A Giant Has Fallen

Marcus Borg passes away at age 72


Marcus Borg (1942–2015). Image: Courtesy www.marcusjborg.com.

Pulmonary fibrosis brought down 72-year-old Marcus Borg on Wednesday, January 21, 2015. Borg entered the world stage with his work with the Jesus Seminar—a project that grabbed international headlines as a collective of scholars came together to vote on each saying and deed of Jesus in the Gospels to determine if it was authentic of the historical Jesus. His work in this area made him known as one of the fathers of the modern Quest for the Historical Jesus. While many members of the Jesus Seminar have been accused of attacking the faith of the church, Borg steadfastly maintained a belief in God, according to his memoir, Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most, published in 2014.

Even after retiring in 2007 from Oregon State University, where he had taught since 1979, he still maintained an active publication life and in fact was planning to write a column for BAR at the time of his death. Borg was trend-setting by often writing not for the academy, but for the general public, and bringing the scholarship of the day to the people. Leif Vaage, also of the Jesus Seminar, commented that Borg “certainly demonstrated how a Biblical scholar could be in conversation with both the tradition of modern academic Biblical scholarship and open to the encompassing world.”

He published more than 20 books and often coauthored them with scholars who span the theological spectrum—from John Dominic Crossan to N.T. Wright. Despite his radical vision of Christianity, Borg himself was not a polarizing figure, but one who enjoyed deep discussions with his dissenters.

“Borg very clearly aimed to embody the kind of ‘spiritual’ calling he attributed also to the historical Jesus,” New Testament scholar Vaage reflected. “He was a decidedly gentle man in a milieu where such gentleness was regularly dismissed as somehow insufficiently ‘manly’ for a real Biblical scholar.”

Born in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, on March 11, 1942, Borg was raised in a traditional Lutheran home. His interest in the historical Jesus was piqued while doing his Ph.D. at Oxford. Borg lived in Portland, Oregon. Married to an Episcopal priest, Marianne Wells Borg, he served as a canon theologian to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Borg is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.


Marcus Borg’s Biblical Archaeology Society publications:

“The Palestinian Background for a Life of Jesus,” in Hershel Shanks, ed., The Search for Jesus: Modern Scholarship Looks at the Gospels (Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1994), pp. 37-57.

“Portraits of Jesus,” in Hershel Shanks, ed., The Search for Jesus: Modern Scholarship Looks at the Gospels (Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1994), pp. 83-106.

“What Did Jesus Really Say?” Bible Review, October 1989.

“Different Ways of Looking at the Bible,” Bible Review, August 1992.

“The First Christmas,” Bible Review, December 1992.

“Why Was Jesus killed?” Bible Review, April 1993.

“Faith and Scholarship,” Bible Review, August 1993.

“Jesus in Four Colors,” Bible Review, December 1993.

“Thinking About Easter,” Bible Review, April 1994.

“Thinking About the Second Coming,” Bible Review, August 1994.

“Profiles in Scholarly Courage,” Bible Review, October 1994.

“Homosexuality and the New Testament,” Bible Review, December 1994.

“How Did Jesus Die for Our Sins?” Bible Review, April 1995.

“Revelation and the Militias,” Bible Review, August 1995.

“What Did Jesus Know?” Bible Review, December 1995.

“East Meets West: The Uncanny Parallels in the Lives of Buddha and Jesus: Part II,” Bible Review, October 1999.

“The Search Begins: The Fathers of Historical Jesus Scholarship,” Bible Review, Summer 2005.

Join the BAS Library to read Marcus Borg’s BAS publications.


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  • Kurt says

    What Are Sheol and Hades?
    Ecclesiastes 9:10 states: “There is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.” Does this mean that Sheol refers to a specific, or individual, grave site where we may have buried a loved one? No. When the Bible refers to a specific burial place, or grave, it uses other Hebrew and Greek words, not sheʼohl′ and hai′des. (Genesis 23:7-9; Matthew 28:1) Also, the Bible does not use the word “Sheol” for a grave where several individuals are buried together, such as a family grave or a mass grave.—Genesis 49:30, 31.
    To what kind of place, then, does “Sheol” refer? God’s Word indicates that “Sheol,” or “Hades,” refers to something much more than even a large mass grave. For instance, Isaiah 5:14 notes that Sheol is “spacious and has opened its mouth wide beyond bounds.” Although Sheol has already swallowed, so to speak, countless dead people, it always seems to hunger for more. (Proverbs 30:15, 16) Unlike any literal burial site, which can hold only a limited number of the dead, ‘Sheol does not get satisfied.’ (Proverbs 27:20) That is, Sheol never becomes full. It has no limits. Sheol, or Hades, is thus not a literal place in a specific location. Rather, it is the common grave of dead mankind, the figurative location where most of mankind sleep in death.
    The Bible teaching of the resurrection helps us to gain further insight into the meaning of “Sheol” and “Hades.” God’s Word associates Sheol and Hades with the sort of death from which there will be a resurrection.(se Footnote) (Job 14:13; Acts 2:31; Revelation 20:13) God’s Word also shows that those in Sheol, or Hades, include not only those who have served Jehovah but also many who have not served him. (Genesis 37:35; Psalm 55:15) Therefore, the Bible teaches that there will be “a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15.
    In contrast, the dead who will not be raised are described as being, not in Sheol, or Hades, but “in Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:30; 10:28; 23:33) Like Sheol and Hades, Gehenna is not a literal place.

  • GENE says

    ▪ In the Gospel accounts, Jesus warns his disciples against suffering the judgment of Gehenna. Obviously, Jesus intended that the warning be taken seriously. However, was he referring to a burning hell of everlasting torment?—Matthew 5:22.

    First, let us look at the word itself. The Greek word Ge′en·na corresponds to the Hebrew geh Hin·nom′, meaning “valley of Hinnom,” or more fully geh veneh-Hin·nom′, “valley of the sons of Hinnom.” (Joshua 15:8; 2 Kings 23:10) This geographic site, known today as Wadi er-Rababi, is a deep and narrow valley located to the south and southwest of Jerusalem.

    In the times of the kings of Judah, from the eighth century B.C.E., this location was used for pagan rites, including the sacrificial burning of children in fire. (2 Chronicles 28:1-3; 33:1-6) The prophet Jeremiah foretold that the same valley would become the place of slaughter for Judeans at the hands of the Babylonians in judgment from God for their wickedness.*—Jeremiah 7:30-33; 19:6, 7.

    According to the Jewish scholar David Kimhi (c. 1160-c. 1235 C.E.), the valley was later transformed into a garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. The place served as an incinerator where fires were kept burning to dispose of rubbish. Anything thrown into this dump would be completely destroyed, turned into ashes.

    Many Bible translators have taken the liberty of rendering Ge′en·na “hell.” (Matthew 5:22, King James Version) Why? Because they associated the pagan-inspired notion of an afterlife of fiery judgment for the wicked with the physical fire in the valley outside Jerusalem. Jesus, however, never associated Gehenna with torment.

    Jesus knew that the very thought of burning people alive is repugnant to his heavenly Father, Jehovah. Referring to the use made of Gehenna in the days of the prophet Jeremiah, God said: “They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, in order to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, a thing that I had not commanded and that had not come up into my heart.” (Jeremiah 7:31) Moreover, the idea of torment for the dead conflicts with God’s loving personality as well as with the Bible’s clear teaching that the dead are “conscious of nothing at all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.

    Jesus used the term “Gehenna” to symbolize the utter destruction resulting from God’s adverse judgment. Hence, “Gehenna” has a meaning similar to that of “the lake of fire,” mentioned in the book of Revelation. Both symbolize eternal destruction from which no resurrection is possible.—Luke 12:4, 5; Revelation 20:14, 15.


  • Kurt says

    What Happens When You Die?
    The Bible’s answer
    The Bible says: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5; Psalm 146:4) Therefore, when we die, we cease to exist. The dead can’t think, act, or feel anything.
    Death is not necessarily the end of everything
    The Bible often compares death to sleep. (Psalm 13:3; John 11:11-14; Acts 7:60) A person who is fast asleep is unaware of what is happening around him. Likewise, the dead are not conscious of anything. Yet, the Bible teaches that God can awaken the dead as if from sleep and give them life again. (Job 14:13-15) For those whom God resurrects, death is not the end of everything.Read more:
    Bible Questions Answered
    What does the Bible really teach? Select a question that interests you.

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