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Bogus Arguments for Disbelief

I can completely understand why some people choose not to believe in the Christian tradition, since I too am not a Christian.  But I find it a bit dismaying when people reject aspects of the Christian tradition for (literally) illogical reasons.  Or even worse, attack it for illogical reasons.  This often involves drawing unfounded religious conclusions from historical findings.   I’m sensitive to the issue because these findings are often ones that I myself talk about (findings of others that I subscribe to after looking into them). My view is that there are good reasons for some people to hold on to their faith, and there are good reasons for other people to decide to leave the faith or never to come to faith in the first place.  But why do we need Bogus Arguments for Disbelief?  (Acronym:  BAD) I’ll give here three examples, knowing full well that many people will object to them, especially the first one (since people regularly do, here on the blog!).  I don’t mean to be slamming anyone or their beliefs; [...]

2023-08-26T18:38:59-04:00August 31st, 2023|Reflections and Ruminations|

How Relevant is Josephus for Knowing What Happened to the Body of Jesus?

In my previous post I began to deal with the first of two arguments that Craig Evans provides from Josephus.  Craig wants to argue that Josephus, a first-century Jewish authority, explicitly indicates that Romans allowed Jews to provide decent burials for their dead.   In this first argument Craig provides a concatenation of passages from Josephus that together, Craig argues, indicate that Jews would not leave a corpse (such as that of Jesus) on the cross, but would provide a burial for it.  Here is the argument again. “Josephus asserts the same thing.  The Romans, he says, do not require “their subjects to violate their national laws” (Against Apion 2.73). The Jewish historian and adds that the Roman procurators who succeeded Agrippa I “by abstaining from all interference with the customs of the country kept the nation at peace...” (Jewish War 2.220) "... customs that included never leaving a “corpse unburied” (Against Apion 2.211). I dealt with the first quotation in yesterday’s post, where I pointed out that in Against Apion Josephus is not referring to [...]

2023-08-17T22:40:10-04:00August 30th, 2023|Public Forum|

Did Jews Always Bury Their Dead on the Day of their Death? Was Jesus Buried Then?

I have not covered all of the points that Craig Evans makes in his essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which is his response to the position I stake out in How Jesus Became God.  My view is that Jesus probably was not given a decent burial on the day of his death by the otherwise unknown figure, Joseph of Arimathea.   In this thread I have tried to focus on Craig’s main points.   In my judgment, despite all the various issues he raises there are really only two of that are directly relevant and that need to be taken with utmost seriousness:  Josephus appears to say that Jews were allowed to bury their dead (Craig makes two arguments about this) and we have the skeletal remains of one crucified victim from Judea at about the time of Jesus. First I’ll be dealing with the evidence from Josephus.  My view is that of the two arguments Craig makes, based on Josephus, the first also carries almost no weight and the second cannot mean what [...]

2023-08-29T07:17:45-04:00August 29th, 2023|Early Judaism, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Premarital Sex in The Song of Songs: A Platinum Post by Dan Kohanski

       The Bible has numerous passages that would be shocking to many readers if they read them without pious assumptions.  Of none is that more true than the Song of Songs (sometimes called the Song of Solomon).   And so I welcome this guest post by Platinum members Dan Kohanski, who takes on this erotic work and tries to say it as it is!         Remember: you too can publish a post for other Platinum members.  Why not give it a shot?  Just send something along to me, and I'm happy to look it over for you. ****************************** (This essay was inspired by Bart’s recent post, “What is (Sexually) Unnatural,” and based on research I did for my recent book, A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World (Apocryphile Press, 2023), specifically the chapter on sex: “God Between the Sheets.”) The Hebrew Scripture is the work of many hands: scribes, story-tellers, mythmakers and lawmakers, prophets and poets. Its parts were composed over several hundred years, and edited for [...]

2023-08-26T19:08:08-04:00August 28th, 2023|Public Forum|

The Evidence of Josephus for the Burial of Jesus

I have devoted a large number of posts to going carefully through the main arguments that Craig Evans makes in his critique of the position I take in How Jesus Became God with respect to the burial tradition, in his essay, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right”  (in How God Became Jesus; check it out!).   To this point I have been trying to argue that the accumulation of arguments in and of itself does not constitute a “cumulative argument.”  Each of the accumulated arguments has to carry *some* weight if the overall argument is to carry *much* (or a lot of) weight.  And in my judgment, none of the arguments that I have adduced and responded to so far carries much, if any, weight. Some of you will probably disagree with me, and that’s fine.  But I do hope that I’ve shown that I’m not the uninformed skeptic that Craig portrays in his essay.  At times, reading it, I felt like I was being lectured to.  On the other hand, maybe Craig feels the [...]

2023-08-30T14:25:12-04:00August 27th, 2023|Early Judaism|

Why Do Some (Many?) Scholars Not Treat the Bible Like Other Ancient Sources?

As I was thinking today about the need to be consistently critical with all of our sources – not just the ones we want to be critical of (this was the topic of yesterday’s post, with an ultimate view of what I want to say about Josephus as a possible witness to the practice of Jews burying their executed dead on the days of their deaths) -- another anecdote occurred to me that I thought might help illustrate my point.  Here it is.  In the next post I will get to Josephus, I promise. As some of you know, I have had a number of debates with evangelical Christians on the question of whether we know what the original writings of the New Testament actually said.  The typical line from these evangelical Christians is that since we have so *many* surviving manuscripts of the NT, that we can be almost completely certain that we know what the authors wrote in the vast majority of cases (virtually all).   My view is that we simply cannot know [...]

2023-08-17T22:10:14-04:00August 26th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, New Testament Manuscripts|

How To Be a Consistently Critical Historian, In the Good Sense

I know that by now I’m supposed to  be citing Craig Evans’s best arguments that Jesus was probably given a decent  burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea, rather than being left hanging on the cross for a few days in accordance with standard Roman practice.  But I’ve realized that before I get to the first of these arguments, I have to say something about how historians need to use their ancient sources.  The short answer to that question is that they need to use them … gingerly.  And consistently gingerly. This perspective will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read this blog for a long while and seen how I think we need, consistently, to use the books of the New Testament itself as sources for what actually happened in the past – whether we are considering the Gospels for knowing about what Jesus really said and did, or considering the book of Acts for knowing about the life and teachings of Paul, or considering the letters [...]

2023-08-17T22:05:17-04:00August 24th, 2023|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Did Jesus Believe the End Would Come Within his Lifetime? Maybe Not! Platinum Post by Rizwan Ahmed

Did Jesus (wrongly) preach that the end of the age and history as we know it was to come in his own time?  It's one of the hottest topics in NT studies.  I'm pleased here to include a guest post by Platinum member Rizwan Ahmed on the question, in which he argues that my views do not rest on solid evidence.  What do you think? As you know, Platinum members can submit posts to other Platinum members, and after a few get posted the Platinums can vote on which one gets posted to the whole blog.  It's a real perk of Platinum membership -- along with others (most important: a quarterly webinar with me, for Platinums only).  Check out the benefits and the membership requirements for that level and think about joining: Register - The Bart Ehrman Blog For now: here's Rizwan's challenging post. ****************************** “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, [...]

2023-08-15T11:53:19-04:00August 22nd, 2023|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Corpses Left on Roman Crosses? Penalties for Removing them Early? A Humorous Story (?!) from Antiquity

There's been a lot of interest on the blog in the question of whether Romans left bodies on crosses or allowed same-day burials.  No need to take my word for it.  Just look up the references I give, e.g., in How Jesus Became God.  Even better, I'll give one of them here from the first century Roman world, a fictional tale told within the gloriously funny novel, The Satyricon, by the Roman author Petronius, an advisor to the emperor Nero.  The account is predicated on the widespread understanding of  historical custom, as you'll see (and makes no sense unless it was the widespread understanding). The tale told by one of the characters in the Satyricon -- which I recommend you read in full!  I've taken this translation from the online Gutenberg Project.  You can find the entire text here: THE SATYRICON, Complete ( I would not say that a story like this *proves* how things were everywhere at every time in Roman antiquity, but all the other references I know of from Greek and Roman [...]

2023-08-24T17:26:31-04:00August 20th, 2023|Public Forum|

Does Jesus Call Himself God in His Trial Before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest Caiaphas?

I was recently asked about my claim that Jesus never calls himself God/a divine being in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Some people have asked me about what they think might be an exception: his trial before the Sanhedrin headed by the high priest Caiaphas in Mark 14, where he is accused of blasphemy.   Isn't the accusation proof that he claimed to be God?  In our *first* Gospel, Mark? There’s a lot to say about this most intriguing of passages (Mark 14:53-62; if you're a real blog nerd: read it!),  but here are the key points. The first point to stress is that the question is not whether Jesus in the passage claims to be a divine being, but whether Jesus himself did, the actual man in history. There is no question that Jesus in the Gospels claims to be divine. You don’t need Mark 14 for that – just read the Gospel of John (John 8:58; 10:30; 14:5; etc. etc.)  The fact that the Gospels claim that Jesus called himself a divine being doesn’t mean [...]

2023-08-11T16:12:37-04:00August 19th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Was “King of the Jews” Really the Charge Against Jesus, Leading to his Crucifixion?

Why did the Romans kill Jesus?  Was it really because he was calling himself "King of the Jews"?  Was that really what he was calling himself?  How would we know?  I've been asked these questions several times in connection with my posts about Jesus' (death and) burial.  Here is what I've said about the matter before, in reference to whether Jesus considered himself the "messiah" (i.e., the future king): ****************************** One of the main reasons I think Jesus called himself the future messiah is that this best explains the best attested event of his entire life: his crucifixion by the Romans. There are a few things we can say with virtual certainty about Jesus.  For example: he was a Jewish preacher from rural Galilee who made a fateful trip to Jerusalem and was crucified by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  There are, of course, lots of other things that we can say, without quite so much certainty (see my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium).  But that much is certain.  So why did [...]

2023-08-11T15:07:29-04:00August 17th, 2023|Public Forum|

Pontius Pilate, Intransigent Governor, Crucifier of Jesus

To make the best sense of this post it is important to keep in mind what I said in the previous one. In his response to my views of in How Jesus Became God – that Jesus most likely was not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea – Craig Evans has maintained, among other things, that Pilate was not the kind of governor who would ignore Jewish sensitivities.   For Craig, Pilate started his rule by making a big mistake of bringing into Jerusalem the Roman standards that bore on them the image of the emperor.  But once he realized that the Jewish populace was offended, he backed down and from then on he showed that he had learned his lesson.  For that reason, Craig finds it “hard to believe” that at a later time Pilate would do something so opposed to Jewish custom as allow a body unburied on the day of a person’s death. This view strikes me as extremely problematic, for several reasons.   To start [...]

2023-08-09T10:30:04-04:00August 16th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Did Pilate Allow Jesus to be Buried Because He Had “Learned his Lesson”?

I think there is almost no historical figure that Craig and I disagree on more than the Roman governor of Judea at the time of Jesus’ death, Pontius Pilate.   I see him as a cruel, vicious, hard-headed, insensitive, and brutal ruler; Craig portrays him as an efficient but wise and rather sensitive aristocrat who could learn from his lessons and who would go out of his way not to offend Jewish sensibilities.  A lot hangs on which view (if either) is right, since it was Pilate – we agree on this! – who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion.  Moreover, if Jesus was given a decent burial (Craig’s view) or was left to hang on the cross for some time in accordance with standard Roman practice (my view), it was, in either case, Pilate’s decision. Craig’s view is that Pilate’s sensitive decision not to allow crucified victims to hang on their crosses after their deaths is what allowed him to keep “the nation at peace” (the phrase comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, whom I will be dealing [...]

2023-08-11T14:59:18-04:00August 15th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Gold Q&A for August!

Dear Goldies, It's time for another Gold Q&A.  You ask the questions, I answer them.  My plan is to record the event this coming weekend; if I'm able to do it at a decent time (other things are hanging fire), I'll announce it a bit in advance so people can come and listen in if they want. For me to do that, I NEED QUESTIONS!  Got any?  Anything related to the blog is AOK.  Remember that long and involved questions are far less likely to be chosen than relatively succinct to-the-point ones (if something in the question needs explaining, I'll explain it). DO NOT ask a question in a comment to this post (well, don't ask if you want me to answer it; if you don't want an answer, ask away!).  INSTEAD, submit your question to [email protected] DEADLINE for your question submission: this Friday, August 18, midnight your time. I'm looking forward to it, as always!    

2023-08-15T11:03:11-04:00August 14th, 2023|Public Forum|

How Accurate Are Orally-Transmitted Reports? A Platinum Post From Imran M. Usmani

In this guest post, Imran Usmani challenges my views about distortions in oral traditions, basing his contrary perspective on the work of an ninth-century Muslim scholar tracing the reports in circlation about the prophet Muhammad. Take a look!  What do you think?  Do you find it convincing?  Why or why not?  Let us know!   ****************************** In his book Jesus Before the Gospels, Bart Ehrman argues that the earliest Christians possessed distorted memories of Jesus. Ehrman draws on modern psychological studies, which have shown that human memories are sometimes wholly unreliable. However, Ehrman accepts that the gist of a memory is often reliable even if the details are incorrect. Using this principle, Ehrman proceeds to critically appraise the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In my opinion, a weakness in Ehrman’s thesis is that it does not consider the work of the Hadith collector Muhammad bin Ismail Bukhari, who died in 870 CE. Bukhari spent his life studying and verifying orally transmitted reports about the Prophet Muhammad. His methods and results are very [...]

2023-08-10T16:03:53-04:00August 14th, 2023|Public Forum|

Was Pilate Sensitive to Jews and their Customs (such that he would allow decent burials for crucified victims)?

When I was in high school I was active on the debate team, and really loved it.  The team as a whole was really good, but I was nowhere near being the best member.  My colleague and another fellow on the team ended up debating together in college and won the national championship as sophomores.  These guys were terrific. One of the decisions we constantly had to make when arguing the negative side of a resolution was how to go about attacking the claims of the affirmative side.  There were two general approaches: one was what we called the “shotgun” approach.  This involved leveling lots and lots of arguments (like buckshot) and hoping that the other side could not respond to them all, thereby making the judge of the debate think that some of the arguments stuck, even if not all of them were that good.  The problem with the shotgun approach was that if a bunch of the arguments weren’t very good, the affirmative side could knock them down fairly easily, and by the [...]

2023-08-09T10:38:16-04:00August 13th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Why Critical Scholarship on the Gospels Helps *Believers* in the Bible!

In my two previous posts I’ve been trying to explain that the historical-critical view of the Gospels, in which they are recognized not always to represent historically accurate information about Jesus, is not necessarily a view that “trashes” them.  Instead, it is a view that tries to understand what they really are instead of insisting that they are something else.   Accepting them for what they are is surely a good thing; making them into something they are not can’t be good. In this post I want to do something highly unusual for me.  I want to explain, for those of you who are Christians (or for anyone else who is interested), why this critical view of the Gospels is in fact *theologically* valuable, far more theologically valuable than a view that would insist that the Gospels have no discrepancies between them or errors of any kind, but are historically accurate accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus. When I was a Christian, once  I came to the conclusion that the Gospels in fact [...]

2023-08-12T06:09:19-04:00August 12th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

We Have Crucifixion Nails! Isn’t that Evidence for Jesus’ Burial?

I have mentioned a couple of times that at the end of this thread I will be discussing the two arguments that Craig Evans marshals that strike me as interesting and to be taken seriously.  These are (1) the general claims in a couple of passages of Josephus and (2) the discovery of the skeletal remains of a crucified victim.  Even though these are, in my opinion, good arguments, I will explain why I do not find them persuasive.   Up till now I have been dealing with the arguments that Craig advances that I do not find at all convincing  -- for example, that Roman governors on rare occasions showed clemency for lower level crimes and that Pilate was not the kind of person to offend Jewish sensitivities.  I have one more argument of this sort to deal with.  It is one that may sound highly convincing to someone who has only Craig’s summary at hand but who does not know the facts of case. This argument does not involve historical literary sources (Philo or [...]

2023-08-18T11:30:28-04:00August 12th, 2023|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Historical Jesus|

Serious Discount on my Book!

I'm pleased to announce that it is now possible to purchase a hardback copy of my recent book Armaggedon: What the Bible Really Says about the End at half price from Barnes & Noble, either in a store or online, as part of their annual Book Haul promotion.  The sale goes till Sept. 4.  Interested?  Know anyone else who might be?  Go here and check it out: Armageddon | Barnes & Noble® (    

2023-08-11T16:33:11-04:00August 11th, 2023|Public Forum|
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