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Evangelicals Who Make the World A Better Place. Guest Post by Robin Jones

One of my biggest complaints against a lot of deeply committed evangelical Christians I know, and know about, is that they don't live and act like Christians. They go to battle for issues not even addressed in their own Scriptures as if they were the most important things in the mind of God, and they completely ignore the moral imperatives Jesus himself did promote: active concern and love for those who are in need, whether they are of our own ethnic background, gender, country, socio-economic class, creed, or ... anything else.  House the homeless, feed the hungry, help the outcast, work for the oppressed. But every now and then I am surprised by some Christians whose faith drives them to fulfill the commands of their own gospel in a humble and helpful way  Many of these people do not toot their own horn; they go about silently doing amazing things for those in need. I was 17 when I met Robin Jones.  We were first year students at Moody Bible Institute.  She was sparky, outspoken, [...]

2021-01-05T01:10:07-05:00July 31st, 2020|Public Forum|

A Very Odd Story about the Baby Jesus

Over the past few days I have been working on my syllabus for the graduate seminar I will be teaching this term, on Early Christian Apocrypha -- that is, other Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses that did not become part of the New Testament.  As chance would have it, I was also just now browsing through some old blog posts, and came across this one, posted on this date seven years ago.  It is about one of the most historically influential and downright interesting Gospels from outside the New Testament.  In the Middle Ages, this book was sometimes *treated* as Scripture:  it inspired a good deal of Christian art, for example, and provided people with "information" about Jesus' birth and what happened before it. So I thought I should post it again.  Here it is: ********************************** In my graduate class on non-canonical Gospels, we typically analyze the Proto-Gospel of James (which scholars call the Protevangelium Jacobi -- a Latin phrase that means “Proto-Gospel of James,” but sounds much cooler….).  It is called the “proto” Gospel [...]

2020-10-28T01:56:21-04:00July 29th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|

When Paul Says “Israel” Does He Mean “The Jews”? Guest Post by Jason Staples

Last week I posted the first of three interesting discussions by my erstwhile student Jason Staples, PhD in New Testament, currently teaching at North Carolina State University.  Here is the second post, with an even more challenging thesis that runs counter to what scholars have long said, but for which he makes a compelling case.  His fuller discussion will be found in the book he has coming out from Cambridge Press at the end of the year.   Jason will be happy to address your comments and questions. - Jason A. Staples is the author of The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity.   ***************************************   Post 2: Why Does Paul Switch from Talking about ‘Jews’ to ‘Israel’? My last post looked at how Paul’s statements about Israel’s ultimate salvation in Romans 11 seem to contradict what he says elsewhere about the equality between Jews and gentiles (non-Jews) and surveyed several ways scholars have tried to reconcile that tension. But that post concluded by calling [...]

Seeing the Gospel of Judas for the First Time

In a couple of posts last week I talked about how I came to learn about the discovery of the Gospel of Judas through a phone call from a representative of National Geographic who wanted me to be on the team that established its authenticity, back in the fall of 2004.  I let her know that I wouldn't be of any use in authenticating the thing, but I could talk about its historical significance.  I had agreed to find a Coptologist to come along to Switzerland and she was to find a scientist to perform a Carbon-14 dating. When we hung up, I called Stephen Emmel, and American who teaches in Muenster Germany, one of the world's leading Coptologists.  I asked him if he had heard that National Geographic thought they had their hands on the Gospel of Judas?  He had indeed heard a rumor and was dying to see it.  I said I was too.  Hey, wanna fly to Geneva? Before going, I learned a great deal more about the text and its discovery.  [...]

2020-07-27T15:56:24-04:00July 27th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|

Why Do Are So Many Textual Critics Evangelicals? Readers’ Mailbag.

Here’s a good question about why so many New Testament textual critics (those who study the manuscripts of the New Testament) are evangelical Christians.   QUESTION: Bart, is it fair to say that many textual critics chose their field of expertise out of a passion to find out just what did God really say? I’ve no axe to grind here, just wondering what you’ve observed working with so many in the discipline. It’s definitely something I considered ever since a street preacher pointed out my shiny new NIV had relegated Acts 8:37 to a footnote.   RESPONSE: I need to begin by explaining what the questioner means by “textual critic,” so we are all on the same page.  Many people – including scholars in non-literary fields – think of “textual criticism” in very broad terms as the “detailed study of texts” – that is, the systematic attempt to interpret a literary text from a scholarly point of view, or to compare texts with one another to see their similarities or differences, or to point out [...]

2020-07-26T15:06:57-04:00July 26th, 2020|New Testament Manuscripts, Reader’s Questions|

Did Paul Really Think “All Israel Will Be Saved”? Guest Post by Jason Staples

One of the most thorough dissertations I’ve directed in recent years was by Jason Staples, called “Reconstituting Israel: Restoration Eschatology in Early Judaism and Paul’s Gentile Mission.”  It might be difficult for a lay person to figure out what it’s about from the title, but it was on a really significant topic that I think most any reader of the New Testament would see is important.  It involves the Apostle Paul’s views of Jews, Judaism, and the nation of Israel.   The goal of the dissertation was to explain what Paul meant when he said that in the end, “All Israel will be saved” (Romans 11).  Huh?  What’s that mean exactly?   There are lots of options that have been proposed over the years, and none of them “obviously right.”   The question drove Jason to an even more basic question, which almost no one has thought to ask, let alone provide a comprehensive answer to: what does Paul mean by “Israel”?   Jason defended his dissertation at the end of 2016.   It was large!  The first [...]

When I Learned the Gospel of Judas Had Been Discovered

As I said in my last post, after receiving an out-of-the-blue query about the Gospel of Judas I looked it up to refresh my memory: it was allegedly a book used by a group of Gnostics named the Cainites, a book that told the story of Jesus from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, his betrayer – not in order to malign Judas but, evidently, to celebrate his deed, since it was (somehow) to Jesus’ advantage. Soon after reading up on the Gospel (there was very little to read about it, since we didn’t have it; all we had were some comments in the writings of church fathers who opposed it, principally Irenaeus), I received a second phone call, this one from a person at National Geographic, asking what I knew about the Gospel of Judas.  I obviously realized that something was up. So I told her what little we knew about the Gospel as probably a Gnostic text.  In my mind, I wasn’t sure – before this – that the text actually *ever* existed.  Some [...]

Christianizing the Old Testament and the Museum of the Bible: Guest Post by Jill Hicks-Keeton

Here now is a final guest post on the Museum of the Bible by Jill Hicks-Keeton, one of the two editors of the recent book that contains a number of evaluative essays by a range of scholars.  Her title asks the driving question of her post and her first word answers it! Many thanks to Jill and her co-editor Cavan Concannon for providing these three posts.  If they have sparked your interest -- check out the book! Jill will be happy to respond to your comments and questions. - Jill Hicks-Keeton is the editor of The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction, and the author of Arguing with Aseneth: Gentile Access to Israel's Living God in Jewish Antiquity.   *************************************************************** Can the Bible Organize History? By Jill Hicks-Keeton No—but the Museum of the Bible makes an intrepid, though misguided, effort. By its very name, the Museum of the Bible must privilege certain literature: texts that became biblical. The institution is structurally organized around the category “Bible.” Yet, as readers of this blog will already [...]

How I First Learned About the Gospel of Judas Iscariot

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a thread dealing with Judas Iscariot and another thread dealing with claims from the second century that Christians were highly immoral (sexual reprobates, murderers, and cannibals).  Or at least that some Christian heretics were.  As it turns out, these two threads are closely related in a way one would not expect – at least in a way I never expected until I got involved with the “Gospel of Judas” that was discovered in recent times.  I posted on this many years ago but it would be interesting to do so again. This will take several posts.  I begin with how I first found out about the Gospel of Judas, back when experts in early Christianity knew virtually nothing at all about a Gospel of Judas. In the Fall of 2004 I was in my study minding my own business (well, talking with a graduate student) when the phone rang.   It was a woman named Sheila, whom I had known for years.  Sheila had sponsored a number of archaeological [...]

Why Would An Atheist Teach the Bible? Readers’ Mailbag

I often get asked why I would be interested in teaching biblical studies if I’m an atheist; sometimes the question is a bit hostile, along the lines of “What would *you* know?  You don’t even believe in it”!  Or “Why should anyone listen to you if you’re just trying to disprove the Bible?”  At other times the questions seem fairly genuine.  Recently, for example, I’ve gotten these two:   QUESTIONS: Why do you bother continuing to teach any aspects of Biblical studies since you have decided that you are an atheist-agnostic? In short, what is the point? Can you explain something to me?  Why should I send my son to study in your department when you don't believe the book which your program is built on?   RESPONSES: At first I thought these were hostile, but I corresponded with both of the people and I don’t think they were.  Let me answer them separately. The first one is easier, though I get it a lot.  It seems a puzzle to so many people that anyone [...]

Proving the Bible Is True: The Museum of the Bible. Guest Post by Cavan Concannon

Here now is the second of three posts on the Museum of the Bible, this one by Cavan Concannon, one of the editors of the newly released volume, The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction.  One of the most amazing lines in this post is the claim made by a representative of the museum that: "The Bible has been carefully transmitted through time."   Wow!  OK then....   You gotta wonder what this fellow (whom Cavan quotes) is thinking....    What I myself am thinking is that he has a different definition of "carefully" from me.... Again, Cavan will be happy to respond to your comments. - Cavan Concannon is the editor of The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction, and the author of Assembling Early Christianity and Profaning Paul, among other works. **********************************************************   Proving the Bible: Archaeology, Objects, and Evangelical Theology at the Museum of the Bible By Cavan Concannon   The Museum of the Bible (MOTB) is no stranger to scandal. In our previous post, we described how, in their quest for [...]

2021-04-19T23:39:31-04:00July 17th, 2020|Book Discussions, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Slurs Against Religious Opponents and Makin’ Stuff Up

In yesterday's post I detailed the scurrilous accusations made by the 4th century heresy-hunter (i.e., "heresiologist") Epiphanius against a group of Christian "heretics" he calls the Phibionites.  Among other things, he claims they used a Gospel that depicted Jesus engaging in a bizarre sex-act with Mary Magdalene.  But then I asked whether there really was a Gospel that described such a thing and if the Phibionites themselves were engaged in the kind of activities Epiphanius alleges.  He claims he has first-hand knowledge.  Does he? Here I explain why I don't think we can trust him on these claims (he is commonly among scholars thought to be untrustworthy in general), that in fact I think he's just makin' stuff up.  It's not just a feeling I have.  I think there are reasons for drawing that conclusion.  Here is what I say about it in my book Forgery and Counterforgery.  How would we know? ********************************************************************* One obvious place to start is with Epiphanius’s sources of information.  Because he had some contact with the group as a young man [...]

2021-02-23T01:36:41-05:00July 15th, 2020|Heresy and Orthodoxy, Proto-Orthodox Writers|

Did Early Christian Heretics Promote Outrageous Sex Rituals?

In my post a few days ago I mentioned the widespread rumor in the ancient Roman world of the first couple of centuries CE that Christians were flagrantly immoral, engaging in wild sex and infanticide and homicide in their weekly meetings.  A couple of readers have asked if that might have been true for *some* of the Christian groups of “heretics,” and that Roman outsiders who knew of their activities assumed all Christians engaged in them. Great question!  I’ve thought about this one for over thirty years.  What I concluded about twenty-nine years ago is what I still think now: these kinds of charges were commonly leveled in the Roman world against whomever you didn’t like and suspected and there is very little any evidence that they were ever true.  Almost always they are just slanders.  It is worth noting that very similar charges were leveled by pagans against Christians, pagans against Jews, pagans against each other, Christians against pagans, Christians against … Christians! I’ve talked about this in some of my publications, most fully [...]

New Book on Museum of the Bible: Guest Post by the Editors Jill Hicks-Keeton and Cavan Concannon

Many of you have heard about, read about, or even visited the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C., founded and funded by the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, a highly committed evangelical family with a decidedly evangelical mission.  The museum has become controversial both in the public eye and among scholars. An intriguing book came out last year about it, a collection of essays by scholars of Bible and archaeology that critique the museum on a number of grounds: The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction, edited by Jill Hicks-Keeton and Cavan Concannon (Fortress Academic, 2019). The book has already made a splash, and so I have asked Jill and Cavan to do three posts on it.  This first one is a kind of introduction to what the museum is, and is jointly authored by the two of them.  After this we will have a post by each one individually focusing on different issues connected with the museum. Jill is an associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma; I [...]

2021-04-19T23:39:33-04:00July 13th, 2020|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

The Outrageous Immorality of Early Christians (!) (?)

The question I addressed yesterday: could the obvious benefits of the Christian community – a community of love, fellowship, and mutual support – have drawn converts into it, who very much wanted that kind of thing?  The surprising answer, I think, is no, at least in the early centuries when Christianity was trying to establish a foothold in the world.  There’s another reason for thinking what I do, and it’s not one you would expect. There were reports about the early Christian communities among outsiders.  But it was not that they were a loving and caring group of unusually upright and morally committed people.  On the contrary, the Christians were known to be flagrantly immoral, engaged in heinous, licentious, and murderous behavior.  Hard to believe, but that is the charge we repeatedly find.  Here is what I say about it in my book The Triumph of Christianity.  Brace yourself. *************************************************************   In the early centuries Christians were accused of almost unfathomable outrageous behavior.  Both Justin around 150 CE in Rome and Tertullian some fifty years [...]

Did the Benefits of the Christian Community Win Converts? Readers’ Mailbag.

Here's an important question I have received, along with an answer a lot of people think is counter-intuitive.  It has to do with why Christianity proved so attractive in the ancient world as they were desperately trying to attract converts.   QUESTION:  Please help me understand – didn’t first-century Christians offer more than stories of Jesus and a god to pray to? Didn’t they also offer the care and support of a community? Weren’t they actually supporting and providing for each other’s needs? And if so, wouldn’t this make their religion attractive to others in need?   RESPONSE: As it turns out, my view of the matter is that the answer to the first three questions is a resounding YES; but the answer to the final question – that is, the one that this reader is most interested in and (I would guess) thinks depends entirely on the preceding three – is MAYBE but the implication that this is why they grew and expanded is probably NO.  History is like that sometimes. In my book [...]

Would You Like a Free Three-Month Membership to the Blog?

Thanks to the incredible generosity of members of the blog, I am happy to announce that there are a limited number of free three-month memberships available.  These have been donated for a single purpose: to allow those who cannot afford the membership fee to participate on the blog for three months, during our ongoing crisis. 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, please provide me with the following information: Your first and last name. Why you would like to take advantage of this offer.  I don't need or want a full account of your history or financial affairs, just an idea of why you would like a free membership just now. Country of citizenship (we're required, as a non-profit, to ask) Your preferred personal email. Your preferred user [...]

2020-07-09T16:17:36-04:00July 9th, 2020|Public Forum|

Publications By Blog Members! 7.9.20

Last month I invited Blog Members who had published something in some way connected to the blog 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 second batch.  They are of various kinds and all sound interesting.  I have a stockpile of others submitted, and will get to them gradually over time.  For now: enjoy these! 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.   Novel. Kristie Almighty: Across the Street, by Katie Younger Available at: This is a novel I completed ten years ago. It is based on my years as a Fundamental Baptist who was originally raised Catholic. The characters were influenced by my time spent at a college [...]

2020-07-09T16:10:11-04:00July 9th, 2020|Public Forum|

Why Is This Happening To Us?

It is very difficult to be a sentient human being just now and not wonder occasionally or, well, obsessively: “Why is this happening to us?”  I’m not speaking of the scientific questions of how Covid began and spread, how it is like and unlike other viruses, how it works, how it spreads, how… well, there are a million scientific questions and we read about them every day.  I don’t mean those, but the more existential question.  How do we make sense of it all? It is is less of a problem for naturalists, who do not believe that there is anything beyond the physical universe (in any sense), any non-material superior being, for example, or any non-material thing at all, that has any dealings with it.  For hardcore naturalists, the universe and everything in it, living or not, is all particles; sometimes the particles line up in ways that are not conducive for us to survive, let alone thrive.  And so the existential “why” something happens, for many naturalists, is a pointless question.  It’s only [...]

2020-07-08T19:47:35-04:00July 8th, 2020|Reflections and Ruminations|

Reason and Theology – Heaven, Hell and the Afterlife

Here is the recording of an interesting on-line discussion I had on May 17, 2020 for a podcast called "Reason and Theology."  It was a rather unusual experience for me.  The three moderators were all extremely well-informed lay people who are deeply interested in and knowledgeable about Roman Catholic tradition and theology.  We talked about my book "Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife," and we got into all sorts of things that I never would have expected. The podcast generally seeks to provide a wide range of in-depth interviews on theological, philosophical, and historical matters in a way that translates to the average person, to provide a platform for charitable round table discussions between opposing perspectives, and to facilitate formal debates in order to arrive at a better understanding of the truth. I'm not sure I helped to that end, but it was an interesting and at times lively discussion.  Here it is. Please adjust gear icon for 1080p High-Definition: 

2020-07-07T18:07:30-04:00July 7th, 2020|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|
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