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The Beginning of the End of Paganism

I have decided to pursue further the question of how, in the fourth century, Christianity took over the Roman imperial government (at the highest levels) leading to the proscription of pagan practices.   For that I will rely on a couple of extracts from my book,  The Triumph of Christianity, over a few posts.   Here is the continuation of the story after the death of Constantine. ***************************************************************** Constantine’s father Constantius became Caesar of the West in 293 CE and then senior Augustus in the imperial college with the abdication of Maximian in 305 CE.   His dynasty was to last seventy years, until the death of Constantine’s nephew Julian in 363 CE. It was not a peaceful and closely knit family, as seen nowhere more clearly than in the vicious bloodbath that occurred after Constantine’s death on May 22, 337, with the event known as “the massacre of the princes.”    Constantine’s three remaining sons – Constantius II, Constans, and Constantine II (the eldest Crispus having earlier been executed) – were to divide his empire among themselves, but [...]

Did Constantine Outlaw the Pagan Religions?

In today’s mailbag I deal with an interesting question about when, exactly, Christianity became the state religion of Rome and the traditional pagan religions were outlawed.   Was it during the reign of Constantine (as is popularly imagined?)?  Later?   At the end of the fourth century?   Here’s the question.   QUESTION: I was listening to The Great Courses lectures on Early Middle Ages by professor Philip Daileader and he mentions that Christianity was made the official state religion of the Roman Empire and that pagan rituals and practices HAD been made illegal BEFORE the reign of Julian the Apostate and that Theodosius only made it illegal AGAIN to practice paganism in 391-392 !?! I always thought (and taught...) that Christianity became the state religion and that paganism was outlawed in 392 for the first time. Since you have been working on this period recently, I would love to know your stand on that matter   RESPONSE: I need to say at the outset that I have not listened to this course by Prof. Daileader and so [...]

Fresh Air – Christianity’s Path From ‘Forbidden’ To A ‘Triumph’

On March 20, 2018 I had an interview with Terry Gross for her NPR radio program Fresh Air, about my book The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World.   I believe this is the seventh time I've done her program (the first one was for my book Lost Christianities, maybe fifteen years ago).  I thought way back then, and I still think now, that she's the best interviewer on the planet. The show runs for about 45 minutes, but we talked for twice that long . On the upside, that means her editors leave out some of the more idiotic things I say.   Enjoy! Transcript of this program: Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition: 

2020-04-03T10:33:52-04:00April 26th, 2018|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Spread of Christianity|

What It Takes to be a Graduate Student

I often get questions from people who have been in a career for a while who want to know if it is feasible for them to go back to school and get a PhD in my field of New Testament/Early Christianity.  In most cases it is not feasible at all, simply because it is way too complicated and involved -- and takes way more time than one would think.  Here is what I said about what being a graduate student working toward a PhD involves, from my perspective as one who teaches these students. *********************************************************************************** I teach one undergraduate and one graduate course a semester. Teaching undergraduates is a passion of mine. I love doing it. These are nineteen year olds who are inquisitive, interested, and interesting. I enjoy lecturing to a crowd like that, figuring out what can make complicated material intriguing and compelling, keeping them attentive, helping them understand such important topics Some of my colleagues find teaching undergraduates a real chore; others find it very difficult. I find it to be a [...]

2020-04-03T01:26:09-04:00April 25th, 2018|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

The Different Terms for Literary Deception

In the Seminar on Ancient Forgery at Rice University a few days ago, I made a presentation in which I urged (all of us) scholars to decide on which terms we use to describe different kinds of literary phenomena associated in one way or another with literary deceit. My view is that since there are different phenomena (even if these can overlap), we ought to have distinct terms to refer to them – otherwise it just gets confusing.  It can be confusing to have so many different terms as well, but if we don’t differentiate the phenomena from one another, it makes matters only worse.  And so if we have not only distinct phenomena but also distinct terms for referring to each of them, that should provide clarity to what it is we’re doing (at least in theory).  It certainly does not help to call an act of plagiarism also a falsification, if by falsification we mean something other than plagiarism. The following are the terms that I have proposed we use for the various [...]

Different Kinds of Literary Deceit

In my presentation to the seminar on forgery at Rice University a few days ago, I dealt with a problem facing scholars who study literary deceit in antiquity.   On the most basic level, no one – even experts – seems to agree even on which terms to use to describe this or that kind of ancient deceptive practice.   It would be worth devoting a couple of blog posts to the issue.  As it turns out, it was also subject of a lecture I gave at a conference at York University in Toronto a few years ago.   Here is how I began the lecture.   *************************************************************   All of us who labor in the fields of early Christian apocrypha know they are white for harvest.  But even as significant advances are made in producing critical editions, new translations, and significant studies, there are still some preliminaries that require our attention.  One of them involves devising and agreeing upon a sensible taxonomy of literary deceit, a set of discrete terms to refer to the wide range of [...]

A Forger Fooled By Forgery

In my previous post I talked about my scholarly book on forgery (Forgery and Counterforgery) and gave some of the opening paragraphs of the Introduction.  Here I’ll give the very first part of the first chapter.  I wanted to start out on a light and humorous note, even though I was writing at a scholarly level.   And so I began with an amusing anecdote from the annals of ancient forgery, a case where a forger was intentionally deceived by someone else’s forgery, to his deep chagrin. ************************************************************ Heraclides Ponticus was one of the great literati of the classical age.  As a young man from aristocratic roots he left his native Pontus to study philosophy in Athens under Plato, Speusippus, and eventually, while he was still in the Academy, Aristotle.  During one of Plato’s absences, Heraclides was temporarily put in charge of the school; after the death of Speucippus he was nearly appointed permanent head.  His writings spanned a remarkable range, from ethics to dialectics to geometry to physics to astronomy to music to history to literary [...]

Additional Free Memberships Available

Thanks to the incredible ongoing generosity of members of the blog, I am happy to announce that there are still 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 [...]

2018-04-20T13:12:29-04:00April 20th, 2018|Public Forum|

My Book on Literary Forgery

I am in Houston for a few days, giving talks at Rice University on the use of literary forgery in early Christianity.  To prepare for the talks I decided to read through my 2013 book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.  Of all the books I’ve written, I am proudest of this one.  It is the very best I can do in terms of real scholarship.   I don’t believe I’ve talked about it much on the blog, since it’s not a book for general audiences.  But I thought it might be worthwhile to say something about it in a post or two, and there’s no better way to do that than to give the opening few paragraphs. As will be obvious, the study was written for scholars, but there’s nothing too difficult about it, except a couple of unusual words.  “Orthonymous” means “written under a correct name” so that an orthonymous writing is one that bears the name of the actual author – as opposed to a “pseudonymous” writing [...]

2020-06-04T16:32:30-04:00April 20th, 2018|Book Discussions, Forgery in Antiquity|

Some Academic Good News

I’d like to take time out to do a post on what is happening in my personal academic life just now, which involves some good news.  First, some background. As you probably know, the life of the professional academic is highly unusual – bizarre when you think about it.  Here I am, a 62-year old, who organizes his entire life around semesters.  Really?  Shouldn’t that have stopped, like, 40 years ago?  Yeah, well, for most of us.  But not us professorial scholar types. In my experience lots of people outside the academy have a bit of trouble understanding what it means to be a research scholar-professor, especially at a major research university.  You get the entire summer off from teaching?  Your semesters are only 15 weeks long?   What do you do with the other 22 weeks?  And you teach only two courses a semester?  What’s that take, an hour a day?   Wish I had a job like that! Right, well, I’ll admit it’s a fantastic job.  But it’s not because of all the time off.  [...]

2020-04-03T01:26:42-04:00April 18th, 2018|Reflections and Ruminations|

My Testier Days: A Response to a Critique of How Jesus Became God

I often look back over all the posts I've made on the blog over the past six years, and one of the things that constantly strikes me, these days, is how testy I frequently was, in those days!   Four years ago I expressed some dismay at a review of my book How Jesus Became God. A  bit thin-skinned, would you say?  Either I'm getting a better sense of humor, or am taking myself less seriously, or am becoming more laid back, or, well, just getting older.   Anyway, here is the post. ********************************************************************** The responses to How Jesus Became God are starting to appear, and I must say, I find the harshest ones bordering on the incredible.   Do people think that it is acceptable to attack a book that they haven’t read – or at least haven’t had the courtesy to try to understand? Some of the reviewers are known entities, such as the Very Rev. Robert Barron, a Roman Catholic evangelist and commentator who has a wide following.   His full response is available at   I [...]

2020-04-03T01:26:49-04:00April 17th, 2018|Bart's Critics|

Q&A with Bart on The Heretic Happy Hour

I joined the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast as a call in guest for twenty-five minutes on March 6th, 2018. I was asked a lot of questions on a range of issues (including, but not at all limited to, my book "The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World").  It's an interesting podcast in general, and this was a fun one to do. The full program can be heard here: Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition:

2018-04-16T16:28:35-04:00April 16th, 2018|Public Forum, Video Media|

Why Should Faith and the Afterlife Matter? Readers’ Mailbag April 15, 2018

I have a very long list of questions in my Readers’ Mailbag.  Here’s an interesting one that’s been hanging around for a while.   QUESTION: One of the really odd things about Christianity is the emphasis on believing in order to gain admission to heaven. Why is that so critical?   RESPONSE I would say that this one really odd thing is actually two really odd things: from the outset of the Christian movement, followers of Jesus emphasized both the centrality of belief and the realities of the afterlife.   These are oddities because prior to Christianity (this admittedly seems weird) there weren’t any religions that (a) focused on “having faith” and (b) stressed the afterlife as an incentive to practice religion. Really?  Yup, really.  People may have trouble believing this (at least my students do), but it’s true. Let me start with the afterlife.  For many of my students the afterlife is the one and only reason that anyone would want to be properly religious.  If there is no afterlife, why bother?  If there are [...]

2020-04-03T01:26:59-04:00April 15th, 2018|Afterlife, Reader’s Questions|

Jesus as God in the Synoptics: A Blast From the Past

I sometimes get asked how my research in one book or another has led me to change my views about something important.  Here is a post from four years ago today, where I explain how I changed my mind about something rather significant in the Gospels.  Do Matthew, Mark, Luke consider Jesus to be God?  I always thought the answer was a decided no (unlike the Gospel of John).  In doing my research for my book How Jesus Became God, I ended up realizing I was probably wrong.  Here's how I explained it all back then. ******************************************************************************** This, I believe, will be my final post on an issue that changed my mind about while doing the research for How Jesus Became God.   This last one is a big one – for me, at least.   And it’s not one that I develop at length in the book in any one place, since it covers a span of material.   Here’s the deal: Until a year ago I would have said – and frequently did say, in the [...]

2020-04-03T01:27:06-04:00April 13th, 2018|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels|

Blog Lunch in Houston Thursday April 19?

I will be in Houston next week to give a couple of lectures at Rice University, and have discovered that I'll be free for lunch on Thursday April 19.   Is anyone interested in joining me?  The invitation is open to all blog members.  All you would need to do is show up, hang out with us, and pay for your meal.  I can accommodate anywhere from two to six blogging souls.  If you're interested, please zap me an email at [email protected]

2018-04-13T07:35:18-04:00April 13th, 2018|Public Forum|

Is There a Time and Place for Heaven and Hell?

A recent Pew research poll produced interesting results on Americans’ beliefs about the afterlife.  72% of Americans say they believe in heaven — defined as a place “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded,” and  58% of U.S. adults also believe in hell — a place “where people who have led bad lives and die without being sorry are eternally punished.”  (See So that’s a lot.   Nearly three quarters of all Americans believe in a literal heaven and well over half believe in a literal hell.   The afterlife is bigtime. In my book on the afterlife I will not be doing something completely crazy, like claiming I know for sure whether there is a heaven and/or hell.   What do I know?    I may state my *opinion* on the matter, but since I’m an atheist, it should be pretty clear what I think anyway.  Still, it is interesting to know/think where the ideas of heaven and hell came from, and that’s what most of the book will be. The issue returned to [...]

2020-04-03T01:27:17-04:00April 11th, 2018|Afterlife, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Thinking Atheist Interview: The Triumph of Christianity

On March 20, 2018 I was interviewed by Seth Andrews, host of The Thinking Atheist podcast about my book "The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World." Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist defines his media channel: "Religion often tells us that faith is a virtue. We think faith (believing something without evidence) is a poor method for determining what is true, especially in an era when science, reason and evidence continue to provide much more satisfying answers than faith ever has. This is a page that challenges the claims of religion and encourages all to reject faith, to be unfailingly curious, and to keep thinking." Here's the interview.  Enjoy! Please adjust gear icon for 1080p High-Definition:

2020-05-27T16:06:13-04:00April 10th, 2018|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

Degrees of Punishment and Purgatory

Christians have always had a wide variety of beliefs about the afterlife, and just about everyone (who chooses) is able to find biblical support for their views.  The Bible itself has an enormous range of views. Among other things, there have always been Christians who have thought that there must be varying levels of punishment for sinners in the afterlife.   The guy on the street who does his best but is not always a very good father surely doesn’t get punished to the same degree as Hitler. Among such believers who are convinced that there are different levels of punishment I would certainly class those who believe in purgatory.   Even though it is a view almost universally rejected by Protestants, purgatory can make a lot of sense even to some of them.   The afterlife is not just black and white, one thing or the other, either/or – it is not either eternal bliss for all the saints and eternal torment for all the sinners.  There must be gradations, right? And purgatory is a way of [...]

2020-04-03T01:28:36-04:00April 9th, 2018|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|

Who Invented the Idea of a Suffering Messiah?

For this week’s readers’ mailbag I give a very interesting and important question.   QUESTION: Where did the idea of a Jewish messiah dying for the sins of mankind originate from? OT? Did Jews prior to Jesus’ existence believe this notion of the messiah dying for other’s sins?   RESPONSE: I deal with this issue in a couple of my books.  Christians often point to messianic prophecy about Jesus in the Old Testament and suppose the suffering messiah was "right in front of the Jews' faces" all along.  In fact, it wasn't. Here is one of my fuller discussion from Did Jesus Exist?, where I talk about the issue in connection with the question of why Paul originally opposed Christians before converting to the faith. ***************************************************************** Why, as a highly religious Jew, did Paul originally persecute the Christians before he himself joined their ranks?   It appears to have been for one reason only: the Christians were saying that Jesus was God’s special chosen one, his beloved son, the messiah.  But for the pre-Christian Paul it [...]

The Unforgivable Sin and Purgatory

In my previous post I discussed one of the passages of the New Testament that has traditionally been used to support the idea of Purgatory, the place that most of the “saved” go after death to be purged of their sins (Matt 5:26  “you won’t get out of there until you have paid the last penny”).  In my judgment this passage is not talking about what happens in the afterlife, even though it has been read that way.   With another passage, the matter is not quite so clear. In a famous passage, again in Matthew, Jesus talks about the “unforgiveable sin”:  “Therefore I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven; and whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven, either in this age or the ages to come.” As you might imagine, over the Christian centuries there have been numerous interpretations of what that [...]

2020-04-03T01:28:58-04:00April 6th, 2018|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|
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