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Greco-Roman Religions

Paul’s Ascent to Paradise. Guest Post by James Tabor

A couple of weeks ago I learned that James Tabor had republished his book Paul’s Ascent to Heaven, his first scholarly monograph, which, alas, had gone out of print.  But it’s back in!  I wrote him to ask if he’d be willing to write a couple of guest posts about it, and here is the first.  This one explains how and where the book originated (published 1986); his next post will discuss how his mind has changed on some issues in the intervening years. Many of you know James from his other writings.  He publishes for both scholarly and popular audiences.  James has long been a professor of Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte.  Here is his story of how his book first came to be.  He will be happy to respond to comments and questions. ************************************************************ James D. Tabor, Dept. of Religious Studies, UNC Charlotte Paul’s Ascent to Paradise I have been thinking deeply about Paul—and more particularly about “Paul's Ascent to Paradise” for the past forty-five years. I first suggested a dissertation on two [...]

What Did Ancient People Think (a) God Was?

A number of people have asked me how anyone could imagine a human being or becoming God in the ancient world, based on my claims that for Paul and other early Christian writers Jesus was a divine human.  But if he was human, how could he be God?   To answer that I have to stress a point I made repeatedly in my book How Jesus Became God.   Anyone who wants to say that “Jesus is God” according to an early Christian text, has to explain “in what *sense*” is he God? Now is a good time for me to lay out how again how ancient people understood the divine realm. It was very different from the way most people today do – at least the people I run across. People today think of God as completely Other than us humans. We are mortal and limited in every respect; he is immortal and unlimited. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere-present. We are by comparison weak, ignorant, and in one place at a time. He is infinite [...]

How Were People Crucified?

I have always said that people were crucified by being nailed through their *wrists* instead of their hands.  I had heard that in college when I was maybe 18, and I’ve been saying it ever since.  And I still say it because it’s apparently true.  But I never knew how we knew.  Was it simply common sense that a nail/stake through the hand would rip out, and needed to go between two strong bones?  Or did we have some evidence?  And if it’s true that the nail/stake went through the wrist, why do virtually *all* the artistic representations show the holes in the hands? There are entire books on crucifixion in antiquity – I don't mean books about the significant of Jesus’ death, but on what crucifixion actually involved.   When I was in grad school I read Martin Hengel’s brief study; in more recent days John Granger Cook has written a massive tome, which I’ve looked at but haven’t read cover-to-cover (it’s amazing what I haven’t read….).   I’m sure it is the drop -dead authoritative [...]

Heaven and Hell in a Nutshell

This post is free for anyone who wants to look.  Every week on the blog I post five times, dealing with all sorts of issues connected with the New Testament and early Christianity.  Interested?  Why not join?  It doesn't cost much, you get tons for your money, and every nickel you pay goes to deserving charities.   I’m excited about my next book, being published on March 31, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.   It’s already getting good reviews in the trade journals, the publications that announce which books are soon to come out and have experts review them in advance, so that book sellers, book stores, libraries, and so on know whether they want to buy them, and for book sellers and stores, in what quantities.  So that’s all good. A while back I decided to try to encapsulate the essence of the book in a short essay, a kind of 2000 word summary of what it’s all about and why it matters.   I will give it here, over the course of [...]

Why Are Their Differences in the Gospels? Does it Affect Their Inspiration? Guest Post by Mike Licona

This is Mike's third and final guest post.  In the earlier post he explained his views about whether the Bible is inspired by God and is inerrant.  He thinks the answers to both are "yes," though his actual views are not what most people would probably expect.   Here now is the third, and critical post, based on the research he did for his 2017 Oxford University Press book, with the same title:  Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?    I agree with a lot of what Mike writes here.  In reading it, I'd suggest you bear in mind his earlier two posts, that he sees the Gospels as inspired and inerrant. Mike has graciously agreed to answer questions you have for him, but only for the next four days!  Otherwise this would go on forever.  And please, in your questions, do your best to keep them concise and direct, without asking multiple questions at once.  Pick the most pressing.  And I scarcely need to remind you of that verse in the Ehrman Revised Standard Version: "The [...]

Sex and Gender in the Ancient World

Most people agree that there are parts of the Bible that are not applicable today.  We don't normally execute people for being witches or for disobeying parents anymore (at least in the U.S.).  But what about same-sex relations?  Are the Bible's injunctions still applicable about *that*?  It turns out the issues that are involved are different from those surrounding witches and rowdy kids, and n ways most people wouldn't suspect. It's not as easy to explain why, and so I've been laying the background generally by talking about the Bible's understanding of sex and gender broadly.  So far I've talked about the creation of Adam and Eve and what it says about gender and the relationships of male and female (the only gender categories available to the authors), and about how that basic story underlies the insistence by some early Christian authors (1 Timothy 5:11-15, e.g.) that women should be completely submissive to men, and therefore not exercise authority over them or even speak in church (or does it mean generally, unless spoken to?). Now [...]

Is It Ever Right to Lie? Or Was It? Even in Early Christianity? The Relevance for Forgery.

Is it ever morally acceptable – even desirable – to tell a bald-faced lie?  That was probably a topic covered in your Philosophy 101 course.  At a historian, I’m interested in the question from an ancient perspective.  What did people in antiquity think about it?  In particular Christians.  Did they think – based on the Ten Commandments, say, or the teachings of Jesus, that a person should never lie?  Or were they quite lax on the matter?  Or something in between? I was actually a bit surprised to learn the answer to the question.  And as you might expect, the answer is complicated.  My original interest in the issue had to do with forgery.  A forger claims to be someone famous, knowing full well he is someone else.  That’s a lie, that is, it is a falsehood told intentionally.   How did forgers justify that?  It turns out, there appear to be answers. This is how I dealt with the matter in my lecture on forgery given at the conference in Quebec a couple of weeks [...]

A Recent Argument that Ancient Pseudepigraphy Was NOT Deceptive (or Meant to Be)

I continue now with the lecture I gave on "forgery" in the ancient world, delivered at a conference in Quebec a couple of weeks ago.  I had planned for this to be the last post, but I will have one more after this, the conclusion of my lecture where I deal with the ancient ethics of lying.  In this one I talk about a brilliant recent attempt to argue that it was not (always) a deceitful practice to claim to be a famous person when writing a work in antiquity.   ************************************************************** One of the most recent erudite and impressive attempts to defend at least one group of ancient pseudepigraphers comes in the study I mentioned earlier by Irene Peirano, a classicist at Yale, in her published Harvard dissertation, The Rhetoric of the Roman Fake: Latin Pseudepigrapha in Context.   Most of this important book provides detailed analyses of highly literary Roman pseudepigrapha, including pseudo-Virgil.  But she begins with a defense of her view that such works do not involve intentional deceptions but self-conscious “imitations” of [...]

What Motivated Some Ancient Authors to Lie About Themselves?

I return now to my lecture on ancient Pseudepigraphy, the practice of writing a book falsely claiming to be someone else, a famous person.  I have been arguing that even in the ancient world this was considered to be a form of lying, the use of literary deceit, and authors who were detected doing it were outed and, if any moral judgment was passed, condemned for it.  Today we would call it “forgery,” and the ancient discussions of it were similarly negative.   Here is where I pick up in the lecture, part 3 of my 4 posts.  (I think one of my most important points comes half way through, where I explain the key difference between “intention” and “motivation” – i.e., what we intend to do and what motivates us to do so.   ***************************************************   One could ask whether anyone on record in antiquity ever condoned the practice of pseudepigraphy.  To my knowledge, there is only one possible trace of approval, in a single sentence of the late antique neo-Platonist Iamblichus, who does say, [...]

Were Ancient Readers Interested in Detecting Forgeries?

I continue now with my lecture this past week on whether ancient readers and writers considered pseudepigraphic writing – in which an author claimed to be someone else (always someone famous) – was seen as deceitful, a kind of literary lie, and is therefore appropriately, in an ancient context, appropriately considered by thos of us today, “forgery.”  This is Part 2 of 4. ******************************************************** I do not need to give an extensive account of all the instances of ancient Echtheitskritik (= scholarly attempt to determine if a work is authentic) found throughout the surviving literature: full accounts are readily available in any of the lengthy monographs.  To be sure, some recent scholars have claimed it was a rare discourse.  But maybe abundance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  I myself have always been struck by how extensive the discourse of authenticity is, going back in some sense to Herodotus and becoming a focus of interest for some authors, especially critics and biographers such as (the Roman medical writer of the second century) [...]

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