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Blog Dinner in London?

If you're a blog member and are either in or able to get to London just now:  are you interested in getting together for a blog dinner?  If we can get 3-4 (or more!) people together, I'd be happy to do it. It would need to be one of the evenings of Sunday July 11 to Thursday July 15. In either central London or Wimbledon (where I reside when over here). No obligations other than: Being a blog member Showing up Talking Paying for your meal. If you're interested, do NOT reply here as a comment.  Send me an email at [email protected] If you're not around here just now, hey, our day may come!

2021-06-30T06:50:27-04:00June 30th, 2021|Public Forum|

Other Gods Who Died and Rose from the Dead?

Here I continue with the Q&A I had years ago with evangelical New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, focused on my book Did Jesus Exist.   I think I can say with relative confidence that this is the ONE book of mine that evangelicals on the whole were (mainly) pleased with.  A nice change!  And why do they like it?  Because I argue there must have been a man Jesus.  OK, then! Doesn't seem like a lot to be grateful for, but I'll take what I can get. Ben's questions were more astute than that, dealing with some of the key issues at a scholarly level.  Here are two more of them, and my responses. Q. It appears that mythicists have not read Jonathan Z. Smith, and do not realize that there is no unambiguous evidence for the historical argument that ancients believed in dying and rising gods before the time of Jesus, and that therefore the story of Jesus is just a historicized version of that myth. Why do you think this theory of dying and rising [...]

2021-06-12T12:06:56-04:00June 30th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Some Intriguing Questions about Jesus’ Predictions and Mental Health

I've gotten a lot of terrific questions over the years on the blog, and looking through old posts, I came upon this one dealing with two of them, both on Jesus and his immediate followers.  I thought they were worth addressing again. Both of these, as it turns out, deal with issues related to psychology and the early Christian movement: one has to do with why the followers of Jesus didn’t simply give up and disband when the end-of-the-world-apocalypse they had been anticipating didn’t happen (so that they were proven to be *wrong*) and the other about whether Jesus was, literally, crazy.   Interesting questions!  If you have one you would like me to address, just ask in a comment on any of my posts.   QUESTION I get that when the Apocalypse didn’t happen as the apocalyptic Jesus had predicted that a kind of reinterpretation of events including the resurrection took place. But why? Why didn’t the fledgling fringe then Jesus-Jewish (my term) sect simply die out?   RESPONSE Ah, this is a meaty question [...]

An Unusual Interview with an Ex-Muslim, Informed, Atheist

Now *this* isn't the kind of interview I get asked to do every day!  Hanny Seylim is a former Muslim who split his time growing up between Egypt and Ireland (a parent from each) and now lives in Melbourne.  For his podcast, Critical Faculty, he interviews all sorts of critical thinkers in numerous different fields (physics to NT!).  Hanny knows a *lot* about early Christianity and wanted to interview me about my work.  I think this one is unusually good.  Enjoy!  

2021-06-18T16:41:31-04:00June 27th, 2021|Public Forum|

Fiction and Fact, Legend and History. Is it Either / Or?

This now is the 7th of 10 parts of my interview with Ben Witherington on my book Did Jesus Exist.  Here there are two interesting questions, both focusing on the relationship of legend and history in ancient stories about Jesus.  Part of the question is whether the Gospel writers were simply riffing on (or, more cynically, ripping off) earlier stories of other amazing figures when talking about Jesus; the other is whether that has a significant bearing on how we understand what he said and and did -- or on whether we think he even existed. Q. Robert Price's argument that the stories of Jesus are a giant midrash on OT stories about Moses and others, and so are completely fiction seems to ignore the fact that midrash is a hermeneutical technique used for contemporizing pre-existing stories. Talk briefly about the difference between how stories are shaped in the Gospels and whether they have any historical substance or core or not. (N.B. It appears that Crossan has recently made the same kind of category mistake arguing [...]

2021-06-22T11:09:51-04:00June 26th, 2021|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Texts and Towns that Allegedly Didn’t Exist (So Did Jesus?)

Here I continue to answer questions from my evangelical colleague in the field, Ben Witherington, as addressed some years ago,  These again deal with the claims of "Mythicists," who insist that there never actually was a man Jesus, but that he is simply made up, a complete myth. One way they support their point is by saying that some passages in the ancient world that mention him in fact are later "interpolations" into the original writings (that is, some nefarious editor stuck references to Jesus into a text that originally didn't mention him) and that his hometown, Nazareth, actually did not exist at the time. Is either claim credible or, well, supported by any actual *evidence*?  Here are Ben's queries and my responses.   Q. Mythicists seems to often uses the interpolation theory to explain away NT texts that are inconvenient to their agendas. Yet it is also true that some NT scholars use interpolation theories to the very same end, even when there is apparently no textual basis for the interpolation theory. Explain how [...]

How Do We Know If Jesus Did Something?

This post continues my 10-part interview with Ben Witherington dealing with "mythicists," those who claim that there never actually *was* a man Jesus, but that he is a complete fabrication, a myth.  In Did Jesus Exist, I try to show why that is simply not true.  But if he did exist, and the Gospels say things about him that probably didn't happen, how do you separate the fact from the fiction?   Here Ben asks me questions related to that idea, and I give some responses. Q. Various mythicists have tried to argue that in fact there is only one source, namely Mark, that provides evidence that Jesus existed and presumably he made up the idea? Why is this not a fair representation of the evidence, and why do you think it is that various of them hardly even deal with the evidence from Paul? A. Most mythicists claim that Paul never mentions the historical Jesus or says anything about him, but that he only speaks of a “mythical Christ” who was not a real human [...]

2021-06-18T16:37:33-04:00June 23rd, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Some Key Evidence for Jesus

I continue here with the conversation I had some years ago with evangelical New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, based on my book Did Jesus Exist.  In this post, we start getting into some of the key evidence we have for Jesus, not only to show that he actually existed (uh, yes he did...) but also to help us know what we can say about him, about what he really said and did.   Q (Witherington). In the middle portion of your book, you place a great deal of emphasis on what is usually called the criteria of multiple attestation to demonstrate that Jesus surely existed.   Would you explain briefly why historians place so much stock in this criteria, and why it is especially important when dealing with the question of the existence of Jesus. A.    Multiple attestation is one of the most important historical criteria for establishing what happened in the past – not just for historical Jesus research, but for any serious historical research.   If the sources to a historical person or event are [...]

2021-06-18T16:36:46-04:00June 22nd, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Why My Book on Revelation Has Been Different To Write

As many of you know, my next book is on the Revelation of John, to be written not for scholars but for a general audience.   I decided I wanted to write the book maybe four years ago, and my ideas about it have changed significantly since I began to think about it.  Part of that is because the book is, as Bob Dylan says, “a slow train coming.” My original plan was to have the book finished by now.  In fact, that was the publisher’s plan too.  This is the first time in my mortal existence that I’ve been seriously behind on a book deadline.  Usually, I finish way ahead of time.  Not with this one. There are several reasons for that and I won’t bore you with them since virtually everyone I know has had the same problems:  Covid burnout, too much work, and too little time.  BUT the positive side of it all is that with this book I’m allowing myself time to think and reflect without a definite plan.  It’s a new [...]

2021-06-18T16:35:54-04:00June 20th, 2021|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Reconstruction of Q: Platinum Guest Post by Steve Sutter

Here is an interesting and informative post on the Q source, provided for us by Steve Sutter. I have been spacing out these Platinum posts, in part because the supply is limited (and the queue almost gone!).   If you have one to submit: go for it!  You can get your ideas out there, people can respond, you can respond back, and it's all good. *************************** The Earliest Gospel “Q” was Lost -- But Reconstructed By: Steve Sutter, M.S. Presque Isle, Maine   The idea of a collection of sayings of Jesus lying behind the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is not a new idea. In 1908, Dr. Adolf von Harnack, a Lutheran theologian and Professor of Church History at the University of Berlin, authored a book entitled The Sayings of Jesus -- The Second Source of St. Matthew and St. Luke. It’s intriguing that in Harnack’s day, at least some historical investigators hypothesized that Jesus was “a genuine Buddhist, who had, however, come under the influence of ideas originating in ancient Babylon, Persia, Egypt, and [...]

2021-06-19T08:01:43-04:00June 19th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

What About Other References to Jesus Outside the New Testament?

I continue here with the re-post of an interview from years ago but of ongoing relevance, about how we can know what we know about Jesus.  The interview was with Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, who asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist in light of criticism I received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!). Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem with Evangelical Theology, among others. - Q. Sometimes you make a distinction between literary evidence and other sorts of written evidence (e.g. records of trials or tax records),  and you place especial stress on the former as a way of answering the question of whether or not Jesus existed.   Can you explain why you do this? A.   Yes, there is a clear distinction to be made between literary and documentary evidence.   The only reason I place special evidence on the former, when talking about the historical Jesus, is that [...]

2021-06-18T15:58:03-04:00June 19th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Evidence for Jesus Outside the New Testament: Part 2 of My Exchange with Ben Witherington

Nine years ago, Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar,  asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist, especially in light of criticism I have received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!).   I am reposting the interview, since it's on such an important topic. Ben's blog is widely read by conservative evangelicals, and he has agreed to post the questions and my answers without editing, to give his readers a sense of why I wrote the book, what I hoped to accomplish by it, and what I would like them to know about it.  He has graciously agreed to allow me to post my responses here on my blog, which, if I’m not mistaken, has a very different readership (although there is undoubtedly some overlap).   It’s a rather long set of questions and answers – over 10,000 words.   So I will post them in bits and pieces so as not to overwhelm anyone.  The Q’s are obviously his, the A’s mine. Some [...]

2021-06-10T20:04:47-04:00June 17th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Why I Wrote my book Did Jesus Exist? Interview with Evangelical Scholar Ben Witherington

Ever since I started publishing books for non-scholars,  I've been attacked by evangelical Christians for my views of the Bible.  Then, somewhat ironically, about nine years ago I came under attack by the nemeses of evangelical Christians, the "mythicists," who claim that Jesus never existed.  And why did they attack me?  For my views of the Bible.  Isn't life marvelous? In 2012 published a book arguing that whatever else you say about him, Jesus certainly existed.  It drove some of the mythicists to distraction.  What was I thinking?   I didn't agree with them!  Traitor! Oh boy I didn't agree with them.  And on this point, at least, some evangelicals came to love me.  One of the leading New Testament scholars in the evangelical community is Ben Witherington, with whom I've been on friendly terms for a very long time.  Ben also has a blog, quite different from mine.  Soon after the book was published, Ben asked if he could do a multi-part series with me on the book that both of us could post on [...]

2021-06-10T20:04:39-04:00June 16th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

How Then Do Most Ancient Manuscripts Get Discovered?

I have been discussing documents from early Christianity that I would very much like to have see with my own eyes.  In my last post I mentioned the fact that documents that *do* tend to be discovered are either copies of books we already have (the Gospel of John, the book of Revelation, etc.) or of books that we did not previously know existed (the Letter of Diognetus, or most of the writings in the Nag Hammadi library). Here is a related question from a reader of the blog. QUESTION: Are there researchers who systematically attempt to find these ancient documents or when documents come to light is it pretty much by chance? ANSWER: Well, not so much, not these days. For a simple reason: how does one go about trying to discover a manuscript? Do you fly to Egypt, hire a taxi to take you out to the desert, and start digging? There were basically two ways that past researchers tried to discover manuscripts. Sometimes they were spectacularly successful. But one of these ways [...]

The Issue of “Tenure” for Professors

You probably have heard about the extraordinary case of Nikole Hannah-Jones at my university (UNC-Chapel Hill).   Offered a prestigious chaired position in the Department of Journalism, a chair that has always brought with it “tenure,” the university Board of Trustees, comprised, of course, of people who are not academics with expertise in journalism, chose not to grant her tenure, even though the department itself strongly advocated for it.  I have never heard of that happening before. Of course, given the fact that the Board has to give its approval before tenure is granted, it was completely within its legal right not to give its approval.  But no one on the planet thinks it is an accident that Hannah-Jones – who is 20-year veteran journalist with the New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize winner for journalism (!), and winner of the (incredibly prestigious) MacArthur Genius grant – is famous for her work developing the “1619 Project” avidly promoting an alternative understanding of American history in light of the history of slavery and the contributions made by [...]

2021-06-13T07:51:23-04:00June 13th, 2021|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Gold Q&A for June!

Dear Gold Members, It is that time again!   As you know, one of the perks of your elevated status as a gold member of the blog is that you are provided an audio Q&A once a month for gold members only.   You provide written questions, I answer as many as I can, and I release the audio recording to gold members only.  Have a question to ask?  The sky's the limit.  Go for it. I will be recording the next Q&A on Saturday Jun 19, to be released  Tuesday June 22.  Send your question(s) to our blog COO, Diane Pittman, at [email protected]   The deadline is midnight (in whatever time zone you're in) Friday June 18 . The best questions are only a sentence of two long at most.  I hope to hear from you! Bart

2021-06-12T13:13:45-04:00June 12th, 2021|Reader’s Questions|

What Kind of Ancient Christian Books Might Be Discovered?

On and off of the past few months I've posted on which books from early Christianity -- from the time of the New Testament! -- I'd love to get my grubby paws on.  Here is a related question I received.  What are the chances? QUESTION: What do you think are the odds that a really startling discovery like Q or an early Paul letter is still out there and likely to be discovered? RESPONSE: This is a really great question, and like many really great questions, there is no really great answer.  It is, of course, impossible to come up with any actual “odds.”   The best we can say is “pretty slim indeed." But let me put some flesh on the bare bones of that answer. The first thing to say is that there are indeed instances in which a modern discovery has been made of a book that we had reason to suspect at one time existed.   But that very rarely happens. In virtually every case that it *has* happened, it is not a document [...]

Final Live Lecture on Jesus as The Christians Saw Him: SATURDAY!

This Saturday at 3:00 p.m. I will be giving a live lecture (via Zoom) on an intriguing topic that very few people I"ve ever met (including New Testament scholars) have ever delved into:  What did early Christians think Jesus was doing between the time of his death and his resurrection. This is the third and last lecture in my series on Jesus according to the Christians.  You do not have to have been at either of the others to come or to understand this one -- it is a stand alone lecture, with a good ole Aristotelian beginning, middle, and end. All the funds we bring in will go to help pay for blog expenses, so we can continue to give every dime of membership fees and regular donations to the charities we support.  The fee for the lecture, if you have not already paid for it, is $10.  We accept more than the requested fee of course! This week's event will last for about 75 minutes.  I will lecture for 45-50 minutes and then [...]

2021-06-10T20:57:50-04:00June 10th, 2021|Public Forum|

The Trinity! A Final Summation

I would now like to wrap up this rather long thread on where the Trinity came from.  When I started the thread, sometime back in the 19th century, I had imagined it would take three or four posts.  But then I realized that it would give me an opportunity to talk about all sorts of important things:  the early Christian idea of God, the divinity of Christ in relation to the Father, the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, and so on.   But now I will try a one-post synopsis. The earliest Christians inherited a strict monotheism from Judaism.  Not all Jews were monotheists.  Over history, some worshiped other gods; others worshiped the one God of Israel but acknowledged other gods existed (making them henotheists or monolatrists) ; others said there was only one God and the other gods simply didn’t exist.  Most Christians came to take that view – or at least to say that the other gods, if they existed, were demons. Jesus himself appears to have been a strict monotheist.  As were [...]

2021-06-10T23:14:26-04:00June 10th, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine|

The Coming of the Holy Spirit in John: A Key to the Trinity

I’ve been talking about Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” the long five-chapter discourse that is Jesus’ last speech (virtually a monologue) in the Gospel of John.  In the previous post we saw that in the speech Jesus discusses how he relates to the Father: he is in the Father and the Father is in him, so that even though the Father “is greater” than he, when someone sees him he sees the Father.  They are “one.” That doesn’t mean they are the same person/thing; it’s more like when you tell a colleague or friend “you and I are completely unified in this” or “you and I are at one on this.”  There is no distance between you.  For Jesus it means that he has been given the authority of the Father and that his words are the ones the Father has given him to speak so that whatever he does and says has the full authority of the Father behind it.  There is no distance between him and the Father.  Not because they are the same but [...]

2021-05-30T16:05:32-04:00June 9th, 2021|Public Forum|
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