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These new father, Ted Stamps from unposted are fantastic. You can use them to send anything. I'm going to send for Mr. Benson back his whistle. I know. I just keep. I could send a letter to Father Larry. You can never get him on the phone. No, wait. I've got to attend a Father's Day card to Bishop Brennan. He drove that send laughs and fun sendoff with Father Ted Stamps from your post office or on post.com Father Ted Unposed for your world.
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But I just still to this day, don't really know what we did. I guess we had to. I thought we had to prepare things to use books and like have dossiers with us. I got a question for you. You can find out the answer in the break that comes in this podcast. But this is one that you can try and look up using your Vodafone Unlimited data. I'd Professor Bartlett on the podcast the other day, and he's identified 27 female monarchs in medieval Europe, 27 queen pregnant women actually ruled in their own right in medieval Europe, but none of them were from Ireland.
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Welcome, everybody. Does history on this episode. On this episode, we're talking about a little little book looking to come across. It's called The Bible.
I will talk to John Barton is a priest, an Anglican scholar. He was professor of the interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford University. And this was obviously a subject I approached some trepidation. We're talking about the the bestselling, the most famous, the largest and most consequential book ever published. And we had, you know, half an hour, 40 minutes to sort of cover it off basically. So so here's the attempt to do that. It's such a pleasure talking to John.
It was amazing talking to someone who studies the Bible, both as a believer and as a scholar. And it was so fascinating talking to him about what we as historians can kind of glean from the Bible as a work of history as well, of course, talking about its enormous spiritual significance to its community of believers.
If you want to go and watch some amazing history shows or accessed all the back episodes of this podcast, you can do so. History hit TV. It's actually the only place in the world you can do that. Huge number of history documentaries on there. Now, please go and check that out. You got a history hit TV used code pod one, and then you get a month of free and then a month after that. But is one pound euro or dollar and you can go on there and listen to lots of episodes of the Ancients, the new runaway smash hit podcast with Tristan Hughes talking about ancient history, a lot of common ground with the Bible.
So if you listen to this one, you want more ancient history. Go and check out the ancients with Hughes and rate that in all that kind of jazz. Thank you, as ever, for listening to this pod. And here's Jon Bon.
Hello, thank you very much, come on the podcast, thank you. You're very welcome. I mean, where do we start the history of the Bible, Jeepers Creepers. I mean, should we at the historians listen to this podcast? What should they what should how should they regard the Bible? How should we think about it as a historical source?
Well, I think the historical document, you have to think of it as something that grew over a long period of time. So I'm suggesting that it covers eight or nine centuries altogether in its creation. And then you have to think of it as something that's persisted down the ages. One of the few books that's been read absolutely continuously from the beginning down to the present day. So it's a massive, obviously, cultural icon in Western culture, but it's also a book that has been very much discussed over a very long period of time.
But when do you think the earliest books of the Bible were written in Genesis? Is it chronologically the first as well as being placed at the front? No, it isn't.
No, the the the oldest books in the Bible probably are material about the prophets like Isaiah and Amos in that section of the Bible, which are probably from about the 8th century B.C. So roughly contemporary with Homer, if that's the date that people often assigned to Homer. And I think that's the year those are the oldest books in the Bible. And there are some of the historical books like Samuell, which might be as old as that, too. But Genesis is probably a rather later work.
And one of the things you learn in studying the Bible is that the older the books isn't any guide how old they are. They differ a lot in the book of origin, not according to where they appear in the biblical canon list.
When does the biblical canon settle down into its modern form? Well, the I suppose the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible concerned it's pretty well settled in the first century of our era. So in the time, by the time of Jesus and the Hebrew Bible was more or less informative. Now the New Testament has pretty well settled down by the end of the second century. It's not till the fourth century that people ruling on what's in it and saying it's these books and now others.
But when they do that, they're referring to what's already a very wide consensus. And certainly by the end of the second centuries, books of the New Testament are more or less settled into the place they've got now, 2000 years ago at the time of Jesus, how settled was the old what we now call the Old Testament?
Yeah, it was pretty settled that there seemed to have been discussion of one or two books. I saw quite how holy they were and there were other books that aren't now in the Bible that people gave a lot of authority to write the Books of Enoch example, which didn't make it into the final Old Testament. But by and large, 90, 95 percent of what in the Old Testament now was already accepted in scripture. By the time of Jesus and the New Testament writers quote from almost every book in the Old Testament and from very few others.
So we can see from that that it was already a fairly fixed corpus.
When you're writing this gigantic history, the Bible, how important are other sources increase like archaeology? Are you are you interested in kind of fixing the historicist historicity of books of the Old Testament by by by using the new scientific methods of dating or archaeology?
The archaeology has been important in many ways in not substantiating the historicity of lot of the Old Testament, a lot of which is probably legendary material. But in showing the context out of which you came and there are cases that, for example, the King Jehu was mentioned in the second book of Kings and the Old Testament, who turned up on an Assyrian obelisk doing homage to the Assyrian king, which fits in with what sedative in kings. And there are one or two cases like that where archaeology has produced things that if they don't corroborate, at least show the context in which they came to be.
Most striking, of course, in recent years has been the Dead Sea Scrolls, which started to be discovered 70 years ago and have thrown enormous light on the background of the New Testament.
Can I ask you more about the Dead Sea Scrolls? Because it's something that I once heard of and I, for one, don't know much about when you say that for light on the background New Testament. Why is that? They deal particularly with the sort of the period just before the life of Jesus.
Yes. I mean, they come from probably the first century BCE and then and then some of them from the time of Jesus itself. And what they show is the enormous variety there was in Judaism that a group of Jewish sectarian Jews, one could call them, who had withdrawn to the Red Sea to pursue, as they sort a sort of purer form of Judaism, a purer kind of life. And a lot of their ideas tie in quite well with some of the ideas in the New Testament.
They were very sure that the end of the ages was coming to the end of the world, if you like, was coming. And there was going to be a big cosmic battle at the end of time. And you do find ideas and underlying some of the New Testament books, so that shows us the kind of thinking was actually already in circulation by the time of Jesus. And that's been an important finding. They've also got interested in the coming of, as they thought, two missiles, a kingly messiah and a priestly messiah who were going to re-establish Israel.
And that's part of the background of the thinking of Jesus himself, I think. So that's been they've been important from that point of view. They also simply do throw light on the varieties of Judaism around. We've learned to talk about Judaism's in this period rather than one single monolithic religion. Some of the things that he chose didn't develop much in later Judaism and Christianity.
Let's stay with the Old Testament before you come to Jesus. What can we learn as historians from the you talk about the lot of it is mythological. What isn't? I mean, what is what is proved useful to our understanding of the history of the ancient Near East?
Well, the historical material in the books of Samuel and Kings, which probably go back to the 7th century B.C., does show us what was going on in Israel at the same time as things happening in Syria and Babylonian, as you say, what's now Iraq from which we've got a great deal of historical evidence in terms of tablets inscribed in cuneiform writing and the Old Testament provides a window on the same general world as that. And shows us what was going on in the way of.
Battles and struggles for power in the area at the time.
So what we really mean, it may be legendary nonetheless fits into that general period, and then as we come on to the New Testament, is it very difficult, as both a historian and a believer to do you do try and distill the two? I mean, because you can you both can regard the Bible as a work of man and subject to the kind of compromises and and and revisions that we all do, but also as a repository for of religious truths.
I mean, how do you, as a scholar, navigate your way through that?
Yes, that's an important question. The New Testament is clearly a human work. It's not something dropped from heaven. And as a scholar, one treat it as any other historical document in that sense, looking at how it got written, when it got written, but also, of course, what the ideas in it are. And some of the ideas in the investment remain important for Christians, many of the ideas and it remains important for Christians at any rate.
And so. One has to do justice to that as well. I don't see myself as a Christian believer that I have a great deal of difficulty with this, but that's partly because I don't see the New Testament and Christianity as absolutely coterminous. Seems to me that their ideas in Christianity that aren't very strongly there in the New Testament, that the doctrine of the Trinity and there are things in the New Testament like the teaching of Jesus that don't appear in any of the Christian creeds, for example.
And so there's there's a huge area of overlap, but there's also distinct elements in the Christian faith and in the New Testament, which don't necessarily meet very much together. So. I find that a helpful way of looking at it so far as the historical point of view goes, I'm totally espouse a view that says we must study the New Testament as historians and see what the circumstances were that he put together. And I'm also very interested in the again, in the order the book's got to be written in noting that the first letters of some poll are the earliest works we've got, probably from the 50s.
So just 20 years after Jesus's crucifixion and then the gospels follow 20 years after that. And that that can be quite startling. I think people tend to think that, you know, Saint Paul had the gospels to look at really hadn't they didn't exist yet. That's actually she an important insight that he's talking about a Christianity that isn't yet a religion of the book. There aren't any books yet. Well, it just reinforces Paul's importance as a as a founder of that religion.
Well, it's certainly founder. It's one way of looking at it. If he created what Christianity became to a very great extent, Trinity is fairly important to Christianity.
And that's what you're telling me. That's not heavily referenced in the New Testament.
No. I mean, I think there's nothing in the New Testament incompatible with the doctrine of the Trinity. The idea that Jesus is God and that God is that God is existed in three modes or have a nice to put it. But there's only one explicit reference to the Trinity in the New Testament, and that's at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, which the majority of scholars suspect is a later insertion in order to get the Trinity into the investment.
There are plenty of things in the classroom that suggest that Jesus is much more than just a man. And that's part of the thinking that leads eventually to the idea that Jesus is God. But there's nothing in the New Testament that spells out in the later doctrinal form that. So that I think. We're not dealing with a doctrine that's already very enshrined in scripture in any very clear way. Now, that doesn't mean that the church was wrong to develop the doctrine of eternity, but it does mean they can't directly appeal to the U.S. and say they've all their churches back to school.
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So the question I posed at the start of this podcast was why in the whole of Europe are there Quins Regnant during the medieval period but not in Ireland? And the answer Professor Bartlett gave me is because it was customary for Irish kings take many wives. So there was never a shortage of sons. Whereas over in England, over in France and elsewhere, those those kings, they just had one wife. I mean, the old mistress, like Henry, the first and a lot of illegitimate children, but they were excluded from the line of succession is an island.
Plenty of wives, plenty of sons, no shortage. Amalia's fascinating. You know what? Use your Vodafone unlimited data. Have a little Google. Prove me wrong. Send me a tweet. I'd love to know if there are any queens. Let your whole family follow their curiosity when you bring everyone's plans together on our multi mobile read family plan. Such Vodafone read family for more. I can't listen to you without thinking about the debates in the 16th and 17th centuries about people like you investigating the Bible, because it might be dangerous, it might lead to heresy, we might start to question things.
Is there something are there still people in the world, evangelicals, Catholics, maybe I'm doing them down. Who would regard what you're doing as as dangerous?
Yes, there are. There are one of the one of my critics on Amazon said. Some time ago, but it would have been better safe, say this, that's going a bit far. I think I hope is, but I think it was probably said ironically rather than as a criticism, actually. But he but it is true that when biblical criticism of the modern kind arose, which is broadly in the 16, 17 centuries, it was regarded as dangerous and now still more conservative Christians, both Catholic and evangelical, who do regard it as a travesty, as a way of treating the Bible as a merely human document.
And they say it isn't a material. You can't apply the same criteria to it as any other work. Well, multilateralism works precisely on the basis of trying to read the Bible as any other book. And my book is meant to be informative not only for believers, Christian or Jewish, but also for anyone who is interested in the Bible as a human product. But that is potentially dynamite for some more conservative believers.
I think people have said a lot of things to me on the Internet. They've never said be stake. And frankly, that is one insult I'd rather enjoy receiving.
Yeah, well, I thought first of all, I thought this person's obviously read the book, which was good news for an author. And then I thought, well, he's probably exaggerating. But nevertheless, it does suggest that something that some people would regard as inflammatory. I'm really reporting in the book on several centuries of detailed academic scholarship and not trying to be inflammatory at all. But if you do take the view that the Bible, as it were, dropped from heaven, then obviously you will find investigating it as a human product contentious.
Let's come on to Jesus and the New Testaments now. Are they ever in conflict? They present a range of views about Jesus. Oh, they do.
Yes, there. I mean, the biggest and most obvious differences between St. John's Gospel on the one hand and Matthew Mark Luke on the other hand, those other three gospels often called synoptic because they seem to have rather a similar view of Jesus. And they present him very much as the great teacher who gives a pithy proverb like sayings and parables and then of course, provokes the authorities and is eventually crucified, as we know now, John's gospel also, of course, ends with the crucifixion and resurrection and regards Jesus as having been contentious in that sense.
But the teaching Jesus gives in St. John's Gospel is much more about himself and his relation to God, the father and indeed John Scott, who is one of the techs out of which the doctrine of the Trinity eventually develops because Jesus presents himself as on a par with God. Now, that's not so true synoptic gospels. So there's a real difference between them. And probably, for one thing, John is somewhat later, maybe towards the end of the first century, but the other gospels are 20 years or so earlier.
But that's one very striking difference within the New Testament. The other thing is the difference between Paul and the Gospels, because the Gospels do have Jesus, mainly a moral teacher, whereas Paul says hardly anything about Jesus as a moral teacher and concentrates on them as the great deliverer who's been sent by God and whose status in the sight of God is important and who sets believers free from the need for my nute observation of the law. So there are differences between Paul in the Gospels, too.
Did they write the Gospels? Is this like people, politicians publishing their diaries years after the events they described when they realised that it's going to be sort of value in it?
I mean, why didn't they write them before? Or are these written by genuine apostles of Jesus, the earliest gospels, Mark?
And that wasn't written till about 70 then. And a mark we don't know who Mark was, is not identified in the gospel itself as Mark a later heading the gospel, according to Mark. And he wouldn't have been an apostle and certainly if he had been very old by then. And in general, the Gospels are not by apostles of Jesus, that by later authors building probably metal, mainly oral tradition. We don't know why it didn't occur to anyone to write down what Jesus had done said earlier than Mark and maybe someone didn't have.
That book is lost. But if you look at Paul's letters, you can see he isn't referring to any written texts about Jesus, but to what people know through oral tradition. And the likelihood is that these alterations passed down by word of mouth. And it's not until. 30 or 40 years after Jesus, that someone has the idea of writing them down into a kind of memoir, and then they did write what are rather like Greek biographies of great people.
So the gospels do belong to a recognizable genre of literature, but there's no sign that they were written by eyewitnesses. They may rest, of course, ultimately on eyewitness testimony which have been handed down, but they're not themselves eyewitnesses, any of the events they describe.
So again, with our historian hats on hard nosed historians, albeit deeply, deeply human and subjective ones, how much can we learn?
How much can we rely on the gospels about the life of Jesus? Did he exist? Did he do the things that we think he did?
Well, I think I mean, his existence is as well attested as to resist, if you like. There's no there's no reason he didn't exist. But whether he did, exactly the things recorded in the gospels remains unclear. For one thing, the gospels often tell stories in a different way. And of course, some people have doubts about more miraculous things he did. As far as the Saints go, it is a distinctive body of sayings not quite like anybody else's in the ancient world.
And the majority of people who studied the gospels, I think there's a certain are an underlying stratum of material that really can go back to Jesus, though there's criteria for that. I mean, one is a fairly standard historical criterion if you can't think of why a particular saint would have been made up. Then you probably regarded as authentic. I mean, if Jesus says things that nobody in the early church would have wanted him to say. They're not saying it's probably an authentic saying that that doesn't identify all the authentic sayings of Jesus, but it does give you some kind of handle on where you are to find a material that almost certainly does go back to him.
So I think there's a lot of genuine material about Jesus in the Gospels, even though they're also probably legendary, despite the fact that there are legendary things, are things that aren't true mythological things both in the new and Old Testament, has probably encouraged people like me to lose our faith and become atheists and all that stuff.
Why should people regard the Bible as a thing to believe in when when even you, one of the great scholars of it, is saying, well, this probably didn't happen in the way that it's described?
Well, I think it's because I mean, what I find myself coming down to in the end is that alongside material in the Bible, that probably isn't historically authentic, there is a great deal of wisdom and insight in it into human nature and also into the possible relationship of God to God, human beings. And it seems to me still to be a very profound book, even if parts of it are not historically accurate. And of course, it's a question how much of it was written in order to be historically accurate.
I mean, John's gospel, for example, he says explicitly, this is written that you may believe. Not that you can be sure every individual detail of history. So I think, you know, the Bible remains a source of inspiration and insight, even if there are parts of it, quite large parts of it that are not historical record and historical records are not the only thing that is worth reading. I mean, one doesn't read Shakespeare for historical record, but nevertheless gets a lot of insight and understanding through reading.
Very good point.
And is it a problem or is it just the nature of humanity and our great texts we can read what runs into it? I'm very struck in your book and every time I listen to a sermon today, there are about tolerance there, about diversity and inclusion and about social justice and all very laudable and wonderful things that feel very much of the moment. But previous generations have managed to read all sorts of things and just have a famously justification for slavery or imperialism or whatever it might be.
Is that a problem or is that just just the nature of how we relate to our canonical texts?
Well, you're quite right, of course, that one of the things that operates when you've got a canonical text is you desperately wanted to say the things you already believe and a lot of the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation the Bible has been finding in the Bible the things people believed already. So the Judeo-Christian tradition of social justice, for example, is clearly there in the Old Testament prophets who called President Jesus. But our enormous emphasis on it is a modern emphasis where earlier generations were interested perhaps in other things.
But of course, the Bible is this enormous compendium of material, and it is true to some extent you can find it in anything you're looking for. The trick is to try and find out if you can identify genuine trajectory of thought going through. The thing which is worth affirming in the social justice point is one that I would say is there throughout the Bible, in fact, and. Does still apply that certainly there's no doubt that both in Christianity and in Judaism, finding what you already believe in the Bible has been a very popular activity.
Well, thank you very much for talking to me about it today. We obviously can't do justice to your gigantic book or the book it's based on. I'm sure Donald Trump will be your first reader. He says the Bible is his favorite book, so he'll be eagerly leafing through your pages. Your book is called.
It's called A History of the Bible, the book and Its Face. Well, thank you so much and good luck with it.
Thank you very much. Did you find in the history of our country. I it's me, don't start just a quick request, it's so annoying and I hate it in the podcast to do this, but now I'm doing it. I hate myself. Please, please go into iTunes, where you get your podcasts and give us a five star rating interview. It really helps basically boost up the job, which is good, and then more people listen, which is nice.
So if you could do that, I'd be very grateful. I understand if you don't subscribe to my TV channel understanding by my calendar, but he's free. Come on, do me a favor. Thanks.
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