Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Jesus Mysteries, National Geographic Channel

Mary Magdalene (Alice Marshall), The Jesus Mysteries
(Juniper TV; National Geographic)
This weekend, National Geographic Channel are showing a two hour documentary entitled The Jesus Mysteries.  It is written and directed by David Caldwell Evans for Juniper TV and it is being shown internationally, including Australia (Friday 18th), the UK (Easter Day, 20th; Radio Times), Sub-Saharan Africa (Easter Day, 20th), and the USA (Saturday, 19th).  Here's the series blurb:

Jesus Christ is one of the most famous names in the history of mankind. But Gospel writers left out crucial details about pivotal events in Christ's life - historical moments that have been adapted, embellished and rewritten over the course of hundreds of years. This special re-examines elements of Christ's life and ministry, such as the nativity, the miracles and the crucifixion - questioning basic modern assumptions to reveal some surprising and often shocking details.

There are a couple of clips available.  The first focuses on "Rabble Rousing" and discusses the temple incident and features Bart Ehrman, Helen Bond, Larry Hurtado and me:

The second discusses Mary Magdalene, "Prostitute or Disciple", and features Kate Cooper and Helen Bond, alongside Alice Marshall as Mary Magdalene:

I was interviewed for this in July in St Andrews, Scotland, just before Helen Bond was interviewed too.  Although I have not seen it yet, I like the look of the mix of drama and CGI reconstructions with scholars' interviews.  And the handsome Jesus figure is played by Nick Simmons, son of Gene Simmons from the legendary rock band Kiss.  Here he is in the boat with Joseph of Arimathea:

Nick Simmons as Jesus in The Jesus Mysteries, National Geographic

This and other photographs suggest that there will be some idiosyncratic elements covered, including legends like Jesus in England.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Jesus' Wife Attempts a Comeback: Initial Response, Francis Watson

I am grateful to Prof. Francis Watson, Research Chair of Biblical Interpretation, Durham University, for permission to post here his initial response to the recent re-emergence of discussion on the Jesus' Wife Fragment (see The Jesus' Wife Fragment is Back):

Jesus' Wife Attempts a Comeback: Initial Response
Francis Watson

Earlier pieces by Prof. Watson on the fragment are gathered here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Jesus' Wife Fragment is Back

Regular readers of the NT Blog will know of my interest in the so-called Gospel of Jesus' Wife and after several months without news, a whole raft of news, features, interviews and -- most importantly -- articles in the Harvard Theological Review, all emerged today.  The media reaction to the news is often predictably over-simplified and over-stated, but the key resources for study are the following:

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife 2014 Update

Here, Harvard Divinity School provide a major update and revision of their earlier (September 2012) website on the fragment, with a new press release, an introduction, a revised Q & A, new digital photographs and scientific reports. Much of this is new material and repays careful reading.

The Harvard Magazine also has an article today:

The Jesus Wife Fragment: The Scientific Evidence

Most important, though, is the latest edition of HTR, which is dominated by materials on the fragment:

Harvard Theological Review

There are several articles on the fragment, including a massively revised version of Karen King's “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .'”: A New Coptic Papyrus Fragment, several scientific analyses of the papyrus and ink, a paleographical discussion by Malcolm Choat, an article arguing for forgery by Leo Depuydt, and a brief rejoinder from Karen King.

Media coverage has included pieces in the Boston Globe and the New York Times.

There has already been some strong discussion of the latest news in the blogs.  I would particularly recommend the pieces by Jim Davila, Larry Hurtado, Christopher Rollston and Bob Cargill, as well as the typically helpful round-up from James McGrath.

I have been in meetings all day, and at an enjoyable dinner for a retiring colleague this evening, so I have not had time to analyze the fresh evidence with the kind of care necessary to blog about it today, so I will wait until I have a moment to make some observations.  I have now had the chance to read almost everything, but I need to take some time to digest everything properly before adding my own additional comments.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Latest Journal for the Study of the New Testament - all about Gathercole and Goodacre

The latest Journal for the Study of the New Testament is now out and it's a special edition focused on Simon Gathercole's The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas and my Thomas and the Gospels. It's an absolute privilege to be involved in a journal issue like this, and I'd like to thank JSNT and its editor Catrin Williams for this honour.

Journal for the Study of the New Testament: 36/3 (March 2014)

"A New Synoptic Problem: Mark Goodacre and Simon Gathercole on Thomas" (199-239)
 John S. Kloppenborg

"A New Gnosticism: Why Simon Gathercole and Mark Goodacre on the Gospel of Thomas Change the Field" (240-50)
Nicola Denzey Lewis

"Twice More? Thomas and the Synoptics: A Reply to Simon Gathercole, The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas, and Mark Goodacre, Thomas and the Gospels" (251-61)
Stephen J. Patterson

"Thomas Revisited: A Rejoinder to Denzey Lewis, Kloppenborg and Patterson"
Simon Gathercole (262-81)

"Did Thomas Know the Synoptic Gospels? A Response to Denzey Lewis, Kloppenborg and Patterson" (282-92)
Mark Goodacre

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Bible Secrets Revealed: DVD out today

Regular readers will remember the Bible Secrets Revealed TV show that was recently on History Channel in the USA.  Across six hour long episodes, several themes in recent Biblical scholarship were explored for a popular audience, in a pacey documentary that featured, among many others, Robert Cargill (who was also consulting producer), Candida Moss, Bart Ehrman, Chris Keith, Jodi Magnes and me.

Today, the DVD was released and I must admit to rather liking the cover art (and is that Bob Cargill reading the Bible?!).  At around $13-$14, it's a good buy.  I'll definitely be buying.  Links:

Bible Secrets Revealed (Amazon)

Bible Secrets Revealed (History Channel)

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Son of God Movie

Goodacre goes to the movies!

Regular readers of the NT Blog will know of my love of Bible films.  There was a time back in the 1990s when it seemed like there would never be another Jesus film.  It was a bit like the wilderness years for Doctor Who fans, when we wondered if the show would ever come back.

Recent years have been kind to us.  First there was The Miracle Maker (2000), the Welsh-Russian claymation masterpiece, followed not long afterwards by  the Visual Bible's Gospel of John (2003), a surprisingly compelling walk through John's Gospel verse-by-verse, starring British actor Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus.  Both films employed academic consultants, and were all the better for it.

The major event was, of course, Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ (2004), a traumatic, troubling, haunting piece that surprised everyone by becoming a massive box-office hit.  Academics hated it, often for good reason.  Its nasty, unreflective depiction of the Jewish leaders, especially Caiaphas, almost made it unbearable.  Yet, there were elements that made connoisseurs come back for more -- Caviezel's remarkable performance as Jesus, the use of flashbacks and point of view shots that humanized Jesus more than any previous Jesus film, and the audacious attempt to put all the dialogue in Aramiac and Latin.

Since The Passion of the Christ, there have been other landmarks.  Son of Man (2006) "reclaimed" the Jesus story as African fable while The Nativity Story (2006), directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who went onto great fame with Twilight, showed that a conventional retelling of gospel story could still work.   Meanwhile, BBC's The Passion (2008) succeeded where Gibson's film failed, offering an outstanding drama in which the human motivations of the protagonists, not only Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene and Judas but also Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas, were explored in a way so compelling that the viewer shook with emotion throughout.

Now comes Son of God.  The publicity rightly points out that this is the first "full" Jesus film in the cinemas for many years.  TV has been the chosen genre for recent films and miniseries, including The Bible  (2013), from which the new film is largely culled.  Mark Burnett and Roma Downey executive produced the ten hour TV series that went out last year on History Channel.  The huge success of the project, with massive ratings, gave birth to this new departure, which reframes and edits the Jesus material from that broader project and releases it, this weekend, already to massive cinema audiences.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Son of God film, or The Bible series that preceded it, here is the trailer:

I went to see the new film, along with almost ten million other Americans, on Friday evening.  For me, there is something rather exciting about going to see a Jesus film in the local cinema.  It was exciting to me too because of my familiarity with The Bible project on which I acted as a consultant, alongside several others including Craig Evans, Candida Moss, Helen Bond and Paula Gooder.

I had no idea, though, how they would reframe, repackage it and re-edit the series to produce a full cinematic 138 minutes.

I recorded my reflections, both before and after seeing the film, on the latest episode of the NT Pod:

NT Pod 72: Son of God Movie

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I have read several reviews this weekend since recording the episode that already make me want to comment further, so I am guessing that there will be some more blogging about this film in the coming days, perhaps even as much as there was over Passion of the Christ and the BBC Passion!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Another retelling of the Nag Hammadi discovery story

Jeff Rose tells the story of the Nag Hammadi discoveries
A year or so ago, I published an article in which I asked questions about the oft-told story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices in1945 ("How reliable is the story of the Nag Hammadi discovery?", Journal for the Study of the New Testament 35/4 (2013): 303-22).  It emerged from some thoughts and ruminations here on the NT Blog.

One of the elements that is intriguing about the repetition of the story in the scholarship is that it continues to morph and change, ever accreting and losing details, with characters appearing and disappearing, the jar growing every larger, and a corpse mysteriously vanishing.

While I was watching the second part of the recent BBC series, Bible Hunters, reviewed here by Larry Hurtado, I was interested to hear yet another divergent version of this story.  I have transcribed it from the documentary below.  It's in the 43rd minute or so, and Jeff Rose has arrived at Nag Hammadi to tell the story of the discovery.  He crouches down and has a small pot just next to him:
Mohammad Ali's account led the investigators to the edge of the Nile Valley, to the cliffs that separate the fertile land from the desert. And it's here that the story began. Mohammad and his brothers were out looking for fertilizer. They made an amazing discovery.  Underneath a boulder, they found a sealed clay pot.  Now, the other guys, they didn't want to touch it because they were afraid there might be a genie inside.  But Mohammad was more interested in money, so he picks up a rock, smashes the thing.  You can imagine his surprise when he saw what was really inside.  He found the manuscripts that would become the famous thirteen Nag Hammadi codices.
Several common elements from the story are present here, including the brothers and the fertilizer, the genie and the gold (here "money"), but they are configured differently.  There is no version of the story in which it is only the brothers who are afraid of the genie, or in which Mohammad is more interested than them in money.  Moreover, it is an almost universal feature in the story that the pot was broken with a "mattock", something that is given added poignancy because of the subsequent murder also using "mattocks".  Contrast, for example, Elaine Pagels's version of the story from Gnostic Gospels (xiii):
Shortly before he and his brothers avenged their father’s murder in a blood feud, they had saddled their camels and gone out to the Jabal to dig for sabakh, a soft soil they used to fertilize their crops. Digging around a massive boulder, they hit a red earthenware jar, almost a meter high. Muhammad ‘Ali hesitated to break the jar, considering that a jinn, or spirit, might live inside. But realizing that it might also contain gold, he raised his mattock, smashed the jar, and discovered inside thirteen papyrus books, bound in leather. Returning to his home in al-Qasr, Muhammad ‘Ali dumped the books and loose papyrus leaves on the straw piled on the ground next to the oven. Muhammad’s mother, ‘Umm-Ahmad, admits that she burned much of the papyrus in the oven along with the straw she used to kindle the fire.
One of the delightful things about these different versions of the Nag Hammadi find story is that they provide us with a nice contemporary analogy concerning the transmission of tradition.  As with the Synoptics, there are  demonstrable literary links, as when Werner Kelber quotes one of James Robinson's versions.  There are variant versions by the same author, so that Robinson has three different versions of the story just as Luke has three different versions of the conversion of Paul.  There are oral retellings of the written tales, as when Pagels tells the story in TV documentaries from 1987 and 1999, and here, when Jeff Rose tells the story, presumably from memory, of what he has previously read.

Latest NT Pod on the ending of Mark

I've been pleased to get back to a regular schedule of releases again on the NT Pod. I've been meaning to record one for a while on the question of the ending of Mark, and this is the topic of the latest episode:

NT Pod 71: Was the ending of Mark's Gospel lost?

Towards the end of the episode, I couldn't resist chatting about one of my favourite adverts from the 1970s, in which Schubert is unable to complete his unfinished symphony because he is down the pub with his mates.  Sadly, the only version of it that I can find online is a bit grainy and has terrible sound quality, but it's good enough:

If anyone knows of a better version, please let me know.

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