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Greco-Roman Religions

Is Christ *Merely* the “Adopted” Son of God?

If Jesus wasn't God from eternity past, but was "adopted" to be the Son of God at some point of his existence, wouldn't that be a pretty watered-down understanding of his divinity? A lot of people find this kind of "adoptionist" Christology (Christ wasn't "inherently" God but "made" divine by adoption) completely unsatisfying and, well, pretty wimpy as far as Christologies go. I mentioned in the previous post that one could well read Luke as adoptionistic, and as I reflected on it some more, I recalled that the first time I wrestled seriously with the issue was ten years ago, when I was doing my research for my book How Jesus Became God. Here's what I ended up thinking about it, and saying about it in the book. And in case you wonder -- mirabile dictu! -- I still think the same today! ****************************** Part of what has convinced me that an [adoptionistic] understanding of Christ should not be shunted aside as rather inferior involves new research on what it meant to be “adopted” [...]

Is It Better to Follow Christ or to Live a Contented Life? Paul vs. Epicurus

What would other deep thinkers in the ancient world have thought of Paul’s teachings?  Short answer: not much. Earlier this year I posted on one of my favorite Greek philosophers, Epicurus (341 – 270 BCE).  Epicurus acquired a bad reputation already in antiquity, and still has one among many people today, mainly because his views are widely misunderstood and often simply misrepresented.   As it turns out, he advocated views that have widely become dominant in our world, and for good reasons.  For that reason I’ve always read him as remarkably prescient, entertaining ideas that would not become popular for two thousand years. And they stand precisely at odds with the views of the apostle Paul.  I’ve recently begun to think about this more deeply -- especially since they talk about the same *topics* but take completely different stands on them.. Unfortunately, we do not have very many of Epicurus’s writings.  In fact, the most important sources we have are simply three long letters, quoted in toto by a significant but little-read author named Diogenes Laertius, [...]

Does Archaeological Evidence Show that Jesus Was Buried on the Day He Died?

[Note: this post originally appeared in 2014; since then the skeletal remains of another victim of crucifixion have appeared in England; to my knowledge, the new discovery does not affect either Craig's argument or my response here] ****************************** I plan to make this the last post responding to Craig Evans’s article, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” in which he attempts to refute my argument in How Jesus Became God, that Jesus was probably not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion. I have dealt with a wide range of Craig’s arguments, and have saved his two strongest arguments for last.  In my last post I dealt with the claim of Josephus that Jews (always? usually? sometimes?) buried crucifixion victims before sunset, and I showed that as a general statement it simply isn’t true, and argued that in any event it would not have applied to a case such as that of Jesus, one who was crucified as an enemy of the state.   Today I deal with the second argument that [...]

Josephus’ One Statement About the Burial of Crucified Victims in Judea

We come now, at last, to the best argument in Craig Evans’ arsenal, in his attack on the views of Jesus’ burial that I set forth in in How Jesus Became God.   Tomorrow I will deal with the second best – an argument from archaeology.   Craig makes a somewhat bigger deal of the second best; in fact he throws off this, his best argument rather quickly.  But it’s the most important point of the many (many!) issues he raises.   The argument is this.  In one passage of Josephus’s writings, in an extremely brief few words (it’s only half of one sentence) (this is the only half sentence in the entire corpus not only of Josephus’s 30 volumes of writing but in the entire corpus of pagan and Jewish literature of all of antiquity that makes this claim) he explicitly indicates that Jews buried victims of crucifixion before sunset.  Craig’s commentary on the passage amounts only to two sentences. At the end of the day I don’t find even this piece of evidence persuasive, and [...]

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|

We Have Crucifixion Nails! Isn’t that Evidence for Jesus’ Burial?

I have mentioned a couple of times that at the end of this thread I will be discussing the two arguments that Craig Evans marshals that strike me as interesting and to be taken seriously.  These are (1) the general claims in a couple of passages of Josephus and (2) the discovery of the skeletal remains of a crucified victim.  Even though these are, in my opinion, good arguments, I will explain why I do not find them persuasive.   Up till now I have been dealing with the arguments that Craig advances that I do not find at all convincing  -- for example, that Roman governors on rare occasions showed clemency for lower level crimes and that Pilate was not the kind of person to offend Jewish sensitivities.  I have one more argument of this sort to deal with.  It is one that may sound highly convincing to someone who has only Craig’s summary at hand but who does not know the facts of case. This argument does not involve historical literary sources (Philo or [...]

2023-08-18T11:30:28-04:00August 12th, 2023|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Historical Jesus|

Were Roman Leaders Told to Provide Decent Burials for Crucified Victims? (Really?)

In my previous post I tried to show why Craig’s argument that Roman governors on (widely!) isolated occasions showed clemency to prisoners (those not sentenced to death) has no relevance to the question of whether Jesus, condemned to crucifixion for treason against the Roman state, would have been allowed a decent burial, contrary to Roman practice.   The “clemency” argument – even in the sources that Craig himself cites, only seems to show that in cases that were completely unlike that of Jesus himself, Roman governors could on rare occasions be merciful and/or bribed. Craig goes on to say that this clemency was extended to the burial of executed criminals.  Now in theory, this should be relevant to the question of whether Pilate showed mercy on Jesus by allowing his body to be buried on the day of his execution.  But when you actually look at the evidence, once again it is not just irrelevant to Craig's argument, it actually supports the *opposite* view that is opposite to the one Craig wants to argue.  See for [...]

2023-07-28T10:55:42-04:00August 6th, 2023|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Historical Jesus|

Did Romans Show Clemency to Crucified Criminals?

In my previous post I began to discuss Craig Evan’s essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which was his attempt to show that the views I set forth in How Jesus Became God were flawed.  In his view, the New Testament portrayal of Jesus’ burial is almost certainly historical: Jesus really was buried, in a known tomb, on the afternoon of his death, immediately after he expired, by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who had, the night before, called for his execution.  My view is that this is entirely unlikely, that Jesus was probably left on his cross to suffer the ravages of time and, possibly, scavenging animals, as was the practice of Romans for crucified victims.  In no instance was this practice more constant than in the case of “enemies of the state,” anyone, for example, who was involved in an insurrection or who threatened a violent opposition to Roman rule (or was thought to have threatened).  Jesus himself, of course, was executed on just this charge, of [...]

2023-07-28T10:48:12-04:00August 5th, 2023|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, 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 – [...]

More Reasons for Thinking Jesus was Not Given a Decent Burial

  So far in this thread I have been laying out the argument found in my book How Jesus Became God of why I do not think Jesus was given a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea on the day he was crucified.  This will be the last post on the question. After this the fun begins.  My friend, New Testament scholar Craig Evans, laid out a detailed argument for why he thinks I am very wrong, as one of the essays in the response-book, How God Became Jesus.  Starting in the next post, in a new thread of a number of response-to-the-response posts, I will respond to Craig's arguments one-by-one, to show in turn why I don't find his arguments at all convincing. In my post yesterday I talked about one specific reason for doubting the tradition of Jesus' burial by Joseph of Arimathea.  Now I give two more reasons. ****************************** Greek and Roman Practices of Using Common Graves for Criminals My second reason for doubting that Jesus received a decent burial is that – [...]

Male Superiority in Antiquity

Why did ancient Greeks and Romans think that "men" were inherently superior to "women"?  Many people (and entire cultures) think that still today, of course, but for now I ain't goin' there.  I'm interested in understanding this understanding in the ancient world out of which Christianity grew, on the assumption that modern ideas have been handed down to us over the centuries so that most people simply think their views are "common sense," which, I suppose, they often are, since they are the sense commonly held. They often think, as a consequence, that they are therefore "naturally right," and with that I heartily disagree.  A majority opinion is not necessarily right or true.  The fact that for most of western history a majority of people thought the world came into existence just some thousands of years ago and would last 6000 years does not mean the view was right.  Just that it was widely held.   Both what is actually "true" and what is truly "natural" is not established by a show of hands. In any [...]

More on Love: Why Were Greek Men Especially Attracted to Prepubescent Boys?

What is it with Greek pederasty?  How could this be a thing, the widely accepted practice in classical Athens (at least) of an adult man taking an adolescent boy under his wing and into his bed, providing an education into the culture, social world, and politics of the city in exchange for sexual favors? I’ve given two posts on it to this point, and in this one I want to reflect on what it was all about – at least what one particular of it was all about.  My question:  Why were adolescent boys seen as particularly beautiful – rapturous – and desirable sex partners, apparently far more then women, even among men who were heterosexually active, including with their wives ?  Some of us today (who know a lot of teenagers) just don’t see the attraction.  But reading the ancient texts, it’s pretty clear that at least among the Athenian social elites, it was not even much debated:  Of *course* boys are greatly to be (especially) desired, sexually.   Not just to one older fellow [...]

2023-07-17T14:25:50-04:00July 18th, 2023|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

The Slippery Slope of Extreme DIAKRISIS (Discernment). A Platinum Post by Barry Haney

Here is a creative and imaginative Platinum guest post that explores key religious differences among various traditions in the early period of the church, through a plausible (fictional) conversation.   So, in 200 CE, a pagan, a Jew, and a Christian come into a wine bar.... These are some intriguing reflections.  What do you think? ****************************** I have a blog called, The Slippery Concept of Extreme Diakrisis. You might ask, what does diakrisis mean? Diakrisis is a Greek noun that occurs three times in the New Testament (Romans 14.1, 1 Corinthians 12:10, and Hebrews 5:14) and means distinction, explanation, discerning, or differentiation between good and bad. During my research of early Christianity, I imagined being a fly on the wall during an unlikely meeting between Bartholomew, a pagan, Serapion, a Christian, and Abraham, a Jew during the 2nd and third centuries CE, as they use the tool of diakrisis or discernment in their search for religious truth. My research led to me writing the following story, I will share with you.   The Incredible Meeting!   [...]

Can Christianity Be Seen as “Objective” Truth? Modern and Ancient Views.

In a previous post I pointed out that for over the past century modern evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity has been unusually focused on knowing the “objective” truths that can be “proved” about Christianity.  In recent times, some have argued evangelical Christianity has become far more focused on social and cultural issues than theological doctrines (when someone says that this is not the evangelical Christianity your grandfather knew, they are apparently talking about me….).  And I think that’s true.  But even so, apologetics is still BIG in that tradition, and it is almost always based on objective evaluation of the truth. One could argue that this evangelical obsession with religious truth was matched by the commitment to truth in the earliest years of Christianity.  Historically, this is one of the features of Christianity that made it distinctive among the religions of antiquity. Most people today don’t realize that ancient religions were almost never interested in “true beliefs.”  Pagan religions – by which I mean the polytheistic religions of the vast majority of people in the ancient [...]

The Other Virgin Births in Antiquity

On December 14 I will be giving a one-off remote lecture, with Q&A, called "The Other Virgin Births in Antiquity."  This will not be connected with the blog per se, but with my other venture in which I produce online courses and lectures (BEPS: Bart Ehrman Professional Services).  You can learn about the lecture here: Jesus is decidedly conceived by a virgin in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  This is better called a "virginal conception" -- and in my course I'll explain the difference between the ideas of virginal conception; virgin birth; perpetual virginity; and immaculate conception.  All very different ideas! BUT, for the sake of convenience, I'll simply refer to Jesus'  conception and birth as "the virgin birth." Since, oh, I don't know, the 19th century I guess, there have been people who have claimed that virgin births were common in the ancient world.  You find that claim widely today still among those who call themselves "mythicists" -- those who think Jesus didn't exist but was just a myth.  One of the most common [...]

2022-11-27T16:58:03-05:00December 7th, 2022|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Historical Jesus|

Jesus’ Teachings on Love and Salvation

In my previous posts I have been explaining in brief terms how people thought about “ethics” in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, that is, how they decided what kinds of human activities were best for themselves and for their society, how they were to interact with one another, what values and virtues they should hold and what values and vices they should reject. Part of my thesis – which I hope to spell out in my next book – is that Christianity changed how people understood virtuous activity and the good life, how they urged people to behave, and why they did so.  My argument will be the what we think of as the driving force of most ethics today is not at all what people in the world at large in antiquity thought.  At all. So far in these posts I’ve tried to show how pagans were particularly concerned with “well-being” or “happiness” as a guide for how to live.  Jesus, however, rigorously adopted a Jewish view that the main criterion for behavior [...]

2022-09-16T21:11:20-04:00September 15th, 2022|Afterlife, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Historical Jesus|

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 -- [...]

Love. How I’ve Shifted the Focus of My Book on Charity.

As I've indicated, my plan is, or rather was, to write a book that argued that Christians radically changed the understandings of wealth and the practices of "giving" once they took over the empire.  They, in effect, invented what we think of as "charity." As I have talked it over with my literary agent and the editors at Simon & Schuster,  I have decided that my study needs to be placed in a broader cultural context.  Rather than focusing exclusively on the transformation of ancient understandings of wealth and the concomitant social practices of giving in isolation from their larger ideological contexts, the book will address an even more transformative Christian innovation in ancient ethical discourse, one that provided the impetus for these understandings and use of wealth. It will take several posts to explain the shift in my thinking.  Here's the starting point: Ethics were just as important to inhabitants of the Greek and Roman worlds as they are to people today.  But the criteria for evaluating “proper” behavior were very different, focusing almost [...]

2022-09-16T14:53:28-04:00September 10th, 2022|Book Discussions, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Did the Apostles Use Secretaries to Write their Books?

Here is the third (and last) post on the use of secretaries in the ancient world, in which I discuss the issue of whether illiterate people (like Simon Peter, or John the son of Zebedee) could have had someone else write their books for them – so that 1 Peter *could* in some sense actually be by Peter even if he couldn’t write, or the Revelation of John be by John. In it I continue to consider ways ancient authors used secretaries.  Was it actually to have them compose writings for them?  (To make best sense of this it would help to read the previous post, where I talk about two of the main ways ancient writers used secretaries.  But hey, you don't *have* to read it.  It ain't required!) Again, the discussion is taken from my book Forgery and Counterforgery (Oxford University Press). ****************************** It is Richards‘ third and fourth categories that are particularly germane to the questions of early Christian forgery. What is the evidence that secretaries were widely used, or used at all, [...]

2022-08-22T12:21:09-04:00September 4th, 2022|Forgery in Antiquity, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

The Invention of Charity: My Prospectus for the Book

I have started drafting a prospectus for my next book on Christian charity, as I have discussed recently on the blog.  At this early stage, I am giving it (at least in my head) the tentative title: The Invention of Charity: How Christianity Transformed the Western World.  In this post I’ll show how I’m *thinking* about starting the prospectus (which will have no bearing on how I, later, start the book). Before I do so, I should explain how the process works.  My last three trade books have been with Simon & Schuster, and as a (standard) part of my contract with them, I’m obliged (and willing and eager) to to discuss with them what I’d like to do for the next book, to give them the opportunity to sign a contract with me for it, before, say, I propose the book to other publishers. The first part of process is that I draft a prospectus that explains what the book is, why it is needed, and how I will approach the task . For [...]

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