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What the Earliest *Christians* Thought About Wealth

So far I have been discussing why “wealth” was sometimes seen as a problem by moral philosophers in the Greek and Roman worlds.  People who either have or want to have huge amounts of money are neglecting what they really need for ultimate happiness.  And money can corrupt morals, making one greedy, rapacious, and inclined to general nastiness.  These pagan ethical discourses are written by elites, for elites, concerned for the personal welfare of the elites. Christians had different views, at least so far as we can tell from their writings.  Whereas the “problem of wealth” was occasionally discussed among pagan moral philosophers, it became a central focus of interest in parts of the Christian tradition, starting with Jesus himself.   For the historian of religions that comes as no surprise.  Jesus himself was thoroughly Jewish and there are few aspects of Jewish ethical discourse more distinctive than the repeated emphasis both that the God of Israel was the God of the poor and that his people were to care for those who were in need.  [...]

Demons and Christians in Antiquity: Guest Post by Travis Proctor

I am very pleased that my erstwhile PhD student, Travis Proctor, has published a revised version of his dissertation with Oxford University Press.  See:  Demonic Bodies and the Dark Ecologies of Early Christian Culture: Proctor, Travis W.: 9780197581162: Amazon.com: Books Travis was one of the best students I ever had, and this is an unusually learned book.  In celebration of the event -- and to let you know of the development -- I have decided to repost his discussion of his work from two years ago, with a brief introduction to bring us up to date. Here is what he says. ******************************          Long-time members of the blog may recall my guest post from two years ago, when I shared a summary of my dissertation project on demonic bodies in early Christian literature (see original post below). For those wanting to delve deeper into the subject, I am happy to announce that the manuscript has been published with Oxford University Press, under the title Demonic Bodies and the Dark Ecologies of Early Christian Culture. The [...]

What Is the Didache & When Was the Didache Written

What is the Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay)? In the recent exchange that I posted on the blog (dealing with the existence of Q) the document known as the Didache was mentioned. Especially by guest contributor Alan Garrow, who thinks that the Didache was a source used by the authors of Matthew and Luke.  I think even Alan will agree that this is a highly anomalous view; I don’t know of any other scholar who accepts it (though if Alan knows of any who do, I’m sure he can tell us in a comment).  The Didache is almost always assumed to have quoted the Gospels – or at least the traditions found in the Gospels – not vice versa. I realized this morning that I haven’t talked about it much on the blog.  I better do so! What is the Didache I published a translation of the Didache (the title means “Teaching”) in my two-volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers in 2003, in the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press).   In that edition, I talk about what [...]

Platinum Webinar! March 8. Why Is the Apocalypse of Peter Not in the New Testament?

It's time for another Platinum webinar; as you know, this is a four-time a year event, for Platinum Members only.  I'm devoting this one to a question that almost none of you will have asked yourselves -- one of those questions you don't realize is amazingly interesting until you realize the issues!   Why is the Apocalypse of Peter Not in the New Testament? You may not know -- or possibly you do: the Apocalypse of Peter almost DID get in (instead of, or along with, the Apocalypse of John).  It was far more popular in the early centuries than, for example, the book of 2 Peter which *did* make it in.   But then its support died out in the fourth or fifth century. But why? It claimed to be by Peter; it was well known; it was orthodox; it was declared canonical by church leaders; and it contains an incredible narrative: it is our first instance of a Christian guided tour of heaven and hell!  So what happened to it? Come and find out.  I [...]

Was Peter Crucified Upside Down?

I few days ago I started answering a question about Peter that came to me in two parts:  was Peter the first pope and how did Peter actually die (crucified upside down)?   I've taken two posts to deal with the first question and will deal with the second -- more of a human interest story, I suppose -- here in this one.  The oldest account of Peter's death by martyrdom is certainly odd, but is not widely known.  Here is what I say about it in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. ****************************** Peter as Martyr The death of Peter by execution is already alluded to in the Gospel of John – which evidently, then, had been written after the event occurred.  As Jesus tells Peter after the resurrection: When you were younger, you girded yourself and walked wherever you wanted; but when you grow old, you will reach out your hands and another will bind you, and lead you where you do not want to go. (21:18) The author concludes this quotation by [...]

2021-09-06T20:13:42-04:00September 21st, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

Was Peter the First Pope?

Several people have recently asked (in reference to that pop quiz I gave to my class this semester) whether it is in fact right that Peter was the first pope.   I dealt with the question a few years ago, along with another interesting tradition about Peter.  Here's the question I got and my response.   QUESTION: Is there any historical evidence that the apostle Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and that he was martyred upside down on a cross?   RESPONSE: Ah, I get asked this one (or these two) on occasion.  I dealt with them both in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (which, by the way, was a blast to write).   First I’ll deal with Peter in Rome – which will take a couple of posts; then the question of his martyrdom.  Here is what I say about the first in my book ****************************** In some circles, Peter is best known as the first bishop of Rome, the first pope.  In the period I’m interested in for this book, however, [...]

Pop Quiz on Early Christianity

For just about all of my undergraduate classes, I begin the semester, on the first day, after explaining the course, by giving students a pop quiz.  In my New Testament classes, students are often surprised at how little they know.  "Hey, I went to Sunday School my entire life!  Why don't I know this stuff?"   Yeah, good question. But this semester, as I indicated in my previous post, I'm teaching a course on "The Birth of Christianity," which focuses on the period just after the New Testament up through Constantine.  For *this* class students come in *knowing* that they don't know much of anything.  No matter:  I give them a quiz anyway!  (It's not graded.) Since I haven't taught the class in 25 years, I had to come up with a new quiz (having no idea if I even did one before) . Here it is.  How well can you do?  I'll be discussing answers in subsequent posts (I give the quiz, in part, to discuss the answers with students as a way of introducing [...]

Were Cephas and Peter Two Different People? A Blast from the Past

Five years ago on the blog I started a thread that I never quite finished, for reasons long forgotten, but I sometimes get asked about it.  It involved an issue that the vast majority of avid Bible readers -- including professional scholars -- have never even considered.  I staked out a position on the issue and then later indicated that I was not completely satisfied with my answer.  My plan had been to explain my doubts more fully, but for some odd reason I never posted the explanation.  So let's consider it a five-year cliff-hanger.  Even today, I haven't decided! I've decided to repeat the three relevant posts from 2016, and then go ahead and try to complete the thread.  Here's the first.   QUESTION: I remember your saying that you once – wrongly – entertained a theory about “Cephas” and “Peter” being two different people. I *don’t* remember your explaining why you’d thought that, and what convinced you the theory was wrong. I’d still like to know!   RESPONSE: I get asked this question [...]

What Kind of Ancient Christian Books Might Be Discovered?

On and off of the past few months I've posted on which books from early Christianity -- from the time of the New Testament! -- I'd love to get my grubby paws on.  Here is a related question I received.  What are the chances? QUESTION: What do you think are the odds that a really startling discovery like Q or an early Paul letter is still out there and likely to be discovered? RESPONSE: This is a really great question, and like many really great questions, there is no really great answer.  It is, of course, impossible to come up with any actual “odds.”   The best we can say is “pretty slim indeed." But let me put some flesh on the bare bones of that answer. The first thing to say is that there are indeed instances in which a modern discovery has been made of a book that we had reason to suspect at one time existed.   But that very rarely happens. In virtually every case that it *has* happened, it is not a document [...]

Was Paul Peter’s Enemy?

In a lecture I gave recently, I was talking about "forgeries" in the name of Peter, Jesus' disciple -- that is, books that *claimed* to be written by Peter but certainly were not.  They were written by Christians living later who *said* they were Peter -- possibly in order to get more readers for their books! There is a big question about the canonical books of 1 and 2 Peter.  The vast majority of critical scholars (i.e. those who make their historical judgments apart from questions of what they would personally like to believe about the Bible religiously) agree that 2 Peter was not written by Peter; whoever wrote it, it certainly was not the author of 1 Peter.  A lot of scholars, including me, somewhat forcefully, also argue that Peter could not have written 1 Peter either.  But that's a topic for other posts (which I've made in the past). In my lecture I mentioned three others, that no one disagrees about: the Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Letter of [...]

How Could Christ Be Both God and a Human — At Once? The Unusual View of Origen

In this long thread on the Trinity I have been trying to explain how Christians came to the view that Jesus was God but that he was separate from God the Father – that both were God, but they were two different persons, and yet there was only one God.  I will have far less to say about the Spirit, since he/she/it got added to the mix more or less because Christ was already in it, as we will see. So far I have taken us up to the early third century, where one view had come to be widely rejected even though earlier it had been prominent: that Jesus actually *was* God the Father, come in the flesh (often called “modalism”).   Now I want to look at a more sophisticated way of understanding the relationship of Christ to the Father.  This one comes in the writings of Origen, one of the truly important Christian thinkers of the first three Christian centuries. Origen came from Alexandria and was exceptionally learned and unbelievably prolific. According to [...]

Are God and Christ the SAME Person?

In this thread on where the Trinity came from, I have been focusing on early Christology – the understandings of who Christ was.  My reason for that is simple.  The issue of the Trinity arose only because Christians said more than one being was God but that there was only one God.  The “other” being at the outset, of course, was Christ.  After his death his followers called him God.  The Trinity doctrine, as I will now start to explain in greater detail, emerged by the problems that then arose: two beings who are God, but only one God. I will be getting to the Spirit later, but frankly there is not as much to say there. First I need to keep going on the idea of Jesus being God and God being God.  The question that naturally arose among the Christians was how that could be the case: how could *BOTH* of them be God?  In what sense? That’s an issue I dealt with in my book How Jesus Became God.  Here I’ll provide some of [...]

Lost Christian Writings I’d Love to Get My Hands On!

I thought it might be fun to intersperse some posts from years ago to break up here and there the thread on the Trinity, for those who have, well, lots of other interests too!  So here's a good option. I did a short thread before the vast majority of you were on the blog (and maybe before you were born. :-) ) based on a question:  among all the ancient Christian writings that have been lost, which ones would I especially love to get my grubby paws on? Here's the original question and my first response to it.   QUESTION:  What lost early Christian books would you most like to have discovered?   RESPONSE: Ah, this is a tough one.   There are lots of Christian writing that I would love to have discovered – all of the ones that have been lost, for example! But suppose I had to name some in particular.  Well, this will take several posts.  To begin with, I wish we had the other letters of Paul.   Let me explain. In [...]

Christ as Non-Human (but fully God) in the Early Second Century

On this slow path we are taking to see where the doctrine of the Trinity came from (it may seem slow, but of course a full analysis would take volumes!) I have been trying to show how different understandings of Christ emerged in early Christianity – starting from the original belief of his disciples in his resurrection and exaltation, to later exaltation views (he was a man who became divine at his resurrection; NO! at his baptism; NO! at his birth) and then incarnation views (he was never a man who was not God.  He was God who became a man). Paul has both views: Christ was a divine being who became human but then got exalted to a higher level of divinity; the final view is found in the Gospel of John: Christ was completely divine from the beginning, and in fact was the Creator of the universe. Wow. In the last post I showed that this incredibly “high” Christology in John was taken yet higher in the later Johannine community, as some members [...]

An Apocryphal Story of Mary’s Conception of Jesus

In my previous post I introduced the seventh-century Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, one of the most popular Christian writings of the Middle Ages.  It tells an expanded version of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, and then yet more legendary tales of what happened afterward.   I continue here with another intriguing portion of the account: the events surrounding Mary conceiving Jesus, even though she was a virgin, and the reactions of Joseph when he realizes she is pregnant, and then – something completely missing from the New Testament – the religious “test” inflicted on her by others to see if she was telling the truth. Again, this is taken from the translation in my book The Other Gospels, produced with my colleague Zlatko Pleše.   The Annunciation 9 1 On the next day while Mary was standing beside the fountain to fill her small pitcher, an angel appeared to her and said, “You are blessed, Mary, for you have prepared a dwelling place for God in your spirit.   Behold, a light will come from heaven [...]

A Different Account of Joseph and Mary!

As we move to the Christmas season, I thought it would be interesting to post some extracts on one of the most popular Gospels in the Middle Ages, an account of Jesus’ birth – and before that, his mother Mary’s birth – and what happened in the aftermath.   It is called the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, because modern scholars once thought that it had claimed to be written by Matthew (the author of the first canonical Gospel); but in fact, as you will see, it claims to be written by Jesus’ brother James. The Gospel comes to us in Latin and was probably produced in the early 7th century.   Some of you may know, from the blog or elsewhere, a Greek Gospel of this description from the 2nd century, the Proto-Gospel of James.   This later Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew is a kind of reworking and expansion of the Proto-Gospel, with some parts removed, lots more added, and others simply altered.  It may be that its unknown author wanted to propagate the stories of the Proto-Gospel in the [...]

Ancient Numerical Interpretations of the Bible

I have recently received this question about a very interesting and little known phenomenon in the New Testament. QUESTION: What is the use of the concept of Gematria? And was it used in the NT? RESPONSE:               Ah, the question is a bit tricky but pretty fascinating.  Gematria was an ancient Jewish way of interpreting texts that relied on the fact that in ancient writing systems (Greek, Hebrew, etc.) the letters of the alphabet also designated numbers.  It doesn’t work that way for us, since we use the Latin alphabet (A B C D E….) but Arabic numerals (1 2 3 4 5….).   But in ancient languages, the letters were also the numerals.  So, in Greek, the language of the New Testament, the first letter alpha was 1; beta was 2; gamma was 3; etc. Once you hit iota it was 10, and after that it went by tens, so that the next letter kappa was 20, lambda was 30, and so on.  Once you hit a hundred it went by hundreds. Greek in the [...]

Our Most Important Gospel from Outside the NT: The Gospel of Thomas

This week in my graduate seminar we will be discussing the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, not to be confused with the Infancy Gospel of Thomas that I mentioned in a post last week, with which this one has no relation, apart from the fact that both claim to be written by Thomas, a.k.a. Didymus Judas Thomas, i.e., Jesus’ brother Jude. By far this Gospel of Thomas is the best known, most read, and most significant Gospel from outside the New Testament.  It was accidentally discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi Egypt as one of the 52 documents contained in a set of twelve books, with part of a thirteenth, now widely known as the Nag Hammadi Library.  Most of these documents are Gnostic. Like all the others, this one is written in Coptic and is a Coptic translation of a Greek original.  The book that contains it was produce in the mid-fourth century CE.  But the Gospel itself was originally composed in the early second century CE.  It is hard to say when after this [...]

2020-10-29T16:48:35-04:00September 14th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

My Early Christian Apocrypha Seminar

I am teaching a PhD seminar this semester on the early Christian apocrypha; it's a little hard to define what those are, though hundreds of people have tried!.  The way I define them are as non-canonical books that are similar in genre and contents to those that did make it into the canon.  Or something like that.  They comprise Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses, they can be "orthodox" or "non-orthodox" (= " heretical"); most of them claim to be written by apostles (but not all); the ones I'm most interested in date from the second to the fifth centuries. It's a fairly but not crazily heavy-hitting class.   It meets once a week for three hours.  Here, for your amusement and reading pleasure (especially if you do the assignments!) is the syllabus: To see what follows, you will need to belong to the blog.  Not a member yet?  Now's the best time ever to join.  Why?  Because you can't join in the past.     Reli 801: Early Christian Apocrypha Instructor: Bart D. Ehrman Fall 2020 [...]

The Opening Section of the Gospel of Judas

Here is the first bit of the Gospel of Judas from the translation of my colleague Zlatko Pleše in our book The Other Gospels.  After this bit here, the Gospel gets very strange, at least to most modern readers.   But as you can see, it is really interesting. The first paragraph is the explanation of where we got the text from; then the translation of the opening scends, and after that I give the bibliography for further reading that we cite in our book.   ************************************** Our translation is based on the Coptic text of Rodolphe Kasser, and Gregor Wurst, eds. The Gospel of Judas: Critical Edition.  Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2007.   New portions of the Gospel appeared in 2006, when the one-time owner of the manuscript declared bankruptcy and his remaining antiquities collection was turned over to a bank in Ohio; included in this collection were numerous small fragments of the Gopsel of Judas.   These have been photographed and they have begun to be studied; for our translation of the account here we have [...]

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