Monthly Archives: August 2012

Did Jesus exist for minimalist and Jesus Process member Philip Davies?

Emeritus Professor Philip Davies has not been able to “resist making a contribution to the recent spate of exchanges between scholars about the existence of Jesus” in an opinion piece titled Did Jesus Exist? on The Bible and Interpretation website. It is a question that he says “has always been lurking within New Testament scholarship generally”, though the occasion of his essay appears to be the recent set of exchanges over the views of Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey and Thomas L. Thompson on that website along with some thoughts on the recently released ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’.

(Since Davies was also announced as a member of The Jesus Process (c) (TJP), it is encouraging to see someone from that august body addressing the tactic of the gutter rhetoric that we have endured recently from other TJP members Joseph Hoffmann, Maurice Casey and Stephanie Fisher. It would be nice to hope that Davies’ article can mark a turn for the better from that quarter at least.)

Philip Davies is (in)famous for his 1992 publication In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ (partly outlined on vridar.info) that is reputed to have brought “minimalist” arguments on the Old Testament to a wider scholarly (and public) awareness. In Did Jesus Exist? Davies says he has “often thought how a ‘minimalist’ approach might transfer to the New Testament, and in particular the ‘historical Jesus’”, and infers that the collection of articles in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ is an appropriate way to open the question.

(I don’t think it is all that difficult to apply a “minimalist” approach to the New Testament: it’s a simple matter of approaching the data with the same logical validity and consistency — the avoidance of circularity [and circularity of method is confessed by several historical Jesus/NT scholars] in particular. The hard part is in acknowledging the circularity given our cultural conditioning.)

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NT studies “not a normal case”, ad hominem rhetoric, and hope

He points out that what is uncontroversial in any other field of ancient history runs into trouble when suggested in the field of New Testament studies (my emphasis): read more »

Theistic evolutionists are creationists

From Jerry Coyne’s comments on responses to Bill Nye’s attack on creationism (reformatted), posted on his blog, Why Evolution Is True:

Theistic evolutionists are creationists, pure and simple; they differ from straight fundamentalist creationists only in how much of life God was involved in creating, ranging from

  • those who think God set the whole plan in motion, knowing it would culminate in that most awesome of species, US,
  • to those who think that God tinkered with mutations to create the right species (see the philosophical work of Elliott Sober),
  • to those who think that humans are set apart from other species because God inserted a soul in our lineage (that’s the official view of the Vatican). 

That is being anti-evolution as scientists understand it, since we see evolution as a naturalistic process that has nothing to do with deities.

Sadly, far more Americans are theistic evolutionists than naturalistic evolutionists: the proportions among all Americans are 38% to 16% respectively (40% are straight creationists, 6% are unsure). We have a long way to go.

A little quirk in the “historical” reconstruction of the Jesus story

Ed Parish Sanders

Historical Jesus scholars cannot deny the archaeological and literary evidence testifying to the grand economic importance of the major city of Sepphoris which was a mere one hour’s walk away from the “nobody-ever-heard-of-it” village of Nazareth. Why does such a major metropolis not once appear in the Gospels? Here is E. P. Sanders‘ answer:

Jesus was not an urbanite. The cities of Galilee — Sepphoris, Tiberias and Scythopolis (Hebrew, Beth-Shean) — do not figure in the accounts of his activities.  He doubtless knew Sepphoris, which was only a few miles from Nazareth, but he nevertheless seems to have regarded his mission as being best directed to the Jews in the villages and small towns of Galilee.  Nazareth was quite a small village.  It was in the hill country, away from the Sea of Galilee, but Jesus taught principally in the villages and towns on the sea. . . . . (p. 12. The Historical Figure of Jesus)

Okay, that’s fine. But it also raises a question. Why do the Gospels so consistently speak of Jesus attracting a massively large following from far and wide — Tyre and Sidon and places beyond the Jordan and “Edom”, for heaven’s sake, many days’ walk from Nazareth — yet fail to mention Sepphoris. Why is Capernaum cursed as if it were a great metropolis whose inhabitants had rejected him, but nary a word of Sepphoris? read more »

Why the Church Does Not Want Jesus — ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ chapter 4

Niels Peter Lemche is the author of the fourth chapter of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’, “The Grand Inquisitor and Christ: Why the Church Does Not Want Jesus”. He frames his case around the parable in Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, that tells of Christ being arrested on his return to earth in the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The Grand Inquisitor informs the imprisoned Christ that he will have to be burned at the stake because he is a danger to the Church. But there is a subtle twist in the parable which is the key to understanding the paradoxical argument that follows.

But before starting, let me point out that this post is different from earlier ones discussing chapters of this book. Rather than sequentially paraphrasing the argument I take some core arguments in Lemche’s chapter as a springboard for discussion of my own observations. (So I omit all reference to the origins of historical-critical scholarship, liberation theology and third world exegesis, Philipp Gabler‘s famous lecture on the conflict between historical theology and ecclesiastical dogmatics, the various ways both Catholics and Protestants have historically controlled the reading of the Bible, Marcion’s and von Harnack’s complaints about the inclusion of the Jewish scriptures in the Christian Bible . . . . , that Lemche covers in this chapter.) Now back to the parable. . . .

Ivan Karamazov (John Malkovich)

The parable is told by Ivan Karamazov who appears to side with the Inquisitor in objecting to the Jesus Christ who walks straight out of the pages of the Gospels and begins performing miracles etc just as he did there. (There is much more to the original story, but let’s roll with the details Lemche selects for his analogy.) The irony for Lemche is that this same Ivan also represents those who in other ways question the Church. The Grand Inquisitor thus turns out to be something of a double-edged sword. “Perhaps there are more layers represented in this novel than appear at first sight.

For Lemche, the Grand Inquisitor represents “the position of the well-educated clergy of the Church“. The threats it faces come from two opposing sides, and one of these sides finds itself in an ambiguous position:

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Threat #1 — the pious laity with their Bible

Yes, there is the threat from “the pious laity having read too much of the Bible”:

The difference between the Christ of the Church and the Jesus of the Gospels becomes dangerous when explained to the laity. (p. 77)

Elsewhere Lemche has argued that pious people should not be allowed within a hundred metres of the Bible. “Reading the Bible has not done them much good.” Some who would follow in Christ’s footsteps have been rendered harmless by being incorporated into the constraints of the Church itself (e.g. the Franciscans). Others have gone down in history as suicide cults. I and many others would add a vast array of dysfunctional mental, physical, financial and social legacies among too many of the faithful. read more »

Jesus and the Mythicists: Earl Doherty’s Concluding Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 34

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Ehrman’s Conclusion

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Are humanists and atheists engaged in a religious exercise?
  • Humanist and atheist activism against religion
    • The humanist self-definition
  • Going against received wisdom
  • The Jesus “problem” for historicists
    • Replacing all the fantasy Jesuses with the ‘real’ one
  • Is the mythicist agenda anti-religion and anti-Christian?
  • Ehrman’s and traditional agendas
  • An historical evaluation of religious tradition

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CONCLUSION

Jesus and the Mythicists

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 332-339)

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Ehrman’s reaction to humanism

Similar to his situation in having had little knowledge of Jesus Mythicism before he undertook to write a book in opposition to it, Bart Ehrman seems to have had little contact with or understanding of humanism before being an “honored” guest recently at the national meeting of the American Humanist Association, where he received the Religious Liberty Award. He learned that they “celebrate what is good about being human.” But another aspect of humanism also struck him:

But a negative implication runs beneath the surface of the self-description and is very much on the surface in the sessions of the meeting and in almost every conversation happening there. This is a celebration of being human without God. Humanist is understood to stand over against theist. This is a gathering of nonbelievers who believe in the power of humanity to make society and individual lives happy, fulfilling, successful, and meaningful. And the group is made up almost exclusively of agnostics and atheists. . . . (DJE? p. 332)

Evidently, Ehrman does not realize that the humanist movement arose as a response to religion, as a rejection of its traditional all-encompassing and rigid dictations . . . .

read more »

Understanding Mark’s Jesus through Philo’s Moses?

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) b...

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I posted an introduction to Burton Mack’s and Earle Hilgert’s suggestion that the pre-Passion narrative in the Gospel of Mark has striking affinities with Philo’s first volume of On the Life of Moses. I have since caught up with more of the background reading to their argument, but I have also taken their suggestions further and wonder if there is a plausible case to be made that the evangelist was influenced by Philo’s account of Moses in the way he portrayed the character and roles of Jesus through his teaching and controversial exchanges with others. This post is exploratory. The views expressed are in flux.

But I must address one point in particular before continuing. Some people reject any argument that a gospel’s narrative content was imitating or influenced by other specific literature on the grounds that it is possible to argue for influences or imitations of more than one other literary source. It is not difficult to find places where the Gospel of Mark has adapted tales from the Old Testament (e.g. Jesus’ call of the disciples being modeled on Elijah’s call of Elisha; the raising of Jairus’s daughter from the dead owing much to Elisha’s raising of the Shunammite’s son.) But we have also recently seen a study that argues for the influence of Homer’s epics, the Iliad and Odyssey. Is it not going too far to bring in yet another source into the mix? Spectres of “parallelomania” are raised. But this objection is ill-informed. Thomas L. Brodie in The Birthing of the New Testament demonstrates that it was common practice for authors of the time to draw upon and assimilate multiple sources in their composition of new works. (This will be addressed in a future post.)

Start with the Transfiguration

Mark’s transfiguration scene is teasingly alike yet unlike the biblical scenes of Moses atop Mount Sinai. read more »

High-Low context cultures — catching up with the fundamentals

It’s about time I tied up one loose end from my earlier remarks on Professor Maurice Casey’s “frightful”™ and “hopelessly unlearned”™ diatribe against “mythicism” generally and Earl Doherty in particular. In his inaugural essay for The Jesus Process© he wrote:

. . . [H]opelssly unlearned . . . Doherty’s ‘original’ work on Paul is . . . frightful. . . . He shows no knowledge of the fundamental work of the anthropologist E.T. Hall, who introduced the terms ‘high context culture’ and ‘low context culture’ into scholarship [Footnote here to Beyond Culture]. Paul’s epistles were written in a high context culture, which was homogeneous enough for people not to have to repeat everything all the time, whereas American, European and many other scholars belong to a low context culture, which gives them quite unrealistic expectations of what the authors of the epistles ought to have written.

This is one basic reason why Paul says so little about the life and teaching of Jesus. To some extent, his Gentile Christians had been taught about Jesus already, so he could take such knowledge for granted. He therefore had no reason to mention places such as Nazareth, or the site of the crucifixion, nor to remind his congregations that Jesus was crucified on earth recently.

According to this critique we can conclude that Paul forgot to mention anything about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – or even that Jesus Christ was exalted subsequently to a heavenly role as our Saviour — to his Gentile converts since he clearly does not take such knowledge for granted but repeats it scores of times throughout his epistles.

Shamed into an acute embarrassment for having no knowledge of any “fundamental work”, I immediately purchased a second hand copy of E. T. Hall’s book, Beyond Culture. It arrived as a Harvard University Library discard, very good condition though, complete with Harvard University Library stamps including one warning of a 25 cent fine for every hour it failed to be returned to Harvard’s Social Relations Library after 10 A.M. read more »

Is Paul the Beloved Disciple?

Twenty years ago the late Michael Goulder wrote an article in which he argued that Paul was the Fourth Gospel’s Beloved Disciple (“An Old Friend Incognito,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 1992, Vol. 45, pp. 487-513). It is no secret that the Fourth Gospel’s Jesus is very different from the Synoptic one. Goulder proposed that its Beloved Disciple too is a very different version of a disciple we all know and love: Paul.

Michael Goulder

According to Goulder’s hypothesis:

John was writing round the turn of the century, and had not known Paul personally. He did know at least some of the Pauline letters which we have; and he inferred from them, reasonably but erroneously, that Paul had been one of the Twelve Apostles. He also inferred from them that Paul had been present at the Last Supper, the Passion and the Resurrection. He found reason for thinking that Paul had been loved by Jesus; but his reconstruction was met with so much incredulity that he felt obliged to keep his hero incognito. (pp. 495-96).

Thus, according to Goulder, it was a misunderstanding of certain Pauline passages that led the author of the Fourth Gospel to form a conception of Paul quite different from the one in the Acts of the Apostles.

  • The scholar suggested that the very expression “the disciple that Jesus loved” may owe its origin to a mistaken understanding of Gal. 2:20: “But the life that I now live in the flesh, I live in faith in the Son of God, who loved me . . .
  • And he noted how easily one could have wrongly inferred from the words of 1 Corinthians 9:1 (“Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”) that Paul, like the other apostles, had met and received his call to apostleship from Jesus during the time of the Lord’s public ministry.

One particularly interesting example brought forward by Goulder was 1 Corinthians 11:23 ff. (“For I received from the Lord, what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which he was betrayed, took bread etc.”). Goulder showed that the Fourth Gospel’s peculiar Eucharistic scenario could have plausibly arisen from a misidentification of the two occasions referred to by the 1 Corinthians passage, to wit:

“I received from the Lord” when I reclined on his breast at the Last Supper . . .  “that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which he was betrayed” after the Feeding of the Five Thousand, “took bread etc.”

In the Fourth Gospel the Beloved Disciple was present at the Last Supper, but there is no indication given that he was present at the earlier event. And in that gospel it is implied that it was at that earlier event—the Feeding in Jn. 6—that Jesus instructed his followers to observe a eucharistic eating and drinking. His eucharistic discourse is given on that occasion and, correspondingly, there is no eucharist celebrated at the Johannine Last Supper. Thus the Beloved Disciple would have learned from Jesus at the Last Supper what had transpired after the earlier event, the Feeding of the Multitude. read more »

“Is This Not the Carpenter?” – References to Jesus outside the Christian Sources

The third chapter of Is This Not the Carpenter? is by Lester L. Grabbe, “‘Jesus Who Is Called Christ’: References to Jesus outside the Christian Sources”. The first of these he addresses is Tacitus. (This is the sixth post in the series.)

Tacitus

Here is the passage from Annals 15:44, though Grabbe does not include the passages I have italicized here in his extract for discussion:

But neither human help, nor imperial munificence, nor all the modes of placating Heaven, could stifle scandal or dispel the belief that the fire had taken place by order.

Therefore, to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians [Chrestians]. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race.

And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night. Nero had offered his Gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his Circus, mixing with the crowd in the habit of a charioteer, or mounted on his car. Hence, in spite of a guilt which had earned the most exemplary punishment, there arose a sentiment of pity, due to the impression that they were being sacrificed not for the welfare of the state but to the ferocity of a single man.
(From LacusCurtius)

Lester Grabbe introduces this as “one of our most important references to Jesus” – though the name Jesus nowhere appears in it.

This passage appears in a work (The Annals) that is generally understood as being written almost a century after the supposed death of Jesus. Like many commentators, Grabbe sugests that Tacitus more than likely had access to imperial archives and accordingly argues the likelihood that Tacitus did indeed pore through those official documents to acquire his material, including the fact of Christ’s crucifixion under Pilate.

This makes no sense to me. The only detail that Tacitus gives us about the crucifixion is that Christ was crucified under Pilate. Full stop. (I leave aside the debates over the title Tacitus uses for Pilate.) Tacitus does not even mention the reason, the crime, for which this Christ was crucified which would surely appear within an official archive if any such record of a crucifixion of a far-off Jew really existed. Nor does he even bother to tell us the name of this victim. read more »

A little biographical footnote

Sometimes it seems important to others who are hostile towards anyone who even offers a platform for a presentation of mythicist arguments to label them as extremists or weirdos, the evidence being that some of them once belonged to “an unusually weird religious background“.

For what it’s worth, in my own case, my formative religious years were in a relatively liberal (we were allowed to play cards and dance) Methodist church. I did opt to spend too many years in a religious cult but was eventually renounced by that cult. My sin was that I was always seeking to understand and question a little more deeply — no problem with that so long as it is kept private — and that this eventually led me to compile a bibliography that I posted (snail mail) to multiple scores of fellow cult members. That bibliography was a list of sources that members could turn to in order to learn “the other side of the story” about our cult.

You see, members are protected from information that helps them understand the full story of what they are a part of. I made it possible for many to locate that information if they so wished.

For my efforts I am proud to say that I was publicly denounced from pulpits throughout Australia as being “in the bond of Satan”. I am told that members were instructed to burn any letters from me or hand them in to the ministry unopened.

So what did I turn to? read more »

33. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 33 (Ehrman’s Picture of the Apocalyptic Jesus)

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Ehrman’s Picture of the Apocalyptic Jesus

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Preaching the kingdom
  • Differing teachings of Jesus and Paul
  • Jesus and the Jewish Law
  • Salvation: by following the Law or believing in Jesus?
  • Last Judgment and End of the world
  • Jesus’ miracle-working
  • Jesus’ associates and disciples
  • Believing in Judas Iscariot
  • Did Jesus aspire to be king in the coming kingdom?
  • Jesus in the Temple
  • Jesus before Pilate

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The Apocalyptic Proclamation of Jesus

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 305-331)

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Having concluded that Jesus not only existed but was an apocalyptic prophet, Ehrman now embarks on a lengthy discussion of what we can assign to Jesus from the Gospels on the basis of that conclusion. It is characterized by a high degree of naivete as to what can be depended on in the evangelists’ or Q’s presentations, with contradictions proceeding from that naïve dependence largely ignored.

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Preaching repentance and the imminence of the Kingdom

Much of what Ehrman ascribes to Jesus can reasonably be seen as the message of the kingdom-preaching community itself. Mark’s opening words for Jesus (1:15),

The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.

are mundane enough to be placed in any prophetic mouth of the first century. Q2, in fact, attributes similar sentiments to John the Baptist as the originator of such preaching, in a context of no inclusion of Jesus. In fact, note Q’s description of the beginning of the movement:

Jan Brueghel the Elder, John the Baptist preaching

Jan Brueghel the Elder, John the Baptist preaching (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until John, it was the law and the prophets; since then, there is the good news of the Kingdom of God, and everyone forces his way in. [Lk./Q 16:16]

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and violent men are seizing it. [Mt. 11:12]

As I say in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.347):

. . . When the saying first originated, we can safely regard it as the community looking back over its history; the implied time scale is too great for it to be claimed as an authentic saying of Jesus, or one accorded to him, commenting on the brief span of his own ministry to date. This is Q’s picture of the past, a past of years, perhaps decades. Placing it in Jesus’ mouth has proven problematic. [We might note here that such things indicate the later introduction of a Jesus figure, at which placing the community’s own sayings into his mouth has created some anomalies.]

According to the saying, before the preaching of John the Baptist—now looked upon as a forerunner or mentor to the community’s own—the study of scripture formed the prevailing activity and source of inspiration. Now a new movement is perceived to have arisen at the time of John: the preaching of the coming kingdom of God, and it had inaugurated an era of contention. But why would Jesus himself not have been seen in this role? Surely the Q community would have regarded his ministry as the turning point from the old to the new. The saying would almost certainly have formed around him. At the very least, Jesus would have been linked with John as representing the time of change.

Yet another indicator of the later invention of a founder Jesus. These anomalies, if recognized at all, were not perceived as troublesome by later Q redactors and were left standing; they simply had new understandings read into them.

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Disjunction between Jesus and Paul read more »

Bruno Bauer (through Albert Schweitzer)

English: Bruno Bauer

Bruno Bauer

Here’s a little more on Bruno Bauer’s arguments on Gospel origins. (My recent post on Roland Boer’s discussion has put me on a little roll.)

It’s a shame that more of Bauer’s works are not available at reasonable cost in English. I take this as an indicator that scholarship in the English speaking world generally continues to ignore him. Presumably many rely on what others say about his works than on what they have read of Bauer for themselves. Till I can access some of his German texts here is Albert Schweitzer’s presentation. The chapter is available in full online. I’ve cherry-picked from that chapter the themes that interest me the most and that I have raised in other contexts on this blog over the years.

This post is unspeakably long but it is intended to be a collation of references — pick and choose the headers of interest. read more »

Comments once again

I hate having to do it, but I am placing all comments on moderation for the time being.

Bruno Bauer and Today (“Is This Not the Carpenter?” — chapter 2)

This concludes my recent post on chapter 2 of Is This Not the Carpenter?, “The German Pestilence: Re-assessing Feuerbach, Strauss and Bauer” by Roland Boer. That earlier post was an overview of Roland Boer’s explanation for the emergence of radical biblical criticism in Germany in the early nineteenth century and surveyed the landmark roles of Ludwig Feuerbach and David Strauss.

This post begins with Boer’s thoughts on the contributions and significance of Bruno Bauer and concludes with his observations on the significance of this nineteenth century phenomenon to the today’s world. Recall that a crucial point Boer is stressing is that the discussions in Germany over democracy, individual rights, press freedom, republicanism, etc were debated through works of biblical and theological criticism. Bible criticism had widespread social and intellectual relevance.

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Bauer, Scepticism and Atheism

Roland Boer introduces Bruno Bauer as

  1. primarily a New Testament scholar
  2. sometime theologian
  3. sometime political commentator

Bauer appeared in the “first great wave” of critical Bible scholarship in Germany and always remained at its cutting edge “and beyond”. He was for a time widely regarded as the leader of the Young Hegelians (see previous post).

Bruno Bauer, deutscher Theologe, Bibelkritiker...

Bruno Bauer

His assiduous attention to the details of the biblical texts and their wider cultural contexts led him to conclude that

  • Christianity was a product of the second century
  • The Gospels are creative theological literature and as such contain virtually no history, and certainly no evidence for an historical Jesus
  • The Gospels are very largely Hellenistic literature, drawing upon the ideas of Stoicism, Philo and neo-Platonism.
  • The religious theme found in the Gospels was the struggle between “free self-consciousness” and “religious dogmatism”.

This latter point was intertwined in Bauer’s thought with his savage attacks on the leaden and repressive institutions of church and state in his own day. His book, Christianity Exposed (Das Endeckte Christenthum) was banned and not to be reprinted until 1927.

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How Bauer approached the Gospels (What Karl Marx learned about the Bible) read more »