The Twelve Apostles: Who Were They?

In this series of posts, we will explore the history of Jesus’s closest followers as recorded across numerous ancient Christian traditions. Along the way, we will find that these traditions are often confused, contradictory, or seriously lacking in details. Nevertheless, we will attempt to distill all the historical data possible and, at times, risk delving …

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Which Gospel Came First?

Getting as close to the historical Jesus as possible has been a preoccupation with biblical scholars since at least the 18th century. Many questions must be asked. For example, which of the Jesus-traditions (sayings and stories) now appearing in the New Testament and elsewhere are the oldest? Which are most likely historical? Which gospel was …

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The Human Jesus: How Much Do We Really Know About Him?

Our sources of information about Jesus are almost entirely limited to the four New Testament gospels. There are also certain non-Christian reports that help to confirm a few of the events in Jesus’s life including especially his crucifixion. Biblical historians, however, maintain that the gospels were written decades after Jesus’s death. That being the case, …

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Do You Have to be a Christian to Believe in Jesus’s Resurrection?

The resurrection is the bedrock event that launched a movement based on the belief that Jesus was and continued to be the Messiah of Israel despite his death and that he would soon return. Some suggest that, absent the resurrection event, Christianity would not have begun. The followers of Jesus would have gone their separate …

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Why Did Jesus Attack the Temple Merchants?

One of the most fascinating events in the recorded life of Jesus occurred in Jerusalem and perhaps led to his death. I am referring to his actions in the temple with regard to the animal merchants and money changers. All four gospels report some version of the story in which Jesus drives out these functionaries …

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Do Historians Deny the Miraculous?

In some of my university classes on Christian origins we discuss Jesus and the gospels. A number of my students are nonplussed to find that historians do not automatically add Jesus’s miracles to the historical data bank of all the things that Jesus likely did. “All the gospels,” they correctly claim, “present Jesus as a …

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Elements from the Christmas Nativity Display: What Gospel Does That Come From?

At this time of year throughout Christendom churches and homes (no longer, it appears, governmental institutions, at least in the U.S.) recreate for display the scene of Jesus’s birth. Actually, they depict not the birth itself but a moment in time afterward. How long afterward? That is a question that cannot be satisfactorily answered. The …

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‘Tis the Season (for Miraculous Birth Stories)!

Most people are familiar with the basic elements of the stories of Jesus’s miraculous conception and birth as recounted in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke. Though there are numerous differences between the two stories (a fact not often recognized or acknowledged – see my posts Are the Nativity Stories of Jesus Based …

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Did Baby Jesus Go to Egypt?

As many readers know, there are two stories of Jesus’s birth and childhood in the New Testament. They are told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but the stories are quite different. Beyond the core themes shared by both authors (Mary becomes pregnant but not by Joseph; Jesus is born in Bethlehem) the stories …

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The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

In Bethlehem, somewhat off the path beaten by most tourists, lies the Church of the Nativity, so called for the tradition that it was here in the manger-cave below that Jesus was born. The tradition is quite old and led the emperor Constantine to erect a basilica here in the early 4th century. Crusaders rebuilt and …

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