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Lecture: Jesus and the Historian

On Tuesday, February 25, 2014 I gave a lecture at Dickinson College (Carlisle Pennsylvania) on “Jesus and the Historian,”  in the Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium.  In the lecture I deal with the historical problems posed by the surviving Gospels for evaluating the evidence for the life and teachings of Jesus.

Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition (The quality is not as good as one might hope, but it’s the best we can do given the original source)


The Discovery of Lost Documents
Wine in the Kingdom



  1. Avatar
    Wilusa  June 8, 2015

    Nothing new, of course, for members of the blog – but I thoroughly enjoyed watching and listening to every bit of it!

    Say, I have an OT question, that may seem dumb to someone not raised Catholic. But I’ve realized I’m not clear about this. How would you describe the difference (or differences) between “evangelical” and “mainline” Protestants?

    I assume “evangelicals” feel a greater commitment to actual evangelizing – constantly reaching out, trying to make converts. And if that’s their goal, it may make them also feel a need to be ultra-confident that what they’re asserting is the truth.

    But is there more to it than that? For example, did all “mainline” denominations break away directly from Catholicism, and all “evangelical” denominations break away from “mainline” denominations?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 9, 2015

      Yes, the evangelical churches come out of the Protestant tradition, which split from the Catholic church at the Reformation. Evangelicals tend to have a high view of the inspiration of Scripture and an insistence on the literal interpretation of traditional doctrines (Virgin birth, bodily resurrection, etc.)

  2. Avatar
    Jimmy  June 8, 2015

    Have you read, or aware of, Jesus , Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity by Chris Keith? The author(s) appear to be attempting to jettison all of the criteria used in historical Jesus studies. Just wondered if you were aware of that, or what your thoughts might be?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 9, 2015

      Yes, it’s part of the move to get rid of the criteria. I disagree with it, and will be discussing it, probably, in my scholarly book on Jesus and memory.

      • Avatar
        Jimmy  June 9, 2015

        Excellent. Looking forward to it. Love your scholarly books. You probably do not hear that every day. LOL.

  3. Avatar
    Shaggy  June 9, 2015

    Hey Bart 🙂

    A friend of mine recently read your recent book, HJBG. He said this:

    “I finished reading “How Jesus Became God”. On the whole, I thought it was an excellent book. I found Ehrman to be very thorough, reasonable and clear. It was hard not to question a lot of his assertions, but he backed them up with evidence and good arguments.

    After I finished this book, I decided I needed to read a book from the other perspective. I’d heard that N.T. Wright was the best, so I started on his book “The Resurrection of the Son of God”. I didn’t actually have much hope that this would counter Ehrman’s arguments and restore my faith, because it was written over ten years before and Ehrman had referenced N.T. Wright in his book, so I figured that he would have answered anything Wright would bring up. To my surprise, this was not the case.

    Many details that Ehrman brought up – that Jesus was not buried, that there was no tomb, that visions were enough to convince people of the resurrection, were all dealt with by Wright using arguments and evidence that Bart had not mentioned at all. This is especially true of the last point – that the visions of Jesus were all it took to trigger belief in his resurrection. Wright points out that there were many instances of people seeing visions etc. of dead people, but these were never interpreted as instances of resurrection, but rather assurances that the dead were happy in their new, non-physical existence. Wright argues that the combination of visions of Jesus and the fact of the empty tomb are the necessary and sufficient conditions for belief in his resurrection, and no other necessary and sufficient conditions have been proposed by scholars.

    There is much more to his argument (its a much longer book than Ehrman’s), but it did make me wonder a bit about Ehrman. He was so thorough on many things, but on these really crucial points he seemed to drop the ball and he fell back on unproven assertions or just skipped making full arguments. It kind of left me disappointed with Ehrman, since I didn’t get the full debate of the issue. He made his case out of the ashes of what Wright had completely burnt to the ground in just a few chapters.

    Ehrman seems to have overstated his case, skipped some details and stayed too much in the shallows in some places. I don’t doubt he might have answers to some of the things Wright says, but considering that these two books are on the same topic, and that Ehrman is aware of Wright’s work, the question is Why didn’t he answer Wright when he had the chance?

    He wrote his understanding, but he didn’t write an opinion piece or a blog post: he wrote a book, where he claimed to give the most reasonable account of the rise of Christianity. He failed to refute Wright’s arguments, so he failed to provide a credible explanation.”

    How do you feel about this criticism? Do you think it is fair? I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂
    Is N.T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God” superior to HJBG? Have you failed to refute Wright’s arguments?

    Kind wishes

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2015

      I think the problem is that your friend is expecting the book to be a scholarly tome rather than a popular trade book. If I were writing for scholars, of course I would mention significant scholarship in the field and interact with it – and not juts N. T. Wright! There are dozens (literally) of scholars that I could have cited to deal with each and every one of their arguments. But then it would not have been a trade book. But if anyone reads my account carefully (rather than quickly) they will see that I do indeed interact with arguments that other scholars have made, including Wright. (I do, for example, stress what an *apocalyptic Jew of the first century expecting the imminent end of the age* might make of an appearance of a beloved religious leader after his death, as opposed to what we in our world might make of it)

  4. Avatar
    fanning10  June 9, 2015

    I’m currently reading How Jesus Became God. Aside from the high Christology of the Gospel of John, what other factors have led to the consensus that it was the last Gospel to be written?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2015

      Also: the length of time it would have taken for the animosity against the Jewish synagogue to have developed (for example).

  5. Avatar
    heccubus  August 31, 2015

    Hi Bart,

    You mention often in your talks, including ‘Jesus and the Historian’ that Jesus disciples were not educated men, spoke Aramaic and likely illiterate and as such this would seem to eliminate them as possible authors of the Gospels. You mention often as well that the authors of the Gospels wrote in a particular style of Greek that relatively very few would be able to write in.
    I was trying to recall what that form of Greek you referred to was called so took to Google and happened across some apologists arguing that literacy in ‘Koine Greek’ being the Lingua Franca would have been common as a ‘second language’ in Jesus milieu. They claim that Palestine was not the backwater that is generally depicted , and for e.g. cite archaelogical evidence that 70% of funereal inscriptions were in Greek compared to only 18% in Aramaic.
    I’m sure these arguments are not new to you, but they are to me and likely others so I was hoping you might comment.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 31, 2015

      Yes, it would be koine Greek. And funerary inscriptions can be found only for people who could afford them — the upper classes. These are the ones who would be expected to know Greek.

  6. talmoore
    talmoore  October 13, 2015

    The idea of Jesus actually being God would have been anathema to a conservative Jew, even to Paul, who claims he was a pharisee. So one has to wonder if the disciples considered Jesus to be on par with God, and the immediate answer would be, certainly not. But for the Greco-Roman pagans, the idea that a man could be a god was not unreasonable in the slightest. So what appears to have happened, to me, is that when Paul et al. (Barnabas, Timothy, et al.) preached the gospel to the pagans, the pagens themselves probably are the ones who began to equate Jesus with a god, and it was only much later (2nd and 3rd centuries) that the christological nature of Jesus became something of a contraversy. The original Jewish Christians would never have even thought to consider whether Jesus was actually God or not. That was an issue that only concerned the pagan Christians post-first century.

  7. Avatar
    Theonedue  December 25, 2015

    Do you think it is possible that there was another gospel or letter written by an apostle, or a close associate of one, that was in circulation during the early church period that was later lost by the end of the 1st century?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 27, 2015

      I doubt if the apostles wrote anything, since they appear to have been illiterate. But certainly there could have been other Gospels floating around, and were certainly other letters.

  8. Avatar
    Theonedue  December 25, 2015

    Do you believe the Book of Revelations had some pagan influence in it?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 27, 2015

      It is being written withint a pagan world, so I don’t see how it could *not* have pagan influences.

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