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Is Theological “Truth” More Important than Historical Accuracy?

In the previous post I began to explain how there could be an account in the Gospels that is not historically accurate because an author is more interested in conveying what, to him, is a theological “truth” than in giving a history lesson about what actually happened in the life of Jesus.  In my view, the early Christian story tellers and Gospel writers (often?) changed historical data in order to make theological points.  What mattered more than historical accuracy was the ultimate point of the story.

In this post I give a concrete example of how it works.  To make sense of what I have to say about this story you need to remember what I said yesterday about how the Passover feast worked in the days of Jesus.  This particular example involves only a small detail in the Gospel of John – a tiny detail, in some ways.  But it is illustrative of a larger point.  Sometimes Christian authors changed a historical fact in order to express what, for them, was a theological “truth.”


So, back to the Gospels.  According to all four accounts, Jesus died sometime during the feast.  But when?  The earliest account we have – that is, the first Gospel to have been written — is Mark’s.  Here the chronology of events is quite clear.  In Mark 14:12 …

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Another “True” Story that Didn’t Happen? Jesus’ Birth in Luke
An Example of a True Story that Didn’t Happen: Part 1



  1. godspell  May 30, 2017

    I suppose the answer to that largely rhetorical question would depend on who you’re asking.

    But to an historian, definitely not–except, as you’ve just demonstrated, one of an historian’s jobs is to understand how different people can arrive at different truths.

  2. jhague  May 30, 2017

    There’s a couple of problems with this having happened. First, the theological truth is the author’s truth, which may not be truth at the time but then becomes “truth” later because readers believe that what was written is God’s word. Now there are two “truths,” Mark and John which cannot both be true but readers say they both have to be true because it’s God’s word. The other problem is related, Christians today think that they have to believe that everything they read in the Bible is not just a theological truth but also historically true. And much of it might not be either!

    • godspell  June 1, 2017

      Excuse me, but you just repeated a myth yourself–most Christians today do not believe the bible must be literally interpreted. Catholics don’t. Mainline Protestants don’t. A subsection of evangelical Protestants do. And you are only making them happy, giving them the one thing they most desire, by implying they and they alone are the true Christians.

      • jhague  June 2, 2017

        I should have been more specific and clear rather than general. The Christians that I come in contact with most, which are primarily Christians who attend community style churches that consider themselves progressive due to worship style, etc but are very conservative in their views of the Bible (look at any of their website sections “What We Believe,” for the most part believe what the leaders of the churches tell them. The leaders of these churches primarily teach that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, the earth was created in six days, there was an exodus, Jesus was born a virgin birth, all the miracles in the Bible occurred as written and there are no discrepancies in the Bible. All of the community style, Willow Creek style, Saddleback style, etc church website are very clear that these are their beliefs and no on e can be a leader in their church without believing the same way. I do not think that the majority of the attendees are fundamentalist and I do not think the majority of the attendees are being evangelical, but the some of the leaders of these churches are fundamentalists and most are evangelical.

        • SidDhartha1953  June 5, 2017

          Ironically, another group who take the texts at face value — at least when it suits them — are the village atheists. For instance, they assume all the slaughters recorded in the OT really happened. But if the million+ Israelites who left Egypt are a gross exaggeration, or even a complete fabrication, why not presume the same for all the slaughters of men, women, children, sheep, etc?

        • HistoricalChristianity  June 6, 2017

          You bring up a growing problem in churches today. Fewer Christians are Fundamentalists. Yet most doctrinal statements remain Fundamentalist.

  3. RonaldTaska  May 30, 2017

    These are fascinating posts. I still struggle with the idea that Christian authors intentionally changed historical facts to express theological truths, It’s an intriguing theory, but I still think it is more likely that stories got unintentionally changed during transmission maybe, with these changes, fitting in better with confirmation biases about theology as they were passed along and then the Gospel authors heard these modified stories and considered them to be historically accurate and wrote them down as such. The stories in Mark and John are different because they were passed down through different paths of storytellers before they were written down. Anyway, I think this fits what you so capably described as happening in “Jesus Before the Gospels.” I just don’t see a Gospel author telling himself I want to illustrate a theological truth and then making his account fit into that truth.

    • HistoricalChristianity  June 6, 2017

      The authors didn’t change historical facts. They had no historical facts to work with. An ancient bios narrative didn’t need them. The method of the genre was to tell stories showing what kind of person you believe your protagonist to be. You think Jesus was a sage of Second Temple Judaism? Then portray him saying the kinds of things sages said. For the most part, they picked Hillel. You don’t think Jesus was a Zealot, but you want to be inclusive of Christians who do, so you include texts showing him doing things a Zealot would do. You show him being accused of that crime. But then you show him judicially exonerated.

  4. bensonian  May 30, 2017

    Few questions: 1) Was the Passover was a week-long event, rather than a single day? 2) Were there Jewish sects that disagreed about what day kicked off the Passover, or ended the Passover – like Saturday perhaps? 3) Could one of the authors been thinking about the day, the other the week long event? I also heard another writer indicate that there was another type of Passover, like a Passover ‘year’ even. I guess what I’m getting at is the intent. Perhaps the intent wasn’t to ‘alter history’ for a theological reason, but to simply provide a perspective based on ones knowledge about the Passover at that time. What are your thoughts regarding the intent?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      The Passover itself was a day, but it began the Feast of Unleavened Bread that took a week. There was only one day on which the Passover was eaten and only one day (the one before) on which it was prepared.

      • Wilusa  June 1, 2017

        I’m not questioning your explanation of the difference between the Gospels. But I’ve gotten the idea – somewhere – that we don’t know the exact date that Passover was celebrated in Jerusalem, because in those days, not all Jews everywhere celebrated it on the same date. So we can’t determine the year of Jesus’s crucifixion by its having been a year in which the Passover was the day before the Sabbath. Is that correct?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 2, 2017

          There were some Jewish sects that celebrated Passover on a different day (at least the Essenes did), but they were very much on the margin.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  June 1, 2017

      1) The Passover festival (the so-called Feast of Unleavened Bread) was a week long, but the Passover meal — what we call today the Seder — was only eaten on the first night. In reality, the festival was a longer affair, with Jews arriving at Jerusalem days if not weeks in advance, making arrangements for room and board, securing a location for the paschal meal, preparing themselves to be ritually pure enough to offer the sacrifice, etc. The Gospel accounts even narrate some of the prepatory period, for example, when Jesus and the disciples spend a week in Bethany (Bethphage) just outside of Jerusalem ahead of the festival.

      2) Yes, there were sects that did reckon the holy calendar differently from the established calendar in Jerusalem. The most famous sect was the Essenes, whose calendar we have preserved amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, and somewhat in the Book of Jubilees, as well. However, the Essenes believed the Temple in Jerusalem was lead by a corrupt and illegitimate priesthood, and so they wouldn’t be caught dead making sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple. In fact, it seems many of the Essenes were vegetarians because they believed there was no legitimate place to make the proper sacrifices for meat.

      3) In all probability, the author of John altered the day of the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest simply to make it fit his particular christological theory. That’s all.

    • HistoricalChristianity  June 6, 2017

      Torah is quite clear and detailed about Passover observance. But its timing is based on a lunar calendar. But someone had to decide whether the new moon is really tonight or tomorrow night. Again, these authors had no history to alter. They were inventing the history as they went along. But not really, since they were writing bios, not history. They had some oral traditions and legends to choose among. With no real evidence about the historical Jesus, and with no other writings from that time on the subject, we can’t tell which details were culled from traditions and legends and which were invented for the story.

  5. nbraith1975  May 30, 2017

    Bart – Do you think these kinds of alterations of events were done to make Jesus appear to be the “true” Messiah? And what about the eventual changes made by the Catholic Church to strip Jesus of his historical Hebrew/Jewish heritage and make him the “leader” of a new religion called Christianity?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      Yes, that would have been a major part of the intention. And yes, Jesus eventually becomes non-Jewish for some Christians, and then later still even anti-Jewish.

      • nbraith1975  June 1, 2017

        Bart – Have you written anything about the anti-Jewish history of the Catholic Church. What I have read so far tells quite a disturbing story.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 2, 2017

          Not at any length. A terrific treatment in James Carroll’s book Constantine’s Sword.

  6. michael_kelemen  May 30, 2017

    Michael Skobac points out that the Passover lamb was not a sin offering. http://jewsforjudaism.ca/jesus-not-passover-lamb/

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      That’s right, it never was a sin offering.

      • searchingfortruthineverything  June 4, 2017

        Some say that Christ “offered” his body as a “sin offering” because it was pure to fulfill the Law that a unblemished lamb, without any defects was offered as a “sin offering” under the Mosaic Law to pay for the “original sin” that Adam committed in Eden so as a pattern, or Bible antetype, Jesus was “lifted up” like the “rod” of the “serpent” was lifted up for healing if someone was bitten by a serpent during the time of the ancient Israelites.

        • HistoricalChristianity  June 6, 2017

          That’s because Paul was proposing Jesus as a solution to a different problem. In early Romans, Paul postulates a universal problem. With at least some Jewish background, Paul believed that there was only one god. He said that God finds no human acceptable. Not because of original sin, but because all have sinned. Then he offers Jesus as the universal sacrifice.

          The Johannine community had a very strong Gnostic background, but probably not much Jewish background. They were the ones who thought to associate Jesus as a sacrificial animal with the lamb of the Passover sacrifice. They probably didn’t even realize that, as others noted here, that the Passover lamb wasn’t even a sin offering.

    • rburos  June 1, 2017

      thanks for that!

  7. rburos  May 30, 2017

    Of course I find your argument satisfying and compelling, but the implications on modern Christianity are potentially disturbing:

    1. Is this to say that the evangelists weren’t all that caught up in the death of Jesus other than to justify why it happened? Are all four then an argument against the apocalyptic nature of his teachings?
    2. Is then the resurrection of greater importance than the death? Or is it his moral teachings? Or imitatio dei?

    There are far too many questions packed into the above, and I’m afraid the answer to all of them is ‘yes’, leaving me just as kerfuddled as before. . .

    The answer I suppose is like you said previously, that we all make Christ into our own image. Happy you brought Crossan into that discussion, as I’ve never seen anybody do Christian morality better.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      I think they saw the death as centrally important, but the “why” was especially important. Some emphasized his death; others his resurrection; others both.

      • Hank_Z  June 1, 2017

        Bart, I have experienced his difference. I have lived in Costa Rica the past 10 years. It’s officially a Catholic country under the constitution, and I was raised in fundamentalist Prorestantism.

        Every semana santa (holy week, which ends on Easter), I notice that Good Friday, not Easter), is THE big day. The people here celebrate/comemorate Jesus’ death FAR MORE than his supposed resurrection. Protestant denominations I’m familiar with in the U.S. do the opposite.

  8. joncopeland  May 30, 2017

    Great post! This has been an informative series and helpful for me as I try to broach these subjects with my bible study class.

    Another example of that comes to mind is the rejection at Nazareth story. In Mark 6 and Matthew 13, Jesus is named as the son of Mary, but in Luke 4, he’s the son of Joseph. I’m curious as to why Luke did this.

    Luke also relocates the story to the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry and adds a lot of dialogue and detail. He seems to be establishing the motif of rejection at the synagogue, which appears again and again in Acts. What was something of an afterthought in the other gospels is a major plot point in Luke. The motif sets up the “hand-off” of the covenant of God to the Gentiles. His motives seem more clear in this example; Luke gives Gentiles priority over Jews to salvation. I think Paul would challenge Luke’s gospel, if he were alive to see it.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      Yes, it would be strange and unusual in antiquity to be identified as the son of a woman as opposed to a man. And yes, Luke rearranges the sequence so that they rejection is the first thing that happens publicly to Jesus, anticipating both what happens to him in Luke and to his disciples in Acts.

  9. Wilusa  May 30, 2017

    Yes, this is all very understandable. *Those* authors, writing two thousand years ago, had different beliefs than ours about the importance of “sticking to the facts”…especially when their *main purpose* was not to write histories, but to make theological points.

  10. Stephen  May 30, 2017

    Is the assumption that Mark’s chronology is historical? Couldn’t Mark have been making a theological point as well? Perhaps the original tradition was that the crucifixion took place sometime during the festival and both gospel writers are molding the account to their own theological ends?


    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      Yes, it’s possible that Mark is non-historical as well! That would be a separate question though. John could “change a datum” even if the datum itself was not historically accurate.

      • godspell  June 1, 2017

        The difference is that John was changing a datum after three gospels had already been written and disseminated, all of which agreed with each other on this point (if not on some others). We don’t know that Mark wasn’t making a theological point (he certainly does make them), but we can be sure John did that, because John was the last gospel to be written, and it dissents quite obviously from the previously existing narrative. And that begs the question why did he dissent, and the answer you present here is more than satisfactory, far as I’m concerned. It’s nice when things make sense. Even when the thing you’re making sense of is myth. Which has its own kind of sense.

    • HistoricalChristianity  June 6, 2017

      By the time people got around to writing bios narratives at least 4 decades after Jesus died, no one knew what season, or even what year, Jesus died. It’s not changing facts when there are no facts to change.

  11. Boltonian  May 30, 2017

    Brilliant illustration! I would like to know where the ‘Lamb of God,’ meme came from – does it, for example, pre-date Jesus as a symbol of human self-sacrifice? Was it (this symbolism) circulating as an independent (or even competing) oral tradition from Mark’s sources? Was John aware of other versions, such as Mark’s? Were the different gospels even written down in the same part of the world or were these the theologies of churches which existed in complete ignorance of, and isolation from, others?

    Sorry for the multiple questions.


    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      The Passover lamb was part of the Jewish tradition for as far back as we can trace it. It represented God’s act of salvation for his people Israel. Since Jesus died on the Passover, Christians claimed he was the embodiment of God’s act of salvation.

      • HistoricalChristianity  June 6, 2017

        I think the reverse is more likely true. Christians considered Jesus the embodiment of salvation, therefore they chose Passover as the scene for showing his death.

  12. mjt  May 30, 2017

    I first encountered this idea, that the gospel writers were writing theology and not history in some cases, in a book by Randel Helms called Gospel Fictions. Are you familiar with this book, or this author? I wasn’t sure when I was reading it, if this was the work of an actual scholar.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      I read it when it first came out and remember really liking it. But I don’t remember it now, except in very general terms.

  13. Silver  May 30, 2017

    I can see the virtue of telling the tale of George Washington (that we should be honest even if it gets us into trouble) and the story of Red Riding Hood (if that is a way of teaching about ‘stranger danger’ or some such cautionary advice.) However, do you think it is justified to alter the chronology of Jesus’ death so that it fits in with and supports his contention that Jesus is ‘The Lamb of God’ – something which, as I understand it, you for one do not believe? Surely such subterfuge and the concocting of ‘evidence’ is underhand. If one’s belief has to rely on such methods does that not smack of desperation? Can it really figure as ‘truth’?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      I’m not advocating this reading, simply pointing out that history is not hte only thing that matters.

  14. gavriel  May 30, 2017

    Is it possible to say anything at all about the exact day of the crucifixion? To me it seems that Mark as well has a theological point in fixing the last meal to be a Passover meal. Or do you think that there really are only two possible historical answers, Mark or John ?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      I think they both could be wrong! But they both can’t be right. And John has apparently changed an earlier tradition (whether that tradition was right or wrong)

      • gavriel  June 1, 2017

        What I did not understand was how you can say that John/John’s sources altered an earlier date. Couldn’t both Mark’s and John’s dates have branched off from an original and more reliable narrative?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 2, 2017

          Yes, and if so John has altered the earlier one. (Since he branched off from it)

  15. john76  May 30, 2017

    This understanding of Truth certainly makes sense in the Gospel of John. For instance, Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but still went “in secret”:

    “[Jesus said] Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast. … But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. (John 7:8-10)”

    Jesus’ statement was a “lie,” but it “re-vealed” or “un-covered (a-letheia)” what one should do in a situation of persecution.

  16. seeker_of_truth  May 30, 2017

    Has a release date been set for the second edition of your textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      I’m not sure actually. Early fall? Maybe before then: I’ve turned back all the corrected page proofs.

  17. gwayersdds  May 30, 2017

    I feel that theological truth is much more important than historical fact. To me that is what the Bible is all about. Since these stories were written so long after the events it is unlikely that the historical truth will ever really known. To me the Bible should not be read as a history book, but as a way to learn what being a Christ follower is all about.

  18. mathieu  May 30, 2017

    It seems to me that the time line is more skewed than that. If Jesus dies after the Passover, he was buried Friday evening, stayed in the tomb Saturday, and arose on Sunday morning. 3 days. If he died on the day of preparation, and subsequently buried, doesn’t that leave him in the tomb longer than 3 days?

    I’m confused.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      The Day of Preparation, in the Synoptics, was on a Thursday. He died the next day, Friday, and rose again on Sunday. So it’s three days.

  19. Jimmy  May 30, 2017

    How did they tell time in the early first century? Today we have clocks on our wrist, the walls of our homes and on our phones. What device did they have back then ?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      Now *that’s* something I should know. Sun dials?

    • talmoore
      talmoore  June 1, 2017

      The vast majority of people (peasants, farmers, slaves, etc.) reckoned the time simply by looking at where the sun was in the sky. Since down to the minute accuracy was very rarely necessary for most activities, this rough idea of the hour was perfectly adequate. When a more accurate time was needed, they would designate certain universal events as markers — e.g. at dawn, after sunset, after the cock crows, at noon, when the shephards return from the pastures, etc. For those in professions where accuracy was necessary, such as priests, generals, bureaucrats, etc. they had various methods of time keeping, such as sundials, hourglasses, water clocks, candle clocks, etc.

  20. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  May 30, 2017

    Bart, can you please tell me what is the land of nod in old testament and who were they ?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      It’s a legendary place. So we do’t know where it’s supposed to have been.

  21. llamensdor  May 31, 2017

    I realize that John’s gospel is the source of much Christian theology and thus very important to Christians. In my opinion, the entire gospel should be discarded. In it, Jesus speaks, not like a Galilean rabbi, but as if he were a Greek philosopher. The speeches are long, convoluted, and unlike anything in the other gospels. Also, Jesus speaks to the people as if he, himself, were not Jewish. He is an anti-Semite par excellance. Between John’s virulent hatred for the Jews and Matthew’s gratuitous claim that the Jews, clamoring for Jesus to be crucified, cried, “His blood be upon us and our children,” we have twin pillars of hatred of the Jews that hasn’t ended yet. In fact it’s having a remarkable resurgence. I know you make a distinction between antipathy towards Jews and antipathy towards Judaism, but the results are always the same.

  22. James Cotter  May 31, 2017

    in the gospel of john, john the baptist says , “this is the lamb of god who takes away sins”
    how would one go about disproving this?
    it makes sense for a christian to say this, but how could a jew who dunked people in water for the forgiveness of sins see another jew as a levitical sacrifice?
    i thought johns activities at the water were already taking away sins and no violent act was required.

    • HistoricalChristianity  June 6, 2017

      The baptism of John was not to take away sins. It was a baptism of repentance. If John persuades a sinner (a non-practicing Jew) to repent and thus resume obedience to Torah, then that person would receive the baptism of John to demonstrate his repentance.

      The synoptic authors take great pains to explain why the ideas of Christianity were unknown during the lifetime of Jesus. The author of John makes no such pretense.

      Yes, the idea of a universal sacrifice was a Greek idea, not a Jewish one. But only some of those Greek religious philosophers thought the sacrificial animal had to be a god.

  23. Robby  May 31, 2017

    Can you comment or post on different explanations evangelicals/fundamentalists use to spin that these differing accounts are not discrepancies?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      Some argue that different Jewish groups followed different festival calendars so the Passover fell on different days for different Jews. It’s a very weak argument. In Jerusalem there was only one calendar that was followed, and all these thigns happened i njerusalem.

  24. flshrP  May 31, 2017

    Hmmm. “Theological truth” surely should be added to the growing list of oxymorons. Better this phrase be replaced by “theological conjecture”, “theological hunch”, or, perhaps “theological wild ass guess”. This opinion of mine was formed nearly 60 years ago as I slogged through four mandatory theology courses at a major Jesuit university in order to get my B.S. in physics. I learned how slippery truth is in the theological context. Trying to find “theological truth” is an excellent way to develop a healthy skepticism.

  25. Kemp  May 31, 2017

    Given John’s theological motives in this sequence of events, and the general agreement among the synoptics for a different timeline, are there any serious scholars who continue to believe that John’s version is the more accurate?

  26. Eskil  May 31, 2017

    But isn’t it obvious that Mark is historically incorrect as well?

    You wrote “Jesus is immediately taken off to be crucified.  And we’re told exactly when it was: “nine o’clock in the morning” (15:12) — the morning after the Passover meal was eaten.”

    But later in Mark it sais that the day was also Friday.

    “It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath)” (Mark 15:42)

    Jewish Sabbath being Saturday.

    My understanding, is that passover can never fall on Friday in Jewish calendar because it has such rules (lo ido rosh, lo badu pesahh) and hence “Pesach can never be on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.”

    Source: http://www.smontagu.org/blog/?p=259

    In addition, “the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin” (Mark 15:1) are breaking sabbath laws in Mark because “Work is not permitted on […] the first day […] of Passover”

    Source: http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday0.htm#Extra

    John doesn’t have these problem in its passion narrative. Wouldn’t it make it rather more historical than Mark?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      No, I’m afraid that’s not right. Passover could land on any day of the week, including Friday, just as Christmas can for Christians.

      • Eskil  June 1, 2017

        First of all, there is no Christmas in Jewish calendar, is there? Christians follow sun calendar and Jews combination moon and sun calendar. The christian year 2017 is Hebrew Year 5777.

        Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_calendar

        Secondly, I can find several sources from many centuries back, from 1500 to today that says “Pesach can never be on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.” It is easy to verify that this rule is true with the below site that shows where Pesach I (First day of Passover) lands in the Jewish calendar until year Christian year4000. It never ever lands on Friday!

        Source: https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/israel/pesach-i

        Hence, it is obvious that it is not true that “Passover could land on any day of the week” in Judaism.

      • jdh5879  June 1, 2017

        I believe John 19:31 says “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath” The “special” meaning Passover and the Sabbath are on the same day. (NIV)

    • talmoore
      talmoore  June 1, 2017

      Passover last year, 2016, started Friday night, April 22nd — right on the Sabbath.

      • Eskil  June 2, 2017

        And that is the order of days in the gospel of John: “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.” (John 19:31)

        In other words, Jesus died on the preparation day of the Sabbath (Friday) that was a day before the passover (14th Nisan) at the same time as paschal lambs were sacrificed in the Temple. The next day being a special Sabbath where passover lands on the Sabbath (that is Saturday not Friday).

        As you know, in Judaism, a day changes at the sun down when the first stars can bee seen in the sky i.e. Sabbath and passover always start on preceding evening (like Bart has said). Anyhow, passover seems to never start the preceding day of Sabbath like in the gospel of Mark (according to Bart).

        • talmoore
          talmoore  June 4, 2017

          Eskil, you’re needlessly tying yourself into knots over this.

      • Eskil  June 5, 2017

        And I thought I was unlocking some knots 😉
        These are not my own ideas but ideas that can be found all around. I just want to know what the historical critical view is on such ideas. For example here’s one but not an only example…

        “Yeshua is brought before the chief priests, where the scribes and elders are assembled. Additionally, there are false witnesses that testify against him, other onlookers, and officers and servant girls, who are apparently on duty. If it is, in fact, the case that all these people are observing Passover this night, they would instead be home with their families; and the Jewish officers and servant girls would certainly not be on duty. […] It is also not possible that the Sadducees and Pharisees would conduct a trial on this day in violation of Shabbat.”


    • godspell  June 1, 2017

      Though the continuity of Jewish tradition across the centuries is one of the marvels of world culture, I think we need to recognize that Jews today, Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, etc, are very very very VERY different from Jews at the time of Jesus, in their beliefs and practices. Nobody is practicing 1st century Judaism today. Just like nobody is practicing 1st century Christianity, nor would Christians today recognize the Christians of that time, who sure as hell wouldn’t recognize them.

      Religions tend to all say “This thing we do and/or believe now is what we have always done and/or believed.”

      And that is almost never true.

      • Eskil  June 2, 2017

        The rationale that I have read from books why Jews avoided having sabbatical days before Sabbath is practical: food for Sabbath needed to be prepared on the day before. In ancient times food couldn’t be preserved for two days in a row. Hence, Jews had rules that in case a other sabbatical day (like passover) was going to preceded a Sabbath it was moved.

      • Eskil  June 2, 2017

        I could almost buy your arguments that Jews in modern and Jesus’ times had different religious calendar and practices that cannot be compared in our times – if there weren’t the gospel of John.

        What are the odds that after a couple of decades from Mark, John fixes all the issues of having preparation day and passover on the same day preceding Sabbath and “the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin” and Jewish mob NOT following the passover traditions i.e. NOT following any sabbatical rule and NOT spending the passover with their loved ones but instead they hunted, capture, persecuted, agitated and killing Jesus in a sabbatical day, Pesach I (First day of Passover).

        It would be quite a coincidence that after a thousand year or so later modern Jews by accident created new religious calendar and practices that match exactly the sequence of days and events in John’s narrative of the passion.

        • HistoricalChristianity  June 6, 2017

          I doubt the gospel diarists (especially the author of John) knew that much detail about Judaism, or cared. Torah doesn’t call for moving a feast like Passover based on the day of the week on which it falls. I would be surprised if that change had happened by the first century.

  27. andersg89  June 1, 2017

    Hi Dr Ehrman
    I have an unrelated question that has baffled me for some time now. Do you know why most Christians ignore the ban on eating “life blood” from the Noahite covenant? Did the early Christians ignore it or is it a more recent development?
    I have asked the local priests and some theology students but they seem confused and can’t give a single relevant argument why it should be ignored.
    Acts clearly state that the ban stands even for non Jews and as far as I know Paul never takes about the Noahite covenant only the covenant with Moses and his argument doesn’t apply in any case…

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      It’s a great question. I assume they ignore it because it’s never been part of their tradition and it never has occurred to them that it should be.

    • jdh5879  June 1, 2017

      I am not sure if you are talking about something like eating blood sausage or symbolically drinking blood during the Eucharist, or both. If you are talking about the Eucharist, that is a very interesting theological issue. Maybe some famous biblical scholar will do some research.

  28. RonaldTaska  June 1, 2017

    This morning, just before dawn, I finished reading your book entitled “Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.” I have now read 14 of your trade books, two of your textbooks, and all of your blogs. I have also completed all of your Teaching Company Great Courses and watched all of your youtube videos. This has taken a lot of work on my part, but this pales in contrast to the huge amount of work this all took on your part. I remain convinced that you must have a hidden group of Ehrman doppelgangers churning out stuff in your basement.

    Anyway, before I encountered your work, I was, like a snail, inching along toward the basic conclusions that you have reached about the Bible and the Biblical God. Your work, however, accelerated my study because it summarized the main issues so clearly and logically always with a overwhelming pile of evidence. This has meant the world to me and has literally changed my life in many ways.

    Moreover, since you have received a lot of criticism from both fundamentalists and mythicists, your work has also taken a lot of courage on your part. I still think the recent posts about your ending lecture each year could form the foundation of a good autobiography about your intellectual journey in Biblical scholarship.

    The theological truth versus historical accuracy discussion reminds me that many contend that Trump’s stories are “true” even if they are not historically accurate. Interesting argument, I guess….

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      Wow. You’ve read more of me than *I’ve* read of me…. But yes, when this approach to “truth” gets used in modern times, it can lead to all sorts of mischief.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  June 1, 2017

      Yeah, well, I’ve read all five volumes of John Meier’s A Marginal Jew. So the gauntlet has been throw down.

  29. Jim Cherry  June 1, 2017

    From your knowledge/translation of the ancient texts, what is your opinion regarding “transubstantiation”?
    Did the original authors, as best as can be determined, say this “is” or this “represents”?
    This was a significant issue in my childhood church.
    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      It’s a much later doctrine. My guess is that the earliest Christians would have been pretty surprised by it.

    • catguy  June 1, 2017

      My understanding is that in liturgical churches such as Lutheran the body and blood are in and under the host and wine but appear on their own. The pastor has no power to make them appear. As opposed to Roman Catholic in which the priest does something to make the literal body and blood come into the host and wine. The Lutherans do not believe any human can make this happen. So it is a point of disagreement between Catholic and Lutheran and possibly other liturgical churches. When these beliefs came into being I have no idea.

  30. m307706x  June 3, 2017

    A modern example of this tension between myth and history is Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln. This biography has been widely derided for its shoddy scholarship. Sandburg used doubtful sources to incorporate what amounts to legends and myths about Lincoln into his biography. But I think Sandburg was trying to write an American Aeneid. He wanted to build an aspirational American identity based on the story of Lincoln – a kind of civic religion. He might have succeeded better if he had followed the example of John and embraced a more purely literary and mythical form.

  31. probablynot  June 3, 2017

    Bart, if Mark were internally consistent I think a stronger case could be made for either author (Mark or John) having an agenda, or truth, they were trying to convey. But Mark isn’t internally consistent. As another reader has pointed out, Mark 15:42 says that Jesus died on the day of preparation, which is inconsistent with Mark’s prior narrative, but consistent with John’s chronology.

    So was Mark 15:42 added by a later (different) author?

  32. searchingfortruthineverything  June 4, 2017

    Historical accuracy is always more important than theological “truth”

    The early writings of early “Christians” who lived closer to the time of the apostles were closer to the “truth” than later “Christians” and these writings that were not included in the Bible have much important historical information that is not included in the Bible.

    Even though the writings of early “Christian” writings such as Clements “epistle” do provide much insight into the views of “Christians” who lived closer to the days of the apostles sometimes you have to consider that these writings might not be authentic nor sometimes they contain myths like the writings of “Clement” that mentions the mythological Phoenix bird of Arabia so you sometimes have to take them with a grain of salt.

    But the writings of “Clement” does include the important fact of early “Christian” view about that the “false Christians” viewed Jesus Christ as God Almighty and other early “Christian” thinking that the early “Christians” mentioned that God has a government and some today believe that God’s Kingdom is a theocratic government.

  33. searchingfortruthineverything  June 4, 2017

    The Roman Catholic Church had held to this “consubstantial” view for many centuries and some other mainstream Protestant churches claim that the transubstantial view, namely that the bread and wine of Christ’s Passover is like the “body” and “blood” of Jesus or represents them as a comparison.

    The Catholic Church still argues that the “body” and “blood” are literally in the “bread” and wine or miraculously “transforms” into the “body” and “blood” of Christ.

    Also for many centuries the Roman Catholic Church claimed to possess the “original cross” or Stavros that Jesus Christ was executed on.

    They allegedly even fought a war to recover this “cross” from the Muslims many centuries ago.

    They Catholic Church at one time even claimed to possess the “original chair” that the apostle Peter sat in. Some writings from centuries ago had mentioned that some people discovered “Peter’s chair” and allegedly it had engravings on it of a manmade god.

  34. DavidBeaman  June 5, 2017

    Seems like John and the church that puts forth this theology has forgotten Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” This seems to me to negate God wanting Jesus to be a sacrifice.

    • HistoricalChristianity  June 6, 2017

      That Hosea text could simply hyperbole. We have no texts saying that the sacrifices should stop. Or, this might be an indication that at least part of this text was written during Diaspora, when sacrifices were impossible since the temple had been destroyed.

      There is no text in all of Tanakh saying that a human should be sacrificed as a universal offering or sacrifice. Torah shows that Israel had practiced human sacrifice earlier in its history, but no longer practiced it.

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