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Looking Back on the Blog 2016

The end is near!   Or at least the end of 2016.   For some of us this has been a nightmare year that we are glad to see behind us.  For others it has been a year of unusual success, prosperity, and happiness, a utopian cornucopia.  Whichever camp you are in (most of us are somewhere in between), I hope you can look forward with some hope to what lies ahead. This will be an end-of-the-year post, summarizing what we have accomplished on the blog over the past twelve months and thinking a bit about what lies ahead.  It has been a very good year for the blog.  I can start by giving some of the important numbers. My objective, all along, has been to provide 5-6 posts a week, each and every week.  To my knowledge, I haven’t missed yet.  This past year I made 281 posts, an average of just over 5.4 per week.  So I have kept the pace up.   Since starting the blog in April 2012, I have made 1394 posts.  Each [...]

2016-12-31T06:41:29-05:00December 31st, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Copying of the Hebrew Bible

Here I continue on with my comments on the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, and the question of whether they were changed over the years.  Again, this is taken from my discussion in The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction. *********************************************************************** The Masoretic Text The text of the Hebrew Bible that is read today and that is at the basis of all modern translations is called the Masoretic Text.  It is called this because the Jewish scholars who devised the rules for copying scripture are known as the Masoretes.   The term “masorete” comes from the Hebrew word masorah, which means “tradition.”  The Masoretes were the scholars who worked out ways to preserve the traditions of the Hebrew Bible.   They were active between 500-1000 CE. To understand what the Masoretes accomplished, you need to remember that ancient written Hebrew was a language that used only consonants, not vowels.  Any language that is written only in consonants is open, obviously, to serious problems of interpretation.   Imagine if you were to write English that way.  Apart from context, [...]

Manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible

Just now I started to write a post dealing with what it is exactly that translators (such as those of the New Revised Standard Version) translated when they translated their texts.  I realized that to explain that I have to say something about the surviving Hebrew manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible – something I have not talked a *great* deal about on the blog in the past, and about the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament – about which I have said a good deal more.  My comments on the Hebrew Bible will require a couple of posts.  As you’ll see, I start at the most basic level and go from there, never getting at all complicated or technical. This has been taken from my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction ********************************************************** The Text of the Hebrew Bible We have seen that the earliest writings of the Hebrew Bible were probably produced during the eighth century BCE.  This is the date of the oldest prophets such as Amos and Isaiah of Jerusalem.  When [...]

Some Arduous Tasks for the New Revised Standard Version

I had several duties as the research assistant to the translation committee of the New Revised Standard Version in 1987-88,.  Probably the most difficult involved trying to make sure that there was a consistency in the translation, from one biblical book, passage, and verse to another.   How does one determine if a translation is internally consistent?  It’s not easy.  I had to work through the entire translation, and whenever I came across a key term in the Hebrew or Greek that had been rendered into English in one way in one passage, I had to check whether it was rendered similarly in other passages where the same word occurred. The translators were absolutely not bound and determined to translate the same Hebrew (or Greek) word the same way every time it appeared in the Bible.  In some contexts a word will be better translated one way, in others another.  But they at least had to be aware of the fact that the term appears in various passages and they had to be cognizant of how [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:02-04:00December 27th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Finishing the Work of a Translation

I have mentioned that as a graduate student I was asked to be one of the “secretaries” for the New Revised Standard Version translation committee when they were meeting twice a year to make decisions for the new translation, recording the decisions they made for changing the older Revised Standard Version translation.  I did that for several years until they had finished their translation.  I graduated from my PhD program in 1985, and I was already, at that point, teaching at Rutgers University. My position at Rutgers was a rather precarious one, professionally.  In the language almost universally used today, I was an “adjunct” instructor, that is, a temporary faculty member without full (or much of any) benefits and paid as part time, even though I was teaching the full load of courses (with larger classes than most of my colleagues).  Rutgers had a special title for me.  I was called a “Coadjutant Casual.”  I never did know what that meant. At the time, my wife had decided to go back to school to finish [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:09-04:00December 26th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

A Reflection on Christmas: Blast from the Past

Four years ago I made a very personal post about my feelings about Christmas, the day after.  It was one of my personal favorite posts of all time.  I repeat it again here, this time the day before. ************************************************************ In the opening chapter of my book God’s Problem, I talked about going to church on Christmas Eve in 2006 with my wife Sarah and brother-in-law Simon, in Saffron-Walden, a market town in England where Simon lives, not far from Cambridge.  It was a somber but moving Christmas Eve service, and yet one that had the opposite of the intended effect on me.  It made me realize just how estranged I was from the Christian faith, from the notion that with Christ God entered into the world and took its sufferings upon himself.   I just didn’t see it, and it made me terrifically sad, resentful, and even angry.  There is so much pain and misery all around us, and yet the heavens – in my judgment – seem to be silent. This is not what led me [...]

2017-09-25T21:35:33-04:00December 24th, 2016|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Problems with Inclusive Language Bible Translation

From the marvels of the universe (yesterday’s post) to the use of inclusive language in Bible translations (today’s post) – easy!   All in one step. The Psalm I quoted yesterday presents a problem to Bible translators who want to render the text to include both men and women.   Here is what Psalm 8 says in the (non-inclusive-language) King James, as quoted yesterday: 3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. 6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: When the New Revised Standard Version came out in 1989, it altered the translation by making it more inclusive, as follows: 3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:22-04:00December 23rd, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Marvels of our Universe

Even though I am no longer a believer, I still sometimes read and think about the book of Psalms in the Old Testament.  Just yesterday I had occasion to quote Psalm 8 to my wife.   In the beautiful and most familiar (though completely non-inclusive!) wording of the King James Version, this is the psalm. 1 O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. 2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. 6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his [...]

Important Blog Issues

A couple of blog issues. FIRST: I will be giving public lectures after the New Year at the current locations.  These are all free and open to the world at large.  I don’t know the topics in every case, but will know closer to the times.  If you are anywhere near: feel free to come!  All lectures are in the evening. Thursday January 26: Michigan State University, East Lansing Michigan.  Topic: Did the Early Christians Forget Jesus?  Eyewitnesses, Oral Traditions, and Distorted Memories. Thursday February 2: Tulsa University, Tulsa Oklahoma Thursday February 16: Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina. Topic: Did the Early Christians Forget Jesus?  Eyewitnesses, Oral Traditions, and Distorted Memories. March 9: Washington and Jefferson College, Washington, Pennsylvania March 23: State University of New York Binghamtom, Binghamtom, New York April 6: University of Rochester, Rochester New York April 20, Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota SECOND: We are approaching the end of the year, as you may well have noticed!  Many of us are thinking about making end-of-the-year donations.  If that includes you, PLEASE think [...]

2016-12-29T16:49:04-05:00December 20th, 2016|Public Forum|

Problems with Inclusive Language Translations

The policy of the NRSV translation committee on inclusive language was sensible, in my view.    It involved a three-pronged approach. Any passage that was referring to both men and women was to be rendered inclusively, even if the original language (Hebrew or Greek) used masculine terms (“men,” “man,” “brothers,” “he” etc.). Any passage that was explicitly referring only to men, or only to women, was to be left as referring only to men or to women. All references to the Deity that in the original used masculine terms were to be left masculine. Here I will say a few things about each of these policies, in reverse order.  First, the deity.  No one on the committee thought that the deity actually has male genitalia or other sexual distinctions.  But ... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, JOIN!  It costs less than a coffee at Starbucks a month, and every penny goes to help the needy.  You get a good deal, they get a good deal, the world [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:32-04:00December 20th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Inclusive Language in Bible Translations

One of the most difficult issues that the New Revised Standard Version translation committee had to address involved the use of inclusive language.  Part of the problem was that this issue was not a generally recognized issue (by the wider reading public) when the translators began their work, but was very much an issue when they were already finished with a large chunk of it.  The translators were mainly senior scholars who had acquired their linguistic skills before virtually anyone in the academy knew (or at least said) that there even was a problem with inclusivity, and so they themselves were learning how to communicate in the new idiom.  And it took a while before they figured out how exactly to handle it. I myself was first introduced to the problem when I entered graduate school, and like a lot of people from my generation (especially, but not only, us males) at first I thought it was a fairly ridiculous much ado about nothing and that writing inclusively simply threatened to destroy the beauty of [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:40-04:00December 19th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Lost in Translation

In my last post I began to talk about my involvement with the translation committee for the New Revised Standard Version.  My Doktorvater, Bruce Metzger, was the chair of the committee and he asked me, during my graduate studies, to be one of the scribes for the Old Testament subcommittee.  In that capacity I recorded all the votes that were taken by the translators for revisions of the text of the Revised Standard Version, in whichever subsection of the committee I was assigned to.  Normally the subsection would have, maybe, five scholars on it.  They would debate how to modify the text of the RSV, verse by verse, word by word; they would then take a vote by show of hands; and I would record their decision. This was an eye-opening experience for me.  Bible translation (or the translation of any foreign-language work, for that matter) is an inordinately complicated procedure.  It is impossible to replicate the exact meaning of one language in another, since the nuances of words vary from one language to another.  [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:47-04:00December 18th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

My Work for the New Revised Standard Version Committee

QUESTION: If my memory serves me, you (as a graduate student?) were involved in the development of the NRSV Bible version in 1989. Could you describe your work please? RESPONSE: Yes, that’s right.  The New Revised Standard Version Committee was appointed by the U.S. National Council of Churches to produce a revision of the famous Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, which had come out in 1952.  Since the time when the RSV had been produced (mainly in the 1940s), many important developments had happened in the scholarship of the Bible. New discoveries had been made and partially published, especially: the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls contained a number of different kinds of writings, produced by Jews living at the turn of the Christian era, including a large number of copies of the Hebrew Bible, in Hebrew, as it was known in that day.  These are very important for determining the oldest form of the Hebrew text of the Bible for some of its books. The English language had changed in important ways. That [...]

Was Cephas Peter? The Rest of the Argument

I have received a number of emails asking me about the Cephas and Peter article I started giving a couple of posts ago, and most of the questions, as it turns out, are answered in the *second* half of the article, which I had originally planned not to provide here on the blog.  So now I’ve decided, well—why not? And so here is the rest of the article for anyone who is interested.  For those not interested in all the convoluted ins and outs of the argument, you may want to see the end, the summary and conclusions, as the pay-off of the argument is rather significant.  As with the rest of the article, I have not included any of the footnotes, where I give some of the logic and evidence for my sundry points. As it turns out, I’m not sure I buy the argument anymore.  I’ll explain why in simple terms in a later post.   *******************************************************   The evidence of Paul has not been exhausted by this consideration of Gal 2:7-9.  There [...]

2020-04-03T02:46:41-04:00December 15th, 2016|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Cephas and Peter in the Writings of Paul (Who Knew Them)

In my previous post I gave the evidence that in the early church there were writers who maintained that Cephas and Peter were *not* the same person, despite what is explicitly said in John 1:42.  As some readers have noted to me, that differentiation *may* have been driven by a very clear and certain reason: in Galatians 2 Paul confronts “Cephas” and blasts him for not understanding the Gospel.  Could there have been a major rift between the two most important apostles of early Christianity?  Surely they were more unified than *that*!  Well, if Cephas was not the same person as Peter, it is a much, much smaller problem.  So maybe that is what was driving early Christians to claim there were in fact two figures, the apostle Peter and the other person Cephas. That post came from a scholarly article I wrote on the topic many years ago.  I’ve decided not to give the entire article here – it gets increasingly technical and rather, uh, boring to general readers.  But I will give here, [...]

2020-04-03T02:46:51-04:00December 14th, 2016|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Lecture at Fresno City College

Here is a video of a discussion that I had on my book "How Jesus Became God" at Fresno City College, with Professor of Philosophy Wendell Stephenson, on February 18, 2016 at 7:00p.m. After our back and forth the floor was opened opened to Q&A from the audience. News release about event: Please adjust gear icon for high-definition.   IF YOU DON'T BELONG YET to the blog, JOIN!!!  It doesn't cost much, and you get unbelievable bang for your buck!  And every buck goes to charities helping the needy.  So join!!!

2017-09-25T21:39:01-04:00December 13th, 2016|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Video Media|

Are Cephas and Peter Two Different People?

QUESTION: I remember your saying that you once – wrongly – entertained a theory about “Cephas” and “Peter” being two different people. I *don’t* remember your explaining why you’d thought that, and what convinced you the theory was wrong. I’d still like to know!   RESPONSE: I get asked this question on occasion and I’ve decided to do something unusual (for the blog) to answer it.  Years ago I wrote a controversial article on the topic for an academic journal.  Here I thought it might be interesting simply to reproduce the article for readers of the blog, over several posts.  Among other things, this will show – to anyone who is interested in such things – how a work of scholarship on the New Testament is different from a work presenting scholarship to a general (non scholarly) audience. Now that I read through this first of the article, thinking about how it would “play” to a general audience, I think that the problem is not that it is particularly difficult to understand, but simply that [...]

A Different Interpretation of the Mischievous Boy, Jesus

I have decided that I can't simply post yesterday's blast from the past about the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and leave it at that, since the way we today tend to read the account (where Jesus seems, to our eyes, to be a Super-Brat) may not be the way it was read in antiquity (believe it or not!).  So here is the post that I wrote to explain that, when I first dealt with the matter three years ago. **************************************************************************** I had a great time giving my lectures at the Smithsonian yesterday. Terrific crowd, very attentive, highly intelligent, great questions. And a completely exhausting day. Four lectures back to back is tough. So I came back to my room and did football, pizza, and beer all night, which was just what the doctor ordered. (I am a Dr., after all) The first lecture, as I indicated in my previous post, was on the Infancy Gospels, or at least on two of them, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Proto-Gospel of James (Protevangelium Jacobi). I [...]

2020-04-03T02:47:10-04:00December 10th, 2016|Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

Jesus the Superboy: A Blast From the Past

As is my wont, this time of year, I've been thinking about the stories of Jesus' birth and early life for a few days now.  And just this instant I was looking at some old posts on the blog, from years ago -- and this one turned up from 2013.  A matter of ongoing interest: if Jesus was the miracle working Son of God as an adult, what was he like as a kid?  We have stories about that from the early church.  Here's the post, occasioned by some lectures I was giving: ***************************************************************************** I just (now) flew into Washington D.C., to give four lectures tomorrow (count them, four) on “The Other Gospels” at the Smithsonian. Each lecture is about an hour, followed by 15 minutes of Q & A. It’ll be a grueling day. I do these Smithsonian things once or twice a year on average. They’re great – 160 adults who have paid good money and devoted an entire day to hearing lectures on a topic important to them. It’s a terrific audience, [...]

2020-04-03T02:47:19-04:00December 9th, 2016|Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

Free Memberships for those Who Need Them!

Thanks to the incredible generosity of members of the blog, I am happy to announce that there are a limited number of free one-year memberships available.   These have been donated for a single purpose: to allow those who cannot afford the annual membership fee to participate on the blog for a year.   I will assign these memberships strictly on the honor system: if you truly cannot afford the membership fee, but very much want to have full access to the blog, then please contact me.   Do NOT reply here, on the blog, as a comment.   Send me a separate email, privately, at [email protected].   In your email, let me know your situation (why you would like to take advantage of this offer) and provide me with the following information: 1)      Your first and last name. 2)      Your preferred personal email. 3)      Your preferred user name (no spaces). 4)      Your preferred password (should be 8 or more characters, no spaces).   The donors will remain anonymous, but here let me publicly extend my heartfelt thanks for [...]

2016-12-08T09:45:50-05:00December 8th, 2016|Public Forum|
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