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Do We Know Why Jesus Went to Jerusalem?

Browsing through my blog posts I came across this one from exactly six years ago today.  Amazingly, I still agree with it!  It deals with an unusually important question, one that, in a sense, involves a decision that changed the entire history of our world.



Just what did the historical Jesus think he was doing that last week in Jerusalem? It looks to me like he was working as hard as he could to get himself killed. If that’s what he was doing, then why was he doing it?



Interesting question!  There have been scholars, of course, who have argued that this is precisely what Jesus was doing, that he went to Jerusalem in order to be crucified.

It is interesting that those who take that view cover as wide a range of ideology and theology as you could possibly imagine.   Conservative Christian thinkers (from protestant fundamentalists to Roman Catholic theologians to … well, take your pick) have long thought that the point of the Jerusalem trip was in fact the crucifixion, since this was all part of God’s plan.   Jesus’ mission on earth was to be crucified; he went to Jerusalem to make it happen.   This is what I myself thought for many, many years.

On the other side of the theological spectrum is someone like Hugh Schonfield, the British New Testament scholar and Dead Sea Scrolls expert who understood Jesus in very human terms, and thought that Jesus came to understand himself as the messiah and purposefully arranged to have himself killed in order to fulfill the prophecies about the Messiah.   All of this is laid out in Schonfield’s brilliant but absolutely quirky best-selling book, The Passover Plot (1965).

Here I can summarize the thesis of the book from my discussion of it in my book Forged (I do not claim that Schonfield forged his book!  I look at it as a modern fabrication of Jesus’ life.  I do this in the context of considering modern forged Gospels about Jesus).

Schonfield was a brilliant and widely acknowledged scholar of ancient Judaism, with a complete set of bona fide credentials.  But his historical reconstruction of what really happened to Jesus reads more like a Hollywood production than serious scholarship.  The short story is …

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Why Are The Gospels Called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?
Bogus Christian Apologetics and a First-Century Fragment of Mark



  1. Rick
    Rick  May 31, 2018

    Sorry to be Johnny come lately but I missed this posting earlier and find it fascinating…. as I do most dealing with …. possibilities in historicity. Dr. Ehrman, you pointed out that “Jesus spent most of his ministry proclaiming this message in rural Galilee,”. He was therefore the 1st Century version of a country bumpkin come to the big city… perhaps naïve with respect to the economics surrounding the ritual slaughter of offerings as well as to symbiotic relationship of that to peace in the community and the interest of Rome (collecting taxes).

    With all due respect to the more involved conspiracy theories, it seems more likely an overly wound up Jewish hillbilly lost his cool in the Temple bazaar after spouting a prophecy that was inherently seditious to Rome with the unfortunate timing that the notoriously vindictive and short tempered (per Philo) prefect was in town for the biggest event of the year.

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    prestonp  June 10, 2018

    “Most textual variants (Prof. Metzger and I agree on this) have no bearing at all on what a passage means. But there are other textual variants (we agree on this as well) that are crucial to the meaning of a passage. And the theology of entire books of the New Testament are sometimes affected by the meaning of individual passages.

    “If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement

    Bruce Metzger, your mentor in textual criticism to whom this book is dedicated, has said that there is nothing in these variants of Scripture that challenges any essential Christian beliefs (e.g. the bodily resurrection of Jesus or the Trinity)


    • Bart
      Bart  June 11, 2018

      I’ve always said that as well.

      Could you say somethign about why you’re so fixed on Bruce Metzger in particular? There are many thousands of very intelligent scholars who are believers (and, of course, even more who are not)

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