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Should Bible Translations Be Gender-Neutral?

More of my reflections from years ago about working with the New Revised Standard Version translation committee in the early 1980s.  (With  a few updates in brackets [ ]) One of the problems the committee had to address involved the use of gender-inclusive language.  Part of the problem was that this issue was not a generally recognized issue (by the wider reading public) when the translators began their work, but was very much an issue when they were already finished with a large chunk of it.  [And oh boy is it a big issue now...]  The translators were mainly senior scholars who had acquired their linguistic skills before virtually anyone in the academy knew (or at least said) that there even was a problem with inclusivity, and so they themselves were learning how to communicate in the new idiom.  And it took a while before they figured out how exactly to handle it. I myself was first introduced to the problem when I entered graduate school, and like a lot of people from my generation [...]

2023-12-28T14:19:17-05:00December 31st, 2023|History of Biblical Scholarship|

2023 In Review

The blog has done extremely well this past year, thanks to you the members and the core of people who work to keep it going.  Here on our annual last day I’d like to take look back on what has happened and talk a bit about what lies ahead. I’m particularly pleased that we have continued to meet our two goals for the blog, which drove us to start it over eleven years ago now: To provide scholarly knowledge about the historical Jesus, the New Testament, and the other Christian writings of the first three or four centuries to a broad non-scholarly audience. To raise money for charities while doing it, highly reputable, responsible, and effective organizations that deal with hunger, homelessness, disaster relief, and literacy. To start with the charity: once more we have done extremely well, having distributed (as of today) just over $480,000.  To put that into a bit of perspective, our first full year of operation, exactly ten years ago, we raised $54,000.  I’m no mathematician, but by my count that’s [...]

2024-01-08T12:31:49-05:00December 30th, 2023|Public Forum|

Problems with Translating a Single Greek WORD

In my last post I began to talk about my involvement with the translation committee for the New Revised Standard Version.  My Doktorvater, Bruce Metzger, was the chair of the committee and he asked me, during my graduate studies, to be one of the scribes for the Old Testament subcommittee.  In that capacity I recorded all the votes that were taken by the translators for revisions of the text of the Revised Standard Version, in whichever subsection of the committee I was assigned to.  Normally the subsection would have, maybe, five scholars on it.  They would debate how to modify the text of the RSV, verse by verse, word by word; they would then take a vote by show of hands; and I would record their decision. This was an eye-opening experience for me.  Bible translation (or the translation of any foreign-language work, for that matter) is an inordinately complicated procedure.  It is impossible to replicate the exact meaning of one language in another, since the nuances of words vary from one language to another.  [...]

2023-12-28T14:24:44-05:00December 30th, 2023|History of Biblical Scholarship|

How Do You Translate the Bible? My Work for the New Revised Standard Version Committee

About two or three times a month I get asked about translations of the Bible.  Usually the questions are about which one I prefer (answer: The New Revised Standard Version, i.e. the NRSV, and also an annotated edition, such as the Harper Collins Study Bible, which gives brief introductions to each of the biblical books and notes at the bottom of the page for difficulty passages, a kind of mini-commentary).  But sometimes a questioner wants to know about the process of biblical translation and what it entails. I've been interested in this question for, well, roughly 50 years, but my interest reached a peak in the early 1980s when, as a lowly graduate student, I got invited to be a secretarial assistant for the committee producing the NRSV.  Years ago on the blog I talked about that over a series of posts, both what the translation entailed, what problems it (and every other translation committee or individual scholar) had to confront, what I did for the committee over the years, etc. (For the first post [...]

Nazareth in the Time of Jesus: the Archaeological Record

I have been talking about the question (which I bet never occurred to you before!) of whether there actually ever *was* a Nazareth in the days of Jesus.  Many “mythicists” who deny that Jesus existed use as part of their argument that Nazareth itself was made up.  I’ve discussed this view over two posts to show how the arguments are highly problematic, in particular those mounted by Reneé Salm based on what he claims are archaeological facts. Here I continue by showing what the archaeologists themselves have had to say about it.  This too is taken from my 2012 book Did Jesus Exist: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.   ******************************   There is an even bigger problem however with Salms’s view, however.  There are numerous compelling pieces of archaeological evidence that in fact Nazareth did exist in Jesus’ day, and that like other villages and towns in that part of Galilee, it was built on the hillside, near where the later rock-cut kokh tombs were built.   For one thing, archaeologists have excavated a [...]

2023-12-24T10:44:31-05:00December 27th, 2023|Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

A Blog Challenge Grant, A Worthy Cause for Your End-of-the-Year Giving

Many of us are (still!) considering some end-of-the-year giving as the End Draweth Nigh.   As it turns out, an unusual option and opportunity has just appeared for the blog.  An anonymous donor has pledged a matching $10,000 gift for all funds donated prior to the Happy New Year.  The donor will match donations up to that amount -- which would (if my math skills are still intact) be a very nice end of the year climax of $20k. All of the monies, of course, will go directly to the charities we support (if you don't remember what those are, see this post: What Charities does the Blog Support?  [I'll be updating the numbers in a few days]).  Not a penny will go to overhead -- it all will go to those in need, a frustratingly increasing number, as we all know, given our current international crises and ongoing  problems here at home. Are you interested?  Any amount would be so welcome and so well-used.  Donate simply by going to the blog, scrolling to the bottom [...]

2023-12-24T08:34:44-05:00December 26th, 2023|Public Forum|

The Gift of Christmas (2023)

The practice of gift-giving has obviously gotten way out of control for many of us in the Christmas season.  I suppose on the upside, it helps the economy and gets more people employed, so that part’s good.  But the commercialism and greed, not to mention the sense of heavy obligation (all those relatives!), uncertainty (O God, what am I going to get her this year?), and anxiety (I’ve only got three days left!), take a bit of an edge off of what is supposed to be a good thing: giving to the people we love to show we care for them and want them to know it. So for me, at least, the principle of gift-giving this time of year is something to be cherished. It is rooted ultimately in the Christmas story.  But there is one aspect of the story – possibly the most significant aspect – that many people have never considered – one that nevertheless lies at its core.  At heart it is the story of God’s giving his Son and his [...]

2023-12-27T17:22:28-05:00December 24th, 2023|Public Forum|

The Myth That Nazareth Was a Myth

Did Nazareth even exist in Jesus’ day? Or was it invented by the same ancient people who invented the man Jesus – a non-existent home for a non-existent person? So claim many of the “mythicists” I began to discuss in my previous post. Here I continue on the theme, as discussed in my book Did Jesus Exist? ****************************** G. A. Wells advances a different argument to much the same end. In his view the key to understanding the non-existence of Nazareth is in the four occasions in which Mark indicates that Jesus was a “Nazarene” (1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6). According to Wells Mark misunderstood what this meant. What it originally meant was that Jesus belonged to a pre-Christian Jewish sect called the “Nazarenes” who were similar to figures from the Old Testament (like strong-man Samson) called Nazirites who took vows to be specially set apart for God (they couldn’t touch corpses, drink wine, or cut their hair). Mark didn’t know this, though, and wrongly assumed that the term Nazarene must have indicated Jesus’ place [...]

2023-12-27T17:20:24-05:00December 23rd, 2023|Public Forum|

Did Nazareth Even Exist?

I’ve been thinking and talking about the town of Nazareth a lot lately.  ‘Tis the season!  Last weekend I did my quarterly webinar with Platinum blog members (you should look at the benefits of the Platinum level!  Private webinars!) on whether Jesus was actually born in Nazareth (most of the New Testament appears to thing so).  And that made me think of an even more radical view that I think is dead wrong. Many of you will know about the vocal group of non-believers called “mythicists,” who think that Jesus never existed at all, but was completely fabricated, a complete myth.  No man Jesus.  Invented wholesale. I wrote a book years ago trying to explain why that almost certainly just ain’t true.  A lot of mythicists were pretty ticked off about my book and I received some rather venomous responses.  But hey, what’s life without a little spice?  In this case, sliced habeneros straight on the tongue…. In any event, some mythicists argue as evidence for the non-existence of Jesus the non-existence of the town [...]

2023-12-15T20:25:57-05:00December 21st, 2023|Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Interpreting a Text to Make It Seem Orthodox: Luke and Its View of Jesus

In my previous post in this thread I tried to show how one way to show that a text that embraced a “problematic” view (e.g., a potentially heretical understanding of Jesus as an *adopted* son of God instead of, say, the *eternal* son of God) was by interpreting it in light of *other* texts that held more acceptable views.  I named an example in my previous post.  I end the thread here with this one. ****************************** A similar emphasis might be detected behind the entertaining stories of other infancy Gospels, including the one that is arguably the earliest, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.  It’s true that later authors like Irenaeus found this set of tales distasteful and even heretical; according to Ireneaus (assuming that he was referring to our Infancy Thomas, which I think he was; Adv. Haer 1:20) this was a gnostic text that inappropriately emphasized Jesus’ gnosis at a young age, when confronting his teachers with supernatural knowledge.  But there’s little in the text itself actually to suggest a Gnostic origin.  In fact, [...]

2023-12-18T11:04:06-05:00December 20th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha, Heresy and Orthodoxy|

Hark, the Herald Angels What Now? Guest Post by Esther J. Hamori

Yesterday's guest post by Hebrew Bible scholar Esther Hamori began to discuss her new book on the MONSTERS of the Bible and God's, well, uncomfortably relationship with them.  Today she continues by giving us a revised excerpt from the book itself:  God’s Monsters: Vengeful Spirits, Deadly Angels, Hybrid Creatures, and Divine Hitmen of the Bible..  Now this will make you think... Esther J. Hamori is Professor of Hebrew Bible at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. You can get her book at this link, and I recommend you do!  God's Monsters. ******************************   If you know one angel by name, it’s got to be Gabriel. As a Jewish kid with no personal connection to Christianity but seemingly a thousand school Christmas pageants behind me by the eighth grade, I knew Gabriel as well as I knew Superman. Or at least, I thought I did. As Luke tells it, God sends Gabriel to tell Mary that she’ll give birth to Jesus. After the baby is born, an unnamed angel appears to a group of shepherds. Luke describes [...]

2023-12-18T10:59:47-05:00December 19th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Revelation of John|

Biblical Monsters and Their Violent God! Guest Post by Esther Hamori

Ever wonder about all those Monsters in the Bible, and what they might tell us about, well, God?   Earlier this year I read a book by Esther Hamori, God’s Monsters: Vengeful Spirits, Deadly Angels, Hybrid Creatures, and Divine Hitmen of the Bible. (Broadleaf Books, 2023).  It's been a long time since I've read a book on the Bible completely unlike anything I've read before.  I thought it was fantastic (so to say). And so I did three things right off the bat.  I agree to write a blurb for the book (see below); I met Esther (Professor of Hebrew Bible at Union Theological Seminary); and I asked her if she'd be willing to co-author the third edition of my textbook on the Bible.  (She agreed). Here is the blurb I wrote for her book. God’s Monsters is a hilarious treatment of a horrifying topic.  With deep intelligence, literary flair, and wicked wit, Esther Hamori pulls no punches in exposing the terrors of the Bible and the multitudinous divine creatures that inhabit it – including the [...]

2023-12-14T20:56:05-05:00December 17th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

How Did Early Christians Make Unorthodox Texts Seem Orthodox?

I’ve been arguing that Luke’s Gospel originally may not have had the story of Jesus’ virgin birth but portrayed Jesus as being adopted by God to be his son at the baptism.  In the previous post I explained one strategy that could be used to “tame” an otherwise important and beloved text when it held a view that could be seen as problematic.  You could edit it.  But there are other ways as I explain here (taken from a paper I delivered orally to a group of scholars) ****************************** A second strategy that could be used and was used by proto-orthodox Christians to constrain the reading of the text was by putting it in a canon of writings, a collection of texts with varying perspectives which, once placed together, affected how each one would be read. I’ll not spend much time discussing this strategy, as it is familiar enough to all of us here.  It was familiar enough to early Christians as well, as early as Irenaeus, who points out in a famous passage in [...]

Why Would an Editor ADD the Virgin Birth to Luke?

Is it possible that Luke's Gospel originally lacked the story of the Virgin Birth, but that it was added later in order to make the book more "orthodox"?  That's the question I'm pursing in this thread, based on a paper I delivered to a group of NT scholars 20 years ago. ****************************** It appears that in the earliest form of Luke’s Gospel, what we have is an account that locates Jesus’ adoption/appointment to sonship, and its accompanying empowerment, at the baptism, when God declared “Today I have begotten you.”   It is true that throughout the work of Luke - Acts there are other kinds of christological traditions preserved as well – especially in the speeches of Acts.  But many of these are also adoptionistic, even though they appear to embody an even earlier adoptionistic notion that it was at the resurrection, not the baptism, that God conferred a special status upon Jesus and invested him with a special power. At this point I should stress that I am not trying to give an [...]

No Virgin Birth? Was Jesus ADOPTED by God to be His Son?

Did Luke originally have the story of Jesus’ virgin birth? In my previous post I gave reasons for suspecting that Luke did not originally have chs. 1-2 (the birth narratives), but that it started (after what is now the preface in 1:1-4) with what is now 3:1. One of the reasons it is hard to know for certain is because we simply don’t have much hard evidence.  Our two earliest two manuscripts of Luke, P75 and P45, are lacking portions of Luke, including the first two chapters.  We can’t say whether they originally had them or not.  Our first manuscript with portions of the opening chapters is the third century P4.  But our earliest patristic witness is over a century earlier.  As it turns out, the witness is the heresiarch Marcion, and as is well known he didn’t have the first two chapters! As early as Irenaeus’s Adversus Haereses (1. 27. 2) Marcion was accused of excising the first two chapters of his Gospel because they did not coincide with his view that Jesus appeared [...]

Did Luke’s Gospel Originally Contain a Virgin Birth?

A couple of weeks I gave a two-lecture online course called “Jesus, The Actual Son of Joseph: The New Testament Evidence” (not connected with the blog; you can learn more about it on my website  It was an interesting experience for me, in part because it made me think of things and look into things I hadn’t thought or looked into before, and in part because it made me look back at some of the work I had done before but not thought about in a long time. That included a paper that I gave twenty years ago now at the British New Testament Conference organized by Mark Goodacre, back when he was still teaching a the University of Birmingham in England.  For this more recent course I re-read the paper (not remembering it!) and (having read it again) thought that it would be interesting to excerpt here on the blog. It was delivered for scholars of the New Testament, but I wrote it so that it would not be overly technical or jargony, [...]

When Modern Christians Came to Think “The End is Near”

Israel and Palestinians: in my previous post I began to explain why Christians in Britain and America (some of them highly influential on foreign policy in both places) came to support the re-establishment of the state of Israel in the early 19th century.  I pick up the discussion there, with another excerpt from my book Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End (Simon & Schuster, 2023).  This one too veers into a direction I imagine you won’t expect. ****************************** For years evangelical Christians had been convinced that Scripture predicted Jews were to return to the Holy Land to reestablish themselves there as a sovereign state.  After all, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had reported God’s words to his people Judah: “I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you … and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you to exile” (Jeremiah 29:14).  If the end was near, as indicated by the events in France, then the [...]

2023-12-04T11:42:42-05:00December 10th, 2023|Religion in the News, Revelation of John|

American Support of Israel: A (Widely) Unknown Part of the History

Since the horrific sequence of events that started on October 7, I have been asked about the historical roots of the conflict.  Much of the important information is well known and easily accessible, from the biblical accounts of the Conquest of the Promised Land, up through 1948, on to the Second Intifada, till today.  I won’t be covering this information here, and I will not be offering my political or personal opinions on the matter.  I will instead provide some important and widely unknown historical information on one of the significant aspects of the matter. In a section of my book Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End, published earlier this past year, I discussed how the expectation that “The End is Near,” largely based on interpretations of the book of Revelation, came to affect broad swaths of American culture in ways that almost no one would suspect.  I should say emphatically that I’m not one of those religion scholars who thinks religion is at the heart of everything.  But it is at [...]

2023-12-07T10:17:07-05:00December 9th, 2023|Religion in the News, Revelation of John|
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