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Jesus, Mary Magadalene, and … Sexual Innuendos?

I was browsing through old posts and ran across this one from almost exactly seven years ago, a question about whether one of the non-canonical Gospels (the Gospel of Philip) really could be right that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a sexual relationship. I get asked about this still on occasion, and it's on one of the more titillating topics of early Christian studies, so I thought I would repost it today. QUESTION: I know that the “Gospel of Philip does not have much if any real historical veracity to it about Jesus’ life, but do the references about Jesus and Mary Magdalene being lovers and the holes in the papyrus ‘kissing’ verse (verses 32 and 55 in your “Lost Scriptures” book), help support the view that this most likely Gnostic Christian sect truly believed and taught that Jesus and Mary M were married? RESPONSE: Yes, this is one of those questions I get asked about on occasion. I have a reasonably full discussion of the relevant issues in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary [...]

2021-01-21T00:48:14-05:00January 31st, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

The Earliest Belief in Christ??

In my past couple of posts I have claimed that the earliest understanding of Christ was a kind of "low" Christology, one that considered Jesus to be a full flesh and blood human being (as he considered himself!), and nothing more than a man, until at some point God exalted him and made him his son, the ruler of all, the messiah, the Lord. But "claiming" something is not the same as showing it.  I realize a lot of people today don't really care about "evidence" or "proof," but are happy simply to believe what someone tells them, so long as it's someone they like for one reason or another.  But I have to admit, I'm an evidence guy.  I want to have *reasons* for what I think, and not simply agree with someone because they are saying what I want to hear.  What then is the *reason* that I share the widely held view I've so far only "claimed"? In my previous post I talked about how scholars have isolated some of these pre-literary [...]

2021-01-18T10:00:49-05:00January 30th, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine, Paul and His Letters|

Do You Want to Hear Two More Lectures on the Gospels?

Last week I gave two Zoom lectures, recorded for my undergraduate course on the New Testament, and invited all of you to come.  It went extremely well and a good time was had by all.  Well, OK, a good time was had by *me*!   After the second lecture we had about 30 minutes of Q&A, all very lively. I'm going to do it again *this* Sunday.  Wanna to hear them?  Then come!  There would be no charge per se, but I would like to ask for a (completely voluntary) donation to the blog. This will be Sunday, Jan. 31..  I will give two lectures (different times this week!), one at 1:00 and the other at 2:15.  Each lecture will take about 40-45 minutes.  The topics this time:  "The Oral Traditions about Jesus Before the Gospels."  This is the most controversial talk my students have ever heard about Jesus. I explain how the stories about Jesus were circulated and came to be changed, and even invented, in the years before the Gospel writers heard them and [...]

2021-01-29T09:47:27-05:00January 28th, 2021|Public Forum|

How Do We Know What Christians Thought about Jesus BEFORE the New Testament?

Yesterday I posted the first in what will be a series of reflections on the earliest Christian Christologies (understandings of Christ).  I began to outline what I take to be the earliest Christology of all. Jesus and his followers, I maintained, saw him(self) as a man and nothing more than a man (who was a great teacher, a prophet, and the future messiah of the coming kingdom – but human through and through, nothing else). But once these followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead, they altered their view to begin to think that God had exalted him to heaven and made him his specially anointed one, his Son, who would indeed be the future messiah and who would bring in that Kingdom himself when he returned from heaven as the Son of Man. And so, why do I think that this Christological view – that God made Jesus his Son at the resurrection, the one who reigns *now* (and so is already the “ruler” or the “anointed one” or [...]

2021-01-18T09:54:44-05:00January 28th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson: A Christian Is Not Necessarily a Disciple, and Vice Versa. Part 2

This now is the second of Douglas Wadeson's two-part post, presenting the flip side of his earlier one. These Platinum guest posts have been terrific so far.  I hope you too have enjoyed them.  Soon we'll vote on which of the four we've seen goes on the main blog site!  But for now, here is Doug again. In my previous post I argued that it may be possible to be a “Christian” but not necessarily a “disciple.”  Now I will discuss the flip side: is it possible to be a disciple of Jesus but not a Christian?  As a reminder from the previous post, I defined a Christian as one who believes in the Christ (Messiah), that died for the sins of the world and then was raised back to life by God; this is Jesus, of course.  Salvation comes by believing in Him, not through your actions.  In fact, trying to be saved by your “works” is futile and even heresy. A “disciple” is by definition a student or pupil or follower.  Such a [...]

2021-01-27T19:09:09-05:00January 27th, 2021|Reflections and Ruminations|

The Earliest Understandings of Christ

Just about everyone agrees that the understanding of who Christ was developed significantly over the years (and if they don't, they should!).  The views Jesus' own disciples had right after his death around 30 CE were not the same as those that had been developed by very sophisticated thinkers around the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 CE; and two centuries later these Nicean views had been refined and deepened.  Views of Christ developed over time. But how, and why?   I used to think that the changes were fairly "linear," that is, that followers of Jesus at one time thought "A" and then later came to realize that instead it was "B" and eventually came to think "C" etc, -- one view leading to another, as everyone changed their minds.  This scenario, I now realize, is far too simplistic: different people believe different things at the same time, some people hold on to older views when others move to newer ones, and some people who come to believe newer views later change their [...]

2021-01-18T09:48:15-05:00January 27th, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine, Historical Jesus|

My Materialist View of the World

This is a brief hiatus in my thread on the Trinity, for a personal reflection.  As most members of the blog know, I have definite religious views, but I do not try to impose them on other people – unlike in my conservative evangelical days, when I knew I was right and everyone who disagreed was wrong and therefore better change their mind or they would go to hell forever.  Sigh… As a side note, I have to say I really wish more people had my current attitude, to live and let live.  My view is that whatever your view is, so long as you’re not actually hurting yourself or others, you’re welcome to it.  Or, in basketball parlance, “no harm, no foul.”  It’s when views get hurtful that we should try to do something about it…. Anyway, as probably fewer members know, I have been more-or-less a complete materialist for about twenty years.  I do not believe there is such a thing as a non-material, supernatural realm.  There’s the material realm, and that’s it, [...]

2021-01-18T09:40:50-05:00January 26th, 2021|Reflections and Ruminations|

Was the King of Israel Called God??

Yesterday I showed that beings other than God could be called God in the Old Testament and other ancient Jewish literature.  It seems strange, but there it is.   I continue now with an especially important case in point: the king of Israel.  In this case there doesn't seem to be much ambiguity about the matter. Again, this is from my book How Jesus Became God. ****************************** Hebrew Bible scholar John Collins points out that the Israelite notion that the human king could be considered in some sense divine ultimately appears to derive from Egyptian ways of thinking about their king, the Pharaoh.[1]   Even in Egypt, where the king was God, it did not mean that the king was on a par with the great gods, any more than the Roman emperor was thought to be on a par with Jupiter or Mars.  But he was a God.   In Egyptian and Roman circles, there were levels of divinity.   So too, as we have seen, in Jewish circles.   Thus we find highly exalted terms used of the [...]

2021-01-18T09:29:03-05:00January 23rd, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Want to Hear Me Give a Live Lecture?

Because of the crisis, I will be teaching my course, Introduction to the New Testament, remotely this semester, by recording two lectures a week, starting Sunday, for my students to listen to during the week at their convenience.  Last week for the heck of it I tried recording a lecture by myself in an empty room.  It, uh, did not go well, to say the least.  I need *someone* to talk to if I’m going to talk.   Otherwise I just stumble over my words and forget everything I’m supposed to say. I would like an audience. Which gave me an idea.  Would any of you like to hear one or more of my lectures as I record them?  There would be no charge per se, but I would like to ask for a (completely voluntary) donation to the blog. Here is what I have in mind.   We will try it out this Sunday (Jan 24) on Zoom.  I will give two lectures, one at 2:00 and the other at 3:15.  Each lecture will take about [...]

2021-01-21T16:14:19-05:00January 21st, 2021|Public Forum|

Could Jews Consider Someone Other than God To Be God?

In order to explain how Jesus came to be seen as his followers as God – the first step to understanding where the doctrine of the Trinity came from – I have been discussing a widespread view in the Greek and Roman worlds, that other very special human beings were thought to have become divine, considered and worshiped as immortal gods, for example by being taken up to heaven at the end of their lives. You might well wonder, though, what “pagan” beliefs have to do with early Christian beliefs.  Jesus and his followers were Jews, so why would it be relevant what polytheists believed?  It’s a good question, but there’s also a good answer.  The belief that humans could be divine is found not only in ancient Greek and Roman circles (and Egyptian circles and others!), but also in Jewish. That may come as a surprise.  Jews who were monotheists thought that others could be God, along with the one God?  Uh, how does *that* work? As it turns out, you can find it [...]

2021-01-18T09:26:20-05:00January 21st, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Did Humans Ever Become Divine in Judaism? (Seems unlikely, no?)

I have been discussing how human beings were sometimes thought to become gods in the ancient world.  All of this is backdrop to my assessment of why Christians thought that Jesus had become God.  Of course, most Christians say that Christ did not *become* God: he had always *been* God. That indeed is the traditional Christian teaching, but I will be arguing that it was not the original view.  The first followers of Jesus, after his resurrection, believed he had been made divine at that point.  Only later did that view develop into the notion that he had always been divine.   It will take a while for me to show that, but my premise will be that Jesus’ immediate followers were influenced by traditions that humans could indeed become divine beings. Still what relevance will that have for Christianity?  The earliest Christians were Jews.  The traditions I’ve been talking come out of *pagan* cultures..  No relevance for early Christians, right? Wrong.  As it turns out Jews also sometimes thought that a human could become divine.  [...]

2021-01-10T18:22:32-05:00January 20th, 2021|Early Judaism|

A Christian is Not Necessarily a Disciple: Platinum Post by Douglas Wadeson

The weeks' Platinum post comes to us from Douglas Wadeson, a long time member of the blog and recently retired (lucky fellow) physician.  The post comes in two parts: the second part will appear next week.   Remember: this post, your comments about it, and any ensuing back and forth come to Platinum members only.   (And remember: you too can submit a post!  I hope you do so.  Just send it to my assistant Diane Pittman, at [email protected]) Here now is part 1 of Doug's post: ******************************* In Dr. Ehrman’s Christmas blog post he ponders: “So this is what I don’t understand:  why so many of the alleged followers of the Prince of Peace not only refuse to accept his teaching but by and large preach *against* it, standing precisely for what he stood against.  It’s as if they haven’t read their Bibles.  It’s all there – in Jesus’ teachings, in the Old Testament prophets, he based his message on, in the gospel proclaimed by his earliest followers. God is not on the side of the [...]

2021-01-19T22:39:38-05:00January 18th, 2021|Reflections and Ruminations|

Guest Post Part 2 by New Testament Scholar Jeff Siker: Why I Am Still a Christian

This is re-post of part 2 of an interesting set of comments from exactly eight years ago by my friend and colleague Jeff Siker, a New Testament scholar who agrees with most of the critical views I have of the New Testament but who is still a believing and practicing Christian.  To make fullest sense of this post, you should read it in conjunction with the one from yesterday. Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia.   ****************************** Like Bart, I became interested in pursuing an academic career, but with some grounding in the life of the church.  And so after my BA and MA (Religious Studies) at Indiana University, I went off to Yale Divinity School.  And so my trajectory from Young Life in high school to Indiana to Yale was rather different from Bart’s trajectory from Moody to Wheaton to Princeton.  Whereas much of Bart’s education involved the study and practice of Christian [...]

2021-01-10T18:12:05-05:00January 18th, 2021|Reflections and Ruminations|

Guest Post by New Testament Scholar Jeff Siker: Why I am Still a Christian

Bart speaking:  I often get asked how someone can be a scholar of the NT, understand all its critical problems, and yet still remain a Christian.  That's a mystery to many people.  But it's not a mystery to biblical scholars.  I was looking back through old posts and saw that in the first year of the blog, eight years ago now, I asked my friend Jeff Siker, a well-published NT scholar and long time professor of NT at Loyola Marymount, if he would explain why despite all he knows, he remains a believer and an active member of the church.  He has agreed to allow me to republish the two posts he made and is happy to answer questions about them. Jeff is the author of a number of books, including Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Homosexuality in the Church, and Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital Age. Here is the first of his posts. ***************************** When I first went to Princeton Theological Seminary to begin the Ph.D. program there in New Testament [...]

2021-01-19T23:03:24-05:00January 17th, 2021|Reflections and Ruminations|

Still Other Humans Who Became Gods: In Jesus’ Time!

Here I continue my account about how some human beings became gods according to ancient Greek and Roman traditions.  Last time I discussed the “founder of Rome,” Romulus.  Now I shift to a time period more relevant for Jesus – in fact his own period – and to figures who are not legendary (Romulus), but actual historical figures we know about from a large range of sources. Again, this will be taken from my book How Jesus Became God.   ************************   Julius Caesar The traditional date for the founding of Rome [under Romulus]  is 753 BCE.  If we move the calendar forward about seven centuries, we still find men who are declared to have become gods.  Few are better known than Julius Caesar, the self-declared dictator of Rome who was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 BCE, by political enemies who preferred not having a dictator when all was said and done.  A life of Julius Caesar is provided for us by the Roman biographer Suetonius, in his Lives of the Caesars, published [...]

Could a Human Become a God in the Ancient World?

If early Christians were monotheists, how could  they claim that someone other than the One God was also God and yet still say there was in fact only one God?  That will be the first issue to figure out if we want to understand how the doctrine of the trinity developed.  With respect to Christ, if he was a human, how was he divine?  In other words, how could ancient people get their minds around that?  Not just whether he was divinely handsome or divinely wise – but actually Divine?  In some sense a God?  (I will, over this thread, emphasize the terms “in some sense,” as you will see). A couple of weeks ago I talked on the blog about some special individuals in the Greco-Roman world who were understood to be both human and divine because they had one of each kind as a parent.  Typically this involved a mortal woman who was attractive to one of the gods (Zeus / Jupiter wasn’t the only one, but he was the most notorious), who [...]

2021-01-05T10:20:48-05:00January 14th, 2021|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Historical Jesus|

Were Ancient Pagans Sometimes Monotheists?

In my last couple of posts I’ve been talking about Jewish monotheism and henotheism as a backdrop to early Christianity.  And now *here* is a something almost no one in the civilized universe knows any more: even among traditional pagan religions there were sometimes movements toward monotheism, or at least evidence of serious henotheism.  Here is how I discuss it in my book Triumph of Christianity, in the context of why the Christian claims about their God would not have seemed completely unprecedented. ****************************** Scholars have long known of henotheistic tendencies among ancient  (pagan) philosophers, who had come to think that behind all the diversity of the world, above all the manifestations of what we know and experience, there must be one ultimate reality that makes sense of it all.  This principle of unity could be understood to be the ultimate divinity, and so some philosophers stressed the “oneness” at the heart, or at the beginning, of all things. The sense of one ultimate divinity could also be found outside the ranks of the professional [...]

2021-01-05T00:56:21-05:00January 13th, 2021|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Were Ancient Israelites Actually Monotheists?

Monotheists. The first thing to stress in considering the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is that even though the orthodox view (that is, the one that got declared “right”;  “Orthodoxy” literally means “right opinion”) claimed there were three persons in the godhead, there was only one God.  That is, Christians insisted they were monotheists.  No doubt they did so because they quite consciously came out of the Jewish tradition and wanted to retain its monotheistic emphasis.  But that in itself needs to be thought about for a minute. Were Ancient Israelites Actually Monotheists? This is Debatable Just about everyone thinks that Jews are and always have been strictly monotheistic.  As it turns out, the matter is hotly debated and not all that simple.  There are indeed passages in the Hebrew Bible that stress there is only one God.  Most importantly in some parts of Isaiah, especially the parts called “Second Isaiah” (chapters 40-55) they are called this because this part of the book was not written by “Isaiah of Jerusalem” the prophet of the 8th [...]

2022-06-19T22:09:11-04:00January 12th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Platinum Guest Post by Steve Sutter: The Buddhist Influence on the Gospel of Luke

Here is a post submitted by Platinum member Steve Sutter, for the enjoyment of all you other shining Platinums.  It will go only to Platinum members of the blog and any comments you make will go only to Platinums as well.   Steve wanted me to let you know that he is not a scholar, but a very interested observer.  But I’m glad he’s made this post: I get asked about this sort of thing on occasion both on and off the blog.  Thank you Steve!   And the rest of you: enjoy!   Buddhist Influence on the Gospel of Luke   By: Steve Sutter, M.S. Presque Isle, Maine   Scholars have often considered the possibility that Buddhism influenced the early development of Christianity. They have drawn attention to the many parallels concerning the births, lives, ethics, and deaths of the Buddha (Siddhattha Gotama), and Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in their respective traditions of scripture and legend. (Old World Encounters – Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times, Chapter 2  Jerry H. Bentley, Un. Of Hawaii, [...]

2021-01-30T01:49:37-05:00January 11th, 2021|Canonical Gospels|

The God Jesus, In Competition

I have started what will almost certainly be a long thread on where the idea of the Trinity came from within the Christian tradition.   In plotting out the thread I saw right away that the very BIG issue is not really about the “three” (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) but about the “two”:   God and Christ.   This was the matter Christians debated for centuries, with the Spirit being (by far) a less central figure.  The very major problem early Christians confronted was that they were monotheists who believed in only one God but they also thought Jesus was God.  And they did not think that he was the same being as his Father.  So God was God and Christ was God but there was only one God.  How can that be?  Answering that question will eventually get you to the doctrine of the Trinity. To explain it I will need to go into some length on the issue of Jewish monotheism, and what it meant (especially in a world where everyone else was a polytheist), [...]

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