Recent Posts

Our Controversial Sources About the Controversial Paul

By |February 29th, 2024|Paul and His Letters|0 Comments

Peter and Mary Magdalene are not the only early followers of Jesus whose lives are shrouded in mystery.  What about Paul?  As it turns out, of all of Jesus’ female disciples after his life, we have the most information about Mary Magdalene, and of all his male disciples, Peter and Paul.  All are mentioned (Mary just briefly) in the New Testament, and all have lots of stories floated about them after the New Testament, and there are writings allegedly by Peter and Paul in the New Testament, and more outside.  That’s a lot to go on. But, we have seen [...]

How Much Fact, How Much Fiction? The Life of Peter

By |February 28th, 2024|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha|2 Comments

History or Legend?  Fact or Fiction?  A bit of both?  It’s hard to know how to understand stories about the apostle Peter found both inside and outside the New Testament.  I began with some examples yesterday, involving his allegedly raising people from the dead.  OK, probably fiction, but still – presented as fact!   I pick up there with this post, taken from my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (Oxford University, 2006). *************************** The resuscitation of dead bodies may not seem all that remarkable to readers of the New Testament.  To be sure, we don’t see this [...]

Archaeology in the Time of Jesus! New Course March 2-3!!

By |February 27th, 2024|Public Forum|0 Comments

If you're interested in what archaeology can tell us about the world in which Jesus lived, moved, and had his being -- you need to check out the course on offer this weekend, March 2-3, by world-class archaeologist Jodi Magness, my colleague at UNC and one of the leading experts on the archaeology of ancient Israel. Jodi will be giving four lectures on key topics of interest, two on Saturday and two on Sunday, with a live Q&A each day. I will be M-C'ing the event, and can't wait.   If you want o check it out, click on this link. [...]

The Disciple Peter in History and Legend

By |February 27th, 2024|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha|2 Comments

Probably my best-named book is Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.  This is a book I wrote so I could use the title.  (A) In fact a publisher wanted to give me a contract for the book, but I turned it down because they wanted me to do other apostles too.  NO! I said.  It’s gotta be these three.  It’s perfect!  They disagreed.  Some people just don’t have a sense of humor.  So I went with a different publisher.  (!) The short thread I just did on Mary Magdalene gave me an occasion to look back at the book.  I recall [...]

Jesus and Mary Magdalene Seen Kissing??

By |February 25th, 2024|Christian Apocrypha, Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE), Historical Jesus, Women in Early Christianity|13 Comments

While I'm on the "Jesus and Mary Magdalene" question (see my earlier posts), what about the claims that some (lots) of people have heard, that there is a story in a later Gospel that talk about them kissing? The later Gospel in question is the Gospel of Philip, one of the "Gnostic Gospels" discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi Egypt.  Does it actually talk about this moment (or repeated moments) of intimacy? I have a reasonably full discussion of the relevant issues in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (Oxford University Press 2006).   In the book I put the [...]

When Did Mary Magdalene Become a Prostitute?

By |February 24th, 2024|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Women in Early Christianity|12 Comments

Mary Magdalene has become one of the most talked about figures from the life of Jesus, even though she hardly ever shows up in the Gospel accounts about him (during his public ministry, just in one verse, total!, Luke 8:2).  (She shows up only at the crucifixion and, most important, the empty tomb). In my last post I began to explore the tradition -- not found in the New Testament -- that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.  Here I pick up  the thread where I left it off. I had mentioned a number of passages that people read *AS IF* [...]

Was Mary Magdalene a Prostitute?

By |February 22nd, 2024|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Women in Early Christianity|29 Comments

It is "common knowledge" that Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a prostitute in the New Testament, but like so much "common knowledge" this view, while common, is not "knowledge."  In fact it's not true.  I get asked about this on occasion, and so I thought I should devote a couple of posts on it. I discuss most of what I think we can know in the final section of my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (Oxford University Press, 2006) (A book I remember fondly, in part because I wrote it in a coffee shop in Wimbledon!).  In that book [...]

Some Random Reflections on Our Significance

By |February 21st, 2024|Reflections and Ruminations|66 Comments

I think a lot about significance these days, about why we, or rather, why I, matter.  I mean really, this universe is 13.8 billion years old and I’ve been around for, well, 68 of those years and certainly won’t be around for another 68.  So, for how much of time to this point?  Do the math. Then there’s the space factor.  I’m a small dot in my house; my house is a small dot in my neighborhood; my neighborhood is a small dot in my city; my city is a small dot in my state; my state is a not-large [...]

Changing the Past in Light of the Present

By |February 20th, 2024|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|12 Comments

Did people in oral cultures even care if stories were changed?  We do! We have an interest not just in story but in establishing with some kind of accuracy what actually happened in the past, whether it is about the Civil War, the assassination of JFK, or the last election.  Did people in oral cultures have a way to know the past with historical accuracy?  Did they care? Here I end this thread on what we know about how oral cultures passed along their traditions – not just their myths and customs but also the past events that affected their [...]

Still Spots Open: Blog Dinner in Wichita KS, this Thursday Feb. 22

By |February 18th, 2024|Public Forum|0 Comments

In case you happen to be in striking distance of Wichita KS this week, and missed my announcement: there are still a couple of spots open for the blog dinner this coming Thursday (Feb. 22).  Here's my original announcement.  If you can come, let me know! *********************** I'm will be in Wichita Kansas to give some talks at the Plymouth Congregational Church ( on February 23-25, and have decided to come a day early in case anyone wants to do dinner with me on Thursday Feb. 22.    Anyone want to come?   It's a chance to shoot the breeze with [...]

Proof That Historical Narratives (not just myths) Constantly Change in Oral Cultures

By |February 18th, 2024|Catholic Epistles, Historical Jesus|11 Comments

I have been discussing some of the many problems with assuming that oral traditions are passed along intact, without significant change, in oral cultures.  In graduate school we all learned that they are and did, so that, for example, the fact that we might have a saying of Jesus or story about him in a source 50 years removed from his life isn’t really a problem.  It would have been kept intact from the beginning without being changed.  That’s how oral cultures work and always have worked. Nope.  Not true.  At least based on the hard-core research that actually examines [...]

When is “The Same” Memory/Tradition/Story Not Actually “The Same”?

By |February 17th, 2024|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|28 Comments

Do we mean the same thing by “the same” that people in oral cultures do? Here I pick up on my discussion of oral cultures; in the previous post I talked about how Milman Parry began to study one such culture, and his discoveries were starting.  Professional memorizers/reciters would claim that various performances of the “same” tradition/account/story/song was in fact the “same” as earlier performances.  But, well, apparently not.  At least by our standards. Again, this is excerpted from my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2017). ****************************** How different could “the same” song be in different versions?  [...]

How Do We Know About Oral Cultures? By Starting Where You’d Never Suspect!

By |February 15th, 2024|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|18 Comments

How do oral cultures “work”?  How do they pass along their traditions?  How accurately?  And why did scholars first get interested in the question.  Not at ALL in the way that you might think! Here’s how I discuss the matter in my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2017). The Beginning of Studies of Orality:  Singers in Yugoslavia The twentieth-century study of oral cultures can be traced back to the groundbreaking work of Milman Parry (1902-35), a scholar of classics and epic poetry at Harvard, and his student Albert Lord (1912-91).   As a classicist, Parry was especially [...]

Do People in Oral Cultures Have Better Memories?

By |February 14th, 2024|Canonical Gospels, Memory Studies|24 Comments

Do people in oral cultures “remember” things better, and work hard to memorize what they learn? The other night I was hanging out with a friend and she started talking (in a context unrelated to the New Testament) about how oral (non-literate) cultures always worked so hard to preserve their communal memories of the past, by passing along traditions that would not change since, of course, they had no way to preserve them in writing.  I simply nodded my head and let her get on with it. I was tempted to tell her that I had written a book about [...]

Were Matthew and Luke Plagiarists?

By |February 13th, 2024|Forgery in Antiquity, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|27 Comments

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 [...]

Blog Dinner Wichita Kansas, Feb. 22. Interested??

By |February 12th, 2024|Public Forum|2 Comments

I'm will be in Wichita Kansas to give some talks at the Plymouth Congregational Church ( on February 23-25, and have decided to come a day early in case anyone wants to do dinner with me on Thursday Feb. 22.    Anyone want to come?   It's a chance to shoot the breeze with others about whatever strikes your fancy. Thursday, February 22, 7:00 pm, place TBD (in Wichita). The table will be limited to 8 (so we can actually all talk), so that means me and 7 others. The only requirements would be that (a) it is for blog members [...]

February Gold Q&A: Ask Away!

By |February 12th, 2024|Public Forum|20 Comments

Hey Gold and Platinum members, I'd like us to get ahead of schedule for the February Gold Q&A; my plan is to record it some time this coming weekend, to be published early next week. If you have a question -- most anything related to the blog -- send it along!  To do so, do NOT reply on a comment here, but zap an email to Diane at  [email protected]. DEADLINE: Please get your question in by this Friday (01/26/2024) midnight (whenever midnight is in your time zone). Every question I get is interesting, but remember that shorter and to-the-pointer questions [...]

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

By |February 11th, 2024|Forgery in Antiquity, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|6 Comments

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 [...]

Gospel Thrillers Part III by Andrew Jacobs

By |February 10th, 2024|Bart's Debates, Public Forum|2 Comments

In this third and final post on his new book Gospel Thrillers, Andrew Jacobs moves into where the rubber meets my (our) road: how these novels really do seem like real life when you think about Bible scholarship and the real discoveries (or discoveries *claimed* to have been made, by bona fide scholars) of new Gospels that threaten to undo everything we think about Jesus and / or the New Testament.  Intriguing stuff.  What do you think? You can get Andrew's just now published book anywhere good books are sold, including here: Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction, and the Vulnerable Bible: [...]

Gospel Thrillers Part II by Andrew Jacobs

By |February 8th, 2024|Book Discussions, Public Forum|10 Comments

Gospel Thrillers!  Who woulda thought?  Many of us knew of books like this, but never realized they were a coherent (sub-)genre, and certainly never thought much about how to understand them. Here now is Andrew Jacobs second post on his new book Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction and the Vulnerable Bible, which you can get at your favorite book-buying spot, including here:  Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction, and the Vulnerable Bible: Jacobs, Andrew S.: 9781009384612: Books   ****************************** II. Inside the Gospel Thrillers   In my first post I described what Gospel Thrillers are and their role in US culture: they [...]

Gospel Thrillers Part I by Andrew Jacobs

By |February 7th, 2024|Book Discussions, Public Forum|6 Comments

Probably all (nearly all?) of us have read thrillers, and all of us (certainly!) have heard of Gospels.  And some of us have read "Gospel Thrillers."  But do you know what a Gospel Thriller is?  You've probably never heard the term because it was recently coined by scholar of late antiquity Andrew Jacobs, in his intriguing analysis of them (the first analysis ever done), accessible to lay people (hey, we're talkin' thrillers here) just now being published: Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction, and the Vulnerable Bible (Cambridge University Press).  Check it out!  Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction, and the Vulnerable Bible: Jacobs, [...]

How Do Scholars Make the Apocalyptic Jesus Non-Apocalyptic?

By |February 6th, 2024|Public Forum|46 Comments

In my previous posts I’ve given some of the evidence that is generally seen among most New Testament scholars today as a clear indication that Jesus delivered an apocalyptic message:  the end of the age was coming soon, God was to intervene in the horrible state of affairs here on earth, destroy (through a figure called the Son of Man) the powers of evil aligned against him, and bring in a good kingdom, a utopian world ruled by his own chosen one.  This was to happen very soon. This evidence that Jesus was an apocalypticist is old hat to historians [...]

A Less-Expected Argument that Jesus Preached the End of All Things

By |February 4th, 2024|Historical Jesus|36 Comments

In my previous posts I've given some of the arguments for thinking Jesus delivered an apocalyptic message that the end was coming soon with a divine intervention in which all the forces of evil would be destroyed and all people judged.  I’ve actually saved what I consider to be the strongest argument for last, a final coup d’grâce.  The argument is both simple and compelling.  I wish I had thought of it myself. In a nutshell, the argument is that we know beyond any reasonable doubt what happened at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and we know what happened [...]

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