Category Archives: History

The history of the world.

Paul and Jesus (review)

Paul and Jesus. How the Apostle Transformed Christianity. James Tabor. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012.

This is a marvelous little book which is basic to understanding the “historical Paul.” It’s so simple, elegant, and straightforward, that after reading it, one can’t help wondering why someone hadn’t written it earlier. Not only is it important to understanding the historical Paul, but it’s also important to understanding the historical Jesus — because it is through Paul that we have some of our best information about the early Jesus movement.

James Tabor is a key figure in the growing movement to recognize and understand “Jewish Christianity.” Continue reading

Paul’s Third Journey in A Polite Bribe

A Polite Bribe is an excellent representation of Paul’s journeys as presented in Acts. Because Paul describes his first two journeys to Jerusalem (as a Christian) in his letters, we have the opportunity to “compare and contrast” events in Paul’s letters with the same events described in Acts, written at least fifty years later. But we are adrift when it comes to Paul’s third journey. Paul never mentions this third journey in his letters — except prospectively, as a journey he intends to make at some time in the future. Continue reading

A Polite Bribe — Great New Video on Early Christianity

A great new video on early Christianity, A Polite Bribe, has been released. If you’ve never read Paul’s letters or the book of Acts, well guess what–now you don’t have to! They’ve made a movie out of it!

Moreover, it’s a movie that makes some critical points about the history of the early church. There was a split in the early church between Paul and the Jerusalem church. Paul made a collection for the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:10, Romans 15:25–27, etc.). This collection was likely refused by the Jerusalem church. Whoa! What was this all about? Continue reading

Playing into the Hands of the Mythicists

Ignoring the factionalism in the early church plays into the hands of the Christian traditionalists.  When you try to identify the original foundational teaching in the New Testament, without taking into account the factionalism, it’s a confused mess.  A variety of completely contradictory views about Jesus is possible. Jesus supported animal sacrifice, or Jesus opposed animal sacrifice; Jesus was apocalyptic, or Jesus was not apocalyptic; and so forth.

The end result is that there is no meaningful scholarly consensus on who Jesus was. Since the scholars don’t agree among themselves, there is no single scholarly consensus about Jesus that can effectively be set up in opposition to Christian traditionalism, and thus by comparison the Christian dogmas don’t look so bad.

But ignoring factionalism also plays into the hands of the mythicists — those who hold that Jesus is himself a myth.  Continue reading

Playing into the Hands of the Traditionalists

Addressing the question of factionalism in the early church is key to understanding what early Christianity was really about. Christian traditionalists would probably prefer to forget about the traumatic dispute between Paul and the other apostles, just a few decades after Jesus left the earth, which fundamentally altered the trajectory of Christianity. After all, “the apostles fighting with each other” — it’s not a pretty picture, and throws into question the whole traditional view of early Christianity. Continue reading

Pious Fraud, Vegetarian Style

Bart Ehrman’s book “Forged” deals mostly with ancient forgeries, but also with some modern forgeries

NOTE: this post discusses Nicholas Notovitch and Edmond Bordeaux Szekely. For G. J. R. Ouseley and “The Gospel of the Holy Twelve,” see the next post.

The New Testament includes many books whose actual authors are other than they are claimed to be. That is, they are forgeries — but made it into the New Testament anyway.  Paul’s two “letters to Timothy,” for example, were not actually written by Paul.  Forgeries are in a different category altogether than channeled works such as Rev. Ouseley’s The Gospel of the Holy Twelve or Levi’s The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the case of channeled works, the author is being straightforward: I had a dream or vision, in which God (or Anna Kingsford, or the Akashic Records) revealed these things. But in the case of forgeries, a manuscript is being advertised as being written by someone who in fact did not write it. Forgeries in the realm of religion are sometimes called “pious frauds.”

Two distinguished examples of modern “pious frauds” are the gospels by Nicholas Notovitch and Edmond Bordeaux Szekely. Both are sometimes innocently quoted by vegetarians to prove that Jesus went to India or that Jesus was a vegetarian. But neither of them constitutes real evidence about Jesus, or about anything else before the nineteenth century. Continue reading

“Dreams and Visions of the Night”

Anna Kingsford (1846-1888)

How can we imagine Jesus slaughtering animals or even condoning it?  Yet both Christian tradition and the doors of the churches are often closed to ethical vegetarians concerned about animals. One approach to this problem is to look for alternative gospels, and if none is found, to write such a gospel. This approach has sometimes produced some interesting results, one of which is The Gospel of the Holy Twelve.

Looking for modern “alternative gospels” would not be my approach to this problem. What happened to the ethical vegetarianism of the historical Christian community which originated in the first century? What happened to the Jesus who said “I have come to destroy the animal sacrifices,” and was killed after disrupting the animal sacrifice business in the temple?  We shouldn’t give up hope so quickly! But I can well understand the frustration of many who have turned away from the Christian tradition in response to the corruption of the scriptures and the general ignorance of most scholars of the subject. Continue reading

Was there a historical Jesus?

Jesus and Nicodemus (H. O. Tanner)

People are seriously debating whether there ever was a historical Jesus. Some assert that Jesus himself never existed, that “Jesus is a legend, like King Arthur or Robin Hood or Paul Bunyan.” The best representative of this position is likely Dr. Robert M. Price (The Christ-Myth Theory and its Problems). Bart Ehrman wrote a book on the other side (Did Jesus Exist?). Bloggers have now weighed in both pro and con, for example Dr. R. Joseph Hoffman and the site On top of that, many people among the “New Atheists” are getting involved, with even Richard Dawkins cautiously weighing in on the subject: “The evidence [Jesus] existed is surprisingly shaky.” Continue reading

“Disciples” Coming Soon

My forthcoming book, Disciples: How Jewish Christianity Shaped Jesus and Shattered the Church, will be published about November 1 probably before Thanksgiving likely by December 9. We also now have a better idea of what the cover will look like (to the left). I’m pleased to get a blurb for Disciples from Kamran Pasha, a Hollywood filmmaker and novelist.

We’re also assembling a list of people to get review copies. If you know someone who might be interested in reviewing the book, let me know.

Here’s the blurb I’ve written for the book: Continue reading

Great New Book on the Collapse of Civilizations

Secular Cycles. Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov.  Princeton University Press, 2009.

Secular Cycles is a phenomenal and important book.  It is clearly of interest to anyone who is concerned about things like the collapse of civilizations, and specifically the possible collapse of our civilization. Even though it’s new to me, it’s actually not new — it was published in 2009, and I’m only now finding out about it, and reading it!  I first heard of it through Gail Tverberg’s blog, “Our Finite World,” and I hope it finds a wide readership. But a word of warning: this book is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to love the subject or you’ll never make it through the book. It doesn’t use a lot of technical terms, and is clearly written, just very academic. Continue reading

What Would You Do?

Dixie Mahy

In October I attended the 2012 World VegFest in San Francisco, sponsored by the San Francisco Vegetarian Society (SFVS).  It was an inspiring event.  Towards the end of the festival, I heard a very interesting story about how the SFVS was founded.

Many people, myself included, assumed that Dixie Mahy started the SFVS in 1968. She’s been around in the movement longer than almost anyone we know — a practicing vegetarian for 54 years, 34 as a vegan, a speaker at the famous 1975 World Vegetarian Congress in Orono, Maine, and an activist literally for three decades. But at the VegNews reception at the end of the recent World Vegfest in San Francisco, Dixie herself told the real story, which was even more amazing. Continue reading

This Just In: Jesus was Married!

Mary Magdalene

Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School scholar whom I greatly respect, has submitted a draft of an article for the Harvard Theological Review discussing a Coptic gospel fragment which refers to Jesus having a wife.  This is now all over the internet, it was on the PBS Newshour last night, and even made the front page of the Denver Post and other papers.  The Smithsonian Channel is planning a special program. It’s big news!

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (as King has named it) is very short and very fragmentary.  Continue reading

Does Digitization Decrease Empathy?

James McWilliams recently asked whether the digitization of communications decreases empathy, and thus potentially our empathy with other humans and animals.  He talks about e-mail between students and professors, “butchered” grammar in e-mail being used to substitute for the student and the professor actually having a conversation, and wonders where this is all headed. Yes, the new media enable vegans to promote their cause more effectively (Earthlings), but it also enables the bad guys to push their case with equal or greater effectiveness. Continue reading

The Jesus movement and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Qumran, Cave 4 (Effi Schweizer)Here’s what James Tabor says about the connection between the Jesus movement and the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran:

“The Jesus movement can best be described as a radical, nationalistic, anti-religious establishment, messianic, apocalyptic, baptizing, new covenant, wilderness-way movement–and that is precisely how the community behind the Dead Sea Scrolls can be described as well!”

So, is this right?  Continue reading