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The Bible and Beyond

Religion & Spirituality Podcas

The Bible and Beyond podcast is a series of interviews with scholars who are able to unlock mysteries from extra-canonical books, forgotten scriptures, so-called 'gnostic' gospels, as well as the Bible. Host Shirley Paulson, Ph.D., and her guests explore historical and spiritual questions about Jesus, gender, women, salvation, healing, and the meaning of life. The discoveries these scholars share don’t always fit with what we've been told, but time and again they lead us toward a deeper intimacy with Jesus.


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The Bible and Beyond podcast is a series of interviews with scholars who are able to unlock mysteries from extra-canonical books, forgotten scriptures, so-called 'gnostic' gospels, as well as the Bible. Host Shirley Paulson, Ph.D., and her guests explore historical and spiritual questions about Jesus, gender, women, salvation, healing, and the meaning of life. The discoveries these scholars share don’t always fit with what we've been told, but time and again they lead us toward a deeper intimacy with Jesus.






Simon Magus: Who Is He in the Bible?

An interview with Dr. David Litwa The strange story of Simon in the Bible illustrates the uncomfortable truth that Christianity seems to reinvent itself when it defines itself in opposition to its perceived enemies. In this biblical account, Simon (later called Simon Magus) appears to have been repenting properly from his mistake of offering to pay for the spiritual instructions, when Peter lashed out at him harshly. Litwa thinks the Acts of the Apostles was written many decades after the struggle between Simon of Samaria and Peter, and the author of Acts appears to have used a document known as “Simon and the Great Declaration,” for a source. This earlier Simonian document, written by Simon’s followers, refers to him as Simon Christ, concurring with Simon’s own declaration of his equality with Christ. Such a move would have put him in direct competition with Peter and in opposition to the objectives of the author of Acts to position Peter as the head of the Christian movement.


Jesus's Peaceful Resistance to Rome Based on Genesis 1

An Interview with John Dominic Crossan John Dominic Crossan draws on his own Irish life experiences to create an image of Jesus living in an empire dominating the Jewish world of Jesus. The Roman Empire might have been perceived as “the world of civilization,” accomplishing great power and wealth. But this success came at the expense of its conquered nations. Jesus’s nonviolent opposition to Rome originated in his perception of Sabbath creation of Genesis 1, in other words, the divine means of distributive justice.


The Jewish World of Jesus: A Modern Rabbi’s View

An Interview with Rabbi Evan Moffic Rabbi Evan Moffic, senior rabbi at a vibrant Reform Jewish congregation in northern Illinois, thinks Christians can understand Jesus’s words and works better – and Jews and Christians can understand each other better -- by considering the Jewish world of Jesus more fully. In this podcast interview, he explains Jesus’s relationship to his students, why Jesus himself was not apocalyptic, the Jewish origin of his ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ and the spiritual purpose behind his miracle acts and healings.


Marriage and Singleness in Early Christianity: Attitudes and Practices

An interview with Dr. Susan M. (Elli) Elliott In answer to a listener’s question about how attitudes toward singleness evolved in Christianity, Dr. Elliott draws on her knowledge of family legislation that Caesar Augustus inflicted on the Romans well before Jesus’s ministry. Followers of Jesus often followed the common but conflicting Roman attitudes toward elite and lower-class women. But early on, they also assumed a counter-cultural position against the notion that spouses were disposable.


Contemplating the Complexities of Christian Martyrdom

An interview with Dr. Deborah Saxon. Martyrdom in antiquity was often a painful choice. The dual powers of religion and politics made those decisions complex, but also caused a search for identity. Christians had to determine whether they would live under Roman systems, by Christian faithfulness, or by imagining a reward with Christ after martyrdom. Disagreements arose between advocates for martyrdom and those who opposed its glorification. Our modern reading of the ancient writings should take these differences into account.


Read Ancient Texts Outside the Bible

An interview with Dr. James McGrath Professor James McGrath explains why you should read ancient texts outside the Bible. A knowledge of apocryphal and other noncanonical texts give more background to biblical writings. The meaning of canon itself becomes clearer in the context of the many cousin-like texts that relate to the biblical writings. McGrath demonstrates this with an exploration of the books of Enoch, the history of the Maccabeans, the widespread beliefs in demons or unclean spirits, angels, the meaning of hell (Gehenna), and other topics.


Exploring Ancient New Testament Gospel Manuscripts

An Interview with Dr. Jeremiah Coogan Dr. Jeremiah Coogan, a scholar of ancient manuscripts, explains the significance of the recent discovery of an ancient palimpsest. That’s an ancient writing found underneath other writing that had covered it. The object we’re discussing contains the Old Syriac translation fragment of the gospel of Matthew, and it gives us a window into what the text of some Greek copy of Matthew would have looked like in the late second century. Coogan also discusses his work with gospel prefaces.


Was Ancient Manichaeism Christian?

An interview with Dr. Jason BeDuhn. Dr. Jason BeDuhn, an expert on Manichaeism, takes us into the ancient world where Mani was a leader of early Jesus followers in the East, before the fourth century Council of Nicea. He paints an intriguing picture of Mani’s interpretation of Jesus’s teachings and how Christianity might have been different if he hadn’t lost the competition with other leaders from the West. Mani’s followers saw his willingness to sacrifice for others parallel to Jesus’s martyrdom.


The Historical Jesus: Surprise Yourself!

An Interview with Dr. Joseph Bessler. Dr. Joseph Bessler challenges and delights us with his suggestions that learning what we can about the historical Jesus contributes to the betterment of society. The surprise of the past few decades has been the revelation that our traditional teaching of Jesus has been used to silence the voices of any ‘other.’ Certain texts reinforce certain theologies. But the loving gesture of listening to others brings to our attention surprising texts we have not noticed before.


Unraveling the Blood Curse in the Gospel of Matthew

An interview with Dr. Arthur J. Dewey Arthur Dewey explains how the “blood curse,” based on Jesus’s trial before Pilate, has been taken out of context and turned into a false basis for blaming Jews as a whole for the death of God. The “trial” in the Gospel of Matthew (which could not have taken place historically) was based on Mark’s original critique against the leaders of the Jews. This was another one of many squabbles among different Jewish factions.


The Biblical Meaning of Resurrection

An interview with Dr. B. Brandon Scott Dr. Brandon Scott explains the complicated history of resurrection. It was not an Easter celebration during biblical times, but the hope of God’s restoration of things was handed down from Daniel and the Maccabees. Sacrifice was widespread in the ancient world, not because of sins, but as an act intended to realign the world with God. Writing of Jesus’s death come from a conviction that his death was not defeat but that God made him alive. Bernard Brandon Scott is the Darbeth Distinguished Professor of New Testament Emeritus, Phillips Theological Seminary, Tulsa. He is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar and co-chaired Westar’s Christianity 1 Seminar. Scott is the author and editor of many books, including The Real Paul: Recovering His Radical Challenge, The Trouble with Resurrection, Hear then the Parable, and Re-imagine the World: An Introduction to the Parables.


The Bible and Beyond Podcast’s 50th Episode

Early Christian Texts is celebrating the 50th episode of our Bible and Beyond Podcast! We have collected snippets from ten episodes featuring several of our interviews since the podcast first aired in 2019. All fifty episodes have been quite unique and fascinating, but these ten excerpts exemplify the depth and breadth of the topics we covered — from why anyone should even look at extracanonical writings to the meaning of Jesus’ passion.


Is the Book of Acts Historically Accurate?

This month Shirley interviews Perry Kea, an expert scholar on the Book of Acts. Dr. Kea explains why the objectives of the author of the Book of Acts differ from simple historical documentation. The letters of Paul provide an excellent example of such differences and illustrate why the objective of the Book of Acts is inconsistent with historical facts. Stories in Acts were a means of using resources to address other questions, such as the source of authority for the new Christian movement.


A Jew and a Christian Discover Commonality

Dr. Jennifer Stollman, a Conservative Jew, surprised herself by discovering a couple of ‘game-changers’ in her reading of Paulson’s book, Illuminating the Secret Revelation of John: Catching the Light. As a self-described activist, Stollman was startled to consider an elevated sense of God that challenges traditional beliefs in the permanence of evil. A second ‘game-changer’ for Stollman was the new interpretation of Eve as a partner for Adam, an idea lifting women from being complicit and susceptible.


The Magi and the Star in the Christmas Story

An interview with Dr. Eric Vanden Eykel 'The Magi' of antiquity were usually religious professionals who were almost always associated with people in power, such as kings. But they were not kings themselves. Therefore Dr. Eric Vanden Eykel thinks the author of the Gospel of Matthew uses the characters of 'the magi' (instead of the shepherds who appear in the Gospel of Luke) to make a political point about the kingly identity of Jesus. A close reading of the details about the star and the gifts in Matthew also supports the political message.


Mary Magdalene was Probably Not from Magdala

An interview with Elizabeth Schrader Polczer Elizabeth Schrader Polczer claims that there has always been controversy over Mary Magdalene’s name and birthplace. She argues that Mary Magdalene was probably not from Magdala. So the name we use to refer to her should be ‘Mary Magdalene’ and not ‘Mary of Magdala’ for both historical reasons and the fact that Mary appears in better light if she came from Bethany instead of Magdala. However, Polzcer discusses the conflicting evidence from antiquity and concludes that acknowledging multiple legitimate interpretations is probably the best way to honor her memory.


Correcting the Mary Magdalene Smear Campaign

An interview with Rev. Kyndall Rae Rothaus Kyndall Rae Rothaus, a popular young female minister, tackles the ancient Mary Magdalene smear campaign as an example of the damage which can be done by mistaken assumptions. To her, it’s yet another example of the way people discredit strong women, both in the past and today. She believes that unraveling the Mary Magdalene smear campaign can help all people discover the divine feminine within.


Ancient Manichaeism: An Example of the Christian Insider-Outsider Debate

Scholar Jae Han describes the ancient Manichaean Christian religion as an outsider in the minds of Roman western Christians because it originated in Persia. Manichaeans considered themselves Christian, but heresiologists called them “Manichaeans.” In the same vein, Manichaeans called Catholic Christians “Jews.” From a Western perspective, if any religion originated in the East, it can’t be truly Christian. It was unnatural for Westerners (Romans) to consider a religion Christian if it originated in the East.


An Ancient Gold Glass Challenges Biblical Boundaries

An interview with Eric C. Smith, PhD Eric C. Smith, a scholar of biblical studies, uses an ancient gold glass as an example of why we should expand our concepts of what we call ‘biblical.’ The Bible itself is an “assemblage” of people, history, geography, and oral traditions that contributed to the creation of some portion of the Bible. Objects of art depicting similar stories and events are also assemblages, in that the stories may have come from the same or similar sources.


The Secret Behind the Secrets in So-Called Gnosticism

An interview with Nicola Denzey Lewis Nicola Denzey Lewis helps crack the code on perplexing questions about so-called ‘Gnosticism.’ Where is it from? What is it about? Why the secrets? Her own story about how she got involved explains why it is appealing to some and unnerving to others. She explains why it was such an important part of the development of Christianity in the second century and how it wrestled with major philosophical questions related to creation and the meaning of evil.