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Jesus’ Inflammatory Words


Were the claims Jesus made about himself, or the comments he made about other sects or leaders within Judaism, likely to have produced an angry or violent response from devout Jews in Jerusalem during Passover? Were his comments any more “out of the ordinary” than others would have been making about, say, the Temple authorities or whomever?


A full answer to this very good question would take a full book.  In fact, scholars *have* written entire books on it!  So here let me just lay out my views on the matter – none of which is particularly controversial among critical scholars.  (i.e., this is fairly standard stuff).

First: I don’t think Jesus made any comments about his identity that would have aroused opposition among Jewish leaders or regular Jews when he arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, a week before his death (or any time during that week).  In no small measure that’s because I do not think Jesus’ proclamation – either during that week or at any time during his ministry – was about himself.  It was instead about the coming Kingdom of God.


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Problems with the Hebrew Bible Manuscripts
Mark and the Resurrection



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 6, 2013

    Your views and summaries of scholarly views are always helpful and interesting. The trial of Jesus reminds me of the trial of Socrates in that it is hard to really grasp why it happened. I wonder If the Gospel authors were influenced by the stories about the trial of Socrates.

  2. Robertus
    Robertus  June 7, 2013

    “According to the Gospels, Jesus spent the week leading up to Passover proclaiming his apocalyptic message.”

    Is this really so pronounced? The major apocalyptic discourse of Mk 13 and parallels was portrayed as a private discourse to only a handful of discples, which makes sense if Jesus’ supposed prophecy of the Temple’s destruction was not known until Mark gave it such prominence only after this actually occurred.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 7, 2013

      Yes, that’s a good point. But the Gospels also portray him interacting with others, and my sense is that, hisotrically, he was telling them what he thought.

  3. Avatar
    Elisabeth Strout  June 7, 2013

    Just want to say, your posts are the highlight of my blogger reader thing-a-ma-jig. Honestly by far the most fascinating and thought-provoking material I get, and really makes my day to log on and see a new post from you. Thank you!

  4. Avatar
    timber84  June 7, 2013

    What do you think about the historical accuracy of Jesus’ arrest scene? A crowd (how many?) with swords and clubs came to arrest Jesus among them temple police. Jesus being kissed by Judas and the slave of the high priest having his ear cut off.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 7, 2013

      I guess at the end of the day, I just don’t know. What gives me pause is that the disciples are said to have swords. What are they doing with swords? Would a later Christian have made that part up? If not, why were Jesus’ followers armed? Could he in fact have been in favor of armed revolution? I don’t think so — but it’s a strange part of the story!

      • Avatar
        gavriel  June 8, 2013

        Maybe most people making long walks in the wilderness between various regions in Palestine had to carry arms for protection?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 8, 2013

          Yeah, maybe so. But if the message is “turn the other cheek,” it’s hard to see how self-defense can be part of the agenda….

  5. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  June 7, 2013

    Bart, speaking of the money changers and the sellers of sacrifices: why would Jesus (or the Gospel writers) have seen them as ‘thieves’ or ‘robbers’? They did a necessary job (Jews from the diaspora needed to change money and they needed to buy a sacrifice), didn’t they? Did he think that they were ripping of people?

    Or did he seen the traditional Jews themselves as ‘thieves’? Did he think that buying sacrifices to absolve of your sins was too easy and too commercial in nature (kind of like Martin Luther did later on)?

  6. Avatar
    gavm  June 7, 2013

    from what i heard the temple is huge and not something that would have been shut down simply by someone flipping some tables. this part of the story is hard to believe. it seems hard to know if it were the jews that did him in or 100% the romans. Jerusalem during passover was very crowded and violate, the jews are celebrating freedom from slavery in Egypt yet here the Romans have them. i think it would be easy for high tensions to cause something to snap. maybe one day we will find out what really happened for sure if some old Roman records turn up

  7. Avatar
    EricBrown  June 7, 2013

    That sounds just about right to me, Bart. Of course, that may be because I’ve been propagandized by your work for so long!

  8. Avatar
    Jim  June 7, 2013

    Instead of trying to reconstruct, why not just phone him at his house in Queensland and ask him directly?

    • Avatar
      gavm  June 10, 2013

      Queensland? you sure he hasn’t been flooded out. if hes a queenslander he’d still be upset over state of origin game 1

  9. Avatar
    Wilusa  June 7, 2013

    I see problems here. Why would it have been the Jewish authorities who arrested Jesus, if the one serious charge against him mattered only to the Romans? Whom did Judas go to, to “betray” him? If it was the Romans (the ones who’d object to his calling himself “King of the Jews”), why wouldn’t they have made the arrest?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 7, 2013

      My sense is that the Jewish authorities were the ones afraid of a riot, and knew what the situation was on the ground, and so decided to have Jesus taken out of the way. Pilate probably had never heard of Jesus before the trial. (And probably didn’t remember anything about him afterwards!)

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  June 7, 2013

    Followup thought: Maybe Judas went to the Romans, and they asked the Jewish authorities to make the actual arrest because they thought either that the Jews could do it more easily, or that the Jewish priests would resent the Romans’ doing it?

  11. Avatar
    Peter  June 7, 2013


    Do you think that if Jesus had said publicly that he was the Messiah (although I’m sure you’re correct in saying that he didn’t), it would have provoked a violent response from some ordinary Jews?

  12. Avatar
    charlesb  June 7, 2013

    I’m looking forward to your book because at what point in history did the story about the resurrection come about along with the equation of Jesus with God…or did it evolve, and more importantly, why?

  13. Avatar
    fred  June 12, 2013

    Bart – I have the impression that you differ from Sanders regarding Jesus view of himself. I think you believe Jesus secretly told his disciples he was Messiah. Sanders says, “I must confess that I have no answer to the question of precisely how Jesus saw the relationship between himself, the Son of man, and the Father.” He believes Jesus taught his disciples that he himself would play the principle role in the coming kingdom, and that they would also have prominent roles, but that it may have been the disciples who concluded he was the Messiah.

    Am I reading both you and Sanders correctly? If so, is your stronger view more more accepted among critical scholars, or is Sanders’ weaker view?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 13, 2013

      Yes, I go a bit further. But not *too* much: if the disciples are rulers and he will play “the principle role in the coming kingdom” — wouldn’t the principle role in a kingdom be the role of king?

  14. Christopher Sanders
    Christopher Sanders  June 22, 2013

    I love your conclusions, an agnostic atheist myself, although I prefer to see Jesus as more of the traditional cult leader sort, who saw his death coming and started secretly telling his disciples that he was going to die as a sacrifice and plausibly utilizing Judas as an instrument to bring his death about in a way that he preferred. Would you see that as a good reading of the evidence? I mean, it’s crazy improbable but so is practically every scenario you work through, that’s the great mystery of it 🙂

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 22, 2013

      No, I don’t think Jesus saw himself as a sacrifice. That, in my opinion, was a later interpretation of his death by his followers trying to make sense of it: if he was the messiah, why in the world did he get crucified??? Aha! It must have been God’s plan….

  15. Avatar
    mikehamm123  December 23, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman, I wonder if you could comment on the historicity/authenticity of John 14:6:

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

    Did he really say this, or were the words ‘put in his mouth’ by later authors?

    Seems to be a pivotal claim.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 24, 2014

      I think these words definitely portray John’s understanding of the importance of Jesus for eternal life. I do *not* think they are words Jesus himself spoke.

      • Avatar
        mikehamm123  December 24, 2014

        Thank you for your response.

        Seems like kind of a big deal to me–obviously a lot of history has hinged on the belief that there is only *one* way to salvation. It even negates Jewish theology in a way. But a great way to inspire brand loyalty!

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