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 »