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Jesus, The Law, and the New Covenant

This past week I gave a lecture at the University of Michigan called “Jesus, the Law, and the New Covenant.”  The occasion was a symposium in honor of the life and work of Old Testament scholar George Mendenhall.  I never knew Mendenhall.  He was a highly prominent figure in the field of Hebrew Bible in the middle of the 20th century, known especially for his work on the significance of “covenant” for understanding both the Hebrew Bible and the history of the Israelites. The symposium itself was a day-long affair in which scholars of Hebrew Bible, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, and post-biblical Judaism gave academic papers dealing with the concepts of covenant and law in their fields of interest.

The organizers of the conference asked me to give the keynote address the evening before the symposium itself.  When I was asked, I told them how deeply honored I was, knowing the importance of Mendenhall’s scholarship.   But I pointed out that my expertise is not Hebrew Bible, and I would not be able to interact intelligently with his work, his theses, and the scholarship that emerged in his wake.  But they knew that already when they invited me.  They thought that I could make a presentation to a larger general audience (the symposium papers were all serious scholarship for scholars only) on something I did know about, the historical Jesus.   I thought it was an interesting idea, so I agreed.

It was a terrific symposium.  I won’t be discussing here on the blog the various papers that were presented – virtually all of them by scholars I had never met before, since I do not, as a rule, have many contacts with, say, scholars of Ancient Near East or rabbinic Judaism.  I thought it might be interesting, though, to have a thread dealing with the topic of my own paper, as the issues I addressed are indeed of central importance for anyone interested in knowing about the historical Jesus, the writings of the New Testament, and the relationship Christians in the early church had with Jews and with the Jewish Scriptures.

First let me discuss …

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Why Don’t People See Discrepancies in the Bible? Readers’ Mailbag October 15, 2016
(Later) Early Christian Understandings of Heaven and Hell

81

Comments

  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 12, 2016

    Good questions, indeed!

  2. Avatar
    godspell  October 12, 2016

    What would be an example of a henotheistic religious belief, other than that presumed minority of Jews who thought there might be other gods, but only Yahweh was to be worshiped?

    The only example that occurs to me is purely fictional–Tolkien’s account of Middle Earth mythology, “The Silmarillion.” Because Tolkien was trying to reconcile his Catholicism with his love of pagan polytheistic myths. So there are all these godlike beings, light and dark, working their will upon Middle Earth, but clearly only Iluvatar, the creator, a distant and mainly absent figure, is to be worshipped.

    And didn’t most Jews believe in angels and demons? Could they not have sometimes assumed that the gods pagans worshiped were demons? The Christian story of Satan and his minions being driven from heaven comes from Revelation, but there must have been Jewish beliefs about fallen angels that came before that. Even Islam, the most rigidly monotheistic of all religions, believes in djinn; good, bad, and neutral.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      There were pagan henotheists, who thought the one God was superior to all others, even though the others (Apollos, Ares, etc.) existed. I’ll be talking about all thi sin my forthcoming book.

      • Avatar
        godspell  October 13, 2016

        And I’ll read it, but they would still have worshiped those lesser gods, right? There were shrines to all of them. So henotheism is merely seeing one god as being superior to all others? Isn’t that most polytheistic faiths in the western world? Zeus, Odin, etc. Or it was just that certain members of a given super-religion formed their own specific beliefs, saying that they could only worship the chief god? Given that the Romans were rather harsh on those who refused to at least nominally pay obeisance to the gods that represented their state (which would mean more than just Jove, and possibly some deceased Emperors), not sure how well that would have gone over. Was polytheism gradually evolving into defacto monotheism, with or without Christianity? Having been raised Catholic, with all those saints, am I a recovering henotheist? 🙂

        • Bart
          Bart  October 15, 2016

          It’s a little less like thinking there is one god who is superior and thinking that ultimately above it all there is one supreme God — for example, by thinking that all the other gods are just attributes or characteristics of this one ultimate divinity. If that makes sense! It’s not just that one is slightly better than all the others. It’s that above them all is a massively supreme being.

          • Avatar
            godspell  October 17, 2016

            I believe there is one story where Zeus tells all the other gods that he’s stronger than all of them combined–but then you have myths where he’s henpecked by Hera. Problem is, in the realm of myth, being all-powerful makes for less interesting stories. Like Superman has to have weaknesses, (Kryptonite, Magic, Red Sun) or nobody can write a decent comic about him. Omnipotence is a problem for storytellers, which is why Yahweh is actually not such an active character in the Old Testament, and is almost entirely absent from the New Testament. If he directly intervenes, the story is over, because he can never lose. There is no Christian equivalent to Batman, unless you want to count Jesus.

            Let me pose the question again (you don’t have to answer it). Is Catholicism henotheistic? You pray to Saints, (including Mary) but you don’t worship them–they intercede on your behalf. Only God can be worshiped. All other supernatural entities are mere reflections of Him. Saints are basically people who have become deified, but not to the point where they become gods in their own right. They form a lesser pantheon.

            Confusing the matter are angels like Michael and Gabriel, who are described as Saints, even though they were never human, and of course saints like my own namesake, the dog-headed fellow who helped the Christ Child ford that river, and almost certainly never existed in any form, and they still have medals for him. Saints have on occasion been drummed out of the corps, but he’s grandfathered in.

            I’m going to answer my own question–I was raised a henotheist. But for whatever reason, I never did pray to saints. I revered them (still do), but when it came to asking for something (forgiveness, peace on earth, puppy), I cut out the middlemen and women entirely. Went right to the top. 😉

          • Bart
            Bart  October 18, 2016

            I suppose some CAtholics are henotheistic. It depends on whether you think of angels, archangels, saints, and the BVM as divine beings or not.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  October 12, 2016

    Dr. Ehrmam, while I was reading the 4th volume of Meier’s A Marginal Jew — which covers this very topic — I came to an important realization. I realized that the reason it’s so hard to pin down what Jesus thought of the Law — should it be followed to the letter, or reinterpreted, or was it partly or completely abrogated? — was that he probably only rarely spoke about the Law, and never in a way as to suggest that he and his fellow Jews should discard the Law. And there are probably two reasons why Jesus only spoke rarely about the Law: His ministry only last a matter of months and he already took the Law for granted.

    It’s my opinion that Jesus’ total ministry, from when he assembled the disciples to when he was arrested and executed, was only about four months, from the end of December, 29CE to his execution on April 6th, 30CE. Now, my reasons for thinking this are complex, but for the most part it is because of certain celestial events that any apocalypticist at the time would have noticed and considered signs of some significance. In my novel on Jesus I go into great detail about this, but here I’ll just give you the bulletpoints. On June 14th, 29CE there was a partial lunar eclipse that would have looked “blood red” (what’s technically called a penumbral lunar eclipse, where earth’s atmosphere refracts the sunlight in such a way as to filter out most of the wavelengths of light other than red, orange and yellow). This event probably caught the attention of apocalypticists such as John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, John, et al. Then, on November 24th of the same year (i.e. roughly six months later), there was a solar eclipse that would have been a roughly 93% total eclipse from the vantage point of Galilee and Judea at around 10:30 a.m. Such an almost, but not quite total eclipse would have looked like a “darkness” of the sun (almost sackcloth like?). It was at that point, at the end of November of 29CE, when celestial events seemed to be portending something ominous, that John the Baptist began to baptize repentent Jews in the Jordan. Two weeks later, on the December 9th, there was *another* partial lunar eclipse, that would probably have looked even more blood red than the previous one that year. And December 9th, 29CE also happened to be Kislev 15, which was the anniversay of Antiochus Epiphanes’ desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem. (“Now the 15th day of the month Kislev, in the 145th year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the alter, and built idol altars throughout the cities of Judah on every side.” — 1 Macc. 1:54) Such a sign must have appeared to confirm rumors that the heavens were portending something happening very soon. More people were probably rushing to get baptized by John in anticipation of the Messiah or God’s host coming out of the desert to bring on the escathon. That throng of people probably included Jesus, as well as Simon Peter, John and James the sons of Zebedee, and other future disciples, who were all baptized in ancipation. And then, sometime in December, possibly only a matter of weeks into his baptizing mission, John was arrested by Herod Antipas and sent to Machaerus (where he was likely executed). Now, John’s arrest was probably seen by Jesus and the others as the final sign (i.e. since John was no longer there to baptize anyone anymore that must mean that everyone whom God allowed to repent must have repented, and the last days were at hand). So Jesus returned to Galilee, assembled his disciples from those who he met at the Jordan, and, for some reason, Jesus decided that the last days were going occur in Jerusalem, during the Passover festival of 30CE. And the rest, as they say, was history.

    Now, the reason I go over this detailed account is to show that this whole time Jesus and his disciples are NOT thinking about the Law. They’re not concerning themselves with the Law. Why? Because events were happening so fast that questioning the Law wasn’t part of their concerns. The only thing that concerned them was trying to predict where, when and how the escathon was going to happen. That was their one and only major concern. Why worry about halakhic minutiae of Sabbath observance when Judgment Day could literally be around the corner? So that’s one reason why I think Jesus didn’t concern himself much with the Law. He simply took it for granted that he and the others were all Jews, and as Jews the Law was the source of their covenant with God. They only became concerned with the Law’s place in their sect when gentiles started to join much later on.

  4. VaulDogWarrior
    VaulDogWarrior  October 12, 2016

    Great post as usual Bart. I look forward to each one. On an unrelated note, I have just started listening to “Lost Christianities”. It’s a book I have had on my wishlist for years, but was half-afraid of reading because I knew you were not a believer. Well, now that I am no longer a believer I decided it was about time to dig in.

    One thing I used to hear was criticism of your idea of the “Proto-Orthodox”. The rebuttal was that these men actually were the true orthodox Christians since men like Polycarp and Ignatius were (or at least were claimed to be) disciples of John and that others after them traced their lineage through Apostles, or men trained and instructed by Apostles. It is said that John discipled Irenaeus, who discipled Polycarp, who discipled Irenaeus, who discipled Hippolytus. I don’t have much if any contemporary support for this, although Tertullian does claim that Irenaeus was John’s disciple.

    Sorry for the long quotes below. I know you are aware of them, but I feel they help make the point.

    “”Through Our Lord Jesus Christ our Apostles knew that there would be strife over the office of episcopacy. Accordingly, since they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those men already mentioned. And they afterwards gave instructions that when those men would fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. Therefore, we are of the opinion that those appointed by the Apostles, or afterwards by other acclaimed men, with the consent of the whole church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry.”
    St. Clement Of Rome, “The Epistle Of Clement To The Corinthians,” c. 96 A.D.

    Irenaeus who was writing directly against Gnostics:
    “When we refer them to that tradition which originates from the Apostles, which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the churches, they object to Tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but than even the Apostles.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

    Tertullian gnostics and others:
    “But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,—a man, moreover, who continued stedfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind.” Tertullian, “Prescription Against Heretics”, c. 197 A.D.

    I’ve only begun listening to the book, so perhaps you address it. Perhaps you don’t. Or maybe you have a blog entry you can direct me to. It’s a question about your position that has been on my mind on and off over the years.

    Thanks for taking the time read this and respond. I know how busy you are. By the way, would it be possible for the webmaster to set the “If A New Comment Is Posted” thingy to automatically “Send Email Notification ONLY If Someone Replies To My Comments”. I do look forward to any replies, but I sometimes forget to press that button.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      What is usually overlooked is that “heretical” groups ALSO claimed to have direct connectoins with the apostles — e.g., the Valentinian gnostics (VAlentinus was the follower of Theudas who was the follower of Paul) and the Ebionities (direct followers of James), etc. etc. So the claim was made on all sides.

      • VaulDogWarrior
        VaulDogWarrior  October 14, 2016

        It’s possible to see influences from the mystery religions in Paul, but when experts look at Paul’s writings do they see Gnosticism of any kind, or proto-orthodoxy? At least what do they see more of, since it is certain the religion evolved even in 100 years.

        Maybe I just don’t have the experience, but I don’t see Gnosticism when I read Paul, if anything I see him fighting a form of (what might be called) proto-Gnosticism. I see this in 1 Corinthians.

        Valentinianism seems so totally alien to what Paul wrote, but maybe I’m still reading him through orthodox eyes. It is clear that it is possible to read the Bible numerous ways, each way with its own strengths and weaknesses.

        That brings up another point I’ve struggled with for years. Is it possible to really know anything meaningful about history? How do we learn to separate fact from opinion. What we know from how we interpret it. Is there a way to assess the validity or likelihood of these various interpretations? I always thought going to the Ante Nicene Fathers was a good way to separate much of the chaff from the wheat, but you seem to indicate that the presence of these competing Christianities makes that unlikely.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 15, 2016

          Scholars today tend to think that Gnosticism and proto-orthodoxy were not in existence in Paul’s day. They start emerging in the second century.

  5. Avatar
    wrengles  October 12, 2016

    “The other position, that only one of the many gods is to be worshiped, could be called monolatry (the worship of only one God). Closely connected to this latter view is the concept of henotheism: that’s the view that there are numerous gods, but only one of them is supreme and worthy of complete devotion.”

    I’m not sure I understand the difference between those two definitions, but to the extent I see a difference, it’s not what I thought. I thought henotheism meant “there are many gods worthy of worship, but I only worship this one” and monolatry meant “there are many gods, but only one (mine) is worthy of worship”.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      Monolatry: the *worship* of one God. Henotheism: “the *belief* that one God is supreme.

  6. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 12, 2016

    “The…position that only one of the many gods is to be worshiped, could be called monolatry (the worship of only one God). Closely connected to this latter view is the concept of henotheism: that’s the view that there are numerous gods, but only one of them is supreme and worthy of complete devotion.”

    I don’t understand the difference.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      See my other response.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  October 13, 2016

        So would every monolator(?) also be a henotheist, but not the reverse? You wouldn’t worship a deity unless you believed in him, but you *could* believe without worshipping?

        • Avatar
          Wilusa  October 14, 2016

          Replying to myself, because I had a further thought: You certainly could go through all the *outward forms* of “worshipping” a deity you didn’t believe in, if the society you lived in was forcing you to! Or even for more personal reasons: I dragged myself to Sunday Masses for years after I’d stopped believing, because I hadn’t “come out” as an agnostic to my mother.

          What’s the point of using these terms, when you can’t know what people were *thinking*, even if you have records that indicate in what numbers they were *doing* certain things?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 15, 2016

          Yes, I suppose so!

  7. epicurus
    epicurus  October 12, 2016

    In your future posts on this thread I hope that you will discuss or touch on the two different sets of Ten Commandments and why the second set from Exodus 34 are usually ignored (most people don’t even know they exist!). After all, they were the replacement for the tablets Moses smashed, and are kind of like version 2.0.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      There are actually two sets of *virtually* the same commandments: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. But yes, the very odd thing is that third set are the only ones calle the Ten Commandments, and they ain’t “THE Ten Commandments”!!

  8. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 12, 2016

    “The law was almost never seen as a huge burden. It was a great good, given by the God over all, helping his people know how to worship and live.”

    I know you’ve often said that. But how can you know how the common people felt – the ones who weren’t leaving written records? Whether even a sizable *minority* found it burdensome? (I can’t help thinking of how burdensome I always found *Catholic* teachings.)

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      All we have is evidence!

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  October 14, 2016

        But shouldn’t you (and presumably other scholars) *acknowledge*, more frequently than you do, that you can’t be sure that surviving “evidence” is giving you the whole picture?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 15, 2016

          Whenever I say “most” critical scholars think x, y, or z, I am saying that there are “some” who disagree and that this is not the view of non-critical scholars.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  October 14, 2016

        What evidence do you have in mind, in this case? Also, Bart, I’ve read that “teachings” is probably a better translation than “law.” What’s your opinion?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 15, 2016

          The evidence is the written discussions of the law that survive from antiquity. We don’t have evidence for what others were thinking.

          It’s a tough word to translate. Something like “guidance,” “direction,” “instructions” might be better.

          • Avatar
            Newbhero  October 19, 2016

            Not only are there records of Jews speaking about the law as a positive (including in and outside of the bible), but jews still exist today (that probably follow even more laws than ancient agrigulture jews did) and they see the laws as a benefit to their lives.

  9. Avatar
    seeker_of_truth  October 12, 2016

    Do you still plan to do the trade book: Life after Faith?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      It’s on the back burner. We’re not sure it is the best thing just now….

  10. Avatar
    timber84  October 12, 2016

    On your schedule of speaking engagements there are eight Phi Beta Kappa Lectures listed each lasting two days.
    Could you give me more information about these lectures? Will there be a lecture both days? I am planning on going to the lecture on either March 23 or March 24 in Binghamton, New York.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      Usually they involve one lecture and then a bunch of student interactions (class visits, etc.). I’m at Alma College just now in Michigan; I met with some faculty last night, and for breakfast; met with a class in the Dept. of Religious Studies, had lunch with students, having dinner with sutdnets and faculty, then my lecture, and then … the local pub!! Tomorrow is another breakfast, another class, and then flying home. It’s a lot! The colleges/universities I’m speaking at will almost certainly advertise the public lecture, and so you can get the information from their website.

  11. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  October 12, 2016

    A few months ago, you posted that Moses was most likely a mythical character. I’m trying to understand why someone would write about a mythical person creating laws for a sect of people. I’ve read a little bit about other (even older) codes and laws that were written, and they all seem to have been decreed by a king or a leader of some sort. In other words, real people that lived and died. There had to have been someone, at some point, who gave the Israelites their laws, right? Most likely a leader. I can understand that the memory of how they received their laws could become distorted over time, but a real person had to create the laws for the reason that he expected them to be followed. Why couldn’t that person have been Moses?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      I’m not sure you need “a person” for a set of laws. Who, for example, gave the U.S. its traffic laws?

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  October 14, 2016

        Are you suggesting that the central set, the 10 commandments, might have been developed over a period of time by different people, and then cumulated — collected — into an authoritative or accepted group, or that a committee or committees did something similar, and then the set was designated as authoritative by a leader or a group of elders, and then presented to the people as the binding rules–and attributed to a single person (Moses) who supposedly received them directly from a divine source. Or………………what?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 15, 2016

          I just don’t think law collections ever are devised by a single person or committee. They emerge over time in communities in their lives together. That’s true of American law, Ethiopian law, Russian law, and ancient Israelite law.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  October 15, 2016

            Okay, so the Israelites followed rules based on what they developed within their local communities. What do you think was the motivation of the author who created the Moses character? If he knew Moses was a fabrication, why was he doing it?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 16, 2016

            I don’t think you can attribute the stories of Moses to a single author. They are stories that emerged over a long period of time among a group of people. You may want to read some of the fascinating stories about folklore, rumor, and gossip to see how stories actually start.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  October 16, 2016

            Oh, you mean the stories were circulating about someone named Moses, but they weren’t necessarily true?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 18, 2016

            Yup.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  October 13, 2016

      Semi-legendary law-givers were actually kind of popular in classical culturals. For example, the Athenians had Solon, the Spartans had Lycurgus, and the Romans had Numa. So the concept of an ancestral law-giver was very much understood within the Greco-Roman world. And if you read Josephus you’ll notice that he talks about Moses as if he was the Jews’ Solon or Lycurgus or Numa. Not to mention that ancient Semitic societies had a long tradition law-givers, such as Hammurabi. I believe the oldest extant legal code is a list of Sumerian laws on cuneiform tablets from ca 2000 BCE.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  October 15, 2016

        Hey Talmoore,
        You think it’s possible Moses was a real person then?

        • talmoore
          talmoore  October 16, 2016

          I’ve come to notice that most legendary characters are based on an actual historical figure (cf. Jesus), and so I wouldn’t be surprised if an actual historical Moses existed. But I would very much doubt that the historical Moses was exactly like the Moses portrayed in the Torah. Funny enough, there was an ancient Egyptian historian named Manetho (cited by Josephus in his Against Apion) who wrote a somewhat legendary account of an Egyptian priest who emigrated out of Egypt with a large group of Semites, and they came to settle in Canaan. Could this legendary figure be the source of the Moses legend? (Josephus seemed to think so!) Or do both legends come from a common source different from both of them? Or is one true while the other is false? Or are BOTH false legends? Who knows?

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  October 18, 2016

            Fascinating!

  12. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  October 12, 2016

    I’m taking a university course on the Hebrew Bible this semster and was surprised to find out there were a lot more covenants than just the one associated with Moses and the Law: Noah, Abraham, David, and maybe Isaac and Jacob too-I can’t remember for sure. I might well find out about several others and, hopefully, learn how or why they are all talked about as one covenant.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      I think you’ve hit them all so far! The “basic” idea of the covenant is similar maong them (though not so much Noah)

    • talmoore
      talmoore  October 13, 2016

      The Hebrew word in the Bible that is usually translated as covenant — brith, ברית — was normally used to mean a pact or treaty between a vassal and a suzerain. For instance, the reason King Josiah went out to battle Pharaoh Necho at the Battle of Megiddo was that Josiah had a brith (ברית) with the King of Babylonia, Nebuchadnezzer II, making Josiah, and thus the kingdom of Judah allies of the Babylonians, obligating Josiah to confront the Egyptians militarily (since Egypt and Babylon were at war with eath other). In return, the Babylonian king agreed to come to the aid of Josiah in times of conflict. The “covenant” between the Israelites and Yahweh had this very same kind of pact or treaty function. God was like the greater lord or suzerain (e.g. Nebuchanezzer II) and the Israelites were like the lesser lord or vassal (e.g. Josiah). So in the broadest sense of the word, brith or covenant defines a hegemonic relationship between a more powerful and less powerful agent. Therefore, such relationships may become stronger or looser, depending on shifting power dynamics, sometimes necessitating breaking a brith or reaffirming a brith depending.

  13. Avatar
    davitako  October 13, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Might the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” suggest that the authors of The Ten Commandments were henotheists, that is they thought there were other gods too but only Yahweh deserved worship?

  14. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 13, 2016

    I looked the terms up in Wikipedia, and *still* can’t grasp the difference between “monolatry” and “henotheism”!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      Sorry, I wasn’t clear. They are clearly related. Monolatry has to do with how/what/who you worship. Henotheism has to do with what/whom you believe in.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  October 14, 2016

        Sounded more (when you differentiated them above) like “monolatry” did not imply any value judgment regarding the god’s worthiness to be worshiped. Perhaps, say, you were a farmer; then the god of fertility and crops might be appropriate. That’s my point: you might pick one because it is appropriate to your vocation or circumstances (monolatry), not because, in some more general sense, you believe it is the only one worthy of being worshiped (the latter would be henotheism)

  15. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  October 13, 2016

    doctor ehrman

    which text book juxtaposes the sayings of jesus in all the gospels and look at the variances when compared to each other?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      You should get a Gospel Parallels, such as the one edited by Kurt Aland (make sure you get the one in English, not Greek; it’s called the Synopsis of the Four Gospels)

  16. Avatar
    Eric  October 13, 2016

    I recall reading many years ago, in BAR I think, that the structure of treaties (covenants) mentioned in various places int eh old testament (whether between God and Israel or between nations) is used by some scholars to date the authorship of some OT writing, because we have extant treaties from various times in the Middle East from sources outside the Bible (hieroglyphics or what have you). Have you ever run into this idea?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      Yes, it is a common idea in Hebrew Bible scholarship, and makes a ton of sense.

  17. Avatar
    jhague  October 13, 2016

    A question unrelated to the questions you ask – why did the Israelites decide that their covenant with God was a covenant of circumcision? It seems very odd to have a covenant sealed with the removal of skin. I assume that they did this because the greater powers that lived around them practiced circumcision. But why did any of the ancients view the practice of circumcision as being something that God would be concerned with?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2016

      Other cultures practiced it as well. But we don’t really know why this particular practice was associated with the covenant — i.e., we don’t know about its origins, apart from some sophisticated guess work about initiation / puberty rituals that got transformed into an operatoin on infants.

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    meohanlon  October 25, 2016

    Hi Dr. Bart Ehrman, great site- I’ve enjoyed your blog as well as some of your books recently. I’ve included them in my research for a fictional narrative I’m writing about pre-ministry Jesus and Paul, from a more secular point of view.

    I had some questions regarding the law and new covenant & would appreciate any thoughts you could offer here. One thing that I find puzzling is why Paul, as a Pharisee, so readily accepted (or perhaps authored?) the view of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for the atonement of sin. It seems to conflict with the Jewish prohibition of human sacrifice, as well as the view expressed in Ezekiel that a righteous man could not atone for the sins another. Would the historical Jesus and his disciples, in trying to keep with the law and prophets, have agreed with Paul on this interpretation of his death, let alone intended for it to be a sacrifice or ransom?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      My sense is that Paul would have objected to the idea of one human killing another (that’s what human sacrifice is), but did not object to the idea that Jesus himself could give of himself as a sacrifice for others.

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        meohanlon  October 26, 2016

        Hmmm….Do you think Paul would’ve also felt that, since he considered Jesus divine, or given divine authority at least, exempt from the notion that one man cannot atone for another’s sins, even if through self-sacrifice? I haven’t read a whole lot of Paul’s writing (mostly just the gospels) but I’d be interested to know if he addresses this matter at any point. Or maybe it wouldn’t have been an issue for his Gentile target audience in the first place?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 27, 2016

          Yes, I think the idea is that a sinful person cannot pay for the sins of another sinful person.

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      flyboydh1  October 26, 2016

      Paul was not a Pharisee. This is clear.

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        meohanlon  October 27, 2016

        Well, he seems to think otherwise in 3:5 Philippians, where he calls himself “a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee”. At least when he was still Saul.

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    flyboydh1  October 25, 2016

    The concept of the devil and demons are purely a Christian invention. Satan is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (see Job) but is translated as “adversary” or “stumbling block”. Also see Numbers 22:22 in a interlinear translation. Satan is considered a blessing in Judaism and is part of our free will nature as humans. Satan is never seen as a fallen angel in the Hebrew Bible.

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      meohanlon  October 26, 2016

      Interesting thought. Is there secondary could material you could recommend on this?
      In the book of Genesis, he might be a tempter, but it’s almost as if God had placed the serpent there-
      not to test Adam and Eve of their righteousness by being obedient – as they hadn’t yet eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but of their lack of personal accountability when they had. It’s almost as though the devil is there for the sake of a scapegoat – an excuse, but in fact he did not take away their free will. And scapegoating and self-deception are the greater evils; i.e. “the devil made me do it” and it’s man, not the devil, that is the cause of them.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  October 28, 2016

        But these are the first human beings, allegedly, who ever lived. They are more naive than our children. To me, it makes little sense to talk about testing them or about their accountability. Even with our own children: say we put the cookie jar at the center of the table and say, “I’m going to the corner store for a couple minutes but you shall not eat even one cookie for, if you do, you die!” How serious a consequence are we willing to impose on them if they do each have a cookie? Expel them from our homes? BTW, the Hebrew never classifies A&E’s disobedience as Sin.

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    AlanGoldman  December 9, 2016

    Dear Professor Ehrman:

    Regarding the view of Jesus and early Christians about what aspects of the OT “Law” was important, even necessary, to follow, I had always been taught that Jesus had essentially two responses on this subject, both of with which you are intimately familiar: First, that the Pharisees had “…neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” Matthew 23:23 (alluding to Micah 6:8, in which the rabbinical commentary in the Talmud has long recognized that Micah had reduced the 613 Commandments essentially to Three: “…and what does the Lord require of you O mortal but to do justice (mishpat), to love mercy/kindness (chesed), and to walk humbly/faithfully with your God ?” (synthesizing in peroration Deut.10:12; Isa. 1:1-17; Hos. 6:6; and Amos 5:7).

    Second, Jesus also maintained, much as Rabbi Akiba is similarly said to have asserted, that, of all the Commandments/Teachings, the greatest are, first, that: “…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This the great and first commandment. And the second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22: 37-40 (alluding to Deut. 6:5 and Lev.19:18.)

    I assume that you addressed these fundamental principles in your analysis of Christian thought in its assessment of the relative significance of the observance of OT Law in its entirety, vel non. Significantly, it seems apparent to me that progressive Jewish analysis of the relative importance of the numerous rules in the body of OT Law, and Jesus’s recapitulation of the “weightier” and “greatest” aspects of OT Law are fundamentally consonant.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Alan (as you may recall, Professor Albert Lord’s former student…)

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2016

      Yes, I think Jesus’ views aligned with those of other teachers of his day — and very much against those of others. The even more difficult issue concerns the apostle Paul’s views about the law, a matter on which very large books have been written, many at odds with one another!

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        AlanGoldman  December 9, 2016

        Dear Professor Ehrman:

        Yes indeed; much ink has been spilled on reconciling Paul & James, and Faith vs.”Works” ! As I understand Paul’s viewpoint, when he denounces “works of the Law” as being impotent to effect one’s justification (salvation), which for him is freely granted solely by God/Jesus through the divine act of grace, and received by faith alone, Paul is NOT saying that performance of “Good Works” — in the sense of the “Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) — is not characteristic of the Believer, for performance of such Good Works is evidence, or an outward sign, of an inner state of grace, so that doing such Good Works makes manifest that the Believer is, in fact, possessed of Saving/Salvific Faith precisely because such performance of Good Works inevitably “flows from” BEING a person who is genuinely saved by grace through faith. Thus Paul vehemently repudiates antinomianism. So Paul holds that while one cannot attain salvation/justification by doing Good Works, the doing of them is a proof of being among the saved. Critically, such Good Works are not to be confused with performance of “works of the Law” for their own sake, which are irrelevant and impotent to attain justification before the Lord. In essence, Paul has reinterpreted what it MEANS to be “Holy” (Kadosh), for the Lord enjoined his covenant people to be holy BECAUSE the Lord posited that HE is Holy. Observance of the 613 Commandments, even observance of Micah’s Three commandments (Justice, Mercy, and Humility), is just insufficient to attain righteousness in the Lord’s eyes (i.e., Justification): only acceptance of the Lord’s freely given Grace by Faith in Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for every person’s intrinsically fallen nature is sufficient (and necessary) to achieve the requisite state of Holiness, or Justification, before the Lord.

        Of course, Jewish thought rejects the Christian premise that all persons are hopelessly intrinsically fallen and incapable of communion with the Lord. Instead, persons are deemed to have BOTH a good and evil “inclination” (yetzer), and by CHOOSING to do good, instead of evil, one can attain one’s own salvation in the eyes of the Lord.

        Given this fundamental rift in the perception of human nature, indeed, of the nature of reality itself, I don’t see how PAULINE Christian concepts can ever be reconciled with Judaism; however, perhaps the attitudes expressed by “the Jesus of the Gospels” can be so reconciled with certain strains of post-Temple Rabbinic Judaism, particularly the Reform tradition of adherence to the Prophetic Mission of seeking and doing Justice and of finding and showing Mercy.

        Respectfully submitted,
        Alan

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