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The Loeb Apostolic Fathers: The Challenges (Again)

This will be the last of my three blasts from past discussions of my translation of the Apostolic Fathers; in it I explain the difficulties involved in producing a "facing page translation" edition of ancient texts ("facing page" means you have the original language text -- in this case Greek -- on one page and then across from it, on the other page, your English translation) ************************************************************************* To continue my thread about translating the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs…. So, the editor at Harvard Press, Peg Fulton, asked me if I would be interested in taking on the task of doing a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs. She wasn’t offering me the opportunity then and there. She was suggesting that I write up a prospectus that she could take to the board of the Loebs, in which I described the need for a new edition and explained how I would go about making one. After I thought about it for a while, and got advice from my friends, I decided to [...]

The Apostolic Fathers: Serendipity Strikes

In my previous post I blasted from the past about my translation of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classsical Library.  That was actually the first of a few posts on the topic, and since I referred to the next ones, I thought I should give them -- at least the one that followed.  Here it is.  As I point out, in a way it's about how, in a concrete way, life is a series of chances..... ************************************************************** It seems that much that has happened in my professional life has been because of serendipity.  Back when I was a believer, we called it Providence.  (!)   It’s how I got my first job at Rutgers in 1984; how I got my current position at UNC in 1988; how I got asked to write something other than a technical study involving the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament – a textbook for undergraduates (in the early 1990s), and thus, in a sense, started my publishing career; how I had my first bestselling book (Misquoting Jesus) become [...]

Taking the Temperature of the Blog October 2017

It is useful on occasion to step back and take the temperature of the blog, to see how things are going and to consider how they might improve.  Do you have suggestions for how to make the blog better and more attractive?   What I’m especially interested in are ways to attract more people to join.   If you have bright ideas, let me know. I’d say the blog is going extremely well on the whole.  What do you think?   There seems to be a lot of interaction – I’m getting tons of comments on posts – and membership is staying at a steady state. In terms of numbers, since starting in April 2012, I have made 1616 posts.  Now *that* seems like a lot!  Because of these large reserves, I am able, about once a week, to post a “blast from the past.”  That seems useful to me.  Most members now were not reading posts back in 2012 or 2013, and even those who were probably don’t remember these particular posts.  Or at least I would [...]

2017-10-29T11:19:17-04:00October 29th, 2017|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Translating the Apostolic Fathers: A Blast from the Past

In my last post I answered a question about whether I would ever publish a translation of the New Testament. (Short answer: almost certainly not!). But I want to take a couple of posts to talk about the work of translation. There is a very big difference between being able to read an ancient text in its ancient language (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, whatever) and producing a translation of it for publication. You might think that it’s all basically the same thing: if you can read it, you can publish a translation of it. But as it turns out, it’s not that simple. I didn’t realize this for years and years, until I started publishing translations of ancient texts. My first experience was about fifteen years ago now, when I was asked to do a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library. Here I’ll give some background on that project and the series it appeared in, and in the next post I’ll talk about the difficulties of producing a translation. FOR [...]

The Sheep and the Goats

Jesus’ teaching about the “separation of the sheep and the goats” is found in only one place in the New Testament, Matthew 25:31-46.  It is easily one of my favorite passages of the entire Bible, and as I have pointed out, in my view, it is a teaching of Jesus himself (not something put on his lips by Matthew or by Matthew’s source, M, or by an early Christian story-teller).  I think in fact, it well encapsulates Jesus’ entire proclamation.  There is a judgment day coming and those who have lived in an upright way, loving others, showing compassion on those in need, helping those in dire straits, will be given an eternal reward; those who fail to live in this way will be severely punished. The passage is sometimes called a “parable,” but I don’t see any strong indication that it is meant to be taken metaphorically.  As far as I can tell, it was meant as a literal description of what would happen at the end of this age when the judge of [...]

2020-04-03T01:54:02-04:00October 25th, 2017|Afterlife, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Son of Man, Pericopes, and the Complexities of Biblical Scholarship

I realized anew this morning why it is so difficult for scholars of the NT (or the Hebrew Bible) to explain the results of their results of their research to non-scholars.  Well, one of the reasons.  As is true, I suppose, for most fields of serious intellectual inquiry, the *results* of scholarship are built on other results that are built on other results that are built on… and so it goes.   If the scholar explains his findings without explaining the background – the assumptions based on previous findings that are built on the assumptions based on yet previous findings and so on – then it all sounds very arbitrary and rather easily dismissed. That’s why it is so easy for a scholar to give an interpretation of a passage based on a detailed analysis that is itself based on careful research only to have a non-scholar “refute” it simply by quoting a verse from somewhere else.   The non-expert simply assumes the scholar doesn’t know about this other verse, or hasn’t thought about it, or taken [...]

2020-04-03T01:54:12-04:00October 24th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Academic Study of the New Testament

Students who are thinking about signing up for my undergraduate Introduction to the New Testament sometimes ask me whether they will have an insurmountable disadvantage if they haven’t ever read, let alone studied, the New Testament.   It’s a completely understandable question. Other students almost certainly take the course precisely because they think it will be easy-shmeasy for them: they grew up in church, and went to Sunday School their entire life, and so how hard can a course on the New Testament be?  They already know all about it! Obviously in some ways if a student already knows things about the New Testament they have an advantage.  But actually, as it turns out, there is a HUGE advantage to not knowing anything at all about the New Testament, and often my best students are precisely the ones who come in without any background in the field at all.  (As I’ll explain below.)  And so when students ask me if they’ll be at a disadvantage, I tell them not at all. But why is that? It’s [...]

Was My Weird Background a Help or a Hindrance: Mailbag October 22, 2017

In this week’s readers’ mailbag I deal with a personal question about my background and whether it gave me and advantages or disadvantages in my rather unusual line of work as a secular scholar of the Bible.   QUESTION:  Just as a matter of empirical fact, do you think that your religious background gave you any (intellectual) advantages, or disadvantages, in your work over someone who lacked that background?   RESPONSE: Every now and then I look back on my life and think:  Wow, now that was weird.  Even though I’m a pretty normal American guy in lots of ways – at least normal as an American guy who is a professional scholar (OK, that’s already weird, but it’s weird in a socially normal way) (my normalcies: I have passions for football, basketball, working out, reading novels and nonfiction, traveling, the outdoors, hiking, family, kids, grandkids; I love martinis and cigars [both of which I enjoy much more rarely than I would like, since I’d like to enjoy them for many more years….]; I’m politically [...]

Decent Burials for Crucified Victims: A Blast From the Past

My post a couple of weeks ago about the burial of Jesus (understandably) struck a nerve for some readers; I was just now digging around in the archives, and see that I addressed most of the important issues, head on, in this rather controversial post I made back in 2012.  All these years later, I'm still open to being convinced otherwise!!! ****************************** In my previous post I quoted a number of ancient sources that indicated that part of the torture and humiliation of being crucified in antiquity was being left, helpless, exposed not just to the elements but to scavenging birds and other animals. These sources suggest that the normal practice was to leave the victims on the cross to be pecked and gnawed at both before and after death; in some instances there are indications that this would go on for days. And so the question naturally arises if the same thing could be expected in the case of people being crucified in Judea around the year 30 CE. As I pointed out John [...]

Jesus, the Sheep, and the Goats

I have been talking about the criterion of dissimilarity for one ultimate reason: wanted to show why, in my opinion, a particular passage in Matthew’s Gospel goes back to the historical Jesus, the man himself.  I.e., it does not involve words put on his lips by later followers, but is something he himself actually said.  If you’re a little fuzzy on how the criterion of dissimilarity works, please read the preceding two posts. The following has been taken from my undergraduate textboo on the NT.  In it I give two examples of how this particular criterion can be applied to the teachings of Jesus.  It is the *second* example that I will be most interested in, but the first can help get you into the swing of things about how the criterion works. ********************************************************** In some respects, there isn’t a whole lot that we can say about the various apocalyptic teachings ascribed to Jesus in our Gospels from the standpoint of the trickiest of our criteria to use, the criterion of dissimilarity. Most of his [...]

2020-04-03T01:55:22-04:00October 18th, 2017|Afterlife, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

How Do We Know What Jesus Said or Did? The Criterion of Dissimilarity in Practice

The reason I’m explaining the criterion of dissimilarity is because I want to *use* it to talk about a passage in Matthew of relevance to the broader themes of this thread.  But before I use it I need to make sure everyone understands it.  In this post I show how it can be applied usefully; I being by restating the caveat about the criterion that I ended with yesterday (if you haven’t read that post, I’d suggest doing so before reading this one). ********************************************** I want to be perfectly clear about the limitations of this criterion.  Just because a saying or deed of Jesus happens to conform to what Christians were saying about him does not mean that it cannot be accurate.  Obviously, the earliest disciples followed Jesus precisely because they appreciated the things that he said and did.  They certainly would have told stories about him that included such things.  Thus, on the one hand, the criterion may do no more than cast a shadow of doubt on certain traditions.  For example, when in [...]

2021-01-10T00:34:11-05:00October 17th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Are Jews and Christians Monotheists? Mailbag October 15, 2017

I will be dealing with an unusually important question in this week’s mailbag:  is it right to consider Judaism and Christianity monotheistic?   QUESTION: Aren't Judaism and Christianity really henotheistic rather than monotheistic? For example, even in the 10 Commandments it merely says YHWH is the only god to be worshiped, not that He is the only god. And in Christianity there is the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, Satan, angels and demons, and in some sects, Mary the queen of heaven. And I would think all the pagans coming into the church would bring along their polytheistic thinking - perhaps that is part of the reason Jesus was elevated to the status of God.   RESPONSE: This is a very good question, and as you might imagine, a lot of it comes down to how one defines one’s terms.   One set of definitions involves the actual terms themselves.  Normally “Monotheism” is understood to be the belief that there is only one God, no other; “Henotheism” is the belief that there are other gods, [...]

Were the Disciples Martyred for Believing the Resurrection? A Blast From the Past

Here is an interesting question that I addressed on the blog exactly five years ago today, one that continues to be relevant and significant; ************************************************************ QUESTION: Another very very popular evidence put forward for the resurrection is “the disciples would not have died for what they knew was a lie, therefore it must have happened.” I hear this all the time. You note that they really believed they saw Jesus after he died so they were not lying. However, is there evidence (historical or literary) that they were killed because of their belief in Jesus’ resurrection?   RESPONSE: Ah yes, if I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this comment over the years, I could retire to a country-home in Maine…. Several other people have responded to this question on the blog by saying that we have lots of records of lots of people who have died for a something that they knew, literally, not to be true. I am not in a position to argue that particular point. But I can say [...]

2020-04-03T01:56:11-04:00October 13th, 2017|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

How Old Was Jesus at His Baptism, Start of His Ministry & Death?

How old was Jesus at his baptism, when he started his ministry, or when he died? You've probably seen the popular inspirational quote that goes something like this, "Jesus didn't start his ministry until he was 30 years old, and yet he changed the world." I guess this is supposed to encourage people in their teens and twenties that haven't accomplished much in their life.  (As if comparing their potential future to the accomplishments of the supposed "son of God" is supposed to make them feel better!  Ha!) It also illustrates a common assumption (or perhaps misconception), that Jesus was 30 years old when he began his ministry. Is that a fact?  If so, where does the Bible say so? How Old Was Jesus When He Died? This is not a slam dunk answer. In fact, I ask all my students at Chapel Hill this question (many of whom answer incorrectly) on their first-day quiz. Almost everyone who thinks about the matter thinks that Jesus was 33 years old when he died.  But the New [...]

2022-07-06T00:13:52-04:00October 11th, 2017|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Explaining Jesus’ Apocalyptic Assumptions

One other aspect of Jesus’ teaching is important to emphasize before continuing on to consider his understanding of the afterlife.  That is the thoroughly apocalyptic character of his views. I have discussed Jewish apocalypticism a number of times on the blog—including some months ago on the current thread.  I don’t want to repeat all that here in the same form, but I do want to summarize what the view is and discuss its underlying assumptions. In a small nutshell, apocalypticists believed that this world was being controlled by evil forces responsible for this terrible mess of things (corrupt governments; natural disasters; persecution of the righteous), but that God, who was ultimately sovereign, was soon to intervene in the course of human affairs, overthrow the forces of evil, and establish a utopian kingdom here on earth. To Read the rest of this post you need to belong to the blog.  Belonging is easy and relatively cheap -- less than 50 cents a week!  And every cent goes to help those in need.  You get tons for [...]

2020-04-03T01:57:06-04:00October 10th, 2017|Afterlife, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Preaching of Jesus in a Nutshell

I am trying to set up what I want to say about Jesus' view of the afterlife, and am finding that it requires a good bit of background information.  I have already done two things: shown what he taught about the coming kingdom and explained that his teaching (about the kingdom and everything else) is very different in John from the Synoptics.  Scholars are almost unanimous that given these differences, the older sources (the Synoptics and the accounts they built on, e.g., Q, M, and L) are more likely to be accurate about Jesus' words than the later and heavily theologized John.  Now I need to explain more broadly, if in very brief form, the major elements in Jesus' preaching/teaching.   For that I have borrowed from a post a few years ago, as follows: ************************************************************** We could obviously have a year-long thread on the topic of what it was Jesus taught during his itinerant preaching ministry.  Many people have written very long books on the subject – and the books just keep comin’ out.   If [...]

2020-04-03T01:58:54-04:00October 9th, 2017|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Skeletal Remains of Yehohanan: Readers Mailbag October 8, 2017

Yehohanan: a reader's question. QUESTION: One thing came to mind during the discussion of whether crucified persons were buried.  There is a case where an ossuary was found with a nail through the ankle bone.  [I think it was an ankle, might have been a wrist.]  Obviously, this was an exceptional case; as I recall, there are some 900 bone boxes in Israeli museums and this is the only such case, where according to Josephus hundreds (thousands?) were crucified in 1st Century Palestine.  But at any rate, what do you make of this exceptional case? RESPONSE: I dealt with this issue on the blog several years ago, while I was responding to the claims of my scholarly colleague Craig Evans, who maintained that Jesus must have been buried right away, not left to hang on the cross for days, as I had argued in my book How Jesus Became God.  Craig was asserting the traditional Christian view (as found in the Gospels), and he mounted a number of arguments based on various pieces of evidence.  [...]

2022-06-20T11:56:14-04:00October 8th, 2017|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Reasonable Doubts – How Jesus Became God

I have not posted any audio (or video!) appearances for a while.  Here's one from a few years ago.   On July 25, 2014, I was interviewed by Jeremy Beahan and Justin Schieber  for their podcast called "Reasonable Doubts" on my book "How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee."   The issue of the book is how Jesus, an apocalyptic prophet from Galilee, came to be regarded as a God by his followers. Reasonable Doubts was a production of WPRR Reality Radio (Grand Rapids, MI) and was the winner of the 2009 Peoples Choice Award for Best Religious/Inspirational Podcast. Please adjust gear icon for 1080pp High-Definition:   If you don't belong to the blog yet, why not join?  It won't cost much, you get mega-tons for your money, and every dime goes to charity.  

2018-01-12T12:07:15-05:00October 6th, 2017|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

Is This the Same Teacher? Jesus in John and the Synoptics.

I have been talking about the differences between John and the Synoptics, and have discussed the overall contents of John and its unusual take on Jesus’ deeds.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in Jesus’ teachings, whichy are very different here from what you find in the other three Gospels. Here is how I explain it in my New Testament textbook. ****************************************************** John’s unique understanding of Jesus’ miracles is matched by his distinctive portrayal of Jesus’ teachings. In the Synoptic Gospels, you will have noticed that Jesus scarcely ever speaks about himself. There his message is about the coming kingdom of God and about what people must do to prepare for it. His regular mode of instruction is the parable. In John, however, Jesus does not speak in parables (which he never uses), nor does he proclaim the imminent appearance of the kingdom (which he never mentions). He instead focuses his words on identifying himself as the one sent from God. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus... The rest of this post is for members only.  [...]

2020-04-03T01:59:02-04:00October 4th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Jesus’ Miracles in John and the Synoptics

I’m trying to explain how John is so very different from the other three Gospels in its presentation of Jesus’ words and deeds.  As I have shown, John tells different stories from the others. More striking when it tells the same kinds of stories, there are stark and compelling differences.  Here is how I explain it in my New Testament textbook. ****************************************** The differences between John and the Synoptics are perhaps even more striking in stories that they have in common. You can see the differences yourself simply by taking any story of the Synoptics that is also told in John and comparing the two accounts carefully.  A thorough and detailed study of this phenomenon throughout the entire Gospel would reveal several fundamental differences. Here we will look at two differences that affect a large number of the stories of Jesus’ deeds and words. First, the deeds. Jesus does not do as many miracles in John as he does in the Synoptics, but the ones he does are, for the most part, far more spectacular. [...]

2020-04-03T01:59:10-04:00October 3rd, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|
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