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History in the Bible

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A layman's guide to a 150 years of research into the history presented in the Bible. Lightly garnished with a dash of drollery, and a soupcon of scrutiny. Episodes are released every third Sunday.

A layman's guide to a 150 years of research into the history presented in the Bible. Lightly garnished with a dash of drollery, and a soupcon of scrutiny. Episodes are released every third Sunday.
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A layman's guide to a 150 years of research into the history presented in the Bible. Lightly garnished with a dash of drollery, and a soupcon of scrutiny. Episodes are released every third Sunday.






2.33 We Three Kings. 2019 Epiphany Special

My Epiphany special relates the story of Christmas as told by the gospel of Matthew. In Matthew, the story is told from Joseph's point of view, not Mary's. Matthew has wise men, the infamous massacre of the innocents, and the flight to Egypt. No angels and no shepherds. He does not mention Mary's relative Elizabeth, and her son John the Baptist. If you read Matthew carefully, he says nothing of the day of Christmas, but he has a lot to say about the day of Epiphany, 6th January, the day...


Bonus 20 The Emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity

Second Temple Judaism (530 BC-70 AD) was a lush forest of beliefs, factions, and sects: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Sicarri, Zealots, the Fourth Philosophy and more. All were swept away in the First Roman-Jewish war that ended with the destruction of the temple. From this forest, two new religions emerged: Rabbinic Judaism, and Christianity.


2.32 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. 2018 Christmas Special

My Christmas special tells the story of Christmas as related by the gospel of Luke. With lots of canticles and shepherds. My forthcoming Epiphany special relates the gospel of Matthew's version of the nativity.


2.31 The Many Names of Jesus

King of the Jews, Saviour, Son of Man, God, Son of God, Messiah and Christos, and Lord. The New Testament has many titles for Jesus. Let's investigate them.


2.30 John's Gospel of Knowledge

The gospel of John reads nothing like the other gospels. John defines Jesus as a cosmological figure, not the man adopted by God at his baptism that the other gospels talk about. John has a quite different biography of Jesus. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus travels to Jerusalem once in his life, to meet his destiny. The gospel of John has Jesus travelling to Jerusalem several times, and places the cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of Jesus' career, not at the end. John's gospel is...


2.29 The Gospels of Matthew and Luke

The gospel of Matthew is the most Jewish of the gospels. He insists that his readers must follow Jewish law. Yet his gospel contains the infamous blood cry. Matthew's community might have been Jews who went to synagogue, and believed that what we call Christianity was the right way to be a Jew. Or they might have been outside the synagogues. Matthew today is understood as a factional writer, one who contended against the emerging rabbinical community. The gospel of Luke is part of a...


2.28 The Gospels of Mark and Matthew

Mark is the earliest, shortest, and least popular gospel. We don't know if Mark was a Jew or a gentile. Mark's audience is assailed by the powers that be. He has an especial dislike of the Pharisees. His Greek is rough, but punchy. Mark expects the return of Jesus any day now. Mark's Jesus was a man adopted by God at Jesus' baptism. His Jesus is forever telling people shut up about Jesus' true identity. In Mark, Jesus is Clark Kent, not Superman. In Mark, the reader always knows more than...


2.27 What We Know About the Life of Jesus

Our earliest pagan sources for the life of Jesus - the historians Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius - tell us almost nothing about Jesus. The letters of St Paul are uninformative, as are rabbinic sources. We have to rely on the four gospels. These have their own agendas. In this episode I explore the relationships between the synoptic gospels: Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Today, we believe that Mark was the first gospel, and that both Matthew and Luke drew upon Mark. But Matthew and Luke have...


2.26 Christianity's Earliest Witness: Paul Writes to the Thessalonians

Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians is the earliest surviving document of Christianity. I drop in on the Thessalonian Jesus-club to discover how a pagan newcomer would have reacted to the club and the letter. The newcomer is befuddled by the strange words used by club members, and confused about Paul. I also dissect the letter, and discover that Paul knew almost nothing about the life of Jesus.


2.25 Quest for the Historical Jesus

Since the Enlightenment, three great academic attempts have been made to make sense of the life of Jesus: the first, second, and third quests for the historical Jesus. I follow the Third Questers.


2.24 Battle for the New Testament IV: Modern Times

The discovery of the ancient Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus in the 19th century revealed that the New Testament circulated in three different textual traditions: the Byzantine, the Alexandrian, and the Western. It became clear that the Textus Receptus was based entirely on Byzantine manuscripts, all written in the high Middle Ages. Modern Protestant and Catholic bibles rely on the much older Alexandrian manuscripts, represented by Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, and on modern papyrus discoveries.


2.23 Battle for the New Testament III: the Reformation

Unlike the Jews, Christians preserved many versions of their scriptures. The invention of printing spurred European scholars to revisit ancient Greek manuscripts in an attempt to create one single version of the sacred books. Over a century, Erasmus, Beza, Stephanus and the Elzevirs produced Greek editions. Their collective efforts are known as the Textus Receptus, the text behind the King James bible.


2.22 Battle for the New Testament II: Against Marcion

The Jesus-clubs reacted against Marcion's tiny list of sacred works. The invention of the codex, the book, brought the issue of the canon to the forefront. Melito, Tatian, Irenaeus, Eusebius, and Athanasius made the first attempts to list a sacred canon. The Christians struggled against Marcionites, Montanists, and Gnostics to define what they believed. I introduce the Shepherd of Hermas.


2.21 Battle for the New Testament I: Earliest Times

Christians in the first two centuries did not have a sacred canon of books. In this first of four parts, I discuss what the earliest church fathers Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp and Papias were reading. Marcion spurred the Jesus-clubs into action.


Bonus 19: Samson on Trial

We all know of the biblical hero Samson, known to his friends as Shimshon ben Manoah, and to his enemies as “that bastard”. Samson of the long hair, Samson who was seduced by Delilah, Samson who brought down the Philistine temple. In this bonus episode, three award-worthy history podcast writers and producers bring Samson to trial for mass murder.


2.20 Herod's Heirs

Herod’s kingdom was divided. The Romans took their own chunk. His sons Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Philip received portions. Their success was mixed. Judea was never easy to rule, often breaking out into brigandage, even when run by Jews. Race riots between Greeks and Jews were common. Philip does not play a role in the New Testament story. Archelaus has a cameo part. Herod Antipas figures in the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist. Herod’s grandson Herod Agrippa I appears in the story of...


2.19 What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us?

Rome created an efficient economic system that enabled even middle-strata Judeans to buy goods from far-distant places. Rome introduced new social structures, the patron-client system, and the household headed by the pater familias. The Jews created their own system of governance under the Roman rulers. They also created the synagogue. Jewish religion transformed itself. God became more numinous, while Satan turned into a person. Jews came up with a definite concept of a life after death.


2.18 Modern Debates: Scandal of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Biblical find of the century, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were turned over to an international committee for study. Bad idea. The cabal refused to let the wider scholarly community examine the documents, and forced their own interpretations on the world. The cabal bamboozled first the Jordanian authorities, then the Israelis. The cabal's stranglehold was only broken by a bunch of academic freedom-fighters in the 1990s.


Bonus 18: Yochi Brandes' novel 'The Orchard'- Judaism and Christianity after the fall of the Temple

Dan Libenson of the Judaism Unbound podcast returns to the show. This time we discuss best-selling Israeli author Yochi Brandes' novel 'The Orchard'. Dan translated the book into English. The novel centres on Rabbi Akiva, the man who forged rabbinic Judaism after teh fall of the Temple. Along the way we encounter a host of other rabbis and Paul of Tarsus. We also ponder the difficulties of translation and working out what actually happened in history.


2.17 Recovering the Bible: A Century of Revelations

So much to cover: the discovery of the oldest Jewish bible, the Leningrad Codex; and the oldest Christian bible, the Codex Sinaticus. At the Cairo Geniza, finds revealed another thousand years of manuscripts. The Didache was recovered, and another bunch of books discovered in an obscure tomb in Egypt, revealing a Christianity hitherto unknown. The Dead Sea Scrolls then showed that Judaism was not the dessicated religion that the New Testament described.