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The Problem: Not Enough Killing! Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson

I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying these Platinum posts -- posts by Platinum members for Platinum members with Platinum Content!    Here is one that will take you aback--Doug Wadeson, grappling deeply with one of the most disturbing aspects of the Bible. ****************************** Recently we had lunch with a delightful Christian couple, very nice people.  They mentioned how their grandchildren were getting such good teaching at their church, especially the Old Testament stories.  I suggested, “That probably includes the story of Jericho?”  (Joshua 6) “Sure.” “Do you think they were taught what the soldiers were to do when the walls fell down?” “You mean, kill the people?” “Yes, every man, woman and child.  So, if I was teaching their Sunday School class, I would pose this question to make it more real for them: Suppose you were one of the Israelite soldiers and you entered a home in Jericho and found a family.  Now, would you kill the children first so they wouldn’t have to watch their parents die, or would you kill [...]

2022-09-20T18:10:00-04:00September 30th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reflections and Ruminations|

Did King David Actually Exist?

I am starting to do research for my next online course, to be given in November, dealing with the Hebrew Bible.  I'll be calling it "Finding Moses" and it will be dealing with four of the books of the Pentateuch (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and what we can actually know, historically, about the exodus from Egypt (Is there any archaeological evidence? Any reference to it in other texts outside the Bible?  Any reason to think it did, or reasons to think it did not, happen?) and about the law of Moses (Were Jews legalistic?  Did they have to keep the law for salvation?  Why do some of the laws seem so strange today?  Why do some people insist that some of the laws are still binding but others not?  etc.). One book I'll be rereading in thinking through the various historical issues of the Pentateuch is Israel Finkelstein and Neal Asher Silberman’s, The Bible Unearthed. I remembered I had talked about the book on the blog long ago - it's not about Moses, but [...]

2022-09-23T10:23:06-04:00September 20th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

A Major Forgery in the Hebrew Bible? Platinum Guest Post by Dennis Folds

I am pleased to publish this insightful and intriguing Platinum guest post by Dennis Folds, for all you fellow Platinum members.  Many of you are interested in Christian pseudepigrapha (= forgeries), especially those in the New Testament.  But what about the Old Testament?  Now *here* is a bold thesis!  Read it and remark! Remember: you too can submit a Platinum guest post.  It does not have to be sophisticated, learned, or novel.  Just write something you'd like to share with all of us, on anything at all connected to the blog and send it to me! ******************** Jeremiah Versus the Deuteronomist Forger   Dennis J. Folds, Ph.D. Given the interest in potential forgeries of NT books and other early Christian writings, I’d like to describe what may have been the most consequential forgery in the history of our Judeo-Christian faith:  the “discovery” of the long-lost book of the law of Moses, which purportedly contained the original covenant between YHWH and the Hebrews. The discovery is described in 2 Kings 22, during the renovation of the [...]

2022-08-08T12:55:40-04:00August 8th, 2022|Forgery in Antiquity, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

What’s the Point? Hey, *IS* There a Point? The Book of Ecclesiastes

In a previous post I began talking about the distinctive views of the book of Ecclesiastes, one of the real gems of the Hebrew Bible, a book that refuses to accept easy answers or blithe truisms about life, but faces reality head on.   No matter what we do or how we try to explain it away, life is short.  Very very short.  The author of course had no conception of what we know now about time in relation to lifespan.  What would he say if he knew that the world (what we would call the universe — something about which also he had no knowledge) was not a few thousand years old but 13.8 billion? My guess is that he would say the same thing he already does, but possibly with a few more exclamation points.   Given how incredibly brief our life is, even if we live to “old” age — what’s the point of it?  Is there a point?   I think there is.  And I find not just value but also hope in his [...]

2022-07-01T19:51:29-04:00June 30th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

A Skeptical View of Life … From the Bible!

To celebrate the tenth-year anniversary of the blog on this past April 18, I've been posting all the previous April 18 posts.  This one is from 2020; in it I discuss one of my favorite books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes.  The post was originally part of a series of posts on "Wisdom Literature" in the OT, as I indicate at the outset. ****************************** In my previous post I pointed to the “Wisdom” literature of the Old Testament (usually said to comprise Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes), suggesting that this is a good time for all of us to ingest some wisdom from those who went before.  The book of Ecclesiastes has long been my favorite in the Old Testament.  It seems so modern in so many ways.  Even though written over 2000 years ago, it considers ageless questions about what the *point* of it all is. If you don’t know it, it’s worth reading; it won’t take long.  If you do know it, it’s worth reading again.   To provide some orientation to the overall theme of [...]

2022-06-27T21:06:20-04:00June 28th, 2022|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Onan the Barbarian: How an obscure Bible character affected reproductive rights. Platinum Guest post by Douglas Wadeson MD

I'm pleased to post this intriguing contribution by your fellow Platinum member and Medical-Doctor- Not-Afraid-to-Talk-About-Onanism-In-a-Public-Forum Doug Wadeson.  Hey, it saves *me* the inconvenience of having to post on it! Seriously, it's a very interesting discussion.  Doug will be happy to address your questions and comments. I hope you too will consider submitting a post!  If you're interested, let me know. ****************************** As background, there was an ancient custom that if a man died without children then his brother was expected to marry the widow and have children with her so that the brother’s family line would not die out.  This was incorporated into the Jewish law: read Deuteronomy 25:5-10.  I particularly like the part where the widow gets to spit in the face of her brother-in-law if he refuses.  It is also interesting that it does not say what to do if the widow does not want to marry her brother-in-law: I suppose she had no choice, since the intent was to continue her late husband’s family line and her opinion didn’t matter (she’s just [...]

Who Buried Moses? Platinum Guest Post by Lou Suarez

Now *this* is a topic you probably haven't thought much about -- but it's really interesting.  And puzzling!  Platinum member Lou Suarez has written an intriguing assessment of a real conundrum in the Hebrew Bible that, as it turns out, proved significant in the Jewish tradition.  It has to do with the death and burial of Moses.  Read on! (And remember: you too can post for your fellow Platinums.  Your post does not have to be high-level scholarship: if you've got something you'd like to talk about, draft something up and get your thoughts out there to a very generous reading public!) ****************************** In Deuteronomy 34, YHVH tells Moses that, even though he has led YHVH's people out of enslavement in Egypt and through the wilderness to the edge of the Promised Land, he will not be allowed to cross over the Jordan River and take part in the Israelite conquest of Canaan. YHVH permits Moses to see, from the top of Mount Nebo, "the land of which [he] swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and [...]

2022-06-03T13:03:54-04:00May 31st, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Concerns for the Poor in the Jewish Tradition

I have begun to contrast the Christian views of wealth and the need for the rich to help the poor with typical pagan views that placed almost no emphasis on helping those in need.  It is impossible to understand the Christian emphasis on almsgiving without situating it in its originating context – the Jewish tradition, going all the way back in the oldest Scriptures of Israel. Unlike the pagan tradition, the Hebrew Bible consistently pronounces God’s concern for the poor and repeatedly instructs those who have means to assist them.  Thus in the Torah itself: “Give liberally and be ungrudging […], for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.  Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” (Deut. 15:9-11).   Many of the most emphatic passages occur, as one might expect, in the prophets: Blog members get beefy posts five times a [...]

Was The Messiah Supposed to Be Born of a Virgin?

Here in the lead-up to December 25, I am discussing some issues related to Jesus' birth.  As I mentioned in my previous post, in the entire New Testament, the story of the virgin birth is found only in Matthew and Luke.  Luke has a pretty straightforward explanation of why Jesus had to be born of a virgin: it's because he was (literally) the "Son of God."  That is, God is the one who got Mary pregnant, as the angel tells her at the Annunciation:  read Luke 1:31-35, and notice the angels' explanation: the Spirit of God will "come upon her ... SO THAT" the child born of her will be called "The Son of God." Matthew, though, has a different explanation.  For Matthew Jesus had to be born of a virgin because that is what was predicted in the Old Testament. This view fits in very well with Matthew's entire birth narrative of chapters 1-2.  Everything happens "to fulfill Scripture." Why was Jesus’ mother a virgin? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Isaiah [...]

Why Paul Persecuted the Christians

Why Paul Persecuted the Christians I have been side-tracked by other things, but now can get back to the thread I started to spin, or rather the tapestry I started to weave.  The ultimate question I’m puzzling over is how did Christianity become the dominant religion in the empire? My point at this stage is that before Christianity began to thrive, it was persecuted.  The persecutions go all the way back.  Our first Christian author is Paul, who must have converted to be a follower of Jesus just three years or so after Jesus’ death.  Paul tells us explicitly that before becoming a follower of Jesus he was a persecutor of the church.  And why was he persecuting it?  He doesn’t say directly, but my sense is that it was for a very basic reason.  He despised their message.  Specifically, he could not abide by what Christians were saying about Jesus.  Why was that a problem?  Because they insisted he was God’s messiah. Paul Persecuted the Church. So What Happened? In my previous post, I [...]

Matthew’s Fulfillment Citations

Fulfillment citations - one of the most distinctive aspects of Matthew’s infancy narrative is his insistence that everything that happened was a “fulfillment” of Scripture. Why was Jesus’ mother a virgin? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Isaiah 7:14: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son”) Why was he born in Bethlehem? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Micah 5:2: “And you, Bethlehem…from you shall come a ruler” Why did Joseph and the family escape to Egypt? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I have called my son”) Why did Herod have the boys two years and under killed? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Jeremiah 31.15 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation”) Why did Joseph and his family relocate to Nazareth? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes … well what does he quote, exactly? “He will be called a Nazorean.” Huh?) Fulfillment Citations These so-called “fulfillment citations” are found in Matthew and only in [...]

2022-05-28T18:02:20-04:00April 7th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Understanding the Old Testament! Joshua – 2 Kings as the Deuteronomistic History

I recently received a question about the books of Joshua and Judges: when were they written?  They are fascinating books -- flat out GREAT stories in them -- and need to be placed in the historical context of their author to be understood.  But when was that, and what ideas were guiding his narrative? I discuss such issues in my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction, right after my coverage of the Pentateuch.  Here is what I say there. ****************************** As we move now beyond the Pentateuch, we come to another collection of historical writings in the Hebrew Bible.   Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings are usually thought of and treated as a group of books, probably all written by the same author (or group of authors).  These books narrate the life of Israel once it comes to the Promised Land, as it conquers the peoples already dwelling there, divides up the land, lives in the land as a group of tribes, comes to be ruled by kings, and eventually [...]

2022-07-03T16:14:43-04:00April 3rd, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

“In the Beginning” (Part 2)

In my previous post I began to summarize the lectures that are available in my course: “In the Beginning: Myth, Legend, and History in the Book of Genesis.”  If you’re interested in the course, you can learn more about it on my personal website (which is not directly connected to the blog): www.bartehrman.com   Here I will give a synopsis of the final four lectures.   Lecture 3: The Ancient Tales of Genesis: Borrowings from the Wider Culture   Scholars and lay-readers alike were shocked in the mid 19th century to learn that versions of the most important stories of Genesis 1-11 were discovered in other (non-Israelite) parts of the Ancient Near East.  In fact, in many cases these other non-biblical versions can be shown to be much older than those in Genesis. There is, for example, a story of creation from ancient Canaan called the Enuma Elish, which is different in many ways from the story in Genesis 1, but with numerous similarities as well both in the overall concept and sometimes even with [...]

2022-03-06T13:08:34-05:00March 6th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum, Video Media|

In the Beginning: Myth, Legend, and History in the Book of Genesis (Part 1)

As I have mentioned before, I have started a small business on the side, Bart Ehrman Professional Services (BEPS).  At this point it involves booking speaking engagements, providing consultations with authors of various kinds, and online courses.  The online courses, of course, are a way of disseminating knowledge about the Bible, the historical Jesus, the history of Christianity, and so on. BEPS is a separate commercial endeavor for me and I am diligently keeping it distinct from the blog, except to announce what I’m up to there for blog members who might be interested.  You can also learn more about it on my website, www.bartehrman.com This past month I produced a six-lecture course called “In the Beginning: Myth, Legend, and History in the Book of Genesis.”  This is the first of possibly many courses in a long series called “How Scholars Read the Bible.” The entire series will be devoted to showing what critical scholars think, believe, and argue about the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, but also to show why they think what [...]

2022-03-06T13:08:06-05:00March 5th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum, Video Media|

Where Did the Apocalyptic Views of Jesus (and others) Come From?

I have spent a few posts explaining the overarching views of the ancient Hebrew prophets; in this lecture I want to explain how a very different "apocalyptic" view -- one embraced by Jesus, John the Baptist before him, and the earliest Christians after him -- emerged within ancient Israel.  It has to do with how historical circumstances forced thinkers in Israel to re-evaluate what the prophets had said.   Here is the simple version of the story, as I lay it out in my textbook on the Bible, edited a bit. ****************************** The Prophetic Perspective We have seen that the classical prophets of the Hebrew Bible differed from one another in a number of ways, in the historical contexts that they addressed, in their manner of addressing them, and in the specifics of their messages.  But there are certain common features that tie all the prophets together, especially with respect to their understanding of God, his reaction to Israel’s failure to do his will, and the coming disasters that will occur as a result.  If you [...]

2022-01-18T18:06:19-05:00January 25th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Historical Jesus|

The Prophets of Scripture: A Brief Summary of their Message and Mission

Let me repeat what I said at the outset of this thread in order to explain where it's going now. A couple of weeks ago I decided I wanted to give a couple of posts on the differences between the understandings  of “salvation” in Jesus and Paul; then I realized to explain either one I would have to go over the basic ideas of Jewish apocalypticism; then it occurred to me that it would be useful to address the historical roots and development of apocalypticism; then I realized I couldn’t really do that without talking about the classical prophets of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.).  But then it occurred to me that to do that I’d have to explain what “prophecy” even was in the OT, before the classical prophets. I've seen this as an important discussion, since most Christian readers assume that the prophets of the Bible were mainly interested in predicting the coming of Jesus, or at least the coming of some kind of messiah who would save the people by suffering [...]

2022-01-11T10:38:08-05:00January 20th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

The Message of First Isaiah

I've been talking about the prophets of the Hebrew Bible and giving some background on one of the earliest in particular, Isaiah of Jerusalem.  Here I'd like to summarize what he teaches to help provide an idea of the sorts of things Israelite prophets were saying.  A you'll see, Isaiah is deeply involved with political and military issues connected with his nation. The following brief exposition comes from my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction. ****************************** The message of Isaiah, in essence, is that the people of Judah (the southern kingdom) have strayed from God; this is most evident in the social injustice that pervades society, but it is the leaders of the people who are principally at fault. These problems cannot be fixed simply by attending to proper religious rituals. The nation will be punished by God at the hands of the Assyrians. Right off the bat Isaiah laments how the people of Israel (meaning, in this case, Judah) have fallen away from God. God had raised them as his own children, [...]

2022-01-11T10:32:54-05:00January 19th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Is the Book of Isaiah the Books of Three “Isaiahs”?

Divisions of the Book of Isaiah Before using the book of Isaiah to explain the kinds of things the Hebrew prophets generally proclaimed, I need to say something about the peculiarity of this long, 66-chapter writing in particular. A number of the books of the Bible appear to have been edited by later redactors -- for example, by someone who added a  conclusion in light of the new situation in which he was living.  In the case of Isaiah, however, we are dealing with a situation that is far, far more extreme. For well over a century scholars have recognized that major portions of the book do not actually derive from Isaiah of Jerusalem. The evidence is that a number of passages do not fit into Isaiah’s own historical context.   Evidence of Multiple Authors Most of the first 39 chapters of Isaiah clearly date to the ministry of Isaiah of Jerusalem in the eighth century b.c.e. This is obviously true of the very end of the section, written when Hezekiah was king of Judah [...]

2022-01-11T10:31:00-05:00January 16th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

How Can We Understand the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible? Isaiah as a Case Study

I have started to discuss the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, in large part to correct widespread misunderstandings of what they were doing and what their books were about, and in part to emphasize just how interesting and important they are.  These are Israelite teachers who believe that God was delivering a message through them to the crises they were facing in their time. To understand their message, we have to know what the particular crises were – there were many different ones confronted by different prophets, and each had a message to deliver in the face of the one he was addressing. Even so, there is a broad consistency among the messages you will find in the prophets – though it is not at all what most people tend to think.  These prophets were not anticipating a messiah to come hundreds of years later or a cataclysmic end of the world to come thousands of years later.  They were talking about their own situations and what God wanted to be done – and what [...]

2022-01-11T10:22:00-05:00January 15th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Aren’t They Predicting the Future? More on the Prophets of the Old Testament

In my previous post I began to explain who the prophets of Scripture are, what they stand for, and what their message is.  In my experience, most people -- even most Bible readers -- don't actually know.  The general idea appears to be that prophets were all about predicting the coming of Jesus and the end of the world.  Nope.  Just read them and see. Here I can give some broad historical information about the prophets to get the ball rolling.  I am taking this discussion from my book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction, 2nd ed.  (Oxford University Press), slightly edited.   The Narrative Prophets: Elijah and Elisha The earliest major prophets of the Old Testament (after Moses) show up in the narratives of the collection of books scholars call the Deuteronomistic History  (the historical books that come right after the Pentateuch: Joshua through 2 Kings which tell about the establishment and early centuries of the nation of Israel).  These  prophets are not known to have left anything in writing (in contrast to [...]

2022-01-02T13:07:23-05:00January 12th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|
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