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Lunch in Boston?

I’m thinking about arranging a lunch, with anyone on the blog who is interested and will be in Boston on Thursday November 16 for the Biblical Archaeology Society FEST -- or who will be there for any other reason!   Would you be interested? Here’s the deal.  The Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) is a great organization, which brings knowledge about the Bible and especially about relevant archaeological digs to a wider interested public.  Every year – for twenty years now -- they hold a special conference for anyone interested in such things, that they call the FEST.  For the FEST they bring in over 20 scholars to give talks over the course of three days.  A few of the scholars are mainly biblical types, like, me, and a lot of them are active archaeologists, some of the top ones in the world. Here is the information for this year’s FEST. I have done the FEST every year, and I always have an arrangement with them to do the first talk on the Friday morning (the [...]

2017-09-30T09:15:27-04:00September 30th, 2017|Public Forum|

An Introduction to the Gospel of John

I have started to discuss Jesus’ view(s) of the afterlife, and it has occurred to me, based on some readers’ comments, that it may not be clear why I am not appealing to what Jesus says about such things in the Gospel of John.  That raises a very large question (or two) that I don’t recall dealing with head-on on the blog before (though surely some sleuth will point out that I did!): how John differs from the other Gospels and whether it can be used to establish what the historical Jesus of Nazareth actually preached and taught. My views are that John is (a) *very* different from the other Gospels and that it is (b) *not* a reliable guide to the word of the historical Jesus.  That will be important for my discussion of Jesus’ view of the afterlife, and so I will devote several posts to the issue as a kind of sub-thread. In this post I begin by giving some essential information about John’s Gospel, a foundational introduction to what it actually [...]

2020-05-08T11:46:50-04:00September 29th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Jesus’ Teaching About the Kingdom of God

I have explained how the idea of resurrection arose within early Judaism, and now I want to talk about the idea of afterlife in the teachings of Jesus.  To begin with, I need to stress that when Jesus talked about the coming kingdom of God – the core of his apocalyptic message – he was *not* referring to what happens to a person’s soul after she or he dies. Here is how I explain Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom in my first-ever trade book for a popular audience, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium ***************************************************** The very first thing that Jesus is recorded to have said in our very earliest surviving source involves an apocalyptic pronouncement of the coming Kingdom of God.  In Mark’s Gospel, after being baptized by John and tempted by Satan in the wilderness, in neither of which is he recorded as having said anything, Jesus comes into Galilee with an urgent message: The time is filled up and the Kingdom of God is almost here; repent and believe in the [...]

2020-04-03T01:59:31-04:00September 27th, 2017|Afterlife, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Paul on Trial for the Resurrection

In previous posts I have discussed the different Jewish sects that we know about from the first century, at the dawn of Christianity (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Fourth Philosophy) in order to show that (a) there were different understandings of the afterlife among them, but (b) there was a belief in a future resurrection of the dead attested in at least two of the groups: the Pharisees and Essenes.   We don’t know what the eschatological views of the Fourth Philosophy were; possibly different Jews who wanted the violent overthrow of the Roman overlords had various expectations.  We really don’t know. One reason we don’t know is that we don’t have any writings from any of them.  On other hand, that’s true of the Sadducees and the Pharisees as well.  That may seem weird, but it’s the case.   We have no clear and certain writing from any Sadducee in all of antiquity that explains what it is they thought and believed.   Even more strange, from all of antiquity up until the time of the Jewish war, leading [...]

2020-04-17T13:13:03-04:00September 26th, 2017|Acts of the Apostles, Early Judaism, Public Forum|

Is Luke’s Christology Consistent? A Blast from the Past

I have had several comments about the point I made that in Acts 2 Luke indicates that it was at the resurrection that God "made" Jesus both "Lord" and "Christ."  Uh, does that fit in with Luke's views otherwise?  Wasn't he *born* the Lord and the Messiah, for example?  Then how could it be at his resurrection? I dealt with the question on the blog a couple of years ago, and after some digging, found the post.  When I discussed the issue before it was because at Jesus' *baptism" Luke appears to indicate that it was then that God made him his Son.  So how does all that tie together?  Or does it?  Here is that post again: ************************************************************************** Does Luke present a (strictly speaking) consistent view of Jesus throughout his two-volume work of Luke-Acts? I raise the question because of the textual problem surrounding the voice at Jesus’ baptism.  I have been arguing that it is likely that the voice did NOT say “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” [...]

Did Luke Have a Doctrine of the Atonement? Mailbag September 24, 2017

For this week’s readers’ mailbag I have chosen a question about my claim that the author of Luke-Acts, unlike other writers of the New Testament, does not have a doctrine of the atonement – that Jesus’ death brought about a restored relationship with God (for Luke, it was the *resurrection* that mattered, not the crucifixion).   The questioner sets up the question with an important observation.   I suspect my answer will not be what he expected.     QUESTION:   I have spent a lot of time looking in the gospels for teachings on the atonement. I could only find 5 passages (really more like 2, because they are parallel).   Mt 20:28/Mk 10:45 Jesus life as a ransom for many Luke leaves this part out of the story   Mt 26:28--this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Mk 14:24--This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Lk 22:20 This cup that is poured out for you is the new [...]

Does the Book of Acts Underplay the Significance of Jesus’ Death?

One of the things that I have found most interesting about doing the blog over these, lo, past five and a half years is that when I decide to write a post on something, I often realize that I need to provide some background that involves something else that, on the surface, may seem unrelated, but that is crucial for understanding the point I want to make.  Which leads me to a different topic and then to another, and so on.    I suppose that’s why I still haven’t run out of things to say (yet); I *thought* I’d have nothing to write about after six months.  But it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been talking about the sects within Judaism because I wanted to make a simple point about how widespread the views of “resurrection” were at the time of Jesus and Paul.   This morning it occurred to me that it would be helpful to illustrate the conflict between Sadducees and Pharisees over the issue, as exemplified in a famous passage in Acts 22 where the [...]

2020-04-17T13:12:11-04:00September 22nd, 2017|Acts of the Apostles, Early Christian Doctrine, Public Forum|

Two Other Ancient Jewish Sects

In my previous post I talked about two of the known Jewish sects from the days of Jesus in Palestine.  The idea that there are specifically four sects comes to us from the late-first-century Jewish historian Josephus, whose many volumes of writings (e.g., on the Jewish War and on Jewish Antiquities – the latter a history of the Jewish people from biblical times up to his own day) are our principal source of information about Judaism at the time.  In addition to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Josephus mentions the “Essenes” and a “Fourth Philosophy.”  Here is a summary of what these groups stood for, again taken from my introductory textbook on the New Testament.  (The reason I’m giving this information: it is the background to my discussion of the afterlife in Judaism at the time of Jesus.)   ************************************************************** Essenes The Essenes are the one Jewish sect not mentioned in the New Testament. Ironically, they are also the group about which we are best informed. This is because the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were evidently [...]

2020-04-03T02:00:11-04:00September 20th, 2017|Early Judaism, Public Forum|

Ancient Jewish Sects: Pharisees and Sadducees

I was about to launch into a discussion of the different views of the afterlife among various Jewish sects (those that held to the idea of the resurrection and those that apparently did not), but then realized that first I need to give some information about what the groups themselves were all about.  So I'll devote two posts to the question, lifting the discussion from my textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. ****************************************************** THE FORMATION OF JEWISH SECTS It was during the rule of the Hasmoneans, and evidently in large measure in reaction to it, that various Jewish sects emerged. As we have seen, the Jewish historian Josephus mentions four of these groups; the New Testament refers to three. In one way or another, all of them play a significant role in our understanding of the life of the historical Jesus. I should emphasize at the outset that most Jews in Palestine did not belong to any of these groups. We know this much from Josephus, who indicates that [...]

2020-04-03T02:00:19-04:00September 19th, 2017|Early Judaism, Public Forum|

Reviewing the Afterlife

I want to return now to the main thread that I left off a couple of months ago about developing views of the afterlife in ancient Judaism and then in early Christianity. I didn’t actually leave that thread – I simply moved deeper into a specific aspect of it.  If you’ll recall, the broader thread is simply about where the modern notions of heaven and hell came from; the specific aspect I’ve been covering involved the “otherworldly journeys” that you find in pagan, Jewish, and Christian traditions.  These journeys are of particular interest to me, since I am planning to write a scholarly discussion about them.  And while I was thinking through how I wanted to frame my study, I decided to devote a number of posts to the issue.  But enough of that!  I’m ready to return to the main thread. For that thread, here’s the deal.  In our own world ... To read the rest of this post you need to belong to the blog.  It won't cost much to join, but it [...]

2020-04-03T02:00:29-04:00September 18th, 2017|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

How Changing My Views Affected My Relationships

I’ve decided to answer a personal question in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag, about how my relationships with others changed as I went from being a very conservative evangelical Christian to becoming an agnostic/atheist. QUESTION Would you be willing to elaborate on how your changing views affected your relationships with friends and family and how people reacted to your changing perspective? Thanks so much! RESPONSE As it turns out, in my case, the biggest “problem” for my relationships with family and friends was not so much when I became an agnostic, over twenty years ago now, but when I left the evangelical beliefs I had held as a young adult to become a “liberal” Christian with critical views of the Bible, the historical Jesus, and the development of early Christian theology. For some years, from the time I had become a “born-again” Christian when I was fifteen up through the years I was at Moody Bible Institute and then Wheaton College, and even my first year in a Masters of Divinity program, I had been a [...]

2022-06-02T17:30:51-04:00September 17th, 2017|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

My Favorite Anecdote about Jesus and the Afterlife: Teeth Will Be Provided!

I was thinking (I'm always thinking) about Jesus and the afterlife, and suddenly my favorite rather humorous anecdote occurred, which involves a real moment in (relatively) modern scholarship.  I tried to find where I had written about it in one of my books: I was sure I *had* done so, but I couldn't find anyplace where I had.  If I haven't, I may include it in the next one.  But I did find that I made a post of it on the blog four years ago.  Here it is! **************************************************************** I think it’s time for a break from the hard-hitting discussions for something a bit different and humorous.  And so I have an anecdote to tell about a passage that I quoted in one of my earlier posts from Matthew, where Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.  I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the [...]

Controversy Sells!

A couple of days ago I asked members of the blog for some feedback about the current thread focusing on the development of the views of the afterlife in antiquity – the topic of my next book.  And I’m really glad I asked, because it helped clarify my thinking considerably about the direction I am going to be taking in the book.  For what it’s worth, it is *not* the direction I’ve been taking this thread.  At least it is not in the *style* that I’ve been developing this thread.  Let me explain. When I give public talks around the country, the advance publicity often describes me as “one of the most controversial Biblical scholars” in the field.  I’ve always been puzzled by that.  I really don’t see myself as very controversial.  The scholarship that I present in my public talks, and in my popular books, is simply widely accepted scholarship, the kind of thing that critical scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity have long known and quite frequently simply assume.   The difference [...]

2018-01-12T13:36:23-05:00September 14th, 2017|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

My Major Anxiety for my Book. Are People Interested in the Afterlife?

As an author (such as me, for example) thinks ahead to the next book, he has a number of worries, concerns, and anxieties that crop up.  This is all part of the process – deep and cutting anxiety is what ends up inspiring quality.  Otherwise, we would just dash off books without a care in the world, and they would be completely mediocre, not-well thought out, uninteresting, not grappling with the really complex issues in ways that are clear and easy to understand. Wait a second.  That’s how most books are! Seriously, one has to grapple with innumerable problems, issues, and concerns from virtually the beginning of a book project.  Some of these concerns are small, but at the outset they tend to be large, big-scale.  Then, the more one works on a book, the smaller (and more specific) the issues get.  These small ones are of huge importance, because it is getting the small things right that makes an OK book good, a good book really good, and a really good book fantastic. I’m [...]

Too Much Money and the Afterlife

In a previous post I talked about the very funny satirical dialogue of the second-century pagan Lucian of Samosata, “Voyage to the Underworld” in which an unbelievably wealthy tyrant became incredibly miserable after death, because he realized that all his power, influence, and massive wealth had been stripped from him, and would be, for all eternity, whereas a poor cobbler who had lived a miserably impoverished existence was rather pleased that he no longer would starve and freeze nearly to death ever again. The point of the dialogue is pretty obvious.  If you are deeply attached to the material things of this life, you are courting your own disaster.  That’s not what you should be living for. At about the same time as Lucian was writing an anonymous Christian author produced a book known as the Acts of Thomas.  This is the first legendary account we have of the apostle Thomas, famous for (allegedly) being the first missionary to take the gospel to India.  Unlike the work of Lucian, the account is not meant to [...]

What Did the Angels Tell the Shepherds? It Depends. Mailbag Sept. 10, 2017

I will be dealing with an interesting question in this week’ Readers’ Mailbag, having to do with the translation of the New Testament from Greek into English.  It involves a problem with a familiar verse (recited every Christmas!) that has a textual problem: different manuscripts have different readings – involving a single letter! – that affect the translation.   QUESTION: A lot of different hymns and liturgies and suchlike make reference to or paraphrase the Gloria, which in turn is based on Luke 2:14. I’d always heard (various permutations of) two different versions: “Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace to men of good will” and “Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace, goodwill to men”. That is, of course, quite a significant difference in meaning. The Latin is “Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”, which I understand is is unambiguously “…men of good will”. Unfortunately, I don’t read a word of Greek; the text of the Gloria I found online was Δόξα ἐν [...]

Fun with the Jewish Christian Gospels: A Blast from the Past

I was looking through the blog archives today, and ran across this interesting one from four years ago.  In additional to being rather informative about Gospels outside the New Testament, it shows how even in antiquity Christians had to figure out how to reconcile minor discrepancies among the canonical Gospels.  Enjoy! ********************************************************************* Yesterday in my graduate seminar we spent three hours analyzing the three so-called “Jewish-Christian Gospels.” These are very tricky texts to deal with. We don’t have any manuscripts of them – even small fragments. They come to us, instead, in the quotations of church fathers such as Origen, Didymus the Blind, Jerome, and Epiphanius. These (orthodox) church fathers sometimes quoted or referred to one or the other of the Gospels in order to relate what it said; and sometimes it was in order to attack what it said. There are all sorts of questions raised about these no-longer surviving Gospels in these quotations. A good part of the problem is that some of these fathers – especially Jerome, on whom we depend for [...]

A Satirical Lesson about the Afterlife

One of the things I’m planning to emphasize in my scholarly book on voyages to the afterlife, is that the overarching point of most of these narratives is not only (or even primarily) to reveal what will actually happen to people after they die, but to encourage them to live in certain ways now, while they can.  This is true not only for the Christian accounts but for pagan ones as well. One of the most hilarious authors from Greco-Roman antiquity is Lucian of Samosata, a second-century CE author who wrote numerous satires that we still have, poking fun at philosophers, religious leaders, tyrants, and most anyone who he thought led a ridiculous life or had ridiculous views.  A number of his works portray fictitious journeys to the realms of the dead. One of them is often simply titled “Voyage to the Underworld.”  It is about the stark contrast between a fabulously wealthy tyrant named Megapenthes and a dirt-poor cobbler named Mycillus.  The contrast is not so much between their ultimate fates – they both, [...]

2020-04-03T02:02:21-04:00September 7th, 2017|Afterlife, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|

Looking at Hell

I have been talking about different views of what the afterlife entails.  In the broadest terms, some ancient people believed that everyone at death had the same fate: they lived on, not in their body but in their soul, in some kind of netherworld where nothing much ever happened.  It was a dreadfully banal and boring existence, that went on forever, the same for everyone. Some ancient authors who had that view described visits to the underworld by the living, where they encounter the souls of the dead, who tell them how awful it is – not just for sinners but for everyone.   The point of these otherworldly journeys is crystal clear: you should avoid death for as long as you can, since once it happens, you have a hopelessly insipid future ahead of you, which will stretch for all eternity.   Stay alive as long as you can! This is one of the main points of the otherworldly of Odysseus, in Homer’s Odyssey.  And it stands very much at odds with the view set forth [...]

2020-04-03T02:02:31-04:00September 5th, 2017|Afterlife, Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

Problems with Some Bible Translations, including the King James: A Blast from the Past

    In my Introduction to the New Testament undergraduate class this semester, I have told the students that they can use most any Bible translation they want, but I prefer the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and I do *not* want them using either a paraphrase or the King James.  Some of them want to know why, and so I explain to them.  Here is a post on the topic from almost exactly five years ago.  (Note: I'm talking about undergraduates; my graduate students read the NT in Greek) (and also note: despite what I say about the NIV I certainly allow students to use it in class, since it is the most popular translation on college campuses today) ****************************** I have indicated that my preferred translation is the NRSV. Everyone, of course, has their favorite. My judgment is that among main-line, serious biblical scholars, the NRSV is far and away the preferred translation. But it is not so among general readers. I believe the King James Bible (the KJV) (or its slight revision: [...]

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