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Blog Year in Review, 2018

Here on this New Year’s Eve I would like to reflect for a minute on the last calendar year of the blog, our seventh year of operation. By nearly any metric, I would say it has been a very good year indeed. For just about all the users of the blog, of course, the primary interest is to read what scholars say about the subject areas that we cover, which are narrow, in one sense, in that they deal almost exclusively with the area of early Christianity (with some discussion of cognate fields, such as Hebrew Bible, early Judaism, Greco-Roman world, Roman religion, and so on).  But in another sense they are very broad, as the blog covers a range of subfields all of which entail scholarship produced by specialists who, in many instances, work in one small subfield or another.  (My best friend in graduate school, upon graduation, used to say that her expertise was on Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapters 9-11.   And she meant it!) And so the blog covers, among other [...]

2018-12-31T06:49:28-05:00December 31st, 2018|Public Forum|

Were There *Other* Virgin Births in Antiquity?

As happened four years ago when I made a series of posts on the virgin birth stories in the NT, this time too I've received queries about whether the idea of a virgin birth was a common motif in antiquity; some "popular" books out there claim that other alleged sons of God were born of virgins.  Is that true?  Well, I don't think so.  Here is how I responded before.   **********************************************************************************   I have devoted several posts to the issue of Jesus’ virgin birth, as recounted in Matthew and Luke.  As I pointed out, there is no account of Jesus’ virgin birth in the Gospel of John, and it appears that the idea is actually argued *against* (implicitly) in the Gospel of Mark.   Several readers have asked me (or told me) about the parallels to the virgin birth stories in pagan texts, where a son of God, or demi-god, or, well, some other rather amazing human being is said to have been born of a virgin.  Aren’t the Christians simply borrowing a widely held [...]

2020-06-04T16:28:06-04:00December 30th, 2018|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Was Jesus Born of a Virgin in the Gospel of John?

I have talked about the virgin birth in both Matthew and Luke, and noted its absence from the earlier Gospel, Mark.  In response, I have been asked about its presence/status in the last canonical Gospel, John.  I've posted on this before, even within living memory, but maybe to round out the presentation, it would be good to deal with it again.  Here is the original post from years ago. ********************************************************************************************** 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 knew that his birth was miraculous, unlike the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  It is striking to note that even though these two later Gospels know about a virgin birth,  our latest canonical Gospel, John, does not know about it.   This was not a doctrine that everyone knew about – even toward the end of the first century. Casual readers of John often assume that it presupposes the [...]

2020-04-03T00:17:26-04:00December 28th, 2018|Canonical Gospels|

Does Mark’s Gospel Actually *Deny* the Virgin Birth?

We are moving beyond the Christmas season, but I did think it would be worthwhile responding to a couple of queries I've received about the stories of Jesus' virgin birth -- found only in Matthew and Luke.  What did Mark think about it?  Here, in a post from years ago, I delve into the matter, suggesting some conclusions that are, admittedly, a bit unexpected by most readers of the Bible.   ****************************************************************************   It is interesting that our first canonical Gospel (which is our first Gospel, whether canonical or noncanonical), Mark, does not have the story of the Virgin birth and in fact shows no clue that it is familiar with the stories of the Virgin birth.  On the contrary, there are passages in Mark that appear to work *against* the idea that Jesus’ mother knew anything about his having had an extraordinary birth. There is a complicated little passage in Mark 3:20-21 about Jesus’ family coming to take him out of the public eye because they thought he was crazy.   It is a difficult [...]

2018-12-27T09:51:06-05:00December 27th, 2018|Canonical Gospels|

Christmas Reflection 2018

I have always loved Christmas.  But looking back over my life, it is interesting to think about what, exactly, I have loved about it.  Like every middle-class first-world child, I suppose, when I was very young I liked all the excitement around presents – the anticipation, the tree, the night before, the excitement of the morning, the happiness of the giving but especially – of course! – the receiving! Starting about when I was in junior high I started really appreciating the religious connections with the season, especially the midnight church service, in which I participated – in my Episcopal church – as an altar boy.  Carrying the cross, being involved with the liturgy, singing the carols, finishing in the dark, with lighted candles in the standing-room-only crowd, softly singing Silent Night.  Magical. When I was a mid-teenager and had become a born-again Christian, I continued to enjoy all that (from the tree to the service to the gifts) but I acquired a deeper appreciation of the theology of it all and what it actually [...]

2018-12-25T06:31:31-05:00December 25th, 2018|Reflections and Ruminations|

The Gospel of Luke without a Birth Story

In my previous post, ostensibly on the genealogy of Luke, I pointed out that there are good reasons for thinking that the Gospel originally was published – in a kind of “first edition” – without what are now the first two chapters, so that the very beginning was what is now 3:1 (this is many centuries, of course, before anyone started using chapters and verses.) If that’s the case, Luke was originally a Gospel like Mark’s that did not have a birth and infancy narratives. These were added later, in a second edition (either by the same author or by someone else). If that’s the case then the Gospel began with John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus, followed by the genealogy which makes better sense here, at the beginning, than it does in the third chapter once the first two are added. But is there any hard evidence that a first edition began without the first two chapters? One of the reasons it is so hard to say is because we simply don’t [...]

2020-04-03T00:18:45-04:00December 24th, 2018|Canonical Gospels|

Did Luke Originally Tell the Birth Story?

Over the past couple of weeks I've been asked by readers if I think the birth stories of Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 were original to those Gospels (they are the only two sets of stories of Jesus' birth we have; all subsequent retellings -- even in modern times -- go back to one or both of them).   My view is that there is little reason to doubt that Matthew began originally as it does now, with the stories of chs. 1-2 (though I'm open to persuasion otherwise).  But I do have questions about Luke 1-2.  I suspect they were added later, after the Gospel was first published.  I've talked about the issue before, including in a couple of posts from six, count them, six years ago.  I still think pretty much the same thing.  Here is the first of the two posts.  It begins with some reflections on Luke's version of Jesus' genealogy: ****************************************************************************** In my previous posts I have already said a number of things about the genealogy in Luke – possibly most [...]

2020-04-03T00:18:55-04:00December 23rd, 2018|Canonical Gospels|

Last Minute Christmas Presents!!

I'm desperately searching for the final small but precious present for my beloved Sarah.  Today's the day!  And it occurred to me: maybe you're in the same boat.  What's that final coup de grace? Here's an idea.  Why not give that loved one, or even friendly acquaintance -- family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker, mail delivery person, dentist, vet, kid's teacher, whomever! -- a GIFT SUBSCRIPTION to the BART EHRMAN BLOG?  Surely you know someone who could benefit/would enjoy a free year access to the blog.  Giving a gift subscription is dead easy, unusual, and sure to be an unexpected hit.  So why not? All you need to do is go to the homepage of the blog and hit the brightly lit: Gift Subscription tab, and go from there.  Easy-shmeesy and such a nice gift! I hope all is sane and even happy going into the end of the season.  Happy wishes to all!

2018-12-22T09:47:48-05:00December 22nd, 2018|Reflections and Ruminations|

The Virgin Birth in Matthew and Luke

Christmas is virtually upon us.  I've decided to return to a few posts I've given in years past, lost in the archives here or there, of particular relevance to the season.  This one continues a bit on the theme of the relation of our (only!) two birth narratives in the New Testament, reflecting on the significance of Jesus being born precisely to a *virgin* in Matthew and Luke.  As it turns out, they see the significance differently. ************************************************************ Occasionaly I have raised the question of why anyone should think that you have to believe in the Virgin Birth in order to be a Christian.  The reality is, of course, that many Christians do not believe in it, but recognize that it is a story meant to convey an important theological point – a point that could be true whether or not the story happened – that Jesus was uniquely special in this world, not like us other humans, but in some sense the unique Son of God.   Just as the moral of a fairy tale [...]

2020-04-03T00:19:03-04:00December 21st, 2018|Canonical Gospels|

Was the Apocalypse of Peter Originally Part of the New Testament?

The Apocalypse of Peter was a reasonably popular book in some Christian churches of the first three or four Christian centuries.  It was not as massively influential as the four Gospels or the writings of Paul, but even so, a number of Christian individuals and churches saw it as a Scriptural text, written by Peter. The book is first mentioned in the Muratorian Fragment, a late second century text written from Rome, which discusses the books that, in the anonymous author’s opinion, made up the Christian New Testament.   The list, oddly, does not include James, 1 and 2 Peter, or 3 John, but it does include two apocalypses, the apocalypse of John (i.e., the book of Revelation) and the apocalypse of Peter.  About the latter it says that some Christians do not think it should be read in church – i.e., that it was not to be accepted as part of the canon.  But since he says that was the opinion of “some,” it appears that “most” did indeed accept it, as the author himself [...]

2020-04-09T12:57:45-04:00December 19th, 2018|Christian Apocrypha, Fourth-Century Christianity|

How Would an Early Christian “Know” Which Books Peter Wrote?

So if there were lots of books in circulation that claimed to be written by the apostle Peter, why did some of them (1 and 2 Peter) come to be accepted both as his and as canonical scripture, and others come to be deemed forgeries and excluded from the canon? The first point to stress is that Christians in the second, third, and fourth centuries had no real way of knowing which, if any, of these books Peter wrote.  They were living many decades or even centuries after the books had first been put in circulation.  The books were passed around from one church to the other before *anyone* on record claimed that they really were or really were not written by Peter.  And how would they know? They almost certainly didn’t have any “insider information.”  Where would their information have come from?  Simply from other people who said so, one way or the other.   And 99.9% of these people accepting, or rejecting, this book or another were not specialists trained in sophisticated modes of [...]

2020-04-03T00:19:20-04:00December 18th, 2018|Catholic Epistles, Christian Apocrypha|

The Books of Peter

I return now to the thread I had been working on before devoting the last few posts to the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke.  If you recall, some time ago I indicated that I had become a bit obsessed with a rather interesting if largely unasked question, of why the Apocalypse of Peter did not make it into the New Testament but the book of 2 Peter did. When I started on that thread, I thought it would take three or four posts, but as I got into it I realized that more and more background information was needed – and it turned into a rather longish thread, not only about what the Apocalypse of Peter is about (the first Christian account we have of a guided tour of heaven and hell, given to the apostle Peter himself, where he sees the glories of heaven for the saints and, in far more graphic detail, the torments of hell for the sinners) – but also about how we got the New Testament at all, that [...]

2020-04-18T11:39:09-04:00December 17th, 2018|Catholic Epistles, Christian Apocrypha, Forgery in Antiquity|

Jesus’ Birth in Matthew and Luke: A Study in Contrasts

In two previous posts I’ve detailed what happens in Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth and then in Matthew’s.  I will assume those two previous posts in the comments that I want to make in this one.  The problem people have with reading these two accounts, usually, is the problem they have reading the Gospels (and the Bible as a whole) generally.  Or at least this has been my experience.  It’s the problem of assuming that one account is basically saying the same thing as some other account. People do that with the Bible all the time.   With the New Testament, people tend to read Matthew as if he’s saying the same thing as Mark; John as if it’s the same thing as Luke; Paul’s letters as if, at heart, they’re the same thing as James; Revelation as if it’s the same thing as John.  And on and on and on. One of the most important tasks I have as an undergraduate teacher of the New Testament is to get students to see that each of [...]

2018-12-16T09:27:35-05:00December 16th, 2018|Canonical Gospels|

Jesus’ Birth as “The Fulfillment of the Prophecies”

Here I continue my reflections on the birth narratives in the New Testament, with a post on an important aspect of Matthew's account, central to its claims. One of the most distinctive aspects of Matthew’s infancy narrative is his insistence that everything that happened was a “fulfillment” of Scripture. Why was Jesus’ mother a virgin? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Isaiah 7:14: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son”) Why was he born in Bethlehem? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Micah 5:2: “And you, Bethlehem…from you shall come a ruler” Why did Joseph and the family escape to Egypt? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I have called my son”) Why did Herod have the boys two years and under killed? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Jeremiah 31.15 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation”) Why did Joseph and family relocate to Nazareth? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes … well what does [...]

2020-04-03T00:20:20-04:00December 14th, 2018|Canonical Gospels|

The Birth of Jesus in Matthew

Here I continue my seasonal reflections about the Christmas accounts in the New Testament. Yesterday’s blog was about the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke; today I talk about Matthew. Even a casual reading shows that these are two very different accounts. Matthew has nothing about the birth of John the Baptist, the Annunciation, the census, the trip to Bethlehem, the shepherds, the presentation in the Temple. Matthew’s version, as a result, is much shorter. Most of his stories are found only in his account. And some of the differences from Luke appear to involve downright discrepancies, as I will try to show in another post. For now: Matthew’s version. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus. Luke also has a genealogy, but it is given after Jesus is baptized in ch. 3, instead of where you would expect it, at his birth in ch. 1. I’ll explain my view of that in a later post. After the genealogy of Matthew in which Jesus is traced to David, the greatest king of Israel, and to [...]

2020-04-03T00:20:31-04:00December 12th, 2018|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Free Memberships for Those Who Need Them!

Thanks to the incredible generosity of members of the blog, I am happy to announce that again this year 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 [...]

2018-12-11T09:12:29-05:00December 11th, 2018|Public Forum|

The Birth of Jesus in Luke

As I indicated yesterday, I'm doing a series of posts leading up to Christmas, dealing with the accounts of Jesus' birth in the New Testament.   Here's a discussion of the one most familiar to people, found in the Gospel of Luke. ********************************************************************************** As I’ve indicated, it is only Matthew and Luke that tell the tales of the infancy narrative, and the annual “Christmas Pageant” that so many of us grew up seeing is in fact a conflation of the two accounts, making one mega-account out of two that are so different up and down the line. And so, the Annunciation to Mary is in Luke, the dream of Joseph in Matthew; the shepherds are in Luke, the wise men in Matthew; the trip to Bethlehem is in Luke, the Flight to Egypt is in Matthew, and so forth and so on. You can compare them yourself, up and down the line, and see the differences. In this post I want to focus on Luke’s account. Then I will look at Matthew’s. And then I will [...]

2020-04-03T00:20:38-04:00December 10th, 2018|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

What Can We Know about Jesus’ Birth?

Browsing through holiday-season blogs from previous eras, I came across my first small thread on Christmas from exactly six years ago.  I had forgotten about this.  Some of the material has shown up occasionally in the intervening years, but maybe it's a good time to repost a bit of it.  Here is the first: an account of what we can, and cannot, know about Jesus' birth.  Bethlehem?  Virgin?  Date?   Or even... year? ************************************************************************** I have decided to provide a series of posts related to the stories of Christmas in the New Testament. This first post more or less states some of the basic information that most readers know, but that it’s worth while stressing as a kind of ground clearing exercise. To begin with, we are extremely limited in our sources when it comes to knowing anything at all about the birth of Jesus. In fact, at the end of the day, I think we can’t really know much at all. Just to cut to the chase, I think that it is most probable that [...]

2018-12-09T09:24:36-05:00December 9th, 2018|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Another Chance: Donating Free Memberships

In years past, when I’ve solicited donations to provide free year-long blog memberships to people in need, who really would love to be on the blog but simply cannot afford it because of personal circumstances, I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.  For one reason or another that has not happened as much this year.  There have been a number of you who have donated, and for that I’m deeply, deeply grateful.  But the numbers are serious down – so much so that I asked my assistant Steven Ray if the post went out as normal or if there was some kind of glich. No glich.  It’s just one of those years.  But I want to mention it again, a second time, just in case anyone was primed for a nudge.  I’ll be announcing the possibility of free memberships to those who need them in three days, and do not want to have a situation where there are dozens of needy and eager potential blog members that I/we cannot accommodate. So if you can [...]

2018-12-08T09:25:41-05:00December 8th, 2018|Public Forum|

Did Jesus Write Anything in the New Testament?

I have mentioned two apocryphal letters forged in the name of Jesus himself, one written to a King Abgar and the other, well, dictated to the cherubim in heaven from the cross.  Several readers have asked me about New Testament examples, one in the famous story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8, and the other the seven letters allegedly dictated by Christ in Revelation 2-3. As to the first, yes, as many of you already know, even though there is an account of Jesus writing on the ground in John 8 (he is writing, by the way, not doodling; the Greek is fairly clear on the point) (we are not told *what* he is writing; there are about 97 theories about that, each one the favorite of one person or another….), this account was not originally in John.  It is a scribal addition to the story.   (BTW: one recent NT scholar, Chris Keith, has written an entire book arguing that the passage was inserted by scribes precisely to show that Jesus was [...]

2020-05-08T11:50:17-04:00December 7th, 2018|Historical Jesus, New Testament Manuscripts|
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