Oct 142013


I’m pretty stoked about the new blog series starting at Higgaion:

In the coming weeks, probably stretching into months, I plan to read as much as I can find of the published literature on gamification and blog about the experience. I will also share some of the practical lessons I’ve learned from gamifying my own Religion 101 course.

Chris Heard explains the concept of “gamification”:

In case you haven’t encountered gamification yet, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s 7 Things You Should Know About newsletter for August 2011 used the widely-accepted definition, “Gamification is the application of game elements in non-gaming situations, often to motivate or influence behavior.” Nick Pelling claims to have coined the word “gamification” in 2002, defining it as “applying game-like accelerated user interface design to make electronic transactions both enjoyable and fast” and primarily seeking to make electronic devices fun to use.

These interests are close to my heart also.

It’s common knowledge that “hearing” is not as effective a tool for learning as “seeing,” and that “seeing” is not as effective as “doing.” This needs an addendum: “doing” is not as effective as “playing.”

Continue reading »

Oct 132013


I started out with a post that was long, verbose, and carefully calculated to impress the reader with its soft, moderate approach. I gave it the title “The Delights of Doubt,” explaining that doubt is a virtue in the face of evidence that doesn’t demand a verdict and pointing out the contortions people put themselves through when they try to claim knowledge when they have none.

Predictably, my browser ate the post, so let’s get right to the point. Tim Widowfield nails it on the head:

The public is the audience. We are receivers. It was never intended to be a two-way street. Our proper role is to buy their books, take their classes, write fan letters, applaud politely, and by all means shut up.

Jim West wears his heart on his sleeve (responding to a post that I found very admirable in its own approach, by Mark Goodacre) when talking about “claims that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.”

I’m glad Mark is keeping an open mind.  Personally, however, I think all such claims are a priori absolutely idiotic.  Produce ONE SHRED of ancient (1st century CE) evidence that Jesus took Mary to wife.  Just one shred; then, I’ll have an open mind to the possibility.  But until you do, there’s nothing for me to be open minded about.  Simcha’s claims are proof of nothing.  Period.  Show me the evidence or don’t make the claim.  First century, authenticated, provenanced archaeological or textual material, or shut up. Continue reading »

Oct 122013

ichthusFor some reason, I’ve never seen a simple table of some christological titles as presented in the early Christian writings, even though it would be very handy to have. So I made my own.

I started out including fragmentary and quoted writings, but midway through I decided to put them in a separate table (incomplete). Both the entries and the blanks in the table are meaningful, but those blanks are much less meaningful with a short, fragmentary text. Some texts with substantial fragments, such as the Gospel of Peter, are shown.

I certainly wouldn’t mind if anybody would like to mention some of my errors of omission and other mistakes. Please do. I would be very happy to improve the table.

Further work to be done could be to add more christological titles, to design different arrangements or charts, to note any difficulties of ambiguous interpretation, to integrate data about presumed dates of authorship, to extend this table to the entire Nag Hammadi Library (not just the texts that are part of the Early Christian Writings site), and of course to add the rest of the fragmentary and quoted writings.

Still, I’d like to release this first draft now, below. Continue reading »

Oct 092013

top50linksThis ranking has used MajesticSEO for data on the number of domain names with links pointing in to the blog, and this allows for all blogs to be ranked with a somewhat meaningful metric. It also goes beyond the top 50. Please let me know if you want a biblioblog added to future rankings.

As you may be able to guess, the age of a blog is even more important when it comes to the number of inbound links from different domains. This is one of the facts that has substantially changed the order of top biblioblogs listed below, when compared with the previous list of the top 50 by traffic.

(The numbers on the right are the number of different domains linking in. More info below.)

With no further ado… why not add some of these to your blog reader?

Continue reading »

Oct 082013

notovitchOver at Exploring Our Matrix, James McGrath brings our attention to a sensationalist (to put it mildly) press release from Joseph Atwill to the effect that “ancient confessions recently uncovered now prove, according to Atwill, that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ.” Could this just be nonsense trumped up to sell a book documentary? Say it isn’t so!

Certainly I have to agree with McGrath that the popularization of outlandish made-for-media headlines “makes the work of scholars that much harder, as we try to come up with scholarly reconstructions, float new ideas to their peers, critically evaluate evidence, and offer nuanced conclusions.” Or, at least, that it does make it harder for that work to penetrate the public consciousness.

One can read the subtext, however, made explicit here, that such nonsense “has many similarities of approach to that of Earl Doherty and other mythicists,” meaning to tar any writer disbelieving in a historical Jesus with the same brush. With a book from Richard Carrier forthcoming On the Historicity of Jesus, we can expect that a wide range of polemics will be applied liberally to him as well, with similar injustice.

Certainly, however, any number of books have come out of la-la land under the rubric of the study of the historical Jesus. And I’m not just talking about the apologetics industry (e.g.,  the tombs of Jesus and the Shroud of Turin). There are books telling us that Jesus sojourned in India or that Jesus faked his death and lived on in Rome. Or the latest oeuvre from Bill O’Reilly, as a simple case in point. Continue reading »

Oct 082013

This gorgeous map of the Roman Empire at the end of Trajan’s reign is in the public domain.


The document below shows the languages of the Roman Empire around the same time. (Note the legend; “displaced” means that it no longer survived by the time of the dissolution of the western Roman Empire. That Celtic patch in Asia Minor is Galatian, as Jerome attests that the Gallic tongue was spoken in both regions in his day. The map shown below may not be completely accurate.) Continue reading »

Oct 062013

celtic-symbol-of-the-holy-trinityThe text attributed to the second century Gnostic Valentinus called “On the Three Natures,” known to us in a single reference from the fourth century, Marcellus of Ancyra, has at least three possibilities regarding its composition:

  1. Valentinus is, more or less, one of the first Trinitarians.
  2. Valentinus wrote something misunderstood by Marcellus of Ancyra, or known only by title, on a different topic (possibly, on the three natures of man).
  3. Valentinus wrote nothing of the sort, but a text of the title later circulated among Gnostics, with its contents being either about man or about theogony.

Here is the reference:

Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God. … These then teach three hypostases, just as Valentinus the heresiarch first invented in the book entitled by him ‘On the Three Natures’.  For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have filched this from Hermes and Plato. (Logan, A. Marcellus of Ancyra (Pseudo-Anthimus), “On the Holy Church: Text, Translation and Commentary.” Verses 8-9.  Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Volume 51, Pt. 1, April 2000, p.95)

Most discussions online make one of the first two assumptions without mentioning any other possibilities. So let’s go over these three possibilities briefly now, with a discussion of the evidence.

Continue reading »

Oct 042013

joinForumSeveral bloggers, including Roger Pearse and Neil Godfrey, among others, have used a venerable, ancient forum on the web to hash out issues informally in an open discussion format. This forum, over 10 years old, resided at the “Internet Infidels Discussion Board” as “Biblical Criticism & History,” where I moderated for a while.

Yesterday, that particular forum lived on at “Free Ratio” as the History of Abrahamic Religions & Related Texts. But today that forum got iced. Nobody can post anymore.

Since I see this as a tragic loss, given how few really active forums with quality discussion exist for our topic, I immediately responded by setting up its spiritual successor, the Early Writings forum.

I’m looking forward to the next 10 years of discussions, and to kick this thing off, I have alerted some of the notable posters from the old forum. I am also inviting everyone reading this to help give it a chance to grow by stopping by and posting. (And I will be putting some sneaky links on my other websites to get it rolling.)

Think of it as a place where you can float ideas, ask questions, or sound off with even less pressure than your blog’s “publish” button… which is something that I find valuable and that, for others, is the only way they prefer to get involved in the discussion: informally. Join us.

Oct 032013

questionmarkIn my last post, I drew together some lines of thought. (1) The Gospel of Luke’s preface says the writer is putting things ‘orderly’ or ‘in order.’ (2) The central section of the Gospel of Luke exhibits a structure of chiasm (according to some scholars) and disagrees with the order of Mark/Matthew. (3) Some writers in the ancient world used such literary structure to make their text memorable to those hearing it read.

From this, I concluded that the author of Luke-Acts intentionally ordered his narrative to make it memorable, that this is part of the interpretation of the preface, that this explains his treatment of the other synoptics, and lastly that Luke-Acts did all this so that his work could stand on its own, as it were, as an important text to be read widely, without having a claim to apostolic authorship.

  • This short essay moved from premises, stated and unstated, to a conclusion.
  • The conclusion is a plausible but not necessary consequence of the premises.
  • The stated premises are not beyond reproach (e.g., chiasmus or no?).
  • The unstated premises are a bit shaky too (e.g., the text of Luke-Acts, any synoptic problem solution).

To say that a lot of writing on the New Testament follows this kind of pattern is a bit of an understatement.

There is more to the problem of Luke and Acts than first meets the eye… Continue reading »

Oct 032013


Luke doesn’t feel the need to hide behind the pseudonym of an apostle to give his writings authority, as so many other authors of his era do.

What is supposed to be so compelling about the Gospel of Luke, the Acts of the  Apostles, and the orderliness of it all? It’s a good question and one to which the author himself must have had an answer.

The blasé reply is that the author thought that his order was, chronologically, more accurate as to what came first, what came second, and so on. Is this the complete answer? Something like this could definitely be implied by the author for his reader to believe from the preface as a way to impress the reader with the work’s authority. However, I think there’s another answer that’s just as important to the author that has evidence in the text itself. Continue reading »

Oct 022013

Church-Fathers-2Well I got sour news for you, Jack.

It ain’t that easy.

For instance, are you willing to make the commitment to wakin’ up at the crack a’ noon for 7 or 8 readings of the Didache at a time, in a row?

How about are you ready to make the commitment to perfect knowledge of Greek, Latin, and Syriac—polyglot style—bristling on your tongue?

How about are you willing to make the commitment to wakin’ up and going, okay, study time, which church father am I gonna read? (Can’t decide! Can’t decide! Brain aneurysm!)

Today Triablogue and Roger Pearse have asked the question: how do I get into reading the church fathers, both in terms of primary and secondary reading? They come to some very different answers, and I have a third perspective…
Continue reading »

Sep 282013


Previously I knew that this letter has been dated variously from the first to the third century, but just today I read that some scholars recently judge that it is most likely a Christian composition dating to the fourth century.

While the Syriac letter of Mara bar-Serapion frequently comes up when discussing non-Christian references to Jesus, there is precious little recent scholarly interpretation of the letter and its context online. (A little searching does, however, turn up a conference report from 2009, a webpage produced prior to that conference, and a brief exchange on Crosstalk from 2000.) The dating of the letter to 73 AD (or “later than 73 AD”) is widely cited, but most writers online either don’t know why it’s dated then or just choose not to discuss the reasoning.

The reasoning isn’t hard to follow, on the view that the letter is genuine: Continue reading »

Sep 252013

I just got through a first read of Hedrick and Mirecki’s Gospel of the Savior: A New Ancient Gospel. The first thing that strikes me is a comparison between the reception of the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of the Savior, the two new ancient gospel texts published recently. There was a little hive of publishing activity regarding the Gospel of Judas, but almost nothing regarding the Gospel of the Savior has come out in book form since it was first released.

I attribute this to the sensationalism of the initial publication of the Gospel of Judas but also, secondly, to the very fragmentary form of the Gospel of the Savior. You can’t easily just sit down with the latter in translation and muse about it. Everywhere you must first wrestle with the difficult questions of what might be in those lacunae, the missing parts of the text that lie beyond, in every direction, that which we actually can read. Continue reading »

Sep 242013

I am starting back from nothing in two ways today. I am starting this blog, which launches into the biblioblog part of the blogosphere. While I will be writing about the themes of my existing websites (Early Christian Writings, Early Jewish Writings, and Christian Origins), I may stray into other topics and other projects. This will be my only blog, so it will be a reflection of what I’m thinking about or working on at the time. My blog is informal and may not even reflect my own views a week from now, so if you see something wrong, a comment would be appreciated. May I always be open to a change of mind and ready to admit a mistake!

I am also starting my library from nothing, or almost nothing, because I did have four books on the Dead Sea Scrolls that my sister had found left in her apartment. I had sold all of my books because I had been moving around a bit, most importantly to Norway where I met my wife and married her in 2012. Last year, we found out that I would not be able to immigrate to Norway to be with her, so I packed my life back into two bags, and now we have an apartment in California. Continue reading »