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In my latest book, Jesus Before the Gospels,  I examine the oral tradition and its role in shaping the New Testament stories about Jesus—and ultimately our understanding of Christianity. For a limited time, if you purchase Jesus Before the Gospels, you can get any of my other HarperOne bestselling books for 50% OFF plus FREE shipping. Offer expires 3/15/2016... Yes, you have only ONE WEEK to take advantage of this exclusive offer. Offer valid only in the United States. LEARN MORE: https://wp.me/P54A3a-Mq

Heaven and Hell, Part Two

In my previous post I explained how Jewish thinkers began to develop the idea of an afterlife when they devised the idea of a future resurrection of the dead, an apocalyptic event that explained how God would ultimately make right all that was wrong, rewarding those who had sided with him but punishing those who sided with evil.  But how did that idea of a future *bodily* resurrection morph into the Christian teachings of heaven and hell?  I try to explain that here in this post, once again as taken from my book Jesus Interrupted.  The first two paragraphs are repeated from yesterday’s post, to provide a better context for what I say here. **************************************************************************** Thus, eternal life, for Jesus, Paul, and the earliest Christians, was a life lived in the body, not above in heaven, but down here, where we are now.  Paul emphasizes this point strenuously in the book of 1 Corinthians.   The fact that Jesus’ body was raised from the dead shows what the future resurrection would involve.  It would involve bodies [...]

Heaven and Hell, Part One

As I have been discussing the topic of resurrection in early Christianity, a number of readers have asked about a related issue, namely, where the Christian teaching of heaven and hell came from.   For most Christians, the afterlife seems to be the ongoing existence of the soul.  But for the earliest Christians, the afterlife involved the resurrection precisely of the *body*.  How did that change, and why? I discussed this issue some years back in my book Jesus Interrupted, and what I say about it there seems to be directly on target for what these readers have asked.  And so I include it here.  This will take two posts, the first one (today) to explain why “resurrection” came to be believed by Jews and eventually by Christians and the next post to explain how that belief in resurrection came to be transformed into the later idea of heaven and hell that may people today continue to subscribe to.   ********************************************************************* Heaven and Hell In some parts of Christendom today, especially the parts that I was [...]

Readers’ Mailbag November 13, 2015

It is time for the weekly Readers’ Mailbag.  I am keeping a list of questions readers have asked, and I add to it all the time.  If you have a question you are eager to hear me answer in a couple of paragraphs or so, simply ask!  One convenient way to do so is simply to make a comment/question on this post.  Here are three questions for today.   QUESTION:  The Wikipedia entry on the gospel of the Nasorenes mentions your work on the similarities between it and the Gospel of Matthew, could you briefly tell me what this is about? RESPONSE:  There are three Gospels that are frequently called the “Jewish-Christian Gospels,” because they were – according to the writings of the church fathers – used by Christians who self-identified as being, also, Jewish (e.g., by keeping the Jewish law and, possibly, insisting that to be a follower of Jesus a male had to be circumcised and males and females needed to keep the Sabbath, observe kosher food laws, and so on).  We do [...]

Other Christians Who Denied that Christ was Divine by Nature

In my previous post I discussed on group of early Christian “adoptionists” – that is, followers of Christ who maintained that he was not really a divine being (by nature) but was a human who had been “adopted” by God (at his baptism) to be his Son.  To be sure, from that point on he was in some sense divine; but he was not born of a virgin and he did not pre-exist his appearance in the world.  The group I mentioned yesterday was the Jewish-Christian Ebionites. There was another group known (or thought) to have a similar Christological view that was not in the least Jewish, but was from start to finish gentile.  This is a gropu that emerged in second century Rome called the Theodotians, named this because the founder of their sect was named Theodotus.  He was a cobbler by trade.  But he obviously didn’t work making shoes 24/7; he must have had time for some serious theological reflection as well. Here is what I say about Theodotus and his followers in [...]

Was Christ God? The View of Jewish-Christian Ebionites

We know of several groups and individuals from the first three centuries of Christianity who were known, or at least thought, to support an “adoptionistic” Christology, one that said that Christ was not by nature a divine being but was, instead, a fully and completely human being, one who had been “adopted” by God to be his son (and therefore divine for *that* reason).  He was the Son of God, then, by adoption or election, not by nature.  He did not pre-exist his birth, and his birth was normal – his parents had sexual relations and he was the offspring.  But later God made him his own son. When I say that some persons were known or thought to hold some such view, I mean that in many instances it is difficult (impossible, actually) to show that they really did hold such views.  All we have, in virtually every case (not quite) are what their proto-orthodox opponents said about them.  In other words, we have to take their enemies’ word for it.   That is not [...]

Adoptionistic Christologies

For some posts now I have been talking about “docetic” Christologies in the early church – views of Christ that said he was so much divine that he was not really a human – and about how these influenced proto-orthodox scribes who changed their texts of scripture in order to show that, by contrast, Christ really was a flesh and blood human being.   I would now like to shift to the other end of the theological spectrum to discuss Christological views that insisted on the contrary that Christ was fully human, so much so that he was not actually, by nature, divine. Sometimes these Christologies are called “adoptionistic,” because in them Christ is portrayed not as a divine being who pre-existed before being born of a virgin, but as fully and completely and utterly human, a very righteous man who was born like everyone else and who was by nature like everyone else, but because of his special devotion to God was “adopted” by God to be his son and, as the one who had [...]

Are Their Any Completely Anti-Heretical Manuscripts?

READER COMMENT/QUESTION: The whole thread on the “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” is really really great! Thanks!! QUESTION: are the shorter version in Luke 22:19-20 and the “bloody sweat” in Luke 22:44 documented by the same manuscripts? Or do these variants appear in different manuscripts? In other words: do we have an “entirely docetic” manuscript of Luke? (incidentally, I see that both variants are in chapter 22 very close to each other). Thank you very much!!!   RESPONSE: Ah, this is a great question.   The answer to the first question is no.   The manuscripts that contain the shorter reading in Luke 22:19-20 (that is, the form of the text in which Jesus does NOT say that the bread represents his body “given for you” and that the cup is “the new covenant in my blood poured out for you”) are not the same ones that contain the shorter reading in Luke 22:43-44 (the “bloody sweat”; in this case the manuscripts with the shorter reading do NOT have the account of Jesus’ sweating great drops of [...]

Luke’s Last Supper and Orthodox Corruptions of Scripture

I can now wrap up my discussion of the textual problem of Luke 22:19-20 and the intriguing question of what Jesus said at his Last Supper (according to Luke).  I have argued so far that the longer (more familiar) form of the text, found in most surviving manuscripts, is actually a change made by scribes, not what Luke originally wrote (this is where Jesus indicates that the bread is his body given for others and that the cup is the new covenant in his blood shed for others). I set *up* that discussion by referring to one of the debates over the nature of Christ in precisely the time period when the change was made: the second century, when Christians were debating whether Jesus was so completely divine that he was not actually human.  Various Christians that scholars call “docetists” said the answer was no. The label for these Christians comes from the Greek word doceo, “to seem,” or “to appear,” because these people said that Christ “appeared” to be human and “seemed” really to [...]

The Striking Conclusion: Jesus’ Last Supper in Luke

This sub-thread about the Last Supper and the death of Jesus in the book of Luke (and Acts), part of a longer thread on The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, has (itself) taken a rather remarkably circuitous route.  Let me remind you how we started this little side-trip. First the biggest picture.  I am describing my book – originally written over twenty years ago now (my God, how does this happen???) – about how scribes in the second and third Christian centuries changed their texts in order to make them more obviously “orthodox” and less susceptible to use by Christians who held Christological views deemed “heretical.” The current sub-thread has all been on one textual variant, a passage in Luke 22:19-20, the account of Jesus at his last supper.  If you recall, there are two forms of the text, one much longer than the other.   We are asking whether Luke originally wrote the longer version of the text (so that scribes shortened it by taking out a verse and a half) or if he wrote the [...]

Why Would a Scribe Change Luke’s Account of the Last Supper?

In my previous post I started to discuss a textual variant that I covered in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, a very important variant for understanding Luke’s account of Jesus’ last days, for grasping Luke’s view of the importance of Jesus’ death, and for seeing how scribes occasionally modified their texts for theological reasons. The passage has to do with what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper.  Here is the form of the text as found in most of the manuscripts.  (I have put verse numbers in the appropriate places) 17 And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you that from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19 And taking bread he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body that is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  20  Likewise after supper (he [...]

The Last Supper in Luke: An Important Textual Problem

The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture argues that there are textual variants still preserved among our manuscripts of the New Testament that were generated by scribes who were trying to oppose various kinds of “heretical” Christologies, including the one I discussed yesterday, which said (at least which its opponents said that it said) that Christ did not have a real flesh and blood body, and that as a result he did not really experience pain and death, but only appeared to do so. The proto-orthodox theologians who responded to this view insisted that Jesus really was human, and they argued that it was precisely the bodily, human nature of Christ that allowed him to bring salvation.  By shedding his (real) blood and experiencing a (real) broken, crucified body, Christ brought about salvation for the world.  The docetists (those who claimed that Christ only “seemed” to have a body that could bleed and die), in the opinion of their opponents, had gone way too far in asserting that Christ was a divine being.  If he wasn’t human, [...]

Early Christian Docetism

I can now, at long last, start talking about the kinds of textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament that I covered in my 1993 book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (I did a second edition, updating the discussion with a new Afterword in 2011).   From the surviving documents of the period, there appear to have been five major competing Christologies (= understandings of who Christ was) throughout the Christian church, and I will devote a post or two to each of the first four.  Docetism, the subject of this post, understood Christ to be a fully divine being and therefore not human; Adoptionism understood him to be a fully human being and not actually divine; Separationism understood him to be two distinct beings, one human (the man Jesus) and the other divine (the divine Christ); Modalism understood him to be God the Father become flesh.   The fifth view is the one the “won out,” the Proto-orthodox view that Christ was both human and divine, at one and the same time, that [...]

On Falsification and Forgery

On Friday I will be giving a talk at a symposium at York University in Toronto that will be focusing on the use of forgery in the early Christian apocrypha, sponsored by Tony Burke of York U. and Brent Landau at the University of Texas.  Website is here: http://tonyburke.ca/conference/  I thought it might be interesting to excerpt a portion of my talk here, as it covers some ground that I recently have gone over on the blog, but from a different perspective.  (More on the bloody sweat!  But in relation to early Christian practices of literary deception.)  In any event.  Here is a portion of what I’m planning to say. ***************************************************   I first became interested in the field of apocrypha and early Christian literary forgery about 25 years ago, when I was principally obsessed with New Testament textual criticism.  Almost everyone else at the time who was also obsessed with the manuscript tradition of the New Testament was principally obsessed with one question only:  how do we establish the original text of the New [...]

Magic and Manuscripts

In my post yesterday I mentioned something about the importance of our surviving manuscripts for understanding practices of magic in the early Christian tradition.  Several people have asked me about it, so I thought I would follow it up. There’s been a lot written about magic over the years.  When talking about antiquity, “magic” is not what we think of today: we think of illusion artists who do tricks in order to make think something has happened which in fact has not.  In antiquity, magic was understood to be a real thing, not a clever illusion.  It involved the manipulation of the physical world through suprahuman means.  The big question was then (and still is for scholars studying the phenomenon) how to differentiate between magic and miracle.  The (very) short answer is that miracles were performed by those who were thought (by the observer) to be on the side of the good (or God or the gods) and magic was performed by those who were (thought by the observer to be) on the side of [...]

Why Intentional Changes of the Text Might Matter

In doing the research that led up to my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, I came to see that the variations of our manuscripts were important not only because they could tell us what the original writers said in the books that later became the New Testament, but also because they could tell us about what was influencing the anonymous and otherwise unknown scribes who produced the copies of these books in later times. As I pointed out in a previous post, scholars have long thought – with good reason – that most of the intentional changes of the text (that is, the alterations that scribes made on purpose – at least apparently on purpose – as opposed to simple scribal mistakes) were made sometime in the first two hundred years of copying.  If these changes were indeed made intentionally, then the scribes who made them must have had a reason for wanting to make them.  They were consciously changing their texts in places. They weren’t doing that in millions of places, but in [...]

Why Bother With Anything *Except* the “Original” Text??

In this post I would like to tie a couple of strings together that have been more or less hanging.  In a couple of earlier posts I asserted my view that we were probably as “close to the originals” of the New Testament writings as we are ever likely to get, that barring some spectacular new discoveries (such as the original themselves!) or some fantastic changes in method, we simply are not going to be able to know whether we are right or wrong in the textual decisions we have made about which among the many thousands of textual variants (most of which are completely insignificant and meaningless, but some of which are very important indeed) are probably original and which are later scribal alterations. It’s not that I think we must now have the original text.  I don’t think we be sure.   But I also don’t think we will come to know how close we are to the original any better in the future than we do now -- unless something drastically changes. And [...]

My Focus on Christology in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture

In the last couple of posts I have talked about the basic thesis that lay behind my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.   After doing my dissertation I became interested in seeing how theological disputes in early Christianity may have affected the scribes who were copying the texts that later came to be collected into the canon of the New Testament.  Rarely had a study of this sort been pursued before, and never thoroughly and rigorously. Here let me provide a bit more background.   First, for reasons I have stated earlier in this very-long thread, there is a broad consensus among textual scholars that the vast majority of textual variants found in all of our manuscripts down to the invention of printing (and beyond!) were probably generated in the first 200 years of copying.   This has to do with the phenomenon that I have earlier called “the tenacity of the tradition.” If you recall, this is the phenomenon that later scribes appear not to introduced new readings into the tradition (at least not very often [...]

Irrelevant Arguments and the So-called Tenacity of the Tradition

A couple of posts ago I promised to deal with an argument sometimes used by those who believe we can know with good certainty what the original text of the New Testament books said.  This is the argument called the “tenacity of the tradition.”  If you recall, the argument is prefaced on the very interesting phenomenon that whenever papyri manuscripts are discovered – say from the third or fourth Christian century – they almost *never* contain new variant readings that we did not already know about from later manuscripts, of say the seventh to fifteenth centuries.  Instead, the readings of these early manuscripts re-appear in later manuscripts. The conclusion that is sometimes drawn, then, is that that tradition is “tenacious.”  That is to say, later manuscripts did not invent their variant readings, but in almost every instance replicated variant readings that they got from earlier manuscripts.   And one corollary that is sometimes drawn, then, is variant readings do not disappear but continue to be replicated in later witnesses.   If that is the case, then the [...]

Did Scribes Add the Passage of the Bloody Sweat?

In my previous posts I’ve been puzzling over the textual problem of Luke 22:43-44, the so-called “bloody sweat” passage, where Jesus, before his arrest, is said to have been in such deep agony that he sweat drops “as if of blood,” so that an angel came down from heaven to minister to him.  These verses are found in some manuscripts of Luke, but not others.    So which text is “original”?  The version of Luke with the verses or the version without them? In previous posts I have argued that the verses run contrary both to the structure of Luke’s passage and to the theology of Luke, who worked to *eliminate* any sense of Jesus actually suffering from his Gospel.    In my last post I began to ask, not which of the two texts the author Luke himself would have written (scholars call that kind of question “intrinsic probabilities”: what is more intrinsically likely to go back to the author?) but which of the two texts scribes of the second century, when the passage came to [...]

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