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Books and Response Books

So, in almost exactly a month, my new book How Jesus Became God, gets published, March 25. The book is completely done and produced. I received a preliminary copy a couple of days ago. I think it looks *great* -- a very interesting piece of cover art, good blurbs on the back, interesting explanations about what the book is. HarperOne has done a terrific job with it. Naturally I’m interested, concerned, and invested in how well it does. Any author who thinks s/he has something to say – which, by definition, is every author -- very much wants lots and lots of people to read their work. And with a book like this, which in my opinion deals with what is arguably the most important question in the history of Western religions, it’s especially important (to me). So I am eager for this to happen. There are several things that authors really want when they’ve written a book that will be seen as controversial. For one thing, the author wants a lot of controversy! Not [...]

2020-04-03T17:19:16-04:00February 27th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Video: Does It Matter If Jesus Was Married?

As I think I've indicated on the blog before, on January 23, 2014 there was an interesting discussion, on stage, between Karen L. King (Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School), Mark Jordan (Distinguished Professor at Washington University, Saint Louis; he is returning to Harvard next year), and me on the topic "Does It Matter if Jesus Was Married?" The discussion was hosted by the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in the Beam Music Center, Doc Rando Hall, UNLV. The Black Mountain Institute is an International Center for Creative Writers and Scholars. The event was moderated by the former President of UNLV, Carol Harter, who did a very fine job indeed keeping us all on target and on topic. The basic underlying question was: what would a married Christ mean for the theology, practices, and politics of Christian traditions as they grapple with changing times?  I did manage to say a few words about the prior question: *Was* Jesus married? The Black Mountain Institute was motivated to invite us [...]

2017-12-25T12:34:05-05:00February 25th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Video Media|

The Literary-Historical Method and History

 COMMENT BY A READER: I like the “literary-historical” approach, but only up to a point, just so long as the claims of primitive history, the interpretations of bible scholars, and the anti-Semitic pronouncements of its religious authors, don’t outweigh or override the literature. After all, Jesus did NOT have personal biographers who took notes and reported what was going on throughout his lifetime. We only know of him as the protagonist within an ill-defined genre, someone carefully crafted after-the-fact in order to appear more god-like than human. Thus, it seems a mistake to treat the Gospel of Mark, or any similar ancient narrative (whether canonized or not), either as the legitimate retelling of history, or merely as one particular form of Greco-Roman storytelling.   RESPONSE: Yes, it anyone thinks the literary-historical approach involves making historical claims about the narrative they have misunderstood what it is trying to do. Let me explain. There are numerous ways, of course, that one can approach the Gospels of the NT, just as there are numerous ways that one can [...]

2020-04-03T17:19:23-04:00February 25th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Jesus’ Death and Resurrection in Mark

Here is my final post on Mark, following a literary-historical method. After this post I’ll have a reflection or two on the method, and then talk in much briefer fashion about other methods one might use to study the Gospels. ************************************************************ Jesus' Death as the Son of God It is clear from Mark's Gospel that Jesus' disciples never do come to understand who he is. As we have seen, he is betrayed to the Jewish authorities by one of them, Judas Iscariot. On the night of his arrest, he is denied three times by another, his closest disciple, Peter. All the others scatter, unwilling to stand up for him in the hour of his distress. Perhaps Mark wants his readers to understand that the disciples were shocked when their hopes concerning Jesus as messiah were thoroughly dashed: Jesus did not bring victory over the Romans or restore the kingdom to Israel. For Mark, of course, these hopes were misplaced. Jesus was the Son of God; but he was the Son of God who had to [...]

2020-04-03T17:19:37-04:00February 24th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Mark’s Suffering Son of God

In this post I continue my literary-historical study of Mark’s Gospels, and get to a very big point. After this will be one more post on Mark, in which I discuss the ultimate point. ******************************************************************** Jesus The Suffering Son of God Throughout the early portions of Mark's Gospel the reader is given several indications that Jesus will have to die (e.g., 2:20; 3:6). After Peter's confession, however, Jesus begins to be quite explicit about it. Even though he is the Christ, the Son of God -- or rather, because he is -- he must suffer death. Three times Jesus predicts his own impending passion in Jerusalem: he is to be rejected by the Jewish leaders, killed, and then raised from the dead. Strikingly, after each of these "Passion predictions" Mark has placed stories to show that the disciples never do understand what Jesus is talking about.   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a member. If you don't belong yet, JOIN ALREADY!!! We have already seen the first prediction in 8:31.  When [...]

2020-04-03T17:19:45-04:00February 21st, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Snake-Handling and the Gospel of Mark

  Here is something to break up a bit my thread on the Gospel of Mark, studied from a literary-historical perspective (to be resumed in my next post).   This current post is related to Mark but it’s well, different. There was a recent CNN report that some of you may have seen.   I include it here, below, with the link to the site at the bottom.   This practice in some southern circles (especially in the Appalachians) of handling deadly snakes as part of a worship service is based on the saying of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, after his resurrection, where he tells his disciples that those who come to believe in him will be able to speak in foreign tongues (as happens in Pentecostal churches, e.g.), that they will be able to handle deadly snakes, and if they drink any poison, it will not harm them. Offhand, I don’t know what in additional to snake-handling churches, we don’t have poison-drinking churches.  Maybe we do?  I’m sure someone on the blog can tell me.  In any [...]

More on Mark

I started this thread by mentioning that when I teach my undergraduate class on the NT, I not only teach them about the four Gospels, but I teach them different *methods* for studying the Gospels – for example redaction criticism and “literary-historical” criticism. In my class I use the latter to explore the Gospel of Mark, and in order to illustrate here, on the blog, how it works (establishing the genre of a writing then seeing how that genre “worked” in the relevant historical period) I started showing how Mark can be interpreted as an ancient biography. But now that I’ve given several posts on that, I realize that I’m deep into the interpretation of Mark but haven’t actually pointed out the really important themes of the Gospel in its portrayal of Jesus. So that seems unsatisfying. I’ve decided to continue on to the end, and give the rest of my discussion of Mark from my textbook, to show what a fuller interpretation (which, of course, just scratches the surface) would reveal. This will take [...]

2020-04-03T17:19:54-04:00February 19th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

More on the Beginning of Mark’s Gospel

In this post I resume what I began yesterday, an explanation of how the Gospel of Mark can be read as a biography of Jesus, with the “character” of the main subject shown in the stories told about him at the early part of the account. I’ve pointed out that Jesus is portrayed in a very Jewish light as the messiah, the Son of God (and I have said a few words about what that would mean to a Jewish audience). And then, in Jesus’ first actions, we learn more about who he is – specifically, what kind of Son of God. Again, the following is taken from my textbook on the New Testament. ************************************************************** Jesus the Authoritative Son of God The reader is immediately struck by the way in which Jesus is portrayed as supremely authoritative. At the outset of his ministry, he sees fishermen plying their trade; he calls to them and without further ado they leave their boats and family and hapless co-workers to follow him (1:16-20). Jesus is an authoritative leader; [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:04-04:00February 18th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

The Beginning of Mark’s Gospel/Biography

OK, I won’t do this for all the Gospels, but I thought rather than trying to type up at length how the beginning of Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus (on the assumption that since it’s an ancient biography, it will lay out the character of the subject at the very outset), I should simply reproduce what I already say about this in print elsewhere, in my Introduction to the New Testament. Here is the first part of that discussion. The second part I’ll give in my next post. **************************************************************** One of the first things that strikes the informed reader of Mark's Gospel is how thoroughly its traditions are rooted in a Jewish world view. The book begins, as do many other ancient biographies, by naming its subject: "The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (1:1). But readers living in the Greco-Roman world would not recognize "Christ" as a name; for most of them, it was not even a meaningful title. It came from the verb "to anoint," and typically referred to someone who has just [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:11-04:00February 17th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

The Gospels as Biographies

In my last post I indicated that among the different ways to study the Gospels, one is what I call the “literary-historical” approach. This approach determines the literary genre of a writing, and then sees how that genre “worked” in its own historical context (as opposed to how a similar genre make work today). The Gospels of the NT are widely seen as examples of ancient biography. So it would help to know how biographies worked in Greek and Roman antiquity. There are numerous examples of biographies from the Greco-Roman world, many of them by some of the most famous authors of the Roman literary scene, such as Plutarch, Suetonius, and Tacitus. As I indicated in my previous post, and need to stress here, these biographies, understood in their own historical context, are different from the biographies we read today. Understanding the differences can be key to recognizing the way any particular ancient biography “worked,” including the Christian examples such as Mark (and the other Gospels). As I contrast ancient with modern biographies here, it [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:25-04:00February 17th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

How To Study the Gospels

I’ve been speaking about the importance of the differences of the Gospels. So far I’ve argued that these show that each Gospel has to be read for the message that *it* is trying to convey; no one should assume that the message of one Gospel is the message of another, that the portraits of Jesus are the same among all the Gospels, that none of the differences matter for much of anything because they can all be reconciled. That is to miss out on a real opportunity of determining the message of each of these authors. I think that’s important. These are important books. Whether you’re a Christian or not, no one can much doubt that the New Testament is the most important book, historically and culturally, in the history of Western Civilization. Knowing what it’s authors have to say really matters. And if you wear blinders when trying to interpret these books, you’ll simply see what you’re programed to see. And that’s not good. In my last post I argued that one of the [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:32-04:00February 15th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, Teaching Christianity|

Differences in the Gospels and Redaction Criticism

In my previous two posts I stressed that knowing that there are differences, even discrepancies, among the Gospels does not need to be considered in a purely negative light. There are very serious positive pay-offs. These differences/discrepancies open up possibilities for interpretation, because they (in theory) prevent a person from importing a meaning into a text that is difficult to sustain from the words of the text itself. When John says that Jesus died on the day before the Passover meal was eaten, but Mark says that Jesus died on the day *after* the meal was eaten (both are quite explicit), then the interpreter’s energy really should not be taken up with showing that they both are saying the same thing. They are saying different things, and not recognizing this means failing to recognize what each Gospel is trying to say. In this particular case, John almost certainly is the one who changed the historical datum (although, OK, this is debated). It allows John to portray Jesus as the “lamb of God” who is killed, [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:41-04:00February 14th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Similarities and Differences: The Synoptic Problem

  In yesterday’s post I mentioned my New Testament class, and that one of the main lessons I’m trying to convey in it is that each of the Gospels has to be read for what *it* has to say.  This requires the reader to bracket information that is conveyed in some other Gospel (or that they’ve heard before elsewhere), to see what the meaning of this particular text is. That shouldn’t be such a hard idea to grasp.   If I write a book about Jesus, I don’t expect or want my readers to read my book in light of what some other author said (say, Reza Aslan or Bill O’Reilly), interpreting my views in light of the other person’s views, as if my views, as I state them, are not enough or sufficient.  And yet people regularly read the Gospels as if Mark must mean the same thing that John does, or that this passage in Matthew makes best sense in light of that other passage in Luke, and so on.  We don’t do that [...]

2017-12-25T12:36:43-05:00February 11th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Discrepancies in the Resurrection Narratives

I’ve been having a great time with my undergraduate course this semester, “Introduction to the New Testament.” It has 240 students in it. I lecture twice a week, for 50 minutes at a shot; then for their third class period each student has to meet in a recitation group of 20 students, each one led in discussion by one of my graduate teachings assistants (four TA’s altogether; each one has three recitations). I meet with TA’s for an hour each week to talk about what we want to have happen in the recitations that Friday. The students taking the class, as I’ve pointed out before, have to do a two-page “position paper” each time in preparation for recitation. So far I think *most* (not all!) students are enjoying the course. A lot of them are finding it challenging – not so much because of its inherent difficulty as because of the perspectives being put forth in the readings and the lectures. We have spent a *lot* of time on the differences among the Gospels, and [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:48-04:00February 10th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, Teaching Christianity|

Was Jesus Inserted Into Paul’s Letters?

QUESTION: I find the historical evidence for existence of Jesus pretty compelling as far as ancient history of antiquity goes.  Just to play devil’s advocate, how confident can we be that Paul’s letters have not been significantly doctored over a period of decades, inserting references to a historical Jesus when no such references exist in the originals? What are the oldest fragments and whole letters of the Pauline epistles?   RESPONSE: Interesting question.   I think I need to answer it more fully than just by giving a comment because some of my work (Misquoting Jesus) has been used by some people to claim that I don’t think we can know *anything* about an early form of the texts of the New Testament.  And that ain’t true.  My view is that we cannot know for *certain* about the original texts at any point, since we lack manuscript witnesses from near the time.  That is a very BIG problem for fundamentalists and hard-core evangelical Christians – a number of whom see me as the devil incarnate, even [...]

Abraham and Jesus?

QUESTION: THIS QUESTION FROM A MEMBER OF THE BLOG QUOTES SOMETHING I SAID IN MY PREVIOUS POST AND THEN ASKS A QUESTION ABOUT IT: “As I’ve intimated, my own view is that these patriarchal narratives are not historical accounts of people who actually lived and did the things ascribed to them. I see them as highly legendary, narratives told by the people of Israel – after they became the people of Israel (say in the 11th or 10th centuries) — about their “early days.” Stories circulated for years and years in different parts of the land, among different tribes of people who were later said to have all been part of Israel. These stories were then combined and put into the sources, which later were composed into one big narrative (say in the 6th c BCE). I do not see them as historical records, but more as something like “founding legends” that help explain to the people who they are in light of their (imagined) past.” If that’s the case then why can’t the same [...]

More on Camels and Genesis

I have received some interesting responses, both in comments on the blog and privately, about my post yesterday on domesticated camels in the land of Palestine. Some readers are (re-)convinced that you can’t trust the Bible for one blasted thing; others think that it’s just a picayune point since camels are not really much of a big deal in the narratives of Genesis. So maybe I should provide a bit of background and explain what I see to be the significance of this new finding. First, on camels. The word “camel” (Hebrew: GML) occurs twenty-four times in the book of Genesis, always in connection with the Patriarchs, and in contexts involving each of the big names: Abraham (only one time, 12:16 – God blessed him with lots of camels), Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (again only one time, 37:25; he was taken to Egypt by a group of traders with a caravan of camels). The greatest concentration of references is in the story of Isaac and Rebecca in Genesis 24, but there are several references to [...]

2020-04-03T17:21:15-04:00February 6th, 2014|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Camels and the Book of Genesis

Something different. A long time-member of the blog, Ron Taska, has sent this along to me. Biblical scholars for years have argued that the camels one finds in the patriarchal narratives of Genesis (Gen. 12-50) are anachronistic, since camels were not yet domesticated in the times in which the Patriarchs allegedly lived. (I’m one of those scholars who doubts whether the Patriarchs of Genesis are historical figures at all; but that’s another question.) Here is some recent scientific evidence that appears to support this older scholarly claim. (For reference: Abraham, the “father of the Jews” is usually dated to the 18th century BCE. If he lived.) If it's right, then this is one more piece of evidence (among many) that the narratives of Genesis are not historically accurate and were not composed any time near the dates of the alleged events they discuss, or even in the time of Moses (if he lived: 13th century). **************************************************************** TEL AVIV (Press Release)–Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But [...]

2020-04-03T17:21:22-04:00February 6th, 2014|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Religion in the News|

Jesus Kissing Mary Magdalene

QUESTION: I know that the “Gospel of Philip does not have much if any real historical veracity to it about Jesus’ life, but does the references about Jesus and Mary Magdalene being lovers and the holes in the papyrus ‘kissing’ verse (verses 32 and 55 in your “Lost Scriptures” book), help support the view that this most likely Gnostic Christian sect truly believed and taught that Jesus and Mary M were married? RESPONSE: Yes, this is one of those questions I get asked about on occasion.   I have a reasonably full discussion of the relevant issues in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.   In the book I put the discussion in the context of – yes, you guessed it --  Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the one source many people turn to for the Gospel of Philip. (!)   Here’s what I say there: ************************************************************** Some of the historical claims about the non-canonical Gospels in the Da Vinci Code have struck scholars as outrageous, or at least outrageously funny.  The book claims, for example, that [...]

Video: Illuminated Manuscripts and Legends about Jesus

  I was asked to speak at the Getty Museum, in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium in Los Angeles, California on Thursday, September 22, 2011 during the exhibition "In the Beginning Was the Word: Medieval Gospel Illumination." Illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages are significant for the literary texts they preserve. But they are also important, historically and culturally, for their illustrations of the life of Jesus and other figures associated with him.   These artistic representations tell tales of their own, and the visual stories are not always found in the corresponding texts. A careful examination of these images shows clearly and convincingly that medieval artists were familiar not only with the stories of the canonical Gospels but also with many noncanonical apocryphal tales of Jesus. The apocryphal stories, in some instances, were understood to be "Gospel truth" on par with accounts found in Scripture. In any event, here is the lecture that I gave: Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition: Details on the "In the Beginning Was the Word: Medieval Gospel Illumination" 2011 [...]

2017-12-25T12:37:57-05:00February 3rd, 2014|Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum, Video Media|
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