December 8, 2014

Towards the end of the semester in my Paul class, we’ve focused on the disputed and inauthentic epistles attributed to Paul. One detail that never struck me quite as forcefully before about 2 Thessalonians is its ending: “ I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.”

SinaiticusManuscriptImageI had noticed before that this – like the warning about “a letter as though from us” – could be an attempt by the forger to fly under the radar, as it were, by providing reassurances and warning about forgeries. Since letters would by that time have been read in copies, there would be no actual change of handwriting. It’s a clever trick.

I had also noticed the fact that, in letters that are considered authentic, we actually don’t find Paul writing something in his own hand in every instance.

But what struck me for the first time was the emphasis on “every letter of mine.” If 2 Thessalonian is authentic, it would need to be among the earliest of Paul’s letters. 1 Thessalonians is thought by most to be the earliest, and the strong similarity between the two letters would necessitate that they be close in time to one another.

And so it makes no sense for Paul, early in his letter-writing activity, to talk about “every letter of mine.” But to a later forger, reference to Paul’s many letters would have come naturally.

What do you think about the authorship of 2 Thessalonians? What evidence persuades you to draw the conclusion that you do?

September 18, 2014

When we moved from introductory matters to diving into one of the epistles in my Paul class, we started with 1 Thessalonians, usually thought to be the earliest of Paul’s letters.

This gave me the opportunity to revisit the question of whether 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 is a post-Pauline interpolation.

It is worth noting that there is no manuscript evidence that this passage is an addition. It is also worth noting that its interruption of the train of thought is not in and of itself grounds for deeming it an interpolation: Paul’s penchant for interrupting himself and returning to his earlier train of thought is well known, and it is scarcely a trait unique to Paul for that matter. It is also worth noting that some have had clear motives for wanting the text to be post-Pauline – either in order to clear Paul of charges of anti-Semitism, or in order to fit their view that Paul never mentions Jesus’ historicity. The last standpoint clearly involves a circular approach, since Paul mentions a number of things that indicate Jesus’ historicity, and excising such things as supposed exceptions is nothing more than the disposing of  inconvenient counter-evidence.

In this case, however, there are other considerations, related to content and also linguistics, which also suggest that the passage is an interpolation. And were I to defend its authenticity, it could be pointed out that, on some level, I might wish the passage to be authentic, just because of what it would mean in discussions of mythicism. And so I cannot pretend to be unbiased any more than other interpreters can.

The most interesting detail I came across in reading up on the topic was the fact that the final phrase, which is the one that seems to have in view the events of 70 CE, has a close echo in T. Levi 6:11 (in Greek, and not just in English – see F. F. Bruce’s Word Biblical Commentary, p.48): “But the wrath of the Lord came upon them to the uttermost.” Since that is a Jewish text that has undergone Christian redaction, it is impossible to tell which came first. But it is a neglected consideration when 1 Thessalonians 2:16 is discussed. 

There certainly are events in the time period that might seem to be expressions of divine wrath. But even if the events of 70 CE need not be seen in the text, we must also ask whether Paul could complain about the persecution of churches in Judaea, without any mention of the fact that he had previously been involved in the persecution.

And so perhaps this is one of those instances in which the best course is an acknowledgement of uncertainty, even if one thinks that one conclusion or the other is warranted.

Of related interest, also in this epistle, and relevant to discussions of mythicism, we find Paul says in 2:13, “you received the word of God, which you heard from us.” And so, while Paul emphatically insists in Galatians that his core Gospel was not something he derived from other human beings, clearly we cannot read that (presumably dishonest) attempt to claim total independence from other human authorities into other places where Paul speaks of receiving something, even if that something is said to be the “word of God” or “from the Lord.” Clearly Paul uses such language even when a human mediator is involved.

Do you think that the 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 is an original part of the letter, or an interpolation?

November 29, 2010

Students in my class on the Bible each make a presentation on the topic for one class. Today we were up to the subject of pseudepigraphy and the epistles attributed to Paul, and the student who presented shared this video by Eman Laerton:

It took a while until I realized that this is the same person who produced the “Mr. Gospel Potato Head” video some of us have shared before.

September 3, 2016

Canon: The Card Game is now available for purchase! There are currently three decks available:

The Fandom Edition Deck 1
The New Testament Edition Deck 1
The Old Testament Edition Deck 1

If you click through to the Game Crafter website using any of the above links, you will be able to download the rules, as well as purchase the game.

Each deck contains 108 cards, which will allow 2-8 players to play without difficulty. (If you are playing with just two players, I’d recommend splitting the deck in half if you only have time for a short game). For larger groups, you might want to get an additional deck. I already have different decks planned. Each will allow you to play the game with only that deck, but you can combine decks either to expand the number of players who can participate in a single game, or to create variations of game play for smaller groups. Shuffling two different decks together, then playing with half the cards, results in the number of any specific card being randomized, which can make things more interesting – as well as emulating yet another aspect of canon formation, namely the simple fact that some texts inevitably get wider circulation than others do.

Here are picture-lists of the cards that come in the three decks currently available:

NT Deck #1:

Canon NT deck 1 with names

OT Deck #1:

Canon OT deck 1 with names

Fandom deck #1:

Canon fandom deck 1 with names

On the cards in the Biblical studies decks, I have listed possible objections that one could raise to the canonicity of a particular work. I tried to treat works that are currently non-canonical, and those that are canonical for some but not others, in the same way as works whose canonical status is universally accepted. That text can be ignored, or made a focus of attention, depending on who is playing and what they are interested in or trying to accomplish. I also have versions of every deck without the additional text, for those who want to use the game to test students’ knowledge rather than providing them with information. For instance, one could get both kinds of decks, play first with the cards that provide information, and then subsequently play with blank cards and ask students to provide annotation on them. If such options interest you, let’s talk more about this topic!

Here are the decks that I have planned for release in the near future:

NT Deck #2 (Text Criticism and Apostolic Fathers): 1 Clement, Apostles Creed, Diatessaron, Lord’s Prayer Doxology, Shepherd of Hermas, Letters of Ignatius, Johannine Comma, Longer Ending of Mark, Nicene Creed, Papias, Pericope Adulterae, and the Q Source.

NT Deck #3 (Acts and Epistles): 1-2 Peter, 1-2 Corinthians, 3 Corinthians, Letters of Abgar and Jesus, Letters of Paul and Seneca, Acts of Paul and Thecla, Acts of Thomas, Ephesians, Hebrews, Jude, Laodiceans, and Pastoral Epistles.

NT Deck #4 (Nag Hammadi): Three Steles of Seth, Apocalypse of Adam, Apocryphon of John, Apocalypse of Peter, Gospel of Truth, Hypostasis of the Archons, Paraphrase of Shem, Sophia of Jesus Christ, Testimony of Truth, Thunder Perfect Mind, Treatise on the Resurrection, and the Tripartite Tractate.

NT Deck #5: Johannine Epistles, 2 Clement, 2 Thessalonians, Acts of John, Ascension of Isaiah, Colossians, Didache, Odes of Solomon, Philemon, Philippians, Testament of the 12 Patriarchs, and Table of Contents.

OT Deck #2: 4 Maccabees, Deutero-Isaiah, Additions to Esther, Exodus, Jeremiah (LXX/Qumran version), Prayer of Manasseh, Nahum, Nehemiah, Proverbs, Testament of Abraham, Wisdom of Solomon, Zephaniah.

OT Deck #3: 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch, Bel & the Dragon, Damascus Document, Community Rule, Hosea, Joseph & Aseneth, Mishnah, Psalms of Solomon, Samaritan Pentateuch, Testament of Job, Testament of Solomon.

Fandom Deck #2: Crossover Story, Deleted Scenes, Drafts, Franchise Encyclopedia, Fanzine Articles, Spin-Off, Headcanon, Interviews, Musical Episode, Reboot, Video Games, and Webcomics.

What else, if anything, would you be interested in seeing in future decks for the game? Which additional decks among those listed above would interest you most?

September 1, 2016

1 Corinthians Last Trump

How will the world end? It will be issued in by the “Trump of God.” The King James Version translators didn’t know that they needed to capitalize “Trump.” How could they?

It all makes sense now…


August 5, 2016


This is the last day of the Society of New Testament Studies conference in Montreal. There was a chapel service in German, followed by the last of the main papers, Jens Herzer speaking about the Pastoral Epistles “Between Myth and Truth.” The paper sought to revisit longstanding conclusions that are now taken for granted about these texts (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). One of those assumptions is that the three letters hang together as a corpus, as essentially “one work in three parts.” Another is that either all three are authentically Pauline or all three are pseudepigraphal. Also worth pondering is that the pseudepigraphal character of any or all of them does not necessarily mean that the biographical details about Paul embedded in them are incorrect (forgers often seek to incorporate accurate information precisely to make their forgery harder to detect). The assumption that Acts is accurate has not and cannot go unchallenged, and this means that divergences between Acts and the Pastorals cannot be taken to demonstrate anything about the accuracy or otherwise of the information in the Pastorals. In his conclusion, Herzer provided a telling quote from Adolf von Harnack, whoin 1926 looked back at how much had changed in the 57 years since he started his theological studies, the field having moved from accepting only four major epistles as Pauline, to including Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and others. In the discussion after the paper, someone asked what might have led Paul to incorporate household codes into his letters at that particular point in his activity, if one or more of the Pastorals turned out to be authentic. Udo Schnelle asked about the different perspectives on Israel in Romans vs. the Pastorals.

After the coffee break, I attended the final meeting of the seminar on the Gospel of John, in which Ismo Dunderberg presented a paper comparing the treatment of the eucharist across a range of sources, focusing in particular on the Gospel of John, Philip, and Judas. I found my thoughts turning to the Didache, and have an idea that I might want to explore in a future conference paper and/or article. 

At lunch, I had some delightful conversation about science fiction and the Mandaeans (as separate topics, not together). One of the participants in the conversation was Brad Rice, whose work on a fascinating text called “The Dialogue of Christ with the Paralytic” I have mentioned on this blog before.


January 20, 2016

Donald Trump has been getting flack for saying “Two Corinthians” when referring to the work that is known as “Second Corinthians.” That is short for “Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians.” And to be honest, I would take someone who says “Two Corinthians” over an ignoramus who calls it the “Second Book of Corinthians” any day.

Have you ever referred to the “Book of Romans” or “Two Thessalonians”? If so, how did you learn to refer to the letters as letters, and multiple letters to the same destination by ordinal rather than cardinal numbers?

Two Corinthians Trump


January 3, 2015

In a flashback, we see Locke planning to propose to Helen. She reads the obituaries and says Anthony Cooper, Locke’s father, has died. They go to the burial. A minister reads from 1 Thessalonians about the resurrection. Locke says he forgives his father. Later, we see Locke working as a home inspector – giving a report to Nadia. There he sees his father in a car, waiting to talk to him, and he says he pretended to kill himself off in order to escape two men he had conned of $700,000. He gives Locke the key to the safe deposit box where the money is. Locke goes and gets the money, and brings it to the hotel. Helen shows up and is disappointed by the fact that John lied to her. She won’t stay even though John asks her to marry him.

In the hatch, there is a sound of static over the speakers. There is a choppy voice, hard to make out, but eventually he hears a coutdown and then blast doors come down when it reaches zero. He manages to slip a crow bar under one if them before it lowers completely. He lets “Henry” out to help him to try to lift a blast door. Locke then ends up caught under it when trying to squeeze underneath it. Locke then asks him to go up through the vent and push the button. Black lighting comes on, and Locke sees the map painted on the blast door. Afterwards, a parachute is found with food.

Ana, Sayid, and Charlie find a grave, beneath a balloon with a smiley face on it caught in the trees. We learn when they get back to the camp that even so, Sayid did not believe and so he dug up the grave and found that it was not a woman buried there, but a man named Henry Gale.

Although it only featured briefly, the map on the blast door became the subject of intense discussion and speculation, with a detailed image being published in a magazine the week that the episode aired. LOST knew how to develop an engaging show that would make people want to read magazines and follow clues. And so might one say that it fits the genre of “soap opera“?


December 9, 2014

The Ancient World Online drew attention to recent open access publications from the Center for Hellenic Studies. These include Albert Lord's classic The Singer of Tales and Averil Cameron's Dialoguing in Late Antiquity. I haven't figured out how to actually access them yet, but hopefully will soon.

See also Brice Jones' blog post and Paul Barford's blog post about Josh McDowell's involvement in plundering mummies for papyri. From the sound of it, it looks like they may have dropped entirely the “first century copy of Mark” hype in favor of later dates.

Finally, see as well Jones' blog post about a papyrus which includes a phrase used by Paul in 1 Thessalonians.


December 8, 2014

A commenter drew my attention to the video above, in which apologists for Pauline authorship depict Paul the apostle interrupting Bart Ehrman’s class to insist that he wrote both 1 and 2 Thessalonians. It seems perfect for today, which is Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day. But it doesn’t really satisfy – not least because we can’t bring authors back from the past to tell us what they did and did not write, and so we need to deal with the evidence we have as best we can.

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