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Why Would Jesus’ Disciples Think He Was The Messiah?

The big question to emerge from my previous post is: If Jesus’ disciples (or at least some of them) believed he was the messiah before he died (as I tried to show they must have done) then what would have led them to think so? I think there are two possibilities, one of which strikes me as implausible.  The implausible one, in my opinion, is that Jesus did things that the messiah was expected to do, and because of that, his followers thought he was the messiah.  My reason for not being drawn to this interpretation is precisely that Jesus in fact did not do any of the things that the messiah was expected or supposed to do. Some of my Christian students don’t get this.   Doesn’t the Bible predict that... The Rest of this Post is for Members Only.  It doesn't cost much to join -- about a Starbuck's coffee a month (NOT a decaf caramel macchiato or whatever crazy other thing people drink -- just a coffee!) .  And the blog will keep [...]

By |2020-04-03T02:54:30-04:00November 18th, 2016|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|104 Comments

Mythicists and the Crucified Messiah

In my previous post I explained what ancient Jews who were expecting the messiah were expecting.  I do not want to give the impression (one widely held today) that most Jews *were* expecting a messiah.  My sense is that most ancient Jews didn’t spend much time thinking about the matter, any more than most Jews today do.  But for those who did expect a messiah, there were certain expectations.   In this post I want to explain why those expectations relate to the question about whether Jesus existed. Recall: whatever the specifics of what this, that, or the other Jewish group thought, everyone thought the messiah would be a figure of grandeur and power, one who would be a mighty figure who would rule Israel, the people of God, as a sovereign people under no foreign oppression.  The most popular view was that he would be a mighty military leader and political ruler who would overpower the enemy and set up a kingdom for Israel like that of his ancestor David of old.  Another popular view [...]

Mythicists, Jesus, and the Messiah

I am now able to finish off this thread dealing with my debate with Robert Price on whether Jesus existed.  I have already laid out most of the arguments that I gave during my 30-minute presentation at the debate.  As I did in that talk, I now would like to set forth the argument that seems to me to be one of the most convincing of all. Mythicists say that the early Christians invented historical man Jesus, that there never was such a real person.  I think that view runs smack up against a brick wall.  The early Christians claimed Jesus was the messiah.  It was arguably the main thing they said about him – they said it so much that “Messiah” – or “Christ” – became Jesus’ last name.  They also claimed, incessantly, that he got crucified.  Why would Jews invent a messiah who got crucified? To explain the problem I have to provide a bit of background.  That will be this post.  Once that is done, in the post to follow, I’ll explain [...]

Speaking in Churches as an Agnostic; and Jewish Beliefs about Afterlife. Readers Mailbag August 13, 2016

  I will be dealing with two rather wide-ranging questions in this week’s Readers Mailbag:  What is it like for me, a public agnostic/atheist, to give a talk to believers in a church?  And what did Jews believe about the afterlife in the time of Jesus?   QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, do churches hire you to lecture on Christianity knowing that you’re an atheist? Do you ever get tempted to say, “Let’s be honest here. I think all of your cherished religious beliefs are baloney, but I’ll humor you for the next couple of hours.” That’s how I feel when I tell someone that they can accept the Theory of Evolution and still believe in God, even though, deep down inside, I know that Evolution and God mix like oil and water, so I simply humor them.   RESPONSE: Ah, right, this is a good question.  As it turns out, I do get asked to speak in churches on occasion.   Sometimes, of course, it is in order to have a debate with a conservative Christian apologist.  [...]

Are the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Manuscripts Reliable? A Blast From the Past

A reader has perspicaciously pointed out to me that a particularly relevant post from three years ago (June 7, 2013) makes an important contribution to the topic I've been discussing about the Pentateuch.  This post is not about whether the events described in the Hebrew Bible are accurate, but whether we have accurate manuscripts of these accounts.  I talk a lot on the blog about manuscripts of the New Testament.  What about manuscripts of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible?  My post back then was in response to a question.  Here it is in full: **************************************************************************************************** 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 [...]

The Death of Paul in Acts and Unrelated Topics: Readers’ Mailbag April 29, 2016

I will be dealing with three very different questions this week in my Weekly Readers’ Mailbag:  why does the book of Acts not narrate the deaths of Peter and Paul; what is the difference between the Day of Atonement and the Passover; and how I dealt with discrepancies and contradictions when I was an evangelical Christian in college.  If you have any questions for me to address, pass them along!   QUESTION: If Acts was written after 75 CE why do you think Acts doesn’t contain details of Paul’s and Peter’s deaths?   RESPONSE: I get asked this question a lot – maybe five times this month!  I’m not sure why.  But it’s something people seem to be interested in, and in part that’s because some conservative evangelical scholars want to claim that Acts was written before Paul’s death in around 64 CE (since otherwise the author would “surely” have narrated his death), and that therefore Luke’s Gospel (written by the same author) was written before then, so that both Luke and Acts are nearer [...]

The Letters of Paul: Mailbag April 1, 2016

In today’s Readers’ Mailbag, I will be answering questions connected with the writings of Paul: what is the earliest manuscript of his letters; did the author of Acts know Paul’s letters; and is Paul described as a heretic in the Dead Sea Scrolls. ******************************************************************************************* QUESTION Bart, early in your book Misquoting Jesus (p. 4) you wrote a sudden, shocking surprise (to many born-again Christians) when you said “As we learned at Moody in one of the first courses in the curriculum, we don’t actually have the original writings of the New Testament.” I’ve witnessed my own neighbor’s disbelief and visible anger when I pointed this out to him. … My interest is your response to my question “How old are the earliest copies we have of Paul’s letters 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians.” … As you know, these books describe, in part, the resurrection of Jesus.   RESPONSE It is a little difficult for me to know the question behind this question, so first let me answer the direct question and then to respond to [...]

Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: January 30, 2016

In this installment of the Weekly Readers’ Mailbag, I’ll address two questions, one about the Jewishness of Jesus the other about my personal (bad) experience with editors.  If you have a question, either send it via a comment here or zap me an email.   QUESTION: What is it in the NT portrayal of Jesus that tends to obscure the centrality of his Jewishness?   RESPONSE: The person who asked this question mentioned the fact that it is only in fairly recent times, since the second half of the twentieth century, that scholars have emphasized that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish.  Prior to that, Jesus’ Jewishness was commonly downplayed.  So the question is, what about the New Testament led scholars away from recognizing how thoroughly Jewish he was? I have three things to say in response to this very good question.  First, my sense is that in no small measure, the earlier scholars who did not see Jesus’ Jewishness were living and doing research in an environment that was itself anti-Jewish.  Christianity, as we long know, [...]

The Prophetic Background of Jewish Apocalyptic Thought

Several members of the blog have asked me to go into greater detail to explain where Jewish apocalypticism came from.  I’m happy to do so: it’s an important topic for understanding Jesus, Paul, and other early Christians. As is true for all religious and political ideologies, the historical background to the rise of apocalyptic thinking is complicated.  To make sense of it, I have to say something about a very different perspective which provided the matrix out of which apocalyptic thought was eventually born and grew: the perspective of the “classical prophets” of the Israelite tradition.  I will spend a couple of posts explaining what the prophets of the Hebrew Bible had to say, focusing on arguably the earliest, Amos (who in many key ways is typical) before explaining how these views came to be transformed and radically altered centuries later into the apocalyptic views held by so many Jews in the days of Jesus. In these posts I will simply reproduce material on the prophets as found in my recent textbook, The Bible: A [...]

Jesus’ Return to Life as a Resurrection

So far I have talked about the significance of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection for both Christology (the understanding of who Jesus was) and soteriology (the understanding of how salvation works).  It also was significant for eschatology (the understanding of what would happen at the end of time). Christologically, the resurrection proved that Jesus really was the favored one of God, appearances notwithstanding.  It may have *seemed* like the crucifixion would show that Jesus was not God’s son, and certainly not the messiah; but the resurrection (for those who came to believe in it) showed that in fact he was.  He was the son of God in an even more exalted sense than anyone had thought – he actually had been made into a divine being.  So too he was the messiah in a more exalted sense than had been expected – he was not a mere human king but the divine King of all. Soteriologically, the resurrection showed that the death of Jesus had not been a mere miscarriage of justice or the unfortunate [...]

By |2020-04-03T03:58:00-04:00December 29th, 2015|Afterlife, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|73 Comments
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