Did Jesus Speak Greek?

didjesusspeakDid Jesus speak Greek?

In a recent posting about the languages used in Eretz Israel at the time of Jesus: Did Jesus speak Greek, it is argued that Greek was much more in use in the first century AD than usually argued, and that the possibility that Jesus knew some Greek should be reconsidered. His conclusion to the question posed in the headline is: “Can we know for sure that Jesus spoke Greek? No. Is it reasonable to assume that he could speak Greek and did upon occasion? Yes, I believe so. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the variations in the Gospels among the sayings of Jesus reflect that fact that he said more or less the same things in Aramaic, Hebrew, and/or Greek.”

See then the more and even better argued article by G. Scott Gleaves, with the same title: Did Jesus speak Greek?, to be found here. His conclusion runs thus: “The “growing mass of evidence” has now become a convincing witness to the wide use of Greek in Palestine even among the members of the inner circle of disciples who followed Jesus.”

Then there is a book out by the very same author dealing with this question:

G. Scott Gleaves, Did Jesus Speak Greek?: The Emerging Evidence of Greek Dominance in First-Century Palestine. Pickwick Publications, 2015.  240 pp. (Also available in Kindle version)

G. Scott Gleaves is the Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Ministry of the V. P. Black College of Biblical Studies and Kearley Graduate School of Theology at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama.

The Vermes Quest

Cand.theol. Hilde Brekke Møller delivered today (May 13) the public defence of her PhD dissertation at The School of Theology, Norway. Her thesis is about ‘The Vermes Quest: The Significance of Geza Vermes for Jesus Research.’

IMG_0607Cand.theol. Hilde Brekke Møller delivered today (May 13) the public defence of her PhD dissertation at The School of Theology, Norway. Her thesis is about The Vermes Quest: The Significance of Geza Vermes for Jesus Research.

Ordinary opponents was professor drHelen Bond, Edinburgh (1) and professor drCraig A. Evans, Acadia, Nova Scotia (2). Professor drKarl Olav Sandnes is the third member of the examination committee. The public defense was chaired by rector Vidar L. Haanes.


In recent years, historical accounts of the so-called ‘quest for the historical Jesus’ have assigned an important role to Geza Vermes (1924–2013). Through the lens of his work on the historical JesusThe Vermes Quest contributes to the on-going debate of how the history of the quest should be written. The primary research question is: What has Vermes’s significance been for Jesus research? Answers to this main research question are sought through the following specific interrogations: What has Vermes’s role been in the coming of the third quest? To what extent and in what ways are Vermes’s suggestions about Jesus reiterated and debated within the third quest?

It is often claimed that Vermes’s book Jesus the Jew. A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels(1973) contributed to a significant change within mainstream Jesus research, typically labelled the third quest. Many Jesus scholars, notably E. P. Sanders, J. D. Crossan, J. P. Meier, and C. A. Evans, have interacted with Vermes’s suggestions. However, scholarly assessments of the import of Vermes’s publications are brief and ambiguous. This thesis explores the significance of Vermes’s Jesus research for the conceived change within Jesus research in the 1980s, and also within third quest Jesus research, by looking into the reception of Vermes’s book(s) by Jesus scholars and reviewers.

In Jesus the Jew, Vermes displays how features of the Synoptic Jesus correspond to genuinely Jewish expressions of his timeFor instance, he interprets Jesus’s self-reference as “the son of man” in light of a corresponding Aramaic term found in various ancient texts. Above all, Vermes compares Jesus to other miracle workers known to us primarily from rabbinic literature. He suggests that Jesus was a miracle working holy man like them; what Vermes calls a hasid

Vermes’s attention to the Jewishness of Jesus, his work on the son of man-problem, and hisdescription of Jesus as a hasid have been the most widely discussed parts of Vermes’scontribution. These issues have therefore been chosen for the examination of Vermes’ssignificance. The material for the thesis consists of parts of Vermes’s books that address the selected topics, as well as scholarship from the past forty years that deal with them. The book Jesus the Jew receives most attention due to its prominent role in the scholarly reception of Vermes’s suggestions. 

The study demonstrates that Vermes’s significance for the change in scholarship has been overstated. Scholars who did take notice of Vermes’s book Jesus the Jew in the 1970s and 1980s did not present Vermes as initiator or catalyst for change. Further, the study shows that Vermes’s suggestion that Jesus was a hasid has been widely noticed. few scholars have included parts of the theory in their own portrayals of Jesus. However, a large majority of scholars who discuss the hasid theory have set out to prove Vermes wrong. The hasid theoryhas therefore been widespreadbut its significance is limited, since it has not gained wide assent. Similarly, Vermes’s work on the son of man issue has been widely noticed within the debate of this particular issue, but it has had virtually no significance for Jesus research as suchthough there are exceptions to this rule. 

These research historical explorations of Vermes’s work shed light on underplayed aspects of previous research, and on the state of affairs for recent research. Most profoundly, the study challenges the rhetoric of current scholarship which portrays a dichotomy between recent and earlier research with regards to two matters: First, it takes issue with the purported ignorance of Jesus’s Jewishness within earlier Jesus research (which is believed to have been put right in recent years)Secondly, it challenges the professed (and allegedly unprecedented)theologically disinterested and genuinely historical orientation of recent research.


Her dissertation can be downloaded here:  http://www.mf.no/sites/mf/files/users/Dokumenter/Forskning/Doktorgradsprover/2015/hilde_b_moller_the_vermes_quest.pdf


Encyclia Paidea and Religion

Per Jarle 130415Last Monday, April 13th, several members of a Norwegian society (Norsk Nytestamentlig Forskerforum), were gathered for their Spring meeting at the University of Nordland, Bodø. Usually their metings are held in Oslo, but this time  we were also participating in a special event: The thological library of Prof. em. Peder Borgen, were handed over to the library at the University. Hence the session before lunch were dedicated to the studies of Philo of Alexandria.

At left here, you see Prof. dr. Per Jarle Bekken giving a presentation of the various works of prof. Borgen. Prof. Bekken, now a professor at the University of Nordland, is one of the former doctoral students of prof. Borgen, and very happy for having the local university library getting updated and expanded with relevant literature on the Bible, ancient Judaism, and even some volumes on Norwegian church history. On Bekken, see here and here.


PederB 130415

Prof. Peder Borgen (87 last January!), then held the main lecture this morning on Encyclical education and Religion. It was an impressive presentation by one who have made the study of Philo a main focus in his scholarly works for the last five to six decades. We also got a broader understanding of how much his celebrated dissertation (published by Brill in 1964,republished in 1981; now out of stock, but a paperback version is said to be published soon) represents for his own studies and for a better understanding of Philo, and how relevant ideas in this volume as well as in later Philo studies by Borgen still are today for understanding the – in many ways enigmatic – figure of Philo of Alexandria. For myself it was another reminder of much the synagogue and the Jewish milieus of Alexandria meant for Philo and his works.



KOSandnes 130415After lunch there were yet two other sessions: in the first prof. Bekken presented some issues from his most recent book (The Lawsuit Motif in John’s Gospel from New Perspectives. Jesus Christ, Crucified Criminal and Emperor of the World (Novum Testamentum, Supplements 158; Leiden, Brill, 2014).).

In the other, Prof Karl Olav Sandnes, Norwegian School of Theology (MF), gave an introductory presentation of his present research project, focusing on The Prayer of Jesus in Getsemane.

These two last sessions were led by prof. Marianne Bjelland Kartzow, Faculty of Theology (TF), University of Oslo.




























The Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting

The Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting (JJMJS), is freely available online from Oct 20. JJMJS is a new interdisciplinary peer-reviewed online journal, published in cooperation with Eisenbrauns.

The purpose of the Journal is stated thus by the editors:

The purpose of the journal is, then,  to publish research on any topic that directly addresses or has implications for the understanding of Judaism and the Jesus movement from the first to the seventh century. We welcome the submission of studies within any of the following fields: Christian origins, New Testament studies, early Jewish studies including Philo and Josephus, the Dead Sea scrolls, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, rabbinic studies, patristics, history of ancient Christianity, reception history, and archaeology. Since methodological diversity is an important factor in interdisciplinary research, we encourage authors to apply any type of methodology that is effective for the task at hand, including but not limited to literary, rhetorical, linguistic, socio-historical, intellectual-historical, social-scientific, and archaeological approaches.

The editors are: Prof. Torleif Elgvin (NLA University College, Oslo), Prof. Paula Fredriksen (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Dr. Anders Runesson (McMaster University) and Dr. Alexei Sivertsev (DePaul University).
The first issue is available by going here.

Jesus Against the Scribal Elite

The book by Chris Keith; Jesus against the Scribal Elite (Baker Academic, 2014) is one of those standing on my preferred reading list this fall. And having a brief look last weekend at the first pages, I met the following description that I both found amusing, pertinent, and well formed. And it certainly wet my appetite to read on (p. 5):

Matthew 23’s Jesus is not a vacation Bible school Jesus or a seeker-sensitive Jesus. That Jesus’s hair is nice and combed. His robes are sparkling white, and his face is aglow as he hovers about six inches off the ground. He hugs people a lot, speaks in calm tones, and pats little children on the head as he tells his audience, only four chapters earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, that the kingdom belongs “to such as these” (Matt 19:14…). The Jesus of Matt. 23 is of a different sort. He is fired up and within a word or two of unleashing some profanity in the style of a high school football coach. This Jesus’s hair is untamed. His clothes are beaten and tattered from a semitransient lifestyle. His face and neck are reddended by the Palestinian sun, and his feet are blistered, cracked, and calloused. There is a wild look in his eyes, sweat pouring down his forehead, and spit flying off his lips when he yells, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matt. 23:13, 15, 23,25 ,27, 29; 23:16). His message ends not with a head pat to a child and and aphorism about the kingdom, but with tales of murder and bloodshed (23:34-37).
When you finish reading Jesus tirade against the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 23, you might need a deep breath. Those who have grown all too accustomed to the teddy-bear Jesus may need to reasess wholesale their idea of Jesus. At the worst, we can point to thids text and affirm that, when early Christians such as Matthew commemorated Jesus’s life in the form of narrative Gospels, they portrayed a Jewish teacher who was embroiled in heated controversy with other Jewish teachers and gave as good as he got.”

One of the reasons why I had to stop a moment at this description, is certainly that I on the one hand know the teddy-bear Jesus all to well, but also – in spite of some exaggerations- I found that author’s focus on Matt. 23 interesting and appealing.
I am loking forward to continue reading this book!

PS: On this link, you will also find some video presentations of the book by prof. Keith, and he is running a blog (The Jesus Blog) together with Anthony Le Donne (PhD, Durham).

Did Jesus have a wife – II

Peter Williams, Warden at Tyndale House, Cambridge, has issued a letter which deals with several issues valuable in considering the papyrus and the interest arisen in many newspapers and other news channels:


The Web is by now awash with stories of an ancient text in which Jesus says ‘my wife’. The story which broke yesterday in the New York Times and some other sources, is being carried today by outlets too numerous to list. Some of the reporting is responsible, but not all. Consider this extract from The Daily Mail:

“If genuine, the document casts doubt on a centuries old official representation of Magdalene as a repentant whore and overturns the Christian ideal of sexual abstinence.”

We are of course in a context where there is so much ignorance of basic facts about Christianity that even when the media properly relay facts they get completely distorted and misunderstood in popular perception. This can be seen in the way derivative media put spin on the story and in the online comments below the news items.

Here we try to establish a few facts.

The scholarly article upon which almost all knowledge of the fragment is based is here.

What do we know from this?

What’s in a name?

First, let’s start with the name. The scholar involved, Professor Karen King of Harvard, has decided to call this The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. However, it might more appropriately be named The Fragment about Jesus’s Relations, since there’s no evidence that it was called a gospel and the text mentions at least two family members. Of course, such a name would not generate the same publicity. Despite this unfortunate choice of name, Professor King is to be commended for publishing a good photograph and detailed scholarly analysis of the fragment simultaneously with the press release. Usually in the case of controversial text the media hype comes long before the availability of the text.

Genuine or forgery?

Professor King has provided pictures of the papyrus, but it is not publicly known who owns it, or where it came from. If genuine, it almost certainly came from Egypt because that is where papyri like this are found.

Because it was not found in situ it is obviously possible to doubt its genuineness. Scholars at Tyndale House think that, on the basis of the limited evidence currently available, it is possible it is genuine, though there are good reasons for scepticism – see the comments of Dr Christian Askeland, an expert in Coptic manuscripts here.

What about date?

It is written in Coptic, the language of Egypt which descended from the even earlier language of the Hieroglyphs. Coptic is Egyptian written in the Greek alphabet with a few extra letters. Because Coptic was only emerging as a written language in the third century and papyrus went out of use in the seventh century the 8 cm x 4 cm fragment has to be dated some time from the third to the seventh century and the scholars involved with this fragment have stated that it is fourth century on the basis of the handwriting.

Since we have virtually no firmly dated Coptic handwriting, this date is just an educated guess.

Then we turn to the date of the contents. Here Professor King puts the text in the late second century, but all that we really know is that the text is at least as old as the manuscript.

The papyrus at the centre of the publicity

What does it say?

This is King’s translation of the text, with square brackets used where the text does not survive:


1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
2 ] The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
3 ] deny. Mary is worthy of it[
4 ]……” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[
5 ]… she will be able to be my disciple . . [
6 ] Let wicked people swell up … [
7] As for me, I dwell with her in order to . [
8] an image [BACK:

1 ] my moth[er
2 ] three [
3 ] … [
4 ] forth which … [
5 ] (illegible ink traces) 

We believe this to be a largely reliable translation. But is it evidence that Jesus had a wife? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Not even Karen King is claiming that it is, though it’s inevitable that some of the news outlets will present it otherwise.

What we have here is a typical sort of text which arose after Christianity had become very popular and when derivatives of Christianity began to emerge. The language of the text is very similar to the Gospel of Thomas, sayings 101 and 114, and the Gospel of Thomas saying 101 shows influence of Luke 14:26, as the Gospel of Thomas does elsewhere. This way of speaking belongs to the mid-second century or later, in other words generations later than the books of the New Testament.

We asked Dr Simon Gathercole, an expert on apocryphal gospels and Senior Lecturer in New Testament in the University of Cambridge, for his comments.

He concluded: “Harvard Professor Karen King, who is the person who has been entrusted with the text, has rightly warned us that this does not say anything about the historical Jesus. She is correct that “its possible date of composition in the second half of the second century, argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus”. But she is also right that this is a fascinating discovery which offers us a window into debates about sex and marriage in the early church, and the way Jesus could be adapted to play a part in a particular debate. If it is genuine.

You can read his fuller analysis here.

Please feel free to forward this email.

Best wishes,

Peter Williams,
Warden, Tyndale House, Cambridge.

Did Jesus have a wife?

Papyri are interesting items; without all the various pieces we have with Christian and other ancients texts science of religion would be quite different than it is, including theology.
Now a new papyrus is said to have been discovered, and one that even seems to mention Jesus and his wife: See here for a presentation of the piece. Here are also some relevant questions and answers to those wondering what this is all about.
The scholar, Karen L. King is quite reluctant to what this papyrus might prove:

“1. Does the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife prove that Jesus was married?
No, this fragment does not provide evidence that Jesus was married. The comparatively late date of this Coptic papyrus (a fourth century CE copy of a gospel probably written in Greek in the second half of the second century) argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus. Nor is there any reliable historical evidence to support the claim that he was not married, even though Christian tradition has long held that position. The oldest and most reliable evidence is entirely silent about Jesus’s marital status.

I personally finds Jim Davilas’ comment both amusing, and (probably?) to the point:

“My take? I am … wait for it … skeptical. Professor King has done everything right and she is taking a very reasonable line of optimistic skepticism, but there’s one point that I’ve seen no one raise so far and which Professor Bagnall in particular misses in the quote above: this fragment is exactly, exactly, what the Zeitgeist of 2012 would want us to find in an ancient gospel. To my mind that weighs heavily against its authenticity. Of course I hope I’m wrong and that it is genuine, and that is certainly a possibility, but this is equivalent to winning big in the lottery and that should make us nervous. It is too perfect. As Larry Schiffman put it, “The most exciting things are the things most likely to be forged.” My working hypothesis at the moment is that someone who knew what they were doing went to a lot of effort using a piece of ancient papyrus to create a remarkable forgery.”

The rest of his comments are also informative, see here.

Those who are interested in what other scholars and bloggers have said so far, can find a very useful review HERE.

New book by the Norwegian scholar Halvor Moxnes

Last fall Professor Halvor Moxnes (University of Oslo) got his latest book published: Jesus and the Rise of Nationalism. A new quest for the nineteenth century historical Jesus. (I.B. Tauris, 2012.). Due to several reasons I have not been aware of the book before last month, and most recently got hold of it.

On its front leaf, we can read: “The great German theologian Albert Schweitzer famously drew a line under 19th century historical Jesus research by showing that at the bottom of the well lay not the face of Joseph’s son, but rather the features of all the New Testament scholars who had tried to reveal his elusive essence. In his thoughtful and provocative new book, Halvor Moxnes takes Schweitzer’s observation much further: the doomed “quest for the historical Jesus” was determined not only by the different personalities of the seekers who undertook it, but also by the social, cultural, and political agendas of the countries from which their presentations emerged. Thus, Friedrich Schleiermacher‘s Jesus was a teacher, corresponding with the role German teachers played in Germany’s movement for democratic socialism. Ernst Renan‘s Jesus was by contrast an attempt to represent the “positive Orient” as a precursor to the civilized self of his own French society. Scottish theologian G A Smith demonstrated in his manly portrayal of Jesus a distinctively British liberalism and Victorian moralism. Moxnes argues that one cannot understand any “life of Jesus” apart from nationalism and national identity: and that what is needed in modern biblical studies is an awareness of all the presuppositions that underlie presentations of Jesus, whether in terms of power, gender, sex, and class. Only then, he says, can we start to look at Jesus in a way that does him justice.”(Links added by TS)

The book provides interesting readings and understanding into both the culture of the nineteenth century and the emerging Jesus research, and their inter-relationships. On my part, I would have liked a similar study to also be carried out for the twentieht century; they were probably not less influenced by their own culture. And one might add, Prof. Moxnes will surely admit that he too is influenced by his culture.

In fact, the book and its author are astonishing contemporary in its preferences; to what degree he will escape allegations of being (too?) politically correct in his preferences for a post-national world order, only time can tell….

For my self, the kind of study it represents, reminds me very much of an other study, the one by Jonathan S. Perry, on The Roman Collegia: The Modern Evolution of an ancient Concept (Mnemosyne Supplements Vol CCLXXVII; Brill, Leiden, 2006). In this interesting and well-researched volume, Jonathan S. Perry describes some aspects of the development of research on the collegia from Th. Mommsen up to the present time, especially focusing–in more than half of the book–on the intersection of this research and the politics of Fascist Italy. That is, he reads the research on the ancient collegia in light of contemporary  culture. For a review of that book, one might look here.

I am really looking forward to reading prof. Moxnes’ most recent book, and congratulate him with its publication.

Crossan on Abba -PaterNoster

What was your favorite lecture at SBL this year?

It might be difficulty to decide, and probably not fair to all the good lectures and papers I/you did not attend. But nevertheless, being a little subjectivistic for the moment, I might flag my favorite: It was John D. Crossans lecture at the Historical Jesus session Saturday 19.11, on “From Abba-cry to Father-prayer.”
As we all might know, there has been a lot of discussion on the meaning and historicity of the Abba term in the prayers and teachings of Jesus. J. Jeremias argued that it was an ipsissima verba Christi, signifying the little child’s intimate word for father. Others, e.g., Barr,  have disagreed.
Crossan did not deal so much with the historicity issue as its meaning and significance. He argued that Abba is an “Intra familiar teem.” You cannot use the term if you are not in a family.
Hence it denoted the rights of sons being within the family,that is, being an heir.
Most children would have lost their father before the age of 15, thus father would be some nostalgic term, more than real patriarchy.
Crossan further used Romans 8 as a commentary on Paster Noster, cf. Gal 5.

Children of God is not a term of childishness, dependency,
Children is a term for being inside the family. Intra familiar.
What Jesus taught was an intra familiar concept and attitude. Supported both by Paul, Mark, Matthew, and Q.

I did not take extensive notes, so this is my brief impressions. I hope the lecture will be published somewhere.