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The Blog Year in Review: 2014

And so, we have come to the end of another year.  Most of us will spend at least a bit of time just now reflecting on our lives and our past year.  I’d like to take a minute to reflect, as well, on the year we’ve had on the blog. My sense is that the blog has been and still is going strong.   This past year I have made something like 300 separate posts – so nearly six a week.   Almost always these posts are around 1000 words – sometimes more, but rarely less.   Most of the posts are written fresh every day, though often I do post something of relevance that I have previously published. I’m starting to find that I want to post on something that I’ve already posted on, but by and large I have resisted the urge.  I do think, though, as time goes on, that it won’t matter much if I cover similar ground to what I dealt with, say, two years ago.   There are people who join the blog [...]

2014-12-31T18:00:28-05:00December 31st, 2014|Public Forum|

Miraculous (Not Virgin) Births in Ancient Pagan Texts

In my previous post I pointed out that there do not appear to be any instances in the other religions of antiquity of a virgin birth – where a woman gives birth without having sex.   In this post I’ll lay out the more typical view of how a “son of God” came into the world.  It very much does involve sex.   Most of the post will deal with one (very funn) story in particular which is emblematic of the rest.    For this post I will quote a section from my recent book, How Jesus Became God.  *******************************************************************  Even though Apollonius of Tyana was understood to be a pre-existent god come in the flesh, that is not the normal Greek or Roman way of understanding how a divine human could be born of a mortal.  By far the more common view was that a divine being comes into the world – not having existed prior to birth – because a god has had sex with a human, and the offspring then is in some sense divine.  [...]

2020-04-03T14:11:59-04:00December 30th, 2014|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Widespread Claims of Pagan Virgin Births

I have devoted several posts to the issue of Jesus’ virgin birth, as recounted in Matthew and Luke.  As I pointed out, there is no account of Jesus’ virgin birth in the Gospel of John, and it appears that the idea is actually argued *against* (implicitly) in the Gospel of Mark.   Several readers have asked me (or told me) about the parallels to the virgin birth stories in pagan texts, where a son of God, or demi-god, or, well, some other rather amazing human being is said to have been born of a virgin.  Aren’t the Christians simply borrowing a widely held view found among the pagans, that if someone is the son of God (e.g., Hercules, or Dionysus, or Asclepius, etc.), his mother is always thought to have been a virgin? As it turns out, that’s not the case at all. I don’t know of any parallel to ... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, GET WITH THE PROGRAM!!! I don’t know of any parallel [...]

2020-12-26T00:24:55-05:00December 29th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

The Virgin Birth and the Gospel of John

I have pointed out that our earliest Gospel, Mark, not only is lacking a story of the virgin birth but also tells a story that seems to run precisely counter to the idea that Jesus’ mother knew that his birth was miraculous, unlike the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  It is striking to note that even though these two later Gospels know about a virgin birth,  our latest canonical Gospel, John, does not know about it.   This was not a doctrine that everyone knew about – even toward the end of the first century. Casual readers of John often assume that it presupposes the virgin birth (it never says anything about it, one way or the other) because they themselves are familiar with the idea, and think that John must be as well.  So they typically read the virgin birth into an account that in fact completely lacks it. As is well known, John’s Gospel begins ... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, REMEMBER: THE END [...]

2020-04-03T14:12:15-04:00December 28th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Does Mark’s Gospel Implicitly Deny the Virgin Birth?

It is interesting that our first canonical Gospel (which is our first Gospel, whether canonical or noncanonical), Mark, does not have the story of the Virgin birth and in fact shows no clue that it is familiar with the stories of the Virgin birth.  On the contrary, there are passages in Mark that appear to work *against* the idea that Jesus’ mother knew anything about his having had an extraordinary birth. There is a complicated little passage in Mark 3:20-21 about Jesus’ family coming to take him out of the public eye because they thought he was crazy.   It is a difficult passage to translate from the Greek, and a number of translations go out of their way to make it say something that it probably doesn’t say.   The context is that Jesus has been doing extraordinary miracles, attracting enormous crowds, and raising controversy among the Jewish leaders.   Jesus then chooses his disciples and they go with him into a house.  And then come our verses. In the Greek the passage literally says that “those [...]

2017-12-09T16:07:05-05:00December 27th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Why Was Jesus Born of a Virgin in Matthew and Luke?

A few days ago I raised the question of why anyone should think that you have to believe in the Virgin Birth in order to be a Christian.  The reality is, of course, that many Christians do not believe in it, but recognize that it is a story meant to convey an important theological point – a point that could be true whether or not the story happened – that Jesus was uniquely special in this world, not like us other humans, but in some sense the unique Son of God.   Just as the moral of a fairy tale is valid (or not) independent of whether the tale happened, so too with stories like this in the Gospels, whether you choose to call them myths (in a non-derogatory sense), legends, tales, or simply “stories intending to convey a theological truth.” It is interesting, and not often noted, that Matthew and Luke – the two Gospels (in fact, the two NT books altogether) that recount the story of the Virgin Birth – do so for different [...]

2017-12-09T16:07:12-05:00December 24th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

2 Thessalonians as a Forgery: The Theological Argument

I have decided, you may be glad to learn, that this will be my last post giving the reasons that scholars widely consider 2 Thessalonians not to be written by Paul, even though it claims to be written by Paul.   In order to make this the last post, I have had to make it unusually long.   Again, the point is both to show why scholars think what they do and to show the level at which they have to make their arguments, as opposed to the simple summary that I provide in my trade book Forged.   This is the same argument that I make there (the only one I make!) only it is given in the length and depth that I have directed it to scholars.  This is, once more, taken from my monograph Forgery and Counterforgery.  In it, by the way, I answer many of the objections readers have been raising to my view that 2 Thessalonians is forged. ******************************************************************* The Theology of 2 Thessalonians As recognized already by J. E. Chr. Schmidt over [...]

2020-04-11T16:02:40-04:00December 23rd, 2014|Forgery in Antiquity, Paul and His Letters|

The Writing Style of 2 Thessalonians

In my previous two posts I started giving the scholarly argument against the authenticity of 2 Thessalonians – that is the argument that even though the letter claims to be written by Paul, it was in fact written by someone else who wanted you, the reader, to think it was written by Paul.   In this post I continue that discussion, turning now to the question of the writing style of the letter.   Once again, this is taken from my scholarly study, Forgery and Counterforgery.   (After this there will be only one more post on the thread!) I ended my previous post by pointing out that 2 Thessalonians has taken words and phrases from 1 Thessalonians in order to make it sound authentic, and even borrowed the structure of that earlier letter.  I concluded with these words: This is not how Paul wrote any of his other letters, by replicating the structure (to this degree) and taking over the vocabulary and even sentences of an earlier letter he wrote. But it is no stretch to imagine [...]

2020-04-12T13:16:42-04:00December 22nd, 2014|Forgery in Antiquity, Paul and His Letters|

Do You Have To Believe in the Virgin Birth?

This post will provide a brief respite from my discussion of the authorship of 2 Thessalonians. I went back “home” to Kansas last week to spend a few days with my mom here before the holiday season.  Dutiful son that I am, I took her to church.   I go to church about once every year or two, these days, and normally when I go it is to an Episcopal church on Christmas Eve.   This was a conservative evangelical Free Methodist Church – one that my mom has attended for many years.  It’s not really my style – I rather prefer centuries-honored liturgy to electric guitars and drums, myself – but I wasn’t there to satisfy my own aesthetic preferences.   (She doesn’t like the guitars and drums either, but we missed the earlier service with the choir). The sermon in that kind of church is very different from what one hears in an Episcopal church and is also very different from the kind of sermon I learned to preach when I was in my Masters of [...]

2017-12-09T16:07:39-05:00December 21st, 2014|Reflections and Ruminations|

Is 2 Thessalonians Based on 1 Thessalonians?

In my previous post I began giving the scholarly version of why 2 Thessalonians is often considered to be non-Pauline – that is, to be forged in the name of Paul by someone wanting you to think he was Paul even though he was someone else.   This discussion is taken from my book Forgery and Counterforgery.   Now that I have given a (very) brief sketch of the history of the scholarship on this problem (the previous post) I can begin to discuss the actual evidence.  This is where the discussion gets a bit harder to follow, both because of the level of the assumptions and because I have to use a lot of Greek.  I’ve translated most of the Greek words/phrases here so you can follow easily. ******************************************************* 2 Thessalonians as a Forgery One reason the case for the inauthenticity of 2 Thessalonians has occasionally seemed wanting, even to some very fine scholars, is that critics have often resorted to a shotgun approach, citing every possible argument, good or bad, in support of their position. [...]

2020-04-11T17:24:16-04:00December 20th, 2014|Forgery in Antiquity, Paul and His Letters|

2 Thessalonians: The History of the Discussion

In the previous two posts I began to answer why scholars think that some of the letters that go under Paul’s name were not actually written by him.  I have focused on the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, which claims to be written by Paul but appears to have been written instead by someone else who wanted his readers to *think* he was Paul.  In those two posts I recounted what I said about the matter in my trade book, written for a lay audience, Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. In the next several posts I will show how I address the same question for scholars, in my scholarly monograph, Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.   I thought this would be worth doing for two reasons.  First, I’d like you to know – if you’re interested – what the full reasoning behind the common critical view of 2 Thessalonians is, that is, what the really [...]

2020-04-11T17:14:20-04:00December 19th, 2014|Forgery in Antiquity, Paul and His Letters|

The Inauthenticity of 2 Thessalonians: The Simple Reason

In my previous post I started to talk about why scholars recognize that 2 Thessalonians is (or appears to be) by a different author than 1 Thessalonians.   There are actually lots of reasons, as I will show in subsequent posts, but for now I’m simply giving my discussion as found in my trade book Forged, written for a non-scholarly audience.   Here is my full discussion in that context of the authorship of 2 Thessalonians.   As you’ll see, it’s short and to the point.  The scholarly discussion is much longer and involved, and I’ll be giving that in subsequent posts. *********************************************************** Paul himself thought the end was coming in his lifetime.  Nowhere is this more clear than in one of the letters we are sure he wrote, 1 Thessalonians.   Paul wrote the Christians in Thessalonica because some of them had become disturbed over the death of a number of their fellow believers.  When he converted these people, Paul had taught them that the end of the age was imminent, that they were soon to enter the [...]

2020-04-03T14:16:15-04:00December 17th, 2014|Paul and His Letters|

Pauline Forgeries: 2 Thessalonians as a Test Case

In my previous post I started answering the question of how the letters not by Paul differ from the letters that are by Paul.  In that post I pointed out that we know that there were Pauline forgeries in the early church (that is, letters written by authors who were claiming to be Paul when they were in fact someone else).   No one doubts that.  We have letters from outside the NT that claim to be by Paul but were absolutely not:  3 Corinthians, the Letter to the Laodiceans, and the 12 letters exchanged between Paul and the Roman philosopher Seneca.   These are all forged. But are there letters that falsely claim to be written by Paul that are also *in* the New Testament?   Critical scholars (as opposed to fundamentalists and very conservative evangelical Christians) agree that there are.   Scholars normally place the thirteen Pauline letters of the New Testament into three categories:  The Pastoral Epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, which are very widely recognized as having been written by someone other [...]

2020-04-11T15:54:37-04:00December 16th, 2014|Forgery in Antiquity, Paul and His Letters|

Forgeries in the Name of Paul

QUESTION:  Something I would love to see you talk about is how the letters we think were written by Paul differ from the letters we think were not written by him. RESPONSE: Yes, this is an all-important question, and one I’ve been interested in for a very long time.   As many readers of the blog know, I’ve recently published two books on the broad question of “forgeries” in early Christianity, one of them written for scholars at a fairly dense, academic level, and the other for a lay audience (“normal” people, as opposed to abnormal scholars).   In these books I use the term “forgery” in a very specific, technical sense, to refer to books that make a false authorial claim – that is, a “forgery” is a book whose author claims to be someone other than who he is, almost always someone famous.  For the early Christians, these would invariably be the “authorities” who knew Jesus during his lifetime or soon after (so, Peter, Mary, James, Paul, Thomas, Philip, etc – we even have a [...]

Giving Ideas

This post is about two “Gift Ideas” for this Season of Gifts. First: Holiday Giving!  Most of us at this time of year are involved in giving and receiving.    And most of us spend a good deal of time scratching our heads trying to figure out what we can give a person – a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, a boss, a secretary, a baby-sitter, a pet-sitter, a teacher, a golf coach, a knitting club member, a favorite person, a whatever. Here’s an idea.    Why not give a gift subscription to the Bart Ehrman Blog?   It’s dead easy to do, and odds are, the person doesn’t have one!    All you need to do is go to the site at and on the right side of the screen click on “Gift Subscriptions”.   There may be lots of people you can think of who would enjoy having full access to the blog.  So give several.  Give many.  Give many thousands.   You’ll make people happy, you’ll make yourself happy, you’ll make me happy, you’ll [...]

2020-04-29T16:39:43-04:00December 14th, 2014|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Why Do I Devote Myself to Studying the Bible?

QUESTION:   The one thing that I do not understand about you is that you have stated you have lost your faith. That being said, how do you continue to work in your field? Have you ever wanted to redirect your academic career to study other subjects? RESPONSE:  I get this question a lot.  On one level I understand it: if I don’t believe in the Bible, why would I dedicate my life to studying it, researching about it, writing about it, and teaching about it?   From the perspective of someone who has strong feelings about the Bible – for example, as a believer who holds that the Bible is the word of God or as an atheist who thinks the Bible is the root of all kinds of evil – it may seem like a mystery that someone in my boat would be interested in spending such an enormous amount of time and effort in studying it.   Or from the perspective of someone who is completely apathetic about the Bible: why would you bother? But [...]

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Like many of us at this time of year, I am looking at my life and thinking how incredibly thankful I am for all the good things I have: a beautiful, brilliant, humane, and loving wife; a fantastic, interesting, and caring son and daughter; the two best grandchildren the world has ever seen; a teaching position I absolutely love and thrive on; chances to do what I really want to do with my so-called free time – reading and writing; good health; good friends who, like me, love good food, good drink, and good conversation about important things; and, well, lots of other things. When I first became an agnostic, I had a problem with thankfulness.  I felt very thankful (though, frankly, times were hard: divorce, money issues, familial and life uncertainties) .   But it seemed weird to feel thankful.  I had always thought of thankfulness to be something you have *toward* somebody.  When you say thank you, you say thank you precisely to someone.   But who was I to thank for the good things [...]

2017-12-09T16:08:39-05:00December 12th, 2014|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Is the Discovered Gospel the Gospel of Peter?

With this post I conclude my discussion to the Gospel of Peter – although, of course, I’m always happy to engage with any questions you have about it (or anything else).   What we have seen so far is that the Gospel was known in antiquity, even though it came to be judged heretical.  Our principal source of information about it is in a discussion of the church historian Eusebius, who mentions a Gospel of Peter known to a Syrian bishop Serapion, who eventually judged it inauthentic because it (allegedly) proclaimed a “docetic” understanding of Christ (that he was not really a human being who really suffered). A Gospel fragment was discovered in 1886 that scholars almost immediately claimed to be a portion of the Gospel of Peter mentioned by Eusebius (and Serapion before him).  But is it that?   Here are the issues, laid out in brief order.  Again, this is lifted from my discussion in my (and Zlatko Plese’s) book The Other Gospels.  *************************************************** The author of this account [the discovered fragment] writes in the [...]

2020-04-03T14:16:49-04:00December 10th, 2014|Christian Apocrypha|

The Discovery of the Gospel of Peter

This is the second of my three posts on the Gospel of Peter.   In yesterday’s post I talked about what we knew about the Gospel before its (partial) discovery in 1886, from what Eusebius, the fourth century church historian, told us, in his story about Serapion of Antioch.   In this post I discuss the modern discovery.  Again, this is taken from my book The Other Gospels, co-authored and edited with my colleague Zlatko Plese.  ************************************************************  What we now call the Gospel of Peter was found in one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries of Christian texts in the nineteenth century.  In the winter season of 1886-87 a French archaeological team headed by M. Grébant was digging in Akhmîm in Upper Egypt, in a portion of a cemetery that contained graves ranging from the eighth to the twelfth centuries CE.  They uncovered the grave of a person they took to be a Christian monk, who had been buried with a book.  Among other things, the book contained a fragmentary copy of a Gospel written in the [...]

2020-04-03T14:16:56-04:00December 9th, 2014|Christian Apocrypha|

Why Not the Gospel of Peter?

In my discussion of why the four Gospels were given their names, I hypothesized that it was because an edition of the four was produced in Rome in the mid second-century, and that this edition named the Gospels as “according to Matthew” “according to Mark” “according to Luke” and “according to John.”   The trickiest name to account for is Mark’s.   Here I suggested that the editor of this Gospel edition wanted the readers to understand that this Gospel presented the views of Peter; but he did not call the Gospel of the Gospel according to Peter because such a Gospel was already known to exist.   This naturally led several of my readers to pose an important question.  Here is how one reader worded it: QUESTION:  If this hypothetical edition of the four gospels in Rome did not attribute 'Mark's gospel to Peter because the gospel of Peter was already known at that time, why did this edition of four gospels also not include the gospel of Peter? RESPONSE:  Ah, that was a part I forgot [...]

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