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You Won’t Find *This* in the New Testament!

In my graduate course last week, we analyzed the Proto-Gospel of James (which scholars call the Protevangelium Jacobi -- a Latin phrase that means “Proto-Gospel of James,” but sounds much cooler….).  It is called the “proto” Gospel because it records events that (allegedly) took place before the accounts of the NT Gospels.   Its overarching focus is on Mary, the mother of Jesus; it is interested in explaining who she was.   Why was *she* the one who was chosen to bear the Son of God?  What made her so special?  How did she come into the world?  What made her more holy than any other woman?  Etc.  These questions drive the narrative, and make it our earliest surviving instance of the adoration of Mary.   On the legends found here was built an entire superstructure of Marian tradition.  Most of the book deals with the question of how Mary was conceived (miraculously, but not virginally), what her early years were like (highly sanctified; her youth up to twelve (lived in the temple, fed every day by an [...]

Jesus at the Movies: Infancy Narratives

I’m having a terrific time with my undergraduate course this semester, a first-year seminar that I call “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.” Last month I posted my syllabus for the class on the blog. This past week was the first time we’ve done any film in the class, and it was very interesting. For the class I had the students do a writing assignment, in which they compared the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke in detail (Mark and John, of course, don’t *have* anything about Jesus’ birth). They were to find both similarities and differences, and then they were to decide if any of the differences were irreconcilable. This was to set up what they were going to see in the film clips that I was set to show. The similarities are pretty interesting if you come up with a full list: Jesus is born in Bethlehem; his mother Mary is a virgin; after his birth he is visited by a group of men (shepherds in Luke; wise men in Matthew) who have been [...]

2020-04-03T18:10:24-04:00September 27th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Jesus and Film, Public Forum|

But Did It Really Happen?

During my recent posts on the story of Jesus and the leper in Mark 1:40-44, I got a number of comments from readers that made me realize that I wasn’t being at all clear about what I was talking about. For a professional communicator, that is, well, an unsettling thought! These comments came from people who appear to have understood that I was talking about what really happened (historically) in the episode. Did Jesus really get angry or did he really feel compassion? Some of these readers stressed that what really mattered was not his emotion but the fact that he did what he did; some others wanted me to know that it didn’t matter to them which emotion was ascribed to Jesus, because in their opinion the whole thing never actually happened at all. Both of these views (they’re obviously at the opposite ends of the spectrum) thought I was discussing historical realities. But that’s not what I was talking about. I too don’t believe the episode “actually” happened (i.e., that it’s a historical [...]

Early Gospels: A Messier Scenario

In my last post I was trying to imagine what the situation was with the first and second century Gospels, and proposed a Scenario One in which there were set Gospels, some earlier than others, with later ones using earlier ones for some of their information, along with other information from other Gospels (and oral traditions) that no longer survive. I guess that’s how I tend to view the situation some of the time. But I wonder if in fact the reality was a lot messier than that (I call the first scenario messy because it is *not* the simpler view that a lot of people assume: that there were basically four Gospels from the first century and in the second century the Gospels either borrowed from those Gospels or made things up; that’s a pretty “clean” view of the situation. But I don’t think it’s plausible).   Scenario Two: Much Messier without Fixed Boundaries I have begun to suspect that the real situation was even messier than the first option I sketched. What if, [...]

The Messy World of Second Century Gospels

This thread has taken several detours (never mind the mixed metaphor), and I want to end it where I had planned to take it all along.   What’s been going on in my mind has been an issue that I raised in one of the posts, about how we are to conceptualize the situation of first and early second century when it comes to our Gospels.   I’ll talk about it with reference to Papyrus Egerton 2, about which I’ve only said a few things – lots more there to talk about.  (But I’ll be moving on after this.)  Before doing so let me recap the situation: Scholars have traditionally thought of the four canonical Gospels as THE Gospels that were available, so that when a new Gospel like the Unknown Gospel in Papyrus Egerton 2 appeared the question always was: WHICH of the canonical Gospels was the author familiar with (and which did he use).   I challenged that view in my earlier post.   We shouldn’t think that there were basically FOUR, and everything else was dependent [...]

Jesus’ Anger in Mark 1:41

So far in this thread I have argued that Mark 1:41 originally said that Jesus got angry when the leper asked him to heal him; and I have shown that elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel Jesus gets angry in context involving healing. And so: if Jesus got angry when the leper asked for healing in Mark 1:41 – what exactly was he angry about? Over the years numerous interpretations have been proposed, and some of these explanations are highly creative. Some interpreters have argued that Jesus became angry because he knew that the man would disobey orders, spreading the news of his healing and making it difficult for Jesus to enter into the towns of Galilee because of the crowds. The problem with this view is that it seems unlikely that Jesus would be angry about what the man would do later -- before he actually did it! Other have suggested that he was angry because the man was intruding on his preaching ministry, keeping him from his primary task. Unfortunately, nothing in the text says [...]

Jesus Getting Angry

As often happens in this blog, I started down one path and have found myself on another. I began this thread by talking about the story of the leper in Papyrus Egerton 2. That made me want to say something about the healing of a leper in Mark 1:40-44. But to make my point I had to talk about a textual problem in v. 41. And that has gotten me to talk about Jesus’ getting angry. He does appear to get angry before healing the leper (as found in some of our ancient manuscripts). But what is he angry about? To answer *that* question one needs to consider what Mark says otherwise about Jesus getting angry – something that never happens in Matthew or Luke. But Jesus does get angry on several occasions in Mark’s Gospel. What is most interesting is that each account involves Jesus’ ability to perform miraculous deeds of healing. In Mark 9 we find the account of a man pleading with Jesus to cast an evil demon from his son, since [...]

Speaking of Lepers

In yesterday’s post I mentioned the interesting story found in the Unknown Gospel (as it is called – even though part of it is now known!) contained in the second-century manuscript Papyrus Egerton 2.   There’s an intriguing aspect of that story that I wanted to post on today, but I realized that to make sense of what I have to say would take *so* much background that – well, I should discuss the background instead of the point I want to make. So here’s the deal.  There is an interesting textual variant in Mark’s story of the man cured of leprosy by Jesus – that is, some of our textual witnesses have one way of reading one of the verses, and other textual witnesses have a different way.  And it really matters.   Here is the passage (Mark 1:39-45) in a literal translation.  The textual variant I am interested in is in v. 41 (there are lots of other textual variants among our manuscripts in this passage; this particular one is the only one I’m interested [...]

An Unknown Gospel

And behold, a leper approached him and said, “Teacher Jesus, while I was traveling with some lepers and eating with them at the inn, I myself contracted leprosy. If, then, you are willing, I will be made clean.” Then the Lord said to him, “I am willing: be clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. Jesus said to him, “Go, show yourself to the priests and make an offering for your cleansing as Moses commanded; and sin no more....” This may sound like the Bible, but it’s not. This is one of the stories found in a document known to scholars as Papyrus Egerton 2. This papyrus consists of four small pieces of papyrus manuscript, written on front and back (so it comes from a codex, not a scroll). It contains four different stories: (1) an exhortation by Jesus for his Jewish opponents to “search the Scriptures” (in terms similar to John 5:39-47 and 10:31-39); (2) a foiled attempt to stone and then arrest Jesus (cf. John 10:31f) and then his healing of the leper cited [...]

The Lowdown on Why I Study the Bible

In my previous post I began responding to the question of why I would study a book that I don’t “believe in.” In that response I gave more or less the “official” line as found in my just-now published introductory textbook on the Bible. Here I’ll say something a bit more casual and personal about it. I get asked the question a lot, sometimes by agnostics/atheists who have no time for religion and don’t understand why I would waste my time with it, and more often by hard-core believers who think the Bible is *their* book and don’t appreciate me encroaching on their turf. I understand both objections and am somewhat sympathetic with them, although at the end of the day I have deep and heart-felt objections to them. First, my agnostic/atheist friends. I think it is very strange indeed to think that one should not become intimately familiar with what one opposes. If I’m a capitalist who thinks socialism or communism is heinous, I really should know a lot about them before attacking them. [...]

Why Would Someone Like Me Study the Bible??

QUESTION: Why would someone devote so much time researching a book they don't even believe in? RESPONSE: The person who asked me this question did not explicitly indicate that s/he was asking it about *me* (i.e., WHAT in the WORLD are you THINKING??? Why would you bother writing all those books about the Bible if you DON’T EVEN BELIEVE IN IT???). So I’m not going to take it personally. :-) But as it turns out, I do get asked the question a lot. In another post, soon to be delivered, I’ll answer the question (on the assumption it was asked about me). For now, I’d like to take the opportunity that it presents to reproduce here the very beginning (from chapter one, word one!) of my Bible textbook that was published, as I may have noted, yesterday. Again, this book is for 19-20 year old college students. A lot of them want to know why *they* should study the Bible. Here is the first part of my book where I raise and respond to that [...]

2020-04-03T18:11:33-04:00September 17th, 2013|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

My Bible Introduction!

O frabjous day!  Callouh, Callay!   I’m chortling in my joy.   Today my textbook on the entire Bible – Genesis to Revelation – gets published:  The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.  This was a long time in the making, and it is a huge relief to see it finally out.  I think Oxford did an amazing job on it – as they usually do.  I love the cover, the layout, the whole production.   You can buy it on Amazon or most anywhere else.   It is priced a little higher than most of my books this size, but that’s because it’s a textbook, and that’s just what happens with textbooks.  Even so, it is priced lower than the competition.  And in my humble and completely unbiased opinion, you get a lot more bang for your buck. I had agreed to do a textbook on the entire Bible many years ago, when my friend and editor at OUP (who lives in Chapel Hill now, even though he works out of the New York office; thank the gods [...]

2020-04-03T18:11:43-04:00September 16th, 2013|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Apologies, Questions, and Excuses

My sincere apologies to any- and every-one who has asked me a direct question that I have said I would devote a post or more to.   The list of questions that I need to address is as long as my arm, and in many cases I suppose people forgot that they even asked!  But if you asked and are waiting – apologies.   I still have the questions and I will get to them, slowly.  But I find that once I start answering a question, to cover the issues thoroughly ends up taking several posts and I get sent down some byways.  But that’s OK, in my opinion; I tend to think that makes the blog a bit more interesting. Moreover, I constantly have things I want to talk about – for example, things I’ve been doing in my courses, such as the thread on the Gospel of the Ebionites this past week:  I didn’t even *get* to the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Nazareans, or the Gospel of the Egyptians; and [...]

2017-12-25T16:35:55-05:00September 15th, 2013|Reader’s Questions, Teaching Christianity|

The Ebionites and their Gospel

There are other interesting features of the Gospel of the Ebionites, known from the quotations of Epiphanius, the fourth-century heresiologist (= heresy-hunter). We wish we had the whole Gospel. We have only these eight fragments that Epiphanius quotes. We wish we knew who actually used the Gospel. We wish we knew how long it was, what it contained, and what it’s theological slant was. It is almost impossible to say from what remains. One big question is whether, since it was used by the Ebionites – according to Epiphanius, it had a particular bias in its reporting of the words and deeds of Jesus. The term “Ebionite” was widely used in proto-orthodox and orthodox sources to refer to “Jewish-Christian” groups, or at least one group (it is likely that there were lots of these groups, and it may be that the church fathers assumed they were all the same group when in fact they had different views, different theologies, different practices, and so on). Some of the church fathers indicate that the name came from [...]

Locusts or Pancakes?

Among the eight quotations of the Gospel of the Ebionites in the writings of Epiphanius, none is more interesting that the one in which he describes John the Baptist. Its humorous side may not be evident at first glance. Here is what he says could be found in the Gospel: And so John was baptizing, and Pharisees came out to him and were baptized, as was all of Jerusalem. John wore a garment of camel hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was wild honey that tasted like manna, like a cake cooked in olive oil. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30, 13, 4-5) What has long struck investigators is that John here is not said to be eating locusts and honey, but honey that tasted like manna , like a cake cooked in oil.   That is, a pancake.   That is interesting, and somewhat amusing, for two reasons.   The first is that to *make* this alteration in the account found in the Gospels of the NT, the author (whoever he was) of the Gospel [...]

Harmonizing the Gospels

I mentioned yesterday that one of the quotations of the Gospel of the Ebionites, as preserved in the writings of Epiphanius, appears to represent some kind of harmonization of the Gospels, an attempt to explain how the three different versions of what the voice from heaven says at Jesus’ baptism can *all* be right (since the voice says different things in each of the three Gospels).  Solution:  the voice spoke *three* times, saying something different each time. (!) This way of solving discrepancies in the Gospels has persisted through the ages.  Most people don’t realize that it goes way back to the early church.  I’ll say more about that eventually.  For now I want to say something about it in modern times. When I was in college – as a good hard-core fundamentalist who did not think there could be any real discrepancies in the Gospels (since they were inspired by God, which means there could be no mistakes, which means there could be no contradictions) – I was an expert at reconciling differences among [...]

2017-09-20T16:01:59-04:00September 11th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

Fun with the Jewish Christian Gospels

Yesterday in my graduate seminar we spent three hours analyzing the three so-called “Jewish-Christian Gospels.” These are very tricky texts to deal with. We don’t have any manuscripts of them – even small fragments. They come to us, instead, in the quotations of church fathers such as Origen, Didymus the Blind, Jerome, and Epiphanius. These (orthodox) church fathers sometimes quoted or referred to one or the other of the Gospels in order to relate what it said; and sometimes it was in order to attack what it said. There are all sorts of questions raised about these no-longer surviving Gospels in these quotations. A good part of the problem is that some of these fathers – especially Jerome, on whom we depend for most of our information for two of the three Gospels – quite obviously confused things, or were confused themselves in what they had to say, since what they have to say about these Gospels doesn’t add up and in the end doesn’t make sense. On this every scholar who works on these [...]

My PhD Seminar: Early Christian Apocrypha

A couple of weeks ago I shared on the blog the syllabus for my undergraduate class, “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.”  Periodically I’ll discuss on the blog what I’m doing in that class.  But I thought today I could provide the syllabus for my other course, a PhD Seminar that meets for three-hours, once a week, to discuss “Early Christian Apocrypha.”   Here it is! ************************************************************************************** Reli 801: Early Christian Apocrypha Instructor: Bart D. Ehrman Fall 2013 The Early Christian Apocrypha are an amorphous collection of early and medieval Christian writings, many of which were forged in the names of the apostles.  They have long been a subject of fascination among scholars.  In this course we will consider a selection of the most interesting and historically significant examples. Closely connected with the apocrypha are the writings that eventually made it into the New Testament; part of the course will involve understanding the process by which some early Christian texts came to be included among the canonical scriptures whereas others came to be excluded. We will engage [...]

Summing Up: Was Luke Luke?

I started this thread over a week ago on the authorship of the Third Gospel, and would like now simply to bring some closure to it before moving on to other things. To sum up: there is a kind of interpretive logic that can lead one to think that this Gospel was written by Luke, a Gentile physician who was a traveling companion of Paul. This is what I myself thought for years, and it was based on this logic, that: The author of Acts also wrote the Gospel of Luke That the author of Acts, and therefore of Luke, must have been a traveling companion of Paul (since he speaks of himself in the first person on four occasions) That this author was probably a Gentile because he was so concerned with the spread of the Christian movement among Gentiles (the whole point of the book of Acts) Paul himself speaks of a Gentile among his traveling companions in Colossians 4, naming him as Luke the beloved physician. Therefore this person was likely the [...]

The Accuracy of Acts: Part 2

We could deal forever with the question of the historical accuracy of Acts. There are entire books devoted to the problem and even to *aspects* of the problem, and different scholars come to different conclusions. My own view is that since Acts is at odds with Paul just about every time they talk about the same thing, that it is probably not to be taken as very accurate, especially in its detail. In yesterday’s post I dealt with a couple of places where it’s portrayal of Paul’s *actions* seem to be at odds with what Paul himself says; in today’s, my last post on the topic, I speak about Paul’s *teachings/views* and come to the same conclusion. I’ll pick just one example, and again, draw my remarks from comments I’ve made elsewhere in print. *************************************************************** Almost all of Paul's evangelistic sermons mentioned in Acts are addressed to Jewish audiences. This itself should strike us as odd, given Paul's own repeated claim that his mission was to the Gentiles. In any event, the most famous exception [...]

2020-04-17T13:48:07-04:00September 5th, 2013|Acts of the Apostles, Reflections and Ruminations|
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