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Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Was The Messiah Supposed to Be Born of a Virgin?

Here in the lead-up to December 25, I am discussing some issues related to Jesus' birth.  As I mentioned in my previous post, in the entire New Testament, the story of the virgin birth is found only in Matthew and Luke.  Luke has a pretty straightforward explanation of why Jesus had to be born of a virgin: it's because he was (literally) the "Son of God."  That is, God is the one who got Mary pregnant, as the angel tells her at the Annunciation:  read Luke 1:31-35, and notice the angels' explanation: the Spirit of God will "come upon her ... SO THAT" the child born of her will be called "The Son of God." Matthew, though, has a different explanation.  For Matthew Jesus had to be born of a virgin because that is what was predicted in the Old Testament. This view fits in very well with Matthew's entire birth narrative of chapters 1-2.  Everything happens "to fulfill Scripture." Why was Jesus’ mother a virgin? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Isaiah [...]

Why Paul Persecuted the Christians

I have been side-tracked by other things, but now can get back to the thread I started to spin, or rather the tapestry I started to weave.  The ultimate question I’m puzzling over is how Christianity became the dominant religion in the empire, and my point at this stage is that before Christianity began to thrive, it was persecuted.  The persecutions go all the way back.  Our first Christian author is Paul, who must have converted to be a follower of Jesus just three years or so after Jesus’ death.  Paul tells us explicitly that before becoming a follower of Jesus he was a persecutor of the church.  And why was he persecuting it?  He doesn’t say directly, buy my sense is that it was for a very basic reason.  He despised their message.  Specifically he could not abide what Christians were saying about Jesus.  Why was that a problem?  Because they insisted he was God’s messiah. In my previous post I indicated something of one of the common views of what the messiah was [...]

Understanding the Old Testament! Joshua – 2 Kings as the Deuteronomistic History

I recently received a question about the books of Joshua and Judges: when were they written?  They are fascinating books -- flat out GREAT stories in them -- and need to be placed in the historical context of their author to be understood.  But when was that, and what ideas were guiding his narrative? I discuss such issues in my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction, right after my coverage of the Pentateuch.  Here is what I say there. ****************************** As we move now beyond the Pentateuch, we come to another collection of historical writings in the Hebrew Bible.   Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings are usually thought of and treated as a group of books, probably all written by the same author (or group of authors).  These books narrate the life of Israel once it comes to the Promised Land, as it conquers the peoples already dwelling there, divides up the land, lives in the land as a group of tribes, comes to be ruled by kings, and eventually [...]

2022-04-08T11:30:36-04:00April 3rd, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

“In the Beginning” (Part 2)

In my previous post I began to summarize the lectures that are available in my course: “In the Beginning: Myth, Legend, and History in the Book of Genesis.”  If you’re interested in the course, you can learn more about it on my personal website (which is not directly connected to the blog): www.bartehrman.com   Here I will give a synopsis of the final four lectures.   Lecture 3: The Ancient Tales of Genesis: Borrowings from the Wider Culture   Scholars and lay-readers alike were shocked in the mid 19th century to learn that versions of the most important stories of Genesis 1-11 were discovered in other (non-Israelite) parts of the Ancient Near East.  In fact, in many cases these other non-biblical versions can be shown to be much older than those in Genesis. There is, for example, a story of creation from ancient Canaan called the Enuma Elish, which is different in many ways from the story in Genesis 1, but with numerous similarities as well both in the overall concept and sometimes even with [...]

2022-03-06T13:08:34-05:00March 6th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum, Video Media|

In the Beginning: Myth, Legend, and History in the Book of Genesis (Part 1)

As I have mentioned before, I have started a small business on the side, Bart Ehrman Professional Services (BEPS).  At this point it involves booking speaking engagements, providing consultations with authors of various kinds, and online courses.  The online courses, of course, are a way of disseminating knowledge about the Bible, the historical Jesus, the history of Christianity, and so on. BEPS is a separate commercial endeavor for me and I am diligently keeping it distinct from the blog, except to announce what I’m up to there for blog members who might be interested.  You can also learn more about it on my website, www.bartehrman.com This past month I produced a six-lecture course called “In the Beginning: Myth, Legend, and History in the Book of Genesis.”  This is the first of possibly many courses in a long series called “How Scholars Read the Bible.” The entire series will be devoted to showing what critical scholars think, believe, and argue about the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, but also to show why they think what [...]

2022-03-06T13:08:06-05:00March 5th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum, Video Media|

Where Did the Apocalyptic Views of Jesus (and others) Come From?

I have spent a few posts explaining the overarching views of the ancient Hebrew prophets; in this lecture I want to explain how a very different "apocalyptic" view -- one embraced by Jesus, John the Baptist before him, and the earliest Christians after him -- emerged within ancient Israel.  It has to do with how historical circumstances forced thinkers in Israel to re-evaluate what the prophets had said.   Here is the simple version of the story, as I lay it out in my textbook on the Bible, edited a bit. ****************************** The Prophetic Perspective We have seen that the classical prophets of the Hebrew Bible differed from one another in a number of ways, in the historical contexts that they addressed, in their manner of addressing them, and in the specifics of their messages.  But there are certain common features that tie all the prophets together, especially with respect to their understanding of God, his reaction to Israel’s failure to do his will, and the coming disasters that will occur as a result.  If you [...]

2022-01-18T18:06:19-05:00January 25th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Historical Jesus|

The Prophets of Scripture: A Brief Summary of their Message and Mission

Let me repeat what I said at the outset of this thread in order to explain where it's going now. A couple of weeks ago I decided I wanted to give a couple of posts on the differences between the understandings  of “salvation” in Jesus and Paul; then I realized to explain either one I would have to go over the basic ideas of Jewish apocalypticism; then it occurred to me that it would be useful to address the historical roots and development of apocalypticism; then I realized I couldn’t really do that without talking about the classical prophets of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.).  But then it occurred to me that to do that I’d have to explain what “prophecy” even was in the OT, before the classical prophets. I've seen this as an important discussion, since most Christian readers assume that the prophets of the Bible were mainly interested in predicting the coming of Jesus, or at least the coming of some kind of messiah who would save the people by suffering [...]

2022-01-11T10:38:08-05:00January 20th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

The Message of First Isaiah

I've been talking about the prophets of the Hebrew Bible and giving some background on one of the earliest in particular, Isaiah of Jerusalem.  Here I'd like to summarize what he teaches to help provide an idea of the sorts of things Israelite prophets were saying.  A you'll see, Isaiah is deeply involved with political and military issues connected with his nation. The following brief exposition comes from my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction. ****************************** The message of Isaiah, in essence, is that the people of Judah (the southern kingdom) have strayed from God; this is most evident in the social injustice that pervades society, but it is the leaders of the people who are principally at fault. These problems cannot be fixed simply by attending to proper religious rituals. The nation will be punished by God at the hands of the Assyrians. Right off the bat Isaiah laments how the people of Israel (meaning, in this case, Judah) have fallen away from God. God had raised them as his own children, [...]

2022-01-11T10:32:54-05:00January 19th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Is the Book of Isaiah the Books of Three “Isaiahs”?

Divisions of the Book of Isaiah Before using the book of Isaiah to explain the kinds of things the Hebrew prophets generally proclaimed, I need to say something about the peculiarity of this long, 66-chapter writing in particular. A number of the books of the Bible appear to have been edited by later redactors -- for example, by someone who added a  conclusion in light of the new situation in which he was living.  In the case of Isaiah, however, we are dealing with a situation that is far, far more extreme. For well over a century scholars have recognized that major portions of the book do not actually derive from Isaiah of Jerusalem. The evidence is that a number of passages do not fit into Isaiah’s own historical context.   Evidence of Multiple Authors Most of the first 39 chapters of Isaiah clearly date to the ministry of Isaiah of Jerusalem in the eighth century b.c.e. This is obviously true of the very end of the section, written when Hezekiah was king of Judah [...]

2022-01-11T10:31:00-05:00January 16th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

How Can We Understand the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible? Isaiah as a Case Study

I have started to discuss the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, in large part to correct widespread misunderstandings of what they were doing and what their books were about, and in part to emphasize just how interesting and important they are.  These are Israelite teachers who believe that God was delivering a message through them to the crises they were facing in their time. To understand their message, we have to know what the particular crises were – there were many different ones confronted by different prophets, and each had a message to deliver in the face of the one he was addressing. Even so, there is a broad consistency among the messages you will find in the prophets – though it is not at all what most people tend to think.  These prophets were not anticipating a messiah to come hundreds of years later or a cataclysmic end of the world to come thousands of years later.  They were talking about their own situations and what God wanted to be done – and what [...]

2022-01-11T10:22:00-05:00January 15th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Aren’t They Predicting the Future? More on the Prophets of the Old Testament

In my previous post I began to explain who the prophets of Scripture are, what they stand for, and what their message is.  In my experience, most people -- even most Bible readers -- don't actually know.  The general idea appears to be that prophets were all about predicting the coming of Jesus and the end of the world.  Nope.  Just read them and see. Here I can give some broad historical information about the prophets to get the ball rolling.  I am taking this discussion from my book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction, 2nd ed.  (Oxford University Press), slightly edited.   The Narrative Prophets: Elijah and Elisha The earliest major prophets of the Old Testament (after Moses) show up in the narratives of the collection of books scholars call the Deuteronomistic History  (the historical books that come right after the Pentateuch: Joshua through 2 Kings which tell about the establishment and early centuries of the nation of Israel).  These  prophets are not known to have left anything in writing (in contrast to [...]

2022-01-02T13:07:23-05:00January 12th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

They Ain’t Who You Think: Prophets in the Old Testament

One of the problems with blogs on the New Testament, and in fact in understanding the New Testament at all, is that it is very difficult to explain what’s happening in the New Testament without assuming a lot of knowledge about the Old Testament, but even devoted students of the New Testament don’t know much at all about the Old Testament.  So where do you begin? I wanted to have a couple of posts on the differences between the understandings about the very basic question of “salvation” in Jesus and Paul; then I realized to explain either one I’d have to go over the basic ideas of Jewish apocalypticism; then it occurred to me that it would be useful to address the historical roots and development of apocalypticism; then I realized I couldn’t really do that without talking about the classical prophets of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.).  But then it occurred to me that to do that I’d have to explain what “prophecy” even was in the OT, before the classical prophets. I [...]

2021-12-27T10:51:44-05:00January 11th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

The Famous Short Stories about Daniel

Here I continue and conclude my discussion of short stories in the Hebrew Bible, with some of the favorite Sunday School stories of all time, found in the book of Daniel.  Again, I draw here on my college textbook, The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. ****************************** The book of Daniel is counted among the Major Prophets of the English Bible, but in the Hebrew Bible it is not one of the prophets at all; it is included in the Writings. This is almost certainly because it was the last book of the Hebrew Bible to be written (as we will see later), and when it came to be placed in circulation and more widely known, the collection of Latter Prophets was already considered to be a closed canon, containing, like the Former Prophets, four scrolls: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve. In some respects it makes sense that Daniel is included as a book among the prophets in English Bibles, both because the main character is portrayed making prophetic [...]

2021-12-26T11:13:19-05:00January 9th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Did Abraham Actually Do It? Did He Sacrifice His Son Isaac? Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson

Do you like controversy?  Well HERE'S some controversy for you.  Maybe Abraham actually went through with it and slew his son.  What?  Read on.  Here's a scintillating guest post by Platinum member Doug Wadeson.  I'm sure he'll answer your questions.  I'm sure if I were you I'd have some! Remember: you too can submit a guest post as a Platinum member, for other Platinum members.  And it has the potential of going out to the whole blog.  You don't need to be a scholar of the Bible or an expert on early Christianity to do it.  It can be on anything of relevance to the blog.  Give it a shot, send it to me; I'm happy to give you feedback if you'd like. For now, here's Doug's post. ******************************* Most Jews and Christians are familiar with the story of Abraham taking his son Isaac and almost sacrificing him to God on Mount Moriah.[1] It is called "the Binding" or “Akedah.” The usual understanding is that God was testing Abraham’s faith, but that He stepped in [...]

2022-01-06T11:52:34-05:00January 5th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

The Bible’s Best Known Short Story: Jonah

Now we come to the most famous short story of the entire Bible: Jonah!  Again, since it is “short” it does not take long to read – just four brief chapters – and it’s surprising so few people have actually read it.  And a pity.  It’s a terrific little book that is adventurous and thought-provoking.  Here is what I say about it in my textbook  The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford University Press). ***************************** Of the various short stories found in the Hebrew Bible, Jonah is no doubt the best known of all. As it happens, the book is not located among the Writings, as are the other short stories we are considering. Jonah is one of the Minor Prophets, included among “the Twelve” in the Hebrew Bible. To some extent that makes sense, since the book is about Jonah making predictions of a coming destruction brought by God against a sinful people—a motif that we saw repeatedly in the other prophets. Moreover, the main character, “Jonah son of Amittai” (1:1) is named [...]

2021-12-20T11:44:17-05:00December 28th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Another Fantastic Scriptural Short Story: Esther

In my last couple of posts I talked about one of the great short stories of the Hebrew Bible, Ruth; now I move to another – Esther.  This one will take only one post.  Again I am taking this material from my book The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction. *******************************            The book of Esther is another short story with a woman as the main character, and it too is about an intermarriage of a Jew and a non-Jew. But in this case it is Esther who is the Jew; her husband is a pagan figure of rather grand importance. He is, in fact, the King of Persia. As with the other short stories, the book of Esther is difficult to date, but as its action takes place during the period of the Persian empire it is certainly postexilic, probably from the fourth century b.c.e. It tells the story of a Jewish queen who saves the entire Jewish people from destruction. As such, it provides us with the first recorded attempt of a [...]

2021-12-14T10:56:55-05:00December 19th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

A Suggestive Story in the Book of Ruth

In my previous post I talked about the book of Ruth, a gem of a short-story in the Hebrew Bible.   Now that I’ve explained how the plot works, I’d like to make just a couple of points about what it is trying to teach, starting with a comment about an episode that many readers over the years have found rather intriguing. It is definitely one of the confusing and suggestive passages in the book.  It comes in chapter 3, where Ruth and her rich (and drunk) relative Boaz end up asleep together on the threshing floor, and in the dark Ruth “stealthily uncovered his feet.”  The next day he arranges to marry her.  What??? Different cultures, using their different languages, use different euphemisms for sexual organs. In older English literature, for example, a man’s penis is sometimes referred to as his “member.” Hebrew had its own euphemism for genitals. They were called You don't want to miss this one.  Join to see more.  Who knew this kind of thing was in the Bible??  Click here [...]

2021-12-04T22:12:27-05:00December 14th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

A Great Short Story in Scripture: The Book of Ruth

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted much of anything on the Old Testament, and it’s high time I did so!  As I have announced recently, in February I’ll be publishing a six-lecture course on the Pentateuch (the first five books) – one of the most influential collection of books in the history of civilization.  There are lots of other amazing books in the Old Testament as well, and it’s a real pity people don’t read them more. With this post I am starting a thread on the “short stories”  of Scripture.  I begin with one of the truly greats, Ruth.  This one will take a couple of posts. I have taken the discussion from my book, The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2018) ****************************** RUTH One of the real gems among the books of the Hebrew Bible is the four-chapter book of Ruth, the tale of a Moabite woman married to and then widowed by an Israelite man, who then uses her wits, determination, and sexuality to [...]

2021-12-04T22:09:58-05:00December 12th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

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

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

2021-10-15T11:47:20-04:00October 26th, 2021|Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Why these Caricatures of the Old Testament God? Guest post by Amy-Jill Levine

We earlier had a guest post by Marc Zvi Brettler, an internationally renowned scholar of ancient Judaism, as related to his book The Bible With and Without Jesus (HarperOne, 2020), co-authored with New Testament scholar (and my long-time friend) Amy-Jill Levine.   Many of you will know of Amy-Jill: she is an extremely popular lecturer, full of energy, humor and wit,  author of numerous important books on Jesus and the New Testament.  Here now is her follow-up post, a complement to Marc's. ******************************* My friend and frequent co-author, Marc Zvi Brettler, just posted on this blogsite, “Marcion is Alive and Well – and What to do About It.” Marcion, back in the second-century C.E., distinguished between what he perceived to be the angry and inept Old Testament God and the wise and loving God of the New Testament. Although Christian authorities proclaimed this view heretical, it still has traction.  When we hear the contrast between the “Old Testament God of wrath” and the “New Testament God of love,” or other such comparisons that throw the Old [...]

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