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Final Loose Threads on the Zealot Hypothesis

I think I’ve gone on about Aslan’s Zealot long enough. Maybe more than long enough, many of you may think. My plan is to make this the last post. Let me reiterate that I think it is an exceptionally well-written, engaging book, and we can all be thankful to Aslan for bringing important historical issues about Jesus to the public attention. I may think that he’s wrong about his central thesis, and I may recognize a lot of errors in his book (about history, about the NT, about early Christianity). But I appreciate very much that he has gotten people talking about Jesus from a historical perspective – something that I think is of utmost importance, especially in our American context where Jesus typically is only spoken of by believers who do not appreciate the importance of history for knowing, well, about the past!

In this final post I want to speak about a couple of threads, loose traditions that are sometimes used to argue that Jesus was most likely a zealot, someone who was so zealous for the law, and the land, that he believed that the Romans should be driven out so that Israel could have what was hers as prescribed in the law of Moses. I’ll just deal with both of these traditions briefly, since I don’t want to belabor the point. In my estimation both traditions actually say the *opposite* of what they are said to say by those who support the idea that Jesus was a zealot. The first tradition is that he had a follower called Simon the Zealot, and the second tradition is that his disciples were armed when Jesus was arrested and that they put up a fight for him (what were they doing with swords if they were not in favor of violent opposition to the Roman invaders?). I will argue that the first may be accurate, or not, but in either event it shows that Jesus himself was not a zealot; and that the second is not a historical datum.

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Jesus’ Crucifixion as King of the Jews



  1. Avatar
    toddfrederick  January 8, 2014

    I have a question that is not related to the Aslan book (though I think you did a great job with your critique and I do agree that Jesus was not a militant Zealot).

    ***Question*** a friend asked me if there are any references to the apostle Paul that are NOT in the NT and that are NOT Christian sources….such as Josephus. I don’t know of any. Josephus make two references to Jesus which are probably added to Josephus’ history. Paul created more of a fuss than Jesus in the Greco-Roman world than did Jesus, but I know of no one who mentions him. Do you know of any? A quick answer is OK. thank you.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2014

      No Paul is never mentioned outside the New Testament, except in later Christian sources (although 1 Clement, which mentions him, is late first century).

      • Avatar
        Steefen  January 10, 2014

        “Allusions to the Apostle Paul in the Talmud” by Harris Hirschberg looks like an interesting read. I see it at jstor.org.

        I have to remember your question, toddfrederick. Elements of Paul’s biography are so similar to elements in Josephus’ biography that Paul might as well be Josephus.

  2. Avatar
    hwl  January 8, 2014

    Were swords hard to come by among Galileans? Presumably they had kitchen knives (e.g. for slaughtering cattles) which could function as swords? Hence Peter could have just picked up a large knife for self-defence?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2014

      Great question! I doubt if they were hard to get. If it was a knife then the text has it all wrong. (Live by the knife and die by the knife? Doesn’t quite have the same ring….)

      • Avatar
        hwl  January 9, 2014

        “Live by the knife and die by the knife?” You know how legends develop. Peter originally has a kitchen knife for self-defence, then it got embellished into a soldier’s sword…Or maybe Galilean peasants’ knives to butcher cattle were as large as swords.

  3. Avatar
    judaswasjames  January 8, 2014


    Finally, I can agree with you, mostly. Jesus was not a zealot. He was a Master (or his character was based on one). Please sit down, read this carefully all the way through. I can teach you something incredibly profound. Will you please allow me? I want you and all your smart, investigative readers to learn what mysticism looks like in the gospel disguise of “the Betrayal”.

    First of all, I have to say there is textual proof that there was NO swordplay at all. Forget the paintings, forget the movies. There was NO swordplay. It has to do with the John 18:9 prophecy (from John 17:12, and maybe further in the OT). The conjunction (Gr.) ‘ouv’, “Therefore”, leading off 18:10 is continuative — “necessarily following what goes before” — unlike the subordinate one, (Gr.) “hina” — “That” — which leads off 18:9 and is usually translated “This”. “That the word which he had spoken, “Of those whom thou gavest me I lost not one”, THEREFORE, Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest slave and cut of his right ear.” That’s the correct reading for John 18:9-10. CHECK THE GREEK:

    Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
    STRONGS NT 3767: οὖν
    οὖν a conjunction indicating that something follows from another necessarily;

    John 18:9 and 10 are A SENTENCE. John 18:9 is not to be married to 18:8 — or to stand alone as a clause, as in the KJV and a few others, which is even weirder. The prophecy, “That none should be lost” has to do with the Malchus ear-cutting, NOT the arrest in 18:8. What does salvation have to do with escaping arrest? This is a symbolic initiation. Only someone familiar with mysticism, like myself, will appreciate that this is symbolism. The right side is the side on which the subtle Word is audibly heard in meditation. I do this myself, every day.

    Peter (in John), “one of them with Jesus” (Matthew), “one of them” (Luke),”one of those who stood by” (Mark) does the sword handling. The ambiguity in the Synoptics is significant. This is James, the successor to Jesus in many non-biblical accounts, including the early church fathers. John has him as Peter, following the developing Petrine-primacy tradition of the 90s-100s. The successor is initiating Malchus, who is the one for whom Jesus says “should I not drink the cup that the Lord has given me?” — referring to the sins (or ‘karmas’) that the Master assumes by baptism (initiation).

    Now Bart, please listen very carefully: this is mystic metaphor, and there is no doubt in my mind. The RIGHT ear is the ear that is ‘cut’: cut by the “sword” of a disciple OF A MASTER. “Sword” is Holy Spirit symbolism (Rev. 1:16). He strikes the ear, after the disciples ask Jesus if they should “strike with the sword” in Luke 22:49. In Luke 22:48, Jesus says, “Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss” (remember this for later in Nag Hammadi parallel). In Mark, right after the kiss (14:45), Mark says “they laid hands on him [!] and SEIZED him.” (14:46). “Laying on hands” has another meaning besides arrest. It is a different kind of apprehending here. The subtext is spiritual, as usual. Coming right after the kiss, the disciples “lay hands on” and “seize” the new Master! This is *the same placement in the narrative* as Luke’s “Shall we strike with the sword?” — confirming our assumption (until now) that the “arrest” is a spiritual metaphor! The sword is then used on the RIGHT ear of the slave, Malchus, Jesus interrupts, touches IT (spiritually with the WORD — Rev. 1:16) and heals HIM — not the ear!

    Jesus interrupts, touches “it” and heals “him”. He does not heal THE EAR, but heals “HIM”, Malchus, by “touching” the ear.– meaning spiritually. That he says “him” and not “it” is incredibly significant. And the word in Greek is “haptomai”, meaning “touching TO INFLUENCE” (Strong’s).

    The dynamic here is one of succession, “My Deliverer [not ‘betrayer’] is at hand” (Mathew 26:46), “I know whom I have CHOSEN” (13:18), I am HE [spiritually]” (13:19), “NOW is the Son of man [Spirit] glorified” (13:31), “That none [the given] should be lost” (18:9), and “the one who ate my bread *has greatly supplanted* me” (not “lifted his heel against” me) — John 13:18/Psalm 41:9 DRB version. And remember, the ‘bread’ goes to JAMES in the Gospel of the Hebrews (now lost). The ‘kiss’ OF SPIRIT goes from James to Jesus in First and Second Apocalypses of James from Nag Hammadi, inverted as a betrayal here. In the Gospel of Judas, ‘Judas’ sacrifices “the man” (James) that “bears me” (Jesus as his Master), in order that THE TWELVE may again come to completion in their God.” -36:1. This is James (as ‘Judas’) leading the other disciples to the Father after Jesus merges into him spiritually, forming the new Master *who IS Jesus*, spiritually! > “I am HE” (John 13:18). This is THE SAME as “woe to that man by whom the Son of man is delivered”!!!! (Mark 14:21/Matthew 26:24) . The Son of man, as you know, is not Jesus personally, but the spirit IN him (just as it is IN John in John 1:6-13! and IN James in John 13:31, NOT Son of man, Jesus!)

    This is how the gospel “Betrayal” hides the advent of the successor Master, James — until now in the narrative a minor player, but known from Apocryphal sources to be the preeminent leader of his day, bigger than even Jesus. “Stephen” hides his stoning death at the hands of Paul (‘Saul’), Acts 7, and Judas hides his succession in the Matthias’ selection by lots (the crucifixion ‘casting lots for his clothes’ source?) of Acts 1. This Acts business was Eisenman’s contribution. I just walked on over to the ‘Betrayal’ for a look. “Lookie here!”

    What do you think? Judas dreams he is STONED in gJudas, and not by just anybody, but fellow disciples — just like in CLEMENT and Hegesippus. The text of “James” immediately precedes the Gospel of Judas in Codex Tchacos. This is not by chance, I would say. James ceases TO BE in it, after merging into “the One who Is”.

    I could go on and on, I wrote 45 pages like this, with much more, like Zechariah 13’s “Strike the shepherd ..” being mistranslation of all versions, actually being, “Rise up, O sword, within the one who is my companion, says the Lord of Hosts. Strike, O Shepherd, that the sheep may be troubled [spiritually, again].” Poetically and theologically, this must be the textually correct reading. It resolves the “good shepherd/bad shepherd pericope of 11-13, begun with, “Open your doors, O Lebanon, … Wail, O cypress …” The “little ones” — disciples — are refined as in FIRE (13:8-9), the “striking” being done with that — yes, spiritual — ‘SWORD’ of the Mystic Master.

  4. Avatar
    ktn3654  January 8, 2014

    I’m not quite buying your argument about the fight at Gethsemane. I’ve always thought that if the whole thing had been fictional, it would have followed one of two patterns. 1) There’s no bloodshed whatsoever. Maybe Jesus’ followers draw swords, but he himself is determined to accept his fate. So they accept his command to refrain from any violence. 2) There’s a real battle royale. The soldiers who come to make the arrest barely succeed in carrying it out, and several of them meet gruesome deaths in the process.

    The story as actually related, in all its multiple attestations, is something in the middle. There’s violence, but only a little. To me, that smells just like the sort of thing that would happen in real life rather than a myth. (My sense is that in myths, if there’s going to be violence at all, it tends to be pretty serious violence.)

    Also, it didn’t have to be the case that the disciples were seriously armed. Maybe a few of them were just carrying small knives that they mainly used as tools rather than weapons. I can imagine a scenario where soldiers come to surround them, and some of the terrified disciples pull out those knives just because they have nothing else to defend themselves with. Then one of them lunges at a slave accompanying the soldiers–quite likely, the slave himself is unarmed. Jesus senses that things could get nasty very quickly, so he calms down his own followers and agrees to go off with the soldiers. Nothing about that scenario strikes me as especially far-fetched.

    If that is what happened, I wouldn’t expect the disciples as a whole to get rounded up. Maybe the one guy who injured the slave did get arrested. Or maybe he ran off and eluded arrest while the soldiers were busy with Jesus himself.

    Anyway, this is certainly tangential to whether Jesus was a Zealot. The scenario I outline above seems like it could have unfolded even if he had no Zealot tendencies at all.

  5. Avatar
    RyanBrown  January 8, 2014

    Often people view Jesus as a pacifist, insofar as Yahweh was going to do the destruction. Where does Luke 19:27 fit into this picture? It certainly seems like something Jesus may have said based on the criteria of dissimilarity. Withering out of season fig trees is funny, slaughtering people before Jesus’ feet less so.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2014

      I don’t think it passes the criterion. The followers of Jesus were all to happy (gleeful at times) to think that at Jesus’ return his enemies were going to be slaughtered (see 2 Thess. 1: 7-8 or, well, the book of Revelation!)

      • Avatar
        andrejs.vanags  January 9, 2014

        Hello, Bart! Are the stories mentioned by Ryan (Luke 19:20-27; Mark 11:12-14,20-26, Matthew 21:18-22) found in the earliest manuscripts or are just later additions? How likely it is, that Jesus himself expected the actual slaughtering of people during the apocaliptic event he preached about taking into account the “new rules” of God’s kingdom? Why in your opinion it was important for early Christians to preserve the stories about cursing the fig tree? Was it about a simple demonstration of Jesus’ abilities or was it something else?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2014

          Yes, they are in the earliest manuscripts. I have no trouble imagining Jesus believing that the wicked would be absolutely destroyed by God. He seems to say so a lot! On the fig tree: usually this is taken to be a later Christian addition, based on the idea that the nation of Israel is sometimes likened to a fig tree in scripture.

          • Avatar
            Steefen  January 10, 2014

            the fig tree is a later Christian addition when it appears in Mark? The fig tree is definitely mentioned in The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark by MacDonald.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  January 11, 2014

            It wasn’t added later to Mark. I’m saying that it was created in the oral tradition before Mark.

      • Avatar
        willow  January 9, 2014

        “The followers of Jesus were all to happy (gleeful at times) to think that at Jesus’ return his enemies were going to be slaughtered.”

        Psst. Many still are! You’ve not recently been to a fire and brimstone preaching church as of late, nor heard it shouted from the pulpit, to the uproarious delight of the masses no less, “Just you wait until Jesus comes back!”, have you? 😉

      • Avatar
        prestonp  October 17, 2014

        I don’t find a hint of anyone finding delight in the upcoming torment some will suffer.

  6. Avatar
    toejam  January 8, 2014

    As one of the members who was constantly bugging you about doing a review of Aslan’s book, I just want to thank you for all these great posts! I’ve learned a lot from these.

  7. Avatar
    willow  January 8, 2014

    Thanks, Bart. Mindsets are not easily changed, but I better understand now. Jesus was not a warrior. His disciples were not warriors. Nor were they revolutionaries, as the church so commonly teaches. Truth be told, when it came down to the nitty gritty, once confronted by a band of Roman soldiers, they did nothing, but for Peter who supposedly cut off the ear of a Roman soldier. I suspect that had that really happened Peter wouldn’t have survived to tell the tale.

    As for: “But if that’s what he was teaching, why would he urge or allow his followers to be armed in the first place?”

    How about: Why wouldn’t they be armed should the need ever arise to protect him, their lord and future king? Our presidential candidates scurry about with their entourages of armed guards while campaigning, and forever thereafter, do they not? Why not Jesus? Even such a pacifist might have needed protecting during those days, weeks, months, prior to the arrival of God’s heavenly armies. There were those who were out to kill him, after all.

    • Avatar
      judaswasjames  January 9, 2014

      Malchus was not a soldier. He was the “high priest’s slave” (RSV).

    • Avatar
      prestonp  October 17, 2014

      At his immediate disposal were 12 legions of angels

  8. Avatar
    fishician  January 8, 2014

    Speaking of one-liners, in Luke Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man, and ends by saying, “…neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” Then in John you have the story of a Lazarus being raised from the dead, and sure enough, instead of being persuaded they plot to kill him along with Jesus. Might this be an example of the story in John being built upon the reference to Lazarus in Luke? Or could the name Lazarus have been inserted into the Luke parable to sync with the story in John? (Seems odd that in this one parable Jesus uses a specific name.)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2014

      I don’t think John knew Luke’s Gospel, but he may well have heard some version of this story….

    • Avatar
      judaswasjames  January 9, 2014

      That’s very perceptive, fishican.

      Hegesippus, via Eusebius (since Hegesippus is lost to history) says those “believing on Jesus” did so because of what James said of him (History of the Church, Penguin Pub., page 59), the same dynamic in John 12 regarding Lazarus. Now here’s the amazing part. Robert Eisenman pointed this out: In Luke 16, the rich man parable has Caiaphas as “rich man”, and the five “sons” in the parable as brothers in law — the Ananus brothers, all high priest(Caiaphas married the sister of Ananus), ending in Ananus ben Ananus, the one Josephus records as the leader of the kangaroo-court Sanhedrin trial of JAMES the Just for blasphemy (Albinus was enroute from Rome yet, to replace Festus who died). James was killed subsequently by a mob led by Paul, as ‘Saul’ in Clement’s Recognitions, 1:70. >
      With the tie ins to Lazarus in John 12, of the “believing on him because of his testimony”, and the phony trial and killing, Lazarus ‘is’ James, covered, in the rich man parable. John 12:10: “So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well”. For what? People believing on Jesus “because of him”. James in Hegesippus: not telling the people that “Jesus wasn’t still Christ” . They won’t “believe” — “even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Lazarus is, therefore, James.

      Sepp and Drioux, 19th century biblical scholars are the first to point out this connection of Luke 16 to John 12. Eisenman added the Lazarus as James, from the Hegesippus link. I add to THAT the Lazarus as James as the ‘beloved disciple’ link: “Jesus wept”, and “See how Jesus LOVED HIM” (John 11:35-36). Lazarus is James, and Lazarus is the beloved disciple, and both are ‘Judas’, the one who receives the bread (James, in lost Gospel of the Hebrews) after Peter asks him who is “the one” who delivers (not ‘betrays’) him, as he is “laying close on his breast” (John 13:23). All these cover characters are James, who is the successor to Jesus. That is why the NT was written — to hide the successor, James.


      But this is too far out for most of you here. I can see that my posts are not well-received. That’s fine. I know I’m right no matter what others think.

  9. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  January 8, 2014

    How difficult it was for common folks to obtain swords? I imagine swords were expensive, so Jesus and his followers would have had to obtain enough money and find a seller were they to arm themselves.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2014

      I’m afraid I don’t know!

    • Avatar
      judaswasjames  January 9, 2014

      Luke says “Look, here we have TWO swords.” – Luke 22:38. Where did they come from? Jesus just told them to sell their ‘mantles’ and go buy some. These must have been there. I think they are symbols of spirituality. “For I tell you that the scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was reckoned with the transgressors.” This must mean sin, somehow. I’m not sure in what way, exactly.

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 8, 2014

    I know this is of no historical or theological importance, but I have a question about the “garden of Gethsemane” itself.

    Some years ago, when there were more discussions of things like this on TV, I heard someone offer the opinion(?) that it was really an *olive-press*. The idea being that Jesus and his disciples expected to be walking back from Jerusalem to where they were staying in Bethany; and since they wouldn’t all be together at some point (if only because Judas had an “errand” to run), they picked a place to meet up. The place they chose was a small structure used during the day for pressing olives – a *shelter*, which would be a good meeting-place in case of foul weather, might even have benches. A place used the way we might use a *bus shelter* today – not some fancy “garden”!

    Does that seem plausible? Or is there real evidence for a “garden”?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2014

      Yeah, that’s something someone made up! It’s not a fancy garden, just a place where plants grow. There’s nothing in the stories about an olive press….

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 8, 2014

    Excellent post connecting a lot of the dots. This has been a great series and I find it helpful when you discuss new books like those of Aslan, Spong, and O’Reilly. Thanks.

    I still find it discouraging that so much of the Bible is not historical. I also find it discouraging that so many claim that the Bible is all historical, and even inerrant, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary

  12. Avatar
    EricBrown  January 8, 2014

    I am convinced by your idea that the stories were invented so the gospel writer had occassion to use the already-known one-liner, or wisdom saying.

    But since we’re ont he topic of the “sword”, I’ve had other thoughts about this in the past. Through much of human history and in many cultures, travellers on the road banded together for security against brigands, etc, and many or at least some of those in the band might have carried weapons for defence and deterence (staffs, swords, daggers). So I don’t see how when a group is confronted at night, in the dark, suddenly, that the emergence of a weapon or two would equate necessarily in any way with evidence that it was a group of armed “rebels.” I would suspect 99% of groups sleeping int he wild outside a city had a few defensive weapons amongst them.

    I have never run across any indication that the Romans ever disarmed the common people in the provinces they occupied. That would be a gigantic chore and probably one they wouldn’t have wanted — rather they would have wanted subject peoples to police themsselves and keep the tax engine running at the lowest possible expense to the Romans.

    Not to my knowledge is it necessarily incongruent with what Jesus’ message might have been. I don’t see in him a Jainist. I see him railing agaisnt violence, but I don;t see him saying “submit to your murderer” either (I think, like your comment on slavery, that in fact it isn’t addressed — ‘turn the other cheek dioes not, to me, mean that).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2014

      No, I don’t think the Romans did (or could) disarm indigenous populations. Of course it *could* be possible that a group of pacifists were carrying swords for security; but they were hanging out in Jerusalem, so I don’t know, seems unlikely to me.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  January 13, 2014

        EricBrown had mentioned “groups sleeping in the wild outside the city.” I’ve had the impression we were meant to believe Jesus and his disciples were staying with supporters in Bethany. Walking distance, possibly on a well-traveled road? What’s your opinion on what sort of accommodations they might have had, in that era?

        And they were “hanging out in Jerusalem” *during Passover week* – might there have been a greater risk for violence then, with robbers targeting pilgrims there for Passover?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 13, 2014

          My guess is that they found shelter usually, but sometimes must have slept outside….

  13. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 8, 2014

    Just had an irreverent thought. For all we *know*, Jesus *may* have *pleaded desperately* with Pilate, trying to convince him that he’d called himself “king” in a sense that didn’t make him a threat!

  14. Avatar
    donmax  January 8, 2014

    “Maybe more than long enough,” I think, but still a valuable addition to the topic at hand.

    I pretty much agree with your assessment of Simon the Zealot, and Peter, and *some* of the other disciples being armed, much less cutting off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. I even have doubts about naming Judas, “Iscariot,” since it’s an obvious smear of the “betrayer” as a sicarii Jew or “stabber,” the worst kind of Zealot. But none of what you mention necessarily keeps the Roman authorities from thinking of him and treating him as a *potential threat*, just as King Herod Antipas thought of John, the popular and outspoken Baptizer, as someone who was actively stirring up the people, and therefore a legitimate candidate for capital punishment. Jesus may or may not have thought of himself as a Davidic King, but many of his followers probably did, and he seems to have said and taught things that could have been construed as dangerous enough to be threatening to Rome, or at least the local status quo. They did not track him down and arrest him and execute him because he was declaring himself or “calling himself *the king,” but more likely because his “Jewish Movement” had the potential for becoming increasingly extremist . In other words, Pontius Pilate wasn’t teaching Jesus a lesson, he was nipping insurrection in the bud and making Jesus an example to his family, his clan and all other religious malcontents who could have been harboring rebellious (or Zealous) inclinations.

    After all, when he proclaimed, “Yahweh’s kingdom is at hand” (Mk.1:15)! it implied that “Roman rule was coming to an end,” decades before the fourth “philosophy” became politically active. Yes, and his disciples (who numbered far more than twelve, btw) felt the same as he did. They collaborated with one another in pursuit of a common goal which their Master/Messiah was best equipped to articulate. “Behold, I give unto you the power to tread on serpents and scorpions, all power over your enemies, and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Lk. 10: 19). Moreover, “When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory” (Mt. 25: 31)…“And I will give unto you the keys to the kingdom…” (Mt. 16: 19). Indeed, these and other sermonizing, even hostile statements (Mt. 10:34-36) were what caused priestly collaborators and Roman overlords to accuse him of “perverting the nation” and “forbidding the payment of tribute to Caesar” (Lk. 23:2). It is what moved Pilate to ask him straight out, “Are you the king of the Jews” (Lk. 23: 3)? It also explains why the rebellious “Galilean” spoke as he did. In his demeanor and his unique responses he showed the audacity of a rebel, without being one, who pronounced what amounted to a not so veiled threat. “Hereafter,” he said, “you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mt. 23: 64; Lk. 22: 69)!

    What else could the Romans do? They could not even conceive of a passive, non-violent, would-be king.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2014

      Yes I think we agree more than disagree.

    • Avatar
      Wilusa  January 9, 2014

      Just want to mention that I’ve read that there’s another, perhaps more likely, explanation for the name “Iscariot”: that it comes from a place name, “Kerioth.” I think it was stated that there were several towns or villages by that name, the most plausible reference here being to one near Hebron – though it’s not certain any of them existed at the time of Jesus’s ministry. Also, I think I’ve read that in one reference to Judas, he’s identified as the *son* of (Someone) Iscariot. That would seem to make it even more likely it’s just the name of a “home town,” used to differentiate between him and the other disciple named Judas/Jude.

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    greenbuttonuplift  January 8, 2014

    Love the blog. New to this field. encouraging all my friends to join. Could you direct me to the best source to explain the ‘Son of Man’ idea/tradition. or if you could do it in a nutshell……looking forward to new book release. keep going Bart.

  16. Avatar
    Rosekeister  January 9, 2014

    As you discuss Luke and the Passion narrative as traditions it prompts me to ask how much you believe is historic in the gospels? I’ve been reading Mark and noticed that the whole gospel can be classified as part of five themes:
    The Disciples Narrative including the Family Narrative
    The Jewish Narrative including the Passion Narrative
    The Gentile Narrative including the Baptismal Narrative
    The Messianic Secret which is part of the overall gentile narrative
    Early Sayings Traditions

    Scholars have been discussing the gospels story by story for a couple of hundred years which makes me wonder if part of redaction study is the recognition that not just the stories but also the themes of Mark (excluding the Early Sayings Traditions) are not historic.

    The disciples narrative moves from Jesus’ call of the disciples to their being unable to understand his parables and miracles. The mid-point is Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah which is followed by Jesus rebuking Peter as Satan with his mind on the things of men rather than God. The Transfiguration scene illustrates the disciples’ understanding of Jesus as one of the prophets. Immediately the story turns darker as the disciples argue over who is the greatest and who can sit at Jesus’ side in his glory. The ending of course is Peter, James and John unable to stay awake with Jesus the night of his arrest, the desertion of Jesus at his arrest and Peter’s denials of Jesus even as the trials resulting in crucifixion are occurring. Finally the women flee the tomb telling no one of the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection by the young man dressed in a white robe who represents the Marcan community and their beliefs.

    This is too well crafted a story to be the result of 45 years of oral tradition. It is instead clearly a Hellenistic community’s effort to discredit the disciples and Peter. The Galilean tradition interpreted Jesus as the true prophet with a baptism of repentance later called John’s baptism. They emphasized Jesus’ life and teachings practicing the ethical practices of the Two Ways. They believed Jesus was exalted to God’s right hand but these believers were Jewish and remained Jewish.

    The Hellenistic Syrian church interpreted Jesus as the resurrected Christ with an ecstatic baptism of the Holy Spirit. Their emphasis was on Christ’s death and resurrection and their teachings were the worship of Christ as God’s Son. They believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus followed by his ascension and their religion included syncretism with the gentile pagan religions eventually becoming Christianity.

    Mark was a successful attempt to supplant the Jewish Galilean tradition with the Hellenistic interpretation of the Christ figure. The point is that the disciples, Jewish, gentile and messianic themes are not historic. This is best seen in the letters of Paul who spent his life defending his apostleship. He had major problems with Peter and James and yet never once mentions these Marcan themes. Nowhere while denouncing Peter to his face does the reader find mention of any of Peter’s failures in the Marcan disciples narrative. An argument from silence can be a strong argument when it’s not credible that Paul would never mention any of the Marcan disciples narrative while in vehement disagreement with Peter and James. Let us not forget this is the Paul who speaks of eternal condemnation for anyone who disagrees with his gospel.

    The argument has always been that the disciples narrative must be true because no Christian would talk of the disciples that way if it weren’t true. However if one form of Christianity disagrees with another and wants to discredit them that is exactly how they would describe them. Look to how the Gnostics were treated and later the Jewish-Christians.

    I don’t think much of Mark can be considered historic but once written it became embedded as the gospel tradition when Matthew and Luke used Mark as their primary source. The reason I ask how much you believe is historic is that despite a couple hundred years of higher criticism scholars routinely speak and write as though the themes of the Marcan author have historic value and can be cited as evidence for theories rather than simply being the traditions of Syrian Christianity.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2014

      I lay out most of what I think we can trust as historically reliable in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

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      judaswasjames  January 9, 2014


      I can tell you know your Bible.

      Here is a note that you may find productive. I have for years now tried to tell Bart that the climax to the Gospel of Judas is the mystic (‘gnostic’) sacrifice OF JUDAS, to merge into his Master, Jesus, and become the new Master (“Your horn has been raised …”). It is the ‘Gospel of JUDAS’, not of Jesus. He is the ‘Good News’. What introduces the sacrifice of Judas is “You will exceed them all …” and this saying in gJudas comes right where the argument among disciples as to who is “greatest” comes. This is telling. I think, as in the gnostic texts First and Second Apocalypses of James — the First of which is the text immediately adjacent to gJudas in Codex Tchacos — that James is the successor Master. He is heralded at the climax, and it is James who is stoned to death in historical accounts, just as ‘Judas’ dreams in gJudas. He leads the Twelve “to completion in their God” at 36:1, as an obvious redeemer figure after “someone” (Master Jesus) is to “replace you”. What I am saying is that the ‘Betrayal’ is a coverup of the installation of James as successor. The church wanted it hidden, so they could write the rules without a living Master’s interference. James was too well known to leave out, as was the story of the betrayal by then, so they had to give it a nod at the very end of gJudas. Go to judaswasjames.com and you will see more detail than I can present here on Bart’s blog. I am hoping to find receptive people who want to learn more about the mystic teaching in the Bible. My personal email address is also there.

      The disciples were not standing guard and falling asleep, but meditating and falling ‘asleep’ — their consciousness slipping down. This is “watching”, in addition to prayer, and “for an HOUR” (who prays for an hour?), and it has something to do with avoiding temptation, which is just what meditation is for — raising consciousness. “Rise up! Let us be going” is not getting up off the ground, but raising consciousness. In the gnostic Apocalypse of Peter, Christ denies Peter three times, not the reverse. It was tendentiously reversed in the canon to efface Peter, a threat to Paul’s prominence. Look for yourself. It is at the end of paragraph one, and is in regards to meditation, Jesus seeing Peter is not ready for inner vision:

    • Avatar
      judaswasjames  January 9, 2014

      “Woe to that man by whom he is betrayed” – Luke 22:22, comes just before the “dispute arose among them, which of them would was to be regarded as greatest”. This is the sames as “sacrifice the man that bears me” in gJudas, the words that immediately follow “You will exceed them all …” “betray” is tendentious, as “paradidomai” is the Greek word for “to deliver” as it is translated everywhere else it is used but the ‘Betrayal’. (see John 19:16).

      I hope Bart is listening. I have a number of textual variants like this for him. John 18:9-10 is not what you all think, for example. The Greek is not what you read in the translations for it — ALL of them! “Strike the shepherd” and “lifted his against me” are both mistranslations, also, this time in the Hebrew…

  17. Avatar
    Hank_Z  January 9, 2014

    Bart, I recall that many of your students chose Aslan’s “Zealot” to critique this past semester. Overall, how well did most of them do in identifying the biggest problems with the theme of the book? Thanks.

  18. Avatar
    judaswasjames  January 9, 2014


    There was a great one-liner in circulation that probably goes back to Jesus (it coincides well with all the other pacifist things he says in the tradition): “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.” Since I think the disciples could *not* actually have been armed in the garden, I think the story that they *were* armed is one of those stories that was made up in order to provide a narrative context for this one-liner. The “invented context” is that Peter pulls out a sword and lops off the ear of a servant of the high priest, and Jesus rebukes him, “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.” In other words: don’t use a sword to oppose those who are your enemies. That idea is in line with Jesus’ teaching otherwise, as attested all throughout the Gospels. It may go back to him. But if that’s what he was teaching, why would he urge or allow his followers to be armed in the first place? He almost certainly wouldn’t. The story that they were armed was made up in order to provide narrative support for a great one-liner of his. That, in my judgment, is the best way to explain the evidence.


    The Johannine version with Peter doing the striking doesn’t have “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword”. That’s only in Matthew. What *is* in John is “Should I not drink the cup that the Father has given me”, as also in Luke. The context is about “rising” and prayer “to avoid temptation” in Luke (22:46), and the striking of the right ear of Malchus in both these gospels. This is symbolic initiation. The RIGHT ear, like I have been trying to TELL you, is very significant. Why will you not comment? Nag Hammadi has support for this being an initiation setting. The “sword” comes out of Jesus’ MOUTH in Revelation 1:16. It ISN’T a metal sword. It is The Word. Where did the disciples come up with TWO of them so quickly in Luke? They refer to something else.

  19. Avatar
    Steefen  January 9, 2014

    Bart Ehrman: The problem was that he was calling himself the king. Of course he wasn’t a king.

    Steefen: The biblical Jesus is a composite character. When people write fictionalized history, they are at liberty to combine more than one historical character into a literary character. In the Gospel of John, Jesus as “only begotten” son is a verbatim reference to King Monobaz calling his prince, Izates, “only begotten son.” Second, when Jesus is said to have fed 4,000 or 5,000 (listed separately by Craig Evans), that is a clear reference to the fact that those weren’t sermon picnics, those were famine events. Who fed 4,000+ people? Prince Izates-Jesus who by that time was King Izates-Jesus. Third, in the generation after King Izates, we have the Manu brothers: King Manu V and King Manu VI. Because Queen Helena, mother of King Izates, holy patriarch, had given so much money for famine relief and had given gold to the Temple of Jerusalem, there was some vested interest in Jerusalem, Judea on the part of this royal family tree. This family tree did use politics and violence to justify the faith of their conversion to Judaism (Queen Helena and King Izates converted with Queen Helena being a Nazarite for not 7 but 14 or even 21 years). When Joseph (latinized Josephus) was given the body of a crucified man who survived crucifixion, it is likely he was given a descendant of King Izates-Jesus. So, Izates-Manu V-Manu VI are valid components of historical Jesus interpretation. Conclusion: the biblical Jesus, sourced from a number of real people, partly was a king. Why? The biblical Jesus is called Em-Manu-El. This is a direct reference to King Manu V and King Manu VI with family allegiance to Queen Helena and King Izates.

    Dr. Ehrman:
    He had no army, no political power, no huge following.

    He fed 4000 – 9000 people and probably more and had no following? I’m not persuaded.
    (One may say the biblical Jesus based in some miracle worker of 30-36 C.E. did this; and, as stated above, one may say the biblical Jesus based in King Izates’ feeding of the mulititudes of 47 C.D. did this.)
    He healed people and these healing drew crowds. I’m not persuaded.
    He was popular in Syria. I’m not persuaded.
    Without separation of church and state, Jesus and his crowds were a political force. I’m not persuaded.

    Dr. Erhman:
    His followers were no threat to an established order. But he could not be allowed to call himself king, as crazy as the claim was; and so the Romans executed him.

    Jesus is more than one person of the past. One of the persons was stoned by the Jews as stated in the Babylonian Talmud. Being the executioner of Jesus just lends power to the Roman Empire, given the context of the pressures exerted on messianic literature in a post-Failed Revolt time period in which TWO spies of Vespasian nand Titus both support the fictionalized account of Jesus: Josephus with his Testimonium Flavianum and the testimony of Yohanan ben Zakkai. Both Josephus and Yohanan were given gifts of land on the plains outside of Jerusalem. It is highly likely that these two rabbis concurred with the way we now understand the biblical Jesus.

    Bart Ehrman:
    Jesus throughout his ministry preached non-violence. He was not a zealot.

    Jesus let us know that after God delivered the kingdom of the Son of Man, the first king had the right to kill those who killed the messengers who tried to invite people to the Son of Man’s celebration for taking a queen (we might as well stretch the parable to the Son of Man king having a queen). Furthermore, while one may say capital punishment is allowable when innocent messengers are killed, this first Son of Man king would burn the cities of the murderers therefore harming innocent people. Second, those who did not want the Son of Man king to be king were to be killed before the eyes of this new king.

    As for Jesus not being a violent zealot, Jesus was a purist who WHIPPED the money changers and turned over their tables.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  January 9, 2014

      And re: Jesus – Izates – King Manu V and Manu VI connection, Jesus was mocked with a crown of thorns and the official design of the Manu king crowns were a web over the helmet crown with thorns on top.

      Eusebius provides attestation to the importance of military and political help beyond the Euphrates, pointing to Adiabene and Osrhoene by either inventing the King Agbar – Jesus letter writing exchange because the New Testament and Josephus understate their importance. Matthew says Jesus was popular in Syria. A Roman officer’s daughter was healed by Jesus which could have been an input to the development of the Roman church. Prof. Eisenman says we should count as a third Antioch: Edessa. In conclusion, Eusebius also points students of history to a connection between Jesus and Edessa. Edessa had operatives in Judea because Queen Helena had a palace in Jerusalem and a large place of burial. Why wouldn’t a Nazarite Queen Helena not support a Judaic purist such as Jesus and offer him help with his dreams of a Son of Man Kingdom and messiahship spoken of by Daniel, 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, Malachi, and Zecharia?

      • Avatar
        judaswasjames  January 10, 2014



        I think Jesus might be a composite of John and James, because of James’ speaking the famous “Father forgive them” and “You will see the Son of man coming in Power on the clouds of heaven”

        http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/hegesippus.html (pp 4 and 5)

        Why does “only begotten” have to refer to Izates? This term may be a general use thing.

  20. Avatar
    bobnaumann  January 10, 2014

    I understand that you were not involved in the Jesus Seminar. As a historian, what is your opinion of the methods used by the Seminar and their conclusions, especially their rejection of the idea that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 11, 2014

      I think they were completely wrong on that one. That’s why I wrote Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium!

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