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Could Paul’s Letter to the Philippians be TWO Letters?

In my previous post I answered, in short order, a series of questions that a reader had about the “original” text of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  I will now take several posts in order to address some of the questions at greater length.  Here was the first one:   QUESTION:  Would you agree that the letter written to the Philippians was an original writing of Paul? The short answer is Yes – it is one of the undisputed Pauline letters.  The longer answer is, well, complicated.  Scholars have long adduced reasons for thinking that this letter of Paul was originally *two* letters (or parts of two letters) that were later spliced together into the one letter we have today.  I explain the reasons for thinking so in my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  Here is what I say there.  (If you want to follow the argument particularly well, I’d recommend reading the short letter of Philippians, and then reading what follows by looking up the passages referred [...]

2020-11-23T10:40:36-05:00November 29th, 2020|Paul and His Letters|

A Fund-Raising Webinar: What Can We Really Know about the Birth of Jesus??

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 Tuesday December 15 at 7:00 pm EST.  It will last for an hour and fifteen minutes. The topic of the seminar will be “What Can We Really Know about the Birth of Jesus?”  Among the topics to be covered will be: What do the Gospels say about Jesus' birth?  Can they be right?  Why do two of the Gospels not say anything about it?  Why is Jesus' birth not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament?  Are the accounts we have consistent with one another?  Are they consistent with what we know from ancient Jewish and Roman history?  Can we decide when Jesus was actually born -- year and day?  Or where?  How do we explain the idea of [...]

2020-11-27T09:00:31-05:00November 27th, 2020|Public Forum|

Do We Have Paul’s Original Letter to the Philippians?

A few days ago I answered a question about whether someone in the very earliest church who was reading one of the Christian writings to his congregation in the church -- say, one of the Gospels or one of Paul's letters -- might have *changed* it in places orally so that the people who were listening to him (most of whom wouldn't be able to read themselves) might have heard something other than what was written.  Great question. In this and the following posts I want to deal with an equally vexed question.  Stick with that same situation.  That writing the person is reading (unless he is living in the same town as the author and this is just a little while later) is presumably a copy of  the original writing, or, more likely, even if it's just a few years after the original, a copy of a copy.   What are the chances that that copy was different in places from the original, and if it was, do we now, today, actually have the original. [...]

Thanksgiving 2020

As long-term members of the blog will know, I have always said that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.   I have to admit, as I get older (and older), many of the holidays that were once a significant part of my life – even as an adult – have more or less faded away for me: Fourth of July; Columbus Day; Halloween.   I do continue to love Christmas.  It’s a period of joy for me still: I love the season as a whole, there’s still an excitement about it, and I’m unusually fond of many things connected with it: Christmas trees, lights, and carols.  I especially enjoy the stories and myths of the season, and find the weeks leading up to it very moving.  Christmas is increasingly complicated though.  The commercialism and greed and lust for useless things just drives me nuts. The absolute need to buy things that others don’t really want or need but expect.  Still, despite all that, I try to focus on the good parts. Thanksgiving on the other hand, for me, [...]

2020-11-23T14:02:35-05:00November 26th, 2020|Reflections and Ruminations|

Christian Manuscripts Used for Magic?

Very few biblical scholars are interested in studying the actual manuscripts of the New Testament.  It's an unusually rigorous and technical field, and most are interested instead in how to interpret the New Testament.   That's true of most fields.  The vast majority of Shakespeare scholars are interested in figuring out what the plays *mean*, not in examining the quarto and folio editions to see in detail how they differ from each other.  So too with scholars of Homer, Plato, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Wordsworth, and and and. As a result most NT scholars -- really!  most of them -- do not know a lot about the actual manuscripts.  It's a bit of a pity, because there are a lot of very interesting things about them, unrelated to interpretation of the text.  Here's one thing that almost no one knows about, even PhDs in the field (and, as it turns out, even many (most?) scholars who do specialize in studying the manuscripts):  the use of manuscripts in later Christian circles for purposes of magic. To explain what [...]

2020-11-23T14:00:40-05:00November 25th, 2020|New Testament Manuscripts|

What Really Happened at Jesus’ Trial Before Pilate?

An important question I’ve received from another scholar who is interested in New Testament studies but is an expert in a different field.   QUESTION: Have you ever encountered the argument that the Gospels’ portrayal of Pilate giving in to the crowd’s call for Jesus’ death could be possible in as much as Pilate would have wanted to avoid a riot and so acquiesced for that reason?  I am wondering whether this is an old apologist argument of some sort?   RESPONSE: It is a great question and it has an easy answer.  Yes I have indeed.  This is a standard argument made by people, including scholars, who think that the Gospel accounts are entirely reasonable and probably accurate.  It’s the view I myself had for years.  The idea behind it is pretty simple, and works in easily delineated stages: Jesus was exceedingly controversial among the crowds in Jerusalem. His trial was a major public event. The Jewish leaders were intent on having him executed, and they stirred up the crowd by having them shout [...]

2020-11-13T08:36:07-05:00November 23rd, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Some Feedback on the New Blog ??

This is a good time for some feedback from you, the members of the blog! We are very pleased with the roll-out of the new blog site, and hope you are as well.   The user experience appears to be much improved (or so it seems to us, and that is what we are hearing from you as well).  And yet it is still the same approach and format, with posts on a wide range of topics dealing with the New Testament and Early Christianity appearing five times a week, and readers (at the silver level and above) able to make comments and receive replies.  On Jan. 1 we will move from our crisis-inspired-trial offer of giving all bronze memberships privileges of silver.  At whatever level you are now, when your current subscription ends, you can choose to move to whichever level most suits you and your needs. We received excellent feedback at the outset of the launch and have been able to tweak lots of things as a result.  There are still things we are [...]

2020-11-22T09:48:56-05:00November 22nd, 2020|Public Forum|

“Oral” Changes in the Christian Bible?

I received a very interesting question recently on a topic I’ve never been asked about, ever, to my recollection, but which I’ve thought about a good deal.  Here ‘tis:   QUESTION: Given that most people in the ancient world could not read, and that gospels, letters and so forth were read to gatherings to help propagate Christianity, is there any evidence that readers were not always faithful to the written word, but changed it as they read to reflect their own beliefs?   RESPONSE: This is such an important issue that it is amazing the question hasn’t occurred to most people.  Including, I should emphasize, the vast majority of biblical scholars!  Go figure. Scholars are well aware, of course, that scribes copying the early Christian texts modified them on occasion, often in minor ways and sometimes significantly.  But what about other kinds of alterations, arguably every bit as important, made when the texts were being read aloud to ancient congregations? The first thing I’ll say is that ... The first thing I’ll say [...]

2022-07-03T16:50:47-04:00November 22nd, 2020|New Testament Manuscripts, Reader’s Questions|

On Ignorant Critics…

Sometimes people say the most ridiculous things.  Especially when they want to argue against you.  It’s amazing what people can dream up.  And not just in politics – just in everyday life.   You no doubt have noticed yourself…    I want to talk about an instance of this which, for me, gets particularly bizarre near the end of this post. You probably have this experience too.  People who don’t know me say all sorts of things that just make me scratch my head.  WHAT???  Interestingly, given my situation, I get vitriol mainly from two sides, which stand at polar opposites from one another.  On one side are some fundamentalists/very conservative evangelicals who think I am out to destroy the faith (that side is understandable; at least I myself understand it, having once been a fundamentalist/very conservative evangelical who said nasty things about liberal scholars whom I thought were out to destroy the faith :-) ) and the other are some “mythicists” – the ones who think that there never was a historical man, Jesus, but [...]

2020-11-15T17:47:37-05:00November 20th, 2020|Bart's Critics, Bart’s Biography|

Why Scribes Changed Their Manuscripts

I haven't talked about the manuscripts of the NT for a while, and thought I should return to it for a couple of posts.  This is a topic many people didn't know anything about and certainly didn't know they should *care* about until probably the past 15-20 years.  But now it's one of the issues I get asked about all the time. When I was doing the research that led up to my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (published in 1993), I came to see that the variations of our manuscripts were important not only because they could tell us what the original writers actually wrote in the books that later became the New Testament, but also because they could tell us about what was influencing the anonymous and otherwise unknown scribes who produced the copies of these books in later times. For a variety of good reasons scholars have long thought that most of the intentional changes of the text (that is, the alterations that scribes made on purpose – at least apparently on [...]

2020-12-18T00:58:09-05:00November 19th, 2020|New Testament Manuscripts|

Peter and Mary Magdalene in Competition

I began this short thread with a discussion of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, where she seems to be Jesus’ preferred follower; I then talked about the idea that there were women apostles in the earliest period of the church – according to Paul himself – and pointed out an old tradition that in fact Mary was the very first apostle. I want to pick up there, and show how not just in the Gospel of Mary but in other parts of the early Christian tradition Mary and Peter were sometimes portrayed in controversy over who was Number One! Here is how I discuss it in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. ******************************** As I’ve intimated, this view that Mary was the original apostle – the one commissioned to tell the good news of Christ’s resurrection –  is found already in the books of the New Testament.  In the Gospel of Mark, it is Mary Magdalene along with Mary the mother of James and Salome who come to the tomb on the third day, [...]

2022-06-02T21:54:45-04:00November 18th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Women in Early Christianity|

Is Mary Magdalene the Founder of Christianity?

I have devoted a few posts to the relationship of / competition between Peter and Mary in early Christian traditions.  I conclude by posing a rather significant question.  Peter, of course, has traditionally been seen as the “rock” on which Christ built his church, the very foundation of Christianity (Matt. 16:18 – “You are Peter (Greek: petros) and upon this rock (Greek: petra) I will build my church.”).   And indeed, according to 1 Cor. 15: 3-5, Peter was the first to see the resurrected Jesus (and realize he had been raised from the dead), and that is the very beginning of Christianity.  But what if the Gospels are right, that Mary actually was the first.  Wouldn’t it make better sense, then, to say that Mary started Christianity? Here is how I talk about the matter in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene:  ****************************** There is no doubt that Peter became dominant as the leader of the church early in the Christian movement, and Mary receded into the background.  We have scores of passages that [...]

2022-03-03T14:27:59-05:00November 16th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Women in Early Christianity|

Women Apostles in Early Christianity

In my previous post, I discussed the Gospel of Mary and its portrayal as Mary Magdalene as the one to whom Jesus had revealed the secrets of salvation (as part of a gnostic myth) - -much to the consternation of the male disciples, especially Peter and his brother Andrew.  Hey, how could he consider a *woman* more important than us men???  It’s an attitude that appears to have run through the family. It is striking that there was a much wider tradition in early Christianity that said that Mary Magdalene was the *first* apostle, the one who made the other apostles.  Now THAT is a view you don’t hear every day. To explain it I first have to say something about women apostles more broadly in early Christianity, another topic most people don’t think or know much about.  Here is how I explain it in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. ****************************** The term “apostle” comes from a Greek word that means something like “one who has been sent.”  It can refer to anyone [...]

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

In my undergraduate class on ancient Gospels and modern Jesus films this semester we looked at one of the truly intriguing but little known early Gospels, “The Gospel of Mary.”  This second century does not claim to be written by Mary Magdalene, but she is the main figure in it – the one to whom Jesus gave a secret revelation about ultimate reality, much to the chagrin of the male disciples who can’t believe that Jesus would reveal the secrets of the world to a *woman* instead of them. It is a Gnostic Gospel – by which I mean that it is based on “gnostic” myths about how humans are trapped here in their material bodies and need to learn the secrets about themselves, about the world, and about how to escape their physical prisons – all this through the secret “knowledge” (Greek = gnosis) that Jesus can provide. We have no record of a Gospel according to Mary (Magdalene) from the early church, The book was, in fact, unknown until its discovery at the [...]

2020-11-05T23:25:54-05:00November 13th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Women in Early Christianity|

666: The Number of the Beast

Yesterday’s post was meant as background to this brief discussion about the meaning of the “number of the beast” in the book of Revelation.  Remember: I’m talking about “gematria” as a way of interpreting words by understanding their letters as numbers.  Yesterday I tried to explain the symbolism of the beast in Rev. 17.  To make best sense of what I have to say now, it would probably help to see that post.  But it’s not required reading and will not be on the Final Exam. Four chapters earlier are given a description of another beast, one which in fact bears a remarkable resemblance to the one that shows up in ch. 17. According to chap. 13, this other beast arises from the sea and has ten horns and many heads.  One of its heads receives a mortal wound that is then healed.  The entire world follows this beast, which is empowered by the dragon (i.e., the Devil, 12:9).  The beast makes war on the saints and conquers them (13:7).  It has power over all [...]

2020-10-30T21:37:07-04:00November 12th, 2020|Revelation of John|

The Number 666 in the Context of the Book of Revelation

In my previous posts, I have talked about the use of “gematria” in early Christianity – the interpretive technique that uses the numerical significance of letters of the alphabet to provide keys to the interpretation of words. It is almost a highly *creative* interpretation of words.  E.g.,  I have shown how gematria gets used on the epistle of Barnabas to show that the sign of circumcision given to the father of the Jews, Abraham, was really a symbol for the cross of Jesus, and how it may be used in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew to stress that he really is the messiah, the son of David. In the post that follows this one, I will explain how that relates to one of the great mysteries of the Bible, the identification of the Antichrist in the book of Revelation, whose number was 666.  What is this number referring to? To make sense of this intriguing number, I need to return to an important topic over the course of the blog:  the symbolism of the book of [...]

2020-11-01T22:32:00-05:00November 11th, 2020|Revelation of John|

Interested in Volunteering for the Blog?

As the blog has developed and grown, administrative needs have increased, and we are all very fortunate indeed that there is a devoted group of Volunteers pitching in to make this a success.  We simply could not be doing this without them. Now with the launch of the new site, more opportunities and needs are presenting themselves, and I will be soliciting more volunteers for more tasks.  Just now there are two areas that are most pressing. SOCIAL MEDIA COORDINATOR:  I need an assistant who can use their skills on social media to promote the blog.  This would be someone who is deeply conversant with, comfortable with, skilled with, and connected with that universe, or rather that multiverse.  If that is you, and you would you be interested in hearing more, please simply send me an email indicating your interest, and we can talk about what it all might entail:  [email protected] TECHNOLOGY ADVISORY BOARD: As we expand we continue to find numerous challenges and opportunities that involve technology.  Steven has brilliantly set up the blog [...]

2020-11-11T14:10:39-05:00November 10th, 2020|Public Forum|

Luke and Matthew at Odds: The Genealogies

I have devoted several posts to Matthew's genealogy, and I realized it's only fair for me to say something about Luke's as well.  As you may know, these are the only two Gospels -- in fact the only two books of the New Testament -- that provide an account of Jesus' birth and very young life, the "infancy narratives."  In Mark Jesus shows up as an adult, and so too in John.  They say nothing about the circumstances of his birth, nothing, for example, of his mother being a virgin, of him being born in Bethlehem, of .. of any of the stories celebrated every Christmas.  Either do any of the other books of the NT.  That in itself is a striking fact.   An "essential doctrine" of Christianity such as the Virgin Birth -- said by many Christians to be a decisive doctrine: anyone who denies it (lots of Christians say), cannot be Christian.  Yet 25 of the 27 books in the NT say nothing about it.  Did they know about it?  How could we [...]

2020-11-10T07:45:39-05:00November 9th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Another Unusual Feature of Matthew’s Genealogy: The Women!

Since I've started talking about Matthew's genealogy, I've decided to stick with it a bit longer.  Most of my students, when they pick up the New Testament and I have them start at the beginning, they begin with Matthew 1:1 and moan.  A genealogy?!?  Ugh. I tell them to get over it.   This thing is only 16 verses long.  C'mon!  If you want a GENEALOGY, read 1 Chronicles 1-9.  Nine CHAPTERS of fathers and sons, starting with Adam.  Now *that* is a genealogy! (Anecdote: when I was an undergraduate at Moody Bible Institute in the mid 70's, for some reason I had to take a correspondence course to fill out one of my requirements.  This is back when a correspondence course meant doing it as correspondence -- through the mail!   It was some kind of broadly based Bible class, and one of the requirements was that you had to memorize and then reproduce a certain number of verses from the Bible.  You could choose.  Just your favorite verses.  They were expecting, of course, things like [...]

2020-11-01T22:30:23-05:00November 8th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

A Numerical Puzzle in Matthew’s Genealogy

I started this small thread in response to a question about the use of “gematria” in the New Testament, the ancient Jewish interpretive technique that uses the numerical value of letters to find deeper significance in the words they are found in.  If you did it in English, and  a = 1, b= 2 and so on, when you got to  j it would = 10, k = 20, and so on.  In that case if your name is Jack your name would add up to 34; when you found another word whose letters also add up to 34 (say, “brilliant” or “egocentric” – neither of which, of course, does add up to 34…) then you could connect the two words and say that the one explains the other. One possible use of gematria occurs in the very first passage of the NT, the genealogy of the Gospel of Matthew.   I pointed out in my previous post that Matthew presents a numerically significant genealogy of Jesus in order to show that something of major significance [...]

2020-11-01T22:24:49-05:00November 7th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|
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