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Blog Year in Review 2015

  The year is now fading away (or blasting out, depending on your perspective), and I want to take a few minutes to reflect on how the Blog has been doing since last year at this time.  We started this venture in April 2012, so by one way of calculating, 2015 was our fourth year of operation.  By most standards and criteria it was our most successful year yet, possibly by a large margin. When I started the blog one of my main concerns was that I would run out of things to talk about in a year or so.   It hasn’t happened yet.  I do find on occasion that I write up a post and it occurs to me, “Hey, haven’t I written on this already?”   When that happens, I’ll check (it’s easy to search the blog for past posts, btw: just click on the magnifying glass in the upper right hand of your screen for the search function, and go from there) and sometimes I’m right!   If the two posts are sufficiently different, [...]

2015-12-31T09:38:00-05:00December 31st, 2015|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Jesus’ Resurrection as an Apocalyptic Event

In my previous post I started to discuss the eschatological implications drawn by Jesus’ followers once they became convinced that he had been raised from the dead.  I pointed out that the very fact that they interpreted their visions of him as evidence of “resurrection” shows that they must have been apocalyptic Jews prior to his death (as I have argued on other grounds ad nauseum on the blog!).  And I also suggested two of the key conclusions they drew with respect to eschatology (their understanding of what would happen at the end):  they came to conclude that Jesus himself was the Son of Man that he had been proclaiming as the future judge of the earth, and they came to believe that they were living at the very end of time. In this post I am not going to talk about Jesus as the Son of Man – that will require several posts that I will take up soon.  But I do want to talk about this business of Christians thinking that they were [...]

2020-04-03T03:57:47-04:00December 30th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus’ Return to Life as a Resurrection

So far I have talked about the significance of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection for both Christology (the understanding of who Jesus was) and soteriology (the understanding of how salvation works).  It also was significant for eschatology (the understanding of what would happen at the end of time). Christologically, the resurrection proved that Jesus really was the favored one of God, appearances notwithstanding.  It may have *seemed* like the crucifixion would show that Jesus was not God’s son, and certainly not the messiah; but the resurrection (for those who came to believe in it) showed that in fact he was.  He was the son of God in an even more exalted sense than anyone had thought – he actually had been made into a divine being.  So too he was the messiah in a more exalted sense than had been expected – he was not a mere human king but the divine King of all. Soteriologically, the resurrection showed that the death of Jesus had not been a mere miscarriage of justice or the unfortunate [...]

2020-04-03T03:58:00-04:00December 29th, 2015|Afterlife, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Death of the Messiah for Salvation

In a previous post I argued that Christians invented the idea of a suffering messiah.  Because Jesus was (for them) the messiah, and because he suffered, therefore the messiah *had* to suffer.  That was clear and straightforward for the Christians.  They backed up their newly devised theology by appealing to Scripture, finding passages of the Bible where a righteous person suffered but was then vindicated by God, passages such as Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Psalm 69 and so on.   They reinterpreted these passages (where the messiah is never mentioned) in a messianic way, and they were massively successful in their reinterpretations.  Many Christians today cannot read these passages without thinking (knowing!) that they refer to Jesus, the suffering messiah. But why would the messiah have to suffer?  Yes, for Christians, it was because it was “predicted.”  But why would God predict it?  That is, why would he want his messiah to suffer?  This is where Christians came up with yet another innovation, the idea that the death of the messiah brought about the salvation of [...]

2020-04-03T03:58:08-04:00December 28th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

End of Year Giving

December 31 is fast coming upon us, and many of us have very clear and certain reasons (involving nasty little inconveniences like annual taxes) to make end-of-the-year contributions to charities.   Please consider giving a gift to the Bart Ehrman Foundation.   Donations are 100% tax-deductible.    Give any amount you want or can – tens of dollars, hundreds of dollars, thousands, millions.   To pull it off, simply go to the bottom of this page, click “Donate,” and go from there.   Every penny you give goes to good causes, fighting hunger and homelessness. Those causes may sound abstract, but in fact they are searingly concrete.   We are providing food and shelter for real people, one at a time, people who do not have enough food to eat and do not have shelter or a bed.   The needs are real, and the blog is set up to help meet them.  We have raised a lot of money in the past, and for that I am very grateful.  But we have a long way to go before we reach [...]

2015-12-27T10:28:45-05:00December 27th, 2015|Public Forum|

Readers’ Mailbag: December 27, 2015

QUESTION:  [Bart has said:]  “Jesus must have been called the messiah during his lifetime, or it makes no sense that he would be called messiah after his death”:  [Comment:] By this line of reasoning, then surely one would conclude that Jesus was considered divine during his lifetime, else it makes no sense he would be considered divine after his death?   RESPONSE:  The first line in the question is a quotation of a view I have elaborated on the blog.  The logic, in short (see the posts for a fuller explanation) is that no one on the planet expected that the messiah would die and rise again.  And so even someone who came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection would never conclude: OH!  He must be the messiah?  That’s because that is not what the messiah was supposed to do. The questioner then is arguing that the same thing applies to the question of Jesus’ divinity, that the resurrection would not make anyone think Jesus is divine.  My view is that this is precisely wrong.  It [...]

A Christmas Reflection

Yesterday I posted an article that I wrote that provided one view of Christmas, one that is informed more by my scholarship than anything else.  But Christmas is about a LOT more than scholarship!  I have a personal sentimental attachment to the season, as I explain in this other article I wrote some ten years ago, and that I posted early on in the history of the blog.  Here it is again, a more upbeat assessment of the season: ************************************************************ Growing up as a church-going Episcopalian in Kansas, my favorite time of year was always Christmas.  Nothing could match the romance of the season: the cold weather, the falling of snow, the expectations leading up to the Big Day.  I always loved the presents -- giving as well as receiving -- the music, the food, the tree.  Especially the tree.  It had to be real -- freshly cut if possible; loaded with lights, the more the better; draped with ornaments, each of them full of meaning.  There was nothing better than darkening the room and [...]

2017-11-16T21:48:06-05:00December 24th, 2015|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Myth of the First Christmas

Over the years I’ve been asked to write short articles on the meaning of Christmas for various news magazines.  Looking back at some of these articles makes me realize how many different views of the season seem to be competing with each other inside my head.  Or maybe I’ve just been in different moods! I thought I would reproduce a couple of these articles on the blog.  The following is one I wrote a few years ago for the British journal The New Statesman.  I called it “The Myth of the First Christmas.”  (Apologies to those with better memories than mine: I just checked after posting this article and see that I did so earlier -- three years ago!  But no matter, I didn't remember what was in it, and so probably you won't either!) ****************************************************************** Once more the season is come upon us. At its heart stands a tale of two-thousand year vintage, the Christmas story.  Or perhaps we should say the Christmas myth. When Post-Enlightenment scholars turned their critical tools on the tales [...]

2020-04-03T03:58:18-04:00December 23rd, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Holiday Presents!

I still have a few free one-year blog memberships to give out, thanks to the impressive generosity of many of you, who graciously donated funds so that others who cannot afford membership could be given a year subscription.   Do you know anyone who would love to be on the blog but simply can't afford it?  We can give them a great present for the holiday season.   All they have to do is write me and explain why they can't afford the dues (they don't have to give all the gory details!  Just enough to make me understand why they would like to take advantage of the opportunity). Please do not reply here, on the blog, as a comment.   Instead, ask your friend, acquaintance, family member, neighbor, pastor, or rabbi to send me a separate email, privately, at [email protected].   In their email, in addition to letting me know their situation they should and provide me with the following information: 1)      First and last name. 2)      Preferred personal email. 3)     [...]

2015-12-22T15:46:15-05:00December 22nd, 2015|Public Forum|

Desmond Tutu, True Christians, and Christmas

As often happens at this time of year, I have been thinking about how much I have in common with people who consider themselves committed Christians.  A couple of events have recently happened that have made me more reflective about the common values I share with progressive people of faith (I’m leaving fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals out of the equation just now).  I’ll talk about one of them here.  It happened during my recent trip to South Africa (which ended just yesterday). Sarah and I decided to take two weeks off to go there, just for fun, no work involved.  Incredibly, as much as we travel, we haven’t had two weeks alone together for fifteen years.  The trip was amazing, between all of the things to see and do in Cape Town, to the scenic drive through the Garden Route, to the game drives/safaris we took up near Kruger National Park (a game reserve the size of Israel!). A friend of ours helped us set up the trip; she had been to South Africa a [...]

2020-04-03T03:58:28-04:00December 22nd, 2015|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Christians, Muslims, and God: Wheaton College in the News

I am sure that many of you have heard of the recent incident involving Christianity and Islam at Wheaton College, my alma mater, an evangelical liberal arts college outside of Chicago.   Several readers have asked me about it.  Here is a typical query: QUERY: Wheaton College was in the news this past week. Apparently one of the professors was suspended because she claimed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Also, she wore a hijab to show solidarity with Muslims. You can read more about it at I have believed the same, that the Christian God and the Muslim God are one and the same. Could you comment on this?   RESPONSE: Let me start by saying that I deeply enjoyed and highly valued the education I received at Wheaton.  At the time – and still today, I’m sure – it was considered the premier liberal arts college in the evangelical Christian tradition.  Its evangelical credentials were and are completely bona fide.  Students there were all to agree to the evangelical doctrinal position [...]

Jesus the Suffering Messiah

In a previous post I tried to show how the belief in Jesus’ resurrection completely altered the disciples’ perspective on who Jesus was.  During his lifetime they thought he would be the future king of Israel; when he was crucified they realized they were wrong; when they then came to believe he had been raised they realized that they had been right, but in a way they did not at the time think.  Jesus, for them, now that they believed he was raised, was far more than a human king.  He was a divine being, the ruler of the world, the king of All.  Yes, he would be the ruler of Israel as well.  But that was when he came back from heaven as the victorious Son of Man, destroying his enemies and all those who were aligned against God, before bringing in his utopian kingdom.  That was to happen very, very soon. The resurrection of Jesus not only made the followers of Jesus rethink their views of who (and what) he was; it also [...]

2020-04-03T03:58:38-04:00December 19th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Readers’ Mailbag December 18, 2015

  It is time for my weekly Readers’ Mailbag.   If you too have a question you would like me to address – on much of anything at all! – let me know, either by sending me an email or by commenting on this post.  I’ll be dealing with two questions today, one on dealing with where apocalyptic views came from, the other with my personal experience as a born-again Christian who had been raised Episcopalian. ********************************************************************************************* QUESTION:  Was there something in the air roughly 2000 years ago that gave rise to apocalyptic beliefs? Was the world uniquely viewed as a ‘hell on earth’ requiring imminent Godly intervention, or are such views one of those ‘hardy perennials’ that exist all the time with deluded individuals perceiving themselves as possessing unique insight into the mind of God and so qualified to opinions on The Plan?   RESPONSE:  I suppose the answer is both Yes and Yes!  There certainly was a historical and cultural context from which apocalypticism emerged.  Scholars of ancient Judaism have traced the origins of [...]

2020-04-03T13:04:19-04:00December 18th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Resurrection of the Son of God

I’m in the midst of the most entangled thread I have yet produced in my well-over-three-years of doing the blog.   It started with orthodox scribes who were altering their texts of Scripture (specifically Luke 22; this was part of a thread I began in April!  I’ll get back to it….) and it has now managed by a number of intricate twists, turns, and interweavings to end up at the resurrection of Jesus. I have been arguing that the resurrection radically changed the disciple’ understanding of the belief that he was the messiah –  a belief that he himself had, and that they shared.  I have argued that given everything we know about Jewish beliefs at the time, almost certainly anyone hearing that a man (such as Jesus) was the messiah would have thought that this meant that he was (or would become) the king of the Jewish people.   That’s certainly how the Roman governor Pontius Pilate took it.  It was because Jesus made such a claim that Pilate ordered him crucified. The crucifixion proved beyond [...]

Did Some Disciples Not Believe in the Resurrection?

In my previous post I pointed out that we simply don’t know how many of Jesus’ disciples came to believe that he was raised from the dead.  In my view there is actually some *evidence* that some of them never did believe it.  I lay the evidence out in my book How Jesus Became God.  It has to do with the fact that there is such a strong tradition of “doubt” in the resurrection among Jesus’ followers.  Here is how I lay out the evidence there. *************************************************************** In considering the significance of the visions of Jesus, a key question immediately comes to the fore that in my judgment has not been given its full due by most scholars investigating the issue.   Why do we have such a strong and pervasive tradition that some of the disciples doubted the resurrection, even though Jesus appeared to them?  If Jesus came to them, alive, after his death, and held conversations with them  – what was there to doubt? The reason this question is so pressing is because, as [...]

Were the Disciples Martyred for Believing in the Resurrection?

Over the past few years I’ve wondered how many of the disciples of Jesus came to believe that he had been raised from the dead. The traditional answer is that all eleven of them (the twelve minus Judas, who hanged himself before it happened) did, along with a handful of women, among them Mary Magdalene. I suppose that’s probably right, but I’m not *completely* sure.In the end, I’m afraid we simply don’t know. The problem is that our sources – even the ones completely favorable to the earthly disciples of Jesus -- are virtually silent about them. We know almost precisely nothing about what they thought, what they did, and what they came to believe. Paul says nothing about them (of the twelve, he mentions only Peter and John). The book of Acts portrays Peter, and to a much lesser degree John, as important before and immediately after the conversion of Paul, but then they themselves virtually disappear from the narrative. And the other nine or ten are discussed almost not at all.Why is that? [...]

2024-02-22T17:02:04-05:00December 14th, 2015|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Ehrman-Bass Debate Did the Historical Jesus Claim to be Divine

On September 18th, 2015 I had a debate with Justin Bass on the question "Did the Historical Jesus Really Claim to Be God?"  As you might imagine, I argued that the answer is "Decidedly No."  He argued "Decidedly Yes."  The debate was held at the Collin College Preston Ridge Conference Center  in Frisco, TX.  The event was hosted by "1042 Church" where Justin Bass is the lead pastor. Most of the audience came from members of Justin's congregation and friends they brought.  It was a very kind and receptive crowd for most of the debate.  During the debate I had mixed feelings about it.  I'm never quite sure if this kind of thing is worth it, since it seems that there is scarcely any chance of getting anyone to think seriously about changing whatever views they already have.  But I keep telling myself that if I can simply get a couple of people to think more deeply about an issue, see the other side, and possibly realize that their views are deeply problematic, I've done [...]

2017-11-16T21:57:03-05:00December 12th, 2015|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Video Media|

Readers’ Mailbag December 11, 2015

Time again for my weekly Readers’ Mailbag.   I have three questions to deal with today, one that is substantive and about the New Testament, one about my personal life as an evangelical turned agnostic, and one about my views of the beginnings of life!  Quite a mix. As questions occur to you, please feel free to ask, either in a comment on this post or in an email.  If it’s something I can handle, I will add your question to the list.   QUESTION:  You have pointed out that Jesus was rejected by his family, and by his listeners in Nazareth and other towns & villages of Galilee. What do you think is the main reason for this widespread rejection? Is it because of his apocalyptic message?   RESPONSE:   This question gives me the opportunity to make an important distinction that I’m afraid I have not always been careful enough to make on the blog.  It is the distinction between the literary reading of a text and the question of historical reality.   When I have [...]

Does Paul Know about Judas Iscariot?

In my previous post I indicated that Paul shows no evidence of knowing about the tradition that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus.  In fact, one passage may suggest that he actually did not know about it.  I’ll get to that in a second. First I need to stress that we really don’t have any way of know most of what Paul knew, or thought he knew, about Jesus’ life.  He tells us so very little.  As I have mentioned on the blog before, scholars have had long and hard debates about why Paul says so little about Jesus’ life: Did incidents from Jesus’ life seem irrelevant to what really mattered to him (salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection)?  Did information of Jesus’ life not matter for the issues that he was addressing in his letters to his trouble congregations?  Did he simply not know any more than he mentioned?  Each of these options is attractive and each of them is seriously problematic.  But the reality is that Paul doesn’t tell us much and we can’t actually [...]

2020-04-03T13:05:16-04:00December 9th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

The Reversal of the Disciples’ Decisive Disconfirmation

In my previous post I argued that the crucifixion of Jesus, rather than being the fulfilment of his own and his disciples’ hopes, was the utter and virtually irrefutable destruction of them.  He, and they, had expected that God would intervene in the course of history to bring his good kingdom on earth, destroying the forces of evils – including the ruling powers of the present – and installing Jesus and his followers as rulers of the new order.  Jesus would be the messiah and his followers would be his co-regents. Instead, Jesus was arrested, tried, humiliated, tortured, and crucified.  This was not an end that ANYONE anticipated for a “messiah.”  And this kind of fate showed conclusively to anyone paying attention that Jesus was not, after all, the messiah.  He was just the opposite of the messiah.  Instead of a figure of grandeur and power who had destroyed the enemies of God, Jesus was a weak and insignificant figure who had been crushed by his enemies.  No greater disconfirmation of his expectations could be [...]

2020-04-03T13:05:31-04:00December 8th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|
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