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Why Paul Persecuted the Christians

I have been side-tracked by other things, but now can get back to the thread I started to spin, or rather the tapestry I started to weave.  The ultimate question I’m puzzling over is how Christianity became the dominant religion in the empire, and my point at this stage is that before Christianity began to thrive, it was persecuted.  The persecutions go all the way back.  Our first Christian author is Paul, who must have converted to be a follower of Jesus just three years or so after Jesus’ death.  Paul tells us explicitly that before becoming a follower of Jesus he was a persecutor of the church.  And why was he persecuting it?  He doesn’t say directly, buy my sense is that it was for a very basic reason.  He despised their message.  Specifically he could not abide what Christians were saying about Jesus.  Why was that a problem?  Because they insisted he was God’s messiah. In my previous post I indicated something of one of the common views of what the messiah was [...]

Are the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Manuscripts Reliable? A Blast From the Past

A reader has perspicaciously pointed out to me that a particularly relevant post from three years ago (June 7, 2013) makes an important contribution to the topic I've been discussing about the Pentateuch.  This post is not about whether the events described in the Hebrew Bible are accurate, but whether we have accurate manuscripts of these accounts.  I talk a lot on the blog about manuscripts of the New Testament.  What about manuscripts of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible?  My post back then was in response to a question.  Here it is in full: **************************************************************************************************** QUESTION: Bart, these issues you've found in the New Testament, have you studied and found similar issues in the Old Testament?" RESPONSE: Yes indeed!   Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) was my secondary field in my PhD program, and I taught Introduction to Hebrew Bible at both Rutgers and UNC.   A few years ago when I decided to write my Introduction to the Bible I decided that to do it right I had to re-tool in Hebrew Bible.  I’m by no [...]

The Letters of Paul: Mailbag April 1, 2016

In today’s Readers’ Mailbag, I will be answering questions connected with the writings of Paul: what is the earliest manuscript of his letters; did the author of Acts know Paul’s letters; and is Paul described as a heretic in the Dead Sea Scrolls. ******************************************************************************************* QUESTION Bart, early in your book Misquoting Jesus (p. 4) you wrote a sudden, shocking surprise (to many born-again Christians) when you said “As we learned at Moody in one of the first courses in the curriculum, we don’t actually have the original writings of the New Testament.” I’ve witnessed my own neighbor’s disbelief and visible anger when I pointed this out to him. … My interest is your response to my question “How old are the earliest copies we have of Paul’s letters 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians.” … As you know, these books describe, in part, the resurrection of Jesus.   RESPONSE It is a little difficult for me to know the question behind this question, so first let me answer the direct question and then to respond to [...]

The Dead Sea Scrolls

In my previous several posts I discussed the discovery and contents of the Nag Hammadi Library.  A lot of people on the blog know about all that, since it is a major topic of discussion among scholars of early Christianity.  But the reality is that among the general populace, no one really knows about it.  People may have heard about the “Gnostic Gospels,” but they don’t realize that there is such a *thing* as the Nag Hammadi Library (or, obviously, why it is called that). On the other hand, everyone has heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, even if they have no clue what the scrolls are, what they contain, and how they were found. The Dead Sea Scrolls are by virtual consensus the most significant manuscript discovery of the twentieth century.  And they are decidedly *not* to be confused with the Nag Hammadi Library!   Here is what I say about the scrolls in my New Testament textbook.  (These paragraphs actually say more about the Essenes that produced the scrolls than the scrolls themselves.)   [...]

2020-04-03T13:35:36-04:00June 23rd, 2015|Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Yesterday I talked about the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding Jesus and the milieu out of which earliest Christianity grew. My basic point is that if Jesus was a Jew, then to understand him, you have to understand Jews in his world. And the Dead Sea Scrolls provide us valuable information to that end. I am not saying that the Dead Sea Scrolls are representative of what all or even most Jews thought at the time. They clearly are not. If the “Essene hypothesis” is right – and it is the view held by the vast majority of the experts (among whom I do not number myself) (and among whom they do not number me either! ) – then the Scrolls were produced by a Jewish sect that had very distinctive views of its own that were not, in many respects, shared by outsiders. In particular, this was a group of Jews who insisted that the coming apocalyptic judgment, soon to arrive, would bring destruction not only to the hated Romans and [...]

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity

As we used to say back when I was a committed Christian, with respect to prayer: Be careful what you ask for! So I asked for questions that you would like me to address, and I have been receiving them in droves. Some of them I will be able to answer very quickly as a response to the comment itself, some I will handle in a post – or more, depending on how complicated the matter is. (If I intend to answer them in a post, I won’t reply to the comment, just to save some time; but I’ll post the comment/question itself). In any event, I have plenty to keep me busy now for a while! I’ll probably address them in the order in which I received them. For today:   Question: Can you write a post on how the Qumran Scrolls advance our understanding of the birth of Christianity?   Response: This is a question that can be answered in one sentence, or in a very long and dense book or … anything [...]

On to Jerusalem

Just a quick post because of time constraints. We just got into Jerusalem and I am off to give a lecture in half an hour. We left Tiberias (and the Sea of Galilee) this morning and traveled down to Jerusalem. En route we went to one of the traditional sites of Jesus’ baptism, in the Jordan River; it can’t be the actual site, since it’s way up north and it is clear in our earliest account, Mark’s, that John was baptizing somewhere in walking distance of Jerusalem. But it’s a gorgeous setting, and there are always groups of people getting baptized there – as today. From there we went to Beth Shean, one of the major archaeological sites of (Greek and) Roman ruins in Israel, with terrific colonnaded walk ways, a very nicely preserved theater that seats 8000 (in the Greek style – that is, built into the natural slope of a hill, rather than the Roman style which tended to be “free standing”), some terrific public baths, temples, and lots of other things. We [...]

Dead Sea Scrolls Scandal

A few years ago I was asked to give a speech at a museum in Raleigh NC in connection with an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls that had been long in the works and had finally become a reality. I will be the first to admit, I'm not the first person you should think of to give a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s not my field of scholarship. But the lecture was to be one of a series of lectures, and the other lecturers actually were experts, including my colleague Jodi Magness, a world-class archaeologist who happens to teach in my department (well, she doesn’t “happen” to teach there; I hired her when I was chair of the department) and who has written the best popular discussion of the archaeology of Qumran, the place where the scrolls were found, and my colleague at cross-town rival Duke, Eric Meyers, another archaeologist famous for his work in ancient Israel. The organizers of the exhibit wanted me to give a talk because they wanted a [...]

Was Jesus an Essene?

QUESTION: I was wondering how big of an influence you think the Essenes had on Jesus and his teachings, and if there's any evidence that he and John The Baptist were students of that philosophy. Jesus' apocalyptic teachings seem to align with them a lot. RESPONSE: Great question!  When the Dead Sea Scrolls (= DSS) were discovered in 1947, it was quickly realized that this was a library of documents produced by the Jewish group known from other ancient authors (such as Josephus and Pliny the Elder) as the Essenes (this identification is debated among some scholars; but the solid majority of scholars agree today that the “Essene” hypothesis is right).   The Essenes were known from antiquity for being a rigorously ascetic group.  The DSS themselves were an entire library of writings.  Some of them were copies of biblical books (Hebrew Bible) – significant because they were about a thousand years older than the oldest copy otherwise available.   Others were previously unknown works: commentaries on biblical books, apocalyptic treatises, instructions for how the community was [...]

First-Century Copy of Mark? – Part 1

On February 1, I had a public debate in Chapel Hill with Daniel Wallace, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar who teaches at that bastion of conservative dispensationalist theology, Dallas Theological Seminary. He is also the author of several books, including Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament and Reinventing Jesus. I have known Dan for over thirty years, since we were both graduate students interested in similar areas of research: my field (at the time I too was an evangelical) was textual criticism, the study of the ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and of what they can tell us about the “original” writings of the New Testament; his field was the grammar of the Greek New Testament. The term “textual criticism” is a technical term. It does not refer to any study of “texts.” It is specifically the study of how to establish what an author wrote if we do not have his or her actual writings, but only later copies of them. In the case of the New Testament we [...]

2020-06-03T15:41:12-04:00April 6th, 2012|Bart's Debates, New Testament Manuscripts|
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