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Heresy and Orthodoxy

My PhD Seminar: Early Christian Apocrypha

A couple of weeks ago I shared on the blog the syllabus for my undergraduate class, “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.”  Periodically I’ll discuss on the blog what I’m doing in that class.  But I thought today I could provide the syllabus for my other course, a PhD Seminar that meets for three-hours, once a week, to discuss “Early Christian Apocrypha.”   Here it is! ************************************************************************************** Reli 801: Early Christian Apocrypha Instructor: Bart D. Ehrman Fall 2013 The Early Christian Apocrypha are an amorphous collection of early and medieval Christian writings, many of which were forged in the names of the apostles.  They have long been a subject of fascination among scholars.  In this course we will consider a selection of the most interesting and historically significant examples. Closely connected with the apocrypha are the writings that eventually made it into the New Testament; part of the course will involve understanding the process by which some early Christian texts came to be included among the canonical scriptures whereas others came to be excluded. We will engage [...]

A Final Post (!) on Luke 3:22

I would like to thank all the readers who have indulged me on this rather heavy thread of posts on the text of Luke 3:22.   I certainly do not mean to provide a steady diet of hard-hitting scholarship on the blog, and I know that for some of you, this thread has been rather boring and uninteresting.   But I do think that every now and then, maybe a couple of times a year, it is good to peel back the layers and go at it at a deeper level of scholarship, if nothing else to show the world at large how this kind of thing gets done at a more serious level. My book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, from which these posts have come, is all at this level.   If you’ve enjoyed the posts (I know a couple of people have!) you may want to check out the book.  If you’ve found them rather tedious, then you should be pleased to know that I will go back to less in-depth posts starting with my [...]

Luke 3:22 — More on What Luke Would Have Written

In yesterday’s post I started to discuss the “intrinsic probabilities” that can help us establish the text of Luke 3:22.  This kind of probability looks to determine what an author himself (as opposed to a scribe copying his text) would have been likely to write.  That is determined by considering his writing style, vocabulary, theological views, narrative interests and so on, and determining which of the available readings fits with these established patterns of usage better than the other(s).   What I’’ll be arguing in this post, again, taken from The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, is that the reading found only in Codex Bezae coincides more closely with the view of Jesus’ baptism that can be found elsewhere in the two-volume work of Luke-Acts.  The first paragraph below is the one that ended yesterday’s post, to provide some context for the following observations. ***************************************************************************************************************** More fruitful is an assessment of the other references to Jesus’ baptism throughout Luke’s work, “backward glances,” as it were, that provide clues concerning what happened at that point of the narrative. [...]

Luke 3:22 — What Luke Himself Would Have Written

In my previous post I began to look at the “internal” evidence that the voice at Jesus’ baptism in Luke’s Gospel said the words that are found among Greek manuscripts *only* in Codex Bezae of the early fifth century: “You are my son, today I have begotten you,” as opposed to the words found in all the other Greek manuscripts (the voice as recorded also in Mark): “You are my son, in you I am well-pleased.” If you’ll recall, there are two kinds of internal evidence that scholars consider: “transcriptional probabilities” (which reading would a scribe more likely have preferred and therefore created by changing the text) and “intrinsic probabilities (which reading would the author have been more likely to have written originally). The last post was on transcriptional probabilities showing that the reading in Codex Bezae is probably the older form of the text. Now in this blog and the next one (or two) I will discuss the “intrinsic probabilities,” which point in the same direction. All of these arguments are meant to work [...]

Early Christianity in Egypt

About two months ago, in May, I was feeling pretty burned out; I had just finished my manuscript on How Jesus Became God and my brain was reasonably fried. At that point, I had trouble imagining being able to come up with posts for the blog for a while, and so I asked if anyone had any questions they would like to have answered. And so once again I have learned my lesson: Be careful what you ask for! Since then I’ve been answering the questions I received (the long series of posts on Matthew were ultimately from one of the questions). I’m, maybe, half way through the list. And questions keep coming in. So I think what I’m going to TRY to do now is simply answer the remaining ones, one question at a time, one per post (unless I get carried away again, as I did with the Matthew question). Feel free to keep asking questions if there are any that are burning on your brain; but realize that it may take a [...]

More on Jews, Christians, and the Battle for Scripture

In yesterday’s post I indicated that my next trade book, to be written in a couple of years, would deal with the question of Jews and Christians, centered on the question of why Christians kept the Old Testament and how doing so led to controversies with Jews. The following is how I set up the issue that I will be addressing. The second-century Christian theologian Marcion maintained that the Old Testament was the Scripture of the Jews. Christians, however, were not Jews; they were followers of Jesus. Moreover, the loving God of Jesus was not the wrathful God of the Jews. For Marcion, Jews and Christians had nothing in common except in a negative sense: the Jews represented everything the Christians rejected, including the inferior, legalistic God who chose the Jewish people and gave them their Scriptures. Christians have their own beneficent and salvation-bringing God, and their own Scriptures. For Marcion, the Old Testament is not part of the Christian Bible. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for [...]

The Next Trade Book: Jews and Christians

QUESTION: I was wondering if someday you will write a book on the rise of anti-Judaism in early Christian circles ?  If you were to write such a book, what would the title and the subtitle be ? RESPONSE: As it turns out, that is indeed to be the topic of my next trade book, which I plan to write in a couple of years.  As I have said on this blog before, I try to alternate the kinds of books I write:  trade books for a general audience, textbooks for college students, and scholarly books for the six people in the world who really care.   Now that I am putting the finishing touches on my trade book How Jesus Became God, I am getting ready to work on my next scholarly book.  This will be a heavy-hitting scholarly commentary on the early Christian Greek Gospel fragments from the early second century, including most notably the Gospel of Peter, Papyrus Egerton 2, the Jewish Christian Gospels (Gospel according to the Hebrews; Gospel of the Nazareans; [...]

An Ancient Accusation of Textual Tampering

I will get back to my discussion of Christology soon (tomorrow?) but wanted to take a break and talk about something else that came up in my reading today.   I’m working diligently on finishing the research for my next book How Jesus Became God.  My goal is to finish all the research in about three weeks.   Unfortunately, I can’t be devoting my entire attention to the research just now because I have other things hanging fire.  I’m putting the final touches on The Other Gospels manuscript, which I hope to have finished this week; and next week I will be in Washington D.C. recording a 24-lecture course for the Teaching Company on “The Greatest Controversies in Early Christianity.”  That will take the entire week, and when I won’t be giving a lecture (six a day), I’ll be too exhausted and brain dead to think about much anything else.   But after that I have a few weeks to work, with only weekends away for giving lectures in various spots.  And I hope to start writing about [...]

An Important and Relevant Textual Variant in Luke 2

I’d like to address the issue of early Christology from a slightly different angle in this post. So far I have talked about how an “exaltation” Christology, in which Jesus, the man, is made the Son of God at some point of his existence can be found in various parts of the New Testament (Rom 1:3-4; speeches in Acts), and how different early Christians located that exaltation to different moments in Jesus’ existence (resurrection, baptism, birth, pre-existence). As it turns out, this view of Christology relates to an important textual variant in the Gospel of Luke. So, by way of background for anyone new to this kind of discussion. We don’t have the original copy of Luke’s Gospel (or of any other NT book) (or, actually, of any book at all from the ancient world!). What we have are copies made from copies made from copies that were made from copies. We have thousands of copies of the NT from the centuries before the invention of printing. And these thousands of copies have hundreds of [...]

Gospel of the Savior

I’ve decided today to take a brief break from my discussions of early Christology to post on something else (tomorrow I’m back to Christology, if all goes according to plan).   As I think I have mentioned, my colleague Zlatko Plese and I are in the process of publishing an English-only version of our book The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations.  That is, we are not including the Greek, Latin, and Coptic texts, but only the English translations.   I have adjusted the Introductions for a lay-audience.   We are adding a couple of texts that we did not include in the quadri-lingual edition, most notably “The Gospel of the Savior.”   This text is not well known outside the ranks of scholars of the early Christian apocrypha, and so I thought I would mention it here.  The following, in fact, is a draft of my Introduction (which will include bibliography as well): ***************************************************************************** The Gospel of the Savior is one of the most recent Gospels to become available to public view, having been first announced in the mid [...]

Paul’s “Gospel” and Marcion

Question: (Here is a question that has been raised about one of my posts. The question begins with a quotation from what I said, in contrast to something else I said, which seems to contradict it. Far be it from me every to eschew contradictions! :) But in this case, I have been misunderstood, probably because of the poor way I phrased it. A couple of people have asked me about the same thing, so here’s the gist of their questions, in the form of one iteration). “The apostle Paul – well-connected and well-traveled and familiar with lots of churches – shows no knowledge that such a thing as Gospels exist.” I should have asked you about this earlier. I was surprised when, back in a post on Marcion, you said the other “gospel” Paul talked about was “a version of our Gospel of Luke.” Would you explain? RESPONSE: OK, so how can I have it both ways? How can I say that Paul did not know about any Gospels AND say that Marcion used [...]

Lost Gospels That Are Still Lost 3: The Greater Questions of Mary

I have been discussing some of the Gospels that we know about because they are mentioned, or even quoted, by church fathers, but that no longer survive. Another, particularly intriguing, Gospel like this – one that I desperately wish we had, for reasons that will soon become clear -- is known as “The Greater Questions of Mary” (i.e., of Mary Magdalene). My following comments on it are more or less lifted from my Introduction in the recent Apocryphal Gospels volume. One of the “great questions” for scholars is whether such a book ever really did exist. It is mentioned only once in ancient literature, in a highly charged polemical context by Epiphanius of Salamis, a Christian heresy-hunter who was prone to exaggeration and fabrication, who was incautious at best in his attacks against heretical sects in his book the Panarion (= “Medicine Chest”; in it Epiphanius supplies the “antidotes” for the “snake-bites of heresy”). The most notorious of the groups that Epiphanius attacks were known by a variety of names, including the “Phibionites.” According to [...]

Lost Gospels That Are Still Lost 2: The Gospel of Basilides

In my previous post I started a mini-series on Gospels that we know about but that are still lost. One of the early Gnostic figures mentioned by the late-second century heresy-hunter Irenaeus was a man named Basilides. As with the Cainites, we do not have any writings from Basilides or any of his followers, and so all we know about these people and their writings is what authors like Irenaeus tell us. That is somewhat like asking Karl Rove for a fair assessment of Obamacare. You have to take the description with a pound of salt. We don’t know if Basilides actually had a Gospel, but Irenaeus does tell us of an episode from the life of Jesus from one of the writings used by Basilides, so it’s completely plausible that this was found in a Gospel book available to him (alternatively, it could simply have been a tradition he passed along). It has to do with Jesus’ crucifixion. And it’s an amazing story. To understand Basilides’ account of the crucifixion, it’s important to realize [...]

Lost Gospels That Are Still Lost 1

QUESTION: Are there any lost gospels mentioned by early Christian authors that have not been discovered yet? RESPONSE: Ah, this is a great question. The answer is definitely yes. But I don’t think I know all of them, and it would be worth while compiling a list. Maybe someone has compiled one already. In fact, someone probably has! I just don’t recall ever seeing one. But there are indeed Gospels mentioned by Christian authors that we no longer have. I think I’ll spend a few posts talking about some of them, starting in this post with the best known instance – one that no longer applies since it has now been found. This of course is (not the Gospel of Jesus’ wife – which is never mentioned by any ancient source – but) the Gospel of Judas, mentioned by the church father Ireanaeus as used by the Gnostic sect known as the Cainites, but until just a few years ago, completely unknown. I was involved with the publication of the Gospel of Judas – National [...]

The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations

I mentioned in my previous post that by a matter of serendipity, I decided to produce a bi-lingual edition of the Apocryphal Gospels. My idea was to make available to scholars who wanted easy access to (virtually all) the non-canonical Gospels in the original language a one-volume edition, and to make available to everyone, whether scholars or not, solid and new English translations of all these works. The original idea was to include all the early and important Gospels (up to the Middle Ages) in Greek, Latin, and English. But when I switched publishers to Oxford, I realized that I could do more than that, and decided to include some in Coptic as well. Had I been really ambitious I could have gone for some in other languages, but that would have stretched me too far. The Coptic itself was a stretch.  I had read Coptic at a fairly basic level for years, but I was no expert.   And so I decided to ask my colleague Zlatko Plese to join me in producing the volume.   [...]

2020-04-03T19:13:50-04:00November 9th, 2012|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha, Heresy and Orthodoxy|

Translating the Apostolic Fathers

In my last post I answered a question about whether I would ever publish a translation of the New Testament. (Short answer: almost certainly not!). But I want to take a couple of posts to talk about the work of translation. There is a very big difference between being able to read an ancient text in its ancient language (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, whatever) and producing a translation of it for publication. You might think that it’s all basically the same thing: if you can read it, you can publish a translation of it. But as it turns out, it’s not that simple. I didn’t realize this for years and years, until I started publishing translations of ancient texts. My first experience was about fifteen years ago now, when I was asked to do a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library. Here I’ll give some background on that project and the series it appeared in, and in the next post I’ll talk about the difficulties of producing a translation. FOR [...]

Does Luke Combat a Docetic Christology?

QUESTION: There are some scholars who believe that the resurrection story found in Luke's gospel is an antidocetic narrative ( Gerd Ludemann and Charles Talbert, for instance). According to these scholars when the risen Jesus performs acts designed to show his disciples that he has an actual body of flesh and isn't some phantom or demon, the story is designed to refute the heresy of docetism that existed during the time that Luke wrote his gospel. I have never seen convincing evidence for this. What is your take on this? Do you agree with these scholars? If so, why? If not, what is your opinion? RESPONSE: Yeah, this is a tough one. I think I need to provide some background for some of the people reading the blog. The term “Docetism” comes from the Greek word dokeo which means “to seem” or “to appear.” The term came to be used in reference to certain Christians and Christian groups who maintained that Jesus was not a real flesh and blood being, but that he only “seemed” [...]

Why Did Scribes Add the Bloody Sweat?

I have explained why it is almost certain that Luke did not himself write the passage describing Jesus “sweating blood” in Luke 22:43-44: the passage is not found in some of our oldest and best manuscripts, it intrudes in a context that otherwise is structured as a clear chiasmus, and it presents a view of Jesus going to his death precisely at odds with what Luke has produced otherwise. Whereas Luke goes out of his way to portray Jesus as calm and in control in the ace of death – evidently to provide a model to his readers about how they too suffer when they experience persecution – these verses show him in deep anguish to the point of needing heavenly support by an angel, as he sweats great drops as of blood. But if the verses were not originally in Luke, why were they added by scribes? The key to answering the question comes from considering two data.   First, when were the verses added to the text?  And second, how were they first “used” [...]

Why Did “Orthodox” Christianity Win: Part 2

In my previous post I talked about the “Eusebian model” for understanding the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy in earliest Christianity, and then about the counter-view set forth by Walter Bauer in his important study of 1934. What do scholars think today? Only the most conservative scholars (fundamentalists and extremely conservative evangelical Christian scholars) still hold to a Eusebian view. For them, not only was Eusebius’s form of orthodoxy taught by Jesus (who told his disciples that he was fully God and fully man, etc.), but their *own* view of the faith was taught by both Jesus and all his disciples. No one else thinks so. Jesus did not teach his disciples the Nicene Creed! FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!! Bauer’s view has been enormously influential on critical scholarship, although no one today accepts the details of Bauer’s very detailed exposition.  And everyone recognizes that there are major problems with the case that Bauer built.  Many of [...]

Why Did “Orthodox” Christianity Win?

QUESTION: What I have been wondering lately is "why" did Christianity win out. There seemed to be much competition in the ancient world between the pagan polytheisms and monotheistic religions. Competition not only between the Jewish religion and Christian religion but within Christianity. I would be interested in why you think the current version of Christianity won out. Was it purely a matter of cultural evolution and this form of Christianity seemed to benefit people the most, easiest to adhere to, most flexible. RESPONSE: In my previous post I tried to deal (briefly!) with the first part of this question: why did Christianity succeed in the first place, so that it eventually became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.  In this post I will deal (briefly again!) with the second question: why did a certain form of Christianity – widely labeled “orthodox” – end up triumphing within Christianity, when there were so many other forms of Christianity that were competing for dominance? This too is not at all an easy question, and I have [...]

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