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Was the Roman Soldier Pantera Jesus’ Father? His Cousin? Platinum Guest Post by Omar Abur-Robb

As many of you know, one of the perks of being a Platinum member of the blog is that members are allowed to submit posts that go only to other Platinum members, and after four appear a vote is taken to see which one of them can go on the entire blog.  This time it is a controversial and interesting post by Omar Abdur-Robb.  If you have comments / questions, let him know! ****************************** A Summary of an article: Discussing the conclusion of James Tabor related to the relationship between Jesus Pantera and Abdes Pantera, and presenting a new model for this relationship (Jan 2023). Omar Abur-Robb Library:   James Tabor has a conclusion in his informative book “The Jesus Dynasty”. He noticed a reference for a tombstone in Germany that was dedicated to a Roman soldier from Sidon with the name “Abdes Pantera”. This immediately grabbed the attention of Tabor and he started studying it. One of his conclusions in the book was that this soldier might be the true biological father of [...]

2023-03-17T13:47:19-04:00March 22nd, 2023|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

What Did Judas Betray, and Why Did He Do It?

In my previous post I indicated that there are several things we can say with relative certainly about the historical Judas Iscariot (and indicated why I think we can be pretty sure about all of them): he really existed, he was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, he was therefore an apocalyptic Jew from Palestine, and he really did hand Jesus over to the authorities to be arrested. But what is it exactly that Judas did that led to Jesus’ arrest, and why did he do it?  Here we move from the grounds of relative historical certainty to issues of probability and speculation.  The question of Judas’s motives for his act has intrigued Christians from the time before our earliest sources and continues to intrigue scholars today.  The reality is that any discussion of motive is almost entirely speculative.  If you can’t accurately describe my motives in writing this particular blog thread the way I have – and I can assure you, you don’t know my motives (and even if I *told* you,  you couldn't be [...]

2023-02-13T18:55:11-05:00February 15th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Judas Iscariot: What We Can Say With Relative Certainty. (I think…)

What then can we say with relative certainty about Judas called Iscariot?  I think the following five points just about cover it: He did exist. This has been doubted in some circles and by some scholars, of course, especially among those who have wanted to point out the etymological similarity between his name, Judas, and the word Jew, and have argued, on this and related grounds, that Judas was a creation of the early church who wanted to pin the blame of Jesus’ death on the Jewish people.  I think this is an attractive view, and one that I personally would like very much to be true, but I don’t see how it can be.  Judas figures too prominently in too many layers of our traditions to be a later fabrication.  I give all the data in my book on Judas, but here let me just say that there is unique and shared material about Judas in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – so that his existence passes the criterion of Multiple Attestation with flying [...]

2023-02-06T19:00:14-05:00February 14th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Can We Know Anything About Judas Iscariot?

 I get asked about Judas Iscariot far more than any of the other disciples, even the ones who are completely central to Jesus' life and ministry (Peter, James, and John).  I guess that's because he is seen as, ultimately, more crucial to the story of Jesus.  The betrayer.  Without him, no arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  Or at least, a completely different scenario for the death of the Son of God. This week, when scrounging around looking for something else, I came across this paper I delivered at a conference years ago.  I thought it might be of interest to blog members.  This will take three posts.  (The paper was written for scholars, so I'll put any necessary explanatory notes in italics) ****************************** In recent years, more has been written and less known about Judas Iscariot than about any of Jesus’ followers, with the outstanding exception of his wife and lover, the founder of the Merovingian Dynasty. (That was a little joke about people who take Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code seriously about what he says about [...]

2023-02-01T12:38:30-05:00February 12th, 2023|Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE), Historical Jesus|

Did Jesus Believe in Hell? My Interview With Kevin Grant

I am pleased to post here an interview that I had with Platinum blog member Kevin Grant, who has recently published a book Did Jesus Believe in Hell?  You can get the book here:  Did Jesus Believe in Hell?: New Words on Old Beliefs: Grant, Kevin: 9781737082026: Books.  As you will see, it has received very high rankings on Amazon. Kevin and I see eye-to-eye on most of the critical points, and we flesh them out here in the interview.  His book strives to reach a different audience from mine, people who would not be inclined to read one of my books but would be open to hearing the views of someone they take to be sympathetic with their religious convictions but who wants to provide them with assurance from the Bible itself that they do not need to stand in fear of eternal torment. We cover all that and much more in this interview.  I hope you enjoy it!  And feel free to comment.

2022-12-31T16:09:14-05:00December 30th, 2022|Early Christian Doctrine, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

O Little Town of Nazareth?

On several occasions on the blog I have discussed the similarities and differences between the accounts of Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2), most recently, I think, two years ago at this time (check out the archives for December 2020).  I won't go over all that turf again just now, but I do want to hit several of the key points because I think the *discrepancies* between the two accounts that appear irreconcilable tell us something significant about the birth of Jesus.  I think they help show that he was actually born in Nazareth. Both accounts go to great lengths to show how Jesus could be born in *Bethlehem* when everyone in fact knew that he *came* from Nazareth. It is a particular problem for Matthew, because he points out that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Micah 5:2 , that a great ruler (the Messiah) would come from Bethlehem (Matthew 5:2).  If you read the account carefully, you'll see that Matthew explains it by indicating that Joseph and Mary were [...]

2022-12-26T08:09:17-05:00December 24th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Instead of “From Nazareth” was Jesus a “Nazarite”??

In my previous post I showed why Jesus almost certainly came from the small village of Nazareth.  There have been some writers (OK, mythicists who don't believe there ever *was* a historical Jesus), who have argued that Jesus could not have come from Nazareth since the place did not exist.  I dealt with this problem in several posts back in April of this year (check the archives for that month). Here, though, I want to address a related issue -- the claim that the early Christians who started saying Jesus was from Nazareth actually just made a *mistake*.  They misunderstood that when some believers in Jesus called him a Nazirite -- someone who had taken a Nazirite vow.   Nazirite vows come from the Hebrew Bible (Numbers 6): an Israelite who wanted to be particularly holy for a period of his life would take the vow, which would include not consuming grape products (think: wine!), not touching corpses (because of ritual defilement), and not cutting their hair (think Samson). Jesus was said -- according to this [...]

2022-12-15T10:57:12-05:00December 22nd, 2022|Historical Jesus|

Did Jesus Actually Come from Nazareth?

When you ask most anyone where Jesus came from, they will say he was born in Bethlehem.   The reason is not hard to find: the only references to Jesus’ birth in the New Testament squarely place his birth in Bethlehem.  There are, as many of you know, only two passages of the New Testament that narrate the events surrounding Jesus’ birth: Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.  And they both agree in placing it in Bethlehem.  (Neither of the other Gospels says anything about it, nor do any of the other 23 books of the New Testament.) And yet there are compelling reasons for questioning that view, so that a large number of critical scholars – even prominent Roman Catholic scholars – think that it is more likely that Jesus was born in Nazareth.   Let me explain why. The first thing to stress is that  all four Gospels – including Matthew and Luke – agree that Jesus came from Nazareth.  That is to say, Nazareth (not Bethlehem) was his hometown.  In my view, that tradition [...]

2022-12-15T10:34:07-05:00December 21st, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Did Jesus Descend to Hell After He Died?

Someone on the blog recently asked me about the idea that after Jesus’ death, and before his resurrection, he “descended into hell.”  This is an affirmation found in the Apostle’s Creed, and so continues to be recited by millions of Christians still today.  But what does it mean? Throughout the history of the church it has usually been thought – by those who thought and/or affirmed such things -- that Jesus descended to the realm of the dead to provide salvation to some (all?) of the people there, to liberate them from their condemnation (which was impossible *before* then because salvation can only come when Christ died – in this view – and so not before.  So when he died he went down to save some (or all) of those who were there, taking them from Hades to heaven.  This notion has traditionally been called “The Harrowing of Hell.” But how did it work, exactly?  And were did the idea come from? As it turns out, I devoted a chapter to the question in my [...]

2022-12-15T10:13:16-05:00December 17th, 2022|Afterlife, Early Christian Doctrine, Historical Jesus|

The Other Virgin Births in Antiquity

On December 14 I will be giving a one-off remote lecture, with Q&A, called "The Other Virgin Births in Antiquity."  This will not be connected with the blog per se, but with my other venture in which I produce online courses and lectures (BEPS: Bart Ehrman Professional Services).  You can learn about the lecture here: Jesus is decidedly conceived by a virgin in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  This is better called a "virginal conception" -- and in my course I'll explain the difference between the ideas of virginal conception; virgin birth; perpetual virginity; and immaculate conception.  All very different ideas! BUT, for the sake of convenience, I'll simply refer to Jesus'  conception and birth as "the virgin birth." Since, oh, I don't know, the 19th century I guess, there have been people who have claimed that virgin births were common in the ancient world.  You find that claim widely today still among those who call themselves "mythicists" -- those who think Jesus didn't exist but was just a myth.  One of the most common [...]

2022-11-27T16:58:03-05:00December 7th, 2022|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Historical Jesus|

How Can “Group Hallucinations” Possibly Happen?

When I lecture or debate on whether it is possible to "prove" the resurrection of Jesus on historical grounds, I talk about how -- whether you believe in the resurrection or not -- almost certainly the reason the disciples originally *believed* Jesus had been raised is that one or more of them had a vision of him after he died.  (Believers would say their "vision" was something they actually saw; non-believers would say they were mistaken for one reason or another, or they imagined it, etc -- that it was a hallucination of some kind). But it is often noted that in the New Testament, after his death Jesus appears not only to individuals (Peter, Paul, and Mary, for example) (!) but to groups (the "twelve," the "apostles" and "500 people" at one time, according to 1 Cor. 15:5-8).  But how could *that* be possible?  One person might mistake something she saw for a person, or dream they saw someone, or whatever.  But *groups* of people?  How can historians possibly explain "group visions" of a [...]

2022-11-18T16:43:29-05:00November 13th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Is it Possible Jesus Didn’t Teach the Golden Rule?

Did Jesus actually teach the Golden Rule?  Or was it foisted on his lips after his death by later followers? I have already written a couple of posts on the Golden Rule in the two places it occurs in the New Testament, Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31 (see: Little-Known Aspects of The Golden Rule as Found in the Sermon on the Mount and  Did Jesus Give the Sermon on the Mount? ).  Normally the rule is phrased like this:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  I noted, though, in the Greek clauses are reversed.  A literal translation of Matthew’s version would be “Everything you want other people to do for you, you likewise do for them,” to which Matthew, importantly, adds “for this is the Law and the Prophets” (meaning that if you follow this rule, you will be following the entire will of God as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures; Matthew 7:12); Luke is quite similar “Just as you wish people to do for you, do likewise for them” (Luke [...]

2022-11-03T21:34:14-04:00October 30th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Why Do Historians Treat Jesus Differently from Every Other Historical Figure?

I’m starting to think there must be a better way to explain to laypeople – and even to scholars – the best way we can show what the historical Jesus himself said and did.  Since I was a graduate student I have done what every other budding New Testament scholar was doing: name the “criteria” that are used to show which elements of the Gospels are legendary and which are historical, explain their logic, justify them, and then use them.  Now I’m starting to think that just ain’t the way to go. In case you don’t know, scholars use a set of criteria to decide what is authentic to the life of Jesus.  The reason we need to do that is that we don’t have any audio or video recordings of his life, or stenographic accounts of his teachings, or highly reliable, fully documented, authoritative records of his activities.  What we have are accounts written decades later (30-65 years later, at best), by people who did not know him, living in different parts of the [...]

2022-10-21T12:51:47-04:00October 19th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

When Did Jesus Die? Dating Jesus’ Death by the Earthquake

Finally, a scientific dating of Jesus' death.  I was trolling through old posts and came across this one.  Whoa!  Really? ****************************** Geologists claim now that they have established the date of Jesus’ death. It was April 3, 33 CE. Here was the headline: Jesus 'died on Friday, April 3, 33AD', claim researchers, who tie earthquake data with the gospels to find the date For those who don’t know, the date of Jesus’ death has long been in dispute. The reality is, we are not sure when Jesus was executed (i.e., what year). It almost certainly happened during a Passover feast during the reign of Pontius Pilate as the Prefect of Judea. His rule lasted between 26-36 CE. All of our early Gospel accounts agree that the crucifixion happened on a Friday. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this Friday was the day after the Passover meal was eaten and so, technically, it was still “Passover Day (see Mark 14:12). According to John the Friday was the day before it was eaten – on the day [...]

2022-09-26T10:38:04-04:00October 9th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Religion in the News|

Would I Be Personally Upset if the Mythicists Were Right (That Jesus Never Existed)?

Ever since I wrote my book Did Jesus Exist (where I argue that, well, yeah--whatever else you say about him, however much legend you think is in the Gospels, there certainly was a historical figure, Jesus), I have had people ask me if I have an axe to grind on this one or if it would be personally painful or professional ruinous to admit that the "mythicists" -- those who claim that Jesus is a *complete* myth (never existed) were right. I don’t address this in the book, and I think it is a terrific question! The reason I do is this. I think every historian of religion who makes a case for one thing or another needs to be queried: what is at stake for you in the matter? Did Jesus Exist, Historically? For example, I have participated a number of public debates with conservative evangelical Christian scholars who have wanted to insist that they can PROVE, historically, that Jesus was raised from the dead. Now I should state with vigor and emphasis – [...]

2022-10-21T12:42:15-04:00October 8th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Reader’s Questions|

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 [...]

2023-01-14T17:59:55-05:00August 29th, 2022|Historical Jesus|
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