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Discussions and comments about Bart’s latest book.

REVELATION, A Novel. Excerpts from Blog Guest Poster Gary McCarragher

Last week I published a guest post by blog member Gary McCarragher, who has just published Revelation: A Novel, about a professor of  New Testament studies at a certain university in the South.  Gary and I had consulted on his work, and how it has seen the light of published day! We received a lot of good response from his post, and I asked him if he'd be interested in excerpting a bit of the novel for blog readers.   He agreed, and has given us the first two chapters. As indicated below, you can purchase the book in a variety of places; I just checked and found it here: Revelation: A Novel - Kindle edition by McCarragher, Gary . Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Thanks to Gary! ******************************   REVELATION, A Novel, published January, 2023 Editorial and proofreading services: Cath Lauria, Gina Sartirana Interior layout and cover design: Howard Johnson Photo Credits: Front Cover Image: Abstract self portrait, by Christian Beirle González; Image #100005105, Getty Images. Author Photo: by Terry Sbani, Woodside’s Photography [...]

2023-03-14T13:55:49-04:00March 26th, 2023|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Armageddon Has Arrived!

Normally one would not welcome Armageddon with rejoicing, but in this instance ....     My book is published today:  Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says about the End.  Now this is a book that has, in some sense, been in the works for 50 years, since the first time I started pondering the Apocalypse of John as a 17 year old, about to head off to Moody Bible Institute and realizing I better read the final book of the NT -- even though I was scared of it -- before taking the first-year Entrance Exam on the Bible possibly whiffing on a question about Revelation.j It took me a while to start figuring out the book -- say, grad school -- and about five years ago, as I began to study it really intensely, I changed my views of it.  Hence the book. For reasons I explain in it, of all the books I've written I think this is the one most relevant for our world at large.  And not because I think the apocalypse will [...]

2023-03-22T15:22:32-04:00March 21st, 2023|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

Revelation — A Novel. Guest Post Announcing Publication, by Gary McCarragher

Just now published, here is a novel about a New Testament scholar named Bart, at a major university in the South, who comes from a fundamentalist background and continues running up against it.  But this Bart's story ain't mine.  As a novel, this is a fictional narrative, which does, however, deal with issues that I and many of you have confronted and dealt with at length: how to come to grips with a historical understanding of the New Testament when coming from an evangelical world, a world still inhabited by those we love. Gary McCarragher is a blog member, a physician, and award-winning author.  He contacted me a couple of years ago to see if I'd be willing to consult with him on his novel.  As some of you know, I run a writing consultation service off my website (unconnected with the blog)  for authors of fiction and nonfiction, screenwriters, and playwrights.  Gary and I had a number of sessions about his work, and it has resulted now in this novel, Revelation .  I found [...]

2023-03-06T11:30:48-05:00March 7th, 2023|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Wait, Was Jesus Married? Guest Post by Kyle Smith

This is now the second guest post by Kyle Smith, scholar of early Christianity, on a hot topic related to his recently published book.   Kyle is Associate Professor and Director of the History of Religions Program at the University of Toronto. An award-winning teacher, he is the author or coauthor of five books about Christian saints and martyrs, including Cult of the Dead: A Brief History of Christianity (University of California Press, 2022). You can find him on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and the Peloton @kylesmithTO. ******************************  Few characterizations of Jesus’s life have spurred as much intrigue (and outrage) as the idea that he might’ve been married. In 2012, before it was discredited as a forgery, a scrap of papyrus inscribed with a few lines of Coptic set off a media furor when reports emerged that it quoted Jesus as saying, “My wife …” Conveniently, the rest was cut off. Despite the abiding popularity of books like The Da Vinci Code, which might lead one to think otherwise, there is no scholarly debate over whether Jesus [...]

Is Christianity a Cult of the Dead? Guest Post by Kyle Smith, PhD

Now here's an intriguing topic I bet you've never thought about.  Can you (should we?) consider early Christianity -- and in fact Christianity as a whole, as a "cult of the dead"? Kyle Smith is an associate professor and director of the History of Religions program in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Toronto (See:  Kyle Smith | Department of Historical Studies (  I have known Kyle for many years, since he was a PhD student in early Chrsitianity at Duke.  Since then he has become a well-known scholar of Christianity in late antiquity, who already now at a relatively young age (compared to us geezers) has published six books.  (Not sure if you know this, but many, many senior scholars publish only two or three for their entire careers.)  Five of them are hard-hitting scholarship.  His most recent one is for a general audience, Cult of the Dead: A Brief History of Christianity (University of California Press, 2022).  I think it's unusually interesting. I thought it would be extremely interesting to [...]

How Theologians and Historians Approach the Same Bible Differently. Guest Post by Daniel Kohanski

I am very pleased to announce that a scholar of religion who is also a log-term blog member, Dan Kohanski, has just published an intriguing book of direct relevance to what we do here on the blog (A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World).  When I got the book I realized it would be great to have Dan do a couple of guest posts on the blog to share some of the views he develops in  it.  He agreed, and here is the first of three of his posts.  Feel free to comment and ask questions! ****************************** (This essay is adapted from my just-published book, A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World, Apocryphile Press, 2023; . Support your local independent bookstore and order using the “Buy paperback from Bookshop” link on that webpage.) There are several ways one can approach the Bible (including ignoring it), but I want to look here at two most of the most common ways: that of the theologian, and that of [...]

2023-02-01T12:07:07-05:00February 11th, 2023|Book Discussions, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Am I About To Become Muslim?

I often get asked about the Qur'an (on which I have zero expertise) and my views of Islam (which I admire as one of the great religions of the world with lots of problems involving how it sometimes gets interpreted and used, just like every other great religion of the world).  I was just thinking about that this morning and remembered a post I did a long time ago answering a question a reader had raised with me.  Is it true I am about to convert to Islam?  Well, it hasn't happened yet, but I thought I would be worthwhile repeating the post:   READER COMMENT: I received a message on Facebook a couple of weeks ago from a person who has been proselytizing to me about the Muslim faith. This has happened a few times with others on your FB page. I guess that's what they do. Anyway, the other day I asked him if he was on your blog. He responded with a yes. Then he said that we (the members) were going [...]

2023-02-10T11:16:23-05:00February 4th, 2023|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions|

Evidence of Forgery. More Reasons the Martyrdom of Polycarp Was Not Written by Someone There

In my previous post I began to lay out my case that the Martyrdom of Polycarp, our (allegedly) first full narrative account of a Christian martyr, who died 155 CE, written (allegedly) by an eyewitness, in fact was written decades later, by someone who wanted his readers to think he was an eyewitness and to that end (falsely) claimed to be one. Here I move from the intriguing fact (from the last post) that the author asserts his eyewitness authority precisely at the points that are, well, rather difficult to believe to other historical problems in the text that suggest the author was not living at the time or privy to what actually happened. Again, this is from my book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics (Oxford University Press, 2013).   *****************************   Apart from the miraculous elements of the text – which include the martyr’s blood gushing forth in such profusion as to douse the flames of his pyre, and a dove emerging from his side and flying [...]

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; [...]

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)|

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 [...]

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|

An Unusually Significant Reference Work: The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

These past few weeks I've been reading up on various issues connected with the Ancient Near East (not my long suit) and have had occasion to make reference to a fantastic reference tool that everyone should know about but (other than scholars of antiquity)  hardly anyone does: The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Ancient History.  I posted on it nine years ago and have now realized it would be useful to do so again.  So, for an end of the year special, here it is!  (I've made a crucial addition in bold!) ****************************** I’m pleased to be able to announce (and only a month after the fact  -- this was 9 years ago) that after years of labor, the thirteen-volume Encyclopedia of Ancient History, ed. by Roger Bagnall, Kai Bodersen, Craige Champion, Andrew Erskine, and Sabine Hueber has now appeared, published by Wiley-Blackwell.   It’s not exactly an affordable reference tool for everyone’s library.    The list price is $1995.00!  But you can save $354 on Amazon, if you’re loaded and looking for the most authoritative and up-to-date reference [...]

2022-12-20T13:20:01-05:00January 3rd, 2023|Book Discussions|

The Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament

I have begun to explain the field of “textual criticism,” the academic discipline that tries to establish what an author actually wrote if you don’t have his original but only copies made from later times. In this post I begin to summarize some of the most important information about the textual “witnesses” to the text of the New Testament.  I won’t be going into this information at any serious length.  We could have many, many, many posts on virtually every single detail that I mention.  You don’t want that.  Trust me. There are three kinds of witnesses to the text of the New Testament, that is to say, three kinds of documents that can help us establish what the authors actually wrote. First, obviously, are the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.   These are copies of the New Testament in the language in which the books were originally written, produced by later scribes, who were copying earlier copies that had been made by scribes who were copying earlier copies that were made by scribes….  [...]

2022-10-18T14:11:31-04:00October 29th, 2022|Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

The Strange World of Textual Criticism

I've been asked a good bit lately by readers of the blog and random emailers how we can know, or if we can know, what the authors of the New Testament actually wrote -- if we don't have their original copies.  By far my best selling book (Misquoting Jesus) is about that, as is my best known scholarly book (The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture).  It's the issue I first got most interested in (as an 18 year old!) when it came to serious scholarship, and its the field of study I devoted nearly twenty years to it as a scholar.  So, well, I'm interested! It's been over seven years since I gave anything like a full explanation of the entire field of New Testament "textual criticism" (which does not mean what a lot of people think!), and I've decided it's high time I go over it again.  This will take a number of posts! ****************************** The first thing to emphasize is that the term “textual criticism” is a technical term with a very specific meaning.  [...]

2022-10-18T14:11:11-04:00October 27th, 2022|Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

How Serendipity Changed My Life: The Apostolic Fathers

I decided that it might be fun to talk about how serendipity completely shaped my academic career, maybe doing a post now and then on the topic.  I seem to have had more than my share of fortuitous moments that have changed my life in ways I never would have expected.  When I just now sat down to do a first post on it, I suddenly seemed to remember I did that once.  And lo and behold, I did!  Over ten years ago.  So I'll start with this one and toss a new one in every now and then. Here's what I said before: ****************************** It seems that much that has happened in my professional life has been because of serendipity.  Back when I was a believer, we called it Providence.  (!)   It’s how I got my first job at Rutgers in 1984; how I got my current position at UNC in 1988; how I got asked to write something other than a technical study involving the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament – [...]

2022-09-26T10:53:58-04:00October 12th, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Proto-Orthodox Writers|

Understanding the Gospels: Suggested Readings!

I frequently get asked what I would recommend for people to read if they are interested in the study of the New Testament.   In my recent course on the Gospels ( I'm including as part of the supplement to the lectures an annotated list of suggested readings.   The idea is to provide people with some guidance for important books, some to start with and some for more advanced readers.  Here it is, for your perusing enjoyment!   The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Annotated Suggestions for Further Reading   Aune, David. The New Testament in Its Literary Environment. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987. A superb introduction to the genres of the New Testament writings in relation to other literature of the Greco-Roman world. Brown, Raymond. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. Updated ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1999. A massive and exhaustive discussion of the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, suitable for those who want to know simply everything about every detail. Brown, Raymond. The [...]

2022-09-29T10:26:37-04:00September 27th, 2022|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels|

Why I Want to Write a Book on Christian Love

Over the past couple of weeks I have been explaining how I have reimagined my next trade book, written not for scholars but for general readers.  As I've pointed out, my initial idea that I floated before readers of the blog was to have a book devoted to how Christianity revolutionized how people in the Roman world understood wealth and what to do with it.   My argument was that as a Jew Jesus insisted that those with resources help those who were in need – a virtually unheard-of ethical principle in Greek and Roman antiquity.  His followers were Jews as well, for whom this was a familiar message, but as they converted non-Jews to become Jesus’ followers, they convinced them as well.  So this became the standard Christian view, leading to the invention of the public hospital, the orphanage, the use of governmental assistance for those in need, private charities, and so on. My previous posts have explained how I have now expanded the vision of the book, to show that these new views of [...]

Love. How I’ve Shifted the Focus of My Book on Charity.

As I've indicated, my plan is, or rather was, to write a book that argued that Christians radically changed the understandings of wealth and the practices of "giving" once they took over the empire.  They, in effect, invented what we think of as "charity." As I have talked it over with my literary agent and the editors at Simon & Schuster,  I have decided that my study needs to be placed in a broader cultural context.  Rather than focusing exclusively on the transformation of ancient understandings of wealth and the concomitant social practices of giving in isolation from their larger ideological contexts, the book will address an even more transformative Christian innovation in ancient ethical discourse, one that provided the impetus for these understandings and use of wealth. It will take several posts to explain the shift in my thinking.  Here's the starting point: Ethics were just as important to inhabitants of the Greek and Roman worlds as they are to people today.  But the criteria for evaluating “proper” behavior were very different, focusing almost [...]

2022-09-16T14:53:28-04:00September 10th, 2022|Book Discussions, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Another Book by “Peter” That Could Have Become Scripture

In this thread I’m discussing several Christian books that were considered by some early groups of believers and church leaders to be bona fide Scripture – written by apostles and inspired by God.  All of the books I’m discussing were written by authors who were claiming to be Jesus’ closest disciple, Peter.  But eventually church fathers became convinced otherwise, and the books were relegated to the trash heap of Christian curiosities. Here’s one that has become known only in modern times and that has intrigued readers – both scholars and lay folk.  What exactly did church leaders find objectionable about it?  It was an account of Jesus’ life, a Gospel.   ******************************   The Gospel of Peter:  A Book That Had Some Supporters One of the other books found in the small anthology discovered in Akhmim also claimed to be written by Peter, and it too was considered a book of Scripture by at least some Christians.  But, like the Apocalypse, it also lost favor and disappeared from sight.  This one, however, was a Gospel. [...]

2022-07-18T15:11:21-04:00July 31st, 2022|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|
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