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If We Did Have the “Original” Gospels, Would That Make Them True?

Have you ever noticed how people who are having an argument often use a slight of hand, either not realizing what they are doing or doing it in order to misdirect the discussion?  What I have in mind is when someone wants to prove a view that we will call X, but instead of directly dealing with the issues of central importance to X, they divert attention to something else that we can call Y.  Then, when they claim they have proved Y they lead their audience to think they therefore proved X.  On one hand, a  lot of time they haven’t even proved Y.  But they claim not only they have done *that* but that since they have done that they have also thereby proved X, even though Y is not the same as X.  Sometimes Y is not even related to Y. I don’t know if you’ve seen this before, but it happens a lot, in all sorts of arguments about religion, politics, society, and so on.  It certainly happens a lot in [...]

2020-05-31T13:40:04-04:00May 31st, 2020|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Would It Matter If It HAD BEEN a First-century Copy of Mark? A Surprising Answer in the Readers’ Mailbag

  I received a lot of comments on my post about the academic fraud connected with an Oxford manuscript scholar, the Museum of the Bible, and certain enthusiastic evangelical Christians who are ironically willing to lie or distort the truth in order to prove their understanding of the truth.  One question I received several times: suppose the manuscript that started the whole thing off, the alleged "first-century copy of Mark" -- which turns out to be a tiny scrap that is NOT from the first century -- suppose it *had* been a manuscript of the first century.  Would that have revolutionized our understanding of Mark's Gospel, the New Testament as whole, the historical accuracy of the Bible, or our views of the historical Jesus?  TERRIFIC question.  Here is how one reader asked it: QUESTION: For the sake of arguments let’s pretend for a moment that the fragment really existed and was precisely what it was claimed to be. That would surely be a stunning, miraculous find that all scholars would applaud. (And we can certainly [...]

2022-07-03T16:43:42-04:00May 29th, 2020|New Testament Manuscripts, Reader’s Questions|

The Remarkable Story of Masada: Guest Post by Jodi Magness

Many of you know of my colleague Jodi Magness.  She is one of the world's leading authorities on the archaeology of ancient Israel, a real superstar in her field.  You can read about her here:  Since 2011 her annual dig at Huqoq in Galilee has is often discussed in the international press, particularly because of the synagogue they discovered that has some of the most amazing works of art ever to be found in Israel; the work is regularly featured, for example, in National Geographic.  (For the dig, see: But her first major archaeological work involved the army camps at Masada, one of the most historically and culturally significant sites of Israel antiquity, where rebel fighters made their last stand against the Roman armies in 73 CE.  Jodi has recently published a terrific book for a broader audience on Masada.  It's a fascinating story and a flat-out terrific book: Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth (Princeton University Press, 2019). I asked Jodi if she would be willing to do a guest post [...]

2021-02-02T01:02:59-05:00May 27th, 2020|Early Judaism, Religion in the News|

Judas Iscariot? What’s an Iscariot??

I have argued that Judas Iscariot really existed as one of the disciples of Jesus.  Unlike the others, though, he is given a "last name" -- Iscariot.  But what does the name mean?  It turns out, there is a huge debate over that.  Here is how I discuss the matter in my book The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.   **************************************************** The Name Judas Iscariot Sometimes knowing the names of persons from antiquity can give further information about them.  People of the lower classes did not have last names, and so to differentiate people with the same first name, descriptive designations were often added.  For example, there are several different Marys in the New Testament.  “Mary” was one of the most common names in first-century Palestine.  And so each New Testament Mary is given some kind of identifying feature: Mary “the mother of Jesus”; Mary “of Bethany”; Mary “Magdalene.”  This last designation indicates that this Mary came from the town of Magdala, which was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. Thus, simply by knowing [...]

2020-05-26T09:11:53-04:00May 26th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Was Judas Iscariot “Made Up”?

My recent post on Judas Iscariot generated more interest than I expected, and a lot of readers wanted to hear more.   I've posted on Judas a number of times over the years, but maybe it's a good time to give the full scoop.  If you want a lot more information, you might want to check out my book The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.  That book was prompted by the discovery of the Gospel of Judas; I was not involved with the discovery or the restoration of the Gospel, but I was part of a small team of scholars asked by National Geographic to study it as they decided whether it was authentic and important.  Uh, yeah.  But one has to look carefully at these things before deciding (as pointed out in yesterday's post an recent academic fraud). I may talk about my involvement with the project later on the blog, but for now: my book on Judas arose out of it, and does indeed talk about the Gospel of Judas based on my preliminary [...]

2020-05-25T09:40:38-04:00May 25th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Academic Fraud at the Highest Levels

An article appeared in the Atlantic this past week that exposes academic fraud at the highest levels, involving millions of dollars, unscrupulous scholars, and evangelical Christians so intent on proving the truth of the Bible that they were willing, even eager, to engage in unethical and fraudulent activities to do so.  It seems weird, but the case involves Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. The article was written by one of the country’s best investigative journalists, Ariel Sabar, who earlier had exposed for once and all the modern forgery known as “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” in another article in the Atlantic  (I’ve blogged on this forgery a number of times as the story unfolded; just search for “Jesus’ wife” on the blog and you’ll see the posts).    Sabar has a forthcoming book on the topic, Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, due out in August.  I have read it in manuscript, and it is damning indeed. So is the current article.  You can see it here: [...]

2020-05-24T12:38:27-04:00May 24th, 2020|Religion in the News|

Did Judas Really Betray Jesus? Readers’ Mailbag

My post a few days ago about whether Paul knew that Jesus had been betrayed by Judas Iscariot -- in which I concluded there really was no solid evidence one way or the other -- generated several follow-up questions.  Many of them simply asked: well, did it really happen?   Here is an example, and my response. QUESTION: I may be showing my ignorance here but could it be that Paul doesn’t know/write about Judas’ betrayal because it never happened? Yes, it is in all four gospels but as you’ve pointed out the four gospels do not agree on who showed up at the empty tomb, what they saw, and what they did next so…. If they get that wrong could it be that the Judas betrayal is also a fabrication/legend?   RESPONSE: It's a great question, and I'm completely sympathetic to it.   But I have to say that I think Jesus really was betrayed by one of his own, Judas Iscariot.   In my judgment, that's just where the evidence points. As many of you know [...]

Last Chance for Webinar!

Today is the LAST DAY to put in a bid to join my small webinar on "How We Got the New Testament"!  If you missed the post, here 'tis: I will be taking bids until 11:59 pm this evening. After that you will find yourself in the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

2020-05-21T09:12:09-04:00May 21st, 2020|Public Forum|

My Interview with Erstwhile-Evangelist-Now-Secular-Humanist Bart Campolo

Now this was an unusual interview!  By a namesake!  I've known about Bart Campolo for years, but mainly because of his father, Tony Campolo, a very well-known evangelical evangelist with left-leaning social and political views.  Tony, the father, has a very interesting history (see; among other things, he was a spiritual adviser to Bill Clinton.  But in some ways Bart, the son, has an even *more* interesting story.  He was raised an evangelical, and became an evangelist/missionary, but eventually left the faith and became a secular humanist -- as am I.  Bart wrote a book about it, and together they helped produce a film released a few years ago, Leaving My Father's Faith.  It's quite a story. Bart now has a secular ministry that  involves counseling people who are thinking about leaving the faith or who have already done so.  In addition, he has a weekly podcast, "Humanize Me." On May 13, 2020, he invited me to the podcast to discuss my book "Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife."  As you will [...]

2020-05-22T13:13:21-04:00May 20th, 2020|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

Did Some *One* Forge the Writings of “John”? Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

Here my colleague Hugo Mendez wraps up his discussion of the writings of "John" -- the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John -- and he does so with a BANG.  I hope you can see both the quality and significance of these conclusions.  This is very serious and persuasive scholarship put at a level that even non-scholars can understand, with huge implications for understanding four of the important writings of the New Testament but also for rethinking questions of authorship of the early Christian writings and the history of our earliest Christian communities.  It's easy for scholars to see these implications (mainly because the conclusions he reaches are contrary to what most critical scholars actually teach their students all the time), which is why Hugo has stirred up a bit of a hornets' nest.  I hope it's possible for you to both appreciate and enjoy the argument as well. There is only one point on which he and I probably disagree, and it has to do with the authorship of the [...]

Problems with Thinking the “Letters of John” in the NT are Forgeries? Guest Post: Hugo Mendez

This thread of posts we have been having by Hugo Mendez on the writings of "John" in the New Testament has been unusually stimulating and in the world of scholarship, controversial.  If you haven't followed the thread, just look at the four that have already been posted starting two weeks ago.  If he were to argue that 1 Timothy was not really written by Paul, but someone claiming to be Paul (i.e., that it was a "forgery"), not a single New Testament scholar in the country would raise an eyebrow.  But to claim the letters of John are forgeries?  Yikes -- now *that* is something you don't hear every day.  But can the claim be sustained?  Here Hugo answers some of the objections others might raise. What do you think?  Convinced?              NOTE: most posts on the blog are for members only.  This one is open to anyone who wants to see it.  Wanna see this kind of post five times each and every week, going back eight years?  Join [...]

2020-05-18T15:13:23-04:00May 18th, 2020|Catholic Epistles, Forgery in Antiquity|

A Bart Ehrman Webinar: How We Got the New Testament!

I have decided to hold a small and intimate webinar in order to raise money for the Bart Ehrman Blog.  Every penny that the webinar brings in will go directly to two of the blog’s charities, The Food Bank of Central/Eastern North Carolina and Doctors without Borders, split equally between them.  It will be held on Sunday May 31 at 4:00 pm.  It will last for an hour and fifteen minutes. The topic of the seminar will be “How We Got the New Testament.”  Among the topics to be covered will be: Who decided which books would be included in the New Testament?  Who gave them the authority to decide?  How did they decide?  What were their criteria?  When were their decisions finally made?  What do we know about the books that were left out?  And why didn’t these other books “make it”? I will say at the outset, here, that the answers are not what most people seem to suppose. In the webinar I will deliver a talk for about 40-45 minutes; the rest [...]

2020-05-17T18:55:18-04:00May 17th, 2020|Public Forum|

Did Paul Know that Judas Betrayed Jesus? Readers’ Mailbag!

QUESTION: Do you think that Paul, without naming him, is referring to Judas in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24? (The verse in the NRSV: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”)   RESPONSE: Ah, it’s a great question. Paul never explicitly mentions Judas Iscariot or indicates that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own disciples. But couldn’t this verse contain a reference to Judas? It refers to the night on which Jesus was betrayed! One reason the question matters is that Paul says almost *NOTHING* about the events of Jesus’ lifetime. That seems weird to people, but just read all of his letters. Paul never mentions Jesus healing anyone, casting out a demon, doing any other miracle, arguing with Pharisees or other leaders, teaching the multitudes, even speaking a parable, being baptized, being [...]

2020-05-15T10:32:37-04:00May 15th, 2020|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

Getting a PhD in New Testament Studies

I was breezing through ancient blog posts this morning and came across this one from exactly eight years ago. It involves a question I get a lot (got it last week!), from people interested in doing graduate work in the field of New Testament or early Christianity. What is it like and what does it take? Here is what I said back then, which is pretty much what I would still say today! **************************************** I sometimes get asked what it takes to become a professional scholar in the field of New Testament/early Christian studies. The answer, in short, is the same as for any academic discipline. It takes years of intense training. My own training in the field of New Testament studies was nothing at all unusual, but rather was fairly typical for someone in the field. What is unusual is that I knew that I wanted to pursue this kind of study already when I was in college. I started taking courses in New Testament as a 17-year old. For my foreign language requirement [...]

Are the Gospel and Epistles of John *Forgeries*?? Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

Whoa! Forgeries? That seems a bit extreme! Right? Forgeries??? Hugo Mendez continues his discussion, and I have to say, it's pretty convincing. He and I may disagree on a couple of things about the Gospel of John -- I haven't decided yet :-) -- but on the epistles I'm gettin' there and am open to persuasion on the entire case. What do you think? The hardest part for most of us is preventing the knee that is jerking from controlling our brain that is judging. So read what he has to say, ponder it, and see what you think -- no matter how out of control the knee is. And if you see flaws in what he's saying, free to tell him (and me, and everyone else!) why. Here's his fourth post. ***************************************************** The Johannine Texts as Literary Forgeries The primary reason why scholars believe a “Johannine community” once existed is that we possess not only a Johannine Gospel (John) but also three Johannine Epistles/Letters (1, 2, and 3 John). Those letters seem to actually [...]

2020-05-13T15:34:06-04:00May 12th, 2020|Catholic Epistles, Forgery in Antiquity|

Was There One Author Behind the Four Johannine Writings? A Community? Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

We continue now with the third of Hugo Mendez's guest posts on the "community" allegedly behind the Gospel of John, 1, 2, and 3 John.   Here he shows why most critical scholars do NOT think (as most other interested human beings on the planet do!) that all four were written by the same person (let alone Jesus' disciple, John the Son of Zebedee), and why they have argued that instead they all come from like-minded authors from the same community. But when he gets to the end he indicates why there is a flaw in this reasoning.  This post is an excellent example of solid scholarship with an unexpected ZINGER at the end! Hugo will be happy to respond to your comments, and he has certainly set up the next post.  (If you have time, go ahead and read the three letters; they are very short and it's a fast read.  But they have an importance far beyond what you might expect from their size) Why Scholars Haven’t Given Up on the Johannine Community (Yet) [...]

A Powerful Film and Some Raw Emotions

As a rule I don’t watch a lot of films, but during the crisis Sarah and I have reinstated our weekly “movie night,” and on Friday we saw Ethan Hawke’s First Reformed.   Have you seen it?  I was very reluctant to do so for personal reasons. I thought it would hit to close to home. Oh boy was I right. I’ve always loved Ethan Hawke, from Dead Poet’s Society onward.  But this one was a bit hard. The movie itself is brilliant, extremely layered and thoughtful. Hawke plays the role of Rev. Toller, the pastor of a small, historic, but failing church in upstate New York.   But he is losing his faith and trying to makes sense of his religion, his world, and the meaning of life. The movie doesn’t hit you over the head with the options, but if you think about what you’ve just seen carefully enough, they are there. The backdrop to the story is that Rev. Toller is on his own, lives by himself, in a rectory connected with the church, [...]

2020-05-10T12:56:27-04:00May 10th, 2020|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum|

Readers Mailbag: Does Isaiah 53 Predict the Death and Resurrection of Jesus?

I would like to get back into the practice of devoting one post a week to answering questions raised by blog members.  I have a fairly long list of good questions I haven’t been able to get to, so why not just go through them week by week?  If you have any pressing questions that are particularly intriguing or perplexing for you about the NT or early Christianity or any related topic, let me know as a comment on a post (any post will do, whether relevant or not).  If it’s not something I can address or that I can answer in a line or two, I’ll let you know.  Otherwise, I can add it to the list! At the top of my current list is the following.   QUESTION: I wonder if you could talk about Isaiah 53 which I think is also a later insert by the scribes trying to justify what they had done to Jesus.   RESPONSE: Ah, now *this* is a passage that students bring up every time I teach [...]

Were the Gospels Generally Written for “Communities” of Christians: Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

Here now is Hugo Mendez’s second post in his thread (started yesterday, if you haven’t seen it yet), challenging whether the writings of John all emerge from a specific “community,” as I argued in my previous thread.  In this post he points out how scholars have called into question whether the idea of "communities” is helpful at all for understanding the early Gospels. Hugo will be happy to address your questions!  Just post yours as a comment to the post. ***************************************************************  Challenges to the Idea of “Gospel Communities” As I noted last time, my most recent article questions the existence of the Johannine Community. There’s an early tendency when some hear of my project to confuse it with some other recent attempts to challenge the idea of “gospel communities.” Before discussing the terms of my own proposal, then, I’d like to catch you all up to speed with the current state of that debate over “communities” and where I “fit” into this discussion Today, New Testament scholars seem to fall into one of roughly three [...]

Live Event on Wednesday Evening, May 6!

Join us for the third in a fascinating six-week series of virtual "book club" discussions! This week join NHC president Robert Newman and scholar Bart D. Ehrman to discuss Ehrman's book, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 7:00 pm ET Facebook Live _________________________________________________________________ Where do our ideas about heaven and hell come from, and why do they endure? _________________________________________________________________ In clear and compelling terms, Bart D. Ehrman recounts the long history of the afterlife, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the writings of Augustine, focusing especially on the teachings of Jesus and his early followers. He discusses ancient guided tours of heaven and hell, in which a living person observes the sublime blessings of heaven for those who are saved and the horrifying torments of hell for the damned. As a historian, Ehrman obviously cannot provide a definitive answer to the question of what happens after death, but by helping us reflect on where our ideas of the afterlife come from, he assures us that even if there [...]

2020-05-05T09:11:07-04:00May 5th, 2020|Afterlife, Book Discussions, Video Media|
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