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Discussions and comments about religion in the news.

When Modern Christians Came to Think “The End is Near”

Israel and Palestinians: in my previous post I began to explain why Christians in Britain and America (some of them highly influential on foreign policy in both places) came to support the re-establishment of the state of Israel in the early 19th century.  I pick up the discussion there, with another excerpt from my book Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End (Simon & Schuster, 2023).  This one too veers into a direction I imagine you won’t expect. ****************************** For years evangelical Christians had been convinced that Scripture predicted Jews were to return to the Holy Land to reestablish themselves there as a sovereign state.  After all, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had reported God’s words to his people Judah: “I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you … and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you to exile” (Jeremiah 29:14).  If the end was near, as indicated by the events in France, then the [...]

2023-12-04T11:42:42-05:00December 10th, 2023|Religion in the News, Revelation of John|

American Support of Israel: A (Widely) Unknown Part of the History

Since the horrific sequence of events that started on October 7, I have been asked about the historical roots of the conflict.  Much of the important information is well known and easily accessible, from the biblical accounts of the Conquest of the Promised Land, up through 1948, on to the Second Intifada, till today.  I won’t be covering this information here, and I will not be offering my political or personal opinions on the matter.  I will instead provide some important and widely unknown historical information on one of the significant aspects of the matter. In a section of my book Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End, published earlier this past year, I discussed how the expectation that “The End is Near,” largely based on interpretations of the book of Revelation, came to affect broad swaths of American culture in ways that almost no one would suspect.  I should say emphatically that I’m not one of those religion scholars who thinks religion is at the heart of everything.  But it is at [...]

2023-12-07T10:17:07-05:00December 9th, 2023|Religion in the News, Revelation of John|

Armageddon in Biden and the Bible

On Thursday October 6, President Biden made an unusually scary statement, in response to Putin’s threat of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine:  "We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis."  He then added: “I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily (use) a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon.” Armageddon has long been on my mind.  As many of you know, my next book, coming out on March 12, is called Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says about the End.  The book is obviously not about our current political-military crisis but about where the notion of Armageddon came from, how the view that it is very near has almost never done much good, but often created serious mayhem and harm, and why the conservative Christian understanding of it based on the book of Revelation is a complete misinterpretation. Biden wasn’t talking about that.  But he was talking about how current events could indeed lead to cataclysmic disaster for the human race.  [...]

2022-10-10T22:47:18-04:00October 23rd, 2022|Religion in the News, Revelation of John|

When Did Jesus Die? Dating Jesus’ Death by the Earthquake

Finally, a scientific dating of Jesus' death.  I was trolling through old posts and came across this one.  Whoa!  Really? ****************************** Geologists claim now that they have established the date of Jesus’ death. It was April 3, 33 CE. Here was the headline: Jesus 'died on Friday, April 3, 33AD', claim researchers, who tie earthquake data with the gospels to find the date For those who don’t know, the date of Jesus’ death has long been in dispute. The reality is, we are not sure when Jesus was executed (i.e., what year). It almost certainly happened during a Passover feast during the reign of Pontius Pilate as the Prefect of Judea. His rule lasted between 26-36 CE. All of our early Gospel accounts agree that the crucifixion happened on a Friday. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this Friday was the day after the Passover meal was eaten and so, technically, it was still “Passover Day (see Mark 14:12). According to John the Friday was the day before it was eaten – on the day [...]

2022-09-26T10:38:04-04:00October 9th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Religion in the News|

Time Magazine Cover Story on Lost Christianities. Kind Of….

When I wrote a post about Lost Christianities yesterday, a funny anecdote occurred to me and I wondered if I had ever written a post on it.  Yup, in 2012!  It's worth repeating.  It has to do with Time Magazine (though it starts with Newsweek).  This was back when people used to actually get these things in the mail, in the Pleistocene Age, and they were therefore a bit of a bigger deal. Here's the post, from nine years ago. ****************************** Yesterday I learned that a story I wrote for Newsweek on the birth of Jesus was made the cover story this week. It’s kind of a goofy cover, but hey, I had nothing to do with that! The issue is now available. Get ‘em while they’re hot. I want to reflect for a second on the cover story of a news magazine. I never realized it before getting involved with that (very strange) world, although it makes good sense once you think about it, but they really can’t decide on what goes on the [...]

2021-11-09T11:00:43-05:00November 9th, 2021|Book Discussions, Religion in the News|

The Remarkable Story of Masada: Guest Post by Jodi Magness

Many of you know of my colleague Jodi Magness.  She is one of the world's leading authorities on the archaeology of ancient Israel, a real superstar in her field.  You can read about her here:  Since 2011 her annual dig at Huqoq in Galilee has is often discussed in the international press, particularly because of the synagogue they discovered that has some of the most amazing works of art ever to be found in Israel; the work is regularly featured, for example, in National Geographic.  (For the dig, see: But her first major archaeological work involved the army camps at Masada, one of the most historically and culturally significant sites of Israel antiquity, where rebel fighters made their last stand against the Roman armies in 73 CE.  Jodi has recently published a terrific book for a broader audience on Masada.  It's a fascinating story and a flat-out terrific book: Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth (Princeton University Press, 2019). I asked Jodi if she would be willing to do a guest post [...]

2021-02-02T01:02:59-05:00May 27th, 2020|Early Judaism, Religion in the News|

Academic Fraud at the Highest Levels

An article appeared in the Atlantic this past week that exposes academic fraud at the highest levels, involving millions of dollars, unscrupulous scholars, and evangelical Christians so intent on proving the truth of the Bible that they were willing, even eager, to engage in unethical and fraudulent activities to do so.  It seems weird, but the case involves Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. The article was written by one of the country’s best investigative journalists, Ariel Sabar, who earlier had exposed for once and all the modern forgery known as “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” in another article in the Atlantic  (I’ve blogged on this forgery a number of times as the story unfolded; just search for “Jesus’ wife” on the blog and you’ll see the posts).    Sabar has a forthcoming book on the topic, Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, due out in August.  I have read it in manuscript, and it is damning indeed. So is the current article.  You can see it here: [...]

2020-05-24T12:38:27-04:00May 24th, 2020|Religion in the News|

Startling and Disturbing Development Involving Manuscripts at the Museum of the Bible

There’s been a new and rather astonishing development in the story involving the so-called “First Century Gospel of Mark.”  If you recall, a few years ago some textual scholars began to claim that we now have in our possession the oldest copy of Mark (by a long shot) ever to be discovered.  The existence of the manuscript was first announced in 2012 by Prof. Dan Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary, in a public debate he was having, as it turns out, with me at UNC Chapel Hill. Until now, our first fragmentary copy of Mark could be dated to around the beginning of the third century.  The earliest full copy of Mark comes to us form the middle of the fourth.  Mark itself was written, probably, around 70 CE.  So, well, that’s a long time between when the original was first published and when our first complete copy of it was made.  Around 300 years.  How many changes were made over the years?  Were there lots?  Were they massive?  How could we ever know? But [...]

2020-05-27T15:32:51-04:00October 15th, 2019|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

Why Was the World Created in 4004 BC?

Why was the world created?  We appear to be living in an age where science no longer matters.  As you may know, the English word "science" comes from the Latin term "scientia," which means "knowledge.:  People who reject "science," well, what is it they're rejecting?   We live in dangerous times. Apart from the more obvious examples of this rejection that you can find in the newspaper every day (involving a human-induced apocalypse of biblical proportions), there are still, of course, a large number of "creationists" out there, who not only deny evolution (as a student now then will always tell me, with passion in his voice, "Hey, it's ONLY a theory!!") but who also subscribe to a young earth theory.  The earth has just been around for about 6000 years. Really. When I was a fundamentalist I knew people who seriously claimed not only that dinosaurs and humans were walking around the earth together, but that fossils that appear to date to millions of years earlier were put into the geological record by Satan, who [...]

The Hobby Lobby, Biblical Manuscripts, and Academic Scandal

Yesterday I posted the most recent developments in the scandalous “first-century Mark” affair.   Readers of the blog who are not familiar with or invested much in the study of ancient manuscripts may have shrugged their shoulders and not seen what the big deal was.  I completely get that.   But anyone involved in New Testament textual criticism, the history of the Bible, and the ethics of modern biblical scholarship would have seen that this is a very, very big deal.  A  blockbuster development. For years now conservative evangelical scholars have been declaring that they have solid proof to support their views about the New Testament, against crazy liberal types (like me): we NOW have, they claimed, reliable *first* century evidence that the Gospels were both written earlier than the skeptics claim *and* that it was being reliably copied.  Their evidence?  A portion of the Gospel of Mark that had been dated by one of the world’s experts to the first century itself.  Amazing! And where was this manuscript of Mark?  No one would say.  How much [...]

2020-04-02T23:32:54-04:00June 25th, 2019|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

An Official Copy of Jesus’ Death Sentence: Another Forgery?

I have been intermittently posting accounts of modern forgeries of Gospels that provide, as a rule, sensationalized information about the “lost” records of Jesus – for example an account claiming he traveled to India as a young man to learn his wisdom from the Brahmins, or another purportedly based on an eyewitness to the crucifixion. Here now is yet another, this one an allegedly official copy of the death sentence from his trial, written by Pontius Pilate himself, in Hebrew no less.   It’s amazing how gullible modern readers can be.  But for a long time now, many people have simply assumed that if they read something in a tabloid, hey, it must be true! Critical scholars, however, have no trouble demonstrating when these things are forgeries.  One could only wish that such critical skills were shared by the reading public at large (and not just those interested in early Christianity!). Again, I have taken this discussion from the final chapter of my book Forged.   ********************************************************* The Death Sentence of Jesus Christ One of the [...]

Homosexuality and the New Testament. Guest Post by Jeff Siker.

Yesterday Jeff Siker, PhD in NT and editor of two books that discuss biblical/Christian views of homosexuality, started his summary and assessment of what the Bible has to say about same-sex relations, in light of the recent vote of the United Methodists not to welcome “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” in their churches.  In that post he dealt with the salient passages in the Old Testament; today he moves to the controversial texts of the New Testament and ends with some insightful reflections on the relevance of the Bible for same-sex relations in the modern context. Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia. ****************************************************** Romans 1:26-27 “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the [...]

Homosexuality in the Bible (and the Christian Church)

Here is a pressing question I was asked about a month ago, involving homosexuality and the Christian church.  Since the question was asked, as you know (if you follow the news!), the Methodist Church has made its decision. I decided to ask a real expert to deal with the question, my friend Jeff Siker, PhD in New Testament who has just retired from a 30+ year career teaching biblical studies at Loyola Marymount, and who has edited two books that address Christian views of homosexuality, the one he mentions below in his answer (1994) and a more recent reference work, Encyclopedia of Homosexuality and Religion (2006). When it comes to this topic, he’s heard it all and is massively informed.  These two posts, of course, represent simply a condensation of the relevant information and his views about them. Jeff has served as a guest poster twice on the blog before, and both times graciously answered questions and responded to comments.  I’m not sure if he will be able to do so (I asked him just [...]

The Pope and the Lord’s Prayer

I have received numerous queries about the Pope’s recent comments about the Lord’s Prayer.   There has been a good deal of news coverage on the topic.  Here is an article from my local paper: The issue is summed up in that article as this: In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer – “lead us not into temptation” – was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does. “A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.” In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.” And so I have been asked by several people what I think about that.   There are at least three issues involved: What should Christians today pray?  On this, [...]

2018-01-09T15:34:45-05:00December 10th, 2017|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions, Religion in the News|

Bart Ehrman discusses the Apocalypticist

This is a very strange video!  One of the strangest I've ever been in.  To begin with, the title doesn't make any sense (I'm not sure who called it this).  The word "apocalypticist" means "a person who holds to an apocalyptic world view."  So who or what is "The apocalypticist"?  I've never heard someone being given that title ("THE" apocalypticist; as if there were just one??).  Maybe it means Jesus the Apocalypticist?  Maybe, but that's not really what the clip is mainly about.  It's about the ancient world view of apocalypticism.  It starts with a movie with Richard Harris, moves to an interview with me about what the term "apocalypse" means, goes (briefly) to the question of whether Jesus was an apocalypticist; and ends with Harold Camping, this fellow who claimed the end of the world was coming on May 21, 2011.  It's a very odd clip.  But here it is! (NOTE: This particular post is open to everyone.  Most posts on this blog are for MEMBERS ONLY.  Think about joining.  You get tons of [...]

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

A couple of people on the blog have suggested that as a feature of the blog, I periodically provide a Blast From the Past -- that is, repost a blog post from a few years ago.  I think it's a great idea.  My guess is that most people on the blog haven't read everything from then, and if they have, if they're like me, they won't remember them!  So I decided to go back from three years ago today (well, tomorrow) and see what I was saying.  Here's the post.  I don't remember it at *ALL*!!!  But I still think now what I did then. ************************************************************************************* John Shelby Spong, former Episcopal bishop of New Jersey and highly controversial author (because of his skeptical views about the New Testament and traditional Christian doctrine) has just published a new book on the Gospel of John, called The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. I have not read the book, but Spong has written an interesting article on it that appeared in the Huffington Post yesterday, at [...]

New Archaeological Discoveries and the Bible! Readers Mailbag April 16, 2016

Today I address two interesting questions on the weekly mailbag, one about the new archaeological discovery in Israel and the other on whether in my last book I violated my own advice about requiring only experts to write for popular audiences.  If you have a question you would like me to address, let me know!   QUESTION:  Does the latest information on the discovery of written texts from before the removal of the Israelite’s to Babylon indicating a wider level of literacy in 7th century BCE change your mind in any way about the illiteracy of the followers of Jesus?   RESPONSE: I’m not sure if everyone saw this intriguing news item in the NY Times (or elsewhere), but here it is: Let me say emphatically that I have no inside information about the find – I know only what I read in the papers, and it is fascinating indeed.   They have discovered a number of ostraca (pottery sherds) that have written on them, in ink, grocery/supply requests; they originate from Israel about the [...]

Christians, Muslims, and God: Wheaton College in the News

I am sure that many of you have heard of the recent incident involving Christianity and Islam at Wheaton College, my alma mater, an evangelical liberal arts college outside of Chicago.   Several readers have asked me about it.  Here is a typical query: QUERY: Wheaton College was in the news this past week. Apparently one of the professors was suspended because she claimed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Also, she wore a hijab to show solidarity with Muslims. You can read more about it at I have believed the same, that the Christian God and the Muslim God are one and the same. Could you comment on this?   RESPONSE: Let me start by saying that I deeply enjoyed and highly valued the education I received at Wheaton.  At the time – and still today, I’m sure – it was considered the premier liberal arts college in the evangelical Christian tradition.  Its evangelical credentials were and are completely bona fide.  Students there were all to agree to the evangelical doctrinal position [...]

Back to the Forgery of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

Some three years ago now I discussed in several posts the newly "discovered" text called "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" (just search for "wife" and you'll find the posts).  A new development has occurred that makes it almost certain that this text is a modern forgery, done sometime in the last 20 years.  The evidence has been uncovered by Andrew Bernhard, author of Other Early Christian Gospels, and who was one of the first to establish other grounds for seeing the text as something quite fishy, and who has posted several times on the matter on Mark Goodacre's blog (as Mark informed me a couple of nights ago at a reading group).   I asked Andrew to come up with an explanation of the new evidence of foul-play (either by the person who gave the document to Harvard Professor Karen King or by the person who gave it to that other person).  I am very grateful to him for having done so.  Here is what he says: *********************************************************************************************** Confirmation that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife [...]

2020-11-22T14:49:09-05:00September 10th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Religion in the News|

More Hard Issues on the Qur’an Fragments

My plan is to make this the final post for now on the issue of the Qur’an fragments discovered at the University of Birmingham.  Obviously the discussion could go on forever (it’s been going on for 1500 years and is not likely to stop any time soon).   But I’m not a scholar of the Qur’an or of Islam, and I would prefer sticking to topics that are within my realm of expertise. I know that comment itself will prompt emails from two groups of people, (a) from Muslims urging me to study the Qur’an so I will see that it is true and convert to Islam and (b) from Christians urging me to subject the Qur’an to the same kind of scrutiny to which critical scholars have subjected the NT, in order to show that Islam too has abundant problems.   The reason I know this will happen is because I get both kinds of emails, *all* the time!   But I’m sorry to say, I’m not going to convert to Islam and I’m not going to [...]

2020-04-03T13:29:54-04:00July 29th, 2015|Reader’s Questions, Religion in the News|
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