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Do Eyewitnesses Prove Miracles? Can They Be Faked? The Martyrdom of Polycarp

For over two hundred years scholars of antiquity have worked diligently to determine which ancient writings by pagans, Jews, and Christians were actually produced by their alleged authors and which are by authors merely claiming to be some other famous person, as well as which originally anonymous writings were wrongly ascribed to one famous author or another.  If a book is wrongly ascribed, it’s not the author’s fault.  If Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not write Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that would not make these books “forgeries.”  A “forgery” is when an author intentionally takes the identity of another (famous or important) person with the intent of deceiving her or his readers.  There were lots of reasons for doing that in antiquity, and I discuss all such matters on a popular level in my book Forged (HarperOne, 2011), where by and large I focus on the writings of the New Testament (e.g., the six letters that claim to be written by Paul but appear not to have been; and also letters by Peter; [...]

Recreational Drugs in the New Testament? Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson

Here now is promised part II of Doug Wadeson's discussion of drugs in the Bible....  It's way out there, man. What do you think? ***************************** In the previous post I discussed evidence of psychoactive drug use in the Old Testament.  What about the New Testament?  Jesus’ mentor was John the Baptist who seemed to follow along the lines of Ezekiel, although not as extreme: John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.   Mark 1:4, 6   But was it really locusts?  Allow me to quote from the blog of James Tabor, recently retired professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism at UNC-Charlotte: The Greek word for locusts (akris/ἀκρίδες) is very similar to the Greek word for “honey cake” (enkris/έγκρίς) that is used for the “manna” that the Israelites ate in the desert in the days of Moses. According to this ancient text [Epiphanius: Panarion 30.13.4-5] [...]

2023-01-23T15:29:29-05:00January 30th, 2023|Public Forum|

Can We Take the Martyrdom of Polycarp at Face Value?

I continue here my discussion of the Martyrdom of Polycarp as found in my book Forgery and Counterforgery.  This will get in the weeds a bit, but hey, it can be good for your soul!  I've always thought that it's useful for layfolk to see how scholars in one field or another argue among themselves, and this is an example of it.  And we ain't talkin' quantum physics here.  This should be pretty accessible if you're interested in some of the complexities. Here I explain why in the past scholars doubted whether the account was authentic or not; in posts to come I'll explain reasons that I ended up finding it more compelling to think that the book is in fact a forgery. ****************************** It has long been recognized that there are problems with taking the Martyrdom of Polycarp at face value as a straightforward historical record of what actually happened to the bishop of Smyrna.   The numerous parallels to the Gospel records of Jesus’ death appear contrived in places, the account is chock-full of miraculous [...]

2023-01-22T14:32:20-05:00January 29th, 2023|Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

Is the Martyrdom of Polycarp an Authentic Account?

In my previous posts I have talked about the Martyrdom of Polcarp, our first full account of a Christian martyrdom (outside the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 8).  But is it an authentic account?  It claims to be written by an eyewitness.  Was it? I did not begin to investigate that question seriously and deeply until after I had published by Loeb Apostolic Fathers translation of the text in 2003.  Some years later I started my research on my book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics (published in 2013 by Oxford University Press).  This was a lengthy analysis of all the early Christian writings involved with polemical engagement (that is, Christian arguments with and verbal attacks on pagans, Jews, and especially other/"heretical" Christians) that could be argued were actually forgeries -- not written by the persons claimed to be their authors (starting with the New Testament and going through the first four centuries). During my research I became convinced that a number of the texts were not written by their alleged [...]

2023-01-22T15:30:27-05:00January 28th, 2023|Public Forum|

Was Moses High on Mt. Sinai?  Part 1   Platinum Post by Douglas Wadeson MD

I'm pleased to publish this Platinum Guest Post by Doug Wadeson, long time platinum members, retired physician, and, ergo, expert on, well,  drugs.  Now *here's* a topic we haven't addressed on the blog before!  What do you think? **************************   Moses is clearly one of the most significant figures in the Bible.  Most people know that he is the one who received the Ten Commandments directly from God while up on Mount Sinai, even if they only know it from watching Cecil B. DeMille’s movie, The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston as Moses.[1]  I am going to assume you know the Moses story and that his first encounter with God (Yahweh) was while living as a shepherd among the Midianites.  While tending his sheep on Mt. Sinai (aka Horeb[2]) he sees a burning bush and God speaks to him from the bush and gives him his mission to free the Hebrew people from Egypt.  To the faithful this is a literal description of a historical event.  However, it is possible this story is legendary and [...]

2023-01-23T15:29:52-05:00January 27th, 2023|Public Forum|

More about the First Christian Martyr Text

Here I continue the "Introduction" to my translation of the Martyrdom of Polycarp in my two-volume work, The Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library, vol. 1 (Harvard University Press, 2003).  It is giving a bit of harder hitting scholarship (though completely accessible) and  includes, at the end, some bibliography. As it turns out, years after I published this edition, I changed my mind about when the first part of this discussion -- specifically, about when the martyrdom was written and about whether it was based on eyewitness reports.  That will be the subject of my next posts.  The view I give here had been the consensus for many decades at the time, and is still widely held today. ****************************** Date and Integrity Two of the most disputed issues in the modern study of the Martyrdom of Polycarp involve the integrity of its text (i.e., whether we have the original or a highly interpolated form) and the date of its composition. Some scholars have held that the surviving text went through several stages of composition.  H. [...]

2023-01-17T10:51:45-05:00January 26th, 2023|Public Forum|

Don’t Forget Gold and Platinum Members! A FREE Webinar this Saturday.

In case you missed it the first time, or caught it and forgot: there is a FREE webinar for all Gold and Platinum Blog members this Saturday.   Here's the original annoucment.  I hope you can make it!   ***************************** Dear Gold and Platinum Members, As you may have noticed (and, well, as several of you have pointed out!) we have had technical difficulties in posting the Gold Q&A's the past several months.  We think we've worked out the kinks now and hope it won't happen again.  But it's been a flippin' nuisance for all involved -- especially YOU, the ones to whom these things are promised! SO, as an attempt at atonement (which does not involve either animal or human sacrifice), I'd like to offer you a blog gift -- for gold members only:  a free webinar. DATE:  Saturday January 28 TIME:  3:00 - 4:30 pm EST TITLE:  "A History of the Devil" DESCRIPTION:   Christians have always believed in the "Devil" (aka Satan, Beelzebub, the Prince of the Power of the Air, or ... name [...]

2023-01-25T14:09:34-05:00January 25th, 2023|Public Forum|

Do You Want (and Need) a Free Membership to the Blog? Gift Offer 2023

Thanks to the incredible ongoing generosity of members of the blog, I am happy to announce that there are a limited number of free one-year memberships available.   These have been donated for a single purpose: to allow those who cannot afford the annual membership fee to participate on the blog for a year.  I will assign these memberships strictly on the honor system: if you truly cannot afford the membership fee, but very much want to have full access to the blog, then please contact me. Do NOT reply here, on the blog, as a comment.   Send us a separate email, privately, at [email protected]  .In your email, please provide me with the following information: Your first and last name. Why you would like to take advantage of this offer -- that is, why you can't afford it. I don't need or want all the details, just an idea of why you aren't able to purchase a membership just now. Country of citizenship (we're required, as a non-profit, to ask). Your preferred personal email. Your preferred username [...]

2023-01-25T11:40:26-05:00January 25th, 2023|Public Forum|

The First Christian Martyr Text?

In my previous post I talked about a textual problem in the early Christian writing, "The Martyrdom of Polycarp."  To my surprise, I've never talked about this intriguing text on the blog before.  It's time I did! This is one of the books of the corpus I've been calling "The Apostolic Fathers," a collection of ten or eleven "proto-orthodox" authors (meaning that they attest forerunners of the views that eventually became "orthodox" -- that is, widely approved as "true").  It is our first Christian narrative fully devoted to describing a martyrdom (the martyrdom of Stephen is described in the NT in Acts 8, but it one episode in a long narrative; other martyrdoms are mentioned in Acts and Revelation, etc., but are not narrated).  This became a kind of genre within early Christian literature--accounts, many of them claiming to be by eyewitnesses, of martyrdoms. Here is how I discuss the Martyrdom of Polycarp in my Loeb edition of the Apostolic Fathers (in the Introduction to my translation of the text).  This will take two posts. [...]

2023-01-22T09:44:01-05:00January 24th, 2023|Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

Vote on Your Favorite Platinum Post!

Dear Platinum members, We have had some provocative platinum guest posts , and now it's time  to vote to see which of the following will be posted on the blog at large.  Take a look.  To vote, just send a quick note to Diane at [email protected]  Your deadline:  this coming Saturday, 01/28/2022 midnight your time. And remember — you’re always welcome to submit a post yourself.  Is there 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.  It doesn't have to be highly learned and informed -- just something you'd like some feed back on .  If you're interested, just zap me a note -- or send me a post!   October 17, 2022 Suffering, Evil, and the Range Effect Dennis J. Folds December 9, 2022 Is It A Sin To Be Transgender? Doug Wadeson December 12. 2022 What Would the Apostle Paul Think of The Trinity Joel Scheller January 9, 2023 What Is a Viable [...]

2023-01-23T15:06:03-05:00January 23rd, 2023|Public Forum|

A Spectacular Martyrdom and an Intriguing Textual Change

Outside the New Testament there are some truly terrific early Christian writings, including accounts of early martyrs.  And sometimes we know know what the authors of these texts actually wrote, because our surviving manuscripts have differences.  Sometimes rather bizarre differences. There are lots and lots of textual variants in the various writings of the apostolic fathers.  As with the New Testament (where there are thousands more manuscripts and hundreds of thousands more variants), most of the variant readings do not matter for much.  But some of them are of real importance.  Yesterday I mentioned one in Ignatius.  Today I discuss one in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, possibly our earliest surviving Christian martyrology – that is, the first account, outside the New Testament, of a Christian being martyred for his faith.  It is a fascinating account – required reading for anyone interested in early Christianity! In the narrative, the old man Polycarp, Christian bishop of Smyrna, is tracked down and arrested by the local officials, who take him to the arena for public judgment.  When he [...]

2023-01-22T09:44:07-05:00January 23rd, 2023|Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

The New Testament Ain’t the Only Text with Important Scribal Changes!

Readers of the blog will know that I've talked a lot about scribal changes in the writings of the New Testament,  making it difficult to know what the author originally wrote.  Which in turn makes it difficult to know what a translator should translate.  Which words??  The ones in this manuscript, or in that manuscript, or some other manuscript?? Sometimes people say to me "Well, if you say that about the New Testament you'd have to say that about all ancient texts!"  They say this as a rhetorical statement (even scholars have said this to me! Even New Testament scholars!!) -- as if THAT would be the most ridiculous thing you can imagine.  You can't possibly think there are problems like that with Plato, or Euripides, or Cicero!  What's wrong with you? Yeah, there ain't anything wrong with me -- at least in this respect.  Of COURSE we have the same problems with all these authors.  Often far worse than with the New Testament.  The reason (some) NT scholars  (including some NT manuscript scholars!!) don't know it is because [...]

2023-01-16T22:08:51-05:00January 22nd, 2023|Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

Are the Gospels Anti-Jewish?

I was recently asked if I'd be willing to do a lecture on whether the Gospels are anti-Semitic.  I've dealt with the issue on the blog before, but thought it might be useful to return to a particularly interesting feature of the Gospels that can contribute to an answer. I should say at the outset that I do not think that the Gospel writers, or anyone else in their time, was “anti-Semitic.”   The idea and reality of anti-Semitism are modern, and are based on modern sense of “race” as these were developed by the anthropologists of the 19th century.  The idea that there was a Semitic “race” has been used for all sorts of hateful purposes in the modern period.  As just one example, throughout the Middle Ages – before the modern period -- and on into the nineteenth century, “Jews” were understood to be people who subscribed to and followed the Jewish religion – but not that they had racial characteristics.  There were indeed persecutions of Jews, since the conversion of the Roman Empire [...]

2023-01-10T10:34:09-05:00January 21st, 2023|Public Forum|

What’s So Hard about Translating Ancient Texts?

Publishing a translation of an ancient text ain't at all like writing a book about the text. When the editor at Harvard Press asked me if I would be interested in doing a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs, she wasn’t offering me the opportunity then and there.  She was suggesting that I write up a prospectus that she could take to the board of the Loebs, in which I described the need for a new edition and explained how I would go about making one.  After I thought about it for a while, and got advice from my friends, I decided to go for it.  I had never (ever!) planned doing a serious translation project for publication.  I had lots of other things I wanted to write – scholarly monographs, textbooks, and so on.  But I thought it made sense to do it, both personally and professionally.  So I wrote up the prospectus and the editorial board agreed it was a task that needed to be done – and so they [...]

2023-01-10T10:26:05-05:00January 19th, 2023|Book Discussions, Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

Watching Notes for Jesus of Montreal! (My Favorite Jesus Movie!)

A number of you have signed up to come to our Blog Movie Club discussion this Sunday, January 22, 4:00-5:30 EST, to discuss my favorite Jesus Movie of all time, "Jesus of Montreal."   Some of you who have not yet signed up may be interested in coming once your learn what the movie is about. Below is a note we sent to all those who have already signed up, where I describe the movie and suggest how to watch it. If you decide you want to come to the event after all, there is still time!  Here is the link:  Register here And this is the link to my post describing the event more fully:  My All-Time Favorite Jesus Movie. Wanna Discuss It With Me? - The Bart Ehrman Blog   Watching Notes for “Jesus of Montreal” Blog Movie Club, 2023   I’m glad you’ll be joining me on Jan 22 for a discussion of Jesus of Montreal --- my all-time favorite Jesus movie.   Some of you have seen it already, other not.  No matter, [...]

2023-01-18T12:22:41-05:00January 18th, 2023|Public Forum|

What About Translations of Other Ancient Christian Writings?

I've been talking about translations of the Bible -- especially the King James Version -- and I'd like now to move to a broader issue.  EVERY text from the ancient world needs to be translated in order to be made accessible to a modern audience.  Hey, we're not back in the 19th century when going to university meant learning Greek and Latin!  And texts even then also came from even other languages (Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, etc.). If you're a graduate student in antiquity, you have to learn to read these texts in their original languages; you simply can't get the nuances of a text -- especially a fairly sophisticated one dealing with, say, philosophy or religion -- in translation.  And translators have to make decisions about how to translate a text.  It's not a mechanical process.  Whether you like it or not  -- most people when they learn of this don't much like it, and even more people have never learned of it -- translation is also an act of interpretation.  You have to know [...]

Do All Modern Translators of the New Testament Translate the Same Greek Text?

If someone translates the New Testament today into English, French, Arabic, or Swahili -- what exactly are they translating?  They must have access to some kind of Greek text.  But what?  Are there lots to choose from out there?  Are they wildly different from one another?  I pointed out in my previous post that the King James and just about all other versions before the end of the 19th century were based on a printed Greek text that is now widely seen as flawed.  So what do folks use today?  Or if someone is just wanting to *read* the Greek -- what options are there?  Is there some kind of "official" version? Blog readers occasionally ask me these questions and luckily there is a fairly standard answer known to almost no one but scholars. When scholars translate the New Testament into any modern language, they almost always (apart from fundamentalists who prefer the Greek used for the King James) use the same Greek text.  It is a printed edition of the Greek New Testament published [...]

Armageddon! My New Book on the Revelation of John.

I’m excited to say that my book on the Apocalypse of John (a.k.a. the Book of Revelation) will be published and available on March 21.  The End is Near!     Here is a brief synopsis of what it’s about: ****************************** The Apocalypse of John (Book of Revelation) is the most mystifying and misunderstood book of the Bible, and possibly the most dangerous.  Most readers simply refuse to dip into its pages – it is too bizarre, violent, and incomprehensible. Those who do read it fall into two camps.  Most are conservative Christians who believe the book is describing what is soon to happen in our future; evangelical “prophecy experts” provide detailed explanations to show that the end has now arrived. Liberal historical scholars, on the other hand, argue that when the book is understood in its own historical context the book is instead a metaphorical expression of hope: the world may appear out of control, but in the end the goodness of God will prevail and those suffering now will be rewarded later. Armageddon [...]

2023-01-20T14:14:41-05:00January 15th, 2023|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

Do Public Debates Do Anyone Any Good? What Do You Think?

Do public debates on controversial topics do anything other than entertain, stir up the blood, and make people more entrenched in their views?  It there any sense of speaking of a “winner” in a debate in which virtually all listeners already have opinions?  Is there any substantive reason to have these events, other than to provide a bit of public spectacle? I’m in London for the holidays, spending most of the time visiting family on Sarah’s side.  But we did have a chance to get to a play on the West End, called “The Best of Enemies.”  I hadn’t heard of it before, but it’s made a big splash, probably because of its obvious ongoing political and social relevance, even though it is about a series of events from 55 years ago. The play is a dramatization of the debates held on ABC between William F. Buckley, famous and outspoken conservative intellectual, and Gore Vidal, famous and outspoken liberal intellectual, during the 1968 Presidential National Conventions.  Some of you will remember these characters well, others [...]

2023-01-02T11:49:03-05:00January 14th, 2023|Public Forum|

Paul and the Gospels: Platinum Guest Post by Ryan Fleming

One of the very big issues of New Testament studies is the relationship between the teaching of Paul and the preaching of Jesus.  Are these basically the same?  Irreconcileably different?  Weirdly unalike?  Understandably similar?  Something else? Here in this Platinum Guest Post, Ryan Fleming provides an intriguing approach to the question, which raises lots of questions and should arouse a range of different opinions.  What do you think? And what do you think of sending in a Platinum post of your own?  It doesn't have to be massively learned or informed: just whatever you want to address to a group of otherwise well-meaning, generous, and similarly-interested human beings.  If you have something, send it along!  Or feel free to ask me about it. In the meantime here's Ryan on Jesus and Paul. ****************************** The seven New Testament letters attributed to the Apostle Paul (Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and Philemon) are generally believed to have been written between 48 CE and 59 CE, roughly 15 to 29 years after the time [...]

2023-07-13T10:08:56-04:00January 13th, 2023|Public Forum|
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