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What Paul Knows about Jesus’ Death, and What Led Up to It

In my last post I began to enumerate the things that Paul said about Jesus.  *Most* of what he says about Jesus has to do with the significance of his death and resurrection.  But what if we wanted to know about the *life* of Jesus – the things that Jesus said, did, and experienced between his birth and his death?  Paul doesn’t tell us a ton, as has frequently been noted.  But he does tell us some.  In addition to what I laid out in the previous post, there are the following bits of information, again taken from my fuller analysis in Did Jesus Exist? ****************************** Paul knows that Jesus was a teacher, because he quotes several of his sayings.  I will deal with these later [in my next post].  For now it is worth noting that two of the sayings of Jesus that Paul quotes were delivered, he tells us, at the Last Supper on the very night that Jesus was handed over to the authorities to face his fate. For I received from [...]

2021-11-19T12:22:06-05:00November 30th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

My Final Exam This Semester! The Birth of Christianity.

The Birth of Christianity, Reli 208 Final Exam Questions   Your final exam is scheduled for Thursday Dec. 9 at (ugh…) 8:00 a.m.  It  will consist of ten short answer identification questions and two essays. The exam will be closed book, closed notes, and open mind.   The Identifications   The i.d.’s will be terms that we have covered during the semester, either in the reading or in the lectures.  You will be allowed up to 100 words to answer each i.d. As examples, you could be asked to describe:  “Canon,” “Anchorite,” “Perpetua,” “The Gospel of Mary.” You will be given some choice for the i.d.s – for example, I may ask twelve from which you are to answer ten.  You should plan on devoting no more than an hour to this part of the exam.     The Essays   You will then have two essay questions , and should plan to devote about an hour to each.  In this case, unlike the i.d.s, I am providing (below) the entire range of potential questions.  [...]

2021-11-15T15:52:16-05:00November 28th, 2021|Teaching Christianity|

Did Paul Know Much about the Historical Jesus?

In my graduate seminar this semester we had an interesting and intense discussion about Paul and Jesus.  In particular, we delved into the issue of what Paul knew about the historical Jesus and whether he knew more than he said and if so why he didn't say more and if not how that could be. In an earlier iteration of my undergraduate Introduction to the NT class, this was what I had my students debate.  I never could figure out a good way to word the resolution, but most of the time I gave it as this: “Resolved: Paul Knew Next To Nothing About the Historical Jesus.” The problem with that resolution is that it asserts a negative, so that the affirmative team is arguing for a negative resolution. Not good. But I couldn’t come up with anything I liked better, and so went with it. Most students are surprised to find that if they simply make a list of what Paul says about Jesus between the time of his birth and the time of [...]

2021-11-15T15:49:06-05:00November 27th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

A Thanksgiving Reflection, 2021

I love Thanksgiving.  Absolutely love it.  For me it’s the best holiday of the year – family, friends, food, and football.  How good can it get?   (OK, a lot of my family and friends would drop the football.)  And it’s always a time for me actually to realize how much good there is in the world and in my life. On the other hand, every Thanksgiving has a darkside for me, a sense of guilt that I myself have so much to be thankful for. Isn’t that a bit triumphalist and self-congratulating, given how awful so many people feel, not because of self-pity (though there is a lot of that also) but because their lives really are filled with pain and misery? These two feelings of gratitude and guilt are simultaneous.  That is weird and possibly paradoxical, but I never try to resolve the tension between them, to make one triumph over the other or to reconcile them to one another.  They are both real and true but obviously at odds.   I think that’s worth [...]

2021-11-24T14:40:48-05:00November 25th, 2021|Public Forum|

Why Do Fundamentalists Support the State of Israel?

Have you ever wondered why fundamentalists are adamant Zionists?  (Did you know they were and historically always have been?)  It seems to outsiders a bizarre mystery: you love Israel but you hate Jews?  Well, OK, you say you love Jews, but how exactly do you show it?  By supporting Israel, I guess.  But Israel is a nation and the Jews are individual people, most of whom have nothing to do with the state of Israel, at least directly.  And even if you do love individual Jews, let’s be realistic here: you think that even though God is in favor of Israel, all the Jews will be going straight to hell.  What’s that all about? Many fundamentalists, of course, believe that Jews in the end will be saved.  But not while remaining faithful Jews.  They will convert to become followers of Jesus.  So they will be saved as Christians, not as Jews.  Those who don’t convert, even the heroes of modern-day Israel, well… sorry.. If God is opposed to non-Christian Jews, why is he pro-non-Christian Israel?  [...]

2021-11-14T17:23:33-05:00November 24th, 2021|Revelation of John|

A Rare Opportunity! Want to Read My Book on Revelation (before it’s published)?

Here’s an  opportunity.  Interested in reading the draft of my book on the Apocalypse of John (tentatively titled: Expecting Armageddon)?   I'm giving people the chance to do it as a fundraising effort for the blog. As most of you probably know, I’m now finishing up the book.  I've been working on it for about three years and as of yesterday have all the chapters drafted.   The first half of the book deals with how the book of Revelation is typically read.  Most people don't read it, of course: too weird or scary!  Those who do read it almost always suppose that it is talking about what will happen soon in our own future.  I will be arguing that this view is absolutely wrong and sometimes (literally) disastrous. The second half of the book will be dealing with what Revelation actually does reveal (if not our future).  It has a distinctive image of God, of humans, and of the world that many people find disturbing, and it's easy to see why.  In particular I will be [...]

2021-11-23T16:02:35-05:00November 23rd, 2021|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Why Cynics Thought Being Poor Was Ironically Better

Isn’t it better to have no possessions at all than to have millions of them and then lose them?  According to ancient Cynic philosophy: Absolutely Yes! I’ve been discussing how this view comes to be embodied in Lucian’ of Samosata’s humorous dialogue Downward Journey, about a rich tyrant who abused his power and wealth and then ended up completely miserable in the afterlife.  I begin here with the paragraph that ended the last post, to provide a bit of context for the humorous passage that follows.  (All this is taken from my book Journeys to Heaven and Hell, with Yale University Press, due out in April) ****************************** The dialogue shifts then to another of the deceased, an impoverished cobbler, Micyllus.  He too is upset, but not for being removed from the world of the living but for being delayed from crossing the Styx.  He cannot get to the underworld fast enough, and is perturbed that Charon’s boat has filled up without him and he has to wait on shore.  Clotho is surprised that Micyllus does [...]

A Humorous Take on Wealth From a Great Satire of Antiquity

In my previous post I discussed the radical views of Cynic philosophy – to be happy you must give up everything that can be lost, including all your possessions and your attachments to them.  That was a set-up for what I really wanted to discuss, a “Journey to the Afterlife” (technical term: Katabasis) found in the writings of Lucian of Samosata, one of the great writers of Satire in the Roman world, writing in the second century CE. Here I introduce Lucian and begin to talk about his very funny dialogue, The Downward Journey.  (Again, this is taken from a draft of my book Journeys to Heaven and Hell, to come out from Yale University Press in April) ****************************** Born in Samosata on the Euphrates, outside the centers of intellectual power and not known for its cultural icons, Lucian originally would have spoken Aramaic but he came to be trained in Greek rhetoric.  He eventually abandoned law for a literary career. Some eighty of his prose pieces survive, many of them attacks on charlatans and [...]

Must Jesus Divide Families? Part 2 of 2. Platinum Guest post by Douglas Wadeson

This is the second of two posts by Doug Wadeson on a divisive aspect of Jesus' ministry; there are comments in the Gospels that he would divide families.  How are we to understand that? Doug's first post o the matter was on October 21: Must Jesus Divide Families? Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson | The Bart Ehrman Blog  This is the wrap up.  What do you think?  Make some comments and he'll be happy to answer ************************* In the first part of this post we looked at some passages in which Jesus insisted that his followers love him more than their own families, and that he said he came to bring division into families.  Did Jesus intend to divide families, or was he simply stating the reality that following him was likely to cause problems in families? I tend to think the latter.  He spoke about the bond of marriage and against divorce (as in Matthew 19:3-9).  He seemed to have genuine concern for children (Mark 9:36, 37).  And many of his teachings emphasize [...]

2021-11-20T19:57:06-05:00November 20th, 2021|Historical Jesus|

Should You Give Up All Your Possessions to Be Happy? The Ancient Cynic View

In my forthcoming book Journeys to Heaven and Hell (Yale University Press; due out in April) I will be devoting a chapter to discussing how tours of the afterlife functioned sometimes in order to promote certain ethical views.  If you know what life after death is really like, it can be incentive for how you live now. One of the sections of this chapter deals with ancient “Cynic” philosophy – a radical stand on the importance of giving up everything, all one’s possessions, in order to attain to true happiness.  That is not easy to do, as Jesus’ followers discovered later, even though they stood in an entirely different ideological tradition (apocalyptic Judaism). The Cynic view is embodied in a very humorous fictional “Journey” to Hades by one of my favorite writers from antiquity, Lucian of Samosata.  Here is how I will be describing Cynicism in my book – to be followed in the next two posts with a discussion of Lucian’s account. ****************************** It is not a simple task to summarize ancient Cynicism: the [...]

Announcement: Did the Christmas Story Really Happen? Upcoming All-Day Event! (VIDEO)

 Christmas is upon us already, and I have decided to do a tis-the-season all-day webinar on Sunday, December 5:  “Did the Christmas Story Really Happen?”  The webinar will not be connected with the blog per se, except to the extent that I’ll be doing it and that some of you might be interested in coming. >> You can register by clicking here. It will be a full and unusually intriguing day, four lectures each with Q&A:  two in the morning, a break for lunch, then two more.  The talks will each be around 50 minutes with 20-25 minutes Q&A (each).  Whoa! Topics: The topics will focus on different aspects of the birth of Jesus in popular imagination, the biblical tradition, legendary materials, and … and what we can say historically. There are lots of intriguing issues here: Why is Jesus’ birth – the “virgin birth,” in “Bethlehem,” to “Joseph and Mary” etc. – mentioned in only two of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament? In particular, why is it not mentioned in two [...]

2021-11-18T07:53:23-05:00November 18th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus the First-Century Tea Partier

This is the final post I made years ago on Bill O'Reilly's bestselling book (listed as nonfiction) about Jesus. ****************************** I have decided not to provide a full and detailed review of O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus.  It doesn’t really deserve it, and it mainly contains more of what I have indicated before – on which see my previous posts.  I will say that the book is extremely well written and easy on the eyes.  It is entertaining.  A lot of human-interest material, which is both its strength and its very great weakness, as almost all of this, as I’ve mentioned before, is simply MADE UP, even though it is presented as if were historical fact.  There is page after page after page of that kind of thing.  This is not a research book written by a scholar and his writing buddy -- with, for example, footnotes indicating where they got their information from.  It can’t be that, since almost all of the details didn’t come from ancient sources but from their own fertile imaginations.  And since [...]

2021-11-05T10:09:40-04:00November 17th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Really Riled By O’Reilly

Here I continue my rather, uh, aggressive critique of Bill O'Reilly's Killing Jesus. ****************************** OK, I know I promised to read and review Killing Jesus.  But I’m not sure I can do it.  It’s just so aggravating. Pointing out its flaws is like shooting fish in a barrel.  I’ll make one general comment in this post and in the next one mention one of the leading themes of the book to show why its so problematic and then, unless I have a complete change of heart or people ask me pointed questions, I think I’ll just let it go. For now, a general comment. I was one of the 4893 people who wrote a book *about* the Da Vinci Code (Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine, 2004).  The other 4892 people, so far as I know, were religious – usually religious scholars – who were afraid that Dan Brown might lead the faithful astray by his wild claims, and for religious [...]

2021-11-05T06:56:33-04:00November 16th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Killing Jesus Is Killing Me……

Here is my second post on Bill O'Reilly's Killing Jesus from many years ago.   As you'll see, I was no happier about the book once I started reading it than when I was anticipating doing so.  But here at least I give some reasons that show my fears were starting to be confirmed.  Confirmation bias?  Yeah, maybe.  But well, in this case, I don't think so.... I will say, though, I was much feistier eight years ago when I wrote this thing.... ****************************** I received my copy of Killing Jesus in the mail today and started to glance at it.  I know I said I would read it, but I’m just not sure I can bring myself to do it. The opening “Note to Readers” makes one’s heart sink.  We are told that this will be a “fact-based book.”  Oh, that’s good, the reader thinks: it won’t be biased but will be objective, based only on facts.  Until you begin to read the opening page of ch. 1 “Heavily armed solders from the capital city [...]

2021-11-01T10:50:06-04:00November 13th, 2021|Public Forum|

Bill O’Reilly, Expert on the Historical Jesus!

Since I posted a bit on my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium,  several people have asked me if I've ever written an evaluation of Bill O’Reilly’s blockbuster hit, Killing Jesus.  It turns out, I did so, here on the blog, right after it came out in 2013.  I call it a blockbuster because it was: it rose to become the #1 book (in the world!) on Amazon, and had a long run at the top of the New York Times bestseller list -- staying on the list for a full 52 weeks! I've looked over my posts back then, and think they are still useful.  Here is the first of my posts.  I wrote it before I had actually starting reading the book.   As you'll see, it's horribly elitist while explaining why it's not elitist.  I used to write posts about that on the blog.  It was one of my endearing qualities that I seem to have tempered a bit.  Still, I get a laugh out of thinking about my knee jerking the whole [...]

2021-11-01T10:44:11-04:00November 11th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

God’s Mercy and Justice: The Opening of a Chapter in Journeys to Heaven and Hell

Do the early Christians think God is more just and determined to punish or more merciful and determined to forgive? I deal with the matter in one of the chapters in my next scholarly book,  Journeys to Heaven and Hell: Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition, coming out in April with Yale University Press.  The book has been done for months now, and I am right now reading through the final page proofs sent to me by the press – making final corrections of typos before it heads into production.  (It’s a very long process: usually a book doesn’t get published for about a year after the author has finished writing it and sent it to the publisher.  This always reminds me of the famous poem of John Donne, “Hymn to God the Father,” with its celebrated refrain (about God forgiving sin):  “When thou has done, thou hast not done, for I have more.”). The book is written for scholars, but with a few helps non-scholars will be able to get the [...]

2021-11-01T10:35:42-04:00November 10th, 2021|Afterlife, Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|

Gold Q&A for November!

Dear Gold Members, The time has rolled onward and here we are again.   Time to enjoy one of the perks of your elevated status as a gold member of the blog:  Our monthly Gold Q&A, 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?  Anything connected with the blog, directly or remotely?  Go for it. I will be recording the next Q&A on Saturday November 20 to be released  Tuesday November 23.  Just to give us something even more to be thankful for before the turkey.  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 November 19. The best questions are only a sentence of two long at most.  I hope to hear from you! Bart

2021-11-09T10:28:28-05:00November 9th, 2021|Public Forum|

Time Magazine Cover Story on Lost Christianities. Kind Of….

When I wrote a post about Lost Christianities yesterday, a funny anecdote occurred to me and I wondered if I had ever written a post on it.  Yup, in 2012!  It's worth repeating.  It has to do with Time Magazine (though it starts with Newsweek).  This was back when people used to actually get these things in the mail, in the Pleistocene Age, and they were therefore a bit of a bigger deal. Here's the post, from nine years ago. ****************************** Yesterday I learned that a story I wrote for Newsweek on the birth of Jesus was made the cover story this week. It’s kind of a goofy cover, but hey, I had nothing to do with that! The issue is now available. Get ‘em while they’re hot. I want to reflect for a second on the cover story of a news magazine. I never realized it before getting involved with that (very strange) world, although it makes good sense once you think about it, but they really can’t decide on what goes on the [...]

2021-11-09T11:00:43-05:00November 9th, 2021|Book Discussions, Religion in the News|

Webinar of Interest? Dune and Islam! How To Understand the Movie.

This announcement is not directly related to the blog -- but some of you may be interested.  My long-time colleague (of nearly 30 years!) Carl Ernst, one of the leading experts on Islam in North America, will be holding a remote webinar for my Department of Religious Studies, along with another expert (a PhD from our program) on how Islam influenced "Dune" -- both the book (which I *loved* in college!) and the movie (which does look amazing). It will be Saturday November 13.  Interested?  You don't have to have read the book or seen the movie for the discussion to be extremely enlightening.  Here's the info! Webinar on Dune and Islam: How To Understand the Movie   Frank Herbert’s Dune is inspired by themes from the history of Islam that are both direct and subtle. Carl Ernst and Michael Muhammad Knight will discuss the new film and the book it is based on and explore how Islam is part of its foundation on November 13, 2021 on Zoom and YouTube Live. Register here. The webinar is free. $10 suggested donation: Carl Ernst is a leading [...]

2021-11-03T10:42:35-04:00November 7th, 2021|Public Forum|

The Massive Diversity of Early Christianity. My Book: Lost Christianities

In my previous post I mentioned my second trade book, Lost Christianities (Oxford University Press, 2003).  I just now looked at the beginning of the book; I hadn’t read it in years.  It made me want to read it again!  I do know there are things I would change if I did the book now: my understanding of Gnosticism and the Gospel of Thomas are different, for example.  But on the whole, I still rather like it. But books are like that.  They’re like your children.  Each one is near and dear to your heart. Here is how Lost Christianities starts.   Chapter One Recouping Our Losses It may be difficult to imagine a religious phenomenon more diverse than modern-day Christianity.  There are Roman Catholic missionaries in developing countries, who devote themselves to voluntary poverty for the sake of others, and evangelical televangelists with twelve-step programs to assure financial success and prosperity.  There are New England Presbyterians and Appalachian snake handlers.  There are Greek orthodox priests committed to the liturgical service of God, replete with set prayers, [...]

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