The Christmas Story: Some Basic Background

Now that I have posted a couple of my earlier published reflections on Christmas, I can make some comments in a series of posts, going into a bit more detail. This first post more or less states some of the basic information that most readers know, but that it’s worth while stressing as a kind of ground clearing exercise.

To begin with, we are extremely limited in our sources when it comes to knowing anything at all about the ...

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The Myth of the First Christmas

Yesterday I started a little series of posts on the Christmas story, both in the NT and in later Gospels, by reproducing a little meditation from seven years ago. Here’s one that I wrote last year. Again, it was for some national media (a magazine, I think), but I don’t remember and I didn’t write it down. It deals with some of the things that I’ll be talking about at greater length in some of my forthcoming posts, but in ...

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Apostles as Guarantors of the Truth

Question:

I was making my case against the resurrection and Jesus’ divinity tonight to a Christian and we ended up discussing oral tradition. His assertion was that there was enough of a check on what was being transmitted orally that we can be assured the information is reliable. For example, in the context of the story in Mark of the two women discovering the empty tomb, he said that this is probably true because, if it wasn’t, people that knew ...

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Thomas and the Other Gospels

One of the benefits of teaching at a research university with a graduate program is that – at least where I am – there are periodic reading groups with other faculty members and graduate students. I go to a couple of these a month, including one that I organize. As it turns out, last week I went to two. The first was mine, the (other ) CIA, in which we typically read someone’s work-in-progress. That week’s presentation was a paper ...

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Lost Gospels That Are Still Lost 4: Q

Several respondents on the blog have asked me whether I would consider Q to be a lost Gospel that is still lost. My answer is direct and emphatic: yes I do! And to the question, also asked several times, if I had one lost Christian writing that I could have turn up tomorrow, what would it be? – again, unless someone imagines that there was once something like Jesus’ lost autobiography (!), my answer is: Q!

Some members of ...

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My Translation of the NT?

QUESTION:

Do you have any plans to publish your own “best” version of the NT in English? From reading several of your books, it does seem as though you probably already have a translation sitting in a drawer somewhere. I have not been able to find scholarly reconstruction that was produced in the last three and a half decades. Most of the newer “translations” are theologically motivated and sound more like modern slang. Have any of your colleagues/ students ...

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Lincoln’s Watch and Eyewitnesses

A fascinating news item has appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine. At first it may not be obvious how it connects to Christianity in Antiquity. But I think it does. It is about a watch owned by Abraham Lincoln. Here is the link to the full story, with a photo:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Lincolns-Pocket-Watch-Reveals-Long-Hidden-Message.html

So the deal is this, as described in the article

On April 13, 1861, Irish immigrant and watchmaker Jonathan Dillon, working for the M.W. Galt and Co. jewelers in Washington, ...

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Secret Followers of Jesus?

QUESTION:

Tangential to the discussion here but what do you think of the idea symbolized by the Joseph of Arimathea character that there may have been closeted sympathizers or even fellow travelers of the Jesus movement among members of the Sanhedrin?

RESPONSE:

It’s a good question.  My sense is that it is virtually inconceivable that there were followers of Jesus, closeted or otherwise, in the Sanhedrin.  For a lot of reasons.  The main one is that according to our earliest accounts, Jesus’ ...

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Pilate and Barabbas

I have received a number of interesting responses to my comments about Pontius Pilate, the Romans’ use of crucifixion, and the likelihood that, as a rule, Romans did not allow decent burials for the victims but left them to scavenging birds and animals — helpless, defenseless, and in agony. A couple of people have suggested that since Pilate had the custom of releasing a prisoner to the crowds during the Passover, this would show a basic interest in placating the ...

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Decent Burials for Crucified Victims

In my previous post I quoted a number of ancient sources that indicated that part of the torture and humiliation of being crucified in antiquity was being left, helpless, exposed not just to the elements but to scavenging birds and other animals. These sources suggest that the normal practice was to leave the victims on the cross to be pecked and gnawed at both before and after death; in some instances there are indications that this would go on for ...

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