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Christianity’s Most Important Convert: Lecture at the Smithsonian

PART ONE of FOUR: Christianity’s Most Important Convert: The Apostle Paul

In February 2018 I gave a series of four lectures for the Smithsonian Associates in Washington DC, based on my book The Triumph of Christianity.   It was a bit tricky, as these things always are, figuring out which parts of the book to focus on, since each lecture could really be only on one thing, not lots of things.  I decided to give the first lecture on the most important convert in the history of Christianity — not Constantine (as I argue in the book) but the apostle Paul.  Without that conversion, would we even have *had* Christianity as a world-wide religion?  Good question!   It’s hard to know.  But it *is* clear that this was a conversion of massive importance.  Here is the lecture:

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    lobe  April 8, 2019

    I binged the lecture series last week, it was awesome. In particular the math on how many converts were necessary was surprising and enlightening. I think I might have to pick up the book just so I can read the appendix now. As an engineer I appreciate the numbers. 🙂

  2. Avatar
    SkepticsRUs  April 8, 2019

    I have not watched this yet, though I plan to do so, but I find it curious that Christians so readily accept Paul. Paul does not meet the apostolic criteria of Acts 1:22-22 but rather claims legitimacy from his Damascus road vision. Yet Paul himself warns his own disciples in II Corinthians 11:14 that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (NIV), and yet he never discloses how he could be sure that he had not been deceived by Satan on the Damascus road.

  3. Avatar
    rivercrowman  April 8, 2019

    Thanks for sharing! … Now you’ve wetted a lot of appetites to hear the other three lectures.

  4. Avatar
    fishician  April 8, 2019

    James Tabor over at UNC-C seems to give more credit to Paul for “inventing” what we think of as Christianity (I hope I am not misrepresenting his view). Paul himself says in Galatians: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Obviously Paul knew the basics, through his persecution of believers, but yet he claims his gospel came through revelation. Does he mean that his understanding of Jesus and his death and resurrection came directly through revelation? Or what was it he received through revelation versus previous believers?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 9, 2019

      Yes, it’s a frequently misunderstood verse. Paul is definitely not referring to the “gospel” message that Jesus’ death and resurrection brings salvation. He acknowledges that he “received” *that* message (1 Cor. 15:3-5). From the context in Galatians it’s clear that he’s referring to the gospel message that gentiles could be included among the people of God through faith in Christ, without adopting the law and customs of Judaism.

  5. Avatar
    AstaKask  April 8, 2019

    Always a pleasure to hear you give a talk. Do you think the historical Jesus and pre-conversion Paul would have seen eye-to-eye theologically?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 9, 2019

      Not completely, since Paul was a committed Pharisee and Jesus thought the Pharisees got a lot of things completely wrong.

      • Avatar
        Silver  April 9, 2019

        From your statement that “Paul was a committed Pharisee” it is evident that you do not accept Maccoby’s thesis in ‘Mythmaker’ that he was not.
        Do you not see any merit at all in what Maccoby argues viz given Gamaliel’s sympathetic defence of Peter in Acts it is unlikely that Paul (the one time rabid persecutor of Christians) studied under him and thus was not a Pharisee despite his claim to the contrary?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 10, 2019

          No, I don’t think Paul was ever a student of Gamaliel. That is a legend told (invented?) by Acts to improve his credentials (in my view).

      • Avatar
        AstaKask  April 9, 2019

        Still, it’s strange that Paul was closer to the teachings of Jesus before he converted to Christianity.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  April 9, 2019

        Dr Ehrman – in your opinion, which Paul would Jesus have had more in common with, pre- or post-conversion?

        NB – I’m writing down my guess on a piece of paper…

        • Bart
          Bart  April 10, 2019

          Pre. Definitely.

          • Avatar
            HawksJ  April 13, 2019

            That sounds like the makings of a post or two.

      • Rick
        Rick  April 9, 2019

        I’ve always wondered about that…. That a dirt poor Galilean hand laborer would have been able to actually debate a studied Pharisee. Seems more likely he preached things at odds with Pharisaic views and his debate victories were fabricated in oral tradition?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 10, 2019

          I’m not so sure. I know people with high school educations who argue with PhD’s in New Testament all the time!

          • Rick
            Rick  April 10, 2019

            And I am sure they win…. and are legends in their (own) minds!

            Thanx for posting the lecture!

          • Bart
            Bart  April 12, 2019

            Aren’t we all….

  6. Avatar
    cbauer13  April 8, 2019

    I have listened to all of these lectures multiple times – highly recommended. An outstanding way to experience Dr. Ehrman’s energetic and illuminating lecture style!

  7. Avatar
    lmabe10  April 8, 2019

    Bart,

    What reason’s do we have to support the undisputed nature of Paul’s undisputed letters? I’ve read most of your books and a lot of this blog, but I’m not sure I’ve come across a discussion on how this conclusion was reached by scholars.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 9, 2019

      It’s mainly because these seven not only claim to be written by Paul but they (unlike the others) cohere well in terms of writing style, grammar, theological points of view, emphases, assumptions, etc. Moreover, the appear to presuppose situations that we ahve reasons for thinking make sense in the 50s CE. Since they claim to be written by Paul, can be well situated in his life time, and cohere together and thus all seem to come from the same author, they are probably written actually by Paul.

  8. Avatar
    rburos  April 8, 2019

    I really liked the presentation–but did the sound system change your voice? I’ve watched so many of your videos that at first I thought somebody else was doing a great impersonation of your word choices and your enunciation. But then after a minute I was like, “this is really good–in fact TOO good”.

    Again, I believe your ability to forge the data into a fascinating narrative is something we are all grateful for.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 9, 2019

      The sound system didn’t, but Steven did when he edited the tape (he didn’t like the quality). I don’t think it sounds like me either!

      • Lev
        Lev  April 9, 2019

        I thought you were suffering from a head-cold!

      • Avatar
        Sixtus  April 10, 2019

        I tried pitch shifting the audio both up and down. Worked on some sentences but not on others. No one setting worked throughout. Very strange.

  9. Avatar
    brenmcg  April 8, 2019

    Do you think that in 1st Thessalonians 5:2 “For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” Paul is referring to some widely shared written material than he knows the Thessalonians have read?
    And that the only extant candidate for this is the gospel of Matthew?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 9, 2019

      No, I think it was simply a saying floating around among the early Christians.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  April 9, 2019

        But “thief in the night” is not a very complimentary way to describe the coming of the lord, Paul thinks he’ll come with the trumpet call of God.
        If Paul is sure the Thessalonians have heard the phrase, isn’t one christian writing it down more likely than many christians repeating it?

        Doesn’t it at least put Matthew closer to Paul than Mark?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 10, 2019

          I don’t see how the possibility of *one* source would be more likely than the possibility of *any number* of sources. Say there are 1000 people using this phrase orally and only one who has written it. Which one is more likely the source for someone else who later says/writes it? Is it more likely that he heard it from one of the thousand or from one of the one?

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  April 10, 2019

            Paul though is certain the Thessalonians have heard the phrase before. Either this is because it was contained in a widely used written account or it was a phrase widely spoken by early christians.

            However “thief in the night” is neither an apt (if you think the lord will come with the trumpet call of god) nor a very dignified way to describe the second coming of the lord. Isn’t it then more likely that this phrase was transmitted as part of a single larger written account rather than many christians liking the description and choosing to pass it on?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 12, 2019

            I’ve never known any Christians today who think that Jesus is comeing like a thief in the night who thought it was not aprt or dignified — so I suspect ancent Christians didn’t feel that way either. At least we have no record of anyone complaining about the phrase, even though it gets used a lot.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  April 14, 2019

            The phrase is close to blasphemy. The lord will come like one who breaks the 8th commandment.

            Mark’s version has the owner leaving the house and telling a servant to keep watch. No mention of a thief.

            Isn’t Mark’s version evidence of later christians cleaning it up and making it more palatable?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 15, 2019

            No, no one took it that way. It is not saying he is coming *as* a thief. He is coming *like* a thief. That is, you don’t know when he’ll arrive, so you need to be alert.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  April 15, 2019

            Yes but taken in context in Matthew, its the faithful who are to be compared to the owner of the house, keeping watch, not the lord compared to a thief.
            Paul is best understood as taking the quote out of context; he doesnt think he’ll come like thief in the night, he thinks he’ll come with with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.
            There are plenty of more reverent ways for christians to express the same idea.

            .

  10. Robert
    Robert  April 9, 2019

    Your views of the significance of Paul in this lecture seem to contradict this statement of yours from yesterday:

    Bart: “My view is that Pauline Christianity looms very, very large in our thinking about earliest Christainity, as a force that penetrated most places, but that the historical reality is very different, that it actually loomed rather small at the time, and was not influencing everything else.”

    In parts of this lecture you seemed to attribute to Paul the invention of the idea that Jesus’ death was a salvific sacrifice (41:30), but later you also seem to say that this idea was already around among Jewish Christians (44:20) and Paul only brought out the implication of this idea that the law was unimportant and that Gentiles could thus become followers of Jesus without becoming Jewish.

    Thus don’t you thus think that Paul influenced the views of the gentile author of the gospel of Mark in seeing Jesus as declaring all foods clean (Mk 7,19) and casting a gentile centurion as a witness of Jesus’ death and the first to proclaim him to be the Son of God (15,39). Obviously Luke was aware of Paul’s huge influence, devoting most of his second volume to Paul, ‘though he also tries to attribute to Peter (rather than Paul) the first preaching to gentiles.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 9, 2019

      I definitely don’t think Paul invented the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sins. If I said that, I misspoke. My view is that if two early Christians have the same or similar ideas, and both of them wrote about it, it doesn’t mean that one was the literary source for the other. These were ideas floating around *broadly* in the early Christian communities. I’ve long thought the big problem with historians/exegetes dealing with the literary materials is that they assume the only way to get ideas is to read them in someone else’s writing, so that you can connect all the dots: this person (happens to be an author whose writings we still have) invented the idea; this person (happens to be one other person whose writings we still have) borrowed the idea; that person… and so on. The vast majority of Xns were not even literate, let alone authors, and ideas were everywhere in these communities.

      • Robert
        Robert  April 9, 2019

        I am definitely not asking about direct, literary dependence on specific letters of Paul. But rather to what extent Mark and Luke are to be situated within the sphere of influence of gentile Christianity, of which you consider Paul to be the founder. The examples I gave above seem undeniable. Thus, it does not seem true to say that Pauline Christianity and its influence loomed very small at this time in history.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 10, 2019

          Yes, I would say that Mark, writing around 70 CE, stands within the sphere of gentile Christianity that Paul started, in some sense, in 35 CE or so. But not all gentile Christians, of course, were in Pauline churches. Once he started it, it took off.

          • Robert
            Robert  April 10, 2019

            Bart: “Yes, I would say that Mark, writing around 70 CE, stands within the sphere of gentile Christianity that Paul started, in some sense, in 35 CE or so. But not all gentile Christians, of course, were in Pauline churches. Once he started it, it took off.”

            So, I’m still curious why you say that “Pauline Christianity … loomed rather small at the time, and was not influencing everything else.” You agree that Pauline Christianity was influencing the gospel of Mark very soon after Paul’s death. Insofar as the gospel of Matthew extensively used Mark as its primary source, it presented views that needed to be incorporated or addressed by Matthew’s community. Mark’s gospel was not only also used by Luke, but he goes on to make Paul the hero of his second volume. The gospel of John was also written by a gentile Christian, a movement you believe was founded by Paul. Additionally, six or seven forged NT letters would subsequently attempt to co-opt Paul’s authority. The only other NT author whose name we know (John of the apocalypse) may have been writing partly in opposition to Pauline influence of eating meat sacrificed to idols in two churches in Asia Minor. 2 Peter and the letter of ‘James’ evidence a need to reinterpret Paul’s ideas. Practically everywhere we look in the NT, we see evidence of Paul’s influence.

            Sure we can can easily suppose that there were gentile churches that were not founded by Paul and we might hypothesize that Paul’s influence loomed small in those churches, but nonetheless you believe that they owe their very existence to an idea invented by Paul himself. And the very early, very high christology first evident in the Greek letters of Paul progressively comes to dominate the Greek gospels that otherwise contain traditions claiming to derive from the early Palestinian accounts of events in the life of Jesus. This is why I think it is fair to say that the gospel-making process represents a larger evolution of Pauline Christianity progressively baptizing and preserving oral traditions circulating in the more Jewish Christian communities, traditions in danger of being lost after the destruction of Jerusalem. Matthew and Luke take the exaltation christology as far as possible with a virgin birth and John represents a more complete synthesis. Of course the synthesis is very different from the original Pauline thesis.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 12, 2019

            Because I don’t think “gentile Christianity” means “Pauline Christianity,” any more than I think the Southern Baptists are Roman Catholics, even though that’s ultimately where they came from.

          • Robert
            Robert  April 10, 2019

            But, what if Joel Marcus is right and some kind of openness to the gentiles is apparent already in the ministry of John the Baptist (God is able to raise up sons of Abraham from these very stones). And, you yourself recognize that Jesus thought that gentiles would be admitted into the Kingdom of God based on an entirely ethical standard (Mt 25). That many shall come from the East and the West and recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of God, while those claiming to be the sons of Abraham will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth (Q 13,28-29). That the sign of Jonah in Q is precisely the repentance of the gentiles (Ninevites) and not their destruction. That Jesus was nearly as welcoming as Hillel of gentile converts with the teaching of the golden rule. If we really want to find the non-Pauline roots of gentile Christianity, I think the evidence is already contained in the gospel traditions eventually to be canonized by the later gentiles, but we might have to give up on some of the originality of Paul’s approach to the gentiles, whatever vainglorious Paul himself may have thought. Even Luke, Paul’s earliest hagiographer, is careful to admit that Paul was not the first to preach to the gentiles. The antithesis is not so very different from the thesis.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 12, 2019

            I don’t agree with Joel about John the Baptist. He’s saying God *could* do that — i.e., being a member of the Jewish community wasn’t good enough. That doesn’t mean being a gentile is going to work, though.

          • Robert
            Robert  April 12, 2019

            Bart: “Because I don’t think “gentile Christianity” means “Pauline Christianity,” any more than I think the Southern Baptists are Roman Catholics, even though that’s ultimately where they came from.”

            Actually, some Southern Baptists, in avoidance of the Roman Catholic issue of apostolic succession, do indeed claim to trace their origins back to John the Baptist. I wonder what Joel Marcus would say about that!

            On a more serious note, are you just making a supposition that, of course, there would have been later gentile Christian communities that were not actually founded by Paul, or is there early evidence for such, and, most importantly, what are the specifically non- or anti-Pauline features of these communities by which they can be identified?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 13, 2019

            Yes, there’s hard evidence. The Roman church that Paul address in his letter was clearly not founded by him (he hadn’t been to Rome yet), but was overwhelmingly Gentile, so much so that he explicitly addresses them as Gentiles (even though a few of them were Jews as he acknowledges in his final greetings)

          • Robert
            Robert  April 13, 2019

            Bart: “Yes, there’s hard evidence. The Roman church that Paul address in his letter was clearly not founded by him (he hadn’t been to Rome yet), but was overwhelmingly Gentile, so much so that he explicitly addresses them as Gentiles (even though a few of them were Jews as he acknowledges in his final greetings).”

            I suppose one could argue about degrees of overwhelming-ness, but in principle I think of the church(es) in Rome as mixed and I would not downplay the ‘Jewish-Christian’ component.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 15, 2019

            Well, he greets 26 people and indicates that 6 of them are Jewish. Since this is an explicit identity marker, it must mean the others are not Jewish. So I wouldn’t call it an overwhelming presence.

          • Robert
            Robert  April 13, 2019

            Bart: “I don’t agree with Joel about John the Baptist. He’s saying God *could* do that — i.e., being a member of the Jewish community wasn’t good enough. That doesn’t mean being a gentile is going to work, though.”

            No, just being a gentile alone would not suffice. One would also need to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, visit the imprisoned. Is that not what you think Jesus taught about how the gentiles would enter into the Kingdom? And while some of Jesus’ followers continued to preserve this teaching of his, it wasn’t until Paul came along that anyone thought the gentiles could be saved without first being circumcised and following all of the other Jewish laws? I think it perhaps more likely that Paul might have characteristically over-estimated his own importance and the originality of his outreach to the gentiles.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 15, 2019

            Yes, I think Paul came up with the idea that gentiles could enter the kingdom promised to the ancestors of the Jews without themselves following the laws of the Jews. I agree it might be possible that someone *other* than Paul came up with the idea, but if so it is lost in the mists of history, and it would have had to have happened *very* early, since Paul appears to have come up with the idea just two or three years after the crucifixion.

          • Robert
            Robert  April 15, 2019

            Bart: “Yes, I think Paul came up with the idea that gentiles could enter the kingdom promised to the ancestors of the Jews without themselves following the laws of the Jews. I agree it might be possible that someone *other* than Paul came up with the idea, but if so it is lost in the mists of history, and it would have had to have happened *very* early, since Paul appears to have come up with the idea just two or three years after the crucifixion.”

            What about Jesus’ idea that gentiles would be granted entry into the Kingdom based on whether or not they feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, visit the imprisoned? Is that not what you think Jesus taught about how the gentiles would enter into the Kingdom? Surely you don’t imagine that the original version of this parable also required of these gentiles that they also must first be circumcised and follow kashrut?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 16, 2019

            Ah, right. I meant that Paul was teh one who came up with the idea that one could be a follower of Jesus who believed in his death and resurrection for salvation without needing to follow the Jewish law.

          • Robert
            Robert  April 15, 2019

            Bart: “Well, he greets 26 people and indicates that 6 of them are Jewish. Since this is an explicit identity marker, it must mean the others are not Jewish. So I wouldn’t call it an overwhelming presence.”

            I didn’t. You did. With 6 out of 26 greeted being Jewish, not too terribly long after the expulsion of (some) Jews from Rome by Claudius, I am hesitant to think that the Roman chruch(es) must have been originally founded only by gentiles.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 16, 2019

            I called the Jewish presence in the church of Rome overwhelming? Wow, must have been drinking before blogging!

          • Robert
            Robert  April 16, 2019

            Bart: “I called the Jewish presence in the church of Rome overwhelming? Wow, must have been drinking before blogging!”

            No, no, no. You said the church in Rome was overwhelmingly gentile (after I had reminded you a while back of the greetings to the 6 Jews there). I then said I don’t want to argue about ‘degrees of overwhelmingness’, but I don’t want to downplay the Jewish-Christian element in the Roman churches and I don’t think we can or should assume that the churches in Rome were founded exclusively by gentile missionaries. I think you can agree with this, right?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 19, 2019

            I’d say that the church was more *likely* established by someone from Jewish roots, but I really can’t think of any solid evidence one way or the other. Paul does refer to the church members as “gentiles.”

          • Robert
            Robert  April 19, 2019

            Bart: “I’d say that the church was more *likely* established by someone from Jewish roots, but I really can’t think of any solid evidence one way or the other. …”

            Good!

            Bart: “… Paul does refer to the church members as ‘gentiles’.”

            Are you referring to Rom 1,5-6:” among the gentiles”?

            Clearly many in the Roman churches were gentiles. But so much of the letter applies specifically to Jews.

            How do you interpret Rom 2,17: “But if you (singular) call yourself a Jew …”

            Merely a rhetorical device? A few (brilliant) scholars see here a reference to Judaizing gentile Christians in the Roman churches. Plausible in your opinion?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 21, 2019

            1:13 “among you … as among all the other gentiles.: Presupposes they were gentiles. (Otherwise he wouldn’t have used λοιποις) Neal Elliott wrote his dissertatoin on this. 2:17ff: I wouldn’t say “merely” a rhetorical device. It is an extremely effective use of the diatribe.

          • Robert
            Robert  April 21, 2019

            Bart re Rom 2,17: ” I wouldn’t say “merely” a rhetorical device. It is an extremely effective use of the diatribe.”

            I didn’t mean ‘merely rhetorical’ in the sense of ineffective, but my question pertains to whether or not this rhetorical diatribe would also be read by any Jews living in the churches in Rome as indeed relevant to themselves, and if Paul may have intended it to also be read in this way by them. In other words, the ‘Jew’ of Rom 2,17 would not merely be a fictitious foil against which the Gentiles Christians were to come to a better understanding of themselves, but also a part of Paul’s intended audience.

            Thanks for the reference to Neal Elliott’s dissertation; I will look for it and read it!

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  April 9, 2019

        Dr Ehrman – curious: I’ve read and heard (and quite enjoy…) you work through a reconstruction of Paul’s logic train to reverse engineer his theology/Christology from his experience of the resurrected Jesus. It’s one of my favorite of the innumerable things I’ve learned from your work. Based on the evidence, what’s your best sense: did Paul more likely independently reason himself to the atoning sacrifice position (perhaps during that jaunt to Arabia), or did he receive it (1 Cor), fit it with his revelatory experience and then expand upon its implications? Or too blurry to tell? Thanks!

        • Bart
          Bart  April 10, 2019

          My guess is that first he heard it (and rejected it) but then part of his “revelation” involved realizing the logic of it (as he reasoned his way through it)

          • Avatar
            HawksJ  April 13, 2019

            I have to admit, I’m confused. Did Paul ‘reason his way through it’ (‘reverse engineer it’, as the person above put), or did he hear it from others?

            In your lecture, it certainly sounds like you think it was almost entirely the former (that he had a vision of the risen Christ, which led him to believe that Jesus was the ‘first fruits of the resurrection’, and so on…).

          • Bart
            Bart  April 13, 2019

            I’m saying he first heard it from others. At that point he rejected it. Then he came to see the logic of it and was convinced. He certainly was persecuting Christians precisely because of their belief that the messiah had been crucified in order to bring salvation — before he held to the view .

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  April 15, 2019

            Dr Ehrman – in Paul’s theology:

            Question 1: Could an argument be marshaled that there exists some conceptual space between Paul’s theories of (a) salvation and (b) justification? Asked at an alternate angle, can Paul’s conception of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus’s death apply to someone without said person being in the right relationship with God?

            Question(s) 2: The podcast caused me to find and read the Paul-thought-Jesus-was-an-Angel post thread. Wow, that is an eye-opening position. (A) Do you still hold it? (B) How is an angel able to be called God?

            Thanks a ton!

          • Bart
            Bart  April 16, 2019

            1. Paul thought of “salvation” (being saved when Jesus returns in judgment) and “justification (“being made right with God by Jesus’s death and resurrection”) were different things, though obviously related to each other; 2. Yes. Angels *are* called “gods” in the OT. See my book How Jesus Became God.

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  April 16, 2019

            I thought for certain I had How Jesus Became God, but I only have the Great Courses lecture series – and I somehow missed downloading the Paul’s View lecture… So I’ve rectified that by downloading that lecture and buying the book + audiobook.

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  July 28, 2019

            Dr Ehrman –

            I’ve been wrestling with:

            If their resurrection experiences themselves wouldn’t have sparked messianic belief in Jesus’s followers (without first having messianic belief seeded in their minds previously), why would it have done so in Paul? Is it that he in turn had it seeded from previous encounters with people in the early Jesus movement?

            The obverse: If the occurrence of resurrection could for Paul evince that God had conferred favored status on Jesus (to the point of messiahship), why couldn’t that logic have also worked for the early followers?

            Thanks a ton!

          • Bart
            Bart  July 29, 2019

            I’m not sure I’m understanding your question. If someone came to think that a person had been raised from the dead, yes, they almost certainly would think God had done a *miracle*. But they would not think “that person is therefore the messiah” — since that was a political designation that had no relation to the messiah. It’d be like today, if someone was thought to have been raised from the dead, no one would say, “Oh, he really *is* the President of Canada!”

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  July 29, 2019

            Ah, sorry. The context is the (excellent) Pauline reverse engineering logic train, summarized exceptionally well herein (https://ehrmanblog.org/what-pauls-conversion-meant/).

            Excerpt:
            “Paul, as I indicated, started with the “fact” that Jesus was alive again. Since Paul also knew that Jesus had been crucified, his reappearance must mean that he had come back to life. There was only one way for that to have happened. God did a miracle. God had raised Jesus from the dead. But if God raised Jesus from the dead, that would mean that Jesus really was the one who stood under God’s special favor. He was the one chosen by God. He was the anointed one.” -BDE

            The hinge is the move from resurrection to favored status (from miracle to messiah). Paul got to messianic belief via his resurrection experience.

            Key Question: If Paul got there this route, why could not have Jesus’s early followers?

            Collecting together (my understanding of) your arguments elsewhere, at least some of the early followers already had the messianic belief during Jesus’s lifetime (i.e., the Judas betrayal argument). So the point is that’s where they (early followers) got their messianic belief, not from their resurrection experiences per se (although the resurrection would obviously further underscore Jesus’s favored status in their minds). And further, that the miracle itself *wouldn’t* have gotten them there (elsewhere and your comment immediately above).

            But Paul did get there from his resurrection experience; and my quandary is, why must it be categorically different for the early followers?

            If the reason Paul got there was because he’d already had familiarity with the background argument (being proclaimed by people in the early post-Easter Jesus movement from his “church persecution” stint), that seemingly wouldn’t address why his resurrection experience would have convinced him of messiahship, rather than a more limited but still miraculous occurrence. Something in the experience convinced him of messiahship – not just any old revivification miracle, but instead one that engenders messianic belief. And if for Paul, then why could it not for others.

            As I unpack and distill the arguments and wrestle with their extensions and implications, it appears to me the Paul logic train argument (or its close relative) would be symmetric for and conceptually applicable to, say, Peter or James or Mary Magdalene. Thanks for your patience in helping me through the puzzlement.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 30, 2019

            Yes, I think roughly speaking the followers of Jesus before Paul did follow similar reasoning. That’s why Paul was persecuting them: they were claiming that Jesus was the messiah whose death was part of the plan of God for salvation.

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  July 30, 2019

            Phenomenal! Thanks so much

  11. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  April 9, 2019

    This is gonna drive up your average words per post! 😉

  12. Avatar
    chixter  April 9, 2019

    I highly recommend to my fellow blog members to listen to this series of lectures. Some of the best i have heard Bart give.

  13. Avatar
    Nexus  April 10, 2019

    “Please adjust gear icon for 1080p High-Definition” so you can see a still image of Bart’s face in high def!

  14. Avatar
    Cliffschilke  April 10, 2019

    Your lecture does not address what I think is the central question regarding Paul’s conversion. What specifically led Paul to profound changes in his identity as a Jew, his relationship to the Law and his understanding of who Jesus was. Simply having a “vision”, at least in the sense that you explained in your book How Jesus Became God, does not explain much. First of all, having not personally known Jesus, Paul could not have recognized Jesus’s physical appearance or voice as he would have had no memory of that. As an apocalyptic Jew, Paul had a world view which offered an alternative meaning to any “vision” of Jesus–namely that it was a demonic effort to induce him to give up his existing understandings of God, the Law and the Jewish Messiah, a demonic effort to be vigorously resisted and rejected. Paul’s own description of his pre-conversion religious life and beliefs offer no reason for him to have a vision in the first place. Visions, as you have written about, at least individual visions, are the mind/brains way of resolving intolerable internal psychological tensions and unbearable emotions. Example–“I can stop hating myself for neglecting my mother when she was old because I saw and heard her tell me after her death that she was in a better place”. The resolution of the emotional conflict, often largely unconscious, brings the conviction that the vision was “real”. Paul describes himself as a Jew who knew that God loved him because he was a Jew, who received the Law as a blessing from God showing men how to live their lives and who believed that he perfectly kept his life in compliance with the Law. He was a highly intelligent and well-educated member of a Jewish cultural elite who had found a further profound purpose to his life in rooting out Jewish heretics, ie, Christians, who were espousing a blasphemous notion that the Messiah could be a crucified criminal. Finally, unlike Jesus’s disciples, Paul was not grieving the loss of someone profoundly loved and then taken in a violent and cruel fashion. Paul’s self-description and what we know of him offers us no understanding or reason for him to have a vision.

    So what happened? To understand what happened to Paul involves understanding what happens to any human who is confronted with a transcendent reality, not a vision.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 10, 2019

      For ancient people, visions *did* convey transcendent realities. And quite often involved seeing people/places/things they had never seen before (and yet recognizing them). People today have visions of Jesus (real visions!) who have no idea what he actually looked like!

      • Rick
        Rick  April 12, 2019

        Professor,
        Are you familiar with Julian Jaynes “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” (1976), in which he argued that ancient peoples were not self conscious as we are today; but, rather experienced the world as a schizophrenic does – hearing voices and having visions? Per Jaynes we evolved from such a “ bicameral mind” ,which talked to itself, to our meta conscious minds of today some 3000 years ago. However, it wasn’t an abrupt evolution so bicameral individuals apt to hearing and seeing things lived at decreasing rates after the 3k year ago breakpoint. I am just starting to plow through his book but it seems to have bearing on “visions” and “voices”.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 13, 2019

          Yes, I am familiar with it — had an discussion about it with a friend two weeks ago. But since it’s not my field, I really can’t give an anaylsis of it.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  July 29, 2019

        Dr Ehrman –

        How many key visions did Paul say he had in the extant letters? Obviously there’s the whopper of the original one (that changed the course of history and Western culture), but weren’t there others? I seem to recall him referencing at least one other (which sent him somewhere?), but cannot locate it/them.

        Thanks a ton!

        • Bart
          Bart  July 31, 2019

          The other one he mentions is in 2 Corinthians 12:2

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  July 31, 2019

            Thanks much!

  15. Avatar
    Cliffschilke  April 11, 2019

    People today having real visions of Jesus have memories of a complex iconography of Jesus which permits them to identify their vision as pertaining to Jesus. Such iconography was not available to Paul nor to the early disciples.

    Believing that a “vision” conveys a transcendent reality does not necessarily mean that vision really does convey a transcendent reality. The question is whether the vision is a psychologically induced state restoring psychological equilibrium, or whether a transcendent reality created the vision.

    Returning to my question: What happened? There are probably many ways to experience a transcendent reality, but the transcendent reality for the disciples and for Paul had a unique configuration [though admittedly this is finally a confession of faith], the experience of a resurrected body. There is no reason to believe that the experience of a resurrected body is like the experience of a normal human body, since the resurrected body has some continuity with a normal human body but also unique qualities and properties. This accounts for me of the many discrepancies in the new testament between the accounts of Jesus’s appearance to his disciples. Furthermore I personally do not believe that Jesus’s experience and possession of his resurrected body was necessarily an immediately accomplished transcendent state, rather than a process which developed until Jesus’s ascension, something alluded to in the New Testament. If one takes seriously the doctrine of the Incarnation, that Jesus was truly man, as well as truly God,, then during his life on earth, even after his resurrection, he would have had to continue to have a normal human experience–that is, of development and change. His discovery of himself in a resurrected body and possession and use of that body would have changed. Therefore the disciples experience of him in a resurrected body would have changed, and Paul’s experience of Jesus’s resurrected body, after his ascension would have been different than the disciples’s experience.

    Finally the impact of the experience of a resurrected body–of Jesus’s resurrected body–accounts for me of the radical changes in personal and cultural identity which the disciples and then Paul experienced. Visions, while restoring psychological equilibrium [no small feat, as a psychiatrist I can assure you], do not lead to such radical changes. Your discussion of visions in How Jesus Became God does not assert such radical changes. Something else happened.

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