15 votes, average: 4.53 out of 515 votes, average: 4.53 out of 515 votes, average: 4.53 out of 515 votes, average: 4.53 out of 515 votes, average: 4.53 out of 5 (15 votes, average: 4.53 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.

An Important Criterion for Establishing What Actually Happened

I am in the midst of a threat talking about how historians can use sources such as the Gospels to know what actually happened in Jesus’ life.  These books were not *meant* to provide disinterested historical information about the past, but were quite intentinally slanted accounts meant to encourage and shape faith in Jesus.  They nonetheless do contain important historical information.  How does the historian determine what his historical and what is legendary in them?

Yesterday I gave some of the basics – a few “rules of thumb” that historians use.  Now I get to the harder question of how to reconstruct the life of Jesus based on these kinds of sources.  Again, this is taken from my book on the historical Jesus, from 1999.  I haven’t changed my views of these matters in all these years!



Specific Criteria and Their Rationale

Over the course of the past fifty years, historians have worked hard to develop methods for uncovering historically reliable information about the life of Jesus.  I need to say up front that this is a hotly debated area of research, with some very smart and competent historians (and quite a few less than competent ones) expressing divergent views both about what criteria to use and about what conclusions to draw, once they agree on the criteria.

Here I’d like to sketch several of the methodological principles that have emerged from these debates.  As you will see, there is a real logic behind each of them, and the logic needs to be understood for the criterion itself not to seem hopelessly arbitrary.  In particular, it might help to use an analogy: in many respects, the historian is like a prosecuting attorney.  He or she is trying to make a case and is expected to bear the burden of proof.  As in a court of law, certain kinds of evidence are acknowledged as admissible, and witnesses must be carefully scrutinized.  How then can we go about it?

Piling on the Testimony: The Criterion of Independent Attestation.

In any court trial, it is better …

To see the rest of what I have to say, you will need to belong to the Blog.  Blog membership has advantages, like, say, knowledge and insight.  Who doesn’t want them?  Surely you do.  So join the blog!!

You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please Login to access.

The Trickiest Criterion for Determining What Happened in the Life of Jesus
Rules of Thumb for Reconstructing the History behind the Gospels



  1. Avatar
    HenriettePeterson  July 19, 2018

    Are you really in a “midst of a threat” as the first sentence of this blog suggests? 🙂 Who the heck threatens you? And why?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      Ha! I need to reread Freud….

      • JulieGraff
        JulieGraff  July 21, 2018

        Mr. Ehrman, i dont thing you need to read Freud again… why… because I know Freud personnaly… I can send you the personal pictures of 6 of us then and now incarnations… so that you’ll be able to see the evidences, and then rule on it!

        Why am i telling you this now?

        Because I am at this point searching for the historical evidence of Jesus (so I thank you so much for your work) as I am studying Hebrew scriptures in it’s original content.

        Because I am aware of the betrayals of the Church (thank G.od already annouced at the beginning of it with the “3 times” betrayal of Peter…)

        Because I had the chance to be taken out of my body ( a bit like Paul, you know! 😉 … and what I can say about it now is that the attributes of the Light I saw, had the same attributes that are vehiculated about Jesus.

        But mostly I’m writting to you because, what ever our findings… It cannot surpase the meaning of true love, the one I saw in the Light, the one in each and every one of us… the Ora of the Torah!

        Let’s all continue to study the history and the meanings of things, but mostly, let’s all connect to the core of it all: the heart, the love, the communion! 🙂

  2. Avatar
    HenriettePeterson  July 19, 2018

    Scholars without theological bias are more inclined to believe that Jesus *really* had brothers or that these could be *cousins*?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      Yes, that he really had brothers. That’s what the texts actually say — they never call them cousins.

  3. Avatar
    HenriettePeterson  July 19, 2018

    What’s your opinion on the historicity of the announcement of Judas to be the betrayer? I mean, seriously, Jesus tells the guys that Judas (their friend and companion) will betray him and they have no problem with this whatsoever? They don’t tie him up, beat him or stop him? They just let him go, continue with the party and even fall asleep later on clearly knowing that their (former) friend is arranging the most horrific thing possible? The same guys that have over and over again a huge problem with accepting the fact that Jesus might die are suddenly “enlightened” and perfectly okay with Judas being the mastermind behind a murder of their teacher? (according to John Jesus told only one of them, but the issue remains – did he keep it to himself and did not tell the others? Did he have no problem with it at all and continued with the party?)

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      Yes, it seems to be a tradition that arose after the fact.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  July 20, 2018

      The New Testament is a Hellenistic Romanization attack on Judaism, infusing Roman deified leader worship into Judaism. (Maybe the pro-Roman, Jewish intelligentsia was trying to earn brownie points with Rome after Jewish, anti-taxation rebels attacked and defeated Legion 12 Fulminata, then set up a revolutionary government.) Jesus was a Jew from Galilee but the Hellenistic-Roman overlay allows him to also be Vespasian, Titus, Julius Caesar, and Augustus Caesar, Son of God (Julius Caesar).
      To answer your question, you have to look at how many people knew what was going down (the assassination of Julius Caesar) on the Ides of March. There was at least one person who knew about the plot but did not agree to get involved. Foreknowledge of the betrayal is a requisite from deified Julius Caesar’s biography.

    • Avatar
      prestonp  July 21, 2018

      “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (The woman caught in adultery had nothin on this chick.)

      He who has been forgiven little, loves little. He who has been forgiven much, loves much.
      How could she be forgiven? Where’s the animal sacrifice or the priest? He hadn’t shed His blood yet, either. He was God of the Law, too? He was God!? Why did He forgive? Did she say the “sinner’s prayer”? He knew her heart? and based on her tears and her anointing him with oil and kissing His feet He knew she loved Him? Where does the N.T. say you must buy oil to be saved? Or shed tears? Some can cry at will. Does that cut it? It is our hearts? It was the heart of the guy crucified next to Jesus? How much Scripture had these guys studied and memorized? Which church did they attend? Could they recite the Apostles creed? Offer Hail Marys? Were they baptized, catechized, could they list all Paul’s letters? How many scribes miscopied the gospels? How many errors did they make?

      “Jesus tells the guys that Judas (their friend and companion) will betray him and they have no problem with this whatsoever? They don’t tie him up, beat him or stop him?”

      You are pretty sure they have a clue even as hideous dark powers with vast supernatural strength war in secret in the invisible theater behind the stage where mankind acts out his part in the Passion Play?

      You cannot command someone to love you, but God has set loving Him as the most important commandment. What was He thinking?

  4. Avatar
    DavidNeale  July 19, 2018

    One thing I’m curious about is how much significance you attach to Maurice Casey’s Aramaic reconstructions of certain passages in Mark and Q. Presumably, if a passage can be reconstructed plausibly in first-century Aramaic and fits into that linguistic/cultural context, this is an argument (but not a decisive argument) in favour of its historical authenticity. (But it strikes me that in “Jesus of Nazareth” Casey sometimes jumped too readily from Aramaic reconstruction of a saying/event to declaring the saying/event authentic. Though I am no expert.)

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      I think if you can establish an Aramaic form of a saying,that increases the likelihood that it goes back to Jesus. BUT, it ‘s not a failsafe criterion, since obviously Aramaic-speaking believers were telling stories (and altering them and inventing them) between the time of Jesus’ death and the translation of the materials into Greek. So sayings like this could go back to the Palestinian Christian community rather than to Jesus.

      • Rick
        Rick  July 21, 2018

        Professor, is the (Aramaic consistency) criteria then more important in the reverse? That is, if a saying does not reconstruct into reasonable Aramaic it likely does not go back to Jesus lips?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 22, 2018

          Yes, if a saying cannot be fit into Aramaic, it almost certainly is either not something Jesus said or is not worded the way Jesus said it.

      • Avatar
        JohnKesler  July 23, 2018

        Do you believe that the Gospel of Mark was originally written in Aramaic, or that at minimum, we can reconstruct Jesus’ words as spoken in Aramaic? Specifically, what about Casey’s translation of Mark 2:26, which is as follows: “He went into the house of God, in the days of Abiathar–a great/chief priest!–and ate the showbread…” (From page 139 of Casey’s *Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel*.)

        • Bart
          Bart  July 24, 2018

          It was almost certainly written in Greek; if Jesus *did* say what is now in Mark 2:26 ,it would, of course, have been in Aramaic, later translated into Greek. It is always a tricky business retroverting a Greek phrase into Aramaic, since there are usually various options. I haven’t looked closely at Casey’s argument in this case.

  5. Avatar
    gwayersdds  July 19, 2018

    Question- Can the accounts of Jesus found in Josephus be reliable? I recall that it is likely those references were an editorial insertion done long after Josephus had published his work and were done to provide “evidence” of Jesus’ historicity. To “prove” that he actually existed.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      It’s debated, but most scholars continue to think that the bulk of Josephus’s comments go back to him — the ones that are not explicitly affirming Christian faith.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 19, 2018

    This series about determining what is historical and what is legendary is very helpful and crucial. Thanks

  7. Avatar
    gavriel  July 19, 2018

    Are these criteria used by NT scholars different from criteria used by students of ancient history in general? And reversely, are there criteria used by these historians that does not apply to NT scholarship?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      They are actually fairly common sense principles that historians generally use, even if they don’t articulate them in these ways.

  8. Avatar
    saavoss  July 19, 2018

    Professor Ehrman, yesterday I received in the mail your book that you quote in this thread. I haven’t started reading it yet as I’m engulfed with studying and completing 4 other courses at the moment. I am wondering, does this book address stories of post crucifiction sightings of Jesus? Also, where do you stand (personally & professionally, on the work of Dr. James Tabor and the Talpiot tomb in his book, The Jesus Dynasty. I am not a trained historian, but i thought it was an interesting read and plausible that physical evidence of a burial would be found in the Jerusalem area; especially if one is looking for a historical human man and not a theological god-man. As I said, I am not a trained historian, so I am most interested in you opinion in this area. Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      I respect James Tabor a great deal, and we have been friends for many years (he is on the blog). But I do not agree that the tomb is Jesus’. Off hand I can’t think of scholars of the historical Jesus who have been persuaded (think of all the big names: Sanders, Meier, Allison, Fredriksen, Crossan, Borg, and on and on) or top archaeologists (at least the ones I know: the Meyers, Magness, J. Strange, etc.) It’s a brilliant thesis, but there is too much against it (including why Jesus’ impoverished family from rural Galilee would have an expensive tomb in Jerusalem…)

      • Avatar
        saavoss  July 20, 2018

        Thank you for your reply. I will look for opinions by scholars & archaeologists you mentioned. I have been persuaded by Dr. Tabor’s theory primarily because it checks off all my boxes. It nicely takes care of the empty tomb question & the scientific problem with a bodily resurrection. But still, I’d like to read aruguments from both sides. Thank you again for your reply.

      • Avatar
        jogon  July 20, 2018

        As an aside is James Tabor a Christian? I assumed not from his blog posts

        • Bart
          Bart  July 22, 2018

          I don’t really know his personal beliefs, but if he’s reading this (he’s on the blog), he may tell you!

  9. Avatar
    Hormiga  July 19, 2018

    > I am in the midst of a threat …

    Another Freudian slip!

    Which makes me ask a text-critical question: Do apparent Freudian slips occur in NT and related texts you’ve worked with? Along with such exotica as parablepsis occasioned by homoeoteleuton, of course. 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      Ha! I don’t know of any quite like that in the NT mss tradition.

  10. Avatar
    Tony  July 19, 2018

    Scholars who’ve identified the gospels as allegorical myths include, John Dominic Crossan, Randel Helms, Dennis MacDonald, Thomas Thompson, Thomas Brodie and Burton Mack. That re-enforces the notion that the gospels are allegorical myths and not remembered history. Therefore, the application of “historicity selection criteria” is questionable and has become increasingly controversial.

    The ” independence” of Mark, the Apostle Paul, and the authors of Q, M, L, and John and others is an assumption – and not an established fact. If Mark used Paul, and the other synoptic’s used Mark and so on, we’ll certainly find repeated “independent attestations”, but they are meaningless as historical evidence.

    The example of John the Baptist is illustrative. Mark 1:2-8 opens with a declared prophesy from Isaiah. John the Baptist was a historical figure. In Mark 1:9 -11, John the Baptist is connected to Jesus by means of the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophesy. So, we start of with a questionable historical connection between the Baptist and Jesus. The existence of Q is disputed, but there is no doubt that Matthew and Luke used Mark and therefore likely picked up, and incorporated the alleged Baptist connection in their respective texts. The Baptist connection remained part of the later Christian tradition, and was later incorporated in John’s gospel as well.

    The brother of Jesus issue is the proverbial dead horse…

  11. Avatar
    Steefen  July 19, 2018

    “…we do in fact have a number of independent sources for the life of Jesus. It is probably safe to say, for example, that Mark, the Apostle Paul, and the authors of Q, M, L, and John all wrote independently of one another. Moreover, we have seen that the Gospel of Thomas, possibly the Gospel of Peter, and certainly Josephus, were all produced independently of our other surviving accounts.”

    Josephus is not independent of Paul. There are too many major overlaps between their biographies, for example, compare Acts 27: 27 – 28: 5 with Life of Flavius Josephus (his autobiography), Section 3, 14-15. Second, compare Paul’s Testimony about Jesus at Acts 13: 27-31 with Josephus’ Testimony about Jesus at Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, Section 3, 63-64 through Section 4, 65.

    These two sets of identical information and more sets of related accounts stop the claim that the works of the Apostle Paul relating to the New Testament (Jesus and the Life of Paul) and the works of Josephus relating to the New Testament (Jesus and the Life of Paul) were produced independently.

    • Robert
      Robert  July 23, 2018

      Overlaps between Acts of the Apostles and Josephus may argue for Lukan knowledge of Josephus’ texts (less likely the inverse) but it cannot be used to demonstrate Josephus’ knowledge of Paul’s letters.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  July 23, 2018

        The overlaps are mostly in the Acts of the Apostles, not in the Pauline letters.
        Overlaps between Acts of the Apostles and Josephus may argue for Lukan knowledge of Josephus’ texts [since “Luke” wrote Acts of the Apostles].
        Overlaps between Acts of the Apostles and Josephus are less likely supportive of an argument for Josephus’ knowledge of Luke.
        [You probably say that because while some date Acts 62-92 CE, others date Acts 95-150 CE. Which is it for you? And how would you get the same Luke writing the gospel of Luke 80-85 and Acts, 95-150? ]
        Overlaps between Acts of the Apostles and Josephus cannot be used to demonstrate Josephus’ knowledge of Paul’s letters. [You probably say that because of the discrepancies between Acts and Pauline Letters such that the author of Luke may not have studied the Pauline Letters to reconcile facts between the two.]

        Okay, then, for starters, CORRECTION: These two sets of identical information and more sets of related accounts would stop a claim that the work of “Luke” as author of the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles which contains biographical information about the Apostle Paul and the works of Josephus relating to the New Testament (Jesus and the Life of Paul) were produced independently. (Gospel of Luke is independent of Josephus for the existence of Jesus but the same author is not independent of Josephus when writing Acts for Jesus’ Ascension and the existence of Paul–I’ll do my touch up but you must sell that argument.)

        Bart did not write above that Lukan Acts is independent of Josephus. Given the evidence, he probably would not make that claim.

        Bart, is your position that the gospel of Luke is independent of Josephus but Lukan Acts is not? (The basis for the existence of Paul does not have the basis for the existence of Jesus: New Testament sources independent of Josephus?)

        Furthermore, Robert, in my upcoming book, I share that Josephus claims he is Jesus, author of Jesus, the Jesus of his Testimony (Testimonium Flavianum), a composite character of historical fiction: deified Roman leaders, Jewish rebel, member/s of the Manu royal line who helped Israel in its rebellion {Em-Manu-el], and Serapis, Lord of the Resurrection.

        Robert, when are you dating Acts of the Apostles? Second, your position is that Josephus had no knowledge of Paul’s Letter to the Romans? (They were practically on the same ship that wrecked in Puteoli.)

        • Robert
          Robert  July 24, 2018

          That Josephus was really Jesus (or Saul of Tarsus) are certainly not ideas taken seriously by real scholars in the field. While not a majority opinion, an increasing number of Lucan scholars are increasingly thinking that ‘Luke’ may have been written later (c 120) and might show some awareness of the writings of Josephus. The opposite view, that Josephus knew Luke-Acts has been less frequently defended. Νot being a Lukan scholar, I have not personally taken a stand on either the dating or dependency questions but tend to follow the prevailing consensus or am agnostic when there is no clear consensus. I see no indication that Josephus met Paul or at least he was not impressed enough to relate anything about such a meeting.

          • Avatar
            Steefen  July 28, 2018

            With the identical sets of information coming from the Works of Josephus and the author of Luke-Acts, not the authentic Letters of Paul, it is the author of Luke-Acts who is revealing Josephus’ involvement with the New Testament.

            Paul is not revealing biographical information identical to Josephus and is not revealing Josephus’ involvement with the New Testament.

            Jesus was crucified between two bandits–bandits were not a problem for Pontius Pilate but bandits were a grand problem during the Jewish Revolt when Josephus saw an acquaintance crucified between two of them, took him down, and revived him with the help of the best caregivers–a third set of identical information between Josephus and the New Testament, this time not from Acts about Paul, but from the gospel of Luke regarding Jesus, the tableau of his crucifixion.

  12. Avatar
    James Chalmers  July 19, 2018

    Mark, the Apostle Paul, and the authors of Q, M, L, and John
    Six independent sources.
    But how impressive is this list?
    Paul has little to say about Jesus as a historical figure. Q is (Goodacre and others have ably argued) better seen as Luke drawing on Matthew–implying that there’s one source, not two. M and L are fragmentary and (I’ll rashly assert) add small historical knowledge. John isn’t devoid of historical value, but is mostly palpably legendary.
    It seems fair to say the a large share of what’s of historical value in the documents that have come down to us rests entirely in Mark and Matthew (blessings on them both, especially Mark!). The sources may be multiple, but two of them (to be crudely quantitative, but still (I’ll rashly assert) fair to the facts) contribute ninety percent of what the historian knows of the historical Jesus.
    Fair enough? Or way off the mark?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      Yes, using these as sources *pre-supposes* conclusions about independence, conclusions that have to be reached based ona rigorous examination of the evidence, completely apart from the question of the utility of the findings for doing history.

  13. SonOfZeusTruly
    SonOfZeusTruly  July 19, 2018

    Dr. Erhman, is it plausible that according the book of Malachi, John the Baptist will be the one to return first? Also, why Leonardo Da Vinci paint John to Bacchus and not Bacchus to John?

  14. Robert
    Robert  July 19, 2018

    “It is probably safe to say, for example, that Mark, the Apostle Paul, and the authors of Q, M, L, and John all wrote independently of one another. Moreover, we have seen that the Gospel of Thomas, possibly the Gospel of Peter, and certainly Josephus, were all produced independently of our other surviving accounts.”

    Nope, not safe, unless you present convincing arguments against excellent scholars who contest these source-critical positions and presumptions. Barrett, Sabbe, Neirynck, Van Bella (impressive scholars all) and others have long defended the view that John was not independent of synoptic gospel(s). There is no argument possible against the median position that John might have been indirectly dependent upon pre- or post-synoptic oral tradition for any particular matter. Saying, ‘in my judgement’ they were independent’ is not an argument. There are no criteria that can rule out indirect familiarity with any specific details.

    Lambrecht, Schmithals, Schenk, Catchpole, Fledderman & Mack defend Mark’s dependence on the written Q source, therefore also not allowing for claims of independent attestation. And, again the median position, defended by almost all two-source theorists, presumes Mark’s dependence upon at least some Q traditions, therefore no independent attestation for the points of overlap and less likely independence in more oblique parallels.

    Many (most recently both Goodacre and Gathercole) have defended Thomas’ dependence upon the synoptic gospels (also accepted by Meier), therefore no independent attestation. In your Apocalyptic Prophet book, you merely say that the burden of proof is on those who assert dependence. That may satisfy a general audience, but really? The burden of proof is on anyone who claims a position without entering into the details of the on-going debate.

    As for Josephus, I’m sure you’re aware of those who debate the potential dependence of Luke on him or vice versa. I will leave aside the issue of source vs redaction arguments for any material unique to any specific gospel.

    Some want to consider these source-critical questions settled, but they are not. There are excellent scholars who are still credibly debate these issues and they should not be ignored by choosing sides without genuinely entering into the actual discussions. Please do not think this has anything to do with apologetics vs critical scholars. My very strong preference is for the latter, ie, critical scholars who realize these issues are still under vigorous debate and not settled or safe presumptions.

    Bottom line: Leben Jesu Forschung is popular but not nearly as well founded as is typically presented.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      Yes, decisions about dependence have to be made before one uses the sources for historical purposes. There will always be disputes, of course. But doing history is *always* a matter of establishing probabilities; rarely, especially with antiquity, is it a matter of both certitude and complete consensus.

      • Robert
        Robert  July 20, 2018

        “… There will always be disputes, of course. …”

        So who, in your opinion, are the scholars of the calibre of CK Barrett, Sabbe, Neirynck, Van Bella, who have effectively countered the position that John may have been familiar with one of the synoptic gospels?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 22, 2018

          You’re probably familiar with the long history of research on the question. But if not, I’d suggest Moody Smith, John Among the Gospels; and for a strong statement about the ocntrasts (accessible to a wider audience, but still backed with scholarship — a book I’m sure you know), I’ve always sent people to Robert Kysar’s John the Maverick Gospel.

          • Robert
            Robert  July 23, 2018

            D Moody Smith tends to place Neirynk into a canonical orthodox tradition of interpreting the gospel of John as in some sense controlled by the synoptics. Not only is that untrue of Neirynck, but it betrays Smith’s own interpretative parameters of how he thinks of the question of literary dependence. ‘John’s role as a free and creative author is attested to more in his knowledge of the synoptics while nonetheless developing his own independent creative vision than in trying to impose limitations and expectations on how an author would necesarily behave if he was or was not ‘dependent’ upon an earlier text. To his credit, Smith admits that one cannot prove John’s unfamiliarity with the synoptic gospels, but he should have been content with that realization and the freedom it allows rather than try and sketch out the conditions that would seek to define the parameters of probabilities. Historians are oftentimes limited to speaking of probabilities but we need not be bound by probabilities. That is to seek to know more than we can know.

  15. Avatar
    anthonygale  July 19, 2018

    Ultimately, how can you be sure any two ancient sources are truly independent? Even if you are sure they didn’t know each other, how do you know they didn’t have a common source? Or that their independent sources didn’t have a common source? Having a thousand people tell the same story that comes from (regardless of who it is) isn’t the same thing as hearing the same story from a few eyewitnesses.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      It’s really more a matter of probability than certainty.

      • Avatar
        anthonygale  July 20, 2018

        I don’t know if the same can be said about Biblical scholarship, but that makes me think of using the Drake equation and the search for alien life. An equation can be created to determine the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy. The problem is that the equation depends on a number of probabilities that nobody really knows. You can plug some numbers, being optimistic, pessimistic or anywhere in between. You end up with a range that the answer probably lies in. Do you think trying to find the historical Jesus is comparable to any degree?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 22, 2018

          I”m not familiar with the Drake equation, but the procedure sounds a *bit* like (in theory/principle) Bayes theorem that people have used *BOTH* to show that Jesus was really raised from the dead *AND* that Jesus never existed. Same theorem. Different values inserted. Somewhat, uh, different results!

  16. Avatar
    anthonygale  July 19, 2018

    In defense of those who might criticize the gospels for giving different versions of events, even people who directly witness the same thing often give different versions of the same events. Will a democrat and a republican give the same opinion about who won a presidential debate? Or whether Al Gore literally claimed to have invented the internet? Depending on whether you like someone, dislike them or hate them, will you have the same opinion as to why they may have given to charity (kindness versus impression management) or committed an act of violence (aggression versus self-defense)? Even in the modern age, people don’t agree on what they saw themselves a second ago. So, would it make sense to discredit the Bible because there are discrepancies between different books written decade after the events? Sure, it’s a problem when it comes to figuring out what actually happened. But should one expect anything else, even if the books had been written sooner?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      Yes indeed! The differences typically matter more for knowing what happened, even if you would *expect* there to be differences.

    • Avatar
      flcombs  July 20, 2018

      But those differences do cause problems with fundamentalist arguments as to the origin and reliability of the Bible.It makes a difference if the writings are just from people recounting stories they heard, or did they witness them? Or did God direct them to write but couldn’t trust one to get it right so had each of them add different facts so it would be the complete story and it took four of them? How much is trying to recover history from a book or theology trying to influence history? The problem is “discredited” doesn’t have to be totally one way or the other (accept or reject) and in the case of the Bible can vary from book to book. You don’t have to be a fundamentalist Christian to think there is history in it and you can be a Christian without thinking everything in it is literally true (except for some denominations/sects).

  17. Avatar
    forthfading  July 20, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    In what way is the Gospel of Thomas independent from any of the earlier Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. Am I correct that the Gospel of Thomas is considered a second century composition? If so, would the author of the Gospel of Thomas not had access to the Gospels from the first century?


    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2018

      Not necessarily. It was very different back then: no way to mass produce and distribute books. The fact that books were written decades earlier would not make it likely that someone living in an entirely different part of the world had ever seen them.

      • Lev
        Lev  July 20, 2018

        Was it not different in the case of the early church, where they would copy and send on epistles and gospels to neighbouring Christian communities?

        I’ve heard some arguments that some of Paul’s letters may have been circulating as a collection even during his lifetime (perhaps collected together by himself), and I understand Ignatius’ epistles were fairly quickly collected and distributed soon after he died.

        Do you know what was the practice of copying and transmitting documents in the early church?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 22, 2018

          Yes, they certainly did this! But obviously not with *most* writings they had available to them. Think of all the letters Paul must have written — dozens? Hundreds? But we have only seven. Most weren’t circulated. So too, Luke says he had “many” predecessors who had written Gospels. But where are they? So there was cirulation of literature, but lots didn’t get sent around.

  18. Avatar
    prestonp  July 20, 2018

    If you remove the miracles from the N.T. and study all the rest of it in the finest detail, you absolutely cannot fathom the meaning of the accounts presented therein. The description of the numerous miracles of Christ are a huge part of what the authors try to communicate. This wasn’t your average run of the mill dude. He wasn’t even just a prince or a statesman or an angel. The thrust of everything they have tried to tell us is that this guy was God almighty. The miracles of His birth–to a virgin, the healings, converting water into wine, knowing the biographies of the apostles before meeting them, walking on water, casting demons into pigs to set free a demon possessed man crying out and cutting himself in agony among the tombs, His rising from the dead, directing the guys where to cast their nets, the real gaping wound in His side, the Transfiguration, His predictions about His death and resurrection, moving through physical barriers, the way He described Himself and His Father, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the total transformation of the disciples from down and out broken women and men into bold, outspoken, fearless crusaders, it is all about the miraculous intervention of God Himself through His Son! These were Jews who wrote these things down for us. They were God’s chosen people from thousands of years earlier, a monotheistic family of His very own people left us with these depictions. If we say we cannot legitimize the tales of miracles, we don’t have the Gospel. It necessarily must tell what this man could do. They weren’t writing history. They were trying to put into words the incredible story that God Himself became a human being, God in bodily form, God Here With Us! That He loves us and has made a way for us to join Him here and now and when we die.
    This was the Greatest Thing that ever happened on the face of the earth. They touched this Guy, they ate with Him, the hung out together for years. They saw Him, they heard Him, they knew Him and they couldn’t believe their own eyes. They didn’t know what to do with Him. He wasn’t a military leader or a rabbi, or a great orator. He wasn’t earthly royalty. He wasn’t a carpenter. HE WAS GOD. HE WAS GOD

    • Avatar
      flcombs  July 22, 2018

      Any examples outside of the Bible, obviously assembled with that agenda? You just went through a lot of theories, not facts. Harry Potter books prove a lot about witchcraft being true too by your approach.

  19. Spencer Black
    Spencer Black  December 12, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, it seems difficult to determine which sources are actually independent from one another. What is the criteria we should adhere to in order to ascertain which sources are independent from others? For instance, Josephus seems difficult to establish as independent of Paul. How do we know what Josephus read? Surely he read many things.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2019

      Yes, it’s difficult indeed. But serious scholars who work with these sources in their original languages spend years of intense study figuring it out. One thing that every expert (at least every one I know of or have read) agrees that there’s virtually no way Josephus read the writings of Paul. These were circulating in circles Josephus had no access to, and would have not known even existed.

      • Spencer Black
        Spencer Black  December 14, 2019

        Ya that makes sense. Are the authorities just as confident Josephus is independent of Mark and John?

        (Late edit: What are the criteria*)

        • Bart
          Bart  December 15, 2019

          Yup. Criteria: any claim that one author is “dependent” on another has the burden of proof (since most authors aren’t dependent on most other authors). And so there has to be reason for thinking there is dependence, and that usually requires evidence that the second writing is quoting, summarizing, or alluding to the first. Without verbal overlaps, it is very hard to show that.

      • Spencer Black
        Spencer Black  December 14, 2019

        And are the authorities equally as confident Mark is independent of Paul? I feel like these questions are very important.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 15, 2019

          Not as confident; there is a good deal of Pauline understanding of Jesus’ death in Mark. BUT, that doesn’t know that Mark had read any of the seven letters we now have. It could also simply mean he knew Paul’s general teaching, or at least had a view similar to it. That’s my view.

          • Spencer Black
            Spencer Black  December 15, 2019

            Ok awesome, thanks so much for your insights!

You must be logged in to post a comment.