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Jesus the Suffering Messiah

In a previous post I tried to show how the belief in Jesus’ resurrection completely altered the disciples’ perspective on who Jesus was.  During his lifetime they thought he would be the future king of Israel; when he was crucified they realized they were wrong; when they then came to believe he had been raised they realized that they had been right, but in a way they did not at the time think.  Jesus, for them, now that they believed he was raised, was far more than a human king.  He was a divine being, the ruler of the world, the king of All.  Yes, he would be the ruler of Israel as well.  But that was when he came back from heaven as the victorious Son of Man, destroying his enemies and all those who were aligned against God, before bringing in his utopian kingdom.  That was to happen very, very soon.

The resurrection of Jesus not only made the followers of Jesus rethink their views of who (and what) he was; it also made them understand the significance of his death in a radically different way.  This new understanding of Jesus’ death became the central teaching of Christianity.

As I have repeatedly argued, no one had ever imagined that the messiah would be crucified.  That was just the *opposite* of what was supposed to happen to the messiah.  And yet Jesus, for the Christians, was the messiah.  And he did get crucified.  How did they explain that?  They explained it by arguing it was God’s plan all along for the messiah to be crucified.  The earliest Christians – well before Paul – created the idea of a suffering messiah.

The notion of a suffering messiah would have been (and was) nonsense to Jews in the time of Jesus.  Until the Christians came along.   But the Christian logic, for them, was irrefutable.  Jesus was the messiah.  Jesus suffered.  Therefore…

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Christians, Muslims, and God: Wheaton College in the News
The Resurrection of the Son of God



  1. Avatar
    godspell  December 19, 2015

    No doubt at all they reinterpreted the Old Testament, but would they have invented one story after another in which Jesus himself seems to foretell his own death? I don’t believe Jesus had prophetic powers, but you don’t need to possess supernatural abilities to know that if you defy the secular authority in this era, in Palestine–as John the Baptist had done–you’re very likely going to meet an untimely end.

    Jesus never predicted he would be crucified–John had not been crucified, after all. He didn’t necessarily think he’d be tortured to death (perhaps he thought he also would be decapitated). But when you look at the totality of what we know about him, it seems obvious that he came to believe he was going to die fairly young. He probably began to think this way after John’s death, which would have come as a tremendous shock to him, as his death was to his followers. He actually left Herod’s sphere of influence shortly after that, probably because he was afraid for his life–but given time, he would have started to ask himself why God would allow such a thing to happen. Great prophets underwent many trials in the Old Testament, but they were not done to death by the state. Elijah, of course, was lifted up into heaven. John’s death would have forced him to question his ideas, come to new conclusions about what his own destiny was. There is, in fact, no tradition of prophets being murdered in the Old Testament. That’s a Christian (and eventually a Muslim) belief, with nothing to substantiate it–other than the deaths of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.

    We have the story of the woman who anointed him in all four gospels. Only Luke (who tends to go his own way) does not have Jesus saying that this woman is anointing him for his burial. The accounts in Mark, Matthew, and John are all very similar (John’s version has a few elements that were clearly added later). Whether this came from Q, or some other source, it must be a very old story that people had repeated, trying to make sense of it. (The interesting thing is that Luke completely changes the meaning of the story, as if it bothers him somehow).

    This story has bothered many, because Jesus says ‘The poor you shall have with you always.’ That doesn’t sound like somebody who believes God is coming to rule the world soon (since God would clearly abolish all such distinctions in the Kingdom). That very discordant element makes the story more plausible, somehow, more human. Jesus is, at that moment, thinking more about his own impending death. He’s genuinely moved that this woman cares so much about him. It’s comforting to him, as he gazes into the abyss, as we all must do at some point.

    This explains how Jesus’ followers made that transition of thought so quickly–it also explains why some of them had visions of a risen Jesus. Jesus had said things to them that indicated he would die–they hadn’t wanted to believe him, had instead thought he would be the more traditional Messianic figure they’d been raised to believe in, a king who would rule on the earth. But if Jesus had told them that’s what he was going to be, we’d have some indication of that in the gospels–it could always be explained away as him speaking of a different kind of kingship. The disciples never became kings–why didn’t that get changed, to match the reality of the time the gospels were written in? Because Jesus said it. Why does Jesus never claim such an honor for himself? Because he believed he wouldn’t be there. Like Moses, he would not enter the promised land. Like Elijah, he would be taken up into heaven, perhaps to be remade into an angelic being, the Son of Man.

    It occurred to me that anointing is something you do for a king (also a prophet, also a messianic figure)–David was anointed by Samuel. So there is that. But Jesus says he’s being anointed for his burial. And of course he probably wasn’t buried at all, but maybe he’d say we were being over-literal. 😉

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      Short answer: yes indeed, I think they did invent stories of Jesus predicting his death! These predictions are that he will go to Jerusalem, be rejected by the Jewish leaders, be crucified, and be raised from the dead. I don’t believe for a second that Jesus taught his disciples that this is what was going to happen to him. But, well, others do think so.

      • Avatar
        godspell  December 21, 2015

        I agree the more specific predictions are invented after the fact–that seems obvious. But the overall fatalistic attitude, probably not. He saw what happened to John. He wasn’t stupid. And if he’d been very upbeat about the trip to Jerusalem, I think what happened after the crucifixion would have been quite different. He’d prepared them, in his way, for what was coming. Why would they have these visions of him, if he hadn’t said and done things that, viewed retrospectively, made it seem that he was prophesizing his own death and resurrection? Yes, it’s a work-around, but there’s something TO work-around, is my point. If he’d said “We’re going in there, and everything’s gonna be great, we’re gonna win!”–I think they’d have just drifted away, and we’d never have heard of any of them. So yes, they changed what he said, but they didn’t make it all up. He believed he was going to die.

        We have so many sayings and deeds in the gospels that we know his followers richly wished were not true, but they were preserved anyway. It’s an embarrassment that he predicted the disciples would become kings–they all died in obscurity, as Jesus did. If he’d said he would be made a king, why wouldn’t they have preserved that as well? It could just as easily be explained away–he is, after all, The King of Kings.

        What’s more remarkable, really? The story we’re told, or what actually happened?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 22, 2015

          You don’t have to be stupid not to expect to be executed (or raised from the dead)! It’s much easier to seem that this is the obvious course of history *after* it has taken place….

          • Avatar
            godspell  December 22, 2015

            I absolutely agree that they ‘retconned’ afterwards, but they were using the materials they had to hand, which was the memory of what Jesus had said and done, and there must have been a heavy streak of fatalism there.

            He would have to be one optimistic guy to see what happened to his teacher, John–a man who he said had no superior, not even Jesus–and not imagine the same thing happening to him as well.

            I just don’t find your arguments persuasive in this specific instance–it was the one thing in your book about how he became God that I strongly disagreed with, and having read your arguments at some length now, I still do.

            I agree with pretty nearly everything you say to support this view, but I don’t agree that it proves the final point–it’s a bridge too far. It does not logically follow that because Jesus told his disciples they would be rulers in the coming Kingdom, that he himself would be there ruling over them. If anything, it proves the opposite. He was preparing them for a time when they would be without him to lead them.

            The story of the woman who anointed him–in all four gospels, though oddly transformed in Luke–shows us a man with a very strong sense of his own mortality. He’s preparing himself for something. He doesn’t know exactly what, but he can feel it coming, a dark fate, but with some higher purpose behind it, or so he wants to believe. And in the end, a lot of other people wanted to believe it too.

            I apologize for being so persistent about this, but it’s been one of the rare instances where I have not found your arguments persuasive.

  2. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  December 19, 2015

    hello Bart
    why would the disciples be unaware of Jesus fate since he already told them in Matthew 16:21 what is going to happen to him
    you dont believe the historical Jesus said something about the suffering and the death of messiah

    Matthew 16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.


    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      I don’t think the passion predictions are historical.

  3. Avatar
    moose  December 19, 2015

    I do agree with your interpretation of the suffering servant as Jacob. But I do not agree that Isaiah 53 necessarily must be interpreted to something that already has happened. Why? Because almost all the prophets speaks in past tense – The prophet saw this or that, or the prophet heard this and that”. Just look at the book of Revelation.

    “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

    • Avatar
      moose  December 19, 2015

      And look what happens when we link two verses from Isaiah together.

      Isaiah 59:1 “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
      nor his ear too dull to hear.
      2 But your iniquities have separated
      you from your God;
      your sins have hidden his face from you,
      so that he will not hear.”

      Here we see that “The arm of the Lord” is clearly not Jacob.
      Combine this with Isaiah 53:1.

      “Who has believed our message
      and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

      So it is perhaps not surprising that the early Christians could come to this conclusion?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      The change of the Hebrew verb tenses from perfect (the suffering) to imperfect (the vindication) are key to the passage I think.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  December 19, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, it seems to me that the first christians still believed that the Messiah was to be a conquering king, just as any messianic Jew would have believed at that time. The only difference is they came to believe that the Messiah had to suffer FIRST and only after that would he return to play his expected role as conquering king–hence why the parousia plays such a heavy role in the NT, especially Paul’s epistles. I always try to imagine myself as a proselytizing Christian and a skeptical Jew in this scenario in order to wrap my head around the rationalizing process.
    I imagine the christian saying something to the effect of, “The Messiah was already here. His name was Jesus and he suffered and died for our transgressions.”
    But the skeptical Jew would then point out that the Messiah is supposed to be a conquering king: “A Messiah who dies shamefully doesn’t sound like the Messiah.”
    The Christian might then reply, “Yes, he is going to be a conquering king, but first he must suffer and die in order to redeem us from our turning away from God, and then he will return as the conquering hero to fulfill the prophecies. See? It says so right here in Isaiah!”
    Then the skeptical Jew might reply, “Hmm, you make a compelling case. It’s certainly possible that the Messiah must first suffer for our disobedience to God, and then he will redeem us after we acknowledge our sins, as the prophets spoke. You have given me something to think about.”
    And, voila, Christianity is born.

  5. Avatar
    flshrP  December 19, 2015

    Refresh my memory. If I’m not mistaken, there’s a technical term than NT scholars use to describe this cherry picking of the OT by the early Jewish followers of Jesus to validate their belief in the suffering messiah. Certainly it’s a form of confirmation bias, but I recall reading a different term somewhere.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      Are you thinking of vaticinium ex eventu?

      • talmoore
        talmoore  December 21, 2015

        I think he’s thinking of hindsight bias. Hindsight bias occurs when an otherwise unforeseen event causes you to, metaphorically, rewind the tape in your head and cherry-pick all the past events that could or would have been clear indictations. The problem, of course, is that this then causes you to ignore or fail to remember all those indictions that could or would have predicted alternative outcomes–such as remembering that one time you predicted rain and it rained, but completely forgetting the other one thousand times your weather predictions didn’t come true. We often colloquially refer to this as monday morning quarterbacking. Unpredictable events can appear inevitable in hindsight.

        In the the case of Jesus, before Jesus’ arrest and execution it probably didn’t even occur to the disciples that it was even a possibility, let alone inevitable, that Jesus would die, but after the fact the disciples probably started connecting the dots and cherry-picking past events in such a way as to make his arrest and execution appear inevitable, almost inexorable. An argument can be made that the gospels are merely post hoc hindsight biases committed to paper.

      • Avatar
        flshrP  December 21, 2015

        I probably was trying to remember “postdiction” (aka hindsight bias), a logical fallacy, essentially the opposite of “prediction”.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  December 21, 2015

        You once suggested that when I asked you. But later, I realized the “word I couldn’t remember” for what I, at least, had been thinking of was pesher.

    • Avatar
      Eric  December 21, 2015


  6. Avatar
    fabiogaucho  December 19, 2015

    What does “Lord of Hosts” mean in Isaiah 6 and elsewhere in the OT? Some modern versions say “heavenly armies” (army of angels, I suppose). Is this correct, or is this a way to whitewash very ancient references to a god that was once of literal armies, made of men and weapons?

    I checked a Hebrew bible online, and instead of translating into English they left “Hashem Tzva’os”. Didn’t help me much.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      Yes, it almost certainly means something like “The leader of the angelic armies.” Not sure what kinds of weapons angels would require!

      • Avatar
        Bwana  December 21, 2015

        Any decent angelic army would fight with lightsabers, obviously! Much like the cherubims were using to guard the entrance to Eden (Gen.3:24).

    • talmoore
      talmoore  December 21, 2015

      As a Hebrew speaker I may be able to help here. The Hebrew expression that is usually translated Lord of Hosts in English Bibles is YHWH Tzva’ot, where YHWH is the tetragrammaton, or God’s literal Hebrew name, sometimes pronounced Yahweh. Tzva’ot in Hebrew is the plural for “army”. But YHWH Tzva’ot doesn’t quite mean “Yahweh of the Armies”, which would actually be written YHWH haTzva’ot. (No need to get into the technicalities of Hebrew grammar) In this case Tzva’ot functions more like a epithet. That is, “Armies” functions like a descriptor. Yahweh isn’t a god OF armies. He’s metaphorically LIKE a set of armies. That is to say, Yahweh is so powerful he is like having additional armies fighting along side you. It was probably only later, after the Hebrew Bible was written, that Tzva’ot came to be equated with the “heavenly host”, i.e. the angelic army of God, a concept the Jews inherited from the Zoroastrian Persians.

  7. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 19, 2015

    Is a future “messiah” mentioned *anywhere* in the Hebrew Scriptures? Or did the idea crop up and continue without anything being written about it?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      There is a sense of a descendant of David who will ascend to the throne, yes. Think, e.g., of Micah 5:1-5.

  8. Avatar
    perishingtardis  December 19, 2015

    Although it’s not related to suffering, Isaiah 7:14 has to be the best example of a verse being made to talk about Jesus when it clearly doesn’t in the original context. Though I sometimes wonder how the translators of the Septuagint managed to make such a nonsensical mistranslation.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      Parthenos sometimes simply means “maiden”/”young woman”

  9. Avatar
    jdmartin21  December 19, 2015

    “They explained it by arguing it was God’s plan all along for the messiah to be crucified. The earliest Christians – well before Paul – created the idea of a suffering messiah.…they ransacked their knowledge of the Hebrew Bible to find hints that the messiah had to suffer.”
    The earliest Christians before Paul would have been the apostles and their earliest Jerusalem converts. It seems that the task of finding scripture passages that would support their belief would require a careful and thorough combing of the scriptures. It is my understanding that the apostles were illiterate. Given the high rate of illiteracy in Palestine and that the apostles were not very successful in converting Jews to the new faith, it seems problematic that some of the earliest conversion to Christianity would include people able to read and research scripture. So, if the scriptural basis for a suffering messiah was in place before Paul’s conversion, who do you think did the research? Were the apostles able to recall the relevant passages from memory?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      Yes, I’ve wondered this a lot too. These people would have been hearing the Jewish scriptures read all the time, of course, at least on every sabbath, for decades. So at least they could have known a good deal about it from that context. And possibly in the first decade or so other educated people converted and studied the texts with these issues in mind….

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 19, 2015

    Good post! I once spent considerable time studying as many alleged Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah as I could find and reached the exact same conclusions that you have reached. I ended up completely baffled by why so many Christians see so much in these prophecies that I just do not see. As you suggest, people see what they want to see even if they have to do a lot of stretching. .

  11. Avatar
    Jim  December 19, 2015

    Is there any evidence to suggest that someone in the original group of Jewish followers had the scribal capability, literacy and access to scrolls to be able to find specific sections in say the Isaiah scroll and to be able to propose unconventional interpretations of Isa 53 and then to convincingly apply this rationale to Jesus? It might seem that someone would have had to have been reasonably well trained scribally to identify and make a case for something like this, however the very first tier of Jesus followers seem to be illiterate.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      They would have all been exposed to the Scriptures every week of their lives, probably, at least on the Sabbath, and so I imagine a good bit of it would have stuck. They would not have quoted “Isaiah 53” of course, since chapters didn’t exist; they would instead have referred to something that they knew “in the prophets” or even in “Isaiah the prophet.” I would love to know which of Jesus’ earliest followers could read (and how many) before Paul, and even during his day.

  12. Avatar
    Stephen  December 19, 2015

    Prof Ehrman

    Do you find it a bit ironic that to support their contention that some early Jews “invented” the figure of Jesus the mythicists are forced to argue that, yes, the suffering servant passages DID refer to the promised Messiah? In order to create Jesus out of whole cloth using the Hebrew Bible as their model requires that these Jews completely misunderstood their own traditions!

  13. Avatar
    uziteaches  December 20, 2015

    Bart, this is a brilliant analysis! I love the way you present it.

    I wonder what the upshot is. The early Christians, who were Jews, reinterpreted verses that were said about something or somebody else and made them about the suffering messiah, whom they also believed would return imminently. Jesus hasn’t returned, the verses were not about him.

    Now what? (I know this is a loaded question, but I’m hoping you will answer it.)

    Uzi Weingarten

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      Well, the answer to Now What has entirely to do with whether you are a Christian or not and if you are, how you deal with the reality of Christ’s humanity on the one hand and the nature of biblical revelation on the other.

  14. Avatar
    balivi  December 20, 2015

    Dear Professor!
    I think, this part (Isaiah 53) is very concrete (for me:-). And there are two similar parts:
    1. “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, ” ((Isaiah 53:9 New International Version)
    2. “Yeshua, however, it was different because there were royal connections with people ” (Baraitha and Tosefta, the Mishnah Annex for the Talmud”)

    Good suggestion? So maybe it word about Jesus? I dont know.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      The rabbinic materials are much later than the NT. But yes, Isa 53:9 was in the mind of the authors who produced the passion narratives.

  15. Avatar
    maryhelena  December 20, 2015

    Bart: ”…..no one had ever imagined that the messiah would be crucified”.

    Until it happened to a Jewish messiah figure, a King and High Priest of the Jews.

    Roman historian Dio Cassius: ”These people Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a cross and flogged,— a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans,— and afterwards slew him”.

    Josephus states that Antigonus was beheaded. Greek historian Plutarch:…” Antigonus the Jew, whom he brought forth and beheaded, though no other king before him had been so punished.

    Keeping in mind that dying on a cross/pole/stake was not the whole point of placing people in such a situation. Dead bodies were also placed on a cross/pole/stake. People could survive the experience of being humiliated by being hung up. Josephus records such an incident when he had a friend removed from a cross after the siege of Jerusalem in 70 c.e.

    It is understandable, from a Jewish perspective, that Josephus would not care to mention that a King of the Jews had been humiliated by being hung on a cross/pole/stake. That is a degrading experience. Beheading reflects an honorable death, a martyr’s end – but a martyr’s death would not
    turn the Jews away from Antigonus – which was what Herod I wanted. Having the Jewish King humiliated by becoming a ‘curse’ , by hanging on a tree, would obtain Herod’s goal.

    ”Now when Antony had received Antigonus as his captive, he determined to keep him against his triumph; but when he heard that the nation grew seditious, and that, out of their hatred to Herod, they continued to bear good will to Antigonus, he resolved to behead him at Antioch, for otherwise the Jews could no way be brought to be quiet. And Strabo of Cappadocia attests to what I have said, when he thus speaks: “Antony ordered Antigonus the Jew to be brought to Antioch, and there to be beheaded; and this Antony seems to me to have been the very first man who beheaded a King, as supposing he could no other way bend the minds of the Jews, so as to receive Herod, whom he had made King in his stead, for by no torments could they be forced to call him King, so great a fondness they had for their former King; so he thought that this dishonourable death would diminish the value they had for Antigonus’s memory, and at the same time would diminish their hatred they bare to Herod.Thus far Strabo”. Antiquities Book 18 ch.1.

    What source did Cassius Dio use for his statement regarding Antigonus being hung on a cross? Did he know the gospel story and thus viewed that crucifixion story as reflecting Jewish history about a King and High Priest of the Jews executed by Rome? Did he know the story in the Dead Sea Scrolls about a ‘wicked’ ruler of Israel hung up alive on a tree?

    ”And so it seems to me that the wicked ruler of these texts reflects
    Antigonus Mattathias, and that the Lion of Wrath alludes to Mark
    Antony who hung up alive Antigonus and perhaps other members of
    Antigonus’s regime similarly unremarked in Josephus, and that key
    Qumran pesharim such as Pesher Habakkuk, Pesher Psalms A, Pesher
    Nahum, Pesher Hosea B and others all allude in their various ways to
    the downfall of this last Hasmonean ruler, Antigonus Mattathias. And
    it is surprising to me that this suggestion seems to be new. Despite
    the striking correspondences between Antigonus Mattathias and the
    Wicked Priest just named and no obvious counter-indication, so far as
    I have been able to discover there has never previously been a scholarly
    suggestion that the Wicked Priest might allude to Antigonus Mattathias.
    And in asking how Antigonus Mattathias was missed I am
    including myself, for I too missed this in my study of Pesher Nahum
    of 2001”.

    Whatever was the source of the Cassius Dio statement about Antigonus being hung on a cross/pole/stake – perhaps as simple a source as early christian talk that they were followers of an executed, crucified, messianic, King of the Jews – the connection to Antigonus would never be far away for historians of Jewish/Roman history. Particularly as Antioch, the place of Antigonus’ execution, was where Christians were first called by that name.

    With Antigonus we are dealing with Jewish history – history that is reflected in the gospel crucifixion story. Interestingly, the author/authors of the gospel of Luke have seen fit to tell their story 70 years after 40 b.c.e. – the year Antigonus became King and High Priest of the Jews. Three years later, 37 b.c.e. he was executed by Rome. 70 years later Jewish history is being remembered, retold, reenacted, in the format of a political allegory.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      When a king is killed, he is no longer the king.

      • Avatar
        maryhelena  December 21, 2015

        Indeed – but is that not when the stories, the legends, begin? That’s what the gospel story relates about it’s Jesus figure is it not? Death brought about new insights, new understanding. How much more so the death, the execution, of an actual, historical, King of the Jews.

  16. Avatar
    Blackwell  December 20, 2015

    In your book ”Did Jesus Exist” you note that Paul must have been converted just two or three years after the death of Jesus, so how could the earliest Christians have created anything ‘well before’ Paul, as stated above?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      “Well before” is relative. In this case “well before” would mean that the Christians came up with these ideas at the very beginning, a couple of years, at least, before Paul joined their ranks.

      • Avatar
        Blackwell  December 22, 2015

        If the earliest Christians, before Paul’s involvement, really believed that Jesus was a divine being who would return from heaven in glory at the expected imminent apocalypse, then
        1. The disciples first had to become convinced that Jesus had actually been resurrected.
        2. They then had to convince themselves that this person who they had known for years had not only been resurrected but was actually divine (which was a Greek-Roman concept and was contrary to Jewish thought).
        3. They then had to convince other people that Jesus had been resurrected and was divine.
        4. These other people had to travel to other cities such as Damascus and then convince others who had never even heard of Jesus to share their beliefs.
        5. The groups of believers in these cities had to grow large enough to be noticed by opponents such as Paul.
        6. Paul and others then took action against these groups.
        7. Paul converted from an opponent to a proponent of Christianity.
        and all this within 2-3 years from the death of Jesus!!! Really??
        What is the evidence that such an unlikely sequence of events actually happened in so short a time?
        Would it not be more credible to suppose that
        1. Before the death of Jesus, expatriate Jews had heard that a prophet in Israel was predicting an imminent apocalypse.
        2. After the crucifixion, ordinary traders spread gossip that Jesus had been resurrected and this confirmed that the apocalypse was imminent.
        3. The idea that Jesus was divine came from Paul and not from the disciples?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 23, 2015

          Yes, I think all this did happen very fast. But it was simply because they came to believe in the resurrection. Once someone believed Jesus had been exalted to God’s right hand, they immediately drew the conclusion that he had been made divine, and everything else follows. Your own scenario requires just as many steps — you just haven’t listed them all!!

          • Avatar
            Blackwell  December 27, 2015

            Steps omitted by the proposed scenario would be:
            2: The disciples did not convince themselves that Jesus was divine.
            3: They did not convince other people that Jesus was divine.
            4: These people did not need to deal with others who had never even heard of Jesus.
            Believing in the resurrection is very different from Paul’s belief that Jesus had been exalted to God’s right hand, which is alien to Jewish thought, so steps 2 & 3 should have taken years to accomplish. It appears that this was a major point of disagreement between Paul and the disciples, otherwise why did he not go immediately to Jerusalem after his conversion and recruit the disciples for his campaigns?
            Paul’s conversion would also normally take several years (as you should know from personal experience) unless something exceptional happened to him. According to Paul, this was the case.
            What do you consider could have happened to Paul to cause his rapid conversion?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 28, 2015

            Not really. Disciples would still have to convince others about Jesus (in some way); yet others would not be convinced; and those who had never heard of Jesus would still have to be convinced.

  17. Avatar
    Gary  December 20, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I have read Jewish sources that state that Christians translators deliberately mistranslated the Hebrew text of many OT passages to “shoehorn” Jesus into them. Do you believe this? In other words, do you believe that the early Christians deliberately altered the original Hebrew to “Christianize” the Hebrew Bible?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      No, I don’t know of any intentional Christianizations in the Greek translations of the OT. But maybe some others on the blog do?

    • talmoore
      talmoore  December 21, 2015

      All the translations from the Hebrew Bible to Greek, that we know of, were actually done by Jews. The Septuagint, a Jewish translation from Hebrew to Greek from the 3rd century BCE, is by far the most used by both Jews and Christians. The only translation contemporary to the early Christians was that of Aquila of Sinope, also a Jew. Aquila’s translation only exists in fragments today.

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    Rogers  December 21, 2015

    And then ironically 2nd century proto-orthodox Christians got irate at Gnostic Christians for having different exegesis of Hebrew Bible scripture – yet clearly Christian theology itself fundamentally rested upon applying newly invented exegesis to Hebrew Bible scriptures.

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    gavriel  December 21, 2015

    Does not this indicate that very early Christians had a high degree of literacy, as they thoroughly searched the Scripture for prophesies of their Master?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      Not necessarily. They had all been hearing the Scriptures all the time, at least every week, for their entire lives.

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    dragonfly  December 21, 2015

    It’s amazing what “evidence” you can find when you specifically look for it. Has anyone used bayes theorem to show the messiah was supposed to suffer?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      Well, Richard Swinburne has used it to prove that Jesus must have been raised from the dead!!

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