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Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: January 30, 2016

In this installment of the Weekly Readers’ Mailbag, I’ll address two questions, one about the Jewishness of Jesus the other about my personal (bad) experience with editors.  If you have a question, either send it via a comment here or zap me an email.   QUESTION: What is it in the NT portrayal of Jesus that tends to obscure the centrality of his Jewishness?   RESPONSE: The person who asked this question mentioned the fact that it is only in fairly recent times, since the second half of the twentieth century, that scholars have emphasized that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish.  Prior to that, Jesus’ Jewishness was commonly downplayed.  So the question is, what about the New Testament led scholars away from recognizing how thoroughly Jewish he was? I have three things to say in response to this very good question.  First, my sense is that in no small measure, the earlier scholars who did not see Jesus’ Jewishness were living and doing research in an environment that was itself anti-Jewish.  Christianity, as we long know, [...]

Buying David Lambert’s Book at Discount

Dear Ehrman Blogging Crowd, I just received the following from David Lambert, hopefully of some interest to you!  Here is what he says: A couple of comments on the Facebook page complained about the price of the book. I received a code from Oxford that would allow people to purchase the book for a bit less if they were interested. I checked, and it looks like they’re still honoring it. Do you think it might be possible to post that in some fashion in connection to my posts? The link for the book is: . The code that needs to be entered to receive the 30% discount is: AAFLYG6.  

2016-02-12T02:43:04-05:00January 28th, 2016|Public Forum|

Do I Have the Expertise Needed for My Book?

  QUESTION:  You have criticized other scholars for writing on subjects outside their fields of expertise – Reza Aslan, for instance, for his book on the historical Jesus when he is a sociologist, not a historian of religion. Have you considered editing a work with experts in the various fields that speak to the eyewitness to tradition to textual pipeline? Would such a collaboration likely be any more informative to a general audience?   RESPONSE: Ah, great question!  I’m going to answer what I take to be the underlying issue: why am I not following my own advice, but am publishing a book (next month!) that involves expertise other than my own?  (In answer to the specific question: no, I haven’t really thought about editing a volume of other experts on memory!  I have so many projects of my own that I have to do that… I haven’t even considered it, I’m afraid.  There’s simply not enough time in life!) As to what I take to be the underlying issue:  My criticism of Aslan was [...]

Did Jesus Urge People to Repent?

Below is the third guest post by my colleague David Lambert, connected to his book How Repentance Became Biblical.  For many readers of the blog, this will be the most important and interesting of them all.  It deals with the historical Jesus.  Did Jesus tell people that they needed to repent?   You might think the answer is obvious…. ****************************************************************** Did Jesus Preach Repentance? In my past two posts, I argued that the concept of repentance, as we use it today and as it first developed within Judaism and Christianity, was not originally found in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Now, it’s possible that you might be tempted by this argument to draw the conclusion that repentance is a specifically Christian concept. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that, even though repentance became very important to Christianity, it actually first developed in the context of late Second Temple Judaism shortly before the advent of Christianity. The concept, for instance, is alive and well in the writings of Ben Sira (also known as Ecclesiasticus) a text that [...]

2021-02-06T01:00:25-05:00January 27th, 2016|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Press Release! Jesus Before the Gospels

In just over a month now, my new book, Jesus Before the Gospels,  will be published.  As avid readers of the blog know, for a couple of years I was obsessed with issues related to human memory and oral tradition, especially as these relate to the question of how the stories about Jesus were being transmitted, shaped, altered, and invented as they were told year after year, decade after decade, before the Gospels were written.  It was these remembered/ altered / invented stories that the Gospel writers themselves inherited and then edited (and thus changed) when they wrote them down when producing our Gospels.   What does knowing about the processes of memory, and about oral cultures who transmit their traditions by word of mouth, tell us about the nature of the Gospels, the communities that stood behind them, and the historicity of the traditions they relate?  These are all questions I deal with in the book, reaching some conclusions that many readers will not suspect. Please note: you can buy the book at discount already [...]

2017-11-16T21:31:02-05:00January 25th, 2016|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: January 24, 2016

A day late, here is this (past) week’s Readers Mailbag.   I will be dealing with two questions this time, one on why Mark includes Aramaic words in his accounts of Jesus’ sayings and the other on where someone might find English versions of the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  If you too have a question, simply ask it here as a comment, or send me an email, and I will add it to the list!   QUESTION: Why is Mark sometimes quoting Jesus in Aramaic? I know, that Jesus cry on cross is possibly reference to the psalms, but why is Mark spicing his gospel with Aramaic much more than other gospel authors? Is it sign of a oral/written source used by Mark? RESPONSE: Ah, good question.   It’s true that Mark on occasion does record some of the words of Jesus in Aramaic.   For example, in chapter 5 Jesus is told that a young girl (daughter of Jairus) has died; he goes to her in her room, and taking her by the hand [...]

What Is Repentance in the Bible? Is there Repentance in the Bible?

Many of you responded to my colleague David Lambert’s provocative post a couple of days ago on whether the idea of “repentance” could be found in the Bible. He has replied to your comments, but has wanted to provide a follow up post. It keeps getting more interesting. This is an intriguing reflection on “repentance” in the Bible, one that totally turns on its head what many of us have always thought. See what you think. - David Lambert is the author of How Repentance Became Biblical.    ********************************************************************* “The Meaning(s) of Repentance in the Bible” A lot of the comments that I received on my first post ( had to do with the definition of “repentance” that I’m using in my new study, How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture. Just to review my main claim, I contend, after careful examination, that there are a lot of biblical passages and practices that we’ve understood in connection with repentance that don’t really have much to do with the concept. I claim [...]

2021-02-06T01:00:40-05:00January 22nd, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Jesus and the Son of Man

Over the past few weeks, as I have been talking about the rise of Jewish apocalypticism, in relation to the historical Jesus, a number of readers have asked me to explain what I think about the “Son of Man” in the sayings of Jesus Jesus.  Did Jesus call himself the son of man?  If so, what did he mean?  And if not, what did he mean? As it turns out, these are some of the most complex, convoluted, and confounding questions confronting scholars of the historical Jesus.  Many books, some of them big and dense, have been written on the issue.  There are lots of opinions about it.  Here I’ll try to explain my view, and try to justify it.  The following is taken from my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium ***************************************************************** The Coming Son of Man Among the most heated, and least enlightening, debates among New Testament scholars has been the question of the origins of the phrase “the Son of Man” in the teachings of Jesus.  Everyone agrees -- since [...]

2020-04-03T03:55:05-04:00January 21st, 2016|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Am I Converting to Islam?

READER COMMENT: I received a message on Facebook a couple of weeks ago from a person who has been proselytizing to me about the Muslim faith. This has happened a few times with others on your FB page. I guess that's what they do. Anyway, the other day I asked him if he was on your blog. He responded with a yes. Then he said that we (the members) were going to get a surprise from you soon. I asked him how so, and he said that you would be reverting to the Muslim faith. Apparently, reverting is something like converting according to him.  I asked him how he knew this information, and he said a friend of his (a friend that he only knows through FB) that is a neighbor of yours said you were very impressed with the Quran and that you haven't made it public about reverting, but you would be soon. It took me a couple of days to find out the name of this person who is supposedly your friend, [...]

2017-11-16T21:32:02-05:00January 20th, 2016|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Is Repentance a Biblical Idea? Interview with David Lambert

My colleague David Lambert, who teaches Hebrew Bible in my department, has recently published and interesting and important book with Oxford University Press, on the question of when the idea of “repentance” entered into the biblical tradition.  His answer is quite novel and surprising.  I have asked David to post some of his views on the blog.  The following is an initial foray into that, by way of an interview that he has done.   If you have questions or comments about the interview, please make them!  David is on the blog now and will respond, either in replies or by following up with new posts. Here is the interview. - David Lambert is the author of How Repentance Became Biblical.    *************************************************************************** Many people assume that repentance is and always has been a substantial part of the Bible, but that has not always been the case. In the following interview between Luke Drake, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and David Lambert, an assistant professor of Religious Studies at [...]

2021-02-06T01:01:48-05:00January 19th, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

The Rise of Apocalypticism

Now, with all the background out of the way, I am able to explain where the apocalyptic worldview came from.  I am maintaining that it emerged out of the classical view of the Hebrew prophets, as historical circumstances forced thinkers in Israel to re-evaluate what the prophets had said.   Here is the simple version of the story, as I lay it out in my textbook on the Bible ********************************************************************** The Prophetic Perspective We have seen that the classical prophets of the Hebrew Bible differed from one another in a number of ways, in the historical contexts that they addressed, in their manner of addressing them, and in the specifics of their messages.   But there are certain common features that tie all the prophets together, especially with respect to their understanding of God, his reaction to Israel’s failure to do his will, and the coming disasters that will occur as a result.   If you were to ask a prophet like Amos, Isaiah, or Jeremiah why it is the people of God suffer, they would have a [...]

2020-04-03T03:55:13-04:00January 18th, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: January 16, 2016

  It is time for the weekly mailbag.  This week there are only two questions, but the first has two parts: why (many) Christians are so pro-Israel and how can they be pro-Jewish and still worship Jesus.  The second question involves how we know which letters of Paul were actually written by him.  If you would like me to address any question you have, just add a comment here or at any other time on the blog, or send me an email ********************************************************************** QUESTION:  Why are Christians so Pro Israel? Seems like to me if they agree with Judaism they couldn't be a Christian. Because of the first commandment. RESPONSE:   I’ll answer the second part of the question first.   What the reader is saying (I think) is that since the first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me,” then Christians cannot be pro-Jewish because they also worship Jesus – therefore two gods.   I have two responses to that. The first is that the commandment is *not* that:  “You must believe that I [...]

Background to Apocalypticism: The Maccabean Revolt

OK, I’m back to my discussion of where Jewish apocalypticism came from.  So far I have laid out the understandings of the Jewish prophets, focusing on Amos (from the 8th century BCE).  Now I need to explain why the “prophetic” views came to change.  To make sense of the change I have to sketch a set of historical events that the people of Israel had to live through.   Some people find these kinds of historical sketches fascinating; others find them dull as dirt.  But in either event, you really have to know what happened among ancient Jews in order to make sense of what their theological beliefs were, since these beliefs were molded by and informed by nothing so much as the historical context out of which they emerged. And so here is a very brief sketch of the history of Judea over the four hundred years from approximately 540 BCE, when the Persians were in control, up to 63 BCE, when the Romans came in and took over.  I’ve taken the sketch from my [...]

2020-04-03T03:55:34-04:00January 15th, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Are the Prophecies Being Fulfilled?

The Christians knew growing up had a very different understanding of “prophecy” in the Bible from the view adopted by professional biblical scholars.  (I have been thinking about this because of my posts on Amos.)  My sense is that most evangelical and fundamentalist Christians (certainly the latter) continue to have this non-academic view.   It is that the prophets of the Bible – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, Zechariah, and so on (there are seventeen prophets in the English Bible) – were principally interested in what was going to be happening in our day. At the time when I became familiar with this view, that meant that prophets were interested in what would happen in the 1970s and 1980s.   Today, of course, it would mean that they were principally interested in what would happen in the 2010s.   That in itself should give us pause.  Do you mean they were *not* mainly interested in the 1970s and 80s? The same can be said, obviously – far more so! – for Christian understandings of the book of Revelation, [...]

Amos as a Representative Prophet

  I have been discussing the book of Amos, possibly the oldest of the “classical” prophets of the Hebrew Bible, parts of which were probably written in the 8th century, making it, arguably, the oldest book of the Bible.   I have wanted to discuss Amos a bit because his views became the more or less standard perspective of the prophets, and many centuries later it was out of such views that Jewish apocalypticism emerged, the view held by many Jews in the days of Jesus, including, I have argued, Jesus himself.  And so, in one sense, to understand apocalypticism, you have to know where it came from. Here is the final section on Amos in my textbook The Bible:  A Historical and Literary Introduction.   Especially important for what I want to say about apocalypticism is the overview I provide at the end. ****************************************************************** The Judean Redaction of Amos It is impossible, at the end of the day, to know whether Amos himself wrote down these prophecies that bear his name, or if they were penned [...]

2020-04-03T03:56:44-04:00January 12th, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

The Prophet Amos

In my previous post I started to give some of the background to the rise of Jewish apocalypticism by talking about the views of the classical Hebrew prophets, focusing, by way of illustration, on arguably the earliest, Amos.   Here I continue that discussion:   ************************************************************* The Message of Amos The book of Amos begins by addressing nations outside of Israel, indicating that because of their multiple sins, God would enter into judgment with them (chs. 1-2).  This is an important beginning: it shows that God is not simply the God of Judah and Israel, he is the God of all nations, and holds all people accountable for their actions.  And it shows that national suffering comes not only when one nation mistreats another, but also when God intervenes and rains his judgment down upon them.  And so Amos starts by attacking the capital of Syria, Damascus: Thus says the LORD:  For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron.  So [...]

2017-11-16T21:33:25-05:00January 11th, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

The Prophetic Background of Jewish Apocalyptic Thought

Several members of the blog have asked me to go into greater detail to explain where Jewish apocalypticism came from.  I’m happy to do so: it’s an important topic for understanding Jesus, Paul, and other early Christians. As is true for all religious and political ideologies, the historical background to the rise of apocalyptic thinking is complicated.  To make sense of it, I have to say something about a very different perspective which provided the matrix out of which apocalyptic thought was eventually born and grew: the perspective of the “classical prophets” of the Israelite tradition.  I will spend a couple of posts explaining what the prophets of the Hebrew Bible had to say, focusing on arguably the earliest, Amos (who in many key ways is typical) before explaining how these views came to be transformed and radically altered centuries later into the apocalyptic views held by so many Jews in the days of Jesus. In these posts I will simply reproduce material on the prophets as found in my recent textbook, The Bible: A [...]

Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: January 8, 2016

It is the Weekly Readers’ Mailbag time.  Today I take on three very interesting and unusually diverse questions:  where we got chapters and verses from in the New Testament; how we know that earliest Christians (before Paul) understood Jesus’ death to be a sacrifice for sins; and whether I get upset that my work is used by Muslims in order to discount Christianity.  These are hot topics!   QUESTION:  When did scribes start dividing NT manuscripts into chapters and verses? As I understand it, early manuscripts did not even have punctuation marks.  A related question is: did early Christians always read these texts/books, either by themselves or to a congregation, from beginning to end in one sitting?  I imagine it would be very difficult to find specific passages without chapters and verses. RESPONSE:  Ah, this is an important question, and one many people have never raised; moreover, those who have raised it often have no way of knowing how to answer it.   As to chapters and verses, here is what I have to say on [...]

Heaven and Hell, Part Two

In my previous post I explained how Jewish thinkers began to develop the idea of an afterlife when they devised the idea of a future resurrection of the dead, an apocalyptic event that explained how God would ultimately make right all that was wrong, rewarding those who had sided with him but punishing those who sided with evil.  But how did that idea of a future *bodily* resurrection morph into the Christian teachings of heaven and hell?  I try to explain that here in this post, once again as taken from my book Jesus Interrupted.  The first two paragraphs are repeated from yesterday’s post, to provide a better context for what I say here. **************************************************************************** Thus, eternal life, for Jesus, Paul, and the earliest Christians, was a life lived in the body, not above in heaven, but down here, where we are now.  Paul emphasizes this point strenuously in the book of 1 Corinthians.   The fact that Jesus’ body was raised from the dead shows what the future resurrection would involve.  It would involve bodies [...]

Heaven and Hell, Part One

As I have been discussing the topic of resurrection in early Christianity, a number of readers have asked about a related issue, namely, where the Christian teaching of heaven and hell came from.   For most Christians, the afterlife seems to be the ongoing existence of the soul.  But for the earliest Christians, the afterlife involved the resurrection precisely of the *body*.  How did that change, and why? I discussed this issue some years back in my book Jesus Interrupted, and what I say about it there seems to be directly on target for what these readers have asked.  And so I include it here.  This will take two posts, the first one (today) to explain why “resurrection” came to be believed by Jews and eventually by Christians and the next post to explain how that belief in resurrection came to be transformed into the later idea of heaven and hell that may people today continue to subscribe to.   ********************************************************************* Heaven and Hell In some parts of Christendom today, especially the parts that I was [...]

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