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Did Jesus Do “Signs” To Prove Who He Was? A Blast from the Past

Rummaging through old blog posts, I came across this one from a few years ago.  It is on a topic that I continue to be fascinated by, the significant differences between the Gospel of John and the “Synoptic” Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.   These three have numerous differences among themselves, of course.  But the differences of the three over against John are really quite striking.   Here is one key instance of that, on a major issue connected with the life of Jesus.  Did he try to prove that he was the messiah, or not?

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For many decades now there have been scholars who have been convinced that the Gospel of John is based, in large part, on written, but no-longer surviving, sources.   It is much debated whether John relied on the Synoptic Gospels for any of its stories, or whether in fact its author had ever read (or even heard of) Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

There are very few verbatim overlaps between John and the others, and outside of the Passion narrative there is not a lot of overlap in the stories told.  Somewhat like the Synoptics John does have the healing of a Capernaum official’s son, the feeding of the 5000, and the walking on the water – all told in striking different ways.  John’s four other miracles (which he doesn’t call miracles, but “signs”) are unique to his account (including the favorite miracle on college campuses everywhere, the turning of water into wine, and the favorite of most Hollyood screen writers, the raising of Lazarus).

Moreover, the teachings of Jesus are highly distinctive in John.  Almost nothing that Jesus teaches in the Synoptics can be found in John (there is not a single parable in John!) and almost nothing of Jesus’ teaching in John can be found in the Synoptics.

I’m among the scholars who thinks that John probably had not read the Synoptics.  If he had read them, then he wasn’t following them for his accounts.   I may change my mind about this one.  It’s not a view I’m completely convinced by.  But it’s been my view for many years.

That doesn’t mean, however, that John was without its own sources though.   One source that scholars have isolated (this too is much debated) ….

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Did the Gospels Originally Have Titles?
Why Didn’t the Gospel Writers Tell Us Who They Were?

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Comments

  1. Hormiga  May 27, 2018

    It would seem to me that the Roman Catholic Church (and maybe the Orthodox ones too, IDK) should have a position on this. The RCC still endorses various sorts of miracles (and signs?), even making them a box to be checked on the path to sainthood. Does it see present-day miracles and signs as underpinning its positions, just as John saw them as proofs of Jesus’ divine authority?

  2. Kirktrumb59  May 27, 2018

    Off-point, and I know you’ve commented on this previously, but can’t find reference, so mea culpa:
    Josephus himself wrote his histories (Jewish War/Antiquities) originally in Greek or in Aramaic? I believed former, but lately informed this is incorrect. Assume you can clarify. Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      My initial reaction was “He wrote them in Greek, but needed help because it was a second language for him.” But I couldn’t remember where he said something like this. So I asked my colleague David Lambert, who is an expert, and he gave me this (confirming my first reaction):

      It’s a good question. Josephus makes an allusion in the Jewish War to some sort of Aramaic text. The consensus now seems to be that this doesn’t
      reference an Aramaic original. For a good overview, see Steve Mason, “Josephus’ Jewish War,” 16-17, in A Companion to Josephus.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  May 30, 2018

        Josephus writes in the preface to The Jewish Wars that he sought “to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians”. What Josephus means by “the language of our country” is not clear, but the most natural assumption is that be means either Aramaic or Hebrew. The clue to the correct answer might be in the term “Upper Barbarians”. If he sent the original work to the Upper Barbarians, then that must mean the Upper Barbarians understood “the language” of Josephus’ “country.” Well, barbarians were, for the Greeks, everyone in Asia who didn’t speak Greek. And the vast majority of people in Asia who didn’t speak Greek spoke…Aramaic. Even members of the Parthian (Persian) upper-class spoke Aramaic. So the natural assumption is that Josephus originally composed The Jewish Wars in Aramaic.

        Now, if Dr. Ehrman’s colleagues have evidence to the contrary, I would really like to hear it.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 31, 2018

          Ah, right. Yes, that does seem definitive, doesn’t it?

          • Kirktrumb59  June 2, 2018

            All right! Mea culpa yet again. I found “A Companion to Josephus” on Amazon. Mason (a preeminent Josephus scholar) contributed several chapters. Page 16, but not page 17 is available in Amazon’s preview mode. Mason directly addresses talmoore’s comment. If Mason’s analysis is correct, then other than POSSIBLY a separate “compact” Aramaic precursor “with little resemblance to our Judean War,” what we have is a Greek original. Mojo!
            The book’s price, btw, is….$145!

        • Kirktrumb59  June 1, 2018

          Well talmoore, as usual I’m impressed by your knowledge. Same to you, Altosackbuteer, although is it certain that Josephus wrote his histories ONLY under the auspices of the Flavians? I sure dunno.. So now I’m well, not confused, but, confused. While Josephus’ ambiguity (re: his “language of our country”) is problematic, Dr. E appears to endorse your (talmoore) view. So where does this leave Dr. E’s expert friend David Lambert? I suppose Lambert’s recommended reading ( “Josephus’ Jewish War,” 16-17, in A Companion to Josephus) might clarify. What’s definitely not clear is my investigative mojo re: this topic. The fact that it’s unclear sorta indicates it’s level. Thanks for replies.

          • Kirktrumb59  June 2, 2018

            Well, turns out mojo sufficient to attempt procuring Mason’s book. Multiple search strategies (Title, author, keyword, etcc.) ➡️ nada at least through my library’s network. Mason’s “A History of the Jewish War” (closest to Lambert’s recommended title) on Amazon $117. Not that curious.

          • Altosackbuteer
            Altosackbuteer  June 5, 2018

            If you want a real clear picture of who Flavius Josephus was and the nature of his relationship with Vespasian and Titus, I recommend James Mace’s series of novelized histories of the period.

            I just now looked them up on Amazon where they are available in the Soldier of Rome series. They are:

            * Rebellion in Judea
            * Vespasian’s Fury
            * Reign of the Tyrants
            * Rise of the Flavians
            * Fall of Jerusalem

            The 3rd & 4th installments are not directly about the Jewish War, but instead are about the years or civil war and turmoil that Rome itself experienced after Nero committed suicide, leading to the Year of the Four Emperors (69 AD). These events had an indirect but drastic effect on the course of the Jewish War (66-73 AD).

      • Altosackbuteer
        Altosackbuteer  May 31, 2018

        Keep in mind that Josephus was writing under license and sponsorship of his Flavian overlords Vespasian and Titus. Given their authorization of his project, he would HARDLY have written it in Aramaic, but instead in Greek, which both Romans as the educated men they were would have known.

        • talmoore
          talmoore  May 31, 2018

          Following is the first 5 chapters of Josephus’ preface to The Jewish Wars, in which he gives his reasons for composing the work.

          1. WHEREAS the war which the Jews made with the Romans hath been the greatest of all those, not only that have been in our times, but, in a manner, of those that ever were heard of; both of those wherein cities have fought against cities, or nations against nations; while some men who were not concerned in the affairs themselves have gotten together vain and contradictory stories by hearsay, and have written them down after a sophistical manner; and while those that were there present have given false accounts of things, and this either out of a humor of flattery to the Romans, or of hatred towards the Jews; and while their writings contain sometimes accusations, and sometimes encomiums, but no where the accurate truth of the facts; I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians; Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterwards, [am the author of this work].

          2. Now at the time when this great concussion of affairs happened, the affairs of the Romans were themselves in great disorder. Those Jews also who were for innovations, then arose when the times were disturbed; they were also in a flourishing condition for strength and riches, insomuch that the affairs of the East were then exceeding tumultuous, while some hoped for gain, and others were afraid of loss in such troubles; for the Jews hoped that all of their nation which were beyond Euphrates would have raised an insurrection together with them. The Gauls also, in the neighborhood of the Romans, were in motion, and the Geltin were not quiet; but all was in disorder after the death of Nero. And the opportunity now offered induced many to aim at the royal power; and the soldiery affected change, out of the hopes of getting money. I thought it therefore an absurd thing to see the truth falsified in affairs of such great consequence, and to take no notice of it; but to suffer those Greeks and Romans that were not in the wars to be ignorant of these things, and to read either flatteries or fictions, while the Parthians, and the Babylonians, and the remotest Arabians, and those of our nation beyond Euphrates, with the Adiabeni, by my means, knew accurately both whence the war begun, what miseries it brought upon us, and after what manner it ended.

          3. It is true, these writers have the confidence to call their accounts histories; wherein yet they seem to me to fail of their own purpose, as well as to relate nothing that is sound. For they have a mind to demonstrate the greatness of the Romans, while they still diminish and lessen the actions of the Jews, as not discerning how it cannot be that those must appear to be great who have only conquered those that were little. Nor are they ashamed to overlook the length of the war, the multitude of the Roman forces who so greatly suffered in it, or the might of the commanders, whose great labors about Jerusalem will be deemed inglorious, if what they achieved be reckoned but a small matter.

          4. However, I will not go to the other extreme, out of opposition to those men who extol the Romans nor will I determine to raise the actions of my countrymen too high; but I will prosecute the actions of both parties with accuracy. Yet shall I suit my language to the passions I am under, as to the affairs I describe, and must be allowed to indulge some lamentations upon the miseries undergone by my own country. For that it was a seditious temper of our own that destroyed it, and that they were the tyrants among the Jews who brought the Roman power upon us, who unwillingly attacked us, and occasioned the burning of our holy temple, Titus Caesar, who destroyed it, is himself a witness, who, daring the entire war, pitied the people who were kept under by the seditious, and did often voluntarily delay the taking of the city, and allowed time to the siege, in order to let the authors have opportunity for repentance. But if any one makes an unjust accusation against us, when we speak so passionately about the tyrants, or the robbers, or sorely bewail the misfortunes of our country, let him indulge my affections herein, though it be contrary to the rules for writing history; because it had so come to pass, that our city Jerusalem had arrived at a higher degree of felicity than any other city under the Roman government, and yet at last fell into the sorest of calamities again. Accordingly, it appears to me that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews are not so considerable as they were; while the authors of them were not foreigners neither. This makes it impossible for me to contain my lamentations. But if any one be inflexible in his censures of me, let him attribute the facts themselves to the historical part, and the lamentations to the writer himself only.

          5. However, I may justly blame the learned men among the Greeks, who, when such great actions have been done in their own times, which, upon the comparison, quite eclipse the old wars, do yet sit as judges of those affairs, and pass bitter censures upon the labors of the best writers of antiquity; which moderns, although they may be superior to the old writers in eloquence, yet are they inferior to them in the execution of what they intended to do. While these also write new histories about the Assyrians and Medes, as if the ancient writers had not described their affairs as they ought to have done; although these be as far inferior to them in abilities as they are different in their notions from them. For of old every one took upon them to write what happened in his own time; where their immediate concern in the actions made their promises of value; and where it must be reproachful to write lies, when they must be known by the readers to be such. But then, an undertaking to preserve the memory Of what hath not been before recorded, and to represent the affairs of one’s own time to those that come afterwards, is really worthy of praise and commendation. Now he is to be esteemed to have taken good pains in earnest, not who does no more than change the disposition and order of other men’s works, but he who not only relates what had not been related before, but composes an entire body of history of his own: accordingly, I have been at great charges, and have taken very great pains [about this history], though I be a foreigner; and do dedicate this work, as a memorial of great actions, both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians. But for some of our own principal men, their mouths are wide open, and their tongues loosed presently, for gain and law-suits, but quite muzzled up when they are to write history, where they must speak truth and gather facts together with a great deal of pains; and so they leave the writing such histories to weaker people, and to such as are not acquainted with the actions of princes. Yet shall the real truth of historical facts be preferred by us, how much soever it be neglected among the Greek historians.

          • Altosackbuteer
            Altosackbuteer  June 4, 2018

            Thank you. Consider yourself Liked ☺.

            According to the preamble, Josephus first wrote it into Aramaic and then into Greek. It is easy to understand why. I myself translated one of my own books into German (not yet published), but I first had to write it in English before I could tackle German. Believe me, and I say this from experience, it’s MUCH BETTER to first write it out in your own mother tongue before you attempt to put it into a second language you can’t possibly know as well as your own.

            Here — do yourself a favor. Go to Amazon and look up the author James Mace. He has written a series of 4 or 5 novelized histories of the Jewish / Roman War. Josephus is an important player in these novels. The novels will give you a very clear idea of who Josephus was, and why he worked with the Romans.

            Essentially, Vespasian admired Josephus tremendously after the siege of Jotopata in 68 AD, and Josephus was persuaded to switch sides and work with the Romans because he saw the alternative as utter disaster for his own people.

        • Kirktrumb59  June 5, 2018

          Responding to Altosackbuteer’s June 4 comment (this website doesn’t allow a response directly either to that of June 4 or to that of June 5):
          “Josephus first wrote it into Aramaic and then into Greek.” Per my own June 2nd reply/clarification: Not according to a preeminent Josephus scholar.
          I’ve very little stake in this, only my own curiosity. But this expert, Steve Mason, argues convincingly, at least pour moi, that there is no substantive Aramaic Judean War, at least by Josephus.

  3. godspell  May 27, 2018

    You know, I could believe Jesus liked the Book of Jonah, referenced it–it has the kind of paradoxical style to it that he favored.

    But as you know, of all the books of the OT, that is the one where the prophet is revealed to be a buffoon, and God has to keep putting him in his place. He calls for judgment on Ninevah, and God refuses to destroy it, for the sake of the people and the animals within. It’s a beautiful story, and was never meant to be taken literally (though there is a possibly apocrypal story of a man swallowed by a sperm whale then rescued later, in the late 19th century).

    Jonah is not supposed to be admired. The point of the story is that God knows what is wise, what is right, and that it is not for any man, even a prophet, to dictate terms to God. Jonah is too slow to act, then too quick to condemn. God speaks to him directly, and he keeps misunderstanding, doing the wrong thing. Whoever wrote the Book of Jonah had a subtle mind. Subtle minds are often misunderstood themselves.

    Why would Jesus compare such a clownish figure to himself–and if he never did, why would others make that comparison for him? They could find some other way to get the point across. I think Jesus must have said something like this, and was misunderstood by his followers, as was so often the case.

    And Jonah didn’t lie beneath the earth, but the sea.

    Thomas Merton wrote an entire book about this. Keep meaning to read it.

    • Altosackbuteer
      Altosackbuteer  May 29, 2018

      You asked, “Why would Jesus compare such a clownish figure to himself–and if he never did, why would others make that comparison for him?”

      Maybe it’s because Jesus understood the Jewish folklore about Jonah, later discussed in rabbinical commentaries.

      The question is, if Jonah were a Prophet of the Lord, then WHY would HE, of ALL people, refuse to obey a commandment from God? Prophets are not like you and me and thee and thou. You and me, we have to wallow around trying to believe in and follow a God we cannot see, hear, or feel. But Jonah COULD hear God. He DID hear God. Why would HE not do what God commanded him to do?

      What was it that God commanded Jonah to do? He commanded Jonah to go unto Nineveh — a city where Gentiles and not Jews lived — and preach to Nineveh, telling them that God would destroy them unless they mended their ways. (I do not understand what you meant when you said, ” He calls for judgment on Ninevah, and God refuses to destroy it, for the sake of the people and the animals within.”)

      So instead of obeying God, Jonah runs away, but finds that he can run but cannot hide from God, and eventually God gets him to go to Nineveh where he preaches, they repent, and God does not destroy them.

      So WHY did Jonah not obey God?

      According to the rabbinical commentaries, it’s because Jonah loved his own people, the Jews. Jonah knew very well that by virtue of being The Chosen People, God judges the Jews by a stricter standard than he does the Gentiles. It’s like you have an 18-year old child and a 2-year old child. If the 2-year old breaks a window, you don’t punish him, but if the 18-year old does, you do punish him, because you EXPECT MORE from him.

      According to the rabbinical commentaries, Jonah feared that if he would go to Nineveh this Gentile city and preach to them and they would repent of their wicked ways, then God, always holding the Jewish people to a higher, stricter standard, would get really, REALLY annoyed with the Jewish people for not repenting when even Gentiles repent, and would come down VERY hard on them.

      So Jonah decided, as they say in the world of sports, “to take one for the team.” He decided to disobey God, daring God to punish HIM, but ONLY him.

      He decided to be a sacrificial lamb for the Jewish people.

      Perhaps Jesus saw a parallel between himself and Jonah for this reason.

      • godspell  May 30, 2018

        First of all, disobedience to God (by his Chosen, you wouldn’t expect anything else from the feckless goyim) is a recurring theme in the Old Testament. It’s really the overarching theme. It’s how the whole story began, with Adam, Eve, and the Apple, and I see a hint of it in the New Testament, when the disciples don’t do what Jesus asks, or even when Jesus questions God’s will (however briefly). So whoever wrote Jonah was finding a new variation on that theme.

        Secondly, are you sure you’ve read it?

        4:10. Then the LORD said: “You cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight.

        4:11. And should not I care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not yet know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well!”

        Jonah disobeys God at first because he doesn’t see the point–most of the people in Ninevah are not believers, not Jews. They are not his people. He doesn’t care what happens to them. But they may well persecute him, even kill him, for preaching this strange religion to them. The journey alone is hazardous. Like Bartleby, he would prefer not to.

        But God won’t let it go. He forces Jonah’s compliance, and warming to his task, Jonah does such a fine job telling Ninevah how sinful and doomed it is that the people foreswear their foolish ways, repent (in sackcloth and ashes even!)–and God relents. He will not punish them.

        One might wonder if God ever really intended to destroy the city. I mean, why not destroy ALL cities, since they’re all pretty much the same with regards to sin. Maybe this was just his way of testing Jonah.

        And Jonah fails again. He’s angry God didn’t destroy the city–but he’s also angry God destroys the tree that sheltered him.

        He’s a rather self-centered man. As I must say, preachers often are, sadly (I don’t just mean the religious kind, secular preachers can be worse sometimes). It’s a profession that lends itself to arrogance, hubris. If you can move people with your words (or just believe you do), you think of yourself as important. But you are still dust, and to dust you shall return. (See? I’m falling prey to it right now!)

        God is telling Jonah that what matters is the nurturing of life. This is a story that treasures life–that depicts all of nature as serving God’s will, even the great beasts of the sea. This is a living world, a miracle beyond compare, and we are just one part of it. Jonah should be full of joy that he’s helped save this city, and he’s just moping because God told him to deliver a message, and now the message is being proven false–which lowers his own sense of self-esteem.

        For want of a better term, Jonah is ANTI-Millennial.

        And yet Jesus is said to have loved it, and used it as a metaphor, and maybe those are just words put in his mouth.

        But I don’t think they made that up out of whole cloth. I think that story sang to him. It does to me. It does to you, but you know, sometimes people have trouble understanding the lyrics of songs they like?

        I think you garbled this one a bit.

        • Altosackbuteer
          Altosackbuteer  June 1, 2018

          You said, “I think you garbled this one a bit.”

          No I didn’t. All I did was tell you what the Jewish commentaries say. I suspect I am far more familiar with those than you are. If you dislike or don’t agree with the Jewish commentaries, your objection lies with them and not me. All I do is report to you what they say.

          You said, Jonah probably objected to going because he feared for his personal safety. I cannot agree with this. Jonah was a PROPHET OF GOD. Jonah SPOKE with God, just as I am speaking with YOU, right now. SURELY, Jonah knew that as long as he did what God told him to do, God would SURELY protect him, to enable him to carry out God’s will. What is the point of God telling Joan to do something and then allowing harm to come to him? It defeats the point of the whole exercise.

          You said, “Jonah disobeys God at first because he doesn’t see the point–most of the people in Ninevah are not believers, not Jews.” Probably, Jonah didn’t see the point of God being interested in the repentance of a non-Jewish city. But that’s not why he rebelled against God. According to the Jewish commentaries, Jonah rebelled against God because he thought that if he complied and did what God commanded of him, and if the people of Nineveh actually WOULD repent, then this would enable God to make a VERY INVIDIOUS comparison between the repentance of the non-Chosen Ninevites v. the recalcitrant non-repentance of the REAL Chosen People.

          Jonah KNEW how this comparison would turn out. So by disobeying God, he prevented God from being able to make the invidious comparison. And, yes, God probably WOULD punish him for that. But Jonah figgered — according to the Jewish commentaries — that he was willing to take this punishment, if it meant that it would force God to spare the Chosen People, JONAH’S own people. As they say in the world of sports, Jonah “took one for the team.” Or at least, tried to.

          But Jonah found out the truth of the title of a certain play which appeared on Broadway more years ago than I care to think about. The name of the play was “Arms Too Short To Box With God.”

          You said that “(Jonah’s) just moping because God told him to deliver a message, and now the message is being proven false–which lowers his own sense of self-esteem.”

          Uh-uh. God’s message came all too TRUE. NOT a false message at all! God said, tell Nineveh, repent or else. Well, Nineveh DID repent — and in the process, thereby nullified the “or else.”

          Christians — I assume you are one — tend to think that prophecy is cast into stone. In the words of Omar Khayyam, “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
          Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
          Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
          Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

          That is NOT how MOST prophecy works in Judaism. In Judaism, prophecy is seen as elastic and CONDITIONAL. “IF A, THEN B.” But IF A does not come to pass, then neither does B.

          In the Book of Genesis, God prophesied that the Children of Jacob would have to reside in Egypt for 400 years. But if you work out the math of how long they were ACTUALLY there — check out the Rashi commentary on this — it amounts to a maximum of 210 years. What is this: did the author of Genesis make a BASIC computational error? Or is God not really all-seeing or all-mighty?

          No — it’s because God is the Ultimate Lawmaker, Prosecutor, Judge, Jury, and Executioner., all rolled into One. ANYTHING that God says is Just, IS Just, and SIMPLY because God said so. In other words, God gets to change His Mind anytime He likes. God gets to change a prophecy or decree anytime He lies.

          This is what the Rosh HaShanah / Yom Kippur prayer cycle is all about. See, on Rosh HaShanah, God write in the Book of Life what the fate and destiny of EVERY person is going to be for the forthcoming year — healthy or sick, rich or poor, live through the year or die. But God does NOT write in the Book of Life with indelible ink. Instead, God uses a PENCIL. And the pencil has an ERASER. In other words, if God has decreed an “evil” decree — one that a human at any rate might regard as “evil” — God CAN change the decree and turn it into a GOOD decree. But, God needs a REASON to do that. And personal prayer is that reason, or one of them, anyway.

          I submit to you, THIS is why Jesus was praying so hard to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. See, Jesus was TRYING to bring about the Great Day of the Lord as per Joel 3 (and which Peter, in Acts 2, says that Jesus SUCCEEDED in doing), the day when the Messiah becomes manifest. But Jesus WAS NOT CERTAIN how it would go. He was asking God, after all, TO PERFORM A MIRACLE! And miracles, in the worlds of the Roman Centurion Macro in the I, Claudius series, are, by their very nature, UNUSUAL. Jesus MIGHT succeed. Or, God MIGHT WITHHOLD the miracle Jesus seeks! Victory in the Great Battle of the Day of the Lord, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

          So Jesus was praying REAL HARD. Because, if the matter dangled on the edge of a knife’s edge, and COULD fall one way or another, then maybe, JUST maybe, the force of Jesus’ prayer JUST MIGHT nudge the decision onto the Good Decree side. And this is why Jesus was so annoyed with the dumb disciples for sleeping when they SHOULD have been praying along with Jesus, for their prayers too had spiritual power, and the extra ooomph of THEIR prayers themselves JUST MIGHT make the difference between victory and defeat.

          Such is the nature of Prophecy. Jonah was VERY aware of how it works.

          You are quite right about the general level of the Chosen People’s recurring disobedience to God in the Bible.

          You quoted Jonah: “4:11. And should not I care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not yet know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well!” And you asked if I knew about this.

          It reminds me of another Midrash which I will share with you — and which Jonah himself must have known.

          You are aware that in the Book of Exodus, after God drowned the entire Egyptian Army in the sea, the Children of Israel spontaneously sang a song of praise to the Almighty. “The LORD has triumphed gloriously; Horse and rider has He thrown into the sea!” is how a portion of the Song of Miriam goes.

          But according to the Midrash, God himself allowed the singing, but only for a short time, then He cut off the singing and told the Children of Israel to cease singing.

          Why did God do this? Because God Himself was in mourning at this moment. He was mourning over the fate of the lost souls of Egypt. Even though they were not of the Chosen People, God said of the Egyptians, “They too were My children…”

          Jonah was HIGHLY conscious of this.

          • godspell  June 2, 2018

            I have not read the Jewish commentaries in question, but I have known a lot of Jewish people, and in my experience, none of them agree with each other about anything except that the goyim are crazy.

            So you read what SOME Jewish people think Jonah means, because they’re trying to understand how Jonah could be a prophet of God and still be such a cowardly prick.

            When you try to logically explain a myth that is trying to express universal truths, and says a man was inside a fish for several days then came out good as new, these types of misunderstandings will occur.

            You can cavil all you like, but it’s a fact, undeniable, that Jonah wants God to destroy Ninevah (which is not a Jewish town), and God refuses, partly because the people there didn’t know any better than to be sinners (which is why he sent Jonah to them) and partly because it’s not the fault of their dogs, horses and oxen that they are sinners. And to God, at least in Jonah, the animals matter just as much.

            This was actually used in a debate between Augustine and Pelagius. We only have Pelagius’ side from Augustine’s writings, but essentially Augustine seems to have said “You might as well say God cares what happens to an Ox” and Pelagius retorted that of course God cares. And cited Jonah as proof.

            Of course that isn’t proof of anything, since Jonah is a made-up story, but a made-up story in the Old Testament has to be taken seriously in a theological argument involving Jews and/or Christians.

            Anyway, I think whoever wrote Jonah had it right.

            And you, my friend, have it wrong. But God still cares about you.

            (No more than the ox.)

            😉

          • godspell  June 3, 2018

            And to respond to your main point, no. I don’t believe Jesus was influenced by some Proto-Midrash. He was rebelling against orthodox Judaism, and would have gone directly to the source, made his own interpretation. Assuming, of course, that he was literate. I personally think he could read, and devoured all the religious literature he could lay his hands on, which might not have been much.

            The story speaks for itself, very eloquently. And what it says is most unorthodox. Prophets can be fools and cowards–also vindictive. Animals mean as much to God as humans, and may in fact be better vessels of his will than us–God even cares about nonbelievers!

            I sometimes wish the entire OT was like Jonah.

    • dongshin  June 2, 2018

      Dear Dr. Ehrman:
      It seems to me that The major problem with quoting Jonah is that Jonah was in the belly of a big fish for three days and three nights. Did The resurrection of Jesus happen” after three days” or “on the third day”?. ” on the third day” sounds more reasonable. or any way, That is, after three days and two nights. Why would the son of God make such a simple mistake in quoting? This simply is another instance of the writers of the gospels forcing to quote the Hebrew bible to foretell the resurrection of Jesus.

  4. forthfading  May 27, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Concerning the author of the fourth Gospel, we know that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” had something to do with the composition. What are your thoughts about the disciple whom Jesus loved being Lazarus since in John 11:3 he is said to be loved by Jesus? How far a stretch is it to think Lazarus may have been involved in the composition and that someone named John helped compose his memoirs?

    Best

    • Bart
      Bart  May 28, 2018

      The beloved disciples appears to be one of the twelve, so I think Lazarus has to be ruled out.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  May 27, 2018

    To me, Dr. Ehrman, the Gospel of John reads like an addendum. That is, it reads like something that someone wrote with the willful intention of “filling in the gaps” in the synoptic narrative. Personally, I find it exceedingly hard to believe that the author of John was completely ignorant of the synoptic accounts. Indeed, it seems that the gospel account according to Mark was so widely known that, even though it is noticably inferior to Matthew and Luke, it was still chosen to become part of the “four” received gospels by the middle of the 2nd century. This strongly suggests that Mark was so widely known and read by that time that it was considered, by that point, too authoritative to be entirely subsumed and supplanted by Matthew and Luke.

    Assuming the Gospel of John was actually written at Ephesus (or at least by a Christian living somewhere along the Ionian coast), then one could safely assume that the author of John was, at the very least, familiar with the Markan account. Anything less than that starts to challenge credulity. (For my money, I would bet that the author of John was writing an addendum to Luke-Acts.) Are we really expected to believe that the author of John was so completely ignorant of the synoptic traditions that he just so happened to bookend his gospel with events straight out of the synoptic tradition — viz. the cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of John and the anointing of Jesus towards the end of John? It seems rather obvious (to my eyes) that what the author of John was trying to do is pad out Jesus’ ministry between these two events; events that in the Synoptics are separated by only a matter of days are now separated by years. Clearly, the author of John is make Jesus’ whole ministry appear to have lasted a more respectable number of years, rather than the apparent one year, at most, in the Synoptics.

    By filling in these “missing years,” the author of John also appears to be attempting to provide a more developed form of Jesus’ teaching — as if the author of John is filling in the “missing teachings” of Jesus along with the missing years of his ministry. That’s why when one reads a gospel harmony (such as, for example, the Arabic recension of the purportedly lost Diatesseron), the John parts almost always take up the period (conveniently) between the cleansing of the Temple and the anointing of Jesus’ feet/head. It’s almost like the author of John had purposely composed his work to literally fit into that section in the gospel harmony! That doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me. That seems entirely intentional.

    • dongshin  June 2, 2018

      Your points are very astute and reasoned. I also think that the author of John had known the synoptic gospels, at the least Mark, but wanted to elevate Jesus more. Feeding of 5000 obviously came from the Hebrew bible, and the author of John knew this, and represented himself as the beloved disciple on purpose to give prestige to his gospel. I just wonder if the idea of signs by John did not originate from Josephus. Like the signs of impending doom by Jesus , the son of Ananus, in Jewish War book 5,chapter 6,whose words of cry ” the 4 winds ” etc sound like Jesus in the synoptic gospels. Only the signs are now reversed in significance for salvation. I think that Dr. Ehrman may think about this point.

  6. Altosackbuteer
    Altosackbuteer  May 28, 2018

    Professor, as the ex-Christian that I am, I want to ask you about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

    Unlike you, I hold that the Triumphal Entry DID happen — but not several days before Passover, in early spring, but instead on the other side of the year, during Sukkot, in early autumn. I want to ask your opinion abut this.

    The arguments for the Triumphal Entry during Sukkot and not Passover:

    1) Matthew, Mark, and John all report that when Jesus made his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the crowds called out to Jesus “Hosheanot l’ben David!” — “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

    Now, Profession, as learned as you may be, you might not be very familiar with rudiments of the Jewish liturgy — but I am. The “Hosheanot” are prayers that are recited during Sukkot and at no other time of the year, That the crowds would shout this to Jesus indicates that the Triumphal Entry occurred during Sukkot and not shortly before Passover.

    2) Matthew & Mark say that the crowds tore branches off unspecified species of trees and strew them into the path of Jesus and his donkey. But John — whose Gospel I admire for its better attention to historical detail though not for his theology — more specifically says that the crowds “Took branches of PALM trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.” This of course is the origin of the Christian holiday of Palm Sunday.

    Here again — one who is not familiar with the basics of the Jewish liturgical cycle might miss this IMPORTANT detail. But here is WHY it’s important:

    PALM is one of the “arba minim” — the 4 species. The 4 species are palm, a lemon-like citron called an “etrog,” willow, and hadassah. These are together and are called “lulav;” and all bound together and are waved around and used during the Jewish liturgy — again — during SUKKOT.

    Go to any Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, say, in Brooklyn NY. Hang out on the street next to any synagogue around 8 am, the ordinary time for the daily morning service, and watch the Jewish men all carrying their lulav v’etrog kits, INCLUDING PALM, in long plastic bags, as they go to or from the synagogue where these things are waved around.

    If Jesus made the Triumphal Entry not at Passover but during Sukkot, THIS is the time of year when one would EXPECT to see crowds of Jews all carrying palm branches with them.

    Therefore, this is another sign that the story of the Triumphal Entry is a true story, but one that all the evangelists garbled, mistaking it for an early spring event and not early autumn.

    3) Then there is the matter of Jesus cursing the fig tree. All 3 Synoptic gospels report this strange incident. Apart from the sheer vindictiveness and pettiness that Jesus showed on this occasion, the question arises — WHY ON EARTH would Jesus have even expected the fig tree to bear mature fruit?

    Figs are a fruit that are ready to be picked in early autumn. Fig trees simply do not bear any mature fruit in the springtime.

    If the events of the Triumphal Entry, which includes the matter of the fig tree, occurred in early spring, then the Synoptic version of this story implies that Jesus must have been an IDIOT, not knowing the BASIC FACT that fig trees do not bear mature fruit in the springtime. WHY ON EARTH curse a poor, innocent, defenseless fig tree for not having fruit during the early springtime, when that would have been against the nature of a fig tree?

    But — AH! — if we suppose that the Triumphal Entry occurred, not in early spring but instead in the early autumn, then now at least Jesus’ petty and vindictive rage against the fig tree makes a modicum of sense.

    Jesus EXPECTED to find fruit on the fig tree because it was AUTUMN, the RIGHT time of the year for any fig tree to bear fruit and, not finding any fruit when and where he’d expected to find fruit, for THIS reason did he curse the fig tree.

    (Which STILL doesn’t speak to Jesus’ vindictiveness; perhaps the reason the poor fig tree had no fruit was because its rightful owner had already plucked his tree clean of all fruit, and it REALLY wasn’t the tree’s fault.)

    So — if the Triumphal Entry happened during Sukkot, did the Crucifixion really happen just before Passover?

    My opinion is YES. There are two possibilities.

    a) The Romans arrested Jesus at that time for sedition, held him in custody for 6 months, then crucified him.

    b) But more likely, Jesus left Jerusalem before the authorities could catch him, and re-entered Jerusalem — IN SECRET — 6 months later, in order to set up the great battle of the Great Day of the Lord as per Joel 3, when the Messiah would triumph and become manifest, and usher in the Age of the Messiah.

    In the 3 Synoptic gospels, Jesus enters Jerusalem ONE ONE TIME, and this shortly before his Passover-time Crucifixion. But in John, Jesus enters and re-enters Jerusalem up to a half-dozen times. Often he does so in secret, because the authorities were looking for him, and he didn’t want to be found before he was ready.

    But more about that in a subsequent posting.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 28, 2018

      I explain the reasons I don’t think it happened at all in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

      • llamensdor  May 31, 2018

        Yeah, but you gotta admit Alto would be (maybe is) a helluva lawyer.

        • Altosackbuteer
          Altosackbuteer  June 4, 2018

          Thank you, my friend. Consider yourself Liked ☺.

          As a matter of fact, while I’m not a member of the Bar and never attended law school, I do have extensive experience with the Law and in writing legal paper. I once made Massachusetts legal history by being the first person ever to successfully sue a cop for False Arrest under a theory of a bogus arrest for an alleged restraining order violation. And, I wrote the lawsuit pro se — that is to say, I paid no lawyer to write it for me.

  7. Silver  May 28, 2018

    I’m intrigued when you write, “I’m among the scholars who thinks that John probably had not read the Synoptics. If he had read them, then he wasn’t following them for his accounts. ***I may change my mind about this one. It’s not a view I’m completely convinced by. But it’s been my view for many years.***”
    This was a ‘Blast from the Past’ so you wrote it some time ago. Was there something at that point that was triggering a rethink? Have you, in fact, adjusted your position since?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 28, 2018

      There are always nagging doubts simply because of the many overlaps in the Passion Narrative. But I continue to think John probably hadn’t read the others, and certainly didn’t use them to construct his own account.

      • kadmiral
        kadmiral  May 31, 2018

        It seems that John, with his passion overlaps, and other similarities in general about the Jesus story as known in the synoptics, would more likely have at least read or known of the synoptic gospels, especially at the late date he wrote. Maybe I am wrong, but it is hard to understand how any Christian community at 90 CE or so would not have been relying on the written gospel narratives as informing their religious beliefs.

        But–even if John may have read them and known about them, he sure put forth his own agenda as seen in the differences you expose here and elsewhere. Perhaps he did not source them because he did not think they accurately reflected his understanding of who Jesus was.

        To me, the most striking difference is John’s theological manipulation to make Jesus the Passover lamb, in changing the time and day of his death among other things. It seems apparent that John was taking the Jesus story to a whole new level.

  8. Altosackbuteer
    Altosackbuteer  May 28, 2018

    THE MULTIPLE VISITS OF JESUS IN & OUT OF JERUSALEM

    All 3 Synoptic gospels speak of Jesus spending his entire public ministry in or around Galilee (including Sidon & Tyre, then as now, in southern Lebanon), and entering Jerusalem only ONE time, that being several days before the Passover of the Crucifixion.

    But the Gospel of John indicates Jesus was in-&-out of Jerusalem around a good half-dozen times. And since the purpose of Prof. Ehrman’s posting this morning is to ponder the differences between John and the other gospels, it is therefore fitting to examine these multiple visitations.

    1) In John 2:13, Jesus visits Jerusalem, during Passover, and on THIS occasion, drives the money-changers from the Temple.

    Remarkable!

    Because in the 3 Synoptic gospels — with some variances in the details — the Triumphal Entry and the cleansing of the Temple of the money-changers either happens on the same day, or one day apart. But in John, we will see that the cleansing of the Temple happened AT LEAST TWO YEARS EARLIER than the Triumphal Entry!

    In John 3, Jesus leaves Jerusalem, then goes to Judea and engages in “baptism.” I surmise that “Judea” is a euphemism for the area around the Jordan River (Jericho is actually about 18 miles from Jerusalem). This can’t be when Jesus was baptized by John, because that happened already in John 1. In Chapter 3, John still has not yet been arrested; evidently then, both he and Jesus were performing baptism. Then Jesus goes to Samaria (north of Jerusalem) and then on to Galilee.

    2) In John 5, Jesus returns to Jerusalem for an unspecified “feast of the Jews.” There are 3 major feasts of the Jews — Sukkot, Shavuot, and Passover. But we know that Jesus had been in Jerusalem already for Passover. Shavuot (Pentecost) is 7 weeks after Passover. Is that enough time to hike from Jerusalem to the Jordan River to Samaria to Galilee and then back to Jerusalem? I suppose it’s barely doable. So, let’s say that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the 2nd time during Shavuot (which is the anniversary of the giving of the Law of Moses on Mt. Sinai).

    Although Jesus could just as easily have visited Jerusalem during Sukkot on this occasion of his second visit to Jerusalem. Probably, this timeline is more reasonable.

    John 6 says that Jesus spent the following Passover in Galilee. This of course means that an entire year has gone by from the time of Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem.

    3) John 7 says that Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the 3rd time during the Feast of “Tabernacles.” This is another way of saying Sukkot (early autumn), for this festival is also known as the “Festival of Booths.” This refers to the flimsy, leaky booths that Jews are supposed to eat in during this time. So this is now 18 months after Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem. (Again, for those interested in seeing these booths, visit any Chabad House near where you live — there is definitely a Chabad House in or near UNC Chapel Hill at 6514 Glen Forest Drive, in the event Prof. Ehrman wishes to visit — and see both the booth (succah) and the 4 species including palm — for himself.)

    This visit is interesting in that Jesus evidently told his “brethren” “a little white lie” — these being the brethren — his own blood relatives? — who “For neither did his brethren believe in him” (John 7:5). Jesus told these “brethren” to go up to Jerusalem — “Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come” (Verse 8).

    But Jesus had deceived them, for “But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret” (Verse 10).

    Jesus evidently was afraid for his life, for Verse 1 says, “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.”

    But oddly enough, in Verse 14, Jesus drops the secrecy, “Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.”

    Anyway, for a lengthy piece of John’s gospel does Jesus remain in Jerusalem on this occasion. It is during this time that he proclaimed to “the Jews” (Pharisees, as earlier in the chapter?) that he IS God, whereupon they drove him out of the Temple by throwing stones at him — which they SHOULD have done IF Jesus REALLY had said this, for it is a CLEAR blasphemy. But if Jesus had the colossal nerve to go into the Temple and tell a crowd of Pharisees that he IS God — then why did he feel a need to keep his visit to Jerusalem a secret, as per Chapter 7?

    I dunno.

    4) Anyway, we now come to John 10:22, “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.
    (23) And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.”

    Does this count as a separate visit, or is this part of the 3rd visit made during Sukkot?

    John doesn’t say that Jesus had left Jerusalem and then had come back in time for “the Feast of the Dedication,” but since that is about 2 months after Sukkot, and considering the commotion Jesus had caused during that visit to Jerusalem, I’m betting he left, let things cool down, and then returned, and this therefore counts as a 4th visit.

    The “Feast of the Dedication,” for those unfamiliar with the Jewish calendar, is Chanukah. And well does John say that it was now winter, for Chanukah falls roughly during December, 2 months after Sukkot. It is NOT one of the 3 main pilgrim festivals of the Jews, Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot. Those are festivals demanded in the Law of Moses. Chanukah by contrast celebrates events which happened less than 200 years before Jesus’ public ministry, when the Jews regained independence from the Antiochene Greek dynasty. It is not Biblical but post-Biblical, so is not as important.

    Afterward, John says that Jesus went to the Transjordan and spent time there, in the vicinity where John the Baptist had been active.

    5) Does visiting Bethany count as a visit to Jerusalem? I think it does. Bethany is located perhaps 6 miles, maybe even 2 miles, from bustling downtown Jerusalem. John 11 says that Jesus returned to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. Afterward, John says that Jesus returned to “Ephraim.” Verse 54 — “Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples.”

    In the Book of Isaiah, “Ephraim” (see Chapter 7) is a euphemism for the old Kingdom of Israel, after it split from the post-Solomon kingdom in Jerusalem. The Land of Ephraim itself was transjordanian, parceled to the the Tribe of Ephraim at the time of Moses and Joshua.

    6) Anyway, Jesus’ 6th and final recorded visit to Jerusalem during his public the one of the Triumphal Entry and the Crucifixion.

    • Altosackbuteer
      Altosackbuteer  May 28, 2018

      But in any event, note the HUGE discrepancy in the gospel accounts of the events of the cleansing of the Temple of the money-changers and the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

      In the 3 synoptic gospels, there are only “minor differences” in the timing of these events — though, in a scripture which by definition is inerrant there OUGHT to be NONE of these.

      In Matthew (26) the order of events is —

      * Jesus enters Jerusalem in Triumph;
      * IMMEDIATELY then goes to the Temple to cleanse it of money-changers;
      * Then departs and goes to Bethany where he spends the night;
      * Then the following morning, because he hungered, he attempted to take a fig from a fig tree and, finding none, cursed the tree.

      In Mark (11), the order of events is —

      * Jesus enters Jerusalem in Triumph;
      * Jesus visits the Temple and only looks around;
      * Jesus departs and spends the night in Bethany;
      * The following morning Jesus curses the fig tree;
      * And then RETURNS to the Temple, THIS time chasing out the money-changers.

      In Luke (19), the order of events is —

      * Jesus enters Jerusalem in Triumph, though Luke omits the Hosannas.
      * IMMEDIATELY then goes to the Temple to cleanse it of money-changers;
      Luke says nothing about Bethany or a fig tree.

      ***

      But now, look at JOHN’S timeline —

      1) Jesus visits Jerusalem for the first time, at Passover; at this time he chases the money-changers out of the Temple (John 2);
      2) Jesus then leaves Jerusalem, and visits the Jordan River valley, then Samaria and then Galilee (John 3);
      3) Jesus then returns to Jerusalem (2nd visit) for another Jewish festival, either Shavuot (Pentecost, 7 weeks later) or Sukkot (a half-year later) (John 5).
      4) Jesus then spends the following Passover in Galilee (John 6). It is at least 1 year since his first visit to Jerusalem.
      5) Jesus then returns to Jerusalem (3rd visit) a half-year later (at least), during Sukkot (John 7-10).
      6) Jesus then returns to Jerusalem (4th visit) during Chanukah (John 10:22).
      7) Jesus then goes to Transjordan and returns to Bethany (5th visit) briefly sometime later, to raise Lazarus from the dead, and then returns to Transjordan (John 11).
      8) Then, and ONLY then, does Jesus return to Jerusalem for the final time, before Passover, and THIS is the occasion of the Triumphal Entry.

      ***

      This is AT LEAST TWO YEARS LATER than the time Jesus was in Jerusalem, chasing money-changers out of the Temple.

      It is a GROSS, PALPABLE error.

      Someone here recently asked, did any editors ever have all 4 gospels together in the same room before they decided to canonize them into today’s final form?

      The answer has to be NO. Each gospel must have been canonized separately by separate people at separate times, who did so without the benefit of having the other canonized scriptures available for review.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 28, 2018

      My sense is that you’ll get more people to read your interesting posts if you will keep them shorter. But it’s up to you!

      • Altosackbuteer
        Altosackbuteer  May 29, 2018

        “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

        I am keenly aware that, in writing, more can be less.

        I am an experienced writer, and I TRY to KISS it.

        But sometimes it takes more room to say what needs to be said. What can i say?

        • Liam Foley
          Liam Foley  June 7, 2018

          I write my own blog on European Royal History and brevity is not one of my strong suits. In college I was instructed to write 10 biographical summaries of certain historical figures during a certain area. It was supposed to be 15 pages long. Mine was 65 pages! It was a joy to write them!

  9. Altosackbuteer
    Altosackbuteer  May 28, 2018

    JESUS WAS WANTED BY THE AUTHORITIES, say all the gospels.

    John 11:57 — “Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him.”

    This corresponds to many other indications in all the gospels — including John 7 above — that Jesus needed to go about his business in secrecy.

    In Matthew 26, Jesus sends his disciples ahead of him to find a certain man whom understands to give Jesus use of an upper room for the Last Supper.

    Both Mark (14) and Luke (22) tell the story of Jesus sending the disciples ahead of him to find a man with a pitcher of water who will lead them to the Upper Room.

    In all the cases, stealth was the watchword.

    • llamensdor  May 31, 2018

      The great error you’re making is that you’re treating the gospels as histories. They’re not. At best they are historical fiction. Just because a gospel writer only writes about one trip to Jerusalem on one holiday, doesn’t mean that’s the whole story. My own belief is that Jesus traveled to Jerusalem many times, beginning in his childhood (remember the time he was “on his father’s business” debating the rabbis in the portico?). Theoretically the Jews in the Holy Land would all travel to Jerusalem on all the pilgrimage holidays–clearly they couldn’t all afford to do that–even though many diaspora Jews came from the ends of the Roman Empire to celebrate Passover. John’s ‘gospel’ has little if anything to do with the historical Jesus. John is the great Jew-hater supreme as he spouts his Greek-philosopher gibberish while yelling at the Jew’s as if he (Jesus) wasn’t one of them. It is tragic that so much of Christianity is based on the words of the despicable John author.

      • Altosackbuteer
        Altosackbuteer  June 4, 2018

        In the 3 Synoptic gospels, Jesus does in fact visit Jerusalem twice — once as a bar mitzvah 13-year old boy, the other time shortly before the Crucifixion. Arguably, I suppose one COULD argue that Jesus must have passed through Jerusalem on his way from Nazareth to Bethlehem when his mother was carrying him in utero, but I regard all the Nativity stories as mythologies.

        I TOTALLY AGREE with you about the invidious Apostle John and his hellenistic gospel; consider yourself Liked. However, much as I agree with that, I nevertheless conclude that John stated numerous historical details better than did the Synoptics.

        * The Synoptics state that the events of the final 24 hours of Jesus life — the Last Supper, the Arrest, the Trial, the Crucifixion, all happened on a Thursday evening – Friday afternoon WHICH ALSO was the first night & day of Passover; John however says that all these events took place on the final day BEFORE Passover. And as I argue in my book, John had the right of it!

        * The Synoptics talk about an impossible Trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. John, however, makes no mention of a trial before the Sanhedrin; in his gospel, the “trial” consisted of an unofficial, private meeting between Jesus and Caiphas and Ananas. This is far more plausible than the other gospels.

        * It is John who provides the added and essential detail about the Triumphal Entry which the Synoptics miss — that the Jews were waving PALMS at Jesus. Which tells us, this happened during Sukkot and not Passover. And indeed, John also notes that this wasn’t the first time Jesus had visited Jerusalem during Sukkot.

        You are correct that just because the Symoptics don’t mention other visits doesn’t mean that, in their view, Jesus never made them. But I kinda think that this is exactly what they thought. In their stories, Jesus spends all of his time in northern Judea, as if in training for the final one-time visit to Jerusalem, as if all the stuff he did in northern Judea was but preparation for his one and only (adult) visit to Jerusalem, where he would go only after he had thoroughly prepared for it by spending the previous time in Galilee.

        As for the Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem — there were not one but three shalas rogalim, or pilgrim festivals of the Jews — Passover, Shavuot (which the Christians turned into Pentecost) and Sukkot, which takes place exactly a half-year before (or after, depending upon your perspective) from Passover — anyway, on the opposite side of the year.

        ALL of these were festivals in which Jews were strongly encouraged to come to Jerusalem. And John makes note of this, placing Jesus inside Jerusalem for several of these, though John also does add that on one occasion of Passover, Jesus spent that in Galilee. (See above posting.)

        By the way, Josephus records that the Romans played a nasty trick on the Jews. In the weeks leading up to Passover in 70 AD, the Romans (Titus in command at this point, since his father Vespasian had been recalled to Rome to be the Emperor) were busy circumvallating Jerusalem in preparation for besieging it. When the Jews came to Jerusalem to spend Passover inside the city, the Romans freely allowed them inside.

        Why? Because the presence of the pilgrims multiplied Jerusalem’s population by many times. By letting in the Jews and KEEPING them in at the conclusion of the festival, the Romans hoped they could starve out the Jews much faster.

        You might be interested in my own books, at http://www.thesevenbignoahidelaws.com.

  10. Tobit  May 28, 2018

    As for Jesus’ actual “signs”, it seems plasubile that he performed exorcisms and faith healings as many preachers do today. Do you think these are the origin of the signs, which became exaggerated in the retelling, or is there more going on?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 28, 2018

      Yup, I think it’s possible. But it’s also possible that these are simply tales told *about* him by people convinced he was a special holy man.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  May 28, 2018

      Consider the fact that the folk medicine of that time and place consisted almost entirely of shamanistic practices that we would consider spiritual or religious in nature, then it becomes harder to see Jesus’ “healings” as somehow exceptional. What sticks out as exceptional is the claim that Jesus didn’t charge for such healings. It appears that the gospel message — outlined not just in the four Gospels themselves, but in the other books of the NT, as well — was that Jesus’ power of healing was a representation of God’s Kingdom coming “in power”. That is, the healings do not just represent the divine power to heal (because, apparently, all folk methods of healing involved the divine) but the divine grace or beneficence that the righteous should expect in God’s Kingdom. Think of it as a taste of what’s to come, a sample of what to expect. That’s the idea that the healing accounts are supposed to convey.

      • llamensdor  May 31, 2018

        That’s a nice thought, but it has nothing at all to do with the gospels or the “historical” Jesus. But it will work well in a homily.

      • Altosackbuteer
        Altosackbuteer  June 4, 2018

        All the gospel writers FALSELY state that healing on the Sabbath was a violation of Jewish Law.

        It was NOT.

        Jewish Law has ALWAYS held that the laws of the Sabbath not only may but MUST be broken in the case of pikuach ha-nefesh — to save a human life or human health. And for precisely for the same reason Jesus gives in the gospels — because the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

        There is a long discussion of this in the Talmud, I think in Tractate Shabbat. Basically, any injury which does not penetrate the skin — a scratch, in other words — may NOT be treated on the Sabbath; otherwise, ALL injuries or illnesses MUST be treated on the Sabbath.

        This is why, for example, in Orthodox Jewish homes, when a woman is in advanced pregnancy and could go into labor at any time, money will be set aside in the event a taxi is needed to convey the woman to the hospital on the Sabbath and the driver must be paid. It is a violation of the Sabbath to handle money ordinarily, but this exception overrules the Sabbath. It is likewise a violation of the Sabbath to call the taxi to come; it is another violation of the Sabbath to ride in the taxi to go to the hospital. But all is not only allowed, but REQUIRED.

        Furthermore, in the case of Jesus’ miraculous healings on the Sabbath, that REALLY was NO violation of Jewish Law, for it is NEVER a violation of the Sabbath to perform MIRACLES.

        In order to paint the picture of Jesus as the anti-Pharisee, at war with the hypocritical Pharisees, the Gospels have INVENTED this FALSE SLANDER of Judaism as opposing healing on the Sabbath. It is a straw man which the gospels then promptly see to demolish.

        In fact, Jesus not only wasn’t in opposition to the Pharisees, HE HIMSELF WAS A PHARISEE.

  11. Robert
    Robert  May 28, 2018

    Have you ever discussed John’s likely knowledge of the synoptics with Frans Neirynck? One of his students, Gilbert Van Belle, has a great book on the history of scholarship on the Johannine signs source.

  12. Jim  May 28, 2018

    In one place, Paul institutes the Lord’s supper prefacing it with “on the night when he was betrayed” (1 Cor 11:23-25) and earlier he refers to Christ being slain as the Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7); is it possible to determine from Paul’s writings whether he considered Jesus’ last supper to have been the Passover meal (as in the synoptics), or an evening meal one day before the Passover (as in gJohn)?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      Since he calls our “Passover who has been sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7), it appears he thinks Jesus was killed sometime during the Passover event; but he doesn’t specify the day.

  13. RonaldTaska  May 28, 2018

    Learning the differences between John and the Synoptics has been of crucial importance to me and your “Jesus Interrupted” was very helpful in helping me learn these differences. Thanks.

  14. webo112
    webo112  May 29, 2018

    Professor,
    In one of your video lectures I heard you mention that Jesus states that in John 11 he wants Lazarus to actually die (etc), and that often this difficult reading is translated differently (I am paraphrasing).
    Can you discuss more details on this, or update (If I am correct in my recollection) as a quick search on your blog & online so far has not yielded any results for me.

    Thanks,

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      Ah, that would be a good one to post on. I’ll add it to my mailbag.

  15. Stanislaw Ruczaj  May 30, 2018

    Prof. Ehrman, maybe you could write a post about the last supper. How did this story come to existence (whether it refers to a real event in the life of Jesus or whether it was later invented, if so, for what reasons)? If the last supper happened as narrated in the gospels, does it tell us something about Jesus self-conception? Why did he choose the controversial metaphor of eating of his body and drinking his blood?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      Interesting suggestion. I’ll add it to my mailbag.

    • Altosackbuteer
      Altosackbuteer  June 4, 2018

      At the risk of being accused of abusing this blogsite in order to promote my own products, for answers to your questions, I suggest you go to my first book, in which I explain this in more full detail.

      http://www.thesevenbignoahidelaws.com.

      The business of consumption of Jesus’ own flesh and blood is found in John, not the other gospels. I submit that John mentions it because John’s general theology is hellenistic and paganistic as compared to the other gospels, and mythologies of the death of a god, consumption of his flesh and blood, and his resurrection were far from unknown in the ancient world. Look up the cult of Mithras in your travels through life. Or, especially, look up the cult of the Attis Bull, whose world headquarters was in TARSUS of all places — the hometown of the Apostle Paul, who surely was very familiar with this myth.

      Reflections of the Attis Bull permeate Paul’s writings.

      In John 6, even John notes that after Jesus (supposedly) made the statement about the eating of his own flesh and blood, he lost many, many disciples. In the words of John, “Who can hear this?”

      Who indeed?

  16. mannix  May 30, 2018

    In connection with Mr. Ruczaj’s question about the Last Supper/Body& Blood: I find it interesting John does not describe the Bread/Body and Wine/Blood ritual which has become the basis for the Transubstantiation doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. If “John” had access to the Synoptics and 1 Cor why wouldn’t he include what has become a major tenet of the Church?
    As an aside, when did the Transubstantiation doctrine come into being…i.e. evolution from a symbolic ritual to an actual “changing” bread into human tissue and wine into blood?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 31, 2018

      John can’t have teh bread and wine as body and blood because for him it wasn’t a Passover meal; for John the meal would happen the evening of Jesus’ death, not the night before. Transubtantiation: I’m not sure!

    • Altosackbuteer
      Altosackbuteer  June 4, 2018

      It is from fusing John 6 with the Synoptic accounts of the Last Supper (“Take ye and eat (the bread), for this is my body…”) that the Catholic church arrives at the doctrine of Transsubstantiation.

      Inrterestingly enough, even Lutherism practices a version of this.

      A Lutheran minister once explained it to me like this:

      In Catholicism, only a consecrated priest may transsubstantiate, and once he does so, the species he transsubstantiates REMAIN transsubstantiated; but in Lutherism, it is not the minister but the entire congregation assembled together which brings about the Transsubstantiation. The minister himself has no more power than does anyone else in the ceremony. And in Lutherism, the Transsubstantiation is only momentary. It last only during the duration of the communion ceremony. After that, the Transsubstantiation vanishes, and the bread reverts to being ordinary bread.

  17. dongshin  June 2, 2018

    Dear Professor Ehrman:
    It is admirable that you have created a blog for the public to join in. However, I was wondering if “the “diehard Christians” join in your blog to read and to make comments, since you’re world famous for critical scholarship that does not literally believe in Jesus coming back in the clouds. I think that they Do Not know what they are missing.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2018

      I’m afraid (and sorry) that there are not very many conservative evangelical Christians attracted to the blog.

  18. prestonp  June 6, 2018

    Bruce Metzger, “The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is overwhelming. Nothing in history is more certain than that the disciples believed that, after being crucified, dead, and buried, Christ rose again from the tomb on the third day, and that at intervals thereafter he met and conversed with them.”

    • prestonp  June 7, 2018

      He was neither a fundamentalist nor an evangelical but he was a devout disciple and although he’s gone, he still speaks.

    • prestonp  June 8, 2018

      It is fascinating and perplexing that people with similar academic qualifications spend their lives examining Scripture using the same methods/principles for uncovering truth and information, wind up with opposing conclusions.

      • Bart
        Bart  June 8, 2018

        Yes, I wouldn’t put *too* much weight on the fact that a great scholar like Metzger believed this that or the other thing, as if that in itself is evidence that his beliefs were true. There are even more impressive scholars/intellectuals who have thought quite contrary things, but we don’t accept their views simply because they held them.

        • prestonp  June 8, 2018

          I agree in general. I’m reminded of quantum physics where subatomic particles are both waves and points at the same time, depending upon whether or not we are observing them. The Laws of the Standard Model of Physics no longer apply in the bizarre micro world of Quantum Physics. Occasionally, emphasizing the most thorough examination of the most detailed and extreme minutiae of a particular subject is blinding. Can’t see the forest for the diffuse porous fibers.

          In this case Metzger’s whole life is worthy of a closer look. A book perhaps or a movie, a PBS special, a Ken Burns’ production of some kind is in order. Something about his life resonates authenticity, the kind of integrity, simplicity and brilliance that comes along once in a generation like an Abraham Lincoln.

        • prestonp  June 13, 2018

          Maybe so, but it sure doesn’t hurt that someone as respected and honored as Metzger is, also believed with all his mind, heart and soul that Jesus was in fact God Almighty, based on the Scriptures. While the crush of critics builds daily in our anti-christian culture, it is a pleasure to have him as a shining example of true Christianity. He is proof that not all Christians are red-necks and tobacco chewing, non-thinking, crude, vulgar, Trump fanatics and John Birch ultra\conservative, racist, selfish, dim witted, money hungry fools.

    • prestonp  June 8, 2018

      Based on his reputation and his lifelong work product and the impression he left on people, (he was a man of genuine love, integrity and kindness, neither greedy nor boastful) it makes sense to consider carefully Bruce Metzher’s beliefs, his conclusions about life and matters of spirituality.

  19. prestonp  June 8, 2018

    When my team is charged with a foul, I automatically challenge the accuracy of the call. Most likely the ref or ump has it out for my guys and he is deliberately giving us the shaft.
    On an identical play where their guy gets called for the same infraction it is obvious, to me at least, instantaneously, that the refs/umps are stand up dudes who are clearly very fair and impartial and see everything going on out on the field. They deserve trophies and raises.

  20. prestonp  June 8, 2018

    “the significant differences between the Gospel of John and the “Synoptic” Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.”

    Like 1 John compared with the other epistles.

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