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Two Gold Q&A’s for October!

Dear Gold Members, First, many apologies.  September got away from me; I was out of town for a third of it (lecturing for a UNC Alumni tour in northern Italy, suffering for the cause), and the rest of it just ate me alive.  So I missed the Gold Q&A. But never fear: I am going to make it up to you.  I'll be doing TWO this month. It will be the same as before, only double-duty this month.  Just to remind you, as if you need reminding: as a perk of your elite status as a gold member of the blog you are provided an audio Q&A once a month (well....) 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 first Q&A on  Sunday October 10, to be released Tuesday October 13.  Send your question(s) to our blog COO, Diane Pittman, at [...]

2021-10-01T13:11:58-04:00September 30th, 2021|Public Forum|

Behind the Scenes of the New Revised Standard Version

Here I will give two rather humorous stories (at least to me) connected with my work as the administrative assistant for the revision of the Revised Standard Version. In that capacity I was, of course, present for the various deliberations of the committee. Among the many issues they discussed was what to call the new revision. Ultimately it stood in the tradition of the “Authorized Version” – the technical name of the King James Version. In 1881, the KJV underwent an “official” revision (i.e., authorized by the ecclesiastical authorities who owned the copyright) in the Revised Version. Its committee received a lot of flak for the changes it made. Even though it was an English revision, there were several Americans who were on the committee. As part of their terms of involvement, they agreed not to publish an American version of the translation (making changes as they saw fit and bringing spelling and punctuation into conformity with American usage) for 20 years; and so in 1901 was published the American Standard Version. As I mentioned [...]

2021-09-22T10:03:31-04:00September 30th, 2021|Public Forum|

More of My Work for the NRSV Bible Translation Committee

A CONTINUATION OF MY POSTS OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER I served as one of the secretaries for the NRSV, as explained in my as explained in my post of Sept. 16th, for a couple of years. It was not onerous work and was quite a privilege to be able to associate with some of the greatest biblical scholars and Semitic philologists of the time. I was, of course, a complete nobody. Some of the members of the committee treated me (and the other secretaries) as complete nobodies (these tended to be the less qualified and more insecure members of the committee; I won’t name names!); others treated me (and the others) in a dignified and respectful way, realizing that we were, after all, just graduate students, but knowing that we were advanced and heading into academic careers of our own. When I graduated from my PhD program I was teaching part time at Rutgers, but I did not have a full time, tenure-track position there.   It was a slightly oppressive situation, as adjunct [...]

2021-09-22T10:21:37-04:00September 29th, 2021|Public Forum|

Why these Caricatures of the Old Testament God? Guest post by Amy-Jill Levine

We earlier had a guest post by Marc Zvi Brettler, an internationally renowned scholar of ancient Judaism, as related to his book The Bible With and Without Jesus (HarperOne, 2020), co-authored with New Testament scholar (and my long-time friend) Amy-Jill Levine.   Many of you will know of Amy-Jill: she is an extremely popular lecturer, full of energy, humor and wit,  author of numerous important books on Jesus and the New Testament.  Here now is her follow-up post, a complement to Marc's. ******************************* My friend and frequent co-author, Marc Zvi Brettler, just posted on this blogsite, “Marcion is Alive and Well – and What to do About It.” Marcion, back in the second-century C.E., distinguished between what he perceived to be the angry and inept Old Testament God and the wise and loving God of the New Testament. Although Christian authorities proclaimed this view heretical, it still has traction.  When we hear the contrast between the “Old Testament God of wrath” and the “New Testament God of love,” or other such comparisons that throw the Old [...]

Did Paul Want to Please the Jerusalem Apostles? Guest post by Richard Fellows

Blog Member Richard Fellows earlier provided us with a controversial post connected with his publication:  “Paul, Timothy, Jerusalem and the Confusion in Galatia” Biblica 99.4 (2018) 544-566."  The earlier post is here:  (Was Paul Really at Odds with Peter and James? Guest Post by Richard Fellows | The Bart Ehrman Blog)   Now he follows it up with a second; one more is yet to come. ************************ In my previous guest post I proposed that the Galatians had come to believe that Paul now believed in circumcision, and that they thought that it was only to please the Jerusalem apostles that he was not recommending circumcision to them. In this post we will confirm this proposal using the letter alone. By finding the theme that is highlighted by repetition and by the letter’s structure, we will identify the conclusion that Paul wants his audience to draw. Those preparing presentations are advised, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have told them”. Paul does this in Galatians. [...]

2021-09-20T14:25:25-04:00September 26th, 2021|Paul and His Letters|

Why and When Did We Get This Canon of the New Testament?

One of the questions I get most often is about the canon of the New Testament.  I got the question yesterday, after a lecture (on some other topic).  The question is actually a series of related questions:  We have twenty-seven books in it.  Who decided?  On what grounds?  And when? I've dealt with these matters on the blog before.  Maybe it's time to do it again! The first thing to emphasize is that the most common answer one hears to these questions is completely wrong.  My sense is that people have this answer because they read it someplace, or heard it from someone who had read it someplace, and that someplace was one place in particular: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code!   (If you don’t know, I wrote a book explaining the historical mistakes in Brown's book,  Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code.  It was a particularly fun book  to write. Some of the mistakes were real howlers…)  Contrary to what Brown says (and claims is a historical fact, and NOT part of [...]

2021-09-20T14:20:31-04:00September 25th, 2021|History of Christianity (100-300CE), Reader’s Questions|

Christian Stereotypes of “the God of the Old Testament.” Marcion is Alive and Well and Well and What To Do About It. Guest Post by Marc Zvi Brettler

An important book on understanding the Bible recently appeared: The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christian Read the Same Stories Differently, by Marc Zvi Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine.  I have asked both authors to provide a guest post or two, and here is the first.  Marc Brettler has long been a prominent scholar of ancient Judaism.  Since 2015 he has been the Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor in Judaic Studies at Duke University. ******************** Marcion, an early church theologian active in the first part of the second century, taught that the God of the Old Testament, typified by wrath, was distinct from the loving God of the New.  His biblical canon excluded the entirety of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament.  (His NT canon was also different than the one the Church ultimately settled on, but that story needs to wait for another day.)  His views were rejected by the nascent church, and he was ultimately excommunicated in about 140. As a professor of biblical studies, I know that his legacy continues.  This [...]

How Becoming an Agnostic Affected My Personal Life

I was just now looking through some old posts on the blog (there are lots of them!  If you join, you have full access!), and came upon this one from almost exactly four years ago.  It involves a question I get asked a lot by people who have left the faith or find themselves moving in that direction.  It involves how my relationships with others changed as I went from being a very conservative evangelical Christian to becoming an agnostic/atheist. My answer today would be the same....   QUESTION Would you be willing to elaborate on how your changing views affected your relationships with friends and family and how people reacted to your changing perspective? Thanks so much!   RESPONSE As it turns out, in my case, the biggest “problem” for my relationships with family and friends was not so much when I became an agnostic, over twenty years ago now, but when I left the evangelical beliefs I had held as a young adult to become a “liberal” Christian with critical views of the [...]

2021-09-06T20:19:06-04:00September 22nd, 2021|Bart’s Biography|

Jewish Indifference to Jesus and the Problems It Caused: Platinum Guest Post by Dan Kohanski

  Here now is another stimulating and learned post by Platinum member Dan Kohanski, on an unusually important topic.  Any comments?  He's happy to answer them. I'm running low on Platinum posts!  Do you have something you'd like to offer?  Let me know. ****************************** Why did only a fraction of one percent of all Jews in the empire or even in Judaea ever believe in the message of the Jesus Movement?[1] The answer starts with that message itself. The first members of the Movement were all Jews themselves, saw themselves as Jews, and argued that Jewish traditions and beliefs inevitably led to their version of Judaism. However, the way they used those traditions and beliefs to solve the dilemma of their founder’s crucifixion was too radical for most Jews to accept. I want to focus on three essential aspects of that solution that were particularly troublesome for Jews: belief in the individual resurrection of Jesus, belief in Jesus as the messiah after he had died, and belief in Jesus as necessary for salvation.   Belief [...]

2021-09-21T10:05:09-04:00September 21st, 2021|Early Judaism, Jews and Christians in Antiquity|

Was Peter Crucified Upside Down?

I few days ago I started answering a question about Peter that came to me in two parts:  was Peter the first pope and how did Peter actually die (crucified upside down)?   I've taken two posts to deal with the first question and will deal with the second -- more of a human interest story, I suppose -- here in this one.  The oldest account of Peter's death by martyrdom is certainly odd, but is not widely known.  Here is what I say about it in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. ****************************** Peter as Martyr The death of Peter by execution is already alluded to in the Gospel of John – which evidently, then, had been written after the event occurred.  As Jesus tells Peter after the resurrection: When you were younger, you girded yourself and walked wherever you wanted; but when you grow old, you will reach out your hands and another will bind you, and lead you where you do not want to go. (21:18) The author concludes this quotation by [...]

2021-09-06T20:13:42-04:00September 21st, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

An Impromptu FREEBIE. A Zoom Lecture Tomorrow Morning!

Because of some weird circumstances, I will need to record a lecture for my undergraduate class tomorrow morning, September 21st.  As some of you know, I hate recording a lecture to an empty room.  I prefer an audience.  Are you free to come? The lecture will be on "The Early Christian Apologists."  It will take place at 11:00 am, Eastern time, on Zoom.  Are you free to come?  Below is the link. I do not know yet if I will be able to release the recording to the public. The "Apologists" were the early Christians intelligentsia who defended the Christian claims against the charges of their pagan adversaries that Christians were hateful atheists who engaged in wild licentious activities.  The apologists tried to refute the charges and to argue for why Christianity was in fact the ultimate "truth." The event will be free, but as always, I would encourage a donation to the blog.  Any amount is welcome.  Pay what you think it's worth!  If, well, anything at all.  And if you can't afford anything [...]

2021-09-20T16:29:02-04:00September 20th, 2021|History of Christianity (100-300CE)|

Then Who WAS the First Bishop of Rome (if not Peter)?

In my previous post I addressed question from a reader whether Peter was really the first bishop in Rome (that is, the first Pope).   I guess I could have just answered the question with one word: no.  But it took a post to explain.  Now I want to move to the obvious corollary.  If not Peter, then who?? The ancient traditions about the leadership of the church of Rome is a bit confused.  According to the second-century Irenaeus, the first leader known by name (after the apostles) was a man named Linus, who was appointed to the office by Peter and Paul (Against Heresies 3, 3, 3).  In one place the father of church history, Eusebius, appears to agree with this, to some extent, when he says that “the first to be called bishop after the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul was Linus” (Church History, 3, 2); but here Linus is appointed not by Peter, but by someone else, after Peter’s death.  And to confuse things even further, just a few paragraphs later Eusebius phrases [...]

Was Peter the First Pope?

Several people have recently asked (in reference to that pop quiz I gave to my class this semester) whether it is in fact right that Peter was the first pope.   I dealt with the question a few years ago, along with another interesting tradition about Peter.  Here's the question I got and my response.   QUESTION: Is there any historical evidence that the apostle Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and that he was martyred upside down on a cross?   RESPONSE: Ah, I get asked this one (or these two) on occasion.  I dealt with them both in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (which, by the way, was a blast to write).   First I’ll deal with Peter in Rome – which will take a couple of posts; then the question of his martyrdom.  Here is what I say about the first in my book ****************************** In some circles, Peter is best known as the first bishop of Rome, the first pope.  In the period I’m interested in for this book, however, [...]

Working as a Secretary for the New Revised Standard Version

Here I continue with some reminiscences of my work with my mentor Bruce Metzger. ****************************** When I was still a graduate student in the PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, Metzger invited me to serve as a secretary for the committee that was producing the new revision of the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible. The RSV (on which the new translation was to be based) had come out in 1952, and it had caused a huge furor at the time. It was an “official” revision of the King James Bible, that was supposed to update the language (English has changed a lot since 1611), to take into consideration new manuscript discoveries (especially important for the New Testament, since the KJV was based on only a few medieval manuscripts that were not of very high quality; hundreds of better ones had since been discovered, and to incorporate the findings of modern Biblical scholarship). The RSV of 1952 was an “official” translation because it was authorized by the National Council of Churches in the U.S. [...]

2021-09-16T10:22:40-04:00September 16th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Jesus’ View of Salvation: Who Can Have Eternal Life?

Jesus believed that destruction was coming for some people, and salvation for others.  So did the author of Revelation.  So what’s the difference? Big difference.  In modern terms, Jesus' views of who would be saved were non-discriminatory.  That is, they were not based on who a person was, but what she did.  It did not matter if she was a she or a he; if she was a Jew or a gentile; if she believed one set of things or another; if she came from one nation/nationality or another.  What mattered was how she lived. Other Jews at the time probably had similar views, but they are striking on the lips of Jesus.  Salvation does not come necessarily to Jews by virtue of being the chosen ones.  It comes to anyone who lives a life of love, caring for others, especially those in need. To see this, consider two passages from the Gospel of Luke.  First note Eternal life?  Seems important.  Jesus' view?  Especially important.  Want to keep reading?  Join the blog!  Click here for membership [...]

2021-09-12T10:52:08-04:00September 15th, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine, Historical Jesus|

Jesus and the Coming Destruction: Who, Why, and How?

In my book on Revelation, one of my goals (once I start to write it) will be to contrast its view of judgment with that of Jesus himself.  I think the differences are stark and telling.  BUT, that is not because I think Jesus imagined that God was simply a God of love who would forgive everyone in the end.  I wish he did think that, but alas.  He was a Jewish apocalypticist who firmly believed the judgment of God was coming on the earth.  So did the prophet John, seventy years later, writing the Apocalypse. But for me the important issue is the object and reason for destruction.  Here they differ significantly, in ways that make me think John the prophet is not preaching the gospel of Jesus. Nowhere, in my view, can Jesus' understanding of the coming judgment be seen more clearly than in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  I have talked about this passage several times on the blog before.  In order to explain the contrast with [...]

2021-09-03T16:05:38-04:00September 14th, 2021|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|

On the Flipside: The Glorious Salvation of Saints in the Teachings of Jesus

In my previous two posts I’ve talked about Jesus’ view of the coming destruction of sinners.  My goal is to compare and contrast his views with those of the book of Revelation.  For both Jesus and the prophet John (author of Revelation) the future will not only bring very nasty destruction for some people on earth, but also an amazing salvation for others. Here is how I talk about the future rewards of the righteous in my book Heaven and Hell (Simon & Schuster, 2020).   ****************************** It is easier to document Jesus’ words about the dreaded fate of sinners in Gehenna than about the blessings of the saved in the Kingdom of God.   Even so, we have seen one teaching that is repeated in the Gospels:  the coming Kingdom will entail a fantastic banquet where the redeemed eat and drink at leisure with the greats of Jewish past, the Patriarchs.  This is a paradisal image of great joy. Another key passage involves Jesus’ discussion of what life will be like once the resurrection has [...]

2021-09-03T15:59:17-04:00September 12th, 2021|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|

The Horrible Fate of Sinners: Jesus’ Teaching on Gehenna

I continue now with my reflections on Jesus’ view of the coming destruction and the very bad fate coming to those who are not rightly aligned from God.  In this post I deal specifically with his teaching on Gehenna, and the devastation that will happen there.  Spoiler alert: it is not the place you want to go, but Jesus is not talking about “hell.” If you want to read more about this, join the blog!  You will get access to five posts a week dealing with just about everything connected to New Testament and Early Christianity.  There are various tiers of membership, and whatever you pay goes straight to charities helping those in need.      Click here for membership options   I have taken this discussion from my book “Heaven and Hell” ****************************** It is highly unfortunate that sometimes English translations of the New Testament render the Greek word “Gehenna” as “hell.”  That conjures up precisely the wrong image for Bible readers today, making them think Jesus is referring to the underworld of [...]

2021-09-03T15:10:49-04:00September 11th, 2021|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|

Reminder: My Public Lecture on the Book of Revelation — This Saturday!

Reminder!  This Saturday, September 18, I will be giving a lecture with Q&A on the book of Revelation; I'm calling it "Expecting Armageddon: What the Book of Revelation Reveals."  Wanna come? The event is a fundraiser (not for the blog, but) for my Department of Religious Studies, which is trying very hard to sustain its work in training graduate students.  My own students are becoming experts in the kinds of things I do, engaging in serious research in the study of the New Testament and the history of early Christianity, teaching important aspects of the field to undergraduate students, and communicating broadly this kind of knowledge to broader audiences in the population at large. It is very important work, not just for the graduate students themselves but for the people they do and will teach and reach, as we try to keep the public educated in what we actually know based on scholarship on these issues of broad importance.  But we are having trouble providing students with the funds they need to complete their training. [...]

2021-09-15T16:49:30-04:00September 10th, 2021|Public Forum|

Jesus’s Apocalyptic View of Destruction

In my book on Revelation I am planning to contrast the violence and wrath of God there with what we find in the teachings of Jesus.  It would be easy but too simplistic to paint an obvious contrast: unlike John (the author of Revelation) Jesus believed in love and so was opposed to violence.  It is certainly true that he was, at least on one level (as we'll see).  Jesus did not only think his followers should not be violent against one another, but also not against their enemies, not even the Romans.  But the same can probably be said about the book of Revelation.  It also does not urge the followers of Jesus to engage in violence.  The massive destructions that take place on earth in the book are sent from heaven. And Jesus too thought a massive destruction was to be sent from heaven.  So, well, what’s the difference?  That will be the complicated issue. To understand the views of destruction of both Jesus and the prophet John, I need to situate them [...]

2021-09-03T13:39:52-04:00September 9th, 2021|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Revelation of John|
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