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The Blog Year in Review, 2020

Another year has passed.  Most of us are oh so happy to say goodbye to THIS one.  An awful year, in many many ways, and we are not out of the woods.  Even those who have weathered the storm well have faced hardship, suffering, and loss.  Whatever your own situation, please accept my best wishes as we move onward.  There is a light ahead and possibly a bright future.  Whether you pray, hope, or both, this would be a good time to do so with renewed vigor! There have been silver linings and good things as well, of course, for many of as individuals, our communities, our country, and our world.  There certainly have been me, and I do try to look on the bright side even while I’m torn by the suffering all around us.  But it would be wrong, not to mention unhealthy, not to celebrate the bright spots that have sometimes shone through. For me the blog has been a bright spot.  It’s been a really good year for us.  Our NINTH!!  [...]

2020-12-31T13:12:40-05:00December 31st, 2020|Public Forum|

Responses to my Newsweek Article on Jesus

Just as happened the first time I made a couple of posts on the article I wrote about Christmas for Newsweek, this time too, in my reposts, I've been asked about the kinds of reactions I received.  Back then I gave two follow up posts, and here is the first. It's a pretty funny one, from my perspective.  I start out being completely defensive (not that I have a thin skin or anything) and cap it all off by emphatically insisting that I was not being defensive.   As I get older, I find I have a better sense of humor about myself...  Here's the first of the two posts.   ******************************************************** My Newsweek article this week has generated a lot of response.  I have no idea what kind of comments they typically get for their stories, but so far, as of now, there have been 559 on mine; and most of them are negative – to no one’s surprise – written by people (conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists for the most part, from what I can [...]

2020-12-21T19:08:38-05:00December 30th, 2020|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. Platinum Post by Marie Wiley

Here is a post submitted by Platinum member Marie Wiley, for the enjoyment of all you other shining Platinums.  It will go only to Platinum members of the blog (so Steven tells me!) and any comments you make will go only to Platinums as well.   Thank you Marie, and enjoy all you others! ******************************* Love your neighbor as yourself. I like to imagine that Jesus had a more mystical meaning in this saying than the typical interpretation. I like to imagine the true meaning to be love your neighbor because your neighbor is yourself. This is because it fits neatly into my personal worldview, which isn’t a Christian one, nor one of materialism. I, like many Christians, think Jesus and I hold the same worldview, of course. It is in this biased way that I interpret scripture. He’s saying love God. He’s saying love others. And he’s saying love yourself. If you are to love your neighbor as yourself, you are thereby loving yourself as you love your neighbor so self-love is part of this. [...]

2023-08-22T15:41:32-04:00December 29th, 2020|Historical Jesus|

Where is the Virgin Birth in John?

I have pointed out that our earliest Gospel, Mark, not only is lacking a story of the virgin birth but also tells a story that seems to run precisely counter to the idea that Jesus’ mother knew that his birth was miraculous, unlike the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  It is striking to note that even though these two later Gospels know about a virgin birth,  our latest canonical Gospel, John, does not know about it.   This was not a doctrine that everyone knew about – even toward the end of the first century. Casual readers of John often assume that it presupposes the virgin birth (it never says anything about it, one way or the other) because they themselves are familiar with the idea, and think that John must be as well.  So they typically read the virgin birth into an account that in fact completely lacks it. As is well known, John’s Gospel begins ... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, REMEMBER: THE END [...]

2020-12-21T19:13:58-05:00December 28th, 2020|Canonical Gospels|

Does the Gospel of Mark Deny a Virgin Birth?

I want to continue my discussion of the virgin birth in the NT, with a set of reflections that is pretty unusual: the views of the Virgin Birth in Mark and John (who do not narrate it!).  I've talked about this on the blog before, but it's been a few years, and is worth thinking of again. It is interesting that Mark, our first Gospel to be written, does not have the story of the Virgin birth and in fact shows no clue that it is familiar with the stories of the Virgin birth.  On the contrary, there are passages in Mark that appear to work *against* the idea that Jesus’ mother knew anything about his having had an extraordinary birth. There is a complicated little passage in Mark 3:20-21 about Jesus’ family coming to take him out of the public eye because they thought he was crazy.  It is a difficult passage to translate from the Greek, and a number of translations go out of their way to make it say something that it [...]

2020-12-21T19:21:43-05:00December 27th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Want To See My New Book Manuscript? A Blog Fundraiser

As I have done before, I would like to offer blog members an opportunity to read a draft of my forthcoming book in exchange for a major blog donation. Many of you know that I’ve been spent the last four years working on a scholarly monograph that will be related to, but completely different from, my recently published trade book, Heaven and Hell.  I have just finished the draft and am sending it out to experts to read for comments, before preparing the final copy for the press.  (It is to be published by Yale University Press.)   I’m not sure of the title yet, but just now I’m calling it “Journeys to Heaven and Hell in the Early Christian Tradition.” It’s a scholarly book, not directed mainly to a popular audience.  It focuses on several texts not well known to the general populace and, frankly, not even to most scholars (even NT scholars, the vast majority of whom have never read these texts, let alone studied them): The Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Paul, [...]

2020-12-26T12:11:26-05:00December 26th, 2020|Public Forum|

Christmas 2020

As we are all saying, this is by far the strangest holiday season we have had in living memory.  Well, at least in my living memory, which goes back six decades.  Some people are throwing themselves into it, trying to find a place for joy in the midst of either relative or severe hardship.  The effort to restore normal joy is evidenced in strange ways.  Just now, where I am, in a county in Western North Carolina, Christmas trees are literally sold out.  Not a tree to be found anywhere.  I tried on December 18.  Nope.  I’ve never heard of such a thing.  A local told me they think that it’s because of Covid.  So many people are fed up with being isolated they’ve decided to go big on the Christmas celebration.  Good on em! Others (well, lots of the big celebrators too, I supposed) are just depressed.  Others are suffering serious financial hardship.  No one I know is really much enjoying it they way they would like.  Many of you, too, I suppose.  I’ll [...]

2020-12-21T19:29:18-05:00December 25th, 2020|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem? Luke’s Version.

Yesterday I discussed Matthew’s account of how it is that Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, if in fact he “came” from Nazareth.  It may well be that Matthew has placed Jesus' birth there to fulfill Micah's prophecy (5:2) that a great ruler (the supposed messiah) would come from Bethlehem. Matthew explains it all by indicating that Joseph and Mary were originally from Bethlehem.  That was their home town.  And the place of Jesus’ birth.  Two or more years after his birth, they relocated to Nazareth in Galilee, over a hundred miles to the north, to get away from the rulers of Judea who were thought to be out to kill the child.  (That in itself, I hardly need to say, seems completely implausible, that a local king is eager to kill a peasant child out of fear that he will wrest the kingdom away from him….) Luke has a completely different account of how it happened.  In Luke, Bethlehem is decidedly not Joseph and Mary’s home town.  The whole point of the story [...]

2020-12-21T19:30:19-05:00December 24th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem? Matthew’s Version….

It is virtually certain that Jesus’ was raised in the small hamlet of Nazareth in Galilee, the northern part of Israel.   All of our sources agree that he was from there, and it is very hard to imagine why a Christian story teller would have made that up (since there was no prestige about the place: no one had ever even heard of it!).    But now the question is whether that was also his place of birth. The only two accounts we have of Jesus’ birth, Matthew and Luke, independently claim that even though he was raised in Nazareth, he was actually born in Bethlehem.   So isn’t that the more likely scenario?  Born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth?   You might think so, given the fact that this is what is stated in our only two sources of information, and that they independently agree about the matter (based on their own sources, the no longer existing M – Matthew’s source or sources – and the no longer existing L – Luke’s source or sources). But [...]

2020-12-13T21:35:28-05:00December 23rd, 2020|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Do Christians Have to Believe in the Virgin Birth?

The last time I went to visit my mom in Kansas during the holiday season  was six years ago (she is now in a retirement home in Ohio; 93 and still walkin' around!).  I talked about it on the blog soon thereafter.  I was not a church going person then (still not) but I did the sonly thing and took her to her church.  This was a conservative evangelical Free Methodist Church – one that my mom has attended for many years.  It was not really my style – I rather prefer centuries-honored liturgy to electric guitars and drums, myself – but I wasn’t there to satisfy my own aesthetic preferences.   (She doesn’t like the guitars and drums either, but we missed the earlier service with the choir). The sermon in that kind of church is very different from what one hears in an Episcopal church and is also very different from the kind of sermon I learned to preach when I was in my Masters of Divinity program at the Presbyterian Princeton Theological Seminary.  [...]

2020-12-07T19:18:59-05:00December 20th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

My Article on Christmas in Newsweek: Part 2

Yesterday I gave Part 1 of my Newsweek article on Christmas, published in 2012.  Here is Part 2! *************************************************************** Most modern readers who are not already familiar with these stories [in the apocryphal Gospels such as the Proto-Gospel of James] tend to find them far-fetched.   That’s almost always the case with miraculous accounts that we have never heard before – they sound implausible and “obviously” made up, as legends and fabrications.   Rarely do we have the same reaction to familiar stories known from childhood that are also spectacularly miraculous, and that probably sound just as bizarre to outsiders who hear them for the first time.  Are the stories about Jesus’ birth that are in the New Testament any less far-fetched? It depends whom you ask.   This past November, Pope Benedict XVI published his third book on the life of Jesus, this one focusing on the New Testament accounts of his birth, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.  Before his ascent to the head of the Catholic Church, Joseph Ratzinger was best known as a leading [...]

2020-12-17T16:26:49-05:00December 19th, 2020|Public Forum|

My Article on Christmas in Newsweek

I mentioned in my previous post that in 2012 I was asked to write an article on Newsweek about the Christmas story.  Before it appeared I posted it on the blog; here it is in full (at least as I sent it in to the magazine), in two parts. Here is the first half: ****************************** This past September, Harvard University professor Karen King unveiled a newly discovered Gospel fragment that she entitled “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”  This wisp of a papyrus has stirred up a hornet’s nest and raised anew questions about what we can know about the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and about whether there are other Gospels outside the New Testament that can contribute valuable information. Few questions could be more timely, here in the season that celebrates Jesus’ birth. The fragment is just a scrap – the size of a credit card – written in Coptic, the language of ancient Egypt. It contains only eight broken lines of writing, but in one of these Jesus speaks of “my wife.” Conspiracy theorists [...]

2021-11-01T10:19:52-04:00December 17th, 2020|Historical Jesus|

Christmas from a Historical Point of View

We are barreling down on Christmas!   For the blog this year, that means: seasonal Posts!  I thought it would be a good idea to talk about what we know about the birth of Jesus, and don't know, based on the Gospels and our knowledge of the history of the period.  It's amazing what we don't know.  In fact, we know almost nothing, apart from the fact that Jesus was born to a poor Jewish couple who were probably named Joseph and Mary around, what?, 4 or 5 BCE? I'll try to explain what we do know and probably don't know in various posts.  As it turns out, that was the topic of the first Christmas post on the blog, done almost exactly eight years ago.   Here it is slightly edited!  So, from 2012: *********************** Right now I have the Christmas on my mind -- as makes sense this time of year. But I have some other reasons.  First, I have agreed to write a brief (2000-word) article for Newsweek this week, to be published in [...]

2021-01-06T17:56:44-05:00December 16th, 2020|Historical Jesus|

A Holiday Season Request!

As we are all keenly aware:  ‘Tis the Season to be giving!  For many of us, in terms of giving at least, mid December is the best of times and the worst of times.   It is best because we can show our love and gratitude to those close to us by choosing things to give them during the holidays; it is the worst because the commercialism that overwhelms our world often makes it such an obligatory drudgery.  It would be so nice if we could just freely give to those we love without worrying about what and how much, and just be joyfully generous.  But, of course, we are humans and even giving a gift can be fraught with complications.  And this time of year often is. There is also a less humane and uplifting reason for giving just now, a rather cold and hard one that any of us who pays taxes knows full well.   We’re near the end of the year.  Ugh.  On the other hand, I think most of us would agree, [...]

2020-12-15T08:09:09-05:00December 15th, 2020|Public Forum|

An Apocryphal Story of Mary’s Conception of Jesus

In my previous post I introduced the seventh-century Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, one of the most popular Christian writings of the Middle Ages.  It tells an expanded version of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, and then yet more legendary tales of what happened afterward.   I continue here with another intriguing portion of the account: the events surrounding Mary conceiving Jesus, even though she was a virgin, and the reactions of Joseph when he realizes she is pregnant, and then – something completely missing from the New Testament – the religious “test” inflicted on her by others to see if she was telling the truth. Again, this is taken from the translation in my book The Other Gospels, produced with my colleague Zlatko Pleše.   The Annunciation 9 1 On the next day while Mary was standing beside the fountain to fill her small pitcher, an angel appeared to her and said, “You are blessed, Mary, for you have prepared a dwelling place for God in your spirit.   Behold, a light will come from heaven [...]

A Different Account of Joseph and Mary!

As we move to the Christmas season, I thought it would be interesting to post some extracts on one of the most popular Gospels in the Middle Ages, an account of Jesus’ birth – and before that, his mother Mary’s birth – and what happened in the aftermath.   It is called the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, because modern scholars once thought that it had claimed to be written by Matthew (the author of the first canonical Gospel); but in fact, as you will see, it claims to be written by Jesus’ brother James. The Gospel comes to us in Latin and was probably produced in the early 7th century.   Some of you may know, from the blog or elsewhere, a Greek Gospel of this description from the 2nd century, the Proto-Gospel of James.   This later Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew is a kind of reworking and expansion of the Proto-Gospel, with some parts removed, lots more added, and others simply altered.  It may be that its unknown author wanted to propagate the stories of the Proto-Gospel in the [...]

Is Suffering a Problem for Those Who Suffer?

I started this thread on the problem of suffering because I wanted to respond to a specific question from a member.   My original idea was simply to give the question and then write the response – and do it all in one post.   When I started writing it, I realized it wouldn’t be possible, that it would require several posts, and that in fact, it would make the best sense not to give the question in the first post but in the last.   Here now is the question I received, and my response. QUESTION: Faith-wise, why is the problem of suffering a breaking point for you, Bart, but not for Nick Vujicic? RESPONSE: When I first received this question I had an immediate reaction, and started to write a simple email in response, saying only that I had never heard of Nick Vujicic and didn’t know what is views were, and so couldn’t explain why he didn’t think so much suffering in the world should be an obstacle to faith.  I do know what lots and [...]

2020-12-13T20:40:10-05:00December 12th, 2020|Reflections and Ruminations|

How Then Can We Believe?

I continue now with the amazing and disturbing chapter “Rebellion” from the Brothers Karamazov, which significantly affected my view of suffering.   If you did not read yesterday’s post, you will probably want to do so before launching into this one. ****************************** Ivan’s stories are not just about wartime atrocities.  They involve the everyday.  And what is frightening is that they ring true to real life experiences.  He is obsessed with the torture of young children, even among well educated “civilized” people living in Europe: They have a great love of torturing children, they even love children in that sense.  It is precisely the defenselessness of these creatures that tempts the torturers, the angelic trustfulness of the child, who has nowhere to turn and no one to turn to – that is what enflames the vile blood of the torturer. He tells then the story of a five-year-old girl who was tormented by her parents and severely punished for wetting her bed (this is a story that Dostoevsky based on an actual court case): "These educated [...]

2020-12-01T18:20:18-05:00December 10th, 2020|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Facing the Problem of Suffering Head-on

I have started a short thread on why suffering is such a problem for many people when trying to understand the Christian faith – or many of the other faiths.  If God is one who is active in the world, helping people, answering prayer, doing what is best for them – how can we explain the heart-wrenching pain and agony so many people experience, even those who believe deeply in God?  We are not talking about pain being experienced by, say, a hundred people in the world.  We’re talking in terms of millions.  Billions.  How do we explain that? People do have explanations, and I do not want to discount any of them.  All of us have to come to a resolution of the “Big Questions” in our own minds.  And when it comes to matters of faith, it is very much a personal decision – and even inclination – of what seems right and natural to you. In my next couple of posts I try to address the issue head on in what is [...]

2020-12-05T18:56:42-05:00December 9th, 2020|Reflections and Ruminations|

Are You Interested in a Platinum Membership?

As you know, you have several choices for your membership on the blog – from the most popular Bronze level, where you can read all my posts with archives going back to 2012; to Silver, where you can do all that plus make and read members’ comments and questions, and my responses; to Gold, where you can do all that plus get audio versions of the posts; and up to Platinum.  The Platinum has some unusual benefits; I thought it might be helpful for me to spell them out, just in case you might be interested. Here is how I described it recently in an email to those who have already taken the plunge.  . ****************************** Hello Platinum Blog Members! Now that the dust has settled a bit on the launch of the new blog site, we are able to start moving ahead with some of our new initiatives – including the Platinum Premiums. Here is the summary provided on the JOIN pages, with which you are no doubt familiar.  In this note I will [...]

2020-12-18T14:02:28-05:00December 8th, 2020|Public Forum|
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