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What’s the Point? Hey, *IS* There a Point? The Book of Ecclesiastes

In a previous post I began talking about the distinctive views of the book of Ecclesiastes, one of the real gems of the Hebrew Bible, a book that refuses to accept easy answers or blithe truisms about life, but faces reality head on.   No matter what we do or how we try to explain it away, life is short.  Very very short.  The author of course had no conception of what we know now about time in relation to lifespan.  What would he say if he knew that the world (what we would call the universe — something about which also he had no knowledge) was not a few thousand years old but 13.8 billion? My guess is that he would say the same thing he already does, but possibly with a few more exclamation points.   Given how incredibly brief our life is, even if we live to “old” age — what’s the point of it?  Is there a point?   I think there is.  And I find not just value but also hope in his [...]

2022-07-01T19:51:29-04:00June 30th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Digging Deep into Afterlife Journeys

I don't recall *ever* having a podcast interview in which I was asked to go down seriously into the weeds of my scholarship as found in one of my scholarly books.  But that happened in this interview, done on June 14, for the Christian Humanist Podcast.  It's a serious podcast, where the perspective is Christian and the topics are intellectually meaty.  The interviewer is a PhD in English literature and professor at Emmanuel College.  He's a bright guy, who knows a lot, who read my book Journeys to Heaven and Hell carefully, realized clearly what both the scholarly issues and the wider payoff were, and grilled me on it for an hour. Here's the podcast for your viewing pleasure.

2022-06-27T21:40:43-04:00June 29th, 2022|Afterlife, Public Forum|

Blog Dinner. London. Tuesday, July 12. Interested?

We had to cancel the last proposed London blog dinner because of the rail strike, but now I'd like to make a second go of it, if anyone's interested.   Possibly a pint in advance.  Are you in the vicinity?  Interested?    If we can get 3-4 (and no more than 7) people together, I'd be happy to do it. It would be Tuesday, July 12, somewhere in central London. No obligations other than: Being a blog member Showing up Talking Paying for what you consume. If you're interested, do NOT reply here as a comment.  Send me an email at [email protected] Hope it happens!    

2022-06-28T09:07:22-04:00June 28th, 2022|Public Forum|

A Skeptical View of Life … From the Bible!

To celebrate the tenth-year anniversary of the blog on this past April 18, I've been posting all the previous April 18 posts.  This one is from 2020; in it I discuss one of my favorite books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes.  The post was originally part of a series of posts on "Wisdom Literature" in the OT, as I indicate at the outset. ****************************** In my previous post I pointed to the “Wisdom” literature of the Old Testament (usually said to comprise Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes), suggesting that this is a good time for all of us to ingest some wisdom from those who went before.  The book of Ecclesiastes has long been my favorite in the Old Testament.  It seems so modern in so many ways.  Even though written over 2000 years ago, it considers ageless questions about what the *point* of it all is. If you don’t know it, it’s worth reading; it won’t take long.  If you do know it, it’s worth reading again.   To provide some orientation to the overall theme of [...]

2022-06-27T21:06:20-04:00June 28th, 2022|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Yeah, Those Are Contradictions. My Response to Firth.

Matthew Firth came up with interesting responses to my examples of contradictions in the Gospels (in the previous post); here now I try to show how his explanations simply don't work. ****************************** Thanks, Matt, for your thoughtful comments on the four contradictions I discussed in my opening post.  I agree – this form of debate is much better than the oral back-and-forths I’m used to on a stage in front of an audience, where it’s so easy to say something unwittingly that is completely stupid or wrong.  With this format I’m able to think about it a bit before saying something completely stupid! I appreciate your attempts to reconcile the contradictions.   For years I wished I could reconcile all the ones I found – and did my best to do so, using many of these kinds of arguments.  I ended up thinking it just didn’t work.  I’ll try to explain below why I think so, step by step.  I’ve decided that it would be easier for readers of the blog to be able to compare [...]

2022-07-01T19:45:11-04:00June 26th, 2022|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

There Are No Contradictions in the Gospels! The Response by Matthew Firth

As promised, this is Matthew Firth's (2019) response to my post (the previous one) in which I try to show several places in the Gospels that contain contradictions.  Firth does not see a contradiction in any of the five examples I cited, and explains why, contrary to first appearance, the accounts are completely in line with each other.  Read him carefully and see what you think  (To make sense of his reply you may want to see what he is responding to in the previous post, but ... hey, follow your heart.) ****************************** Thank-you very much, Bart, for your opening gambit. It has given me a most enjoyable afternoon of delving deeply into the Gospel texts, and I really appreciate the written format of this debate, which allows space for considered reflection, study and learning, rather than the rhetorical tennis of some other formats of debate which, while they produce spectacle, rarely achieve deep insight either for the proponents or the onlookers. I will now take the cases in the order in which you proposed [...]

2022-06-14T14:03:42-04:00June 25th, 2022|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels|

Onan the Barbarian: How an obscure Bible character affected reproductive rights. Platinum Guest post by Douglas Wadeson MD

I'm pleased to post this intriguing contribution by your fellow Platinum member and Medical-Doctor- Not-Afraid-to-Talk-About-Onanism-In-a-Public-Forum Doug Wadeson.  Hey, it saves *me* the inconvenience of having to post on it! Seriously, it's a very interesting discussion.  Doug will be happy to address your questions and comments. I hope you too will consider submitting a post!  If you're interested, let me know. ****************************** As background, there was an ancient custom that if a man died without children then his brother was expected to marry the widow and have children with her so that the brother’s family line would not die out.  This was incorporated into the Jewish law: read Deuteronomy 25:5-10.  I particularly like the part where the widow gets to spit in the face of her brother-in-law if he refuses.  It is also interesting that it does not say what to do if the widow does not want to marry her brother-in-law: I suppose she had no choice, since the intent was to continue her late husband’s family line and her opinion didn’t matter (she’s just [...]

Gospel Contradictions: My Debate with Rev. Matthew Firth

To celebrate our 10th year anniversary from April 18, I'm reposting all my previous (ten) April 18 blog posts.  Now I'm up to 2019.  In that year I agreed to do a blog debate with a fellow named Matthew Firth, an Anglican rector who studied theology at Oxford University.  Firth had challenged me to a debate on whether the Gospels contain contradictions, and offered to donate $1000 to the blog if I managed to convince him.  That, of course, was a bit of a joke, since there's no way on God's green earth that someone with his mind made up (so much that he wants to debate) is going to change his mind.  But it was an interesting ploy and so I said, Why not? The debate involved a back and forth that spanned part of April including our celebratory anniversary.  Here was my opening gambit; I will go ahead and post his response to it and my reply to his response, in the two posts that follow (to which he replied and then I [...]

2022-06-17T14:59:38-04:00June 23rd, 2022|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels|

Gold members Q&A for June

Dear Gold Members, It's that time again.  Time for the Gold Q&A for June -- a perk of your membership!  Do you have any questions you'd like to ask, on anything related to the blog?  Ask away, and I'll do my best to answer. To get your question on the list: zap a note to Diane at [email protected] DEADLINE for your question. Midnight (your time) on Saturday, June 25. I will record the Q&A that weekend, and it will be available, if all goes to plan, by Thursday, June 30. Fire away!   Bart

2022-06-22T14:19:29-04:00June 22nd, 2022|Public Forum|

Check Out this Play in NYC!!

Are you in NYC or at least planning to be in October or November?   There is a new play called “The Unbelieving” that you should check out!  It is a dramatization of a real-life phenomenon that most people don’t know about: pastors who have left the faith but are still active in ministry. There’s more of these religious professionals than you might imagine.  Here is the brief description of the play on the show’s website (here: http://Shows |   Show Info By Marin Gazzaniga Directed by Steve Cosson In the classic tale of religious conversion, finding God holds the promise of a life filled with purpose and meaning. But what happens when this transformation occurs in reverse, and a faith you have built your life around begins to fall away? The Unbelieving takes a penetrating look into the lives of practicing clergy members— Catholics, Episcopalians, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Jews, Mormons, Muslims—who have stopped believing in God.  Staged by NYC’s acclaimed downtown theater company The Civilians in the brilliant investigative-theater style they pioneered, THE UNBELIEVING tells the intimate stories of these [...]

2022-06-24T15:24:06-04:00June 22nd, 2022|Public Forum|

The Invention of Charity: My Prospectus for the Book

I have started drafting a prospectus for my next book on Christian charity, as I have discussed recently on the blog.  At this early stage, I am giving it (at least in my head) the tentative title: The Invention of Charity: How Christianity Transformed the Western World.  In this post I’ll show how I’m *thinking* about starting the prospectus (which will have no bearing on how I, later, start the book). Before I do so, I should explain how the process works.  My last three trade books have been with Simon & Schuster, and as a (standard) part of my contract with them, I’m obliged (and willing and eager) to to discuss with them what I’d like to do for the next book, to give them the opportunity to sign a contract with me for it, before, say, I propose the book to other publishers. The first part of process is that I draft a prospectus that explains what the book is, why it is needed, and how I will approach the task . For [...]

An Interesting Interview on Journeys to Heaven and Hell

I don't recall ever doing any podcast interviews before on any of my academic books since, well, they are written for scholars rather than the general public and few podcasts target scholars (at least early Christian scholars!) per se.  But I've had a couple on my recent book Journeys to Heaven and Hell, and I think it's because the topic really is interesting to more than scholars. Here's one that helped bring out some of the intriguing material I cover, with an interviewer -- Mike Delgado -- who both knows his stuff and knows what is interesting.   Enjoy!

2022-06-05T12:18:14-04:00June 19th, 2022|Afterlife, Public Forum|

My book: Literary Forgery and Counterforgery in Early Christianity!

I have been posting all ten of my April 18 posts from previous years in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of the blog on April 18 of *this*  year.  Here now is a post from 2018 that focused on a book I had written years before that!  The book I've always thought was my best piece of scholarship. Enjoy! ****************************** I am in Houston for a few days, giving talks at Rice University on the use of literary forgery in early Christianity.  To prepare for the talks I decided to read through my 2013 book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.  Of all the books I’ve written, I am proudest of this one.  It is the very best I can do in terms of real scholarship.   I don’t believe I’ve talked about it much on the blog, since it’s not a book for general audiences.  But I thought it might be worthwhile to say something about it in a post or two, and there’s no better way to do [...]

2022-06-12T12:06:34-04:00June 18th, 2022|Book Discussions, Forgery in Antiquity|

Are Christian Apologists Just Being Dishonest? What Do YOU Think?

A number of people have recently asked me virtually the same question about about my debates with conservative Christian apologists: In my opinion, when these people say things that don’t seem to make any sense, are they being dishonest, or do they genuinely believe what they say?   (I'll give my opinion and then ask yours.) I’ll give an example from an event that some people have asked about.  It was an “apologetics conference” hosted by an evangelical group; the attendees were almost entirely committed evangelical Christians.  Normally at this kind of event, the organizers only have representatives of their own views, who give their talks to prove and affirm that their religious views are right.  But for this conference they decided to have another voice represented, and that voice was me. I had a great time.  Two of the others speakers – Mike Licona and Craig Keener -- were already friends of mine (a third I had never met before).  We disagree up and down the line on most everything connected with religion in general [...]

2022-06-07T14:43:45-04:00June 16th, 2022|Bart's Debates, Reflections and Ruminations|

Blog Dinner in London? Interested?

I'm heading over the pond today and would like to do a blog dinner if anyone's interested.   Possibly a pint in advance.  Are you over there?  Interested?    If we can get 3-4 (and no more than 7) people together, I'd be happy to do it. It would be next Thursday, June 23 (2022!), somewhere in central London. 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] Hope it happens!  I may be able to do another one in a few weeks, depending on ... life.    

2022-06-15T16:54:24-04:00June 15th, 2022|Public Forum|

Why Not Just Believe in a *Different* Kind of God?

Several people have asked me recently about why, when I left the faith, I didn't simply start to believe in a different kind of God.  I had come to think there was not an all-powerful, loving, and active God in the world simply because, after lots of reading, arguing, and thinking, I could no longer explain all the pain and misery in the world.  But why would God have to be all-loving, all-powerful, and active?  Why not believe in a different kind of God? I dealt with this question on the blog some years ago, and would like to revisit it now. Certainly in the realm of my expertise, the ancient world, there were very different views of the divine that could indeed explain why there is suffering.  In antiquity everyone except Jews acknowledged that there were *lots* of other deities, at all kinds of level and of all sorts of temperament.  Some divine beings could be hateful, malicious, and antagonistic.   Can’t do much about that.  Even with the good ones – if you got [...]

2022-06-07T14:39:47-04:00June 15th, 2022|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Time Again: Vote on your favorite Platinum Post

Dear Platinum members, That time again — an opportunity for you to vote on one of our Platinum guest posts, to see which one will be posted on the blog at large.  Take a look — they’re all terrific.   To vote, just send a quick note to Diane at [email protected]  Your deadline:  this Saturday, June 18, midnight your time. And remember — you’re always welcome to submit a post yourself.  Anything connected to the blog that strikes your fancy that you’d like others to read about?  Any ideas/thoughts you’d like to have disseminated and discussed?  Here’s your chance.  Just zap me a note. March 14, 2022 How Luke Rewrote Matthew’s Nativity Story Platinum Dennis J. Folds April 29, 2022 The Plausibility of the Fourth Gospel: The Chronology of Jesus’s Ministry. Dennis J. Folds May 20, 2022 Early Christianity and War. Dan Kohanski May 31, 2022 Who Buried Moses? Lou Suarez    

2022-06-14T17:20:21-04:00June 14th, 2022|Public Forum|

Another Historical Scholar’s Understanding of the Resurrection

I am reposting the ten blog posts made on April 18 (or thereabouts) in celebration of our tenth anniversary of the blog.  Here now is a particularly important one from 2017; at the time I was working on my book How Jesus Became God and thinking hard about how to understand the early Christian claims that Jesus had been raised from the dead. ****************************** One of the first books that I have re-read in thinking about how it is the man Jesus came to be thought of as God is Gerd Lüdemann’s, The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry (2004). Lüdemann is an important and interesting scholar.  He was professor of New Testament at Göttingen in Germany, and for a number of years split his time between there and Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville.  He is a major figure in scholarship, and is noteworthy for not being a Christian.  He does not believe Jesus was literally, physically, raised from the dead, and he thinks that apart from belief in Jesus’ physical resurrection, it is not [...]

2022-06-07T14:33:59-04:00June 14th, 2022|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Interested in Joining Me on a Tour To Tuscany?

Now HERE is a happy announcement. I will be giving lectures on a tour to my favorite place in the known universe, Tuscany, on October 21-29, 2022.  That is, in  less than five months.  WHOA!  Wanna come? It will be a small group (no more than 18 folk, I should think), we will be spending time in Florence (which has more culture per square foot than anywhere in the cosmos); Siena (which I like even better); and surrounding towns/villages (that take your breath away). In addition to the lectures, I'll be hanging out with the people who come, day and night.   A good bit of that time will involve pizza, pasta, gelato, and, for those inclined, some of the best wines in the history of the planet. This is with Thalassa tours.  Interested?  Here is the brochure.  Check it out: just click on it and you'll get the full scoop.  And any questions, let me know.  

2022-06-10T15:15:00-04:00June 12th, 2022|Public Forum|

And Did Paul Write 2 Thessalonians?

In my last post I discussed whether Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians, whose author claims to be Paul, and explained why scholars widely think that in fact it was someone else.  I discuss all the Pauline "forgeries" of early Christianity (including the six in the New Testament) in my book Forged.  Here I thought it might be useful to consider a second example that involves a different set of problems: the "Second letter to the Thessalonians."  Again, this is taken from my book Forged (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2012). ****************************** As a conservative evangelical Christian in my late teens and early twenties, there were few things I was more certain of, religiously, than the fact that Jesus was soon to return from heaven to take me and my fellow believers out of the world, at the “rapture” before the final tribulation came.   We read all sorts of books that supported our view.  Few people today realize that the best-selling book in English in the 1970s, apart from the Bible, was The Late Great Planet Earth written [...]

2022-05-31T11:07:16-04:00June 11th, 2022|Forgery in Antiquity, Paul and His Letters|
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