As I said in my last post, the definitive doctrine of Purgatory did not exist before the 12th century, even though the basic *idea* had been around for a long time – the idea that even though Christ’s death brought salvation to the world, most people, except for the most holy saints, such as those who had been martyred for their faith, had still to pay for their sins. By the 13th century Purgatory had become an actual place of torment. Before then it was not so much a place as a condition of suffering to purge away sins. The question is how early this idea existed. How long had Christians maintained that suffering was necessary for the sinner – even the believing Christian sinner – before they would be allowed into their eternal bliss in heaven? The idea is not part of the New Testament, although as we will see in a later post, there are some passages that could be used in support of the view. The first place we find any reference [...]
I am interested in the question of where the idea of purgatory came from. Roughly speaking purgatory is a kind of third place, between heaven and hell. The abject sinners (or those who reject Christ, or whoever you think is destined for punishment) go to hell; the righteous saints go to heaven. But what about those who will ultimately be saved but who have not lived a good (enough) life? They go to purgatory. This has been the standard teaching of the Catholic church since the 12th or 13th century. The classic study of the phenomenon is Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory (1984; an English translation of the 1981 French original). Le Goff was a medieval historian who was interested in the question from a purely historical, rather than theological, perspective (he was not a believer himself). He shows that the term purgatorium was minted only in the 12th century. It referred not to a state of being in the afterlife but to an actual place that people went – most people – [...]
Yesterday I began to talk about the Martyrdom of Perpetua, one of the most interesting and moving texts to come down to us from early Christianity. It is an account of a 23-year old Roman matron who is willing to die a gruesome death for her Christian faith. Among other things, the text shows that her faith is far more important to her than her family. In particular, she is shown in conflict especially with her father (no husband is mentioned, which has led to considerable speculation: Divorced? Widowed? Unwed mother? Something else?). And even though it is with regret, she is willing to leave behind her own infant child by being martyred. Family figures prominently in the two excerpts here. In the first her father begs her to avoid martyrdom, to no avail. In the second (chs. 7-8) we have an account of her dream and intervention on behalf of her dead brother Dinocrates. This is the part that I will be most interested in for the next post. Is it an early adumbration [...]
A long time ago now I was pursuing a thread on the development of the Christian views of the afterlife but I got side tracked. And then I got side tracked from my side track. And then … well, it’s been a long time. The thread died. I need to bring it back to life. So I’m hoping now to begin on the afterlife of the thread on the afterlife. Over all these months I have continued to read, think, and sketch my thoughts on where the Christian ideas of the afterlife came from – especially the view so common today that when a person dies, their soul goes to heaven for an eternal reward or hell for eternal punishment. That is not the view of the Old Testament and it is not what the historical Jesus preached. So where did it come from? That is the ultimate issue I will be pursuing in my book. But there are other topics of interest as well, such as where did the idea of “purgatory” come from. [...]
I will be giving a lecture at Rice University in Houston on Thursday April 19. I had originally thought that it was only for scholars connected with an antiquity seminar there, but I see now that it is open to the public. Here is the description I gave them (aimed obviously at the academics), if anyone is in the area and wants to come: 4/19/18 Bart Ehrman James A. Gray Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Literary Deceit in Its Various (Dis)Guises 4:00 pm, Humanities 119 Open to the Public, Registration Required Many scholars of early Christianity express qualms about calling a forgery a forgery – an understandable reluctance when dealing with a book in canonical scripture. An alternative such as “pseudepigraphon” may seem better – more neutral and wissenschaftlich – but it has the drawback of mystification. Who would know it refers to a book written by someone intentionally but falsely claiming to be a famous person? Or that, even in the ancient world, this was considered [...]
In this week’s Readers’ Mailbag I deal with a question about how books – including the early Christian Gospels – were “published” in the ancient world. How were they “made public” and distributed in a world that didn’t have printing presses and publishers and book stores? Here’s the question and my response. QUESTION Bart, this is a related but separate question–how would Mark’s gospel first have been distributed? I understand that most who read it would be reading copies made by believers (with some adherent errors or in some cases deliberate changes), but at some point there was an original copy. What do we know about how such books got into circulation, so the process of copying and distributing them began? And how would it have differed from, let’s say, the histories of Josephus or Tacitus? RESPONSE This is an interesting and important question, an area of substantial scholarly research that is for the most part not known among the reading public, who for the most part have never thought about the question. [...]
Here is Part 2 of my debate with Mike Licona on whether the Gospels are historically reliable. You won't necessarily have to have seen Part 1 to make sense of this one; a lot of it involves penetrating questions from the audience (trying to trip us up!) which one or the other of us addressed. Enjoy! Part 2: Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition: - Mike Licona is the author of The Resurrection of Jesus, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels and Evidence for God. REMEMBER: if you were a member of the blog, you would get interesting posts all related to the New Testament and the history of early Christianity, at least five times a week. So why not join??
As most readers of the blog know, I do not believe in miracles. At least in literal miracles as normally understood. I suppose most people think of an actual or literal miracle as an event that cannot be explained through natural causes but requires some kind of supernatural intervention, an act of a divine being who is outside of this nexus of cause and effect, an act of God. I should stress that this does not necessarily mean that we *do* know the natural causes of everything that we do not consider miraculous – only that in principle they are discoverable. I stress that point because most of us have no clue how *most* of what happens happens. I couldn’t explain how my toaster works if my life depended upon it, let alone anything (just about *anything*) having to do with biology, chemistry, or physics, let alone the wonders of the human brain, or the expansion of the universe, or, well, as I said, most things. But that doesn’t mean that I need to appeal [...]
My first trade book – that is, book written for a general audience, instead of for fellow scholars (academic monographs) or college students (textbooks) -- was 19 years ago now, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. I think it’s safe to say that when I wrote the book, I knew virtually *nothing* about writing a trade book. My editor at Oxford University Press urged me to write it and I reluctantly agreed. I was reluctant because I did not want to write for a general audience. At that time I wanted to spend my life writing scholarship for scholars. But I thought, well, why not – I’ll give it a shot. But it was to be a one-off, not a career. I didn’t really know the difference between trade books and scholarly monographs, except when it came to audience. I realized that I would not be writing for experts like the guy in the office next to me, but for lay folk like the guy across the street. I suppose that was pretty much [...]
I have just recorded an interview with Terry Gross for Fresh Air -- scheduled to air tomorrow, Tuesday March 20. It's (mainly) on my book The Triumph of Christianity. We recorded for an hour and a half, so hopefully they'll figure out how to edit out the most boring bits!
Breezing through some old posts today from nearly six years ago, and came across this interesting little anecdote. I'd forgotten I had written about it. A funny personal story about something that actually became important for me. ******************************************************************************* My first serious girlfriend was Lynn, whom I met when we were starting our sophomore year in high school. She was funny, personable, attractive, intelligent, and Jewish. I’m not sure I had ever known a Jewish person before her. I don’t recall that we ever talked about religion, and looking back I suppose it’s a bit surprising. She and her family certainly weren’t observant Jews and my uninformed sense is that they were completely secular. I don’t know if they went to synagogue or kept any of the holidays, but I kind-a doubt it. In any event, at that point in my life religion wasn’t really my main concern when it came to a girlfriend. We were a hot item for months, and then at the end of my sophomore year, disaster struck. Her mom got [...]
A month ago, on February 21 I had a public debate with Mike Licona at the Bailey Performance Center at Kennesaw State University on the topic: Are the Gospels Historically Reliable? Ratio Christi and KSU History Club hosted the event. Moderator was Dr. Brian Swain, a historian of Mediterranean antiquity on the faculty there. You can probably guess the two sides we took in the debate. The crowd was largely on his side, which made for a very interesting evening. As I think you'll see, even though Mike and I disagree on most things, we have a good, friendly relationship. It was a long evening -- lots of back and forth, with a Q & A with the audience to follow. At times it got, well, animated. Here is part 1. I'll post the second part next week. Part 1: Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition. - Mike Licona is the author of The Resurrection of Jesus, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels and Evidence for God.
One of the most striking theological features of the Gospel of Luke and its accompanying volume the book of Acts is that they do not portray Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sins. That seems very strange indeed to people who get their theology from other parts of the New Testament (e.g., Paul, and the other Gospels). But when read on their own, Luke-Acts have a different understanding of the significance of Jesus death. And that may be why scribes altered the words Jesus spoke at his last supper in Luke 22 – the textual variant I began discussing yesterday. I have a very long discussion of the issue in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture and a much shortened and simplified version in Misquoting Jesus. Here is what I say in the latter. ******************************************************************************* For proto-orthodox Christians, it was important to emphasize that Christ was a real man of flesh and blood because it was precisely the sacrifice of his flesh and the shedding of his blood that brought salvation – not in [...]
A couple of days ago a reader asked me a question in connection with something I had said about the early second-century Christian text, the Didache, and its instructions about how the Lord’s supper was supposed to be celebrated. Here is what I said: “When they celebrate the Eucharist they are first to bless the cup with a prayer that the author provides and then to bless the broken bread, with another set prayer (9:1–4). This way of celebrating the Lord’s Supper by starting with the cup and ending with the bread has long puzzled scholars, since the typical practice of the early Christians appears to be reflected in the New Testament accounts of the Last Supper, where Jesus distributes first the bread and then the cup” This led a reader to ask: QUESTION: Does this relate to Luke 22:17-20 where the author has Jesus take the cup, then take the bread, then take the cup again? RESPONSE: Ah, it is a good question. Many readers will not know that there is a [...]
After all the background I gave yesterday, I can now give a succinct answer to the question that was raised by a reader. Here it is again. QUESTION: I was surprised to see that, in the Didache, the form of the Golden Rule is in the negative. I’ve read that the positive formulation in the Sermon on the Mount may be original to Jesus. If the Didache used Matthew as a source, how does one account for that reversion? RESPONSE: I think this question has a simple answer. It is that the Golden Rule, which is known to everyone today mainly by the way Jesus said it, was a common teaching but was almost expressed negatively rather than positively (as I’ll explain below). When the author of the Didache states the rule he does so in the form that he was most familiar with rather than in the form known to Matthew. It is important to recognize that when one speaks of Matthew as a “source” for the Didache it is not the same thing [...]
QUESTION: I was surprised to see that in the Didache the form of the Golden Rule is in the negative. I’ve read that the positive formulation in the Sermon on the Mount may be original to Jesus. If the Didache used Matthew as a source, how does one account for that reversion? RESPONSE I started writing up a simple answer to this question but then I realized that the answer doesn’t make much sense without some more extended background. Just a few months ago on the blog – this past December -- I talked about the intriguing early Christian writing known as the Didache. But everything I said then may not be fresh in everyone’s mind (I know it’s not fresh in *my* mind: I had forgotten I even posted about it!!). So let me explain again what the book is – not in the same terms as I did as before but by way of a general overview, as I lay it out in my undergraduate textbook on the New Testament. In my [...]
I haven't posted on this topic for a while, and looking through old posts from five years ago, I came across this one. I've edited it a bit from the first time, but my sentiments are pretty much the same now that I'm older and not much wiser..... ************************************************************************** Sometimes people get upset because I deal with the problem of suffering even though I don’t seem to be experiencing any severe pain and misery myself. Here is an example of the kind of comment I occasionally receive, this from someone commenting to me on Facebook a couple of days ago: "Dude, in a world of suffering, you claim doubts in deity because you live the privileged life of a UNC professor. If you lived in a 40-year-old trailer in Tarboro, I'd take you more seriously. And you even charge people to read your self-indulgent crap. Just for the record, I'm a non-theist. But I'm not a hypocrite." I take comments like this very seriously. Even though I recognize that it is, well, a bit [...]
Here is the research proposal that I sent in to various funding agencies hoping to get a leave for next year – including the National Humanities Center, which has given me a fellowship . As you’ll see, it is closely tied to the trade book I am working on about the origins of the Christian ideas of heaven and hell, but it deals with a specific issue at considerable depth. For the fellowship application I called the prospective book “The Invention of Heaven and Hell” – which sounds too much like my trade book (“The Invention of the Afterlife”) but it was all I could come up with at the time. I wanted to give it a scholarly title, something like “Anabasis Traditions in Early Christianity,” but was strongly advised not to make the title technical. There’s no telling what it will be called when it eventually gets written, but here is what I say about it when describing in my applications for fellowships. ************************************************************ In the winter season of 1886-87 a French archaeological team [...]
As some of you know, I sometimes try to work on two books at once. I’ve actually tried *writing* two books at once, but doesn’t work too well. (Writing part of one one day and part of the other another. Yuk!) But I can be doing research and planning two books at once, if they are on a related topic – one a popular book for a general audience and the other a scholarly book for academics. That’s what I did about ten years ago now for my books Forged (trade book for general readers) and Forgery and Counterforgery (hard-hitting scholarship decidedly not for general readers). Last summer I mentioned on the blog that I was thinking about doing that again, and now it’s for real – I’m doing it. I wasn’t sure if I would because I needed to get a sabbatical from teaching to pull it off. But I have now learned that I’ve been given a fellowship for all of next year at the National Humanities Center and so I will be [...]
Given what I’ve said before about women in the ancient world, in early Christianity, and in the churches of Paul, I can now explain why women who had originally played a significant role in the early Christian movement came to be silenced, especially in the churches of Paul (as seen, for example, in the Pastoral epistles). Here is how I discuss the matter in my college-level textbook on the New Testament. ***************************************************** Our theoretical discussion of the ideology of gender in the Roman world, that is, of the way that people mentally and socially constructed sexual difference, gives us a backdrop for reconsidering the progressive oppression of women in the Pauline churches. Women may have been disproportionately represented in the earliest Christian communities. This at least was a constant claim made by the opponents of Christianity in the second century, who saw the inordinate number of women believers as a fault; remarkably, the defenders of the faith never denied it. The large number of women followers is not surprising given the circumstance that the earliest [...]