Folks, our May Gold Q&A ended up in two parts. Make sure you scroll down to see Part 2:
Here now is the second of my two posts on reasons for suspecting that Morton Smith himself may have been the one who forged the “letter of Clement” that discusses the “Secret Gospel of Mark” (see my post from yesterday). Again taken from my article, “Hedrick’s Consensus on the Secret Gospel of Mark,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11 (2003) pp. 155-64. ****************************** (2) Several things that are hard to explain about the “discovery.” For those who want to show the letter is authentic (i.e. really written by Clement of Alexandria), these are the issues to address. I leave off several other matters that some have raised, such as why the letter is never mentioned by Clement or any other heresiologist who opposed the Carpocratians otherwise: (a) Why does this letter contradict in content what Clement says elsewhere? For one thing the attitude toward true gnosis in this letter is completely at odds with what is found elsewhere in Clement, as Eric Osborne trenchantly noted. Never for Clement is true knowledge a matter [...]
Last month (April 2023) I published a thread of blog posts on the intriguing and controversial Secret Gospel of Mark, allegedly discovered by Columbia University scholar Morton Smith in the library of the Greek orthodox monastery Mar Saba twelve miles southeast of Jerusalem. He did not actually discover the Gospel itself, but (allegedly) discovered a letter that described and quoted it, allegedly written by the church father Clement of Alexandria (200 CE or so), allegedly copied by a scribe of the eighteenth century in the back blank pages of a seventeenth-century book otherwise (actually) containing the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (110 CE or so), in which Clement allegedly discusses a potentially scandalous edition of Mark’s Gospel allegedly used by a nefarious Gnostic group called the Carpocratians. Confused yet? Read the posts, starting with this one from April 12: https://ehrmanblog.org/do-scholars-ever-forge-gospels In my posts I did not give any evidence to show that this “alleged” discovery might not have been a discovery but a forgery, possibly by Smith himself, even though from the outset some (many?) [...]
I'm heading over the pond this week, for most of the summer, and would like to do a blog dinner on Monday, June 12, 2023. Possibly a pint in advance. Somewhere in central London. You interested? If we can get 3-4 folk, and no more than 7, people together, I'd be happy to do it. If more then 7 reply, I'll take the first 7! And then I'll schedule another one later, probably in Wimbledon (which I may do anyway). No obligations other than: Being a blog member Showing up Talking Paying for whatever you ingest. Whatever you exgest is free. If you're interested, do NOT reply here as a comment. Send me an email at [email protected]. Hope it happens!
****************************** Was Jesus a simplistic person or an extraordinary one? Omar Abur-Robb omr-mhmd.yolasite.com Suppose you were in a hill overseeing a large lake, and suddenly you noticed a wave propagating quickly outward. You will instinctively realize that this wave has originated from its center, and you can probably pinpoint this center with ease by looking at the wave. However, your eyes will open wildly in astonishment and your scientific mind will turn upside down when you see the wave reaching the shore then jumping to the next lake and start propagating there. This is going to be a very weird phenomenon. But this exact phenomenon needs to be included in our explanatory models for the expansion of Christianity: The point of propagation for Christianity was the point of establishment at 30AD, and in less than 20 years, the teaching of Jesus managed to propagate outside its local domain to many foreign domains. This is an extraordinary phenomenon. Notice that the Greek Christians were very serious in their faith to the point that many [...]
Are *Groups* of Story Tellers (Think: Ancient Followers of Jesus) More Likely to Preserve Traditions Accurately than Individuals?
This post will conclude my mini-thread trying to show that modern practices of story telling in the Middle East, during a community ritual called the haflar samar, in which groups of knowledgeable people ensure that stories are never significantly changed, has no bearing on the question of whether ancient stories told about Jesus were preserved accurately over time. Here I take on a bigger question, as addressed in in my book Jesus Before the Gospels: Does this group context for telling the stories ensure that they are accurate? Actually, modern psychological studies suggest that just the opposite is normally the case. Cognitive psychologists have studied the phenomenon of “group memory” and have reached several very important conclusions that might be surprising. One is that when a group “collectively remembers” something they have all heard or experienced, the “whole” is less than the sum of the “parts.” That is to say, if you have ten individuals who have all experienced an event, and you interview the ten separately, you will learn a good deal about what [...]
I am now, alas, back from my two-weeks in Galapagos. Whoa.... And I'm getting back to business on the blog. Before leaving I placed a number of posts in queue and these have been published promptly. I'm now starting to deal with the comments that came in during my absence. This'll take a couple of days, but I will get caught up soon. For those of you who are Gold members, I've recorded the monthly hour-long Gold Q&A, soon to be released for your viewing/listening pleasure. For those of you who are not Gold members: this is one of the perks at that level. Take a look at your options and think about it! Register - The Bart Ehrman Blog All other blog things should be flyin' along as usual. If you have any problems, concerns, suggestions, or briefcases of small unmarked bills, let me/us know...
In my previous post I discussed a seemingly-plausible explanation for how modern ways of telling stories in small communities in the Middle East today can show that the Gospels may well represent literal word-for-word depictions of what Jesus said and did. Here I show why in fact the theory does not work, as laid out in my book Jesus Before the Gospels (Harper, 2016) ****************************** As we have seen, Bailey argued that modern tellers in the Middle East today work in a small community context, where the stories of a village's past (its key figures, its main events) are circulated in group meetings in the presence of others who observed the events as well and make sure to correct what a particular story teller says when he gets a detail awry. That, Baily argues, is what happened in the ancient world as well -- so stories about Jesus were preserved intact through the presence of others who knew them and could provide checks and balances for accuracy. The problem is that this claim (whether or [...]
A post for Platinum members only from Rizwan Ahmed ****************************** “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34, Luke 21:32) A little over a century ago, Albert Schweitzer, through his famous book “The Quest of the Historical Jesus”, revolutionized and reshaped our understanding of the historical figure of Jesus. He convincingly argued that Jesus should be best understood as an apocalyptic Jewish prophet. That is, a prophet who heralded the coming end of the world, in which God would intervene in history and finally bring about absolute justice and righteousness to the world. A tremendous event in which all who ever lived would be raised from the dead and judged. The good would be rewarded with eternal life while the wicked would suffer eternal punishment. This was a popular concept within Jewish thought even prior to Jesus and continued to be so during his days. While the Synoptic Gospels make it clear that Jesus espoused such views, the question arises as to when this [...]
I've been discussing modern explanations of how the traditions about Jesus found in the Gospels could in fact be historically accurate even if they were passed on by word of mouth over the years and decades before anyone wrote them down. The natural suspicion is that stories that get told and retold by different story tellers in different times and places year after year will change, somewhat significantly, and that some tales and sayings attributed to an important figure will be invented, with no historical basis at all. It happens all the time. It probably has happened to you. Someone says you did or said something and it’s just not true. Most of them time when you find out about it you are not amused – especially if it’s someone who actually knows you. At other times you might think it is indeed amusing. But isn’t it different with the ancient world, and especially with stories being told about Jesus? In my previous posts I talked about the theory of a New Testament scholar (Gerhaardson) [...]
In my previous post I began to explain the problems with the idea that Jesus' followers, like all good students of Rabbis in the Jewish tradition, were trained to memorize what he said and did, so that the Gospels provide us with reliable accounts of his life. This idea was most forcefully promoted by Swedish scholar Birger Gerhardsson and was popular for a while in scholarly circles. But it is widely seen today as problematic. Here is how I continue to explain some of the issues in my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016). ****************************** An even bigger problem is that we have clear and certain evidence that Jesus’ followers were not passing along his teachings, or accounts of his deeds, as they were memorized verbatim. This is one of the complaints that other scholars generally lodge against Gerhardsson – he does not engage in a detailed examination of traditions that are preserved in the Gospels in order to see if his theory works. What is the evidence that Jesus’ teachings were preserved word-for-word [...]
In case you haven't heard, I will be doing a live, eight-lecture online course comparing the theology of Paul and Jesus on May 27-28. The course is not connected with the blog -- it is part of my separate venture for a series I'm publishing called How Scholars Read the Bible. But I mention here because some of you may be interested. Even if you can't make the live sessions and Q&A, you can purchase the course to watch at your leisure. You can learn about it here: BartEhrman.com The course will consist of four lectures and one Q&A each day. The lectures will be 30 - 40 minutes each. This course addresses one of the most controversial issues of early Christianity: Did Paul and Jesus have the same religion? Should they be considered the “co-founders” of Christianity? Or were the teachings of Paul at odds with the proclamations of Jesus, making Paul himself the founder of the new faith? Few questions can be more significant for understanding the origin of the Christian faith, and the [...]
I've been talking about how scholars began to realize in the early 20th century that the stories of Jesus in the Gospels were based on oral traditions that the Gospel writers inherited decades earlier. But is that really a problem? Here's how I discuss the issue in my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016). ****************************** Many people, when they first consider the reality that the traditions in our Gospels must have circulated orally for decades before being written down, come up with a commonsensical response. Surely the sayings of Jesus, and the accounts of his life, were actually memorized by his followers, so that they would be preserved accurately. Aren’t oral cultures known for being able to preserve their traditions spotlessly? After all, since they didn’t have written records to keep their memories alive, people in such cultures must have worked with special diligence to remember what they learned and to pass their stories along seamlessly from one person and one generation to the next. Right? Unfortunately, decades of intense research have shown that this [...]
For Platinum members, from Platinum member Omar Abur-Robb: ****************************** Was Jesus literate or Illiterate omr-mhmd.yolasite.com Scholars are in difference regarding whether Jesus was literate or not, and I would like to explore this subject. Most of the people who lives in Galilee at the time of Jesus were peasants, and most of the peasants were poor, and most of the poor peasants were illiterate. Therefore, we can conclude that Jesus was illiterate. But the above conclusion was based on a “null hypothesis”. “Null hypotheses” are statements of probability. So ... Let Sam be one of the people who lived in Galilee at that time. We know nothing about Sam except that he lived in Galilee. Therefore, the probability of Sam being a poor illiterate peasant is very high, and the probability otherwise is very low. Therefore, the “null hypothesis” (that is the “initial assumption”) about anyone living in Galilee is that they were poor illiterate peasants. However, there is no evidence that every single peasant in Galilee was poor illiterate. In the contrary, you [...]
I'm discussing how scholars came to realize that Mark our earliest Gospel is not simply a nuts-and-bolts, unembellished, accurate report of what Jesus said and did. This kind of scholarship reached a kind of climax about a century ago with a group of scholars called "form critics." To make sense of what they said and why they said it, I need to start where I left off yesterday -- and so I'll repeat the end of yesterday's post to get us a running start on today's, taken from my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne 2016). ****************************** Where did the stories found in the Gospels themselves come from? The "form critics" (a term I'll explain below) maintained that they did not come from authors who were themselves followers of Jesus or who acquired their information directly from eyewitnesses. The stories instead came from oral traditions in circulation in the years prior to the Gospels. The authors of the Gospels – all of them, not just Mark – wrote down stories that had been passed along by word [...]
In my previous post I showed how scholars in the 19th century came to think that our shortest and evidently-least-embelished Gospel Mark gave the accurate account of Jesus ' life, so that any reconstruction of what Jesus really said and did simply could simply assume that Mark provides the essential information. But is that right? It eventually came to be seen as wrong. Here's how I discuss the matter in my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016). ****************************** The problem with Mark is that it is so terse that there are huge gaps in the narrative. It is hard to determine what is driving Jesus’ action and what his ultimate objective is. To solve that problem 19th-century scholars writing about Jesus filled in the gaps either with inventive narratives they spun out of their own imagination or with psychological analyses about what must have been motivating Jesus at one point of his life or another. All of these efforts were rooted in the sense that Mark is the earliest and most historical account without any [...]
****************************** Was Levi of Alphaeus the "the Beloved Disciple"? A Redaction Critical Approach Since the discovery of the Gospel of Peter, scholars have speculated about the missing words after the mention of "Levi of Alphaeus" in the final sentence, which breaks off. The sentence reads, "But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew, having taken our nets, went off to the sea. And there was with us Levi of Alphaeus whom the Lord [blank]," (Tr. Raymond Brown). How should we fill in the blank? Could it be "whom the Lord [loved],"? Many scholars have wondered whether this mention of Levi of Alphaeus in the Gospel of Peter might solve the mystery of the identity of "the other disciple" in the Gospel of John, "the one whom Jesus loved". I have discovered literary clues to support this suspicion. "Levi son of Alphaeus", a major character in Mark's gospel, becomes utterly obscure in Matthew's redaction of Mark's story. My hypothesis is that the identity of John's "other disciple" borrows from Matthew's peculiar literary penchant [...]
I'm discussing how in both the ancient and modern worlds people have constructed "false memories" of who Jesus really was. In this post I give a brief explanation of how scholars became increasingly aware of the problem and, for a time, thought they had found a solution: Mark's Gospel is the unembellished version and so we need to stick mainly with that! How'd they come up with *that* one? And is it true? This is taken from my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016). ****************************** Throughout the history of scholarship, especially since the nineteenth century, scholars have realized that Christians in the early years after Jesus’ death were not only altering traditions about Jesus’ life and teaching that they inherited, they were also inventing them. We do not need to wait for non-canonical Gospels such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, or the Gospel of Nicodemus for “distorted” memories of Jesus to surface among authors and their readers. (Recall: by “distorted memory” I simply mean any recollection of the past that [...]
I've been talking about how we remember things -- or misremember things, or make up memories of things -- as a way of getting to the question of how, in our heads, we think about what Jesus said and did. This is all part of my larger project that came incarnated (inletterated?) in my book Jesus Before the Gospels. As I point out early in the book, we remember most things just fine, but we also often get things either partially or completely wrong. Memories can be frail, faulty, and false. And not just our individual memories, but also the “memories” we have as a society. In previous posts I illustrated the point by talking about social memories of Abraham Lincoln and Christopher Columbus. But what about faulty memories of Jesus (see my last post if it doesn't make sense to talk about "remembering" someone we never knew!). To get to this question, in my book, I talk about some of the modern representations of Jesus by current-day scholars and popular authors – for example, Jesus [...]
And now *here* is an interesting way to think about whether someone was raised from the dead! This is a Platinum Guest Post by Ryan Fleming. It is begging for responses. What do you think? ****************************** A short story: Suppose you are a French-resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II. One of your countrymen, Jacques, is unbeknownst to you, a Nazi spy. He openly supports passivism towards Nazi authority, keeps the peace, and even promotes paying taxes to the Nazis. Periodically you see Jacques in the company of a Nazi officer. You and your fellow countrymen become suspicious, even fearful. Is he subverting the mental drive to undermine resistance, or at worst, is he giving away secrets, risking the lives of resistance fighters? You and your countrymen conspire to present a charge to Nazi authority that Jacques has raped a woman to see what they will do. You demand Jacques is guilty, present the woman as a witness who emphatically exclaims Jacques raped her, and demands Jacques must be executed. Eventually, Nazi authority, [...]