Professor Helen Bond (MTheol PhD)
Professor of Christian Origins, Head of the School of Divinity
I’m interested in nearly all aspects of early Christianity and the social, cultural and religious context in which it emerged. My most recent work has been on Mark’s Gospel, the earliest biography of Jesus. I’m fascinated by why a follower of Jesus thought to write a biography of his master, what the use of the biographical form indicates about the way in which he saw Jesus, and how Mark’s work compares with other ancient biographies. Prior to that, I worked on the historical Jesus for several years, and continue to publish books and articles on a range of figures associated with the Christian story – Pontius Pilate, the High Priest Caiaphas, Barabbas, Herod I, Simon of Cyrene, and others. This has inevitably led me to a thorough appreciation of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. Alongside this I’m also intrigued by the ‘afterlives’ of biblical figures and worked for a decade as editor for the Synoptic Gospels on the Encylopedia of the Bible and its Reception (de Gruyter, Berlin).
I’m originally from a small village in the North-East of England and studied for my first degree at the University of St Andrews, where I graduated with a first in Biblical Studies. I went on to do a PhD at Durham University, spending a year in Tuebingen (Germany). I taught at Northern College, Manchester and the University of Aberdeen before coming to Edinburgh in 2000. I'm passionately committed not only to teaching in the academy, but also to public outreach. I have extensive media experience and give many talks at public events.
From July 2011 to July 2018 I was Director of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins (CSCO). The Centre aims to promote research into the earliest period of Christianity, and details of upcoming events and the kind of things we are interested in can be found on our blog site:
Since August 2018, I’ve had the great honour of being Head of the School of Divinity. I continue to teach both undergraduates and postgraduates, and welcome queries from potential doctoral students in all of the topics mentioned above.
New Testament (particularly Gospels and Acts)
Jewish and Roman world of the first century
Women in the New Testament
Roman and Jewish Trials of Jesus (Pilate, Caiaphas)
Herods, particularly Herod I and the women of his dynasty
Open to PhD supervision enquiries?
I have extensive research interests in the historical Jesus, the social and political context of Second Temple Judaism and the early Christian movement, the canonical gospels (especially Mark and John), the status of women in antiquity, and Josephus. My main focus is on the ancient texts, though I occasionally dally with archaeology, numismatics, and later reception.
More information about research projects by Professor Bond are available on her Edinburgh Research Explorer profile.
Current research interestsI’ve just published a The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel (Eerdmans, 2020). It’s a detailed attempt to compare Mark’s Gospel with other ancient biographies, looking at how a first century audience might have encountered Mark’s work. I see Mark as a creative and pastorally sensitive author, well aware of his hearer’s interests and concerns, who presents his Jesus material in the form or a life to be admired and imitated – in other words, the gospel is a very specific reception of the Jesus tradition Exploring the wealth of ancient biographies still available gave me a real insight into what their authors were trying to do, insights that raise a host of challenges for some of the ways in which we have traditionally interpreted Mark. Together with Catrin Williams and Eve-Marie Becker, I’ve also just edited a volume of essays on John’s Transformation of Mark (Bloomsbury, 2020). This is an exciting collection that came out of a conference in Athens a couple of years ago, and which strongly argues that John not only knew but used Mark’s Gospel. I’m also currently working on a book on Jesus’s Female Disciples (along with Joan Taylor).
Past research interestsMy research has tended to focus on characters within the biblical tradition. My first book was on Pontius Pilate. Although I was interested in the ‘historical Pilate,’ the main focus of my work was the various ways in which the Roman prefect was presented by the four gospels, Josephus and Philo. Differences in the portrayal of the governor can tell us quite a lot about the evangelists’ attitudes towards the Roman government of their day. These early Christian texts also mark the beginning of Pilate’s literary ‘afterlife,’ in which he enjoyed great popularity from the emerging apocryphal literature to mediaeval mystery plays and beyond. My next project was a book on the high priest Caiaphas. There was less direct source material to work with here, but unscrambling the complexities of first century high priestly clans and their claims to legitimacy was fascinating - not to mention countering some commonly held and groundless assumptions about Jesus’ priestly enemies. All of this led me, inevitably perhaps, to the historical Jesus. I’d always said I’d never write a book on Jesus, but when Bloomsbury asked me to write a book on him for their great Guides for the Perplexed series, I readily agreed. This led to almost a decade of thinking and writing about the man who walked the Galilean hills and various publications and media activities (both to scholarly and popular audiences). As I worked on Jesus, however, I realised that our most basic account of him – and the one used as a basis by most historical Jesus scholars – is Mark’s Gospel. Any further thinking about Jesus, then, had to involve a serious look at Mark – and that started with an appreciation of exactly what type of literature the Gospel belongs to, and what the writer was trying to achieve. For more on this, see my current interests.
Television and Radio
- Jesus’ Female disciples: the New Evidence (Channel 4, 8th April, 2018). Associated articles in Time Magazine (30 March), The Times (31st March), MailOnline (31st March), Daily Telegraph (1st April), The Independent (Ireland), The Sun, The Daily Star, and various other internet sites. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KV3etSTMSEA
- Betrayed (BBC, 2004)
- Nativity (BBC, dramatisation of the nativity story, Dec 2010)
- A History of Christianity (National Geographic, 2012; sections covering biblical history)
- The Bible (Lightworkers Media for History Channel, 2013 – this opened to 14.8M viewers in the US).
- Countdown to Calvary (RTE [Ireland], co-produced with ARTE [European Public broadcasters] and APT [American Public Television, US]). Aired throughout most of the world, including Australia and New Zealand. Easter 2018)
Contributor - TV:
- Son of God (BBC, 2000)
- The Tomb of Christ (Crewneck Productions, US, 2001)
- John Meets Paul (CTVC, 2001)
- The Virgin Mary (BBC, 2002)
- The Disciples (BBC, 2004)
- Who Killed Jesus? (BBC, 2004)
- Betrayed (BBC, 2004)
- Pontius Pilate (C4, 2004)
- US news channel, on Mary (2004)
- Banned from the Bible (US, 2004)
- The Death of Jesus (German TV, 2005)
- The Devil (Malin Films, Eire, 2006)
- The Secret Family of Jesus (CTVC, 2006)
- The Naked Archaeologist (Associated Producers, Canada, 2008)
- The Bible Decoded (Associated Producers, Canada, 2008)
- Who Really Killed Jesus? (National Geographic/CTVC, 2008)
- The Nativity Decoded (C4, 2008)
- Who Killed Jesus? (Red Sky TV, Australia, 2009; winner of a silver medal in the History and Society category and a bronze medal in Religion at the New York Festival TV and Film Awards)
- The Bible – A History (Episode 4: Jesus), Pioneer Productions (shown on Channel 4, 21st Feb 2010)
- Daily Life in Biblical Times (Associated Producers, Canada for National Geographic, Feb 2010)
- Songs of Praise (BBC, May 2010, shown on 10th Oct 2010)
- Bible Mysteries, on the birth narratives (National Geographic, Aug 2010)
- Jesus Quest (CTVC, Nov 2010, shown on BBC 1 Easter Sunday, 24th April 2011)
- Mary Magdalene (National Geographic, Dec 2011)
- Christianity and the Roman Empire (National Geographic, Dec 2011)
- David Suchet in the Footsteps of Paul (CTVC, Dec 2011, shown on BBC 1 Christmas 2012, 1.3 million viewers)
- Mary Magdalene (BBC, shown on BBC1 on Good Friday 2013, 1.46 million viewers)
- Jesus Mysteries (National Geographic, Easter 2014)
- Treasures Decoded (Pier 21 for Canadian Channel 4/Smithsonian; shown in UK on Channel 4, Oct 2014)
- Mysteries of the Bible (National Geographic/Channel 5, 27th March 2015, rep. 1st April)
- David Suchet in the Footsteps of St Peter (CTVC/BBC 1, Easter Sunday 2015)
- The Last Days of Jesus (C5, 7th May 2015)
- The Mystery of Mary Magdalene (C5, 22nd May 2015)
- The Big Questions (BBC1, 7th June 2015)
- Finding Jesus, episode on Pontius Pilate (CNN)
- Judas (BBC, Good Friday, 26th March 2016)
- The Da Vinci Code (Al Jazeera, 2016)
- The Real Jesus of Nazareth (4-part documentary for Smithsonian Channel; aired 16th and 17th April 2017, Smithsonian Channel)
- The Last Days of Jesus (PBS, US, aired 4th April 2017/Vision TV, Canada 10th April 2017/Channel 5, UK, aired 14th April (Good Friday) 2017).
- Countdown to Calvary (RTE [Ireland], co-produced with ARTE [European Public broadcasters] and APT [American Public Television, US]). Aired throughout most of the world, including Australia and New Zealand. Easter 2018.
- Josephus (Discovery Europe), 2018.
- Saint Pierre (dubbed). French Discovery Channel/RMC Decouvert, 2019.
- Songs of Praise (Ninelives Media, for BBC). 2 episodes - Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, 2019.
- Songs of Praise (Ninelives Media, for BBC). The UK’s favourite hymn (championing the no. 1 hymn – Jerusalem). September 2019.
- The Passion of Jesus (ZED production, France).
Contributor - Radio:
- The Real Jesus Christ (BBC, 2002)
- Several discussions/interviews relating to BBC’s The Virgin Mary (2002), see above, including Sunday (BBC Radio 4, 2002)
- Jesus (BBC Radio 5, 2004)
- Excess Baggage, on the journey of the Magi (BBC Radio 4, 2006)
- Sunday, on Herod (BBC Radio 4, 2007)
- Sally on Sunday, on Herod (BBC Scotland, 2007)
- Herod (Premier Christian Radio, 2007)
- Witness, on Luke (BBC Radio 4, 2007)
- Sunday, on the Magi (BBC Radio 4, 2008)
- Sunday, on Paul (BBC Radio 4, 2008)
- Passion Players (RTE, Ireland, 2009)
- In Our Time, on Paul (BBC Radio 4, May 2010)
- In Our Time, on Judas Maccabaeus (BBC Radio 4, Nov 2011)
- Talking History (Newstalk FM, Ireland, 7th June 2015)
- Good Morning Scotland, on Mary Magdalene (BBC Scotland, Mar 2016)
- The Leap of Faith, on the current situation in Jerusalem (RTE, Ireland; 8th Dec 2017)
- The Leap of Faith Christmas Edition, on the historical Jesus (RTE, Ireland, 25th Dec 2017)
- Moncrieff Show, on Jesus’ female disciples (Newstalk FM, Ireland, August 2018)
- Sunday with Richard Holloway, 30 min interview on upbringing, first female Head of School of Divinity, Historical Jesus research and religious views (BBC Scotland, 14th Oct 2018).
Writer and presenter:
- ‘The Essay,’ Radio 3, 21st Dec 2010, 15 mins (on women’s lives in biblical times and the historical Virgin Mary)
- Interval talk on Radio 3, 9th Dec 2011, 20 mins (What Childhood of Jesus?)
Affiliated research centres
John's Transformation of Mark
Research output: › Book (Accepted/In press)
The triumph of the king: John's transformation of Mark's account of the Passion
Research output: › Chapter (peer-reviewed) (Accepted/In press)
A fitting end? Self-denial and a slave’s death in Mark’s life of Jesus
Contribution to Journal › Article (Published)
Introduction to volume 1
Chapter (peer-reviewed) (Published)
The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries
Gospel of John
Chapter (peer-reviewed) (Published)
Contribution to Journal › Book/Film/Article review (Published)
The Real Pontius Pilate
Contribution to Journal › Article (Published)
Contribution to Journal › Article (Accepted/In press)
The First Biography of Jesus
Book (Accepted/In press)