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Bart responds to readers, friend and foe, as time allows.

Is Matthew Duplicitous in His Reading of Scripture?

In a month or so I'm going to be producing a new online course (not connected with the blog) on The Genius of Matthew: What Scholars Say about the First Gospel.  I'm not sure if that's the actual title we'll be giving it, but it's what's in my head just now. (If you're interested in my courses, go to . You won't find this one there just now because we haven't announced it yet.) It will be an eight-lecture course dealing with what I think are the most important aspects of Matthew's Gospel -- what it's all about, what its leading themes/ideas/views are, how the author changed Mark's account significantly to get his point across, how Matthew (in a striking way) insists Jesus fulfilled Scripture, whether Matthew urges his followers to keep the Jewish law strictly (instead of abandoning it), whether, even so, the Gospel can be seen as anti-Jewish.  I'll be looking at some depth at the Sermon on the Mount (widely misunderstood) and a number of the key parables.  And I'll be [...]

2024-01-08T10:54:43-05:00January 9th, 2024|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Questions about Dating the Gospels

How do we know when the Gospels were written?  I have recently received two questions about this matter on the blog (from two different people, within minutes of each other!); I answered the questions as usual in the Comment section, but thought the issues were important enough to present as a post as well, both the questions/comments and my responses (which I’ve expanded a bit here). ******************************   QUESTION:  With all this discussion of the early non-canonical gospels, I need some clarification. By reading multiple scholars, I think I am confused. As far as the canonical gospels, I had thought that the earliest copies were from the late second and early third century. By copies I mean those that are recognizable as Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. I thought that scholars had dated them by indirect means to the last quarter of the first century. How are the canonical gospels dated in this manner as most scholars claim? Do they have fragments with carbon dates from first century CE? Are there references by independent sources [...]

2023-07-06T22:59:55-04:00July 13th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Gold Q&A LIVE! (And Recorded) Tuesday April 11

Dear Gold Members, I will be recording  my Gold Q&A tomorrow afternoon,  April 11, 2:00 pm.  If you're free and want to watch it, come along!  I've got a full set of questions to deal with and am looking forward to it. No charge for admission, just show up.  We'll meet and greet, I'll do my thing, and then we can chat for a few minutes after. Here's the link:   Meeting ID: 922 0749 0998 Passcode: 339508 One tap mobile +16469313860,,92207490998# US +19294362866,,92207490998# US (New York) Dial by your location +1 646 931 3860 US +1 929 436 2866 US (New York) +1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC) +1 305 224 1968 US +1 309 205 3325 US +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago) +1 386 347 5053 US +1 507 473 4847 US +1 564 217 2000 US +1 669 444 9171 US +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose) +1 689 278 1000 US +1 719 359 4580 US +1 253 205 0468 US +1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma) +1 [...]

2023-04-10T14:54:05-04:00April 10th, 2023|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Did Jesus Appear to 500 People After His Resurrection?

What do we make of Paul's claim that 500 people at one time saw Jesus after the resurrection (in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5)?   I get this question every now and then -- maybe five or six times just this year.  These days, among other things, I point 0ut something I hadn't thought about in most of the years of my existence, that there was almost certainly no Christian group (meaning: a group of people who believed Jesus was raised from the dead) of that size in Paul's day anywhere in the world!  (I discuss the numbers of Christians at different time periods in antiquity in my book The Triumph of Christianity.)  So on that level alone it seems highly implausible. But jut now looking through old posts from many years ago, I see I was asked the question and dealt with it in a different way.  I'd forgotten all about it, but see now that I give a bit of analysis that tries to unpack Paul's claims.  Here's the Q and the A: ****************************** QUESTION on [...]

2022-12-15T10:24:49-05:00December 20th, 2022|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

How Can “Group Hallucinations” Possibly Happen?

When I lecture or debate on whether it is possible to "prove" the resurrection of Jesus on historical grounds, I talk about how -- whether you believe in the resurrection or not -- almost certainly the reason the disciples originally *believed* Jesus had been raised is that one or more of them had a vision of him after he died.  (Believers would say their "vision" was something they actually saw; non-believers would say they were mistaken for one reason or another, or they imagined it, etc -- that it was a hallucination of some kind). But it is often noted that in the New Testament, after his death Jesus appears not only to individuals (Peter, Paul, and Mary, for example) (!) but to groups (the "twelve," the "apostles" and "500 people" at one time, according to 1 Cor. 15:5-8).  But how could *that* be possible?  One person might mistake something she saw for a person, or dream they saw someone, or whatever.  But *groups* of people?  How can historians possibly explain "group visions" of a [...]

2022-11-18T16:43:29-05:00November 13th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Can’t We Just Get Rid of Some of the Books of the Bible?

Here's an interesting question I received from a blog reader long ago! QUESTION: Given the criteria used to determine what would go on to constitute the New Testament canon, how is it that Hebrews and the book of Revelation remain part of the canon? I understand that Christians came to believe that they were authored by the apostles which is why they made it into the canon, but we now know that they weren't authored by Paul or why are they still in the NT?   RESPONSE: Interesting idea!   I sometimes get asked what I would exclude from the canon if given the choice, and I almost always say 1 Timothy, because of what it says about women in 2:11-15, and how the passage has been used for such horrible purposes over the years.  But, well, it ain’t gonna happen.  I don’t get a vote. And that’s the problem with Hebrews and Revelation – and all the other books that were admitted when Church Fathers (wrongly) thought they were written by apostles of Jesus [...]

Would I Be Personally Upset if the Mythicists Were Right (That Jesus Never Existed)?

Ever since I wrote my book Did Jesus Exist (where I argue that, well, yeah--whatever else you say about him, however much legend you think is in the Gospels, there certainly was a historical figure, Jesus), I have had people ask me if I have an axe to grind on this one or if it would be personally painful or professional ruinous to admit that the "mythicists" -- those who claim that Jesus is a *complete* myth (never existed) were right. I don’t address this in the book, and I think it is a terrific question! The reason I do is this. I think every historian of religion who makes a case for one thing or another needs to be queried: what is at stake for you in the matter? Did Jesus Exist, Historically? For example, I have participated a number of public debates with conservative evangelical Christian scholars who have wanted to insist that they can PROVE, historically, that Jesus was raised from the dead. Now I should state with vigor and emphasis – [...]

2022-10-21T12:42:15-04:00October 8th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Reader’s Questions|

Did King David Actually Exist?

I am starting to do research for my next online course, to be given in November, dealing with the Hebrew Bible.  I'll be calling it "Finding Moses" and it will be dealing with four of the books of the Pentateuch (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and what we can actually know, historically, about the exodus from Egypt (Is there any archaeological evidence? Any reference to it in other texts outside the Bible?  Any reason to think it did, or reasons to think it did not, happen?) and about the law of Moses (Were Jews legalistic?  Did they have to keep the law for salvation?  Why do some of the laws seem so strange today?  Why do some people insist that some of the laws are still binding but others not?  etc.). One book I'll be rereading in thinking through the various historical issues of the Pentateuch is Israel Finkelstein and Neal Asher Silberman’s, The Bible Unearthed. I remembered I had talked about the book on the blog long ago - it's not about Moses, but [...]

2022-09-23T10:23:06-04:00September 20th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Do You Need the Holy Spirit to Interpret the Bible?

Every now and then I receive an email from a devout Christian who tells me that no one (including, well, me) is able to interpret the Bible correctly without guidance of the Holy Spirit.  I take this view seriously, but I've never found it convincing. Well, OK, I did when I was a student at Moody Bible Institute in the mid 70s; but not for much longer than that afterward.  Today, of course, I don't believe the Holy Spirit can guide one in reading the Bible since, as an agnostic,  I don’t believe in the Holy Spirit at all (since I don’t believe in God).  But even when I did believe in the Holy Spirit (after Moody), I came to think that it made no sense to claim that a person needed divine guidance through the Spirit to interpret the Bible correctly.  This was for two main reasons, both of which -- when they occurred to me -- struck me as virtually irrefutable. The first is this: if it is true that  Are you interested [...]

2022-09-01T11:10:47-04:00September 7th, 2022|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Did Jesus Believe in Armed Resistance to the Romans?

Here's a post from long ago that deals with an issue that has come up among some blog members recently.  Was Jesus in favor of armed resistance?  Were he and his disciples armed?  Was he killed for insurrection because he actually *was* an insurrectionist?   Here is the question in one of the forms I have received it, and my response.   QUESTION: What is the scholarly view on this subject: did Jesus himself, his movement and then early Christians walk around with weapons (swords, e.g.) to protect themselves, despite preaching the love for enemies? Do we have any historical evidence of how things looked in this matter?   RESPONSE:  This is a hugely important question.  I dealt with it in my book Jesus Before the Gospels, and don't think I'm able to say it any better by putting it in other words.  So here is what I said there: ****************************** In all four Gospels, at least one of Jesus’ followers is armed when he is arrested.   In the Synoptics, this unnamed follower draws his sword [...]

2022-08-22T11:35:35-04:00August 28th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Problems in the Gospels–How do YOU Talk to Believers About Them? What Do You Think?

I recently received this query by a blog member, and it's a question I often get, both on the blog and off.  I'm hoping that maybe you yourself have some wisdom on it.  How do you talk about historical and literary problems (contradictions!) of the Gospels to people who are convinced the Bible has no problems at all? Here the question is articulated very well.  What's your experience and judgment?  Let us know what you think! ****************************** QUESTION from a blog reader: I’m fairly knowledgeable about the historical Jesus. When I find myself discussing the gospels with Christians who are not, I’m always tempted to lead with statements that certain things are not accurate: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John didn’t actually write the gospels; the four source hypothesis; contradictions in accounts by the gospels; no post-resurrection appearances in the original version of Mark; etc. This seems like a needlessly negative approach to an informal discussion. Christians most often automatically react that I’m asserting some sort of superiority and even dogmatism over them. Do you have [...]

2022-08-18T11:37:50-04:00August 21st, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Pilate Released Barabbas. Really??

I received recently the following question, which deals with an issue I had long puzzled over.  It involves the episode in the Gospels where Pilate offers to release a prisoner to the crowds at Passover, hoping they will choose Jesus.  But instead, they choose a Jewish insurrectionist and murderer, Barabbas.  Could that have happened? Here's the Question and my Response: Did Pilate Release Barabbas? QUESTION: Pilate condemns Jesus to execution for treason against Rome. Pilate gives the Jewish crowds the option of releasing Jesus or a Jewish insurgent, Barabbas (15:6–15).   I did a quick search to see if this was an attested practice in the Roman Empire and couldn’t’ find any relevant information.  So, I have two questions:  Do you think this detail is accurate?  Is there any evidence that Roman officials actually freed condemned prisoners at certain local festival times? RESPONSE: This was an issue I worked on while writing my book Jesus Before the Gospels.  After doing my research I came to a definite conclusion, that I state rather strongly (!).  Here is [...]

2022-06-20T00:03:06-04:00April 30th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Why Are The Gospels Called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

Matthew.Mark. Luke.John. I recently received an important and puzzling question about the names attached to our four Gospels.  All four books were written and circulated anonymously, and only later did Christian leaders maintain that they were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Why these names?  Here’s the question: QUESTION:  I understand why the names John and Matthew ended up being part of the tradition concerning authorship for gospels, but why a tradition for Mark and Luke?  Today, they seem like unlikely characters for a tradition since they were not eyewitnesses. In the 2nd century did John, Mark (companion of Peter), and Luke (companion of Paul) hold more significance to the early church? RESPONSE: Even though the question is only about Mark and Luke, I think I should provide some context by discussing Matthew and John as well.  I devoted some thought to the question for my book Jesus Before the Gospels.  Here’s what I say about it all there. Why Were the Names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John Chosen? They are the names of two of [...]

2022-05-26T19:50:05-04:00April 29th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

How Can Paul Say that Jesus Appeared to The Twelve?

Why did Paul say Jesus appeared to the twelve? Here is an interesting question from my Readers’ Mailbag connected to the tradition that Judas Iscariot killed himself soon after Jesus’ death, leaving only eleven disciples. Did Paul know about this tradition? Why does he seem to think there were still twelve disciples after the resurrection? QUESTION: What do you think about Paul saying that Jesus appeared to the "twelve" (Apostles) after his resurrection? (1 Cor. 15:5) I find this to be a big mistake; given the multiple gospel stories about Judas's betrayal and subsequent suicide. Wouldn't Paul have known that there were only eleven Apostles at that time? How Can Paul Say that Jesus Appeared to The Twelve? RESPONSE: Ah, an interesting question, and answering it involves a number of rather unexpected complexities. The basic question: does Paul know that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and afterward committed suicide? The first issue to address: who among the authors of the New Testament does know about the suicide of Judas? Here’s an interesting point. It is not [...]

2024-02-22T17:03:23-05:00April 12th, 2022|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Does Paul Know That Judas Iscariot Betrayed Jesus?

I sometimes get asked about Paul and Judas Iscariot: did Paul know Jesus was betrayed?  I was asked it again a couple of weeks ago and have decided to repost an answer from some years ago.  SO:   QUESTION: Do you think that Paul, without naming him, is referring to Judas in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24? (The verse in the NRSV: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”)   RESPONSE: Ah, it’s a great question. Paul never explicitly mentions Judas Iscariot or indicates that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own disciples. But couldn’t this verse contain a reference to Judas? It refers to the night on which Jesus was betrayed! One reason the question matters is that Paul says almost *NOTHING* about the events of Jesus’ lifetime. That seems weird to [...]

Understanding the Old Testament! Joshua – 2 Kings as the Deuteronomistic History

I recently received a question about the books of Joshua and Judges: when were they written?  They are fascinating books -- flat out GREAT stories in them -- and need to be placed in the historical context of their author to be understood.  But when was that, and what ideas were guiding his narrative? I discuss such issues in my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction, right after my coverage of the Pentateuch.  Here is what I say there. ****************************** As we move now beyond the Pentateuch, we come to another collection of historical writings in the Hebrew Bible.   Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings are usually thought of and treated as a group of books, probably all written by the same author (or group of authors).  These books narrate the life of Israel once it comes to the Promised Land, as it conquers the peoples already dwelling there, divides up the land, lives in the land as a group of tribes, comes to be ruled by kings, and eventually [...]

2022-07-03T16:14:43-04:00April 3rd, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Did Nazareth Exist?

One question I repeatedly get asked is about my opinion on whether the town of Nazareth actually existed.  I was puzzled when I started getting emails on this, some years ago now.  What I came to realize is that mythicists (i.e., those who think that there never was a man Jesus; he was invented, a “myth”) commonly argue that Nazareth (like Jesus) was completely made up. I still get the emails today – a couple within the past month.   I tried to deal with this issue at length in my book Did Jesus Exist?   But since I get asked the question still, apparently by people who haven’t read my book (!) – I thought I would repeat some of what I say there.  Here is an excerpt on the issue: Did Nazareth Exist - Jesus' Hometown One supposedly legendary feature of the Gospels commonly discussed by mythicists is that the alleged hometown of Jesus, Nazareth did not exist but is itself a myth.  The logic of this argument, which is sometimes advanced with considerable vehemence and force, [...]

2023-03-15T15:27:53-04:00April 1st, 2022|Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Reader’s Questions|

February Gold Q&A: Ask your Questions!

Dear Gold Members, It is time for our monthly Gold Q&A.  Have a question?  Ask it!  Anything related to the blog! To enter your question on to the list: send it to Diane at [email protected] DEADLINE for your question. Midnight EST this Friday, Feb. 25.  I will make the recording that weekend, and it will be available, if all goes to plan, on Monday, Feb. 28. I'm looking forward to it!   Bart  

2022-02-22T18:23:12-05:00February 22nd, 2022|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Why I Prefer the NRSV

In my various posts recently I've talked about problems I have with the NRSV; some people have asked why, then, it is my preferred translation.  And even more commonly (a few times a month) I get asked if there are ANY translations out there that try to give the original form of the text instead of the one(s) altered by scribes. I've dealt with both questions in the past, and here will, in short order, explain my overall strong preference for the NRSV, all things considered.  This is a post from aeons ago. ****************************** A number of people have responded to some of my recent comments by asking what my preferred Bible translation is. I get asked the question a lot – especially since my book Misquoting Jesus, where I talk about the changes scribes made in the manuscripts they copied over the years.  A number of readers were alarmed and wondered whether I should let scholars know about these problems.  In every case I responded that yes, indeed, scholars – all scholars of the [...]

Knowing What Jesus Said and Did

I was just now looking through some old posts on the blog -- there over 2000 of them, since 2012 -- and ran across one that struck me as particularly relevant, to me at least.  It's the topic I'll be discussing with my PhD students on Tuesday, and it turns out this is what I first said about it in a post I made nine years ago.  I'll say pretty much the same thing on Tuesday! It's in response to a question from a reader, about how scholars try to determine what Jesus said and did.  ****************************** QUESTION: I've seen, somewhere on the internet (I know, great source!) some discussion that modern scholarship is moving away from the idea of criteria (such as multiple attestation, dissimilarity, etc.) and that the use of criteria is becoming seen as outmoded. Is there any truth to this, or were these sources just blowing smoke? RESPONSE: This question is about the criteria that scholars use to establish historically reliable material about the historical Jesus.  For background: there are several [...]

2021-10-18T17:37:48-04:00October 19th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|
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