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Did Pilate “Learn 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 [...]

2020-04-03T16:43:55-04:00July 18th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Did Pontius Pilate Respect Jewish Sensitivities?

When I was in high school I was active on the debate team, and really loved it.  We were pretty good, although I was nowhere near being the best on the team.  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 end, it [...]

2020-04-03T16:44:04-04:00July 17th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Was Jesus Married?

I am en route just now, back from Las Vegas, where I participated in a discussion with two other scholars at the Black Mountain Institute on the question “Would It Matter If Jesus Were Married?” The Black Mountain Institute is part of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV); it sponsors events having to do with literature and history. Usually these involve two or more scholars, on stage, on chairs, with a moderator, discussing a topic of mutual interest. The moderator last night was Carol Harter, the former president of UNLV. The two other scholars were Karen King and Mark Jordan. Both Karen and Mark are very well known and highly respected scholars. Karen is a professor of early Christianity at Harvard, where she holds the oldest endowed chair, of any kind, in the country; her expertise is especially in early Christian Gnosticism, and she has become best known in the past few years for her role in publicizing the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” that I have blogged on before (search and see!). I’ve [...]

Jesus and Sacrifices

QUESTION: Would it be accurate to say that after Jesus' death the first-century Christians turned him into an enduring symbol of the very sacrificial system that he himself rejected in life? By 'sacrificial system' I'm referring both to the ancient lamb/goat-based traditions surrounding Yom Kippur, as well as to the later lamb sacrifices conducted by the Jerusalem temple priests during Jesus' day, etc. And, by the word 'rejected,' I'm wondering if Jesus having upset the moneychanger's tables at the temple was his way of disparaging the very notion of paying money to buy a lamb for a priest to sacrifice in order to atone for one's sins.   RESPONSE: This is an interesting question, with several intriguing aspects: 1) Did Jesus reject the Jewish sacrificial system? 2) Did his followers borrow their imagery for the salvific character of his death from the Jewish sacrificial system? 3) If so, were they not embracing precisely what he abandoned? I think the easiest question to answer is #2: Yes, I think the early followers of Jesus did see [...]

2020-04-03T18:22:33-04:00July 11th, 2013|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Gentile Judaizers

I ended my last post with a question: Suppose Matthew really did think a person had to be a Jew in order to be a follower of Jesus. Would that indicate that he himself was born and raised a Jew? In this case I think there is a clear and certain answer. But it may not be the answer you’d expect. I think the answer is certainly No. The reason is that we know of other Christians in the early church who insisted that to be a follower of Jesus, one had to adopt the ways of Judaism. And these other Christians were themselves born and raised pagan. The clearest instance involves Paul’s opponents in Galatia. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is one of the most dense and difficult writings of the New Testament. There are verses and even passages that are, in my opinion, virtually impenetrable, statements that Paul makes that I still have difficulty figuring out after years of thinking and reading about it. But the basic situation that prompted the letter, in [...]

So … Was Matthew a Jew?

I am near the end of this thread on the Jewishness of Matthew’s Gospel. I have several more posts to go, so I’m not completely at the finish line; but it’s within sight. (I should stress that I am not intending to give an exhaustive analysis of the problem and all the relevant issues. That would take a very long book. In fact, scholars have indeed written significant books on the topic. One of my graduate students, Judy Siker, wrote her dissertation on one aspect of the issue. She's also the author of Who is Jesus? What a Difference a Lens Makes. I hope to close out the thread with posts on three related topics: this post and the next on whether Matthew was himself Jewish; the one after on whether Matthew – whether Jewish or not – was anti-Jewish (I hope to do that in just one post, but it may take more); and finally one on whether Matthew and the apostle Paul would have or could have seen eye-to-eye on the relationship of [...]

2020-04-29T16:03:39-04:00July 4th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

Was Matthew’s Community Gentile or Jewish?

Given the importance of following the law for Matthew (especially as seen in 5:17-20 and in the Antithises), if we had no indication that Christianity spread among non-Jews soon after Jesus' death, we might simply assume that Matthew's community was comprised of Jews who continued to adhere to the law even if they disagreed with the Pharisees over how best to do so.  But Gentiles *were* joining the Christian church well before Matthew wrote his Gospel; indeed, at this time there were probably more Gentiles who claimed to be followers of Jesus than Jews.  Does Matthew think that these Gentiles Christians are to keep kosher, to observe the sabbath, and, if male, to be circumcised?  It is an intriguing question because, as we will see in a later post, the apostle Paul was adamant that they should *not*. It is unfortunate for us that Matthew does not address this issue directly.  In this Gospel Jesus does give numerous indications that Gentiles will become his followers and inherit the kingdom of heaven; but nowhere does he [...]

2020-04-03T18:23:25-04:00July 3rd, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Jewish Emphases of Matthew: Part 5

In the last post I tried to show that Matthew’s Jesus (remember: I’m not talking about the historical Jesus here; I’ve been referring to Jesus as he is presented in Matthew – a very different thing!) does indeed seem to think that his readers should follow not just the ethical aspects of the Jewish law, but the cultic aspects as well – keeping Sabbath, tithing, and so on.  At the same time, it appears that Jesus in Matthew thinks that his opponents are wrong in placing the highest priority on keeping these cultic requirements, rather than on emphasizing the commandment to love that lies at its core. This becomes especially clear in two stories that Matthew took over from Mark, but modified.  The first is Mark's account of the call of Levi the tax collector (Mark 2:13-17; in Matthew's account, it is the call of Matthew!).  When the Pharisees see Jesus eating in Levi's home with "tax collectors and sinners," they disparage him for mixing with such tainted company.  Evidently their own emphasis on ritual [...]

2020-04-03T18:24:26-04:00July 2nd, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Jewish Emphases of Matthew: Part 4

In previous posts I’ve talked about Matthew radicalizing the law – so that his followers were to adhere to it even more closely than the scribes and Pharisees. Most Christians today think the Jewish law is irrelevant (except maybe for the Ten Commandments) (well, nine of them anyway: most Christians don’t keep the Sabbath.) (For years, as a boy, raised in the Christian church, I thought “Sabbath” meant “Sunday.” I assume that’s typical. But even so, we had no qualms about doing just about anything we pleased even on Sunday….). But when Jesus speaks about the laws that his followers are to keep, they are always the ethical laws such as not murdering and not committing adultery,which presumably would have applied not just to Jews but also to gentiles. What about the laws of Scripture, though, that were widely recognized as making Jews a separate people from the non-Jews, for example, the laws that required Jews to circumcise their baby boys, and to keep the Sabbath day holy, and to observe certain dietary restrictions? We [...]

2020-04-03T18:24:33-04:00July 1st, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Jewish Emphases of Matthew’s Gospel: Part 3

In the current thread I have been posting about the Jewish emphases of Matthew’s Gospel, all in an attempt to move to an answer to the question of whether, in my opinion Matthew was himself Jewish. When I get done with these posts, I’ll explain what my opinion is and why I have it; I can tell by some of the responses so far to these posts that some people are in for a surprise…. In previous posts we saw that Jesus, in Matthew, insists that his followers keep the Jewish law – even better than the scribes and the Pharisees. But for Matthew, What is the real purpose of the law? We get a hint of Matthew's answer already in the Sermon on the Mount, in Jesus' famous expression of the Golden Rule. We know of other ancient teachers who formulated similar guidelines of behavior usually in its negative form -- that you should not do to another what you do not want them to do to you – as far afield as Confucius [...]

2020-04-03T18:24:42-04:00June 30th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Jewish Emphases of Matthew: Part 2

In continuation of the question of the relationship of the Gospel of Matthew – both the Gospel itself and its anonymous author – to Judaism, I lift from something I wrote somewhere else at some point a while back: ********************************************************************************************************** Contrary to what many Christians have thought throughout the ages, for Matthew following Jesus does *not* mean abandoning Judaism and joining a new religion that is opposed to it. It is worth observing that even some Christians in Matthew's own day appear to have thought that this is what Jesus had in mind, that is, that he sought to overturn the law of Moses in his preaching about the way of God. For Matthew, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The keynote of the sermon is struck soon after the Beatitudes in the striking statement, found only in this Gospel: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass [...]

2020-04-03T18:24:48-04:00June 27th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Jewish Emphases of Matthew

In evaluating whether Matthew was himself Jewish or not – the theme of my current thread — it is important to get a sense of his distinctive emphases in his portrayal of Jesus. Here there can be little doubt. The focus of attention in Matthew’s Gospel is on to the nature of Jesus’ relationship to Judaism. You see this off the bat in chapter 1. Whereas Mark’s Gospel begins with Jesus as an adult being baptized by John the Baptist, Matthew’s begins with a clear resonance of Jewish Scripture – with a genealogy of Jewish and Israelite ancestors. And before he begins the genealogy, Matthew tells us that it will be one that traces the line of Jesus back to David and Abraham (“The Book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”). And why does he highlight these two names in particular? Because David was the greatest king of Israel, whose descendant was to be the “messiah” (as Jesus is called here: Jesus “Christ”), and Abraham was “the [...]

2020-04-03T18:24:55-04:00June 26th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

Was Matthew a Jew?

QUESTION: I’m currently reading your book “Forged”…not sure whether I read this there or in the blog, but it puzzled me. You said the authors of Mark and Luke were not Jews? I’d somehow assumed the authors of all the Canonical Gospels were Jews – among the educated elite, of course, since they could write in Greek…. I’m sure the author of Matthew was a Jew, though very dissatisfied with some of his fellow Jews!   RESPONSE: This comment is part of a larger question the reader had about Mark and Luke specifically – were they Jews? (I haven’t included the entire question here) I have dealt with Mark already on the blog recently, arguing that he probably was not a Jew. I’ll deal with Luke in a later post. Here let me say something very briefly about Matthew. I too tend to think that he was probably a Jew by birth and upbringing, who had converted to be a follower of Jesus. But not everyone agrees. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in [...]

2020-04-03T18:25:52-04:00June 17th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

Problems with the Hebrew Bible Manuscripts

QUESTION: Bart, these issues you've found in the New Testament, have you studied and found similar issues in the Old Testament?" RESPONSE: Yes indeed!   Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) was my secondary field in my PhD program, and I taught Introduction to Hebrew Bible at both Rutgers and UNC.   A few years ago when I decided to write my Introduction to the Bible I decided that to do it right I had to re-tool in Hebrew Bible.  I’m by no means an expert, but I have caught up on a good deal of scholarship and re-learned Hebrew (I hadn’t read it in years).  I try to read some Hebrew Bible every morning; I’m not great at it, but I can slog through with a dictionary….. So, I think it’s fair to say that the problems that I have talked about in my publications about the New Testament are even more pronounced for the Hebrew Bible.   I think I will take three of the big issues (I’m happy to address others if there are any [...]

Mark and the Resurrection

QUESTION: I heard a scholar (I think it was JD Crossan) saying that the absence of a resurrected Jesus in Mark's original gospel reflects the confusion and anxiety that forlorn Jews would have felt after the destruction of the Temple? Do you think this is the case? If so, how does it fit in with the belief (widespread among scholars, I believe)  that the accounts of a visibly resurrected Jesus were in circulation long before 70 AD and probably came from Peter, Paul , and Mary M? RESPONSE: I don’t recall ever hearing this view before – so I’m not sure where you may have read it.   I would have to read a fuller exposition of the view to make better sense of it, but off hand, I don’t think it’s plausible, for several reasons. First, a lot hinges on what is meant by “the absence of the resurrected Jesus” in Mark.   People often get Mark’s account wrong by saying that there is no resurrection in Mark.  That’s absolutely not true.  In Mark, Jesus is [...]

2020-04-03T18:28:48-04:00June 4th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Yesterday I talked about the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding Jesus and the milieu out of which earliest Christianity grew. My basic point is that if Jesus was a Jew, then to understand him, you have to understand Jews in his world. And the Dead Sea Scrolls provide us valuable information to that end. I am not saying that the Dead Sea Scrolls are representative of what all or even most Jews thought at the time. They clearly are not. If the “Essene hypothesis” is right – and it is the view held by the vast majority of the experts (among whom I do not number myself) (and among whom they do not number me either! ) – then the Scrolls were produced by a Jewish sect that had very distinctive views of its own that were not, in many respects, shared by outsiders. In particular, this was a group of Jews who insisted that the coming apocalyptic judgment, soon to arrive, would bring destruction not only to the hated Romans and [...]

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity

As we used to say back when I was a committed Christian, with respect to prayer: Be careful what you ask for! So I asked for questions that you would like me to address, and I have been receiving them in droves. Some of them I will be able to answer very quickly as a response to the comment itself, some I will handle in a post – or more, depending on how complicated the matter is. (If I intend to answer them in a post, I won’t reply to the comment, just to save some time; but I’ll post the comment/question itself). In any event, I have plenty to keep me busy now for a while! I’ll probably address them in the order in which I received them. For today:   Question: Can you write a post on how the Qumran Scrolls advance our understanding of the birth of Christianity?   Response: This is a question that can be answered in one sentence, or in a very long and dense book or … anything [...]

Qumran and Masada

As I anticipated, my last day in Israel was the real climax.   We did three things of note (and several other things not of note):  the ruins of Qumran, Masada, and the Dead Sea itself. I was disappointed with how our tour dealt with Qumran.  At the visitors’ center they now have a rather ridiculous little film to introduce the site, but it consists almost entirely of a dramatization, in which an imaginary member of the Essene community describes his experience in the community; much of the description involves a “human interest” element, suggesting that John the Baptist may have been connected with the sect.  There is little in the film about the ancient evidence for the Essenes, and almost nothing about the modern discovery of the scrolls themselves, what they contain, why they’re significant, or the substantial debates surrounding the character of the ruins of Qumran (is it the Essenes’ community? A Roman villa? A fort?  What are the arguments?) and surrounding the relationship of the scrolls to it (what ties them to the [...]

Humans Who Become Angels

Here is the final bit on angels in the Jewish tradition, from chapter 2 of How Jesus Became God. Again, this is only in draft form, and it is nowhere near a complete treatment. There are entire books written on angels from a scholarly perspective – and a couple of very significant books on Christ as an angel or angel-like being. Here I have been able only to scratch the surface. But on the upside, if you scratch a surface well enough, it is possible to see what is underneath. This discussion will be significant later in my book since I argue, as you may recall, that Jesus was thought sometimes to have become an angel when he was taken up into heaven. ****************************************************************************** There are Jewish texts that not only speak of angels (or even God) as becoming human, but also of humans who become angels. Many people today have the view that when people die, they become angels (well, at least if they’ve been “good”). That is a very old belief indeed. In [...]

More on Divine and Human Angels

In chapter two of How Jesus Became God, I have some more things to say about angels who are sometimes called "God" and sometimes appear as humans (in addition to what I've already said about the  "Angel of the Lord").   This is only a draft, but it should give an idea of what I have in mind. ********************************************************************************************************************* Other Angels as God and Human There are numerous other examples both in the Bible and in other Jewish texts where angels are described as God and, just as importantly, where angels are described as humans.  One of the most interesting is in Psalm 82.   In this beautiful plea that justice be done to those who are weak and needy, we are told, in v. 1, that “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.”  Here God Almighty is portrayed as having a divine council around him; these are angelic beings with whom God consults, as happens elsewhere in the Bible – most famously in Job 1, [...]

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