things, including the newsworthy manuscript discoveries announced this past year: what has happened to them? Specifically, what about that Gospel of Jesus’ Wife that was named, announced, and published by Karen King back in September, and what about the first-century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark that Dan Wallace announced but would tell us nothing about in the debate that he had with me in Chapel Hill back in February, over a year ago now. As far as I know, in both instances the answer is the same. We have heard nothing new about either one. That’s very disappointing! Both of them would be highly significant if they were actually, authentically, what their discoverers/publishers say they are! FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!!! First on the Coptic Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.  The vast majority of experts – just [...]

Progress on My Book

My apologies to anyone and everyone who is not all that interested in Christology and the development of how Jesus came to be seen as God. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’ve been obsessed with it lately, especially here on my blog. The problem is that I’m so focused on my writing for the book, How Jesus Became God, that I don’t have energy to write about anything else at the end of the day. But it anyone has questions about any other topic that they would like me to address – or if you’ve asked me to deal with an issue before that I haven’t dealt with despite my sincere promises – let me know and I’ll do my best. Today I’m taking a break from writing. We have family in from England and so it’s a “blow-off” few days for me. I thought I’d just say something here briefly about the progress I’ve been making on the book and reflect for a minute on the writing process itself. So [...]

2020-04-03T18:40:57-04:00March 29th, 2013|Book Discussions|

Modern Visions of Jesus

The disciples were not, of course, the only ones who had visions of Jesus after he died.  People continued to see Jesus alive afterwards.  And in fact, he continues to appear in modern times.   Here are a couple of interesting examples taken from the draft of ch. 5 of my book, How Jesus Became God: ************************************************************************************************************************ And consider the modern appearances of Jesus.   Some of these are documented by Phillip H. Wiebe, in his book Visions of Jesus: Direct Encounters from the New Testament to Today.  I should stress that Wiebe is not a religious fanatic on a mission.  He is chair of the Philosophy Department at Trinity Western University, which is to be sure, a Christian school, but it is not a place for wackos.  And Wiebe is a serious scholar.  His book is published by Oxford University Press.   Still, at the end of the day, he thinks that something “transcendent” has led to some of the modern visions of Jesus that he recounts.  In other words, they – or some of them – [...]

2017-12-31T23:23:29-05:00March 28th, 2013|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Visions of Mary

I wrote chapter five of How Jesus Became God today; there will be nine chapters altogether.  In this one I am talking about the visions of Jesus that the disciples had.  I think they really had visions.  Whether that's because Jesus really appeared to them or because they were hallucinating is the difference between believers and unbelievers, and as a historian, I don't feel particularly inclined to judge one way or the other.  As a non-believer, of course, I, well, don't believe it.   In any event, I think it's important to put visions of Jesus in the context of other kinds of visions, and here I have a short section on visions claimed (and documented) for the Blessed Virgin Mary. *********************************************************************************************************************** Also of relevance to our reflections is that visions of revered religious figures from the past are one of the best documented kind of visionary experience.   Here I can speak just briefly about the “appearances” of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and visions in the modern world of Jesus himself. The Blessed Virgin Mary René [...]

2020-04-03T18:41:07-04:00March 27th, 2013|Book Discussions|

Divine Wisdom

Another passage from my chapter 2, on divine beings in Judaism ****************************************************************************************************************** If you read enough scholarly literature, you will quickly see that scholars tend to use some technical terms for no good reason, other than the fact that they are the technical terms scholars use. This is true even when scholar could talk in language that normal human beings normally use. When I was in graduate school we used to ask, wryly, why we should use a perfectly good English term when we had an obscure Latin or German term we would serve the purpose instead? But there are some rare terms that simply don’t have satisfactory, simple words that adequately express the same thing, and the word “hypostasis” (plural: hypostases) is one of them. Possibly the closest thing to a more common term meaning roughly the same thing would be “personification” – but even that doesn’t quite get it, and it too isn’t a word you normally hear in line at the grocery store. The term hypostasis comes from the Greek, where it [...]

Jesus as the Messiah

Here's a draft of a few paragraphs from ch. 3 of my book How Jesus Became God. Again, it's only in rough draft, but let me know if you see any problems with it. ********************************************************************************************************************* It appears that some Jews who had this expectation of the future messiah saw him in purely political terms: a great and powerful king who would bring about the restored kingdom through military force, taking up the sword to dispose of the enemies. Other Jews – especially of a more apocalyptic bent – anticipated that this future event would be somewhat more miraculous, an act of God when he personally intervened in the course of history to make Israel once more a kingdom ruled through his messiah. Those who were most avidly apocalyptic believed that this future kingdom would be no ordinary run-of-the-mill political system with all its bureaucracies and corruption, but would in fact be the kingdom of God, a utopian state in which there would be no evil, pain, or suffering of any kind. FOR THE REST OF [...]

The Son of Man as Divine

Another bit from my ch. 2 of How Jesus Became God.  It's just a draft.  I'm interested in feedback if you think there are problems or ambiguities in what I say.  It's a very brief treatment, I know.... ********************************************************************************************************************** There are other figures – apart from God himself – who are sometimes described as divine in ancient Jewish sources, both in the Bible and in later writings from near the time of Jesus and his followers.   The first is modeled  on a figure found in an enigmatic passage of Scripture, Daniel 7, a figure that came to be known as “the Son of Man.” The Son of Man For my purposes here I do not need to provide a thorough summary or analysis of the vision that led to the Son of Man speculations in later times.   The ostensible setting of the book of Daniel is in the sixth century BCE – although scholars are convinced that the book was not actually written then, but centuries later in the second century BCE.   In this book [...]

The Divine Realm in Antiquity

Here's a draft of another key bit from my chapter 1 of How Jesus Became God ************************************************************************************************************************ From these various examples, we can see a variety of ways that divine beings could be thought to be human and that humans could be though to be divine in the ancient world.   I scarcely need to stress again that this way of looking at things stands considerably at odds with how most people understand the relationship of the human and the divine in our world, at least people who stand in the western religious tradition (Jews, Christians, Muslims).   As I have noted already, in our world it is widely thought that the divine realm is separated from the human by an immense and unbridgeable chasm.   God is one thing.  Humans are another thing.  And never the twain shall meet.   Well, almost never: in the Christian tradition they did meet once, in the person of Jesus.  And our question is how that was thought to have happened.  At the root of that thought, as I will be arguing, [...]

2020-04-03T18:42:57-04:00March 22nd, 2013|Book Discussions, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

The Jewish King as God

A chunk from my chapter 2, a finding that surprised me very much once I made it (surprising I didn't discover it earlier -- like 30 years ago....) ********************************************************************************************************************* The son of a human is human, just as the son of a dog is a dog and the son of a cat is a cat.  And so what is the son of God?   As it turns out, to the surprise of many casual readers of the Bible, there are passages where the king of Israel, widely called the son of God (e.g. 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7), is actually referred to as divine, as god. The Yale Hebrew Bible scholar John Collins points out that this notion ultimately appears to derive from Egyptian ways of thinking about their king, the Pharaoh, as a divine being.   Even in Egypt, where the king was God, it did not mean that the king was on a par with the great gods, any more than the Roman emperor was thought to be on a par with Jupiter or Mars.  [...]

2020-04-03T18:43:05-04:00March 20th, 2013|Book Discussions, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Who Is Really God?

This is how my chapter 2 of How Jesus Became God starts, in the current draft. ************************************************************************************************* When I first started my teaching career in the mid 1980s I was offered an adjunct position at Rutgers University. My teaching load was three courses a semester. The tenured faculty taught three courses as well, and were, of course, considered full time. But since I was only an adjunct, my three courses were considered part time. You just have to love university administrations: since I was part time, they did not have to provide a decent salary or benefits. To make ends meet, I worked other jobs, including one at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. There was a long-term project under way there called the Princeton Epigraphy Project. It involved collecting, cataloguing, and entering onto a computer data base all of the inscriptions (writings carved on stone) in major urban centers throughout the ancient Mediterranean. These then were eventually published in separate volumes for each location. I was the research grunt for the person in [...]

Gods Who (Apparently) Become Human

I’m happy to say that I began writing my book How Jesus Became God today.  Here is a chunk from the first chapter. ************************************************************************************* Christianity arose in the Roman Empire immediately after the death of Jesus around the year 30 CE.  This empire was thoroughly infused with Greek culture – so much so that the common language of the empire, the language in fact in which the entire New Testament was written – was Greek.  And so to understand the views of the early Christians we need to situate them in their own historical and cultural context, which means in the Greek and Roman worlds.  In the next chapter I will show that even though Jews had many distinctive views of their own, in many key respects of immediate concern for our study, they shared (in their own ways) many of the views of their Roman friends and neighbors.  This is important to know because Jesus himself was a Jew, as were his immediate followers – including the ones who first proclaimed that he was [...]

2020-04-03T18:43:21-04:00March 18th, 2013|Book Discussions, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Seriously off topic….

OK, this is comletely irrelevant to anything related to the blog – especially early Christology, my current topic.   But I thought it was too funny to pass up.   A fellow who lived in my neighborhood, but whom I never knew (to my regret: he sounds like he was a remarkably interesting guy), beloved chemistry professor Dr. James Bonk died Friday at the age of 82, ending his 53-year career at Duke University.  According to the local newspaper: Bonk’s classes were such a staple that Duke introductory chemistry classes became known as “Bonkistry” classes, which approximately 30,000 students attended. He was nationally known for comical incidents with students, one rumored to have taken place in the 1960s. The Bonk joke is that the weekend before a final exam, four students decided to visit the University of Virginia for the weekend and let off some steam. They were due back Sunday in time for their exam Monday morning, but were too hung over to travel. When they arrived back at Duke late, they told Bonk that they [...]

2017-12-31T23:30:24-05:00March 17th, 2013|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Jesus and My First Girlfriend

Just a short anecdote today.  Not sure if I’ll use it in the book. My first serious girlfriend was Lynn, whom I met when we were starting our sophomore year in high school.  She was funny, personable, attractive, intelligent, and Jewish.   I’m not sure I had ever known a Jewish person before her.  I think she was somehow related to the Levi-Strauss branch of reality, although she and her two sisters and mom (who was divorced and a single mother) were not rich.  But they were pretty much like me and my family, middle class and doing fine. I don’t recall that we ever talked about religion, and looking back I suppose it’s a bit surprising.   They certainly weren’t observant Jews and my uninformed sense is that they were completely secular.  I don’t know if they went to synagogue or kept any of the holidays, but I kind-a doubt it.  In any event, at that point in my life religion wasn’t really my main concern when it came to a girlfriend. We were a hot [...]

2020-04-03T18:43:30-04:00March 15th, 2013|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Pastor Goranson, the Son of God, and I

Here is the kind of anecdote that I’m thinking about including in my book on How Jesus Became God; if I use it – or others like it – it would begin a chapter, before I move to the scholarly issues. ************************************************************************************************************ When I attended Moody Bible Institute in the mid 1970s, every student was required, every semester, to do some kind of Christian ministry work.   Like all of my fellow students I was completely untrained and unqualified to do the things I did, but I think Moody believed in on-the-job training.   And so every student had to have one semester where, for maybe 2-3 hours one afternoon a week, they would engage in “door-to-door evangelism.”  That involved being transported to some neighborhood in Chicago, knocking on doors, trying to strike up a conversation, get into the homes, and convert people.  A fundamentalist version of the Mormon missionary thing, also carried out two-by-two. One semester I was a late-night counselor on the Moody Christian radio station.  People would call up with questions about the Bible [...]

Anecdotes in Trade Books

The *point* of this post comes near the end. The first trade book that I wrote (that is, a book for a general reading audience, as opposed to a scholarly book for scholars) was Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, which appeared in 1999.   I wrote several after that (including one that I like among my best: Lost Christianities), but it wasn’t until Misquoting Jesus in 2005 that I feel like I “hit my stride.”   That was the book where I think I “figure it out” – that is, figured out how to write not for my colleagues in the field of early Christian studies or New Testament, and not for university colleagues in other disciplines, and not for 19 year old college students (the readers of my textbooks), but for average, interested, educated lay persons who don’t know the jargon or technical aspects of my field, or probably any academic field, but want to know what scholars are saying without feeling like they are being “talked down to” by a condescending intellectual. That [...]

2020-04-03T18:44:00-04:00March 13th, 2013|Book Discussions|

A New Phase for My Book

Today I’ve started the next phase on my book, How Jesus Became God, and as I was thinking about it earlier, I realized that this is probably my favorite phase.  Writing a book involves a lot of different tasks, and different authors enjoy different ones of them more than others.   Until just now I had never quite mapped it out like this, but now that I have, I’ve realized that I go through four main tasks (each of which is subdivided into different elements):  reading, thinking, organizing, and writing. Reading and thinking usually go on at the same time.   I usually conceptualize what a project will be and then start thinking about how I will approach it and what I will need to cover.  That tells me what I need to read.   And so I read everything of relevance to what I want to do.   This is definitely the learning phase of a project, and it gives me the chance to read tons and tons of things that I’ve known about but never had the [...]

2020-04-03T18:44:09-04:00March 12th, 2013|Book Discussions|

A Privileged View of Suffering

Sometimes people get upset because I deal with the problem of suffering even though I don’t seem to be experiencing any severe pain and misery myself. Here is an example of the kind of comment I occasionally receive, this from someone commenting to me on Facebook a couple of days ago: "Dude, in a world of suffering, you claim doubts in deity because you live the privileged life of a UNC professor. If you lived in a 40-year-old trailer in Tarboro, I'd take you more seriously. And you even charge people to read your self-indulgent crap. Just for the record, I'm a non-theist. But I'm not a hypocrite." I take comments like this very seriously. Even though I recognize that it is (needlessly?) hostile, my sense is that a lot of people who feel this way are themselves experiencing real hardship and find it offensive that I would have the gall to talk about issues of pain and suffering. And so I’m not at all inclined to reply in kind, with hostility. But I do [...]

2017-12-31T23:35:34-05:00March 11th, 2013|Bart's Critics, Reflections and Ruminations|

Maintaining Your Moral Compass – Morally Agnostic

Agnostics with a moral compass. In this post I’ll be sticking with my theme of yesterday, related to the lecture I gave at NYU, two nights ago now, about how the Bible deals with the problem of suffering. At the end of the lecture I indicated that I have a view of suffering related to that set out in the book of Ecclesiastes. The author of Ecclesiastes, claiming to be king of Solomon (even though he was living many centuries later) stressed that life is short. It is here for a little while and then gone – and that our view of how to live should be controlled by that uncomfortable but very real fact. For this author there is no obvious justice in the here and now. Righteous people suffer and the wicked often prosper. And the injustice of this life will not be made up in the afterlife since, for this author, there is probably not going to *be* an afterlife. This life is all there is. Which is why, for him, “a [...]

Biblical Views of Suffering

On something different from Christology! I’m in New York City for a few days. Last night I gave a lecture at NYU; they had asked that I talk about “God, The Bible, and the Problem of Suffering.” That’s the topic of my book God’s Problem, and so I spun off a talk from there. Part of the point of the book is that the Bible has a large number of views about why people – especially the people of God – suffer, many of these views are at odds with one another, and most of them are different from what people, even highly religious people, even highly religious people who think they based their views on the Bible, tend to think. The lecture was only to be 50 minutes so I couldn’t spend much time on this that or the other view, and in fact could not deal with most of the biblical perspectives. I didn’t talk about Job, for example (which, in the judgment of most biblical scholars, is made up of the work [...]

2017-12-31T23:37:04-05:00March 8th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

“Human” Appearances of God in the Old Testament

So far in my posts on Christology I have talked a bit about pagan views of the divine realm and its relationship to the human. I have a lot more to say about that – in particular with the various ways that humans could be thought of as in some sense divine in the pagan world. But more than a few people have asked me what any of this has to do with Christianity since obviously the original followers of Jesus were Jewish, not Gentile, and their views of divinity in relationship to humanity would have been guided by Jewish traditions, such as those of the Old Testament. Fair enough! So before going any further, I thought I should make some posts about divinity in relationship to humanity in the Christian Old Testament. 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 TO JOIN!!! The first thing to stress is that even though parts of the Old Testament portray God [...]

2020-04-03T18:44:24-04:00March 5th, 2013|Book Discussions, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|
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