Here is the first bit of the Gospel of Judas from the translation of my colleague Zlatko Pleše in our book The Other Gospels. The first paragraph is the explanation of where we got the text from; then the translation of the opening scene. After this bit here, the Gospel gets very strange, at least to most modern readers. But as you can see, it is really interesting. At the end I give the bibliography for further reading that we cite in our book. This translation is based on the Coptic text of Rodolphe Kasser, and Gregor Wurst, eds. The Gospel of Judas: Critical Edition. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2007. New portions of the Gospel appeared in 2006, when the one-time owner of the manuscript declared bankruptcy and his remaining antiquities collection was turned over to a bank in Ohio; included in this collection were numerous small fragments of the Gospel of Judas. These have been photographed and they have begun to be studied; for our translation of the account here we have been able [...]
I will be recording my Gold Q&A tomorrow, October 30, at 8:00 pm Eastern Time. Wanna come? I'll be doing it on Zoom so any gold or platinum member who wants to listen in is welcome. I've gotten a lot of unusually intriguing questions this time, and will not be able to answer all of them, but will pick a bunch and will be happy to have you listen in. I won't be able to answer live questions, but I will get on five minutes early to say hey to those who want to come. Here's the link: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/84586175851?pwd=h9zaZs1tYF3zvFhJh64GOTy9FafBh7.1 Hope to see you there!
For anyone interested in Gnosticism, the most recent full Gnostic Gospel to appear, the Gospel of Judas, is a real treasure. In my previous post I described the broad contours of Gnostic views and the more specific Sethian understanding of the divine realm, the world, humans, an salvation. Different Sethians, of course, would have different views of things (think of all the Catholics, Episcopalians, or Baptists you know or know of!). The Gospel of Judas presents a particularly intriguing form of the Sethian myth. I have said some things about the Gospel of Judas on the blog, but it's been a few years, so it's worth talking about again. You can find a translation, done by my colleague Zlatko Pleŝe, in the volume we co-edited and translated: The Other Gospels: Accounts of Jesus from Outside the New Testament. We also give the following Introduction to the text; I will give the rest of the Introduction and a bibliography, and a bit of the translation itself, in the next post. ****************************** The Gospel of Judas is the [...]
I can now describe as succinctly as possible the basic views that appear to have been widely shared among various of the Gnostic groups, before giving a bit more detailed information on one of our best known groups, the Sethians. All this is taken from my textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford University Press). ****************************** MAJOR VIEWS OF VARIOUS GNOSTIC GROUPS Despite the many differences among the various Gnostic groups, most of them appear to have subscribed to the following views: The divine realm is inhabited not only by one ultimate God, but also by a range of other divine beings, widely known as aeons. These aeons are, in a sense, personifications of the ultimate God’s mental capacities and/or powers (some of them were called such things as Reason, Will, Grace, and Wisdom). The physical world that we inhabit was not the creation of the ultimate God but of a lower, ignorant divine being who is often identified with the God of the Jewish Bible. Because [...]
Now that I've discussed the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, I can move into the kinds of religion found among these books, popularly known as the "Gnostic Gospels." And that will involve laying out the views found among the various Christian groups of the second and third century (principally) that scholars call Gnostic. Gnosticism is a fascinating topic, but it is also widely misunderstood, in no small part because scholarship on Gnosticism over the past twenty or thirty years ago has shown that the widely held views of earlier generations of scholars were based more on assumption than on evidence. There have long been heated debates over even how to define Gnosticism. Until about a hundred years ago, just about the only sources scholars used for understanding Gnosticism were the writings of its most vocal opponents, the proto-orthodox church fathers of the second, third, and fourth centuries. The problem is, as we all know so well (think: American politics!) you can't really rely on what a group's enemies say if you want to know [...]
Do contradictions in a story show that it didn't happen? When I first responded (a few days ago) to Mark Goodacre’s five points calling into question the traditional story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, I was intrigued to receive a number of comments suggesting I sure seemed to be inconsistent in how I dealt with historical accounts. To wit: Why would I say contradictions in the Nag Hammadi discovery story (that Mark pointed out) DON'T show that the basic account is false -- that is, didn't happen -- but I DO use contradictions to call the Gospel accounts of Jesus into question. Is this an agenda-driven inconsistency? All right -- fair question. First let me remind you that in my post a few days ago (about the Nag Hammadi discovery) I pointed out that just because a story changes over time does not mean that the gist of the story is false. If some tellings indicate that the jar was two feet tall and others that it was six, or [...]
Gold & Platinum members: lend me your...questions! It's time for the October Gold Q&A, where I answer your questions--or at least as many as I can get to in an hour! Send your questions to [email protected], and Diane will compile and send me the list. Get your question in by Friday (10/27) midnight (whenever midnight is in your time zone). The questions are always interesting, but remember that shorter, more general-interest questions are more likely to be answered.
There are a lot of unsettled questions about the "Gnostic Gospels," that is, the books of the Nag Hammadi Library. After my recent posts I received some interesting questions that *can* be settled, and here I deal with two of them: one that’s a zinger and the other that has been asked by several readers. First the zinger. The reader noted that I indicated that the books of the library were manufactured in the fourth century; we know this because the leather bindings on the books had their spines strengthened with scrap papyrus (and is therefore called cartonnage) and some of these papyri were dated receipts. And so the reader’s question: QUESTION: Just out of curiosity – what form of dating did the compilers of the books use, that would correspond to our “341 CE” and so on? I’m assuming they weren’t using Roman dates. But were the Romans themselves, in that era, still using dates “ab urbe condita”? RESPONSE: This is a great question, and I have to admit, I had [...]
Are There Really Good Reasons to Doubt the Story of the Discovery of the Gnostic Gospels? My Response to Mark Goodacre
A couple of days ago we enjoyed a guest post on the blog by Mark Goodacre, Professor of New Testament at Duke University. In this post Mark provided five reasons for doubting if the story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library – as that story has been recounted by scholars for many years – is in fact accurate. Mark’s post was a summary of a longer, more detailed, and scholarly article that he has published on the subject. In 2015, when I first discussed this issue on the blog, I asked Mark’s permission to respond to his five points, and he gladly agreed; I in turn agreed to let him respond to my responses. Rather than asking you to reread his post, I have reproduced each of his five reasons here, and then dealt with them one at a time. Let me say that I really don’t have a horse in this race, and my sense is that Mark doesn’t either. We would both love to be able to keep telling the story, [...]
A few days ago I posted about the Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, giving the remarkable story that scholars -- for as long as I myself have been a scholar -- have been telling about how it happened. I also mentioned that my New Testament colleague at Duke, Mark Goodacre – who is on this blog and who has an important blog of his own – has written an article calling this story into question. Years ago when I was discussing this matter on the blog, I asked Mark if he would be willing to summarize his objections to the story as it is typically recited, and he did so in the following post. He's asked me to add a couple of links at the end in case you want to look more deeply into the matter. ****************************** Five Reasons to Question the Story of the Nag Hammadi Discovery I am grateful to my friend and colleague Bart Ehrman for mentioning me in his blog in connection with the fascinating and compelling story of [...]
Hey, Platinum members, we're trying out a new way to vote for your favorite Platinum post to be published to the main blog. No need to send a separate email--just respond to the poll below By Oct 27 (Note that the checkboxes may appear under the post name): Thanks!
For near fifty years now the "books that did not make it into the New Testament" have been a source of fascination, not just for scholars but for regular ol' folk intrigued by the idea that there may have been alternative forms of Christianity, a wide range of seemingly bizarre beliefs and practices out there in the early centuries of the church. In my previous post I gave the standard tale of how the most significant discovery of such books occurred in 1945 somewhere near the village of Nag Hammadi Egypt (and therefore called the Nag Hammadi library). The story I told has fallen into some disrepute over the past decade, for reasons we'll see in the next post. Before dealing with that issue, however, it's important to see what this library/collection of books actually is. Here is how I describe it in my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford University Press). ****************************** What was this ancient collection of books? The short answer is that it is the [...]
Hey Blog Folk, Quick reminder of an interesting lecture tomorrow evening (Thursday Oct. 18); it's free even though we're hoping for donations (not connected with the blog). Here's the original annoucement in case you missed, misplaced, misconceived, or misconstrued it: ********************************* Are you interested in the Creation account in Genesis 1? Did you know there are *other* creation accounts in the Hebrew Bible? Different ones? Want to hear about them? And about how they relate to other creation accounts in the ancient world? On October 19, 8:00 pm, my colleague Joseph Lam, professor of Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East will be giving a remote public lecture: "Beyond Genesis: The Many Creation Stories of the Bible." Below you will find a short video that I did with Joseph to explain the event, and a link to sign up for it. This lecture is NOT related to the blog, but it IS a fundraiser for my department (I'm mentioning it here on the blog only because many of you are interested in the topic). The [...]
The most significant discovery of Christian manuscripts (ever) was the Nag Hammadi Library, popularly (and a bit inaccurately) known as "the Gnostic Gospels." One of the intriguing features of the discovery is that no one is quite sure how it happened. When I was in graduate school, everyone heard a standard tale that we then passed along with some glee to our students. But now that story is in a bit of disrepute -- thanks in large part to that destroyer of New Testament Scholarship Orthodoxy, my friend and colleague, Duke professor, Mark Goodacre, as you will see in subsequent posts.. Just to be clear: the discovery itself was definitely made. We have the books of the Nag Hammadi Library, readily available in English translations. And I want to talk about a few of them. But first I want to talk about what we know and don't know about the discovery itself. I'll start, in this post, by giving the popular tale that, until relatively recently, just about everybody knew. This is how I laid [...]
In my previous post I pointed out that mythicists have a real problem on their hands when it comes to insisting that Jesus didn’t exist (well, they actually have a *boatload* of problems; but this is one of them): Paul actually knew, personally, Jesus’ own brother, James. It’s hard to say that Jesus never lived if he in fact had a brother…. It doesn’t solve the problem to say that this was in fact Jesus’ cousin, since, well, he would still then be the cousin of (the real) Jesus (!) (plus the word Paul uses is “brother” not “cousin”) and it doesn’t work to say that he is Jesus’ brother meaning he is a member of the Christian church (since Paul differentiates him from himself and Peter by calling James the “brother” – and both Peter and Paul were also members of the church!). Mythicists have tried other approaches, including the one I discussed yesterday, of trying to claim that there was a group of fervent missionaries in Jerusalem called “the brothers of the Lord,” [...]
Dear Platinum Members, We have had a slew of terrifically interesting Platinum Member guest posts over the past year, and such a slew that we (we being me and my blog advisory committee) have decided we need to limit the quantity of the submissions. Keep on sending ‘em in! BUT, we would like to limit each participant to one guest post submission within any two-month period. If you haven’t ever submitted one before but art tempteth, go for it! And if you have submitted one (or some) and art still tempteth, you too go for it!
Ten years ago on the blog when I was discussing the Proto-Gospel of James (the current subthread within a thread), I received an intriguing question about this issue, addressed in the previous post, about the brothers of Jesus and how "mythicists" -- those who claim there never was a historical Jesus whatsoever but that he was completely made up (a "myth") -- dealt with them. Here's the question and my response. QUESTION: Since you’ve brought up the subject of Jesus’ family perhaps it won’t be too far off the subject to ask this question. Mythicists are forced by their arguments to deal with Paul’s encounter with Peter and James in Galatians 1:18–20. They claim that when Paul refers to James as “The Lord’s brother” he does not mean that James is Jesus’ biological brother (which of course would mean that Jesus actually lived) but that he was using the word “brother” in the sense that all the disciples were “brothers” i.e., metaphorically. What about this? Is the word translated as “brother” in English that [...]
In the Gospels conference a few weeks ago (New Insights Into the New Testament; see New Insights into the New Testament: A Biblical Conference for Non-Scholars (bartehrman.com), Candida Moss gave a fascinating presentation on (the historical) Jesus' actual family. That is a major issue in the non-canonical Gospel I have been discussing just now in this thread, the Proto-Gospel of James. This Gospel was very popular in Eastern, Greek-speaking Christianity throughout the Ages, down to modern times; and a version of it was produced – with serious additions and changes – in Latin, that was even more influential in Western Christianity (a book now known as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew). In some times and places, these books were the main source of “information” that people had for knowing about Jesus’ birth and family – more so than the NT Gospels. The idea that Joseph was an old man and Mary was a young girl? Comes from the Proto-Gospel (not the NT!). The view that Jesus was born in a cave? Proto-Gospel. The [...]
As some of you know, I do a weekly podcast (unrelated to the blog) called "Misquoting Jesus." My co-host is Megan Lewis, a terrific interlocutor who is an expert on ancient history (she's actually an Assyriologist! And trained in classics), who asks terrific questions. Basically, she interviews me on a different topic each week, the sorts of issues we deal with here on the blog, but in a recorded interview style. You can get it on Youtube (to my surprise, that's where by far most people get it) or on any podcast app. This coming Tuesday, October 17, will be our one-year anniversary of doing the podcast, and I thought you might be interested in knowing about it. This time rather than a back-and-forth with Megan it will be a live Q&A, with previously submitted questions by listeners. Megan will MC it, but the questions we have selected will actually be asked by the person who proposed them. If you're interested, check it out live or catch it later, either on Youtube or wherever you [...]
In my previous post I mentioned one of the most significant passages of the Proto-Gospel, where the midwife Salome doubts that a virgin had given birth (note: she does not doubt whether a virgin could have *conceived* [although no doubt she *would* have doubted it!]; what she doubts is that a woman could give *birth* and still have her hymen intact. That, obviously, would be impossible), and gives Mary a postpartum examination only to find that in fact she really is still a virgin (i.e., “intact”). Immediately before that amazing scene is another that I find at least as entrancing. In it, Joseph himself describes – in the first person – what happened when the Son of God came into the world. This was such a cosmic event, that time stopped. And Joseph describes how, by explaining what he saw at that moment. Every time I read this passage I think of a Twilight Zone episode that I saw once where everything slowed down to a virtual standstill except the main character, who observes everyone [...]