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New Testament Gospels

Fantastic Story. But History? Some Doubts about the Triumphal Entry

In my previous post I provided an excerpt from Jesus Before the Gospels where I summarized the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry.”  Here is the second part of that two-part post, another excerpt, where I call this tradition into question, arguing that it cannot be right historically and that it must, therefore, represent a distorted memory. "Memory,” of course, is not simply a recollection of what we ourselves experienced (what you had for dinner last night; the name of your first-grade teacher; etc.).  Memory involves anything that you “call back to mind” (the literal meaning of “remembering”).  It can be factual information (what is the capital of France?), even of something you haven’t experienced (e.g., if you have never been to Paris); it can be a shared understanding of a person from the past (Einstein; Karl Marx), even if you never met them.  And it can be a recollection of a past event even if you were not involved, such as the Triumphal Entry, to pick one example out of countless trillions. Christians [...]

2021-03-24T17:03:27-04:00March 28th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Memory Studies|

Did Jesus Really Have a “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem?

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the day on which Christians commemorate Jesus' "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem.  It is a terrific holiday in the Christian calendar, a celebration of victory and joy, prior to the dark events to occur at the end of the week on Good Friday. The historian would want to know: did it really happen?  Did Jesus really ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to the acclamation of the crowds proclaiming him to be the coming messiah, laying down their cloaks and palm branches before him in full celebration?  It's a *terrific* story; a climax of Jesus' ministry, in a sense.  Is it historical? I deal the question in my book Jesus Before the Gospels and will excerpt the discussion here.  This will take two posts.  This one sets the stage and the next one asks how we can figure out if it really happened. ****************************** The Triumphal Entry There seems to be no reason to doubt that Jesus spent the last week of his life in Jerusalem looking ahead to the [...]

2021-03-24T17:03:59-04:00March 27th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Was Matthew Influenced by Buddhist Writings? Platinum Post by Steve Sutter

Platinum Members!  Here is another guest post by Steve Sutter on interesting parallels between Buddhist writings and the Gospels.  What do you think?  Let him, me, and your fellow Platinum folk know! ALSO: The platinum-post well is running dry.  Do you have something you'd like to contribute?  Go for it!  We'd all enjoy it and you can get your thoughts and ideas out there to a generous and welcoming public!  It can be on anything related to the blog, if even remotely! But for now, here is Steve's post. ******************************   Matthew’s Gospel Tinged by Buddhism as Well   It seems to me entirely possible that the authors of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew had knowledge of Buddhist scriptures while composing the content of their manuscripts in the late first century AD. Some parallels are very fascinating.   Using a similar format as articles I published in the Fort Fairfield Journal November 18, 2020 and January 13, 2021, let me again share a sample of Buddhist scriptures, while pointing this time to verses in [...]

2021-03-10T11:46:12-05:00March 9th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Platinums|

In What SENSE is Jesus “God” in Matthew, Mark, and Luke? My Change of Mind

In yesterday’s post I pointed out that if one asks about an early Christian text: “Does it portray Jesus as God,” then almost always if the answer is Yes (which it usually is), it has to be qualified: “Yes, in *some sense*. “ And the question is always, in *what* sense? The reason I stress this point is that for many years – until I dug deep into research for my book How Jesus Became God – I was quite vehement, in person and in print, that the Synoptic Gospels did not portray Jesus as divine, but only the Gospel of John did. It’s true – I still think and, I suspect, always will think – that in the Gospel of John there is little doubt about the divinity of Jesus. As we have seen, the Gospel opens with the amazing poem: “ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and apart from him nothing came into being [...]

2021-02-16T11:35:33-05:00February 28th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Early Christian Doctrine, Public Forum|

Is the “Word” (Logos) of God in John the Wisdom (Sophia) of God in Judaism?

In yesterday’s post I began to discuss the Prologue of the Gospel of John, which contains a poem that celebrates Christ as the Word of God that became human. This Word of God was with God in the beginning of all things, and was himself God; through him the universe was created and in him is life. This word took on flesh to dwell with humans, and that human – the divine word made flesh – was Jesus. Some readers over the years have wondered if this celebration of the Logos of God that becomes flesh owes more to Greek philosophy than to biblical Judaism. It’s a good question, and hard to answer. One thing that can be said is that this Logos idea does find very close parallels with other biblical texts – in particular with texts that speak of the Wisdom (Greek: Sophia) of God. Sophia and Logos are related ideas; both have to do in some respect with “reason.” Sophia is reason that is internal to a person; Logos is that reason [...]

Does Luke Present Different (Inconsistent!) Views of Christ?

In a recent post I tried to show that the author of Luke-Acts (same person; let's call him Luke) presented an "exaltation" Christology -- that is, that he thought Christ was not originally a divine being but had been exalted to divinity at some point of his existence; but unlike most of our other sources, he affirms *different* moments when this happened: at Jesus' birth, his baptism, and his resurrection.  (See the post if this is not ringing a bell: ). I ended the post by saying I would explain how Luke could have it all three ways.  And as a reader pointed out to me, I never posted the post!  So here it is.  I dealt with this specific issue on the blog some years ago, and I may be older now, but I'm no wiser, at least as far as this question goes.  Here's what I said then and would continue to say now: ******************************** Does Luke present a (strictly speaking) consistent view of Jesus throughout his two-volume work of Luke-Acts? I raise [...]

How Old Was Jesus ???

I received a very interesting question from a blog reader, and it has led to an unexpected answer.   QUESTION Is there any significance to the age of Jesus and its relation to the start of his ministry?   RESPONSE: I don’t know what the questioner actually means about the “significance” of Jesus’ age, and so I’ve decided to answer a related question.  What, in fact, was his age?  Well, the matter is … like so much else in our universe … unexpectedly complicated. It turns out I dealt with this years ago on the blog.   I know because I just checked.  I had forgotten about that post, and even more interesting, I had forgotten my answer, which contains some information that I ALSO FORGOT.  In fact, some really interesting information.  I bet you didn’t know (as I apparently used to know) that there is a discussion of Jesus’ age in the writings of one of the most important early church fathers, which  indicates that Jesus grew to be a relatively old man before he [...]

2021-02-17T16:46:36-05:00February 17th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Was Christ actually God in the Flesh?

We now move from Paul's Christology that *combined* an incarnational view with an exaltation view, to a Christology that is incarnational through and through -- still in the New Testament, in the final Gospel to be written (possibly 30 years or so after Paul's death?) In it we find what is arguably the best known and most influential passage dealing with Christology in the New Testament: the Prologue of the Gospel of John, 1:1-18. It is also probably the most studied and discussed passage – even more than the Christ poem in Philippians 2:6-11. The first eighteen verses of John are typically called the “Prologue” because they are clearly set apart from the rest of the Gospel as a kind of celebration of the main character of the book; these verses are written in a different writing style from the rest of the Gospel (lofty poetry), they contain key concepts not found in the rest of the Gospel (Christ as “the Word” made flesh), and yet they introduce well some of the most important views [...]

2021-02-08T11:59:48-05:00February 16th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Early Christian Doctrine|

The Oldest View of Christ: Found in Only One Greek Manuscript of Luke!

I’d like to address the issue of early Christology from a slightly different angle in this post. So far I have talked about how an “exaltation” Christology, in which Jesus, the man, is made the Son of God at some point of his existence can be found in various parts of the New Testament (Rom 1:3-4; speeches in Acts), and how different early Christians located that exaltation to different moments in Jesus’ existence (resurrection, baptism, birth, pre-existence). As it turns out, this view of Christology relates to an important textual variant in the Gospel of Luke. So, by way of background for anyone new to this kind of discussion. We don’t have the original copy of Luke’s Gospel (or of any other NT book) (or, actually, of any book at all from the ancient world!). What we have are copies made from copies made from copies that were made from copies. We have thousands of copies of the NT from the centuries before the invention of printing. And these thousands of copies have hundreds of [...]

Another Two Lectures on the Gospels, Live on Sunday. Join Us!

On each of the past couple of Sunday afternoons I have given two Zoom lectures, recorded for my undergraduate course on the New Testament, and invited all of you to come.  After the second lecture we had about 30 minutes of Q&A, all very lively.  Both times went well and a good time was reportedly had by all.  But what do reporters know? I'm going to do it again this Sunday, and you are welcome to come.  There would be no charge per se, but I would like to ask for a (completely voluntary) donation to the blog. This will be Sunday, Feb. 7.  I will again give two lectures), one at 1:00 and the other at 2:15.  Each lecture will take about 40-45 minutes.  The topics this time:  "The Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Jesus the Unknown Savior"  This lecture introduces students to the problem that we do not have the original copy of Mark’s Gospel.  It appears that the final twelve verses were not originally in the account, so that it [...]

2021-02-02T17:06:14-05:00February 2nd, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Platinum Guest Post by Steve Sutter: The Buddhist Influence on the Gospel of Luke

Here is a post submitted by Platinum member Steve Sutter, for the enjoyment of all you other shining Platinums.  It will go only to Platinum members of the blog and any comments you make will go only to Platinums as well.   Steve wanted me to let you know that he is not a scholar, but a very interested observer.  But I’m glad he’s made this post: I get asked about this sort of thing on occasion both on and off the blog.  Thank you Steve!   And the rest of you: enjoy!   Buddhist Influence on the Gospel of Luke   By: Steve Sutter, M.S. Presque Isle, Maine   Scholars have often considered the possibility that Buddhism influenced the early development of Christianity. They have drawn attention to the many parallels concerning the births, lives, ethics, and deaths of the Buddha (Siddhattha Gotama), and Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in their respective traditions of scripture and legend. (Old World Encounters – Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times, Chapter 2  Jerry H. Bentley, Un. Of Hawaii, [...]

2021-01-30T01:49:37-05:00January 11th, 2021|Canonical Gospels|

What About All Those *Other* Virgin Births in Antiquity?

I have devoted several posts to the issue of Jesus’ virgin birth, as recounted in Matthew and Luke.  As I pointed out, there is no account of Jesus’ virgin birth in the Gospel of John, and it appears that the idea is actually argued *against* (implicitly) in the Gospel of Mark. As happened last time I did a thread like this, several readers have asked me (or told me) about the similarities to the virgin birth stories in pagan texts, where a son of God, or demi-god, or, well, some other rather amazing human being, is said to have been born of a virgin.  Aren’t the Christians simply borrowing a widely held view found among the pagans, that if someone is the son of God (e.g., Hercules, or Dionysus, or Asclepius, etc.), his mother is always thought to have been a virgin? As it turns out, that’s not the case at all. I don’t know of any parallel to ... Want to be well informed?  Keep reading.  Not a member of the blog?  Join!  Costs [...]

With Respect to Others Who Did Not Like My Newsweek Article

When the editor at Newsweek asked me if I would be willing to write an article on the birth of Jesus, I was hesitant and wrote him back asking if he was sure he really wanted me to do it.  I told him that I seem to be incapable of writing anything that doesn’t stir up controversy.  It must be in my blood.  Still, he said that they knew about my work and were not afraid of controversy, and they did indeed want an article from me. What’s interesting to me is that I’ve been getting it from all sides. I don’t know why that should surprise me. It seems to be the story of my life. For years my agnostic and atheist readers were cheering me on from the sidelines as I talked about the problems posed by a critical study of the New Testament: there are discrepancies and contradictions, the Gospels are not written by eyewitnesses, and the stories they contain were modified over time, and many of them were invented in the [...]

2020-12-26T00:19:20-05:00January 2nd, 2021|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Responses to my Newsweek Article on Jesus

Just as happened the first time I made a couple of posts on the article I wrote about Christmas for Newsweek, this time too, in my reposts, I've been asked about the kinds of reactions I received.  Back then I gave two follow up posts, and here is the first. It's a pretty funny one, from my perspective.  I start out being completely defensive (not that I have a thin skin or anything) and cap it all off by emphatically insisting that I was not being defensive.   As I get older, I find I have a better sense of humor about myself...  Here's the first of the two posts.   ******************************************************** My Newsweek article this week has generated a lot of response.  I have no idea what kind of comments they typically get for their stories, but so far, as of now, there have been 559 on mine; and most of them are negative – to no one’s surprise – written by people (conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists for the most part, from what I can [...]

2020-12-21T19:08:38-05:00December 30th, 2020|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Where is the Virgin Birth in John?

I have pointed out that our earliest Gospel, Mark, not only is lacking a story of the virgin birth but also tells a story that seems to run precisely counter to the idea that Jesus’ mother knew that his birth was miraculous, unlike the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  It is striking to note that even though these two later Gospels know about a virgin birth,  our latest canonical Gospel, John, does not know about it.   This was not a doctrine that everyone knew about – even toward the end of the first century. Casual readers of John often assume that it presupposes the virgin birth (it never says anything about it, one way or the other) because they themselves are familiar with the idea, and think that John must be as well.  So they typically read the virgin birth into an account that in fact completely lacks it. As is well known, John’s Gospel begins ... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, REMEMBER: THE END [...]

2020-12-21T19:13:58-05:00December 28th, 2020|Canonical Gospels|

Does the Gospel of Mark Deny a Virgin Birth?

I want to continue my discussion of the virgin birth in the NT, with a set of reflections that is pretty unusual: the views of the Virgin Birth in Mark and John (who do not narrate it!).  I've talked about this on the blog before, but it's been a few years, and is worth thinking of again. It is interesting that Mark, our first Gospel to be written, does not have the story of the Virgin birth and in fact shows no clue that it is familiar with the stories of the Virgin birth.  On the contrary, there are passages in Mark that appear to work *against* the idea that Jesus’ mother knew anything about his having had an extraordinary birth. There is a complicated little passage in Mark 3:20-21 about Jesus’ family coming to take him out of the public eye because they thought he was crazy.  It is a difficult passage to translate from the Greek, and a number of translations go out of their way to make it say something that it [...]

2020-12-21T19:21:43-05:00December 27th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem? Luke’s Version.

Yesterday I discussed Matthew’s account of how it is that Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, if in fact he “came” from Nazareth.  It may well be that Matthew has placed Jesus' birth there to fulfill Micah's prophecy (5:2) that a great ruler (the supposed messiah) would come from Bethlehem. Matthew explains it all by indicating that Joseph and Mary were originally from Bethlehem.  That was their home town.  And the place of Jesus’ birth.  Two or more years after his birth, they relocated to Nazareth in Galilee, over a hundred miles to the north, to get away from the rulers of Judea who were thought to be out to kill the child.  (That in itself, I hardly need to say, seems completely implausible, that a local king is eager to kill a peasant child out of fear that he will wrest the kingdom away from him….) Luke has a completely different account of how it happened.  In Luke, Bethlehem is decidedly not Joseph and Mary’s home town.  The whole point of the story [...]

2020-12-21T19:30:19-05:00December 24th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem? Matthew’s Version….

It is virtually certain that Jesus’ was raised in the small hamlet of Nazareth in Galilee, the northern part of Israel.   All of our sources agree that he was from there, and it is very hard to imagine why a Christian story teller would have made that up (since there was no prestige about the place: no one had ever even heard of it!).    But now the question is whether that was also his place of birth. The only two accounts we have of Jesus’ birth, Matthew and Luke, independently claim that even though he was raised in Nazareth, he was actually born in Bethlehem.   So isn’t that the more likely scenario?  Born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth?   You might think so, given the fact that this is what is stated in our only two sources of information, and that they independently agree about the matter (based on their own sources, the no longer existing M – Matthew’s source or sources – and the no longer existing L – Luke’s source or sources). But [...]

2020-12-13T21:35:28-05:00December 23rd, 2020|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Was The Messiah Supposed to Be Born of a Virgin?

Here in the lead-up to December 25, I am discussing some issues related to Jesus' birth.  As I mentioned in my previous post, in the entire New Testament, the story of the virgin birth is found only in Matthew and Luke.  Luke has a pretty straightforward explanation of why Jesus had to be born of a virgin: it's because he was (literally) the "Son of God."  That is, God is the one who got Mary pregnant, as the angel tells her at the Annunciation:  read Luke 1:31-35, and notice the angels' explanation: the Spirit of God will "come upon her ... SO THAT" the child born of her will be called "The Son of God." Matthew, though, has a different explanation.  For Matthew Jesus had to be born of a virgin because that is what was predicted in the Old Testament. This view fits in very well with Matthew's entire birth narrative of chapters 1-2.  Everything happens "to fulfill Scripture." Why was Jesus’ mother a virgin? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Isaiah [...]

Do Christians Have to Believe in the Virgin Birth?

The last time I went to visit my mom in Kansas during the holiday season  was six years ago (she is now in a retirement home in Ohio; 93 and still walkin' around!).  I talked about it on the blog soon thereafter.  I was not a church going person then (still not) but I did the sonly thing and took her to her church.  This was a conservative evangelical Free Methodist Church – one that my mom has attended for many years.  It was not really my style – I rather prefer centuries-honored liturgy to electric guitars and drums, myself – but I wasn’t there to satisfy my own aesthetic preferences.   (She doesn’t like the guitars and drums either, but we missed the earlier service with the choir). The sermon in that kind of church is very different from what one hears in an Episcopal church and is also very different from the kind of sermon I learned to preach when I was in my Masters of Divinity program at the Presbyterian Princeton Theological Seminary.  [...]

2020-12-07T19:18:59-05:00December 20th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|
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