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Jesus’ Claim to Be the Messiah

  I’m afraid I have been sidetracked from my thread within a thread within a thread, but now want to get back to it.  This particular sub-sub-thread is about whether Jesus considered himself to be the Jewish messiah.  My view is that Yes he did.  But he meant something very specific by that, and it is not what most people (Christians and non-Christians) today mean by it. Recall what I have tried to show thus far.  There were various expectations of what the messiah would be like among Jews of Jesus’ day – a political ruler over Israel, a great priest who ruled God’s people through God’s law, a cosmic judge of the earth who would destroy God’s enemies in a cataclysmic act of judgment.   All these views had one thing in common: the future messiah would be a figure of grandeur and might who would come with the authority and power of God. And who was Jesus?  For most people of his day, Jesus was just the opposite – an itinerant Jewish preacher from [...]

2020-04-03T13:06:21-04:00November 30th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Gift Memberships to the Blog, 2015

We have already moved passed Thanksgiving again.  Hard to believe. For the occasion, I want to open up a holiday giving option that can help out people who really want to be on the blog but cannot afford the membership fees. As many of you know, for the past couple of years, thanks to a number of generous donors, we pulled this off in a big way.  It has happened in two stages.   It started off when two anonymous donors proposed that they provide some funds to pay for memberships for a few people who wanted to be on the blog but because of personal circumstances, could not afford the membership fees.   I put out the offer on my Facebook page, asking if anyone was in that boat, and within twenty minutes I had thirty requests –all from people who were eager to join but simply did not have the means to do so otherwise.  I had to shut down the offer nearly as soon as I made it.   This made me suspect that [...]

2015-11-29T16:06:42-05:00November 29th, 2015|Public Forum|

Readers’ Mailbag November 27, 2015

  I hope everyone had a fulfilling (and fillingful) Thanksgiving! Now it is time to answer some questions I have received over the past couple of weeks, in short rapid-fire order.   If you have a question you would like me to address, please ask it in a comment to this post.  I am keeping a list and deal with the questions, weekly, more or less in the order in which I receive them.   And I’m running low on questions!  So ask away!     QUESTION:  Why do you think Jesus remained single his whole life? Could that have been part of the reason he was seen as a divine being? Ordinary people marry, not highly esteemed divine beings? RESPONSE:  That’s an interesting hypothesis, but I don’t think it is “it.”  Let me start with the necessary preliminary: I do indeed think that Jesus was, in fact, unmarried.  People have disputed that (most notably that inestimable authority on ancient Christianity, Dan Brown, in the Da Vinci Code!) but the evidence is very strong.   I have dealt [...]

Thanksgiving Reflections 2015

I would like to pause in my other blogging pursuits to reflect a bit on the holiday that is now upon us.   Like, I suppose, a lot of people, there are a number of holidays that I one time enjoyed very much but am now almost completely indifferent to.  For me those would include Halloween (it’s just not that much fun for me without having kids or any real connection with kids), Fourth of July (I’m always in England on the occasion, and giving the nature of the holiday and what it remembers, well, that kind of puts a damper on it) (I don’t want this to be misconstrued: I love being an American – with all the enormous problems experienced by and caused by Americans – but the business with firecrackers and fireworks and so on just has nothing much for me these days), and Easter (which I do not observe, as an agnostic; although it can be a time of reflection for me on the awesome claims of the Christian message). There are [...]

2017-11-16T22:06:43-05:00November 25th, 2015|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

The SBL and the Blog

I just finished spending five days at my annual professional meeting, the Society of Biblical Literature, this year in Atlanta.   This is a very large conference, probably about 6,000 people here for it – not to mention another 6,000 here for the American Academy of Religion conference that is held jointly with it. For both conferences this is a chance for professional academics in their various fields of religious studies (New Testament, Hebrew Bible, early Christianity, early Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Religion and Culture, Religion in the Americas and so forth and so on – lots and lots of fields) to come together, attend academic papers on various topics (dozens of papers read by scholars all at the same time throughout the convention center), have meetings for various organizations, talk to editors, browse through the enormous book display hall where publishers in the field display all the recent books, and so on.   This is not a conference for lay-people interested in the topics: it is heavy duty scholarship.  But for experts in biblical studies, it is [...]

2017-11-16T22:06:52-05:00November 24th, 2015|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Teaching of Jesus

I have been providing necessary background to the question of whether Jesus could have considered himself the messiah, and have done so by trying to situate him in the world of first century Jewish apocalyptic thinking.  We now need to move to a summary of Jesus’ teaching given that apocalyptic framework. We could obviously have a year-long thread on the topic of what it was Jesus taught during his itinerant preaching ministry.  Many people have written very long books on the subject – and the books just keep comin’ out.   If you want a more extended discussion of my views on the matter, you can see my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.  I include bibliography of other works to consult.  For my money, among the best and most influential have been John Meier, E. P. Sanders, Dale Allison, and Paula Fredriksen – all of whom agree that Jesus is best understood as an apocalyptic preacher. Here let me summarize under several rubrics what I think we can say with reasonable reliability about [...]

2020-04-03T13:08:18-04:00November 23rd, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Fifty Ways to Forge a Gospel

    Last month I attended a small conference on the early Christian apocrypha (that is, the Gospels, epistles, Acts, and Apocalypses from early Christianity that were not accepted into the canon of Scripture) at York University in Toronto.   The special topic for the conference was the use of forgery in early Christianity, and I was asked to give the keynote address. This is a topic, of course, I have been long interested in.   I spent several years working on my (rather long) scholarly monograph on the topic: Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics; and in the process or writing that book for fellow academics, I wrote a shorter and simpler account for popular audiences: Forged:  Writing in the Name of God.  Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Among other things, in my talk I stressed that people in the ancient world considered forgery to be an act of literary deceit, a form of lying.  I really don’t think there should be much question [...]

2020-04-11T16:03:21-04:00November 22nd, 2015|Forgery in Antiquity, Public Forum|

Readers’ Mailbag November 20, 2015

It is time for my weekly Readers’ Mailbag.  I will be dealing with two questions this time.  If you have questions, about anything at all related to the historical Jesus, the New Testament, the history of early Christianity, or anything else that I may have a remote chance of knowing something about, please ask!  You can either respond with a comment/question to this post, or send me an email, or comment on any other post!   QUESTION:   An off-topic request: what are the five most puzzling questions about the historical Jesus you would love to see resolved in your lifetime? RESPONSE:   Ah, this is a tough one.  It is made particularly difficult by two competing phenomena.  The first is that most scholars of the historical Jesus are pretty convinced that their views about what he said and did are on the money.   So in that sense, what is there that can be answered that hasn’t been?  The other is the unpleasant reality that in fact we know very few things for certain about Jesus – [...]

The Beginning and End as Keys to the Middle

In my last post I showed why it is so widely acknowledged that Jesus began his ministry by associating with John the Baptist, an apocalyptic preacher of coming doom.   The reason that matters for our purposes in this thread is that it shows that Jesus chose, of his own free will, to join an apocalyptic movement at the very beginning of his public ministry.  That certainly demonstrates that Jesus started out his public life as a fervent advocate of a Jewish apocalyptic message.  He too must have been expecting the judgment of God soon to appear in which those aligned against God would be destroyed and those who sided with God would be rewarded. That in itself does not show, however, that Jesus’ own proclamation, after he got started, was apocalyptic.  Maybe he changed his mind!  Maybe he decided John was wrong!  Maybe he went his own direction! There are two arguments against the idea that he changed.  The first is one I have already recounted several posts ago: apocalyptic sayings are significantly attributed to [...]

2020-04-03T13:08:40-04:00November 19th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

The Baptism of Jesus as an Apocalyptic Event

Over the years scholars have adduced lots of reasons for thinking that Jesus – like many others in his day – was a Jewish apocalypticist, one who thought that the world was controlled by forces of evil but that God was very soon going to intervene to overthrow everything and everyone opposed to him in order to set up a good kingdom here on earth.  As I pointed out in my previous post, this is the view found in Jesus’ teachings in Mark (e.g., ch. 13), in Q (the source used by Matthew and Luke for many of their sayings), in M (Matthew’s special source[s]), and in L (Luke’s special source[s]). There is another very good argument for thinking that Jesus must have subscribed to some kind of apocalyptic view (I’ll lay out what his exact views apparently were in a future post).  In fact, this argument is so good that I wish I had thought of it myself!  But alas, credit goes to others.  The argument, as I usually phrase it, is that “the [...]

2020-04-03T13:08:48-04:00November 18th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Albert Schweitzer and the Apocalyptic Jesus

In the current thread I’m trying to establish that Jesus believed he was the messiah.  I have pointed out that his followers would not have considered him the messiah because they believed he had been raised from the dead (since the messiah was not supposed to die and rise again) unless they had already considered him the messiah prior to his death.  But that, of course, does not mean that Jesus *himself* thought he was the messiah.  And so we have to look for evidence from Jesus’ life that indicates that this is what he thought about himself, and my argument is going to be that there are several pieces of evidence that strongly suggest it is, of which my plan is to stress two. As background, in my previous post, I laid out the world view that Jesus himself almost certainly subscribed to, a view that scholars have called Jewish apocalypticism.  I need to develop these thoughts a bit in this post; and the next;  after that I’ll lay out in (very) summary fashion [...]

2020-11-07T23:49:29-05:00November 16th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Apocalyptic Context for Jesus’ View of the Messiah

In this thread I am trying to argue that Jesus understood himself to be the messiah.  So far I have made one of my two main arguments, with the understanding that *both* arguments have to be considered in order to have a compelling case.  So the first prong doesn’t prove much on its own.  But in combination with the second argument, it makes a strong case.  The first argument is that Jesus’ followers would not have understood him as the messiah after his death (as they did) unless they believed him to be the messiah before his death – even if they came to believe he had been raised from the dead, that would not have made them think he was the messiah.   I’ve explained why in my previous post. The second second involves showing that it was not only the disciples who understood Jesus to be the messiah before his death, but that Jesus himself did.  This is even harder to show, but I think there is really compelling evidence.  There are two major [...]

2020-11-08T00:05:18-05:00November 15th, 2015|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Readers’ Mailbag November 13, 2015

It is time for the weekly Readers’ Mailbag.  I am keeping a list of questions readers have asked, and I add to it all the time.  If you have a question you are eager to hear me answer in a couple of paragraphs or so, simply ask!  One convenient way to do so is simply to make a comment/question on this post.  Here are three questions for today.   QUESTION:  The Wikipedia entry on the gospel of the Nasorenes mentions your work on the similarities between it and the Gospel of Matthew, could you briefly tell me what this is about? RESPONSE:  There are three Gospels that are frequently called the “Jewish-Christian Gospels,” because they were – according to the writings of the church fathers – used by Christians who self-identified as being, also, Jewish (e.g., by keeping the Jewish law and, possibly, insisting that to be a follower of Jesus a male had to be circumcised and males and females needed to keep the Sabbath, observe kosher food laws, and so on).  We do [...]

How Do We Know What Jesus Said About Himself?

Yesterday I started my two-prong argument for why Jesus probably considered himself the messiah.  The first prong is that Jesus must have been called the messiah during his lifetime, or it makes no sense that he would be called messiah after his death – since even if there were Jews who believed that Jesus was raised from the dead after he was crucified (as indeed there were!  Otherwise we wouldn’t have Christianity), the resurrection of a dead person would never lead anyone to say “Ah, he’s the messiah!” – since no one expected the messiah to be a resurrected person. So Jesus was being called the messiah before his death.  Otherwise we can’t make sense of the fact that he was called the messiah after his (believed-on) resurrection. Several readers have pointed out that this does not mean that Jesus *himself* thought of himself as the messiah.  It simply means that some of his followers did.  That is absolutely right.  I couldn’t agree more.  And that’s why I’m presenting this as a two-prong argument.  You [...]

2020-04-03T13:09:16-04:00November 12th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus, the Messiah, and the Resurrection

I have been talking about the early Christian understandings of Jesus as the messiah – not just the messiah, but the “crucified messiah,” a concept that would have seemed not just unusual or bizarre to most Jewish ears in the first century, but absolutely mind-boggling and self-contradictory.  I’ve been arguing that it was precisely the contradictory nature of the claim that led almost all Jews to reject the Christian claims about Jesus. Several readers have asked me whether I think Jesus understood himself to be the messiah.  Probably those who know a *little* bit about my work and my general views of things would think that my answer would be Absolutely Not.   But those who know a *lot* about my views will know that the answer is Yes Indeed. I think Jesus did consider himself the messiah.  But not the to-be-crucified-messiah.   The key to understanding Jesus’ view of himself is to recognize what he *meant* by considering himself the messiah.  I will get to that in a later post.  For now I want to give [...]

2020-04-03T13:09:23-04:00November 11th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Another Problem with Calling Jesus the Messiah

I have been arguing that most Jews rejected Christian claims about Jesus because Jesus was just the *opposite* of what the messiah was expected to be.  The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who would overthrow God’s enemies and set up a new kingdom on earth in which God’s will would prevail.  Jesus was and did none of that.  He was a lower-class peasant who was arrested, humiliated, tortured, and executed.  He didn’t destroy God’s enemies.  He was crushed by them. Paul is the first Jewish persecutor of the Christians that we know by name; there is really no doubt that he was bent on wiping out the followers of Jesus – since he himself says so (and says so to his own shame [Gal 1:13); he did not gain any glory for this rather despicable past) (despicable in both his eyes and the eyes of the Christians).  Presumably his reasons for hating and opposing the followers of Jesus were comparable to those of other Jewish persecutors. But Paul gives us [...]

2020-04-03T13:09:32-04:00November 9th, 2015|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Jesus and the Messianic Prophecies – Did the Old Testament Point to Jesus?

In my previous post I started to explain why, based on the testimony of Paul, it appears that most Jews (the vast majority) rejected the Christian claim that Jesus was the messiah. I have to say, that among my Christian students today (most of them from the South, most of them from conservative Christian backgrounds), this continues to be a real puzzle. "But there were prophecies of Jesus being the messiah," they argue. "Hundreds of Old Testament passages, such as Isaiah 53, describe him to a tee." They genuinely can’t figure it out. What About Old Testament Messianic Prophecies? In their view, the Old Testament makes a number of predictions about the messiah: he would be born in Bethlehem his mother would be a virgin he would be a miracle worker he would be killed for the sins of others he would be raised from the dead These are all things that happened to Jesus!  How much more obvious could it be?  Why in the world don’t those Jews see it?   Are they simply hard-headed [...]

2019-10-30T15:05:21-04:00November 8th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Public Forum|

Readers’ Mailbag on Revelation: November 6, 2015

Last week I started a new feature on the blog, a weekly “Readers’ Mailbag,” where I answer two or three fairly random questions that have come in to me, ones that I do not simply want to answer in a sentence, as in most of my replies to “Comments” on my posts, but also not as fully as a thread or even a full post.  Most of these questions do indeed deserve full posts, or threads, and I may in fact get around to devoting some to them.  But for now I will be content with giving short answers that are hopefully packed with content. Feel free to ask me questions for this weekly feature.  I don’t know how I can get to all the viable questions by doing this just once a week (last week I received a dozen interesting questions).  Some weeks possibly I’ll do the mailbag twice.  But this week I do it just once, addressing three questions.   QUESTION:  Since Revelation was probably written around the year 95 why does it [...]

The Crucified Messiah in 1 Corinthians

Historians usually have reasons for what they say; that is, when they make a historical claim, it is almost always based on a close reading of the surviving sources.  When it’s not, they’re just blowin’ smoke.  But if they’re blowin’ smoke – that is, taking a guess –they’ll usually tell you.   I suppose that’s one difference between an expert (in any field) and an amateur: the expert actually has a deep and nuanced reading of the sources that informs his/her views. I have to say, as you probably have noticed in your own areas of expertise, it is pretty easy if you are an expert to know who else is an expert and who is not.  I say that as someone who is an expert in one or two areas, but an amateur in thousands.  When I have an interpretation of Hamlet or Lear that I bounce off my wife – who is a hard-core, internationally recognized expert on Shakespeare – I realize that, for the most part, I’m just taking a stab at something [...]

2020-04-03T13:09:50-04:00November 5th, 2015|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

The Jewish Messiah

In my previous post I began to discuss the understanding of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, in the Gospel of Mark (this is a thread within a thread within a thread – but it doesn’t matter.  Each of these posts makes sense on their own).  I am trying to show that Mark portrayed Jesus as the Son of God (meaning:  the one who was in a particularly close relationship with God who was chosen by God to mediate his will on earth) and the messiah.  But he was the Son of God/Messiah whom no one understood.  Even his disciples. What though would it mean for first century Jews to think of someone as the messiah? Some serious background is necessary.  As I pointed out in my previous post, the word Messiah is a Hebrew term (the Greek equivalent is “Christ”) which meant “anointed one.”  Why would you call someone the anointed one? In Jewish circles the term goes back to a kind of royal ideology (i.e., understandings of the kingship) from centuries [...]

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