In my previous posts I’ve given some of the evidence that is generally seen among most New Testament scholars today as a clear indication that Jesus delivered an apocalyptic message:  the end of the age was coming soon, God was to intervene in the horrible state of affairs here on earth, destroy (through a figure called the Son of Man) the powers of evil aligned against him, and bring in a good kingdom, a utopian world ruled by his own chosen one.  This was to happen very soon.

This evidence that Jesus was an apocalypticist is old hat to historians of the New Testament.  But how then can some scholars contend that Jesus was not an apocalypticist?  There are several strategies that have been used, some of them marvels of ingenuity.  Two of these strategies are widely enough known among the reading public that I should say something about them.  Both involve ways of reconceptualizing our sources so that, strikingly, it is the earlier ones that are non-apocalyptic.

Here’s how I describe them in my book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium (Oxford University Press, 1999).

 

(1) Seeking the Lost

Since one cannot very well deny that our earliest surviving sources portray an apocalyptic Jesus (after all, one only has to read Mark and bam!, there he is), one interesting approach is to claim that the earliest non-surviving sources did not portray him this way.  It’s a clever view.

I’ve pointed out that we don’t have the Q source.  Since we don’t have it, you might expect that scholars would be fairly cautious in what they say about it.  But nothing is further from the truth.  Books on Q have become a veritable cottage industry in the field.  One of the most popular proposals that has fueled enormous speculation about all sorts of things is that not only can Q be reconstructed, but its entire pre-history and the social histories of the Christian communities lying behind it can be reconstructed as well.  Not bad for a non-existent source!Since one cannot very well deny that our earliest surviving sources portray an apocalyptic Jesus (after all, one only has to read Mark and bam!, there he is), one interesting approach is to claim that the earliest non-surviving sources did not portray him this way.

The most important aspect of this proposal relates to the undeniable fact that if Q was the source for the materials in common between Matthew and Luke that are not found in Mark, then it was loaded with apocalyptic traditions.  How to get around this problem?  By arguing that Q in fact came out in multiple editions.  According to this line, the original edition of Q didn’t have these traditions.  They were added when the document was edited by later followers of Jesus with too much end-time on the brain.  Thus Q as we have it (well, even though we don’t have it), may be an apocalyptic document.  But in fact it provides evidence of a non-apocalyptic Jesus.

This is the kind of proposal that tends to appeal to people who are already inclined to be persuaded.[1]  But it’s easy to see its drawing power: in the earliest edition of this non-existent source, Jesus is said to have delivered a lot of terrific one-liners, but uttered not a word about a coming Son of Man, sent from heaven in judgment.

Still, the proposal is enormously problematic.  Let me repeat: Q is a source that we don’t have.  To reconstruct what we think was in it is hypothetical enough.  But at least in doing so we have some hard evidence, since we do have traditions that are verbatim the same in Matthew and Luke (but not found in Mark), and we have to account for them in some way.  But to go further and insist that we know what was not in the source, for example, a Passion narrative, what its multiple editions were like, and which of these multiple editions was the earliest, etc., really goes far beyond what we can know – however appealing such “knowledge” might be.

In fact, the proposal looks too convenient by half, once you realize the pattern of thought behind it all.   Suppose you are sure, for some reason or another, that Jesus was not an apocalypticist.  You have an obvious dilemma, then, since the earliest surviving account, Mark, portrays him that way.  So you look for an earlier account that does not survive, and find it in Q.  But Q also portrays him as an apocalypticist.  And so you claim that even though Q is apocalyptic, it wasn’t always that way.  And what evidence exists to disprove your claim?  Well, strictly speaking, none: the document doesn’t exist!

 

We’ll see that there are still other problems with this kind of approach when we get to the end of this chapter.  For now, though, I’d like to mention a second, somewhat related counter-proposal.

 

(2) Getting a Date

One of the most prominent and interesting scholars engaged in studying the historical Jesus is the witty and indomitable John Dominic Crossan, whose books on Jesus have sold in the hundreds of thousands.[2]  Crossan does not think Jesus was an apocalypticist.  What does he do with the fact that our earliest sources, Q, Mark, M, and L portray Jesus as an apocalypticist?  He denies that these are our earliest sources.

Crossan engages in a detailed analysis to argue that other sources not found in the New Testament are earlier than the sources that are.  These others include such documents as the “Egerton Gospel,” a fragmentary text from the second century that contains four stories about Jesus; the “Gospel of the Hebrews,” which no longer survives, but is quoted a bit by some church fathers in the late second to the early fifth centuries; and parts of the Gospel of Peter, which survives again only in fragments.  Such sources, Crossan claims, provide more reliable access to Jesus than the New Testament Gospels, which everyone, including Crossan, dates to the first century.

 

At best, the argument strikes most other scholars as ingenious but odd; at worse it’s an argument driven by the ultimate goal.  For if in fact the Gospel of the Hebrews, to pick one example, is older than the Gospel of Mark, even though it’s never mentioned or even alluded to until 190 CE or so — and is seen by nearly everyone else, therefore, as a second-century production — then Mark’s apocalyptic Jesus could well be a later creation formed from the non-apocalyptic Jesus of the Gospel of the Hebrews!  This strikes most scholars as a case of special pleading.  Most recognize clear and certain reasons for dating the New Testament Gospels to the first century.  But giving yet earlier dates to non-canonical Gospels that are, in most cases, not quoted or even mentioned by early Christian writers until many, many decades later seems overly speculative.

 

Let me stress here, in conclusion, my simple point about the evidence that Jesus was an apocalypticist over the course of the past several posts.  The earliest sources that we have consistently ascribe an apocalyptic message to Jesus.  This message begins to be muted by the end of the first century (for example, in Luke), until it virtually disappears (for example, in John), and begins, then, to be explicitly rejected and spurned (for example, in Thomas).   It appears that when the end never did arrive, Christians had to take stock of the fact that Jesus said it would and changed his message accordingly.   You can hardly blame them.

 

[1]It was put forth initially by a person who is, in fact, a very fine scholar, John Kloppenborg.  See his work cited in the bibliography.

[2]Crossan made a major impact on New Testament scholarship with his large and significant study, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant.  In terms of sales, though, far more significant have been his two more popular books, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography and Who Killed Jesus?

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2024-02-05T08:58:10-05:00February 6th, 2024|Public Forum|

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44 Comments

  1. Richardson18 February 6, 2024 at 7:34 am

    I am not a biblical scholar or historian, obviously. But, I’m wondering why/how modern scholars would manipulate a source we don’t have, Q, to fit their own opinions about Jesus’s “apocalyptic-ness.” Also, it seems as if Q, if it were written in multiple volumes or editions, would have been more apocalyptic in earlier editions and less so in later editions like the canonical gospels seem to be over the stretch of time in which they were written. Why would Q become more apocalyptic seeing as how the “end” didn’t happen?

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:01 pm

      One way to do it is to claim that there seem to be key differences within the Q that we can reconstruct by seeing where Matthew and Luke have material not found also in Mark. Are there different writing styles, theologies, key interests, etc. If so, possibly they come from different authors/editors of the document. The reason for thinking that the apocalyptic texts come later seems to be rooted in the sense that over time the Christian communities became more and more expectant that the end had to be near, and so became more apocalytpically oriented. I myself don’t think we can reconstruct multiple editions of a source we don’t have (it’s speculative enough with the ones that do survive), and that the supposedly “non-apocalyptic” earliest layer of Q sure does look convenient for those who want to argue that Jesus was not an apocalyptic preacher…..

  2. tsiappoutas February 6, 2024 at 9:53 am

    (This is an off-topic question, but someone in the forum suggested this is the best way to get a question answered by Prof. Ehrman.)

    Prof. Ehrman,

    in one of your discussions with a theist you asked how can one justify that Judas fell from a noose headlong. And i think you are correct, it makes no sense at all that a person hanged himself and then fell headfirst after the rope broke or because he decomposed. But there is good reason to believe that translating πρηνής γενόμενος as ‘falling headlong’ is wrong, however.
    I will not present the evidence here. But i wanted to get your opinion about it. Do you think it’s possible that it is a mistranslation, and if yes, how likely is it, in your estimation, that this sentence has been mistranslated into English since the KJV?
    I argue that πρηνής γενόμενος should be translated as ‘having become prone’ or ‘having fallen down on his belly’. My arguments for this decision are not only because it makes more common sense in the context of the story itself, but linguistic reasons as well.

    Thank you in advance, i enjoy being a gold member a lot!
    Michael Tsiappoutas

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:09 pm

      Yes, I think there’s a miscommunication! Typically when someone says that someone “fell headlong” they do not mean that the head hit the ground straight on, followed by the body. It’s just a way of syaing the fell *forward* (with the head ahead of the body, not behind it, as happens when falling backward, or above the body as in falling feet first). The problem with reconciling the accounts is that Acts is saying that Judas fell headlong — not that he fell directly on his head — whereas Matthew says he was hanged. If a hanging person is cut down or if the rope breaks, they fall feet-first, not headlong.

      • tsiappoutas February 8, 2024 at 6:00 pm

        Thank you, Dr. Ehrman. I’m not trying to reconcile hanging (Matthew) with falling (Luke). My issue is that English translations say Judas fell *headlong*. The fall from the noose happened somehow–on his feet, on his side, on his head, forward, backward, it doesn’t matter. No matter how he fell, he finally became prone (on his stomach). *Headlong* implies that Judas was somehow inclined forward the moment he was falling, and, if i’m not mistaken, your question was about how he fell, not about how he settled. The question was about how a man can fall from the hanging position forward (headlong). The question is informed by a wrong translation. The text never says headlong (or forward, or headfirst). The text says that after Judas fell, he settled in the position of prone (on his stomach). There is no debate on how he fell down, but in what position he settled (become)–on his stomach (πρηνής), on his side (πλευρόν), or on his back (ὕπτιος). The text says πρηνής, so asking how can one fall from the noose headlong is the wrong question, based on a wrong translation. The word ‘headlong’ should have never entered this sentence.

        • BDEhrman February 12, 2024 at 8:08 pm

          I’m sayig the falling from the noose did *not* happen. the adverb is referring to the fall, not to the position after the fall. THere is a huge debate about how he fell, since if someone wants to reconcile the passage with Matthew, they’re more or less having to make up something that doesn’t make sense about what Acts says about the fall. Without that, he simply falls πρηνης. He can’t do that if hanging. So the point is you can’t reconcile the two.

          • tsiappoutas February 14, 2024 at 6:59 am

            Thank you, Prof. Ehrman, much appreciated!

  3. charrua February 6, 2024 at 10:15 am

    “ the age was coming soon, God was to intervene in the horrible state of affairs here on earth, destroy (through a figure called the Son of Man)
    the powers of evil aligned against him”

    “You will see the son of man seated at the right hand of power and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN” (Mark 14:62)

    Where does this image come from?

    Well, let’s look at our “early surviving source”… Paul.

    In his earliest known letter , Paul speaks thoroughly about this COMING from HEAVEN:

    “to wait for his Son FROM HEAVEN ” (1 Thess 1:10)
    “ in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his COMING” (1 Thess 2:19)
    “ at the COMING of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ” (1 Thess. 3:13)
    “For the Lord himself shall descend from HEAVEN “ (1 Thess 4:13-17)

    And so in his epistles to the corinthians(1 Cor. 1:7, 4:5 , 15:23 , and philippians (Phil 1:6 , 1:10 , 4:5).

  4. charrua February 6, 2024 at 10:15 am

    “ the age was coming soon, God was to intervene in the horrible state of affairs here on earth, destroy (through a figure called the Son of Man)
    the powers of evil aligned against him”

    “You will see the son of man seated at the right hand of power and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN” (Mark 14:62)

    Where does this image come from?

    Well, let’s look at our “early surviving source”… Paul.

    In his earliest known letter , Paul speaks thoroughly about this COMING from HEAVEN:

    “to wait for his Son FROM HEAVEN ” (1 Thess 1:10)
    “ in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his COMING” (1 Thess 2:19)
    “ at the COMING of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ” (1 Thess. 3:13)
    “For the Lord himself shall descend from HEAVEN “ (1 Thess 4:13-17)

    And so in his epistles to the corinthians(1 Cor. 1:7, 4:5 , 15:23 , and philippians (Phil 1:6 , 1:10 , 4:5).

  5. Seeker1952 February 6, 2024 at 10:34 am

    Is it correct that Q does not have a passion narrative—or more precisely that no part of Matthew’s or Luke’s passion narrative comes from Q? Or perhaps that any Q material that happens to occur between the beginning and end of their passion narratives does not refer specifically to Jesus’s actual passion? (Perhaps that material consists of parables or ethical teaching without mentioning Jesus’s arrest, suffering, and death)

    If so that strikes me as potentially significant – or at least very interesting.

    Of course it’s highly speculative to say that Q does not have such a narrative since we don’t have Q and don’t even know if it’s a written document. And even if the “lack” of such a narrative is significant it’s far from clear what it actually signifies.

    Considering that, as it is said (by Raymond Brown?), that the gospels are primarily passion narratives with long term introductions, are there any good reasons or evidence that Q was intended to be a more or less full account of Jesus’s life – or at least a more or less complete outline of his life?

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:39 pm

      Yes, it is often taken as significant that Q does not have a passion narrative; it would potentially show an early view of Jesus that focused on the importance of his teachings rather than his death and resurrection. Potentially.
      But the big problem is the one you point out: we don’t know what Q didn’t have, just what it probably did. It’s possible that it lacked a passion narrative; it’s possible that Matthew got some of his passion stories from Q but Luke didn’t copy those bits; that Luke got some from Q that Matthew didn’t copy; or that it had a passion narrative that both of them decided not to copy for reasons of there own. So far as I can see, there is no real way to know which option is right.

  6. Seeker1952 February 6, 2024 at 10:56 am

    Considering that (as I understand you) you seem to have moved over the course of your life toward humanism and things like Epicureanism being the most important and basic values and away from even liberal Christian values, while still being very important, as the most basic and important, I wonder if you ever wonder what course your academic life might have taken had you not been gone to Moody Bible College as a convinced evangelical/fundamentalist Christian and had gone to a liberal arts college, even a Christian one, instead?

    Do you think you might have focused more on “general” philosophy or literature or history instead?

    You probably enjoy your work too much and have too much self-discipline to waste a lot of time on musings like that. And, since you argue convincingly that Christianity has been the single greatest influence on western civilization, you might well think you’re exactly where you would most want to be anyway.

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:41 pm

      I devoted at podcast episode on just this questoin a few weeks ago (the Misquoting jesus Podcast; you can get it on Youtube or any podcasting app). The reality is that I have no clue what would have happened. I seriously doubt I would have become a scholar. I snuck in the backdoor of scholarship through an interest in the Bible. Without that, not sure. Probably would be in business?

  7. petfield February 6, 2024 at 5:00 pm

    I think that Crossan’s argument is weak and uninteresting, but at least I learnt two new, very interesting words today: “indomitable” and “veritable”! Thank you, Mr. Ehrman!

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:43 pm

      Consider it my work of supererogation.

      • petfield February 8, 2024 at 4:56 pm

        Ha!! And what’s even funnier is I didn’t know the word “supererogation” either!

        • BDEhrman February 12, 2024 at 8:06 pm

          Ha! That was the point!

  8. JackRR February 6, 2024 at 5:15 pm

    I am asking about intent here. And maybe this isn’t a question for Barth. But I fail to understand why it’s important to argue that the historical Jesus did not express apocalyptic beliefs? Especially among modern scholars. Is it scholarly boredom with the traditional views? Or theological? It seems over whelmingly clear and logical based on higher critical analyis that Jesus, Paul, et al. express apocalyptic views. At Duke in the early 1980s we were taught based on the higher critical method that most of the NT texts contained apocalyptic perspectives. This interpretation was never considered a stumbling block to faith. I wonder if I am missing something here?

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:46 pm

      It’s hard to say what was/is really going on in scholars’ minds. Most of those who take this line were in college in the 60s and rather like the counter-cultural appeal of Jesus; some are liberal Chrsitians who don’t much like thinking that the core of Jesus’ message was a failed doomsday prophecy; many were tired of the old consensus and thought we needed to move on. At Duke, at least (since the *late* 80s when I was connected with it), the apocayptic tradition lived on, first with Dale Martin then especially E. P. Sanders, both of whom thought the Jesus Seminar folk were not rigorously historical enough.

  9. charrua February 6, 2024 at 8:48 pm

    But in his letter to the Romans , a church not founded by him , Paul does not mention this “COMING from HEAVEN” of the Lord Jesus.

    What Paul DOES mention in Roman is the imminent end of the world and the salvation of the believers:

    “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand” (Rom 13:11-12)
    “on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom 2:5)

    And what will be Jesus’s role in that “day of God’s wrath” according to Paul addressing the Romans?

    “on that day when, ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL, God judges the secrets of men BY CHRIST JESUS” (Rom 2:16)

    Why the stress on “according to MY gospel” ??

    Is it something not everybody agrees on?

    And why is there no reference to Jesus COMING from HEAVEN?

    Is this image of Jesus “COMING from HEAVEN” something Paul reserved only to his own churches, a “too much advanced” theology for the Romans?

    I don’t think Mark 14:62 reflects Jesus’ own words but the result of the reflections by the very early christians in the years before Mark wrote down his gospel …

  10. RaleighJohn February 7, 2024 at 8:46 am

    I find it likely that the supporters of the Q-document being non-apocalyptic would ridicule other religions when they similarly refer to non-existent documents. For example, the Golden Plates of Mormon tradition (and I understand there are so called “witnesses” to the Golden Plates). I am not trying to signal out Mormonism, but it seems like there are gaps in all religions and humans have a natural tendency to ignore the issues of their chosen religion beliefs while holding others to a higher standard.

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:52 pm

      I’d say it’s a bit of a different thing, since Matthew and Luke provide documentary evidence of a Q, and that’s not what you can get with most non-existent documents. (It’s not air-tight evidence, but it’s hard evidence, not just asserted) I’m not sure, thought, that I’ve heard any Q supportsrs ridicule other religions for their non-existent documents.

  11. johnfconklin February 7, 2024 at 9:07 am

    Dr. Ehrman, just a note, your footnote has a typo. John Crossan’s book is “The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant,” not “Mediterranean Peasant”.

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:52 pm

      An errant scribe nust have omitted part of the text….

  12. Casey3744 February 7, 2024 at 9:26 am

    I had the pleasure of finally meeting Crossan this past fall after finally making it through The Historical Jesus and some other Jesus Seminar books. He is truly a gem and a sweet man! Even though I think Jesus was an apocalypticist, one can’t help but love and respect Crossan!

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:53 pm

      Ah, yeah, great guy. Witty, kind, friendly, humane, and passionate for good human values (justice, love, etc.)

  13. Seeker1952 February 7, 2024 at 9:29 am

    As you say, religious studies is an interdisciplinary field. I assume that in many/most places there are religious studies “departments” and not only “programs.” I’m thinking that some of the faculty that teach in these programs actually “belong” to the religious studies department (eg, biblical studies, comparative religion) but others “belong” to, say, sociology (of religion), philosophy (of religion), ancient language departments, history, etc.

    Allowing for a range of variation among universities is that generally correct?

    Is UNC Greensboro perhaps proposing to eliminate the religious studies department but still maintain a program? Not that it wouldn’t be a serious loss but wouldn’t many but probably not all of the pieces still be available to constitute a religious studies program? On the other hand, I suppose eliminating the department but maintaining the program might be an intentional step toward ultimately eliminating the program too.

    In addition I’m thinking that not all colleges and universities that have a program also have a department. And that perhaps the origin of such departments was often out of preexisting programs.

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:55 pm

      Yes, there are lots of departments. At UNC we claim ours is the first, starting just after WWII. I’ve noticed others claim the same. 🙂 And yes, the decision was to make it a program, so it’s saved the day, though not in the way many of us would have preferred. Still, the department there appears to be considering it a major victory (many other departments were simply eliminated).

  14. Seeker1952 February 7, 2024 at 9:50 am

    Can you recommend any books or authors that analyze the gospels as literature or literary art, eg, as storytelling that has structure and uses various literary devices, eg, foreshadowing, symbolism, comparisons and contrasts of, say, various gospel characters, turning points and climaxes, etc?

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 1:58 pm

      You might check out the Introduction to the New Testament by David Barr; he evaluates each of the NT books from a literary perspective, and does it as a serious NT scholar. There are lots of “literary” introductions to the NT and the Gospels by English / literary professors, without the historical-critical training. My English professor from Wheaton, Leland Ryken, has one. I’ve never looked through these to evaluate them carefully. (But just look up Literary Introductions to the New Testament)

  15. Seeker1952 February 8, 2024 at 10:13 am

    What “leads” the Jesus Seminar to produce such a different picture of Jesus than both Evangelicals/fundamentalists and mainstream historical/critical scholars? By “leads” I mean not just evidence and reasoning but perhaps certain human/spiritual values they think are inspired by Jesus that have been obscured by the canonical gospels, traditional Christianity, and modern scholarship. It sounds like they not only consider their picture of Jesus to be accurate but also very important to human well-being. And they want to “rescue” that picture.

    Also, do they have some valid insights that might have been oversights of mainstream scholars—even if the Seminar has greatly exaggerated the importance and implications of those insights? Do they see what they think are one or a few important clues and try to follow them through layers of traditional and scholarly misunderstanding?

    It seems to me that maybe they see it as being apparent that an apocalyptic Jesus is not relevant to the modern world but feel that something about Jesus – different from evangelicalism/fundamentalism – is still very important, eg, perhaps Jesus as a social critic who advocates and actually lives egalitarian, liberating, and other “radical/revolutionary” values?

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 2:06 pm

      See my earlier reply on the related issue of what was (possibly) driving them.

  16. Icanoedoyou February 8, 2024 at 11:54 am

    Great posts! I’ve read all your books for general audiences, but I’m surprised at how much I’ve forgotten when you quote them. I certainly need the review!

    I was once deeply involved in a dispensational, fundamentalist church. And it seems to me that they are both apocalyptic and non-apocalyptic at the same time. They believe that Christ is indeed coming in power one day to establish a kingdom, but that will be after the rapture of the church and the 7-year tribulation. And for the time being, God’s plan is eternal life now for all who believe.

    So, instead of denying the obvious evidence that Jesus was an apocalyptic teacher, they delay the fulfillment of those predictions. And of course, they mash together all the gospels and attempt to show that they are all teaching the same thing.

    So my questions are: Does this qualify as apocalyptic teaching (as in Mark and Matthew), even though the apocalypse is delayed until who knows when? And are they non-apocalyptic at the same time because they teach that you receive eternal life right now when you believe (as indicated in John)?

    • BDEhrman February 8, 2024 at 2:10 pm

      Yup, I’d say these are apocalyptic ideas, and yup I’d say that they are a fusion with non-apocalyptic ideas of eternal life now. It’s almost always been a problem for Christians. Even in traditional liturgical churches they say the creed: “we believe in the resurrection of the dead” (apocalyptic) even though they believe when they die they go to heaven (non-apocalyptic). How do they reconcile the two? The vast majority of peole don’t realize the views are at odds.

      • AndySeattle February 14, 2024 at 3:49 pm

        Did any of the Biblical authors teach that Christians go to heaven when they die (as opposed to getting resurrected from their graves on a future day of judgment)? Or did that idea arise some time after the New Testament period?

        • BDEhrman February 16, 2024 at 6:52 pm

          In my book Heaven and Hell I explain that this became the view of Paul, at least for himself, by the time he wrote 2 Corinthains 5 and Phippians 1 (but not earlier, when he wrote 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians); and it appears to be the view of Luke (when he tells the thief on the cross “Today you will be with me in paradise”). I try to show how this view came into being, contrary to the view of Jesus himself and his earliest followers.

  17. Seeker1952 February 9, 2024 at 11:28 am

    Maybe you’ve already fully answered this question in your replies to comments on this post (if so, just say so or ignore it – I know you’re extremely busy) but I’m wondering what portrait of the historical Jesus – that has some kind of substantial if limited relationship to the findings of the historical-critical method – would most appeal to contemporary liberal, democratic, humanist, secular, people, maybe even to quasi-Marxists?

    It seems to me it’s a portrait of Jesus as a non-violent political revolutionary – or at least a radical social critic – who advocates humane, egalitarian values.

    Do you think part of this portrait’s appeal is that it has for many in contemporary society (or maybe just back in the 60’s) a very similar emotional impact to Jesus’s announcement to people in his time of God’s massive intervention to bring forth his kingdom on earth in the very near future. Both are promises of utopia in the very near future. Jesus’s apocalypticism is just not believable for educated people today. Despite repeated failures to achieve their ideals, political revolution still seems possible. And even revolution could involve God’s critical assistance or revolutionaries being instruments of God.

    • BDEhrman February 12, 2024 at 8:48 pm

      Albert Schweitzer maintained that every generation of scholars makes/sees Jesus in its own image. So, yup, folk like that would like to see Jesus in a way that reflects their own values, and he’s certainly easy enough to find.

      • sLiu February 16, 2024 at 7:15 pm

        “Albert Schweitzer maintained that every generation of scholars makes/sees Jesus in its own image”

        Since returning to USA full time Xmas 2020, I refuse to attend or join any Christian Church. As U know, I cling to S African Andrew Murray and pre1995 religious Right teachings.

        How can politically loud Evangelists claim if they do anything to do with Jesus Christ or St Paul or Moses, their practices are so misaligned to NT teachings of Be humble & following Jesus!

        I am a follower, but such leaders as F Graham or J Falwell Jr & a slew of other leaders such as dr Dobson … thanK God U are an atheist!

  18. jimmyjordan3 February 9, 2024 at 5:12 pm

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Do you think Crossan has a good point when he describes the difference between John the Baptist’s movement and the Jesus movement? He says that John’s movement involved fasting as preparation for God’s imminent “divine cleanup” of the world, while Jesus’ involved feasting, as a sign that the Kingdom is here now, and God is just waiting for His people to collaborate with Him to bring it about. Maybe the miracles, exorcisms, healings, etc. are seen by Jesus and his movement are the beginning of the end-time kingdom, and so Jesus has modified John’s message after the Baptizer’s death?

    • BDEhrman February 12, 2024 at 8:51 pm

      I don’t think Jesus believed the kingdom was already here already in any real sense. The things he says and does are meant to implement the ideals of the future kingdom in the present, so that those who do those things will come in to the kingdom when it comes. There will be no hatred then, so people should love now; no war then so people should make for peace now; no injustice, not sickness, no demonic forces — and so people begin to act accordingly. In a small way (like a mustard seed) one can see what the kingdom is like, but it is very much still future. Possibly his willingness to eat and drink represented the future banquets of the kingdom….

  19. Serene February 10, 2024 at 2:28 am

    One possible reason in a naturalistic explanation for why a later Gospel wouldn’t promise a Second Coming is because it *did happen* — the Galilee-Nabataea war that was being planned, and that probably started in Moab and Herod Phillip’s tetrarchy first (where Jesus escapes to), was won by 36 CE, which is also the upper bound of the historical Jesus in Judaea.

    I’d like to hear your ideas on the idea of an Aramean Revival in a Transjordan theocracy? It’s in Nabataea where Epiphanius of Salamis discovers people who believed Jesus did become a king (also be prophet and priest in a theocracy.)

    It’s possible that Mark/Matthew’s story is revived with additional material to warn of the 68 CE war.

    By the time of Revelation, the Johannine community might be deutero-Isaiah-ing it. I think Revelation references the planned takeover of Petra in 106 CE, which now had many Jewish refugees.. Simultaneously, a new underground city was built in Abgarid-area Turkey – they’re excavating it now. The promise that “workers will no longer worry about the sun” sounds very ‘underground city” to me, their life upgrades to making value-added products.

    There’s an Aramean-Arabic inscription in Arabia found in 2018 with a God “of Heaven,” where Heaven might be a a poecism for a real place.

  20. Seeker1952 February 11, 2024 at 9:50 am

    In a couple previous comments on this post I’ve speculated that many contemporary liberal Christians are attracted to a portrait of (the historical?) Jesus as a radical egalitarian social reformer or even a (non-violent?) political revolutionary (in part because creation of a utopian world, especially one that results directly from a revolution, is analogous in its emotional impact on them to the emotional impact on Jesus’s contemporaries of Jesus’s prediction of God’s imminent, massive intervention to create a utopian world).

    And I believe you’ve often said that throughout history Christians have always been reinterpreting Jesus and his message to fit better with their own values and their own understanding of how the world objectively works.

    Would it be fair to say that this liberal reinterpretation of Jesus is no less “justified” than any/most of the other previous reinterpretations?

    On the other hand, maybe the fact that many liberal Christians are well-educated and think of themselves as rational children of the Enlightenment puts a heavier burden on them to accept the findings of scientific history concerning Jesus. Maybe, to be rational, they need to justify their “liberal” values in other ways than by reference to Jesus.

    • BDEhrman February 12, 2024 at 9:06 pm

      My sense is that scholars of every ilk “justify” their views of Jesus on scholarly grounds. Maybe it’s just an accident that the resulting portrayal looks just like the scholars themsleves. 🙂 disabledupes{20ad46cc14fd8122701234ec4766c88d}disabledupes

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