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The Historical Jesus

Jesus Healing the Paralyzed. How Do We Explain the Stories? Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson, MD

This week's Platinum Guest Post (for and by Platinum members only!) is again by Doug Wadeson, M.D.; it is the second of four dealing with Jesus' healing miracles in light of modern medicine.   I find this one especially interesting.  How do explain these stories in the Gospels?  Here are some options. ****************************** In the previous post I discussed how demon possession may have been assumed in cases of neuropsychiatric disease, and how Jesus could have achieved apparent cures of such disorders.  Another type of neurologic disorder we see in the Gospels is paralysis, or some sort of crippling disease.  One of the earliest miracles in Mark is such a healing.  In Mark 2 we read of Jesus teaching in a house when four men bring a paralyzed man, but the house is so crowded that they have to dig a hole in the roof and lower the man on a pallet in front of Jesus.  Jesus first tells the man that his sins are forgiven.  This upsets the scribes present, who see this as blasphemy.  [...]

2021-07-29T07:28:50-04:00July 29th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Jesus the Healer: Those Darn Demons. Platinum guest post by Douglas Wadeson MD

I'm pleased to be able to begin publishing short thread of posts for Platinum members only, focused on Jesus as a healer.  Our guest poster is Doug Wadeson, himself a medical doctor with (obviously) a lifelong interest in healing but also a keen interest in the historical study of the NT Gospels.  In this series he combines these two interests and provides some some unusually interesting reflections. This is one of the perks of being a Platinum member.  You can read -- and more important, WRITE! -- posts for other Platinum members.  I can can post up to one a week, and there is plenty of room in the queue for you!  Want to give it a shot?  Your post can be on any topic of relevance to the blog and I'm happy to preview for you if you would like.  Once it is posted, you can then get feedback from Platinum members.  Hey, Express Yourself!  You have ideas and thoughts.  Get them out there!  If you're interested, let me know. Here now is Doug's [...]

2021-07-20T12:52:26-04:00July 20th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Metzger, the Squirrel, and Me (…and Jesus).

In my previous post I talked about the locally famous story about (my teacher) Bruce Metzger and the dead (dying?) squirrel.  Here I continue the story to show why in fact is has some relevance to the New Testament! As I indicated, for years friends of mine were eager for me to find out whether the story about Metzger and the squirrel really happened.  They wanted me just to ask Metzger.  But there were problems with that.  Among other things, if it had happened, he almost certainly wouldn’t remember, since it would have simply been something that happened with no significance to him – only to the one who thought it was very odd that Metzger would happen to know the Greek word for squirrel and that he would volunteer it at that rather inauspicious moment. Moreover, there were aspects of the story that did not “ring true.”  Metzger was not heartless toward other living beings and he was not one to boast about his knowledge about Greek -- or about anything else.  Years later [...]

Was Jesus Like One of the Pagan Fertility Gods?

Lots of people (esp. on the Internet!) say that the stories of Jesus' death and resurrection were modeled on widespread beliefs in the pagan world of "fertility" gods, whose life-cycle dictates the fertility of the earth.  They are born (spring); they become productive as the earth becomes fertile (summer); they become ripe for harvest (autumn); and then they die (winter).  But they "rise again" (spring) and the pattern then repeats itself.  Wasn't Jesus like that? That is the question I was asked in this final segment in my interview with Ben Witherington, a prominent evangelical biblical scholar.  Ben and I don't agree about a lot when it comes to religion, and have crossed academic swords in public contexts.  But we have an amicable relationship and agree on some very basic things.  For example: Jesus existed!   Hey, it's a start. And we agree a lot on the relationship of Jesus to Judaism and the need to situate him in his own Jewish context (rather than some mythical pagan context).  And so, here is the final question [...]

Other Gods Who Died and Rose from the Dead?

Here I continue with the Q&A I had years ago with evangelical New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, focused on my book Did Jesus Exist.   I think I can say with relative confidence that this is the ONE book of mine that evangelicals on the whole were (mainly) pleased with.  A nice change!  And why do they like it?  Because I argue there must have been a man Jesus.  OK, then! Doesn't seem like a lot to be grateful for, but I'll take what I can get. Ben's questions were more astute than that, dealing with some of the key issues at a scholarly level.  Here are two more of them, and my responses. Q. It appears that mythicists have not read Jonathan Z. Smith, and do not realize that there is no unambiguous evidence for the historical argument that ancients believed in dying and rising gods before the time of Jesus, and that therefore the story of Jesus is just a historicized version of that myth. Why do you think this theory of dying and rising [...]

2021-06-12T12:06:56-04:00June 30th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Fiction and Fact, Legend and History. Is it Either / Or?

This now is the 7th of 10 parts of my interview with Ben Witherington on my book Did Jesus Exist.  Here there are two interesting questions, both focusing on the relationship of legend and history in ancient stories about Jesus.  Part of the question is whether the Gospel writers were simply riffing on (or, more cynically, ripping off) earlier stories of other amazing figures when talking about Jesus; the other is whether that has a significant bearing on how we understand what he said and and did -- or on whether we think he even existed. Q. Robert Price's argument that the stories of Jesus are a giant midrash on OT stories about Moses and others, and so are completely fiction seems to ignore the fact that midrash is a hermeneutical technique used for contemporizing pre-existing stories. Talk briefly about the difference between how stories are shaped in the Gospels and whether they have any historical substance or core or not. (N.B. It appears that Crossan has recently made the same kind of category mistake arguing [...]

2021-06-22T11:09:51-04:00June 26th, 2021|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Texts and Towns that Allegedly Didn’t Exist (So Did Jesus?)

Here I continue to answer questions from my evangelical colleague in the field, Ben Witherington, as addressed some years ago,  These again deal with the claims of "Mythicists," who insist that there never actually was a man Jesus, but that he is simply made up, a complete myth. One way they support their point is by saying that some passages in the ancient world that mention him in fact are later "interpolations" into the original writings (that is, some nefarious editor stuck references to Jesus into a text that originally didn't mention him) and that his hometown, Nazareth, actually did not exist at the time. Is either claim credible or, well, supported by any actual *evidence*?  Here are Ben's queries and my responses.   Q. Mythicists seems to often uses the interpolation theory to explain away NT texts that are inconvenient to their agendas. Yet it is also true that some NT scholars use interpolation theories to the very same end, even when there is apparently no textual basis for the interpolation theory. Explain how [...]

How Do We Know If Jesus Did Something?

This post continues my 10-part interview with Ben Witherington dealing with "mythicists," those who claim that there never actually *was* a man Jesus, but that he is a complete fabrication, a myth.  In Did Jesus Exist, I try to show why that is simply not true.  But if he did exist, and the Gospels say things about him that probably didn't happen, how do you separate the fact from the fiction?   Here Ben asks me questions related to that idea, and I give some responses. Q. Various mythicists have tried to argue that in fact there is only one source, namely Mark, that provides evidence that Jesus existed and presumably he made up the idea? Why is this not a fair representation of the evidence, and why do you think it is that various of them hardly even deal with the evidence from Paul? A. Most mythicists claim that Paul never mentions the historical Jesus or says anything about him, but that he only speaks of a “mythical Christ” who was not a real human [...]

2021-06-18T16:37:33-04:00June 23rd, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Some Key Evidence for Jesus

I continue here with the conversation I had some years ago with evangelical New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, based on my book Did Jesus Exist.  In this post, we start getting into some of the key evidence we have for Jesus, not only to show that he actually existed (uh, yes he did...) but also to help us know what we can say about him, about what he really said and did.   Q (Witherington). In the middle portion of your book, you place a great deal of emphasis on what is usually called the criteria of multiple attestation to demonstrate that Jesus surely existed.   Would you explain briefly why historians place so much stock in this criteria, and why it is especially important when dealing with the question of the existence of Jesus. A.    Multiple attestation is one of the most important historical criteria for establishing what happened in the past – not just for historical Jesus research, but for any serious historical research.   If the sources to a historical person or event are [...]

2021-06-18T16:36:46-04:00June 22nd, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

What About Other References to Jesus Outside the New Testament?

I continue here with the re-post of an interview from years ago but of ongoing relevance, about how we can know what we know about Jesus.  The interview was with Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, who asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist in light of criticism I received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!). Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem with Evangelical Theology, among others. - Q. Sometimes you make a distinction between literary evidence and other sorts of written evidence (e.g. records of trials or tax records),  and you place especial stress on the former as a way of answering the question of whether or not Jesus existed.   Can you explain why you do this? A.   Yes, there is a clear distinction to be made between literary and documentary evidence.   The only reason I place special evidence on the former, when talking about the historical Jesus, is that [...]

2021-06-18T15:58:03-04:00June 19th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Evidence for Jesus Outside the New Testament: Part 2 of My Exchange with Ben Witherington

Nine years ago, Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar,  asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist, especially in light of criticism I have received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!).   I am reposting the interview, since it's on such an important topic. Ben's blog is widely read by conservative evangelicals, and he has agreed to post the questions and my answers without editing, to give his readers a sense of why I wrote the book, what I hoped to accomplish by it, and what I would like them to know about it.  He has graciously agreed to allow me to post my responses here on my blog, which, if I’m not mistaken, has a very different readership (although there is undoubtedly some overlap).   It’s a rather long set of questions and answers – over 10,000 words.   So I will post them in bits and pieces so as not to overwhelm anyone.  The Q’s are obviously his, the A’s mine. Some [...]

2021-06-10T20:04:47-04:00June 17th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Why I Wrote my book Did Jesus Exist? Interview with Evangelical Scholar Ben Witherington

Ever since I started publishing books for non-scholars,  I've been attacked by evangelical Christians for my views of the Bible.  Then, somewhat ironically, about nine years ago I came under attack by the nemeses of evangelical Christians, the "mythicists," who claim that Jesus never existed.  And why did they attack me?  For my views of the Bible.  Isn't life marvelous? In 2012 published a book arguing that whatever else you say about him, Jesus certainly existed.  It drove some of the mythicists to distraction.  What was I thinking?   I didn't agree with them!  Traitor! Oh boy I didn't agree with them.  And on this point, at least, some evangelicals came to love me.  One of the leading New Testament scholars in the evangelical community is Ben Witherington, with whom I've been on friendly terms for a very long time.  Ben also has a blog, quite different from mine.  Soon after the book was published, Ben asked if he could do a multi-part series with me on the book that both of us could post on [...]

2021-06-10T20:04:39-04:00June 16th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Blog Zoom Lecture This Saturday: Jesus as a Young Boy!

This Saturday at 3:00 I will be giving a fund-raising lecture for the blog on Gospel stories about Jesus as a boy, both as found in the New Testament (there's not much said about it there) and from outside in the terrifically interesting "Infancy Gospels."  Now here are accounts you didn't hear in Sunday School. This is the second in a three-part series on Jesus according to the Christians.  You do not have to have been at the first one either to come or to understand this one -- it is a stand alone lecture, with a good ole Aristotelian beginning, middle, and end. All the funds we bring in will go to help pay for blog expenses, so we can continue to give every dime of membership fees and regular donations to the charities we support.  The fee for the lecture, if you have not already paid for it, is $10; or if you are paying for both this one and the one the following week,  the fee is $19 total.  We accept more [...]

Women and their Demons in the Life of Jesus: Guest Post by James McGrath

This now is the final guest post by blogger and New Testament scholar, James McGrath, based on his book What Jesus Learned from Women.  Are you interested in more?  Buy the book!  As you’ll see here, it gets onto important ground, with intriguing hypotheses that you probably have never heard before!  Many thanks to James for making these posts for us. - James McGrath is also the author of Theology and Science Fiction and The Burial of Jesus, among other books. ************************* It is almost impossible for modern readers of the New Testament to come across the word "demon" and to not think of The Exorcist and other depictions of the phenomenon of "demon possession." Ancient people certainly attributed what we today would categorize as psychiatric conditions or mental illnesses to demons. However, these are but a small subset of the ailments that they thought of in these terms. We see this in the stories about women in the Gospels. In no instance are we presented with a woman whose symptoms are specified to have [...]

2021-04-24T09:22:19-04:00May 8th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Women in Early Christianity|

Jesus Under the Influence (of Women): Guest Post by James McGrath

 New Testament scholar, blog member, and blogger with his own blog on topics you may be interested in, James McGrath, has given us one post already about a woman whom the apostle knows, Junia – who he calls his own “relative” -- who may well have been involved with Jesus in his ministry.  This comes from his most recent book. James has agree to provide us with a couple more guest posts, based on the book.  This is interesting stuff!  It should make you think.  Here’s the next one. - James McGrath is the author of What Jesus Learned from Women, and Theology and Science Fiction among other books. ****************************** There are two individuals that are the go-to examples for those who entertain the possibility that Jesus was a real human person influenced by other people. They are included in my book What Jesus Learned from Women, and in many ways served as the stepping stone and gateway to discovering that the same may be said of other people and stories in the Gospels.   [...]

2021-04-10T00:38:52-04:00April 29th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Women in Early Christianity|

The Letter Jesus Wrote from the Cross (!)

Here is some more of the intriguing (later) Gospel, allegedly written by none other than Joseph of Arimathea, the figure who, in the New Testament Gospels, buried Jesus.  It is entirely apocryphal, of course, based on some information from the Gospels, later legends, and an extremely vivid imagination.  The point of these posts has been to talk about whether Jesus ever wrote anything.  Here he does, kind of.  While hanging on the cross.  You don’t find stories like *this* every day... This is my own translation, taken from the book The Other Gospels, co-edited/translated with my colleague Zlatko Plese. *********************************************************** Jesus Put on Trial (1) At three o’clock on the next day, the fourth day of the week, they brought him into the courtyard of Caiaphas.   Annas and Caiaphas said to him, “Tell us, why did you carry off our law?  And why have you preached against the promises of Moses and the prophets?”  But Jesus made no answer.  Again a second time, when the multitude was also present, they said to him, “Why do [...]

2021-04-16T11:51:21-04:00April 28th, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

Another Letter Written By Jesus? Stranger and Stranger…

In a previous post I discussed a letter forged in Jesus’ name, written to the king of Edessa, Abgar. Of course we don't have anything *actually* written by Jesus (I myself don't think he could write); but there is another writing that  he is alleged to have written.  This one is even stranger.  Far stranger.  It is a letter he writes from the cross to the cherubim in heaven.  It’s in a (much) later gospel called the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea, an account of Jesus’ Passion allegedly written by the obscure figure in the NT Gospels who buried him.  Among other things, it gives us “information” on the two robbers who were crucified with him. Here I explain what the text is and then give the opening scenes.  In my next post I will give the rest of it (it’s a short gospel).  All of this comes from the book I co-produced with my colleague Zlatko Plese, The Other Gospels, a book you might be interested in getting!  It gives about 40 Gospel texts [...]

2021-05-01T09:26:57-04:00April 27th, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

Do We Have Any of Jesus’ Writings? (The Answer May Surprise You!)

In my previous post I talked about whether Jesus could read.  I came out with a definitely answer: Maybe.   And that brought to mind a related question I often get asked: could Jesus write? I posted on this a few years ago, and thought it'd be relevant to do it again.  This will take a couple of posts.  I had been asked about ancient "forgeries" -- when authors would write claiming to be someone famous.  Do we have any ancient works that claim to be written by Jesus? Answer this time: Yes indeed, there is a one-time famous correspondence between Jesus and a king who lived in Edessa in Syria named Abgar.  I translated it for the book I published (on all earliest Christian Gospels) with my colleague Zlatko Plese, called The Other Gospels. Here is what I say there about the letters (the one from Abgar to Jesus, then his response); at the end of the post I give my new translations of the two letters. ****************************************************************************************************** Jesus’ Correspondence with Abgar The apocryphal correspondence [...]

2021-04-12T14:39:44-04:00April 21st, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

Could Jesus Read?

Here’s a question I have gotten repeatedly over the years:  was Jesus literate?  I received a form of the question in a comment recently:   QUESTION: My question is: Could Jesus read? I thought I had read in your books or heard in one of your videos that you thought he, along with his immediate followers, were illiterate. But recently in one of your Sunday lectures you either stated or implied that he could actually read, and at least some of the instances in the gospels where he was reading from “the scrolls” were likely true.  Please straighten me out on this topic.   RESPONSE: I’ll begin with something that I've talked about on the blog several times before: literacy in Roman Palestine. The reality is that the vast majority of people then and there could not read or write. This comes as a surprise to many people who have heard the modern myth that all boys in Palestine went to Hebrew school and became literate there. Turns out, that’s not true. This is a [...]

2021-04-02T17:02:14-04:00April 20th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Did the Disciples See Jesus Raised from the Dead?

On this Easter Sunday I would like to explain what I think led to the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.  A lot of readers over the years have not liked my answer (readers on wide ends of the spectrum):  I think some (a few) of the disciples had visions of Jesus.  That is, they saw him, or thought they saw him -- which for them would have been the same thing. I dealt with the matter in my book God's Problem, and responded to a question on the blog about it a long time ago.  Here it is.   QUESTION: I am reading How Jesus Became God and would like to comment on some of the content of Chapter 5. To that point in the book, it seems to me you have been very careful to avoid speculation, but it seems to me that the application of your usual standards may have lapsed somewhat in regard to the visions of Jesus after the crucifixion. Specifically, what evidence do we have, apart from [...]

2021-03-24T17:25:15-04:00April 4th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|
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