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

Question on Mistakes in Ancient Sources

QUESTION A question that has long bothered me insofar as NT history is concerned: How is it that authors from the times and places mentioned in the NT got historical facts wrong? Or, more to the point, how can we compare our relatively scant evidence to what would have been first-hand experience of these authors? Granted, in some cases there was some 'bending' going on to support major theological ideas; but in less-important cases it seems less likely that they would have gotten things wrong.   RESPONSE: This is a good question, one that my students ask a lot. In particular, how can scholars today think they know more about early Christianity than the early Christians themselves?  How can we know more about Jesus than the people of his own time? I think the answers can be fairly uncontroversial, when we think about it a bit. For one thing, all of us get things wrong, all the time, about matters within our own experience.   When my wife asks me for driving directions from Durham [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:15-04:00May 15th, 2012|Reader’s Questions|

Dates of the Gospels

EMAIL QUESTION How are the dates that the Gospels were composed determined? I've read that Mark is usually dated to 70 or later because of the reference to the destruction of the temple. Is this the only factor that leads scholars to conclude that it was composed in 70 CE or later or are there other factors? I've heard that Luke and Matthew are likewise dated aroun 80-85 CE to give time for Mark to have been in circulation enough to be a source for them. Is this accurate? How is John usually dated to around 95 CE (or whatever the correct period is) since it is usually described as independent of the other Gospels? RESPONSE This is a great question, and one that I get asked a lot.  How do we actually know when the Gospels were written?   It is actually a difficult question to answer, but the things you’ve already read and heard cover some of the important territory. So let’s start on some basics that I think everyone can agree on.   (Well, [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:50-04:00May 7th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

A Final (for now) Post on the Resurrection

     A final posting, for now, on the question I was asked on the resurrection. Most people – even those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection – never stop to think about what the idea of resurrection would have meant to first century Jews.  Jesus’ followers, of course, were just that, Jews from Palestine in the first century.   Today people (Christians) are so accustomed to thinking of Jesus’ resurrection that there is nothing odd about it – it fits directly into our (their) way of thinking about the world.  But in fact the very notion of resurrection is a thoroughly Jewish notion with deep roots in the Jewish apocalyptic (as opposed, say, to the American capitalistic) world view. Throughout most of their earlier history, Jews did not hold to the idea of a resurrected afterlife.  In the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament), most authors (e.g., of Job and Ecclesiastes) think that death is the end of the story, so that there is no afterlife, or that if there is an afterlife it is a shadowy [...]

More on the Resurrection

     As I pointed out in the previous posting, we cannot know that there was an empty tomb three days after Jesus’ death.   We also cannot know which of his twelve disciples came to believe that he had been raised from the dead, or when they started to believe it.  They later indicated that he was raised on the third day, as Paul, a later Christian who knew some of the disciples, tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.   But Paul does not indicate that the disciples of Jesus started to believe that it was three days after Jesus’ death that his disciples started to believe he had been raised –only that that was the day on which he was raised.  They may have come to realize it weeks later. The Gospels, written decades after Paul, indicate that the disciples came to believe on the third day.   And it indicates that they all (except Judas Iscariot, of course) came to believe.   I don’t know if that is historically right or not.  There are a lot of Christian [...]

Another Question on the Resurrection

[h3]EMAIL QUESTION[/h3] From all of my studies, I still have one open question about the resurrection…or the resurrection story.  I do not understand how or why or when that story was invented.  It is easy to understand the retroactive invention of the virgin birth stories and other theoretical miracles of Jesus, but it seems to me that no one would have gone to the trouble to create those prior stories if they had not believed sincerely in the resurrection. …but how did the resurrection story get started?   Practically speaking, after Jesus’ crucifixion, I imagine the Disciples were terrified.  My hunch is they wanted to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible.  So, after the horror of the crucifixion…..what in the world triggered one of them to say…”you know, Jesus was really the Messiah…we have to spread his message…but nobody will believe us so how do we get the message across? O.K. Let’s make up a story about him being resurrected…and then we will tell everyone about that miracle and then certainly they will believe [...]

2020-04-03T19:46:04-04:00April 28th, 2012|Afterlife, Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

What Charities Does The Blog Support?

I was going to entitle this posting “What Charities Does the CIA Support?” but in a saner moment I thought that maybe that was not such a bright idea…. I have received several emails from potential members who have indicated that they are reluctant to pay a membership fee for charities without knowing exactly what those charities are.  Fair Enough!  A couple of these people have also indicated that they aren’t convinced that I am giving all of the money raised to charity, but that some of it is being used to line my own pockets.   To which I have numerous comments, but will simply say, instead, “Good Grief!!!”   But just to be sure everyone understands, do let me say again – I am not making a single penny from this venture.  It is all done to support charities that deal with issues of poverty, hunger, and homelessness. I don’t know yet whether I’ll be glad, in the long run, that I’ve taken on this task, as it is very time consuming and I have [...]

2020-04-03T19:46:51-04:00April 20th, 2012|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Q & A – Historical Events in Jesus Tradition

[h3] EMAIL QUESTION [/h3] Sir, I have inquiries regarding your view on two supposed historical events found in Jesus Tradition: (1) the burial by Joseph of Arimathea; (2) the discovery of the empty tomb by some of Jesus' women followers. It appears that when you gave a lecture for The Teaching Company (published in 2003) you regarded these two event claims to be "historical facts." You stated that "the earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying that Jesus was in fact buried by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it's relatively reliable that that's what happened. We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later." Source: "From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity," Lecture 4: "Oral and Written Traditions about  Jesus" (The Teaching Company, 2003). However, in your debate with W. L. Craig in 2006, you stated, "The payoff is this: We don't know if Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. What we have are Gospel stories written decades later by people who [...]

2020-04-03T19:48:11-04:00April 5th, 2012|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|
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