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Religion-news story of the year? Caution is wise with alleged biblical bombshells

Religion-news story of the year? Caution is wise with alleged biblical bombshells

The mass media often turn to scriptural stuff as the world’s Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus (on April 1 this year, or one week later for the Orthodox).

This Eastertide a long-brewing story, largely ignored by the media, could be the biggest biblical bombshell since a lad accidentally stumbled upon the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.

Or not.

Scholars are supposedly prepared to announce an astonishing discovery, a Greek manuscript of the New Testament’s Gospel of Mark written down in the 1st Century A.D. That would mean  Mark -- and implicitly other Gospels –- were compiled when numerous eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life would have been alive, thus buttressing authenticity.   

The Guy recommends caution, since sensational historical claims in recent times have flopped, or were misconstrued, and embarrassed proponents on both the religious right and left. With careful contexting, reporters should attempt to break this news  (see tips below) or at least be prepared to pounce when someone else does.  

The oldest Mark manuscript we currently know came some 150 years later than this. To date, the earliest surviving New Testament text is the celebrated Rylands Papyrus 52 (“P52”), at England’s University of Manchester, found in Egypt in 1920 and identified in 1934. Experts date P52 in the mid-2nd Century and perhaps as early as A.D. 125. This fragment of John 18:31-33, 37-38 confirmed scholars’ prior consensus that John’s Gospel originated in the late 1st Century.

Internet chatter about the Mark text comes mostly from biblical conservatives, who are understandably enthused. The first hint The Religion Guy unearthed was this opaque 2011 tweet from Scott Carroll, a professor at an online Christian school: “For over 100 years the earliest known text of the New Testament has been the so-called John Rylands Papyrus. Not any more. Stay tuned.”  Years later, Carroll said he had seen this actual Mark text two times.

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Mythology? History? Biographies? Why are there differences in the four Gospels?

Mythology? History? Biographies? Why are there differences in the four Gospels?

The Religion Guy observes that the wording of the perennial question above is the title of an important new book by Michael Licona of Houston Baptist University and published by the prestigious Oxford University Press.

Variations among the four New Testament Gospels in parallel accounts of the same events and sayings are fascinating for scholars. And they can perplex believers, though most involve details that don’t affect the main teaching or are easily explained in Bible commentaries.

Meanwhile, those who seek to deride the scriptures and thus the Christian tradition emphasize these differences, calling them “contradictions” and “mistakes.”

In reality, there are fewer such puzzlers than skeptics imply, yet more of them than many believers might admit.

Licona’s research on this is deemed “significant” by Dale Allison of Princeton Theological Seminary, “illuminating” by Richard Bauckham of the University of St. Andrews, and “exemplary” by Christopher Pelling of Oxford University.

In his scenario, the Gospel writers or editors followed a flexible process that was commonplace in ancient times but doesn’t always fit present-day historiography (history-writing): “Ancient biographical conventions provided authors a license to depart from the degree of precision in reporting that many of us moderns prefer.”

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So, The Los Angeles Times posits that this popular evangelical writer is a fundamentalist

So, The Los Angeles Times posits that this popular evangelical writer is a fundamentalist

As a rule, GetReligion doesn't pay attention to editorials, commentaries and reviews for the simple reason that our purpose is to focus on the good and bad in mainstream religion news coverage, with a strong emphasis on the word "news."

Besides, it's hard to critique matters of accuracy, bias and balance in forms of writing in which authors are free to speak their minds, as columnists or commentators.

However, even it comes to writing about movies -- whether we are talking about news or commentary -- The Los Angeles Times is not just another newspaper. It matters what kinds of labels the La La land newspaper of record pins on real people who work in the public square.

So here is the top of the Noel Murray review of the new movie "The Case for Christ," which is based on the journey that former Chicago Tribune legal-affairs reporter Lee Strobel made from atheism to Christian faith. The headline on the review: " 'The Case for Christ' prioritizes drama over evidence."

Lee Strobel became a fundamentalist Christian hero thanks to his 1998 book “The Case for Christ,” chronicling how his dogged research into Jesus’ resurrection helped convert him from atheism. Director Jon Gunn and screenwriter Brian Bird’s film version emphasizes Stobel’s personal drama over his academic investigation, which makes for a watchable movie but thin theology.
Mike Vogel plays Strobel, who at the start of the 1980s was an award-winning Chicago journalist with a happy marriage and a bright future, until his wife, Leslie (played by Erika Christensen), found God. Anxious to get their life back to the way things were, he started interviewing scholars in various disciplines, hoping that by presenting Leslie with the facts, she’d back down.

Veteran GetReligion readers will not be surprised that it was the word "fundamentalist" that caught my attention, after clicking on a URL sent in by a reader on the West Coast.

There are two ways to read the "fundamentalist" clause in the lede.

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Texas Baptist universities claim Supreme Court victory, but Houston, Dallas papers go mum

Texas Baptist universities claim Supreme Court victory, but Houston, Dallas papers go mum

Um, this is awkward.

This morning, tmatt handled the major angle — that would be the Little Sisters of the Poor — on the U.S. Supreme Court sending several challenges to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive-coverage requirement back to the lower courts.

My assignment: review major newspaper coverage here in the Southwest of the victory claimed by Christian universities in Texas and Oklahoma that challenged the mandate.

That would be easier to do, of course, if I could find any evidence of such coverage. (Hence, the awkward part.)

"If the Dallas Morning News does not cover the Texas schools, that's amazing," the boss man said in delivering my marching orders. "Ditto for the Houston Post since Houston Baptist University is in the middle of this."

"If the Houston Post covers this, that will be really amazing since it shut down in 1995," I replied.

I will not quote the boss man's exact response to that little attempt at humor. (I kid. I kid.)

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