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Yale Shaffer Lectures 1 of 3 – Christ Come in the Flesh

Ten years ago now -- October 12-14, 2004 -- I delivered the Shaffer lectures at Yale University Divinity School. The central theme of the series was "Christ in the Early Christian Tradition: Texts Disputed and Apocryphal." Among other things, I tried to show how early Christian groups tried to restrict readings of their sacred texts to suit their own purposes. This first lecture is entitled on "Christ Come in the Flesh." (The video quality will not be up to what we all have come to expect, as it was recorded on VHS.) Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition.

2017-12-14T22:40:12-05:00August 31st, 2014|Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum, Video Media|

Titles for Trade Books, Like Misquoting Jesus

In my previous post I discussed the strategies behind giving a title to a scholarly book.   When it comes to trade books, written for popular audiences, it is a different ballgame altogether.   Whereas scholarly books are meant to sound erudite and learned, or if  they are meant to be “clever” then only clever to those on the academic inside who catch the allusions, trade books are meant to be witty and intriguing for a general reader, and a sign that the book will be really interesting and about something that the reader wants to learn more about.  In the best cases, the reader – a non-scholar – should read the title and think, “Huh, I’d like to know about that!” or “Huh, I wonder that that’s about.”   The trick is to be able to grab a reader’s attention without being overly sensationalized, and that’s a very fine line indeed. It’s hard to know whether a title will accomplish its task or not.  I thought my last book “How Jesus Became God” would be a real [...]

2020-04-03T16:36:30-04:00August 29th, 2014|Book Discussions|

Titles of Scholarly Books

In my previous post I talked about how I chose a scholarly-sounding title for my scholarly book on the use of literary forgery in the early Christian tradition.   All of the titles for my scholarly books are ones that I’ve chosen, and they are all meant to signal that the book is … scholarly. A number of my scholarly titles have been very straightforward – informative but not scintillating (and not meant to be scintillating).   My first attempt at a title was for my dissertation, and I realized afterward that there was a bit of a problem with it.   I wrote the dissertation at Princeton Theological Seminary under Bruce Metzger, who was (and is) without peer, in my opinion and everyone else’s, as the leading NT textual scholar America has ever produced.   It was an amazing and humbling experience working under him.   I was his final doctoral student, and he and I became very close. The dissertation topic was one he suggested to me.  It involved combing through the newly discovered Old Testament commentaries of [...]

2020-04-03T16:36:37-04:00August 28th, 2014|Book Discussions|

Scholarly vs. Trade Books

In the past thread I was discussing how, on three occasions, I produced both a scholarly book and a trade book for popular audiences on the same topic.  I thought that now it would be interesting for me to say a few words about what I see as the difference between these two kinds of books. On one level, I think the difference would be obvious to anyone who would compare two of the books I’ve mentioned, for example, my scholarly monograph Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics with my popular book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.  They are on the same topic.  But they are oh so different. For openers, the titles are dead give aways.   Titles are a tricky business.   Publishers are the ones who ultimately decide on what a title will be.   I should say that for almost all of my scholarly books (in fact, I think for every single one of [...]

2020-04-03T16:36:46-04:00August 27th, 2014|Book Discussions|

The Other Gospels: The Trade Book Version

The edition of the non-canonical Gospels that I’ve been discussing in previous posts (The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations), which I published with my colleague Zlatko Plese, was meant for academics – professors of New Testament and early Christianity and their graduate students.   Most other people, of course, have no need or desire to see the original Greek, Latin, or Coptic of a text along with a translation.  People generally just want an English translation. But having a facing-page translation is a great thing for scholars and budding scholars.   The only way really to understand a foreign language text in its many nuances is to read it in its own language.  And since these are texts that deserve to be studied carefully, minutely, with full attention to all the fullness of their meaning, they really need to be read in the Greek, Latin, and Coptic languages in which that they have come down to us. For some scholars, the book would be useful because it provides the original language text for all these writings, and [...]

2020-11-24T19:25:52-05:00August 26th, 2014|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|

Apocryphal Gospels: The Scholarly Version

In my last couple of posts I began to describe how my edition of the Apocryphal Gospels came about.   After having done the Apostolic Fathers in two volumes for the Loeb, I had decided never to do another translation project again.  Too hard!  But then, forgetting my decision, I thought it would be useful to have a Greek/Latin – English version of the early Christian non-canonical Gospels.  And at the urging of the editor at Harvard, submitted a proposal also for the Loeb Classical Library.  But the editorial board decided that they did not want to start publishing new editions of Christian texts in the series, since that would detract from its typical focus on Greek and Roman classics.   And so I was now interested in a project without a publisher. I should say – this may not be widely known – that most of the time a scholar writes a book, s/he does not know who will be publishing it, or even if *anyone* will be.  This can be a source of real anxiety, [...]

2020-11-24T19:28:13-05:00August 25th, 2014|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|

Suggested Donation for the Blog

With this post I would like to request that everyone on the blog consider making a donation, above and beyond your membership fee.   I know that some of you simply cannot afford to do so, and that, of course, is absolutely fine.   Others of you simply do not want to do so, and that also is absolutely fine.   But if you have the means and the will, I would very much like you to consider my request. My proposed amount is $20.   If everyone were to make a donation of that amount, we would stand a very good chance of reaching my desired fund raising goal of $100,000 for the year.   As you know, every penny that comes into the blog goes out to charities supporting hunger and homelessness.  I don’t keep a dime for myself, and I pay for all of the expenses of the blog out of my own pocket. For some of you, $20 will be more than you can afford, but you’d like to give something.   So give $5.   For others [...]

2014-08-23T16:26:12-04:00August 23rd, 2014|Public Forum|

How I Decided to Publish the Apocryphal Gospels

My previous two posts were meant to be a kind of lead-up to this one; this thread started by my talking about the times I have published both a scholarly work and a trade book for popular audiences on the same topic.   The third and most recent time had to do with an edition of the Apocryphal Gospels.  I’ve now given some of the backstory: I had done a translation project creating a new bi-lingual edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library, and had vowed I would never do something like that again.  But I broke my vow. It all began innocently enough.   I had a scholar from England as a houseguest back in 1999 or so.   David Parker is the premier New Testament textual critic in the U.K. these days, or in the English-speaking world for that matter.  He is a real, hard-core manuscript guy.  At that point of my career – fifteen years ago now – I too was actively involved in that field.  Some of our interests and writings [...]

2020-11-24T19:29:22-05:00August 22nd, 2014|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|

The Difficulties of Publishing a Translation

In my last post, en route to discussing my latest attempt at publishing both a scholarly and a trade book on the same topic, I talked about how I took on the task of doing a new Greek-English edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library.  At the end of the post I indicated that doing that edition was one of the hardest things I have ever done.   There were lots of things that made it very difficult – deciding which form of the Greek text to use for each of the writings included (i.e. what to do in the many places where the manuscripts differed from one another), doing all the research in order to write up competent and relatively complete Introductions to each text, studying the history of research into various problems posed by the Apostolic Fathers, from the 17th century until today, and so on. But the hardest part was the translation itself.   The Greek of the Apostolic Fathers is not incredibly difficult, as far as Greek goes.  It is [...]

2020-04-03T16:37:16-04:00August 21st, 2014|Book Discussions|

My Third Scholarly and Trade Book Combination, Told Tangentally

The third time I produced both a scholarly and a trade book on the same topic was a completely different situation from the other two I have described.   One thing that was similar was that in this instance yet again I had no idea, initially, of producing a trade version, but planned simply to publish a work of scholarship.  Only later did I realize that a trade version could be very useful. This scholarly book – trade book combination involved an edition of the apocryphal Gospels.  To explain how the books came to be imagined I need to provide a bit of background.   Actually, a lot of background.  This will take a couple of posts. It all started with a completely different project altogether, unrelated to the apocrypha. In the mid 1990s I was teaching the very same graduate course that I’m teaching this semester, a PhD seminar on the group of authors known as the “Apostolic Fathers.”   Sometimes non-experts use this term in a broad sense to refer to the writings of early church [...]

2020-04-03T16:38:20-04:00August 20th, 2014|Book Discussions, History of Christianity (100-300CE)|

My Scholarly and Trade Books on Forgery

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the books that I anticipate writing in the future.  I like to plan my life in advance.  I like to plan my week in advance.  I like to plan my day in advance.  I like to plan.   For my current ten-year publishing plan, the two immediate goals are not so immediate, as they will take three or four years, I should think.   The next book, I hope, will be the trade book for popular audiences on the oral traditions of Jesus in the years before the Gospels were written; that will be followed by a scholarly book on a very similar topic, not written for normal human beings but for abnormal academics. In my last post I began to talk about how I had done something similar before.  My trade book Misquoting Jesus, was a popular treatment of topics that I had dealt with at a scholarly level in several books and a number of academic articles.   I did something comparable with two other trade books. It worked [...]

2020-04-12T12:16:52-04:00August 19th, 2014|Book Discussions, Forgery in Antiquity|

Trade Books and Scholarly Books

I indicated in my previous post that I would say a few things about each of the books that I am planning – today at least – to try to write over the next ten years or so.   The very next book will be trade book on Jesus Before the Gospels, a study of what happened to the stories about Jesus as they were altered, and invented, by Christians circulating them word of mouth before the writing of the Gospels.   The next book after that will be a scholarly treatment of the same thing.  Or that’s the plan. The reason I’m hedging my bet is because I never know whether there will be a scholarly book in my current research until my current research is my past research and I see whether there really is something there that I have to say to scholars, or not.   At this point, even though I have a rough idea of how I want to organize a trade book, and know where I need to go in order to [...]

2020-04-03T16:38:36-04:00August 17th, 2014|Book Discussions, Memory Studies|

Freedom From Religion Foundation Lecture

On May 3 of this year I gave a lecture at a meeting of the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Raleigh NC.    The lecture is about what it is like to be an agnostic who writes about religion.  That's an irony that I am constantly aware of and most of the lecture is about my experience as a non-religious person who is an expert in something he doesn't believe in. I also used  the lecture  to stress that being "free from religion" is not the same thing as "attacking religion."  I absolutely agree with the founding principle of the FFRF that no religion (of any kind, Christian or otherwise) should be imposed on us by the state.  But I do not at *all* think that this is the same thing as being opposed to religion.  I am personally not opposed to religion or people who practice it (although I *am* quite definitely opposed to fundamenalist kinds of religion -- whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or whatever).  And I think organized agnostic/atheist/secular/humanist attacks on religion per [...]

2017-12-14T22:43:38-05:00August 16th, 2014|Public Forum, Video Media|

My Future Books

I mentioned in my previous post that I’ve been in London for the summer, spending almost all my time reading books.   I should clarify that I’m not *only* reading books while I’m here!  Among other things, once a week I've been taking my daily walk (I normally walk an hour a day around Wimbledon, where our flat is) to the large park nearby, and sit on a bench, listening to music with my earphones, watching people play football (a.k.a. soccer) or cricket with their kids, and smoking a very big cigar.   I limit myself to one cigar a week, since if I did what I *wanted* to do, I would smoke three a day.  But our flat is tiny, and there’s no way on God’s good earth that I would be allowed to smoke in it.  So I go to the park.  And sit, and listen to music, and … think deep thoughts. Some of my most creative thinking time is with plugs in my ears and a cigar in my hand (or, well, mouth) and [...]

2020-04-29T16:13:30-04:00August 15th, 2014|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions|


I need to clarify something that I said in my earlier post today about my next project, since I have elicited several demurrals in response, and it was because I didn't express myself very clearly.   What I said was this: Scholars have long held that Mark was the first of our Gospels to be written, and that it probably appeared sometime around the year 70 CE.  Some scholars think it might have been a bit before that (I used to think that); more scholars think that it might have been a bit after.  But almost everyone agrees that Mark dates to around the end of the Jewish War (66-70 CE).  The only ones who consistently have argued otherwise are fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals, who very much want Mark, our earliest Gospel, to be closer to the time of Jesus. When I said that the only scholars "who consistently" argued for an earlier date I didn't make myself clear.   The reason I said "consistently" is because  the only group of scholars that regularly [...]

2017-12-14T22:47:24-05:00August 13th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

My Next Project

I’ve had several people ask what I’m working on, now that How Jesus Became God has come and gone from.   The answer is: the very next thing!   And it’s something that I’ve gotten really excited about, as excited as I was about How Jesus Became God.  For some reason, when I was doing that book over the past couple of years, I thought that it was going to be the climax of my trade book publishing career, and that everything would be downhill from there.   I was completely wrong about that.  I’m now just as passionate about the next project. I mentioned the book earlier on the blog, before I decided for sure that it was going to be next.  But it definitely is.   It will be about the oral traditions of Jesus in circulation in the years before the Gospels were written. So, just to give a bit of background -- a review for some of you and new information for probably some others.    Scholars have long held that Mark was the first of [...]

2020-04-03T16:38:58-04:00August 13th, 2014|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Memory Studies|

My Apostolic Fathers Seminar/Syllabus

I am preparing for classes, now as we speak.  In the Fall term, which begins (moan and groan) in next week, I’ll be teaching two classes, my “first-year seminar” called “Jesus in Scholarship and Film,” and my PhD seminar on “The Apostolic Fathers.”   My Jesus course will be pretty much like last year’s, with a few tweaks (including a full showing of the Life of Brian!); if you’re interested in the basic layout, I posted my syllabus from last year on August 24, 2013. The Apostolic Fathers is a course I have not taught for about three years.  The term “Apostolic Fathers” is a technical one, referring to specific corpus of ten proto-orthodox authors writing just after the New Testament period (actually, a couple of the books were probably written before the final books of the NT).   If you’re wondering who these authors were, refer back to posts I made starting November 19, 17, etc. in 2012. I’ve been interested in the Apostolic Fathers for years; it’s been one of my regular PhD offerings since [...]

Suggestions for Improving the Blog (Its Content)

In my previous post I discussed some of the ideas that had been put forth for increasing the amount of money that the blog takes in – which is my ultimate goal, as I’ve repeatedly said.  I realize that for most of you (all of you?), that’s *not* the ultimate goal.  Most of you are interested in what the blog can provide by way of substance and content.  So, on that topic…. I have tried to vary my posts since this endeavor started over two years ago now, and looking at the categories in which the posts appear, I think that has worked pretty well.   And so far I have not run out of things to say and, to my knowledge, I have not yet repeated a post.  Maybe I have and didn’t notice, and you were too kind to point it out!   (Sometimes I have had ideas and searched only to see, yup, did that one already….) I have received a number of good suggestions about possible ways to change the blog to make [...]

2014-08-11T07:00:24-04:00August 11th, 2014|Public Forum|

National Cathedral Lecture – Misquoting Jesus

Here is a version of my lecture "Misquoting Jesus."   Some of you have seen a different version of the lecture (I'm sure I've posted one!); I'm particularly fond of this particular one, both because of its setting in the Washington National Cathedral and because, well, I just think I was on better form than usual.   The lecture was given on Feb. 6, 2007.  

2017-12-14T22:48:04-05:00August 10th, 2014|Public Forum, Video Media|

ANT: Methods of Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church

I will return to some possible improvements in the blog (not just in raising money from it) soon.  today, though, I want to return to my book After the New Testament.  Just yesterday I finished reading the page proofs for it, by working through the 98-page chapter on early Christian apocrypha (selections of non-canonical Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses: great stuff, but a lot of reading!).  I celebrated with a cigar in Wimbledon Park in the late afternoon sunshine.  Life could be worse. As I indicated before, I’ve added two entirely new sections to this anthology of ancient texts, one on Women in Early Christianity (the Introduction of which I have given, over the course of two posts) and one on “Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church.”   I think this latter is an intriguing, and a highly important, topic.  Here is what I say in the Introduction to it in the second edition of the book, with a brief bibliography that follows. ************************************************************* As we observed in chapter 9, the Bible was important from the [...]

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