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How Do We Know When the Gospels Were Written: A Mailbag Blast from the Past

I occasionally get asked how we know when the Gospels were written.  Why do scholars date them when they do?  I answered that question here on the blog over four years ago now.  Most of you weren’t on the blog then.  And if you were, and you’re like me, you’ll have no recollection at all about what was said four years ago!  So here is the post I made back in May 2012.

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QUESTION:

How are the dates that the Gospels were composed determined? I’ve read that Mark is usually dated to 70 or later because of the reference to the destruction of the temple. Is this the only factor that leads scholars to conclude that it was composed in 70 CE or later or are there other factors?

I’ve heard that Luke and Matthew are likewise dated aroun 80-85 CE to give time for Mark to have been in circulation enough to be a source for them. Is this accurate?

How is John usually dated to around 95 CE (or whatever the correct period is) since it is usually described as independent of the other Gospels?

 

RESPONSE:

This is a great question, and one that I get asked a lot.  How do we actually know when the Gospels were written?   It is actually a difficult question to answer, but the things you’ve already read and heard cover some of the important territory.

So let’s start on some basics that I think everyone can agree on.   (Well, OK, there is *nothing* that  absolutely everyone agrees on, as I’ve learned with some chagrin with the publication of my most recent book….).    First…

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An Interesting Scribal Change at the Beginning of Mark
The Gospel Truth: Sometimes A Little Hazy

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Comments

  1. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  February 19, 2017

    What about the possible Q source? When do you think it might have been composed?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 21, 2017

      My guess is the 50s or so, but who knows? Before Matthew and Luke, in any event.

  2. Avatar
    TBeard  February 19, 2017

    Do you post any of your upcoming lectures or debates on this blog? I live in Indiana but if you have any lectures or debates scheduled for here or in our surrounding states, I have some friends who would make a road trip with me. You’re a rockstar in your field.
    If there not posted on here, where is the best place to find out about them?

  3. NidalRabadi
    NidalRabadi  February 19, 2017

    Thank you professor Ehrman.

    When was the doctrine of Jesus virgin birth introduced (as a guestimate) and was it because Christianity was heavily influenced by Greek, Roman and other fertility religions/cults (Adonesis, Dionysus, Tamuz)?

    Thank you

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      Some time before Matthew and Luke, so prior to the 80s CE. It’s not clear if it was based on pagan influence (none of the pagan figures had a mother who was a virgin, btw; in every case a God had sex with her) or because of a reading of Isaiah 7:14, or both.

      • Avatar
        Rogers  February 21, 2017

        So Livy’s version of Romulus and Remus describes their mother, Rhea Silvia, as a virgin priestess. But the tale goes on and has her claim that she became pregnant by being raped by the god Mars. But how different would this really have seemed in the minds of Hellenistic/Roman people of the day vs. the story of Mary being a virgin impregnated by the Holy Spirit of the Jewish god, Yahweh?

        We make a big distinction today, it would seem, because of the emphasis of Christianity for 1900 years insisting that it is altogether different from Pagan stories. I just find it hard to think that folks 1900 years ago would have shared our same nuanced distinctions about such things.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 21, 2017

          I think the *Christians* at least wanted to stress the different between being raped by a god and being miraculously impregnated without having sex. Whether pagans would have seen much of a difference is an interesting question (worth looking into!).

  4. Avatar
    Todd  February 19, 2017

    What dates do Fundamentalists give to the gospels and why?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      They tend to date them prior to 70 CE, and because that gives them even more credibility as being near the time of the events they narrate.

      • Avatar
        Todd  February 20, 2017

        That’s what I thought. I guess they don’t have much substantiation on those dates. Thank you for the response.

      • Avatar
        Tempo1936  February 21, 2017

        Most fundamentalists think the New testament was written by the named authors while they were alive. For example Matthew would be the first book written by the disciple Matthew
        The issue is never discussed by the pastor. When children go off to college and learn the truth many lose their faith.

        Christian Parents need to be much more honest in teaching the Bible to their children don’t you agree?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 22, 2017

          Honest, absolutely. But also while considering what, at the particualar age, they are able to handle.

      • Avatar
        Eric  February 21, 2017

        Also better for their theology to prophesy things like the destruction of the temple than to record them after they occurred.

  5. Avatar
    Jana  February 19, 2017

    Very interesting Dr. Ehrman. So even though Christ taught in Aramaic, absolutely nothing was written down in Aramaic? Is there much of a language translation problem going from Aramaic to Greek? (Again, it’s mind boggling to consider how many opportunities for error to creep in by accident or design)

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      No, there are no accounts of Jesus to survive in Aramaic. And yes, there can be problems in translation. I think I’ll add the question to the Mailbag and answer it at greater length there.

      • Avatar
        Jana  February 20, 2017

        Have you spoken about the Aramaic accounts? Do they differ much from the Greek? Are they then older than the Greek? I look forward to your mailbag post. Thank you.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 21, 2017

          That’s part of the problem: we don’t have any Aramaic accounts!

  6. Avatar
    Salvador Perez  February 19, 2017

    Greetings Dr. Ehrman, here is a question about the gospel writers
    If the gospels were written after the Roman-Jewish war. Is it possible that they were written by survivors/refugees from the war or were the writers most likely living outside the troubled lands from the beginning?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      It’s possible but unlikely. They don’t seem to know much about Palestinian geography or even, in places, the Jewish religion.

  7. Avatar
    dankoh  February 19, 2017

    If Paul did not mention any of the Gospels, would that not also imply that Q was written after 60?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      Possibly. Or that it wasn’t circulated widely. Or … lots of options. (My point about Paul is that he doesn’t seem to know *any* of the Gospels, not just any one of them)

  8. Avatar
    danielbrueske  February 19, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Would you say that the primary reason why ‘fundamentalists and a few others’ would date the gospels earlier is their supernaturalist presuppositions? That is to say, are they unconvinced of a later date simply because they believe that references to the destruction of the temple are actually prophetic, and, therefore, they see no good reason to push the date(s) into the 70s or later?

    Are there more important reasons that scholars push the date into the 70s or later aside from the rejection of prophecy as a sufficient explanation for the references to the destruction of the temple?

    Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      Yes, that’s one reason. But they want to date thenm early because that seems to make them more reliable. Other reasons for dating them later are that Paul seems not to know of any of them (even though he is well traveled) and that the oral traditions they presuppose must have taken a while to develop. And in places — e.g., John 9:22 — they seem to presuppose situations known from later times.

  9. Avatar
    Luke9733  February 19, 2017

    I have two questions:
    1. I remember reading that the letters of Ignatius are now dated to sometime between 97 and 100. Have you seen those dates given for those letters as well?
    2. Do you think the author of the 1 Clement letter had read any of the Gospels?

    Side note, my copy of your book “Lost Scriptures” leaves out chapters 15-18 in the 1 Clement letter. I’ve seen translations of chapter 16 with an interesting quote that would have been useful for your book “Did Jesus Exist”: “for his life is taken from the earth” (1 Clement 16:8).

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      1. No, Ignatius’s letters are almost certainly later, around 110 CE 2. Yes, he appears to have.

  10. Avatar
    gavriel  February 19, 2017

    One thing that strikes me when reading scholars on the dating of the gospels is that they on the one hand point to the very developed christology of John,so it must be very late. On the other hand, Luke and Matthew could well have been written only a couple of years before John given the probability range asserted for these gospels. This gospel, given its obvious literary seams, must have had a literary history extending back for quite some years. Wouldn’t that point to a rather theologically divergent, Johannine community, rather than a very much younger gospel?

  11. talmoore
    talmoore  February 19, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, the tenative working hypothesis that I’ve been working with in my reconstruction of an UrGospel is the following timeline:

    — 30 CE: Jesus is executed during Passover; his disciples flee back to Galilee, where they begin seeing “visions” of a resurrected Jesus; they return to Jerusalem during the Shavuot festival (Pentecost) expecting Jesus to return in full Messianic glory; he doesn’t, so they essentially set up shop in anticipation.

    — 30-40 CE: an early Jewish Christian — possibly a disciple frustrated by Jesus’ failure to “return” — creates a document that consists of a list of memorable prophetic utterances of Jesus (via the Holy Spirit) in Hebrew and/or Aramaic, that the Jerusalem church “interprets” — along with their own prophetic visions through the Holy Spirit — as a guide for what to do in the mean time. This is also when the early church develops the Great Commission doctrine, that they should become “apostles” of the “good news,” spread at first throughout “Israel” (i.e. the Jewish community), and later throughout “The Nations” (i.e. the Gentiles). It’s at this point that Diaspora Jews such a Paul get caught up in the movement.

    — 40-50 CE: The mission to the Gentiles begins to supercede the mission to the Jews — the Gentiles apparently being more receptive to the “good news” than the Jews. Moreover, the diaspora Jews appear more receptive than the Palestinian Jews. As the original Hebrew/Aramaic list of Jesus’ words, along with their various “interpretations” and appended anecdotes find their way into majority Greek-speaking communities, it begins to be translated into Greek. It’s at this point that elements, normally attributed to Jesus, but actually the product of interpretations and anecdotes (such as the parables and dispute stories) by later followers, start to be attached to Jesus’ original words. Around the end of this decade, the Jerusalem Church is thrown in to disarray; many flee, and the original Jewish Christians remain in exile until eventually dying out.

    — 50-60 CE: An incipient or proto-Mark, in which the disparate Greek translations of the original Hebrew/Aramaic Words of Jesus with Commentary (H/AWJWC), are compiled into a chronological order and published (or disseminated) throughout the Christian communities of the western Mediterranean. The document is meant to fill in the narrative gap between Jesus’ calling via the Holy Spirit and his exaltation after death as the “first-fruits of the Resurrection”. This First Edition (FE) Mark becomes the basis for Matthew and Luke.

    — 60-70: First Edition (FE) Matthew is made using FE Mark as a source, along with one or more other Greek translations of the H/AWJWC (the so-called Q source — both FE Mark and “Q” are ultimately derived from H/AWJWC — probably by the Antioch church?) Luke and Acts are written ca. 65-70 CE, as news of the war inspires a rush to document the history leading up to it. Again, Luke uses FE Mark and one or more Q sources, but it does not become widely copied and disseminated until the next decade.

    — 70-80: A Second Edition (SE) of Mark is created, with various gaps filled by glosses meant to interpret or clarify parts of the FE Mark to bring it in line with other Gospels, such as Matthew and Luke, which now start to become known to communities that, until that point, were only familiar with FE Mark.

    — 80-90: Second Edition (SE) Matthew is created, polishing FE Matthew into the epic masterpiece we have today. Additions to SE Matthew include a Birth Narrative and Genealogy (more familiar to SE Matthew’s community than Luke’s — hence why they’re so massively different), along with a plethora of new parables generated by the SE Matthew community, including many yet unpublished parables. This is when the texts of the “Synoptics,” Matthew, Mark and Luke-Acts, as we have them today, are more-or-less set in stone; they are copied and disseminated like never before.

    — 90-100: The author of John’s Gospel attempts to fill in the “gaps” of the now familiar synoptic accounts. His goal appears two-fold: 1) To fill in the period of Jesus’ ministry and trial with greater detail, extending his ministry to up to three years, for instance, filling in details of Jesus’ sojourn in Betheny, etc. Essentially, John is meant to be a supplement to the Synoptics by, for example, giving greater detail to Jesus’ “disputes” with the Pharisees; 2) As an addendum to the synoptic narratives that satisfies the Christological developments, especially of John’s community, that have developed since the FE Mark, similar, for example, to how later Gospels such as the Gospels of Peter and Thomas fill in the Christological ambiguities of the previous Gospels.

  12. Avatar
    mjt  February 20, 2017

    There’s an argument made that Acts doesn’t mention certain significant events, such as the destruction of the temple, or the deaths of Paul and James, the latter in 62 I believe. That would mean Acts was written earlier than 62, and since Luke was earlier than Acts, it would be earlier still, and because Mark was written before Luke, it would be even earlier! Eventually they get Mark writing in the early 50s. Would we expect Acts to mention those events? If so, can we therefore go back as late as some Christians assume?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      It is widely thought (for good reason) that Acts does not want to narrative up to and including and beyond the death of Paul precisely because for Luke, Paul is the apostle who can *not* be stopped. Nothing can hinder him. So Luke could not very well narrate his execution. The current move among scholars is not to date Acts earlier, but much later, into the 120s, because (in the view of these scholars) the author appears to have been dependent for some of his information on the writings of Josephus from the 90s.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  February 21, 2017

        I thought the death of James *was* known from Acts?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 22, 2017

          That’s James the son of Zebedee, who was martyred early in the history of the movement.

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  February 22, 2017

            Yes, he’s the one I was thinking of! It only occurred to me later that the original poster may have meant James, the brother of Jesus.

      • Avatar
        Eric  February 21, 2017

        Wow! that is new and interesting to me (the Josephus dependency). Are you saying “some scholars” or are you leaning that way, too?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 22, 2017

          I’ve never been completely convinced about this myself.

  13. Avatar
    Rwpostle6844  February 20, 2017

    As a follow up question, who named the Gospels? And where were they written? My understanding is the Gospels were not written in Palestine, but maybe Antioch, Alexandria, Damascus, etc.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      We don’t know and we don’t know! They are first named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John by the church father Irenaeus in 180 CE. But we don’t know who first came up with the names.

  14. Avatar
    madmargie  February 20, 2017

    Sometime in the past few weeks you gave the name of a woman author who did some research on the number of literate people in the day of Jesus. I have searched through your past posts but cannot find that reference. I have a friend in my church school class who disputes that 98% of the population in the time Jesus lived were illiterate. I wanted to refer to her work but could not find that reference. Can you give it again? Another person in the class said she believes all boys in that day attended school. I said I believed that was much later. My belief is that in Jesus day, peasant men and boys were too preoccupied with just making enough money to feed their families to be able to send their boys to school. Is this true?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      It’s CAtherine Hezser, Literacy in Roman Palestine. She thinks literacy was in the ballpark of 3% or a bit more. And she shows that the idea that every Jewish boy went to school is just a later legend.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  February 20, 2017

        Again, I believe it’s necessary to qualify the meaning of “literate” as those who could both read and write well. Three percent sounds like a reasonable estimate of those in the ancient world who were educated to both read and write well, but this doesn’t mean that the remaining 97% couldn’t read or write a word to save their lives. In all likelihood, literacy fell along a spectrum, where less than 10% could be said to have been properly educated to read and write well. Maybe another 10 to 20% could read and write crudely, like what we might call a 3rd grade level. Another 20% might be able to recognize certain words, such as on signs. Another 20% could at least tell Hebrew/Aramaic apart from Greek and Latin. And the remaining might be totally and utterly illiterate. The point is, there couldn’t have been a sudden, precipitous drop off in literacy. (When I studied education in grad school, there were studies showing how literacy in every society tends to taper off rather than go from completely literate to totally ignorant. As with most skills, it tends to gradually decrease within the population.)

        Either way, even if we were to make the conservative estimate that the Jewish population of the Levant was 2 million, and the literacy percentage was only 3%, that’s still 60,000 highly literate people in, at most, 20,000 square miles. That’s an average of 3 highly literate people per square mile. The average walk to find someone who could read and write well would have been maybe 20 to 30 minutes.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 21, 2017

          I’d be interested in your response to Hezser’s book. I don’t think she’s referring just to people who “write well.” I think she means something more like “someone who can copy out a text by hand.”

          • talmoore
            talmoore  February 21, 2017

            Me too. I’m in the middle reading five books right now (not to mention the time I’ll have to devote finding a copy that’s not $130), so I’ll have to add it to the bottom of the list.

            However, I have to say that many scholars appear fixated on grand examples of literacy, such as steles and multi-volume masterworks. But we have to remember that every advanced civilization with a properly functioning bureaucracy needs documents — even mundane records such as epistles, receipts, signs, etc. (One of the surprising features of unearthed ancient documents — such as, for example, those found in the Cave of Letters — is their utter banality, some being the ancient equivalent of interagency memos and bills of lading).

            Even the average servant needs to be able to tell the difference between an amphora with יין written on it from an amphora with שמן written on it. If that servant fills his master’s wine glass with olive oil, I can’t imagine that servant is going to stay around long. (Not to mention that there were slaves in ancient times who were highly literate, e.g. Epictetus) That’s why literacy always falls along a spectrum, with the Virgils and Jeromes at one end, and the ditch diggers who cannot tell an Aleph from an Alpha on the other. And in the middle of the bell curve is the remaining mass of civilized society, with a skewed mean, some times more in the direction of universal literacy, such as in the modern West, or more towards the direction of a small group of literate elites and professional scribes, as existed for most of recorded history. But the fact remains that the fall off in the curve is gradual, not precipitous.

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  February 24, 2017

          Very insightful talmoore. Your assessment of literacy in Judaism seems to be fairly equivalent to what Sanders wrote in his book.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  February 20, 2017

        I haven’t read Hezser’s book yet, (it is a bit expensive) and it’s clear that she believes the literacy rate in Palestine was extremely low. Maybe she’s right. At the same time, in the synopsis of her book, it says she evaluated literacy using a social-anthropological approach, ancient writings, education, etc… That’s not the same as being a literacy expert and understanding how the brain works when it reads.

        For myself, I am particularly interested in knowing whether or not Jesus could read. The writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke seemed to think Jesus could read. It wasn’t portrayed as some great feat or a miraculous event or even out of the ordinary. I can’t help but think that’s because reading is a very ordinary thing to do. I have more difficulty believing that Jesus memorized scripture orally because that would require someone continually, verbally repeating massive amounts of scripture, and if that’s the case, then someone had to be reading it in order for it to be memorized. Reading can be picked up by the simple motivation to do so. That’s how basic of a skill it is, and Jesus does not strike me as lazy or unmotivated. The only thing that I would find convincing of Jesus not being able to read is if he was not exposed to written words…like ever.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 21, 2017

          As it turns out, there is only one passage in the NT that indicates Jesus could read, Luke 4:17-19. (Not found in any other Gospel!)

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  February 21, 2017

            Luke has Jesus reading explicitly. Matthew and Mark imply it. That’s how I take it.

        • Avatar
          dragonfly  February 22, 2017

          I don’t see how we could ever know whether Jesus could read and write from the evidence we have. Someone who can write a gospel is hardly going to think reading is some great feat. It *is* a very ordinary thing for an author to do. So they don’t even think about whether the son of God could do it. But what if you didn’t even know anyone who could read or write? Noone who could teach you? And you didn’t have anything to read anyway? And you’re too busy trying to make a living?

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  February 23, 2017

            You’re right. We can’t know for sure whether Jesus could read or write. Still, I think there were several things that were in his favor. He was single, so he didn’t have the distraction and responsibility of a family. But he did feel a major burden and responsibility to the Jews as their messiah and was completely engrossed in being a part of God’s new kingdom. As the messiah, he recruited disciples and became their leader, master, teacher, etc… I’ve been reading a book that Bart recommended by E.P. Sanders called Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 BCE – 66 CE. According to him, there were vast amounts of scribes during that time period, especially for the temple.

            For me, there are two compelling reasons to believe that Jesus was literate. First, his challenging and verbal exchanges in the Gospels: Luke 4, where he read the Isaiah scroll; then in Matthew, Mark, and Luke he’s quoted as saying, “Haven’t you read what David did…Have you not read that he which made them at the beginning….Haven’t you read this scripture…But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have you not read; have you not read this scripture; the stone which the builders…. In John 7, people can’t understand how Jesus is so wise and full of knowledge without ever studying. His knowledge also seems to be a source of friction and contention with people. Why should *he* act and behave as one who has been schooled? Where did that come from? His reply is that it came from God. He could have just been one of those people who was gifted with higher intelligence and learned very easily. I think he had a lot more time on his hands than we give him credit for even though he was poor and needed to make a living. He had time to become a rabbi, find himself twelve disciples, make up some parables, be convinced he was the messiah, etc…

            And last but not least, in John 19:19-22 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign…and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

            The sign was made to prove a point, and they wanted it to be read by everyone. It’s kind of dumb to make a sign that nobody could read.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 24, 2017

            A side note. If only one person out of twenty could read, then all twenty could “read” the sign because the one would read it aloud to them.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  February 23, 2017

            On that last part, it’s not so much about Jesus reading, (although I’d think he knew what a sign about himself said) but that people were literate enough to read a scathing sign about him.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  February 24, 2017

            Fair enough 🙂

          • Avatar
            dragonfly  February 25, 2017

            I don’t think any of the gospel writers would have thought Jesus was illiterate. This was the son of God who could drive out demons, walk on water, raise the dead, but he couldn’t read? Unfortunately this doesn’t get us any closer to historical data. If we had an account where Jesus was explicitly illiterate, that would tell us something, but we don’t have that. If we had lots of accounts of Jesus reading that weren’t just to show he was amazingly wise, that might be helpful, but we don’t have that either. We can say that generally someone in Jesus situation would be illiterate, but that doesn’t tell us about him in particular. I don’t think he would have learnt as an adult. If he could read and write he would have learnt earlier. The end of this age was a bit close to be thinking about learning new skills. What else can we say?

  15. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  February 20, 2017

    Very interesting. I’m wondering what influence the temple’s destruction had on the gospels and Christian belief in general and specifically on expectations about Jesus’s return. Was the temple’s destruction seen as a premonition of Jesus’s return? Did the temple’s destruction with no prompt return of Jesus affect both expectations and theology? It seems like it must have had a major affect on Christian beliefs since it could have been seen as a close to complete destruction of Judaism (though not as close to complete as what happened in about 130).

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      It’s often thought that Christians believed the destruction of Jersualem/temple was the heralding of the End. But of course, that expectation was frustrated.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  February 24, 2017

      I should point out that one of the reasons that Messianic Jews at the time of Jesus (and this includes both the Pharisees and the Essenses) assumed the Second Temple would be destroyed at the turning of the new age was that the Temple described in Ezekiel’s prophecy (chapters 40-42) was not at all like the Temple that actually existed. So they believed that Ezekiel was really describing a third Temple, which would take the place of the Second after the Second’s destruction in the great eschatological conflict. Indeed, up to the time of the Bar Kokhba rebellion, 70 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, many Jews just assumed that they were living at the end of the old age and that the Third Temple, as described by Ezekiel was going to be built within their lifetimes. It was only after the defeat of Bar Kokhba, and the martyrdom of Rabbi Akiva (one of the biggest Rabbinical advocates for a Third Temple), that many Jews suddenly realized that things were not working out exactly how they thought they would. That’s when hopes for a Third Temple were put on the backburner, and Rabbis, instead, focused on Torah study and the compilation of what was to become first the Mishna, and, ultimately, the Talmud.

  16. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  February 20, 2017

    Your book “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium” gives a very good picture of the historical Jesus. But I still don’t have a good sense of what the historical Jesus was like as a person, eg, his personality, what made him a charismatic figure (though if, historically, he had few followers, maybe he wasn’t so charismatic?), what impression he made on people, etc. Can scholars in general or you in particular say much about that? Can he be compared to recent historical figures, eg, Ghandi or Martin Luther King?

    Since he predicted the imminent end of the world, Jesus might strike us as a kind of crazy fanatic. But in Jesus’s time this was nowhere near as outlandish a message as it would be to most of us. I’m trying to think of something in our own time that might function in the same way as apocalypticism did in Jesus’s time–maybe Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society or some other expectation of a utopian world. Or, closer to Jesus’s apocalypticism, predictions of disaster from global warming with a call to live more “naturally”?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      Yes, how desperately we wish we *knew* something about Jesus’ personality. We simply don’t have the kinds of sources to help us (despite what some people claim!)

  17. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  February 20, 2017

    Are there any movies or television programs that do a good job of dramatizing the life of Jesus as he was in actual history? Or any that aren’t dramatizations but that narrate it in an educational way but with a certain amount of reenactment and archaeology and shots of Palestine?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      Not in my opinion. I teach a class that covers the Hollywood portrayals of Jesus and none of them is close to accurate in my view. But for my money Jesus of Nazareth has by far the best Jesus (Robert Powell, British actor with fantastic eyes)

      • Avatar
        Jana  February 20, 2017

        What is your opinion of Bruce Chilton’s book Rabbi Jesus?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 21, 2017

          It reads more like a novel than an academic account of the historical Jesus.

      • Avatar
        clipper9422@yahoo.com  February 22, 2017

        Well, the next best thing (though a distant second) might be a movie based on a single gospel–to avoid conflation. What’s your opinion of a movie made in the late 60’s by an Italian communist–I think it’s simply called the “Gospel of Matthew”? (I think I read somewhere that that movie at least gives a good picture of what Italy was like during the Middle Ages.)

        If we don’t have (and it’s unlikely that we’ll get) a movie about the historical Jesus maybe we have or could get one that takes as its starting point that this is how the community that produced the gospel “remembered” Jesus, eg, that the gospel is an “expression” of their Christian faith. And I would hope that it could be based on enough scholarly work so that the story seemed more coherent and made more sense than the stories often do without any background information, eg, what it “meant” to the community that produced the gospel, how “they” understood it..

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    RonaldTaska  February 20, 2017

    Excellent review. Very, very helpful and very clear and easy to understand.

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    bigalster  February 20, 2017

    Luke’s notion of the atonement(Luke 22:19B-20) the fact that Last Supper is taking place at Jewish Passover ,doesn’t this entail the atonement in the blood of Lambs shed and put on the doors as per Exodus?Lamb’s blood as payment for the lives of their firstborn sons?So also in the transfiguration account in Luke 9:31 where Jesus speaks of his ‘exodus’, or departure as some translations have it. The word in Greek is ‘exodus’.There Jesus is in context referring to his death.The exodus was very much about shedding the lamb’s blood as payment for life,and aren’t those associations there? While these aren’t upfront references to atonement &death,can they be ignored as part of Luke’s theological context? This in addition to there references also back to the atonement in Isaiah 53;22 . Bart are you not ignoring all the above and making a poor theological argument on Luke’s atonement?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2017

      The Passover lamb was not an atoning sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible or in Judaism.

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    lbehrendt  February 20, 2017

    Bart, while you speak of a date of composition for each Gospel, you also teach in effect that the Gospels were composed over a period of time. The Gospels are based on earlier oral (and perhaps, written) traditions, and later scribes made changes to the written Gospels they received that were passed on to us. Yet we persist in the notion that there was some moment where an ancient author compiled the traditions known to him, and produced a Gospel in a singular literary action significant enough that we can fairly date the Gospel to the time of this action. Built into this notion are certain assumptions or conclusions about the composition of each Gospel … for example, that they are not essentially the product of multiple authors working over an extended period. I find a different approach in Joseph Tyson’s “Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle,” which suggests that Luke-Acts might have originally been written during the time frame you describe, but was substantially revised in the early second century in response to Marcion, and should thus be dated to that later date of revision. Obviously, we don’t know and can’t prove a precise history of composition of any Gospel. But I worry that when we “date” a Gospel, we are unconsciously buying into certain largely anachronistic notions about authorship and publication that may interfere with our ability to understand the underlying works. I don’t really have a question for you here, but I’d appreciate your reaction if anything here strikes you.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 21, 2017

      Yes, my sense is that at some point *someone* wrote a kind of first edition of Mark, or Luke; and that later someone else may have come along (at least in the case of Luke) and produced a kind of second edition (adding chs. 1-2, for example, which were originally not there). And scribes, of course, in a sense produced later editions (for example by adding the last twelve verses of Mark). So when I am giving a date for the Gospels, I am talking about the publication of a first edition.

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