Can Historians Be Neutral?

I received a number of responses to my post this past week on whether Jesus would have received a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion.   One of the most interesting responses was not so much about what I said or thought, but about a much broader question: how can one evaluate arguments over such controversial subjects without being entirely biased and subjective at the outset?   It’s worth talking about.  Here’s the question:

 

QUESTION:

Re: the burial of Jesus or not:  ...

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Year in Review 2017!

2017 has now come and, as of tonight, gone.   For some of us it has been a very good year, for others a very bad one.  Probably for most of us it has been mixed.  For the blog, it has been very good indeed.

So here are some of the important results!

First, some background.  As many of you know (some of you were actually here back then), we started this blog endeavor in April 2012.   So we’ve been going at this ...

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Christmas Reflection 2017

More than any other time, event, or celebration, Christmas, for me, shows that you can take the boy out of Christianity but you can’t take Christianity out of the boy.  As much as I am a completely secular-humanist/agnostic/atheist (pick your term), I am still hopelessly attracted to Christmas and what it stands for.

As I said in the previous post, it is not that I “believe” in the Christmas story (stories) as a historical event (events).  In my judgment the biblical ...

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Is the Christmas Story a Myth?

Is the whole Christian story a myth?   It probably depends on what you mean by myth.

For a very long time now, scholars of religion have had hard and protracted debates on what the term “myth” means, or should mean.  I won’t be going into any of that here.  Instead I’ll begin by talking about two teaching experiences, one negative and one positive.

Negative experience: my first teaching job was at Rutgers University, where I was asked to fill in for a ...

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Is the Blog Meaningful for You?

Last night I hosted a dinner here on my home-turf of Durham NC.   If you recall, I put out an invitation about a month ago and limited the table to six of us.  I was most impressed with my dining companions.  Most of them came from out of town for the occasion, as far away as Pittsburgh and Dallas.  Amazing.  We had a fantastic time and it was great getting to meet members of the blog and hearing their varied ...

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Jesus’ (Young?) Mother and (Half?) Brothers? The Proto-Gospel of James

A few days ago lot of readers made comments on the question (thanks to the Roy Moore newsflashes) of whether Mary was a young girl when she got married; and now I have mentioned Jesus’ mother and brothers in Mark’s Gospels.  So let me say a few more things about them.

The earliest non-canonical source that talks about Jesus’ mother (indicating she was a teenager — not something found in the NT) and his brothers (were they really is brothers?) is ...

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Taking the Temperature of the Blog October 2017

It is useful on occasion to step back and take the temperature of the blog, to see how things are going and to consider how they might improve.  Do you have suggestions for how to make the blog better and more attractive?   What I’m especially interested in are ways to attract more people to join.   If you have bright ideas, let me know.

I’d say the blog is going extremely well on the whole.  What do you think?   There seems to ...

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The Academic Study of the New Testament

Students who are thinking about signing up for my undergraduate Introduction to the New Testament sometimes ask me whether they will have an insurmountable disadvantage if they haven’t ever read, let alone studied, the New Testament.   It’s a completely understandable question.

Other students almost certainly take the course precisely because they think it will be easy-shmeasy for them: they grew up in church, and went to Sunday School their entire life, and so how hard can a course on the New ...

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Was My Weird Background a Help or a Hindrance: Mailbag October 22, 2017

In this week’s readers’ mailbag I deal with a personal question about my background and whether it gave me and advantages or disadvantages in my rather unusual line of work as a secular scholar of the Bible.

 

QUESTION: 

Just as a matter of empirical fact, do you think that your religious background gave you any (intellectual) advantages, or disadvantages, in your work over someone who lacked that background?

 

RESPONSE:

Every now and then I look back on my life and think:  Wow, now ...

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How Old Was Jesus?

Almost everyone who thinks about the matter thinks that Jesus was 33 years old when he died.  But the New Testament never says so and I bet most people don’t know how that age is calculated.  Moreover, I bet even more people don’t know that there was an early Christian tradition (attested in the second century) that he was much older than that!

Yesterday I was reading one of the most important proto-orthodox authors of the second century, Irenaeus, whose five-volume ...

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