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A Gnostic View of Jesus’ Resurrection

The Gnostic view of Jesus' resurrection. Yesterday, in response to a question, I discussed Paul’s view of the resurrection of Jesus. In response to several questions I was asked, let me say emphatically that YES, in my view Paul believed that Jesus' corpse itself was transformed into a spiritual body. If asked, he would have said that the grave was empty. That’s how I read 1 Corinthians 15. The body that comes out of the tomb is the same body that went into the tomb, but it is a transformed (not a different) body, made immortal. (And let me stress – again in response to a couple of questions I’ve asked: this is not *my* view of what happened to Jesus’ body. I’m just explaining what *Paul’s* view was). Paul’s view was not the only one found among the early Christians. I explain that view further in this excerpt from my forthcoming book How Jesus Became God: The Raising of the Spirit - the Gnostic View of Jesus' Resurrection Some ancient Christians – taking a [...]

Paul and the Resurrection of a Spiritual Body

QUESTION: You may have gone over this before, but do you think the earliest Christians, Peter, Paul, and Mary etc. believed in the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus, or do you think they believed his “spirit” was raised from the dead? From Paul’s writing it’s hard for me to judge. I ask this because it seems easier for me to attribute the resurrection belief to “hallucinations” if they were only experiencing visions of Jesus’ spirit. Even group “hallucinations” of Jesus’ spirit seems plausible, maybe during a group’s ecstatic experience or something. On the other hand I think there’s difficulty with the idea that several people hallucinated an experiences with a seemingly physical Jesus. RESPONSE: This is a great question. My view is that different early Christians had different views. Paul’s view for me is the most interesting. In a forthcoming book I’ve mapped out my understanding of that. Here’s what I say there: ****************************************************************************** It is striking, and frequently overlooked by casual observers of the early Christian tradition, that even though it was a universal [...]

Is History Possible?

One other section that I attended at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Baltimore was devoted to the field of social memory and the historical Jesus. This was a very interesting panel, of four papers, devoted to what we can say about the recollections of Jesus found in the Gospels, based on what psychologists now tell us about memory, and what historians familiar with this psychological work are saying about how the past can be remembered. I found one paper in particular to be especially interesting, because the author, a very smart scholar named Zeba Crook, used developments in the psychology of memory to argue that we can NOT know anything about the historical Jesus. Crook’s paper (I’m reconstructing this from my mind, based on what I heard two days ago; I may get some of this wrong. But if Crook’s point is correct, then I can’t reconstruct the event at all, as you’ll see!) was based on the phenomenon of memory distortion. Psychologists have determined several things about memory and how it gets [...]

2020-04-03T17:41:13-04:00November 27th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Memory Studies|

Papers at the SBL

As is typical, I spent most of my four days at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting seeing old friends in the field and former students who now have teaching careers of their own. I did make some time to go to a few papers on the final day (yesterday). Some were very stimulating, interesting, and learned, others were … not. Just to give you a sense of the sorts of things that get done in this setting, I’ll give (very) brief summaries of a couple of the papers I heard.. The sessions I went to were on New Testament Textual Criticism (this is the group that discusses the manuscripts that preserve the NT) and Social Memory and the Historical Jesus (roughly speaking, this group considers issues raised for establishing what Jesus really said and did based on advances in the study of “memory” by psychologists and historians today). The textual criticism section was long my “home” in the SBL; I was the chair of the section for six years and on the steering committee [...]

2020-04-03T17:42:13-04:00November 26th, 2013|New Testament Manuscripts|

SBL and ALL those Books

I had a good and interesting first day at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting here in Baltimore.   This society comprises professors and other scholars of biblical literature mainly from the U.S., but with some attendees from overseas as well.   It meets along with the American Academy of Religion, which is the professional society for all professors of religion who are not  teachers of biblical studies (so experts in Christianity outside the NT, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, anthropologists of religion, historians of religion, and so on and on).   All together it is a very large group.  I don’t have the exact numbers, but I think maybe there are 10,000 or 11,000 people here for the meeting.   That’s a lot of experts on religion in one place! One of the most important aspects of the conference for me is the book display.   Dozens of publishers of books in every field and aspect of religion are here – from major well known pubishers such as Oxford University Press and Princeton University Press to religious publishing houses such [...]

2020-04-03T17:42:20-04:00November 24th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|

The Gospel of Peter in a Papyrus Fragment?

Yesterday I gave a lecture at the Biblical Archeology Society FEST here in Baltimore. Even though I'm (obviously) not an archaeologist, a lot of my work is connected with archaeology, especially the discovery of ancient manuscripts. In 1886 archaeologists digging in Akhmim Egypt were working through a cemetery and uncovered a tomb, from about the 8th century, they thought, that had, along with a skeleton, a 66 page parchment book. The book was written in Greek, and had four texts in it (all incomplete), including, on the first ten pages, a copy of what was identified as the Gospel of Peter. If you’ve ever read the surviving Gospel of Peter, this is the text (or the translation of it!) that you have read. I can blog more about it at some point later. For now: this is an alternative account of the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which is most famous for the resurrection scene, in which the narrator describes what actually happened when Jesus came out of the grave. It’s spectacular. Jesus is [...]

2020-04-03T17:43:28-04:00November 23rd, 2013|Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

My SBL Conference

There are two happy events affecting my life today. The first is that I just now have received an author’s copy of my new book, co-edited with my colleague, Zlatko Plese, The Other Gospels: Accounts of Jesus from Outside the New Testament (Oxford University Press). As I’ve earlier indicated, this book is an English-only edition of our Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations, which included the original Greek, Latin, and Coptic along with the English translations. For this new lay-reader edition, we have simplified the introductions, making them more accessible to the non-scholar, and gotten rid of the ancient languages. The other happy event is that I am off, now, to my annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature meeting. This is the professional meeting for all scholars and professors of Biblical literature. It is a highlight of my year. Papers are read by scholars on topics of everything you can imagine by scholars who are presenting the results of their research to other scholars. Papers are short – usually 20-25 minutes in length – [...]

Amusing Fund Raising and the Blog

  As many of you know, the charity that this blog supports more than any other is the Urban Ministries of Durham, which deals with issues of hunger and homelessness in my city of Durham – or rather, deals with people who are experiencing problems of hunger and homelessness. Urban Ministries (which, despite its name, is not a religious organization) does amazing work. And one of the most amazing things about it is that it does not simply put a band-aid on the problem, e.g., with its soup kitchen and overnight housing. They do have both, of course! But more than that, it works hard at ending homelessness for people, by getting them into permanent housing and employment to pay for it. It is a model organization that I am very proud to be associated with. They have just started an incredibly innovative fund-raising effort that is rather amusing and potentially ground-breaking. Here is the website:  Check it out, and tell me what you think. And feel free to name the toilet paper after [...]

2014-01-14T02:17:54-05:00November 21st, 2013|Public Forum|

Errant Texts and Historians

QUESTION: In your debates with James White and Dan Wallace, you argued that we cannot know what the original autographs of the NT said because we don't have the originals. In your debate with James White, you even commented that the 2nd or 3rd copier of the text of Mark could have radically altered the text so that the way it came down to us is radically different than the autographs. You've argued that this is the case even for classical writings or any textual document from antiquity. Now, if you believe we cannot know what the originals said because we don't have the autographs, then how could you know that Paul met with James and Cephas, and use that as an argument proving that we know Jesus existed? Is it not possible (according to your view) that Galatians has been radically altered? In other words, it seems that you either have to sacrifice your skepticism regarding textual criticism or sacrifice your certainty for the historicity of Jesus. RESPONSE: This is a great question! So, [...]

Jesus and Brian!!!

I am pleased to be able to announce that a conference will be held this summer that looks to be outrageously fun and interesting.   It will be at King’s College, London.   And it will be on the Life of Brian and the Historical Jesus.   I have been asked to give one of the papers, and how could I refuse!   I’m going to have to cut short a family vacation in France, but there’s no way I’m missing this.  Here’s the publicity for it. Jesus and Brian Or: What have the Pythons done for Us? A Biblical Studies Conference King’s College London, The Strand, London WC1 Safra Lecture Theatre Friday June 20th to Sunday June 22nd, 2014 Monty Python’s Life of Brian provoked a furious response in some quarters when it first appeared in 1979, even leading to cries of ‘blasphemy’. However, many students and teachers of biblical literature were quietly, and often loudly, both amused and intrigued. Life of Brian in fact contains numerous references to what was then the cutting edge of biblical scholarship [...]

2017-09-16T22:57:38-04:00November 20th, 2013|Jesus and Film, Public Forum|

Is The NT Portrayal of Jesus Accurate? Debate With Craig Evans

This video is of a debate that I participated in nearly two years ago in Nova Scotia with Dr. Craig Evans, a very well-known and widely published scholar of the New Testament who is also a conservative  evangelical Christian (not “ultra-conservative,” and nowhere near a fundamentalist – but still conservative).  He is the author of Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence and Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. This was the first of two debates that took place, in two different locations,on subsequent evenings.   The topic of the debate was: “Does the New Testament Present a Reliable Portrait of the Historical Jesus.”   As you might imagine, Craig Evans argues that Yes, it does.  I argue that No, it does not.   Both of us, naturally enough, focus our attention on the four Gospels of the New Testament.   We each gave an opening speech of 30 minutes; and then we had a chance for a rebuttal, followed by some Q & A. I have to say, this was one of  the favorite debates that I [...]

2020-04-29T17:09:05-04:00November 17th, 2013|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Video Media|

Problem on the Site

My assistant and computer guru Steve Ray noticed yesterday (Saturday, November 16) that comments were not getting posted on the site.   There was a technical malfunction, unrelated to him, me, or the CIA (the real one or the secondary one in D.C., so far as I know....). This is the note he posted on my facebook page.  Please ... take note! Greetings Blog Members. Technical Notice. There was a database corruption on the blog server today due to JetPack, one that did not allow comments to record. If you left a comment between 6am to 6pm EST, please consider submitting it again. If any member notes that their account is not working properly (cannot access membership content), please email your password to [email protected] and it will be manually reset. Sorry for any inconvenience. S. E. Ray, Bart's Assistant. Additionally, the inbound links still result in membership access issues, even after logging in. Developers are looking into this and will not get back to us until Monday, 11/18/2013. However, if you login directly at member posts are [...]

2013-11-17T14:23:19-05:00November 17th, 2013|Public Forum|

Why Historians Can Talk “About” the Resurrection

In this final post (for now) on the historian and miracles, I want to emphasize one point that I raise of my own volition, and answer one question that has been asked by a reader. First, a point to emphasize (I borrow this from my forthcoming book on How Jesus Became God), on whether my stand on miracles just means that I’m a crazy secularist…. The reason that historians cannot prove or disprove whether God has performed a miracle in the past – such as by raising Jesus from the dead – is not because historians are required to be secular humanists with an anti-supernaturalist bias.   I want to stress this point because conservative Christian apologists, in order to score debating points, often claim that this is the case.  In their view, if historians did not have anti-supernaturalist biases or assumptions, they would be able to affirm the historical “evidence” that Jesus was raised from the dead.   I should point out that these Christian apologists almost never consider the “evidence” for other miracles from the [...]

2020-04-03T17:43:52-04:00November 15th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Historians and the Problem of Miracle

Yesterday I started to talk about why historians cannot demonstrate that a miracle such as the resurrection happened because doing so requires a set of presuppositions that are not generally shared by historians doing their work. Over the years I’ve thought a lot about this question, and have tried to explain on several occasions why a “miracle” can never be shown, on historical grounds, to have happened -- even if it did. Here is a slightly different way of approaching the matter, as I expressed it in an earlier publication on the historical Jesus: ******************************************************** People today typically think of miracles as supernatural violations of natural law, divine interventions into the natural course of events. I should emphasize that this popular understanding does not fit particularly well into modern scientific understandings of "nature," in that scientists today are less confident in the entire category of natural "law" than they were, say, in the nineteenth century. For this reason, it is probably better not to speak of supernatural violations of "laws," but to think of miracles [...]

2020-04-03T17:44:00-04:00November 15th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

History is Not the Past

Yesterday I started to answer a question from a reader who pointed out that just as the existence of Jesus is multiply attested, so too is Jesus’ resurrection. And so if *one* is established as historical, doesn’t the other one *also* have to be seen as historical? And if one is considered non-historical, doesn’t that show that the other is probably also non-historical? These are great questions, but I think the answer to both of them is “no.” Yesterday I showed why multiple attestation strongly supports the existence of Jesus. Some readers objected to that, but I should reiterate – this is simply a common sense principle that all of us use every day to decide if something happened (say, what happened at lunch yesterday). Today I want to show why multiple attestation can *not* be used to support the resurrection of Jesus. I begin by pointing out something that hasn’t occurred to a lot of people, but is nonetheless a fundamental point. History is not the past. This may come as a surprise, but [...]

2020-04-03T17:44:10-04:00November 13th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Multiple Attestation for Jesus

I had an interesting email from a reader the other day, in which he pointed out that the “multiple attestation” for the existence of Jesus is virtually matched by the “multiple attestation” for the resurrection of Jesus. At first I thought his point was the Christian apologetic one, that therefore since the resurrection is just as well (not quite, but still pretty well) attested as the very existence of Jesus, doesn’t that show that Jesus was probably raised from the dead? When I responded to that question, it turned out that he was actually saying the opposite: since we (meaning he and I) don’t believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, but *that’s* well attested, doesn’t that call into question the very existence of Jesus, which has comparable attestation. Multiple attestation can’t “show” it, in this view. As I think about it now, my response to *both* points (the Christian apologetic and the non-christian mythicist) is probably the same, that when dealing with the two phenomena – 1. the existence of Jesus and 2. [...]

2020-04-03T17:44:18-04:00November 12th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Who Can Still Be A Christian?

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: This is a great question, and one I get asked a lot. Let me say at the outset that I think it is exactly right in its evaluation of who Jesus was. As I’ve explained in a lot of places, for over the past century – since Albert Schweitzer’s classic, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), the majority of NT scholars in Europe and the United States have been convinced that Jesus was indeed an apocalyptic preacher, like others of his day. Apocalypticism appears to have been widespread throughout Palestinian Judaism at the time. In rough form (with lots of variations) it was held by the Pharisees (who believed in the “resurrection” at the end of the age, an apocalyptic idea; they therefore probably held to other apocalyptic notions), by the Essenes who produced [...]

2017-09-16T23:05:00-04:00November 10th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Video: Forgery in the New Testament

On Monday, March 21, 2011, I gave a lecture at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club of California, underwritten by The Bernard Osher Foundation. The moderator was Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus, Grace Cathedral. Below is a link to the lecture. I gave the lecture soon after my book Forged: Writing in the Name of God. Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are appeared. In that book I try to present, to a lay audience, the evidence that scholars have found compelling that not only are some books *outside* the New Testament written (falsely) in the names of the apostles (for example, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Apocalypse of Paul, and so on: these were not really written by Peter, Thomas, or Paul, as everyone agrees) but also books written *inside* the New Testament. This does not apply to "anonymous" books, where an author does not provide his name (e.g., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- the authors themselves do not say who they are, it was only later [...]

2020-04-11T17:19:22-04:00November 8th, 2013|Book Discussions, Forgery in Antiquity, Video Media|

Carrier, Bayes Theorem, and Jesus’ Existence

As most of you know, I’m pretty much staying out of the mythicist debates. That is for several reasons. One is that the mythicist position is not seen as intellectually credible in my field (I’m using euphemisms here; you should see what most of my friends *actually* say about it….) – no one that I know personally (I know a *lot* of scholars of New Testament, early Christianity, and so on) takes it at *all* seriously as a viable historical perspective (this includes not just Christians but also Jews, agnostics, atheists – you name it), and my colleagues sometimes tell me that I’m simply providing the mythicists with precisely the credibility they’re looking for even by engaging them. It’s a good point, and I take it seriously. In that connection I should say that I can understand how someone who hasn’t spent years being trained in the history of early Christianity might have difficulty distinguishing between serious scholarship that is accepted by experts as being plausible (even when judged wrong) and the writings of others [...]

2020-05-27T16:02:02-04:00November 7th, 2013|Bart's Critics, Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

New Hermeneia Manuscript

Yesterday I provided background for my post of today by talking about the five hermeneia manuscripts of the Gospel of John that were discussed by Bruce Metzger in a publication in 1988. The reason that is now timely is that a new manuscript has just recently been identified with the same phenomenon. This time it is a Coptic manuscript that survives only in a fragment, of John chapter 3. The person who has identified it is Brice Jones, a PhD candidate in New Testament at Concordia University in Montreal. Brice is developing an expertise in textual criticism and the study of manuscripts, and this is a terrific discovery. Below is the notice that he sent around a few weeks ago reporting his find (in his own words, of course). FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN NOW!!! Yesterday I provided background for my post of today by talking about the five heremeneia manuscripts of the Gospel of John that were [...]

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