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Jesus and Hell

The second of my two boxes today from the new edition of my textbook.  This one of even more pressing importance: what did Jesus think of hell? ************************************************************* Another Glimpse Into the Past Box 15.8  Hell in the Teaching of Jesus Jesus sometimes indicates that on the Day of Judgment sinners will be cast, unburied, into the most unholy, repulsive, God-forsaken place that anyone in Israel could imagine, the valley known as “Gehenna.” He says, for example that it is better to gouge out your eye that sins or amputate your hand and enter the kingdom maimed than to be tossed into Gehenna with eye and hand intact (Matthew 5:29, 30) Gehenna is obviously serious.  But what is it?   The word is often mistranslated in English Bibles as “hell” (e.g., in the NIV and the NRSV; see Matthew 5:22, 29, 30).  But, Gehenna is not “hell” in the modern sense of a place (inside the earth) where sinners are tormented forever.  Then what is it? To find out, you will need to belong to the [...]

2020-04-03T00:53:35-04:00October 31st, 2018|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|

The Value of Eyewitness Testimony

The first of today's two-short-posts from new "Boxes" in my New Testament textbook, on a matter of vital importance to anyone interested in knowing about the historical Jesus. ********************************************************************** What Do You Think? Box 13.3  The Value of Eyewitness Testimony   If you want to know about something that happened in the past – whether in a criminal trial or just among your family and friends – you almost always prefer to learn what an eyewitness saw or heard.   And so most of us unreflectively think an eyewitness report is highly reliable.  But is that the case? Eyewitness testimony has been studied by legal experts and psychologists since the early twentieth century.  The first important case study occurred in 1902.  In a law school in Berlin, a well-known criminologist named von Liszt was delivering a lecture when an argument broke out.   One student stood up and shouted that he wanted to show how the topic was related to Christian ethics.   Another got up and yelled that he would not put up with that.   The first [...]

2020-04-03T00:53:49-04:00October 31st, 2018|Historical Jesus, Memory Studies|

Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library and Some Crucial Missing Parts!

I have been making two-posts-a-day, giving the new “boxes” that I've written for the seventh edition of my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  Today, as it turns out, the two boxes I was going to post are both about the Nag Hammadi Library (the so-called “Gnostic Gospels”).  So I’ll simply include both of them in this one post.  Happy reading! *********************************************************** Another Glimpse Into the Past 11.6 The Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library The chance discovery of a cache of ancient Christian documents in a remote part of Upper Egypt -- the Nag Hammadi library -- is a story of serendipity, ineptitude, secrecy, ignorance, scholarly brilliance, murder, and blood revenge.  Even now, after scholars have spent years trying to piece it all together, details of the find remain sketchy. We do know that it occurred around ... To see the rest of this post you will need to belong to the blog.  It doesn't cost much to join, you get tons for your money, and every nickle [...]

The Difference Between Eschatology and Apocalypticism

QUESTION I have recently been reading John Meier's books and he almost always calls Jesus (and John the Baptist), eschatological prophets (once stating Jesus having a "tinge of apocalypticism" or something to that effect). And you always refer to Jesus as an "apocalyptic prophet".   Do you make any distinction  in the terms "eschatological" and "apocalyptic"?   RESPONSE Ah, it’s a good question.  These terms are an endless source of confusion for people – even scholars sometimes.  I think the problem is that different scholars work with different definitions and often they have not thought through carefully the implications of their terminology.  So let me explain how I work it all out, by defining/describing a set of terms that are all closely related but distinct (in my head):  eschatology (and eschatological); apocalypticism; apocalyptic; and apocalypse. Eschatology.   This is a broad term that simply means ... To see the rest of this post, you will need to belong to the blog.  If you haven't joined yet, what are you waiting for?  Remember, the END IS NEAR!!  Join [...]

2020-04-03T00:54:29-04:00October 29th, 2018|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

My Own Translation of the New Testament?

Here's a question I get on occasion, which I addressed fully six years ago on the blog. QUESTION: Do you have any plans to publish your own "best" version of the NT in English? From reading several of your books, it does seem as though you probably already have a translation sitting in a drawer somewhere. I have not been able to find scholarly reconstruction that was produced in the last three and a half decades. Most of the newer "translations" are theologically motivated and sound more like modern slang. Have any of your colleagues/ students produced a readable version you would recommend? (Thousands of footnotes do not make for a readable text!) I would very much like to see your translation/interpretation sitting on a bookshelf. RESPONSE: No, as it turns out, I have never written out a full translation of the New Testament.   For several reasons.  First, there are a number of excellent translations already available that have been done by some of the best NT scholars on the planet.  My translation would be [...]

2020-04-03T00:54:41-04:00October 28th, 2018|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Jesus’ Apocalyptic Message in Matthew

Yet another “box” in the new edition of my textbook on the New Testament, this one a rather factual reflection dealing with the heightened apocalypticism found in the Gospel of Matthew. *********************************************************************** Another Glimpse Into the Past Box 8.3  Jesus’ Apocalyptic Message in Matthew As we will see in greater detail in Chapter 16, apocalypticism was a popular worldview among Jews in the first century. Apocalyptic Jews maintained that... The rest of this post is for blog members only.  If you don't belong yet, now's your chance!  Join! Apocalyptic Jews maintained that the world was controlled by unseen forces of evil but that God was soon going to intervene in history to overthrow these forces and bring his good Kingdom to earth. Such Jews believed that they were living at the end of time; the new age was soon to appear. We have already seen elements of this worldview in the Gospel according to Mark, especially in Jesus’ lengthy discourse in chapter 13, in which he describes the cosmic upheavals that are to transpire when [...]

2020-04-03T00:54:56-04:00October 26th, 2018|Canonical Gospels|

Did Jesus Call Himself God?

Did Jesus call himself God? I am posting two brief posts a day giving the short boxes I include in the new edition of my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.   This particular one deals with a topic I’ve addressed several times on the blog, in view of my book How Jesus Became God. What Do You Think - Did Jesus Declare Himself God?  It is interesting to ask: “What did Jesus say about himself?”  More specifically, you might ask: “Did Jesus ever call himself God?”  As it turns out, it depends on which Gospel you read. In the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus never says he is God.  He does talk about himself as the Son of Man; he says he must be killed and raised from the dead, and he admits he is the messiah.  But the vast bulk of his teaching in these Gospels is not about himself at all.  It is about God, the coming Kingdom of God, and the way to [...]

2022-06-19T21:23:58-04:00October 26th, 2018|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

How Reliable are Oral Traditions?

Another box in my upcoming new edition of my textbook.   ********************************   Something to Think About Box 5.3  How Reliable Are Oral Traditions? If stories of Jesus’ words and deeds were in oral circulation year after year before being written down, how do we know whether they were changed significantly over time?  One way to answer the question is to see how “oral cultures” preserve their traditions generally. In written cultures, such as ours... The rest of this post is for blog members only.  If you don't belong yet, now's your big chance! In written cultures, such as ours the idea of preserving a tradition means keeping it intact, verbatim the same, from one telling to the next.   An “accurate” retelling of a story, a poem, or a saying, for most of us, is one that does not vary at all from the way it was told earlier.   But the reason we insist on verbatim accuracy is that we have ways of checking to see whether it is the same tradition or not.   Oral [...]

2020-04-03T00:55:25-04:00October 24th, 2018|Canonical Gospels|

Talking Dogs and Resurrected Slaves

As I indicated yesterday, for the next few days I have decided to post the new “boxes” that I am including in the seventh edition of my textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  Since these are relatively short – most of them 300-400 words – I will be doing two-posts-a-day.  (I don’t want to combine two boxes into one post, since they are all on completely different topics from one another; but I want you to get your money’s worth on the blog and so don’t want to have very short posts each day.  So, two a day.) ************************************************************** Another Glimpse into the Past Box 5.1  Talking Dogs and Resurrected Slaves   When Christians were spreading their oral traditions, trying to convert pagans to the new faith, what did they say or do to convince them?   The apostle Paul indicates that his great miracles made all the difference, as he himself did “signs, wonders, and miracles” among his converts (2 Corinthians 12:12).   And in fact we have later oral [...]

2020-04-03T00:55:43-04:00October 24th, 2018|Christian Apocrypha|

The New Edition of My New Testament Textbook

People have been asking when the new edition of the next Bart Ehrman Textbook will be available. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have finished editing my textbook on the New Testament for its seventh edition (title still:  The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings).   The book was first published in 1997 and has always been designed for college/university students taking a one-semester course on the New Testament.  In it, I do not presuppose any knowledge of the topic but begin at ground zero. The Next Bart Ehrman Textbook When I started doing research on the first edition of this textbook back in the mid-90s, I had very clear ideas about what I wanted it to be.   First and foremost, I wanted to approach the New Testament from a rigorously historical perspective.   It is not that I had any difficulties at the time, either professionally or personally, with introductions that were more geared toward theology, exegesis, or literary criticism.  But I wanted my book to be different.  I wanted [...]

2022-06-27T22:26:49-04:00October 23rd, 2018|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Yet Other Apocryphal Books

OK, this will be my last post for now on the apocrypha.  Here is the final (and particularly intriguing) book accepted in the Roman Catholic church, and a few others accepted in Orthodox Christian circles.   2 Maccabees The book known as 2 Maccabees is another account of the history of the Maccabean Revolt. Its author did not have 1 Maccabees as a source but was writing independently of it. His interest is principally with the events that transpired under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, so that the book overlaps mainly with 1 Maccabees chapters 1–7. The author indicates that his work is in fact an abridgment of a much longer five-volume description of the revolt by someone named Jason of Cyrene. He has condensed Jason’s work into a single volume. Unlike 1 Maccabees, this account was originally composed in Greek. Whereas 1 Maccabees is a rather straightforward chronicle of what happened leading up to and during the revolt, 2 Maccabees takes a more impassioned ... To see the rest of this post, you will [...]

2020-04-03T00:55:59-04:00October 22nd, 2018|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Blog Dinner! Denver, November 15

On November 15 I will be in Denver in order to give a talk (the following morning) at the Biblical Archaeology Society Fest (see   Would anyone be interested in joining a "Blog Dinner" that evening (Thursday November 15)?  It would be a chance to get to know each other and talk about matters of mutual interest. The only requirements for attendance would be that (a) you be a blog member; (b) you pay your own way – both getting to the event and your meal itself.  Otherwise, there is no expense and no requirement.   You don’t even have to feel obliged to say much! If you can and want to come, zap me a note – not here on the blog, but to my email [email protected]  Do so right away: if past experience is any guide, the table will fill rather quickly. I am looking for a minimum of three and maximum six people to come.  If/when the table is filled, I will put another announcement on the blog; if I don’t get more than a [...]

2018-10-21T10:19:56-04:00October 21st, 2018|Public Forum|

The Digital Bible (by Jeff Siker)

I just finished the seventh edition of my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.   I started working on it, for the first edition, in 1993 – so I’ve been at it for 25 years.   Ouch.   For this new revision, among other things, I’ve added an Excursus of particular relevance, on the “Digital Bible,” written, luckily for all involved, not by me, but by my scholar-friend Jeff Siker, who has published, just this past year, the definitive book on it. Here is what he says about it.  (He is on the blog, so if anyone has any questions for him about it, or about anything else, ask away!) - Jeff Siker is also the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World. **************************************************** The Digital Bible Jeffrey Siker The changing technology of writing and reading has always played a major role in the transmission and interpretation of the New Testament, from papyrus rolls to parchment codices to Gutenberg’s printing press, and, [...]

2021-02-07T00:37:40-05:00October 21st, 2018|History of Biblical Scholarship, Teaching Christianity|

More Apocrypha: A Letter of Jeremiah, (Fascinating) Additions to Daniel, and 1 Maccabees

Here is another installment on my discussion of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books.  The first of the three I discuss here is not well known, but the second and third are historically quite significant. ***************************************************** The Letter of Jeremiah This is one of the shortest books of Apocrypha—it is only one chapter long, and in the Latin tradition of the Roman Catholic Church it is included as the final chapter of the book of Baruch. The book is allegedly written by the prophet Jeremiah, sent to the Judeans bound for Babylonian exile. In exile they will be among people who worship other gods through idols. This book is nothing but an attack on pagan idolatry. The real historical context of the writing is a situation in which Jews around the world were surrounded by idol worship. It may have been produced in the aftermath of the Maccabean Revolt; it appears to have been composed in Hebrew or Aramaic. Much of the book consists of a mockery of ... To learn more about these books, you'll need to [...]

2020-04-03T00:56:12-04:00October 19th, 2018|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

More Books of the Apocrypha: Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, and Baruch

In this post I continue discussing the books of the Apocrypha, accepted as part of Scripture by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.  These are important books, historically and culturally – but hardly known among Protestant readers.   Here are three more!  Descriptions are taken from my introduction to the Bible.   The Wisdom of Solomon The Wisdom of Solomon is a book of positive wisdom (recall Proverbs), which claims to be written by the great king of the United Monarchy. In fact it was written many centuries later, by a Jew in the Diaspora, possibly in the first century b.c.e. or the first century c.e. The book celebrates Wisdom as the greatest gift to humans and insists that it involves proper fear and adoration of God, which will lead to eternal reward. Those who lead ungodly lives, on the other hand “will be punished as their reasoning deserves” (5:10). The exaltation of wisdom recalls Proverbs 8, where Wisdom appears as a female consort with God at the beginning of all things. Here too Wisdom is said [...]

2020-04-03T00:56:21-04:00October 17th, 2018|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Some of the Apocrypha: Tobit, Judith, and Additions to Esther

Yesterday I answered briefly a question about the Old Testament Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books.  I’ve decided to go ahead and describe each of the ten.   This will take several posts.   These are very interesting books, well worth reading, and canonical Scripture for some parts of the Christian church. My summaries here are taken from my Introduction to the Bible.   **********************************************************   Tobit Tobit is a work of historical fiction—by which I mean it is a fictional tale set within a real historical context. Originally the book was written in Aramaic, either in the late third century b.c.e. or the early second. The narrative is set in the eighth century b.c.e. in the city of Nineveh, where the hero of the story, Tobit, has been exiled from his town in Galilee during the conquests of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser. In other words, the account is allegedly taking place after the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. The story involves two subplots that eventually come to be woven together. The first is about Tobit himself, who is [...]

2020-04-03T00:56:30-04:00October 16th, 2018|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

What Is the Apocrypha (of the Old Testament)?

Here is a recent question I have received about the “Old Testament Apocrypha.”   QUESTION Bart, I hope you won’t mind me asking a totally unrelated question: At the beginning of the Christian Era – how many books of the Hebrew Old Testament did the Greek Septuagint translation contain?   RESPONSE: This is indeed an important topic, one usually overlooked completely by Protestant readers of the Bible.  Here is what I say about the apocrypha in my textbook on the Bible: *************************************************************           In addition to the canonical books we have examined so far, there was other literature written by Jewish authors that cannot be found in the Hebrew Bible but that is of great importance for anyone interested in it. Of these other Jewish books, none is of greater historical significance than a collection of writings that can be found in some Christian versions of the Old Testament. These are the deuterocanonical writings, as they are called in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions; Protestants typically designate them as the Apocrypha. The term [...]

2020-04-03T00:56:43-04:00October 15th, 2018|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Did Paul Believe that the Fleshly Body Would be Resurrected

Browsing through posts I made (exactly) six years ago, I came across this one (which deals with a subject I'll be addressing in my new book) about Paul's view of the future resurrection.  What I thought I thought about that issue *before* I started doing the hardcore research for my book on the afterlife is very similar to how I still think now.  I hope that doesn't just mean I'm stubborn!  Here is the perceptive question and my response: ****************************** QUESTION: What is a BODILY resurrection without the flesh?  Don't the early Christians (and Paul) think the flesh (the corpse) didn’t matter anymore and could be left behind, rotting and decomposing? Isn’t it all about the spirit finally getting this new, better, perfect, divine ‘body’? Addendum: The Greek for ‘spiritual’ (like in spiritual body) is pneumatikos, right? According to Strong’s that means: pertaining to wind or breath, windy, exposed to the wind, blowing. Now those wouldn’t be obvious words to describe something physical or made out of matter, would it? They seems to rather define [...]

2022-01-16T17:23:29-05:00October 14th, 2018|Afterlife, Paul and His Letters|

Mapping the Diversity of Earliest Christianity

Here is a question I received recently.   QUESTION: One of my favourite pieces on the blog is your post from 13 July 2015 titled ‘Earliest Christian Diversity’ on the work of Destro and Pesce. I find it fascinating and thought-provoking whenever I re-read it. It’s like new information hidden in plain sight..  Did you ever do any follow-up research or expansion on this topic? (Sorry if you did and I missed it.)   RESPONSE: I have to admit, I had forgotten all about this post, and had to look it up.  I agree!  It's unusually interesting.  Not because of anything I say, but because of an intriguing theory proposed by others.  Really fascinating.  And no, I haven't followed it up (having even forgotten about it.)  But it's definitely worth posting again.  Here it is!    *********************************************************************** In keeping with the current topic of the diversity of early Christianity, I thought I could say something about a book that I just read that I found to be unusually interesting and enlightening.   It is by two [...]

What’s the Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man All About?

In my previous post I summarized an Egyptian story about a rich man and a poor man who both die, with the poor man having a fantastic afterlife and the rich man suffering horrible torture.  The poor man was righteous and so was rewarded, the rich man was a sinner and so was punished.  Is that what the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 is also all about – rewards for the righteous and punishment for the wicked?  So that it’s a story that tries to stress that you need to live a good life or you’ll pay the consequences later? It is indeed possible that this biblical story also contains an implicit teaching about righteous living.   But since, unlike the Egyptian tale, this parable says nothing about sin and righteousness, some interpreters have suggested different ways of understanding it. Maybe the problem with the rich man in Luke’s parable is not that he is generally wicked, but that, more specifically, he hasn’t used his wealth in order to help those [...]

2020-04-03T00:58:49-04:00October 11th, 2018|Afterlife, Canonical Gospels|
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