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Celibacy and Polygamy in the Bible: Weekly Readers’ Mailbag July 30, 2016

In this week’s Readers’ Mailbag I’ll be addressing two questions having to do with marriage: first, is it possible that Jesus was not actually celibate but was married and second whether the Bible allows for multiple wives and/or husbands.  Hot topics!   QUESTION Why do so many NT scholars (most recently John Meier) state as fact that Jesus took a lifelong vow of celibacy?  Wouldn't it be more historically accurate simply to say that the NT is silent on the topic?   RESPONSE I have dealt with this issue on the blog before but here let me simply give the brief version, by making a couple factual points and then making a specific argument Factual points: No ancient source of any kind indicates that Jesus was married. The recent “discovery” of the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ wife” has been shown to be a modern forgery.  No Gospel (or any other writing from antiquity) indicates or even suggests that he had (or ever had) a wife (let alone that he had any kind of sexual relationship [...]

Who Wrote the Book of Revelation and the Fourth Gospel?

Speaking of the Apocalypse (from the previous post giving that odd video):  Someone recently asked me if the same author could have written both the book of Revelation and the Gospel of John.   Interesting question!   Traditionally, both books have been identified as coming from the same person, John the son of Zebedee, the fisherman who was one of Jesus’ closest disciples.   In answering the question I would like to stress two points: first, they almost certainly were not written by the same person (note: they do not claim to be); and second, whoever these two authors were, neither one of them was John the son of Zebedee. Before making these two points, I need to explain the traditional view: same author for both, John the son of Zebedee.   With the book of Revelation, the reason for the identification was simple: the author explicitly says that he was named John.    Already in v. 1 he indicates that the Revelation was given to himself, John, and in v. 9 he is even more explicit: “I, John, your [...]

2020-04-03T03:28:42-04:00July 28th, 2016|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions, Revelation of John|

Bart Ehrman discusses the Apocalypticist

This is a very strange video!  One of the strangest I've ever been in.  To begin with, the title doesn't make any sense (I'm not sure who called it this).  The word "apocalypticist" means "a person who holds to an apocalyptic world view."  So who or what is "The apocalypticist"?  I've never heard someone being given that title ("THE" apocalypticist; as if there were just one??).  Maybe it means Jesus the Apocalypticist?  Maybe, but that's not really what the clip is mainly about.  It's about the ancient world view of apocalypticism.  It starts with a movie with Richard Harris, moves to an interview with me about what the term "apocalypse" means, goes (briefly) to the question of whether Jesus was an apocalypticist; and ends with Harold Camping, this fellow who claimed the end of the world was coming on May 21, 2011.  It's a very odd clip.  But here it is! (NOTE: This particular post is open to everyone.  Most posts on this blog are for MEMBERS ONLY.  Think about joining.  You get tons of [...]

Constantine’s Vision(s): What Did He Really See and When?

OK, I am ready now to finish up my thread on the conversion of Constantine, based on the vision or visions that he had.  So far I have narrated the three relevant accounts.  If you haven’t read those posts, you should do so to make the very best sense of this one. The differences among the three accounts, and one can readily see why various scholars have suggested different ways of reconciling them.  Some think he had just one vision, two years before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge (just before the panegyric of 310 CE), which at the time he took to be of Sol Invictus but later came to interpret as being instead a vision of Christ.  In this view, at a still later date Constantine came to think that he had always understood it to be Christ and that, since the vision was so closely connected with his ultimate victory, he came to “remember” that it occurred the night before the battle.   At the other extreme of interpretation, others have argued that [...]

2020-04-03T03:28:48-04:00July 26th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, Public Forum|

Constantine’s Vision according to Eusebius

In my previous posts I began to talk about the vision(s) that Constantine had that led him to convert.  So far I have talked about two accounts, one in the panegyric of 310 CE and the other in the writing, not long after the conversion itself (in 312 CE), of the Christian author Lactantius.  The most famous account is found in the only biography of Constantine from the ancient world, the Life of Constantine by Eusebius, the fourth century “Father of Church History” (called this because his other book, Ecclesiastical History, was the first attempt to write a history of Christianity from the time of Jesus down to his own day). The Life of Constantine was published after Constantine’s death in 337 CE, and so it is narrating events that happened earlier – in the case of the conversion, some 25 years earlier.  But Eusebius claims that he hear the account from Constantine himself, and that Constantine swore up and down that it was what really happened. This all took place during a military campaign.  [...]

2020-04-03T03:28:56-04:00July 24th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, Public Forum|

Metzger and the Squirrel Part 2: Another Blast from the Past

I’ve decided that I can’t do just one Blast from the Past this week, since the one I chose was a two-part post, and I can’t leave anyone hanging.  Here is the all important (and in some ways more interesting) part two of my Metzger and the squirrel story, from exactly four years ago. **************************************************************** As I indicated on my previous post, for years friends of mine were eager for me to find out whether the story about Metzger and the squirrel really happened. They wanted me just to ask Metzger. But there were problems with that. Among other things, if it had happened, he almost certainly wouldn’t remember, since it would have simply been something that happened with no significance to him – only to the one who thought it was very odd that Metzger would happen to know what the Greek word for squirrel was and that he would volunteer it at that rather inauspicious moment. Moreover, there were aspects of the story that did not “ring true.” Metzger was not heartless toward [...]

2020-05-11T13:31:31-04:00July 23rd, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Bruce Metzger and the Squirrel: A Blast from the Past

A Blast From the Past: four years ago I posted the following, an amusing anecdate about my mentor in graduate school (and beyond) the illustrious New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger. *************************************************************************** As with all great men, Metzger was widely talked about among those who knew and revered him. There were lots of stories told about Metzger at Princeton Seminary. Someone should probably collect and publish them. I was especially interested in the stories, since I came to Princeton in order to study with him. Most of the stories were meant to be funny, and we always wondered which, if any of them, were “true” (in the sense that they really happened). Far and away the most commonly told and best known story was the one I heard when I first arrived at the seminary in 1978. It is the story of Metzger and the Squirrel. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!! Before telling the story and explicating it [...]

2020-05-11T13:29:37-04:00July 21st, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Two Versions of Constantine’s Vision

In this thread I am discussing the conversion of the emperor Constantine to Chrsitianity.  I have already given the political and military background to his conversion, and said something about his religious affiliations prior to converting.  Now I can begin to address what we know about the conversion itself. We have three principal sources of information for the vision(s) of Constantine that led to the conversion.  The first comes to us in a flattering speech – known as a panegyric – delivered by an anonymous orator in 310 CE, before Constantine had initiated his final actions against Maxentius.  The speech was occasioned by a military victory in a skirmish with Maxentius’s father, brought out of retirement, Maximian.  As was always the case with panegyrics, the speaker had himself written his address and made it entirely sycophantic.   Such speeches were designed to praise the recipient as one of the greatest human beings the universe has ever seen, as revealed by the subject’s activities and experiences.  It is in the context of celebrating Constantine’s marvelous character that [...]

2020-04-03T03:29:23-04:00July 20th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity|

Constantine Before His Conversion

We have comparatively excellent sources for Constantine’s adult life, including his own writings, laws he enacted, a biography written about him by the fourth-century Christian bishop of Caesarea and “father of church history” Eusebius, and other contemporary reports.  But we are handicapped when it comes to his life prior to his accession to the throne, including his religious life.  For this we have very slim records.  We do know he was born in the northern Balkans, and so it can be assumed that he originally participated in local indigenous religions that would have included such deities as the Thracian rider-gods, divine beings astride horses.   As was true of all citizens in the empire, he would also have participated in civic religious festivals, including the cults worshiping the deceased Roman emperors. The Roman army too had its deities of choice, and as a soldier and then commander Constantine would have worshiped these as well. What we don’t know is how well informed he was of Christianity in the years before his conversion.   His mother, Helena... THE [...]

2020-04-04T15:24:45-04:00July 19th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, Public Forum|

Constantine and the Battle at the Milvian Bridge

As I indicated in my previous post, when Constantine had been acclaimed emperor by his troops in Britain (at the city of York) in 306 CE (upon the death of his father Constantius), it was taken as a license for Maxentius to assume power in Rome.   The reason is this.  Diocletian, as we have seen, had tried to move the empire to a new system of governance, the Tetrarchy, in which four leaders, all chosen for their experience and skills, would rule.  When a senior member in the East or West retired or died, the junior Caesar serving under him would be elevated and the senior A Augustus would choose, then, the new junior replacement. But Constantine was acclaimed – or so it was thought or claimed – not because he had been appointed but because he was the son of the outgoing Augustus.  In other words, his accession came not because of a decision of the Augustus but because of birth.  It was succession by the dynasty principle, precisely what Diocletian had tried to [...]

2020-04-03T03:29:51-04:00July 18th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, Public Forum|

Knowing the “Original” Text — of the NT or of Isaiah. Weekly Readers’ Mailbag July 17, 2016

How can we absolutely know whether we have the original words of the New Testament?  And weren’t books of the Old Testament edited progressively over time, so that their texts were even more fluid than those of the New Testament?  These are the two questions I address in this week’s Readers’ mailbag.  If you have a question you would like me to address, let me know!   QUESTION “So that there are some places where specialists cannot agree on what the text originally said, and there are some places where we’ll probably never know.”  I’ve both heard – and read – you saying the above on multiple occasions, and I’ve always wanted to ask: if we ‘don’t have the originals, or even copies of the originals, or even copies of copies of the originals’, as you often say, then why do you say ‘there are [merely] some places where we simply don’t know what the original text said’?  If we don’t have the originals (or copies and so on), then we don’t REALLY know what [...]

How Constantine Became Emperor

As background to the conversion of the emperor Constantine I have been explaining how Diocletian had set up the Tetrarchy with a sensible order of succession, so that the Roman emperors would be chosen on a rational basis rather than simply because of accidents of birth or the whims of the army.   His plan ended up not working. Because of health issues, after a long and successful reign of over two decades, Diocletian decided to retire from office on May 1, 305.   For the sake of a smooth succession, he compelled his rather unwilling co-Augustus, Maximian, to do so as well, to make way for the two Caesars, Galerius and Constantius, to rise to the senior offices.  For their replacements, according to the principles that Diocletian had devised, two Caesars were chosen as junior emperors:   Maximin Daia (not to be confused with the out-going Augustus Maximian) to serve with Galerius in the East, and Severus to serve with Constantius in the West.   There was now a “Second Tetrarchy.” At the time it may have seemed [...]

2020-04-03T03:29:59-04:00July 15th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, Public Forum|

Preface to Constantine: The Rule of the Four

In this post I want to explain how Constantine came to power.  It is an unusually complicated story, with all kinds of names and dates that only inveterate historians could love.   I’ll give a simple version of it here, more suitable for those of us who are mere mortals. The reason it matters is that Constantine’s predecessor’s Diocletian vision of a Tetrarchy (= Rule of Four), in which the empire would be ruled by two senior emperor (each called an Augustus) and two junior emperors (each called a Caesar), with one pair (senior – junior) in the East and one in the West, didn’t last past a year after Diocletian’s abdication.   There were usurpations, infightings, civil wars, and a whole mess of things for years until Constantine emerged as the sole ruler of the Empire.  He was in power (first as a ruling partner, then as the one guy at the top) for over thirty years, longer than any ruler of the empire apart from the one who started it all, Caesar Augustus, three centuries [...]

2020-04-03T03:30:11-04:00July 13th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, Public Forum|

The Emperor Constantine: Some Background

Time for something new, about as different from the Pentateuch as you can get while still staying in the ancient world. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the Emperor Constantine over the past ten months and have decided to devote a thread to him on the blog.   His conversion to Christianity is usually considered a major turning point in the history of the Christian religion. Before he became Christian all the Roman emperors were, of course, pagan, and some of them, including his immediate predecessors on the throne, were virulently opposed to the Christian movement.  He himself converted near the end of what is called the “Great Persecution,” a ten-year period in which, at least in parts of the empire, the imperial forces were trying to wipe out the religion.  After he converted, Christianity went from being persecuted, to being tolerated, to being religion-most-favored . It is a mistake to say – as so many people do say! – that Constantine made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman empire.  He absolutely [...]

2020-04-03T03:30:21-04:00July 12th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, Public Forum|

Are the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Manuscripts Reliable? A Blast From the Past

A reader has perspicaciously pointed out to me that a particularly relevant post from three years ago (June 7, 2013) makes an important contribution to the topic I've been discussing about the Pentateuch.  This post is not about whether the events described in the Hebrew Bible are accurate, but whether we have accurate manuscripts of these accounts.  I talk a lot on the blog about manuscripts of the New Testament.  What about manuscripts of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible?  My post back then was in response to a question.  Here it is in full: **************************************************************************************************** QUESTION: Bart, these issues you've found in the New Testament, have you studied and found similar issues in the Old Testament?" RESPONSE: Yes indeed!   Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) was my secondary field in my PhD program, and I taught Introduction to Hebrew Bible at both Rutgers and UNC.   A few years ago when I decided to write my Introduction to the Bible I decided that to do it right I had to re-tool in Hebrew Bible.  I’m by no [...]

Suggestions for Further Reading on the Pentateuch

A couple of readers have asked if I have any bibliography to suggest in connection with the thread I am just finishing now on the sources behind the Pentateuch.   Below are the suggestions I make in my textbook on the Bible, the first three chapters. As you’ll see, they are briefly annotated to give you a sense of where first to turn, based on you particular interests.  The first chapter is an Introduction to the Bible, and so the bibliography comprises general reference works that I highly recommend.  These may be ones you would want to buy if you are hard core into your interests.  The other two chapters are on Genesis and then the rest of the Pentateuch.   *********************************************************     Suggestions for Further Reading   Chapter One: What is the Bible?  And Why Is It So Hard to Understand? Coogan, Michael and Bruce Metzger, eds.   Oxford Companion to the Bible.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.  A superb dictionary of all things biblical, ideal for both beginning and advanced students. Freedman,  David [...]

2020-04-03T03:30:36-04:00July 10th, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Did Matthew Write in Hebrew? Did Jesus Institute the Lord’s Supper? Did Josephus Mention Jesus? Weekly Readers’ Mailbag July 9, 2016

Was the Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew?  Did Jesus have a Last Supper?  And does Josephus mention Jesus’ brother James?  These are the three questions I will be addressing in this week’s Reader’s Weekly Mailbag.   If you have any question for me to address, let me know!   ************************************************ QUESTION: Just a short question: is there any possibility that Matthew gospel’s was written in Hebrew or Aramaic ? RESPONSE There was a long tradition throughout early and medieval Christianity that maintained that Matthew – commonly called the “most Jewish” of the Gospels – was written in Hebrew (or Aramaic).  Given its heightened Jewish concerns (see, for example, 5:17-20, verses found in no other Gospel), wasn’t it probably written to Jews in their native language? There are two preliminary points to be made.  First, a number of scholars doubt if Matthew, or his community, was Jewish.  It is widely thought, instead, that Matthew portrays a Jesus who insists that his followers keep the Jewish law precisely because they were not accustomed to doing so, that [...]

2017-11-06T21:17:38-05:00July 9th, 2016|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Another Creation Story

In my previous post I cited some parallels to the story of Noah and the Flood, immortalized by none other than Russell Crowe (OK, I have to admit, I never saw the film) (but I did see Gladiator – on opening day!  I had a student who was writing a dissertation that had a chapter on gladiators…) – stories of the flood in the myths of the Ancient Near East.  There were also numerous parallels in different areas around the Mediterranean to the Genesis account of creation.   Here I cite the most famous one. I should say there is a rather large point to be made about these parallels, and it applies not only to the myths and legends of Genesis but also to the stories about Jesus in the New Testament (to forestall a question I’m sure to be asked, I use the term “myth” in reference to stories that focus on God’s actions in the pre- or non-historical past, such as the creation and the flood, and “legend” in reference to human stories [...]

2020-04-06T13:42:03-04:00July 8th, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Other Myths of the Flood from the Ancient Near East

In response to my posts on the Pentateuch, several readers have asked about how other myths from other cultures of the Ancient Near East may have influenced the biblical writers (and the story tellers who passed along the traditions before them).   Among other things, other religions of the region had stories of creation and the flood that were very similar to what you can find in the book of Genesis.  What do we know about these? Here is what I say about two of the regional myths of the flood, again, in my bextbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.   ******************************************************************   The Gilgamesh Epic In 1853 several fragments of a different ancient text were discovered in the ruined palace of ancient Nineveh.   The texts, also written in cuneiform script, were deciphered by George Smith.  Since then they have been recognized as containing one of the great epics of ancient literature, named after its lead character, a king of the city of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia named Gilgamesh.  Numerous other fragments of the [...]

2020-05-27T16:15:20-04:00July 6th, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

When Was the World Created? A Blast From the Past

  Now that I’ve been talking about the Pentateuch, including its first book, Genesis, I thought it might be appropriate to offer up a Blast From the Past.   Four years ago, on July 5, 2012, I posted this account of when Christians started thinking that the world was created (Genesis 1-2) in 4004 BCE, as you’ll find in your annotated editions of the King James Bible.  This is what I said:   Creation in 4004 BCE? In my textbook, the Introduction to the the Bible, I am including a number of “boxes” that deal with issues that are somewhat tangental to the main discussion, but of related interest or importance. Here’s one of the ones in my chapter on Genesis, in connection with interpretations that want to take the book as science or history. For a lot of you, this will be old news. But then again, so is Genesis. ************************************************************************************* In 1650 CE, an Irish archbishop and scholar, James Ussher, engaged in a detailed study of when the world began.  Ussher based his calculations [...]

2017-11-06T21:18:19-05:00July 5th, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|
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