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The Body and Soul in Hades

When Odysseus goes to the underworld, he meets with a number of people, but most interesting are his encounter with his own mother (who died after he had set sail, years before, with the Greek armies heading to Troy) and the great Greek hero Achilles, the greatest of the mighty warriors in the war.   The encounters are interesting because they show us how the realm of the dead was being imagined.   There is real pathos in both episodes.  In this post I’ll talk about the first. After Odysseus has arrived in Hades and has made the prescribed sacrifices (see the former post), the “shade” of his mother comes to him beside the pit filled with the blood of the sacrificial animals.   Several immediate points to make. For one thing, it may seem weird that of all the people who are dead (today, of course, we think of many billions of people!), his mother just happens to come up.  How did she know he was there?  We aren’t told. We are told, though, that he recognizes [...]

2020-04-03T02:03:24-04:00August 30th, 2017|Afterlife, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|

The First Recorded Visit to the Realm of the Dead (in Western literature)

The first account we have of a living human making a trip to the realm of the dead in Western literature is in the Odyssey of Homer.  The Odyssey is about the ten-year attempt of the hero, Odysseus, to return home to Ithaca after the (also ten-year) Trojan war.   Many adventures and mishaps meet him en route.  At about the half-way point of the narrative, in book ten, he is on the island of Aeaea where he has encountered the witch-sorceress Circe. At the end of his stay there he pleads with her that he desperately wants to get home.  She instructs him that he must first travel down to the “House of the Dead” and to the “awesome one Persephone” (i.e., the goddess who rules the underworld, with her husband Hades).   There he needs to consult with the ghost of Tiresias, a famous blind prophet, who has retained all his wits and prophetic powers in Hades.  This is an important point: the other dead (in other words, everyone else who has ever lived) do [...]

2020-04-03T02:03:32-04:00August 29th, 2017|Afterlife, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|

My Graduate Level New Testament Course

Classes have started again and we are bursting into the term with vim and vigor!   For my graduate course this term I am teaching my "Problems and Methods in New Testament Studies" seminar (I offer this ever two or three years).  This is a kind of "Introduction" to the field of New Testament studies geared not for undergraduates but for graduates, all of whom have undergraduate degrees already and who (at least this semester) have already done some work in New Testament..   Well, the course is self-explanatory from the syllabus, which I attach here for your amusement.  It can give you an idea of how one might *start* on this kind of thing at the graduate level. *************************************************************************** Religion 707: Problems and Methods in the Study of the New Testament \ University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Fall 2017   Instructor: Bart D. Ehrman This course will explore some of the classical problems addressed by the discipline of "New Testament Introduction."  Some of these problems are as old as the discipline, many are [...]

2018-01-13T21:33:33-05:00August 28th, 2017|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Journeys to Heaven and Hell: A Sketch of My Project

As I indicated in my previous post, I’ve decided to write a scholarly book on tours of heaven and hell in ancient Christian texts.  I am tentatively calling the book “Observing the Dead: Otherworldly Journeys in the Early Christian Tradition.”   I decided last week to come up with a 1000 word sketch of what I am thinking so far, about what the book would be and why it is needed.   This is just a draft for my own thinking, written for scholars more than for layfolk.  But it’s pretty clear and understandable I think, and can indicate how/what I’m thinking in the broadest terms at this point.  Tell me what you think! ******************************************************* My project entails an exploration of early Christian texts that narrate voyages to the realms of heaven and hell, depicting, often in graphic detail, the ecstasies of the blessed and the torments of the damned.   My overarching goal will be to elucidate not only various conceptions of the mysteries of the beyond, but even more to explore how such afterlife journeys embody [...]

2020-04-03T02:03:42-04:00August 27th, 2017|Afterlife, Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Could Moses Write Hebrew?

As you may have noticed, on a number of occasions I get asked questions that I simply can’t answer.   I received one such question this week, about the history of the Hebrew language.  Here is how the questioner phrased it: What is our earliest evidence for Hebrew as a written language? I’ve been to apologetic seminars where they say it’s long been said by atheists that the Hebrew Bible can’t be trusted because the Hebrews didn’t have a written language until well after the stories in the OT would’ve taken place. The evidence that the Hebrews had a written language in close proximity to the Biblical stories is based on pottery evidence and things of that nature. I’m sure these are topics you are very familiar with and I’d appreciate your take.   It’s actually amazing how many topics I’m not familiar with at all!  So, not knowing the answer, I asked a colleague of mine who is an expert in Hebrew philology, Joseph Lam (he teaches courses in my department in Hebrew and other [...]

My New Scholarly Project

I have a lot more to say about the development of the views of the afterlife in ancient Jewish and Christian thinking – specifically, about how we got from an understanding that there would be a resurrection of the body (the view I’ve been discussing) to the idea that when a person dies, their soul (not their body) goes to heaven or hell --  the view most (not the *vast* majority, of course) people have today.   It’s a good thing I have a lot more to say about it, since, well, that’s what my next book is about! But I want to introduce at this point a thread-within-the-thread, about a related topic (involving the afterlife and my larger understanding of it) that I am more fervently passionate about at just this time.   And to explain just why I’m passionate about it, I need to take a brief detour into my personal life. I think that a good while back (last year at this time?  I don’t remember) I talked a bit on the blog about [...]

Do Later Manuscript Discoveries Ever Support Proposed Interpolations?

It is fine, I think, for a post on the blog every now and then to get technical and into the nitty-gritty of scholarship.  And so I have no qualms about the following. Yesterday I posted a response to a question about “textual emendation” by Jan Krans, a New Testament textual expert who teaches in the Netherlands.  The same blog reader had a second question that I have also directed to Jan, and here I give both the question and the answer. The question has to do with my claim that there are some words/passages in the New Testament that *look* like they were added after the original was published, but for which we have NO manuscripts that lack the words/passage (so that there is no hard evidence that they were added after the text was originally published).   But has it ever happened that after a scholar suggested such a thing, a manuscript has turned up that provides actual evidence?  Here’s the interesting question about that, and Jan’s intriguing response. QUESTION: Do you know of [...]

Are There Passages Where *Every* NT Manuscript Gives the “Wrong” Reading?

In this post I deal with an interesting question that a reader has asked me, with reference to the post I made last week where I explained a complicated situation that appears sometimes to have occurred in our surviving manuscripts of the New Testament, when every single manuscript we have may have the “wrong” reading – that is, when every one of the manuscripts appears to an alteration from what the author original wrote.  Here is what I said. Another reason interpolations and scribal corruptions overlap is because – here it gets even more tricky — there are places where scholars are convinced that there were scribal alterations made very early in the history of the transmission of the text that occurred *after* the book was originally put in circulation in the textual form that has come down to us but that affected *all* of our surviving manuscripts.  In other words, in these places (no one can agree where it has happened!) all of our manuscripts have the wrong reading, but not because of an [...]

2020-04-03T02:04:02-04:00August 21st, 2017|New Testament Manuscripts, Reader’s Questions|

Was John the Son of Zebedee Capable of Writing a Gospel?

I deal with an interesting question in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag: is it plausible that the apostle John could compose a Gospel in Greek?  If you have a question you would like me to address, ask away, and I will add it to my long list!   QUESTION: You mention in your book Forgeries and Counter Forgeries that John most likely did not write the Gospel attributed to him as he almost certainly could not write in Greek. I seem to remember you writing that the Greek of that Gospel was good and fairly nuanced. However, I am being told by someone who is fairly conversant in these matters that John could easily have learned the Greek necessary to write the Gospel, since he lived for over 60 years on the mission field and that his Greek is the most basic of the NT. Is he right? And if so how would you respond?   RESPONSE Yes, I get asked this question a lot, or rather, get told this a lot – that if an [...]

2021-01-20T00:51:04-05:00August 20th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Physical Persecution and the Physical Resurrection of the Dead

In this post I’m thinking out loud rather than making a definitive statement.   A question occurred to me a week or so ago that, since I am on the road and rather unsettled just now, I have not had a chance to look into.  Maybe someone on the blog knows the answer.  Prior to the persecution of Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BCE, do we have a record of *any* group of people in the entire Mediterranean world being violently opposed precisely for their religious practices? I can’t think of any, with the (partial) exception of the Roman suppression of the Bacchanals in 186 BCE (it was a partial exception because they were suppressed for their illegal and dangerous social activities that allegedly involved ritual sexual violence and murder). There was, of course, lots and lots and lots of violence in the ancient world.  Most (all?) of the “world empires” – Assyria, Babylonia, (Persia?), Greece, Rome – throve on violence.  Powerful dominance was the accepted, promoted, and assumed ideology; it was not (as for [...]

A Resurrection for Tortured Jews (2 Maccabees)

I have pointed out that the notion of “resurrection” first appears in Jewish writings in the book of Daniel, and I am arguing that this notion is intrinsically connected with the apocalyptic view of the world that developed at the time.  In this view of the world, as I’ve laid it out on the blog before (e.g.: https://ehrmanblog.org/the-rise-of-apocalypticism/) the people of God suffer *not* necessarily because God is punishing them for their sins but because there are forces of evil in the world aligned against God and his people who are wreaking havoc among the faithful.  But after this life, God will raise his faithful from the dead and reward them for their fidelity to his law. This view can be found in the apocalypses that began to be written around the time of Daniel and then for the next several centuries first among Jews and then among Christians, such books as 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch and the New Testament book of Revelation (see further: https://ehrmanblog.org/a-new-genre-in-jewish-antiquity-the-apocalypse/) But aspects of this view could be [...]

Interpolations and Textual Corruptions: The Blurry Lines

After the past two posts, I am now in a position to answer the question that led to this brief hiatus in my discussion of the afterlife, involving the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke.  To refresh your memory, here is the question:   QUESTION: If, in your suspicion, the original Gospel of Luke began at 3:1 and the infancy narrative found in 1:5-2:52 is a later addition, do you think that should be indicated in NT reconstructions and translations in a way similar to how Mark 16:9-20 is often bracketed?   RESPONSE: Different scholars will have different opinions on this question, in no small measure because the majority of scholars (I would imagine) are reluctant to say that Luke 1-2 were originally lacking from the Gospel.   But suppose the majority were convinced?   Would they say that brackets should be placed around the story, as happens, typically, with passages otherwise recognized as probably not belonging in the New Testament, such as the ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:9-20) or the story of the [...]

Is There Evidence that Luke Originally Did Not Have the Story of Jesus Birth?

This is the second of three posts on the question of whether Bible translations should place the first two chapters of Luke's Gospel in brackets, or assign them to a footnote.  For background: read the post from yesterday!  Again this is a Blast from the Past, a post I made back in December 2012. . ******************************************************************** In my previous post, ostensibly on the genealogy of Luke, I pointed out that there are good reasons for thinking that the Gospel originally was published – in a kind of “first edition” – without what are now the first two chapters, so that the very beginning was what is now 3:1 (this is many centuries, of course, before anyone started using chapters and verses.) If that’s the case, Luke was originally a Gospel like Mark’s that did not have a birth and infancy narratives. These were added later, in a second edition (either by the same author or by someone else). If that’s the case then the Gospel began with John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus, [...]

Did Luke’s Gospel Originally Have The Birth Story? Readers Mailbag and a Blast from the Past

QUESTION:  If, in your suspicion, the original Gospel of Luke began at 3:1 and the infancy narrative found in 1:5-2:52 is a later addition, do you think that should be indicated in NT reconstructions and translations in a way similar to how Mark 16:9-20 is often bracketed? RESPONSE:  This is a great question.  I could answer it just yes or no, but I'm afraid that wouldn't make much sense to many readers.  The question itself seems simple but is actually a bit complicated, and the answer needs to be even more so! The basic question is this.  If I think, as I sometimes (often? most of the time?) do, that Luke did not originally have chapters 1 and 2 -- the story of Jesus' birth (the Annunciation; Joseph and Mary's trip to Bethlehem, there "is no room in the inn," the worship of the shepherds, and so on and on) -- but started with what is now 3:1, the account of Jesus' genealogy, then do I think that the chapters should be put in brackets in [...]

2020-04-03T02:05:44-04:00August 13th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

A New Blog Podcast!

There is a new feature of the blog (or rather: connected with the blog) that I hope you like. It is the brainchild of a blog member, John Mueller, who not only conceived of the idea but is doing every single bit of work for it.  It involves a weekly podcast in which John reads two posts that have previously appeared on the blog, some of recent vintage and some archived, often from long ago.  It is called the Bart Ehrman Blog Podcast. John has volunteered to create, manage, finance, and voice the Podcasts each week. He made an offer that was difficult for me to refuse (namely: he would do it for free).  While some (many? all?) of you would probably prefer to hear my voice read my own stuff, unfortunately, there are only so many hours in a day and only so many things I can do.  So the ball is completely in John’s court. The duration of each Podcast will be roughly 15 to 20 minutes. I hope you will share this [...]

2017-08-11T05:35:30-04:00August 11th, 2017|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Was Resurrection a Zoroastrian Idea?

I have been arguing that at some point before the middle of the second century BCE, Jewish thinkers developed the idea that death was not the end of the story, that people did not simply end up in the netherworld of Sheol for all eternity, a place of no pleasure, pain, excitement, or even worship of Yahweh.  Instead, at the end of the age, God would raise people from the dead, and the faithful would be rewarded with eternal bliss. There is a lot to say about the idea of resurrection as it developed in Judaism and then, especially, in Christianity.  But first I have to address the question of origins.  Where did the idea come from? I was always taught what I imagine every critical biblical scholar for the past century was taught, that the idea of resurrection came into Judaism from the Persian religion known as Zoroastrianism.  In fact, several readers of the blog have asked me just this question (or made just this assertion), about Zoroastrianism as the source of the idea.  [...]

2020-04-03T02:05:53-04:00August 10th, 2017|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Daniel and a New Doctrine of Resurrection from the Dead

Biblical scholars have long held that the first relatively clear and certain reference to a doctrine of “the resurrection of the dead” occurs in Daniel 12.   This is striking, since Daniel was almost certainly the final book of the Hebrew Bible to be written.  Because of the barely disguised allusions to Antiochus Epiphanes in the second half of the book, it is almost always dated to roughly the Maccabean period, in the 160s BCE. As I have indicated, in the prophets there were earlier references to some kind of national “resurrection” – as in Ezekiel 37 (and probably, for example, Isaiah 26:19) – in which the nation that had been metaphorically wasted away, killed, destroyed, would revive and once again come to life.   But the prophets – from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, to the twelve so-called “minor” prophets – all shared the older Israelite view about what happens to a person who dies.  She or he goes to Sheol, along with everyone else, to exist forever in a shadowy netherworld where nothing much happens – [...]

A Resurrection of the Dead in the Prophet Ezekiel?

In this thread I have started to argue that a new view of the afterlife began to emerge within ancient Israel around the time of the Maccabean revolt.  For some Jewish thinkers it was no longer satisfying to imagine that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked in this life.  That clearly was not happening. The oppressive policies of the Syrian monarch Antiochus Epiphanes showed that the people of God suffer precisely when they followed the law of God, not when they broke it.  So, if God is sovereign over all, and completely just, his justice must not be manifest in this life.  For that reason there arose the idea that it would come after this life. Within the apocalyptic tradition that emerged at this time, there developed the idea of a future resurrection of the dead.   The people who died because of their righteousness – or, in a later version of the idea, anyone who happened to be righteous who died – would be raised from the dead and given an eternal reward. [...]

2020-04-03T02:06:13-04:00August 7th, 2017|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Charges and Anti-Supernatural Biases! Readers Mailbag August 6, 2017

I will be dealing with two interesting questions in this weeks’ Readers Mailbag, one involving a criticism of my work by the well-known New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, who apparently challenges me (publicly) for taking a position that, in fact, I have never taken, and the other about whether it is pure anti-supernatural bias to think that prophets like Daniel did not predict the future. - N. T. Wright is the author of several books, including Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense and The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion.   QUESTION: I saw a Youtube clip with Dr N T Wright giving a short talk on Gnosticism, where he mentioned Elaine Pagels’ and your names, stating:  “…scholars like Bart Ehrman, Elaine Pagels, several others, have said quite stridently: this [Gnosticism] was the real early Christianity; and Mathew, Mark, Luke and John tried to cover it up, muddle it up, and they told this very Jewish story about things going on on earth, and with, um, sacraments and all of [...]

How Women Came to Be Silenced in Early Christianity: A Blast From the Past

Time for a blast from the blog's past.  Here is a question I get asked about a lot by my students: Why did women come to silenced, their voices muted, in the early Christian tradition -- especially if, as the evidence suggests, women were even more attracted to this new faith than men in the early years? When I dealt with that issue exactly four years ago on the blog, this is what I said (it came at the end of a thread on women in the early Christian church): ********************************************************************** I come now to the climax of this thread: how is it that women came to be silenced in the early Christian tradition? Of all my posts in this thread on women in early Christianity, I think this is the most important. Again, I give my reflections on it from my Introduction to the NT: The first thing to observe is that women may have been disproportionately represented in the earliest Christian communities. This at least was a constant claim made by the opponents [...]

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