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Progressive Spirit Interview

On March 27, 2016, I had an interview with John Shuck for the Progressive Spirit Podcast.  Progressive Spirit (formerly Religion For Life) is an exciting and intelligent program about Spirituality and Social Justice. The program is a production of KBOO Community Radio in Portland, Oregon. John interviewed me about his new book Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior.  In the book as many of you know, I look at research on memory–how it’s formed, how it’s recalled, how it can change when transmitted from person to person, and how it can be remolded based on historical perspective and current events, all in order to helpe us better understand how traditions about Jesus were in circulation in the years before they were written down.  Jesus Before the Gospels is available in hardcover, audiobook and for Kindle.

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Some Comments on the Gospel of John: (Based on John Spong’s Book). A Blast from the Past
Paul, Jesus, and the Messiah



  1. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  June 10, 2016

    Very good interview! One of the questions that your interview raised for me surrounds the topic of taking the text literally and the rise of modern Christian fundamentalism. You mentioned that even back in the day of the early Christians that many of them took the text and the stories literally. Yet, I have read that historically modern fundamentalism was a 19th-century response to the rise of Christian liberalism. However, as you assert, that the early Christians could be just as literal with the text as today’s Christians it could easily be construed that fundamentalism has always been around. To summarize: Although I am sure fundamentalism has been different from generation to generation and era to era, and since human beings have always been prone to religious zealotry, as well as atheism or agnosticism, fundamentalism (as well as liberalism) has probably always been around in some form or another even if they have not been known by these terms.

    Is this a fair assessment or am I generalizing?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 11, 2016

      There certainly were ancient analogies to modern fundamentalism. But the specific views and whole package are modern, usually traced back the the Niagara conferences in the late 19th c.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  June 11, 2016

        The “specific views and whole package are modern, usually traced back the the Niagara conferences in the late 19th c.” True, but this more historical and scholarly understanding is one thing and the more colloquial uses of the term are another. I’ve been around people in graduate philosophy at U.C. Davis, worked nearly 20 years in a lumber mill, and have talked and corresponded with liberal and conservative people for decades and most of them, when saying “fundamentalist,” mean little more than “dogmatic” and maybe “literalist.”

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    Wilusa  June 10, 2016

    Very interesting! About religious trends in the world today…

    When I was young, I found it hard to understand people’s being concerned about the religion of U.S. Presidential candidates. I realize now that in the…subculture?…I came from, *men* weren’t expected to be “religious” at all! It wouid never have occurred to me that John F. Kennedy would let himself be influenced in any way by the Pope.

    Now, I’m amazed by the way these men (not only Protestants) go on about God. (As a Catholic example, Joe Biden’s saying he uses a rosary.) My own first choice in this Presidential race was Martin O’Malley; but only because he’d already proven, as a governor, that he wouldn’t let the Catholic hierarchy dictate to him.

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    Stephen  June 10, 2016

    I know you’re busy so this will be quick –

    1. Do you think Luke or Matthew knew of each other?
    2. Do you think John knew of Mark?
    3. Do you think Mark knew of Paul?


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    Luke9733  June 10, 2016

    This question probably requires a complex answer (if so, maybe a good one for the reader’s mailbag). I recently read an article saying that Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees can be understood as Jesus being a Pharisee follower of the views of Hillel confronting Pharisee followers of the views of Shammai. I don’t know nearly enough about 1st Century Judaism to assess if that’s plausible. What are your thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 11, 2016

      The best argument in its favor, I think, is that you tend to argue most with those closest to you, so if Jesus’ arguemnts were mainly with Pharisees, maybe he was a Pharisee. But I think there is very little actual evidence for it, and much to be said against it. For one thing, he not only objects to the stricter interpretations of Shammai, he objects to the entire principle of the “oral law” as being authoritative. He attacks Pharisees for things they shared, not just those found in one of their branches.

  5. Avatar
    Menoclone  June 11, 2016

    I shared it on facebook, which is what I do for this site; which is what ALL of us should do to get more folks to sign up… Hint?

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    Theonedue  July 16, 2016

    Since you believe that Jesus did not think of himself as ‘the only way to heaven” so to speak, what did the crucifixion and resurrection mean to the apostles? I can only assume they thought his death was an atonement for peoples sins, and that belief in the resurrection is what God required for people to be saved from their sins.

    If you had to make a guess historically speaking, what would you say was the source of the signs in the sky, light over the temple, etc., that Josephus mentions in his Jewish Wars? I say he made it up as a scenario that would hypothetically occur if YHWH were to gives Jews some prophetic signs (even though he clarifies that those events are not the result of legend and were viewed by witnesses).

    If the gospel of Luke were given to Peter to read, do you think Peter would be upset that there were events recorded in it (that are being solicited as ‘history’) that clearly did not occur (him and John visiting Joseph’s tomb and finding it empty, Jesus appearing in front of all of them asking them to touch him, seeing him ascend)?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 17, 2016

      1. See my book How Jesus Became God 2. I have no idea 3. Again, no idea!

  7. TWood
    TWood  July 31, 2016

    When you wrote “John interviewed me about *his* new book Jesus Before the Gospels” — I think you gave him too much credit!

    But seriously, are the following statements right (I mean the gospels not the supposed authors of them)?

    1. Matthew knew Mark, but not Luke or John.

    2. Luke knew of Mark, but not Matthew or John

    3. John knew none of the synoptics.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2016

      Those are my views, but not everyone shares them.

      • TWood
        TWood  August 1, 2016

        What’s the consensus on Matt knowing Luke, and Luke knowing Matt? Their different genealogies seem like good evidence they were ignorant of the other.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 2, 2016

          The majority of scholars think that neither knew the other, though a good minority thinks Luke knew Matthew.

          • TWood
            TWood  August 2, 2016

            So in that case, the chronological order would be Mk, Mt. Lk, Jn? Is this still your best order even though you don’t see a connection between Mat and Luk? If not, what’s your best chronological order for the four gospels?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 3, 2016

            Yes, that’s my order.

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