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An Eyewitness Account of Jesus’ Crucifixion!

Here is another modern Gospel forgery that has over the years won over readers who have thought it was authentic.  It's intriguing stuff: an eyewitness account of Jesus' death! Again, this is taken from my book Forged: Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (HarperOne, 2010). ****************************** An equally interesting modern apocryphon, The Crucifixion of Jesus, by an Eye-Witness, deals not with the beginning of Jesus’ adult life, before his ministry, but with its ending and aftermath. [1] The account comes in the form of a letter written, in Latin, seven years after Jesus’ crucifixion, from a leader of the mysterious Jewish sect of the Essenes in Jerusalem to another Essene leader who lived in Alexandria, Egypt.  All elements of the supernatural are completely stripped away from the account’s description of Jesus’ life and death.  Jesus is shown to have led a completely human life and to have died a completely human death.  But not on the cross.  Jesus survived his own crucifixion and lived for another six months. The account [...]

2022-03-13T19:27:56-04:00March 16th, 2022|Christian Apocrypha, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Young Jesus with the Brahmins in India!

In my last post I talked about a humorous Gospel forgery by a modern scholar.  There are a number of other forgeries of Gospels done in (relatively) modern times -- especially in the nineteenth century -- which were not particularly risible but were far more successful.  I still get asked about them today, especially by people who don't know what to think about them or, even more, people who assure me they are true. I talk about them in the last chapter of my book Forged (HarperOne, 2011).   Here's one of the most successful, as I discuss there. ****************************** One of the most widely disseminated modern forgeries is called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ.[1]  From this account we learn that Jesus went to India during his formative teen years, the “lost years” before his public ministry, and there learned the secrets of the East.  The book made a big splash when it appeared in English in 1926; but as it turns out, it had already been exposed as a fraud more than thirty years [...]

A Humorous Modern Gospel Forgery

In a previous post I gave the introduction to my book about ancient forgery, Forged, written for a general audience.  Posting it reminded me of a modern forgery that was done by a bona fide scholar -- of a Gospel text!  I heard the story numerous times because the fraud was exposed by my own teacher, Bruce Metzger.   I think the first time I wrote about the story was in my book Lost Christianities (Oxford University Press, 2003).  Here is what I said there: ****************************** Some forgeries have been perpetrated in modern times, of direct relevance to our current study of early Christian apocrypha.  One might think that in our day and age, no one would be so deceitful as to try and pawn off any first hand accounts of Jesus as authentic.  But in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Strange Gospels appear regularly, if you know where to look for them.[1]  Often these record incidents in the “lost years” of Jesus – e.g., accounts of Jesus as a child or a young [...]

Who Knew? Our Oldest Commentary on the Book of Revelation

One of the great things about being a research scholar is that if you’re diligent and paying attention, you learn new stuff all the time.  For someone with an inquiring mind, it’s like striking gold with some fair regularity.  And if you dig deep enough, you find things that very few people know about – often even scholars within your own field. I first read the book of Revelation when I was seventeen; I had a college course on it two years later; and have studied it ever since.  But it was not until a couple of years ago that I came to know something about the very oldest commentary we have on the book.  Old not in the sense that it was written in, say, the 18th century, but old in the sense that it was written in the THIRD century.  That’s old. The commentary was written by a little-known church leader, Victorinus, who was bishop of Pettau (modern Ptuj in Slovenia).  We don’t know a lot about him.  He wrote a number of [...]

2021-09-30T09:41:57-04:00October 12th, 2021|History of Biblical Scholarship, Revelation of John|

Another Problem with the NRSV: Knowing What To Translate

SORRY Y'ALL.  AS roughly 82,000 people have pointed out to me: This post was already posted four days ago.  It was a glich in the system.  The system is ... my brain.  UGH.   So if you read Oct. 6, don't bother today!.... Translators of the Bible have a terrifically complicated and difficult (and usually thankless) task.  I always knew that, of course, with my head – ever since taking Greek back in college.  But I did not relate to the problems emotionally until I started publishing translations of my own.  It’s HARD.  My first translation project was a two-volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (published by Harvard University Press). It was at that point that I realized that what translators do is not at all what the rest of us do who can teach the ancient languages and read Greek and assign Greek translation exercises to classes of graduate students. When you are with a class of students, you can sit around the table, discuss the various options about how [...]

A More Serious (Specific) Problem with the NRSV Translation

In my last post I mentioned John 3:22 as a verse that is mistranslated in the NRSV, leading to problems; but the problems of interpretation are not that enormous there – the translators simply removed an internal inconsistency by the way they mistranslated the verse. This second problem, the subject of this post, is more severe.  A mistranslation has completely altered the meaning of a passage; it is the result of a very good motive – to make the translation gender-inclusive. But motive has led to a very bad result in this case. The policy of the NRSV was to render gender neutral statements in a gender neutral way.  If a passage refers to humans in general, then it does not make sense to translate it as referring only to “men” (or only to “women” for that matter).  And so instead of “man” the translators chose to use “person” or “human” or – if the mortality of people is the issue – “mortals” or … whatever; instead of “men” they used “people,” “humans,” etc.   That’s [...]

2021-09-25T11:55:06-04:00October 3rd, 2021|Catholic Epistles, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Working as a Secretary for the New Revised Standard Version

Here I continue with some reminiscences of my work with my mentor Bruce Metzger. ****************************** When I was still a graduate student in the PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, Metzger invited me to serve as a secretary for the committee that was producing the new revision of the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible. The RSV (on which the new translation was to be based) had come out in 1952, and it had caused a huge furor at the time. It was an “official” revision of the King James Bible, that was supposed to update the language (English has changed a lot since 1611), to take into consideration new manuscript discoveries (especially important for the New Testament, since the KJV was based on only a few medieval manuscripts that were not of very high quality; hundreds of better ones had since been discovered, and to incorporate the findings of modern Biblical scholarship). The RSV of 1952 was an “official” translation because it was authorized by the National Council of Churches in the U.S. [...]

2021-09-16T10:22:40-04:00September 16th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, History of Biblical Scholarship|

The Reconstruction of Q: Platinum Guest Post by Steve Sutter

Here is an interesting and informative post on the Q source, provided for us by Steve Sutter. I have been spacing out these Platinum posts, in part because the supply is limited (and the queue almost gone!).   If you have one to submit: go for it!  You can get your ideas out there, people can respond, you can respond back, and it's all good. *************************** The Earliest Gospel “Q” was Lost -- But Reconstructed By: Steve Sutter, M.S. Presque Isle, Maine   The idea of a collection of sayings of Jesus lying behind the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is not a new idea. In 1908, Dr. Adolf von Harnack, a Lutheran theologian and Professor of Church History at the University of Berlin, authored a book entitled The Sayings of Jesus -- The Second Source of St. Matthew and St. Luke. It’s intriguing that in Harnack’s day, at least some historical investigators hypothesized that Jesus was “a genuine Buddhist, who had, however, come under the influence of ideas originating in ancient Babylon, Persia, Egypt, and [...]

2021-06-19T08:01:43-04:00June 19th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

How Then Do Most Ancient Manuscripts Get Discovered?

I have been discussing documents from early Christianity that I would very much like to have see with my own eyes.  In my last post I mentioned the fact that documents that *do* tend to be discovered are either copies of books we already have (the Gospel of John, the book of Revelation, etc.) or of books that we did not previously know existed (the Letter of Diognetus, or most of the writings in the Nag Hammadi library). Here is a related question from a reader of the blog. QUESTION: Are there researchers who systematically attempt to find these ancient documents or when documents come to light is it pretty much by chance? ANSWER: Well, not so much, not these days. For a simple reason: how does one go about trying to discover a manuscript? Do you fly to Egypt, hire a taxi to take you out to the desert, and start digging? There were basically two ways that past researchers tried to discover manuscripts. Sometimes they were spectacularly successful. But one of these ways [...]

How Do We Know What Christians Thought about Jesus BEFORE the New Testament?

Yesterday I posted the first in what will be a series of reflections on the earliest Christian Christologies (understandings of Christ).  I began to outline what I take to be the earliest Christology of all. Jesus and his followers, I maintained, saw him(self) as a man and nothing more than a man (who was a great teacher, a prophet, and the future messiah of the coming kingdom – but human through and through, nothing else). But once these followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead, they altered their view to begin to think that God had exalted him to heaven and made him his specially anointed one, his Son, who would indeed be the future messiah and who would bring in that Kingdom himself when he returned from heaven as the Son of Man. And so, why do I think that this Christological view – that God made Jesus his Son at the resurrection, the one who reigns *now* (and so is already the “ruler” or the “anointed one” or [...]

2021-01-18T09:54:44-05:00January 28th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem? Matthew’s Version….

It is virtually certain that Jesus’ was raised in the small hamlet of Nazareth in Galilee, the northern part of Israel.   All of our sources agree that he was from there, and it is very hard to imagine why a Christian story teller would have made that up (since there was no prestige about the place: no one had ever even heard of it!).    But now the question is whether that was also his place of birth. The only two accounts we have of Jesus’ birth, Matthew and Luke, independently claim that even though he was raised in Nazareth, he was actually born in Bethlehem.   So isn’t that the more likely scenario?  Born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth?   You might think so, given the fact that this is what is stated in our only two sources of information, and that they independently agree about the matter (based on their own sources, the no longer existing M – Matthew’s source or sources – and the no longer existing L – Luke’s source or sources). But [...]

2020-12-13T21:35:28-05:00December 23rd, 2020|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Inclusive Language in Bible Translation?

One more issue connected with Bible translations: what does one do with shifts in usage in the English language toward inclusive language.  It's a hot topic, and somehow I suspect one that a lot of people on the blog have strong views of.  I certainly have them.  I talked about it once on the blog, in connection with my work with the NRSV Translation Committee. ******************************************** One of the most difficult issues that the New Revised Standard Version translation committee had to address involved the use of inclusive language.  Part of the problem was that this issue was not a generally recognized issue (by the wider reading public) when the translators began their work, but was very much an issue when they were already finished with a large chunk of it.  The translators were mainly senior scholars who had acquired their linguistic skills before virtually anyone in the academy knew (or at least said) that there even was a problem with inclusivity, and so they themselves were learning how to communicate in the new idiom.  [...]

“The Case for Christ”? The New Testament Review Podcast

The case for Christ.  Here now is the second guest post by Duke Ph.D. students Ian Mills and Laura Robinson, dealing with their podcast  New Testament Review.   In this one, they describe one of their more unusual podcasts.  As you'll see, they deal with extremely interesting material for anyone interested in real scholarship on early Christianity-- as opposed to the (often very popular) books by people who don't know or understand scholarship but try to denigrate it in order to "prove" their own sectarian views.   Blog Post #2 New Testament Review on Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ As outlined in our last post, the New Testament Review podcast is dedicated to summarizing influential pieces of New Testament scholarship and their reception in the field. Every work we cover has transformed how later scholarship treats a specific topic or text. Every work, that is, except one. On April 1st, 2019, we released an episode with the title, “Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ.” Lee Strobel is a former journalist turned evangelical Christian apologist. His [...]

2022-06-12T22:40:22-04:00August 19th, 2020|History of Biblical Scholarship, Public Forum|

A Podcast of Interest to You! Guest post by Ian Mills and Laura Robinson

If you are interested in learning more about scholarship on the New Testament, but at a lay person's level, this is the post for you!  It is about a podcast that might be (probably is) right up your alley, set up and run by two graduate students from Duke University who have worked with me over the past few years. One of the real pleasures of teaching graduate students in New Testament/early Christianity at UNC is that Duke is just ten miles away, with its own graduate program.  The New Testament program at Duke program in New Testament has a different focus from ours here at at UNC.  To put it in the most simple terms, at UNC we have a more historically-focused approach and at Duke they have a more interpretation-focused approach.   Of course, you can't do one without the other.  But I tend to teach historical topics to our students, with interpretation of texts as part of what we do; many of their classes are more focused on interpretation with history as the [...]

2020-08-14T15:25:05-04:00August 14th, 2020|History of Biblical Scholarship, Public Forum|

Proving the Bible Is True: The Museum of the Bible. Guest Post by Cavan Concannon

Here now is the second of three posts on the Museum of the Bible, this one by Cavan Concannon, one of the editors of the newly released volume, The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction.  One of the most amazing lines in this post is the claim made by a representative of the museum that: "The Bible has been carefully transmitted through time."   Wow!  OK then....   You gotta wonder what this fellow (whom Cavan quotes) is thinking....    What I myself am thinking is that he has a different definition of "carefully" from me.... Again, Cavan will be happy to respond to your comments. - Cavan Concannon is the editor of The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction, and the author of Assembling Early Christianity and Profaning Paul, among other works. **********************************************************   Proving the Bible: Archaeology, Objects, and Evangelical Theology at the Museum of the Bible By Cavan Concannon   The Museum of the Bible (MOTB) is no stranger to scandal. In our previous post, we described how, in their quest for [...]

2021-04-19T23:39:31-04:00July 17th, 2020|Book Discussions, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Are Bible Translators Consistent? Readers’ Mailbag

In today’s Reader’s Mailbag I deal with a question that involves both the differences in the manuscripts of the New Testament AND the issue of English Bible translations.  As many of you know, almost all scholars agree that passages such as the “Woman Taken in Adultery,” in John 7:53-8:11 and the last twelve verses of Mark (Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after the resurrection) were not original to the New Testament.  (If you’re not familiar with this issue, see my book Misquoting Jesus and/or do word searches to find discussions on the blog).   And yet most modern Bibles continue to include them, even if they put them in brackets with a footnote saying that they are missing from the best manuscripts we have. But why aren’t translators consistent in applying this rule: keeping verses they know are not original with footnotes?  Why  in other, analogous cases, do they more often remove the passages completely and put them in the notes? It’s a great question:  here is how the reader phrased it, with very helpful examples. [...]

Was There One Author Behind the Four Johannine Writings? A Community? Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

We continue now with the third of Hugo Mendez's guest posts on the "community" allegedly behind the Gospel of John, 1, 2, and 3 John.   Here he shows why most critical scholars do NOT think (as most other interested human beings on the planet do!) that all four were written by the same person (let alone Jesus' disciple, John the Son of Zebedee), and why they have argued that instead they all come from like-minded authors from the same community. But when he gets to the end he indicates why there is a flaw in this reasoning.  This post is an excellent example of solid scholarship with an unexpected ZINGER at the end! Hugo will be happy to respond to your comments, and he has certainly set up the next post.  (If you have time, go ahead and read the three letters; they are very short and it's a fast read.  But they have an importance far beyond what you might expect from their size) Why Scholars Haven’t Given Up on the Johannine Community (Yet) [...]

Were the Gospels Generally Written for “Communities” of Christians: Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

Here now is Hugo Mendez’s second post in his thread (started yesterday, if you haven’t seen it yet), challenging whether the writings of John all emerge from a specific “community,” as I argued in my previous thread.  In this post he points out how scholars have called into question whether the idea of "communities” is helpful at all for understanding the early Gospels. Hugo will be happy to address your questions!  Just post yours as a comment to the post. ***************************************************************  Challenges to the Idea of “Gospel Communities” As I noted last time, my most recent article questions the existence of the Johannine Community. There’s an early tendency when some hear of my project to confuse it with some other recent attempts to challenge the idea of “gospel communities.” Before discussing the terms of my own proposal, then, I’d like to catch you all up to speed with the current state of that debate over “communities” and where I “fit” into this discussion Today, New Testament scholars seem to fall into one of roughly three [...]

WAS there a Community behind the Gospel and Letters of John? Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

Here we begin a series of posts written by my colleague at UNC, Hugo Mendez.   Hugo has had an intriguing and impressive career.  He did an MA in Religion at University of Georgia, but then his PhD was in Linguistics, also at Georgia.  He went from there onto a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Yale and “retooled” to become a New Testament scholar through some, well, incredibly intense study.  He came to UNC as a postdoctoral fellow in 2016 for two years, after which we were fortunate to hire him as an assistant professor on tenure track. Hugo’s skills are remarkably wide-ranging.  He knows far more ancient languages than I do (on his CV he lists:  Indo-European: Ancient Greek, Latin, Classical Armenian, Gothic, Old Church Slavic, Sanskrit (Classical, Vedic). Aramaic (Biblical Aramaic, Classical Syriac), Classical Hebrew, and Akkadian.   Really.  OK then. If you’re interested in checking out his C.V. (hey, is this guy qualified?  J ), it is here: Hugo has just started his publishing career, and is doing so with a bang.  One of [...]

Did Paul Write Colossians? According to Most Scholars No – Paul did Not Write Colossians

Did Paul write Colossians? Asking and answering questions like this every now and then is useful on the blog to shift gears away from explaining at a more popular level what scholars have come to think -  to showing how scholars make their arguments to one *another*.  I don't want to do this a lot, but it seems that it can be helpful at times, just so blog readers can get a bit of a sense. Right now I'm in them middle of a thread on whether the author of Luke was really "Luke the gentile physician," one of Paul's traveling companions.  The only reason for thinking such a person even existed (a gentile doctor named Luke) is that he is mentioned by Paul in Colossians. In my previous post I explained why the majority of critical scholars don't think Paul actually wrote Colossians (so that the historical Paul does *not* mention this person). The post was written for a general audience, and a number of people raised questions about it.  So here is how [...]

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