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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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  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.)

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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


        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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

    • jbrett14  April 9, 2018

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

  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.

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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)

      • 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?

        • 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.

          • prince  April 5, 2018

            Thanks Dr. Erhman 🙂

      • 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.”

        • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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.

  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?

  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

    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

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

  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?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

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

  9. Bogotano  April 1, 2018

    Quite a cogent summary!

  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

    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

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

      • 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?

        • 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.

          • 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.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 10, 2018

            Yup, that’s certainly possible.

  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.

    • 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).

    • llamensdor  April 15, 2018

      Xian is a city in China.

  12. Telling
    Telling  April 1, 2018


    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?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

      It was a mob action, not an official act.

      • 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?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2018

          Yes and yes.

          • 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.

        • 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.

          • llamensdor  April 15, 2018

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

          • Telling
            Telling  April 16, 2018


            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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

        • Iskander Robertson  April 9, 2018

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

  13. rivercrowman  April 1, 2018

    Another great post today!

  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?”

    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

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

      • 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!

      • Kirktrumb59  April 2, 2018

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

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

  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.

    • 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…

      • 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”?

        • 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?

      • 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.

        • 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.

      • 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.

  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?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2018

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

      • 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.

    • 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.

  17. Stylites  April 1, 2018

    Profound. Thank you.

  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.

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

  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.


    • 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)

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • Jon1  May 4, 2018


            Several commenters, like the one above, as well as myself, have brought up the topic now and then of a possible *rationalization* of Jesus’ death by Jesus’ followers to explain the belief that Jesus was resurrected up to heaven (in accordance with cognitive dissonance theory outlined in Festinger’s book When Prophecy Fails). In almost every case, you bring up John Gager’s book, which does not really focus on the *rationalization* aspect of cognitive dissonance theory, but rather the *proselytizing* aspect of cognitive dissonance theory (“why Christianity became a missionary religion”). The *proselytizing* aspect of cognitive dissonance theory has been largely criticized and has not panned out very well in follow up studies. In your response above, you refer to Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s Terry lectures delivered at Yale in 2006 and say that she argued that Festinger suppressed some of the evidence, or at least didn’t look at it all. Have you ever read Smith’s Terry lectures? The part of Festinger’s theory that she says Festinger suppressed or did not look at objectively is the *proselytizing* aspect of cognitive dissonance theory; Smith 100% supports the *rationalization* aspect of Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory. She clearly states this in the first five pages of her lectures (in book form — Natural Reflections (2009)). Are you aware of the *rationalization* aspect of cognitive dissonance theory and have you ever considered it as the cause of the belief that Jesus was resurrected up to heaven, in which case the hallucinations of Jesus would all have followed *after* the resurrection belief came about in the resultant highly charged religious environment? Why did you dismiss this possibility in favor of a bereavement hallucination of Jesus, where Jesus most likely appeared for a few seconds, said nothing, and then disappeared, which seems unlikely to have generated the resurrection belief.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 6, 2018

            It’s not quite clear to me how you’re working the theory out.

          • Jon1  May 6, 2018


            Below is an article published by Westar Institute explaining how cognitive dissonance could have led to the resurrection belief. The article focuses on the *rationalization* aspect of cognitive dissonance theory, not the largely debunked *proselytizing* aspect of cognitive dissonance theory (it is also the *rationalization* aspect of cognitive dissonance theory that Barbara Herrnstein Smith affirms and focuses on in her Terry lectures about religious and other belief systems). Is this the first you have ever heard of this? If so, why would you dismiss the possibility that cognitive dissonance induced rationalization led to the resurrection belief in favor of a bereavement hallucination of Jesus, where Jesus most likely appeared for only a few seconds, said nothing, and then disappeared, the latter of which seems unlikely to have generated the resurrection belief? Brief hallucinations of Jesus would seem more likely to be accepted as visitations by Jesus from heaven *after* the resurrection belief was already in place.


          • Bart
            Bart  May 8, 2018

            I haven’t read the article, but I’d be open to seeing a quick summary of the argument.

          • Jon1  May 8, 2018


            Here is a quick summary. Jesus dies. Jesus’ followers experience cognitive dissonance because they thought Jesus was the Messiah. Instead of abandoning their belief that Jesus was Messiah, and in accordance with the *rationalization* aspect of cognitive dissonance theory, they rationalize that Jesus is still the Messiah despite his death, that he died for our sins, God raised him from the dead up to heaven to be with God as a form of vindication and reward for the righteous, and would return soon to usher in the final redemption. Hallucinations follow in the highly charged religious environment of excitement about Jesus’ resurrection and expectation of his imminent return. Questions?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 9, 2018

            Yup, I think it’s plausible. But the *evidence* they use to convince others are the hallucinations they have. BTW, this is part of the theory that John Gager develops in his book Kingdom and Community.

          • Jon1  May 9, 2018

            Correct, the *evidence* that was used to to convince others that Jesus resurrected were the hallucinations, and probably also the accumulating claim that this was according to the scriptures. But you are pretty adamant in your book HGBG that “it was visions, and nothing else, that led the first disciples to believe in the resurrection”. Would you consider abandoning this position in favor of the view that the resurrection belief is the result of a cognitive dissonance induced rationalization? If so, I have been looking at this for awhile and could provide you with information and reasoning that you may find interesting.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 10, 2018

            I”m happy to say that the cognitive dissonance led to the visions — it seems completely plausible to me. But it was the visions, not the dissonance, that made them think Jesus had been raised from the dead. (The cognitive dissonance could have led to *other* results, different from visions, and it’s not possible what their conclusions/views would have been as a result)

          • Jon1  May 10, 2018


            By “cognitive dissonance led to the visions” I assume you mean bereavement hallucinations. I really don’t see how bereavement hallucinations could have led to the resurrection belief. People who think such experiences are real visits from the deceased always think it is the person’s *spirit* visiting, not their actual body, and people who do not believe in a spiritual afterlife of any sort often recognize these experiences as a figment of their own imagination, and those who don’t recognize them as a figment of their imagination probably start believing in a spiritual afterlife of some sort. This is probably why there is no record of anyone worldwide (including among apocalyptic Jews) ever concluding from one of these experiences that their lost loved one had been bodily raised from the dead. Why would a brief and minimally interactive image of Jesus make a follower of Jesus think he was *bodily* raised from the dead when nobody else in human history has concluded such a thing from a bereavement hallucination?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 11, 2018

            Yes that’s what people think *today* because we assume a body dies but the spirit lives on. Not so apocalyptic Jews in antiquity. I explain how it all worked in my book How Jesus Became God.

          • Jon1  May 11, 2018


            Apocalyptic Jews in antiquity had to have had post-mortem bereavement hallucinations of lost loved ones like everyone else, and none of them ever concluded that their lost loved one had been bodily raised from the dead. Presumably they concluded that the brief and minimally interactive image was just a figment of their own imagination, just like many people do today. So why would these same Jews (apocalyptic) think Jesus was bodily raised from the dead based on a brief and minimally interactive image of Jesus instead of concluding that the image was just a figment of their imagination?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 13, 2018

            I don’t think everyone has the same experiences — experiences are mediated through the way we understand the world. If you understand how the world — and life, and death, and afterlife — “work” then you will experience a vision differently. Why did the disciples in particular experience their vision(s) of Jesus as a resurrected being? Because they were *unusually* fervent in their firm belief that a resurrection was going to happen in their lifetimes, based on what Jesus himself had told them and convinced them of.

          • Jon1  May 13, 2018


            Surely there were some apocalyptic Jews who were just as “unusually fervent” in their belief that the resurrection was going to happen their lifetime as Jesus’ followers were. Why were all of these apocalyptic Jews able to dismiss brief and minimally interactive images of their lost loved ones as a figment of their imagination, but not Jesus’ followers?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 16, 2018

            It would be worth knowing. (Others also experienced cognitive dissonance but didn’t say their crucified messiah was raised from the dead!)

          • Jon1  May 16, 2018


            Good point that others also experienced cognitive dissonance but didn’t say their crucified messiah was raised from the dead. However, how many of those other messiahs that you are thinking of were *non-military* messiahs and how many of them *did not have access* to the dead messiah’s corpse? I’ll bet very few or none. If I am wrong, name one.

            I contend that Jesus’ death was able to be rationalized much *easier* than other messiahs because he was a *non-military* messiah figure (it’s harder to explain to oneself why a *military* messiah figure just got killed by the same enemies he *explicitly* said he was going to kill) and his body was not available to his followers to empirically disconfirm the resurrection belief (versus other messiah figures whose dead bodies may have been left to rot on the ground after their short lived military uprising or his followers watched get devoured by birds on the cross over a day or two).

            I think I just answered your objection, so back to you: Why were “unusually fervent” apocalyptic Jews able to dismiss brief and minimally interactive images of their lost loved ones as a figment of their imagination, but not Jesus’ followers? I think you are imagining bereavement hallucinations much more impactful that they really are. Only those who believe in a spiritual afterlife of some sort readily interpret these experiences as a real visit by the dead person, and it is their *soul* that is visiting, *not* their body. Those who do not believe in a spiritual afterlife of any sort quite easily dismiss these experiences as a figment of their imagination, and those who don’t dismiss them as a figment of their imagination have the option of starting to believe in a spiritual afterlife of some sort. Nobody in the history of humanity that I am aware of has ever interpreted one of these experiences as the dead person’s *body* paying them a visit. That’s a lot of examples that go heavily against your bereavement hallucination theory!

          • Bart
            Bart  May 17, 2018

            I’d say most of the record suggests that Jesus’ followers thought he *was* a military society. That’s why he has to keep correcting them, and why they are constantly said not to “understand”. It was only after his death they realized he was not that kind of messiah.

          • Jon1  May 17, 2018


            What did you mean by “Jesus’ followers thought he *was* a military society”. How can Jesus be a “society”? Are you trying to say here that Jesus was considered a military messiah *on the same level* as, say, Simon bar Giora or bar Kochbah? The latter engaged in actual military battles, while Jesus was not even hording weapons. Seems like a pretty big difference, and one that would make Jesus’ death more easily rationalized.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 18, 2018

            Sorry, typo (scribal corruption!). I meant “military messiah”

          • Jon1  May 18, 2018


            I think you practically made my point for me when you said, “It was only after his death they realized he was not that kind of [military] messiah.” Exactly, after Jesus’ death, Jesus’ followers concluded he was *not* a military messiah (at least not yet). That conclusion would have been nearly impossible if Jesus had explicitly said he was going to kill the Roman authorities and actually engaged in military operations, like Simon bar Giora and bar Kochba later did. If Jesus had behaved like Simon bar Giora and bar Kochba, Jesus’ followers would have had to make sense of Jesus’ military *failure*. Since Jesus did not behave like Simon bar Giora and bar Kochba, Jesus’ followers could more easily imagine an intentionally deferred military operation or a broader cosmic plan. Does that make any sense to you?

          • Jon1  May 18, 2018


            You missed my question in response to your statement: “Jesus’ followers thought he *was* a military messiah”. You seem to be equating Jesus with military messiahs like Simon bar Giora. The latter engaged in *actual* military operations and battles, while Jesus was not even hording weapons or planning anything. Seems like a pretty big difference, and one that would make Jesus’ death more easily rationalized. In both cases the followers have to rationalize the messiah’s death and failure to liberate Israel, but the followers of the messiah who actually committed to and conducted military operations would *also* have to rationalize their messiah’s massive miscalculation of his own military prowess. Don’t you think this difference would make Jesus’ death easier to rationalize than Simon bar Giora death, maybe even encouraging speculation because of Jesus’ complete absence of military might?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 19, 2018

            If someone in first century Palestine believed another man was the messiah, what they invariably meant was that he would raise an army and destroy the powers alien to God and establish a kingdom in Israel. They wouldn’t have to believe that he had started hoarding weapons yet.

          • Jon1  May 19, 2018


            I understand what you are saying: Jesus’ followers *thought* Jesus would at some point raise an army and liberate Israel. However, when Jesus died, Jesus’ followers did not have to make sense of an *already* evidenced military failure like the followers of Simon bar Giora and other messiahs did. Do you see the difference I am suggesting?

            Jesus’ death and failure to liberate Israel would still have been difficult to rationalize but, compared to Messiahs who had *already* committed to military operations, these failures would have been easier to rationalize as part of an intentionally deferred and broader cosmic plan that would be fulfilled later. This would explain why Jesus’ death was able to be rationalized but not the deaths of other Jewish messiahs.

            But wait, such a rationalization *did* happen again in the 1990s when Rebbe Schneerson, another Jewish messiah who *never committed to military action*, was rationalized to still be the messiah despite his death and would come back soon to fulfill his mission. We see similar phenomena with Sabbatai Sevi, whose apostasy was viewed as part of an *intentional* strategy to assume evil’s form by converting to Islam and then killing it from within.

            What do you still find difficult about the idea that Jesus’ followers rationalized his death such that he would return shortly to fulfill his messianic mission?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 20, 2018

            Yes, there is a difference. The disciples expected something that didn’t happen and then the opposite happened and it created massive cognitive dissonance.

          • Jon1  May 20, 2018


            I think you just made my point for me again: “The disciples expected something that didn’t happen [military operations led by Jesus] and then the opposite happened [Jesus died without liberating Israel] and it created massive cognitive dissonance.”

            So after Jesus’ death it would have been *much easier* than for other messiahs to rationalize that Jesus never *intended* to be a military messiah. That is why Jesus’ death was able to be rationalized but not the deaths of many other messiahs, which seems to answer your objection: “Others also experienced cognitive dissonance but didn’t say their crucified messiah was raised from the dead!” Questions/objections?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 22, 2018

            Yes, I agree it would have been much easier to say that Jesus never intended it that way. The question is what led them to think he got raised from the dead (as opposed, say, to being a “spiritual” messiah whose teachings set us free). The ancient records are impressively consistent. It was because they had visions that he was alive again.

          • Jon1  May 22, 2018


            Wow, I massive breakthrough. You now agree with me that it would have been much easier for Jesus’ followers (than for the followers of other messiahs) to conclude that Jesus never *intended* to be a military messiah when he was alive. This in turn would have made it easier for Jesus’ followers to rationalize his death in some way. I propose they rationalized that Jesus died for our sins and would be back soon to complete his mission of ushering in the final redemption (plenty of material in first century Judaism related to vicarious sacrifice when dealing with God and similar to what the Lubavitch repeated in the 1990s with another non-military messiah figure!). With the belief that Jesus was still the Messiah despite his death, that he died for our sins, and that he would return soon to usher in the final redemption, Jewish beliefs about vindication of and reward for the righteous would seem to favor a Messiah raised bodily from the dead up to heaven to be with God over a Messiah who was left to rot in the ground until he returned (and yes, there is a good reason the Lubavitch did not conclude this). So there is the resurrection belief you asked for.

            As to why Jesus’ followers would not think Jesus was a “spiritual messiah whose teachings set us free”, number one, they might not have believed in anything spiritual; they might have believed the soul was always wed to the body (as your own hallucination hypothesis requires). Number two, it is doubtful that Jesus’ followers would just think Jesus’ teachings (as they remembered them) would bring in the final redemption; they would think Jesus *himself* needed to come back.

            Once you have the resurrection belief, you have a highly charged religious environment, which plausibly leads to a rash of hallucinations of Jesus. Your reverse sequence (bereavement hallucination then resurrection belief) seems far less plausible because, when you really study bereavement hallucinations, they are so minimally interactive, which is why many people easily dismiss them as a figment of their own imagination, and those who do accept them do so under the assumption that they are only the person’s *spirit* visiting, plus nobody in the history of humanity has ever interpreted one of these experiences as the dead person’s *body* paying them a visit.

            Lastly, the ancient record is *not* consistent that it was visions that led Jesus’ followers to think he was alive again. The earliest statements of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor 15.5-7; Mk 16.7) actually do not state any causal connection between the appearances of Jesus and belief in Jesus’ resurrection; they only state that Jesus appeared. Additionally, there are two Gospel traditions that do not follow your formula of an appearance by Jesus leading to the resurrection belief. One connects belief in Jesus’ resurrection to the discovered empty tomb and a visit by an angel telling them that Jesus was raised (Mt. 28.1-8). And as we have discussed before, the other connects belief in Jesus’ resurrection to the discovered empty tomb and a rolled up head wrapping (Jn 20.1-8). It also seems a no-brainer that the core connection between appearances and the resurrection belief that is in some Gospel traditions could simply be part of a legendary trajectory that is trying to ground the initial resurrection belief in hard evidence for apologetic purposes, just like the discovered empty tomb tradition does.

            In short, it makes more sense if the resurrection belief came *first*, and then the hallucinations of Jesus followed. A bereavement hallucination of Jesus does not seem to cut it, as in not even plausible. Questions/objections?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 23, 2018

            This isn’t a breakthrough (that the followers of Jesus, after his death, thought he was not a military messiah). It’s what I’ve thought, said, and written for thirty years!

          • Jon1  May 23, 2018


            Ok, sorry, I thought you were conceding something new. So just to clarify, you think the followers of Jesus, after his death, but *before* a bereavement hallucination, thought Jesus was still the messiah (a non-military messiah)?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 24, 2018

            No. Their views that Jesus was the messiah were radically and incontrovertibly shown to be wrong. That’s what caused the dissonance. It was resolved by their visions and their realization that he was a kind of messiah they had never thought of before.

          • Jon1  May 23, 2018


            Is there any evidence that the Jesus movement was an ecstatic cult before Jesus died? I was thinking that might help your hallucination hypothesis if Jesus’ followers were *already* used to receiving heavenly messages or participating in trance-like states where they might have had visions. Then when Jesus died, they might have had a vision that was much more spectacular than a regular post-mortem bereavement hallucination.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 24, 2018

            No, I”m afraid there’s not.

          • Jon1  May 24, 2018


            Ok, I think I got it now. We both agree that, after Jesus’ death, it would have been much easier for Jesus’ followers (than for the followers of other messiahs) to conclude that Jesus never *intended* to be a military messiah when he was alive. However, we differ on the sequence of events after Jesus’ death. You think the sequence of causation was: cognitive dissonance due to Jesus’ death, bereavement hallucination, belief that Jesus was resurrected up to heaven and conscious rationalization that Jesus never intended to be a military messiah and that he will be back soon. I think the sequence of causation was: cognitive dissonance due to Jesus’ death, conscious rationalization that Jesus never intended to be a military messiah and that he will be back soon, Jewish beliefs about vindication of and reward for the righteous lead to resurrection belief, hallucinations of Jesus follow in the highly charged religious environment. The earliest evidence on appearances (1 Cor 5:5-7, Mk 16:7) does not tell us which sequence of causation is correct.

            The question I have is: Why would you choose a bereavement hallucination to kick it all off instead of a rationalization? Bereavement hallucinations are easily dismissed as a figment of the imagination for those who do not believe in a spiritual afterlife, and those who do believe in a spiritual afterlife of some sort think these experiences are only the person’s *spirit* visiting, which would not lead to the resurrection belief. Why would you choose a bereavement hallucination to kick it all off instead of a rationalization?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 25, 2018

            I don’t think they thought this immediately after his death. They thought that he *meant* to be and that it didn’t work out. I think it was all about visions because in part because that’s what the actual evidence actually points to — including eevery source that talks about it, including one who actually had the vision, Paul.

          • Jon1  May 25, 2018


            One other quick question on your hallucination hypothesis. Are you saying that Jesus’ followers had *normal* post-mortem bereavement hallucinations from which they *concluded* Jesus was resurrected, or are you saying that Jesus’ followers had *abnormal* post-mortem bereavement hallucinations of Jesus alive in heavenly glory? If the latter, what made Jesus’ followers see Jesus alive in heavenly glory if they did not yet believe Jesus was raised? In other words, are you proposing some kind of *subconscious* process whereby Jesus’ followers concluded he was raised up to heaven *subconsciously*, and then this conclusion manifested itself consciously in the form of a vision of Jesus alive in heavenly glory?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 25, 2018

            I’m saying they had a vision of Jesus. As fervent apocalypticists they believed that meant not that his spirit was visiting them, but that he had been physcially raised from the dead. Since he was not physically with them any longer, however, they concluded he had gone up to heaven (as dead people sometimes did in the ancient world).

            I think we’ve covered this topic sufficiently now. Let’s move on to other issues.

          • Jon1  May 25, 2018


            Ok, I’ll drop this topic, but just one last related question. You keep saying “every source” says the *disciples* came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection because of a vision of Jesus. However, 1 Cor 5:5-7 and Mk 16:7 only say that Jesus “appeared”; they do not say that the appearance *caused* the belief. Can you please give one source before Matthew/Luke that says the *disciples* came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection because of a vision of Jesus? (Of course we know Paul believed because of a conversion vision.)

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