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Was Jesus Connected with the Dead Sea Scrolls Community?

In my previous post I talked about the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding Jesus and the milieu out of which earliest Christianity grew.  My basic point is that if Jesus was a Jew, then to understand him, you have to understand Jews in his world.  And the Dead Sea Scrolls provide us valuable information to that end. I am not saying that the Dead Sea Scrolls are representative of what all or even most Jews thought at the time.  They clearly are not.  If the “Essene hypothesis” is right (that is, that the Scrolls were produced by members of a Jewish sect known as the Essenes) – and it is the view held by the vast majority of the experts (I am *not* an expert on the Scrolls) – then the Scrolls were produced by a Jewish sect that had very distinctive views of its own that were not, in many respects, shared by outsiders.  In particular, this was a group of Jews who insisted that the coming apocalyptic judgment, soon to [...]

2020-06-30T20:14:36-04:00June 30th, 2020|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Randy Alcorn’s Response to Some Blog Criticisms (part 2)

A few days ago I posted the first part of Randy Alcorn's explanation of his views, in response to a number of criticisms blog members leveled at his review of my book Heaven and Hell.  In particular, a number of readers thought that he was unduly harsh and even "slandered" me.  Here he provides a response.  Feel free to make further comments, though Randy probably will not be responding directly. ******************************************************************************************************* From Randy Alcorn: I’ve changed my mind on various things, I assume Bart has too. In a few cases I wish I wouldn’t have cited info that at the time appeared accurate but turned out not to be (my publishers have sometimes cringed when I insist on another update and revision, as well as corrections that are sometimes expensive). To your charge of slander, Truncated, I don’t consider it slander to say that I believe someone appears to think he’s 100% right in certain areas when there are many people as smart and educated as he is that disagree. I do think at times Bart [...]

2020-06-29T15:05:09-04:00June 29th, 2020|Bart's Critics, Fourth-Century Christianity|

The Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for Understanding Jesus: Readers’ Mailbag

A few posts ago I discussed, very briefly, the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I received a number of questions about the post, one in particular with some frequency: how did the discovery of the Scrolls contribute to our understanding of Jesus and early Christianity?  For me as a NT scholar, it is obviously an unusually important question. Let me stress that the Scrolls are *mainly* important for understanding early Judaism, and only secondarily for understanding early Christianity.  But with that said, they are *really* important for Christianity as well, though not in ways you might suspect (especially if you acquire all your historical knowledge from random searches on the Internet!). As it turns out, I received virtually this same question seven years ago on the blog, and here is how I addressed it there.   Question: Can you write a post on how the Dead Sea Scrolls advance our understanding of the birth of Christianity?   Response: This is a question that can be answered in one sentence, or in a very long and dense book [...]

Do You Have Advanced Training In any of the Blog’s Fields?

Every now and then I learn of someone on the blog who has a PhD  or is ABD in one of the related fields, such as New Testament, Early Christian Studies, Hebrew Bible, Early Judaism, Rabbinics, Roman Religion, Greek Religion, Ancient (Greek or Roman) History, Semitic Philology, etc. etc., and/or is teaching in one of those fields in a college or university. Are you one of them?  If so, please send me an email, at [email protected].  I'm interested in knowing what your research is and/or has been, and I don't know how else to contact you, other than this!

2020-06-26T18:10:06-04:00June 26th, 2020|Public Forum|

Randy Alcorn Explains His Review In Light of Readers’ Comments

Some of you have expressed dismay that comments/questions you submitted on Randy Alcorn's book review of my book Heaven and Hell (from June 21) did not get posted.  So sorry.  There were some technical difficulties and problems on this end, and when they were resolved Randy found himself confronted with about a hundred comments, some of them with multiple points / questions, and it was more than a mere mortal could handle. Moreover, a number of the comments / questions were along the same lines.  So, instead of responding to each comment / question individually he has written two additional posts to explain himself and his position.  I will post these separately, though they are related to each other, the first one here today. I will also go ahead now and post your comments / questions that have come in from the beginning.  Randy will not be able to respond directly to them, but he appreciates very much your concerns and questions.  If you have questions / comments for me, instead of him, feel free to [...]

2020-06-26T18:13:20-04:00June 26th, 2020|Public Forum|

Did You Register for the Webinar on Sunday?

I have contacted everyone that has registered for Sunday's webinar on "Do We Have The Original New Testament?"  and sent an invitation to the Zoom webinar.  If you did register, but did not get the email or invitation, both sent out today (Thursday 6.25.20), please zap me an email, with the subject line YOU MISSED ME!!!

2020-06-25T21:05:02-04:00June 25th, 2020|Public Forum|

How Do We Interpret the Beatitudes? Guest Post by Julius-Kei Kato

Julius-Kei Kato is a member of the blog, a PhD from Graduate Theological Union, an expert on the new Testament, and an Associate Professor in Religious Studies at King's University College at Western University.  You can learn about him here: Prof. Kato has written a very interesting article for the blog as a guest post, on one of the most familiar and least understood passages in the New Testament, the Beatitudes.  I can't say that I always agree with those who provide us with guest posts, but oh boy do I agree with this one.  And for my money it gets especially interesting at the end, where he shows how Christians today should understand this most critical teaching of Jesus precisely in light of the fact that the apocalyptic end of the age that he predicted never happened.  Even those of us who are not Christian should see the real merit and strength of this position -- it ends up endorsing precisely the vision that many of us have. Here is the post, in [...]

2021-02-02T00:55:37-05:00June 24th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

What Are The Dead Sea Scrolls?

Here's a topic I haven't discussed in a while!  Just about every thinking human being in our context has heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, even if they have no clue what the scrolls are, what they contain, and how they were found.  And it's no surprise they've heard of them.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are by virtual consensus the most significant manuscript discovery of the twentieth century, of major importance for understanding Judaism at the time of Jesus and, in some respects, the teachings of Jesus himself. Here is what I say about the scrolls in my New Testament textbook.  I begin by talking about the Jewish group widely thought to have been responsible for producing, using, and eventually hiding the scrolls -- which remained hidden from 70 CE until 1947!  The group is called the Essenes.   **************************************************   The Essenes are the one Jewish sect not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.  Ironically, they are also the group about which we are best informed.  This is because ... THE REST OF THIS POST [...]

Blog Member Publications! 6.22.2020

Last week I invited Blog Members who had published something to tell all of the rest of us about it.  Many have done so!  If you, too, would like to make your written work known, please read very carefully the instructions in the original post:   Today I publish the first batch.   There are seven (a good biblical number) and of various kinds.   I chose these on very scientific principles: they were the first seven I received! Each one includes the name of the work, the author’s name, a description of what the piece  is, and a link that can show you how to get a copy.  I will post these periodically in batches of about this size.   *****************************************************************************   Manifest Insanity, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Think for Myself, by Diogenes of Mayberry (my author pseudonym; I am a member of the blog under my real name) An irreverent social commentary that traces the history of Judeo-Christian doctrines and how they have evolved over the centuries, impudently contradicting [...]

2020-06-22T15:25:53-04:00June 22nd, 2020|Public Forum|

Bart’s Latest Attack on Christianity by Randy Alcorn

As you know, books on controversial topics get reviewed by all sorts of readers; some reviews are glowing and others are, well, nasty.  About a month or so ago several reader sent me an online review of my book Heaven and Hell on (check it out: it's a website dealing with issues connected with religious faith) by Randy Alcorn, a prominent evangelical author with a high public profile, who has written a number of books about Heaven from his faith perspective. You can check him out online: Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM) and the author of more than 55 books, including Heaven and If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. More than 11 million copies of his books have been sold. They’ve also been translated into 70 languages. Randy's review was, shall we say, of the harsh variety.  But now that I'm getting older and the body-joints aren't working as well as in the days of my youth, my knee doesn't seem [...]

2020-06-21T10:10:49-04:00June 21st, 2020|Afterlife, Bart's Critics, Book Discussions|

A Plea for Humility in the Face of the Universe

In this week’s Readers’ Mailbag we move away from the academic study of the New Testament to much broader and more important questions of relevance to us all, involving how we relate to others and live in the world.  The question is about attitudes and responses to suffering.  The question came in a comment about an earlier post I had done.   QUESTION: You said ‘My ultimate view is that even if suffering may lead us away from a belief in God, as it did for me, it should at the same time lead us toward humility in the face of the universe and toward a more caring, loving attitude toward those who suffer.’    I guess I didn’t see in your article a clear explanation for why suffering should lead towards the things you mention. I do not think you are wrong, but it would be good to have it rationed out, as I think this is the only place you make a claim without any evidence.   RESPONSE: Ah, I can see how my [...]

2020-06-19T10:01:30-04:00June 19th, 2020|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Reminder! A Webinar for You? Topic: Do We Have the Original New Testament?

Here's a reminder, for those who have not signed up yet.  I will be holding a webinar on Sunday June 28 at 4:00 - 5:15 pm to raise money for the Bart Ehrman Blog.  Anyone is welcome to join; the minimum donation is $10, the maximum is ... well, there is no maximum.  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. The topic of the seminar is “Do We Have the Original New Testament?”  Among the issues to be covered are: How were the books of the New Testament copied in the years, decades and centuries after they were written?  Who were the copyists?  How many copies do we still have?  How old are they?  Why are there hundreds of thousands of differences among them?  Are many of the differences significant?  Is it possible we don't know what the authors originally wrote? In the webinar I will deliver a talk for about [...]

2020-06-18T13:04:59-04:00June 18th, 2020|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Weren’t Jesus’ Followers Armed and Eager to Fight in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Did Jesus support a violent revolt against Rome?  The one argument that probably gets used more than any other in support of that view is that when Jesus gets arrested in the Gospels, his followers pull out their swords to fight.  What are they doing with swords?  Why are they fighting?  Since this is in all the Gospels (independently attested) and since it's not a story that later Christians would be likely to make up (since they would want to portray Jesus to their Roman audiences as peace-loving, not as a rabble-rouser) -- wouldn't that show that it's something that really happened?  And if so, then clearly Jesus was interested in arming his followers and fighting the authorities. That's how the argument goes, and it's a very good one.  But after some long reflection, I don't find it convincing.  Here is how I discussed the matter in my book Jesus Before the Gospels (the only book title that I deeply regret!  No one knows what it's about but it's unusually important: it's about how memory [...]

2020-06-17T09:35:40-04:00June 17th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Doesn’t Jesus’ “Cleansing of the Temple” Show He Wanted a Military Uprising?

Did Jesus support of an armed uprising against Rome?  Yesterday I re-posted some comments I had made years ago on the blog about Aslan's popular book Zealot, which advances that thesis.  I won't be dealing with the entire book this time around: I'm just interested at this point in dealing with this vital question itself Now I want to show how two data that are crucial for the “zealot hypothesis” actually make better sense with this apocalyptic understanding of Jesus.  The two data involve the temple cleansing and the crucifixion itself. If one wants to establish – as Aslan very much does want to do – that Jesus favored violence, there is no better scene to focus on than the disruption he caused in the Temple upon arriving in Jerusalem in the last week of his life.  According to the earliest accounts, Jesus enters the temple, overturns the tables of those exchanging money, and drives out those who were selling sacrificial animals. In our first account, Mark’s, Jesus actually shuts down the operation of the [...]

2020-06-16T09:05:06-04:00June 16th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Did Jesus Favor Armed Rebellion Against Rome?

In response both to my thread on Judas and to my post on Barabbas from last week, a number of readers have asked or suggested that the stories about both figures may be explained on the hypothesis that Jesus was indeed a kind of insurrectionist who supported an armed rebellion against Rome.  That would explain possibly why Judas turned on him, and why he is treated equally to Barabbas, himself guilty of murder during an attempted insurrection. I have dealt with the issue on the blog, but it has been many years now.  The first time I addressed it at any length (in 2013!) was in response to the then recently-published book Zealot by Reza Aslan.  This was the first book about Jesus ever to become the Number One bestseller on the NYTimes bestseller list, and back then lots and lots of people had been reading it. It is a brilliantly written book: Aslan is a professor of creative writing.  He is smart, creative, and knows how to spin fine narrative.  But even though he [...]

2020-06-15T10:30:10-04:00June 15th, 2020|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Have You Written Something You Would Like To Advertise on the Blog?

Have you published a book, an article, an essay, or a poem (or something else) -- either privately, or on the internet in some form, or with a journal/publishing company -- that you would like more people to know about?  Something you would like to share with other members of the blog?   I have decided to allow blog members to make their work known to others who might be interested. I will not be publishing the works here, or reprinting them.  I will be allowing blog members to write brief descriptions of what they have produced, with a link that allows other blog members to have access either to the work itself or to a site that describes it and/or allows them to access (or purchase) it.   For now this offer applies only to *written* materials (not artwork or other visual forms). This is how it will work.   First, requirements. You must be a member of the blog The writing needs to be related in SOME broad way with the interests of the blog. I [...]

2020-06-14T11:10:39-04:00June 14th, 2020|Public Forum|

Did the Gospel Writers Invent Barabbas? Readers’ Mailbag

One of the familiar stories from the end of the Gospels -- it's in all the Jesus movies! -- comes at Jesus' trial.  Pontius Pilate is trying to avoid executing Jesus.  As it turns out, he has an custom during the annual Passover feast (when the crowds of pilgrims in Jerusalem were enormous) of releasing one Jewish prisoner as a way to appease the crowds and keep himself in their good graces. And so when the Jewish leaders insist on Jesus' death, Pilate makes a last ditch effort, offering Jesus up as the one who could possibly be released.  The crowd is given the choice: either Jesus or an insurrectionist who has committed murder, named Barabbas (why these are the only two choices is not clear: there were two others crucified with Jesus, so presumably they could have been on offer as well?).  The crowd chooses Barabbas, and Jesus is then taken off to be crucified. Did this happen?  Or was Barabbas "made up"?  Could he be some kind of symbolic figure?  I get the [...]

Interested in a Webinar? Topic: Do We Have the Original New Testament?

I will be holding a webinar on Sunday June 28 at 4:00 - 5:15 pm to raise money for the Bart Ehrman Blog.  Anyone is welcome to join; the minimum donation is $10, the maximum is ... well, there is no maximum.  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. The topic of the seminar is “Do We Have the Original New Testament?”  Among the issues to be covered are: How were the books of the New Testament copied in the years, decades and centuries after they were written?  Who were the copyists?  How many copies do we still have?  How old are they?  Why are there hundreds of thousands of differences among them?  Are many of the differences significant?  Is it possible we don't know what the authors originally wrote? In the webinar I will deliver a talk for about 40-45 minutes; the rest of the time I will entertain questions [...]

2020-06-10T09:36:48-04:00June 10th, 2020|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Yet Other Accounts Of the Death of Judas

I try not to repeat blog posts from just a couple of years ago, but in this case I can't resist.  In the last post I talked about the two accounts of Judas Iscariot's death in the New Testament, one in Matthew and one in Luke, and argued that even with their intriguing and important similarities, there were also striking differences, some of which, in my judgment, simply cannot be reconciled.   But we have other accounts from Christian antiquity that are at least equally interesting, even if more obviously legendary.  Still, they are worth considering and thinking about; it's not at all clear that the authors of these accounts thought they were as humorous as most readers today do. One of these accounts is reasonably well-known to biblical scholars, from the writings of Papias (we've talked a lot about him over the years on the blog; just do a word search for Papias and you'll see).  Almost *nobody* knows about the other -- including New Testament experts --  except for a few specialist scholars. Papias [...]

2020-06-09T08:37:13-04:00June 9th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

But How Did Judas Die?

In response to my recent thread on the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, a number of readers have asked me about the aftermath.  OK, supposing, as I'm arguing, there really was a Judas, one of Jesus twelve disciples, who betrayed something about Jesus (his whereabouts? his claim to be the future king?) that led to his arrest and execution.  What happened next?   Did Judas really kill himself? Many people don’t realize that Judas’s death, after he betrayed Jesus, is not mentioned in three of our Gospels: Mark, Luke, and John.  It is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, however, and just as important, in the book of Acts, written by the same author who produced the Gospel of Luke (so, well, let’s call him Luke).  What is striking is that the descriptions of Judas’ death in these two accounts are at odds with one another, even though there are, at the same time, some striking similarities. Matthew’s account (ch. 27) is the one more people are familiar with, since here we are told that .... [...]

2020-12-17T16:39:40-05:00June 8th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|
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