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What the Earliest *Christians* Thought About Wealth

So far I have been discussing why “wealth” was sometimes seen as a problem by moral philosophers in the Greek and Roman worlds.  People who either have or want to have huge amounts of money are neglecting what they really need for ultimate happiness.  And money can corrupt morals, making one greedy, rapacious, and inclined to general nastiness.  These pagan ethical discourses are written by elites, for elites, concerned for the personal welfare of the elites. Christians had different views, at least so far as we can tell from their writings.  Whereas the “problem of wealth” was occasionally discussed among pagan moral philosophers, it became a central focus of interest in parts of the Christian tradition, starting with Jesus himself.   For the historian of religions that comes as no surprise.  Jesus himself was thoroughly Jewish and there are few aspects of Jewish ethical discourse more distinctive than the repeated emphasis both that the God of Israel was the God of the poor and that his people were to care for those who were in need.  [...]

Shouldn’t the Upper Classes Help the … Upper Classes?

In my previous post I talked about the widespread sense in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds that the affluent should give away some of their money.   But to whom/what did they give it and for what reasons? The basic answer involves an entire system of giving that is now widely known as “euergetism.”  The term was coined by an early twentieth-century French scholar of antiquity, André Boulanger; it literally means (financial) “good work.”  It is probably best translated into English as “benefaction.” Euergetism widely involved two kinds of giving by those with wealth: This post describes aspects of giving completely different from what we think of as "charity" today.  Join the blog and you can see what it's all about! Click here for membership options   Obligatory giving, usually called giving ob honorem (meaning something like “for the honor of). These were “gifts” that were required to be given by those who had been elected to a public office.  As part of that “honor” they were required to give of their private resources [...]

2022-05-24T11:38:58-04:00May 25th, 2022|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Does Wealth Make You More … Virtuous?

I have been explaining that among those few people who thought having substantial wealth was a “problem” in the Greek and Romans worlds – that is, the few philosophers who thought about the issue (since for most people getting lots of money was precisely not a problem!) – the issue was never that it just wasn’t fair for some people to be barely able to get by, or worse to be starving to death, when others were blissfully rolling in the dough.  The issue was that having lots of money almost always corrupted someone’s character, and having a bad personal character was a problem for the person personally (and for broader society) (but not because others were poor as dirt).  The greedy, manipulative, self-centered, tyrannical personality was not someone you wanted to be or be around. And so the problem with wealth was that it could hurt the person who had it.  Those poor people:  burdened with wealth!  But what was the solution for them?  We have seen: there were two well-attested options.  At one [...]

2022-05-16T13:29:15-04:00May 24th, 2022|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

The Critique of the “Very Reverend Robert Barron”

I am celebrating the ten year anniversary of the blog (April 18, 2022) by reposting the ten previous posts made on April 18 of each year.  I am now up to 2014.  On that day I posted a response to someone's critique of my then just published How Jesus Became God.  I was a bit testy.  Who, me?  Here's what I said. ****************************** The responses to How Jesus Became God are starting to appear, and I must say, I find the harshest ones bordering on the incredible.   Do people think that it is acceptable to attack a book that they haven’t read – or at least haven’t had the courtesy to try to understand? Some of the reviewers are known entities, such as the Very Rev. Robert Barron, a Roman Catholic evangelist and commentator who has a wide following.   His full response is available at http://wordonfire.org/Written-Word/articles-commentaries/April-2014/Why-Jesus-is-God--A-Response-to-Bart-Ehrman.aspx   I find it very disappointing.  Here is his opening gambit: ****************************** "In this most recent tome, Ehrman lays out what is actually a very old thesis, going back at least to [...]

2022-05-24T11:57:24-04:00May 22nd, 2022|Bart's Critics, Book Discussions|

The Problem with “Time Management”

I’ve been thinking a lot about time management lately, but decidedly not in the way most people do.   Most people (at least the ones I know) want to figure out how to become more efficient with their time, how to get more done, how to get more focused.  That’s the very LAST thing I need. Since I was about 18 I’ve worked on that sort of time management and now have no trouble being time-wise, focused, and efficient.  My problem is just the opposite.  It’s about enjoying the present rather than using the present as a way to get to the future. I’d say that’s also a huge problem in our culture and one that most people don’t realize they have.  I too never realized I did either, really, until recently, and I’m not sure I fully realize it now. I used to roll my eyes when people talked about “living in the moment.”  For me it was all about accomplishment, getting things done, as well and quickly as possible.  One reason I’ve written so [...]

2022-05-09T10:43:21-04:00May 21st, 2022|Reflections and Ruminations|

Early Christianity and War. Platinum Guest Post by Daniel Kohanski

I am pleased to publish a new guest post by Platinum member Dan Kohanski, for all you Platinums.  Here Dan treats a perennially important topic: how ancient people (including biblical authors) understood the legitimacy of war, particularly in light of their specific historical and cultural contexts.   Dan will be happy to address questions and comments. Remember: you, too, can submit a Platinum post.  It can be anything of any relevance to the blog.  Have an idea?  Send it along! ******************************             The history of how religions approach war is evidence that theology is a product of reaction to events rather than the application of eternal and unchanging laws. Look at the ancient Israelites, who lived in a period of endemic local wars, in which one petty kingdom after another (including those of the Israelites) made frequent attacks on their neighbors for territorial and monetary gain. Canaan was also the land bridge between Egypt and the empires of Mesopotamia. When those giants went to war, lesser nations such as Israel and Judah often became collateral damage. [...]

2022-05-15T15:22:05-04:00May 20th, 2022|Public Forum|

Fabulously Rich But Not Attached to the Lucre (?)

In the previous post I talked about how and why ancient Cynics condemned wealth – as in fact they condemned anything that a person had and considered important to their happiness and wellbeing.  If wellbeing resides in things you possess, they can be taken away from you, leading to misery.  And so, the key to happiness is not to be attached to anything.  And the only way to assure that you’re *not* attached to something is not to have it at all.  So Cynics maintained you should give it all away – for the sake of your happiness. This was considered an extreme view, but it reveals an underlying sentiment among many ancient philosophers, that happiness cannot reside in your possessions.   Most of these philosophers, though, maintained that the problem was not wealth per se, but a personal attachment it.  For these thinkers, it was perfectly fine, even good, to be abundantly affluent.  The (potential) problem was being obsessively attached to possessions and allowing wealth to control the course of life.  That is: you could [...]

2022-05-19T11:55:44-04:00May 19th, 2022|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|

The Ancient Argument for Getting Rid of All Your Wealth

I now begin a series of posts on the “problem of wealth” in the ancient world -- that is, the problems posed by wealth, as identified by a number of elite authors, both pagan (Greek and Roman) and Christian.  The particular *problem* was understood differently between these two camps, but both camps had extremists, who said the rich should give it all away, every penny, and the moderates, who said that the problem was not wealth itself but a rich person’s “attitude” toward wealth.  The latter group, which, as you might expect, was far more numerous, claimed it was fine to have TONS of money so long as you weren’t much attached to it. But what was the actual problem?   Wealth is a problem?  With problems like that…. To explain the problem from the perspective of traditional Greek and Roman moral philosophy, I will first describe it in in its barest form, as found in the teachings of philosophers who argued for complete divestiture (get rid of every penny!).  These were known as “Cynic” philosophers, [...]

Did Christians Invent Charity?

I have now decided (I think) that my next book will be about how Christianity revolutionized the world in a way that most of us would agree is particularly good, even though most do not realize it was a specifically Christian accomplishment.  It has to do with wealth and giving to charity. Jesus himself said “the poor you will always have with you,” and in fact, for the entire history of the human race the vast majority have been poor, often (usually?) to the point of destitution.  That’s still true today, even though in our world today we could easily feed everyone on earth if we wanted to.  We simply lack the moral drive and the political will to do so.  But before now, before the 19th century CE, it  simply wasn’t even an option: solving world hunger requires modern methods of agricultural production; machinery; mass transportation systems, and so on. Jesus could also have said “the rich you will always have with you,” since that’s true enough as well.  But wealth, in and of [...]

Reflections on Teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill

In celebration of our tenth year anniversary on April 18, I'm publishing all the posts from previous years on April 18.  It's a random collection.  Here's the second in the series, from 2013; it's a self-congratulatory one (!)  that I was using to explain the different kinds of colleges/universities around the country (in later posts on that thread). ****************************** It is always interesting for me to travel around the country giving lectures at different colleges and universities. This past week I have been struck with just now different institutions of higher education can be from one another. Let me preface my remarks by saying – in this post -- that I absolutely love my university. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is always ranked very near the top of state research universities in the country, and for very good reasons. The faculty are on the whole absolutely stellar. Just within my own Department of Religious Studies we have eighteen full time tenured or tenure-track faculty, not counting adjuncts and emeriti, and every single [...]

2022-04-30T22:39:27-04:00May 15th, 2022|Public Forum|

My Next Three Books!

I have three books I’d like to write and need to decide which to do first.  I also have have a larger book project as well, an academic book, but that will be a different story for a different day.  For now, I’ve settled on these three for a general audience.  (One of them I’ve mentioned before; the other two are new ideas.)  So I’m happy to hear your opinion: what do you think? Blog members get five posts a week, all for a very low membership fee.  And every bit of the money that comes in goes out to charity.  So why not join? Click here for membership options The first option I love especially because of the misdirection and possibilities of the title. I’d like to call it:  CHRIST KILLER.   Subtitle:  Pontius Pilate in History and Legend.I’ve long been interested in Pilate on all levels – what we can know about him as a historical figure, how he is portrayed in the Gospels, and what various legends sprang up about him [...]

2022-05-08T16:37:35-04:00May 14th, 2022|Book Discussions|

May Q&A

Dear Gold Members, These monthly Gold Q&A's have been a lot of fun to do.  Time for another one!  Have a question?  Ask it!  Anything related to the blog! To enter your question on to the list: send it to Diane at [email protected] DEADLINE for your question. Monday May 16, midnight (whenever midnight is where you live).   I will try to get it recorded a soon after that, with a goal of releasing it that following weekend. Questions that are relatively short (a sentence or two) are more likely to be chosen; and feel free to ask a zinger! I'm looking forward to it!   Bart  

2022-05-12T14:53:21-04:00May 12th, 2022|Public Forum|

Demons and Christians in Antiquity: Guest Post by Travis Proctor

I am very pleased that my erstwhile PhD student, Travis Proctor, has published a revised version of his dissertation with Oxford University Press.  See:  Demonic Bodies and the Dark Ecologies of Early Christian Culture: Proctor, Travis W.: 9780197581162: Amazon.com: Books Travis was one of the best students I ever had, and this is an unusually learned book.  In celebration of the event -- and to let you know of the development -- I have decided to repost his discussion of his work from two years ago, with a brief introduction to bring us up to date. Here is what he says. ******************************          Long-time members of the blog may recall my guest post from two years ago, when I shared a summary of my dissertation project on demonic bodies in early Christian literature (see original post below). For those wanting to delve deeper into the subject, I am happy to announce that the manuscript has been published with Oxford University Press, under the title Demonic Bodies and the Dark Ecologies of Early Christian Culture. The [...]

I’m Puzzled about Time. Is there a “Present”?

If you read these posts, you’ll know that I’m not a physicist or a philosopher, and really, to address the issue that is on my mind just now, I need to be either, or, preferably both.  I am puzzled about time.  About a specific feature or aspect of time.  I’ve been thinking about it for some time and will probably be ruminating on it for some time to come; and I’m considering it now.  But my puzzle is: What is “now”?   Is there a “present”?  If so, what is it? OK, it’s a weird question but I’d like to know what you think.  Most people have never thought about it.  At least in all my 66+ years (sigh) I think I’ve only heard / read about the issue a couple of times.   This will take a bit of explaining. I have no trouble conceptualizing the “past.”  For most of us, including me -- when I’m not doing the hard-core academic historiographical thing (which I do enjoy doing, of course) -- the “past” is simply everything [...]

2022-05-04T18:54:11-04:00May 11th, 2022|Reflections and Ruminations|

My Debate With Roman Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin

I had never debated a Roman Catholic apologist before.  In fact, I didn't know there *were* Roman Catholic Apologists!  I did know there used to be lots of them who were intent on defending the Catholic tradition against Protestants.  And as it it turns out, there are still some of them around.  There is an interesting organization in San Diego that sponsors their work, called "Catholic Answers." I was invited to go out there to debate one of their speakers, Jimmy Akin -- not about the superiority of Catholicism over Protestantism (about which I don't have much of an opinion, as someone who is neither) but about the reliability of the NT Gospels.  The reliability of the Gospels?  Isn't this a Protestant evangelical passion?  Yup, and of some Catholics too apparently (though before this I had never met one for whom it was).  At least for Jimmy Akin. So we had the debate.  I decided to take a slightly different tone in this one, and to soften the polemical edge a bit.  I'm not sure [...]

2022-04-30T22:12:41-04:00May 10th, 2022|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels|

Do My Research Assistants Do My Work for Me?

In celebration of our blog 10 year anniversary on April 18, I've decided to post the past ten years posts that were posted on April 18 of each year!   Here is the first, from April 18, 2012.  You will notice (if you pay attention to how I write these posts), that I was even more thin-skinned, defensive, and argumentative than I am now!  Ha.  I thought about editing these then thought, ah, why?  In this first from ten years ago, I was responding to an accusation that I don't do my own work. (!) ****************************** I was surprised, shocked, dismayed, incredulous, and well, OK, pretty ticked off and aggravated when some of the mythicists that I deal with in my book, Did Jesus Exist, went on the attack and made it personal.   Let me make a confession: before getting ready to do this Blog, and getting into Facebook as a preparation for it, I had no idea how grimy the Internet can be.   It is one messy place.  I know, I know – welcome to [...]

2022-04-27T22:42:38-04:00May 8th, 2022|Public Forum|

Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality? Recording of The Blog Webinar

As you may know, I did a free blog webinar on April 23, on the question "Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?"  The answer is not as obvious as most people think.  For one thing, it is deeply embedded in biblical and other ancient understandings of sex and gender, which ain't the understandings of most people today.  Does that matter?   Watch it and see. Here is the webinar, including the Q&A at the end.  Enjoy!   Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?

2022-04-24T18:34:11-04:00May 7th, 2022|Sex and Sexuality in the Bible|

 The Plausibility of the Fourth Gospel: The Sayings of Jesus. Guest Post by Dennis Folds

Here is the second of a two-part Platinum-guest-post by Dennis Folds, who makes the controversial argument that *John* is the more accurate Gospel and that it is *Mark* who has changed the historical facts.  This time he focuses on the teachings of Jesus and, relatedly, the reasons for his condemnation to execution.  Interesting stuff.  Let us know what you think! And feel free to write a post or two in response!  Or write a post on anything else related to what we do on the blog.  Your input is welcome! ****************************** In Part 1 of this two-part post, I described the vast differences between the gospels of John and Mark in the chronology of events of Jesus’s ministry.  Matthew and Luke follow Mark’s chronology, and these three (the Synoptic Gospels) are thought to be more accurate. I argued that the narrative in John is more credible, as it spread the action over two-plus years, had Jesus going back and forth to Jerusalem for major religious festivals, and had a growing conflict with the religious authorities.  [...]

2022-05-10T10:11:32-04:00May 6th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

What’s Eternal Life Like? Ask Paul…

I’ve been trying to show that Paul thought eternal life would be lived not in some kind of bodiless spiritual existence, but in the physical body.  How is *that* supposed to work?  And didn’t he say that “flesh and blood” would NOT inherit the kingdom (1 Cor. 15:50)?  Here I explain how Paul understood it was all to happen.  I pick up with the last bit of my last post, taken from Heaven and Hell (Simon & Schuster, 2020). ******************************   The future resurrected body Paul imagines will be utterly and completely transformed.  It will be a different kind of body.  Paul argues that the human body that goes into the ground is like a “bare kernel” of some kind of grain that grows into a plant.  What grows is intimately tied to and related to what went into the ground; but it is also vastly different.  When you plant an acorn it doesn’t grow into a forty-foot acorn, but into an oak tree. So too the human.  When the body comes out of the [...]

2022-04-24T19:23:17-04:00May 5th, 2022|Paul and His Letters|

Eternal Life is in the BODY? Really?

What did Paul actually teach would happen after death?  It was not that after you died your soul would go to heaven or hell.  Paul taught a future physical resurrection of your *body*, to have eternal life here on earth.  I started explaining that in my previous post.  I continue here: Paul’s argument for a coming resurrection of the dead.  Again, this is taken from my discussion in Heaven and Hell (Simon & Schuster, 2020).   ***************************** Paul’s Teaching of the Resurrection To make his case (for a physical resurrection of all people at the end of time), Paul begins the chapter (1 Corinthians 15)  by summarizing what the Corinthians came to believe when they first joined the Christian community, that Christ died for sins and was raised from the dead, and after his resurrection he was seen not only by his disciples but by a large number of people, including 500 at one time and, finally, by Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).  All these people actually saw Jesus.  That’s because he was physically raised. [...]

2022-04-24T19:19:17-04:00May 4th, 2022|Paul and His Letters|
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