Sorting by


Announcing a NEW (Free!) Course: Why I Am Not A Christian

I am happy to announce that I will be doing a new course, Why I Am Not a Christian:  How Leaving the Faith Led to a Life of More Meaning and Purpose.  I explain it all below, but as spoilers: it is July 23, it will involve four talks and a Q&A, and it is free.   You can sign up for it at  The course will be unlike any other I have given in any context.   It will indeed cover major issues involving the New Testament, early Christianity, and the formation of the Christian religion.  But it will also be deeply personal and autobiographical.  I became a scholar because of my Christian faith; then my Christian faith changed because of my scholarship.  My “quest for truth” led me to evangelical Christianity; and then – as I grew, matured, learned, and reflected – it led me to away from the Christian faith. In this course of lectures I explain how it all happened and discuss what the results were – for my scholarship, my understanding [...]

2023-07-10T10:56:16-04:00July 10th, 2023|Public Forum|

Vespasian Miracles. A Platinum Post by Ryan Fleming

I'm pleased to post this discussion of the miracles attributed to the emperor Vespasian, by Platinum blog member Ryan Fleming.  These miracles are not widely known outside the realm of antiquity nerds, and rarely are they much analyzed even there.   But they are significant and interesting, and here Ryan provides an intriguing assessment of them.  Enjoy!   **************************** Roman historians Tacitus (56 CE to 120 CE) in The Histories, Book IV, Section 81, and Suetonius (69 CE to 122 CE) in The Lives of the Twelve Caesars wrote of miracles Vespasian performed in the temple of Serapis in Alexandria Egypt. In one case he healed a blind man by anointing his eyes with his spit, and in another he healed a paralyzed man (withered hand or leg) by touching the hand or leg. It is tempting practice to compare these miracles with nearly identical acts attributed to Jesus in the Canonical Gospels and debate which came first, the Jesus stories or Vespasian stories: Curing blindness with spit: Mark 8:23-25, John 9:6-7 Curing blindness: Matthew 9:29-30, [...]

2023-07-10T13:29:30-04:00July 10th, 2023|Public Forum|

More on the Life of Brian and the Historical Jesus

This is second of three installments of the paper I read at the Life of Brian and the Historical Jesus conference.  In this portion I deal with an issue that I have been spending a lot of time reading and thinking about over the years: the value of eyewitness testimony for establishing what really happened in the past. The reflections here are inspired by the first episode of Brian's adulthood in the film, where he is present, at a distance, at Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount, and the people around Brian cannot make out exactly what Jesus is saying since they are so far away from him.   Rather than "Blessed are the Peacemakers," Jesus is thought to have said "Blessed are the Cheesemakers"; and it was the Greek, not the meek, who will inherit the earth.  And so it goes.  It's the sort of scene that is both funny and insightful -- what *was* it like to hear a public speaker back in the days before there were microphones???   To deal with [...]

2023-07-01T11:15:29-04:00July 9th, 2023|Jesus and Film, Public Forum|

Blog Dinner in London, Tuesday July 25. Interested?

I am in London for the summer and would like to do another small dinner with active blog members on Tuesday,  July 25, 2023.   Possibly a pint in advance.  This time it will be on my home-away-from-home turf, Wimbledon, specifics TBD. You interested?  If we can get 3-4 folk, and no more than 7, people together, I'd be happy to do it.  If more then 7 reply, I'll take the first 7. No obligations other than: Being a blog member Showing up Talking Paying for whatever you ingest.  Whatever you exgest is free. If you're interested, do NOT reply here as a comment.  Send me an email at [email protected]. Hope it happens!  

2023-07-08T12:04:45-04:00July 8th, 2023|Public Forum|

The Life of Brian and the Historical Jesus

A couple of weeks ago we had a very fun Movie Club as a fundraiser for the blog, trying to raise funds to cover our operating expenses, since all the membership fees and any regular donations that come in go directly to our charities -- but we still have to pay our bills!  This one was on the Life of Brian.  Have you seen it?  If not, you should.  If you've seen it ten times, you should see it eleven. During our discussion of the film I pointed out that there was a conference in London some years ago to celebrate the 35th anniversary of its release -- a group of academics specializing in New Testament and/or ancient Judaism reading serious papers (often with some humor) about the relevance of their field for the film, and vice versa.  Seriously.  (John Cleese came to the conference and thought the whole thing was outrageously funny and great fun -- a group of academics discussing a film he and his Monty Python buds had come up with.  He [...]

2023-07-03T16:14:30-04:00July 8th, 2023|Historical Jesus, Jesus and Film, Public Forum, Video Media|

What Is (Sexually) “Unnatural”?

Are sex acts other than those between a man and a woman “unnatural”? Very few people ever bother to reflect on what the term “natural” means or how one decides what an “unnatural might be – and what makes it unnatural.  Almost everyone simply assumes that we each have a conscience; that our consciences basically tell all of us the same things; that there are some things we know are wrong, without needing anyone tell us; and – for a large segment of the population -- certain gender identifications and sexual activities are simply “unnatural” and therefore “wrong.” Sometimes arguments are invoked, but usually arguments are not actually thought out and reasoned; they are simply ad hoc constructions designed to convince people who are already convinced. Most commonly, at least in the world I grew up in, the argument against same-sex relations, for example, was simply about the plumbing.  Men aren’t made to have sex with men or women with women.  It’s just kinda biologically obvious, right?  Penises were made for vaginas. The variant on [...]

2023-07-03T11:34:01-04:00July 6th, 2023|Public Forum|

How the Bible Can Help Those in Pain — Even Non-Believers. Guest Post by Glenn Siepert

Are you interested in seeing how the Bible can be important and meaningful even for those of us who do not believe? Glenn Siepert is one of our Blog Volunteers, who provides graphics for our public posts; he has just published a very interesting book for which I wrote a blurb (endorsement) for the cover.  Glenn Siepert has an interesting background and story to tell, and he uses his book to help others think about their own stories in light of the biblical narratives, showing how this is a crucially important way to read the Bible – even for those who don’t (or no longer) believe in its literal truth. Glenn’s moving book is called Emerging from the Rubble: Thirty Stories about Grief, Shattered Dreams, Broken Relationships, and Finding the Courage to Keep Going.  I’ve asked Glenn to provide us some blog posts explaining the book and its background in his own life.  Here's the first: ****************************** A little about me - I grew up in the world of Christian Fundamentalism. How "fundy" was I, [...]

2023-07-03T22:53:47-04:00July 4th, 2023|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

The (Lost) Greater Questions of Mary (Rated R) (X?)

In my last post I mentioned Gospels that we know about because they are mentioned, or even quoted, by church fathers, but that no longer survive.  A second, particularly intriguing, Gospel like this – one that I desperately wish we had, for reasons that will soon become clear -- is known as “The Greater Questions of Mary” (i.e., of Mary Magdalene). One of the “great questions” for scholars is whether such a book ever really did exist. It is mentioned only once in ancient literature, in a highly charged polemical context by Epiphanius of Salamis, a Christian heresy-hunter who was prone to exaggeration and fabrication, who was incautious at best in his attacks against heretical sects in his book the Panarion (= “Medicine Chest”; in it Epiphanius supplies the “antidotes” for the “snake-bites of heresy”). The most notorious of the groups that Epiphanius attacks were known by a variety of names, including the “Phibionites.” According to Epiphanius -- our sole source of knowledge about the group -- these gnostic believers engaged in nocturnal sex rituals [...]

The Lost Gospel of Basilides

I sometimes get asked about "lost Gospels" -- Gospels that we know at one time did exist (because they are mentioned and sometimes even discussed by ancient authors)  but that, alas, exist no more.  I dealt with this question on the blog many moons ago, and I regret to say that in the interim, the books I'd love to show up have not.  And I don't expect them to.  But then again, life is full of surprises. One of the very early ones I'd *love* to get my hands on is the Gospel of Basilides. Basilides is one of the early Gnostic figures mentioned by the late-second century heresy-hunter Irenaeus.  Regrettably, we do not have any writings from Basilides or any of his followers, and so all we know about these people and their writings is what authors like Irenaeus tell us. That is somewhat like asking Mike Pence for a fair assessment of Bernie Sanders. You have to take the description with a pound of salt. We don’t know if Basilides actually had a [...]

Go to Top