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Don’t Trust What You Read!

In response to my post yesterday about whether the author of Mark was a Jew, in which I said no Jew would make the claim that Mark does, in chapter 7, that “all Jews” washed their hands before eating — a claim that is simply not true — a couple of astute blog members have pointed out  that there is another text, certainly written by a Jew, the Letter of Aristeas (about the how the Septuagint — that is, the Greek translation of the Old Testament — came into being), from the first century BCE or earlier, says something very similar about “all Jews” washing their hands.  Hmm….   I’ve only read the Letter of Aristeas about 75 times.  You’d think I would have noticed that.  But alas.

So, for the first time in recorded history, I’m going to cover and atone for my abject shame by removing the post.  Ugh.  Many apologies for the false information, the fake news, and the alternative facts.

Secular Versions of the Coming Apocalypse
Your Thoughts on the Blog?



  1. Robert
    Robert  January 28, 2019

    The cover-up is always worse than the original offense. Better to keep the post with strike-throughs and continue the interesting discussion about whether or not any of Mark’s intended audience might have been Jewish, including possibly even Mark or some of his sources. It is a very interesting question and not so black-and-white as has sometimes been assumed.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2019

      I certainly don’t mean it to be a cover up. That would have involved simply deleting it and all references to it. But I’m loathe to leave it up because more people would read it and not think to read the retraction, and that would do more harm than good.

      • Robert
        Robert  January 28, 2019

        I was only joking about the cover-up. Using strike-through to indicate the incorrect statement would certainly prevent further spread of misinformation and otherwise allow a very interesting discussion to continue.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 29, 2019

          It’s an interesting idea. I need to think about it! I’d be loathe to do it without writing some more on the question, which would take some digging around….

          • Avatar
            mattsanders  February 14, 2019

            Maybe leave it up and post a subtraction message before or after the article?

  2. Ali Sharifli
    Ali Sharifli  January 28, 2019

    I liked your previous post much, but I also liked your honesty much more!

  3. Avatar
    AstaKask  January 28, 2019

    You wrote that Jesus’s morality was centered around living the Kingdom – in the Kingdom there would be no sickness, so heal the sick; in the Kingdom there would be no poor, so help the poor, etc. Do you think Jesus believed what Matt says in Matt 22:23-30 (there will be no marriages in Heaven), and what moral consequences regarding life now would come from this? Did he expect his followers to be chaste and celibate?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2019

      I think he did believe there would be no marriages in heaven, but he never told his followers not to get married, so far as we know. Even Paul allowed that it was acceptable (even if not optimal)

  4. Avatar
    tomruda  January 28, 2019

    My understanding is that this letter is 2nd or 3rd century CE which makes it probable it was after the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136 CE). If this is correct, then it was written at the time of the rise of the Pharisees to prominence in Jewish life and the development of the synagog worship system to replace the Temple (now destroyed). This is a major change taking place in the Jewish worship system. Is it possible that at that time the handwashing was now prominent among Jewish peoples but maybe not so much in the time of Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 29, 2019

      Where are you getting information that it is 2-3rd c. CE? It’s usually dated late 2nd c. BCE

  5. Avatar
    John  January 28, 2019

    Fair enough but where does that leave the argument that the author of Mark was not a Jew?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 29, 2019

      Up in the air for now! I need to come back to it.

      • Avatar
        John  January 29, 2019

        OK but is there no consensus out there already on the matter?

  6. Avatar
    The Agnostic Christian  January 28, 2019

    Many of your detractors will use this as an excuse to say “See? These guys don’t know what they’re talking about! They contradict themselves?” But I see this as a clear sign of intellectual integrity. And this is how actual human knowledge advances. By trial and error. Not by confidently asserting things we dont know and then digging our heels in when facts disagree with us. Many times it’s the theists who wont budge from a position no matter how much evidence they have against them. Their cognitive dissonance won’t allow it because they’ve invested so much personally into their faith. So thank you for having the intellectual honesty and courage to publically admit when you get it wrong. I applaud that.

  7. Avatar
    Nexus  January 28, 2019

    Was the entire post about “all Jews” washing their hands?

  8. Avatar
    flcombs  January 28, 2019

    No one is perfect. But “perfection” as much as possible is having open, honest educated discourse and the blog certainly provides that. So what might have been a mistake is really just proof that the blog meets its goals!!!

  9. Avatar
    Hngerhman  January 28, 2019

    Would that more in the world exhibited this level of intellectual honesty.

  10. Avatar
    J.J.  January 28, 2019

    Just curious… are there other reasons that you think the author was not Jewish? I tend to think the author was Jewish (regardless if it was John Mark or Adam Sandler) because of subtle Jewish allusions such as the rare Greek word “magilalon” in 7:32 alluding to Isaiah 35:5-6 LXX, but maybe that happened from oral tradition? Thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 29, 2019

      My view is that gentile Christians were already learning to read the Bible in very subtle ways. Note what Paul assumes his pagan converts were capable of grasping in 1 Corinthians (“the rock is Christ” 10:4)!

  11. Avatar
    mikezamjara  January 28, 2019

    At least you didn’t say that in public debate and apologize 4 years after like Dan Wallace. It could have been worse don’t you think?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 29, 2019

      I suppose it was a simpler case. But yup, I get the point!

  12. Avatar
    James Chalmers  January 28, 2019

    To say the obvious, it was highly commendable of you to make the retraction you did–to be driven by evidence.
    Nonetheless, attributions of authorship (guesses as to basic facts about authorship) are a big deal in New Testament scholarship and introductory texts. So I wonder: now on balance, where does Ehrman stand? Is it “Mark was most likely gentile,” “Mark was most likely Jewish,” or “this one we really had best not call one way or the other”?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 29, 2019

      Ehrman needs to blog again on the question! But it’ll take a bit of digging, and he’s deep into the Apocalypse of Peter just now….

  13. Avatar
    chixter  January 28, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, admitting an error is a hallmark of one who is genuine in their work and instills more confidence in the author to the critical reader. My take away is that any bias you may have (we all have some) is way down on the scale as you try to present an accurate portrayal of a complex period in history. I am not finished I have read Forged, Triumph, and am in the middle of How Jesus became God. I would like to ask perhaps you can point me in the direction at least; Do you know of any colleagues that have taken a similar historical approach similar to your own on the development of Islam and the prophet Mohammad (PABBUH)? I would like to begin reading such works.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 29, 2019

      No, not really, and for some very obvious reasons. But a good place to start would be with my colleague Carl Ernst’s book on Reading the Qur’an.

    • Avatar
      SeptimusHM  February 1, 2019

      I’m reading a book called Muhammad and the Believers by Fred Donner. Donner seems to be a prominent expert on the Quran and early Islam.

  14. Avatar
    EldonTyrell  January 28, 2019

    This was refreshing. Thanks fot the honesty and intellectual integrity. That approach works well in a marriage as well 😁

  15. Avatar
    scroffler  January 28, 2019

    Absent the hand washing issue, do you have any opinion or other relevant threads of evidence pertaining to whether or not the author of Mark was Jewish?

  16. Avatar
    Rpkruger  January 28, 2019

    If a Jew could say that “all the Jews washed their hands,” maybe the Pharisees were more influential than generally thought.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 29, 2019

      At least that htis author maybe thought they were. (Not the same thing!)

  17. Avatar
    godspell  January 29, 2019

    This one and only time, I think I can speak for everyone here when I say it’s a relief to know you make mistakes too.


  18. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  January 29, 2019

    See why we have a high regard for you!?

  19. Avatar
    Steefen  January 30, 2019

    I wondered why you never got around to answering my question from yesterday.

    John 4: 25-26
    The woman said, “I know that the Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.” Jesus answered, “I who speak to you am He.”

    Did the Samaritans have a Samaritan Messiah since they were so separated from the Jews, such that a Samaritan Messiah would not be considered a Jewish Messiah?

    Original Question: I forgot your position on whether or not Jesus thought he was the Messiah “of this world” as opposed to having a kingdom “not of this world”.

    = = =Maybe Matthew claims Jesus to be the Messiah:

    Matthew 16: 15-17
    (15) He [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (16) Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (17) And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2019

      Don’t recall seeing it. No, Samaritans did not have a separate messiah; and yes, Jesus (in his own view and that of his disciples) was very much a messiah of *this* world. Yes, Matthew saw him definitely as the messiah.

  20. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  January 31, 2019

    Aristeas has been mentioned on the blog before. I’m assuming the question comes from this portion of the letter:

    “And as is the custom of all the Jews, they washed their hands in the sea and prayed to God and then devoted themselves to reading and translating the particular passage upon which they were engaged, and I put the question to them, Why it was that they washed their hands before they prayed?”

    This section is about handwashing for prayer—not eating.

    E.P. Sanders mentions eating rituals and this letter several times in his book:

    “The peculiarity of the Jewish diet was almost as famous as observance of the sabbath. In Palestine there was agreement on IMMERSION, though we can only guess about the frequency with which ordinary people immersed.” (Judaism, pg. 388)

    “How far HANDWASHING had spread we do not know. The explanation in Mark 7.3 that ‘the Pharisees and all the Jews’ wash their hands seems to indicate that the author could not expect all his readers to know of the practice.” (Pg. 388)

    “…the later Houses of Hillel and Shammai applied handwashing to their own cups of wine on sabbaths and other holy days. There is no indication that they washed hands before other meals.Later rabbis debated whether or not hands should be washed before all meals, on the whole regarding it as not compulsory. This weighs very heavily against the idea that before 70 all Pharisees hand washed their hands before every meal….

    Scholars treat handwashing as proof that the Pharisees wished to live ‘like priests in the temple’. Handwashing, however, is not a priestly rule; it is not even biblical. Priests, before eating holy food, IMMERSED. Further, the Pharisees did not wash their hands to protect their own food from impurity, but rather the priests’ food, which shows perfectly clearly that they did not think of themselves as eating in priestly purity.” (Pg. 688)

    Here’s what you said to the commentor:
    “Bart June 11, 2017

    I hope Tim McGraw doesn’t think that every Jew washed his hands in the sea before they ate. What of those who didn’t live near the sea? (!)

    I’m talking specifically about Mark’s claim that “the Jews” always “washed their hands” before they ate a meal. Your other references have to do with ritual cleansing pools (miqvoth) in which Jews would occasionally immerse themselves as a ritual act. That happened throughout Palestine…But it’s not the same as washing hands before meals (something some Pharisees did).”

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  January 31, 2019

      I couldn’t fit everything on one comment, so here’s Mark’s excerpt from Chapter 7—

      “Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

      I haven’t read the entire Letter, but the section I found about handwashing and “All Jews” referred to prayer, not eating rituals. If the recent comments are anything like the one I saw on the blog, it seems that they’re equivalating Artisteas’s, All Jews—handwashing—prayer to Mark’s, All Jews—handwashing—eating.

      I don’t think Aristeas provides support for Mark being a Jew unless there was a different passage mentioned?

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