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An Easter Reflection 2018

It is highly ironic, but relatively easy, for a historian to argue that Jesus himself did not start Christianity.   Christianity, at its heart, is the belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about salvation, and that believing in his death and resurrection will make a person right with God, both now and in the afterlife.  Historical scholarship since the nineteenth century has marshalled massive evidence that this is not at all what Jesus himself preached.

Yes, it is true that in the Gospels themselves Jesus talks about his coming death and resurrection.  And in the last of the Gospels written, John, his message is all about how faith in him can bring eternal life (a message oddly missing in the three earlier Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

These canonical accounts of Jesus’ words were written four, five, or six decades after his death by people who did not know him who were living in different countries, and who were not even speaking his own language.  They themselves acquired their accounts of Jesus’ words from earlier Christian storytellers, who had been passing along his sayings by word of mouth, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.   The task of scholarship is to determine, if possible, what Jesus really said given the nature of our sources.

Fundamentalist scholars have no trouble with the question.  Since they are convinced that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God, then anything Jesus is said to have said in the Gospels is something that he really said.  Viola!  Jesus preached the Christian faith that his death and resurrection brought salvation.

Critical scholars, on the other hand, whether they are Christian or not, realize that it is not that simple.   As Christian story tellers over the decades reported Jesus’ teachings, they naturally modified them in light of the contexts within which they were telling them (to convert others for example) and in light of their own beliefs and views.   The task is to figure out which of the sayings (or even which parts of which sayings) may have been what Jesus really said.

Different scholars have different views of that matter, but one thing virtually all critical scholars agree on is that the doctrines of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection were not topics Jesus addressed.  These words of Jesus were placed on his lips by later Christian story-tellers who *themselves* believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead to bring about the salvation of the world, and who wanted to convince others that this had been Jesus’ plan and intention all along.

My own view is one I’ve sketched on the blog many a time before.  Jesus himself – the historical figure in his own place and time – preached an apocalyptic message that God was soon to intervene in history to overthrow the powers of evil and destroy all who sided with them; he would then bring a perfect utopian kingdom to earth in which Israel would be established as a sovereign state ruling the nations and there would be no more pain, misery, or suffering.  Jesus expected this end to come soon, within his own generation.  His disciples would see it happen – and in fact would be rulers of this coming earthly kingdom, with him himself at their head as the ruling monarch.

It didn’t happen of course.  Instead, Jesus was arrested for being a trouble maker, charged with crimes against the state (proclaiming himself to be the king, when only Rome could rule), publicly humiliated, and ignominiously tortured to death.

This was not at all what the disciples expected.  It was the opposite of what they expected.  It was a radical disconfirmation of everything they had heard from Jesus during all their time with him.  They were in shock and disbelief, their world shattered.  They had left everything to follow him, creating hardship not only for themselves but for the families near and dear to them – leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves and doubtless to suffer want and hunger with the only bread-winner away from home to accompany an itinerant preacher who thought the end of history was to arrive any day now.

This reversal of the disciples’ hopes and dreams then unexpectedly experienced its own reversal.  Some of them started saying that they had seen Jesus alive again.   In the Gospels themselves, of course, all the disciples see Jesus alive and are convinced that he has been raised from the dead.   It is not at all clear it actually happened that way.  The accounts of the Gospels are hopelessly at odds with each other about what happened, to whom, when, and where.  So what can we say historically?

One thing we can say with relative certainty (even though most people – including lots of scholars!) have never thought about this or realized it, is that no one came to think Jesus was raised from the dead because three days later they went to the tomb and found it was empty.   It is striking that Paul, our first author who talks about Jesus’ resurrection, never mentions the discovery of the empty tomb and does not use an empty tomb as some kind of “proof” that the body of Jesus had been raised.

Moreover, whenever the Gospels tell their later stories about the tomb, it never, ever leads anyone came to believe in the resurrection.  The reason is pretty obvious.  If you buried a friend who had recently died, and three days later you went back and found the body was no longer there, would your reaction be “Oh, he’s been exalted to heaven to sit at the right hand of God”?  Of course not.  Your reaction would be: “Grave robbers!”   Or, “Hey, I’m at the wrong tomb!”

The empty tomb only creates doubts and consternation in the stories in the Gospels, never faith.   Faith is generated by stories that Jesus has been seen alive again.   Some of Jesus’ followers said they saw him.  Others believed them.   They told others — who believed them.  More stories began to be told.  Pretty soon there were stories that all of them had seen him alive again.  The followers of Jesus who heard these stories became convinced he had been raised from the dead.

Jesus himself did not start Christianity.  His preaching is not what Christianity is about, in the end.  If his followers had not come to believe he had been raised from the dead, they would have seen him as a great Jewish prophet who had a specific Jewish message and a particular way of interpreting the Jewish scripture and tradition.  Christianity would have remained a sect of Judaism.  It would have had the historical significance of the Sadducees or Essenes – highly significant for scholars of ancient religion, but not a religion that would take over the world.

It is also not the death of Jesus that started Christianity.  If he had died and no one believed in his resurrection, his followers would have talked about his crucifixion as a gross miscarriage of justice; he would have been another Jewish prophet killed by God’s enemies.

Even the resurrection did not start Christianity.  If Jesus had been raised but no one found out about it or came to believe in it, there would not have been a new religion founded on God’s great act of salvation.

What started Christianity was the Belief in the ResurrectionIt was nothing else.  Followers of Jesus came to believe he had been raised.  They did not believe it because of “proof” such as the empty tomb.  They believed it because some of them said they saw Jesus alive afterward.  Others who believed these stories told others who also came to believe them.  These others told others who told others – for days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and now millennia.  Christianity is all about believing what others have said.  It has always been that way and always will be.

Easter is the celebration of the first proclamation that Jesus did not remain dead.  It is not that his body was resuscitated after a Near Death Experience.   God had exalted Jesus to heaven never to die again; he will (soon) return from heaven to rule the earth.  This is a statement of faith, not a matter of empirical proof.  Christians themselves believe it.  Non-Christians recognize it as the very heart of the Christian message.  It is a message based on faith in what other people claimed and testified based on what others claimed and testified based on what others claimed and testified – all the way back to the first followers of Jesus who said they saw Jesus alive afterward.


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Comments

  1. Wilusa  April 1, 2018

    “a perfect utopian kingdom…[on] earth in which Israel would be established as a sovereign state ruling the nations and there would be no more pain, misery, or suffering. Jesus expected this end to come soon, within his own generation. His disciples would see it happen – and in fact would be rulers of this coming earthly kingdom, with him himself at their head as the ruling monarch.”

    Just to make it clear…you’ve said elsewhere that he envisioned himself ruling Israel and the “Son of Man” ruling the world as a whole, right? (But Israel somehow ruling the other nations…I *don’t* think you’ve actually said *that* before, though its “most important” status might have been implied.)




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      Not quite. I think the Son of man destroys the forces of evil and sets Jesus up as king of the kingdom.




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      • webo112
        webo112  April 2, 2018

        Great question and clarification, perhaps I missed this (small) point in your books or discussions- but now things make even better sense, with Jesus expecting the Son of Man to be a type of avenger, not a ruler.




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      • tompicard
        tompicard  April 2, 2018

        in most of your apocalyptic understanding of Jesus ministry there is a lot of context
        a. Jesus expectation of imminent Kingdom of God
        b. no pain or suffering
        c. no expectation of his own murder

        but even tho i have been on the blog for a while
        i cant find anything at all that convinces me that

        THE SON OF MAN WILL SET JESUS UP AS SOME KIND OF KING

        it is really a stretch and appears to be based upon the very typical fundamentalist point of view that
        a. God is solely responsible for inaugurating the Kingdom of Heaven (like by somehow darkening the sun and moon and making the stars fall from heaven and bring beings standing on clouds; I don’t understand how that helps anything at all)
        b. humans cant possibly resolve the conflicts they themselves created.

        honestly it is much more reasonable to think that Jesus expected everyone to accept his teachings, recognize themselves as a part of God’s own lineage (as Jesus came to understand himself when he was baptized), and then to work together, as befitting God’s sons and daughters and with His guidance, to concretely resolve all the issues causing anguish to both God and people.




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  2. RonaldTaska  April 1, 2018

    “Christianity is all about believing what others have said.” And I would add “what others have said 2,000 years ago when there were few books and no tv, no radio and no periodicals.” This is a very helpful summary. Thanks.




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    • tompicard
      tompicard  April 2, 2018

      that is kind of an odd statement “Christianity is all about believing what others have said.It has always been that way and always will be”
      yeah but Judaism is all about believing what Moses said, Islam is believing what Mohammad said, Confucianism, Buddhism, Mormonism, etc

      however I don’t believe it and occasionally there have been some enlightened understandings for instance by Jeremiah and Paul who quoted the same
      Jer 31
      >the days are coming, declares the Lord,
      > when I will make a new covenant . . .
      > not like the covenant that I made with their fathers . . .
      >that they broke . .
      >This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel. . .
      > I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. . .
      >And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and teach his
      >brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all
      >know me, from the least of them to the greatest.




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  3. UCCLMrh  April 1, 2018

    Interesting. I am a Christian, and I don’t believe any of the beliefs that you describe as essential to Christianity. I’m not sure what to make of that.




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      I’m talking about the beliefs that are traditionally the core of Christian faith. Various people have different ways of understanding the sense in which they too are Christian.




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    • jbrett14  April 9, 2018

      UCCLMrh, what do you think makes you a “Christian”?




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  4. Wilusa  April 1, 2018

    This won’t be accepted by everyone. But…I’ve become convinced (by the actual evidence) that reincarnation is a fact.

    Given that, it provides an explanation of the undoubtedly real phenomenon of people’s having vivid dreams in which a recently deceased person tells them he or she is, somehow, “still alive.” In the case of Jesus, his appearance in his followers’ dreams might have been very real. But he was actually “between incarnations,” and neither he nor they understood that.




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    • llamensdor  April 15, 2018

      There are hundreds of millions–possibly billions–of people who believe in reincarnation. They are all wrong, but somehow they find this absurdity comforting.




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  5. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  April 1, 2018

    Excellent post! This post reflects a lot of my thinking as I transitioned away from Christianity. Namely, that the teachings of Jesus and the theology of Paul didn’t match. I don’t mean to sound flippant but if Paul’s theology had been the central message of Jesus then Jesus would have said something like “shortly, I will be crucified by the Romans and in three days I will rise again as a payment for mankinds sins, believe this and you can go to heaven after you die.” Why teach anything if that is the core message? According to Christianity THAT is the most important message and all of Jesus’ teachings are rendered inconsequential.

    Now that my little rant is over, my question is….The disciples believed in the resurrection of Jesus because they believed they had an experience with him after his death. However, is there any evidence that they interpreted his death and resurrection the same way Paul would, or was Paul’s theology different from the first diciples? Even though the disciples believed in the resurrection did they view the resurrection as an atonement for sins in the way Paul did?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      Paul indicates that he “inherited” the view that Christ’s death and resurrection brought about salvation (1 Cor. 15:3-5)




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      • prince  April 2, 2018

        Where did the idea of a Jewish messiah dying for the sins of mankind originate from? OT? Did Jews prior to Jesus’ existence believe this notion of the messiah dying for other’s sins?




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2018

          No, none did. It is an invention of the followers of Jesus. I think I”ll add this question to my Mailbag list.




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          • prince  April 5, 2018

            Thanks Dr. Erhman 🙂




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      • Wilusa  April 2, 2018

        But…if I remember correctly, you’ve said he also “inherited” something else. The idea that Jesus was a preexisting divine Being, something like an archangel, who incarnated as a human. (*Not* the more exalted divine Being described in the Gospel of John.) If he’d gotten that idea from someone other than Jesus’s disciples, might he not also have gotten his idea about salvation from that source?

        By the way, I’ve become somewhat puzzled about how to explain early Christians’ outside of Palestine having come to believe Jesus was the Son of God, second person of the Trinity, etc., if the most prominent *missionary* believed in that “something like an archangel.”




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2018

          I’m not sure where he got the “angel” idea from. But I’m not saying that he inherited 1 Cor. 15:3-5 from the disciples themselves (as opposed to other earlier Christians). He may have done, but it’s not obvious to me one way or the other.




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          • SidDhartha1953  April 9, 2018

            Some of it seems pretty sophisticated to have been worked out by illiterate Galilean peasants. Maybe I give them too little credit. Did 1st century Jews have something analogous to our modern popular notion that angels are hanging about everywhere, watching over us and getting us out of scrapes? I can imagine such a notion evolving into the idea of a God who came in the flesh, and also why docetism competed so well for adherents.




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 10, 2018

            Yes, I’m not saying it was formulated by illiterate Galilean peasants. The choice is not just between a) Paul himself or b) the Galilean disciples of Jesus.




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  6. rmallard  April 1, 2018

    I especially enjoyed this post. I think there have been a lot of past conspiracy theory type books (like the Passover Plot) which tried to make out that someone removed Jesus from his tomb in order to jump start the movement. Instead it is the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead and more important, had been seen by many of his followers that is the core of the Christian faith. The empty tomb thing is a red herring. Even if Jesus had been left on the cross to rot and be torn apart by scavengers would not have been able to negate this key belief. I am fairly new to this blog–will there be any posts addressing the conspiracy theories?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      I talk about the Passover Plot in my book Forged (but just a bit)




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  7. Durkan23  April 1, 2018

    Bart do you think you will ever write about the early history of the third Abrahamic faith, Islam, and it’s views on Christianity and Judaism? Or are you not interested in doing that at all? Thanks




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      I’m not an expert in it, and try to restrict my writings to what I actually know about.




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  8. Wilusa  April 1, 2018

    Just out of curiosity… You’ve said you believe the Romans wanted to apprehend Jesus *before* Judas told them he was calling himself “King of the Jews.” *Why?* I know you don’t believe in the “triumphal entry into Jerusalem,” and you believe the Gospel descriptions of the ruckus he caused in the Temple are exaggerated. During Passover Week, one might have expected a half-dozen or so fanatical preachers to be peddling their ideas.

    Might he have seemed more “dangerous” than others because he’d brought a dozen disciples to town with him?

    And…if he’d never been accused of calling himself the “King of the Jews,” might he have simply been locked up, and released after Passover Week?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      Becaues of the temple incident they thought he was a troublemaker/rabble rouser




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  9. Bogotano  April 1, 2018

    Quite a cogent summary!




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  10. dschmidt01
    dschmidt01  April 1, 2018

    Congratulations on your book sales. You’ve probably covered this before but I can’t make the math work for Jesus rising after 3 days if he dies on Friday and is risen on Sunday … unless the days are inclusive. Can you help? Is it new math? Thanx




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      Any part of a day counts as a full “day and night,” for some reason…




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      • flcombs  April 3, 2018

        Curious about that in a broader sense from you and your ezpertise. I have heard an explanation of the terms as: when said “a day” it could mean a part of a day but when said “a day and a night” it literal meant a full day as we would think of it. What is the scholarly view or is there any real consensus of a difference?




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2018

          What I’m saying is that that view is normally taken not to be right, as weird as it seems. But maybe the normal view is wrong. If so, then originally the followers of Jesus said “on the third day,” and later that got altered to “three days and nights,” which would not have been what was originally meant.




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          • SidDhartha1953  April 9, 2018

            Could the three days and nights have been a gloss on the mention of the sign of Jonah? Maybe Jesus compared himself to Jonah, but didn’t explain what he meant, so people decided he was alluding to the fish story.




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 10, 2018

            Yup, that’s certainly possible.




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  11. doug  April 1, 2018

    I always feel a little sorry on Easter Sun. for liberal Xian pastors in mainstream congregations. They may not preach that Jesus physically rose from the dead, but they try to give a sermon that won’t anger their parishioners who believe Jesus did. That’s *not* an easy task. Those pastors likely knew what they were getting themselves into. But they probably just wanted to help people.




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    • doug  April 1, 2018

      While I think pastors should help their congregations to learn what scholarly research says about their religion, Easter Sunday is probably not the best time to spring the demise of Jesus’ body on them (unless it’s a pretty liberally educated congregation).




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    • llamensdor  April 15, 2018

      Xian is a city in China.




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  12. Telling
    Telling  April 1, 2018

    Bart,

    I have a puzzling question that maybe you can answer:

    If Jews were not allowed to put a man to death (and so turned Jesus over to the Romans who could), how is it that Stephen was soon stoned to death by Jews?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      It was a mob action, not an official act.




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      • Iskander Robertson  April 2, 2018

        in the gospels there seems to be attempts to mob jesus.

        1.was it religious mob which attempts to stone him in john?

        2.was it religious mob which attempts to throw him off cliff in luke?




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2018

          Yes and yes.




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          • llamensdor  April 15, 2018

            I don’t think any of that happened. Jews might have been upset by some of his teaching but not enough to kill him.




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        • Telling
          Telling  April 9, 2018

          Somewhere in the bible it says if you’re doing the will of God your enemies will be at peace with you (or alternately, cannot harm you). It is a universal truth present also in other religions and philosophies, good guy vs. bad guy mindsets being of the lower mind. The Crucifixion story does not fit with Jesus as Master. Either he wasn’t really crucified (my belief) or he’s not the Master. But he could have slipped away from a crowd wanting to kill him.




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          • llamensdor  April 15, 2018

            Nonsense. He was crucified. How you interpret that is another question.




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          • Telling
            Telling  April 16, 2018

            llamensdor,

            Ehrman has amply demonstrated the unreliability of Christian sources. and Ehrman reasonably argues of their being no entombment (and subsequent resurrection), and he even says Jesus had no more than twenty followers and his body was not taken down from the Cross. Ehrman does believe he was crucified, but it is a subjective analysis, he could as easily have not been crucified as could he have not been taken off the cross. There were ample crucifixions taking place, it is not a stretch of any length to consider that another man was mistaken for Jesus and was crucified. This is exactly what the respected metaphysical source the Jane Roberts/Seth material says, and it is similarly said in the Muslim Koran.

            I’m saying that if he was crucified he was not a Master, but I believe he was the Master and I believe the Jane Roberts/Seth version.

            You can look at Bishop of Antioch Ignatius to see just how bad an example the Crucifixion is. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and be thrown to the wild Beasts in Rome so as to follow the path the Lord had taken. The Church in Rome could have interceded on his behalf, but he waved them off and suffered the horrible death in the Roman circus.

            The martyr example enforces the idea of good versus evil, and weakens the true Master’s message to love your enemies, and that when you’re doing the will of God your enemies will be at peace with you.




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      • benzadok  April 6, 2018

        The stoning of James the brother of Jesus an event with quite curious parallels to the stoning of Stephen was an illegal execution under Roman law.It occurred when there was no Roman Governor in Palestine and the new Governor was in transit.This murder is covered in Josephus works.




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      • Telling
        Telling  April 6, 2018

        Okay, but there seem to be quite a lot of mob actions back them; Paul too stoned in one city, and fleeing other cities. It does seem to me that an establishment bent on getting rid of Jesus could have pretty easily covertly incited a crowd.




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        • Iskander Robertson  April 9, 2018

          mobs dont really need people from other side , they have their own infiltrators .




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  13. rivercrowman  April 1, 2018

    Another great post today!




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  14. talmoore
    talmoore  April 1, 2018

    Sometimes I imagine myself as a 1st century pagan hearing the resurrection story for the first time and thinking, “Who in their right mind would believe this?”




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      Fair enough. But, well, as opposed to believing that Zeus became a man to seduce a beautiful woman?




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      • Wilusa  April 2, 2018

        I remember that until I learned otherwise from you, I’d assumed Romans in that era had long since stopped literally *believing in* their gods!




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      • Kirktrumb59  April 2, 2018

        Don’t forget (Zeus as) the golden shower!




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      • talmoore
        talmoore  April 2, 2018

        Clearly, some people were primed to believe either. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ancient people who came to believe the resurrection story were the very same people who would believe the Zeus-as-swan raping a woman story.

        This is a concept being actively researched, in fact, with new theories such as the Horseshoe Theory in political science, which notes what people on the extremes of ideology tend to be more similar to each other than to the people in the middle. For instance, something that philosopher Eric Hoffer once noticed, hardcore communists were often once hardcore fascists, and vice versa. For instance, the reason the Nazis were called the National Socialists was that they really did start out as socialists!

        We see this happening a LOT in religions, as well, as former Muslim fundamentalists will become Christian fundamentalists, and vice versa. I’ve read stories of ultra-orthodox Jews converting to Islam and becoming Jihadis. When I studied American religions of the 19th century, I was surprised to find out that many folks who we would consider fundamentalist on one side, became fundamentalist on the other side. For example, one of the founders of Mormonism, Sidney Rigdon, started out as a Unitarian!

        Pyschologists tend to attach this proclivity for extremes as a form of fanaticism, which may be connected to obsessive behavior, such as obsessive fear of “contamination” making a person jump between various extreme beliefs about purity and purification — for instance, the Ultra-orthodox Jew who becomes a Fundamentalist Muslim.




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        • godspell  April 5, 2018

          I’m a bit confused as to how Unitarians could ever be considered fundamentalists.

          I do agree, extremists tend to go to extremes. No via media for them. It’s about personality, and personality tends to shape whatever belief system a person is born into, or later adopts.




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          • talmoore
            talmoore  April 8, 2018

            It’s not that Unitarians were necessarily “fundamentalist” but that they were extremists relative to the more established Christian sects. I mean, trinitarianism is bedrock Christianity. The Nicene creed is quite literally a profession of trinitarianism! So to go from Unitarianism to Mormonism is truly a jump from one extreme to the other.




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  15. godspell  April 1, 2018

    Jesus did not intend to found a new religious institution, but would Christianity exist without him? No more than Newtonian physics would without Newton (who certainly did not know most of the uses it would be put to).

    I’m mainly in agreement with you about what his intentions were, but I think history will ultimately pass on your contention that he intended himself to be king. There’s quite a lot of evidence to contradict this. And none to support it, except the accusations made against him, in what could hardly be called a fair trial, or any kind of trial.

    (And which, in any event, you think were largely made up after the fact by people relating non-eyewitness accounts.)

    He who exalts himself shall be humbled. Said no aspiring monarch ever.




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    • Wilusa  April 2, 2018

      As I understand it, Bart believes the Romans learned *from Judas* that Jesus was calling himself the “King of the Jews” – an offense punishable by death.

      I suppose it’s *possible* that Judas had really turned against Jesus for some other reason (perhaps a *good* reason – I’m not a fan of Jesus). Whatever it was wouldn’t have mattered to the Romans; so he lied, and told them Jesus had made a claim that would be a capital offense.

      But there is that passage in “Matthew,” in which Jesus promises his disciples *they’ll* be Kings over the individual tribes…




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      • Wilusa  April 2, 2018

        (I had to stop in haste here.) To continue…it’s occurred to me that Judas may have turned against Jesus *because of* that promise! He may have been appalled by the idea that Jesus thought his disciples would want to be “Kings.” God was supposedly promising *eternal life* for all the righteous; how could anyone presume to want more than that? To want *payment* for having preached the “good news”?




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        • godspell  April 3, 2018

          You can make a lot of guesses about Judas’ motives. And many have. He’s a fascinating character to write about, for that very reason. We know almost nothing about him. We don’t even know for sure that he did betray Jesus.

          I tend to favor the theory that Jesus and Judas entered into a conspiracy–the other disciples couldn’t accept Jesus’ belief that he had to be killed for the Kingdom to come. Judas did as Jesus wished him to do. The idea certainly goes back a long way.

          It’s still just an idea. That there was a whole gospel of Judas that promoted it (written well after the original gospels) indicates to me that nobody really knew why Judas did what he did. That there were arguments about it, different interpretations, even differing accounts of what precisely he did do.

          That there was some kind of betrayal seems likely. But I see no indication of any connection between Judas’ purported betrayal, and Jesus’ telling the disciples–including Judas–that they would be kings. I can believe he said something like that, because after all, it is a Kingdom–that will be established by God. Kings are not necessarily supreme authorities–Herod was a king, but still subordinate to Rome. That’s the kind of kingship he’s talking about. More of a viceroy, really.

          But he never says he’ll serve in that role.

          Given that all Christians believe Jesus will come again in glory–why would that be left out?

          Probably because he never said it. He believed he’d be in heaven. That he would not enter the Kingdom himself. He was the sacrifice to make that Kingdom possible.

          If Jesus did say he would be betrayed, before it happened–and he did not have supernatural powers of prescience–doesn’t it make sense that he might have arranged for that betrayal to take place?




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      • flcombs  April 3, 2018

        I wonder if that view of Judas (gave away Jesus as king) really makes him a traitor. When you see how people act, maybe he really had no malice. I could see him or anyone so excited about “l know the REAL Messiah” . Maybe he was just so excited like we often see people today. He just said too much to someone but didn’t deliberately do it to cause harm.




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        • godspell  April 5, 2018

          I don’t think that’s what happened.

          I also don’t think Jesus ever said he was Messiah. Even in private. “Who do you say that I am?” I think when he asked that, it wasn’t a rhetorical question. He really wanted to know.




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      • godspell  April 3, 2018

        I seem to recall Bart questioning the very existence of Judas, not so very far back…..

        Whatever the Romans killed him for, that hardly proves what he himself said or believed. Unless you want to say Roman law was infallible, and primarily concerned with fairness to the accused. It was concerned with keeping the Pax Romana. Nothing else.

        We have a record of Jesus telling his disciples they would be kings–for whatever reason, there is no record of Jesus saying he’d be king. There is a record of him saying he would not be there with them. That could have been added after the fact. But there are an awful lot of intimations that indicate Jesus did not expect to be in this world much longer.

        His teacher, John was killed. Moses never saw the Promised Land except from a distance. If he saw himself in a similar light–not as a ruler, but as a prophet, a messenger–it only makes sense he’d assume he might meet a similar fate.

        I think you can make a much stronger case that he believed he would not live to see the Kingdom of God, at least not in the flesh.




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  16. fishician  April 1, 2018

    There are people who consider themselves Jews even though they do not believe the specifics of their religion. Do you think someone can claim to be “Christian” without believing in the resurrection? Is there such a thing as a cultural Christian, or even a secular Christian?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      Yes indeed! I know people (especially scholars) who don’t believe in a literal resurrection who are committed Christians.




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      • johnlein  April 7, 2018

        As one of those Christians probably in mind here (currrently an Episcopal seminarian), I think it’s important to differentiate between belief in a “literal resurrection” and a “physical resurrection.” Often the two are considered synonymous to the extent that if one does not hold to the latter then it is assumed the resurrection is entirely dismissed.

        For myself, I see resurrection as an important and truthful metaphor about the universal human spiritual journey as well as a testimony of something mysterious which really happened in some form for some early followers. For the former, we as Christians are expected to go through “death and resurrection” in the way of Jesus as a spiritual journey before death—our own involvement in the story is more important than simply believing something happened 2,000 years ago. For the latter, there are similar stories of close disciples of a guru continuing to experience his presence after death (see a recent documentary about Ram Das, for example) which sound very similar to what Paul talked about. For some those stories became more “embodied” over time, but the spiritual presence seems most important for the Christian story since it could continue after the Ascension unlike the beach fish-bakes.

        The physical resuscitation of specific cells in the form of a specific body would certainly be a medical marvel (and there are recorded similar happenings of bodies thought to be dead including cessation of bodily rhythms only to have them return and live normally), but wouldn’t necessarily alone be enough to found a religion on and that’s not really what we have witnessed to across the texts. I don’t personally think that the form of resurrection, physical or spiritual or mythological, is the critical element in the Christian story.




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    • SidDhartha1953  April 9, 2018

      I think many non-evangelical Quakers would be in that camp. They consider themselves Christian, but reserve the right to determine what that means. I call myself a Christian, not because I buy any of the stories or theology, but because I attempt to live in a way consistent with the ethics taught by Jesus — as they apply to here and now.




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  17. Stylites  April 1, 2018

    Profound. Thank you.




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  18. kjc2018blue  April 1, 2018

    Professor Ehrman: I have been acquiring knowledge as the universe has been asking me to follow the bouncing ball of my own enlightenment. I started at the Bible heavy Church of Christ of my birth all the way to Orthodoxy. I have a history BA, large focus on the classics, minor in ancient history. I have questioned Jesus’ truth for a long time, I have always struggled with the real facts surrounding him, and the massive belief that has perpetuated itself through millenniums, well into this current climate of patriotic religiosity that has developed in our present day. Just as I have come upon the truth of my life by following the bouncing ball of enlightenment, I too found you and your blog, books and courses. I have so many questions and I am certain you have answered them on here somewhere. First of all have you explained how you came upon your current belief system somewhere in this blog? Or can you point me in the direction of which book served as an enlightenment to you? I watched your course on the historical Jesus and was amazed at this truth and then I was equally horrified to think of the hoax, perpetuated through time, and the crimes associated with the anti-semitism, anti-Muslim, and likely any other religious group. But I am very curious how you as a evangelical Christian were enlightened to your current belief. I too believe that the ultimate “do unto others” and love are messages we must carry forward. And this is my next question-what if everyone suddenly did not believe in Jesus, what would the world we live in look like? I will stop here for now, I hope you will be able to point me in a direction. And I thank you for giving me some of the answers for which have been searching for quite some time.




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      I discuss my shift in beliefs in my books Misquoting Jesus (the beginning), Jesus Interrupted (the beginning), and God’s Problem (the beginning and the end). What would the world look like without belief in Jesus? It depends what people did believe instead.




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  19. Hon Wai  April 1, 2018

    Did the apologists of the patristic period (e.g. intellectuals like Justin Martyr) ever argued for the historicity of the Empty Tomb, analogous to the strategy of contemporary evangelical apologists? If not, what was the origin of this kind of historical apologetics?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      They didn’t marshal the list of “proofs” modern people do; they focused a lot more on fulfillment of prophecy (and the testimony of witnesses to some extent). The modern approach is very much influenced by post-enlightenment understandings of objectivity and proof, especially as developed in the 19th century in a range of intellectual discourses.




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  20. The Agnostic Christian
    The Agnostic Christian  April 1, 2018

    Have you ever read When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger? I’ll leave a link below. Fascinating read. I highly recommend it. It proved that when a group expects some cataclysmic event in the near future and it doesn’t happen they reinvent the failure as the actual event but that they somehow misunderstood it. This has also been documented within more recent Christian sect such as the J. W.’s and S.D.A.’s.

    But I never really thought that perhaps the first followers of Jesus themselves had suffered a similar sort of disconfirmation of their prophetic hopes and so twisted the failure into the actual fulfilment. Interesting stuff to think about.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01K2CBARC




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      Yup, absolutely love it. It’s been subject to serious criticism recently, but I love it. A book about ealry Christiantiy that uses it extensively is John Gager, Kingdom and Community (the use of cognitive dissonance to explain why Christianity became a missionary religion)




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      • The Agnostic Christian
        The Agnostic Christian  April 3, 2018

        I think the criticism is more to do with the method rather than the result though, right? Whether it was morally okay to hoodwink their test subjects in such an intimate way over an extended period like that. Or have some people started questioning the validity of Festinger’s results?

        I also bought his book a while back “Cognitive Dissonance”. He coined the very term, and wrote the book on it. But I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 4, 2018

          Barbara Herstein Smith, in her Yale lectures (forget what they were called when published) argued that Festinger suppressed some of the evidence, or at least didn’t look at it all.




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  21. Bstevens  April 1, 2018

    https://youtu.be/GHJE7cetkB4
    How do these folks sleep @ night? For comedic relief, check the vast and varied credible “sources” at the bottom of the article. If fundamentalist was added in the article before scholars, I wouldn’t be distraught.




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  22. scissors  April 1, 2018

    Professor Ehrman
    Bit confused about something. I’m sure the answer is right in front of my nose. But here goes. If Jesus believed that in the Coming Kingdom the first shall be last and the last shall be first, doesn’t that mean God’s defeated opponents would be in the Kingdom?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      No, their defeat is what makes them last.




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      • scissors  April 2, 2018

        Ok, but the context is in the Kingdom, isn’t it?




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2018

          Yes, it’s hard to figure that part out. Are they, like, slaves in the kingdom instead of the elite? Or is that pressing the metaphor to hard? I suspect the latter.




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        • godspell  April 5, 2018

          They’d be in the outer darkness, gnashing teeth. I mean, we shouldn’t assume Jesus had a blueprint. But I think he felt their punishment would be to stand just outside the kingdom, prevented from coming in–like hungry wolves watching sheep peacefully grazing in a wolf-proof enclosure. He probably never saw a wolf, and liked the goat metaphor (wolves is too dignified). (It came out in an earlier discussion that goats are sometimes mean to sheep, and that the two animals are often kept apart for the good of the sheep).

          They would spend eternity, perhaps, dealing with the fact that because they had lived their lives exploiting and oppressing the good people of the earth, they would be exiled forever from the only fruitful pleasant place on it. Living a very marginal bitter life, preying on each other.

          It would be hell in the sense that hell is bad people.

          And the Kingdom would be heaven in the sense that heaven is good people.




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  23. Jon1  April 1, 2018

    Bart,

    Doesn’t Jn 20:1-8 (c.f. jn 20:29) show resurrection belief based only on a discovered empty tomb with no appearance by Jesus (“he saw and believed”)?

    And doesn’t Mt 28:1-8 show resurrection belief based only on a discovered empty tomb and a visit by an angel telling them that Jesus was raised (“they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy”)?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      Note in John 20: Mary finds the tomb empty and thinks the body has been misplaced. So the discovery of the tomb does not lead to belief in the resurrection. You’re right, Peter believes — not, strictly speaking, because of the tomb being empty but because he sees the burial cloths rolled up. It’s that which generates belief. It’s not clear what he believes yet because the author points out that he still didn’t understand that Jesus was to rise from the dead (*after* he finds the burial cloths). The women in Matthew 28 believe not because they find the tomb empty but because an angel tells them what happened.




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      • Jon1  April 2, 2018

        Bart,

        1] In Jn 20:1-8, isn’t it “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” who “believed” based on seeing the head wraping rolled up? (You said Peter.)

        2] Doesn’t Jn 20:29 strongly suggest that “believed” in Jn 20:8 is referring to belief in *Jesus’ resurrection*? (Jn 20:29 reads, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’, and Jn 20:9 seems to be saying that they did not yet understand *from scripture* that Jesus must rise from the dead).

        3] Isn’t it more accurate to say that, in Jn 20:1-8, it is a *combination* of seeing the head wraping rolled up and the discovered empty tomb that caused belief in Jesus’ resurrection (as opposed to “the empty tomb only creates doubts and consternation in the stories in the Gospels”)?

        4] Same in Mt 28:1-8 — the discovered empty tomb seems to play a role (along with the angelic visit) in causing belief in Jesus’ resurrection…no?




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2018

          1. yes, you’re right — Peter is not said to believe. 2. 20:29 cuts against your point. They believe because of seeing Jesus, not because of finding an empty tomb 3. No, that’s not it says 4. Again, it’s not what it says.




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          • Jon1  April 3, 2018

            Bart,

            In Jn 20:24-28, *Thomas* believes because of seeing Jesus, but doesn’t Jn 20:29 (“Blessed are those who have *not* seen and yet have come to believe”) harken back to Jn 20:8 where the beloved disciple “believed” based only on the empty tomb and possibly also the head wraping? If not, what in your mind has the beloved disciple come to believe in Jn 20:8?




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 4, 2018

            I think 20:29 is looking *forward* to the readers of the Gospel — and their converts — who believe on teh basis of the testimony of others.




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          • Jon1  April 4, 2018

            Bart,

            OK, but if Jn 20:8 does not intend that the beloved disciple has come to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, what in your mind has the beloved disciple come to believe in in Jn 20:8?




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 6, 2018

            It’s not clear I’d say. Since they explicitly are said not to know that he has to rise, maybe it means he believes what the women told them. It *may* mean he came to believe in the resurrection, but that does make 20:9 odd.




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          • Jon1  April 6, 2018

            Bart,

            Jn 20:9 says they did not understand from *scripture* that Jesus must rise from the dead (you left the part about *scripture* out for some reason). Putting Jn 20:8-9 together, these passages seem to be saying that the beloved disciple came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection based on the empty tomb and a rolled up head wrapping, and that everyone would have believed in Jesus’ resurrection earlier than that had they understood the scriptures. Do you still think the gospel writer’s intent here is that an empty tomb and a rolled up head wrapping caused the beloved disciple to “believe” Mary’s story that the body was stolen/moved? Seems far fetched. What is there to “believe” in this case, since obviously the body was stolen/moved if Jesus was not resurrected?




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 8, 2018

            It’s not an easy passage to decipher on any reading. I’m not sure why v. 9 is necessary given v. 8….




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          • Jon1  April 8, 2018

            Bart,

            Jn 20:9 is explaining why the beloved disciple even needed to see an empty tomb and a rolled up head wrapping in order to believe in Jesus’ resurrection — he “did not [yet] understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead”. Seems pretty clear to me. Also, Jesus’ resurrection seems the only plausible explanation for what the beloved disciple came to “believe” in Jn 20:8, otherwise, what is there to “believe” if the beloved disciple just came to agree with Mary that the body was stolen/moved — of course it was stolen/moved if Jesus was not resurrected. Thoughts?




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 9, 2018

            I think it seems clearer to you than it does to me. Even though οιδα is in the pluperfect in v. 9 (ηδεισαν), because of the verb itself, that denotes a perfect meaning. If he had wanted a pluperfect sense, he would have had to phrase it differently. But, well, maybe that was his intention.




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          • Iskander Robertson  April 8, 2018

            Dr Ehrman
            if jesus was explaining the scriptures which he thought talked about his death and coming back to life, how is it possible “they did not understand ” ?

            and what do you think of doubting thomas story ?

            i quote :

            “Doubting Thomas.”

            Here was a guy who had traveled with Jesus for one (or three) years. According to the apologist who holds to the historicity of the Gospels, Thomas had seen Jesus walk on water, feed 1,000’s with some scraps of food. Watched blind people gain sight, lame walk, deaf hear. Even performed miracles himself!

            Has seen Jesus raise people from the dead and heard more teachings from Jesus than any other person alive (with the possible exceptions of Peter, James and John.) This fellow is an insider.

            He is informed by his friends, “We have seen Jesus post-Resurrection!” (Argument 5 above is a bit deceiving; it should more accurately state, “Disciples reported having experiences they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.”)

            He has almost immediate knowledge regarding the claims Jesus was raised. (I say “almost” because John records 8 days between the first two appearances, so this would be the greatest extent of time. Luke records Thomas heard on Sunday, but this contradicts John. Take your pick: 1-8 days.)

            He was in Jerusalem, he had the opportunity to inspect the empty tomb right away. He had access–friendly access—to all the disciples, Jesus’ family. Everything.

            Can you possibly imagine a witness closer to the scene with a more suitable circumstance to investigate the claims being made about a resurrected Jesus?

            And he wasn’t convinced.

            He wasn’t convinced by the crucifixion, the empty tomb, the message, the transformation of his friends, the claims of his friends, or his proximity to the scene of the event.

            Can I be any clearer? Doubting Thomas–who was far better equipped than any of us to investigate and confirm–was not convinced by the minimal facts!




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 9, 2018

            Yes, I think the doubting stories are meant to show that even after the resurrection, not all of the twelve came to believe (historically)




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          • Iskander Robertson  April 8, 2018

            one of the greatest confusion is that mary immediately recognise jesus in matthew, but in the writing of john , mary thought it was perfectly NORMAL to believe that the body was MOVED ? huh? whats going on here? i don’t get it.




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 9, 2018

            Yes, you’ll find lots of disagreements among the Gospels in the resurrection narratives.




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        • Iskander Robertson  April 3, 2018

          “4] Same in Mt 28:1-8 — the discovered empty tomb seems to play a role (along with the angelic visit) in causing belief in Jesus’ resurrection…no?”

          where does mark say that the empty tomb was discovered by the male disciples ?

          where does matthew say that peter went to check the empty tomb ?

          i read matthews text

          Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

          jesus told the women to tell the brothers to go to galilee

          the women do tell,

          Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go

          so we are told that the women report and the 11 do go. if the first thing peter did was run back to the tomb, then he did not do what jesus told him to do.

          that matthew added “where jesus had told them…” means the first thing peter did was go to galilee




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        • Iskander Robertson  April 3, 2018

          “3] Isn’t it more accurate to say that, in Jn 20:1-8, it is a *combination* of seeing the head wraping rolled up and the discovered empty tomb that caused belief in Jesus’ resurrection (as opposed to “the empty tomb only creates doubts and consternation in the stories in the Gospels”)?”

          so mary sticks there and still thinks that the body has been taken by someone , she apparently didn’t believe , she thought that an empty tomb meant that the body was taken somewhere else. 2 people see your “combination” and instead of crying and saying “praise god” they just go back to their houses instead of crying along with mary?




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      • Iskander Robertson  April 3, 2018

        ” It’s not clear what he believes yet”

        that the body is taken away like mary said ?




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  24. madi22  April 1, 2018

    In saying all this Bart, nowadays what do you/your family end up doing on Easter Sunday? I’m aware your wife is a christian, so do you still celebrate together as family? Isnt the actual date based upon a pagan holiday just like christmas?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      No, I don’t attend church on Easter. I’m afraid I would find it hypocritical. The date of Easter was a major debate in early Christianity, having to do with when to locate it in relation to Jewish passover.




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  25. Lev
    Lev  April 1, 2018

    I don’t buy that the gospels were written 40-60 years after the events. The ancient evidence points to the 1st editions of Q and Mark being written in the early 40s, Luke around 59 and John in the mid-60s. These gospels were produced on eyewitness accounts within 11-35 years of the events where those same eyewitnesses were still alive and able to verify them.

    However, I don’t buy the conservative belief that the gospels were the inerrant, faultless word of God. I think Bart’s right that Jesus and his disciples honestly believed and preached an apocalyptic message that the world would soon end and a new world without pain and suffering would be created within their lifetimes. So the conservatives, Jesus and his disciples were all wrong on these claims.

    I also believe the majority of scholars are wrong to date the gospels so late, but I think Bart is entirely correct in his assertion that Christianity only had legs with the resurrection claim. For me, the heaviest of evidence is the somewhat offhand remark Paul makes about the 500 witnesses in 1 Corinthian 15:6 “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.”

    Here Paul is passing on a tradition not found in the gospels, but which he seems to have a personal connection with. It is most likely that Paul had encountered and kept in touch with at least some of these eyewitnesses, as Paul knows about their welfare – he knows that most of the 500 still live, but some have died. If Paul had encountered some of the 500, probably during his visits to Jerusalem and Judea in the 30s and 40s, he would have spoken to several people who had witnessed the risen Jesus at the same time.

    Whilst it may be possible to write off the testimony of one person who claims to have witnessed an extraordinary event, it becomes more difficult to do so when several witnesses of the same event make the same claim. When you have 500 people making the same claim of the same event, it is virtually impossible to disregard that testimony.




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    • godspell  April 5, 2018

      Which tends to discredit Paul’s account. Why would the later gospels–which you believe were written not long after Paul’s epistles–tell the story as if it was just a few people who saw Jesus, if it was hundreds?

      Probably because there was a lot of ‘me-tooism’ going on, people who heard the few original accounts and didn’t want to be left out–mass hysteria maybe, like ‘The Great Fear’ of the French Revolutionary period. People in isolated villages, in fear of their lives, imagined they heard bands of bloodthirsty bandits approaching to kill and loot. The hallucinations were extremely vivid and widespread. Sometimes, I’m afraid, it’s more true to say “Blessed are they who have seen, and yet still question.”

      There almost certainly were not hundreds of followers of Jesus in and around Jerusalem then. If non-believers were seeing him risen, Christianity would have spread a lot faster than it did.

      Paul probably got a garbled account–he’s writing letters, not books, and he’d have heard a lot of different accounts–and later, it was decided that it wasn’t credible that hundreds saw Jesus. There were surviving accounts that didn’t match what Paul said. Or match each other, for that matter.




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      • Lev
        Lev  April 6, 2018

        No, I think Q and Mark were products of the 40s and Luke 59/60, however, there are no risen Jesus appearances in what we have of Mark and what is reconstructed from Q.

        The gospels do not record all the events in Jesus’ life, as the last verse of John’s gospel puts it: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” The appearance of the risen Jesus with the 500 is one of those stories that did not make it into any gospel we have, but Paul knows about it.

        Paul knows about the welfare of some of the 500, so he is likely to have met some of them. Paul was in Jerusalem on several occasions, so it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude he met some of them there.




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    • HawksJ  April 8, 2018

      “When you have 500 people making the same claim of the same event, it is virtually impossible to disregard that testimony.”

      Except we don’t have 500 claims. We have one.

      If I said that I was in a group of 500 people who watched the sun rise in the west, and yet it was reported by no one else, then that is a single claim, not 500.




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      • Lev
        Lev  April 8, 2018

        Except Paul seems to know some of the 500 as he’s aware some of them have died, but most are still alive at the time he wrote. If Paul knew some of the 500, then they would have been able to verify this early report of their encounter with the risen Jesus.

        We don’t know how many of the 500 Paul met, but I don’t think Paul would have passed on this account to the Corinthians if he had any doubts over its authenticity. Paul had a good nose for bullshit, and would call it out when he smelt it: Colossians 2:18, 2 Timothy 4:3-4.




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      • Iskander Robertson  April 8, 2018

        with all those witnesses just around the corner,paul uttered the following :

        12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

        All those “ifs” even though witnesses were just around the corner? what? 500 +




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  26. mikezamjara  April 2, 2018

    Dr Ehrman, In past days you were talking about afterlife. In your debates about suffering, afterlife is used by apologists as a explanation for the suffering of inocent people as this: because they will have an eternity of reward or punishment then their suffering in this life is little in comparison. But in those debates never is discussed why does god do not accept repentance in the afterlife. I mean, a person in hell or purgatory could accept Jesus as his personal savior and praise him. A sincere repentance in hell or purgatory is not posible?. Has any apologist you debated answered that question?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      Nope, it’s simply assumed that death is the end of a person’s chances.




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      • SidDhartha1953  April 9, 2018

        I don’t think Orthodox Christianity teaches that. I think they literally believe that all things will be reconciled to God in Christ. I was rereading Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (6:20ff.) which seems to support that notion. “Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (6:35b) Isn’t Luke saying Jesus was a universalist in the final analysis?




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 10, 2018

          I’m not sure that says that *everyone* will be saved. Luke certainly thinks God curses people.




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  27. RayC  April 2, 2018

    Bart,

    Why would the apostles say they saw the resurrected Jesus if they really didn’t? Everything you state I agree with, but it is hard to fathom why they would spread a lie – one which they were willing to die for (at least based on the history I am aware of regarding their deaths). I am sure many explanations can be put forward as a basis for an argument as to why, but that would be speculation at best. It seems the only real options are to either believe them or to simply say they lied because resurrections don’t happen, or at least can’t be shown to have happened!

    Ray C




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      I don’t think it was a lie. I think some of them believed they saw him alive afterward. (Just as other people claimed to see yet *others* alive after their deaths. Still happens a lot today.)




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      • Lev
        Lev  April 2, 2018

        I find that the difference between someone thinking they see a loved one who has died recently, and the disciples’ experience, is that the disciples spoke with, touched and ate with the risen Jesus whereas people who think they see someone who has just died usually say it was a fleeting glance of someone on the other side of the road or across a crowded room. They never say they had just returned from having dinner with ‘Bob’ who died last Tuesday.




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2018

          I don’t think the disciples spoke with, touched, and ate with Jesus. Those are later legendary accretions.




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          • Lev
            Lev  April 3, 2018

            Aye, I appreciate this is your understanding. However, these accounts are found in the earliest texts we have – aside from ch 21 of John, they don’t appear to have been added to the texts later.

            – Matthew 28 has the Marys clasping the feet of Jesus.
            – Luke 24 has Cleopas and another eating with Jesus. Also, the eleven examining the wounds of Jesus and eating with him.
            – John 20 has Mary holding onto Jesus. Also, the disciples (especially Thomas), examining the wounds of Jesus. If we include ch 21, we have Jesus eating with his disciples.

            The difficulty with your comparison to people who think they see dead people alive again today, is that when people make these claims it’s because they see someone who looks very similar to a recently departed. They think they recognise that person.

            However, the accounts of Mary Magdalene in John 20, the other disciples in John 21 and Cleopas in Luke 24 are explicit that they *didn’t* recognise the risen Jesus at first. His appearance had changed.

            It is therefore incorrect to compare these risen Jesus appearances to people today who think they’ve seen a dead person alive again because ‘they looked just like them!’, because the gospels accounts state the opposite – the risen Jesus did not remind his disciples of his appearance.




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 4, 2018

            Yes, I think they are legends invented by storytellers in the decades after Jesus’ death. Not sure if you’ve read my book Jesus BEfore the Gospels, but it’s where I deal with the phenomenon of altered oral traditions.




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          • Iskander Robertson  April 4, 2018


            However, the accounts of Mary Magdalene in John 20, the other disciples in John 21 and Cleopas in Luke 24 are explicit that they *didn’t* recognise the risen Jesus at first. His appearance had changed”

            “his appearance had change” is an excuse for the fact that the man they saw wasn’t jesus? in matthew , the two Mary’s immediately recognise him . they grab his feet . it is some on a mountain who dont think that jesus was the one on the mountain, so the “some” used their previous image of jesus and said to themselves “that isn’t jesus, thats someone else”

            why would they forget the image of jesus so quickly ?

            if one can magically make wounds reappear, then how do we know that the crucifixion was even real?




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 6, 2018

            I’m not clear what you’re asking. Are you taking these as historically accurate reports and wondering how they can be right? I don’t think they’re historical accounts, but later stories told about the resurrected Jesus.




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          • Iskander Robertson  April 6, 2018

            “I’m not clear what you’re asking. Are you taking these as historically accurate reports and wondering how they can be right? I don’t think they’re historical accounts, but later stories told about the resurrected Jesus.”

            i am only discussing it theoretically, i don’t take them as historically accurate reports.




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        • SidDhartha1953  April 9, 2018

          My mother-in-law claimed she saw her deceased husband sitting on the hospital bed where their child was near death and that he spoke to her, telling her the child would recover. Did she see that? Was it a dream she later confabulated into a vision? Did she make the whole thing up? I have no clue, but such stories abound.




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          • Lev
            Lev  April 10, 2018

            Did she have physical contact with her returned husband, or eat some food with him? Did she struggle to recognise him at first?

            If not, then this isn’t a fair comparison of what Mary Magadelen, Cleopas, Peter, John, James, Nathaniel, Thomas and others experienced when they met the risen Jesus – and that’s the point I’m making.

            I’ve never heard a contemporary account of someone meeting a deceased person alive again (aside from those who have been revived shortly after death) where they have physical contact or they struggle to recognise them. It’s normally fleeting glances from across a crowded street or airport where they “looked just like them”.




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      • Iskander Robertson  April 2, 2018

        Dr,

        if each disiple was marked for death, then would recanting have saved them?




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2018

          Yup.




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          • Iskander Robertson  April 5, 2018

            i thought people who get marked for death have had it regardless if recanting or not




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    • Wilusa  April 2, 2018

      Vivid dreams! The person knows it’s a dream, but is sure – rightly or wrongly – that there’s *truth* in the dream (in which a recently-deceased person is trying to tell them he or she is, somehow, “still alive.”) In the case of Jesus’s followers, they may have told others they’d seen him in dreams. But as the tales were told and retold, the fact that they’d been dreaming ceased to be mentioned.




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  28. prince  April 2, 2018

    I was discussing this issue with a Muslim, who quoted me interesting verses from the Quran that mentions the conjectures surrounding the story of the crucifixion and Jesus resurrection:

    That they (Jews) said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of God”—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not—nay, God raised him up unto Himself; and God is Exalted in Power, Wise.” 4:157-158

    God said, ‘Jesus, I will take you back and raise you up to Me: I will purify you of the disbelievers. To the Day of Resurrection I will make those who follow you superior to those who disbelieved. Then you will all return to Me and I will judge between you regarding your differences” 3:55

    “And behold! God will say “O Jesus the son of Mary! didst thou say unto men `worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God”? He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden. ”
    “Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say to wit `Worship God my Lord and your Lord’; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when Thou didst take me up thou wast the Watcher over them and Thou art a Witness to all things” 5:116-117

    Intriguing




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  29. caesar  April 2, 2018

    These are all the verses I’ve ever been able to find that support the idea that Jesus’ death gave salvation, or paid for others’ sins. Are you saying that these verses were interpolations of later Christians?

    –Mk 10:45 Jesus’ life as a ransom for many
    –Mt 20:28–Jesus’ life as a ransom for many
    –Mt 26:26-28–Lord’s supper–his blood, poured out for sins
    –Mk 15:37-38–Temple curtain torn top to bottom (symbolic) just AFTER Jesus dies.




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. Yes, I think the first three are *not* things actually said by the historical Jesus (if that’s the question)




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      • caesar  April 2, 2018

        So, Matthew and Mark said ‘The Son of Man (Jesus?) came to give his life as a ransom for many.’…but Jesus himself probably never said this. ‘Matthew’ and ‘Mark’ had a theology that the crucifixion resulted in atonement, but Jesus himself was not the originator of this theology. Does that sound right?




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  30. Robert  April 2, 2018

    “Christianity, at its heart, is the belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about salvation, and that believing in his death and resurrection will make a person right with God, both now and in the afterlife.”

    That’s a pretty good description of ‘fundamentalist’ Christianity, perhaps, but it completely ignores the fundamental importance of following the moral teachings of Jesus. In my view, Christianity should still be a sect of Judaism with a healthy outreach ministry to gentiles. It is nothing without its moral core, worse than nothing if hypocritical.




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      I’m not trying to give the modern fundamentalist view, but the traditional view that Christians have had over the centuries.




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      • Robert  April 2, 2018

        “I’m not trying to give the modern fundamentalist view, but the traditional view that Christians have had over the centuries.”

        But it simply does not do justice to the great importance traditional Christianity attached to caring for the sick, widows, and orphans or even just living a good moral life with respect to personal matters, ie, not lying, cheating, committing adultery, etc. In traditional Christianity (as in traditional Judaism, and other traditions), these things were all important to ‘making a person right with God’. It is not simply a matter of “belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about salvation, and that believing in his death and resurrection will make a person right with God.” That’s a terrible caricature.




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2018

          None of those things can bring salvation, in traditional Christianity, apart from the sacrifice of Christ. Otherwise there’s no reason to try to convert anyone. You just have to urge them to be good people.




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          • Robert  April 3, 2018

            “None of those things can bring salvation, in traditional Christianity, apart from the sacrifice of Christ. Otherwise there’s no reason to try to convert anyone. You just have to urge them to be good people.”

            It is not just believing in Jesus’ sacrifice, but following his example, living a life of grace, love, and sacrifice for others. If you want to characterize the heart of traditional Christianity, you can’t start with the sola fide of Luther and Calvin. Otherwise, how can you possibly understand all the religious orders, hospitals, orphanages, St Francis of Assisi, etc? It is about conversion of life, not just touting a cheap soteriology.




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 4, 2018

            Not so sure about that. Look at the Christian creeds! Reads the writings of the church fathers!




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          • Robert  April 4, 2018

            “Not so sure about that. Look at the Christian creeds! Reads the writings of the church fathers!”

            I suspect you’re arguing against something I have not said. I’m surely in agreement with most of the fathers and a fundamentalist appeal to creeds is irrelevant and cannot possibly erase hundreds of years of lived reality. One cannot point to any ancient creed that supposedly denies the fundamental importance of following the moral teachings of Jesus, or opposes caring for the sick, widows, and orphans, or living a good moral life with respect to personal matters, ie, not lying, cheating, committing adultery, or that says we should not follow the example of Jesus and live a life of grace, love, and sacrifice for others?




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 6, 2018

            For Christainity, historically, “being a good person” is not what provides your salvation.




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          • Robert  April 6, 2018

            “For Christainity, historically, ‘being a good person’ is not what provides your salvation.”

            But my point is that one should not narrow ‘the heart of Christianity’ to soteriology, as is sometimes done by some fundamentalists.




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          • SidDhartha1953  April 9, 2018

            I’m reading Candida Moss’s The Myth of Martyrdom and she makes the case that some early Christians were anything but moral in a sense that modern social gospel Christians would appreciate. They thought dying for their faith, even if they had to commit horrendous crimes themselves to bring it about, was the key to salvation and heavenly bliss. What contemporary scapegoats do they remind you of?




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  31. Tony  April 2, 2018

    In reading this post I’m reminded of the Christian Creeds which ultimately are based on an hypothesis turned into a confessional statement of faith, and subsequently a statement of fact. Of course, the initial purpose of creeds was to fight heresies such as Marcionism or Arianism. The Christian creeds persist to this day and children are still forced to recite and internalize them.

    I’m wondering if some of your followers are interpreting the Christian historical narratives of scholars such as yourself as creeds, and are seeing alternative hypotheses as heresies to be fought. That might explain the nature of some of the comments on your blog.




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  32. webo112
    webo112  April 2, 2018

    In regards to the empty tomb, I have always found it interesting that the disciples do not anticipate Jesus resurrection, based on his prophesies…you would think they in fact would expect to find the empty tomb. You would think that the empty tomb would in fact be a sign of the prophesized resurrection – yet, as you pointed out, the reaction to the discovery of the empty tomb is not described as so.

    The followers were not anxiously awaiting by the tomb to see if he was resurrected, instead only the (various) woman go there to prepare his body etc. I think further lending evidence that the historical Jesus did not make asserted claims that he would be resurrected after his crucifixion.

    Professor is this a fair conclusion to arrive to?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 3, 2018

      Interesting point. It’s usually argued by believers that the disciples just never “got it.” But I think your view is somewhat more persuasive.




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      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  April 4, 2018

        I noted in January that Jesus’ burial was an unnecessary component for messianic prophecy even though Paul includes it as part of what was passed on to him. Mark includes a tomb story for *other* reasons. I’ve wondered whether Paul excluded part of the creed due to his own motivations. I can’t help but think a piece is missing and originally went something like—Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried according to the law, (or scriptures, meaning the law) that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures. Not to mention, Mark has Jesus die according to prophecy, buried according to the law, and resurrected according to prophecy. It falls in line with the creed.

        Paul wouldn’t have mentioned a tomb story if he thought it meant having to explain why Jesus was buried according to Jewish cutstoms when he supposedly set everyone free from the law. It’s much easier to just say he was buried and leave it at that.




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    • mikezamjara  April 3, 2018

      very good point my friend




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  33. JamesFouassier  April 2, 2018

    Professor, I’m interested in your thoughts about the theory advanced by Burton Mack that Jesus was a teacher of wisdom (the “Kingdom of God” actually spread on the earth there and then) but not an apocalyptic; and that one of his earliest groups of followers read and interpreted his teachings without any apocalyptic overtones (the “Jesus People”) while other groups (which he calls the “Q” People and the “Thomas People” etc) read his teachings differently (apocalyptic and Gnostic, respectively) ? How do you suppose that Professor Mack disregards all of the “evidence” that Jesus preached an apocalyptic message simply as post-Easter developments and a part of the “myth-making” of a specific group of Q People?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 3, 2018

      Yes, I think that’s completely wrong. It was a wave of scholarly thought in the 80s and 90s and on into this century, but it never took over and seems now to be on the wane.




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  34. emersongreen  April 2, 2018

    “Jesus was arrested for being a troublemaker, charged with crimes against the state (proclaiming himself to be the king, when only Rome could rule), publicly humiliated, and ignominiously tortured to death. This was not at all what the disciples expected.  It was the opposite of what they expected.  It was a radical disconfirmation of everything they had heard from Jesus during all their time with him.  They were in shock and disbelief, their world shattered.  They had left everything to follow him, creating hardship not only for themselves but for the families near and dear to them – leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves and doubtless to suffer want and hunger with the only bread-winner away from home to accompany an itinerant preacher who thought the end of history was to arrive any day now.”

    This really helped me empathize with the followers of Jesus after the crucifixion. It’s also an interesting counter to the ‘who would die for a lie’ argument. Christian apologists are assuming there that people are entirely rational actors who always admit when they’re wrong as soon as disconfirming evidence appears. It’s not hard to imagine distraught cult members – with a lot of sunk cost, who left their families to starve, immensely pressured by cognitive dissonance – grasped for anything they could cling to and ran with it. (Assuming we know the disciples were martyred in the first place, which we don’t.)

    Anyway, I’m glad I signed up for this blog! It makes for fun reading and I’ve already learned a lot in the backlogs. Thanks!




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  35. Eskil  April 2, 2018

    Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus simply died and went straight to Heaven without any zombie stories. Is that the case? How would you explain that?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 3, 2018

      I don’t think it indicates one way or the other whether he appeared to his disciples first.




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  36. Wilusa  April 2, 2018

    Say, I can’t move on from “Easter” without mentioning the broadcast of “Jesus Christ Superstar Live.” I’d never actually seen or heard that musical before – didn’t care enough to check it out until it came on free TV.

    I thought the *performances* were great, and the staging. But I regretted the inclusion of things like Mary Magdalene having been a prostitute, the “innocence of Pilate,” and so forth. The main plot seemed to be that hordes of people were screaming for Jesus, then turning against him for no reason except their own fickleness. Did the producers not realize those elements in the Gospels, written by Gentile Christians, were meant to blame the Jews? Specifically *as* Jews?

    Interesting bits: Judas lamenting that his betrayal of Jesus wasn’t his own choice (always a problem: if the whole thing was somehow “necessary,” why was Judas vilified for doing what had to be done?). Their making it clear Jesus did have some kind of “powers,” by showing him performing healings. His *extreme* chattiness on the cross. And finally, their giving no hint, one way or the other, as to whether there would be a “resurrection.” So this was a story – the story they chose to tell – in which what was going to happen *after* Jesus’s death didn’t matter at all?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 3, 2018

      It’s a great play. I have my students watch the movie, also great, for my Jesus in Scholarship and Film course.




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    • SidDhartha1953  April 9, 2018

      I think JCSS is more about contemporary hero worship than about Jesus, much as The Crucible is about McCarthyism, not Salem.




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  37. tompicard
    tompicard  April 3, 2018

    1) What recorded statement(s) made by Jesus in the Gospels leads you to the conclusion that he believed in imminent appearance of zombies (resurrection entailing physical bodies) ?

    2) if those (i think very very few) statements can be understood either metaphorically or literally, SHOULDN’T it be wiser to assume the former rather than latter which ascribes to him a belief that is both supernatural and also silly?

    p.s. I tend to agree with Mike L. that Matthew meant the zombies described at the end of his Gospel to be understood metaphorically.




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 4, 2018

      THe conflict with the Sadducees over “whose wife will she be?” “at the resurrection,” for example. Or eating with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom. My view is that one should not assume an ancient author is being metaphorical because we moderns consider he views silly.




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      • tompicard
        tompicard  April 8, 2018

        doesn’t Jesus answer imply that Abraham Isaac an Jacob were alive 400 years after their physical bodies were deposited in a cave at machpelah ?

        if the patriarch’s resurrection were of their literal physical physical bodies, where were they?

        if on the other hand by saying the patriarchs were figuratively resurrected/ figuratively alive it is understood to mean they were dearly loved by God then the Sadducees would have no grounds to continue the challenge. Additionally, it’s completely consistent with jesus’ teachings that health and maintenance of the physical body is of secondary importance in comparison to a person’s relationship to Heaven, whereas an overly concern and value of the physical is somehow out of place.




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 9, 2018

          He thinks they’ll be alive at the resurrection, in any event. It’s not clear what he thinks they are doing or where they are (if anywhere) now.




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          • tompicard
            tompicard  April 9, 2018

            it seems to me he thinks they are alive NOW, or at the least at the time of Moses. And maybe even the Sadducees agreed to the point,
            not just that they WILL BE alive at the (future?) resurrection.

            and if their being alive now is right, then it seems to have absolutely no correlation to where their old physical corpses are residing.
            anyway that is one point of view.




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      • SidDhartha1953  April 9, 2018

        Is it just me being too cranky, or is the recurring zombie metaphor for resurrection stories just a little too cute?




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  38. FluminenseFC82  April 3, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, a wonderful summary of today’s meaning of Easter in modern Christian churches. Well done. Thank you.

    As your colleague, Dr. James Tabor has studied, written and published, Paul/Saul and his Christology is a major force in spreading and growing the Gentile/pagan side of the “faith.” When I super-impose the full context of the Hellenistic Roman Empire and geopolitical and socioreligious infrastructure over and onto Second Temple Judaism and the Messianic Era, to me personally the gradual and eventual overshadowing (and eventual success) of Paul’s “Neo-Religion” opened up to all Gentiles, with several Greco-Roman ideals of Apotheosis, throughout the Empire (endearing the social classes struggling to survive — blossoming welfare system) takes on an entirely DIFFERENT form than Jesus the Reformer had ever intended! Notwithstanding Jesus’ true pure teachings/reforms, the new Gentile religion was too far gone, popular, and honestly distorted — particularly when the Jewish-Roman War wiped out so many of the outlying sects and those in Jerusalem by 70 CE! Which might have been some of Jesus’ very Jewish 2nd generation followers? Perhaps?

    And I am utterly challenged to find out WHY did Paul go to Arabia for 3-years and WHAT was it that he learned there (about Jesus)? Because when Paul returned from Arabia he obviously had a different version of “the Way” and the Kingdom of God than the disciples and the Jerusalem Council had, yes? Any thoughts?

    Thank you!




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 4, 2018

      I don’t think he went into the desserts of Arabia to meditate, reflect, and develop his views. I think he went to the cities of the Nabatean Kingdom (then called Arabia) to begin his missionary work. He clasims that he realized the significance of Jesus for Gentiles as soone as he had his vision.




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      • FluminenseFC82  April 4, 2018

        Thank you Dr. Ehrman.

        With yours or any other known or fairly well-known history of 1st century Nabatea, are there alignments or hints of alignments in Jesus’ or Paul’s teachings, reformations, concepts with those in Nabatea? Does Paul’s immediate decision to go there have anything to do with Jesus’ Arabic background? Is this little clue(?) worth exploring?




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 6, 2018

          I don’t think so. Nothing suggests Jesus had an Arabic background. His family were lower-class peasants in rural Galilee.




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  39. Stanislaw Ruczaj  April 4, 2018

    Prof. Ehrman,

    You write that the empty tomb was not enough to convince anyone of resurrection. It was visions that convinced the disciples. Therefore, we don’t need to accept the empty tomb story to explain the belief in Resurrection.

    I have two questions:

    1) What do you make of D. Allison’s argument for the historicity of the empty tomb. Allison says that there was no reason for the disciples to invent the story, because after the death of Jesus they were “emotionally down but not theologically out”. Death of Jesus was something they expected within their apocalyptic frame of thought. The discovery of the empty tomb changed that.

    2) This leads me to a second question. You seem not to consider the possibility that even though the empty tomb was not *sufficient* for the belief in resurrection, it was still *necessary* for it. What ultimately convinced people that Jesus was risen were visions, but they would not be interpreted like they were if there was no empty tomb.
    What are your thoughts?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 4, 2018

      1) No, the empty tomb didn’t change that: their visions of Jesus did 2) It wasn’t necessary. People came to believe in the resurrection without knowing anything about an empty tomb. See, e.g., 1 Cor. 15:3-8. It’s all about appearances of Jesus.




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      • Stanislaw Ruczaj  April 5, 2018

        OK. So visions were enough for the disciples, but when the visions stopped, the apostles needed something more to convince people of the truth of their beliefs? And that’s how the story of the empty tomb started to circulate?




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        • Bart
          Bart  April 6, 2018

          Maybe — but there’s no record of the empty tomb leading to faith. I think the stories of the appearances continued to be told. The empty tomb was told to convince people who were already believers that the resurrection was an actual physical resuscitation of the body, something that was debated in the early church.




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          • Stanislaw Ruczaj  April 8, 2018

            Thank you! I have one last question: why do you think the earliest disciples believed that the resurrection was “an actual physical resuscitation of the body”, if that issue was debated later? I mean, they had other options, so why did they choose this particular one? Was it something in their beliefs that forced them to interpret their visions in this physical way?

            All the best,
            Stanislaw




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 8, 2018

            The earliest ones thought this becaues they were Jewish apocalypticists who believed that *all* bodies would literally be raised, in physical form, at the end of time.




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          • SidDhartha1953  April 9, 2018

            The Ascension would better explain the end of the appearances than the empty tomb, would it not? And the coming of the spirit at Pentecost would be the evidence that Jesus is alive and well and sitting at the Father’s right hand. No?




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          • Bart
            Bart  April 10, 2018

            Sorry, I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. (Why would the empty tomb explain the end of appearances?)




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  40. Jgapologist  April 7, 2018

    Hi Bart

    What do you make of skeptical James? He did not seem to believe at first.




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