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The Historical Jesus

 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 crucifixion 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 crucifixion, 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, [...]

2022-05-19T11:53:23-04:00May 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 [...]

2022-05-26T19:47:32-04:00April 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? If Not, Then Who Was?

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 (or co-founder) of the Christian religion. Paul vs. Jesus: Who is the Founder of Christianity? I have never found this line of argument convincing, for two reasons.  The [...]

2022-05-16T15:48:31-04:00April 24th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Why Was Jesus Crucified: Bart Ehrman Crucifixion Thoughts

Why was Jesus Crucified? All the questions I get from members of the blog are good and interesting and deserve lengthy posts.  Every now and then I get one that is absolutely fundamental to understanding Jesus, the New Testament, and the history of early Christianity.  Here is one of them, from many years ago, with an issue that everyone interested in these topics really needs to have a reasoned view about.  Here's the question, and my view Why Was Jesus Crucified? QUESTION: I don’t see the rationale for the Romans to crucify Jesus. It doesn’t appear that he verbalized any anti-Roman propaganda nor was anything anti-Roman alluded to in Josephus’s couple of lines on Jesus. Pilate probably didn’t even know who Jesus was (possibly the bouncing back and forth between Herod was legend). RESPONSE: Yes, it’s a great question and completely central to the story of Jesus: why was he crucified? First off, I agree the Herod story is almost certainly not historical. It’s found only in Luke and is part of Luke’s attempt to [...]

2022-05-22T23:20:10-04:00April 18th, 2022|Historical Jesus|

More on Nazareth (Or: Why Non-Archaeologists Should Definitely Not Claim to Be Experts)

In my post yesterday I began to explain why René Salm’s claim that Nazareth did not exist in the days of Jesus is dead wrong and is rejected by every recognized authority – whether archaeologist, textual scholar, or historian; whether Jewish, Christian, agnostic, or other. Here is my second and final post on the subject, again, from my treatment in Did Jesus Exist? ****************************** Salm also claims that the pottery found on the site that is dated to the time of Jesus is not really from this period, even though he is not an expert on pottery. Two archaeologists who reply to Salm’s protestations say the following: “Salm’s personal evaluation of the pottery … reveals his lack of expertise in the area as well as his lack of serious research in the sources.” They go on to state: “By ignoring or dismissing solid ceramic, numismatic [that is, coins], and literary evidence for Nazareth’s existence during the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman period, it would appear that the analysis which René Salm includes in his review, [...]

2022-04-04T11:25:38-04:00April 17th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Did Nazareth Even Exist in the Days of Jesus? The Weird Claims of Rene Salm

Some people who claim that Jesus did not even exist argue that there never was a town of Nazareth.  So hey, how could he be from there?  It didn't exist and he didn't either.  It's all a myth. Really.  They base this claim on a book written by a fellow named Rene Salm. I was asked about Salm's book a couple of weeks ago, and remembered I had posted on the issue, and Salm's book, in 2012 (!).  Here's the (current) question and my (previous) answer.   QUESTION: Rene Salm’s 2008 book “The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus (Scholar’s Edition)” makes an archaeological argument that Nazareth was not settled until after the First Jewish War, c. 70CE. It goes into great detail and appears to be quite scholarly, but I don’t know what to make of it. Bart, are you aware of this book or its author?   ANSWER When I dealt with Salm's book in 2012, it was because he presented a paper at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting and [...]

2022-04-04T11:00:13-04:00April 16th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Does Paul Know That Judas Iscariot Betrayed Jesus?

I sometimes get asked about Paul and Judas Iscariot: did Paul know Jesus was betrayed?  I was asked it again a couple of weeks ago and have decided to repost an answer from some years ago.  SO:   QUESTION: Do you think that Paul, without naming him, is referring to Judas in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24? (The verse in the NRSV: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”)   RESPONSE: Ah, it’s a great question. Paul never explicitly mentions Judas Iscariot or indicates that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own disciples. But couldn’t this verse contain a reference to Judas? It refers to the night on which Jesus was betrayed! One reason the question matters is that Paul says almost *NOTHING* about the events of Jesus’ lifetime. That seems weird to [...]

The Apocalypse of John and the Gospel of Jesus: My Final Thoughts

Here now is the conclusion to my lecture on the ideology of domination in the book of Revelation. ****************************** I conclude with several more focused reflections on whether the Revelation of John represents the Gospel of Jesus.  To sum up what I have been emphasizing: there is not a single word in all of Revelation about God loving others and no instruction to the followers of Christ to do so either.  Instead, they are called to be “conquerors” – and once they overwhelm the rest of the earth with divine military might, they become its rulers, kings who control “the nations with a rod of iron.”  Whether John meant this literally is beside the point.   This is how he sees God, Christ, his followers, and the rest of the human race: powerful rulers and abject subjects. Is this what Jesus meant when he told his followers to abandon all desire for greatness?  To live lives of service to others?  To become slaves?   In the book of Revelation Christ’s followers are slaves, but only to God.  [...]

2022-03-28T11:14:48-04:00April 9th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Revelation of John|

Are the Teachings of Jesus Realistic? Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson

Platinum members on the blog (Check it out!  Register | The Bart Ehrman Blog ) are allowed to submit guest posts to other Platinum members, and among those submitted we (they) vote on which ones to include on the whole blog.  Here is an extremely interesting and challenging one posted by Platinum member Doug Wadeson.  Read it and see! Doug will be happy to reply to comments. ****************************** Jesus is generally thought of as a great moral teacher, but I have heard that questioned on occasion.  For example, Jesus said, “Do not show opposition against an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other toward him also” (Matthew 5:39).  Really?!  Does Jesus want us to be target practice for bullies?  Won’t that just enable and embolden them?  And on a societal scale, if America is attacked are we not supposed to defend ourselves?  Otherwise evil will win.  A real sore point for some people is that Jesus never condemned slavery, which was a common institution in his day (e.g., Matthew [...]

2022-04-07T10:07:59-04:00April 7th, 2022|Historical Jesus|

Did Nazareth Exist?

One question I repeatedly get asked is about my opinion on whether the town of Nazareth actually existed.  I was puzzled when I started getting emails on this, some years ago now.  What I came to realize is that mythicists (i.e., those who think that there never was a man Jesus; he was invented, a “myth”) commonly argue that Nazareth (like Jesus) was completely made up. I still get the emails today – a couple within the past month.   I tried to deal with this issue at length in my book Did Jesus Exist?   But since I get asked the question still, apparently by people who haven’t read my book (!) – I thought I would repeat some of what I say there.  Here is an excerpt on the issue: Did Nazareth Exist - Jesus' Hometown One supposedly legendary feature of the Gospels commonly discussed by mythicists is that the alleged hometown of Jesus, Nazareth did not exist but is itself a myth.  The logic of this argument, which is sometimes advanced with considerable vehemence and force, [...]

2022-05-26T19:46:23-04:00April 1st, 2022|Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Reader’s Questions|

Must Jesus Divide Families? Guest post by Douglas Wadeson

As you know, Platinum members on the blog are allowed to compose blog posts for one another, and I choose one every month or so to publish on the blog at large.   Here is a particularly interesting one by blog member Doug Wadeson, based on a careful and interesting reading of the Gospels.  It's dealing with an incredibly timely issue and provides a rather unexpected answer.  It involves Jesus and family values. ****************************** People often think of Jesus as teaching traditional family values, but in fact he seems to be rather dismissive of the natural nuclear family.  To be fair, maybe his family was to blame.  In Mark 3:20, 21 we are told that some of his family [kinsmen] sought to take custody of him because they thought he had lost his mind.  Not very supportive.  Then when his mother and brothers arrived and called for him, Jesus responded: “Who are My mother and My brothers?”  Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!  For whoever [...]

2022-02-14T17:43:09-05:00February 24th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

The Messages of Jesus and Paul: Basically the Same or Fundamentally Different?

I have been talking about the relationship of Jesus’ proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God to Paul’s preaching about the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the previous post I argued that the fundamental concerns, interests, perspectives, and theologies of these two were different. In this post I’d like to give, in summary fashion, what strikes me as very similar and very different about their two messages. Again, in my view it is way too much to say that Paul is the “Founder of Christianity”: that assumes that he is the one who personally came up with the idea of the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation, whereas almost certainly this view had been around for a couple of years before he came onto the scene. And it is probably too much even to say that he was the “Co-founder of Christianity,” for much the same reason. But it is safe to say that of all the early Christian thinkers and missionaries, Paul is the one we [...]

2022-02-07T09:43:58-05:00February 19th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Jesus and Paul: Are They on the Same Page?

I spent several posts explicating Paul’s understanding of his gospel, that by Christ’s death and resurrection a person is put into a restored relationship with God. He had several ways of explaining how it worked (the “judicial” model; the “participationist” model; and the other models I described). But in all of these ways, it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that mattered. It was not keeping the Jewish law. It was not knowing or following Jesus’ teaching. It was not Jesus’ miracles. It was not … anything else. It was Jesus’ death and resurrection. I then summarized in my previous post, the teaching of Jesus himself, about the coming Son of Man and the need to prepare by keeping the Law of God, as revealed in the Torah, as summarized in the commandments to love God above all else and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Do these represent the same religion? I see this as one of the most fundamental and important questions in all of early Christianity. I’m not asking if Paul invented Christianity, [...]

2022-02-07T09:40:40-05:00February 17th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

Would Anyone *Invent* the Story of the Women at the Tomb?

I received a question in the comments recently that I've gotten a lot before.  Wouldn't the Gospel story about women being the first to realize Jesus had been raised be contrary to what Christians would have *wanted* to say, possibly even embarrassing?  If so, isn't it likely that no one made it up but that it's actually what probably happened?   It's been a few years since I posted on the question, so it seems like a good chance to post on it again.  Here's what I've said before: ****************************** Who in the ancient world would ever try to *prove* the resurrection by making up a story that women, in particular, discovered Jesus' empty tomb?  Weren't women seen as complete unreliable witnesses?  Their testimony never even accepted in a court of law?  If someone want to prove that Jesus had been raised -- and that therefore the tomb was empty -- they would have invented *men* at the tomb (reliable witnesses) rather than *women* (untrustworthy).  Right? The reason anyone ever has this question is because it [...]

2022-02-05T16:01:12-05:00February 16th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Heart of Jesus’ Message

To this point in the thread I have been talking about Paul’s “religion” – specifically, what he thought was important in a person’s relationship with God. He expressed his views in a variety of ways – I have talked about his judicial and his participationist understandings of salvation, and have made brief comments on yet other “models” that he used to express his view about the act of salvation that God had achieved through Christ. In all of these models, it was the death and resurrection of Jesus that was of paramount importance. It was that, nothing else, that brought about salvation. And what did Jesus himself think? This is arguably the most important point to consider about early Christianity. Did the best known apostle of Christ proclaim the same, or very similar message, to Jesus himself? Or not? In my New Testament class every semester I have my students debate, in class, a resolution dealing with the issue: “Resolved: Paul and Jesus represented fundamentally different religions.” Students are surprised by the topic. Until they [...]

2022-01-29T17:46:37-05:00February 12th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Do We Have Any Reliable Sources for Pontius Pilate?

I recently was asked in a comment what kind of independent information do we have, outside the Gospels, for Pontius Pilate?  Answer: not much.  I told the commenter that I thought I had once written about the matter, and lo and behold, I was right.  It was in my book Did Jesus Exist? The book was written to show why -- contrary to what you sometimes hear these days -- there doesn't seem to be any reason to doubt that, whatever else you might think of him, there was a man Jesus of Nazareth (a Jewish teacher from Galilee who was crucified on orders of Pontius Pilate --- and about whom we can say a good deal more. This is not an issue I want to re-address here again on the blog.  But I do want to show why it's not weird that Jesus isn't talked about much in ancient sources.  Here's what I said about it in my book (slightly edited for the sake of the blog): ****************************** I have often pointed out that [...]

2022-01-25T13:06:39-05:00February 5th, 2022|Historical Jesus|
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