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Jesus’ Private Teachings about the King of the Jews

In this thread I am discussing whether Jesus considered himself the messiah prior to his death.   So far I have made one major argument for that view, involving his death itself.  All of our sources report Jesus was executed by the Romans specifically for calling himself the King of the Jews.  They do not report that the Roman governor Pontius Pilate ordered him crucified for raising an army, or for causing a disturbance in the temple, or for being a pain in the neck for the Sadducees, Pharisees, or anyone else.  They report that the charge was for calling himself the Jewish king.

This seems almost certainly historical, because it is not a report Christians would have made up.  The title “King of the Jews” appears in the Gospels only in connection with Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.  It is not a title that Christians ever (so far as we can tell) used of Jesus.  And so it’s unlikely they invented it for the occasion of his death.

Moreover, I think it is fair to say that Jesus did not publicly proclaim himself the King of the Jews.  The reason is the same: we have no public teachings of Jesus in which he takes this title for himself.  Read for yourself: see his longest teaching in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 4: no mention of him being the King of the Jews.  Or the longest teaching in Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7: no word of such thing.  Look at all the Gospels.  Jesus never publicly declares himself the King of the Jews.

So why was he executed for calling himself that?  My view is not an idiosyncratic theory that I made up myself.  I inherited it from scholars far better than me.  It is the view, roughly, of the great Albert Schweitzer himself.  Jesus taught his disciples, in private, that he was the King of the Jews.  And one of them, Judas, betrayed the secret to the authorities.  They arrested Jesus, questioned him about it, and executed him for it.

But is there any evidence from Jesus’ teachings for this view?  I believe there is.  Among other things…

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Personal Thoughts on Thanksgiving, 2016
Jesus’ Crucifixion as King of the Jews



  1. rburos  November 23, 2016

    Is this where the loss of faith begins?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 23, 2016

      Not for me!

      • rburos  November 23, 2016

        oh that’s right. . .you didn’t find the answer to suffering satisfying or even particularly (dare I say even generally) moral. But this reading of Mark (which I find VERY satisfying, resolving logical issues from JBap, usage of the term messiah, various sayings and teachings to include the Beatitudes, Judas, Pilate, INRI,etc.) creates a series of significant theological problems for the established church–especially the more fundamentalist ones. Thank you so much.

  2. mwbaugh  November 23, 2016

    Your use of Judas in this suggests that you are treating him as a historical person. I am curious what you make of John Shelby Spong’s assertion that Judas was a wholly fictional character created in an effort to help fix the blame Jesus’ death on the Jews rather than the Romans.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 23, 2016

      Yeah, I don’t think so. I discuss the issue in my book The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.

    • godspell  November 24, 2016

      That’s a silly theory. If later Christians wanted to blame the Jews, they could blame the Temple Authorities (who do in fact deserve some blame, if you want to assign blame at this late date). Judas would not be necessary to that.

      You know who I ‘blame’ for the crucifixion? Jesus himself.

  3. RonaldTaska  November 23, 2016

    Happy Thanksgiving and I am appreciative of the enormous amount of work you do with this blog. I have learned a lot from you.

  4. Liam Foley  November 23, 2016

    This makes much sense to me. Many Christians have given the teachings that the twelve disciples a spiritual twist that they will rue and judge others from a heavenly throne..which too me never made sense. Other than a way to reconcile what Jesus said there is not much talk these days of the twelve ruling over other people except in some future time after the supposed second coming. But in context it does make more logical sense that Jesus would have believed that in God’s soon to come kingdom his disciples would reign with him.

    Although Jesus proclaiming himself King of the Jews can be deciphered from scripture..can you find any reason for that point to be mostly absent in the gospels until his trial?

    off topic. Have you ever considered compiling all your work on the historical Jesus and writing a book in a biographical form or narrative on what the life of the historical Jesus was probably like?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      I have already done so! The book is called Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

      • Liam Foley  November 25, 2016

        Happy Thanksgiving. I will definitely get that book!

  5. Adam0685  November 23, 2016

    The theory you outline is interesting and it might be right, but it seems largely based on speculation since we do not have a story of Jesus calling himself king or any of his disciples call him a king. If I recall correctly, none of the other early Christian NT writers calls him a king either. It seems in the Pilate story Jesus denies that he is king in Mark 15:2. If Jesus really believed he was king and God was backing him as king, that would be the time to reveal it.

  6. Wilusa  November 23, 2016

    I see the sense of this, and I think Jesus might have said it for the *purpose* of trying to keep the loyalty of any disciples who objected to the exalted role he was claiming for himself. (*They’d* be in positions of power, too, if not as great as his!)

    But I also see a problem. Anyone reading this, *with no preconceptions*, would think Jesus was referring to himself as the Son of Man. I know you (Bart) don’t think that. So the disciples who heard what he said were supposed to *understand, without being told*, that he expected his own exalted role to be *between* that of the Son of Man and theirs?

    Maybe he’d made other, clearer statements that (unfortunately) haven’t come down to us. But this one is problematic. As is, it only really makes sense if he *was* referring to himself as the Son of Man!

    Or another possibility: that he intended simply to retire, to an ascetic life.

    • dragonfly  November 24, 2016

      I think the author of Q *did* think Jesus was the son of man. I think Bart is saying the historical Jesus didn’t. So, maybe the quote isn’t word for word authentic.

  7. jhague  November 23, 2016

    For what reason do you think Judas told the authorities that Jesus was the king of the Jews?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      I don’t think we know the reason. I have a full discussion in The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.

  8. jhague  November 23, 2016

    What do you think could have happened in Jesus’ life to cause him to think that he was the future king of the Jews?
    I know you said that this was not considered delusional thinking in the first century but most men certainty did not think of themselves this way or of anyone that they met. The common people like Jesus were just trying to survive day to day. It seems to me that most of the people who saw Jesus were probably wondering why he wasn’t working to make some money. And depending on how long his closest followers stayed away from their work, people probably wondered the same about them. It seems that Jesus’ followers mostly had families that needed to be taken care of.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      He appears to have thought that God had called him as he did the prophets of old to announce the coming destruction and the new order of things. On people leaving their families: yes, it is hard to see how that is something other than leaving them to their own devices, possibly to beg or starve.

  9. Todd  November 23, 2016

    In the NT scriptures as we have them, at what point do you think the transition from a worldly kingdom, as you quoted from Q, to a heavenly kingdom, as we see in Paul, was introduced, even though Paul wrote before the Gospels were written?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      I’m not really sure what Paul’s view of the place of the kingdom was. But the Synoptic view that it was to be on earth (and in the book of Revelation) seems to be changed in the Gospel of John to a life in heaven.

  10. mjt  November 23, 2016

    I have often wondered if Judas was a made up character, placed in the narrative because it made for a better story, to have Jesus with a betrayer. Do most scholars accept the Judas betrayal story?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      Yes they do, both because he is so widely attested and becaues the idea that Jesus had no more authority over his own followers than that does not seem to be something Christians would be proud to admit (and so not likely to make up)

      • llamensdor  December 4, 2016

        I believe Judas betrayed Jesus–not by kissing him in the garden. That’s just silly.Jesus had no desire to be king. His thinking was closer to the zealots — “No ruler but God.” He may have considered himself to be exactly what he was: an interim leader to guide the people until God stepped in. Judas and his Zealot pals forced Jesus to confront the HIgh Priest and claim he was to be king and arrange for his own immolation, crucifixion and death before his fellow Jews rose up and called him king and brought down the state (Pilate) on his and their heads. This is all described and explained in My historical novel, “The Murdered Messiah.” I have learned agreat deal from you, but you could also learn from me. It’s virtually impossible to get you to read fiction (except for guys like Dickens), but that is sheer stubbornness on your part. Lord knows I am no great scholar, and your fund of knowledge and skills is a multiple of mine–a huge multiple. Nevertheless I provide a version of Jesus’ story that is logical, coherent, attractively written and explains Jesus better than any other book I have read. There are scholars you know and respect who also respect my work in this area. You have the softcover which you probably are too stiff-necked to read, and I’m also willing to send you the hardcover–dustjacket and all. I doubt you’ll regret reading The Murdered Messiah, but if you find the quality is not as I claim, I’ll buy you and your wife dinner at the best restaurant in Chapel Hill or whatever venue you prefer. Deal? Len Lamensdorf

        • Bart
          Bart  December 4, 2016

          I wish I had more time to read — I could read lots more books, including yours!

    • Wilusa  November 25, 2016

      Another argument Bart has mentioned at one time or another, that I found convincing: that unusual *name*, “Iscariot.” It doesn’t seem like a name anyone would have made up.

  11. davitako  November 23, 2016

    Thanks Bart for the fascinating description of this topic!

    To continue my question from previous post (you answered it very interestingly). We know that the term Son of Man (especially in Aramaic) was often used for self-identification. As you’ve pointed out many times, even Jesus uses it to talk about himself.

    Christians wouldn’t ascribe those Son of Man sayings of Jesus to him in which he differentiates himself from Son of Man. Fair enough. But if one of the (known) usages of this term was to talk about oneself and Gospels authors knew about this usage, is it plausible to think that they simply wrote down these sayings as a known way of self-identification?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      No, I would not say that is a known usage for the term Son of Man. It is a usage found in the *Gospels*. But that does not mean it was an established usage elsewhere. It is found that way in the Gospels only because Jesus is using it of himself. But the Gospel writers who report this usage themselves think Jesus was the Son of Man, so we cannot say that he himself used the term this way.

      • davitako  November 24, 2016

        Great, thanks Bart!

        I read that argument in How God Became Jesus, in the chapters by Michael Bird.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  November 24, 2016

      Geza Vermes, who if anyone could prove this hypothesis correct he could, made a pretty compelling case that “the son of man” (bar enasha) might have been used in 1st century Galilee as an indirect personal determinative — similar in how we might say in English, “Well, this guy’s not buying it,” to refer to ourselves by “this guy” — but, alas, even Vermes didn’t seem to be completely convinced by his own argument (Check out Vermes’ “Jesus the Jew,” where he spells out the best evidence). I, for one, don’t buy the theory. I’m pretty sure that whenever Jesus talks about The Son of Man he’s talking about someone else.

  12. tompicard
    tompicard  November 23, 2016

    Regarding your statement:
    “And one of them, Judas, betrayed the secret to the AUTHORITIES. They arrested Jesus, questioned him about it, and executed him for it.”

    which AUTHORITIES are you referring to that Judas betrayed Jesus to?
    Did Judas approach Pilate’s palace (or whatever it was) and report what he heard to them? or
    Did Judas approach the Temple authorities i.e. the Sanhedrin?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      He appears to have told Jewish leaders who had Jesus arrested and handed over to the Romans.

      • jhague  November 25, 2016

        Are the Sadduceess the only Jewish leaders who would have wanted Jesus arrested?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 26, 2016

          I suppose we don’t know. They were the power-players in Jerusalem and are the only ones we *know* of who wanted him arrested.

          • jhague  November 28, 2016

            Do you think the event of Jesus turning over the money changers’ tables is historical? If so, do you think that event had no effect on Jesus being arrested?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 28, 2016

            Yes I do. And I think that is what got the Jewish authorities incensed so they sat up and took notice, leading to their opposition.

          • jhague  November 28, 2016

            So Jesus caused a disturbance with the money changers, upset the Sadducees, maybe the Sadducees starting having private discussions with Jesus’ disciples, Judas blabbed too much info, the Sadducees told the Romans what Judas said and Jesus was arrested and crucified. Is that an appropriate however brief description of events?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 29, 2016

            Yes, that’s pretty much how I see it.

          • godspell  November 30, 2016

            Query: Does the chain of events being suggested here sound like a recipe for an accurate and unbiased account of Jesus’ teachings, private or otherwise?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 1, 2016

            I don’t think there is such a thing as an unbiased account!!

  13. Stephen  November 23, 2016

    Does this give support to the idea that G of Mark’s “Messianic Secret” motif might be more than just a theological point and trace back to a historical memory that there were “secret” teachings not shared with the crowds? (Or better perhaps, that the historical memory was expanded to make a theological point?)


    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      I’d say Mark’s Messianic Secret works differently. In Mark it is not that Jesus taught the secret to the disciples alone, but that whenever anyone recognized him he tried to hush it up.

  14. clipper9422@yahoo.com  November 23, 2016

    I can understand a poor, Galilean peasant being an apocalyptic prophet but it’s hard not to think that Jesus was a lunatic if he truly thought he was the future king of the Jews. At the risk of sounding like CS Lewis, that kind of lunacy seems incompatible with Jesus being a profound ethical teacher.

    Do you have any idea what kind of king Jesus thought he would be in a post-apocalyptic world? Would he, for example, be an extremely humble king who washes the feet of his subjects?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      My sense is that he would be a powerful king ruling God’s people, but he never really says in any of his recorded teachings.

      • Wilusa  November 25, 2016

        It seems to me that if the Kingdom was supposed to be a Utopia with no wars, no crime, nothing ever disturbing its peace, a king – still subordinate to God and possibly also to the Son of Man – would have *nothing* to do but sit on his throne and preen!

        Unless, of course, there was concern about how they were going to house, clothe, and feed a population suddenly increased by the return of all the virtuous dead. But I’m guessing they never thought of mundane problems like that.

        • godspell  December 4, 2016

          It’s very hard to know exactly what Jesus or his followers thought the Kingdom would be like–but seeing that all Jews believed that God could feed the multitudes–as he had fed the Israelites in the desert, as he had fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes (I’m talking about what they believed, not what I believe, which is rather integral to the study of history)–this seems a bit nitpicky. If God can raise all the virtuous dead, he can feed everybody too, right? Mundane problems would be at an end, but perhaps the human rulers of the Kingdom would still have things to do besides preen. Which I think we have to say, in all fairness, is not something Jesus or his disciples were much inclined to do, based on what we know of them.

          Only good people would be in the Kingdom, but Jesus knew full well that even good people have many flaws and weaknesses, and would need guidance. Perhaps the Kingdom was not meant to last forever, but was merely a stepping stone to some greater existence. We don’t know what exactly they believed about that, and it’s possible they weren’t entirely sure themselves.

          Should we feel more contempt for them than we do for any other group of utopians–including all the present-day secular versions of utopianism, which are just as confused and unclear–only willing to kill for their beliefs, to pave the way to paradise with the blood and bones of those who stand in their way?

          When Jesus said “Feed my sheep” he meant feed their spirits. Show them the path to the light.

        • tompicard
          tompicard  December 6, 2016


          There can be numerous theories and speculation on what the ‘Kingdom of God on earth’ means to an individual. This topic could even be discussed/debated by atheist – say a maxist, but substitute wording ‘worker’s paradise’ for ‘Kingdom of God on earth’.

          I am trying to figure out what exactly Jesus meant when he said the ‘Kingdom of God is at hand’. I agree with Dr Ehrman that he meant it was at hand ‘on earth’, not merely in some life after death ‘heaven’.

          Did jesus mean in that place there would be ‘resurrected dead bodies’? – I seriously doubt it.
          Did jesus mean ‘no earthquakes’? – again I doubt it, nothing I know in the bible implies that.
          Did jesus mean ‘no physical death? – likewise, nothing I know in the bible clearly imply that.
          Did jesus mean ‘no starvation’? – probably.
          Did jesus mean ‘no wars’? – probably.
          Did jesus mean ‘no poor’? – no, he said the poor would always be around.
          Did jesus mean ‘a political realm headed by an earthly king’? – not sure about that, if so it certainly wasn’t a primary or even very important characteristic. In the OT God got mad at Israel for requesting to be led by an earthly king.

          Understanding what Jesus meant by ‘Kingdom of God’ is crucial to understanding whether he saw himself as the ‘messiah’.

  15. Jrgebert  November 23, 2016

    How did the statement that the twelve would be rulers get into Q (or Mathew and Luke)? Who would be the source?
    One of the Twelve? The Twelve would know of Judas betrayal and might not reveal it. .

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      The idea is that hte disciples of Jesus passed on his teaching over the years, and this was one of them.

  16. GNGoff  November 23, 2016

    If Jesus taught his disciples he was to be the king after the kingdom came to be and it was in secret, and Judas betrayed him by reporting this to Pilot, who would reveal it and why would this saying be revealed to all? It seems this is contrary also to Paul’s belief that Jesus was to come back and judge the earth as the Son of Man as opposed to being the king.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      I’m not sure I understand your question. The idea is that after his death his disciples told others what he had taught them.

  17. TWood
    TWood  November 23, 2016

    You say “The Son of Man (someone other than Jesus) was to come from heaven as a cosmic judge of the earth to set up this future Kingdom of God.” You then also say “Jesus believed he was the apocalyptic king of the future state of Israel.”

    1. If the S.O.M. sets up the Kingdom where Jesus will be King, what role would the S.O.M. have in Jesus’ kingdom?

    2. I assume you must not think Mark 14:60-65 is historically accurate, but do you think “Mark” believed Jesus and the S.O.M. were the same individual?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      1. My view is that the Son of Man was to set up the kingdom and install Jesus as the king 2. yes.

      • TWood
        TWood  November 24, 2016

        And then after he installs Jesus he goes back up to heaven… do you think he was seen as more of an angel or demigod than an actual human (which seems to be the best way that idea works… if he was a regular human what would he do if he stayed on earth—especially because he would be the rightful king it seems if he was on earth?). Obv I mean what did *they believe*… I don’t think you really believe this will happen…

        • Bart
          Bart  November 26, 2016

          Yes, I think the Son of Man is some kind of powerful angelic figure.

      • dankoh  December 7, 2016

        Isn’t there an argument that Jesus’ mission was to announce the coming of the Son of Man? That being one of the possible functions of a messiah. Of course, if that is so, then it weakens his claim to being the king of the Jews (though Pilate wouldn’t have cared). We can point to a number of places where Jesus seems to call himself the Son of Man and others where he seems to be referring to someone else. Possibly there is more than one Son of Man (which after all is a poetic term for human bring), or he was being ambiguous, or we are looking at conflicting citations. Might that help explain the discrepancies?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 8, 2016

          No, I don’t know of any expectation that this would be the function of the messiah.

  18. Robby  November 23, 2016

    I believe that Reza Aslan comes to the same conclusion in his book Zealot that Jesus was crucified for sedition and treason.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      My view is actually quite different from his. If you search for his name on the blog you’ll see numerous posts where I address his book.

  19. Hume  November 24, 2016

    The Nestorian Christians are interesting! The Sura in the Koran with Mary birthing Jesus is under a Palm Tree (not in a manger). The Palm Tree belief was followed by Nestorian Christians whom Muhammad met as he travelled trading at oasis. Is this true?

    Here’s the link of Salman Rubie talking about this!

  20. Tempo1936  November 24, 2016

    Isnt your analysis based solely on the synoptic gospels and ignores John and Paul’s epistles which treat Jesus as God?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      I think the Synoptics consider Jesus to have become God as well. See my book How Jesus Became God.

  21. godspell  November 24, 2016

    To me, this is evidence that Jesus didn’t think he’d be there on earth, in the Kingdom with them.

    Like Moses, he would see it from afar, but never get there.

    That’s the tradition he considered himself to be following in–Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and of course John the Baptist.

    Prophets. Messengers. Taken up into heaven. Not earthly kings. Greater than earthly kings.

    This is perhaps why he seems to have gone to such pains to keep his disciples from following him to the cross (most unusual behavior for a cult leader). He believes God will send the Son of Man to bring about the Kingdom, and the disciples need to be there, on earth. But he doesn’t. He’s going to be in the heavenly realm, with his predecessors.

    • dragonfly  November 27, 2016

      Moses always thought he would reach the promised land. That is until God told him otherwise. But that was only because Moses did something wrong (what exactly he did wrong is frustratingly vague). I don’t think Jesus thought he was a Moses copycat (although Matthew clearly did!)

      • godspell  November 30, 2016

        Following in an ancient prophetic tradition is hardly being a copycat. Might as well say Elisha was a copycat of Elijah. They have almost the same name!

        Yes, Moses thought he was getting to the Promised Land, but he accepted that he would not. Jesus might have thought for a while he’d have some elevated role in the Kingdom of God, then accepted he would not.

        When Jesus is shown to be communing with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop–why is that story told? Jesus was often compared to those figures, even in his own lifetime. Clearly he communicated to his disciples that he felt his role was in many ways similar to theirs. The story of his being raised into heaven–that is drawn directly from Moses and Elijah. And not from any Jewish King (David was not raised into heaven, because he was a worldly ruler).

        Jesus would not aspire to be an earthly king. To him, that would not be the highest honor God could bestow upon him.

        But more to the point, if he told his disciples he’d be a king, he’d be exalting himself. And in his morality, what happens to those who exalt themselves?

        I have enormous respect for Bart, but in this case, I just don’t think the arguments are there.

        • dragonfly  December 2, 2016

          “Jesus was often compared to those figures, even in his own lifetime. Clearly he communicated to his disciples that he felt his role was in many ways similar to theirs.”
          I’m sorry, I just don’t see evidence of that. He was definitely compared to these figures by the people who believed he was ressurected and taken up to heaven, but I don’t think we can say whether he was during his life.

          • godspell  December 4, 2016

            We have multiple stories comparing him to these figures–people saying maybe he was Elijah or John the Baptist returned (the latter, of course, made no sense in earthly terms, since they were contemporaries, but it’s always a mistake to be too literal about these things).

            We can say there is a very strong likelihood, given multiple comparisons in the gospels, that Jesus was seen to be in that prophetic tradition by many. How could he not be? I think it’s almost undeniable that these comparisons were made in his lifetime, because of course they would be. But yes, there is room for doubt about what he believed personally about his role.

            However, there is no direct evidence in the gospels that he believed he would be an earthly king. You can only draw that conclusion indirectly, by way of inference. Not an entirely trustworthy method.

  22. joks  November 24, 2016

    Dr Ehrman,
    What do you make of Jesus’s predictions of his own death? Are these predictions that Jesus probably did not make? Or are these predictions that Jesus made, because he felt his death was necessary in order for him to return as The King of the Jews? Or is there another explanation that I am not seeing?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      I think these are pre-dictions put on his lips by later Christian storytellers who think he must have known what was going to happen.

      • godspell  November 27, 2016

        Given that he’d been a disciple of John the Baptist, who had been put to death for nothing more than speaking his mind, would it really require supernatural prophetic abilities for Jesus to think he was going to die if he didn’t moderate his unsettling anti-materialist “There is no rightful authority but the God of Abraham” apocalyptic message? Which he was not going to do.

        Yes, of course they altered what he said–there wasn’t a stenographer standing by him taking notes. But to me, this contradicts much of what you’ve said elsewhere. When there’s such a strong consensus, in all the gospels, that Jesus foresaw his death, why assume he didn’t? When anybody in his position would have to think he had a very strong chance of being executed by the authorities. Sure, God is on his side–so? God was on John’s side too. “No one born of woman is greater than John the Baptist.” They didn’t put those words in his mouth. God was on Moses’ side, and Moses never got to the Promised Land. God is a tough boss. He asks a lot. Jesus wasn’t a fool. He knew that.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 27, 2016

          No, I think Jesus may have been able to see the writing on the wall — but it’s impossible to say really.

          • dragonfly  November 27, 2016

            Did John the Baptist die before Jesus?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 28, 2016


          • godspell  November 27, 2016

            Maybe he thought God would intervene at the last moment. Maybe that was the test–a test of his faith, to put himself in extreme jeopardy, trusting God to send the Son of Man to bring about the change. Maybe that’s why the “Eloi Eloi, Lama Sabachthani.”

            He would have known the story of how Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac–only to have God relent.

            But he also knew God had not saved John, his former master and teacher, who he clearly went on revering even after they parted ways.

            It really is very hard to say what he believed, and even if we could somehow go back and ask him, the answers might still be ambiguous. But what I find very puzzling is that his having (secretly) told the disciples they’d be ruling over Israel someday would be preserved–after it was quite obvious that was not going to happen–but his having (also secretly) told them he’d be reigning over them would not.

            You could argue, even some time after his crucifixion, that he would return in glory and then he’d be king over all. That is, in effect, what Christians have believed ever since.

            But it would have been very hard to argue, after they’d been martyred or died natural deaths in relative obscurity, that the 12 (including Judas) were still destined to rule in Israel, and as you say, it’s the embarrassment of that clearly inaccurate prophecy of Jesus that makes us sure he really did say that.

            So why did only the part where he told the disciples they would be earthly rulers survive? When his having said “I will someday reign on earth” would in fact still be a defensible statement, given the belief in his resurrection and supernatural abilities?

            That’s the missing piece of the puzzle.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 28, 2016

            Yes, why did the vast majority of the things he said not survive?! We wish we knew….

  23. iameyes137  November 24, 2016

    When I was still a “believer”, the idea that Judas committed an act of evil was bothersome. It appeared to me as though the job Judas had was the most difficult. Without his alerting the authorities, there would not have been the sacrifice made, for one and all. I would argue with other believers that without Judas, there was no sacrifice of Jesus, and hence no need for you to believe in his resurrection. Therefore what Judas did was crucial to the salvation of us all and he deserved greater respect.

    • godspell  November 25, 2016

      Motives matter. Why did Judas do what he’s reported to have done (assuming those reports are even half-accurate)? To get thirty pieces of silver? Because Jesus had disappointed or offended him in some way, or he had some other score to settle? Because he was worried the authorities would crack down on the cult he’d joined, and he wanted to get out ahead of that? Or because Jesus had told him to do this? Which the gospel story obliquely indicates is precisely what happened.

      If he was doing what Jesus told him, carrying out a command from his master, then no blame can attach to him. If he was doing it for money or spite, it doesn’t matter if you think some good came out of his evil action. Of course Christians should forgive all sinners, but that holds true even if nothing but evil comes out of their actions.

      If he betrayed Jesus while believing he was doing good–that’s the moral grey area. But we don’t know exactly what happened, or why, so there’s not much point in passing judgment.

      In any event, they would have found Jesus eventually, with or without Judas. Jerusalem wasn’t that large a town (it’s still not that big), and Jesus didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry to get out of there, nor was he in hiding (a public garden is not a good hiding place). He was waiting for something, that’s for sure.

  24. tompicard
    tompicard  November 24, 2016

    Dr Ehrman,
    I disagree with your view on Jesus’ understanding of the ushering in of ‘The Kingdom of God’

    “the awful age of suffering he was living in was soon to be destroyed, along with all the forces of evil that controlled it. God was to bring in his new kingdom for his people Israel. The Son of Man (someone other than Jesus) was to come from heaven as a cosmic judge of the earth to set up this future Kingdom of God. And the twelve disciples would be the principal rulers of this kingdom (as this saying indicates). That’s what Jesus expected.”

    The first impression I get when I read this is – Wow, that is almost identical to what current fundamentalist Christians believe to be a description of Jesus second coming.
    The second thought I have is – anyone who believes such nonsense (either in 30AD or 2000AD) is either crazy and/or has a very very poor understanding of God.

    Now IMHO, Jesus was neither crazy nor did he have a poor understanding of God, therefore I have a very hard time accepting that this scenario you describe accurately reflects Jesus belief about the coming of ‘God’s Kingdom’.
    I recognize that there are gospel verses that provide evidence of your view eg Mark 13:26; but have read from another scholar, John Cobb, that these verses are not considered to reliably reflect Jesus’ historically statements.

  25. flshrP  November 24, 2016

    I agree with your analysis. It was Judas who ratted out Jesus to the authorities regarding his private teachings.

    Technically, however, Jesus, by his words given in private to the Twelve, was committing the crime of sedition, not treason. His crime was a speech crime: that he claimed to be “King of the Jews” and was “advocating” overthrow of the Roman government of Palestine. That’s sedition. He was a pacifist, however, and evidently did not engage in forceful violent actions of revolution aimed at overthrowing the Roman government of Palestine. That would be treasonous.

    I don’t think his supposed cleansing of the Temple of the moneychangers rises to the level of an action aimed at overthrowing the Roman government. It was a protest against Temple practices that he thought were illegal, inappropriate and immoral. That episode was an internal Jewish affair.

    • godspell  November 29, 2016

      As far as the Romans were concerned, sedition and treason were the same thing. Jesus was not, after all, a Roman citizen, merely a Roman subject. He had basically no rights under the law. Sedition leads, quite often, to uprisings, and uprisings were a very large part of what Pilate was tasked with preventing. Sure, the Romans proved capable of handling a massive uprising that occurred some time later, but it was very costly in both Roman lives and Roman treasure. Pilate was expected to nip such things in the bud. So his tolerance level for dissent of any kind would be very low. In his mind, there are no purely internal Jewish affairs, if such affairs contain any hint of sedition, or disobedience of the authorities.

      Possible, of course, he had second thoughts after questioning Jesus, and realizing that he was not a militant person. But then again, Jesus had told his disciples to procure a few swords, one of which was reportedly used. My own opinion is that Jesus wanted to demonstrate his pacifism in the most dramatic way possible, by telling his followers to put away their swords (which required them to have some to put away). But it’s also possible he wanted to make sure he would not merely be dismissed as a minor nuisance. That he was actively seeking martyrdom, and the swords were a necessary part of that, even though he had no intention of using them.

      You have perhaps read of the Plains Indian Ghost Dance. A real thing, that really happened, and American troops fired on real men, women, and children, clad in supposedly magical garments. A prophet said that their deity would bring about the end of the oppressive white world that had come upon them, and he was wrong, but because of the fear of a real uprising, many people were killed. Let’s not assume that military or law enforcement authorities anywhere always behave rationally either.

  26. Steefen  November 24, 2016

    Bart Ehrman:
    (A) The Son of Man (someone other than Jesus) was to come from heaven as a cosmic judge of the earth to set up this future Kingdom of God. And the twelve disciples would be the principal rulers of this kingdom (as this saying indicates). That’s what Jesus expected.

    (B) If the twelve disciples were to be rulers in the future kingdom, what was Jesus to be? Jesus was to be the ultimate ruler of that future kingdom when the twelve disciples sat on twelve thrones ruling the twelve tribes of Israel. He would be seated on the ultimate throne. He would be the king of the kingdom.

    I’m trying to understand your conclusion. Is the Son of Man the king or Jesus is the king?

    or (C) Jesus has to be glorified as the Son of Man, then he becomes king?

    “The Son of Man must suffer” verses Mark 8:31 and Luke 9:22 shows the Son of Man not being someone suffering other than Jesus.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2016

      The Son of Man is the cosmic judge of the earth who appoints Jesus to be the king.

      • godspell  November 29, 2016

        Or puts Jesus’ disciples into places of power, while Jesus watches from heaven, having fulfilled his purpose.

        It didn’t happen, either way. But it still seems more likely to me that Jesus saw himself in a prophetic role, as opposed to a kingly one. The Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Jesus.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 29, 2016

          Maybe! I myself don’t see this as an either/or.

          • godspell  December 2, 2016

            Well that’s true. In a job I once had at a network news department, long ago, I would have to sift through all kinds of really wacky mail, much of which came from a man who called himself “Prophet King Kenna–The Most Incredible Man Who Ever Lived!” And following in what he believed was Jesus’ tradition of prophetic authority (and as he saw it, bringin it to its final and conclusive form) Muhammad became both prophet and ruler, though his reign was somewhat odd and indirect in its nature.

            So yes, you can see yourself as a prophet and a king, no question. But I’m not sure Jesus, coming out of the tradition he did, where there was a clear line of distinction between the prophetic and monarchical role in society, would have tried to meld the two. He was an innovator within his faith, so not impossible.

            But again, and I really think this is important–he said that anyone who exalts himself shall be humbled. To have told his followers “I will be king” would be exalting himself. Whatever he thought privately about God’s ultimate plans for him, he would not have said that. It was okay for him to tell the disciples they would be rulers over the Jews, because that would not be exalting himself. Maybe you could argue that it was implied that as their master, he would be over them in some capacity, but implied statements are tricky to figure out from such a distant perspective. I think he was implying he’d be over them in heaven, while they were seeing to the Kingdom.

  27. Wilusa  November 25, 2016

    You never answered a question (or maybe several related questions!) I asked a few days ago.

    Do you think it’s possible that some of John’s and later Jesus’s disciples, believing in *both* a coming divinely-instituted “Kingdom” and a future “Messiah,” thought they had to be in the same time frame? And therefore, if they were being told the Kingdom was at hand, someone leading them toward it (John or Jesus) *had to* be the Messiah, even if he didn’t know it yet? If so, might not they have convinced Jesus, rather than the reverse?

    And is it also possible that at least one disciple, Judas, had always believed only in the Kingdom (to be ruled by an obviously divine Being), and *not* in any kind of human Messiah?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2016

      I suppose it’s possible!

      • Wilusa  November 27, 2016

        And…some have questioned why, if John’s death had proved he wasn’t the Messiah, the disciples would have assumed their *next* leader *was*. Wouldn’t they have been more likely to become disillusioned about the whole thing?

        What I’m guessing is that Jesus had really had some kind of “mystical” experience at his baptism. Something completely subjective, that he himself had unconsciously “summoned up” – as might have happened with, maybe, one out of fifty of the enthusiasts who were being baptized. But he took it seriously; and when he told the disciples about it, *that* might have convinced them he was indeed the Messiah. Even if he hadn’t, until then, made that leap in belief himself!

  28. tompicard
    tompicard  November 25, 2016

    Also, I think this is a related question, or you may add this topic to what you call your ‘mailbag’, if you think it is an interesting enough topic.

    When some modern Christians read Daniel and Thessalonians they believe, I think, that the Lord will come defying gravity, walking on clouds because that is what several verses literally say.

    Likewise I think you purport that Jesus must have also taken the verses in Daniel literally and that led him to believe that a cosmic cloud-riding divine judge was going to soon appear.

    Were these verses REALLY taken literally by SOME or MANY or MOST Jews at Jesus time?

    If they were taken literally by all or most Jews, then I guess you have a case that they were probably taken literally by Jesus himself. But if they were only taken literally by a few or a minority of Jewish people then what leads you to think Jesus believed in the coming of a literal cosmic son of man?

    Actually either way why do you think Jesus took a literal interpretation of verses about the Son of Man in the book of Daniel?
    Or if I misunderstand, let me know

    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2016

      My sense is that the majority of Jews interpreted the Hebrew Bible literally, even if they also engaged in figurative readings (some possible exceptions among the Dead Sea Scrolls).

      • tompicard
        tompicard  November 30, 2016

        The description in Daniel 7 of the four animals arising from the oceans prior to the appearance of someone like a son of man riding on a cloud, are not literal beasts emerging from the literal waters; so too, the son of man is likely not meant to be taken as a human (nor angel) standing on a real cloud.

        I guess Jesus would have surmised that too.

  29. tompicard
    tompicard  November 25, 2016

    Dr Erhman I appreciate your expertise and your insights on Jesus’s messianic ministry.
    you tie together many threads to present a viable understanding, but when I think about it, I feel It is a view just too cynical for me.

    Seems your understanding boils down to this.
    “The followers of Jesus came to think he was the messiah because he told them he was. He told them he was going to be the king of Israel. ”
    Thus Jesus most base ulterior motivation was to become ruler. His disciples tagging along hoping to achieve some level of royal standing. Maybe so, I cant see into Jesus mind nor that of his disciples.

    But that motivation isn’t at all consistent with Jesus’ lifestyle and teaching. Nor is it likely to be a convincing private message which would entice his his disciples to abandon their previous lifestyles to follow him. Neither is it consistent with any religious conversion experience I have ever heard of.

    Without intending to appear to be a hopelessly naive idealist, I think better more plausible explanations of Jesus messianic view and mission is the following.

    Jesus heard of John’s preachings in the wilderness and went to be baptized.
    When he came out of the water he received his calling and a vision from God (or if you prefer – a vision he believed to be from God – or if you prefer a hallucination), something like Paul experienced on the road to Damascus.
    The message Jesus heard was this “You are God’s son, and God is pleased of you.”
    His discourses with his disciple entailed the exact same message he had received “They too were God’s sons and daughters.” The revelation he had was so incredibly real to him and he had the ability to share that with his disciples and inspire them with similar feelings he had. He taught the same message publicly. He believed the the vision he had and feelings he felt should be felt by everyone in the nation and the world – he thought this would in fact create a realm ruled by God, as everyone is either God’s son or God’s daughter – and he referred to this realm as ‘The Kingdom of God’.

    This kind of teaching has actually led to people change their lives as his disciple did and has in fact led to individuals subsequent to jesus to likewise be considered the or a messiah.

    On the other hand, I have never heard of anyone being called a messiah because they thought they were going to be a king and were going to make me a king too. Jesus didn’t emphasize that he or his disciples were to be rulers; he never taught that he himself was an ONLY-BEGOTTEN son. Teaching such theories would not have convinced anyone to “not worry what to eat or what to wear but to seek first the Kingdom” and to follow him and to consider him the Christ. Teachings such as this would never lead anyone to what is commonly called a ‘religious conversion or a religious experience’.

    I don’t see how this theory fits the evidence any less than yours, it seems to better fit Jesus’ teaching and doesn’t rely on a magical-mysterious son of man figure.

  30. Luke9733  November 26, 2016

    In a somewhat recent comment I posted asking about the prediction of the destruction of the Temple, you responded saying: “My sense is that Jesus indeed did predict the destruction of the temple, and this is what ultmately led to his demise.”

    Is that something you can elaborate on in a future post? I think I agree – there seem to be quite a few good reasons for thinking he really did make such a prediction (it’s multiply attested and Mark and Acts seem to independently indicate that he was accused by some of saying he personally would destroy the temple).

    But I’m having difficulty trying to connect the prediction of the destruction of the Temple to the crucifixion as King of the Jews (especially if his views of himself as King of the Jews were never made publicly).

    Is this something you’d be able to post about at some point? (I understand it’s a topic that probably requires a fair amount of length to do it justice).

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2016

      My sense is that the reason the Jewish authorities were incensed with Jesus (the temple incident) was not the reason they convinced the Romans to deal with him (for calling himself King of the Jews)

  31. toejam  November 27, 2016

    Random question. I was thinking of the idea of a Platonic ‘ideal form’ of a dog whilst walking my dog the other day. Haha. I don’t believe in ‘ideal forms’, but I started thinking about Paul’s views of Jesus. Do you think it’s fair to say that Paul saw Jesus as a Platonic-like ‘ideal form’ of a human who was incarnated into this ‘shadow’-like realm? Has any scholar ever tackled the idea of Paul seeing Jesus as a Platonic-like ‘ideal-form’ of a human?

    1 Corinthians 15:47-49
    “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust. The second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven”

    He seems to be saying that Jesus is a man from heaven – he is still “man” in some sense prior to his incarnation – “image of the man of heaven” = an ‘ideal form’-like sense of a man, I suspect. Thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2016

      Paul does not talk about the pr-incarnate Jesus as a Platonic form, but as an exalted angel.

  32. Jana  November 27, 2016

    This is an extraneous question Dr. Ehrman? Have you ever treated The Gospel According to Thomas?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2016

      Yes, numerous times in my publications. Maybe I should devote some posts to it!

  33. Jana  November 27, 2016

    So Dr. Ehrman am I understanding what I’ve read correctly? Jesus meant that the 12 would be rulers in the physical sense ,, actual rulers over physical territories (like maybe todays’ governors?). He DID NOT mean in the afterlife ruling in heaven? (which is what I believe fundamentalists teach today). Why was being “King of the Jews” treasonous? How could a poor fringe teacher with an illiterate motley crew be any threat to the Romans? (frankly, it seems bizarre). Before Pilate Jesus was said to be a threat to the Jewish hierarchy. Was this added later when the Jews were demonized by Christians??? I really admire your complex scholarship and tracking the era when stories were added and interpretations shifted.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2016

      That’s right — he thought they would be actual rulers. I don’t think the Romans at all saw him as a threat. They simply wanted to publicly humiliate and torture anyone who made audacious political claims for himself, to keep the masses at bay.

  34. ffg  November 27, 2016

    Dr Ehrman, it seems to be taken as common cause that Jesus could read. The gospels also indicate various occasions when he seems to have engaged in theological debates with highly educated scribes of his day. A question that has puzzled me is how to understand this against the background of the historical Jesus being a lowly peasant. To me iit makes sense that Paul the Apostle would have authored many of the books of the New Testament given his purported educational status. It’s just perplexing to understand how Jesus was apparently literate and yet a lowly peasant. What are your thoughts on this ?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2016

      I do not think Jesus could write, but I’m agnostic on the question of whether he could read. He is said to have read only one time in the entire New Testament (Luke 4); as a lower class Jew from rural Galilee, it seems unlikely he would be educated, but it is at least possible

  35. Smiling_Monk  November 28, 2016

    Hi Bart,

    If you were to rewrite Bible, which books would you definitely include and exclude?

  36. Eric  December 1, 2016

    “It is not a title that Christians ever (so far as we can tell) used of Jesus.”

    Well at least not until they come up with the carol (“First Noel” ) which includes the line “Born is the Ki-ing of I-is-ra-el”

  37. DTSULLY  December 2, 2016

    Didn’t he, ultimately, become king though? Isn’t Rome now the seat of his church for many?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 4, 2016

      That would certainly be the Christian theological response.

    • godspell  December 4, 2016

      And the Pope has a crown (tiara, technically)–that he never wears. Not since Vatican II. The Papacy has, for the present time, put secular power aside. But the crown still exists.

      I don’t think any of this is remotely what Jesus had in mind, even if he did think he would be an earthly king.

      But something in us still loves the idea of kingship, even though the reality of it often frightens us–with good reason. “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. It was a very devout English Catholic who penned those words.

      A true king would see him or herself as a servant, and the best leaders all understand this. And they are terribly rare.

  38. Zboilen  December 19, 2016

    Hi Bart, I recently watched your debate with Justin Bass on whether Jesus claimed to be divine. After watching it I read Dr. Bass’ post debate article. He wrote specifically about Jesus speaking to his disciples about them ruling with the Son of Man (Matthew. 19:28, Luke 22:28-30),

    “… the Son of Man would sit on his throne and the twelve disciples would sit on their thrones. But the million dollar question is ‘Where is Jesus’ throne?’Bart said in the quote above that Jesus would sit “on the greatest throne of all” in the coming kingdom. On a throne greater than the Son of Man’s throne? Do they both sit on thrones in God’s coming kingdom? Next to each other?

    The only way to make sense of this verse is if Jesus thought of himself as the Son of Man who will one day “sit on his glorious throne” (Matthew 19:28).”

    Personally I think the million dollar question could be, “what about Judas?” But thats beside the point. Do you think Jesus could have had in mind here that he was the Son of Man? Do you think that the Son of Man and Jesus would share different responsibilities in the coming Kingdom? What are your thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 20, 2016

      In my view Jesus thought someone *else* would come as judge of the earth, the one he called the “Son of Man,” and that that one would appoint him, Jesus, to be the king of the new kingdom. I spell all this out in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium

  39. brandon284  January 18, 2017

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,

    I’m a few months behind so I’m trying to catch up on the blog! ! Question: In the Q verses you cite Jesus talks about the Son of Man sitting in glory and the Twelve as rulers in the coming kingdom. I’m wondering though why you think Jesus would be the ruling king when he doesn’t seem to indicate that himself in those verses? He talks about the Son of Man and disciples but doesn’t seem to broker any power for himself here.

    One more question: In the Markan account Jesus simply states “you say so” when asked by Pilate if he’s the King of the Jews. Why don’t you think he admitted he was indeed the king to Pilate when prodded?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 19, 2017

      The trick (it’s a difficult one) is to sift through what hte Gospel writers *say* Jesus said and figuring out what he *really* said. I explain it all in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. My guess is the Gospel writers have Jesus say “you say so” since then even the Roman governor admits he is the king of the Jews.

      • brandon284  January 19, 2017

        Thank you as always for the reply. I do wonder why the Gospel writers would need to have Pilate admit that Jesus was “King of the Jews” if that was a title not used by later Christians? Since Mark was written in the 70’s, we are talking decades after the crucifixion and if Jesus was being associated with other exalted titles, why not insert one of those as opposed to “King of the Jews”? I understand the King of the Jews title probably has stronger historical roots, but why wasn’t that title used in later Christian discourse, presumably by the time of Gospel authorship, if it was essentially the catalyst for his death? It just seems to me it would have wider usage with the importance it bore.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 20, 2017

          I suppose because it was a title important to the author of Mark himself? I’m not sure.

  40. Arthur_  March 18, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I have a question:
    If the Son of Man was a cosmic figure who would “destroy the forces of evil, including the Romans”, and then establish the “Kingdom”, what would happen to this “Son of Man” after he sets Jesus as ruler of this supposed kingdom? However, I am confused as too what this kingdom be since you think Jesus got crucified for calling himself “King of the Jews”. Was the Son of Man then going to install Jesus only as “King of the Jews” which would imply that he would only rule over the then state of Israel, replacing the Herods, or was Jesus going to be the supreme ruler over a universal Kingdom? If Jesus was going to rule only over the Jews then who exactly was going to rule the universal kingdom, was it going to be the Son of Man? Could it then be that the nature of this relationship between the Son of Man and Jesus then be similar to the that of the Roman Emperor (who conquered, brought peace, and became supreme ruler of the world, qualities of which would be similar to the supposed Son of Man) and with less powerful client kings which were installed by the Emperor or the Senate? Where the Son of Man be ruling over the entire earth in heaven (similar to how later Christians began to identify Jesus after his resurrection) and Jesus would rule over the Jews from Jerusalem. Is it then why the followers of Jesus began to believe that Jesus was enthroned at the right hand of God as Son of God because they later believed that Jesus was in fact the Son of Man and that was the original role that the Son of Man would play in the future Kingdom as taught by Jesus but they then applied that characteristic with Jesus after his resurrection? Finally, if it was not so that there would be two rulers, the Son of Man and Jesus, then we can go back to beginning and ask what exactly was going to happen to the Son of Man after Jesus became ruler?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2017

      Yes, this is an excellent set of questions and the issues are very confusing. Short answer: I think Jesus believed the divine Son of Man would establish his (Jesus’) throne as the ruler of Israel, and he *possibly* thought that all nations would then be subservient to Israel. OR, he just didn’t think that far ahead. The historical Jesus does not seem (to me) to have thought much about the broader world, at all. (The Son of Man presumably just returned to heaven, whence he came)

      • James Cotter  May 16, 2017

        “Truly I say to you, in the renewed world, when the Son of Man is sitting on the throne of his glory, you (disciples) also will be seated on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matt. 19:28; cf. Luke 22:30)”

        Dr Ehrman,

        when it says “truly i say to you…”

        is it like a guarantee for judas that he would be sitting on the throne? is jesus saying that judas like peter will be rewarded? does this imply jesus is making false prophecy ?

        if the author knew that jesus knew that judas would not be rewarded , he would have said something like
        “those who among you who follow me will….”

        • Bart
          Bart  May 16, 2017

          Yes seems to be. This is why the saying almost certainly is something the historical Jesus said (not something put on his lips by later Christians) before anyone knew that Judas would be a betrayer.

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