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Do Matthew and Paul Agree on the Matter Most Important to them Both?

I was going through posts from many years ago and came across this one, on an issue I've always thought was unusually interesting: if the writer of the Gospel of Matthew (whoever that was) and the apostle Paul had been locked in a room and not allowed to emerge until they had hammered out a consensus statement on how one attains eternal life, would they still be in there, possibly with their skeletons locked in a mutual death grip?  I didn't put it that way when I posted this so long ago, but I was younger and milder then I suppose. Here's how I expressed it then.  What do you think? ***************************************************************** One of my major goals as a professor of New Testament is to get my students to understand that the NT is not a single entity with a solid and consistent message.  There are numerous authors who were writing at different times, in different parts of the world, to different audiences, and with different – sometimes strikingly different – understandings about important issues.  [...]

How Accurate are our Copies of the Hebrew Bible?

After my recent posts on the Dead Sea Scrolls a number of readers have asked me about the surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible.  Is it true that Jewish scribes didn’t make copying errors and intentional alterations in the copies of the Hebrew Bible they produced, unlike the Christian scribes who made thousands?  How many manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible do we have?  How have the Dead Sea Scrolls affected our understanding of Jewish copying practices? All terrific questions – both interesting and important.  I give an explanation of the situation in the second edition of my book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.  Here it is:   ************************************************************************* THE TEXT OF THE HEBREW BIBLE We have seen that the earliest writings of the Hebrew Bible were probably produced during the eighth century B.C.E. This is the date of the oldest prophets such as Amos and Isaiah of Jerusalem. When an ancient author produced a book, he obviously wrote it out by hand. And if anyone wanted a copy, he had to copy it [...]

By |2020-07-01T19:21:25-04:00July 1st, 2020|Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|83 Comments

Was Jesus Connected with the Dead Sea Scrolls Community?

In my previous post I talked about the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding Jesus and the milieu out of which earliest Christianity grew.  My basic point is that if Jesus was a Jew, then to understand him, you have to understand Jews in his world.  And the Dead Sea Scrolls provide us valuable information to that end. I am not saying that the Dead Sea Scrolls are representative of what all or even most Jews thought at the time.  They clearly are not.  If the “Essene hypothesis” is right (that is, that the Scrolls were produced by members of a Jewish sect known as the Essenes) – and it is the view held by the vast majority of the experts (I am *not* an expert on the Scrolls) – then the Scrolls were produced by a Jewish sect that had very distinctive views of its own that were not, in many respects, shared by outsiders.  In particular, this was a group of Jews who insisted that the coming apocalyptic judgment, soon to [...]

By |2020-06-30T20:14:36-04:00June 30th, 2020|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|66 Comments

The Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for Understanding Jesus: Readers’ Mailbag

A few posts ago I discussed, very briefly, the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I received a number of questions about the post, one in particular with some frequency: how did the discovery of the Scrolls contribute to our understanding of Jesus and early Christianity?  For me as a NT scholar, it is obviously an unusually important question. Let me stress that the Scrolls are *mainly* important for understanding early Judaism, and only secondarily for understanding early Christianity.  But with that said, they are *really* important for Christianity as well, though not in ways you might suspect (especially if you acquire all your historical knowledge from random searches on the Internet!). As it turns out, I received virtually this same question seven years ago on the blog, and here is how I addressed it there.   Question: Can you write a post on how the Dead Sea Scrolls advance our understanding of the birth of Christianity?   Response: This is a question that can be answered in one sentence, or in a very long and dense book [...]

What Are The Dead Sea Scrolls?

Here's a topic I haven't discussed in a while!  Just about every thinking human being in our context has heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, even if they have no clue what the scrolls are, what they contain, and how they were found.  And it's no surprise they've heard of them.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are by virtual consensus the most significant manuscript discovery of the twentieth century, of major importance for understanding Judaism at the time of Jesus and, in some respects, the teachings of Jesus himself. Here is what I say about the scrolls in my New Testament textbook.  I begin by talking about the Jewish group widely thought to have been responsible for producing, using, and eventually hiding the scrolls -- which remained hidden from 70 CE until 1947!  The group is called the Essenes.   **************************************************   The Essenes are the one Jewish sect not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.  Ironically, they are also the group about which we are best informed.  This is because ... THE REST OF THIS POST [...]

The Remarkable Story of Masada: Guest Post by Jodi Magness

Many of you know of my colleague Jodi Magness.  She is one of the world's leading authorities on the archaeology of ancient Israel, a real superstar in her field.  You can read about her here: http://jodimagness.org/  Since 2011 her annual dig at Huqoq in Galilee has is often discussed in the international press, particularly because of the synagogue they discovered that has some of the most amazing works of art ever to be found in Israel; the work is regularly featured, for example, in National Geographic.  (For the dig, see:  http://huqoq.web.unc.edu/) But her first major archaeological work involved the army camps at Masada, one of the most historically and culturally significant sites of Israel antiquity, where rebel fighters made their last stand against the Roman armies in 73 CE.  Jodi has recently published a terrific book for a broader audience on Masada.  It's a fascinating story and a flat-out terrific book: Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth (Princeton University Press, 2019). I asked Jodi if she would be willing to do a guest post [...]

By |2020-05-27T10:33:33-04:00May 27th, 2020|Early Judaism, Religion in the News|47 Comments

Heaven and Hell in a Nutshell: Getting into the Kernel

Here is the second and last part of my summary of the heart of my forthcoming book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.  It's not an outline of the chapters, but a summing up of the key issues, flow, and the ultimate "point" of the book.  As a tip, I've called this little essay (in my own mind): "There Is Nothing To Fear."   ************************************************************************************************ The idea of rewards and punishments eventually found its way into Judaism as well, but not until the very end of the Old Testament period.   The book of Daniel was the final writing of the Hebrew Bible.   This fictitious account of a pious Hebrew young man, Daniel, presents an alternative Jewish understanding of the world, the nature of reality, and of life beyond, quite unlike the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Scholars have called Daniel’s view “apocalypticism,” from the Greek word “apocalypsis” – which means a “revealing.”    Jewish apocalyptic thinkers began to believe that God had “revealed” to them the truth of ultimate reality hidden from all their predecessor, [...]

By |2020-04-02T14:33:09-04:00December 16th, 2019|Book Discussions, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|112 Comments

An Older Manuscript Controversy about the Dead Sea Scrolls

I've been thinking about controversies over ancient Christian and Jewish manuscripts lately, in connection with the (false) claim that a First Century copy of Mark had been discovered.  Browsing around on the blog I saw that I dealt with a completely different manuscript controversy on the blog many years ago, involving the Dead Sea Scrolls. I had forgotten all about it.  This one involved a court case and jail time!   Here's what I said:   ************************************************************** A few years ago I was asked to give a speech at a museum in Raleigh NC in connection with an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls that had been long in the works and had finally become a reality. I will be the first to admit, I'm not the first person you should think of to give a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s not my field of scholarship. But the lecture was to be one of a series of lectures, and the other lecturers actually were experts, including my colleague Jodi Magness, a world-class archaeologist who [...]

By |2020-04-02T14:34:37-04:00December 4th, 2019|Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|20 Comments

What About the Original *Old* Testament?

Recently several readers have asked me about the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible; I talk a lot about the New Testament on the blog, but what about the Old Testament?  Are there problems there too? Short answer, yes indeed.  I'd say!   Here's how I dealt with this in a post long ago, back in the days of my youth.  Only one thing is different.  I don't read from the Hebrew Bible every morning any more.  I've gotten obsessed with classical Latin!   Apart from that, everything here is still spot-on.  Or at least what I would continue to say, which admittedly is not the same thing....   QUESTION: Bart, these issues you've found in the New Testament, have you studied and found similar issues in the Old Testament?" RESPONSE: Yes indeed!   Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) was my secondary field in my PhD program, and I taught Introduction to Hebrew Bible at both Rutgers and UNC.   A few years ago when I decided to write my Introduction to the Bible I decided that to do [...]

Does Your Soul Go To Heaven?

In my previous post I discussed the beginnings of the Jewish idea of the “resurrection of the dead.”  This view is a pretty much commonplace today: in every Christian church that recites a creed today, and in many conservative churches that do not use creeds, it is believed that at the end of time there will be some kind of judgment and people will be raised from the dead. At the same time, I have to be frank and say that it seems to me that most Christians – at least the ones I know (not just scholars, but most Christians) – don’t actually *believe* in a future resurrection.  They think they die and go to heaven in their souls.  Their souls may have some kind of physical attributes: they have all their sense of hearing, seeing, etc., and they can be recognized as who they were so you’ll be able to see your grandmother there.  It’s true, even this has always caused problems for people who hold the idea.  Which of my many bodies [...]

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