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Greco-Roman Religions

Were Matthew and Luke Plagiarists?

Were Matthew and Luke plagiarists?  They copied word-for-word passages from Mark, without any indication that they were using someone else’s work.  Today that will get you fired (or, say, removed from the presidency of an Ivy League school).  But what about in the ancient world? Here I continue here with my discussion of plagiarism in the antiquity, citing some sources that talk about the phenomenon only to condemn it, before considering whether Matthew and Luke can be considered culpable. You may be surprised by my answer. First, I give some more ancient  writings, starting with where I left off, with Vitruvius (a famous Roman architect; not a famous volcano) ****************** Elsewhere Vitruvius himself delivers a stringent judgment on those who engaged in the practice of plagiarism: “While, then, these men [viz. Those who left a written record of past events and philosophies] deserve our gratitude, on the other hand we must censure those who plunder their works and appropriate them to themselves” (Book 7, Preface 3).   This attitude coincides with other ancient discourse about [...]

2024-02-09T12:55:44-05:00February 13th, 2024|Forgery in Antiquity, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Plagiarism! Was It Condemned in the Ancient World? (Is Matthew Guilty of It?)

Just over a week ago I did an eight-lecture on-line course on the Gospel of Matthew, not connected with the blog but with BECO (Bart Ehrman Courses Online); you can find out more about that here: The Genius of Matthew.  Someone who came to the course asked me an intriguing question:  if it’s true that Matthew used Mark for a number of his stories, actually copying his account word for word in many places, wouldn’t he be guilty of plagiarism? Ah – right!  That’s certainly something we would be thinking about today!  Did people in the ancient world think about plagiarism?  There weren’t copyright laws or, in fact, any laws about the theft of intellectual property.  So was plagiarism even a THING? As it turns out, this is a topic that, I venture to say (with good reason), the vast majority of New Testament scholars don’t know about.  My (good) reason for saying so is that you can hear many such-a-scholar say oh-so-wrong things about it, either based on what they assume or what they [...]

2024-02-07T14:25:46-05:00February 11th, 2024|Forgery in Antiquity, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

When Is Forgiveness not Forgiveness?

Does love really "mean never having to say I'm sorry"?  Is "unconditional forgiveness" possible?  Is it even Christian?  Is forgiveness itself always possible, conceivable, feasible, expected, required, helpful?  Actually, what is forgiveness? These are questions people often ask.  When they ask what Jesus thought about the matter they usually get it wrong.  And as it turns out, so did his own disciples.  So I'll be arguing in my book, tentatively titled The Origins of Altruism. Here's another extract from my sketch of the book as it looks at this point in the pre-writing stage.... ****************************** Part Four:  Interpersonal Forgiveness (ch. 6 on Greek and Roman World; ch. 7 on Jesus and his followers) Whereas “charity” is the manifestation of agapē principally to outsiders in need, “forgiveness” is its manifestation principally to those with whom one is in close contact. The importance of “forgoing anger” (a very broad and – as I’ll argue – somewhat problematic definition of forgiveness) was widely acknowledged in the Greek and Roman worlds.  But the conditions under which it was possible [...]

Love in Action: Christian Views of Charitable Giving

As I indicated in my previous post, the ethics of Christian love (and the very term used for it) differed from what could be found broadly in the Greek and Roman worlds.  This different understanding of love had concrete practical implications, especially in how early Christians understood charitable giving. That will be the next part of my book, The Origins of Altruism, as I explain here as I continue to extract from the initial sketch of the book I've written for myself. ****************************** Part Three: Charitable Giving (chs. 6, on the Greco-Roman world, and 7, on Jesus and his later followers) Since love in the teachings of Jesus and then agapē in the early Christian movement was not an emotion, connected with personal feelings or passion but a kind of disinterested activity in relation to others, including strangers, its most concrete manifestation involved providing resources for those in need. In the broader Greek and Roman worlds, virtually all the discussion of personal resources (money and goods) focused on the very wealthy.  Moral philosophy was written by elites [...]

Is Christian Love Different from Love?

One of the most talked about and least understood teachings within Christianity is the idea of love.  Do you want some evidence of the misunderstanding?  Read 1 Corinthians 13, the "love chapter," in its original context (coming between, well, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14!  A little consideration almost no one has thought about!), and then consider it in relation to the 498 times you've heard it in weddings.  I'm all for it's being read at weddings! But, uh, is Paul talking about marital bliss?  Uh, nope, not at *all*..... I am in the middle of a thread excerpting a sketch of my book (which I'm still researching; won't start writing for a while).  So far I've talked about what it's about.  Now I'm getting into some detail, by describing the book chapter by chapter -- including the opening bit about Christian ethics and the opening section that deals with love in the Christian tradition. ******************************  The book will comprise an Introduction and four main parts containing two chapters each. Introduction (ch. 1) I’ll [...]

The Origins of Altruism: My Next Book as It Stands Now

My book I'm working on now has gone through significant transformations since I first conceived of it a few years ago.  I am at the stage now (finally!) where I really think I know what it's going to be.  It started out as a book dealing with the history of charitable giving, morphed into a book on the broader subject of ethics as taught by Jesus, moved onto the specific question of how the Christian concept of "love" differed in significant ways from what could be found generally in the Greek and Roman worlds, shifted to add a discussion of how the Christian idea of "forgiveness" also differed fron what was found elsewhere and ... and ended up where it is now.  It is really a book about altruism in the Christian tradition and its effect on the ethical views and practices of western culture. My tentative title is:  The Origins of Altruism: How the Teachings of Jesus Transformed the Conscience of the West.  As always, I have no idea if my publisher will go with it or [...]

Is Christ *Merely* the “Adopted” Son of God?

If Jesus wasn't God from eternity past, but was "adopted" to be the Son of God at some point of his existence, wouldn't that be a pretty watered-down understanding of his divinity? A lot of people find this kind of "adoptionist" Christology (Christ wasn't "inherently" God but "made" divine by adoption) completely unsatisfying and, well, pretty wimpy as far as Christologies go. I mentioned in the previous post that one could well read Luke as adoptionistic, and as I reflected on it some more, I recalled that the first time I wrestled seriously with the issue was ten years ago, when I was doing my research for my book How Jesus Became God. Here's what I ended up thinking about it, and saying about it in the book. And in case you wonder -- mirabile dictu! -- I still think the same today! ****************************** Part of what has convinced me that an [adoptionistic] understanding of Christ should not be shunted aside as rather inferior involves new research on what it meant to be “adopted” [...]

Is It Better to Follow Christ or to Live a Contented Life? Paul vs. Epicurus

What would other deep thinkers in the ancient world have thought of Paul’s teachings?  Short answer: not much. Earlier this year I posted on one of my favorite Greek philosophers, Epicurus (341 – 270 BCE).  Epicurus acquired a bad reputation already in antiquity, and still has one among many people today, mainly because his views are widely misunderstood and often simply misrepresented.   As it turns out, he advocated views that have widely become dominant in our world, and for good reasons.  For that reason I’ve always read him as remarkably prescient, entertaining ideas that would not become popular for two thousand years. And they stand precisely at odds with the views of the apostle Paul.  I’ve recently begun to think about this more deeply -- especially since they talk about the same *topics* but take completely different stands on them.. Unfortunately, we do not have very many of Epicurus’s writings.  In fact, the most important sources we have are simply three long letters, quoted in toto by a significant but little-read author named Diogenes Laertius, [...]

Does Archaeological Evidence Show that Jesus Was Buried on the Day He Died?

[Note: this post originally appeared in 2014; since then the skeletal remains of another victim of crucifixion have appeared in England; to my knowledge, the new discovery does not affect either Craig's argument or my response here] ****************************** I plan to make this the last post responding to Craig Evans’s article, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” in which he attempts to refute my argument in How Jesus Became God, that Jesus was probably not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion. I have dealt with a wide range of Craig’s arguments, and have saved his two strongest arguments for last.  In my last post I dealt with the claim of Josephus that Jews (always? usually? sometimes?) buried crucifixion victims before sunset, and I showed that as a general statement it simply isn’t true, and argued that in any event it would not have applied to a case such as that of Jesus, one who was crucified as an enemy of the state.   Today I deal with the second argument that [...]

Josephus’ One Statement About the Burial of Crucified Victims in Judea

We come now, at last, to the best argument in Craig Evans’ arsenal, in his attack on the views of Jesus’ burial that I set forth in in How Jesus Became God.   Tomorrow I will deal with the second best – an argument from archaeology.   Craig makes a somewhat bigger deal of the second best; in fact he throws off this, his best argument rather quickly.  But it’s the most important point of the many (many!) issues he raises.   The argument is this.  In one passage of Josephus’s writings, in an extremely brief few words (it’s only half of one sentence) (this is the only half sentence in the entire corpus not only of Josephus’s 30 volumes of writing but in the entire corpus of pagan and Jewish literature of all of antiquity that makes this claim) he explicitly indicates that Jews buried victims of crucifixion before sunset.  Craig’s commentary on the passage amounts only to two sentences. At the end of the day I don’t find even this piece of evidence persuasive, and [...]

Did Jews Always Bury Their Dead on the Day of their Death? Was Jesus Buried Then?

I have not covered all of the points that Craig Evans makes in his essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which is his response to the position I stake out in How Jesus Became God.  My view is that Jesus probably was not given a decent burial on the day of his death by the otherwise unknown figure, Joseph of Arimathea.   In this thread I have tried to focus on Craig’s main points.   In my judgment, despite all the various issues he raises there are really only two of that are directly relevant and that need to be taken with utmost seriousness:  Josephus appears to say that Jews were allowed to bury their dead (Craig makes two arguments about this) and we have the skeletal remains of one crucified victim from Judea at about the time of Jesus. First I’ll be dealing with the evidence from Josephus.  My view is that of the two arguments Craig makes, based on Josephus, the first also carries almost no weight and the second cannot mean what [...]

2023-08-29T07:17:45-04:00August 29th, 2023|Early Judaism, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

We Have Crucifixion Nails! Isn’t that Evidence for Jesus’ Burial?

I have mentioned a couple of times that at the end of this thread I will be discussing the two arguments that Craig Evans marshals that strike me as interesting and to be taken seriously.  These are (1) the general claims in a couple of passages of Josephus and (2) the discovery of the skeletal remains of a crucified victim.  Even though these are, in my opinion, good arguments, I will explain why I do not find them persuasive.   Up till now I have been dealing with the arguments that Craig advances that I do not find at all convincing  -- for example, that Roman governors on rare occasions showed clemency for lower level crimes and that Pilate was not the kind of person to offend Jewish sensitivities.  I have one more argument of this sort to deal with.  It is one that may sound highly convincing to someone who has only Craig’s summary at hand but who does not know the facts of case. This argument does not involve historical literary sources (Philo or [...]

2023-08-18T11:30:28-04:00August 12th, 2023|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Historical Jesus|

Were Roman Leaders Told to Provide Decent Burials for Crucified Victims? (Really?)

In my previous post I tried to show why Craig’s argument that Roman governors on (widely!) isolated occasions showed clemency to prisoners (those not sentenced to death) has no relevance to the question of whether Jesus, condemned to crucifixion for treason against the Roman state, would have been allowed a decent burial, contrary to Roman practice.   The “clemency” argument – even in the sources that Craig himself cites, only seems to show that in cases that were completely unlike that of Jesus himself, Roman governors could on rare occasions be merciful and/or bribed. Craig goes on to say that this clemency was extended to the burial of executed criminals.  Now in theory, this should be relevant to the question of whether Pilate showed mercy on Jesus by allowing his body to be buried on the day of his execution.  But when you actually look at the evidence, once again it is not just irrelevant to Craig's argument, it actually supports the *opposite* view that is opposite to the one Craig wants to argue.  See for [...]

2023-07-28T10:55:42-04:00August 6th, 2023|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Historical Jesus|

Did Romans Show Clemency to Crucified Criminals?

In my previous post I began to discuss Craig Evan’s essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which was his attempt to show that the views I set forth in How Jesus Became God were flawed.  In his view, the New Testament portrayal of Jesus’ burial is almost certainly historical: Jesus really was buried, in a known tomb, on the afternoon of his death, immediately after he expired, by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who had, the night before, called for his execution.  My view is that this is entirely unlikely, that Jesus was probably left on his cross to suffer the ravages of time and, possibly, scavenging animals, as was the practice of Romans for crucified victims.  In no instance was this practice more constant than in the case of “enemies of the state,” anyone, for example, who was involved in an insurrection or who threatened a violent opposition to Roman rule (or was thought to have threatened).  Jesus himself, of course, was executed on just this charge, of [...]

2023-07-28T10:48:12-04:00August 5th, 2023|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Historical Jesus|

Alleged “Proof” That Crucified Jews Were Allowed Decent Burials

Now that I have restated my views about the burial of Jesus by citing passages from How Jesus Became God (HarperOne, 2014) and emphasized one particular general point – that it is of utmost importance to remember why Romans crucified people, and in particular why they crucified those who were guilty of insurrection, the threat of insurrection, or high treason (a point that I cannot stress enough: Jesus was executed for calling himself the King of the Jews – a political charge of treason against the state) – I can now begin to summarize the counter-arguments that Craig Evans has made in his relatively long response, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right.”   Despite this title, and despite the respect I have for Craig as a scholar, I have to say that in my judgment he gets virtually all the evidence precisely wrong. He focuses his counter-argument on two of my main points: the Roman practices of crucifixion and the character of Pontius Pilate in particular.  I will respond to all of his major claims – [...]

More Reasons for Thinking Jesus was Not Given a Decent Burial

  So far in this thread I have been laying out the argument found in my book How Jesus Became God of why I do not think Jesus was given a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea on the day he was crucified.  This will be the last post on the question. After this the fun begins.  My friend, New Testament scholar Craig Evans, laid out a detailed argument for why he thinks I am very wrong, as one of the essays in the response-book, How God Became Jesus.  Starting in the next post, in a new thread of a number of response-to-the-response posts, I will respond to Craig's arguments one-by-one, to show in turn why I don't find his arguments at all convincing. In my post yesterday I talked about one specific reason for doubting the tradition of Jesus' burial by Joseph of Arimathea.  Now I give two more reasons. ****************************** Greek and Roman Practices of Using Common Graves for Criminals My second reason for doubting that Jesus received a decent burial is that – [...]

Male Superiority in Antiquity

Why did ancient Greeks and Romans think that "men" were inherently superior to "women"?  Many people (and entire cultures) think that still today, of course, but for now I ain't goin' there.  I'm interested in understanding this understanding in the ancient world out of which Christianity grew, on the assumption that modern ideas have been handed down to us over the centuries so that most people simply think their views are "common sense," which, I suppose, they often are, since they are the sense commonly held. They often think, as a consequence, that they are therefore "naturally right," and with that I heartily disagree.  A majority opinion is not necessarily right or true.  The fact that for most of western history a majority of people thought the world came into existence just some thousands of years ago and would last 6000 years does not mean the view was right.  Just that it was widely held.   Both what is actually "true" and what is truly "natural" is not established by a show of hands. In any [...]

More on Love: Why Were Greek Men Especially Attracted to Prepubescent Boys?

What is it with Greek pederasty?  How could this be a thing, the widely accepted practice in classical Athens (at least) of an adult man taking an adolescent boy under his wing and into his bed, providing an education into the culture, social world, and politics of the city in exchange for sexual favors? I’ve given two posts on it to this point, and in this one I want to reflect on what it was all about – at least what one particular of it was all about.  My question:  Why were adolescent boys seen as particularly beautiful – rapturous – and desirable sex partners, apparently far more then women, even among men who were heterosexually active, including with their wives ?  Some of us today (who know a lot of teenagers) just don’t see the attraction.  But reading the ancient texts, it’s pretty clear that at least among the Athenian social elites, it was not even much debated:  Of *course* boys are greatly to be (especially) desired, sexually.   Not just to one older fellow [...]

2023-07-17T14:25:50-04:00July 18th, 2023|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

The Slippery Slope of Extreme DIAKRISIS (Discernment). A Platinum Post by Barry Haney

Here is a creative and imaginative Platinum guest post that explores key religious differences among various traditions in the early period of the church, through a plausible (fictional) conversation.   So, in 200 CE, a pagan, a Jew, and a Christian come into a wine bar.... These are some intriguing reflections.  What do you think? ****************************** I have a blog called, The Slippery Concept of Extreme Diakrisis. You might ask, what does diakrisis mean? Diakrisis is a Greek noun that occurs three times in the New Testament (Romans 14.1, 1 Corinthians 12:10, and Hebrews 5:14) and means distinction, explanation, discerning, or differentiation between good and bad. During my research of early Christianity, I imagined being a fly on the wall during an unlikely meeting between Bartholomew, a pagan, Serapion, a Christian, and Abraham, a Jew during the 2nd and third centuries CE, as they use the tool of diakrisis or discernment in their search for religious truth. My research led to me writing the following story, I will share with you.   The Incredible Meeting!   [...]

Can Christianity Be Seen as “Objective” Truth? Modern and Ancient Views.

In a previous post I pointed out that for over the past century modern evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity has been unusually focused on knowing the “objective” truths that can be “proved” about Christianity.  In recent times, some have argued evangelical Christianity has become far more focused on social and cultural issues than theological doctrines (when someone says that this is not the evangelical Christianity your grandfather knew, they are apparently talking about me….).  And I think that’s true.  But even so, apologetics is still BIG in that tradition, and it is almost always based on objective evaluation of the truth. One could argue that this evangelical obsession with religious truth was matched by the commitment to truth in the earliest years of Christianity.  Historically, this is one of the features of Christianity that made it distinctive among the religions of antiquity. Most people today don’t realize that ancient religions were almost never interested in “true beliefs.”  Pagan religions – by which I mean the polytheistic religions of the vast majority of people in the ancient [...]

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