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Off to Israel

I'm off to Israel first thing tomorrow morning, and will be gone for ten days.  I’ll be on email most days; I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to blog, but I’ll do my best. So this is an alumni tour for UNC, just over 20 people going (they limited it to that size), along with Sarah and me.  It’s a great deal for me.  On these things the university will send a faculty member who gives a few lectures, hangs out with the people, answers questions, engages in conversation – and gets a free trip out of it!  Things could be worse…. This will be my fourth time in Israel.   The first time I went was in 1993, and I remember quite vividly thinking before that that it was not a place I much wanted to visit.  That seems weird – and seemed weird to me even at the time – since obviously a good deal of my research has to do with Israel 2000 years ago.  But I think that I had [...]

The God Christ and the Jews

I should probably at some point provide a sketch of how my book How Jesus Became God will be structured and organized (I don’t *think* I’ve done that yet; I need to look).  In any event, in the second to last chapter  I show how by the fourth century there was a broad consensus that Jesus was God in a very concrete sense: he was co-eternal with God the Father (there never was a time before which he did not exist) and was “of the same substance” with the Father, and therefore was actually equal with the Father.  In the final chapter, I go into the ramifications of this view for various polemical relationships Christians were in: with pagans (whose emperor used to be a competitor-divine-man with Jesus), with one another (as more Christological controversies erupted), and with Jews.   Here’s a part of my section on what the effect of the claim that Jesus was God had on the relations of Christians and Jews. ****************************************************************************** To discuss the rise of Christian anti-Judaism in antiquity would [...]


OK, apologies to all 29,475 of you who noticed that I said "astrology" instead of "astronomy" yesterday, and that I dated the earth -- not the universe --at 13.8 billion years old.   Mistakes noted! It was a long day: ten hours of writing and editing, and then the blog.  Yuk!   But, well, at least I know that lots of you were paying attention.   I won't post your comments if they simply were making corrections this time around..... I am nearing the finish line with the draft of the book.   I've written all ten chapters and the Preface, and edited it all once.   Now I'm working on the second time through, editing, adding footnotes, improving style, polishing, and so on.   On Monday I'll be sending it to four very sharp colleagues in the field: they've agreed to read it and make comments on everything from substance to style.  I HATE this part of it, because I always want anything I write to be perfect, and it never is, and people notice, and I have a thin [...]

2013-11-05T20:09:39-05:00April 26th, 2013|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

On Scholarly Consensus

A question about scholarly consensus from a reader and an answer from me. This is something  a little different, in response to an issue raised regarding my post yesterday: A Comment From a Reader About Scholarly Consensus: I have a minor suggestion. I hope you don’t mind me bringing it up. If you have heard it before, feel free to disregard it. If you haven’t heard it before and you disagree with it, feel free to disregard it. However, if you haven’t heard this before and you do find it helpful, then that’s cool! As to the charge of elitism/air of superiority that you said is thrown at you from time to time, I think a good way to avoid that charge would be to always focus on the information/facts/evidence that is the reason why the scholarly consensus is the scholarly consensus on an issue. I think this is a better way to go than emphasizing scholarly credentials as the reason why a scholar’s views should be listened to. Now don’t get me wrong. I [...]

2022-06-07T21:23:35-04:00April 25th, 2013|Reader’s Questions, Teaching Christianity|

Back to School: Graduate Studies

Another couple of posts on teaching. As I indicated, I teach one undergraduate and one graduate course a semester. Teaching undergraduates is a passion of mine. I love doing it. These are nineteen year olds who are inquisitive, interested, and interesting. I enjoy lecturing to a crowd like that, figuring out what can make complicated material intriguing and compelling, keeping them attentive, helping them understand such important topics Some of my colleagues find teaching undergraduates a real chore; others find it very difficult. I find it to be a pleasure and it comes naturally to me. So I’m very lucky about that. What is really HARD, though I enjoy it intensely too, is teaching graduate students. The graduate student seminar is a very focused experience. A seminar usually last three hours (meeting once a week) and it involves an intense pouring over texts in the original ancient languages (Greek, for my classes), discussion of heavy-hitting scholarship, critique of students’ work, and so on. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click [...]

2020-04-03T18:34:22-04:00April 24th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

Growth Rate of Early Christianity

Time to answer a readers' question, as a change of pace, unrelated to anything else I've been posting on: QUESTION: The question on my mind is almost certainly NOT knowable, but I will ask it anyway. 1 – can anyone estimate how many Christians (all variations included) were abroad on Planet Earth at any given time in the 100s or 200s? 2 – when Constantine chose to back Christianity and make it the “official” religion — in the early piece of the 300s — how many actual Christians were there? Or, to make it easier: Taking the whole “Roman” empire as 100%, what pct of the peeps were Christians? 3 – A few generations later (380?) — Theodosius I said that the Roman Empire officially believed what the Bishop of Rome believed. How many (or what percentage of the people) were Christians in 379? I don’t expect precise answers. Any pointers you could provide to where answers might be found (or guesstimates, even) by researchers/experts/theologians/atheists or even hockey players would be appreciated. RESPONSE: This is [...]

Different Kinds of Colleges and Universities

So I started this short thread on teaching by saying that I wanted to reflect on the different kinds of institutions of higher learning there are in this country.  What prompted the thread (I thought it would take all of one post, but this is #4 and some more may be coming) was my experience at two very fine liberal arts colleges over the past ten days, Colorado College in Colorado Springs and Centre College in Danville KY.  These two schools are very different from one another in fundamental ways, but they are both small colleges (I forget the numbers; I think Colorado College is maybe around 2000 students and Centre around 1200) that focus on the liberal arts. I teach at a state research university with about 29,000 students.  It’s a big difference.  And I’m struck by it whenever I give a lecture at a small liberal arts college.  Let me say yet again, I absolutely love teaching at UNC and don’t want to trade it for anything else.   But there are pluses and [...]

2020-04-03T18:34:46-04:00April 22nd, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

My Start in Teaching

I’ve mentioned briefly what it’s like to teach at a major research university, with large undergraduate classes. I’ll have more to say about that soon. For now, I should get to the point of why I raised it in the first place. But it’ll take a couple of posts; my starting and ending point for these posts was / will be to contrast my teaching situation with others that I could have found myself in, but didn’t. And to get to that I need to provide more background. When I was doing my PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary, my one and only goal was to teach (and, of course, do research). I had three kinds of schools in mind that I might want to teach at, in this order: a Christian seminary, a Christian college, a secular school. I had been trained my entire academic career (all twelve years of it after high school! Five years in college; three in a Masters of Divinity program; and four in my PhD) in Christian schools: Moody Bible [...]

Teaching Religion in the South

So, as I was saying in the previous post, I love teaching undergraduate students at Carolina. My “bread-and-butter” course is an Introduction to the New Testament. I teach it every spring semester. Usually the enrollment is around 300; I’ve had it as large as 420, and as small as 180. As I indicated yesterday, the size depends on the number of graduate student teaching assistants available to co-teach it with me by running the weekly recitations sections. One reason I like teaching such large classes is simply that I enjoy being in front of a large crowd of people talking about important things. Another reason is related – with a big class it is possible to reach more people – and what can be more important for people in our culture than understanding the roots of our civilization and the history and literature lying behind the most important book in the Western world? (OK, there are probably things more important: but this is pretty important). If I had classes of, say, 25 students, then over [...]

Teaching at Carolina

It is always interesting for me to travel around the country giving lectures at different colleges and universities. This past week I have been struck with just now different institutions of higher education can be from one another. Let me preface my remarks by saying – in this post -- that I absolutely love my university. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is always ranked very near the top of state research universities in the country, and for very good reason. The faculty are on the whole absolutely stellar. Just within my own Department of Religious Studies we have eighteen full time tenured or tenure-track faculty, not counting adjuncts and emeriti, and every single one of them has a national reputation in his or her field, and several have international reputations. We all write books, articles, book reviews, essays, and so on. Many are absolutely at the top of their fields. It would be hard to assemble a more impressive faculty if you tried. I would stack us up against any faculty of [...]

Explaining myself….

This post will be on something different for a change.  So my current reality is that every day of the week, for several weeks now, I have either been travelling or working on How Jesus Became God.  Neither activity is conducive to writing posts for the blog.   When I write on the book – as I did yesterday – it usually means going at it intensely all day long, until I’m brain dead, which luckily tends to coincide with the end of a chapter.  Yesterday I did chapter 8, which deals with the Christological controversies of the second and third centuries, as some Christians insisted that Jesus was human but not divine (e..g, the Ebionites and the Roman Adoptionists), others maintained that he was divine but not human (the opponents of 1 John and Ignatius, and then Marcion), others claimed he was two entities, a human Jesus who was temporarily inhabited by a divine being from the heavenly realm (the Gnostics), and others who claimed he was just one entity who was both divine and [...]

Humans Who Become Angels

Here is the final bit on angels in the Jewish tradition, from chapter 2 of How Jesus Became God. Again, this is only in draft form, and it is nowhere near a complete treatment. There are entire books written on angels from a scholarly perspective – and a couple of very significant books on Christ as an angel or angel-like being. Here I have been able only to scratch the surface. But on the upside, if you scratch a surface well enough, it is possible to see what is underneath. This discussion will be significant later in my book since I argue, as you may recall, that Jesus was thought sometimes to have become an angel when he was taken up into heaven. ****************************************************************************** There are Jewish texts that not only speak of angels (or even God) as becoming human, but also of humans who become angels. Many people today have the view that when people die, they become angels (well, at least if they’ve been “good”). That is a very old belief indeed. In [...]

More on Divine and Human Angels

In chapter two of How Jesus Became God, I have some more things to say about angels who are sometimes called "God" and sometimes appear as humans (in addition to what I've already said about the  "Angel of the Lord").   This is only a draft, but it should give an idea of what I have in mind. ********************************************************************************************************************* Other Angels as God and Human There are numerous other examples both in the Bible and in other Jewish texts where angels are described as God and, just as importantly, where angels are described as humans.  One of the most interesting is in Psalm 82.   In this beautiful plea that justice be done to those who are weak and needy, we are told, in v. 1, that “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.”  Here God Almighty is portrayed as having a divine council around him; these are angelic beings with whom God consults, as happens elsewhere in the Bible – most famously in Job 1, [...]

Angels as Divine

I received an inordinate number of responses to my post discussing Christ as an angel in Paul, many of them suggesting to me that I had not provided enough background to make sense of this identification (Christ as angel), in light of ancient Jewish beliefs.  So here a discussion from early in the book about that, taken from my chapter 2.   There is more to be said about angels as both divine and in human form, and I’ll say more later in other posts.  But this at least gives some background – that to some may be a bit surprising.  If the followers came to think of Jesus as an angel, they may have had passages and views like the following in mind. ******************************************************************************************************************  Angels in ancient Judaism were widely understood to be superhuman messengers of God who mediated his will on earth.  It is striking that various angels sometimes appeared on earth in human guise.   More than that, in some ancient Jewish texts there is a figure known as “the angel of the Lord,” [...]

Why The Gospels Are Anonymous

Among the interesting questions I’ve received recently is the following.   It’s on something other than How Jesus Became God!  Rather than type out a completely new answer, I’ve resorted to the discussion I set out in my book Forged, cited here, as relevant, in full. QUESTION: I still can’t quite grasp why the Gospels were written anonymously. What is the prevailing theory? Why did the authors not attempt to pass themselves off as disciples by stating so at the beginning of their writings? RESPONSE: It is always interesting to ask why an author chose to remain anonymous, never more so than with the Gospels of the New Testament.  In some instances an ancient author did not need to name himself because his readers knew perfectly well who he was and did not need to be told.  That is almost certainly the case with the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John.  These are private letters send from someone who calls himself “the elder” to a church in another location.  It is safe to assume that [...]

Paul’s View of Jesus as an Angel

Let's look at Paul's view of Jesus as an Angel. Here's a bit from chapter 7 of How Jesus Became God where I talk about why I think Paul understood Jesus, before coming to earth, to have been an angel. There's more to the argument than just this, but it's a start. As you'll see, this isn't just a crazy idea I had. I learned this from some very smart colleagues in the field, who have convinced me. It's one of the HUGE surprises that I've had writing this book, coming to this realization. It affects a LOT in terms of New Testament interpretation. Did Paul Think Jesus was an Angel? Many people no doubt have the same experience I do on occasion, of reading something numerous times, over and over, and not having it register. I have read Paul’s letter to the Galatians literally hundreds of times in both English and Greek. But the clear import of what Paul says in Galatians 4:14 simply never registered with me, until, frankly, a few months ago. [...]

2022-06-13T11:14:57-04:00April 11th, 2013|Book Discussions, Paul and His Letters|

Paul’s Christology

A small bit from my now chapter 7: ********************************************************************************************************************** I have read, pondered, researched, taught, and written about the writings of Paul for forty years, but until recently there was one key aspect of his theology that I could never quite get my mind around.   I had the hardest time understanding how, exactly, he viewed Christ.   Some aspects of Paul’s Christological teaching have been clear to me for decades – especially his teaching that it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that makes a person right with God, rather than following the dictates of the Jewish law.  But who did Paul think Christ was exactly? One reason for my perplexity was that Paul is highly allusive in what he says.  He does not spell out, in systematic detail, what his views of Christ are.   Another reason was that in some passages Paul seems to affirm a view of Christ that – until recently – I thought could not possibly be as early as Paul’s letters, which are our first Christian writings to survive.  How could Paul [...]

2017-12-31T23:17:05-05:00April 10th, 2013|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Moving from the Faith

I wrote chapter 7 of How Jesus Became God today, and started with this anecdote that will sound somewhat familiar to those who know my story.... ******************************************************************************************************************** I first began to have serious doubts about my faith when I was in graduate school. After I had graduated from Moody Bible Institute I had gone off to finish my undergraduate degree at Wheaton College, a strongly evangelical liberal arts college and the alma mater for Billy Graham. For me this was a step toward liberalism. I was a very hard core evangelical in those years. But even though the liberal arts did expand my horizons significantly they did not make me particularly liberal. I came to graduate studies at Princeton Theological Seminary firmly convinced that the Bible was without error in any of its teachings and that the doctrines I accepted as a conservative Christian were given by God himself. That began to change the more I studied the Bible. I had taken Greek at Wheaton as my foreign language, to allow me to read the [...]

A Third Forgery in the Name of Peter

As I mentioned in the two previous posts, in my talk at Unity Village the other night, I introduced my discussion of whether there could be forgeries in the New Testament by introducing three forgeries from *outside* the New Testament; the first was the Gospel of Peter with its giant Jesus and walking-talking cross at the resurrection and the second was the letter of Peter to James in which he attacks “the man who is my enemy,” a transparent reference to the apostle Paul. The third is the one I’ll mention here: another book allegedly, but not really, written by Peter, this time an apocalypse, the Apocalypse of Peter. As it turns out we have three “apocalypses” allegedly written by Peter. The one I dealt with in my talk is the most famous of the three, one discovered in 1886, in the same book in which the Gospel of Peter is found. It is a 66-page book that contains four texts. In some ways the Apocalypse of Peter is the most interesting. It is the [...]

Another Forgery in the Name of Peter

In my talk the other night at Unity Village, called “Are there Forgeries in the New Testament?” (or maybe I called it something even more provocative, like “Is the New Testament Forged?”), I started out, as I indicated in my previous post, by discussing several forgeries that are found *outside* the New Testament, as a way of introducing the audience to what I meant by the term “forgery” (which I use in a strict and technical sense to refer to books whose authors claim to be someone famous, knowing full well they are someone else; this kind of false authorial claim, of course, has little or no bearing on whether anything else found in the writing could or should be considered “true”) and as a way of “easing them into” the idea that there could be forgeries within the New Testament as well. And so I chose three later forgeries, all done in the name of Jesus’ disciple Simon Peter. In my previous post I mentioned the Gospel of Peter, as the first of the [...]

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