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Is James Responding to Paul?

I now begin to explain why someone might have wanted to (falsely) claim to be James the brother of Jesus when writing the letter attributed to him in the NT.  My basic argument is that the letter is being written to oppose the writings of Paul (at least as they were being *interpreted*: whether Paul himself would have agreed with the interpretation of his views that they oppose is a completely different question), and the author needed someone of the stature of James in order to make the refutation convincing, both because James was the head of the Jerusalem church and because it was widely thought that he was at loggerheads with Paul. I have taken this again from my book Forgery and Counterforgery.  It’s written for scholars, but I’ve tried to make it accessible by explaining the terms I use and translating the Greek.  This will take a few posts, so here’s the start, where I lay the groundwork: the letter of James does seem to be responding to the writings of Paul. ************************************************************** [...]

But WHY Doesn’t Torture Hurt?? Guest Post by Stephanie Cobb

This now is the final of Stephanie Cobb's posts on the painlessness of martyrdom, as explained more fully in her recent book.  And now we get to the heart of the matter: if it doesn't hurt, uh, why is that??? Again, Stephanie has graciously agreed to answer your questions -- so ask away. - Stephanie Cobb has written Dying to Be Men and Divine Deliverance. If you were a member of the blog, you would get access to all the posts, five times a week, instead of just one occasionally.  It's terrific value for your money, and every penny goes to charity.  So join already.... ************************************************************************************ In my first two posts, I asked “Does martyrdom hurt?” and explored reasons why early Christian martyr texts might reasonably answer “yes!” but then detailed the ways in which these texts actually make the counterintuitive argument: “No! Martyrdom doesn’t hurt.” In this—my last—post on Divine Deliverance: Pain and Painlessness in Early Christian Martyr Texts, I want to explore a slightly different question: “Why doesn’t martyrdom hurt?” To read a [...]

My Current Research Projects, 7/2019

I often get asked what I’m doing in my personal research – both long term and, well, what is it I actually do during the day?   It’s all related to the blog, so I thought I’d devote a single post to it, just a kind of overview of the kinds of things I’m working on.  Right now, as it turns out, it’s a wide range. Tomorrow I’m off to Marburg Germany (I’ve been in London for most of the summer, so it’s a short flight) for an international conference of New Testament scholars, called the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas – i.e., Society for New Testament Studies.   It’s an annual affair, mainly of Europeans and Americans, that takes place over four days, with major lectures, less major lectures, and seminar papers.  The latter involves small groups of anywhere, I suppose, from five to twenty scholars discussing papers written in advance for an hour and a half each. I’m presenting a paper I’ve been working on for about a month now on and off, on the Katabasis [...]

2019-08-02T02:21:48-04:00July 29th, 2019|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Does James (the Book) Have the Same Concerns as James (the Man)? Part 2

This will be my last post mounting the case that the brother of Jesus, James, did not write the letter of James.  Here I get into some of the most substantive issues: what does this author consider to be the most important aspects of his Christian faith, and how does this stack up against what we know otherwise of James of Jerusalem?  And are there indications that in fact he is addressing issues that simply do not appear relevant to Christianity in its earliest stages? ***************************************************** In light of the previous post, it is interesting to notice which sins and failures occupy the author of the letter of James (given the dominant interest of James of Jerusalem, so far as we can know, on the importance of strict Torah observance).  They are by and large not explicit violations of the Torah but moral shortcomings such as showing favoritism, not controlling one’s speech, and failing to help those in need.  So too, what is “true religion” for this author?  It has little to do with specific [...]

2020-04-11T17:03:11-04:00July 28th, 2019|Catholic Epistles, Forgery in Antiquity|

Does the Book of James Have the Same Concerns as the Historical James?

I continue now with my discussion of whether the book of James was actually written, as it implicitly claims, by the historical James, the brother of Jesus.  The issue is much bigger than whether James could write (a topic I discussed in my earlier posts).  Are the issues/concerns/interests of this book at all consonant with what we know about James himself?   The question is rarely asked, but it's absolutely key. Here is what I say in my book about it: ********************************************************************* Other arguments support the claim that James the brother of Jesus almost certainly did not write the letter.  Of key importance is the fact that precisely what we know about James of Jerusalem otherwise is what we do not find in this letter.   The earliest accounts of James – one of them from a contemporary – indicate that he was especially known as an advocate for the view that Jewish followers of Jesus should maintain their Jewish identity by following the Jewish Law.  This seems to be the clear indication of Gal. 2:12 in [...]

2020-04-02T23:27:41-04:00July 26th, 2019|Catholic Epistles|

The Brother of Jesus and the Book of James

Finally I get to explaining reasons why the brother of Jesus, in my judgment, almost certainly did not write the book of James.   The explanation will come in two parts, or possibly three.  In this one I build on my last post, by arguing that it seems completely implausible that James *could* have written the letter.  (For those of you inclined to think he used a "secretary" to do it for him -- I've posted on this a bunch in the past, to show why that didn't happen; just search for "secretary" on the blog).  In my next post or two I'll give additional reasons, for those of you not completely enthralled with questions of who could read and write in antiquity.   Both discussions are edited versions of what I say in my book Forgery and Counterforgery. *********************************************************** There are solid reasons for thinking that whoever wrote this letter, it was not James, the brother of Jesus.  The first, as already mentioned, is that James of Nazareth could almost certainly not write. Whoever produced this [...]

2020-04-29T17:32:24-04:00July 24th, 2019|Catholic Epistles, Reader’s Questions|

How Could Torture Not Hurt?? Guest Post by Stephanie Cobb

Here now is the second of three posts by Stephanie Cobb on her recent book about early Christian accounts of the martyrs.  As you'll see, she makes some rather astonishing and counter-intuitive claims.  But I think she's completely right.   This is fascinating material.... - Stephanie Cobb's most popular books are Dying to Be Men and Divine Deliverance.   *********************************************************   In the previous post, I detailed the reasons martyr texts ought to focus on the suffering and pain of early Christians experiencing torture and being executed for their faith. I also, though, noted that despite those reasons, the texts exhibit an interest in protecting the Christian body from the experience of pain. In this post, we’ll look at some of the ways Christian authors accomplish their goals of illustrating Christian insensitivity to pain. But first, a quick caveat: in my work, I focus on rhetoric and narrative—not history per se. That is, I am not arguing that torture does not hurt. In fact, I am certain that torture hurts and to deny that is a [...]

Could Most People Write in Antiquity?

I am ready now to discuss in a couple of posts the issue of whether Jesus' brother James actually wrote the book of James, or if it was someone else wanting his readers to *think* it was him.   To make sense of what I want to say about it at the outset (it will take a couple of posts), I've decided I need to re-post an old post on a broader and even more interesting question: who actually *could* write back then?  Today most anyone can (just, well, check out the Internet!).  But who could in, say, first-century Palestine.  It seems so counter-intuitive that many people simply, without looking at any of the evidence, intuitively don't believe it.  But the answer is, very, very few people indeed.  A tiny slice of a minority.  Here is what I said about the matter in the original post (devoted specifically to the question of whether Jesus' disciple Peter could have written 1 Peter). ************************************************************************************* In his now-classic study of ancient literacy, William Harris gave compelling reasons for thinking [...]

2021-01-20T00:46:20-05:00July 22nd, 2019|Catholic Epistles, Reflections and Ruminations|

Did James Write James?

In two previous posts I gave an overview of the letter of James, one of the real gems hidden away in the New Testament (it takes 15 minutes to read it, max.  Try it!  Great little book.)   Now I want to devote several posts to address the question I was originally asked about it.  Was it really written by James, the brother of Jesus, as traditionally claimed? I deal with that question at some length in my book Forgery and Counterforgery.  I think the discussion is accessible to the non-expert.  Here is how I begin (some of this has been edited to make it slightly more user-friendly).  It ends up being an important issue: do we have a writing from Jesus’ own brother?  Now *that* would be interesting!  But, alas, I think not. *************************************************** The letter of James begins simply enough: “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings” (1:1).    A number of persons are named James in the New Testament, including the father [...]

Is History a Four-Letter Word?

Most people on the planet simply are not interested in history.   I’d say that’s true of most American high school and college students.  History classes can be dreadfully boring, especially with the wrong teacher -- and it is very hard to be a good teacher of history.  In high school, I had almost no interest in my history classes.  Names, dates, things that happened that had no relevance to anything I was interested in or what I felt like doing day to day.  Ugh. But a good history teacher is a marvel to behold.  There is so much about the past that is fascinating, and, of course relevant.  And so, as it turns out, I’ve turned into a professional historian.  Go figure. I’ve been thinking about this because of that debate I had on Monday with Peter Williams, a very bright evangelical Christian and a fine scholar of ancient Semitic languages who firmly believes that the Bible conveys God’s Truth, in every way, so that there are no mistakes of any kind in it. Peter [...]

Changing Your Mind. Or Not.

Two things have happened to me this week that have made me think rather intensely about the path I’ve taken in life, and how radically it has swerved from the paths of others who were like me at the age of 20.   I emphasize “who were like me.”   The reality is that the path I was on already at 20 was (now I see) extremely weird, and to outsiders looks more than a little bizarre.   I was a hard-core evangelical Christian dedicated to ministry for the sake of the gospel.   Not exactly what most 20-year olds (including any of my many high school friends) were doing at the time.  If ever I want a conversation-stopper at a cocktail party, all I need do is say something about my past. Still, given that as my starting point, what happened next is even more highly unusual.  And I was abruptly reminded it of it this week, twice.   First, on Monday I had a radio/podcast debate here in London on “Premier Christian Radio” (it is the leading Christian [...]

2020-04-08T15:56:28-04:00July 17th, 2019|Reflections and Ruminations|

Did It Hurt to Be Martyred? The Surprising Answer. Guest Post by Stephanie Cobb.

One of my most accomplished former students is Stephanie Cobb, now the George and Sallie Cutchin Camp Professor of Bible in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Richmond.   While doing her PhD at UNC, Stephanie became deeply interested in the accounts of martyrdom in early Christianity, leading to a dissertation with one of the best titles ever (it really does describe the book but it’s unusually clever): Dying to be Men: Gender and Language in Early Christian Martyr Texts. Stephanie has become one of the leading experts in this field, backed up now with an intriguing and important second book on the martyr texts.  It will be of particular interest to members of the blog and so I’ve asked Stephanie to make some guest posts about it.  Here is the first.   *********************************************************   Bart recently asked if I would be interested in writing a few posts about my latest book, Divine Deliverance: Pain and Painlessness in Early Christian Martyr Texts. But before diving into Divine Deliverance itself, I want to back [...]

Was James the Actual Brother of Jesus?

I’ve started talking about the epistle of James, first in relation to Paul (yesterday) and then in relation to … James, the man himself, Jesus’ brother (today).   My ultimate goal is to explain why I’m sure James himself did not write the letter (later).  But in the meantime I’ve received a question that I should probably address first: did Jesus really have a brother named James?   Uh… don’t a lot of Christians think that Jesus never had any siblings (since his mother remained a virgin)?  How do you explain him having a brother? I’ve talked about this on the blog before, but in the current context, it’s worth talking about again.  Here’s the question and my response:   ************************************************************   QUESTION: In what way was the James you are talking about here, the “brother” of Jesus? Was he another one of Mary’s sons from Joseph? Was he another one of Joseph’s sons from a previous relationship?   RESPONSE: One of the non-canonical books from early Christianity that I regularly teach is called the Proto-Gospel of [...]

2020-04-29T16:59:47-04:00July 15th, 2019|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

Is the Book of James Attacking the Teachings of Paul?

Yesterday I began answering a question about the New Testament book of James.  The most interesting thing about the book, for most readers, is that it *seems* at least to be attacking a view vigorously espoused by the apostle Paul.  Are these authors at odds with each other?  Here is where I pick up on that discussion in my book Forged.  My sense is that a lot of readers of the blog will not anticipate where I stand on the issue. ************************************************************************** There is one issue that the author is particularly concerned with, however.  It is an issue that reflects a bone of contention with other Christians.  There are some Christians who are evidently saying that to be right with God, all one needs is faith; for them, doing “good works” is irrelevant to salvation, so long as you believe.  James thinks this is precisely wrong, that if you do not do good deeds, then you obviously don’t have faith. What use is it, my brothers, if a person says he has faith but has [...]

2020-04-02T23:28:31-04:00July 14th, 2019|Catholic Epistles, Paul and His Letters|

One of My Favorite Letters in the New Testament: The Book of James

Sometimes the questions I get from readers are short and to the point, but require long answers over a number of posts.  Here’s one of the recent ones:   QUESTION: Could you write a blog on the book of James and why it is considered a forgery?   RESPONSE: I think this question deserves an entire thread of responses.  I haven’t talked much about the letter of James on the blog (at least so far as I can remember and tell!).   So why not?   It’s a short “book” – just five brief chapters.  You can read it in fifteen minutes.  Go ahead!  What I say about it will then make better sense. The best known feature of the letter is that it *seems* to be opposing the writings and teachings of Paul.  But does it?  Martin Luther, father of the Reformation, thought so.  He included the book only as an appendix to the New Testament. I talk about the letter, and the reasons I don’t think it was actually written by James, the brother of [...]

Sad News From Larry Hurtado

Many readers on the blog will know of Larry Hurtado, a prominent New Testament scholar who has been influential as one of the most regular and reliable bloggers on issues of relevance to the study of early Christianity.   Larry has announced that he is very ill and will no longer be able to participate in either scholarship or the promotion of early Christians studies to a broader reading audience.  This is very sad, especially for us who know him.  (I will give his announcement about his illness and the prospects at the end of this post.) I have known Larry for over thirty years.  He started out as a New Testament textual critic, with his first book a published version of his dissertation: Hurtado, Larry W. (1981). Text-Critical Methodology and the Pre-Caesarean Text: Codex W in the Gospel of Mark. Studies and Documents. 43. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.  It's not something you will want to try to reading, unless you're an expert on Greek and the Greek manuscript tradition of the NT.  Trust me.  But I used [...]

2019-07-10T05:01:47-04:00July 10th, 2019|History of Biblical Scholarship, Public Forum|

The Legality, Morality, and Scandal of Acquiring Ancient Manuscripts: Guest Post by Jennifer Knust

Here is the final part of Jennifer’s Knust’s quest to trace the history of an intriguing Christian manuscript she came across, suspecting it had come to Duke ultimately as a result of Nazi looting decades earlier.  Now she details how she tried to track it down. The entire episode leads her, then to reflect on the Green Family Collection, a group of manuscripts and antiquities purchased by the owners of the Hobby Lobby and the basis of the “Museum of the Bible” in Washington D.C.   Any visitor to the museum might assume that acquiring such treasures would be relatively simple and involve no issues of legality, morality, and scandal.  On the contrary…. Jennifer Knust’s most popular books are To Cast the First Stone and Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity. ************************************************* Part III: Manuscripts are Commodities The Antiquariat was (and is) a bookstore. Günther Koch was a bookseller. Indeed, in a counter-claim filed against the Rosenthals in the 1950s, he described himself as uniquely qualified for the position he undertook during and after the [...]

Christian Manuscripts and Nazi Loot: Guest Post by Jennifer Knust

This now is the second of Jennifer Knust’s three posts on her current project, tracing the history of a Christian manuscript she came upon from the rare book collection at Duke University.  Her research led her to booksellers in London, Munich, and Amsterdamn, and implicates the Aryanization policies of the Nazis.   Who knew New Testament scholarship could be so interesting?   Find below what she has to say. Jennifer Knust’s most popular books are To Cast the First Stone and Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity. *************************************   Part II: Nazi Loot? My own project began when Aaron Ebert, a doctoral student at Duke University, noticed that the manuscript he was studying was one of three purchased by Duke from the London bookseller Raphael King in the 1950s. Very little information about Mr. King is available, so Aaron reached out to the Ludwig Rosenthal Antiquariaat, a venerable antiquarian bookstore now located in the Netherlands that once owned another of Duke’s manuscripts also sold by King, Greek MS 018. According to an important volume on Byzantine [...]

Tracking Down Stolen Manuscripts: Guest Post by Jennifer Knust

I have asked my friend and colleague Jennifer Knust (Professor of early Christianity at Duke) to write some guest posts for us on the blog. Jenny is the author of Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity, and she has also recently published the definitive study of the famous passage of the “Woman Taken in Adultery” (containing the line “Let the one without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her” – a passage not originally in the New Testament), a long, sophisticated, and learned book (co-authored with Tommy Wasserman), called To Cast the First Stone; and I had suggested she write about that for us.  Maybe she will later. But for now she has decided to post about some very exciting current research she’s doing, as we speak: tracking down the history of a Christian manuscript that was plundered by the Nazis.  Intriguing stuff.  This will take several posts. ***************************************************** Jennifer Wright Knust Duke University “In this kind of world no blueprint instructs us how to house what we [...]

Heightened Opposition to Jews in Early Christianity

I have been outlining some of the issues that I may talk about in a book on the rise of anti-Judaism in early Christianity, if I write it.  In previous posts I have detailed some of the uglier Christian attacks on Jews and Judaism, almost all of them tied to Christian ways of reading the Old Testament that different from traditional, Jewish readings.  Some Christians claimed that Jews misread what God had told them in the Scripture, and that this is what led them to reject their messiah, and since they had rejected their messiah, God had rejected them.  Christians, not Jews, were the people of God.  Jews were condemned. It’s not a happy history, and it gets worse.  In my book I will not move into the later consequences of the Middle Ages down to modernity – restrictions on what Jews could do for a living, on where they could live, on how they could engage with others in their communities; eventually the pogroms and expulsions; and so on.   I will be focusing only [...]

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