Q1. Submitted by Dwain Miller and others:

Does any evidence exist that would give us clues about the "missingyears," that is, what Jesus did between the ages of 12 and 29? Inparticular, does anything support the claim that Jesus spent time in India?

Ancient biographies often start with the public life of theirprotagonists. The earlier parts were either unknown, irrelevant, or simplyleft out. Caesar Augustus, for example, starts his own autobiographicalsummary with these words: "At the age of 19..." So also with Jesus. Thegospel "biographies" all begin with his publiclife. What comes before that is always Overture rather than Act One. Anoverture summarizes the key themes of what is to follow. They are not FirstActs after which there are missing Second and Third ones. Matthew and Luke,for example, both write infancy narratives as their overtures. Since each ofthem has a different gospel, each of them must have a quite differentoverture. They both work from common traditions (some not otherwise known)such as the names and places connected with Jesus' infancy and birth. InMatthew's infancy-as-overture, for example, Jesus is portrayed as the Mosaicfulfillment (murderous Herod equals murderous Pharaoh, etc.) and thatinfancy-as-overture (which is in my mind a parable, not history) sets up thelife of Jesus--which will begin formally with theSermon on a new Mount Sinai giving the fulfillment of the Law. In plainlanguage, everything is "missing" before the public life--everything, that,is in terms of history as distinct from parable.

There is no credible evidence that Jesus spent time in India. There is, ofcourse, lots of evidence that he spent time in Ireland. That presumably iswhere he got his sense of humor, unless he got it from his Father.

Q2: Submitted by billnashe:

What do you think of the Shroud of Turin?

My best understanding is that the Shroud of Turin is a medievalrelic-forgery. I wonder whether it was done from a crucified dead body orfrom a crucified living body. That is the rather horrible question once youaccept it as a forgery.

There is, however, a more basic question about such an object. Let usimagine, for the moment, that it is exactly what it claims to be. Let usfurther imagine, for the moment, that everything in the last chapters of thegospels is historically accurate. Wouldn't the Shroud of Turin make thoseevents understandable as exaltation, rather than resurrection? Exaltationmeans that Jesus (like Enoch, Moses, Elijah, etc.) was taken up to God as aspecial act of divine graciousness because of who he was. Resurrection is anapocalyptic concept which means not the destructive end of the materialearth, but the transformative end of this unjust world. Christian faith inresurrection means that such a transformation began with Jesus. It alsomeans we should be able to show that visibly and publicly to the world.Otherwise, we would have exaltation at best, but no resurrection.

Q3: Submitted by viamedia:

Are you a believing Christian?

I cannot respond to this question without a commercial message. Yes, I am a "believing Christian," although I would probably say--and prefer to say-- that I try to be a "beliving Christian." I would ask you, however, not to judge me by that bald (pun intended) assertion, but by my writings. In this decade alone, I have about a million words out there about the historical Jesus. You would have to judge whether the person who wrote those is or is not a beli(e)ving Christian.

My own experience has been that if you get the history right, the theology becomes possible, not inevitable, but at least possible. Or, in other words, if you get the first century right, 21st-century faith may follow. Finally, if you would like to read and judge me for yourself, please rush out immediately and buy umpteen copies of my recent book, "A Long Way From Tipperary: A Memoir." What do you think of the person who wrote that? Christian or not? Consider it Irish stew for the mind rather than chicken soup for the soul.

Q4: Submitted by kyle garrity:

Is there any evidence of pre-Constantine (pre-4th century) Christian violence used to keep orthodoxy intact, or at least sustain leadership?

Think of violence as coming in two types, one rhetorical and the other physical. Rhetorical violence is what I call "lite hate," and physical violence is what I call "heavy hate." But, of course, the former prepares the ground and invites the harvest of the latter. I am not sure about any evidence of intra-Christian physical violence in the pre-Constantine era, although it might be there and I just can't remember it. But I am certain there was already intra-Christian rhetorical violence, because it is all over our present texts. I am not even speaking about rhetorical violence between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews, but rhetorical violence within Christianity itself. Paul, after all, calls Peter a "hypocrite" and others "false brethren.