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The Historical Jesus

Nazareth in the Time of Jesus: the Archaeological Record

I have been talking about the question (which I bet never occurred to you before!) of whether there actually ever *was* a Nazareth in the days of Jesus.  Many “mythicists” who deny that Jesus existed use as part of their argument that Nazareth itself was made up.  I’ve discussed this view over two posts to show how the arguments are highly problematic, in particular those mounted by Reneé Salm based on what he claims are archaeological facts. Here I continue by showing what the archaeologists themselves have had to say about it.  This too is taken from my 2012 book Did Jesus Exist: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.   ******************************   There is an even bigger problem however with Salms’s view, however.  There are numerous compelling pieces of archaeological evidence that in fact Nazareth did exist in Jesus’ day, and that like other villages and towns in that part of Galilee, it was built on the hillside, near where the later rock-cut kokh tombs were built.   For one thing, archaeologists have excavated a [...]

2023-12-24T10:44:31-05:00December 27th, 2023|Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Did Nazareth Even Exist?

I’ve been thinking and talking about the town of Nazareth a lot lately.  ‘Tis the season!  Last weekend I did my quarterly webinar with Platinum blog members (you should look at the benefits of the Platinum level!  Private webinars!) on whether Jesus was actually born in Nazareth (most of the New Testament appears to thing so).  And that made me think of an even more radical view that I think is dead wrong. Many of you will know about the vocal group of non-believers called “mythicists,” who think that Jesus never existed at all, but was completely fabricated, a complete myth.  No man Jesus.  Invented wholesale. I wrote a book years ago trying to explain why that almost certainly just ain’t true.  A lot of mythicists were pretty ticked off about my book and I received some rather venomous responses.  But hey, what’s life without a little spice?  In this case, sliced habeneros straight on the tongue…. In any event, some mythicists argue as evidence for the non-existence of Jesus the non-existence of the town [...]

2023-12-15T20:25:57-05:00December 21st, 2023|Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

So: Did Anyone Think of Jesus as a Miracle-Worker Before His Crucifixion?

This is the final, and most important, of my posts on the miracles of Jesus.  In it I raise the question – without being able to come to an absolutely definitive answer – of whether Jesus was thought to be a miracle worker already in his life time or if, instead, miracles came to be ascribed to him only later by followers who believed he had been raised from the dead.  I incline toward the latter view. To set the stage for and make sense of what I have to say, I include the final comments from the previous post: ****************************** In the other two Synoptics there is a different understanding, one that can be seen most clearly in the saying preserved in Matthew 11:2-6.  Here we are told that John the Baptist, who is now in prison, has heard about “the deeds of Christ,” and sends some of his disciples to him to ask if he is the one to come at the end of time, or if there is someone else.  Jesus replies:  [...]

2023-11-27T14:56:27-05:00December 6th, 2023|Historical Jesus|

What’s the *Point* of Jesus’ Miracles?

I have been talking about the stories of Jesus' miracles, and am raising the question of whether they necessarily go all the way back to Jesus' lifetime, as tales told while he was still living.  I pick up where I left off last time, after showing that Jesus' miracle-working abilities increased with the passing of time. ****************************** Not only does Jesus become increasingly miraculous with the passing of time, these miracles are all told in order to make a point.  The stories about Jesus as the miraculous Wunderkind reveal that he really was the Son of God endowed with supernatural power straight from the womb; as a five-year old he was already the Lord of life and death; as the resurrected savior he was manifestly a superhuman being of giant proportions.  In more general terms, the miracles in our later accounts repeatedly show that Jesus was the spectacular Son of God.  He was far superior to all his enemies (even if these were only the aggravating kids down the street).  He was more powerful than [...]

2023-11-27T14:51:35-05:00December 5th, 2023|Historical Jesus|

Was Jesus Considered a Miracle Worker During His *Lifetime*?

In my discussion of whether the historian can deal with the category of miracle, I’m now at the point where I can deal directly with the miracles ascribed to Jesus.  This is an issue that I have dealt with in several books, including, most recently, Jesus Before the Gospels.   It will take three posts for me to cover the waterfront here.  This is how I began dealing with the issue in the book. ****************************** The Miracles of Jesus When one discusses the activities and deeds of Jesus, it is very hard indeed to avoid talking about his miracles.  Miracles are everywhere in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life.  He is miraculously born to a woman who has never had sexual relations.  From the beginning of his public ministry to the end he does one miracle after the other, conquering nature, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead.  So abundantly attested are Jesus’ miracle-working abilities that even scholars who are otherwise skeptical of the supernatural biases of our sources sometimes [...]

2023-11-27T14:32:08-05:00December 3rd, 2023|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

How Exactly Could the Virgin-Born Jesus Have a Twin Brother?

I have mentioned in passing that there were some early Christians who thought that one of Jesus’ brothers, Jude (or Judas: both are translations of the same Greek word), was actually a twin. Not just of anyone, but of Jesus himself. Some readers have expressed surprise in the most succinct way possible, by asking: “Huh??” I talk about the matter in a couple of my previous publications, especially when speaking about early Christian apocryphal texts that deal with the missionary exploits of the apostles after Jesus’ death. We have several of these, including an Acts of Thomas. Like the other apocryphal Acts (such as the more famous Acts of Thecla – an account of the adventures of the apostle Paul's most famous legendary convert, an upper-class woman named, obviously, Thecla), this one celebrates the virtue of celibacy and sexual renunciation, and it actually uses the idea that Jesus’ had an *identical* twin to advance its views. I’ll explain how it does that in the next post. In this one I’ll deal directly [...]

2023-11-15T10:09:18-05:00November 12th, 2023|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

A Bizarre Scene in the Gospel of Philip: Jesus Kissing Mary

Did Jesus and Mary Magdalene have an affair? Now that I've mentioned the Gospel of Philip, I can't help but repost a blog from a few years ago, dealing with one of the most intriguing, not to say titillating, passages from this otherwise somewhat obscure Valentinian Gospel. My original post on the topic was in a thread that was discussing whether Jesus was celibate or not, and I argued that the modern idea that he and Mary were intimately involved is ... a modern idea (without any foundation other than wild imagination and wishful thinking ) A number of readers responded to my post by pointing out that the non-canonical Gospel of Philip sure does seem to *say* they were intimate!   So, what do I have to say about that? I have a reasonably full discussion of the relevant issues in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.   In the book I put the discussion in the context of – yes, you guessed it --  Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the one source many people [...]

2023-10-29T17:13:17-04:00November 5th, 2023|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

Another Mythicist View of Jesus’ Brothers

In my previous post I pointed out that mythicists have a real problem on their hands when it comes to insisting that Jesus didn’t exist (well, they actually have a *boatload* of problems; but this is one of them): Paul actually knew, personally, Jesus’ own brother, James. It’s hard to say that Jesus never lived if he in fact had a brother…. It doesn’t solve the problem to say that this was in fact Jesus’ cousin, since, well, he would still then be the cousin of (the real) Jesus (!) (plus the word Paul uses is “brother” not “cousin”) and it doesn’t work to say that he is Jesus’ brother meaning he is a member of the Christian church (since Paul differentiates him from himself and Peter by calling James the “brother” – and both Peter and Paul were also members of the church!). Mythicists have tried other approaches, including the one I discussed yesterday, of trying to claim that there was a group of fervent missionaries in Jerusalem called “the brothers of the Lord,” [...]

2023-10-12T17:21:29-04:00October 17th, 2023|Historical Jesus|

What the Jesus “Mythicists” Say About the Brothers of Jesus

Ten years ago on the blog when I was discussing the Proto-Gospel of James (the current subthread within a thread), I received an intriguing question about this issue, addressed in the previous post, about the brothers of Jesus and how "mythicists" -- those who claim there never was a historical Jesus whatsoever but that he was completely made up (a "myth") -- dealt with them.  Here's the question and my response.   QUESTION: Since you’ve brought up the subject of Jesus’ family perhaps it won’t be too far off the subject to ask this question. Mythicists are forced by their arguments to deal with Paul’s encounter with Peter and James in Galatians 1:18–20. They claim that when Paul refers to James as “The Lord’s brother” he does not mean that James is Jesus’ biological brother (which of course would mean that Jesus actually lived) but that he was using the word “brother” in the sense that all the disciples were “brothers” i.e., metaphorically. What about this? Is the word translated as “brother” in English that [...]

2023-10-04T10:33:44-04:00October 15th, 2023|Historical Jesus|

But If It Didn’t Really Happen, Who Cares?

Whenever I have talked about the story of Jesus and the leper in Mark 1:40-44 on the blog -- most recently a week or so ago -- I have gotten a number of comments from readers that made me realize that I wasn’t being at all clear about what I was talking about. These comments came from people who appear to have thought I was talking about a historical event that really happened, one way or the other, and that I was trying to figure out which it was. Did Jesus really get angry or did he really feel compassion? In response to my view that Mark 1:41 originally indicated that Jesus got angry, some comments stressed that what really mattered was not his emotion but the fact that he did what he did. Others wanted me to know that it didn’t matter to them which emotion was ascribed to Jesus, because in their opinion the whole thing never actually happened at all. Both of these views (they’re obviously at the opposite ends of [...]

2023-10-12T10:55:17-04:00October 10th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Was the Father of Jesus … Pantera? Part II Guest Post by James Tabor

Here James Tabor continues with his discussion of Jesus' actual,  biological father.  There are ancient indications that it was a man named Pantera.  How do evaluate these statements.  Could they possibly be true? ****************************** Part II The Jewish term for such a child born of any sexual relationship forbidden in the Torah is a mamzer, often mistakenly translated as “bastard,” but it is a legal term, not a term of profanity in Hebrew.[1] It refers to the child born of any sexual union forbidden in the Torah (Deuteronomy 22:13-30; Leviticus 18). This could include incest, adultery, or any forbidden union (Deuteronomy 22:13-30; Leviticus 18). Along with the term mamzer, there was a related term the rabbis use that might be translated a “hushling” or a “silenced one.” This is one who knows his mother but not his father. There is also the term “foundling,” used for one who knows neither father nor mother.[2] The child of a single woman and a man she could lawfully have married is not a mamzer. Also, any child born to [...]

2023-09-30T10:16:46-04:00September 24th, 2023|Historical Jesus|

Who Was Jesus’ Biological Father? Part I. Guest Post by James Tabor

I have received a number of queries over the past  year about what we can actually know about Jesus' father.  Can we know if it was actually Joseph?  What about the rumors that Jesus was born out of wedlock?  That his father was actually a Roman soldier?  Whose name was Pantera?  Is this latter simply a slander against Jesus and Christianity?  Could it be historical? My friend, New Testament scholar, and occasional guest poster James Tabor (about whom you can read here: TaborBlog – Religion Matters from the Bible to the Modern World ( is just now finishing a new book of some relevance to the question, called:  The Lost Mary: How the Jewish Mother of Jesus Became the Virgin Mother of God (Knopf).  James has agreed to write a three-part thread on the question of Jesus' biological father. I'll run the three posts back-to-back-to-back.  Here's #1.  You may find these views convincing or controversial, but you should certainly find them informative and interesting! ****************************** Was Jesus’ Biological Father a Roman Soldier? James D. Tabor   Part [...]

2023-09-19T21:47:13-04:00September 23rd, 2023|Historical Jesus|

Does Archaeological Evidence Show that Jesus Was Buried on the Day He Died?

[Note: this post originally appeared in 2014; since then the skeletal remains of another victim of crucifixion have appeared in England; to my knowledge, the new discovery does not affect either Craig's argument or my response here] ****************************** I plan to make this the last post responding to Craig Evans’s article, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” in which he attempts to refute my argument in How Jesus Became God, that Jesus was probably not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion. I have dealt with a wide range of Craig’s arguments, and have saved his two strongest arguments for last.  In my last post I dealt with the claim of Josephus that Jews (always? usually? sometimes?) buried crucifixion victims before sunset, and I showed that as a general statement it simply isn’t true, and argued that in any event it would not have applied to a case such as that of Jesus, one who was crucified as an enemy of the state.   Today I deal with the second argument that [...]

Josephus’ One Statement About the Burial of Crucified Victims in Judea

We come now, at last, to the best argument in Craig Evans’ arsenal, in his attack on the views of Jesus’ burial that I set forth in in How Jesus Became God.   Tomorrow I will deal with the second best – an argument from archaeology.   Craig makes a somewhat bigger deal of the second best; in fact he throws off this, his best argument rather quickly.  But it’s the most important point of the many (many!) issues he raises.   The argument is this.  In one passage of Josephus’s writings, in an extremely brief few words (it’s only half of one sentence) (this is the only half sentence in the entire corpus not only of Josephus’s 30 volumes of writing but in the entire corpus of pagan and Jewish literature of all of antiquity that makes this claim) he explicitly indicates that Jews buried victims of crucifixion before sunset.  Craig’s commentary on the passage amounts only to two sentences. At the end of the day I don’t find even this piece of evidence persuasive, and [...]

How To Be a Consistently Critical Historian, In the Good Sense

I know that by now I’m supposed to  be citing Craig Evans’s best arguments that Jesus was probably given a decent  burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea, rather than being left hanging on the cross for a few days in accordance with standard Roman practice.  But I’ve realized that before I get to the first of these arguments, I have to say something about how historians need to use their ancient sources.  The short answer to that question is that they need to use them … gingerly.  And consistently gingerly. This perspective will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read this blog for a long while and seen how I think we need, consistently, to use the books of the New Testament itself as sources for what actually happened in the past – whether we are considering the Gospels for knowing about what Jesus really said and did, or considering the book of Acts for knowing about the life and teachings of Paul, or considering the letters [...]

2023-08-17T22:05:17-04:00August 24th, 2023|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Did Jesus Believe the End Would Come Within his Lifetime? Maybe Not! Platinum Post by Rizwan Ahmed

Did Jesus (wrongly) preach that the end of the age and history as we know it was to come in his own time?  It's one of the hottest topics in NT studies.  I'm pleased here to include a guest post by Platinum member Rizwan Ahmed on the question, in which he argues that my views do not rest on solid evidence.  What do you think? As you know, Platinum members can submit posts to other Platinum members, and after a few get posted the Platinums can vote on which one gets posted to the whole blog.  It's a real perk of Platinum membership -- along with others (most important: a quarterly webinar with me, for Platinums only).  Check out the benefits and the membership requirements for that level and think about joining: Register - The Bart Ehrman Blog For now: here's Rizwan's challenging post. ****************************** “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34, Luke 21:32) A little over a century ago, [...]

2023-08-15T11:53:19-04:00August 22nd, 2023|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Does Jesus Call Himself God in His Trial Before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest Caiaphas?

I was recently asked about my claim that Jesus never calls himself God/a divine being in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Some people have asked me about what they think might be an exception: his trial before the Sanhedrin headed by the high priest Caiaphas in Mark 14, where he is accused of blasphemy.   Isn't the accusation proof that he claimed to be God?  In our *first* Gospel, Mark? There’s a lot to say about this most intriguing of passages (Mark 14:53-62; if you're a real blog nerd: read it!),  but here are the key points. The first point to stress is that the question is not whether Jesus in the passage claims to be a divine being, but whether Jesus himself did, the actual man in history. There is no question that Jesus in the Gospels claims to be divine. You don’t need Mark 14 for that – just read the Gospel of John (John 8:58; 10:30; 14:5; etc. etc.)  The fact that the Gospels claim that Jesus called himself a divine being doesn’t mean [...]

2023-08-11T16:12:37-04:00August 19th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Pontius Pilate, Intransigent Governor, Crucifier of Jesus

To make the best sense of this post it is important to keep in mind what I said in the previous one. In his response to my views of in How Jesus Became God – that Jesus most likely was not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea – Craig Evans has maintained, among other things, that Pilate was not the kind of governor who would ignore Jewish sensitivities.   For Craig, Pilate started his rule by making a big mistake of bringing into Jerusalem the Roman standards that bore on them the image of the emperor.  But once he realized that the Jewish populace was offended, he backed down and from then on he showed that he had learned his lesson.  For that reason, Craig finds it “hard to believe” that at a later time Pilate would do something so opposed to Jewish custom as allow a body unburied on the day of a person’s death. This view strikes me as extremely problematic, for several reasons.   To start [...]

2023-08-09T10:30:04-04:00August 16th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Did Pilate Allow Jesus to be Buried Because He Had “Learned his Lesson”?

I think there is almost no historical figure that Craig and I disagree on more than the Roman governor of Judea at the time of Jesus’ death, Pontius Pilate.   I see him as a cruel, vicious, hard-headed, insensitive, and brutal ruler; Craig portrays him as an efficient but wise and rather sensitive aristocrat who could learn from his lessons and who would go out of his way not to offend Jewish sensibilities.  A lot hangs on which view (if either) is right, since it was Pilate – we agree on this! – who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion.  Moreover, if Jesus was given a decent burial (Craig’s view) or was left to hang on the cross for some time in accordance with standard Roman practice (my view), it was, in either case, Pilate’s decision. Craig’s view is that Pilate’s sensitive decision not to allow crucified victims to hang on their crosses after their deaths is what allowed him to keep “the nation at peace” (the phrase comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, whom I will be dealing [...]

2023-08-11T14:59:18-04:00August 15th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Was Pilate Sensitive to Jews and their Customs (such that he would allow decent burials for crucified victims)?

When I was in high school I was active on the debate team, and really loved it.  The team as a whole was really good, but I was nowhere near being the best member.  My colleague and another fellow on the team ended up debating together in college and won the national championship as sophomores.  These guys were terrific. One of the decisions we constantly had to make when arguing the negative side of a resolution was how to go about attacking the claims of the affirmative side.  There were two general approaches: one was what we called the “shotgun” approach.  This involved leveling lots and lots of arguments (like buckshot) and hoping that the other side could not respond to them all, thereby making the judge of the debate think that some of the arguments stuck, even if not all of them were that good.  The problem with the shotgun approach was that if a bunch of the arguments weren’t very good, the affirmative side could knock them down fairly easily, and by the [...]

2023-08-09T10:38:16-04:00August 13th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|
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