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The Historical Jesus

Did Paul Know What Jesus Taught? More Reflections

I have been talking about Paul’s knowledge of the historical Jesus, and yesterday began a discussion of what Paul clearly knew about Jesus’ teachings.   That’s where I will pick up here.  Again, I have taken the discussion from my book Did Jesus Exist?, so the orientation of what I have to say is toward showing that Paul provides solid (and for my mind, virtually incontrovertible) evidence that Jesus was not simply “made up” but was an actual historical figure – an issue that, for most people in the universe of intelligent humans, is not much of an issue, but which is disputed by that tiny yet oh-so-vocal group of “mythicists” about which I have said some things before.  In any event, there are a few more interesting aspects of the question of Paul’s use of Jesus’ teachings, as follows: ****************************** There are no other obvious places where Paul quotes Jesus, although scholars have often found traces of Jesus’ teachings in Paul.  The big question is why Paul does not quote Jesus more often.  That is [...]

2021-11-23T11:06:53-05:00December 5th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

What Paul Says about Jesus’ Teachings

So far I have been discussing what Paul says about the historical Jesus in his surviving seven letters.  For the next couple of posts I’ll indicate what he says about the teaching of Jesus.  Once again there are two observations to make.  The first is that he obviously knew that Jesus taught some things.  The other is that it is a bit surprising that he doesn’t tell us more.  I will be dealing with that second issue soon, when I discuss why Paul doesn’t give us more information about the historical Jesus (there are several options).  The following discussion is taken from my book Did Jesus Exist, which was meant to deal more with the first issue: the fact that Paul quotes Jesus on occasion shows at the least that Paul knew Jesus existed (as do the other data that he mentions about Jesus’ life). ****************************** The Teachings of Jesus in Paul In addition to these data about Jesus’ life and death, Paul mentions on several occasions the teachings he delivered.  We have seen two [...]

2021-11-19T12:28:21-05:00December 1st, 2021|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

What Paul Knows about Jesus’ Death, and What Led Up to It

In my last post I began to enumerate the things that Paul said about Jesus.  *Most* of what he says about Jesus has to do with the significance of his death and resurrection.  But what if we wanted to know about the *life* of Jesus – the things that Jesus said, did, and experienced between his birth and his death?  Paul doesn’t tell us a ton, as has frequently been noted.  But he does tell us some.  In addition to what I laid out in the previous post, there are the following bits of information, again taken from my fuller analysis in Did Jesus Exist? ****************************** Paul knows that Jesus was a teacher, because he quotes several of his sayings.  I will deal with these later [in my next post].  For now it is worth noting that two of the sayings of Jesus that Paul quotes were delivered, he tells us, at the Last Supper on the very night that Jesus was handed over to the authorities to face his fate. For I received from [...]

2021-11-19T12:22:06-05:00November 30th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

Did Paul Know Much about the Historical Jesus?

In my graduate seminar this semester we had an interesting and intense discussion about Paul and Jesus.  In particular, we delved into the issue of what Paul knew about the historical Jesus and whether he knew more than he said and if so why he didn't say more and if not how that could be. In an earlier iteration of my undergraduate Introduction to the NT class, this was what I had my students debate.  I never could figure out a good way to word the resolution, but most of the time I gave it as this: “Resolved: Paul Knew Next To Nothing About the Historical Jesus.” The problem with that resolution is that it asserts a negative, so that the affirmative team is arguing for a negative resolution. Not good. But I couldn’t come up with anything I liked better, and so went with it. Most students are surprised to find that if they simply make a list of what Paul says about Jesus between the time of his birth and the time of [...]

2021-11-15T15:49:06-05:00November 27th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Must Jesus Divide Families? Part 2 of 2. Platinum Guest post by Douglas Wadeson

This is the second of two posts by Doug Wadeson on a divisive aspect of Jesus' ministry; there are comments in the Gospels that he would divide families.  How are we to understand that? Doug's first post o the matter was on October 21: Must Jesus Divide Families? Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson | The Bart Ehrman Blog  This is the wrap up.  What do you think?  Make some comments and he'll be happy to answer ************************* In the first part of this post we looked at some passages in which Jesus insisted that his followers love him more than their own families, and that he said he came to bring division into families.  Did Jesus intend to divide families, or was he simply stating the reality that following him was likely to cause problems in families? I tend to think the latter.  He spoke about the bond of marriage and against divorce (as in Matthew 19:3-9).  He seemed to have genuine concern for children (Mark 9:36, 37).  And many of his teachings emphasize [...]

2021-11-20T19:57:06-05:00November 20th, 2021|Historical Jesus|

Announcement: Did the Christmas Story Really Happen? Upcoming All-Day Event! (VIDEO)

 Christmas is upon us already, and I have decided to do a tis-the-season all-day webinar on Sunday, December 5:  “Did the Christmas Story Really Happen?”  The webinar will not be connected with the blog per se, except to the extent that I’ll be doing it and that some of you might be interested in coming. >> You can register by clicking here. It will be a full and unusually intriguing day, four lectures each with Q&A:  two in the morning, a break for lunch, then two more.  The talks will each be around 50 minutes with 20-25 minutes Q&A (each).  Whoa! Topics: The topics will focus on different aspects of the birth of Jesus in popular imagination, the biblical tradition, legendary materials, and … and what we can say historically. There are lots of intriguing issues here: Why is Jesus’ birth – the “virgin birth,” in “Bethlehem,” to “Joseph and Mary” etc. – mentioned in only two of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament? In particular, why is it not mentioned in two [...]

2021-11-18T07:53:23-05:00November 18th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus the First-Century Tea Partier

This is the final post I made years ago on Bill O'Reilly's bestselling book (listed as nonfiction) about Jesus. ****************************** I have decided not to provide a full and detailed review of O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus.  It doesn’t really deserve it, and it mainly contains more of what I have indicated before – on which see my previous posts.  I will say that the book is extremely well written and easy on the eyes.  It is entertaining.  A lot of human-interest material, which is both its strength and its very great weakness, as almost all of this, as I’ve mentioned before, is simply MADE UP, even though it is presented as if were historical fact.  There is page after page after page of that kind of thing.  This is not a research book written by a scholar and his writing buddy -- with, for example, footnotes indicating where they got their information from.  It can’t be that, since almost all of the details didn’t come from ancient sources but from their own fertile imaginations.  And since [...]

2021-11-05T10:09:40-04:00November 17th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Really Riled By O’Reilly

Here I continue my rather, uh, aggressive critique of Bill O'Reilly's Killing Jesus. ****************************** OK, I know I promised to read and review Killing Jesus.  But I’m not sure I can do it.  It’s just so aggravating. Pointing out its flaws is like shooting fish in a barrel.  I’ll make one general comment in this post and in the next one mention one of the leading themes of the book to show why its so problematic and then, unless I have a complete change of heart or people ask me pointed questions, I think I’ll just let it go. For now, a general comment. I was one of the 4893 people who wrote a book *about* the Da Vinci Code (Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine, 2004).  The other 4892 people, so far as I know, were religious – usually religious scholars – who were afraid that Dan Brown might lead the faithful astray by his wild claims, and for religious [...]

2021-11-05T06:56:33-04:00November 16th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Bill O’Reilly, Expert on the Historical Jesus!

Since I posted a bit on my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium,  several people have asked me if I've ever written an evaluation of Bill O’Reilly’s blockbuster hit, Killing Jesus.  It turns out, I did so, here on the blog, right after it came out in 2013.  I call it a blockbuster because it was: it rose to become the #1 book (in the world!) on Amazon, and had a long run at the top of the New York Times bestseller list -- staying on the list for a full 52 weeks! I've looked over my posts back then, and think they are still useful.  Here is the first of my posts.  I wrote it before I had actually starting reading the book.   As you'll see, it's horribly elitist while explaining why it's not elitist.  I used to write posts about that on the blog.  It was one of my endearing qualities that I seem to have tempered a bit.  Still, I get a laugh out of thinking about my knee jerking the whole [...]

2021-11-01T10:44:11-04:00November 11th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

How I Opened My Book on Jesus

I mentioned in my previous post that I had recently looked back over my first trade book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.  I don't think I had read the preface in 20 years, and I wasn't frankly, expecting to like it much when I decided to read it again.  But as it turns out, I rather like it. I've known other people like this, who rather appreciate the things they've written. (!)  But in any event, there are a few points here that I don't recall making ever again, especially about how "evidence" should play a role when discussing the historical Jesus (or the historical *anything*, from antiquity to most recent times; name your topic, and feel free to bring in both politics and religion!). Here is what I say there: ****************************** Scholars have written hundreds of books about Jesus (not to mention the thousands of books written by non-scholars).  A good number of these, mainly the lesser known ones, are written by scholars for scholars to promote scholarship; others are written by [...]

2021-10-11T16:41:41-04:00October 23rd, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

A New Three-Week Book Club!

Last month we had our first Blog Book Club (the BBC) and it was a smashing success.  The feedback has been tremendous.   There were three sessions, the first two to discuss two different books (one by me, one by someone who did not like the one by me!) and then the third a Q&A with me to address the issue. So we're gonna do it again!   The format will be slightly different.  This time for the first meeting, participants will read the first book about Jesus EVER to become the #1 Bestseller on the New York Times Bestseller list, Reza Aslan's Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.  The second meeting (two weeks later to give you time to read) participants will read my book about Jesus, which advances a very different, contrary understanding, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Neither book is responding to the other.  I wrote mine before Reza wrote his.  They simply have different understandings of who the historical Jesus was, in rather striking and important ways.  The [...]

2021-10-23T11:37:41-04:00October 21st, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Must Jesus Divide Families? Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson

Platinum members!  As you know, one of the perks of your esteemed status is that you are allowed to write blog posts for other platinum members to read and interact with.  Do you have anything you'd like to talk about, any views you'd like to put out there for feedback?? Send me a post!  It can be any size up to 1400 words or so.  On any topic we deal with on the blog.  And if you choose (but only if you choose) it can become a candidate (chosen by Platinum members) to be posted to the entire Blog.  So why not?  Get your views out there.  Send me a post! The following is the first of two posts by Douglas Wadeson on  a controversial topic that most people don't know is controversial.  Did Jesus actually believe in "family values" the way they are defined today -- and the way that many Christians simply assume?  A close look at the Gospels can be very revealing.  Here Doug begins to provide it. Your views/comments?  Send them [...]

2021-10-22T11:07:43-04:00October 21st, 2021|Historical Jesus, Platinums, Reflections and Ruminations|

Knowing What Jesus Said and Did

I was just now looking through some old posts on the blog -- there over 2000 of them, since 2012 -- and ran across one that struck me as particularly relevant, to me at least.  It's the topic I'll be discussing with my PhD students on Tuesday, and it turns out this is what I first said about it in a post I made nine years ago.  I'll say pretty much the same thing on Tuesday! It's in response to a question from a reader, about how scholars try to determine what Jesus said and did.  ****************************** QUESTION: I've seen, somewhere on the internet (I know, great source!) some discussion that modern scholarship is moving away from the idea of criteria (such as multiple attestation, dissimilarity, etc.) and that the use of criteria is becoming seen as outmoded. Is there any truth to this, or were these sources just blowing smoke? RESPONSE: This question is about the criteria that scholars use to establish historically reliable material about the historical Jesus.  For background: there are several [...]

2021-10-18T17:37:48-04:00October 19th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Jesus’ View of Salvation: Who Can Have Eternal Life?

Jesus believed that destruction was coming for some people, and salvation for others.  So did the author of Revelation.  So what’s the difference? Big difference.  In modern terms, Jesus' views of who would be saved were non-discriminatory.  That is, they were not based on who a person was, but what she did.  It did not matter if she was a she or a he; if she was a Jew or a gentile; if she believed one set of things or another; if she came from one nation/nationality or another.  What mattered was how she lived. Other Jews at the time probably had similar views, but they are striking on the lips of Jesus.  Salvation does not come necessarily to Jews by virtue of being the chosen ones.  It comes to anyone who lives a life of love, caring for others, especially those in need. To see this, consider two passages from the Gospel of Luke.  First note Eternal life?  Seems important.  Jesus' view?  Especially important.  Want to keep reading?  Join the blog!  Click here for membership [...]

2021-09-12T10:52:08-04:00September 15th, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine, Historical Jesus|

Jesus and the Coming Destruction: Who, Why, and How?

In my book on Revelation, one of my goals (once I start to write it) will be to contrast its view of judgment with that of Jesus himself.  I think the differences are stark and telling.  BUT, that is not because I think Jesus imagined that God was simply a God of love who would forgive everyone in the end.  I wish he did think that, but alas.  He was a Jewish apocalypticist who firmly believed the judgment of God was coming on the earth.  So did the prophet John, seventy years later, writing the Apocalypse. But for me the important issue is the object and reason for destruction.  Here they differ significantly, in ways that make me think John the prophet is not preaching the gospel of Jesus. Nowhere, in my view, can Jesus' understanding of the coming judgment be seen more clearly than in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  I have talked about this passage several times on the blog before.  In order to explain the contrast with [...]

2021-09-03T16:05:38-04:00September 14th, 2021|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|

On the Flipside: The Glorious Salvation of Saints in the Teachings of Jesus

In my previous two posts I’ve talked about Jesus’ view of the coming destruction of sinners.  My goal is to compare and contrast his views with those of the book of Revelation.  For both Jesus and the prophet John (author of Revelation) the future will not only bring very nasty destruction for some people on earth, but also an amazing salvation for others. Here is how I talk about the future rewards of the righteous in my book Heaven and Hell (Simon & Schuster, 2020).   ****************************** It is easier to document Jesus’ words about the dreaded fate of sinners in Gehenna than about the blessings of the saved in the Kingdom of God.   Even so, we have seen one teaching that is repeated in the Gospels:  the coming Kingdom will entail a fantastic banquet where the redeemed eat and drink at leisure with the greats of Jewish past, the Patriarchs.  This is a paradisal image of great joy. Another key passage involves Jesus’ discussion of what life will be like once the resurrection has [...]

2021-09-03T15:59:17-04:00September 12th, 2021|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|

The Horrible Fate of Sinners: Jesus’ Teaching on Gehenna

I continue now with my reflections on Jesus’ view of the coming destruction and the very bad fate coming to those who are not rightly aligned from God.  In this post I deal specifically with his teaching on Gehenna, and the devastation that will happen there.  Spoiler alert: it is not the place you want to go, but Jesus is not talking about “hell.” If you want to read more about this, join the blog!  You will get access to five posts a week dealing with just about everything connected to New Testament and Early Christianity.  There are various tiers of membership, and whatever you pay goes straight to charities helping those in need.      Click here for membership options   I have taken this discussion from my book “Heaven and Hell” ****************************** It is highly unfortunate that sometimes English translations of the New Testament render the Greek word “Gehenna” as “hell.”  That conjures up precisely the wrong image for Bible readers today, making them think Jesus is referring to the underworld of [...]

2021-09-03T15:10:49-04:00September 11th, 2021|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|

Jesus’s Apocalyptic View of Destruction

In my book on Revelation I am planning to contrast the violence and wrath of God there with what we find in the teachings of Jesus.  It would be easy but too simplistic to paint an obvious contrast: unlike John (the author of Revelation) Jesus believed in love and so was opposed to violence.  It is certainly true that he was, at least on one level (as we'll see).  Jesus did not only think his followers should not be violent against one another, but also not against their enemies, not even the Romans.  But the same can probably be said about the book of Revelation.  It also does not urge the followers of Jesus to engage in violence.  The massive destructions that take place on earth in the book are sent from heaven. And Jesus too thought a massive destruction was to be sent from heaven.  So, well, what’s the difference?  That will be the complicated issue. To understand the views of destruction of both Jesus and the prophet John, I need to situate them [...]

2021-09-03T13:39:52-04:00September 9th, 2021|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Revelation of John|

Jesus as a Healer: “First: Do No Harm” Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson

I have very much enjoyed these guest posts by Doug Wadeson, who spent his long career in medicine, reflecting on Jesus' healing miracles in light of contemporary medical knowledge.  This final post is unusually thought provoking.  Did Jesus sometimes do more harm than good? Let Doug know what you think. [[And if you have a post you'd like to get out there to your fellow Platinum members, with a chance that it could appear on the entire blog, zap me a note at [email protected] ]] ***************************** In the previous 3 posts I suggested some ways that Jesus could have achieved apparent success at healing various afflictions and thus gained a reputation as a healer, and presented some evidence from the Gospels that there were limitations to Jesus’ ability to heal and that some people may have relapsed after their apparent healings.  In this final post I would like to discuss both negative and positive aspects of Jesus’ reputation as a divine healer, with some concluding thoughts.   I doubt that Jesus knew the medical phrase, [...]

2021-08-18T17:08:33-04:00August 18th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Jesus the Healer, Repossessed?  Platinum guest post by Douglas Wadeson MD

I am pleased now to publish the third of Doug Wadeson's four posts on Jesus as a healer, based on Doug's own extensive experience as a practicing physician and a deep understanding of the biblical texts.  The first two have been terrific and this one is especially intriguing, dealing with a question most people have never even thought to ask:  If Jesus healed someone, did they stay healed?   The biblical evidence is tantalizing, and almost never considered. Remember: you too can offer up a Platinum post.  Just come up with an idea, write it up in around 800-1200 words, and zap it to me to look at in a personal email at [email protected]    All platinum posts have a chance to appear not just to Platinum members but to the whole blog.  So why not share your thoughts? Here now is Doug's provocative post on the possibility of "repossession."  Feel free to share your comments and views! **************************** In the previous post I examined some possibilities that might explain how Jesus achieved some spectacular successes in [...]

2021-08-11T14:27:14-04:00August 10th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|
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