Timeline for After Jesus

*All dates approximate

Some Additional Resources

Bart Ehrman

The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot (Oxford University Press, 2006)

Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (Oxford University Press, 2006)

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)

Amy-Jill Levine

The Misunderstood Jew (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006)

An edited collection, The Historical Jesus in Context
(Princeton University Press, 2006)

Judith Lieu

Christian Identity in the Jewish and Greco-Roman World
(Oxford University Press, 2004) 

Neither Jew nor Greek? Constructing Early Christianity (T&T Clark, 2003)

Image and Reality, The Jews in the World of the Christians in the
Second Century
(T&T Clark, 1996)

Marvin Meyer

The Gnostic Discoveries (HarperCollins, 2005)

The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus (HarperCollins, 2005)

The Gospels of Mary (HarperCollins, 2004)

Lawrence H. Schiffman

Understanding Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (Ktav, 2003)

Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls (Jewish Publication Society, 1994; Doubleday paperback, in the Anchor Research Library, 1995)

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Five Questions with Amy-Jill Levine, Ph.D.

E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies

Vanderbilt University Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion

A Jewish scholar who specializes in the origins of Christianity, Levine combines historical-critical rigor with a concern for fostering better relations between Jews and Christians. She is the author of two new books: The Misunderstood Jew: the Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) and The Historical Jesus in Context (Princeton University Press, 2006).


Did Jesus believe that he was founding a new religion? When did Judaism and Christianity go their separate ways?

Jesus was born a Jew, followed and respected the practices and beliefs of Judaism, and died as a Jew on a Roman cross. He was by no means founding a new religion; to the contrary his mission was to prepare his own people for the Kingdom of Heaven.

The borderlines between “Judaism” and “Christianity” remained fluid for the next several centuries. Given the diversity in each movement, we can only speak in very general terms.

Did the first followers of Jesus think of themselves as “Christians”?

Jesus’ first followers – Mary Magdalene and Peter, Martha and the sons of Zebedee, etc. – did not think of themselves as “Christians.” The word was not invented until the movement Jesus founded took root outside of Judea and the Galilee. According to the Book of Acts, the earliest adherents, after Jesus’ death, refereed to themselves as followers of the “Way.” They all, moreover, would have viewed themselves as Jewish.

Was James, referred to as the first leader of Christians in Jerusalem, really the brother of Jesus? Why didn't he follow Jesus during his lifetime?

James is identified as the “brother of the Lord” (i.e., Jesus); through the centuries, the term “brother” (“adelphos” in Greek) has received a range of connotations: half-brother, step-brother, even cousin. The New Testament suggests that James saw the resurrected Jesus – and that may well have prompted his leadership role.

Why is the apostle Paul sometimes referred to as “the second founder”
of Christianity?

Jesus, for the most part, restricted his mission to Jews; as he tells his disciples in Matthew 10:5b-6: don’t go to the Gentiles or Samaritans but go only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (see also Matthew 15:24). Paul was the pre-eminent follower who took his understanding of Jesus to the Gentiles.

On a more controversial note, it has been argued that while Jesus preached the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven, Paul preached the good news of Jesus himself. In this understanding, Paul changed the message and so created a movement distinct from what Jesus taught. The relationship between Jesus’ message and Paul’s continues to be a matter of debate.

What was the role of women in the spread of Christianity?

The Jewish women who followed Jesus – Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, Joanna, Susanna, the wife of Zebedee, etc. – did so not because Jesus was a first-century feminist, but because they heard something compelling in his message. Perhaps they were particularly attracted to his call for a new family, based not in biology or on marriage, but on loyalty to his proclamation, for the women in the group – as well as the men tend to be without spousal accompaniment.

These women had freedom of travel, owned their own homes (Martha is a home owner, as is the mother of John Mark), ran their own businesses (as did Lydia), served as “leader of the synagogue” or “mother of the synagogue” (as ancient inscriptions record), attended synagogue gatherings and participated in worship in the Jerusalem Temple.

As the Christian mission grew, women served as deacons and apostles (Romans 16), provided instruction, spoke prophetic words, and ran a number of the house-churches throughout the Roman Empire.

Four Questions with Marvin Meyer, Ph.D.

Meyer is Griset Professor of Bible and Christian Studies at Chapman University and director of the Chapman University Albert Schweitzer Institute. He is also director of the Coptic Magical Texts Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont Graduate University. Meyer is the author of numerous books and articles on Greco-Roman and Christian religions in antiquity and late antiquity and on Albert Schweitzer's ethic of reverence for life, including: The Gnostic Discoveries (HarperCollins, 2005), The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus (HarperCollins, 2005), The Gospels of Mary (HarperCollins, 2004).


Where do the Christmas traditions about Jesus come from?

The Christian traditions about the birth of Jesus that most of us are familiar with come in large part from the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke. The earliest New Testament gospel, the Gospel of Mark, has no story of the birth of Jesus, but both Matthew and Luke, writing independently of each other, incorporated accounts of the marvelous birth of Jesus. These New Testament accounts are actually quite different from one another, and were it not for modern manger scenes in which the wise men and star from Matthew join the angels, shepherds, and sheep from Luke, we would see the stories as having little in common in terms of the cast of characters. Matthew portrays baby Jesus as a new Moses who, like Moses, goes through his own escape from a wicked ruler and his own "exodus" from Egypt. Luke presents baby Jesus as a character in a sacred opera in which everyone utters poetic lines and sings songs of joy. In addition, another early Christian gospel, the Infancy Gospel of James, has also had a significant impact upon Christian theology, with its interpretation of Joseph as an old widower and the mother of Jesus as the once and always Virgin Mary.

When were the New Testament gospels composed, and what are the earliest books in the New Testament?

As far as we can tell, the New Testament gospels were composed in the last thirty years or so of the first century. Mark was written around the year 70, at about the time of the fall of the holy city of Jerusalem to the Romans. Matthew and Luke were composed a decade or two later, and they apparently used a version of the Gospel of Mark and, most likely, a collection of sayings of Jesus, conventionally referred to as Q (from “Quelle,” German for "source"), in the composition of their texts. John was written later, around the turn of the century. In the New Testament, the authentic letters of Paul are the earliest texts that were written, and the first of Paul's letters were authored during the middle part of the first century. Although the existence of a sayings gospel Q is still debated among scholars, it may also have been composed during the mid-first century. Among other gospels that are not in the New Testament but may be assigned rather early dates are the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas.

How were the 27 books of the New Testament compiled into the Bible that we are familiar with today?

The process of establishing the New Testament canon was a gradual one, and only in the latter half of the fourth century does the familiar list of 27 books in the New Testament finally appear, in the writings of Athanasius of Alexandria. The Bible of the earliest church was the Jewish Bible. It is probable that the idea of a New Testament came from Marcion of Pontus, a second-century Christian with anti-Semitic proclivities and a radically Pauline approach to the Christian gospel. One scholar has said, of Marcion, that he was the only person in the second century who understood Paul, and he misunderstood him. Marcion proposed a two-part New Testament, with a gospel section (Luke) and an apostle section (Paul), both heavily edited. The New Testament that emerged after Marcion retained his basic outline, but enlarged the gospel section to include four gospels, expanded the apostle section to incorporate other epistles, and added an apocalypse.

How many early Christian books were not included in the New Testament?
of Christianity?

There are dozens and dozens of early Christian texts that did not make the cut for inclusion in the New Testament. These include gospels and related documents, other acts of apostles, additional letters and epistles, and apocalypses or revelations. Over the past decades, several major discoveries of Christian texts outside the New Testament have been made, such as the Berlin Gnostic Codex, the Nag Hammadi library, and, most recently, Codex Tchacos. The Berlin Gnostic Codex contains four texts, the most famous of which is the Gospel of Mary (that is, Mary Magdalene). The Nag Hammadi library consists of some thirteen codices, or volumes, of texts, and among them are the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip, the Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, and the Revelations of Paul, James, and Peter. The most well-known text from Codex Tchacos is the Gospel of Judas, which recently has created an international sensation. These and other early Christian texts not in the New Testament remain significant for our study of the figure of Jesus and the development of faith and life in the early church.

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