Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NT Pod 20: When Was Jesus Born? Programme Notes

I uploaded the latest NT Pod last Friday night, just before beginning an epic journey through the snow to Washington DC to catch a flight. Those who follow me on Twitter or on Facebook know some of the grizzly details, but now we are now safe and sound Britain, first England, now Wales, and I am getting a chance to catch up while on the road.

I was pleased to see this morning that the previous episode of the NT Pod, "Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?" is currently featured on the front page of the main iTunes U site, no doubt because of its seasonal content. I had looked at the stats and was wondering why they had gone through the roof.

The most recent episode of the NT Pod, 20, "When Was Jesus Born?", is also seasonal. The "when" here refers not to the time of year, which is impossible to know, but to the rough date of Jesus' birth. Was it in or around 6-4 CE, as Matthew suggests and Luke echoes and if so, why does Luke have the extraordinary note in Luke 2.2 about Quirinius, Governor of Syria?

The key texts are of course Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, with special references to the notes about Herod (Luke 1.5, Matthew 2:1; Matthew 2:19; Matthew 2:22; Luke 2:1-2; Luke 3.1-2; Luke 3:23). I will add references to Josephus later, but I've run out of time to update this post for now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Some good news on Lloyd Pietersen

There is some good news on the Lloyd Pietersen situation at the University of Gloucestershire. The university has decided to keep him on on 0.6 contract until February with a view then. The hearing on Friday is cancelled. This is excellent news for the time being. Let's hope for more good news to come in February. (News via Facebook. Also spotted on Jim West's blog).

All NT Blog posts on this topic.

Cleopatra: Beauty or Brains?

This is a video for a new Open University course in the UK, "The Arts Past and Present"

Note: this is advertising content.

New Save University of Gloucestershire website

There is an helpful new campaigning website that gives details, links, contacts and calls for action on the situation at the University of Gloucestershire:

Previous posts on Lloyd Pietersen and the University of Gloucestershire are here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hugh Lloyd-Jones: The Independent Obituary

The Independent is often a bit later on its obituaries than the other broadsheets, but I rather like that. And usually its obituaries are excellent, as here:

Professor Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones
Classics scholar whose colourful style made him one of the leading Hellenists of his time

All posts on Hugh Lloyd-Jones here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

NT Pod 19: Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem? Programme Notes

I released the latest episode of the NT Pod last night, NT Pod 19: Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?. There will be another NT Pod along soon with another Christmas related theme.

I was shocked to see that it is over a month since the last episode of the NT Pod, but this is the reason that I never stated publicly my aspiration to make it a weekly podcast. I knew that sooner or later, I would get too busy to record as regularly as I would like.

The short clip of Tom Wright that you hear at the beginning of the podcast is taken from The Real Jesus Christ, first broadcast on BBC Radio Five Live on Christmas Day 2002, and repeated on Christmas Day 2003. (See NT Gateway: Historical Jesus Audio and Video for more). You can listen to the whole documentary via audio streaming from the BBC. I must admit that I have no memory at all of how my pieces were recorded, so my guess is that I was sitting in the cosy little studio cell at Pebble Mill (now demolished) in Birmingham, but I could be wrong.

This podcast is my reflection on the question of whether or not it is likely that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a question that is difficult given that it is a "with the grain" tradition. See the useful comments already from James McGrath and Doug Chaplin, each of whom comes down on a different side, Nazareth and Bethlehem respectively, though both, like me, are cautious.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Sign the University of Gloucestershire UCU Petition

Many of us have been concerned about the situation at the University of Gloucestershire, and especially the threat to Lloyd Pietersen's job. You can now sign the UCU petition to Save the University of Gloucestershire. 436 signatures and counting. (Thanks to Jim West for alerting).

All NT Blog posts on this topic here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

On spilling ink

Ever noticed how often "ink" gets "spilt" in academic discussions? I just noticed another example, in Ben Witherington III's BAR article on Luke's Nativity, and began to wonder whether we will still be talking about spilling ink in fifty or a hundred year's time. Will it be one of those expressions that will live on long after we have stopped using ink? Some of us, of course, still enjoy the use of a nice fountain pen, including digital pioneers like AKMA. But you can bet your life that they do not submit manuscripts to publishers in handwriting written with a fountain pen. If any ink got spilt, it was in jotting down notes and not in preparing the manuscript.

It might be that the image is thought to relate to publishers' ink, the ink of the printing press. But is that ink actually ever spilt? The "spilling" of "ink" evokes the image of the fountain pen, and a pot of Quink, but perhaps that is just me.

I must admit that it is not an image I like to use. It's a scholarly cliché that's used to express frustration at the extent of the literature on a topic that one feels obliged to deal with but wishes one did not. "Much ink has been spilt on . . ." means something like: "More has been written on this topic than I refuse to read".

Still, I wonder what will have replaced it in a century. "Many megabites have been wasted on . . . "? "Many keyboards have been worn out by . . ."? "Many a neural interface has malfunctioned on . . ."?

The Bible: A History, Channel 4 series

BBC News has a piece on a forthcoming Channel 4 series on the Bible, one episode of which, the one on Jesus, features Gerry Adams:

Gerry Adams "in search of Jesus"
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is to go on a journey "to discover the real Jesus" as part of a new television series for Channel 4.
Mr Adams will present one episode of the seven-part documentary series called The Bible: A History.

He is one of seven commentators from "very different backgrounds" who will explore the Bible "from their own, very personal, perspective". Mr Adams is to examine Jesus' teachings on "love, forgiveness, and repentance" . . .
There is more on the series here:

The Bible: A History

More content will be added there as time goes by, but it features an interview with Anne Widdecombe about her episode, on the Ten Commandments. Here's the series blurb:
A provocative seven-part series that presents personal explorations of the world's most important, widespread and revolutionary text comes to Channel 4 in early 2010. From the Bible's origins to the American presidential inauguration, from Hebrew and Greek to today's current 2,400 different translations: this is the story of most influential book ever written.

The Bible is a book of history, of poetry and of prophecy. The books within it cover an incredible range of subjects: from the story of Creation itself to the creation of the Jewish Promised Land, from the Gospels' biographies of Jesus to the epistles of St. Paul and the apocalyptic visions of Revelation. This series explores the origins, ideas and influence of seven sections of the Scriptures, tracing how they came into existence and how they have shaped the world we live in today.

Each film is presented by a prominent commentator and thinker. Howard Jacobson sets out to reclaim Creation from the creationists, Bettany Hughes demonstrates how the Bible continues to shape perceptions of gender; Rageh Omaar examines the Bible's political legacy in the Middle East; and Ann Widdecombe explores the Ten Commandments.

Each presenter draws on their own experiences, expertise and faith, making a compelling, personal case for the important role this ancient book still plays in guiding the lives of millions of believers across the globe.
The Bible: A History will be on Channel 4 in January and February 2010.

Oh, I should perhaps mention that I am consultant on the series and have been working with Pioneer TV on it since the summer. I will also be appearing in front of camera in one episode, the one on Revelation, presented by Robert Beckford. My piece was filmed in Duke Chapel last week.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Revisiting Reactions to The Passion of the Christ

Over on one of my favourite blogs, The Dunedin School, Eric Repphun has a fascinating post on the Top 11 Religiously Themed Films of the Decade. He concludes with some comments on The Passion of the Christ (dir. Mel Gibson, 2004) that recall many of the scholarly criticisms of the film made five years ago:
And the worst (and this one was easy): The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004): Gibson’s infamous film is riddled with problems. It is historically inaccurate (Jesus and Pilate conversing in Aramaic rather than Greek, nails being driven through the palms and not the wrists, etc., etc.), which is really only a problem given that the filmmakers made such a big noise about being historically accurate. It is brutally, cruelly sadistic and in its cruelty becomes deeply suspect on a theological level, given that it transforms the suffering of Jesus into an endurance test that no man (not even a white guy with digitally-altered brown eyes and a prosthetic hook nose) could have survived such torture for so long, essentially denying the messianic figure the divinity that has so long defined Christianity’s theological understanding of its own textual history. Despite removing the vaunted ‘blood libel’ from the Gospel of Matthew from the finished film (though they did shoot it), it is also rabidly anti-Semitic as well as being deeply misogynistic – Satan takes the form of a woman who we often see stalking unseen among the Jewish crowds. It makes the Roman authorities into enlightened and sympathetic humanists while at the same time transforming the occupied Semitic peoples of Jerusalem into a vacuous rabble that is violent, backwards, bloodthirsty and in need of some civilising. If this isn’t what a colleague here at Otago calls ‘a theology of empire’, and a thinly-veiled defence of the American occupation of Iraq, I don’t know what is. It is also guilty of the most grievous of all cinematic sins in that it is flat-out boring and at least an hour too long.
There are a few inaccuracies here. Pilate and Jesus converse in Latin rather than Aramaic; the nails been driven through the wrist could be accurate -- we simply don't know how Jesus was crucified. The primary source material for the idea that Jesus was crucified with nails going through the wrists is the Turin Shroud. Although it is a common motif in the publicity for Jesus films that they are "historically accurate", this claim was not part of the publicity for The Passion of the Christ. The remark that "no man (not even a white guy with digitally-altered brown eyes and a prosthetic hook nose) could have survived such torture for so long" is actually the point -- it's a story about someone being tortured to death. The same claim ("no one could have survived this") was often made in the scholarly reactions in 2004 and was one of the more puzzling reactions to the film.

The idea that the film is misogynistic because Satan is played by a woman confuses the gender of the actor with the androgyny of the character. More troubling from my perspective was the tired cliché of aligning Mary Magdalene with the Woman Taken in Adultery from John 8. The charge of "rabid anti-Semitism" is a difficult one to assess. There are profoundly troubling elements in the film and yet it is also clear that it made some effort to mitigate the anti-Semitism of its source material in Ann Emmerich's Dolorous Passion. But the "blood libel" line in fact did make it into the film; it is spoken by Caiphas in Aramaic, but there is no English subtitle.

For several of these points, see further my discussion of the scholars' reaction to the film in "The Power of The Passion of the Christ: Reactions and Overreactions to Gibson's Artistic Vision," Chapter 3 in Robert Webb and Kathleen Corley (eds.), Jesus and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: The Film, the Gospels and the Claims of History (London & New York: Continuum, 2004) and later in my extended review of Zev Garber's Mel Gibson's Passion. One day I'd like to write another article on the film because the years have actually hardened my view about the film, and made me more inclined to be critical of its shortcomings. Working on the BBC / HBO The Passion (2008; ?2010) helped me to see quite starkly how many of the problems with The Passion of the Christ could have been avoided. Nevertheless, I am still convinced that scholarly criticism of The Passion of the Christ is stronger where it avoids inaccuracy and overstatement.

Update: Eric adjusts one of the comments (that Jesus and Pilate converse in Aramaic); and Loren Rosson comments on the whole post on The Busybody.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Biblioblog Top 50 Latest

Just when we thought it was all over, the Biblioblog Top 50 returned with the archives, search engines and lists all in tact, and then the threat of another quirky top 50 list, this time with the explanation that the list is "chosen according to the utterly subjective criteria of sexy style, stimulating content, timely dissemination, regularity, discernment, scholarly depth, innovation, and pazang." So I'm naturally delighted to see the NT Blog back where it belongs, at number 2. In the new AMC version of The Prisoner, the children in class are taught that there is no number 1 and that the leader of the village assumes the title "Two" because of his humility. In other words, Two really is One. And the new list sees Paleojudaica back where it belongs, in the top 10. Given the criteria, Jim Linville is probably a bit too low at 26. And I would not put the Dunedin School as low as 36, but there's no accounting for taste.

Lloyd Pietersen: the VC's response

Jim West carries a post on the Vice Chancellor's response to his email concerning Lloyd Pietersen. I received the same email this morning too. Although, naturally, she is reproducing the same email to those of us who have written to support Lloyd, it is nevertheless encouraging to see the tone of the email, which affirms Lloyd's academic calibre (hey, I used the word "calibre" in my email to her!) and concludes with the statement, "However we are, of course, continuing to seek ways of sustaining Dr Pietersen’s post as we recognise the value to the University of his significant academic reputation." Could there be a light at the end of the tunnel? Please consider writing to the Vice Chancellor to show your support for Lloyd if you have not already done so.

All NT Blog posts on this topic here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

N T Wrong's second death?

Drat! I hope it wasn't something I said. As regular readers will know, I've always been a fan of the Biblioblog Top 50 and now it seems that its anonymous author has departed in similar fashion to his earlier pseudonymous incarnation. Jim West says that he was bored and suggests that there will be more to come. Well, the artist formerly known as N T Wrong is one of the giants, so I certainly hope that he will be back again soon. (See further The Busybody, Kata Ta Biblia, Hypotyposeis).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lloyd Pietersen and the University of Gloucestershire: Updates

Because I have been on the road, I haven't had the chance to post here on the latest developments at the University of Gloucestershire. But Jim West has the latest troubling news, that Lloyd has been given notice for 31 December, and has an appeal hearing next week, 10 December. I hear via Facebook that the appeal hearing is with a certain Paul Drake, Executive Director (External Relations). I have written again this morning to the Vice Chancellor, Patricia Broadfoot (, and have written also to the Chair of Council, Revd Canon Malcolm Herbert ( and I urge you strongly to do the same and to show your support for Lloyd.

Update: Express your concern to Paul Drake ( who will be chairing the appeal on 10 December.

Monday, November 30, 2009

SBL Annual Meeting 2009 1: Some Highlights

I think every year since I've been blogging I have done a little day by day report at the SBL Annual Meeting. One of the great things about the advent of twitter is that it has partly replaced that old function of blogging. This time last year, few, if any of us were on Twitter. This year, the hashtag #SBL09 produced hundreds of tweets and for many of us, it really added to the fun. It enabled real time comments on sessions of interest and each tweet is less than 140 characters, of course, so there are no great wedges of prose to wade through when one's time is already limited. I particularly enjoyed the phenomenon of getting a peak at other sessions that I'd have liked to get to but could not. It was also fun to interact directly with people in other sessions by commenting on their tweets. And you get a feeling too for where the "happening" events are (and usually I am not at them, preferring some little session with a cosy ten the audience). So for this year at least, the twitter phenomenon has transformed the online reporting and commenting on the conference. I look forward to more of the same next time. I hope the twitter phenomenon is not short-lived.

Given the tweeting of SBL, I won't do my usual day-by-day analysis. In any case, I've forgotten a lot of it already. We took a short holiday away as soon as I was back from New Orleans, and that has shunted any blogging firmly into this week, with the SBL already beginning to seem like a distant memory. But perhaps distance brings perspective. I'll make a few general comments and mention a few highlights.

The two most memorable papers I heard were not the best attended and were not at great big ball-room sessions. And both were, in a strange way, related. On Monday afternoon, Bob Cargill spoke about the Raphael Golb affair in the Computer Assisted Research Section. Although I knew most of the details already, it was fascinating to hear the complete narrative. It was one of the best presented papers I have heard at SBL ever. Bob had a wonderfully dramatic powerpoint with hundreds of illustrative slides. It was one of those rare presentations where you heard every single word. There was a dramatic moment, about two-thirds of the way through, when Bob had reached the point where Raphael Golb had assumed the identity of Lawrence Schiffmann and confessed to plagiarism. Bob paused and noted that, for the record, he thought that this was "despicable". There were about ten people at this session, and I think that that included the other speakers. This was a real shame and may say something about the serious problem of the proliferation of sections and sessions at the SBL, more of which anon.

The other really memorable paper was James Crossley's on N. T. Wrong. This paper was on the Tuesday morning, never a popular time, and it was in the Ideological Criticism Section. My desire to hear James meant that I turned up in time to listen to a fascinating paper on Raymond Brown's changing attitude to "the Jews" in the Fourth Gospel between 1960 and 1998, with apologies that I have forgotten the name of the speaker. The session was scheduled in one of those tiny rooms, but it was packed for James's paper -- standing room only. And as soon as he had finished, the entire room emptied. I felt really sorry for speaker number 3 -- that can't have been a nice feeling. But I was being a tart and needed to get to another session before flying back, so joined the crowd and filtered out without looking back.

James's paper was pitched exactly right. There were plenty of laughs, and the room appeared to be divided into those who new about the N. T. Wrong phenomenon and those who wished they did. James managed to get the measure of the man, quoting some of his most memorable materials, and integrating it with his now familiar critique of the conservative nature of the majority of bibliobloggers. I suppose that I was encouraged about the talk in part because it shows just how interesting and appealing the discussion of blogging can be in the SBL context, a good sign for the newly created blogging section. I felt that James's paper effectively celebrated a lot of what is great about blogging while Bob Cargill's paper, the previous day, had stared into its dark side.

And for those of you who weren't there: No, James did not reveal Wrong's identity. He did not even confirm that he knew who it was. No, those of us who asked questions and made comments also did not reveal Wrong's identity. Yes, it was all a little bit like Life of Brian. "I am not N. T. Wrong, and nor is my wife!" Well, no one quite said that, but they should have done.

Update (Thursday, 19.36): thanks to Jason Staples for the note that the person speaking about Raymond Brown and "the Jews" in John was Sonya Cronin.

Biblioblog Top 50 vs. N. T. Wrong

At the recent Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting in New Orleans, one of the real highlights was the paper given by James Crossley about the pseudonymous blogger known as N. T. Wrong. I asked a question at the end about the afterlife of N. T. Wrong. Because, of course, Wrong never really went away. He morphed into a more amorphous anonymous character (if such a thing is possible) at the head of the Biblioblog Top 50. James suggested that N. T. Wrong's politics were very much to the left of your average biblioblogger, and he repeated Wrong's notorious and hilarious descriptions added to his series of labels for the bloggers, from "very conservative" to "very liberal". At the same time that James was giving his paper, there was some discussion in the blogs about Biblioblog Top 50's suggestion about resuming these labels (Loren Rosson, Jason Staples, Stephen Carlson), perhaps itself generated by the discussion in James's SBL paper, which he had shared with the character he calls "Tom".

The suggestion, now dropped, illustrates for me the value of the pseudonymous blog over the anonymous one. I liked the N. T. Wrong character. He was a cheeky chappy, using his character to poke fun, to be subversive, to say things others might not say. Somehow, the character he created allowed him to make judgements (and misjudgements) about the politics of the blogs that were entertaining. I quite liked the fact that he wasn't sure where to place the NT Blog, for example, switching me twice across the boundaries. But the Biblioblog Top 50 does not have that clearly defined, cheeky character behind it, and the resumption of this categorization would not have worked with an anonymous author.

One of the curiosities about the afterlife of N. T. Wrong has been his failure to maintain the kind of subversive, counter-cultural, liberal persona. As I pointed out after James's paper in New Orleans, the Biblioblog Top 50 has been accused of being on the wrong side of the gender question, and of aligning itself with and also perpetuating the dominant male biblioblogging community. I think those charges are misguided, but the fact that they got such a hearing may be a testimony to the difficulty of blogging anonymously over against blogging in the name of an explicitly cheeky, subversive and fun character. And although it has always been clear to me that the Biblioblog Top 50 is supposed to be a laugh, the lack of a clearly identifiable author, even an artificially constructed one, ultimately makes it that bit less fun than when its author was Wrong.

Biblical Studies Carnival 48

Doug Chaplin has done a fantastic job with the latest Biblical Studies Carnival. The mind boggles at how long it must have taken to put it together, and it's full of interesting content and some nice observations along the way. I was particularly pleased to see the section dedicated to audio and video resources:

Biblical Studies Carnival 48

Biblioblog Top 50, November

The new Biblioblog Top 50, for November, is now out. As usual, the best thing about it is the paragraph of introduction, in which we hear the echoes of the greatly missed artist formally known as NT Wrong.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bibledex: Ephesians

There's another Bibledex video available from the University of Nottingham and the book they are tackling this time is Ephesians:

Bibledex: 1 Thessalonians

The latest Bibledex video from the University of Nottingham is now available and it is on 1 Thessalonians:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How and Why the NT Gateway was Rebooted, Revitalized and Relaunched VI

This post continues the series on the changes at the NT Gateway (I, II, III, IV and V).

There are pedagogical and economical advantages, I think, in the kind of approach that I have been describing, of attempting to provide introductory materials for new students and flagging these up in the clearest way possible. These advantages relate to our reliance on a text book culture. Many students become over-dependent on the one text book that their lecturer or professor has recommended. Instead of seeing the Introduction to the New Testament as one person's survey, they take the author's views as gospel (even when the author is encouraging a critical approach to the gospels!). What the text book says, the student should believe. This is frustrating enough at secondary school level, but it really should not obtain in universities and colleges. But what is the alternative? To recommend ten text books?

And so we arrive at the problem of access to good secondary texts. The average student spends a fortune on text books (book costs, source: Jim Linville) and still the bright university student will need more. If you have a large class, even the multiple copies in the library will quickly vanish. Since moving to Duke, I have been moving more and more towards reliance on free internet resources in teaching. There are now so many of them, so many very good ones, that the job is becoming easier all the time. It occurred to me that what I do in my teaching I could do also on the NT Gateway, and to show people where to find strong academic materials for free online. No more complaints about the books missing from the library! No more complaints about the cost of the text books!

This kind of approach brings with it a huge advantage, that students can get used to hearing a range of voices on the range of topics in their curriculum. They can read across a range of resources both old and new. They won't be constrained to hearing just the text book's view on canon, or the Synoptic Problem, or the authorship of the deutero-Paulines. And the more interested they become in a topic in question, the more than can dig down deeper and find yet more resources.

I am not, of course, advocating the end of print resources in teaching but I am suggesting that sites like the NT Gateway can provide a means by which we can think differently about the text book culture. A range of voices, a range of topics, with guidance for the student about how to access them. There are, after all, things that you can do on the internet that you can never do in a text book, like listening to podcasts, watching videos and playing games. In the long run, when resources like this are attractive, free and easily accessible, what will be the impetus to stay focused on the single-authored-text book?

Perhaps this was what was wrong with the NT Gateway too. It was too strongly associated with just one person. Its best chance of continuing to develop, and of prospering in the future, was to break free from me and to begin new partnerships, to expand its team of contributors, and to change. Perhaps next time there is a talk on the NT Gateway at the SBL, someone else will be giving it!

How and Why the NT Gateway was Rebooted, Revitalized and Relaunched V

This post continues the series on the changes at the NT Gateway (I, II, III, IV).

Now that the new version of the site was in place, I was finally able to do what I had wanted to do for years, to invite others in to join the team. I have moved cautiously, approaching people one at a time in these early stages, so that we could ease into the new arrangement, allowing each person to find their niche. The first person I approached was Holger Szesnat who for years had been a help to me behind the scenes, offering suggestions for new links and so on. Holger agreed to lend a hand and he has done extensive work in the last few months refreshing links and adding new ones. Then I was lucky to have as my research assistant Maxim Cardew, a new PhD student at Duke, and he has been working with me on the site since September and has done some great work. So with an expanding team in place, how has the site changed and what are the plans for the future?

When I spoke to the CARG two years ago, I suggested that there had been a major shift over the last decade in the way that subject gateways worked. Because of the explosion in internet resources, subject gateways are becoming more and not less important for students. The proliferation in online materials means that the new student has little idea where to start. Googling in the dark is not a realistic option for the student serious about their research. So what the NT Gateway and sites like it can provide is a means by which students can find their way to the best available materials in the subject they are researching.

The difficulty with the site as it was configured was that it provided a massive number of links on each subject, and the first time user might quickly become daunted and then leave. I was concerned that it was failing in its mission to serve its primary constituency, the students for whom I had created it in the first place. I wanted to maintain the comprehensive treatment as far as possible, drawing attention to useful materials for scholars and graduate students, but at the same time provide instant pathways to good academic material for undergraduates on their first visit. How could it be done?

I like to walk around websites and imagine myself into the role of different users and to see what kind of experiences they might have. When I went on walks like this on the NT Gateway, I noticed that I had not provided enough signposts for undergraduate students. I had pages on which I had listed introductory resources, but they were not flagged up. Sometimes, the clearest introductory chapters in books were buried in pages of books, dissertations and articles. The first order of business, therefore, has been to move Introductory materials to the top of the sections in which they appear, and then to underline some of the best resources for new students among those introductory materials.

So on the Gospel of Mark, for example, Introductory Materials are now prominent. Students will quickly find a selection of the best places to begin their study of Mark. Nevertheless, we were concerned that students may still need a little more grounding before they begin to read these materials, and Maxim Cardew has therefore been writing bite-sized introductory essays that slot in to a given section even above the Introductory Materials, as here: Introduction to Mark's Gospel. We have begun to add these in several places on the site and the hope is that this will make the NT Gateway much more useful to students setting out on their study of the New Testament.

In the final post in this series, I will attempt to explain the pedagogical and economic advantages of this new endeavour.

How and Why the NT Gateway was Rebooted, Revitalized and Relaunched IV

This post continues the series on the changes at the NT Gateway (I, II, III).

The new version of the NT Gateway went live on Valentine's Day 2009. It was the result of weeks of superb work from Ryan Burns at Logos. We moved the entire site over to Logos's servers in Bellingham, WA, and away from Canary Wharf in London, England where the site had been since 2001. We kept the old, familiar domain name so that no one had to change their bookmarks, and everyone could instantly see the new site.

To the user, it did not look a great deal different. The logo was updated and there was a new silver-grey and green colour scheme to replace the old maroon and cream, but the fundamental structure remained the same, with the site map on the first page, and menus on the left of every subsequent page. This was a conscious effort to provide continuity and ease of navigation for our users. We didn't want the kind of annoyance that comes when our familiar supermarket pointlessly rearranges its produce and adding to our shopping time.

But underneath, the site was all new. Ryan used WordPress as the site's CMS and built a structure that was easy to manage and straightforward to expand. Adding new pages and new entries on those pages is really straightforward. Although unfamiliar with WordPress, it was very easy to use once Ryan had done all the hard work of porting over all the old content.

There were new features that brought site into 2009 too, with the chance to become a fan on Facebook, or to follow us on Twitter. The site was becoming more dynamic and less static. It was also more lean than it had been before, and several features were quietly retired. I decided to lose the Scholars section, a piece of the site that had made a lot of sense in the past, when it was the exception rather than the rule for a New Testament scholar to make it to the web, but had no become unwieldy.

One difficulty with the new site, though, was that so much of the old site was integrated with me and with my stuff. I located all my web materials there, homepage, blog, Case Against Q website, Aseneth website and so on. There were also external websites there, the British New Testament Society, the Library of New Testament Studies and so on. Sometimes I don't think I knew, let alone anyone else, where the NT Gateway ended and I began. Disentangling materials was not straightforward. The toughest question was my blog. I had run the NT Gateway blog alongside the NT Gateway for five years and although I often used it to discuss updates on the New Testament Gateway, more often it was my personal academic blog for discussing my research as well as other general items of interest in the field. After some to-and-fro, we decided that it would be best to create a new NT Gateway blog in connection with the revamped site and for me to take the blog archives with me to NT Blog, where they are now, and which you are reading now.

Well, that's how the change took place. But what happened next and what is the future for the site? In the next post I will explain how the NT Gateway is evolving and what there is to look forward to.

How and Why the NT Gateway was Rebooted, Revitalized and Relaunched III

This post continues the series on the changes at the NT Gateway (I and II).

I was walking from Sarah P. Duke Gardens to my office one day about eighteen months ago and listening to the Whocast, one of my favourite podcasts, all about Doctor Who. The presenters, Paul and Seb, announced tearfully that they were going to have to stand down because other projects were overwhelming their ability to keep up. But the Whocast would continue with new presenters. The transition happened, and the show went from strength to strength. I thought to myself, "This is what I need to do. I simply must find someone to ease the burden". But who would do it? Who could I trust?

I had talked already, in my CARG presentation of two years ago, about the idea of bringing others on board. My idea was to make the site more of a team effort. I would edit, advise, consult, but others would bring along their ideas and content. The difficulty, though, was that the site's structure was clunky and old-fashioned, its CMS (content management system) simply a matter of my editing and uploading individual HTML pages, with some basic stylesheets. I was still working the same way that I had worked in 1997. This was hardly conducive to a collaborative effort with multiple contributors. What I needed was not only a new team, but also a new CMS.

I experimented myself with a new template, using blogger, and I talked about it at the CARG two years ago, with this page of The Greek New Testament Gateway. This, I explained, would allow me to manage the site more easily, and to collaborate with others. I must admit that I was pretty pleased with what I came up with, but as the months rolled by, it became clear that there were insurmountable problems that I had been ignoring in my naïve optimism. Blogger is simply not designed to do the kind of work I was trying to make it do. I had to go on all sorts of run-arounds to make it work. And once again, the daunting size of the job of transferring content to the new CMS was making the project completely unmanageable.

What then to do? Late one night I had a revelation. The thought just popped into my head: why not ask my friends at Logos? I had visited them in Bellingham in June 2007, and we had often chatted, though without having hatched any kind of plan with respect to the NT Gateway. I sent Mike Heiser an email in the autumn of 2008 asking for his thoughts on our working together on the site. To my delight they said yes, and we worked out a deal.

It is a partnership that has completely transformed the NT Gateway. It has placed it on a new, firm footing. It has made it more than manageable. Its future is now secure, and the prospects are better than ever. In the next post, I will explain what has changed and why, and how this has improved the site.

How and Why the NT Gateway was Rebooted, Revitalized and Relaunched II

In this post, I will begin exploring the history and evolution of the NT Gateway as part of a series of posts related to my forthcoming presentation at SBL.

I am actually tempted to subtitle my talk, "How the Logos changed my life". This is a story about how I came to the brink of despair with the site I had created, nurtured and developed over many years. I had devoted countless hours to the NT Gateway. I loved the site. I was proud of it. Everyone seemed to know about it. Students in their thousands were using it regularly, and even the crustiest technophobe scholars were recommending it as a kind of one-stop shop for finding reputable online resources on the New Testament. It won awards. Libraries all over the world were linking to it. People used to tell me that if you googled for "New Testament", and hit "I feel lucky", you'd end up on the NT Gateway. I would get daily emails thanking me for the work I had done. I felt lucky.

All this time, a problem was brewing. The site was getting bigger and bigger as internet resources expanded out of all recognition. And as my career progressed, I was getting less and less time to devote to the site, with the kind of demands that suck the time and energy out of the academic's life. The NT Gateway was beginning to suffer. I began to worry that the naysayers might have been right all along. Perhaps, after all, it is too much work for one person. Perhaps I should have been concentrating only on my research. I knew that if I had devoted less time to it, I would indeed have published much more. I had become a victim of my site's success.

But I did not want to call time on the site. I had already had to retire its sister, the All-in-One Biblical Resources Search. That site was born ten years ago, and in 2003 I announced the latest version to CARG. Not long afterwards, I had to concede that I had been overtaken by changes in technology and my own inability to pour the hours needed into maintaining it effectively. It would be an admission of defeat to let the NT Gateway go too and by now I felt a kind of responsibility to keep it going for the sake of my colleagues who were still telling me how useful they found it. But what was to be done?

In my next post, I will explain how Logos came to the rescue, and what happened next.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How and Why the NT Gateway was Rebooted, Revitalized and Relaunched I

I would like to share here a bit of my presentation at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, coming up next Monday. Here are the session details:

Computer Assisted Research, 11/23/2009, 4pm, Rhythms Ballroom 3 - SH.

How and Why the NT Gateway was Rebooted, Revitalized and Relaunched

Abstract: In a CARG presentation in 2007, I laid out my plans for the future of the New Testament Gateway (, the academic directory of internet resources on the New Testament and Christian Origins. Within months of that presentation, it became clear that I would need a major partner to help in the realization of these plans and in 2009 I went into partnership with Logos Bible Software who have worked to produce a superb new version of the site, with a changed look, improved navigation and dynamic features that will take the site forward for the next generation. This presentation reviews the new version of the site, explaining the benefits of moving over to a professional, collaborative model. It reflects on the changing face of subject gateway sites over the last twelve years since the NT Gateway began, exploring their future role in teaching and research, and arguing that with the massive expansion of internet resources, sites like this are now more important than ever.


I will release each section in bite-sized chunks for those who, like me, are inclined to skim through long posts.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bible and Interpretation gets an RSS feed

Thanks to Mark Elliott for alerting me to the fact that the Bible and Interpretation site now has its own RSS feed. That's going to make it much easier for us all to keep up with the latest.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to enjoy SBL

Last year, I wrote a post on Enjoying SBL, based on an earlier post on Surviving SBL. I have dug it out again and revised it in the light of a bit more thought and experience about the meeting, especially as others are offering their own slightly different advice.

(1) Enjoy Beer and Good Company: The SBL Annual Meeting is absolutely massive, and there is nothing more lonely than being on your own in a crowd. It's not like smaller conferences like the British New Testament Conference where you can just go with the flow. At this meeting, you create your own agenda. Find people you like spending time with, and ideally who like spending time with you, if you can, and your experience will be ten times more enjoyable than otherwise. I have heard some people say that they find the SBL a bit of a maze and rather overwhelming. I have never found that, and perhaps because I have been lucky enough to spend time with people whose company I greatly enjoy. The intellectual stimulation will often come more from those small gatherings with friends over a beer than it will at the sessions. Nevertheless, when you do get stuck into the academic side of the meeting, it is important to:

(2) Choose Sessions Carefully: Don't be over ambitious about how many sessions you can get to. I used to treat the SBL a bit like the way I used to treat the Christmas Radio Times and TV Times when I was a child. I used to fill every moment in the day with telly, allowing just little slots for five or ten minute "breaks" in viewing. SBL sessions, though sometimes enjoyable, are no Christmas TV, and a lot of them will be pretty ordinary. Nevertheless, these days I miss being able to get to as many sessions as I used to get to because of the number of other commitments and I find that I enjoy the ones I do get to all the more as a result. But in order to enjoy the sessions, you need to:

(3) Be a Tart: Don't feel obliged to stay for the whole of each two-and-a-half hour session that you go to. Several times I've got stuck in the world's most boring papers by accident because I was interested in the paper just before it or just after it. Once, I attended a paper in a packed room, over 100 or so in the audience, but I did not make a sharp enough exit when it had finished. I got stuck listening to the next paper with four other people and felt so sorry for the guy presenting that I felt obliged to stay and feign interest. Unlike the British New Testament Conference, where one is encouraged to be loyal to one seminar throughout the conference, you are allowed to be a complete tart at the SBL. Mind you, if you do get in a session that's not tip-top, you can always:

(4) Enjoy your sleep: I spend approximately 50% of the time in sessions sleeping. I am not proud of this fact, but there's nothing I can do about it. I am now fairly resigned to it and so just enjoy it. Some of my friends are good at elbowing me in the side but most of them now just know that this is what I do when I sit down for any length of time. This only becomes a major problem if it is one of your graduate students who is presenting, in which case they may be offended, or if you are chairing the session, in which case you are not able to watch the clock for the speakers. Of course the reason that one gets into this predicament is that it is too easy to:

(5) Burn the Candle at Both Ends: The toughest thing at the SBL is to avoid burning the candle at both ends, socializing until late and then getting up before the crack of dawn for a breakfast meeting. I am talking to myself here. I walk round the SBL perpetually exhausted because I don't have the discipline to go to bed early when I have to be up early. Every year I tell myself not to arrange breakfast meetings, or get invited to them; every year I end up with breakfast meetings each day. I've done it again. Bummer. Speaking of breakfasts, remember those:

(6) Budget beating breakfast buffets: To reiterate some advice from an a recent post called SBL on a budget, here's a tip for those at SBL on a budget: get to one of those great American breakfast buffets and eat to your heart's content. Don't be put off by earnest looking professor types who only visit the buffet once. Keep going for as long as you can. Eat so much that you won't want lunch. You can then make it through to the evening when you'll be just peckish enough to enjoy something else. In fact you might even be invited to one of those evening receptions where there is a lot of food. On days like that, you have only had to buy breakfast and the budget is looking healthier than it might have been.

Birmingham never gave me enough to travel, and so troughing my face at breakfast was my standard survival strategy. And the American breakfast buffets are great, though for Brits it can be a little off-putting to see Americans putting their fruit on the same plate as their sausage and bacon, or worse, putting corn syrup on their scrambled egg. So Brits abroad may need to avert their eyes. There is also an unappetizing pastey coloured concoction called "grits", which is to be avoided. So it is also worth:

(7) Getting to Receptions: Receptions are a great way of meeting people, and they can be fun. They are held by publishers, universities and others and are often generous in their invitations, and it is good, once again, to be a tart. There are signs, though, that the seven years of plenty may be coming to an end. This is the second SBL meeting since the split with AAR, the recession is still causing drastic cutbacks, and universities and publishers are all feeling the squeeze. Several publishers no longer hold receptions and several universities have pulled the plug too. My guess is that there we will some cash bars instead of free bars, and less food at the receptions that remain. This year Duke goes to a cash bar for the first time since I have been attending. But I haven't yet mentioned the thing that lots of people will be doing given the size of the program book:

(8) Presenting Papers: Regular readers will know that I have outspoken views on this topic, but I continue to be amazed by the lack of investment that many make in presenting their papers. The gist of my concern is this: far too many people simply read their paper out verbatim at SBL sessions in the most inarticulate way imaginable, often with no attempt to communicating with the audience. A particular problem is speed-reading. People write their fifteen page screed and have a bloody-minded determination to read through the whole lot if it kills them, whether or not it fits into the time. This is a slight problem with graduate student papers, and here it is often related to nerves. My advice: practise your paper beforehand and think about issues like pausing, breathing, adding light and shade and varying your intonation.

The bigger issue for me, though, relates to those who should know better. I never cease to be amazed to see seasoned scholars completely unable to time a paper, selfishly praying on the good will of the chair and the other presenters. This is really elementary stuff -- overrunning on a paper is egotistical and unprofessional. If you are chairing a session, be ruthless -- the presenter who is unable to time their own paper does not deserve your compassion. I feel like having a longer rant on this, but perhaps I'll save it for later. There is something else you should do too and that is to:

(9) See the city: It is very easy to spend several days in a city and not see the city. It's really worth taking some time out to see the city. I have never been to New Orleans, and I am looking forward to seeing it though I suspect that I won't see a lot of it. Too many of my SBL memories merge into one because I spent 95% of my time on the inside of hotels and convention centres.

Oh, and one more thing:

(10) Tell us about it: The proliferation in bloggers at the SBL means that lots of us can share our experiences with those less fortunate than ourselves. And this SBL will be the first SBL to have been extensively tweeted. Those of us who will be tweeting SBL are using the hashtag #SBL09. I'll see you -- and tweet you -- there.

SBL Online Program Book: line spacing

Is it just me or does anyone else instinctively look at the wrong line in the online program book for sessions? I find my eyes always going to the paper title and then expecting to see the presenter underneath. It causes some odd moments of the kind, "Richard Hays is really reading a paper on that?" and "What! I'm down to give a paper on the Dead Sea Scrolls!" The problem could be solved with a good old fashioned bit of line spacing so that the titles are not squashed together with the presenters' names. The printed version works much better in this respect.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lloyd Pietersen and the University of Gloucestershire: updates

(1) Jim West reproduces a helpful summary from Lloyd Pietersen about What's Going on at Gloucestershire.

(2) I wrote to Paul Bowler ( and Patricia Broadfoot ( last night and received a formal reply this morning. If you have not done so already, please write your letter as soon as possible. Although you too will probably only get a formalized reply, there is strength in numbers. Let them know just how strongly we feel about this mismanagement.

(3) Show your support by blogging on this and encouraging others to write. Many have already done so.

(4) Show your support and keep up to date by joining the Facebook group, Save Wil, Lloyd and Other FCH Staff.

All NT Blog posts on this topic here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More on the University of Gloucestershire and related

(1) Join the Facebook group, Save Wil, Lloyd and Other FCH Staff Being Cut and Our Money. It's the place to go for information on what's going on at the University of Gloucestershire, and Lloyd Pietersen provides some helpful background information so that you can make sure that your letters are informed.

(2) Read Helen Ingram's eloquent reflections in The Death of Biblical Studies over on The Geek Muse.

(3) Don't forget to write your letters to Paul Bowler ( and Patricia Broadfoot ( to express your concern about Lloyd's appointment.

Lloyd Pietersen and the University of Gloucestershire: Action needed

It's only a matter of weeks since the University of Sheffield's administration moved to close down its internationally renowned Department of Biblical Studies. Due to a concerted campaign on the ground at Sheffield, and with support all over the world, that decision was reversed. Well, now another British university department is similarly under threat from the university's own administration, and one of our good friends has heard today that his post has been terminated.

Lloyd Pietersen is Senior Lecturer and Research Coordinator in New Testament Studies in the Department of Humanities at the University of Gloucestershire. For those who do don't know him, Lloyd is a first class scholar, a fine teacher, and a delightful person, a massive asset to the university. It is unthinkable that they would let someone like Lloyd go.

So what can we do? To begin with, we can pull out all the stops and inundate both Paul Bowler ( and Patricia Broadfoot ( with notice of the damage to research and the university's reputation.

Tweet it, facebook it and fellow bloggers, let's get the word out.

History of Christianity, Diarmaid MacCulloch

I don't think I've seen any of the bloggers comment on Diarmaid MacCulloch's new BBC4 series, A History of Christianity. MacCulloch is professor of the history of the Church at the University of Oxford, and this six part series began on BBC 4 last week. You can still catch it on the BBC iPlayer if you are in the UK. Details here:

A History of Christianity

It is based on a 1,200 page book that has recently been published to accompany the series. I loved the first episode. MacCulloch looks and sounds like a proper academic of the best kind, so obsessed with his area of expertise that he is eager to find ways to communicate it as clearly as possible to his audience. The really refreshing thing about the first episode is that MacCulloch goes east to find "the first Christianity", looking at Syriac Christianity, and venturing further east even to China to look at an extraordinary seventh century monastery.

If I had one minor criticism of the first half of the programme, it would be that it was just a touch too much like an illustrated lecture, with MacCulloch explaining things to the viewer while he walked around key sites. Eventually, there are some talking heads, and it is by engaging conversations that I think the best documentaries move forward. As soon as MacCulloch meets Martin Palmer in India, the programme gains in interest, and loses the virtual classroom feel. Mind you, I enjoyed watching MacCulloch trying to explain Christological controversies by mixing oil and water and wine and water, sitting in a restaurant.

MacCulloch appeared on Start the Week with Andrew Marr on Radio 4 a week or so ago, and some helpful person has extracted that section and uploaded to Youtube.

Monday, November 09, 2009

John Meier on Youtube: Jesus the Jew, but what kind of Jew?

I just came across this entire lecture by John Meier, reflecting on his scholarship on the historical Jesus on University of California Television. The upload date is January 2008 but the lecture itself is probably from around 2001. The title is "Jesus the Jew - But What Sort of Jew?":

Update (Tuesday, 6.30am): thanks to Janelle Peters in comments for helping to date this in about 2001, now updated above.

Bibledex: 1 Timothy

The latest Bibledex video from the University of Nottingham's Theology and Religious Studies department is on 1 Timothy. It's four and a half minutes' long and crystal clear. It mainly features a certain Emily Gathergood, a very good and engaging speaker.

One suggestion: it would be good to have some on-screen credits for the people featured in the Bibledex videos.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jesus: The Evidence: Geza Vermes on the Testimonium Flavianum

I blogged recently on Morton Smith's appearance in the 1984 Channel 4 documentary Jesus: The Evidence. Here's another nice clip from the documentary featuring a younger looking Geza Vermes discussing the Testimonium Flavianum in a large library (anyone recognize it?). You will notice a curiosity of this documentary with the scholars speaking directly to the camera. We are so used these days to the expert giving his or her opinions looking off-camera at the director, that it is unsettling to see this alternative style. I wonder if this was unique at the time?

I remember attending a lecture given by Geza Vermes in Oxford a year or so after the broadcast, probably in early 1986. He talked about his own experiences in filming the documentary and the backlash against it among Christians in the media. I recall, in particular, his smiling at the repeated complaint about its one-sidedness, with only one minute given to I. Howard Marshall.

Update: Many thanks to Geza Vermes for emailing with the information that the library is Dr Williams' Library in London. The lecture I remembered is "Jesus, the Evidence and the British Press" and it is included in a collection of papers to appear on 4 January 2010 in SEARCHING FOR THE REAL JESUS published by SCM Press.

Update (10 September 2019): A recent Facebook conversation reminded me of this post but on revisiting it, I found that the link to the video above was dead, so I have uploaded a fresh copy here.

NT Pod 18: Was Jesus a Carpenter? Progamme Notes

I released the latest episode of the NT Pod on Sunday, NT Pod 18: Was Jesus Really a Carpenter? I look at the foundations for the popular image of Jesus as a carpenter, a son of Joseph the carpenter, in the New Testament, Mark 6.3, ὁ τέκτων ("the craftsman"); Matt. 13.55, ὁ τοῦ τέκτονος υἱός ("the son of the craftsman") and then in second century texts like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas 13 (or 11, depending on the text),
Now Jesus' father was a carpenter (τέκτων), making ploughs and yokes at that time. He received an order from a rich man to make a bed for him. (2)When one board of what is called the crossbeam turned out to be shorter than the other, and Joseph didn't know what to do, the child Jesus said to his father, "Put the two boards down and line them up at one end." (3)Joseph did as the child told him. Jesus stood at the other end and grabbed hold of the shorter board, and, by stretching it, made it the same length as the other. (4)His father Joseph looked on and marveled, and he hugged and kissed the child, saying, "How fortunate I am that God has given this child to me."
Similarly, Justin Martyr, Dialogue 88,
And when Jesus came to the Jordan, and was said to be the son of Joseph the carpenter (τέκτων), he was without beauty, as the scriptures have foretold, and he was called a carpenter, for he worked, when he was among humanity, at the carpenter's trade, making ploughs and yokes; this teaching a pattern of righteousness, and an active life.
I conclude with some reflections on the historical Jesus.

The brief post-credits clip you here of Judas (Carl Anderson) singing "Too Much Heaven on their Minds" from Jesus Christ Superstar (dir. Norman Jewison, 1973). The picture I refer to is Millais, "Christ in the House of his Parents (The Carpenter's Shop)" (above; go here for a large version).

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Type Greek and the Sublinear Dot

If you want a speedy and efficient way to type unicode Greek, Type is a fantastic web based option. I recommended Type Greek on the blog back in April 2007 and I have had a link to it on the Greek NT Gateway fonts page since then. I was struggling recently with sublinear dots (the little dots you put under letters when doing textual criticism to show that it is uncertain) and wondered whether Type Greek might have that option. It didn't so I asked Randy Hoyt whether it might be possible for this feature to be added. Ask and you shall receive! Now if you hit the @ key, your sublinear dot is added, just like that.

Claude Lévi-Strauss obituaries

The death of Claude Lévi-Strauss was widely reported yesterday, and today's papers all have obituaries.

The Indepedent:

Claude Levi-Strauss: Intellectual considered the father of modern anthropology whose work inspired structuralism

The Times:

Claude Lévi-Strauss: French social anthropologist

The Telegraph:

Claude Lévi-Strauss
Claude Lévi-Strauss, the social anthropologist, who died on October 31 aged 100, was one of the dominating postwar influences in French intellectual life and the leading exponent of Structuralism in the social sciences; his work inspired a school of academic followers in the 1960s and 1970s in disciplines ranging from music to literary criticism.

The Guardian:

Claude Lévi-Strauss obituary
French anthropologist whose analysis of kinship and myth gave rise to structuralism as an intellectual force
Maurice Bloch

The Guardian wins the prize for managing to find a picture of the young Lévi-Strauss.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Morton Smith, Mar Saba and Jesus: The Evidence

Sometimes the intriguing stories of twentieth century discoveries can remind one of discussions about the first century. One of the big questions in Pauline chronology is: how many times did Paul go to Jerusalem? And now one of the questions that emerges in the discussion of Morton Smith's discovery of the Secret Gospel of Mark is: how many times did Morton Smith visit Mar Saba, the location of the discovery of the manuscript in 1958?

On Salainen Evankelista, Timo Paananen discusses whether or not Morton Smith went back to Mar Saba after 1958 and he posts a photograph of Morton Smith that recently appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review. The picture, which is from the archives of the Jewish Theological Seminary, makes it quite clear that Smith was there, and Timo speculates that "it was taken in the late 1970s, or even early 1980s".

I am pretty sure that I am able to provide the date and the occasion. I am lucky to have a good memory, and I can recall seeing Morton Smith on the Channel 4 (UK) documentary Jesus: The Evidence, talking about Secret Mark, in 1984. According to the BFI, the three-part series was broadcast in April 1984. My memory is enhanced not only by the fact that at the time my parents had recently purchased a Betamax video recorder, which I used to tape the series, but also by the fact that I had my first appearance on TV criticizing the series that same month, on the show Right to Reply (I was a precocious teenager, I am afraid!).

I think I remember seeing Morton Smith at Mar Saba on the documentary, and I also recall talking some years later to the researcher on the programme, who talked about filming with Morton Smith. Luckily, there is a short clip from the documentary available on Youtube (erroneously given as a "BBC TV" series, a common mistake):

(Ignore the title, which is the uploader's). Unfortunately, the clip does not feature Smith at Mar Saba. He is inside a library or an office, probably in America. But I am sure you'll agree that it is still fascinating. If I can get my hands on those Betamax videos I made twenty-five years ago, I can check the whole section on Smith.

In a comment on the above mentioned post, Allan Pantuck notes:
In one of the other photos I found, he appears on the same hill with what looks like a film crew, so it is possible he was being filmed for some kind of documentary.
So it seems all but certain that this is the occasion for Smith's last visit to Mar Saba.

Tweeting SBL

Stephen Carlson is going to be tweeting SBL. I tweet all sorts, and then tweet even more when I'm at something of greater interest than just a visit to the pool, so I'll be doing the same. It looks like the hashtag to use is going to be #SBL Tweetup.

Update: Actually, it looks like #SBL Tweetup is specifically about finding a meet-up time for twitterers. Perhaps we should think of another hashtag for just tweeting the meeting. How about #SBL New Orleans?

Further update: It looks like #SBL09 is gaining in popularity.

Biblical Studies Carnival 47

Kevin Scull has a fine Biblical Studies Carnival up on Paul of Tarsus:

Biblical Studies Carnival XLVII

Like all the best carnivals, I kept seeing things that I had not seen before or thought I had not seen before.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Biblical Studies on iTunes list

Joel Watts links to a useful page on Text, Community and Mission that lists Biblical Studies (and related stuff) on iTunes U. There is a lot of material of interest on there, and I have added something to the comments section to note that (shock!) the NT Pod is not yet listed.

Biblioblog Top 50, October

The latest Biblioblog Top 50, for October 2009, is out. Congratulations to Jim West for keeping the number 1 spot, and to a certain Jeremy Thompson who jumps into the top 5 with a blog with the catchy title of Free Old Testament Audio Website Blog, which was a new one to me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bibledex: Videos from Nottingham University on the Bible

Thanks to Karen Kilby for letting me know about Bibledex, a project at the University of Nottingham to produce Youtube videos on every book of the Bible. Several are already available. This one, on Matthew, is eight and a half minutes long and introduces lots of the key issues in the interpretation of Matthew, with contributions from Roland Deines, Anthony Thiselton, Pete Watts, Conor Cunningham and Simon Oliver. It's very nicely produced and it's remarkable how much they pack in while remaining lucid. I'll be adding these in due course to the NT Gateway.

The others available so far are Genesis, Psalms, Amos, Song of Songs, 1 Corinthians and Philemon.

Note: this is a different project from the St John's Nottingham videos, which I have mentioned here and on the NT Gateway. It seems like Nottingham is the place to be!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Talpiot Tomb and Statistics Again: Lutgen Response

Jerry Lutgen published an article The Talpiot Tomb: What are the odds? on Monday on the Bible and Interpretation site. I responded here in Talpiot Tomb and Statistics Again. The author of the article has now sent over his response to my comments, which I am happy to post here:
I read your comments on my paper - "The Talpiot Tomb - What are the Odds? - with great interest. I would like to comment on two points:

1. It is true that initially either Feuerverger himself or the folks he was working with used some careless language that mistated what was being concluded from his first set of calculations - the ones he did for the Discovery Channel. In this restatement, which you published, he did not reduce the strength of his conclusions, but what he did do was restate his conclusion using more precise statistical language. However, for his March 2008 article he actually published a second set of calculations which answers a different question, albeit probably relying on the same background material as he used for the Discovery Channel calculations. To the non-statistician, it might not have been apparent, but that's what happened. So, the odds calculations to which I referred in my article are not the calculations quoted in the Discovery Channel feature, I am using the second set of calculations. The manner in which these two calculations differ is somewhat subtle but important. Essentially, the first set of calculations have to do with how likely it would be to see a given set of names arise from a paticular tomb, while the later publication attempts to etimate the odds that the Talpiot Tomb is the family tomb of Jesus, given a set of names from the tomb.

2. Regarding the point about the views of the attendees at the Jerusalem conference, I actually agree that a signficant majority of the attendees do not accept that the Talpiot Tomb is the family tomb of Jesus. My point(perhaps clumsily made) was that even though that was the case, there are still many experts who think it is worth the effort to engage in additional study and discovery on this subject - which is what I intend to do.

Toward that end I have just committed to bringing up a new website at I expect to have it up around mid-November. The editorial position of the site is that we simply do not know with certainty whether or not the Talpiot Tomb is the family tomb of Jesus and that further study and discovery should be encouraged. The site will be intended for non-specialists who want some additional background material on the tomb and want to be guided through the various arguments for and against the proposition that this is the family tomb of Jesus. I will function as the editor, but I will try to create as little new material as possible. Rather I will attempt to guide readers to a balanced set of source material offered by experts on the subject.

P.S. It occurs to me that you may be curious who I am. You can read my bio at www.appliedhealthworks/consulting.htm

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Who Really Wrote the Bible? DVD

Who Really Wrote the Bible? DVDI received a nice DVD in the post today from the Biblical Archaeology Society. It is called Who Really Wrote the Bible? I took a closer look to see who it was on it and saw a couple of big names, and then also me! The blurb is as follows:
Prominent scholars Bart D. Ehrman, Mark Goodacre, Leonard Greenspoon and James Charlesworth tackle problematic and contentious issues of Biblical authorship. Plus, they share startling revelations about how and when the Bible was written.
These are recordings of lectures we gave in Boston last November. I'm on disk one with Bart. His topic is "Is the New Testament Forged?" Mine is "When were the Gospels Written?" Full details here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Talpiot Tomb and Statistics Again

Thanks to Mark Elliott for letting me know about the latest article on Bible and Interpretation, which returns to the issue of the Talpiot Tomb and the statistical case over whether or not this was indeed Jesus' family tomb:

The Talpiot Tomb: What are the odds?
Jerry Lutgen

The article provides a useful reminder that divergent estimates on statistics and the tomb are the result of the prior assumptions that are fed into the calculations. This has always been, for many, the heart of the issue. The weakness of Feuerverger's statistical case was always that the data with which he worked (fed to him by Jacobovici) was, to say the least, highly debatable. It was a theme in the blogging about the Talpiot Tomb affair here and elsewhere from the beginning (see, for example, The Talpiot Tomb and the Bloggers I: An Early Success and links there).

There are a couple of points I would like to make by way of clarification in Lutgen's interesting and useful new article. First, these comments would actually benefit from a little more background:
Before we get into the comparison of the results from the three sources, we first need to discuss the somewhat confusing circumstances surrounding the estimates provided by Feuerverger. Most people first became familiar with the Talpiot Tomb through two related sources, a Discovery Channel special entitled “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” and a book by Jacobovici and Pellegrino entitled “The Jesus Family Tomb”[2]. In both of these sources, it was stated that the odds were 600:1 in favor of the proposition. This odds calculation came to be attributed to Feuerverger.

This statement of odds left the impression that from a statistical point of view it was conclusive that the proposition was true and the Talpiot Tomb must be the family tomb of Jesus. Unfortunately, during early 2007, as this statement of odds got circulated in the press, its meaning got increasingly muddied. It was not until Feurerverger published a formal, refereed article in March of 2008 that it became clear that the original result attributed to Feuerverger was preliminary and that its meaning was somewhat distorted in the retelling. Therefore, all references to Feuerverger’s estimates will be from his March 2008 published paper [4].
The decision to focus on the published article is certainly the right thing to do. The difficulty over the earlier stated estimates, however, was the result of Feuerverger's own earlier statements which he changed in the light of errors pointed out here by Joe D'Mello. I chronicled the story recently here in my post The Talpiot Tomb and the Bloggers I: An Early Success, to which I refer you for the details. That post features links to the original posts in which the case developed "in real time", as it were.

The second piece I'd like to offer a clarificatory comment on is at the conclusion of Lutgen's essay:
What then do the content experts believe? Interestingly we can say something about the opinions of this group. In January 2008 Professor James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary, organized a conference titled “Jewish Views of the After Life and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism: Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context”. At this conference, many of the leading authorities on the subject discussed the possibility that the Talpiot tomb was the family tomb of Jesus. Reports from the conference suggest that an important point was backed by the conference attendees; that the proposition, while not proven, was sufficiently likely that further study of this matter is warranted. [+ Note Reference to Michael Posner, "University of Toronto Scientist Puts Odds on Lost Tomb,"Toronto Globe and Mail, April 21, 2008].
Unfortunately, this paragraph misstates "the opinions of this group", or at least many of them. Many who were present felt strongly that their views had been misrepresented in the post-conference publicity and as a result issued the strongly worded statement, The Talpiot Tomb Controversy Revisited, which appeared on the Duke University Religion Department blog, as well as here on the NT Blog, and I think on the SBL site too. The signatories of this statement concluded:
To conclude, we wish to protest the misrepresentation of the conference proceedings in the media, and make it clear that the majority of scholars in attendance – including all of the archaeologists and epigraphers who presented papers relating to the tomb - either reject the identification of the Talpiot tomb as belonging to Jesus’ family or find this claim highly speculative.

The Gnostics, 1987, more clips

I blogged recently about a 1987 Channel 4 documentary called The Gnostics (video and comments; further comments). A little more time spent on Youtube has revealed a couple more clips of this documentary. The first mainly features a white-haired, white-garmented Jesus reciting bits of the Gospel of Thomas to himself in the open air. But there is also a little more of Gilles Quispel and also Hans Jonas:

This clip has lots of Elaine Pagels and Gilles Quispel being interviewed, and a little of Hans Jonas too. They are talking about Gnostics and Gnosis and specifically "the divine within", and then Thomas as Jesus's twin in the Gospel of Thomas. There is also some of the white-haired, white-garmented Jesus again:

Friday, October 23, 2009

E. P. Sanders, Is Paul's Legacy Relevant Today?

New on Youtube from Villanova University is a guest lecture from Ed Sanders, "Is Paul's Legacy Relevant Today?" The lecture itself was given this time last year. It is wonderful viewing and listening:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Doubts about the story of the discovery at Nag Hammadi

Although the compelling story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices in 1945 is frequently narrated, it is not widely known that two scholars questioned the story and wished to distance themselves from it.

The key bibliography for the story of the discovery is as follows. The fullest version of the story of the finds is in James Robinson, "The Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Codices", The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 42, No. 4, "The Nag Hammadi Library and Its Archeological Context" (Autumn 1979): 206-224. The most influential version is The Nag Hammadi Library in English (translated by members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977; rev. eds. 1988, 1996). The version in Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979), which is based on Robinson's earliest account, has also been influential in other retellings.

Now, Robinson's account is based on extensive research in and around the Nag Hammadi region, with many interviews on several occasions with the protagonists in the 1960s and 1970s. His achievement in digging up the original details of what happened a generation earlier, and in writing so fascinating an account, is a testament to the skills of one of the most important and influential scholars of the late twentieth century.

The element of controversy is that Rudolphe Kasser and Martin Krause, who worked with Robinson on the Nag Hammadi Library in the 1970s and early 1980s, expressed major reservations about Robinson's story, so much so that they asked him to publish the following remarkable disclaimer in The Facsimile Edition on which they collaborated:
Rudolphe Kasser and Martin Krause wish to make it known here that they have serious reasons to put in doubt the objective value of a number of important points of the Introduction that follows. They contest especially the detailed history of the discovery of the Coptic Gnostic manuscripts of Nag Hammadi resulting from the investigation of James M. Robinson. Kasser and Krause and others who were involved do not consider as assured anything more than the core of the story (the general location and approximate date of the discovery), the rest not having for them more than the value of stories and fables that one can collect in popular Egyptian circles thirty years after an event whose exceptional significance the protagonists could not at the time understand. R. K. and M. K.
The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices: Introduction (Published under the auspices of the Department of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt. In conjunction with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1984), 3.

Although Robinson's account has often been retold, Krause's and Kasser's publicly stated objection to it has almost never been repeated. (I will discuss the exception next time). My guess is that this is more through ignorance than anything else. The quotation above is written in a tiny font in square brackets as the first few lines in a two-page footnote in the Preface of an expensive and highly technical volume, and that may explain why not many have seen it.

So what are we to make of Krause's and Kasser's concerns? I have some further thoughts on the topic which I hope to post here in due course.

From Blog to Book?

How do you like the idea of taking the best of your blog, including lots of the comments, and converting it to book form? Mary Beard has led the way on this one:

Mary Beard

. . . . The book reprints some selected posts, as well as including quite a few comments (and I think that debate actually makes the book). It also has an essay, by yours truly, on the nature of blogging -- and why I am a convert to the genre, despite many initial misgivings about dumbing down etc etc. . . .
Sounds like an interesting experiment. Is this an example of the blog coming of age? Initially the idea seemed strange to me, but then one of the most enjoyable (to me) genres of book is the diary, something that initially belongs to a different forum than the published book, so perhaps it is not so daft.

So which biblioblogger would you like to see following in Mary Beard's footsteps? Or would this not work in our area? Are we all a bit too dull?