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What Can We Do About Presuppositions?

QUESTION: Would you mind expanding on the issue of presuppositions, either in an article or in the readers mail bag?  What are presuppositions? Why we all have them. And how do we make sure we have the right ones, or at least good ones. Having come out of Fundamentalist circles I heard so much about “presuppositions”, “worldviews”, “presuppositional apologetics” and so on.  Seems the argument goes “Well, we all have presuppositions. No one is free of them. Therefore it is just as valid to come to historical and scientific issues with the presupposition that the claims are all true. Just as unbelievers come to the evidence with the presuppositions that there are no such things as miracles.”   RESPONSE: This is a huge question (and a very important one), and requires a long answer.  I can’t answer it any better than I already tried to do in my book How Jesus Became God.  This is what I say there, in response to a particular issue, of how presuppositions can or should affect our ability to [...]

Jesus, the Law, and a “New” Covenant Lecture

On October 6, 2016 I gave a lecture at the University of Michigan on "Jesus, the Law, and the New Covenant.  This was keynote address for the Mendenhall Symposium, in honor of the eminent scholar of the Hebrew Bible, George Mendenhall.  The symposium focused on issues on the law and covenant in the the Ancient Near East, the Hebrew Bible, and second-temple Judaism, with prominent scholars in these fields presenting papers on key aspects of the subject. Here is the video of my talk. Please adjust gear icon for high-definition.

2017-10-23T22:26:52-04:00October 29th, 2016|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Video Media|

Gospel Evidence that Jesus Existed

In yesterday’s post, I began to show how Jesus is the best attested Palestinian Jew of the first century if we look only at external evidence. Josephus is better attested because we have his own writings. I am also not including Paul because I’m talking only about Jews from Palestine; he was from the Diaspora. The Gospel Sources We have four narrative accounts of Jesus’ life and death, written by different people at different times and in different places, based on numerous sources that no longer survive.  Jesus was not invented by Mark.  He was also known to Matthew, Luke, and John, and to the sources which they used (Q, M, L, and the various sources of John). All of this was within the first century. Non-New Testament & Non-Gospel Sources - We Have Many! This is not to mention sources from outside the New Testament that know that Jesus was a historical figure – for example, 1 Clement and the documents that make up the Didache.  Or -- need I say it? – every [...]

2021-11-03T10:33:51-04:00October 28th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Gospels and the Existence of Jesus

If you have only thirty minutes to build a case that Jesus of Nazareth really existed, how do you do it? That was the problem I was confronted with this past Friday at the Mythicist Milwaukee conference, in my debate with Robert Price.  Rather than mount a lot of arguments and say very little about each one of them (what we used to call “the shotgun approach” when I was in high school), I thought it would be better just to make a few points and pack them up with evidence and reasoning. The first and most obvious point, to me, is this.  Jesus is one of the two best attested Jews living in Palestine in the entire first century.   There were hundreds of thousands of Jews in some way connected with Palestine at the time  Only one is better attested than Jesus (with a proviso, which I’ll explain).  That one is the Jewish historian Josephus.  The reason he is better known than Jesus is because he has left us a large number of writings [...]

Mythicists and the Stories Told of Jesus

Back to my debate with Robert Price this past Friday.  I started this thread by indicating that the majority of my 30-minute talk was devoted to explaining the positive evidence that I think shows beyond reasonable doubt that there was indeed a man Jesus of Nazareth.  I’ll be discussing that evidence later in the thread.  I began my talk, however, by pointing out that Mythicists often adduce arguments that simply are not very convincing.  At least to me.  The first was the topic of my last post, the idea that there was no Nazareth at the time of Jesus, which is both wrong (archaeologists have dug it) and irrelevant (if you wrongly think I was born in Topeka that doesn’t mean I don’t exist). The second is argued with particular vim and vigor by Bob Price himself in several of his publications.  This is that virtually all the stories about Jesus (Bob would say all of the stories, I think) can be seen as modeled on stories known to early Christians, especially in the Old [...]

2020-04-03T02:57:06-04:00October 26th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

My Milwaukee Mythicist Debate

I have had several people ask me about how the debate went with Robert Price this past Friday evening.   For those of you who haven’t kept up with the blog or who don’t remember (no reason you should!): I was in Milwaukee to have a debate on the question Did Jesus Exist?  The event was sponsored by the Milwaukee Mythicists, a rather unusual group of local folk who are committed to the idea that there never was a man Jesus, but that he was completely made up by early Christians, a myth.  Hence their name.  Robert Price agrees with that view. The Milwaukee Mythicists are not a chapter of a larger nation-wide organization.  They are the only group like that that I know of (if there are others, I’m sure members of the blog will let me know).  They are a small group, but vibrant, committed, and, apparently, growing.   My view, of course, is that their very raison d’être is problematic, since Jesus, in my view, almost certainly existed.  Hence the debate. Despite our differences, [...]

2020-04-03T02:57:20-04:00October 24th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Mythicism, Public Forum|

The Best Manuscripts and Social Justice: Readers’ Mailbag October 23, 2016

Question: When you say earliest and “best” manuscripts, what do you mean by “best”?   Response: This question was asked in response to my statement, with respect to the famous story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8 (where Jesus says, “Let the one without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her), that we know it was not originally in the Gospel of John in part because it is not to be found in the “oldest and best manuscripts.”  And so the question is, “how do we know what the best manuscripts are?” It’s a great question and one that has, as you might imagine, occupied textual scholars for a very, very long time.  In fact, for as long as there have *been* textual scholars (i.e., hundreds of years!)   The problem, in a nutshell, is this.  If we have hundreds, or thousands, of manuscripts (centuries ago we knew of hundreds, now we know of thousands), how do we know which ones are more likely to preserve the “original” [...]

Mythicists: Did Nazareth Exist?

I am interrupting my thread on the relationship of Jesus to the Jewish law (I haven’t gotten very far: I’m still on Marcion!) because of what is most pressing on my mind right now, the debate I’m having this evening with Robert Price.  It is here in Milwaukee sponsored by a group called the Milwaukee Mythicists.  It’s a small group of people committed to, or (for some of them) at least attracted by, the idea that Jesus was not a real human being but is a myth invented by his later followers.  I suppose roughly speaking, most Mythicists are a subgroup of people who are atheist. Originally, for most of these people, Jesus was understood to be a divine being who lived in the heavenly realm (“outer space,” as some of them put it) who was crucified by demonic powers.  Later followers of Jesus historicized him and made him, in their myths, into a human being.  And then the stories emerged about him that we now have in our Gospels.  They are based principally on [...]

2020-04-03T03:00:47-04:00October 21st, 2016|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Did Jesus Exist? My Debate with Robert Price

Right now, as we speak, I am en route to Milwaukee for my debate with Robert Price, one of the best known Mythicists on the planet (for those of you who don’t know, a Mythicist claims that Jesus was a myth made up by early Christians; there never was a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth).   Of the many thousands of scholars in the world that have a PhD in New Testament or Early Christian studies he is the one, so far as I know, who takes this position. The fact that almost everyone thinks he is wrong does mean that he *is* wrong of course.  For a long time the vast majority of the world’s population thought that the earth was the center of the universe and that sun and stars revolved around it.  The fact they thought so had no bearing on whether it was true or not. For that reason, Mythicists have often gotten upset with me for pointing out that almost no one with any qualifications in the requisite fields of scholarship [...]

2020-04-03T03:00:58-04:00October 20th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Marcion as Alive and Well Among Us

As I’ve been thinking about Marcion over the past couple of days, it has occurred to me that in some ways he is still alive and well among us.  I have known Christians over the years who in fact have views in many ways close to what Marcion taught.  These people would, of course, deny they have anything like the touch of the heretic about them.  But at the end of the day, their views are not so different.  Maybe they are not as extreme as him, but they do seem to be dwelling on the fringes of his camp. First, I have known a lot of Christians who think that the Old Testament has a God of wrath and condemnation and the New Testament has a God of love and mercy.  Students say this to me with some regularity.  The God of the Old Testament gives difficult laws that no one can possibly follow (how, exactly, are you supposed to keep from “coveting” anything??).  And then he condemns people for not keeping them.  But [...]

The Arch-Heretic Marcion’s Theology

I am discussing the relationship between Jesus and the Law of the Jews, and to get to that question I am dealing with how Christians about a century after Jesus’ life understood this relationship.  I began with Marcion and his followers, who thought that Jesus had nothing to do with the Law, since he represented a different God from the one who gave the Law.  The Law was given by the Creator of this world who called Israel to be his people and then judged them, and all people, harshly, for not obeying his law, leading to universal condemnation.  Jesus came from a different God, a previously unknown God, who was not the God of the Old Testament, but a higher spiritual being who intervened on behalf of people to save them from the wrath of the Creator. There are many, many things about Marcion’s system of belief that we would love to know that we simply do not.  The main reason is that Marcion’s own writings have not been passed down to us from [...]

The “Arch-Heretic” Marcion, Jesus, and the Jewish Law

In this thread I’ve started to talk about the relationship of Jesus to the Law of Moses.  I’m going to get to the issue by means of a circuitous route, by talking about how that relationship was understood by followers of Jesus living a hundred years after his day.  The reason for starting there is that we have a clearer idea what these followers thought than we do, say, of Jesus’ followers a decade after his death.  Those earlier followers left us no writings and they are not directly discussed (in terms of their theological views) by extensive other sources (except the book of Acts).  We do know about later Christians and their views, however, even if our sources of information for these are also partial and imperfect. There were strikingly distinct positions taken by Christians in the middle of the second century with respect to Jesus and the law.  One extreme position was taken by the teacher-philosopher Marcion, who was eventually declared the arch-heretic of the church but who in his day pronounced a [...]

Why Don’t People See Discrepancies in the Bible? Readers’ Mailbag October 15, 2016

QUESTION: I assume that Bart Ehrman today when he reads the books of the New Testament sees large discrepancies between them.  My question is about the precocious sixteen-year-old Ehrman, Did he too see this variousness (which opens up the possibility of inconsistency)? Or did it all as he read it cohere, seem of a piece, convey one doctrinally comprehensive and orthodox and uniform message? And if it did, how does today’s Ehrman think young Ehrman managed to overlook all those obvious discrepancies?   RESPONSE: The sixteen-year-old Bart Ehrman who revered the Bible was probably like almost every sixteen-year-old on the planet who reveres the Bible.  We were (and people are still now) taught that the Bible was the inspired Word of God.  We knew that it was God’s revelation to humans before we had ever read a word of it.  Even before I was an evangelical Christian I simply assumed it had been given by God. If that’s what a person simply assumes before coming to the Bible, then when she or he reads the [...]

Anti-Judaism in the Gospels: A Blast From the Past

Four years ago now I offered up the following response to a question about whether the Gospels of the New Testament are anti-Semitic.  Here's the post! ****************************************************************** QUESTION: It is in my understanding that it is of common scholarly opinion that the Gospel writers (at least Matthew, Luke, and John) were rather anti-Semitic in nature. Correct? How would you respond to that claim? After reading “The Origin of Satan” by Elaine Pagels, it is a subject that deeply interests me, and I would love to hear your professional opinion on the matter. RESPONSE: This question actually ties into some of the things I’ve been thinking about with respect to the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and so it seems appropriate to answer it now rather than in a separate blog. I won’t deal with the question on the very broadest level, but will consider one feature of the Gospels that shows that with the passing of time they become more and more anti-Jewish. I should say at the outset that I do not think [...]

Jesus and the Ten Commandments

The way I started my talk this past week at the University of Michigan on Jesus, the Law, and the New Covenant was by discussing the confusion a number of my students have about the Jewishness of Jesus.  The first day of class, in my New Testament course, I give the students a pop quiz to see how much they know about the New Testament.  The quiz deals with basic, factual information:  How many books are in the NT?  What language were they written in?  Etc. Well, I do throw in a couple of curve balls for good measure….  But mostly it’s just factual information.  One of the questions asks the students to indicate which of the following persons was Jewish: John the Baptist, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Simon Peter, Tacitus, the Apostle Paul.  As it turns out, most of the students get all these right.  Including Jesus.  I’m not sure that, when I started teaching over thirty years ago now, it was as widely recognized that Jesus was Jewish.  But today, virtually everyone knows [...]

2020-04-03T03:01:48-04:00October 13th, 2016|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus, The Law, and the New Covenant

This past week I gave a lecture at the University of Michigan called “Jesus, the Law, and the New Covenant.”  The occasion was a symposium in honor of the life and work of Old Testament scholar George Mendenhall.  I never knew Mendenhall.  He was a highly prominent figure in the field of Hebrew Bible in the middle of the 20th century, known especially for his work on the significance of “covenant” for understanding both the Hebrew Bible and the history of the Israelites. The symposium itself was a day-long affair in which scholars of Hebrew Bible, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, and post-biblical Judaism gave academic papers dealing with the concepts of covenant and law in their fields of interest. The organizers of the conference asked me to give the keynote address the evening before the symposium itself.  When I was asked, I told them how deeply honored I was, knowing the importance of Mendenhall’s scholarship.   But I pointed out that my expertise is not Hebrew Bible, and I would not be able to interact intelligently [...]

2020-04-03T03:01:57-04:00October 12th, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reflections and Ruminations|

(Later) Early Christian Understandings of Heaven and Hell

Yesterday I gave Part One of a two-part discussion of the “invention” of heaven and hell, from my book Jesus Interrupted.  There I sketched out the apocalyptic vision of what would happen at the end of time as the original view among the followers of Jesus.  Here is where I continue that discussion into some reflections of where the Christian teachings of the afterlife, as later formulated, came from.   ********************************************** The Transformation of the Apocalyptic Vision What happens when this expected end doesn’t happen?  What happens when the apocalyptic scenario that Jesus expected to occur in “this generation” never comes?  When Paul’s expectation that he will be alive at the second coming of Christ is radically disconfirmed by his own death?  When the resurrection of the dead is delayed, interminably, making a mockery of the widespread belief that it will happen “soon”? One thing that happens, of course, is that some people begin to mock.  That is the problem addressed in the final book of the New Testament to be written, 2 Peter, which [...]

Jesus and Paul on Heaven and Hell

A couple of days ago I indicated on the blog that I am thinking about devoting my next book to the “Invention of the Afterlife” – that is, to the question of where the Christian doctrines of heaven and hell came come.  I asked for comments (and I still welcome them) from people about what they would be interested in seeing in a book like that.  Many, many thanks to everyone who has (so far!) responded to my request! As some of you know, I have already written a *bit* about the topic in an earlier book, Jesus Interrupted.  I thought it might be useful to replay what I said there, just to show where my thinking is at this point (I haven’t developed my thoughts significantly from writing that book, published in 2009) (but I expect they will develop in a big way, once I start working more diligently on the question).  Here is the first half of what I said there.  The second half will come tomorrow.  (For those of you who keep [...]

Why Don’t I Call Myself a Christian? Mailbag: October 8, 2016

I’ve decided to address two personal questions in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag, one about why I don’t want to call myself a Christian and the other about where the idea for this blog came from.  If you have questions you would like me to address, either personal or dealing with anything having to do with the NT and the history of early Christianity, just make a comment on any post and ask them!   QUESTION: I find it interesting that you and Lüdemann each create an extremely narrow rule separating Christians from non-Christians and then use it to exclude yourselves from Christianity. It is almost as if you somehow intuitively sense that you should not define yourself as being within Christianity, so you take up a narrow rule that “all Christians must believe in physical resurrection” or whatever, so you can declare that you are not a Christian. Not being a Christian is the goal, and making up a rule is the means. What do you think? Faced with similar dissonance, some others find a [...]

The Invention of the Afterlife: Request for Ideas!

Toward the end of this post I will be asking for your opinions and ideas.   So I hope you get that far! Now that I have sent my manuscript on The Triumph of Christianity off to my editor, and before she gets back to me for revisions and edits, I am turning my thoughts to the next book.  The reality is that I am not 100% certain what it will be.   That still has to be worked out, negotiated, and approved by the publisher.  I’m committed to Simon & Schuster for this next book, as well as Triumph (we originally negotiated a two-book deal), so that part is set.  But in our contract deal, the next book was more or less called a “player to be named later.”   Now it is time to figure out what it will be. I do have a strong preference, and hope to sell the publisher on the idea.  So far they are receptive.  But we’ll see. I started out with a vague idea, that has now evolved into a [...]

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