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Year in Review 2017!

2017 has now come and, as of tonight, gone.   For some of us it has been a very good year, for others a very bad one.  Probably for most of us it has been mixed.  For the blog, it has been very good indeed. So here are some of the important results! First, some background.  As many of you know (some of you were actually here back then), we started this blog endeavor in April 2012.   So we’ve been going at this for five years and nine months.   The original purpose of the blog was to raise money for charity.  Rather than using my somewhat limited culinary skills and even more limited time by volunteering for a local soup kitchen, I decided that I could use my scholarly skills more productively by starting a membership-only blog.  Everyone thought I was crazy.  This is the INTERNET!!!  You can’t make people *pay* for it! I ignored all the advice and scorned all the warnings and tried it anyway.  My original thought -- fool that I was – [...]

2017-12-31T04:02:43-05:00December 31st, 2017|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Are There Cut-and-Paste Jobs in the New Testament? The Case of 2 Corinthians

How much of the early Christian writings consist of scissors-and-paste jobs, where later editors cut up earlier writings and stitched them together into one continuous work, so that what we have now are not the originals but only the final edited version?  Are there books like that, for example, in the New Testament?  In a recent post I mentioned how the early Christian writing called the Didache is that kind of thing, with three documents artificially combined into the 16-chapter book we now have.  That prompted the following question from a blog member. QUESTION: It seems like there was a lot of “cutting and pasting” in early Christianity. It reminds me of how I cobbled together different parts of the World Book when I turned in my first high school papers.  Do we know whether or not this kind of editing was a common practice during the first three centuries? RESPONSE: Yes, it does appear that we have other examples of that kind of thing in the surviving early Christian writings – including at least [...]

2020-04-03T01:39:56-04:00December 30th, 2017|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

The Virgin Birth and the Gospel of John: A Blast from the Past

As I've indicated on the Blog before, I tend to go to a Christmas Eve Midnight service with my wife Sarah (usually my one time in church during the year), and this year was no exception.  We were in Suffolk, England, in the town of Woodbridge, and attended the Anglican church there for a very nice service.  The Gospel reading was from John (1:1-14), a standard reading.  But I wondered whether anyone in the congregation realized that this passage in John says nothing about Jesus' being born of a virgin -- one of the very big points of the Christmas message today!   And just now I wondered if I had ever talked about that very interesting factoid on the blog.  It turns out, the answer is yes, precisely three years ago today.  This is what I said then. ********************************************************************* I have pointed out that our earliest Gospel, Mark, not only is lacking a story of the virgin birth but also tells a story that seems to run precisely counter to the idea that Jesus’ mother [...]

2020-04-03T01:41:15-04:00December 28th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Did They Crucify the Wrong Guy? Jesus’ Identity Switch.

Yesterday I posted about the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, which clearly differentiated between the man Jesus and the spiritual being, the Christ, who inhabited him temporarily – leaving him at his suffering and death since the divine cannot suffer and die.  That understanding of Jesus Christ is not, strictly speaking, “docetic.”  The term docetic comes from the Greek word DOKEO which means “to seem” or “to appear.”  It refers to Christologies in which Jesus was not a real flesh-and-blood human but only “seemed” to be. In reality, what they saw, heard, and touched was a phantasm. That is not what is going on in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter.  Here there really is a man Jesus – flesh and blood like the rest of us.  But he is indwelt by a divine being who leaves him at his death, abandoneding him to die alone on the cross.  That is similar to a docetic view, but also strikingly different.  I call it a “separationist” Christology because it separates Jesus from the Christ (who himself separates from [...]

Did Jesus’ Death Matter? The Intriguing View of the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter

From remembering the birth of Jesus (Christmas!), we turn for a moment to remembering his death.  I recently received this question, in response to my statement that some Christians did not think the death of Jesus mattered for salvation, and others maintained that he never actually died.   QUESTION: Can you give some reference to where I can explore this idea of the Crucifixion being unimportant or not happening at all? RESPONSE: I will take two posts to answer this question, since they involve two different sets of “Gnostic” belief, which, in brief, was a distinctive and “declared-heretical” understanding of the Christian faith that stressed that the ultimate divine realm was not closely connected with this material world (the highest God was not the Creator), a world that was to be escaped, not one that would be redeemed.  One document that embraces the view that the death of Jesus had no bearing on salvation is the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, which provides an alternative understanding of what happened at Jesus’ death – as witnessed by [...]

Christmas Reflection 2017

More than any other time, event, or celebration, Christmas, for me, shows that you can take the boy out of Christianity but you can’t take Christianity out of the boy.  As much as I am a completely secular-humanist/agnostic/atheist (pick your term), I am still hopelessly attracted to Christmas and what it stands for. As I said in the previous post, it is not that I “believe” in the Christmas story (stories) as a historical event (events).  In my judgment the biblical accounts have virtually nothing historical about them, other than that Jesus was born to two lower-class Jewish peasants somewhere in the land of Israel during the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Beyond that – I don’t see anything historical in the accounts.   No need to explain why here – I’ve talked about it enough on the blog before. And yet I’m drawn to the season and all it stands for, surely in a way that someone who had not been raised Christian simply cannot be.   I think for me, in my thoroughly secular life, it [...]

2018-01-09T12:25:18-05:00December 24th, 2017|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Is the Christmas Story a Myth?

Is the whole Christian story a myth?   It probably depends on what you mean by myth. For a very long time now, scholars of religion have had hard and protracted debates on what the term “myth” means, or should mean.  I won’t be going into any of that here.  Instead I’ll begin by talking about two teaching experiences, one negative and one positive. Negative experience: my first teaching job was at Rutgers University, where I was asked to fill in for a professor of New Testament who had to take an emergency leave of absence in the middle of the spring term in 1984.  Her husband had been diagnosed with cancer, he was dying, and she could not continue teaching after giving the midterm exam.  Would I be willing to take over her class for the second half of the semester? Absolutely I was willing.  And I did so.  It was really hard.  I had to pick up wherever she left off.  Among other things, she was using a textbook that I did not like [...]

2018-01-09T12:26:34-05:00December 23rd, 2017|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Is the Didache One Document or Three?

I have been discussing the interesting and important early Christian document called the Didache.  Yesterday I gave a translation of its first part, the “two ways” or the “two paths” section.  After that the topic and tone of the book changes, as it starts to talk about how Christian baptism and eucharist should be celebrated.  It ends on a completely different note, with a one-chapter description of the coming apocalypse.  Scholars have asked whether the book as we now have it was actually created by someone who took several disparate texts and cut and pasted them together. Here is what I say about the matter in my edition of the Apostolic Fathers in the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press, 2003). ****************************************************** The Didache obviously addresses several discrete topics: the two paths, the “church order” (which may comprise two distinct units, one on liturgical practices and the other on the treatment of itinerant “apostles and prophets”), and the apocalyptic discourse.  Moreover, there is no necessary connection between them, except that provided perhaps by an editor, [...]

The Ethical Teachings of the Didache

We have been talking about the Didache on the blog, and it occurred to me that it might be useful to post part of its text, so readers can see what we’re talking about.  The book has several discrete parts: it begins with a discussion of the “two ways” – one that leads to life and one to death.  This is a set of ethical instructions for Christians.  As you’ll see, the author appears to have taken materials from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and various other passages chiefly from Matthew and Luke; but he cites other ethical injunctions (some of them unusual) from other, unknown sources. After the “two ways” comes a set of instructions about church life and ritual – for example, how to baptize and what prayers to say at the eucharist meal.  At the end comes a one-chapter “apocalyptic discourse” describing what will happen at the end of time. Here is the opening discussion of the two ways; it is my own translation, which, in a later version, appeared [...]

Blog Christmas Gift Idea #2: Gift Subscriptions

Just one week before Christmas!!   Are you searching for that perfect gift for someone you know and love?  Or at least know?   Something that would be highly meaningful on the one hand, but dead-easy to give on the other?  I have the perfect suggestion:  A GIFT MEMBERSHIP FOR THE BLOG!! On the landing page, at, there is a bright link that allows you to give someone else a one-year membership.  It looks like this: Just click it and give it!  Easy as that.  What  fantastic gift.  Something unlike anything they've ever received; access to posts week in and week out, throughout the year; the chance to make comments and interact with other; perfect for anyone with even a modicum of interest in the New Testament and early Christianity.  A great gift for family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and your favorite family doctors, dentists, plumbers, electricians, teachers, and .... and the guy down the street.  So why not?!?   Go for it and your Christmas anxieties will end.   And the world will be a better place!

2017-12-18T09:57:59-05:00December 18th, 2017|Public Forum|

Blog Christmas Gift Idea #1! Free Memberships Still Available!

Do you OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW want a free one-year subscription to the blog (because, for various reasons, you, or the one you know, cannot afford it)?   I STILL HAVE FREE MEMBERSHIPS TO GIVE OUT.   Please ask or encourage someone you know to ask. Here is the original announcement from a couple of weeks ago, with instructions about how to obtain one. ***********************************************************   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 [...]

2017-12-18T09:50:39-05:00December 18th, 2017|Public Forum|

Managing the Time! Readers’ Mailbag December 17, 2017

In this weeks’ Readers’ Mailbag I will be dealing with a personal question, one that I get a good bit (twice this week!).   Here is how it came to me from one blog-member   QUESTION: You should once write an article on time management. Unless you sleep only 2 hours a day, I can’t imagine how you manage to publish lengthy posts, answer all comment questions every day, read lectures at the university(including all the academic responsibilities there: quizzes, exams etc.), read books/papers (both scholarly and others) and of course write them!  And that’s only the academic part of your life. That’s both amazing and mysterious!   RESPONSE: I have to admit, I have a lot of bad personality traits (just ask my wife!), but I have a couple of good ones too, at least ones that help me in my life.  For example, I’m an unusually good sleeper!  (8 hours a night, at least, and all of it solid.)  And without great effort I enjoy the many simple pleasures in my life (quality time [...]

2018-01-09T12:29:27-05:00December 17th, 2017|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

A Final Statement on a Different Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Evan Powell

OK, this will be the last post in this current thread involving the Synoptic Problem.  Some of you will be glad to know that this one is written not at the scholarly but for normal human beings (as opposed to abnormal academics….).   It should be very accessible.   It is written by the blog-member who started this whole thing off with a challenge, Evan Powell.  Thanks to all the participants in the back and forth – Evan, Allan Garrow, and Mark Goodacre.  I don’t know about you, but I think it’s been a helpful interchange, and a (nicely) unusual thread for the blog.   ***********************************************   EVAN POWELL – A Solution to the Synoptic Problem The literary relationships between the Synoptic Gospels, and specifically the issue of whether Q existed as a lost sayings gospel, are vitally important questions to anyone who studies the historical Jesus and the evolution of first century Christianity. We all want to know which gospel traditions were early, perhaps originating with Jesus, and which were later ideas incorporated into the movement’s [...]

2020-04-03T01:42:28-04:00December 15th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Brief Reply to Garrow

I'm taking the day off from the blog (a vacation day!), but received this comment from Mark Goodacre and didn't want it to be lost in the comment section, as I think it is important.  (And for balance, I will indeed be posting, later,  blog-member Evan's assessment of the whole thing, since he started it!).  Here is Mark's response to what Alan Garrow's post.   Many thanks to Dr Garrow for his interesting response. I should point out, though, that this does not respond to my point, which is not a question about degrees of plausibility, but a question about the consistency and coherence of Garrow's model. The issue to which I am drawing attention is straightforward: Garrow claims that high verbatim agreement in double tradition is diagnostic that Matthew is working from Luke alone. I am pointing out that on his model, high verbatim agreement does not illustrate this. I've added some additional comments on my blog at Many thanks, by the way, to everyone for the fascinating responses to my post, and [...]

2018-01-09T12:32:24-05:00December 14th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Back Again: Did Matthew Use Luke? Alan Garrow’s Reply to Mark Goodacre

As you know, I agreed to allow Mark Goodacre to respond to Alan Garrow’s unusual view of how to explain the “Synoptic Problem,” as part of the $1000 challenge by blog-participant Evan.  Some of you enjoyed going down into the weeds yesterday with Mark; today I post Alan Garrow’s reply to Mark’s Response, and if you like the weeds, here are some more!  If nothing else, these posts show why it is hard to make scholarship simple and accessible to the non-expert, without simplifying it out of recognition --  which is the ultimate goal of this blog. If you prefer other kinds of (less weedy) fields, no worries!  I’m not planning on continuing this back and forth, with one exception.  Evan himself would like to post his views, and I’ve agreed to allow him to do so.  But first I’ll let these two posts settle in for you, and tomorrow get back onto other things. Here now is Alan’s reply to Mark’s response.  See which side you line up with!  (Just one point of clarification [...]

2021-01-29T02:34:46-05:00December 13th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Did Matthew Copy Luke? Mark Goodacre’s Rebuttal

Here now is Mark Goodacre’s response to Alan Garrow’s attempt to show that the author of Matthew had access to and used the Gospel of Luke in constructing his own account of Jesus’ life.   This kind of argument, to carry any weight, has to get down into the weeds a bit.  So brace yourself!   I consider it a compelling response. Many thanks to Evan for issuing this challenge and for making such a generous donation to the blog.   And many thanks as well to Mark Goodacre, who could resist dealing with an intriguing thesis that sits comfortably in his wheelhouse. I have told Evan and Alan Garrow himself that I would be happy to post a reply to Mark’s post. Alan Garrow’s most popular books are The Gospel of Matthew's Dependence on the Didache and Revelation.  Mark Goodacre is the author of several books, including The Case Against Q, and Thomas and the Gospels.   ********************************************************* Garrow's Flaw  In a recent comment on this blog, "Evan" suggested that Alan Garrow's arguments are so compelling that he [...]

2021-01-29T02:34:23-05:00December 12th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

A $1000 Challenge to Me: Did the Author of Matthew Use Luke?

As some of you know, a member of the blog, Evan, recently offered a $1000 donation to the blog if I would respond to the claims of New Testament scholar, Alan Garrow, that in studying the Synoptic Gospels, a completely compelling case can be made that the author of Matthew knew and used the Gospel of Luke.  This is a view that almost no one in the academy holds. After a bit of back and forth – which I give below – Evan agreed that if I could find another respected expert in the field to respond to Garrow’s claims, instead of doing it myself, he would still donate the money. One of the scholars on the blog happens to be my colleague in New Testament studies at Duke, Mark Goodacre, who has spent the majority of his distinguished scholarly career researching, writing, and teaching on the Synoptic Problem.  There is no one better to respond.  And as it turns out, he volunteered to write a response without my even asking! Many thanks to Evan [...]

2021-01-29T02:27:45-05:00December 11th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

The Pope and the Lord’s Prayer

I have received numerous queries about the Pope’s recent comments about the Lord’s Prayer.   There has been a good deal of news coverage on the topic.  Here is an article from my local paper: The issue is summed up in that article as this: In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer – “lead us not into temptation” – was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does. “A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.” In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.” And so I have been asked by several people what I think about that.   There are at least three issues involved: What should Christians today pray?  On this, [...]

2018-01-09T15:34:45-05:00December 10th, 2017|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions, Religion in the News|

Is the Blog Meaningful for You?

Last night I hosted a dinner here on my home-turf of Durham NC.   If you recall, I put out an invitation about a month ago and limited the table to six of us.  I was most impressed with my dining companions.  Most of them came from out of town for the occasion, as far away as Pittsburgh and Dallas.  Amazing.  We had a fantastic time and it was great getting to meet members of the blog and hearing their varied and intriguing life stories.    I am planning on doing this sort of thing more, not just here where I live, but in various places that I will be for speaking engagements in the months that lie ahead. Everyone at dinner had things they wanted to talk about – and so did I!  My main question was how we could improve the blog and do so in a way that would generate more income for the charities it supports.   Over the five and a half years I have been doing the blog, I have never made [...]

2017-12-08T10:31:47-05:00December 8th, 2017|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

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 [...]

2017-12-06T08:03:18-05:00December 6th, 2017|Public Forum|
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