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The Historical Jesus

Why I Want to Write a Book on Christian Love

Over the past couple of weeks I have been explaining how I have reimagined my next trade book, written not for scholars but for general readers.  As I've pointed out, my initial idea that I floated before readers of the blog was to have a book devoted to how Christianity revolutionized how people in the Roman world understood wealth and what to do with it.   My argument was that as a Jew Jesus insisted that those with resources help those who were in need – a virtually unheard-of ethical principle in Greek and Roman antiquity.  His followers were Jews as well, for whom this was a familiar message, but as they converted non-Jews to become Jesus’ followers, they convinced them as well.  So this became the standard Christian view, leading to the invention of the public hospital, the orphanage, the use of governmental assistance for those in need, private charities, and so on. My previous posts have explained how I have now expanded the vision of the book, to show that these new views of [...]

Is It Even Possible to Follow Jesus’ Teaching to “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”

In my previous posts I've been talking about Jesus' "love commandment," arguing that it revolutionized ancient thinking about how people are to behave toward one another. ("Love thy neighbor as thyself").  Now I ask whether that revolution actually involved changing people's behavior in radical ways.  Or not. Obviously, on the practical level, Jesus’ insistence on complete self-sacrifice did not come to dominate the world of late antiquity.  People continued to live much as they had before.  Conquerors still conquered.  The first Christian emperor, Constantine, was one of the most bloodthirsty of them all; many of his ardent Christian successors (including his sons) were at least as bad.  Slavery continued and was never questioned.  The rich dominated the poor.  Men dominated women.  The rich kept getting richer.  Most notably, Christian churches themselves began getting very much richer.  Eventually the church was by far the wealthiest institution in the west, and stayed that way for well over a millennium. Christian Ethics in the Roman Empire Even so, the ethical discourse of society did change with the Christianization [...]

2022-09-12T10:45:11-04:00September 17th, 2022|Historical Jesus, History of Christianity (100-300CE)|

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 -- [...]

Did the Romans Stage Jesus’ Crucifixion? Platinum Guest Post by Ryan Fleming

Here is now the third platinum guest post by Ryan Fleming.  As you might expect, it does not get any less controversial!  Do you have a reaction?  Let's hear it! ****************************** This third in a series of three posts proposes a theory that Christianity was born from Roman manipulation of the religious heart of Jewish resistance to their authority in Judea. It discusses Jesus’ trial, Pilate’s open public defense to a Jewish mob, and the spread of Christianity to Rome. Before the crucifixion, the Jewish court condemned Jesus to death for blasphemy and brought Jesus before Pilate with a fabricated Roman charge of sedition. Pontius Pilate changed the charge to “King of the Jews”. The Jewish elders asked Pilate to alter the inscription to, “This man claims to be King of the Jews.” Why did Pilate demand the charge “King of the Jews” for a Jewish peasant brought before him? Was it out of sarcasm to mock the demands of the Jewish court or was it per his own desire and design that Jesus be [...]

2022-10-03T11:05:04-04:00August 29th, 2022|Historical Jesus|

Did Jesus Believe in Armed Resistance to the Romans?

Here's a post from long ago that deals with an issue that has come up among some blog members recently.  Was Jesus in favor of armed resistance?  Were he and his disciples armed?  Was he killed for insurrection because he actually *was* an insurrectionist?   Here is the question in one of the forms I have received it, and my response.   QUESTION: What is the scholarly view on this subject: did Jesus himself, his movement and then early Christians walk around with weapons (swords, e.g.) to protect themselves, despite preaching the love for enemies? Do we have any historical evidence of how things looked in this matter?   RESPONSE:  This is a hugely important question.  I dealt with it in my book Jesus Before the Gospels, and don't think I'm able to say it any better by putting it in other words.  So here is what I said there: ****************************** In all four Gospels, at least one of Jesus’ followers is armed when he is arrested.   In the Synoptics, this unnamed follower draws his sword [...]

2022-08-22T11:35:35-04:00August 28th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Did Jesus Collaborate with the Romans to Produce His Movement? Platinum Guest Post by Ryan Fleming

Here now is the second of Ryan Fleming's posts arguing that the Jesus movement emerged from a collaboration with the Romans. It is for you Platinum members only.  Are you interested in coming up with a post?  It can be on any topic related to the blog.  It does not have to be scholarly.  It can be your own reflections.  You can get some good feed back from others.  Go for it! For now, here is Ryan going for it. *********************   This second in a series of three posts proposes a theory that Christianity was born from Roman manipulation of the religious heart of Jewish resistance to their authority in Judea. It discusses Jesus’ ministries, how they were conducive to Roman rule, and the role of “miracles”. Jesus offered teachings very different from Judaism. Jesus was consistently critical of the Jewish religious order; the keepers of the Mosaic Law (Luke 11:45-47 11:52), the scribes (Matt 15:1-7 23:2-3 23:13-29, Mark 12:38-40, Luke 20:46), the chief priests (Matt 21:23 21:31), the Pharisees (Matt 15:1-7 16:6 16:11-12 [...]

2022-10-03T11:07:44-04:00August 26th, 2022|Historical Jesus|

Did the Romans Help Create the Jesus’ Movement? Platinum Guest Post by Ryan Fleming

Platinum member Ryan Fleming has come up with three posts that may strike you as highly controversial.   Very interesting ideas.  What do you think?  Ryan will be able to engage your questions and comments. This is the first of three posts; the others will be posted -- just for you Platinum members -- over the course of the next eight days. ******************* This series of three posts proposes a theory that Christianity was born from Roman manipulation of the religious heart of Jewish resistance to their authority in Judea. Jesus’ ministries were a collaboration with local Roman authority to change the culture of the Jewish people to be more conducive to Roman rule, collection of taxes, acceptance of gentiles, etc. The miracles attributed to Jesus were staged with support from Rome to enhance the popularity of the movement. The Jewish people saw through Jesus’ teachings as not being divine from their god, saw his teachings as blasphemous, and as such, rejected him and called for his execution. The Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, did not want [...]

2022-10-03T11:10:14-04:00August 22nd, 2022|Historical Jesus|

The Birth of (the Messiah?) John the Baptist? Anniversary Guest Post by James F. McGrath

I continue now with a post that was produced for us by a fellow scholar in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of the blog.  James McGrath has made several intriguing posts for us, and this one is particularly interesting.  Is it possible that stories about Jesus -- especially in the birth narratives were *originally* told about the future messiah, John the Baptist??   That the followers of Jesus took accounts originally told of John and edited them so that they now refer to Jesus?  Very intriguing!  Here's James's post. ******************* The Birth of John the Baptist: Detecting a Source from John’s Followers Behind Three Early Christian Gospels James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature, Butler University, Indianapolis   Anyone who has read my previous guest posts here, or who has read academic publications by Bart and myself, will know we share a great many interests in common: the historical Jesus, the development of Christology, extracanonical texts, and many more. As I have begun to turn my attention to my next major [...]

2022-08-15T08:23:03-04:00August 18th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Did Jesus Insist on Voluntary Poverty?

I am returning now to my discussion of understandings of wealth and charity in the early Christian tradition, as I think through how I want to draft my prospectus on a book on that topic for my publisher.  If you want to see the earlier posts on views of wealth and giving in the Roman world (which stand in stark contrast with what arose in Christianity), just do a word search for “wealth” on the blog and you’ll see all the recent articles. Now I move to the views of the historical Jesus and his followers; after that, in subsequent posts, I’ll talk about how these views changed significantly over (Christian) time, and consider the real life practical effects they had in understanding the importance of helping the poor in the Western world. ************************ The later Christian discourse appealed to such traditions as found in the Hebrew Bible, but it found yet greater impetus in the recorded teachings of Jesus. For the purposes of my analysis, it is important to remember that historical scholars can [...]

2022-07-15T11:25:11-04:00July 10th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Another Historical Scholar’s Understanding of the Resurrection

I am reposting the ten blog posts made on April 18 (or thereabouts) in celebration of our tenth anniversary of the blog.  Here now is a particularly important one from 2017; at the time I was working on my book How Jesus Became God and thinking hard about how to understand the early Christian claims that Jesus had been raised from the dead. ****************************** One of the first books that I have re-read in thinking about how it is the man Jesus came to be thought of as God is Gerd Lüdemann’s, The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry (2004). Lüdemann is an important and interesting scholar.  He was professor of New Testament at Göttingen in Germany, and for a number of years split his time between there and Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville.  He is a major figure in scholarship, and is noteworthy for not being a Christian.  He does not believe Jesus was literally, physically, raised from the dead, and he thinks that apart from belief in Jesus’ physical resurrection, it is not [...]

2022-06-07T14:33:59-04:00June 14th, 2022|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Lazarus and the Rich Man: What To Do with Wealth

I’ve been thinking a good bit about the problem of wealth in the teachings of Jesus.  Among the passages that are obviously relevant is the famous parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  I talked about the story in my book Heaven and Hell (Simon and Schuster, 2020).  The following is a revised version of what I say there. The story appears in Luke 16:19-31 in the context of a number of parables and other sayings of Jesus.  In the parable Jesus contrasts the life and afterlife of an anonymous rich man and a destitute beggar named Lazarus.  The wealthy many is dressed in fine clothes and enjoys sumptuous meals every day.  Lazarus lies outside his gate, starving, desperate even to get the scraps off the rich man’s table.  The scene is pathetic:  dogs come up and lick Lazarus’s wounds. Both men die at about the same time.  Lazarus is Members of the blog get five posts a week in exchange for a small membership fee -- every penny of which goes to charity.  So [...]

2022-05-31T10:47:50-04:00June 5th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Concerns for the Poor in the Jewish Tradition

I have begun to contrast the Christian views of wealth and the need for the rich to help the poor with typical pagan views that placed almost no emphasis on helping those in need.  It is impossible to understand the Christian emphasis on almsgiving without situating it in its originating context – the Jewish tradition, going all the way back in the oldest Scriptures of Israel. Unlike the pagan tradition, the Hebrew Bible consistently pronounces God’s concern for the poor and repeatedly instructs those who have means to assist them.  Thus in the Torah itself: “Give liberally and be ungrudging […], for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.  Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” (Deut. 15:9-11).   Many of the most emphatic passages occur, as one might expect, in the prophets: Blog members get beefy posts five times a [...]

 The Plausibility of the Fourth Gospel: The Sayings of Jesus. Guest Post by Dennis Folds

Here is the second of a two-part Platinum-guest-post by Dennis Folds, who makes the controversial argument that *John* is the more accurate Gospel and that it is *Mark* who has changed the historical facts.  This time he focuses on the teachings of Jesus and, relatedly, the reasons for his condemnation to execution.  Interesting stuff.  Let us know what you think! And feel free to write a post or two in response!  Or write a post on anything else related to what we do on the blog.  Your input is welcome! ****************************** In Part 1 of this two-part post, I described the vast differences between the gospels of John and Mark in the chronology of events of Jesus’s ministry.  Matthew and Luke follow Mark’s chronology, and these three (the Synoptic Gospels) are thought to be more accurate. I argued that the narrative in John is more credible, as it spread the action over two-plus years, had Jesus going back and forth to Jerusalem for major religious festivals, and had a growing conflict with the religious authorities.  [...]

2022-05-10T10:11:32-04:00May 6th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Why Romans Crucified People and Who Was Crucifixion Reserved For?

Why Romans crucified people.....and who was crucifixion reserved for? Most people acquire their knowledge about ancient Roman crucifixions from the accounts of Jesus' crucifixion in the Gospels. They learn the stories about the cross, the nails, the "King of the Jews" sign nailed above Jesus' head, and the agony he endured. But there's another side to the story. By studying the facts of Roman crucifixions, including their methods and process, you'll find that crucifixion was about a lot more than pain and punishment.  Their goal was absolute humiliation. This is part 5 in a thread of my responses to Craig Evans, who has argued against the positions I take in How Jesus Became God.  Here's the beginning of the thread. Why Romans Crucified People  - Why it's  Important Because you must understand the REASON the Romans crucified people in order to understand an important position I take in my book, How Jesus Became God, which Craig Evans attacked.  In the book, I argue that it is likely that Jesus was not given a decent burial, [...]

2022-06-19T23:55:45-04:00May 1st, 2022|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

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 [...]

Pilate Released Barabbas. Really??

I received recently the following question, which deals with an issue I had long puzzled over.  It involves the episode in the Gospels where Pilate offers to release a prisoner to the crowds at Passover, hoping they will choose Jesus.  But instead, they choose a Jewish insurrectionist and murderer, Barabbas.  Could that have happened? Here's the Question and my Response: Did Pilate Release Barabbas? QUESTION: Pilate condemns Jesus to execution for treason against Rome. Pilate gives the Jewish crowds the option of releasing Jesus or a Jewish insurgent, Barabbas (15:6–15).   I did a quick search to see if this was an attested practice in the Roman Empire and couldn’t’ find any relevant information.  So, I have two questions:  Do you think this detail is accurate?  Is there any evidence that Roman officials actually freed condemned prisoners at certain local festival times? RESPONSE: This was an issue I worked on while writing my book Jesus Before the Gospels.  After doing my research I came to a definite conclusion, that I state rather strongly (!).  Here is [...]

2022-06-20T00:03:06-04:00April 30th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

The Plausibility of the Fourth Gospel: The Chronology of Jesus’s Ministry. Platinum Guest Post by Dennis Folds

I'm pleased to publish this guest post by Dennis Folds, dealing with one of the most important issues in the study of the Gospels: how do we know which (if any) is the most, and the least, accurate?  Usually it is argued that John is the latest, most theological, and least reliable account.  But is it?  Dennis takes on the question.  See what you think!  Then let him know!  He'll be dealing with comments. And remember: you too can submit a post.   It does NOT have to be highly academic and "expert" -- at all.  Why not post something just saying what you think about a topic?  Let me know! ****************************** The fourth gospel – John – is quite different than the other three in its narration of the events of Jesus’s ministry, and in its rendering of what Jesus taught. The other three tell the same basic story; that’s why they are called the Synoptic Gospels. The differences between the Synoptics and John are so stark that since antiquity John has been thought to [...]

2022-05-09T18:33:55-04:00April 29th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Richard Carrier: A Fuller Reply to His Criticisms, Beliefs, and Claims about Jesus

Richard Carrier - My Response to His Criticisms Richard Carrier is one of the new breeds of mythicists.  He is trained in ancient history and classics, with a PhD from Columbia University – an impressive credential.  In my book Did Jesus Exist I speak of him as a smart scholar with bona fide credentials.  I do, of course, heartily disagree with him on issues relating to the historical Jesus, but I have tried to take his views seriously and give him the respect he deserves. Richard Carrier, as many of you know, has written a scathing review of Did Jesus Exist on his Freethought Blog.   He indicates that my book is “full of errors,” that it “misinforms more than it informs” that it provides “false information” that it is “worse than bad” and that “it officially sucks.” The attacks are sustained throughout his lengthy post, and they often become personal.  He indicates that “Ehrman doesn’t actually know what he is talking about,” he claims that I speak with “absurd” hyperbole, that my argument “makes [me] [...]

Was Paul the Founder of Christianity? Or Was it Mary, Peter…or Jesus?

Who is the founder of Christianity? It is often claimed that the Founder of Christianity was the apostle Paul – or at least that he was the co-Founder, along with Jesus. The idea behind this claim is that Christianity is not really about the historical Jesus. Yes, his words are hugely important, and yes it is also important to know that he did all those miraculous deeds.   But his public ministry is not the core of Christian belief.  Instead, the core of Christianity is the belief in his death and resurrection. And this is what Paul preached, not what Jesus preached.  So that even if Jesus’ life and teachings are important, they are not really what Christianity is about.  Christianity is about believing in his death and resurrection for salvation.  And since, in this view, it was Paul who first formulated that belief, he is the founder of the Christianity religion (or co-founder). Paul vs. Jesus: Who is the Christianity Creator? I have never found this line of argument convincing, for two reasons.  The first [...]

2022-08-31T12:55:58-04:00April 24th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|
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