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Proto-Orthodox Writers

How I First Learned About the Gospel of Judas Iscariot

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a thread dealing with Judas Iscariot and another thread dealing with claims from the second century that Christians were highly immoral (sexual reprobates, murderers, and cannibals).  Or at least that some Christian heretics were.  As it turns out, these two threads are closely related in a way one would not expect – at least in a way I never expected until I got involved with the “Gospel of Judas” that was discovered in recent times.  I posted on this many years ago but it would be interesting to do so again. This will take several posts.  I begin with how I first found out about the Gospel of Judas, back when experts in early Christianity knew virtually nothing at all about a Gospel of Judas. In the Fall of 2004 I was in my study minding my own business (well, talking with a graduate student) when the phone rang.   It was a woman named Sheila, whom I had known for years.  Sheila had sponsored a number of archaeological [...]

Slurs Against Religious Opponents and Makin’ Stuff Up

In yesterday's post I detailed the scurrilous accusations made by the 4th century heresy-hunter (i.e., "heresiologist") Epiphanius against a group of Christian "heretics" he calls the Phibionites.  Among other things, he claims they used a Gospel that depicted Jesus engaging in a bizarre sex-act with Mary Magdalene.  But then I asked whether there really was a Gospel that described such a thing and if the Phibionites themselves were engaged in the kind of activities Epiphanius alleges.  He claims he has first-hand knowledge.  Does he? Here I explain why I don't think we can trust him on these claims (he is commonly among scholars thought to be untrustworthy in general), that in fact I think he's just makin' stuff up.  It's not just a feeling I have.  I think there are reasons for drawing that conclusion.  Here is what I say about it in my book Forgery and Counterforgery.  How would we know? ********************************************************************* One obvious place to start is with Epiphanius’s sources of information.  Because he had some contact with the group as a young man [...]

2020-07-15T19:40:22-04:00July 15th, 2020|Heresy and Orthodoxy, Proto-Orthodox Writers|

How Did We Get *These* 27 Books in the New Testament?

I often receive questions about how we got the canon of the New Testament.   We have twenty-seven books in it.  Who decided?  On what grounds?  And when?  Here is a recent question on the matter.   QUESTION I have always wondered about the men (only men!) who decided “this one’s in . . . that one’s out!” back in 325 (was it 325?) at Trullan, Rome, Trent and where else? Nicea?   RESPONSE: The first thing to emphasize is that the most common answer one hears – an answer that seems to have become common sense among people-interested-in-such-things-at-large --  is completely wrong.   It appears that people have this answer because they read it someplace, or heard it from someone who had read it someplace, and that someplace was a place in particular: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code!    (If you don’t know, I wrote an entire book pointing out the historical mistakes in the book.  [title: Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code].  That was a particularly fun book for me to write. Some [...]

When Were Matthew and Mark First Seen as Scripture: Guest Post on Papias by Stephen Carlson

Conservative Christian scholars often claim that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were recognized as "Scripture" already by the early second century, and for evidence they appeal to the words spoken of that mysterious church father "Papias" (writing in 120 CE? 140 CE?).   But when Papias mentioned Matthew and Mark, was he speaking about the books that we now know about?  And if so did he see them as Scripture? Here is the final guest post by Stephen Carlson on Papias, based on research he has been doing for years for a book on this and related questions.  As you'll see, he reaches very different, and intriguing conclusions. Stephen Carlson is the author of The Gospel Hoax and The Text of Galatians and Its History. ******************************************************************************   The Logia of Mark and Matthew In our last post, we considered Irenaeus’s extensive quotation of Papias for a millennial fertility tradition from the “elders” to the effect that Jesus promised that, in the resurrection, the renewed earth will be so fertile that each grape vine will produce [...]

2020-04-25T16:46:03-04:00June 10th, 2019|Canonical Gospels, Proto-Orthodox Writers|

Papias and the Writers of the New Testament: Guest Post by Stephen Carlson

Here is another post by Stephen Carlson on that mysterious figure named Papias, an early second century writer who claims to have had information from reliable witnesses about the authors of the New Testament, and who may indicate that the "John" who wrote the Gospel is different from the "John" who wrote Revelation.  Or does he?  If the *apostle* John did not Revelation, should it be in the New Testament?   Puzzling and hard to figure out -- but here is what Stephen says about it. Stephen Carlson is the author of The Gospel Hoax and The Text of Galatians and Its History. *********************************************************************************** What Papias Says About His Own Work In our last post, we looked at the title of Papias’s work, Exposition of Dominical Oracles, and surveyed the considerable scholarly controversy about the nature of Papias’s work. Many scholars take the position that it was a commentary on the sayings of Jesus, perhaps with some narrative elements, but others contend that it was a commentary on at least the Gospel of Matthew, or a [...]

A Papias Mystery: What Was the Book He Wrote? Guest Post by Stephen Carlson

Stephen Carlson has graciously agreed to do a few more posts on his work on Papias.  Remember, Papias is that (very?) early second century church father who is later said to have written a five-volume work called the Exposition of the Sayings (or Oracles) of the Lord.   We don’t have the book any longer, and don’t really even know what was in it.  But several church fathers mention it and give a few quotations from it, some of them very intriguing indeed (including an alternative account about how Judas Iscariot died!). In this post Stephen continues his explanation – based on a new book he is just now finishing up for publication.  For my money, this is the most interesting one yet, dealing with an intriguing question: just what kind of book was this that Papias produced?  (The other fascinating question that has no definitive answer – don’t know if Stephen will be dealing with this – why didn’t anyone preserve the book for posterity???) Stephen Carlson is the author of The Gospel Hoax and [...]

Is the Didache One Document or Three?

I have been discussing the interesting and important early Christian document called the Didache.  Yesterday I gave a translation of its first part, the “two ways” or the “two paths” section.  After that the topic and tone of the book changes, as it starts to talk about how Christian baptism and eucharist should be celebrated.  It ends on a completely different note, with a one-chapter description of the coming apocalypse.  Scholars have asked whether the book as we now have it was actually created by someone who took several disparate texts and cut and pasted them together. Here is what I say about the matter in my edition of the Apostolic Fathers in the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press, 2003). ****************************************************** The Didache obviously addresses several discrete topics: the two paths, the “church order” (which may comprise two distinct units, one on liturgical practices and the other on the treatment of itinerant “apostles and prophets”), and the apocalyptic discourse.  Moreover, there is no necessary connection between them, except that provided perhaps by an editor, [...]

The Ethical Teachings of the Didache

We have been talking about the Didache on the blog, and it occurred to me that it might be useful to post part of its text, so readers can see what we’re talking about.  The book has several discrete parts: it begins with a discussion of the “two ways” – one that leads to life and one to death.  This is a set of ethical instructions for Christians.  As you’ll see, the author appears to have taken materials from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and various other passages chiefly from Matthew and Luke; but he cites other ethical injunctions (some of them unusual) from other, unknown sources. After the “two ways” comes a set of instructions about church life and ritual – for example, how to baptize and what prayers to say at the eucharist meal.  At the end comes a one-chapter “apocalyptic discourse” describing what will happen at the end of time. Here is the opening discussion of the two ways; it is my own translation, which, in a later version, appeared [...]

What Is the Didache? When It Was Written & Why It Isn’t In the Bible

In the recent exchange that I posted on the blog (dealing with the existence of Q) the document known as the Didache was mentioned – especially by guest contributor Alan Garrow, who thinks that the Didache was a source used by the authors of Matthew and Luke.  I think even Alan will agree that this is a highly anomalous view; I don’t know of any other scholar who accepts it (though if Alan knows of any who do, I’m sure he can tell us in a comment).  The Didache is almost always assumed to have quoted the Gospels – or at least the traditions found in the Gospels – not vice versa. But what is the Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay)?  Ah, that’s the prior question.  And I realized this morning that I haven’t talked about it much on the blog.  I better do so! The Didache - What Is It and What Does it Mean? I published a translation of the Didache (the title means “Teaching”) in my two-volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers in 2003, [...]

The Loeb Apostolic Fathers: The Challenges (Again)

This will be the last of my three blasts from past discussions of my translation of the Apostolic Fathers; in it I explain the difficulties involved in producing a "facing page translation" edition of ancient texts ("facing page" means you have the original language text -- in this case Greek -- on one page and then across from it, on the other page, your English translation) ************************************************************************* To continue my thread about translating the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs…. So, the editor at Harvard Press, Peg Fulton, asked me if I would be interested in taking on the task of doing a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs. She wasn’t offering me the opportunity then and there. She was suggesting that I write up a prospectus that she could take to the board of the Loebs, in which I described the need for a new edition and explained how I would go about making one. After I thought about it for a while, and got advice from my friends, I decided to [...]

The Apostolic Fathers: Serendipity Strikes

In my previous post I blasted from the past about my translation of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classsical Library.  That was actually the first of a few posts on the topic, and since I referred to the next ones, I thought I should give them -- at least the one that followed.  Here it is.  As I point out, in a way it's about how, in a concrete way, life is a series of chances..... ************************************************************** It seems that much that has happened in my professional life has been because of serendipity.  Back when I was a believer, we called it Providence.  (!)   It’s how I got my first job at Rutgers in 1984; how I got my current position at UNC in 1988; how I got asked to write something other than a technical study involving the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament – a textbook for undergraduates (in the early 1990s), and thus, in a sense, started my publishing career; how I had my first bestselling book (Misquoting Jesus) become [...]

Translating the Apostolic Fathers: A Blast from the Past

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 [...]

Why Did We Get a New Testament?

In my past couple of posts I’ve talked about how the canon of the Hebrew Bible was formed.  That raises the obvious corollary of how the canon of the New Testament was formed.  Who decided we should have the twenty-seven books we do?  Why these books and not others?  Why were any books chosen at all?  When were these decisions made?  And what criteria were used to make the decisions? To my surprise, I haven’t talked much about the process on the blog over the years.  So here I will devote two posts to the issue.   I have written at greater length about the matter in several of my books, especially Lost Christianities.  Here is the most direct and to the point discussion that I provide in my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction. ********************************************************** THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT We are much better informed about the formation of the canon of the New Testament, in no small part because we have the writings of later church fathers who explicitly discuss the [...]

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 [...]

Patristic Evidence for the New Testament

Yesterday I discussed very briefly the benefits and difficulties of versional evidence for establishing the text of the New Testament.   As it turns out, it is a very big and complex issue, or rather sets of issues.   There are large and difficult books written on very small aspects of the versions.   One, still authoritative, treatment of the whole shooting match, with extensive bibliography (which is now, of course, out of date), is one of the magna opera of my mentor, Bruce Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations (1977).   It’s a great book, arguably his most impressive. In this post I would like, to move into a very brief discussion of one other area of evidence for the text of the New Testament, the Patristic sources.   The term “patristic” stands for “fathers” (Latin: patres) of the church – that is, the early church authors who quoted the books of the New Testament in the course of their writings.  This too is an exceedingly thorny area of scholarly investigation, and [...]

Orthodoxy and Proto-Orthodoxy

The current thread on the diversity of early Christianity actually began as a response to a question raised by a reader, which was the following: Dr. Ehrman, I do not know if others would find this interesting, but I would love to know how you developed the idea for The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. How did you go about researching it? How long did it take? Is it a once in a lifetime work? My initial thought was that I would be able to answer the question in roughly five or six posts.   But here it is, two weeks later, and I haven’t even started to answer it because it has taken this long to describe what I mean by the term “orthodox.”   And I haven’t finished doing even that!  But I hope to do so with this post. To this point I have tried to explain why so many scholars for the past 80 years or so have been convinced that we cannot understand the relationship of early Christian “orthodoxy” and “heresy” either by [...]

Papias and the Eyewitnesses

I have been discussing the writings of Papias, his lost five-volume Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord.  Scholars of the New Testament have long ascribed huge significance to this work, in no small part because Papias claims to have ties to eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.   In my view this championing of Papias is misguided.   I say something about that in my new book on Jesus Before the Gospels (or whatever we end up calling it); I will probably be going into a more sustained analysis in my scholarly book that I’m working on next on memory and the historical Jesus. The excitement over Papias as a link to our eyewitnesses is based largely on the following passage that is quoted from his writing by Eusebius in his early-fourth-century Church History.  This was written about 200 years after Papias, but Eusebius had read Papias’s book and so could quote from it.   In his discussion of the book Eusebius mentions the references to Papias in the writings of Irenaeus, from around 180 CE, just [...]

A Fantastic Saying of Jesus in Papias

I have mentioned one of the intriguing traditions found in the now-lost Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord by the early second century proto-orthodox church father Papias (his account of the death of Judas).  Here is another one. In this one Papias is relating what he has heard that Jesus taught.  As you’ll see, it is not a teaching that is found in the New Testament Gospels, or in fact in any other Gospel source we have. What is most striking, in some ways, is that Papias claims that he has a clear line of tradition going straight back to Jesus to confirm the reliability of the saying:  he learned this from “elders” (that is, senior Christians) who heard from John the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, that this is something Jesus used to say.   So this is not an “eyewitness” account (or, rather, not an “earwitness” account) – it is an account that we get from Papias who got it from others who got it from John who got it [...]

The Lost Writings of Papias

In this thread I have been discussing documents known from early Christianity that no longer exist and that I very much wish would be discovered.  So far I have talked about the lost letters of Paul, the writings of Paul’s opponents, Q (the source used by Matthew and Luke for many of their sayings of Jesus), and the Signs Source (a collection of Jesus miraculous activities used by the Gospel of John).   With this post I move outside the New Testament to indicate documents that certainly at one time existed that I wish we still had.   One such document was a five-volume book produced by a church father named Papias. We don’t have this long book any longer.   In fact we don’t have any of the writings from Papias.  We know about him, and his writings, only because later church fathers refer to him.  He is first mentioned in the writings of Irenaeus, the bishop of Gaul and himself the author of a long five-volume work that attacked heretics (especially Gnostics).  Irenaeus’s book is known [...]

The Ebionites and their Gospel

There are other interesting features of the Gospel of the Ebionites, known from the quotations of Epiphanius, the fourth-century heresiologist (= heresy-hunter). We wish we had the whole Gospel. We have only these eight fragments that Epiphanius quotes. We wish we knew who actually used the Gospel. We wish we knew how long it was, what it contained, and what it’s theological slant was. It is almost impossible to say from what remains. One big question is whether, since it was used by the Ebionites – according to Epiphanius, it had a particular bias in its reporting of the words and deeds of Jesus. The term “Ebionite” was widely used in proto-orthodox and orthodox sources to refer to “Jewish-Christian” groups, or at least one group (it is likely that there were lots of these groups, and it may be that the church fathers assumed they were all the same group when in fact they had different views, different theologies, different practices, and so on). Some of the church fathers indicate that the name came from [...]

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