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Future Books

QUESTION: I'm curious to know of future projects you have in mind after you complete your commentary on 2nd century gospels. RESPONSE: As I’ve indicated on this blog before, I try to alternate the kinds of books I write.  Most scholars don’t do it that way.  I have friends – my closest friends in the field, in fact – who want only to do scholarship and nothing else, and so they write scholarly monograph after scholarly monograph.  This is an enormous service to the academic community, as it is only through work like that that we are able to advance knowledge. I know of other people who want only to write for popular audiences.   And it is easy to see how someone can get “bit by the bug” and want to do nothing else.   Some popular authors make a lot of money from their books, they get asked to give lectures in front of large audiences, they get their names in the media, and it’s all very seductive.   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, [...]

2020-04-03T18:29:15-04:00May 31st, 2013|Book Discussions, Reader’s Questions|

Agnostic or Atheist?

I apparently threw a few people for a loop yesterday when I referred to myself as an atheist. Several readers responded, wanting to know if I had changed my views, since I have publicly stated that I am an agnostic. I posted on this issue a while back – possibly a long while back – but since I don’t expect everyone to read everything I’ve ever written on this blog (!), I thought maybe I should explain my views again. So – apologies to those of you who have heard this before. When I became an agnostic – 17 or 18 years ago? I’m not even sure any more – I thought that “agnosticism” and “atheism” were two *degrees* of basically the same thing. My sense is that this is what most people think. According to this idea, an agnostic is someone who says that s/he does not *know* whether God exists, and an atheist is someone who makes a definitive statement that God does *not* exist. Agnostics don’t know and atheists are sure.   [...]

Historical Jesus Scholarship and Christians

QUESTION: If historical Jesus scholars believes that Jesus' main message was the imminent apocalypse, and that didn't happen, how can anyone who believe that remain a Christian, given that Jesus was wrong on the main focus of his life? RESPONSE: It’s a great question.   Let me say several things briefly in response.    First, there are a number of historical Jesus scholars who do not see Jesus in this way (most prominently, members of the Jesus Seminar, such as Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan).   Their views are not in the majority among critical scholars, but it is worth noting that they see Jesus as thoroughly *non*-apocalyptic.   My sense is that the majority of scholars, however, continue to see Jesus as apocalyptic in his preaching – including such noteworthies as E. P. Sanders, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen, Geza Vermes, and – well, it’s a long list. Most New Testament scholars – and, of course, that subset: Historical Jesus scholars – are Christian.  For obvious reasons.   The people most likely to be interested in early Christianity and [...]

2020-04-03T18:29:33-04:00May 29th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Exciting Discovery of a Hebrew Bible Scroll

An exciting discovery has been made of the oldest scroll containing the Pentateuch (it is not as old as the Leningrad *codex* from around the year 1000; but it is the oldest *scroll* with the entire text – 12th century or 13th).   My thanks to my colleage Evyatar Marienburg, knowledgeable about all scholarship Jewish, for informing me about this.  For the fuller account, see PRESS RELEASE THE MOST ANCIENT EXISTING SCROLL OF THE HEBREW PENTATEUCH, DISCOVERED AT THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY OF BOLOGNA The document, located and identified by a professor of the University of Bologna contains the entire text of the Torah, dates back to a period between the second half of the 12th century and the beginning of 13th (1155-1225) and is kept at the Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna (BUB). Bologna, 28 May 2013. The University Library of Bologna has kept from times immemorial, and without knowing, the world’s oldest scroll of the Hebrew Pentateuch. The document, labeled as "Roll 2", is of soft sheep leather (36 meters long and 64 cm high), [...]

More on Jews, Christians, and the Battle for Scripture

In yesterday’s post I indicated that my next trade book, to be written in a couple of years, would deal with the question of Jews and Christians, centered on the question of why Christians kept the Old Testament and how doing so led to controversies with Jews. The following is how I set up the issue that I will be addressing. The second-century Christian theologian Marcion maintained that the Old Testament was the Scripture of the Jews. Christians, however, were not Jews; they were followers of Jesus. Moreover, the loving God of Jesus was not the wrathful God of the Jews. For Marcion, Jews and Christians had nothing in common except in a negative sense: the Jews represented everything the Christians rejected, including the inferior, legalistic God who chose the Jewish people and gave them their Scriptures. Christians have their own beneficent and salvation-bringing God, and their own Scriptures. For Marcion, the Old Testament is not part of the Christian Bible. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for [...]

The Next Trade Book: Jews and Christians

QUESTION: I was wondering if someday you will write a book on the rise of anti-Judaism in early Christian circles ?  If you were to write such a book, what would the title and the subtitle be ? RESPONSE: As it turns out, that is indeed to be the topic of my next trade book, which I plan to write in a couple of years.  As I have said on this blog before, I try to alternate the kinds of books I write:  trade books for a general audience, textbooks for college students, and scholarly books for the six people in the world who really care.   Now that I am putting the finishing touches on my trade book How Jesus Became God, I am getting ready to work on my next scholarly book.  This will be a heavy-hitting scholarly commentary on the early Christian Greek Gospel fragments from the early second century, including most notably the Gospel of Peter, Papyrus Egerton 2, the Jewish Christian Gospels (Gospel according to the Hebrews; Gospel of the Nazareans; [...]

What Judas Betrayed

In my last post I indicated that I would write, next, on what it was, in my opinion, that Judas betrayed.   It is commonly thought, based on the NT evidence, that he indicated to the authorities where Jesus could be found apart from the crowds.   Maybe that’s right, even though, as I indicated, I do have some doubts about it.  Even if it is right, there may be more to it than that.   I think the following data are worth bearing in mind, leading to the resolution of the question that I prefer.  (At first these data may not seem relevant: but hang in there for a minute!) There is nothing to indicate that Jesus publically proclaimed himself the messiah or, more specifically, that he ever publicly announced that he was the King of the Jews during his lifetime.     You find Jesus accepting the title messiah in the later Gospels, but the first time it becomes a public issue, in our earliest account, Mark, is at Jesus’ trial in 14:61-62.   And never is the King [...]

More on Judas

Several people misunderstood what I was trying to say in my post yesterday about Paul’s knowledge of Judas Iscariot.  It was probably my fault for not being clear enough.  I was *not*, decidedly *not*, trying to argue that the tradition that Judas betrayed Jesus was unhistorical.  Quite the contrary, for reasons I’ll explain in a second, I think this is a completely historical tradition.  I was simply asking whether Paul himself knew about it.  He may well have known about it.  But he gives no indication in his surviving writings that he did – either because he was in fact ignorant about it, or because he assumed his readers already knew all they needed to know about it, or because he had no occasion to bring it up in his surviving letters, or for some other reason. But I do indeed think that – whatever Paul did or did not know about the matter – that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own, Judas Iscariot.  In my judgment, this tradition passes all of our [...]

Paul on Judas

Several people have asked me to comment on whether Paul shows any evidence of knowing about the tradition that Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. As a first step, it’s necessary to point out that Paul says very little indeed – surprisingly little – about the historical Jesus -- that is, about what Jesus said, did, and experienced between the time of his birth and his death. (Paul obviously says a *lot* about Jesus’ death and resurrection, just not much about his life.) The following are about the only things he tells us: Jesus was born of a woman (Gal 4:4) He was born a Jew (Gal 4:4) He had brothers (1 Cor. 9:5); one of whom was James (Gal 1-2) He ministered to Jews (Rom 15:8) He had twelve disciples (1 Cor. 15:6) He held a last supper the last night of his life (1 Cor. 11:22-24) Paul indicates what Jesus said at that meal. Paul indicates two other teachings of Jesus: that Christian ministers should be paid for their work and that Christians [...]

Jesus’ Appearance to the 500

QUESTION on 1 Corinthians 15:3-5: "3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters[c] at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. " Where do you think he got his information from especially on the 500?  Many say it could only have come from Peter or James or else he made it up, which would be odd. RESPONSE: It’s a great question, and as with many great questions, I don’t think there’s a great answer.   There are several things we can say.   Paul [...]

2020-04-03T18:30:47-04:00May 21st, 2013|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

Jesus’ Rejection in Nazareth

OK, several readers have asked me why I don’t think the story of Jesus’ violent rejection in Nazareth, according to Luke 4:16-30, is historically reliable. The short version is that Luke has taken a story from Mark and expanded it significantly in light of his own literary and theological interests so that the account of the attempted assassination is not multiply attested and it does not pass the criterion of dissimilarity. It looks instead to be a story that Luke has come up with to make a point, a very important point, for his larger narrative. First thing to note (this is frequently noted!): Luke has changed the placement of the story. Mark, Luke’s source, places it almost exactly halfway through Jesus’ public ministry in chapter 6 (the ministry is chs. 1-10 of Mark). For Mark it is all part of the “misunderstanding” motif: Jesus’ family misunderstands who he is (they think he’s crazy), so do the Jewish Leaders (they think he’s possessed by Beelzebub), so do his townsfolk (they think he’s simply the local [...]

Persecutions for Calling Jesus God

QUESTION: If the pre-'resurrection' Jesus and, later on, his earliest (Jewish) followers had declared Jesus to actually BE God then wouldn't they have been kicked out of the synagogues from the start because of blasphemy? But since that did not happen (Jesus preached in synagogues and his disciples continued to go to synagogues after his 'resurrection' for a while) doesn't that indicate that the earliest Christian belief did NOT contain the claim that Jesus actually was God? RESPONSE: This is a very interesting question and it has made me think for a bit.   As I look over all the material that we have, it appears to me that the early Christians *were* regularly kicked out of the synagogues for their claims about Jesus, but that Jesus himself never was.   First let me give the evidence for all that, and then deal with an important and related second issue about what those claims were exactly (this is where I’m still feeling my way a bit). FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. If [...]

Geza Vermes

Now that I have been posting on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the historical Jesus, I would be remiss not to mention  that one of the absolutely great scholars of modern times, one of the world experts on both the Scrolls and Jesus, died several days ago.   Geza Vermes was a formidable scholar.   Of the three major English translations of the Scrolls, it is his that I typically use and prefer.   In the 1970s he began publishing a series of books on Jesus that did more than almost anything to push for the idea that if Jesus is to be understood, he must be understood as a first century Jew.   This was something of a novel idea at the time.  It has become the standard view that virtually every Jesus scholar on the planet shares. Vermes was a scholar’s scholar.  Professor at Oxford, he was an incredible linguist, intimately familiar with every ancient historical source of relevance, a creative thinker.    He wrote books for scholars but also books that were accessible to the educated layperson.   [...]

Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Yesterday I talked about the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding Jesus and the milieu out of which earliest Christianity grew. My basic point is that if Jesus was a Jew, then to understand him, you have to understand Jews in his world. And the Dead Sea Scrolls provide us valuable information to that end. I am not saying that the Dead Sea Scrolls are representative of what all or even most Jews thought at the time. They clearly are not. If the “Essene hypothesis” is right – and it is the view held by the vast majority of the experts (among whom I do not number myself) (and among whom they do not number me either! ) – then the Scrolls were produced by a Jewish sect that had very distinctive views of its own that were not, in many respects, shared by outsiders. In particular, this was a group of Jews who insisted that the coming apocalyptic judgment, soon to arrive, would bring destruction not only to the hated Romans and [...]

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity

As we used to say back when I was a committed Christian, with respect to prayer: Be careful what you ask for! So I asked for questions that you would like me to address, and I have been receiving them in droves. Some of them I will be able to answer very quickly as a response to the comment itself, some I will handle in a post – or more, depending on how complicated the matter is. (If I intend to answer them in a post, I won’t reply to the comment, just to save some time; but I’ll post the comment/question itself). In any event, I have plenty to keep me busy now for a while! I’ll probably address them in the order in which I received them. For today:   Question: Can you write a post on how the Qumran Scrolls advance our understanding of the birth of Christianity?   Response: This is a question that can be answered in one sentence, or in a very long and dense book or … anything [...]

Back in the Saddle. Sort of….

  My plan had been to return to the blog in full force when I got back to the States but, well, I’m a little slow on the uptake.   We got back late Saturday night, and I decided to blow Sunday off.  Actually, I watched the golf tournament all afternoon.   Half way through I started feeling odd.  By the end I wasn’t good at all.   Stomach virus, probably.  Brought it back with me from Israel.  As did several other guys on the trip – four men, and none of their wives (including mine) affected.   Very strange. Anyway, I’m feeling a bit better now but not quite 70% yet.   And I’m finding that I have little mental, as well as physical, energy.   SO, what I would propose is that this would be a very good time indeed for some of you to raise some questions for me to address on the blog, about anything having to do with the New Testament, the historical Jesus, the history of early Christianity, or anything else of relevance.   I imagine [...]

2013-05-14T23:00:51-04:00May 14th, 2013|Public Forum|

Qumran and Masada

As I anticipated, my last day in Israel was the real climax.   We did three things of note (and several other things not of note):  the ruins of Qumran, Masada, and the Dead Sea itself. I was disappointed with how our tour dealt with Qumran.  At the visitors’ center they now have a rather ridiculous little film to introduce the site, but it consists almost entirely of a dramatization, in which an imaginary member of the Essene community describes his experience in the community; much of the description involves a “human interest” element, suggesting that John the Baptist may have been connected with the sect.  There is little in the film about the ancient evidence for the Essenes, and almost nothing about the modern discovery of the scrolls themselves, what they contain, why they’re significant, or the substantial debates surrounding the character of the ruins of Qumran (is it the Essenes’ community? A Roman villa? A fort?  What are the arguments?) and surrounding the relationship of the scrolls to it (what ties them to the [...]

More in Jerusalem

This has been a great trip.  One of the things I’ve liked about it is that it has been focused on Israel in a number of historical periods as well as in the present; it has not been entirely about Christian and Jewish Holy Sites.  And so, for example, today we did the City of David (that I’ll talk about below), had a grand overview of the Temple Mount (with the Dome of the Rock), walked through good chunks of the Jewish Quarter, had a very nice lunch outside the old city walls, went to the Jerusalem Market (outdoors, lots of food and spice merchants, etc.), and so on.   It wasn’t just one holy site after the other, but there was plenty of holy site time as well. The City of David is in some sense the “original” Jerusalem, the place that King David allegedly conquered from the Jebusites and where he then set up his kingdom.  It is outside the “old” city walls, which in fact are (only!) from the 16th century, built when [...]

Touring Jerusalem

We are in that part of our tour of Israel – getting near the end – when everything more or less melds together and you can’t remember what you did when or where.  These trips involve some serious sensory overload. Today we did some amazing things.   First we went to the Western Wall, probably the most sacred spot for Jews in Israel.   Years ago people referred to it as the Wailing Wall, but no longer.   It is what remains of the wall surrounding the Temple compound back in the days of Jesus, the wall constructed at the time of King Herod.   It is most sacred because it is the spot that remains that is closest to what was at the time the Holy of Holies within the temple itself (i.e., it is not a wall of the temple, but of the temple complex).   The Temple complex was enormous – large enough to fit 25 (American) football fields (which, among other things, makes it very hard indeed to think that Jesus actually shut down the entire [...]

On to Jerusalem

Just a quick post because of time constraints. We just got into Jerusalem and I am off to give a lecture in half an hour. We left Tiberias (and the Sea of Galilee) this morning and traveled down to Jerusalem. En route we went to one of the traditional sites of Jesus’ baptism, in the Jordan River; it can’t be the actual site, since it’s way up north and it is clear in our earliest account, Mark’s, that John was baptizing somewhere in walking distance of Jerusalem. But it’s a gorgeous setting, and there are always groups of people getting baptized there – as today. From there we went to Beth Shean, one of the major archaeological sites of (Greek and) Roman ruins in Israel, with terrific colonnaded walk ways, a very nicely preserved theater that seats 8000 (in the Greek style – that is, built into the natural slope of a hill, rather than the Roman style which tended to be “free standing”), some terrific public baths, temples, and lots of other things. We [...]

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