Thursday, September 14, 2017

Early Christianity Position at Duke

I am happy to be able to post the following announcement of a position in Early Christianity in our department at Duke:

The Department of Religious Studies within Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke University invites applications and nominations for a position in the study of Early Christianity, at the rank of (tenure-track) Assistant or (tenured) Associate Professor. Candidates with expertise in any aspect of Early Christianity in the late ancient world (ca. 3rd to 10th century) are encouraged to apply.  The successful candidate will be familiar with critical methods in Religious Studies and will combine excellence in undergraduate instruction with teaching and mentoring in the Graduate Program in Religion. Collaboration with other programs and departments at Duke as well as with colleagues at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill is expected.

Interested candidates should send a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, evidence of innovation and expertise in teaching (e.g. teaching evaluations, a teaching statement, a list of proposed courses), and the names and contact information (email, phone, and postal address) of three references to Initial review of applications will begin November 1, 2017. Informal queries should be addressed to Professor Marc Brettler, chair of the search committee, at  Consideration will continue until the position is filled.  Start date is August 2018.

Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, is an Equal Employment Opportunity / Affirmative Action employer committed to providing employment opportunity without regard to an individual's age, color, disability, genetic information, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Mark Mattison's

I am grateful to Andrew Bernhard for sending over news of a change in his website He posted the following message on Labor Day:
Thank you to all who have visited my site during the past twenty years. I am humbled by the attention it has received and grateful for the opportunities it has provided me to connect with interesting people around the world. I am now pleased to pass on to Mark Mattison. I have been impressed by his dedication, as an independent scholar, to preparing public domain translations of ancient gospels not included in the New Testament. I regard Mark's work in making these gospels available online and usable by all as invaluable. I wish Mark only the best in continuing his work of making these texts easily accessible (without either sensationalizing or denigrating them). is his website now.
Andrew's website has been online since the early days, and I have happy memories of finding it, enthusing about it, and linking to it on the NT Gateway. I've just taken a look at the NT Gateway from seventeen years ago, and there it is on the Non-canonicals page, then titled "Jesus of Nazareth in Early Christian Gospels". I must admit that I do miss those simpler times when it was possible to be almost exhaustive in one's coverage of the area, and I miss the fun of hand-coding my web pages.

Going back a little further, it's a "Featured Link" in July 1999, with the comment "This fine web resource by Andrew Bernhard is the new version of the web site formerly known as The Quest of the Historical Jesus. This is a first class resource, featuring introductions, fresh translations, bibliography and links on canonical, non-canonical and hypothetical gospels. Its most notable new feature is The Greek Fragments of the Gospel of Thomas, an on-line edition of the Oxyrhynchus fragments of Thomas with translation."

But that is quite enough reminiscing. Andrew has now handed on his site to Mark Mattison, who is well known for his The Paul Page. The new includes Mark's translations of The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Judas, and other ancient gospels.

When I asked Andrew why he decided to transfer to Mark, he replied:
Over the last five years or so, there have been a lot of changes in my life. As a result, my interests have changed pretty drastically, and I just realized that I personally wasn’t going to be devoting much more time or energy to the study of ‘lost gospels.’ I actually retired the site back in January, but then I changed my mind and decided it would be better to pass it on to somebody else. Mark seemed like the perfect fit, and I have no doubt he’ll make great use of the site. He’ll probably make it better than I ever did! Regardless, as far as my own scholarship on early Christianity is concerned, I am done.”
So this post is in part to say a big thank you to Andrew for his fine website, and the work he has put into it over the last two decades, and in part to thank Mark Mattison for taking it on and taking it forward.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

"Say it with awe!" The Apocryphal John Wayne

Twelve years ago (Say it with aweSay it with awe update), I blogged about the legendary John Wayne story, in which the Duke, playing the role of the centurion at the cross in The Greatest Story Ever Told, delivers the line "Truly, this was the Son of God," only to be told by director George Stevens, "Say it with awe, John!" He responds, "Awww, truly this was the son of God!".

 Here's the clip in context. Wayne comes on at the 2:30 mark:

I noted at the time that the story certainly appears to be apocryphal, and I have been meaning to take a little more time to look into it ever since. I am currently teaching my Jesus in Film course at Duke, and this week we all watched The Greatest Story Ever Told, and it prompted me to revisit the story.

It is always difficult to chase down the authenticity of stories like this. Demonstrating that something did not happen is tough. But after a little searching, I found a lovely confirmation that in fact it never happened, in an interview that fills in some background and context in Greatest Story.

The source is Michael Munn, John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth (New York: New American Library, 2003): 248-9. Munn begins by retelling the famous story:
There is a famous but untrue story concerning Wayne’s only line of dialogue in the Crucifixion scene, and this is the time to put the record straight. According to legend, Wayne said his line “Truly this was the Son of God” three times, none of them to Stevens’s satisfaction. So Stevens said, “Can you give it a little more awe, Duke?” and Duke said, “Aw, this was truly the Son of God.” Very funny. But not true.
He goes on with an account of a 1977 interview he conducted with Roddy McDowall, who played Matthew in the film:
When I interviewed Roddy McDowall on the set of The Thief of Baghdad at Shepperton Studios in 1977, he talked about his work on The Greatest Story Ever Told, in which he played the disciple Matthew, and about John Wayne’s brief appearance as the centurion. Said McDowall, “We shot the Crucifixion on a soundstage in the studio. It was a marvelous set. There was hardly any dialogue except between the actors playing the two thieves and Max as Jesus. I promise you, John Wayne as the centurion did not say a word. If you watch the film closely, when you hear his voice saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God,’ you don’t see his lips move, and that’s because George Stevens had decided he wasn’t going to let the audience hear Wayne. In fact, he shot the scenes of Jesus carrying his cross and the Crucifixion in such a way that you hardly knew it was John Wayne. George was embarrassed that he’d been made to bring in so many stars as extras. After filming, George decided he needed the centurion to say the line after all, and he got Wayne into a sound studio, and he wasn’t in costume and he just had a microphone, and George asked him to deliver the line. Wayne told him, ‘I can’t do this.’ George said, ‘You’re an actor, aren’t you? That’s what you’ve been trying to prove all these years.’ And Wayne said, ‘I’ve got nothing to react to, so if I screw this up, don’t blame me.’ And he was right. He couldn’t give the line what it needed. You can’t blame Wayne, you can’t blame George; you can only blame the assholes who made the decision to use Wayne—and all the other actors who were in that scene just so the names would bring in the crowds—which they didn’t.”
Munn's account ends with this enjoyable comment:
Playing John the Baptist was Charlton Heston, Hollywood’s most prolific star of epics. He said, “There are actors who can do period parts and there are actors who can’t. God knows Duke Wayne couldn’t play a first-century Roman.”
McDowall, as reported by Munn, is right -- Wayne's lips are not moving in the scene.

Although it never happened, it is, of course, a lovely story, and like all good myths, it tells the hearer something important about its subject matter. In this case, it names the director of the film, it tells you that Hollywood bigwigs played key cameos, and it tells you that the film erred by casting famous Hollywood stars at the expense of realism. And, of course, it makes you chuckle.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Favourite Jesus Film

It's the beginning of a new academic year at Duke and this semester I am teaching my undergraduate course on Jesus in Film for a second time. I am hoping to blog about the course as I did last time.

For a first post on the topic, I have pulled up the results of a poll I took after teaching the course in Spring 2015. I simply asked the students in the class, after they had watched over twenty Jesus films, "Which is your favourite?" Here's how the vote came out:

1. Jesus of Nazareth (8 votes)
2. Passion of the Christ (6 votes)
3. Jesus Christ Superstar (5 votes)
4. Last Temptation of Christ (4 votes)

5= The Nativity (BBC) (3 votes)
5= The Miracle Maker (3 votes)
5= Jesus (CBS, 2000) (3 votes)
5= Jesus of Montreal (3 votes)

9= The Bible / Son of God (2 votes)
9= The Passion (BBC / HBO) (2 votes)

11= Life of Brian (1 vote)
11= Gospel of John (Visual Bible) (1 vote)
11= The Nativity Story (2006) (1 vote)
11= Son of Man (2006) (1 vote)
11= King of Kings (1961) (1 vote)

The following received no votes at all:

Greatest Story Ever Told
The Gospel According to St Matthew
Killing Jesus

Friday, June 30, 2017

Apocalypse of Peter (Greek text)

Back in 2005, I transcribed a Greek text of the Apocalypse of Peter (Akhmim fragment, from Erich Klostermann's edition) and uploaded to the web. I updated the files in 2007 and 2009 and for a couple of years I have been meaning to make some corrections to the text in the files. I am very grateful to Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Schütt for pointing out several typos in the original files. They are now all corrected and I think we have a pretty accurate version, but please let me know if you spot anything else that's in need of correction. They are found in the same spot here:

Apocalypse of Peter (Akhmim Fragment) [PDF]

Update (5 July 2017): Please see comments (below) for some helpful updates and bibliography on the Apocalypse of Peter from Wolfgang Grünstäudl.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Who Was Jesus? (1977) is Now Online

I have blogged my fascination with the 1977 BBC documentary Who Was Jesus? on a couple of occasions (Caird, Flusser and Cupitt on Who Was Jesus? (1977) and Who Was Jesus? (1977)) and I've been really keen to see it for many years. I remember listening to my mum's audio recording of the series as a youngster; I have always been intrigued by Don Cupitt, whose views were something of a cause célèbre when I began theological study; my interest in the history of documentaries on the Bible is always growing; and perhaps more than anything I was very excited about the possibility of seeing one of my beloved teachers, John Fenton, on film. So when Peter Armstrong released a twenty minute clip back in 2013, there was some hope that there might be more on the way. Now that has happened!

Peter Armstrong, the producer of Who Was Jesus?, has now put all two hours of the documentary online for all to view for free. It's in two parts and it's fascinating in all sorts of ways:

Who Was Jesus?

Part 1 is in many senses the documentary proper. It includes the earlier released clip of the conversations with George Caird and David Flusser, but it also features an enjoyable exchange with Anthony Birley about the existence of Jesus, and the conversation with John Fenton I mentioned above.

Part 2 is largely Cupitt's reflections on what he has discovered in part 1, along with exchanges with Michael Green (including a great shot of him putting a board outside St Aldate's Church in Oxford, with Christ Church in the background), Christopher Butler, and Brian Hebblethwaite, all three of whom had recently contributed to The Truth of God Incarnate, the book written to counter The Myth of God Incarnate, to which Cupitt had contributed along with John Hick, Michael Goulder, Dennis Nineham, Frances Young and others.

In some respects the documentary appears rather dated. The scholars are almost all British white males of a certain age, and the interviews with them go on for long segments -- they are nothing like the twenty-second soundbites we get now. But in other respects, the documentary covers a lot of ground, and I can't help thinking that today's fast-paced documentaries lose something of the grace and space that Cupitt is given to develop his thoughts. Cupitt is a charming and compelling guide -- intrigued, troubled and personally engaged in the subject matter he is exploring.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer Seminar with Prof. Robert Cargill and me in Minnesota

There is still time to book for the Biblical Archaeology Society's Summer Seminar event with Prof. Robert Cargill and me at St Olaf College in July. Here are the details:

St Olaf College Summer Seminar with Robert Cargill and Mark Goodacre

St. Olaf College
Northfield, Minnesota
July 16 – July 22, 2017

The Biblical Archaeology Society invites you to join us this summer at our ever-popular St. Olaf program on the beautiful campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Our featured speakers are BAR’s new associate editor, Dr. Robert Cargill of the University of Iowa as well as Dr. Mark Goodacre of Duke University, one of our most popular and engaging speakers. These two dynamic presenters will be our scholars-in-residence for the week, and their 20-lecture program promises to be an exciting window into the latest research in the field of Biblical archaeology . . .

Read more . . .

I am taking as my topic "Gospel Truth? A Historical Investigation of the Gospels" (lecture titles and abstracts here).  I am very much looking forward to spending time with Prof. Cargill as well as those of you who are planning to join us!