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Another (Final!) Insight into that Mummy Mask and Papyrus

OK, I am at the tail end of this thread on mummy masks and the alleged discovery of a first-century fragment of Mark’s Gospel.  But I did want to provide access to an interesting article and penetrating set of questions on the issue published a week ago on CNN by my friend Candida Moss and her partner-in-all-things-editorial Joel Baden (they crank out a lot of articles on issues in biblical studies, especially as items appear in the news).  Candida is a Professor of New Testament at Notre Dame and Joel is a Professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale.  I’ve re-posted this article with permission.  It comes from: ********************************************************* (CNN)Media outlets have been abuzz this week with the news that the oldest fragment of a New Testament gospel -- and thus the earliest witness of Jesus' life and ministry -- had been discovered hidden inside an Egyptian mummy mask and was going to be published. The announcement of the papyrus' discovery and impending publication was made by Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia [...]

2020-04-03T14:07:56-04:00January 30th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

Why I’d Be Thrilled If A First-Century Manuscript Appeared

In several posts I have been emphasizing – possibly over-emphasizing – that if a first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark does ever get published, and if it is in *fact*from the first century (which, I should stress, will be almost *impossible* to demonstrate conclusively), that it is very hard indeed to imagine that it will be any kind of game-changer, that it will tell us something different from what we already think.   The reason I have been emphasizing this is because the evangelical Christian scholars who are making the headlines with their declarations about the discovery will almost certainly, once it is published, if it ever gets published, claim that it is evidence for their view that we can know what the original text says.  See!  We have a FIRST-CENTURY MANUSCRIPT!!! So, consider these posts of mine as a kind of prophylaxis against future claims.   I don’t want to hear later that I’m just offering sour grapes when I say the same thing (that it is telling us nothing new) later, after the manuscript [...]

2020-04-03T14:08:03-04:00January 29th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

Talks at the Smithsonian, March 21

My friends at the Biblical Archaeology Society sent this around to some people on their mailing list, announcing my talks on March 21 in Washington DC – talks not for them (the Biblical Archaeology Society) but for the Smithsonian.   Here is the announcement, with the blurb and description of the talks.  Maybe some of you can come!  *********************************************** If you plan to be in Washington DC during March you might try to catch his lectures while you are here. To register for his appearance at the Smithsonian in Washington DC All-Day Seminar Great Controversies in Early Christianity: The Life and Death of Jesus: Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. : If you are a registered  member of the Smithsonian the cost is $90.00 else the cost for Gen. Admission will be $130.00.   Description of lectures Jesus of Nazareth is perennially in the news. Over the course of the past year, two books about his life and death became No. 1 New York Times bestsellers: Zealot by Reza Aslan and Killing Jesus [...]

2017-12-09T11:08:37-05:00January 28th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum|

Why Are Evangelical Scholars So Interested in Finding a First-Century Manuscript?

I have thought of a couple of scenarios that would make the discovery of a first -entury papyrus copy – even a small fragment of Mark – VERY interesting, for all of us, not just for evangelical Christian scholars intent on destroying antiquities in order to get their hands on it.   (Well, I’ve thought of these scenarios as others have suggested them….)   I’ll give the scenarios at the end of this post.  But first, assuming, as it is *relatively*, but not absolutely probable that we should, that the fragment in question is simply of a few verses in the middle of Mark’s Gospel that do not vary significantly from what we already have, I’m still obsessing with the question of why evangelical scholars would be so bound and determined to get their hands on it.   I’ll deal with that question first. It may not be obvious why it is a puzzle.  Here is why. As a rule (a rule to which I do not know a single exception), evangelical scholars of the New Testament who [...]

2020-04-03T14:08:13-04:00January 27th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts|

How Accurate Are our Earliest NT Manuscripts?

QUESTIONS I have received the following three, interrelated, questions from an inquiring mind that wants to know, all of them involving the potential accuracy of the manuscript tradition of the NT based on what we can deduce from the early papyri.   My responses will follow. In your last debate with Dr. Wallace, he seemed to argue, in part, for the relative integrity of the early NT manuscript tradition. He referred to p75 as being representative of other early NT MSS in that, while obviously the product of non-professionals, it yielded variants that were easy to correct, in the nature of "onion instead of union". Is this a fair characterization on his part of these early texts? What portion of these variants would indeed fall into the category of "easy to correct"? Citing Dr. Metzger, Dr. Wallace also claimed that Alexandria was one place where uncontrolled early scribal practices was not the norm. You countered with the letters of Clement of Alexandria as evidence against this conclusion. Could you please elaborate on this point & mention [...]

2020-04-03T14:08:21-04:00January 25th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Reader’s Questions|

Would a First-Century Fragment of Mark Matter?

As you know, there is a good deal of discussion going on about the destruction of mummy masks in order to uncover New Testament papyri.   One point that I am not seeing discussed strikes me as the most important of all, and I want to address that here. But before doing so, I want to ask two questions, that maybe someone on the Blog can answer for me.   The first is actuallyseveral questions:  exactly how many masks are we talking about here?   How many have been destroyed?   And how many have been singled out for destruction?   Don’t we as a reading public have the right to know? And second: am I right that the only way to know if a New Testament papyrus was used as part of the “paper mache” in the mask, that first the mask has to be destroyed?  That is to say, this one mask – or these many masks? – is/are being destroyed not because it / they are known to house NT papyri, but in the hopes that they [...]

2020-04-03T14:08:31-04:00January 24th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

An Expert Talks About Mummy Masks and Papyri

One of the things that I find disconcerting about all the discussion about whether it is legitimate to destroy mummy masks in order to get NT papyri is that the only people who seem to know anything about what has been found (this alleged first century copy of the Gospel of Mark) are not experts in the specific fields in which expertise is required, both to dismantle masks and to date papyri.   As it turns out, they're all friends of mine.  Craig Evans is a New Testament scholar, but he is not a textual critic, let alone a papyrologist (expert in papyri) or palaeographer (expert in dating manuscripts).   Dan Wallace, who first announced the discovery in a debate against me over two years ago, is in the same boat; he's done lots of good for the academy by going around the world to photograph/digitize manuscripts, but he is not trained in either papyrology or palaeography and is expert in neither.  My oldest friend in the field, a good friend for some thirty years now, Michael [...]

2020-05-08T14:57:12-04:00January 23rd, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

Defending the Destruction of Mummy Masks

In yesterday’s post on New Manuscripts and the Destruction of Antiquities, I cited an article by Mary-Ann Russo that explained the situation about the mummy masks that were being destroyed in order to acquire papyrus fragments of the New Testament.  The scholar mainly cited in that article as being involved in that process was Craig Evans, a friend of mine with whom I have had several public debates.   Craig feels that he has been somewhat misrepresented in this article, and sent me a clarification.   I have asked and received his permission, and this is what he says:  (NOTE: after this paragraph is a lengthier explanation and justification of what they are doing when destroying mummy masks): THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY. If you don't belong yet, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE MISSING!! Last summer I gave a presentation on the number, age, and reliability of New Testament manuscripts. In this lecture I described the effort under way in recent  years to recover manuscript fragments, including biblical manuscripts, from ancient cartonnage, including [...]

2020-04-03T14:08:51-04:00January 21st, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

New Manuscripts and the Destruction of Antiquities

As many of you know, in 2012 I had a public debate in Chapel Hill with Dan Wallace, professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, on the question of whether we have the original New Testament or not.  During the debate he dropped a bombshell, on me and all of us.  He mysteriously claimed that now we have a first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark.   This would be a copy well over a century older than any other that exists, and would give us a copy that is very close in date to the original.  He dropped the bombshell purely as a debating strategy, not in order to provide real information  – when pressed he wouldn’t say anything about the copy, except that it is not anything like a complete copy, but a fragment with probably a few verses, at best, on it.   But he refused to answer, and continues to refuse to answer, all the relevant questions:  How extensive is the fragment?   How does he know it is from the first century?  [...]

2017-12-09T11:09:17-05:00January 20th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

Whom Do We Admit into our Graduate Program?

So, now finally to get to the question I was asked, which led me into a discussion of what our graduate program entails.    Here was the original question QUESTION: Can you write something about the background of your PhD students, how you selected them, what makes a prospective doctoral candidate stand out against the pack, whether there is a huge academic gulf between knowledge and argumentative skills of your undergraduates and research students. RESPONSE:   Like all good graduate programs, ours is very difficult to get into.   In a typical year, we will have maybe 30-35 students apply to study the New Testament/Early Christianity.   We can normally admit only one, or maybe two.  So competition is very stiff. All of the students who apply have undergraduate degrees, usually from good schools.  A lot of them already have masters degrees.   Most of them (the applicants) have lots of background in the field and one or more ancient languages. I tell prospective students that we look for a range of things in our applicants, all of them obvious [...]

2020-04-03T14:10:05-04:00January 19th, 2015|Reader’s Questions, Teaching Christianity|

Public Reactions to Muslim Extremists

I have never used this Blog as a platform for my particular political views (even though I suppose they are easily enough seen by a careful reader) or to convert anyone to them.  And I’m not about to start now.   But I do have a category of comment on the blog, not used very often, on “Religion in the News.”   And a couple of news items appeared this past week that are “close to home” for me – one involving Duke University, which is literally close to home (less than a mile from where I live, move, and have my being) and the other involving Oxford University Press, with whom I have published almost all my academic books over the past twenty-two years and with whom I have a very good personal and professional relationship.   Both of these news items involve the relationship of an academic institution to recent developments in Islam. The situation at Duke is this.   In the face of radical Islam fundamentalism and its much maligned jihadist and terrorist element– maligned by [...]

2017-12-09T11:09:29-05:00January 18th, 2015|Religion in the News|

New Testament Programs and Ancient Med.

Teaching graduate students in the field of Ancient Mediterranean Religions – even if one’s subfield is the New Testament and early Christianity – can be very different from teaching the same field in a divinity school, as I began to indicate last time.  At least it is very different from the field as it was taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, where I went.   New Testament faculty there principally taught courses on exegesis – that is the interpretation of Scripture.  These courses did have a strong historical component to them.   But the only real concerns were the books of the New Testament, their interpretation, and the history that they both presuppose and illuminate. At UNC, I have never taught an exegesis course.  Now it’s true, my students in New Testament (most of them actually are working outside the New Testament, as I’ll explain in a moment) do need to learn the science and art of exegesis.   But there’s only one of me, and I can teach only one seminar a semester, and I don’t have time [...]

2020-04-03T14:10:17-04:00January 16th, 2015|Teaching Christianity|

Ancient Mediterranean Religions?!?

Being trained in a PhD program in a seminary or divinity school is very different from being trained in a secular research university.   I know this full well, because my PhD was from Princeton Theological Seminary, but my graduate teaching has all been at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I sometimes find it amusing that some of my critics attack my credentials for interpreting the New Testament because – they say – I was principally trained to be a textual critic, that is, not as an exegete  (one who interprets texts), but as one who uses philological analyses in order to study Greek manuscripts so as to reconstruct the oldest form of a text.  Those are two very different disciplines.  And the objection to my extensive discussion of biblical interpretation is that I wasn’t trained to do that kind of thing. That is so wrong.   In my PhD program at Princeton Seminary, I never once THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, YOU DON'T KNOW [...]

2020-04-03T14:10:26-04:00January 14th, 2015|Teaching Christianity|

Departments of Religious Studies

In my previous post I began to address the question of what we look for when students apply to enter into our PhD program.   To make sense of what I have to say about that, I need to give yet more background into what our program *is*.   In my previous post I started discussing how programs of religious studies in secular colleges and universities began to appear after WWII. My department has always claimed to be the first full-fledged Department of Religious Studies in any state university in the country.  I’m not sure that’s true – I’ve heard that Virginia and one or two other schools make the same claim.  Maybe someone on the blog knows for sure.   What is certain is that our department started in 1946. There had been talk of starting a “School of Religion” at UNC in the 1920s.   I don’t know what that would have looked like – possibly a professional school training people in religion?  I’m not sure.   The plans didn’t go anywhere, since they were knocked off the [...]

2020-04-03T14:10:37-04:00January 13th, 2015|Teaching Christianity|

The Graduate Program in Religious Studies

QUESTION: Can you write something about the background of your PhD students, how you selected them, what makes a prospective doctoral candidate stand out against the pack, whether there is a huge academic gulf between knowledge and argumentative skills of your undergraduates and research students. RESPONSE:  Ah, this is an interesting question, and as I’ve thought about it I’ve realized that there are lots of things that I take for granted about the process of admitting students into our graduate program what would not be “common sense” at all to someone who is not deeply involved in the process.   I’ve been admitting graduate students for 25 years now.   (Occasionally I realize that I’ve never been out of school.   After high school I went straight to college, which took me five full years; after college – in fact the next month, because I had to finish courses over the summer – I went into my MDiv program; after my MDiv program I went directly into my PhD program; and I started teaching at Rutgers while I [...]

2020-04-03T14:10:43-04:00January 12th, 2015|Reader’s Questions, Teaching Christianity|

Defending Myself

Several times a week I get emails from people who ask what it’s like to be the subject of such vitriolic attack by those who don’t agree with my views.   Or they express regret and sorrow that I am so often or viciously attacked.  Or they want me to stand up for myself and reply to my attackers.   Almost always, when I get one of these emails, I think to myself:  Am I being attacked by someone???  Huh.   *That’s* interesting. The reality is that for the most part I’m blissfully unaware of assaults on my views (or character).  I suppose that is mainly because I don’t search around on the Internet to see who is saying what about me.   I do know that fundamentalists and lots of conservative evangelicals think that if I’m not the devil incarnate, that at least I’m one of his more academic henchmen.   And I know that the attacks by these conservative Christians pale in comparison with the attacks by the mythicists, who can’t think I’m an incarnation of Satan since [...]

2017-12-09T11:10:51-05:00January 11th, 2015|Bart's Critics, Public Forum|

My Forgery Seminar (Syllabus)

            The academic semester, alas, has begun, as of this past Wednesday.   As usual, I’ll be teaching two courses.   My undergraduate class, as is true every spring, is “Introduction to the New Testament.”   My PhD seminar, this term, is “Literary Forgery in the Early Christian Tradition.”   I’ve taught this class twice before, but now I have my book (Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literacy Deceit in Early Christian Polemics) to structure the course.  I’ve never had one of my books as the focus of a PhD seminar, but there’s really nothing else out there that can be used.  The first time I taught the class I used Wolfgang Speyer’s classic, Die literarische Fälschung im heidnischen und christlichen Altertum as the main text.  It, obviously, is in German.  The students were not thrilled.  Or convinced that it was a good idea.  But their German certainly got better.  So even though there’s a ton of reading this term, I won’t be entertaining any complaints! Here’s this semester’s syllabus for the course, for your reading pleasure.   [...]

2020-11-28T21:33:49-05:00January 10th, 2015|Forgery in Antiquity, Teaching Christianity|

Matthew’s “Filling Full” of Scripture

In the last post I indicated one way that Matthew understood Jesus to have fulfilled Scripture – a prophet predicted something about the messiah (to be born of a virgin; to be born in Bethlehem, etc.) and Jesus did or experienced what was predicted.   There’s a second way as well, one with considerable implications for understanding Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus.  Here’s how I talk about it in my textbook on the New Testament  *****************************************************************  The second way in which Jesus "fulfills" Scripture is a little more complicated.  Matthew portrays certain key events in the Jewish Bible as foreshadowings of what would happen when the messiah came.  The meaning of these ancient events was not complete until that which was foreshadowed came into existence.  When it did, the event was "fullfilled," that is, "filled full of meaning." As an example from the birth narrative, Matthew indicates that Jesus' family flees to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod "in order to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, `Out of Egypt I [...]

2020-04-03T14:11:35-04:00January 7th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Matthew’s Fulfillment of Scripture Citations

I’ve begun a short thread dealing with how Matthew understood and interpreted and used Scripture.   Here is a fuller exposition, the first part of which comes straight from my textbook on the NT and the second part straight from my noggin to the keyboard.  **************************************************************  What is perhaps most striking about Matthew's account is that it all happens according to divine plan.  The Holy Spirit is responsible for Mary's pregnancy and an angel from heaven allays Joseph's fears.  All this happens to fulfill a prophecy of the Hebrew Scriptures (1:23).  Indeed, so does everything else in the narrative: Jesus' birth in Bethlehem (2:6), the family's flight to Egypt (2:14) Herod's slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem (2:18) and the family's decision to relocate in Nazareth (2:23).  These are stories that occur only in Matthew, and they are all said to be fulfillments of prophecy. Matthew's emphasis that Jesus fulfills the Scripture does not occur only in his birth narrative.  It pervades the entire book.  On eleven separate occasions (including those I have just mentioned), [...]

2020-04-03T14:11:44-04:00January 6th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Matthew’s Ancient Approach to Scripture

QUESTION:  (The following question was raised by a reader who objected to Matthew’s attempt to interpret passages in the Hebrew Bible as having relevance for Jesus – especially passages that appear to have been taken radically out of context).  Here’s the question: Well then, the Christians of Matthew’s day did not read the OT very carefully at all. For example, when Matthew says that Jesus returning from Egypt was a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1 (out of Egypt have I called my son), did he not read the first part of that verse? It reads “When ISRAEL was a child, I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” Is this not clearly referring to the Exodus? How could Matthew (or whoever) determine that this referred to Jesus when it clearly states it is Israel?   RESPONSE: Yes, Matthew certainly did not interpret the Bible the way we would teach people!   On the other hand, he does seem to have interpreted it in ways that would have seemed sensible to many ancient readers.  The puzzling [...]

2020-04-03T14:11:51-04:00January 5th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|
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