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Recent Manuscript Discoveries: A Blast from the Past

As we are nearing the five-year anniversary of the Blog, I have been looking back over some past postings, and this one caught my eye, from 3/30/13 (*four* years ago....).   It's still of interest.  Two things to say about it: "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" is now recognized by everyone to be a modern forgery (it has been proved) (see, e.g., https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/the-unbelievable-tale-of-jesus-wife/485573/); and the fragment of Mark's Gospel allegedly from the first century has STILL not been published!   Here is my original post on the two: ************************************************************************ As I am taking a break from my Christological posts for a couple of days, I’ve received several inquiries about other things, including the newsworthy manuscript discoveries announced this past year: what has happened to them? Specifically, what about that Gospel of Jesus’ Wife that was named, announced, and published by Karen King back in September, and what about the first-century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark that Dan Wallace announced but would tell us nothing about in the debate that he had with me in Chapel [...]

2020-04-03T02:30:20-04:00March 31st, 2017|Christian Apocrypha, New Testament Manuscripts|

Returning from the Dead in the Hebrew Bible

In thinking about Sheol and death in the Hebrew Bible, it is worth reflecting on passages where the dead come back to life or are contacted by the living.  This does not happen much at all – a couple of instances of resuscitation and one of necromancy. Probably the most famous resuscitation – the bringing back to life of a dead person – involves the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17:17-24.   Elijah has been helping an unnamed widow from the town of Zarephath, miraculously providing her and her son with food during a divinely-mandated drought/famine (which the prophet brought to teach the wicked King Ahab a lesson).   But the boy dies.  The widow is understandably distraught – the prophet was supposed to be helping her and now her son has died.  Some help. Elijah takes the boy, though, and raises him from the dead.  The woman responds appropriately, declaring him Elijah a man of God who speaks the word of God. In 2 Kings 4:32-37 a similar story is told about the prophet Elisha – [...]

2020-04-03T02:30:27-04:00March 30th, 2017|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

The Afterlife in the Hebrew Bible: Sheol

When trying to figure out where the Christian ideas of heaven and hell came from, an obvious place to start is with the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus himself held to the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures.   To be sure, there was not a completely fixed canon in his day, which all Jews everywhere agreed to.  But virtually all Jews we know of ascribed to the high authority (and Mosaic authorship) of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy); and most Jews  – including Jesus – also considered the prophets authoritative; Jesus also accepted the authority of the book of Psalms and a probably number of the other books.  It was not until a century or so after Jesus that most Jews agreed on virtually all the books of what we now think of as the Hebrew Bible – but Jesus and his followers would have accepted most of them. That means that the views found in these books were highly influential on what Jews like Jesus would have thought about most theological topics.  And so, [...]

2020-04-03T02:30:35-04:00March 29th, 2017|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Eternal Life and Damnation

In my summaries of the Apocalypse of Peter and the Apocalypse of Paul, as a couple of readers noticed, there was a striking difference in emphasis.  Both of these early Christian texts (the first from the second century, the other from the fourth or possibly the fifth?) narrate guided tours of the realms of the blessed and of the damned, and both seem more interested in describing the torments of the lost than the ecstasies of the saved. The former focuses on moral sins that lead to eternal punishment: seductresses, adulterers, murderers, children who are disobedient to parents, slaves who are disobedient to masters, women who had sex before marriage; and sundry other things.   To be sure, some of the sins are “religious” – blasphemy, socerery, and so on.  But in this case, “torment is for everyone forever according to his deeds.” The Apocalypse of Paul, on the other hand, is far more concerned about sins within the church, sins of ecclesiastical and doctrinal error: ascetics who break their vows; church people not commited completely [...]

2020-04-03T02:30:46-04:00March 27th, 2017|Afterlife, Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

Bart Ehrman & Robert Price Debate – Did Jesus Exist?

As many of you know, this past October I had a public debate with Robert Price on the question of whether Jesus actually existed.  To my knowledge Robert is the only "mythicist" (one who thinks Jesus is a complete myth) who actually has a PhD in the relevant field of New Testament studies.   For years I've been asked by people to debate a mythicist; I've always resisted, in part because I've thought that by doing so I would lend credibility to their view, which, in my judgment, is not credible.   But Robert is a nice guy and I finally yielded and said OK.  This is the debate.  It was lively in places and -- to my surprise -- ended up being a nice experience. The event was part of the "Mythinformation Conference" Buzzed Belief Debate Series presented by Mythicist Milwaukee at Turner Hall in Milwaukee, WI on Friday October 21st 2016.  Mythicist Milwaukee focuses on educating the freethought/skeptic/atheist community about what the organization considers to be the mythological origins of religion.  The people [...]

Questions on the Resurrection and My Personal Spiritual Experiences: Readers’ Mailbag

I'll address two questions on this week's readers' mailbag, one about what we can say about the resurrection of Jesus (a specific question about it) and one about whether my (one-time) faith was based on the Bible or on spiritual experiences I had.  (The answer is apparently not what the questioner expected.)   QUESTION: How do you separate the fact from fiction on the risen Jesus?  You accept, as historical, that the disciples believed they had visions of the risen Jesus – so how do you reject, as legendary, the physical interactions with the risen Jesus as they are drawn from the same accounts? RESPONSE: Ah, this is a good question: it gets to the heart of what it means to engage in a historical analysis of our early Christian traditions.  Each and every tradition (e.g.: the followers of Jesus came to believe he was raised from the dead because they saw him alive afterward; or Jesus ate some fish in their presence after he had died) has to be evaluated on its own merits [...]

Another Gory Account of the Afterlife: The Apocalypse of Paul

Yesterday I discussed the first surviving Christian account of a tour of heaven and hell, an apocalypse allegedly, but not really, written by Jesus’ disciple Peter.   Here is one other, this time allegedly, but not really, written by the Apostle Paul.   I have taken this description from my book Forgery and Counterforgery (which I have revised a bit to get rid of some of the scholarly jargon). ***************************************************** Far more influential on the history of Christian thought than the Apocalypse of Peter, though clearly dependent on it for many of its traditions, the Apocalypse of Paul was originally composed in Greek but came to be translated into a number of languages: Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Slavonic, and Ethiopic.  The text as we have it is dated at the outset:  “In the consulate of Theodosius Augustus the Younger and of Cynegius, a certain respected man was living in Tarsus….”  Commonly this is taken to indicate that the book was composed, in its final form, around 388 CE, but scholars today think that it may derive from the [...]

2020-04-03T02:31:02-04:00March 22nd, 2017|Afterlife, Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

Touring Hell: The Apocalypse of Peter

I am about ready now (I think!) to dig more deeply into a thread on the Invention of the Afterlife – the tentative title of the book that I *hope* will be my next one.  I’ve been putting off starting the thread in earnest because, in fact, I don’t feel particularly ready for it.  I’m just at the preliminary stage of my reading and have many dozens of books I need to work through before I can even think about sketching out how I want to broach the subject in my book (I have about a hundred unread books on various aspects of the matter sitting on my shelf now, as we speak, and I’m collecting more virtually every day). But I think that I will be doing this book differently from others I’ve done – at least with respect to the blog.  I’m thinking about using the blog as a way to think out loud about some of the topics I’m covering in my reading.  I’m not sure that everything I read about will [...]

The Burial of Jesus: A Blast from the Past

Two thought-events happened today that oddly enough coalesced.  First, I've been thinking about the fact that the blog is approaching five years old in about ten days, and musing on all that has happened on the blog over all this time.  I decided to look up my very first posts, and found this one among them. Second, as it turns out, this post is exactly on a topic that I happened to lecture on today to my undergraduate class (what I said may well have scandalized some students, but I made sure to tell them that my opinion on this matter is a minority view among scholars; I always try to let them know if what I'm saying is standard fare -- which is normally the case -- or a minority opinion). In any event, in both my lecture and in this primeval post, the topic is: was Jesus given a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea (or anyone else)?  My views have considerably deepened over the past five years, but I still hold to [...]

2020-04-03T19:48:04-04:00March 20th, 2017|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Does Jesus Claim to Be God in Mark? And My Former Converts. Mailbag March 19, 2017

Two questions in this week’s Mailbag, one about whether Jesus was claiming to be God in the Gospel of Mark, and the other about my personal life: whether today, as an agnostic, I ever meet people I once converted when I was a gung-ho conservative evangelical Christian.  If you have a question you would like me to address, ask away!   QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, the other day I was discussing with an Evangelical pastor that the sayings of Jesus in which he claimed to be God were only found in the Gospel of John. He had me read Mark 2:5-7. This is the verse where Jesus heals a paralytic and says to him “Son, your sins are forgiven”. The religious leaders say “Who can forgive sins but God alone”. The pastor said that this shows that even in the earliest Gospel Mark, Jesus claimed to be God. I wasn’t sure how to respond but told him that there was still a big difference in the comparison. Do you have any thoughts or comments in which [...]

A Final Word (I Think!) on Group Visions

I am getting some push-back on my discussions of visions.  One of the most informed and hard-hitting critiques was this. I certainly agree that it is within your scope of expertise as a New Testament scholar to use the term "vision" to describe the beliefs of people in Antiquity who used this term to describe certain religious experiences.  It is within your scope of expertise to define this term as defined by those ancients.  However, with all due respect, as a physician I must point out that it is not within your scope of expertise to use this term to determine what was going on physiologically or psychologically during these experiences.  This determination belongs to experts in the field of medicine and psychiatry.  That is why I believe you should stop using the terms  "veridical vision" and "non-veridical".  Medical experts and psychiatrists/psychologists believe that these ancients experienced one of three things in these "vision" experiences:  a dream (a nightdream or a daydream), an illusion, or an hallucination.  That's it.  There are no other options.  For [...]

What Really Happens With Group Visions

Several people on the blog have pushed back on my claim that group hallucinations (what I’ve called non-veridical visions) can occur.  Psychologically, is that really possible?  How is it actually possible that a group of, say, twelve people could have the same mental breakdown leading them to see exactly the same thing at the same time? First, some people have objected to my term “vision” since psychologists don’t use that term.  They talk instead about “hallucinations.”   OK, I’ll concede the point.  Religious studies scholars, though, use the term visions, since visionary experiences are very much a part of what it is scholars of religion study (visionaries are stock and trade of the religious studies scholar), and when it comes to the study of the Bible – my own field of expertise – it is common to talk about visions of heaven, or visions of God, or … visions of Jesus after his death.  No one talks about the hallucinations of Jesus, since that prejudices the issue of whether Jesus really appeared to people or if [...]

2020-04-29T16:36:52-04:00March 16th, 2017|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Pastor Goranson, the Son of God, and I: A Blast From the Past

  A former colleague of mine contacted me last week -- not a colleague from any of my teaching positions, but a colleague in ministry from forty years ago when I was the Youth Pastor at Trinity Covenant Church in Oak Lawn, Illinois.  I've been reminiscing about those days, and I remembered an event connected with that church that I talked about in my book How Jesus Became God, involving a moment when my doubts about the Christian faith were starting to take hold.  Here is a post that I made about it exactly four years ago today. ************************************************************** When I attended Moody Bible Institute in the mid 1970s, every student was required, every semester, to do some kind of Christian ministry work.   Like all of my fellow students I was completely untrained and unqualified to do the things I did, but I think Moody believed in on-the-job training.   And so every student had to have one semester where, for maybe 2-3 hours one afternoon a week, they would engage in “door-to-door evangelism.”  That involved being [...]

Are Group Visions Possible?

I have received a number of interesting responses to my claim in yesterday’s post that it is possible for groups of people to have the same non-veridical vision (that is, hallucinations).  I used the phenomenon of the Blessed Virgin Mary: she seems to appear a good deal, to groups of people – sometimes large groups.  In this post I thought I would respond to two of the highly intelligent demurrals.   DEMURRAL: As a former evangelical Protestant we believed that Roman Catholics who claim to see the Virgin Mary as a group are in a state of emotional hysteria and seeing an illusion not experiencing a group hallucination.  An illusion is a distorted perception of something that really is present, such seeing a stain on a wall or a cloud formation in a photograph and seeing the Virgin Mary or Jesus in it.  Many thousands of Roman Catholics claimed to have experienced a visitation of the Virgin Mary in Fatima Portugal not due to seeing and hearing a woman in flowing robes speak the same [...]

Group Visions and Agnostic Jesus Scholars: Mailbag March 12, 2017

I will be dealing with two interesting questions on this week’s Readers’ Mailbag.  The first has to do with whether hallucinations can explain why Jesus’ followers thought he had been raised from the dead; the second involves with me personally: if I no longer believe in Jesus, why do I keep studying, writing, and teaching about him? To make sense of the first question I need to provide some background.  In my book How Jesus Became God I argue that the followers of Jesus believed he was raised from the dead for one and only one reason, that some of them (I don’t think we know how many) had visions of him after his death, and they concluded that he must have been raised from the dead (I argue that the “empty tomb” did not lead anyone to believe; either did anything else).  In my book I stress that this explanation works for everyone, whether a Christian believer or not.  Christians would say that the disciples claimed to see Jesus after his death because he [...]

2017-09-22T13:20:08-04:00March 12th, 2017|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

What I’m Thinking about the Afterlife

I became interested in writing this book about the afterlife a couple of years ago, when I realized with unexpected clarity – out of the blue (I don’t know what sparked my thinking) – that the views most people have are not from the Bible.  Many people, of course, do not believe in the afterlife at all.  But at least in my parts of the world (both where I grew up, and where I have lived my life, first Chicago, then New Jersey, and now for the past 28 years North Carolina) those people who do believe in an afterlife (with a few, but only a very few exceptions), think that your body dies and your soul lives on.  In the now traditional Christian idea, your soul goes to heaven or hell. Where did that idea come from?  Most of the Bible, of course, is the Old Testament (it’s about 3-4 times as large as the New Testament).  And the Old Testament teaches no such thing.  Moreover, Jesus himself did not teach any such thing.  [...]

Does the Afterlife Matter for Other Things?

This past Friday I went up to NYC to meet with my editor, and the marketing team, at my new publisher Simon & Schuster, both to discuss the next book coming out in September AND to talk (with my editor herself) about the possible new book, the one I am tentatively calling The Invention of the Afterlife (dealing with the question of where the widespread views of heaven and hell come from, especially since they are not actually what the Old Testament, Jesus, or the NT writers actually taught).  This was kind of a first pitch, to get them interested. They are indeed interested, and so now the next step for me will be to write a prospectus to get them to agree formally and finally.  I want to do this now, so I don’t spend months reading about the topic – both ancient writings that deal with the afterlife and modern scholarship on the matter – only to find out that this will *not* be my next book.   Just to write the prospectus I [...]

Me and Jesus

Yesterday I explained why, in my own opinion, I can no longer consider myself a Christian, and I received a lot of responses:  some sympathetic, others not so sympathetic; some seeing the point and others disagreeing. One particular disagreement gets to the heart of what I was trying to say.  Several people (OK, lots of people) have commented that if I follow the ethical teachings of Jesus that in that sense I really am a Christian and might as well admit it.   Part of me agrees with that – it’s what I’ve long thought – but what I came to realize yesterday during my class lecture is that there is a strong sense in which that is also not true.  Here I’ll try to explain. I do indeed try to adhere to the ethical teachings of Jesus as I see them.  He himself summarized the entire Torah of Moses by stating two principle commandments.  The first was Deuteronomy 6:4-6, that you should love God with all your heart, soul, and being.  OK, I don’t follow [...]

Why Do Good People Suffer? A Blast from the Past

I was looking around for an interesting post from a few years ago, and I found this one, from March 2013, which, as it turns out, is relevant to what I am going to want to say in the thread I've just started on views of the afterlife that developed in ancient Israel (leading up to the Christian views that eventually came to be so dominant throughout the West.).    The post provides, in a nutshell, three major views about why there is suffering.  Why is that relevant?  One of my theses I have going into my research for my next book is that views of the afterlife developed originally as a way to explain why there are such inequities in the present life.  Here's the post: ************************************************************************ I’m in New York City for a few days. Last night I gave a lecture at NYU; they had asked that I talk about “God, The Bible, and the Problem of Suffering.” That’s the topic of my book God’s Problem, and so I spun off a talk [...]

Thinking about Hell

When I search my mind for times in my (distant) past that I thought about hell, I conjure up two very different moments.  Today when I think about them it is with a good sense of humor. The first is when I must have been maybe eight or nine.  I was at some kind of summer camp, and we had a daily camp meeting where we would sing songs and someone would come talk to us.  One day there was a local minister who came and told a story about a person who went first to hell and then heaven. When he went to hell he found that there was an enormous table filled with fantastic food – everything that everyone could imagine wanting.   But all the people there had three-foot long forks strapped to their arms, and it was impossible for them to pick up the food and bring it to their mouths.  And so they were starving in the midst of plenty. He then went to heaven and again, there was the enormous [...]

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