Shirley Paulson, PhD
The Bible and Beyond podcast is a series of interviews with scholars who are able to unlock mysteries from extra-canonical books, forgotten scriptures, so-called 'gnostic' gospels, as well as the Bible. Host Shirley Paulson, Ph.D., and her guests explore historical and spiritual questions about Jesus, gender, women, salvation, healing, and the meaning of life.
James McGrath, a professor at Butler University, gives credit to several ancient thinkers for wrestling with the question of God in a messy world. Referencing Irenaeus, for example, he notes that it might be this way because we need to grow and develop. The question of evil, when we try to hold to a good God, is always with us, and we now have the privilege of building on the ideas of those early thinkers.
36 min 17 sec
Marcion, a popular but controversial early Christian leader, tackles the question of how to believe in a good God in the face of evil things happening. Plato introduced the idea, and other first- and second-century thinkers drew on the idea, of a ‘demiurge’ – a creator god who deals with the world. The perfect and transcendent God would never create a world of bad stuff but lovingly dispatched a savior to offer a way out of the world of suffering.
33 min 22 sec
Dr. Jason BeDuhn studies ancient Christian, Jewish, and Manichaean thinkers, and in this podcast interview, he explores their common “tipping point”—the place where all these religious groups struggled to find answers to explain a perfect God who allowed bad things to happen. All of them did so by blurring the idea of monotheism to some degree. There was some other divine influence, commonly known as a ‘demiurge’ who became the source of evil in some manner.
31 min 23 sec
Dr. Brandon Hawk’s new book, Apocrypha for Beginners: A Guide to Understanding and Exploring Scriptures Beyond the Bible, is an easy-to-read and indispensable book for people seeking to understand all the extracanonical writings—sometimes called apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, or deuteroncanonical writings. Although they are not in the Bible, they all relate to the Bible in some important way, from the earliest Hebrew texts through the Middle Ages and teach us something about the Bible’s impact on world thought.
31 min 55 sec
Dr. Lance Jenott introduces the idea in early Christian writing that Adam was a victim, rather than the original sinner. As his ‘helper,’ Eve is Adam’s savior. Although the New Testament includes very little mention of Adam, other extracanonical texts envision another source of evil determined to make Adam submissive. Although 4th century Augustine interpreted Genesis differently, earlier writings show how a spiritual marriage to Christ unites “Adam” (humanity) with “Eve” (life in the spirit).
30 min 31 sec
Bible readers often wonder which Mary the New Testament authors are referring to. Anna Cwikla describes the seven different Marys mentioned in the New Testament (and even more Marys in extracanonical texts). At least one of the New Testament Marys plays a prominent role in some of the books outside the Bible. Cwikla draws our attention to some clues, but no promises, for identifying these Marys. She also warns us to note how our wishful thinking distorts our conclusions.
33 min 22 sec
Chance Bonar thinks Christian accusations of ‘heresy’ will probably last to some degree, but the way many think about such things is changing. Branding someone a ‘heretic,’ and some theological ideas as ‘heretical’ began when different church authorities tried to preserve the status quo and maintain adherence to what they saw as original doctrine. But the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts (and some new scholarship) are re-defining ‘heresy’ as a discourse, rather than something emerging from an evil power. Gnostic stereotypes are yielding to a more nuanced and thoughtful understanding, providing an example of how to express theological differences without vilifying and demeaning the practices of others.
31 min 4 sec
In this interview, Charles Hedrick describes how he became one of the first people to work directly with the ancient manuscripts found near Nag Hammadi, Egypt. His deep religious curiosity led him from his traditional Baptist origins to the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo. There, he worked with scholars putting fragments of the newly discovered texts together and translating them. His questions led him to other hot topics: the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas.
30 min 45 sec
Professor Janet Spittler leads us comfortably into the unfamiliar world of apocryphal texts, where we learn what happened to the apostles after the resurrection. The texts are part-history, part-entertainment, part-ethical teaching, but wholly important to our understanding of the development of Christianity. They are fascinating and multi-layered, offering glimpses of Jesus’s teaching as well as later church teaching. The texts are stories that Christians have written, told, read, and copied for more than a thousand years.
27 min 51 sec
When Idan Dershowitz broke the news last week that the extremely ancient Shapira Deuteronomy Fragments (aka Shapira Scroll or Valediction of Moses) might not be forgeries, but actually authentic, Tony Burke agreed to discuss some of the public questions and concerns about it with Early Christian Texts. Dershowitz claims the manuscript could be older than Deuteronomy. Although not directly involved in this case, Dr. Burke does have experience with modern forgeries and explains what’s at stake and what scholars study.
41 min 11 sec
Robert J. Miller, New Testament scholar, discusses how it is possible for modern readers to do justice to ancient texts such as the Gospel of Matthew—at home in its own world—while still seeking valuable meaning in our twenty-first century world. Ancient prophecies did not intend to provide accurate predictions of the future but to provide hints about God’s presence in the world. Twenty-first century perspectives are clearer when we understand what prophecies meant in antiquity.
31 min 43 sec
Samuel Zinner and Mark Mattison, translators of the Odes of Solomon, illustrate interrelated elements of Jewish and Christian thought throughout the odes. Some examples from Isaiah demonstrate new ways of thinking about the age-old debates. People often think the Odes are a praise to Jesus. But as Zinner points out, the odes are written to represent words of Jesus in praise to God, not the worship of Jesus.
Dr. Nina Livesey, a scholar on Paul and his writings in the Bible, explains what scholars think Paul must have written and what he probably didn’t write. She agrees with recent scholarly consensus that these letters hold together with common theological perspectives, concepts, and vocabulary. But she pushes a bit farther, describing how Paul’s rhetoric is more intentionally strategic than people have thought. His letters also demonstrate his ethical implications for faith.
35 min 11 sec
Shirley Paulson asks Dr. Stephen Pattison, her PhD supervisor, to discuss how Practical Theology works in our lives today when we read ancient texts. Stephen probes the relationships we establish with tradition, texts from another era, and interpretation. The point of religious faith is to engage meaningfully with the world and to become less frightened of difference. Healing work is about a bigger, better understanding of ourselves and the world.
32 min 30 sec
Marg Mowczko, from an evangelical church in Australia, researches the topic of egalitarianism in the Bible. She holds both a deep faith in the Bible and the essentially equal nature of men and women. She spends many hours each day answering questions about women’s roles in the church. Her primary study is about what Paul and other New Testament writers say concerning Christian ministry and leadership. She concludes that the Bible supports the idea that men and women are essentially equal. Interview questions include a discussion on 1 Timothy and other troubling passages.
28 min 36 sec
Dr. James McGrath inverts the usual question about women learning from Jesus. The podcast interview highlights McGrath’s new book, in which he draws on both scholarly rigor and historical fiction to address gaps in historical knowledge. Strikingly, his examples of Jesus learning from women include some women with lower status, such as a poor widow and a girl accused of adultery. McGrath addresses both theological problems and social sensitivities related to the unusual claim for Jesus as a learner.
37 min 11 sec
Rev. Stephanie A. Duzant is a woman of color and ordained minister utilizing extracanonical texts to inspire congregations to better use the Bible. Her womanist lens allows her to recognize the ways many extracanonical texts challenge culturally-pervasive agendas, especially those involving race, gender, and the meaning of community. Sharing her insights with her listeners affords them an opportunity to understand Christianity in new ways.
31 min 36 sec
Paul’s letter to his Roman colleague, Philemon, delicately balances Roman expectations for enslaved people, their masters, and the new egalitarian ideas in the Christ communities. Learning the lifestyle of ancient Rome in families and households, listeners are invited to imagine what Onesimus, Paul’s enslaved friend, must have felt when Paul’s letter was read aloud to his master, Philemon. The tension concerning the authority over a runaway slave is palpable, but not spoken.
30 min 38 sec
Dr. Tony Burke, editor of the newly released second edition New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, explains not only what is fascinating about these ancient texts but why he thinks churches and Christians would benefit by reading them. In this interview, he offers meaning to the very bizarre stories and why they help us understand the history and evolution of the Christian church. He also talks candidly about what they do and don’t do to our faith.
31 min 50 sec
In this second podcast in the series on the ‘Odes of Solomon,' Natalie Renee Perkins and Deborah Saxon chat together about Natalie’s contemporary musical setting of some of the odes. Deb, a scholar of ancient Christian texts, explains the feminine imagery, the reference to Sophia (Wisdom), and the purpose of ancient hymns used by both Jews and Christians before they diverged. Natalie, a professional singer, writer, and composer, plays some of her contemporary music settings of the Odes.
38 min 11 sec
In this podcast, Samuel Zinner and Mark M. Mattison tell us why they’re so enthusiastic about their new translation of the first- or second-century Odes of Solomon. This collection of ancient songs, or hymns, are not only real monuments of literature, but they transcend the borders of religious orthodoxy. Written before the early Jesus movements distinguished themselves from Judaism, they are equally at home with Judaism, the Gospel of John, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The divine Feminine is also featured.
26 min 54 sec
In this episode, Professor Arthur Dewey explains why Christians felt so differently about Jesus’s crucifixion long after the event than his immediate followers did. Jesus had taught the presence of God and how to live that, but the shock of his death caused re-thinking and re-evaluating of this shame-inducing passion experience for many decades and centuries. Jesus’s counter-cultural message brought hope to members of the Roman-occupied community, but his crucifixion strengthened their memory and faith.
30 min 31 sec
Dr. Celene Lillie discovered in some ancient texts a remarkable metaphor, a rape narrative that relates to both the imperial actions of ancient Rome and modern forms of destructive behavior. Three writers of the second century re-imagined the story of Eve in Genesis as a representation of the violation of Rome’s victims. Despite the violence, Eve overthrows victimization and becomes a healing Christ figure. Her children become saviors of the world.
30 min 57 sec
Dr. Sara Parks found gender parallels in the parables in Q that show Jesus’s deliberate valuing of women for God’s kingdom (‘basileia’). For example, a man who lost a sheep rejoices when it is found; a woman who lost a coin rejoices when it is found. The basileia is within – for both women and men. But Parks explains that Jesus’s egalitarian values did not automatically lead to a dismantling of patriarchal norms of the day.
29 min 38 sec
‘Heresy’ sells. Maybe it’s because it’s mysterious, dangerous, or entertaining. But the idea of ancient ‘Christian heresies’ is misleading. The tendency to make ideas ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ confuses the issues. Strong early Christian women, such as Mary Magdalene, Thecla, and Perpetua, posed a threat to the developing male hierarchy, but their words seem to be consistent with the words of the men. Heresy, then, is not a natural category; it is more about who the power brokers were.
29 min 33 sec
Dr. Karri Whipple’s experience with intimate violence organizations guides her studies of violence and trauma in New Testament studies. She demonstrates how multiple readings from various Biblical and extracanonical texts help us process trauma. But readers should also take care to understand the context of the stories of gender and racial violence so that the examples do not become an excuse to perpetuate violence. Reading from a variety of perspectives also helps readers find many paths to the healing of trauma and pain.
31 min 32 sec
Dr. James McGrath introduces us to the Mandaeans, a modern-day community that practices a religion with ancient roots. Their sacred texts mention John the Baptist and Jesus and other names that are familiar from the Bible. If you’re interested in the New Testament, in Christianity, you’ll also be interested in this group. Since they practice baptism as their main ritual, these people may be the 2,000 year-long descendants of John the Baptist.
30 min 32 sec
Elizabeth Schrader describes her discovery of the addition of Martha in the Gospel of John. Did she find enough evidence to lead to her conclusion that Mary and Lazarus had no sister named Martha? Or that Lazarus’ sister Mary might actually have been Mary Magdalene? Elizabeth speculates about all this, but she has found motives and other evidence that lend strong support for her theories. A CORRECTION: At 13:17 in the podcast, Elizabeth meant to say ‘Boanerges,’ rather than ‘Bartimaeus.’
30 min 27 sec
Dr. Lily Vuong – from a family of Vietnam refugees – found the 'outsider' point of view in the Protevangelium of James resonated with her own experience. It’s an apocryphal text, but instead of thinking of it as a ‘failed scripture,’ Vuong encourages us to appreciate the beauty and meaning of the book on its own merit. The story recounts Mary’s preparation to become the mother of Jesus. Historical facts are less important than the value and meaning of purity.
29 min 28 sec
In Shepherd of Hermas, Elliott finds distinguishing Christian feature: the poor are to be honored. All of us – slaves and masters – should be servants to God.
31 min 21 sec
Barry’s deep love of both the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and New Testament inspires us to listen in new ways to familiar texts as well as the ones we’re not so aware of. They awaken our moral imagination to deeper values of justice and peace. About Barry Dr. Barry R. Huff is Assistant Professor of Religion at Principia College. His interests include wisdom literature, Psalms, Torah, creation theology, Intertextuality, ecological hermeneutics, and the reception history of the Bible. He received his PhD in Biblical Studies from Union Presbyterian Seminary, a ThM from Columbia Theological Seminary, and his MTS from Eden Theological Seminary.
34 min 26 sec
I don’t know if it’s because Anna Cwikla is so down-to-earth herself, or the strange-sounding Dialogue of the Savior is much more down-to-earth than people realize, but in this podcast conversation, Anna talks about the characters in the story as if they are people we’d enjoy talking to today. She is an avid participant on her softball team and curling team, but she’s also committed to working on her dissertation for her Ph.D. in the Department for the Study of Religion (at the University of Toronto). I asked Anna about the one woman (named ‘Mary’) in the ‘dialogue’ with two other named disciples and the Savior (likely Jesus), and Anna points out that’s a little better than the ratio on her softball team, which is 3 to 1. In other words, the fact that a woman is speaking in this extracanonical text shouldn’t sound so unusual. In like manner, Anna demystifies some of the bizarre-sounding passages, such as “pray where there is no woman,” or “the works of the female will perish.” The Dialogue of the Savior doesn’t have to be interpreted esoterically, because it’s actually simpler to find a practical and reasonable interpretation.
23 min 50 sec
The Bible and Beyond Podcast Episode The Nag Hammadi Collection An Interview with Dr. Celene Lillie Dr. Celene Lillie dug deep enough into the books in the Nag Hammadi collection that she can talk about them as easily as close friends. First she introduces us to what these special books are all about and what drew her to them in the first place. Then she explains the difference between the better-known Dead Sea Scrolls and this Nag Hammadi library of codices. Talking to Celene about these texts helps us understand how these ancient writers made such important connections with their own readers, and then why that makes them so valuable for us today. We’re not just reading about ancient history; we’re being invited to be creative with our own reading of them. They inspire us to ask similar questions of them now: What does it mean to be community today? How do we deal with unjust rulers today? Celene reads these texts in the Coptic language. But even if we don’t know Coptic, she encourages us to read different translations side by side, and to think fearlessly for ourselves what they might mean. Scholars are just scratching the surface of the possibilities of their meaning. So, she encourages all of us to join in the discovery.
31 min 59 sec
The Bible and Beyond Podcast Episode Reading the ‘Other’ Gospels An interview with Mark M. Mattison When Mark M. Mattison, an independent scholar of ancient Christian texts, first encountered the Gospel of Thomas, he was intrigued. The full text of this Gospel had been discovered in 1945 with a collection of other unknown texts near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, and it subsequently became a proxy for a larger debate about the legitimacy of the institutional church. Some, fearing it would undermine the authority of the Bible, argued that it was a deviant version of the canonical Gospels. Others, who argued for an early date and independent source, seemed to be motivated (at least in part) by a desire to question the ecclesiastical status quo. Mark is one of the scholars who articulates a broader approach: The dozens of Gospels written in antiquity shed light not just on the meaning of Jesus, but also on the communities that produced them. Different Gospels have different purposes. The Gospel of Mary, for instance, teaches a mystical (or contemplative) view of Jesus' teaching. Others, like the Gospel of Matthew, focus on church issues. All are worthy of deeper engagement. Download this episode.
31 min 10 sec
The Bible and Beyond Podcast Episode It’s Ok to Look at Extracanonical Texts! An interview with Dr. Hal Taussig Dr. Hal Taussig compels us to walk through the door into the world of extracanonical texts. Whether we grew up fully satisfied that our Christian faith is established and needs no additional information about ‘unauthorized things,’ or we are eager to explore a deeper view of the early Christians – Hal walks with us, step by step to a realization that these lesser known texts are vitally important, beautiful, vibrant, and valid today for both scholars and the public. The extracanonical texts are not intended as exclusions of the traditional New Testament, but in fact reading them side by side enhances both. They remind us that each book of the New Testament is different and sometimes mutually contradictory, so these other texts help to fill in the blanks as well as helping us to read these contradictions with meaning. Hal tackles the origin and trouble with the word ‘Gnosticism,’ showing us why most of us have been misled on that subject. Hal is now a recently retired Professor of the New Testament and United Methodist Pastor, but not a retired thinker and scholar! His Mediography includes The New York Times, Time Magazine, the Daily Show, National Public Radio, and quite a few more. Download this episode.
27 min 7 sec
The Bible and Beyond Podcast Episode The Power of Self-Control in Early Christian Community An interview with Deborah Saxon, PhD Dr. Deborah Saxon, teacher of religion at Butler University in Indianapolis, explains in this interview why the practice of self-control was so important to early Jesus followers. Learning self-control was part of the education for young leaders in the Greco-Roman culture of antiquity, and ultimately it became a prevalent idea for society. Early Jesus followers saw it as a means for what today we might call ‘taming their egos.’ One of the ways this idea of learning self-control took hold in the Christ movements was its meaning for those who faced persecution – or more specifically, martyrdom. For those who were going to die, the best way not to lose control was to die “a noble death.” Dying with patience and endurance was a means for welcoming martyrdom. But some of these early Jesus followers disagreed and thought that this was a distortion of the true care of the self. It wasn’t the meaning of Jesus and his teaching. Deb’s discussion of the care of the self leads to a deeper understanding of some of the struggles among early Christians. Her ideas are more fully developed in her book, The Care of the Self in Early Christian Texts. Download this podcast.
31 min 25 sec