The evolution of the infancy narratives

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 24 As noted in prior posts, the evangelist Mark holds an adoptionist point of view. For him, the spirit of God indwells Jesus the Nazarene (“The Savior, the Holy One of God”—Mk 1:24). Mark’s adoptionism conforms with what I have called ‘Stage II’ christology, the conception of the spiritual Jesus dominant in the first century CE. The spiritual Jesus was incompatible with the Catholic conception of God becoming man—the Incarnation. The two christologies are mutually exclusive. If Jesus is a spirit, then it cannot be one particular man, Jesus of Nazareth. The earlier, pre-Catholic conception of a mobile Jesus (the saving spirit of God) entering into worthy people, now here, now there, resulted in … Continue reading

Resurrection & Incarnation in the second century

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 23 Evangelical Christians view the bodily resurrection of Jesus as “the most important event in the history of the world.” For them, Jesus’ resurrection from the grave is proof positive that He was the Son of God, that He was God in the flesh, and that He was the Lynchpin of history. Of course, the bodily resurrection means that Jesus overcame death (point #2 in the above link). That’s a very powerful message, for the fear of death is a basic instinct in both man and animal. The Christian promise is that since Jesus overcame death, we can too, for “we have died with Him and will also live with Him” (point #3 above … Continue reading

The Protevangelium of James

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 22 It may surprise you that the Protevangelium of James is a work uniquely positioned in Christian history for its capacity to shed light on the origin of the canonical gospels. However, that capacity is hardly admitted by the tradition, which classifies PrJames with the New Testament Apocrypha (lit: ‘hidden’)—biblical or related writings not accepted as scripture, i.e., not considered genuine or ‘true.’ Terms such as orthodox, apocryphal, canonical, accepted are self-serving and ultimately depend upon a circular argument: if the Church approves a work (that is, if the work agrees with its theological positions), then the work is ‘admitted.’ But if the work conflicts with the Church’s position then it is ‘not genuine’, … Continue reading

A review…

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 20 Below is my summary of the birth and development of Christianity in the first three centuries. Of course, just about everything regarding the points below differs from the ‘received tradition’:   • I begin ca. 100 BCE rather than at the turn of the era; • I propose a different prophet than Jesus of Nazareth (namely, Yeshu ha-Notsri); • for me neither Paul nor Marcion existed—nor did the earliest Church Fathers until Justin Martyr; • the ‘Pauline epistles’ came after the canonical gospels, not before; • the canonical gospels themselves are products of the second half of the second century. The tenets above are fleshed out in slightly greater detail in the 22 points below, each … Continue reading

The ‘Watch and Wait Period’—II

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 19 Readers may not be aware that the traditional view of Marcion was my principal reason for fixing the authorship of the canonical gospels to the middle decades of the second century. However, in a recent post I proposed that Marcion was an invention of the Catholics, a useful tool in the fledgling church’s efforts to paint naysayers (those who rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the savior) as heretics (“Marcionites”). Now that ‘Marcion’ is gone, the dating of the 4G to the middle decades of II CE loses a good deal of force. Here I briefly summarize the reasoning that originally led me to connect Marcion’s presence in Rome to the dating of the … Continue reading

Pliny on Christians ca. 110 CE: Authentic (My view)

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 18 I have finished reading Hermann Detering’s chapter “Pliny the Younger—Christian persecution in Bythynia” from his book Falsche Zeugen (“False Witnesses”), and have also surveyed the rather copious literature on this seemingly obscure topic—at least, the literature readily available at my university library and online. While I have immense respect for the late Dr. Detering’s work, I have to disagree with him regarding these two Pliny letters (Bk. 10:96–97). Of course, few things are 100% certain in history, and Detering marshals evidence for his argument that the letters in question are forgeries. Uncharacteristically, however, he used outdated (19th century) references that became obsolete when newer evidence came to light in the early twentieth century. … Continue reading

Pliny on Christians ca. 110 CE: A forgery? (Detering’s view)

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 17 Adieu Pliny! June, 2011 by the late Dr. Hermann Detering Translated from the German by R. Salm with light editing for style. Note: In the comments below I play the ‘devil’s advocate’and intentionally give Dr. Detering’s argument a hard time.—R.S. It’s been a good 35 years since I first read the two so-called “Christian letters of Pliny” (Book X, nos. 96 and 97—in English here). At the time, I was—along with other graduate students—sitting in a New Testament seminar whose topic I have forgotten. I do remember the November rain prattling against the windows and, of course, the lecturer Dr. Walther Schmithals, who read the Latin text of the letter to us, amiably … Continue reading

The two Christian messiahs

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 16 Some readers may notice that occasional entries on this weblog change after the initial posting. This is because—when new information requires—I go back and revise passages in older posts to conform to new discoveries. I used to keep the older post in an ‘archive’ section of this site, but I rarely do that anymore because my capacity to revise prior entries is limited by time and energy—after all, there are now over 300 posts on this site! If a book ever results from all this material, that will be the time to revise and put this “New Account of Christian Origins” into proper order. Thankfully, I’ve not yet had to take down a … Continue reading


In solidarity with our brave brothers and sisters fighting for freedom in Ukraine. A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 15 On this website six years ago I wrote a series of posts “Questioning the gospel of Marcion.” The thrust of those posts was my novel thesis (not taken up anywhere else, to my knowledge) that there was no “gospel of Marcion”—not as a text, at any rate. My argument still stands, but here I expand it and reject the existence of Marcion himself. “Marcion” was, as I shall describe below, a convenient tool of the Catholics, an invented figure used to establish the (false) priority of their new gospels and epistles and to anathematize all those who believed in the … Continue reading

Forgery as a means of Christian survival

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 14 “Misinformation works.” — Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky A few nights ago I picked up Bart Ehrman’s book Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (Oxford, 2003). I have been looking through some of his books of late—not for knowledge so much as to check the current heartbeat of American Christianity—which, unfortunately, is undergoing a frightful irregularity. On the one hand are informed Christians—those who read books, who care (at least a little) about facts, and who may have taken a religion class or two in college. They are the target of Ehrman’s more popular books. On the other hand are the legions of unschooled Christians for … Continue reading