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My Original Interest in Memory

When I decided no longer to do a commentary on the Gospel of Peter and other early Greek Gospel fragments it was not only because I realized that I was not up for two or three years of that particular kind of laborious detailed work.  It was also because there was another area of research that I was really, really interested in but that I knew very little about.  That was the study of memory. I was interested in memory for both personal and professional reasons.  On the personal level, I have known people very close to me who have experienced serious memory problems, for example through strokes.  Depending on what part of the brain is affected, different memory functions are damaged.   For example, someone may remember perfectly well what happened in an event 20 years ago, but forget a conversation they just had.   I have often wondered why and how that is.. And then there was my own memory.  For some things I have a terrific memory.  And for lots of things I have [...]

2020-04-03T13:53:20-04:00March 31st, 2015|Book Discussions, Memory Studies|

Why I Shifted My Research Plans

In my last post I started explaining how I came to work on issues of memory.   My plan had been something else, to write a detailed commentary on the Gospel of Peter and other early Greek Gospel fragments.   I had  been committed to do this for years, with a book contract with Fortress Press for their commentary series that is called Hermeneia. Just by way of background:  when I was just out of graduate school, I vowed to myself that there were three kinds of books I would never, ever write.   I would never write a textbook.  I would never write a book on the historical Jesus.  And I would never write a commentary.   The reason for each was that there simply were too many of each kind of book out there already, and I simply didn’t want to tread where so many others had trod. So much for my vows.   I did end up writing a textbook on the NT.  That wasn’t my idea; my publisher twisted my arm and I agreed, and I [...]

2020-04-03T13:53:28-04:00March 30th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

My New Project on Memory

I am going to take a break from my thread that has been dealing with which books from Christian antiquity I would most like to have discovered.  I haven’t gotten very deep into the thread: basically my answers so far have been:  the lost letters of Paul, the letters of Paul’s opponents, and Q.  There are a lot more that I’d like to discuss, and will discuss relatively soon.  But for now I’m going to break off into something else, because I am at a crucial point of my research/writing and I want to deal with that for a while. As many of you know, I have spent almost all my research time for more than a year now working on issues of memory.     I have now read all that I need to read for my next book, a trade book for a general audience, on how Jesus was “remembered” by early Christians in the decades before any of the Gospels were written.   My plan is to start writing on Tuesday.   Gods willing, I’ll have [...]

2017-12-09T08:41:20-05:00March 29th, 2015|Book Discussions, Memory Studies, Public Forum|

Jesus, Matthew, and the Law

In my previous post I discussed the differences – what strike me, at least, as the differences – between the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s letter to the Galatians and with respect to whether the followers of Jesus are to follow the law or not.   Matthew’s Gospel indicates that the law will not cease to be in force until the heavens and earth pass away, and that Jesus’ followers need to follow the law to the limit, to follow it even better than the scribes and Pharisees do.   Paul, on the other hand, insists that the followers of Jesus must not think that they have to follow the law.  Any gentile who thinks he has to be circumcised, or to follow other aspects of the Jewish law, is in danger of losing salvation. I would like to clarify one point about my view and explain one of its complications.   Clarification: in my post I was not discussing whether Paul saw eye-to-eye with Jesus about this issue.  My post was about the Gospel of Matthew.  I [...]

2020-04-03T13:53:49-04:00March 27th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Paul and His Letters|

Is Paul at Odds with Matthew?

In yesterday’s post I indicated that I really very much wish that we could have some of the writings produced by Paul’s opponents in Galatia.   They believed that in order to be a follower of Jesus, a person had to accept and follow the Law of Moses as laid out in the Jewish Scriptures.   Men were to be circumcised to join the people of God; men and women were, evidently, to adopt a Jewish lifestyle.  Presumably that meant keeping kosher, observing the Sabbath, and so on.   Anyone who didn’t do this was not really a member of the people of God, since to be one of God’s people meant following the law that God had given. Paul was incensed at this interpretation of the faith and insisted with extraordinary vehemence that it was completely wrong.  The gentile followers of Jesus were not, absolutely not, supposed to become Jewish.  Anyone who thought so rendered the death of Jesus worthless.  It was only that death, and the resurrection, that made a person right with God.  Nothing else.  [...]

2020-04-03T13:53:57-04:00March 25th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Paul and His Letters|

Paul’s Christian Enemies: Galatians

In my previous post I indicated that among the lost writings of early Christianity, one batch that I would especially like to see discovered would be those produced by Paul’s enemies among the Christians.   I don’t know how many of his opponents were writing-literate, but possibly some of them were, and their own attacks on him and defenses of their own positions would be fascinating and eye-opening.   Among these, I would especially love to see what his opponents in Galatia had to say for themselves.   My hunch is that they were every bit as aggressive and confident in their views as Paul was in his. I’ve always found the letter to the Galatians to be one of the most forceful, intriguing, and difficult letters of Paul.   I’ve studied it for over forty years, and there are still verses that I don’t understand.  My view is that most scholars don’t understand them either -- even the scholars who think they do!   It is a packed and theologically dense letter in places. But the basic point is [...]

2020-04-03T13:54:04-04:00March 24th, 2015|Paul and His Letters|

Trip to Turkey?

This coming June I will be going on a tour sponsored by the UNC Alumni Association to Turkey for two weeks, giving lectures on the apostle Paul (who established churches there).  (Actually I'll be there three weeks, since there is an "extension" of the tour that some folks are going on to Cappadocia, a truly amazing place.)  It is a very small tour -- only 26 people, and a fantastic itinerary. Someone has cancelled out from going, and so there is a spot for a couple (two people of any  sort who want to share a bed).  You would not need to be a UNC alum (they charge some token amount to "count" you as an alum).   Is anyone interested?  If so, send me a direct email at [email protected] Information about the trip -- costs, itinerary, etc. -- can be found here:  http://bit.ly/1N7OU1D  

2015-03-23T21:23:27-04:00March 23rd, 2015|Public Forum|

Lost Letters of Paul’s Opponents

I’m back now to my thread on the lost writings of the early Christians that I would love to have discovered.    Onr bunch that would be absolutely fantastic to have would be the letters of Paul’s *opponents.* I get asked all the time if I think that Paul is the true founder of Christianity and whether we should call it Paulinanity instead of Christianity (and related questions).  My answer is decidedly NO.   For two main reasons. The first is the most obvious:  Paul did not himself invent Christianity.   He inherited it. It is difficult to establish a firm chronology of Paul’s life.  There are scholars who have devoted many years just to this topic.  It’s messy and complicated.   My colleague from Duke, Douglas Campbell, has just written an-over-400-page book dealing just with the chronology of Paul’s *letters*, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography.   It is about how to situate the surviving letters of Paul (Douglas accepts ten of the thirteen as authentic – all but 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) chronologically in relation to one [...]

2020-04-03T13:54:13-04:00March 23rd, 2015|Paul and His Letters|

About the Blog: Charities and Improvements

This post is about the blog itself, dealing with the question of which charities it supports (in reply to numerous requests) mentioning several of improvements we have made in response to requests that I have received. First, philanthropy.   As I think everyone on the blog knows, all the member fees and all the donations (which you should feel free to begin or continue to make!) go to charity.  I don’t keep a dime for myself and I pay for the upkeep, maintenance, and support for the blog (it’s not as cheap as one might imagine….) (or at least as I did) out of my own pocket.  But I’m happy to do it – it’s a fantastic cause. Several people have pointed out to me that my *explanation* about the charity aspect of the blog on the Philanthropy page on is fairly pathetic.  It doesn’t even indicate which charities the blog supports.   That’s a problem.   And so it’s time to rectify it. All the moneys collected by the blog go into the Bart Ehrman Foundation, and [...]

2017-12-09T11:00:50-05:00March 22nd, 2015|Public Forum|

Q and the Passion Narrative

This, I think (!), will be my last post for now on the Q source apparently used by Matthew and Luke for many of their sayings materials, a source that must at one time have existed (since Matthew and Luke appear both to have had access to it), that was written in Greek (otherwise Matthew and Luke could not agree word-for-word in places – in Greek -- in their non-Markan sayings material), and that contained almost exclusively (or exclusively) sayings of Jesus. There are many other issues that we could discuss about Q, but for now I would like to end by mentioning just one.  It is regularly and routinely maintained by New Testament scholars that one of the striking features of Q is that it contains a list of Jesus’ sayings and no passion narrative – no account of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Scholars then draw a conclusion: the death of Jesus was not important to the community that produced the Q document. I have to admit, I’m not completely convinced of this claim, [...]

2020-04-03T13:54:23-04:00March 20th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Did Matthew Copy Luke or Luke Matthew?

In this thread, which is supposed to be on the lost writings of early Christianity that I would most like to have discovered, I can’t seem to get away from Q,   Several readers have asked a pointed question about Q.  If you recall, Q is the hypothetical document that contained principally sayings of Jesus, that was evidently used by Matthew and Luke (but not by Mark) in constructing their Gospels.  The logic is that if Matthew and Luke both used Mark (which the vast majority of scholars agree about), then one has to explain why they have so many other materials (mainly sayings) in common not *found* in Mark. I have pointed out that Matthew does not seem to have gotten those sayings from Luke or Luke from Matthew, and so they both most have gotten them from some other one-time-existing source.  That is what we call Q (for the German word Quelle: Source).  But some readers have asked WHY it is unlikely that Matthew got these sayings from Luke or Luke from Matthew.   It’s [...]

2020-04-03T13:54:33-04:00March 19th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Q and The Gospel of Thomas

Before I move on to discuss other lost books from early Christianity that I would love to have discovered (I know, this thread could go on forever, since I would like *every* early Christian writing to be discovered) I need to answer a couple of queries that I have received about the Q source. First, several people have asked me whether it is possible that the Q source is actually what we now call the Gospel of Thomas, one of the books discovered among the so-called Nag Hammadi Library in 1945.   I don’t want to go into great depth about the Gospel of Thomas here since, well, it has been discovered and this thread is about book s that have *not* been discovered.  But I do need to say some basics about Thomas and its relation to Q. By way of background, let me say something a bit more about the Q-hypothesis.   When 19th century German scholars established with a reasonable level of certainty that Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and [...]

2020-04-03T13:54:42-04:00March 18th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha|

Evidence that the Synoptics Are Copying (one another? other sources?)

In yesterday’s post, when talking about the one-time existence of Q, I indicated that scholars have long recognized that there must be some kind of literary relationship among Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Synoptic Gospels, since they have so many similarities: they tell many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes – lots of times – in the very same words.  That is to say, someone must be copying someone else, or they are all using the same written sources. Some of my students have trouble seeing that if two documents are word-for-word the same, one must be copying the other (or they both are copying a third source).  Older adults don’t seem to have any problem seeing that, right off the bat.  But younger adults need to be convinced.  And so I do a little experiment with them that more or less proves it.  I do this every year in my New Testament class, which normally has 200-300 students in it. I come to class a minute or two late [...]

2020-04-03T13:54:50-04:00March 17th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

The Lost Q Source

I can now return to my thread dealing with a question asked by a reader:  if I could choose, which of the lost books from Christian antiquity would I want to be discovered?  My first and immediate answer was:  the lost letters of Paul.   My second answer is what I will deal with here.  I would love – we would all love – to have a discovery of Q. Many readers of the blog will know all about Q.  Many will know something about Q.  Many will have never heard of Q.   So here’s the deal. Scholars since the 19th century have worked out the relationship of the Synoptic Gospels with one another.   Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called “synoptic” because they tell many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes in exactly the same words.  Synoptic means “seen together.”   You can “see” these Gospels “together” by laying them side by side and noting their abundant similarities (and differences).   But the only way they could have such extensive similarities (especially the [...]

2020-04-03T13:55:02-04:00March 16th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Quickly on the Blog

This won't be full post, as I'm taking the day off.   But I did want to thank everyone who responded to my question about how the blog was going.   If you haven't responded yet, feel free to do so!  I do want to hear from you. There were two comments that have recurred repeatedly that I want to deal with. Lots of people have expressed a wish that there was a search function for the blog.   And, well, there is!  If you'll go the upper right side of your screen on any post, you'll see a magnifying glass.  Click that.  You can search for anything you like. Others have said that they would like a topical catalogue of posts.   There is a *rough* one that is indeed always available, as you'll see by going to the Member Landing Page or by clicking on Latest Posts.  Topics are broad:  Greco-Roman Religions; New Testament Gospels; Paul and Pauline Letters; etc.  If you are interested in a different, more specific topic, just search for [...]

2015-03-15T16:05:42-04:00March 15th, 2015|Public Forum|

Taking the Temperature of the Blog

I would like to take a brief pause to take the temperature of the blog and to get some feedback from you about how you think it’s going.   There are some general issues and one specific concern.    If you’re not interested in responding to the general questions, please do skip to the end, to the specific concern, and weigh in with your opinion. FIRST, THE GENERAL ISSUES.   The blog continues to grow and to raise significant money for charity – which, as you know, is its raison d’être.   Of course I enjoy communicating information, knowledge, views, theories, opinions, and perspectives on early Christianity – from the historical Jesus to the writings of Paul to the early Gospels to the formation of the New Testament canon to the surviving manuscripts to the early Christian apocrypha to, well, to on and on and on.   And for users of the blog, *this* is the ultimate point.   I blog, you pay, we donate, and everyone’s happy. But that happiness is rooted in how well the communication is going.  And [...]

2015-03-14T12:51:22-04:00March 14th, 2015|Public Forum|

Paul’s “Exceptional” Letter to the Romans

I wanted to follow up on  a comment that I made in my last post about all of Paul’s letters being “occasional” (i.e., written to deal with certain situations that had arisen in his churches), with one partial exception: his letter to the Romans.  Now would be a good time to explain why Romans is the exception.   Here is what I say about the occasion and purpose of Romans in my  discussion of the book in The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. ******************************************************** In one important respect the letter to the Romans is unlike all of Paul's other letters: it is written to a congregation that Paul did not establish, in a city that he had never visited (see 1:10-15).  Given what we have already seen about Paul's sense of his apostolic mission, this should immediately give us pause.  Paul's other letters were written to deal with problems that had arisen among those whom he had converted to faith in Christ.  That clearly is not the case here.  Why, though, [...]

2020-04-03T13:55:09-04:00March 13th, 2015|Paul and His Letters|

Why I Wish We Had More of Paul’s Letters

In the previous post I began to answer the question of which lost books of early Christianity I would most like to have discovered, and I started my answer with the earliest writings of which we are familiar, the letters of Paul, most of which (presumably) have been lost.  I would love for us to find some of them.  I doubt if we ever will, but who knows?  Maybe someone will announce that one is to be published later this year! Seriously, we would all love to have more letters from Paul, and not merely for sentimental reasons (Oh, wouldn’t that be *nice*?).   Paul is without a doubt the most important figure in the Christian tradition next to Jesus himself.  His writings have served as a basis for Christian ethical and theological thought for centuries.  And yet we know so little about what he thought and taught. When people read Paul’s letters, they frequently neglect to realize that these are all “occasional” writings.  By that I do not mean that Paul occasionally wrote letters, but [...]

2020-04-03T13:56:39-04:00March 12th, 2015|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

Lost Christian Writings: The Letters of Paul

QUESTION:  What lost early Christian books would you most like to have discovered?   RESPONSE: Ah, this is a tough one.   There are lots of Christian writing that I would love to have discovered – all of the ones that have been lost, for example! But suppose I had to name some in particular.   Well, this will take several posts.  To begin with, I wish we had the other letters of Paul.   Let me explain. In the New Testament there are thirteen letters that claim Paul as their author.   But scholars since the nineteenth century have argued that some of these do not go back to Paul.  There is no absolute consensus on the issue of course; fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals argue that all thirteen go back to Paul; some critical scholars agree (not many!); others think that ten go back to Paul.  But the most widespread view is that six claim to be written by Paul even though he didn’t write them. The six are ... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS [...]

Is “Jehovah” in the Bible?

QUESTION: How firmly grounded in reality is the claim of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the ‘divine name’ (Jehovah) belongs in the New Testament?   RESPONSE So this is an interesting question, with several possible ramifications.  At first I should explain that the divine name “Jehovah” doesn’t belong in *either* Testament, old or new, in the opinion of most critical scholars, outside the ranks of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  That’s because Jehovah was not the divine name. So here’s the deal.  In the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) God is given a number of different designations.  Sometimes he is called God (the Hebrew word is El, or more commonly – by far – the plural form of that word, ELOHIM); or The Almighty (SHADDAI), or God Almighty (EL SHADDAI), or Lord (ADONAI), or – well, or lots of other things.   But sometimes the God of Israel is actually given his personal name.   Like everyone else, he has a name.  And his name was יהוה (in English letters, that looks like YHWH). Written Hebrew, as you probably know... THE [...]

2020-04-03T13:56:59-04:00March 10th, 2015|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|
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