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Did Jews Always Bury Their Dead on the Day of their Death? Was Jesus Buried Then?

I have not covered all of the points that Craig Evans makes in his essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which is his response to the position I stake out in How Jesus Became God.  My view is that Jesus probably was not given a decent burial on the day of his death by the otherwise unknown figure, Joseph of Arimathea.   In this thread I have tried to focus on Craig’s main points.   In my judgment, despite all the various issues he raises there are really only two of that are directly relevant and that need to be taken with utmost seriousness:  Josephus appears to say that Jews were allowed to bury their dead (Craig makes two arguments about this) and we have the skeletal remains of one crucified victim from Judea at about the time of Jesus. First I’ll be dealing with the evidence from Josephus.  My view is that of the two arguments Craig makes, based on Josephus, the first also carries almost no weight and the second cannot mean what [...]

2023-08-29T07:17:45-04:00August 29th, 2023|Early Judaism, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

The Evidence of Josephus for the Burial of Jesus

I have devoted a large number of posts to going carefully through the main arguments that Craig Evans makes in his critique of the position I take in How Jesus Became God with respect to the burial tradition, in his essay, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right”  (in How God Became Jesus; check it out!).   To this point I have been trying to argue that the accumulation of arguments in and of itself does not constitute a “cumulative argument.”  Each of the accumulated arguments has to carry *some* weight if the overall argument is to carry *much* (or a lot of) weight.  And in my judgment, none of the arguments that I have adduced and responded to so far carries much, if any, weight. Some of you will probably disagree with me, and that’s fine.  But I do hope that I’ve shown that I’m not the uninformed skeptic that Craig portrays in his essay.  At times, reading it, I felt like I was being lectured to.  On the other hand, maybe Craig feels the [...]

2023-08-30T14:25:12-04:00August 27th, 2023|Early Judaism|

Why Do Some (Many?) Scholars Not Treat the Bible Like Other Ancient Sources?

As I was thinking today about the need to be consistently critical with all of our sources – not just the ones we want to be critical of (this was the topic of yesterday’s post, with an ultimate view of what I want to say about Josephus as a possible witness to the practice of Jews burying their executed dead on the days of their deaths) -- another anecdote occurred to me that I thought might help illustrate my point.  Here it is.  In the next post I will get to Josephus, I promise. As some of you know, I have had a number of debates with evangelical Christians on the question of whether we know what the original writings of the New Testament actually said.  The typical line from these evangelical Christians is that since we have so *many* surviving manuscripts of the NT, that we can be almost completely certain that we know what the authors wrote in the vast majority of cases (virtually all).   My view is that we simply cannot know [...]

2023-08-17T22:10:14-04:00August 26th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, New Testament Manuscripts|

How To Be a Consistently Critical Historian, In the Good Sense

I know that by now I’m supposed to  be citing Craig Evans’s best arguments that Jesus was probably given a decent  burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea, rather than being left hanging on the cross for a few days in accordance with standard Roman practice.  But I’ve realized that before I get to the first of these arguments, I have to say something about how historians need to use their ancient sources.  The short answer to that question is that they need to use them … gingerly.  And consistently gingerly. This perspective will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read this blog for a long while and seen how I think we need, consistently, to use the books of the New Testament itself as sources for what actually happened in the past – whether we are considering the Gospels for knowing about what Jesus really said and did, or considering the book of Acts for knowing about the life and teachings of Paul, or considering the letters [...]

2023-08-17T22:05:17-04:00August 24th, 2023|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Pontius Pilate, Intransigent Governor, Crucifier of Jesus

To make the best sense of this post it is important to keep in mind what I said in the previous one. In his response to my views of in How Jesus Became God – that Jesus most likely was not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea – Craig Evans has maintained, among other things, that Pilate was not the kind of governor who would ignore Jewish sensitivities.   For Craig, Pilate started his rule by making a big mistake of bringing into Jerusalem the Roman standards that bore on them the image of the emperor.  But once he realized that the Jewish populace was offended, he backed down and from then on he showed that he had learned his lesson.  For that reason, Craig finds it “hard to believe” that at a later time Pilate would do something so opposed to Jewish custom as allow a body unburied on the day of a person’s death. This view strikes me as extremely problematic, for several reasons.   To start [...]

2023-08-09T10:30:04-04:00August 16th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Did Pilate Allow Jesus to be Buried Because He Had “Learned his Lesson”?

I think there is almost no historical figure that Craig and I disagree on more than the Roman governor of Judea at the time of Jesus’ death, Pontius Pilate.   I see him as a cruel, vicious, hard-headed, insensitive, and brutal ruler; Craig portrays him as an efficient but wise and rather sensitive aristocrat who could learn from his lessons and who would go out of his way not to offend Jewish sensibilities.  A lot hangs on which view (if either) is right, since it was Pilate – we agree on this! – who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion.  Moreover, if Jesus was given a decent burial (Craig’s view) or was left to hang on the cross for some time in accordance with standard Roman practice (my view), it was, in either case, Pilate’s decision. Craig’s view is that Pilate’s sensitive decision not to allow crucified victims to hang on their crosses after their deaths is what allowed him to keep “the nation at peace” (the phrase comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, whom I will be dealing [...]

2023-08-11T14:59:18-04:00August 15th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Was Pilate Sensitive to Jews and their Customs (such that he would allow decent burials for crucified victims)?

When I was in high school I was active on the debate team, and really loved it.  The team as a whole was really good, but I was nowhere near being the best member.  My colleague and another fellow on the team ended up debating together in college and won the national championship as sophomores.  These guys were terrific. One of the decisions we constantly had to make when arguing the negative side of a resolution was how to go about attacking the claims of the affirmative side.  There were two general approaches: one was what we called the “shotgun” approach.  This involved leveling lots and lots of arguments (like buckshot) and hoping that the other side could not respond to them all, thereby making the judge of the debate think that some of the arguments stuck, even if not all of them were that good.  The problem with the shotgun approach was that if a bunch of the arguments weren’t very good, the affirmative side could knock them down fairly easily, and by the [...]

2023-08-09T10:38:16-04:00August 13th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Alleged “Proof” That Crucified Jews Were Allowed Decent Burials

Now that I have restated my views about the burial of Jesus by citing passages from How Jesus Became God (HarperOne, 2014) and emphasized one particular general point – that it is of utmost importance to remember why Romans crucified people, and in particular why they crucified those who were guilty of insurrection, the threat of insurrection, or high treason (a point that I cannot stress enough: Jesus was executed for calling himself the King of the Jews – a political charge of treason against the state) – I can now begin to summarize the counter-arguments that Craig Evans has made in his relatively long response, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right.”   Despite this title, and despite the respect I have for Craig as a scholar, I have to say that in my judgment he gets virtually all the evidence precisely wrong. He focuses his counter-argument on two of my main points: the Roman practices of crucifixion and the character of Pontius Pilate in particular.  I will respond to all of his major claims – [...]

Exciting Lecture: Archaeological Finds (Artwork!) in an Ancient Galilean Synagogue

Now *this* will be a great event. My UNC colleague Jodi Magness is one of the premier archaeologists of ancient Israel in the world.  She started her career on a dig at Masada (the Roman army camps!) and for the past twelve years has run a dig in a village in Galilee called Huqoq.  Her findings have been extraordinary, far beyond what anyone could hope for.  Her team uncovered a (fifth-century) synagogue and discovered amazing mosaics unlike anything known before -- pictorial art, depicting humans (possibly Alexander the Great) and biblical scenes (Samson!).  Pictorial art in a *synagogue*?!?  What??  If you read National Geographic, you'll know about these discoveries: her dig is featured in the magazine nearly every year. This coming Wednesday, March 1, 6:00 pm Jodi will be giving an online lecture with slides about their most recent finds.  I'll be hosting the event.  It will not be recorded.  There is no charge, though it is a fund-raiser for my department to help provide research funds for our graduate students (donations are voluntary). Below [...]

2023-02-25T10:58:15-05:00February 24th, 2023|Early Judaism, Public Forum|

Is There Anything “Religious” about “Ethics”?

It is true that ancient ethics did enjoin beneficent acts on family, friends, and acquaintances of one’s own status when they were in need.  But normally such benefices were expected to produce gratitude and respect (elevating one’s status and social capital) and to bring a return; just as important, they were expected to be reciprocated if misfortune should strike the giver.  That is, they were not acts of pure altruism, or arguably altruistic at all.  Moreover, when social ethics entered into the picture – as they often did – they centered on matters of justice and piety (meaning something like “doing one’s duty” to family, city, and empire) so as to promote the welfare of the collective.  But the collective did not mean “all” the collective. For the elites who wrote and read this ethical discourse, it meant the ruling elite and/or the social class to which they themselves belonged.  That would, of course, make life better for themselves as well.  But there was virtually no concern to help those in lower social classes -- [...]

How Yahweh of the Israelites Became God of All: Guest Post by Dan Kohanski

As you may know, members who join the blog at the Platinum level are allowed to write posts for Platinum members, and the members periodically vote on one of the submissions to go on the blog at large -- and on all my social media.  It's a great way to get your views widely disseminated.   Are you interested?  Check out the perks of the Platinum level (click on Join and see the various tiers and what each entails). Our most recent winner in this endeavor was Platinum member Dan Kohanski, who has written on an intriguing and, well, rather world-shattering/history-changing topic!  Please feel free to make comments! **************************** The early Israelites were polytheists — worshipers of many gods — just as all the nations of the Ancient Near East were, though their pantheon may have been smaller than some. We know of El, Yahweh, Astarte (Asherah), and Baal for certain. Possibly the oldest god in the Israelite pantheon was El — the very name "Israel" can be translated as "he who strives with (the god) [...]

2022-07-03T16:23:24-04:00October 26th, 2021|Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Jewish Indifference to Jesus and the Problems It Caused: Platinum Guest Post by Dan Kohanski

  Here now is another stimulating and learned post by Platinum member Dan Kohanski, on an unusually important topic.  Any comments?  He's happy to answer them. I'm running low on Platinum posts!  Do you have something you'd like to offer?  Let me know. ****************************** Why did only a fraction of one percent of all Jews in the empire or even in Judaea ever believe in the message of the Jesus Movement?[1] The answer starts with that message itself. The first members of the Movement were all Jews themselves, saw themselves as Jews, and argued that Jewish traditions and beliefs inevitably led to their version of Judaism. However, the way they used those traditions and beliefs to solve the dilemma of their founder’s crucifixion was too radical for most Jews to accept. I want to focus on three essential aspects of that solution that were particularly troublesome for Jews: belief in the individual resurrection of Jesus, belief in Jesus as the messiah after he had died, and belief in Jesus as necessary for salvation.   Belief [...]

2021-09-21T10:05:09-04:00September 21st, 2021|Early Judaism, Jews and Christians in Antiquity|

Jesus’s Apocalyptic View of Destruction

In my book on Revelation I am planning to contrast the violence and wrath of God there with what we find in the teachings of Jesus.  It would be easy but too simplistic to paint an obvious contrast: unlike John (the author of Revelation) Jesus believed in love and so was opposed to violence.  It is certainly true that he was, at least on one level (as we'll see).  Jesus did not only think his followers should not be violent against one another, but also not against their enemies, not even the Romans.  But the same can probably be said about the book of Revelation.  It also does not urge the followers of Jesus to engage in violence.  The massive destructions that take place on earth in the book are sent from heaven. And Jesus too thought a massive destruction was to be sent from heaven.  So, well, what’s the difference?  That will be the complicated issue. To understand the views of destruction of both Jesus and the prophet John, I need to situate them [...]

2021-09-03T13:39:52-04:00September 9th, 2021|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Revelation of John|

Apocalypse (the genre) and Apocalypticism (the worldview)

I have started to give some background on the book of Revelation, to help set the stage for my new understanding of it as it has developed over the past year.  Much of what I think now is what I've thought for 45 years.  But the deeper I've dug, the more I've seen and the more I've come to realize that my older perspective (a widely held one among scholars) has some serious flaws (as others too have seen). But none of these new insights affects my basic view, that to understand this mysterious book we have to do what almost NO ONE in the modern world does (except scholars): understanding it in its own historical context in light of what we know of its historical and, especially, literary context.  If you change the context, you change the meaning.  And nowhere is that more obvious than in the book of Revelation. In the last post I summarized the narrative (urging you to read it for yourself) (if you prefer to listen to it, make sure [...]

2021-06-21T17:51:46-04:00July 7th, 2021|Early Judaism, Revelation of John|

Did Jesus Really Have a “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem?

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the day on which Christians commemorate Jesus' "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem.  It is a terrific holiday in the Christian calendar, a celebration of victory and joy, prior to the dark events to occur at the end of the week on Good Friday. The historian would want to know: did it really happen?  Did Jesus really ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to the acclamation of the crowds proclaiming him to be the coming messiah, laying down their cloaks and palm branches before him in full celebration?  It's a *terrific* story; a climax of Jesus' ministry, in a sense.  Is it historical? I deal the question in my book Jesus Before the Gospels and will excerpt the discussion here.  This will take two posts.  This one sets the stage and the next one asks how we can figure out if it really happened. ****************************** The Triumphal Entry There seems to be no reason to doubt that Jesus spent the last week of his life in Jerusalem looking ahead to the [...]

2021-03-24T17:03:59-04:00March 27th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Quotations of Non-Canonical Writings in the New Testament: Platinum Post by Douglas Wadeson

Platinum member Douglas Wadeson has provided us with another thoughtful, provocative, and informed post, this one about how authors of the New Testament sometimes quote writings *other* than those of the Old Testament.   Feel free to make comments! *************************   If you read the New Testament you will find many references to the Old Testament, i.e., the Hebrew Bible, the Scriptures that Jesus and His disciples knew.  The early Christians thought of Jesus as being the sequel to and fulfillment of those Scriptures.  If Hollywood had developed the New Testament perhaps they would have called it, “God the Father II: This Time Its Personal!”  Dr. Ehrman has written and posted on the reasons the early church retained its connection to the Jewish Scriptures even as the church became predominantly Gentile. However, there are also allusions to writings outside of the Old Testament.[1]  I suspect many people miss such references because they assume they are referring to some OT story, or they are subtle enough that one doesn’t catch that an allusion is being made.  I [...]

2021-03-24T19:12:00-04:00March 24th, 2021|Early Judaism, Reflections and Ruminations|

Is the “Word” (Logos) of God in John the Wisdom (Sophia) of God in Judaism?

In yesterday’s post I began to discuss the Prologue of the Gospel of John, which contains a poem that celebrates Christ as the Word of God that became human. This Word of God was with God in the beginning of all things, and was himself God; through him the universe was created and in him is life. This word took on flesh to dwell with humans, and that human – the divine word made flesh – was Jesus. Some readers over the years have wondered if this celebration of the Logos of God that becomes flesh owes more to Greek philosophy than to biblical Judaism. It’s a good question, and hard to answer. One thing that can be said is that this Logos idea does find very close parallels with other biblical texts – in particular with texts that speak of the Wisdom (Greek: Sophia) of God. Sophia and Logos are related ideas; both have to do in some respect with “reason.” Sophia is reason that is internal to a person; Logos is that reason [...]

Did Humans Ever Become Divine in Judaism? (Seems unlikely, no?)

I have been discussing how human beings were sometimes thought to become gods in the ancient world.  All of this is backdrop to my assessment of why Christians thought that Jesus had become God.  Of course, most Christians say that Christ did not *become* God: he had always *been* God. That indeed is the traditional Christian teaching, but I will be arguing that it was not the original view.  The first followers of Jesus, after his resurrection, believed he had been made divine at that point.  Only later did that view develop into the notion that he had always been divine.   It will take a while for me to show that, but my premise will be that Jesus’ immediate followers were influenced by traditions that humans could indeed become divine beings. Still what relevance will that have for Christianity?  The earliest Christians were Jews.  The traditions I’ve been talking come out of *pagan* cultures..  No relevance for early Christians, right? Wrong.  As it turns out Jews also sometimes thought that a human could become divine.  [...]

2021-01-10T18:22:32-05:00January 20th, 2021|Early Judaism|

Where Did the Idea of a “Suffering Messiah” Come From?

This now is a seventh favorite post from years past.  As you know, I frequently simply write posts on questions readers have raised.  For understanding Christianity, here is one of the most important of all.  Christians maintain that the messiah had to suffer and die for the sins of the world.  Jews do not understand the messiah this way.  But Christians started off as Jews.  So where did their understanding of the messiah come from? QUESTION: Where did the idea of a Jewish messiah dying for the sins of mankind originate from? OT? Did Jews prior to Jesus’ existence believe this notion of the Messiah dying for other’s sins? RESPONSE: I deal with this issue in a couple of my books.  Here is one of my fuller discussions from Did Jesus Exist?, where I talk about the issue in connection with the question of why Paul originally opposed Christians before converting to the faith. ********************************* Why, as a highly religious Jew, did Paul originally persecute the Christians before he himself joined their ranks?   It appears [...]

2020-10-30T21:26:39-04:00October 30th, 2020|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Do Matthew and Paul Agree on the Matter Most Important to them Both?

I was going through posts from many years ago and came across this one, on an issue I've always thought was unusually interesting: if the writer of the Gospel of Matthew (whoever that was) and the apostle Paul had been locked in a room and not allowed to emerge until they had hammered out a consensus statement on how one attains eternal life, would they still be in there, possibly with their skeletons locked in a mutual death grip?  I didn't put it that way when I posted this so long ago, but I was younger and milder then I suppose. Here's how I expressed it then.  What do you think? ***************************************************************** One of my major goals as a professor of New Testament is to get my students to understand that the NT is not a single entity with a solid and consistent message.  There are numerous authors who were writing at different times, in different parts of the world, to different audiences, and with different – sometimes strikingly different – understandings about important issues.  [...]

2020-07-03T13:07:42-04:00July 3rd, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Paul and His Letters|
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