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The Skeletal Remains of Yehohanan and Their Significance

I plan to make this the last post responding to Craig Evans’s article, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” in which he attempts to refute my argument in How Jesus Became God, that Jesus was probably not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion.   Several readers have asked me interesting questions about this or that thing that I’ve said, and I may try to answer these questions in a few days or, well, eventually; but for now, this will be my last post on it.   It think maybe this thread has been more than enough! I have dealt with a wide range of Craig’s arguments, and have saved his two strongest arguments for last.  In my last post I dealt with the claim of Josephus that Jews (always? usually? sometimes?) buried crucifixion victims before sunset, and I showed that as a general statement it simply isn’t true, and argued that in any event it would not have applied to a case such as that of Jesus, one who was crucified as [...]

2020-04-03T16:39:45-04:00July 31st, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Josephus’s Clearest Claim about the Burial of Crucified Victims

We come now, at last, to the best argument in Craig Evans’ arsenal, in his attack on the views of Jesus’ burial that I set forth in in How Jesus Became God.   Tomorrow I will deal with the second best – an argument from archaeology.   Craig makes a somewhat bigger deal of the second best; in fact he throws off this, his best argument rather quickly.  But it’s the most important point of the many (many!) issues he raises.   The argument is this.  In one passage of Josephus’s writings, in an extremely brief few words (it’s only half of one sentence) (this is the only half sentence in the entire corpus not only of Josephus’s 30 volumes of writing but in the entire corpus of pagan and Jewish literature of all of antiquity that makes this claim) he explicitly indicates that Jews buried victims of crucifixion before sunset.   Craig’s commentary on the passage amounts only to two sentences. At the end of the day I don’t find even this piece of evidence persuasive, and in [...]

2020-04-03T16:39:56-04:00July 29th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

More on Josephus and Jewish Burial Practices

In my previous post I began to deal with the first of two arguments that Craig Evans provides from Josephus.  Craig wants to argue that Josephus, a first-century Jewish authority, explicitly indicates that Romans allowed Jews to provide decent burials for their dead.   In this first argument Craig provides a concatenation of passages from Josephus that together, Craig argues, indicate that Jews would not leave a corpse (such as that of Jesus) on the cross, but would provide a burial for it.  Here is the argument again. “Josephus asserts the same thing.  The Romans, he says, do not require “their subjects to violate their national laws” (Against Apion 2.73).  The Jewish historian and adds that the Roman procurators who succeeded Agrippa I “by abstaining from all interference with the customs of the country kept the nation at peace” (Jewish War 2.220), customs that included never leaving a “corpse unburied” (Against Apion 2.211). I dealt with the first quotation in yesterday’s post, where I pointed out that in Against Apion Josephus is not referring to burial [...]

2020-04-03T16:40:04-04:00July 28th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Does Josephus Show that Jews Always Buried Their Dead?

I have not covered all of the points that Craig Evans makes in his essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which is his response to the position I stake out in How Jesus Became God.  My view is that Jesus probably was not given a decent burial on the day of his death by the otherwise unknown figure, Joseph of Arimathea.   In this thread I have tried to focus on Craig’s main points – but I will be happy to address any of the others if anyone is interested.   In my judgment, despite all the various issues he raises there are really only two of that are directly relevant and that need to be taken with utmost seriousness:  Josephus appears to say that Jews were allowed to bury their dead (Craig makes two arguments about this) and we have the skeletal remains of one crucified victim from Judea at about the time of Jesus. First I’ll be dealing with the evidence from Josephus.  My view is that of the two arguments Craig makes, [...]

2020-04-03T16:43:17-04:00July 27th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Hiatus: A New Teaching Company Course

Another brief hiatus as we near the end of my thread on the burial traditions of Jesus, occasioned by the inquiries of several members of the blog, and others not on the blog, about my new course for the Teaching Company (the company is also called The Great Courses). A couple of days ago my new course on “How Jesus Became God” came out.  It is obviously based (roughly) on the book of the same title.   The Course consists of twenty-four lectures, each thirty minutes in length, and as with all the Great Courses, it is available in numerous formats: on CD for audio only, or DVD for video, or as a download, and so on.  For a quick link:   You’ll see that it is right now being offered at a serious discount.  One hint about the Teaching Company courses: ALWAYS buy them at discount!  (They all get discounted on and off.) These are the titles of each of the lectures: 1 Jesus—The Man Who Became God 2 Greco-Roman Gods Who Became Human 3 [...]

2017-12-14T22:50:46-05:00July 26th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Josephus and the Burial of Jesus

I have devoted a large number of posts to going carefully through the main arguments that Craig Evans makes in his critique of the position I take in How Jesus Became God with respect to the burial tradition, in his essay, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right.”   To this point I have been trying to argue that the accumulation of arguments in and of itself does not constitute a “cumulative argument.”  Each of the accumulated arguments has to carry *some* weight if the overall argument is to carry *much* (or a lot of) weight.  And in my judgment, none of the arguments that I have adduced and responded to so far carries much, if any, weight. Some of you will probably disagree with me, and that’s fine.   But I do hope that I’ve shown that I’m not the uninformed skeptic that Craig portrays in his essay.  At times, reading it, I felt like I was being lectured to.  On the other hand, maybe Craig feels the same way in reading my responses (he’s not [...]

2020-04-03T16:43:25-04:00July 24th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Another Anecdote about Being Consistently Critical

As I was thinking today about the need to be consistently critical with all of our sources – not just the ones we want to be critical of (this was the topic of yesterday’s post, with an ultimate view of what I want to say about Josephus as a possible witness to the practice of Jews burying their executed dead on the days of their deaths) -- another anecdote occurred to me that I thought might help illustrate my point.   Here it is.  In the next post I get to Josephus, I promise. As some of you know, I have had a number of debates with evangelical Christians on the question of whether we know what the original writings of the New Testament actually said.   The typical line from these evangelical Christians is that since we have so *many* surviving manuscripts of the NT, that we can be almost completely certain that we know what the authors wrote in the vast majority of cases (virtually all).   My view is that we simply cannot know for [...]

2020-04-03T16:43:32-04:00July 23rd, 2014|Bart's Critics|

Being Consistently Critical (in the good sense)

I know that by now I’m supposed to  be citing Craig Evans’s best arguments that Jesus was probably given a decent  burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea, rather than being left hanging on the cross for a few days in accordance with standard Roman practice.  But I’ve realized that before I get to the first of these arguments, I have to say something about how historians need to use their ancient sources.  The short answer to that question is that they need to use them … gingerly.  And consistently gingerly. This perspective will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read this blog for a long while and seen how I think we need, consistently, to use the books of the New Testament itself as sources for what actually happened in the past – whether we are considering the Gospels for knowing about what Jesus really said and did, or considering the book of Acts for knowing about the life and teachings of Paul, or considering the letters [...]

2020-04-03T16:43:39-04:00July 22nd, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Teaching Christianity|

Discovered Crucifixion Nails

I have mentioned a couple of times that at the end of this thread I will be discussing the two arguments that Craig Evans marshals that strike me as interesting and to be taken seriously.  These are (1) the general claims in a couple of passages of Josephus and (2) the discovery of the skeletal remains of a crucified victim.  Even though these are, in my opinion, good arguments, I will explain why I do not find them persuasive.   Up till now I have been dealing with the arguments that Craig advances that I do not find at all convincing  -- for example, that Roman governors on rare occasions showed clemency for lower level crimes and that Pilate was not the kind of person to offend Jewish sensitivities.   I have one more argument of this sort to deal with.  It is one that may sound highly convincing to someone who has only Craig’s summary at hand but who does not know the facts of case. This argument does not involve historical literary sources (Philo or [...]

2020-04-03T16:43:48-04:00July 21st, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Pilate the Intransigent

To make the best sense of this post it is important to keep in mind what I said in the previous one. In his response to my views of in How Jesus Became God – that Jesus most likely was not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea – Craig Evans has maintained, among other things, that Pilate was not the kind of governor who would ignore Jewish sensitivities.   For Craig, Pilate started his rule by making a big mistake of bringing into Jerusalem the Roman standards that bore on them the image of the emperor.  But once he realized that the Jewish populace was offended, he backed down and from then on he showed that he had learned his lesson.  For that reason, Craig finds it “hard to believe” that at a later time Pilate would do something so opposed to Jewish custom as allow a body unburied on the day of a person’s death. This view strikes me as extremely problematic, for several reasons.   To start [...]

Did Pilate “Learn His Lesson”?

I think there is almost no historical figure that Craig and I disagree on more than the Roman governor of Judea at the time of Jesus’ death, Pontius Pilate.   I see him as a cruel, vicious, hard-headed, insensitive, and brutal ruler; Craig portrays him as an efficient but wise and rather sensitive aristocrat who could learn from his lessons and who would go out of his way not to offend Jewish sensibilities.  A lot hangs on which view (if either) is right, since it was Pilate – we agree on this! – who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion.  Moreover, if Jesus was given a decent burial (Craig’s view) or was left to hang on the cross for some time in accordance with standard Roman practice (my view), it was, in either case, Pilate’s decision. Craig’s view is that Pilate’s sensitive decision not to allow crucified victims to hang on their crosses after their deaths is what allowed him to keep “the nation at peace” (the phrase comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, whom I will be dealing [...]

2020-04-03T16:43:55-04:00July 18th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Did Pontius Pilate Respect Jewish Sensitivities?

When I was in high school I was active on the debate team, and really loved it.  We were pretty good, although I was nowhere near being the best on the team.  My colleague and another fellow on the team ended up debating together in college and won the national championship as sophomores.  These guys were terrific. One of the decisions we constantly had to make when arguing the negative side of a resolution was how to go about attacking the claims of the affirmative side.  There were two general approaches: one was what we called the “shotgun” approach.  This involved leveling lots and lots of arguments (like buckshot) and hoping that the other side could not respond to them all, thereby making the judge of the debate think that some of the arguments stuck, even if not all of them were that good.  The problem with the shotgun approach was that if a bunch of the arguments weren’t very good, the affirmative side could knock them down fairly easily, and by the end, it [...]

2020-04-03T16:44:04-04:00July 17th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Discrepancies That Pay Rich Dividends

This will be the last post in the hiatus I have been taking from responding to Craig Evans’s critique of my view of Jesus’ burial.  I had thought this hiatus would be one, maybe two posts; but as often happens on this blog, once I get going on something I realize that I have to say more -- or else what little I have to say will not make much sense.  So my couple of posts have turned into four, all on the question of whether the historical-critical approach that I take to the Gospels is “trashing them,” as a lot of people seem to think, or if, instead, it is a valuable tool for understanding what these books really are – literary attempts to teach important theological lessons about Jesus based on stories about his life – rather than what they are not – historically accurate, objective biographies of the things that Jesus said and did. In the last post I argued that the two portrayals of Jesus going to his death in Mark [...]

2020-04-03T16:44:31-04:00July 16th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Why the Critical View of the Gospels Matters Theologically/Religiously

In my two previous posts I’ve been trying to explain that the historical-critical view of the Gospels, in which they are recognized not always to represent historically accurate information about Jesus, is not necessarily a view that “trashes” them.  Instead, it is a view that tries to understand what they really are instead of insisting that they are something else.   Accepting them for what they are is surely a good thing; making them into something they are not can’t be good. In this post I want to do something highly unusual for me.  I want to explain, for those of your who are Christians (or for anyone else who is interested), why this critical view of the Gospels is in fact *theologically* valuable, far more theologically value than a view that would insist that the Gospels have no discrepancies between them or errors of any kind, but are historically accurate accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus. When I was a Christian, once  I came to the conclusion that the Gospels in fact [...]

2020-04-03T16:44:44-04:00July 15th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Ancient Forerunners of Modern Gospel Critics

In my previous post I argued that critical scholars who insist that the Gospels are not historically accurate accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus – even though they do contain some historically accurate information, which needs to be carefully and cautiously ferretted out of their narratives – are not trashing the Gospels.  They are trashing unfounded fundamentalist assumptions about the Gospels.  In this post I’d like to argue that this view -- that the Gospels are not sacrosanct-historically-accurate-to-the-very-detail accounts of what really happened in the life of Jesus -- is not merely a modern notion that emerged during the Enlightenment.  It is that, to be sure; but it’s not merely that.   In fact, I would argue that this is the earliest attested view of the Gospels from earliest Christianity. Let’s assume for this argument a view that most scholars hold and that I could demonstrate if I wanted to spend a lot of time doing so, that Mark was the first of our Gospels and that Matthew and Luke both had access [...]

2020-04-03T16:44:52-04:00July 14th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Why Are You Trashing the Gospels?

I am going to take a break for three or four days from my response to Craig Evans’s critique of my view of Jesus’ burial.  There are more things that I need to say – and I have not yet gotten to what I think are his two best arguments.  But my sense is that some people are getting a little tired of a steady dose of posts on the burial stories, so… I’m going to break to deal with something else of more general interest. I have had several people respond to my argument that Jesus was not really buried by Joseph of Arimathea on the day of his crucifixion by asking me: Why are you trashing the Gospels? It’s a fair question, and deserves a fair answer. The short story is that I’m not intending or trying to trash the Gospels.   In my view, what I’m doing is showing what the Gospels really are and what they really are not.   And that is not a matter of trashing them.  It’s a matter of [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:13-04:00July 13th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Did Roman Laws Require Decent Burials?

In my previous post I tried to show why Craig’s argument that Roman governors on (widely!) isolated occasions showed clemency to prisoners (those not sentenced to death) has no relevance to the question of whether Jesus, condemned to crucifixion for treason against the Roman state, would have been allowed a decent burial, contrary to Roman practice.   The “clemency” argument – even in the sources that Craig himself cites, only seems to show that in cases that were completely unlike that of Jesus himself, Roman governors could on rare occasions be merciful and/or bribed. Craig goes on to say that this clemency was extended to the burial of executed criminals.  Now in theory, this should be relevant to the question of whether Pilate showed mercy on Jesus by allowing his body to be buried on the day of his execution.  But when you actually look at the evidence, once again it is not relevant – or rather, as in the other cases, it actually supports the view that is opposite to the one Craig wants to [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:21-04:00July 11th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Did Roman Authorities Show Clemency?

In my previous post I began to discuss Craig Evan’s essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which was his attempt to show that the views I set forth in How Jesus Became God were flawed.   In his view, the New Testament portrayal of Jesus’ burial is almost certainly historical: Jesus really was buried, in a known tomb, on the afternoon of his death, immediately after he expired, by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who had, the night before, called for his execution.   My view is that this is entirely unlikely, that Jesus was probably left on his cross to suffer the ravages of time and, possibly, scavenging animals, as was the practice of Romans for crucified victims.  In no instance was this practice more constant than in the case of “enemies of the state,” anyone, for example, who was involved in an insurrection or who threatened a violent opposition to Roman rule (or was thought to have threatened).   Jesus himself, of course, was executed on just this charge, of [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:29-04:00July 10th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Did Romans Allow Decent Burials?

Now that I have restated my views about the burial of Jesus by citing two passages from How Jesus Became God, and emphasized one particular general point – that it is of utmost importance to remember why Romans crucified people, and in particular why they crucified those who were guilty of insurrection, the threat of insurrection, or high treason (a point that I cannot stress enough: Jesus was executed for calling himself the King of the Jews – a political charge of treason against the state) – I can now begin to summarize the counter-arguments that Craig Evans has made in his relatively long response, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right.”   Despite this title, and despite the respect I have for Craig as a scholar, I have to say that in my judgment he gets virtually all the evidence(s !) precisely wrong. He focuses his counter-argument on two of my main points: the Roman practices of crucifixion and the character of Pontius Pilate in particular.  I will respond to all of his major claims [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:41-04:00July 8th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Jesus Burial: My Personal Stake in the Question

Now that I have devoted two posts to presenting (part of) my argument for why I think Jesus was probably not given a decent burial – the posts were portions of a chapter lifted from How Jesus Became God – I am in a position to begin to respond to the counter-arguments of Craig Evans, my evangelical friend and naysayer, whose essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right” is widely seen – at least by people who have said anything to me about the matter – as the best contribution in the response book How God Became Jesus.   In my replies to his arguments, I will call him “Craig,” hoping that this does not smack too much of over-familiarity.  But, well, we’ve known each other for thirty years, have worked together on various film projects (documentaries that we have both in), and have had a number of cordial public debates.   Referring to him as “Evans” might seem a bit contemptuous. And truth be told, I’m not at all contemptuous of his scholarship or of [...]

2020-04-03T16:46:03-04:00July 6th, 2014|Bart's Critics|
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