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Jesus and His Miracles: Some Interesting Features

In my discussion of whether the historian can deal with the category of miracle, I’m now at the point where I can deal directly with the miracles ascribed to Jesus.   This is an issue that I have dealt with in several books, including, most recently, Jesus Before the Gospels.   It will take three posts for me to cover the waterfront here.  This is how I began dealing with the issue in the book.

 

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The Miracles of Jesus

When one discusses the activities and deeds of Jesus, it is very hard indeed to avoid talking about his miracles.   Miracles are everywhere in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life.  He is miraculously born to a woman who has never had sexual relations.  From the beginning of his public ministry to the end he does one miracle after the other, conquering nature, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead.   So abundantly attested are Jesus’ miracle-working abilities that even scholars who are otherwise skeptical of the supernatural biases of our sources sometimes claim that whatever else one can say about him, Jesus was almost certainly a healer and an exorcist.[1]

It has long been interesting to me that such moderate skeptics choose to believe that Jesus could heal people and cast out demons, but do not conclude, as well, that he could perform miracles with nature:  walk on the water, calm the storm with a word, multiply loaves, turn water into wine.   Is it because the healing and exorcism miracles are even more abundantly attested than the nature miracles?  Probably.  But could it also be because these nature miracles are so much harder to believe?  Possibly that as well.

I am not going to discuss the problem that historians have with the category of miracle.  I have already delved into that question at length in earlier books, and feel no need to repeat myself here.[2]  My strong conviction is that whether one is a believer or not, if one wants to discuss what probably happened in the past, it is never appropriate or even possible to say that miracles have happened.  That is not – absolutely is not – because of a secular, anti-supernaturalist bias (as some apologists gleefully love to claim).  I had the same view even when …

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Is There Sarcasm in the New Testament?
History is not the Past! Proving Jesus’ Resurrection and Other Miracles

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 3, 2018

    Humans tend to make things up and sometimes they do this very quickly and passionately (see our current American politics). Hence, I think it is more likely that the miracles, including the Resurrection, are made up than that they are historical. I think the fact that the Gospels were written decades after the described events and the Gospel accounts of the same event are often very different increase the odds that much in these Gospel accounts is legendary, not historical. I do think, however, we ought to do our best to try to establish the best we can whether something is historical or legendary from the evidence without considering whether the event is natural or supernatural. For example, try to determine whether the event did or did not occur and then, if the event is confirmed, move on to whether it is a natural or supernatural event . For example, did Jesus walk on water? Try to solve that first and then, if the event seems probable, try to figure out whether it was a miracle or there is some natural explanation (Jesus walked on a sand bar) for the event. I also struggle with idea that there can be a “faith” determination in contrast to a “historical” determination of the truth of an event. This essentially makes faith belief when there is no evidence. Hmmm? Shouldn’t faith be more than that? Shouldn’t it be based on some historical evidence?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 5, 2018

      I suppose it faith was based on evidence it wouldn’t be faith. (E.g., Hebrews 11:1)

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    • Avatar
      godspell  August 5, 2018

      You realize they could be both, right?

      Real events that got turned into miracles.

      How did we ever start believing in miraculous events if that never happens? It happens all the time. It was happening for thousands of years before Jesus was born, and it’s still happening now.

      So to me, the question of whether Jesus could actually do miracles is entirely separate from whether he could make people believe he’d done miracles, or believed himself that he could perform them. And I think on some level he did believe that. His behavior makes no sense otherwise. And by and large, his behavior, as described, does make sense. He wasn’t crazy. But he wasn’t living in quite the same world most people live in.

      In many ways, a better one.

  2. Avatar
    Brittonp  August 3, 2018

    I wonder how many charismatic rabbi’s were running around Galilee in the first century giving special attention to the undesirables? Hope is a powerful emotion from which legend can evolve. Not so different from the legend around some of our modern charismatic evangelists.

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  3. Avatar
    fishician  August 3, 2018

    I wonder if the story in Matthew 12:43-45 (Luke 11:24-26) is Jesus’ explanation for why some of his exorcisms didn’t last. The person allowed more spirits to come in. Staying on the move would have kept his disciples from seeing healed or exorcised people relapse. He told Legion the demoniac to go back to his hometown; again, the disciples would not see if he relapsed. Just seems to me that there are little clues that Jesus’ miracles were not as miraculous as portrayed in the Gospels, and not dissimilar to modern miracle workers.

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  4. Avatar
    Steefen  August 3, 2018

    Bart:
    the stories of his miracles were always told in order to make a theological point about him …
    and to reveal that he really was the Son of God endowed with supernatural power

    Steefen
    “…he was a doer of wonderful works…” – Josephus’ testimony

    Josephus does not conclude he really was the Son of God.. He was Wunderkind who was Christ, not Son of God, not God.

    Unlike Moses who went against political enemies with god power, Jesus did not go against Pilate (pharaoh stand-in) with god power or assistance from a father god. He was no Hercules, a son of god.. He did not suggest he would protect his Father’s House of Prayer in the near future, AD 70. He did not show his son of God power against Pilate when Pilate slayed the Samaritan prophet. He did not show his son of God power when Jews exposed their necks to Pilate. Where was Jesus when Pilate tried to put images of Tiberius in the Temple?

    Nay, besides the indignation which the citizens had themselves at this procedure, a vast number of people came running out of the country. These came zealously to Pilate to Cesarea, and besought him to carry those ensigns out of Jerusalem, and to preserve them their ancient laws inviolable; but upon Pilate’s denial of their request, they fell down prostrate upon the ground, and continued immovable in that posture for five days and as many nights.

    Pilate also said to them that they should be cut in pieces, unless they would admit of Caesar’s images, and gave intimation to the soldiers to draw their naked swords. Hereupon the Jews, as it were at one signal, fell down in vast numbers together, and exposed their necks bare, and cried out that they were sooner ready to be slain, than that their law should be transgressed.”

    Pilate seized monetary offerings to the Temple.

    Philo reports that Pilate also proposed to set up a colossal idol in the holy of holies itself, the most sacred part of the temple at Jerusalem

    The Book of Luke (13: 1) tells us that Pilate killed Jewish worshipers, mingling his victims’ blood with that of their religious sacrifices, a hideous desecration.

    Due to Jesus’s lack of heroism, his Wunderkind of God status needs qualification, yes?

    1
    • Rick
      Rick  August 5, 2018

      But is that Josephus testimony or Eusebius?

      • Avatar
        Steefen  August 6, 2018

        It is definitely the testimony of Josephus. For starters, see:
        Josephus and the New Testament, Second Edition by Steve Mason.

        Steve Mason is professor of history and Canada Research Chair in Greco-Roman Cultural Interaction at York University, Toronto. He is the author of Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees and general editor of the twelve-volume series Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary.

        What is Bart’s position on partial or full attribution to someone other than Josephus?

        1
        • Bart
          Bart  August 7, 2018

          I think the bulk of it goes back to Josephus, but that several phrases were added by a Christian scribe to make him sound like a believer.

          2
  5. Avatar
    Omar Osama  August 3, 2018

    This is my first comment on the blog
    I will only say one thing
    Professor Bart you are a wonderful person
    And a great man with a very high morality

    12
  6. Avatar
    dankoh  August 3, 2018

    We should keep in mind that in Jesus’s day, pretty much everyone believed in miracle workers. (Dio writes that Vespasian, in Egypt, healed a blind man by spitting in his eyes, and did other miracle healings.) I believe I know where you’re going with this (from your Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene book), so let me just ask you this: I do not find any reference to the Pharisees objecting to the miracles or being astonished by them; their problem was only that he was doing his miracles on the Sabbath. Do you agree?

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  August 5, 2018

      Yes, that appears to be the case.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  August 5, 2018

      The Babylonian Talmud takes the stand that was not the only problem they had with him doing miracles. First, when you look into tannaim, Jewish sages of the first century doing wonderous works, judgments are made against them because God/Heaven had sided with them, the wonderous work being evidence of their correctness. Two rabbis were having an argument, the one who was correct said something to the effect of if I am correct, may the roof over our heads slant. The roof did slant. There is a bias against Jewish sages exhibiting their mystical powers.

      Jesus in the Talmud is a book by Peter Schäfer that explains that Jewish sages of the first century doing miracles is not surprising but there was a bias against their displays. The problem is not so much that the sage was legitimate but that the correctness, confirmed by God, unleveled the playing field. It was sort of like two children playing a game and one child thought to make a move and asked an adult, am I right? and the adult said yes. His opponent objects: You’re cheating, I reject that move, despite its correctness!

      • Avatar
        dankoh  August 7, 2018

        It is risky to rely on the Talmud as a source for what Jews in the first century CE thought of Jesus. First, the Talmud is 200-500 years later, so it is not a contemporary source. Second, the Pharisees, while in some ways the spiritual ancestors of the rabbis, were not the same as the rabbis (rabbinic claims to the contrary notwithstanding). And third, by that time the rabbis were aware of Christianity and its bias against them, so they cannot be considered unbiased themselves in their reporting.

        The story (which is well known) of rabbis calling on signs from heaven to support them has nothing to do with a distaste for public displays of miracle-working. The point of the story was that “the Torah is not in heaven” and that, once it was given to the Jews, it was up to the Jews to interpret it, and God should not interfere. (The story ends with a report that God, asked what he thought of that argument, laughed and said, “My children have defeated me!”) Also, the rabbi who had called on heaven to support him lost the argument, because the majority decided he was not correct.

        • Avatar
          Steefen  August 8, 2018

          Dankoh
          The story of rabbis calling on signs from heaven to support them has nothing to do with a distaste for public displays of miracle-working.

          The point of the story was that “the Torah is not in heaven” and that, once it was given to the Jews, it was up to the Jews to interpret it, and God should not interfere.

          The rabbi who had called on heaven to support him lost the argument, because the majority decided he was not correct.

          Steefen
          First, reason was ignored: Rabbi Eliezer b. Hyrkanos used every imaginable argument but his rabbinic colleagues did not accept his conclusion.

          If Halakha (Jewish Law and jurisprudence, based on the Talmud) agrees with me, let the carob-tree give us a sign. It did. It didn’t matter to the other rabbis.

          Then, let the stream of water give us a sign. It did. It didn’t matter to the other rabbis.

          Then, let the walls of the schoolhouse give us a sign. It did. While the walls were falling [and the roof slanting by my earlier recollection of the story] the other rabbis said, no magical or divine audience should voice approval for or against the debaters [hold your applause]; so, the walls stopped moving but did not correct themselves—God vs. Free Will to reject facts and sound conclusions.

          “In portraying Rabbi Eliezer as the dangerous arch-magician, the rabbis model R. Eliezer along the lines of the other arch-magician[/doer of divine, wondrous works], who threatened their authority—Jesus. In other words: R. Eliezer becomes the rabbinic doppelganger of Jesus.” – Peter Schafer

          Willful ignorance by a majority or by a minority does not win an argument in the fields of Mathematics and Science. I, too, do not let my conclusions get corrupted by the politics of voting.

          The moral of the story you say, as I understand it is judgments over Jewish Law from the Torah is not decided in Heaven where a Hebrew God is watching but among humans on earth. “I’m grown now, God; you gave Torah to adults, but you are no longer a participant in history. We’ve decided you are an outsider.” I disagree with that anti-God stance. Nevertheless, I agree with Peter Schafer.

          • Avatar
            dankoh  August 12, 2018

            There is a critical misunderstanding of Jewish jurisprudence here. In the days of the Talmud, law and its interpretation were decided by a majority of the trained and acknowledged rabbis who were members of the academies at Sura and Pumbeditha (in Babylonia). This is not “politics of voting”; this is like the Supreme Court, and the Gemara generally records the majority and minority opinions. Rabbi Eliezar was unable to persuade the majority to his point of view, but that hardly means reason was ignored; quite the contrary.

            The second point being made here is that miracles are irrelevant to the interpretation of the law. The Talmud says so in so many words: One does not cite halakhic proof from a carob tree or a stream (or a wall). b. Baba Metzia 59b. Simply put, the other rabbis were saying to Rabbi Eliezar, if you want us to accept your argument, do so using reason, logic, citations; that is what counts with us.

            The third point is that, once God gave the Torah to Moses, it was up to the Jews to interpret it. “The Torah is not in heaven” is a quote from Deut. 30:12. More to the point, the claim in the Gemara is that it was up to the trained and certified rabbis to decide how best to apply the law. Not that God is not involved, but God gave the rabbis the final word.

            This is not, as you call it, an “anti-God” stance, but calling it that highlights one of the differences in the Jewish and Christian approaches to God. Jews approach God with respect, but also with a willingness to argue with him; that goes back to Abraham.

            Finally, the rabbis did not punish R. Eliezar for “doing magic.” They excommunicated him because he would not accept the majority decision, and since he was a recognized authority, his rebellion would carry weight. (It would be like a Supreme Court justice insisting that his dissent was in fact the law.)

          • Avatar
            Steefen  August 14, 2018

            And how many times has one scientist later been proved correct against an earlier panel of colleagues?

            West Virginia, this week, impeached all of their four Supreme Court justices. US Supreme Court was wrong in 1857 with Dred Scott v. Sanford, in 1896 with Plessy v. Ferguson, in 1883 with Pace v. Alabama, in 1944 with Korematsu v. United States, in 1986 with Bowers v. Hardwick. The problem is not a critical misunderstanding of Jewish jurisprudence. The problem is the flaw in Jewish jurisprudence with sages acting like their consensus or their majority is infallible with belligerent disobedience (with no humility) in the face of God telling them otherwise..

            Your second point misses the point. As Bart brought up, wonders of Jesus were not to show integrity of magic between man and object but to show righteousness approved by God. If the Hebrew God wishes to nod approval through a carob tree, a wall, or impregnating Mary (for the Talmud also says something to the effect of so what if the lion [of Judah] lays with the woman to save his people.

            The Torah is not in heaven means that what was revealed is not mysterious: it is attainable to love God and Neighbor. Rabbis do not final-word-trump God.. If you want to disagree on the grounds of the Gemara, I am not persuaded.

            You say the rabbis even punished R. Eliezar because he would not accept the majority decision (It would be like a Supreme Court justice insisting that his dissent was in fact the law.).

            Well, I’ve already covered the politics of voting, the impeachment of Supreme Court judges, and the wrongness of their majority decisions. To that, I add the “Supreme Court” of the Inquisition v. Giordano Bruno (killed), Copernicus, and Galileo (imprisoned).

            God can use miracles for Son of God but not for jurisprudence?

  7. Avatar
    prestonp  August 4, 2018

    And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” “Clearly He is talking about Himself”, Bart.

    Predicting His death and resurrection? He thought He was God, here? This is Luke. But, it wasn’t until years later after the gang had lots of time to mull things over that they realized He was God, at least that’s how it’s explained. He’s prophesying the future (a miracle) declaring He will perform a miracle that will stun the world. He’s predicting as The Son of Man, that He is about to shake up the entire world for at least the next 2,000 years! This nobody, this unknown, obscure, penniless, nomad from nowhere, with no power or influence or connections, without writing down anything, without fighting anyone or any military power, without an education, with only His mom and several other powerless women and a pal remaining, watching helplessly as He slowly suffocates on His blood, is going to be resurrected from the grave? Why? Why as a brilliant but misguided and confused apocalypticist, does He predict His resurrection? Additionally, the embellishment of His miraculous deeds, which would come later, was that supposed to out do the resurrection that He promises is coming soon? How do they hope to beat the resurrection?

    Then Jesus said to all of them, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.…” He even seems to know how they will murder Him and cautions those who plan to stick with Him, if you think following me is going to be cake -because of all the miracles- babe, think again! Following me, really, really following me–you are going to die to you. Remember the seed that falls into the ground? Remember!

    So, even though the synoptics never mention that He believes He is God, and even though the miracle working side of His life doesn’t fully blossom until much later in terms of what’s written down about Him, here He’s claiming to be God’s Son and will be executed and will rise again.

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    • Avatar
      Iskander Robertson  August 5, 2018

      “This nobody, this unknown, obscure, penniless, nomad from nowhere, with no power or influence or connections, without writing down anything, without fighting anyone or any military power, without an education, ”

      so matthew lied when he said jesus’ fame reached all the way to syria? the writers were lying when they said jesus could not enter a city because he was so famous? i don’t know why christians only focus on the ressurection when it clearly seems that the resurrection is tied with the second coming . i have proof

      “he is going before you to galilee, there u WILL SEE him”

      “you WILL SEE the son of man ….” said to high priest.

      • Avatar
        prestonp  August 6, 2018

        He started with nothing and became the most important human being who ever lived. He became the pivotal person in history even though He started out and remained a penniless, uneducated, unconnected, wanderer from a remote village, 2,000 years ago, without an army, without political power, without asking for a dime, without training, even as he trudged along without a place to lay His head. As time passed, more and more people followed Him and His fame grew. He predicted He would be murdered and that He would rise again. Many bolted when He was arrested and executed. When He rose from the dead and endued His remaining followers with the Holy Spirit, they turned the world right-side-up.

        His only enemies were religious people who held positions of power entrenched in man made traditions and external requirements that blocked others from finding God. Many of those outwardly religious tyrants hated Him, He was a mirror. He was, deep inside, the Man/God Who loved all from the depths of His being. He was a thorn in their flesh always reminding them how much they were not really like God at all. He was love and kindness and they were a facade of humble servanthood to God and others, when actually they were judgmental hypocrites.

        So, without any of the kinds of things many prominent people rely upon to obtain power, Jesus took on the whole world and through sacrifice and His beautiful teachings, He is worshiped by hundreds of millions.

        Many who want to be His disciples don’t make it. Some who don’t stick with Him fall away because it is too tough to pay the price. Not only are Christians forbidden to engage in premarital sex, we must not lust. No lust? No lust. We not only must never cheat anyone, we are to love everyone as He has loved us. If we do not forgive others when they sin against us, we will not be forgiven. We must forgive everyone/anyone every time they sin against us–from our hearts, no lip service. We must never succumb to bitterness. We are always to treat others with His love no matter what. No Matter What!

        • Avatar
          Iskander Robertson  August 8, 2018

          i done a response to this but words came to 675.

    • Avatar
      Iskander Robertson  August 5, 2018

      QUOTE :
      “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.…” He even seems to know how they will murder Him and cautions those who plan to stick with Him, if you think following me is going to be cake -because of all the miracles- babe, think again! Following me, really, really following me–you are going to die to you. Remember the seed that falls into the ground? Remember!

      end quote

      so do you live a life of suffering or do you wear a gold plated cross?

  8. Robert
    Robert  August 4, 2018

    “… even scholars who are otherwise skeptical of the supernatural biases of our sources sometimes claim that whatever else one can say about him, Jesus was almost certainly a healer and an exorcist. … Supernatural miracles can never be established as probable occurrences. By definition they are utterly improbable.”

    I share your perspective on a nonmiraculous Jesus. But, to be fair to the critical scholars who hold this position, they do not consider Jesus’ healings and exorcisms to be truly supernatural miracles but rather the same type of psychosomatic healings and hysterical exorcisms that one finds even today. Think, for example, of pentacostal and charismatic groups that speak in tongues and perform healings and exorcisms.

    “… and kill with a word teachers that he found irritating.”

    Professors of the New Testament beware!

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  August 5, 2018

      Yes, that’s right. The point is that “miracles” that happen are not divine interventions in this opinion, but natural occurrences (even if strange).

      1
      • dschmidt01
        dschmidt01  August 14, 2018

        HORATIO
        O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
        HAMLET
        And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
        There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
        Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

  9. Avatar
    mtelus  August 4, 2018

    I suspect a lot miracles were inserted just like the virgin birth. Would your book Jesus beford the Gospels give me a true picture of Jesus? Also did Jesus really speak in parables like Aesop or Confucious or was that inserted?

    3
    • Bart
      Bart  August 5, 2018

      It tries to! Also, see my book Jesus Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. And yes, Jesus did use parables, but different from those that come from other cultures.

      2
  10. Avatar
    ardeare  August 4, 2018

    The miracles are such a tricky subject. In Mormonism, Mormons are aware of events within their group that they would ascribe to miracles that most others are unaware of; same with Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc. It’s very possible that Jesus’ miracles were widely known to those who followed him. The number of persons who followed him is commonly disputed. This does not preclude the possibility of others hearing of them. It only took one man, Judas, to alert the Romans and would have only taken a couple more to alert the upper leadership of other groups. This leads to what may have been in the minds of his adversaries; the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Romans.

    The Saduccees may have heard of the miracles but soon realized that none of these miracles were for their benefit, that their political clout was in serious jeopardy, so they sought to have him killed. On the other hand, shouldn’t their knowledge of Jesus’ miracles created fear of him? The Pharisees may have heard of the miracles but saw Jesus as a threat because his oral teachings contrasted with their own. So, they sought to have him killed but that again raises the question; shouldn’t they have feared the miraculous Jesus? Then, we have the Romans. Local government officials may have heard of Jesus miracles and decided this was a great threat to their empire, best to have him killed. But then again, shouldn’t they have feared the man who could raise the dead, heal the sick, and walk on water?

    It is possible that each of these groups could have taken note of one very important point: None of Jesus canonical miracles were violent. No one turns into a pillar of salt, drown in the closing seas, or get rained on by fire and brimstone.

  11. Avatar
    Lilly  August 4, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman
    Have you come across any information about the average life expectancy and the leading cause of death during the time of Christ ? I remember reading reading that tooth decay was a life threatening illness.
    In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus miraculously fed five thousand hungry people from a few loafs of bread and fish. Was hunger and starvation prevalent throughout the areas Christ preached ?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 5, 2018

      Life expectancy was low, in teh mid 20s, I believe, partly because of the large numbers of infancy deaths. Yes, tooth problems were often fatal — not so much regular decay as abscess. There was no way to control the infection.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  August 5, 2018

        I think it would be more accurate to say that life expectancy for those who survived infancy was in the 50s or so (I don’t have exact figures at hand). The appalling infancy mortality rate has be factored out.

      • Avatar
        Lilly  August 5, 2018

        I had no idea . Life expectancy in the mid 20’s. Infant mortality and i expect women died at an alarming rate during labor .I almost cried when I read your reply..

  12. Avatar
    prestonp  August 4, 2018

    “stevenpounders
    Given that the gospel empty tomb tales are highly contradictory, it would defy logic to claim that they are all correct.”

    In reality, the fact that they harmonize perfectly but appear to be jumbled and contradictory is just what seals their authenticity. If they seemed to be too simplistic, too perfectly precise and too word for word, they would be condemned as fraud, a set up, a con.

    In the “unforum” I posted explanations for the difficulties many find surrounding the specifics of the unjust, brutal execution of an innocent man and who was where when and said what to whom when a dead man rose from the grave just as He promised.

    HawksJ asks Bart, “Are you saying that there is no conceivable historical documentation that could possibly serve as ‘historical evidence’? ….and yet I can conceive of lots of potential types of evidence that would force me to reconsider; for example, contemporary official Roman records documenting that a Jew was crucified and buried but that the body was, in fact, lost.”

    I suspect HawksJ suspects that the cats who wrote the N.T. were not as truthful as others would have been. Indeed, if those under the influence of “The Christian Agenda” had simply written down the facts as to what was said and what transpired 2,000 years when Jesus Christ ministered in a remote desert, everything would be clear. There’s a subtle, invisible assumption that just slides under the radar without a blip.

    What exactly did these guys hope to achieve through writing this stuff down? What possibly could have been their motivation? Luke explains why he put in the effort, “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, {Why?} so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

    Did Luke get rich, a new chariot, status?

    Again, why would Saul/Paul give up his faith, his position, his future as a prominent leader among the Jews?

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  13. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  August 5, 2018

    Paul and the author of the Q document didn’t seem to know anything about Jesus’ miracles even though Q did contain healings and exorcisms—I think. So if they didn’t know, then James didn’t know either. It’s interesting that Josephus wrote how James’s death caused such outrage within the Jewish community. I find that hard to believe unless, he too, taught a very scaled back version of Jesus. I get the impression that Josephus wrote about James in the TF as well because before and after the Jesus passage, Josephus mentions some calamities among the Jews. My working theory is that Josephus wrote about a calamity which involved both James and Jesus with the account being negative toward Jesus but not James.

    James does not seem to be well thought of in the Gospels either. Jesus’ brothers are called unbelievers, so it makes me think there was a sect of Jewish Christians led by James who taught a very minimalist view of Jesus.

    1
    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  August 5, 2018

      I should also add that I don’t think James was teaching Jesus to be a preexisting angelic being. Maybe he thought of him as being divine, calling him the son of God due to his resurrection but not the firstborn of creation.

      On another note, who do you think gained more of a popular following: James or Peter?

      • Bart
        Bart  August 6, 2018

        I suppose it depends on when and where. In the long run, over the centuries, it has been Peter.

    • Rick
      Rick  August 5, 2018

      I thought Josephus complaint in Antiquities 20 relative to James was that the high priest had him wasted when he did not have authority to do so?
      I suspect you are absolutely right about James having a very human view of his human brother which did not comport well with the later gospel writers.

      3
      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  August 7, 2018

        Josephus also said that some equitable citizens were upset about what happened to James, calling the act unjustified. They made a complaint resulting in Ananus’s removal as high priest.

        It seems to me that Josephus wrote something similar in the TF, but it did not reflect well on Jesus. Maybe even unintentionally so, as in, it went against a theological viewpoint.

  14. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  August 5, 2018

    This is a very interesting topic. This is an issue I’ve struggled with. On the one hand, I wonder why would stories of miracles associated with Jesus develop if there wasn’t a grain of truth to them? Yet, on the other hand miracles, by definition, are a suspension of natural law so why should we believe that Jesus suspended natural law? If human beings cannot walk on liquid water, why should we believe Jesus was an exception to that rule? The only reason to believe Jesus was an exception to the rule is because of our faith or belief system demands or desires that we see Jesus as the exception. It’s a bit of circular logic.

    My question: similar to how the divinity of Jesus progresses through the gospels in the order which they were written, do the miracles of Jesus become more numerous or spectacular from Mark through John?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 5, 2018

      There’s not a linear development; but John’s miracles on the whole are more thoroughly “staged” and more “spectacular” than those of the other Gospels.

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    • Avatar
      prestonp  August 5, 2018

      “Liam Foley August 5, 2018
      This is a very interesting topic. This is an issue I’ve struggled with. On the one hand, I wonder why would stories of miracles associated with Jesus develop if there wasn’t a grain of truth to them? Yet, on the other hand miracles, by definition, are a suspension of natural law so why should we believe that Jesus suspended natural law? If human beings cannot walk on liquid water, why should we believe Jesus was an exception to that rule? The only reason to believe Jesus was an exception to the rule is because of our faith or belief system demands or desires that we see Jesus as the exception. It’s a bit of circular logic.”

      That’s it? Where’s the grain of truth argument? The Only reason is our faith or faith system demands or desires that we see Jesus as the exception? Therefore, if one with no faith or faith system thinks Jesus performed miracles because He was God, he is wrong, period, automatically.

      {Did Luke get rich, a new chariot, status?} Right. He got zip.

      {Again, why would Saul/Paul give up his faith, his position, his future as a prominent leader among the Jews?}

      Correct. He got abused. “…he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks…”
      Paul reminds the gang, “For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him” He told Timbo: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Christ told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” “‘Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.'”

      Exactly! These are examples of the kinds of things the boys gained as they left everything to follow Him.

      1
  15. Avatar
    anthonygale  August 5, 2018

    Are there sources outside the Bible suggesting that other apocalyptic prophets (would be ones at least) were also viewed as miracle workers during their lifetime? If Jesus would be unique in being both apocalypticist and healer/exorcist, that might be another reason to question if he was really was viewed as a healer/exorcist when he was living.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 5, 2018

      Yes, there are tales in Josephus, for example, of Honi the Circle Drawer and Hanina ben Dosa, who were rabbinic teachers who did miracles; but we don’t know much about their actual teachings. We certainly have instances of apocalyptic teachers in Josephus who *claimed* they were going to do miracles — make the walls of Jerusalem fall or cross the Jordan river on dry land like Moses at the Exodus (e.g. a prophet named Theudas and another simply called “the Egyptian”)

      • Avatar
        anthonygale  August 5, 2018

        Was it common enough that it may have even been the norm? If apocalyptic prophet and (perception of being) miracle worker often/usually went together, would Jesus have fit a mold of sorts? If so, it doesn’t seem hard to believe he was perceived as miracle worker during his lifetime.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 6, 2018

          It’s hard to say. Paul was also an apocalyptic preacher who allegedly could do miracles. John the Baptist however, at least in the traditions we have, does not have any miraculous powers.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  August 5, 2018

      If you read enough ancient sources, you’ll quickly get the sense that Jesus was anything but exceptional. In fact, he was so typical of his time and place that later apostles had to create more and more extraordinary claims about him (e.g. the Virgin Birth, the healing of a cut off ear, being the literal incarnation of the almighty creator of the universe, etc.) just to make him stand out from the run-of-the-mill messianic claimant.

      Most people I talk to don’t even know that 95% of the stuff written about Jesus in the gospels (e.g. the faith healing and exorcisms, walking on water, controlling storms, verbal confrontations with demons, and even bringing people back from the dead, etc.) would have been considered standard fare for the hagiography of a beloved guru by his disciples. The 5% that appears exceptional, however, is the claim — both implicit and explicit — that Jesus was literally the God of Israel incarnate, which doesn’t even appear to go back to the original Jewish Christians (because they would have thought the notion absurd), but, rather, to those Greek Christians who were used to myths and legends about divine incarnations.

      If you remove that absurd part of about Jesus literally being God, then he ceases to be at all exceptional. In fact, the only thing that makes him stick out was that his movement just so happened to succeed while the other messianic movements fizzled out. Jesus’s significance, along with the ultimate triumph of Christianity, appear to be, like most events, simply an accident of history.

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  16. Avatar
    anthonygale  August 5, 2018

    Isn’t it common for stories to be changed and exaggerated over time, even if they have a basis in reality? And people presumably tend to change stories for a reason, even if unconsciously. That certainly makes it problematic in determining what Jesus really did during his lifetime. But are there grounds to say the miracle stories were “likely” later inventions rather than exaggerations? It seems plausible that Jesus thought he could heal and others thought he could, but stories got exaggerated over time and some were created/molded to make theological points.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 5, 2018

      Yup! But as to likelihood, that’s a tough one. I’ll be dealing with it in my next couple of posts.

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  17. Avatar
    prestonp  August 5, 2018

    metzger quotes
    “It is simply inconceivable that the scattered and disheartened remnant could have found a rallying point and a gospel in the memory of him who had been put to death as a criminal had they not been convinced that God owned him and accredited his mission by raising him from the dead.”

    “It is a commonplace that every event in history must have an adequate cause. Never
    were hopes more desolate that when Jesus of Nazareth was taken down from the cross
    and laid in the tomb. Stricken with grief at the death of their Master, the disciples were
    dazed and bewildered. Their mood was one of dejection and defeat, reflected in the
    spiritless words of the Emmaus travelers, “ We had hoped that he was the one to redeem
    Israel” (Luke 24:21). A short time later the same group of disciples was aglow with
    supreme confidence and fearless in the face of persecution. Their message was one of
    joy and triumph. What caused such a radical change in these men’s lives? The explanation is that something unprecedented had occurred: Jesus Christ was raised from
    the dead! Fifty-some days after Crucifixion the apostolic preaching of Christ’s
    resurrection began in Jerusalem with such power and persuasion that the evidence
    convinced thousands.” (Bruce Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth
    and Development, p. 150ff)

    “Divergences in detail are certainly to be found in the accounts of the first Easter, but
    these are such as one would expect from independent and excited witnesses. If the
    evangelists had fabricated the resurrection narratives, they would not have left obvious
    difficulties and [apparent] discrepancies – such as those involving the number of angels
    at the tomb, the order of Jesus’ appearances, and similar details. That the accounts have been left unreconciled, without any attempt to produce a single stereotyped narrative,
    inspires confidence in the fundamental honesty of those who transmitted the evidence.”
    Metzger knows his stuff. The points he makes here with just these few words are so obvious it is almost impossible to understand how others can not see them. The ring of truth is something discounted these days. Even my summa cum laude Radcliffe (having won the only regional scholarship they offered) graduate mother with her photographic memory and her total disdain for religion was moved to say that the account of Mary greeting Jesus after He rose from the grave, “seems real, doesn’t it?”

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    • Avatar
      flcombs  August 6, 2018

      prestonp: “it is almost impossible to understand how others can not see them”

      Because others don’t make the same assumptions. For example, prove that the gospel writers had read other gospels and knew what they said. If you can’t, then it is almost impossible to understand why you would think some of those points make any sense at all. Also, once again the assumption that the bible accounts are true as written, a theory you haven’t proven.

      Are you aware of any scholars other than Metzger? You appear to worship his writing and consider it holy script. There are other views out there by just as qualified people. Many people don’t assume Metzger is the only person out there.

      And of course why would Harry Potter and his friends risk all if magic wasn’t real? The proof is all there with the many named witnesses to the events and the miracles they did. Why would they lie or take risks if it wasn’t true? It’s impossible to see why you can’t recognize this.

      3
      • Avatar
        flcombs  August 6, 2018

        To refine the gospel writer comment: Of course it is widely believed that Matthew and Luke are based from knowledge of Mark. I’m refering to the assumptions that the writers of Matthew and Luke would have known of each others work and tried to not contradict.

        There is the unproven and just theological assumption that the gospels were ever meant to be in harmony. Even if they know of the other, why not “MY story is the TRUE one. The other has some of the facts wrong!” Prove they were originally meant to be in harmony, who wrote them, when, etc.

        So what seems “obvious” to you is only obvious after a lot of assumptions that others don’t share unless we grant the same to other religious works and stories.

        1
  18. Avatar
    Hon Wai  August 6, 2018

    I find it plausible a religious figure like Jesus in 1st century would have been viewed as a performer of healings and exorcisms during his lifetime, if there was an existing mindset that apocalyptic prophets like him were capable of such feats. In contemporary world, it is easy to find charismatic megachurches, where charismatic pastors regularly perform healings and occasionally exorcisms. There are plenty of Youtube videos showing televangelists from the 1980s and 1990s performing such feats in front of a huge audience. I have been a healing session a decade ago performed by associates of Todd Bentley during the Lakeland Revival (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakeland_Revival), and one woman who came in on wheel-chair demonstrated walking up the steps after being prayed to. In the 1990s and 2000s, Holy Trinity Brompton Church (London) – the originating church of the Alpha Course – regularly held healing ministries, and some in the audience would sincerely testify of having seen miraculous healings. People prone to believe in miracles and have fertile religious imagination, will describe events in miraculous terms, when sceptics in the audience, witnessing the same events would not.

  19. cheito
    cheito  August 9, 2018

    I think the most important miracle is that Jesus rose from the dead and that he appeared alive to many. Most importantly, Jesus also appeared to Paul. I think Paul is the most important witness of Christ because we have Paul’s writings, which are undisputed by scholars of all persuasions, therefore we can know that what Paul says in Galatians was really written by Him.

    Paul claims in his letters that Jesus appeared to him alive and that Jesus also gave Him a Gospel to preach. I don’t think that a person like Paul would have walked away from everything he stood for, and from his mission to destroy the church of Christ, just on a whim, or because of some vision or hallucination.

    I believe Paul really saw Jesus alive, just as Peter and the rest of the apostles also saw Jesus alive.

  20. Avatar
    webattorney  August 10, 2018

    Your article raised an interesting topic in my mind. During Jesus’ times, were there tricksters or magicians who could perform certain magic tricks that appeared to be miracles? In other words, were there magicians during Jesus’ times?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2018

      There are certainly stories of tricksters. For a fun read, see Lucian of Samosata’s book on Alexander the False Prophet.

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