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Me and Jesus

Yesterday I explained why, in my own opinion, I can no longer consider myself a Christian, and I received a lot of responses:  some sympathetic, others not so sympathetic; some seeing the point and others disagreeing.

One particular disagreement gets to the heart of what I was trying to say.  Several people (OK, lots of people) have commented that if I follow the ethical teachings of Jesus that in that sense I really am a Christian and might as well admit it.   Part of me agrees with that – it’s what I’ve long thought – but what I came to realize yesterday during my class lecture is that there is a strong sense in which that is also not true.  Here I’ll try to explain.

I do indeed try to …

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Does the Afterlife Matter for Other Things?
Why I Am Not A Christian

103

Comments

  1. kjadamsfreo  March 7, 2017

    Therefore dear fellow. …you have dropped off 🙁

    • HawksJ  March 8, 2017

      **Therefore dear fellow. …you have dropped off 🙁**

      ‘Dropped off’ what?

  2. dscotth  March 7, 2017

    Some Christians like to honor some non-Christians by saying that the non-Christians really are Christians in their hearts/souls/minds. For someone who is an Atheist, a Jew, a Muslim, etc., this is meaningless at best and insulting and demeaning at worst. I consider myself a Christian Agnostic, but I know many Christians would not consider me to be a Christian, and I am hesitant to say “I am a Christian” even though I attend church weekly. On the other hand, I think that many people, especially Americans, who call themselves Christians really are not, as they distort and disregard the primary teachings of Jesus as we have them from the New Testament. This is true of Republican legislators who pretend to be Christian as they tear down the safety net for the poor, as well as cult-like Bibliolators who pretend they read the Bible literally while they preach hatred.

    • John1003  March 11, 2017

      I believe there are passages where Jesus suggest that I should eagerly share my stuff with other people. Is there a place where Jesus suggest that I should make other people share their stuff. Does Jesus suggest I should work to help create a society where people are forced by law to share their resources (which is time if you work for those resources) with each other. I do believe a social safety net is good for society. As I read the words of Jesus though, it it appears to be calling me to a personal commitment.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 12, 2017

        I don’t think Jesus suggested that you do anything. He was speaking to first century Jews who were the reason for his mission. As far as sharing resources goes, I am motivated to participate in it not because of Jesus but because the United States was (and is) an experiment in brotherhood in which individual rights are respected but also in which there is an intention to take care of one another.

      • HistoricalChristianity  March 13, 2017

        As a sage of Second Temple Judaism, Jesus represented a society which had such laws for centuries. Gleaning laws were an unfunded mandate. They required landowners to allow the poor to glean on their properties. The most common rants of the prophets were against those who oppressed the poor, denied them justice, and procrastinated on paying them their wages. Organized, systematic altruism is nothing new.

        In that same demographic, the ‘poor’ also represented the common man, distinguished from the ruling elite. This was the demographic of the Pharisees. The Sadducees associated with the priestly and ruling classes. The Essenes didn’t associate with anyone but themselves.

        Modern society is possible only because we practice division of labor. That requires morality, and morality codified into law. We can choose to systematically (therefore efficiently) care for the poor (by modern definition). That’s primarily those incapable of caring for themselves. Most of those result from physical and mental disabilities. Some from poor choices. Some from lack of community.

        Then there’s the ‘poor’ (by the first-century Jewish definition). These are not disabled people. But they lack the power of wealth and political influence. The prophets complained when the rich/powerful took advantage of them. After separating out the disabled, today that’s the bottom 20% (or more) on the economic scale. Those without the balance of power of unions or a suitable minimum wage. Those willing and able to work but who have no work. Not because ‘jobs’ are sent offshore. But because modern society no longer requires that kind of work on a large scale. Our current social contract does not address this growing demographic at all. Only something like a UBI (Universal Basic Income) begins to address it.

  3. Lms728  March 7, 2017

    Following the ethical principles of Jesus does not make one a Christian because his teachings were not his alone. The Golden Rule appears in many faith traditions. Kant grounds it in a set of metaphysical and epistemological assumptions. The utilitarians ground it in different (entirely secular) assumptions. Jesus taught some pretty neat stuff, but he wasn’t the ultimate source.

  4. Boltonian  March 7, 2017

    Excellent post. I would assert, however, that our present day ethics are directly the result of Christianity as a world religion: Jesus, of course, wasn’t a Christian. We could have gone a different way: without the triumph of Christianity would victorious Greek, Roman or Islamic cultures got us to the same place? Who can say but I doubt we would have seen the abolition of slavery, for example, in quite the same way without the passionate intervention of that Christian Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce (and others) who used the Bible to advocate their stance. The Geneva Convention and our present day rules of war can be traced back to the Medieval Church and the influence it had over powerful rulers.

    One aspect of the tension in today’s world (tiny compared with those of earlier centuries) is that not everybody buys into those morals, which are manifest in our belief in the superiority of the open society (liberal, democratic, free-trading, and forgiving). Fundamentalism of any stripe (Christian, Islamic, Communist) stands in direct opposition to these ideals. Does my preference for living in an open society (I have experienced no other) then make me a Christian? Of course not, Christianity, whatever else it might be, is a doctrinaire religion (unlike, say, Buddhism) and I do not accept its doctrines (virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, son of god, trinity, and all the rest of it). So, although I don’t accept its historical justification, I have much to be thankful to Christianity for.

    • HistoricalChristianity  March 13, 2017

      Christian culture began as Greek/Roman culture. It still is. Paul rejected Torah as a moral arbiter, but offered no replacement. He simply adopted the common morality of his culture. Greek/Roman culture dominated the thought of the region long before Christianity got a foothold in the fourth century. Thank empire, not Christianity. Empire prevented war, allowing people to focus their time and efforts on more productive ventures.

  5. GTGeek88  March 7, 2017

    It’s ridiculous for people to say to Bart “if you follow the ethical teachings of Jesus in that sense you are really a Christian and might as well admit it.”

    Folks, ethics doesn’t have to derive from God and if you don’t believe in God, you can’t be a Christian. The ethics that Jesus espoused are also logical. Love is constructive and hate is destructive. That can easily be seen without the need for scripture. If you want love in your life, love others and it will be returned to you (not from everybody, but generally). None of this requires God. None of it is an argument that God exists, nor is it an argument that God doesn’t exist. I appreciate Bart’s statements when he talks about being agnostic, since we really can’t know if God exists. When he says he’s atheist, I respect that, but disagree (not with his statement relating to his personal belief, but just with the “God doesn’t exist” part). You can’t make someone into something they aren’t. They must decide for themselves, so for people to just claim he’s a Christian and label him such is really, really silly.

  6. flshrP  March 7, 2017

    The chief message Jesus preached was “Prepare. The end is near, very near”. Ever since the world received this (fake?) news two millennia ago, Christian theologians have been tying themselves in knots in an effort to rationalize the failure of this message. This failure of Jesus’ prophetic ability is sufficient in itself to invalidate any serious belief in the Christian message. Yet there continue to be Christians who insist on repeating this prophetic nonsense about an impending apocalypse (e.g. the “Left Behind” phenomenon). And these latter day prophets are, indeed, “Christ-like” in this regard.

  7. mbetanzos  March 7, 2017

    Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts – very beneficial for personal reflection…

  8. talmoore
    talmoore  March 7, 2017

    Again, Dr. Ehrman, I have to admit that the more and more I read — read scripture, read scholarly books, read history books — the more and more I innundate myself with research, the more and more clear it has become to me that Jesus did not “teach” the ethics he purportedly taught in the NT (i.e. anything separate from his apocalyptic preaching itself, which I think was his main concern). This isn’t to say that Jesus never instructed his followers in any ethics. He probably offered up maxims and ethical pronouncements, just as any religious figure is wont to do. But I have a hard time believing that the Gospels represent an accurate account of his ethical “teachings”.

    Here, I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about to illustrate my concern. In order not to write an entire monograph in your blog’s comments section, I will spare you the actual textual deconstruction and keep it simple. Let’s look at the eucharist. According to the Gospel accounts (and even Paul himself), at Jesus’ last Passover seder, while he was performing the elder’s duty of blessing the bread and wine, he purportedly says that the bread is his “body,” broken like his physical body will soon be broken, and the wine is his “blood,” poured just like his real blood will soon be spilled, and that his followers should continue to perform this ritual, with the aforementioned symbolism attached, after his death, “in remembrance of me”.

    Now, I know you know all this. But here’s the thing. I’m not a religion scholar. I’m a scientist. I’m parsimonious by nature. As Occam’s Razor dictates, the simplest answer is probably the correct one. So I have to ask, what’s the simplest explanation? Did Jesus REALLY say this? Well, let’s reverse engineer this account. Let’s break it down, first, into its most easily acceptable parts. Could Jesus have blessed and broken the bread? Could he have blessed and poured the wine? Certainly. That’s standard practice. Nothing at all contraversial about that. Could Jesus have actually known he was about to die, and, therefore, talked about the need to memorialize him in the symbolism of the ceremony? Now we’re getting into highly suspicious territory. Because such language sounds more like an etiological legend meant to explain and rationalize an already common practice amongst Christians, not a practice that a sane person would personally institutionalize *about himself*.

    So, to cut to the chase, this is what I think actually happened. Jesus performed his duty — blessing and breaking the bread, blessing and pouring the wine — just as recounted. But he didn’t say anything about his body or blood or remembrance. Then Jesus was *unexpectedly* arrested and executed. But his still Jewish followers, who continued to believe in him, continued to perform that same bread and wine ritual, every Shabbat, every festival feast, every Passover, every sacred meal. They did not stop being Jews! But every time they did it, they were, naturally, reminded of their last meal with Jesus. So they quite literally “remembered” Jesus every time they performed this ritual. Eventually, they quite literally performed it “in remembrance” of Jesus. So what did they remember? They remembered that Jesus was brutally killed. His body was broken, just like the bread is broke, and his blood was spilt, just like the wine is poured (and possibly spilt, as Jews have a tradition of letting the wine cup run over). So the first Jewish Christians invented the eucharistic tradition, not Jesus! They would probably say something to the effect of: “We break this bread in remembrance of Christ Jesus, whose body was broken for our salvation; we pour this wine in remembrance of Christ Jesus, whose blood was poured out for our salvation.” In other words, the ritual came first, and only later was the ritual attributed to Jesus himself. Why? Because, being the exalted “son of God” that he was, Jesus must have known he was going to die, and so Jesus must have been the one who originated the ritual. So when it came to writing the account in the Gospels, naturally, the words of the eucharist that had such an enigmatic origin were literally put into the mouth of Jesus, as if he himself was the originator of the ritual.

    I think that most, if not all of the ethical teachings of Jesus in the NT followed similar paths. They started out simply as rituals and precepts formulated by the early Jewish Christians, and only later were they attributed to Jesus himself as founder. This is something we see in just about every other religion, from Buddhism to Hinduism, from Confucianism to Taoism, from Judaism to Islam. It’s really more the rule than the exception.

  9. Adam0685  March 7, 2017

    My sense has been that the historical Jesus, as an apocalyptist, was not that unique in his views, since there were many apocalyptists during Jesus’ time and before him (e.g., John the Baptist). Also the idea of loving God and neighbor seems not that unique to Jesus but something he inherited/adapted from Judaism/Hebrew Scriptures.

  10. Todd  March 7, 2017

    I practice many Buddhist principles, but I am also not a Buddhist. I used to attend church, and have a Masters Degree in Divinity, but I no longer call myself a Christian. I see no reason to affiliate with any formal religious organizations … I am just an average person with the same limitations and flaws as every other person, but I do think it is best, for me, to try to be a loving and caring person, the best I can, rather than a hedonist who tries to get the most I can for myself at the expense of others. I do not know if there is a god or a force in the universe that governs all things and, at 75, I am suddenly more aware of my mortality than before. I simply think trying (emphasize *trying*) to be a compassionate person is the best choice I can make in life.

    I appreciate this discussion you started in your previous post. I hope we can continue it a bit further. It helps me to think through issues of what it means to be human, here and now, because that is where we all are…here and now. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

    • webattorney  March 10, 2017

      I am under 55, and I feel as you do, especially since I recently lost the only person who loved me unconditionally — my mother. If there is an after life, I believe my mother would have let me know in some way. But nada. I also never seen a ghost in my life, and frankly I would welcome it since seeing ghosts increases the likelihood of an after life.

  11. godspell  March 7, 2017

    We don’t know Jesus’ ethics were entirely predicated on his beliefs about the coming of The Kingdom.

    It could quite easily have been the other way around. He believed in The Kingdom, because he needed to believe that there would come a time when people would treat each other decently, live up to the ideals he’d inherited and expanded upon. There was obviously no way for him to achieve this, and he knew that. So like the Plains Indian Ghost Dancers, trying to wish away the evil that had come upon them (namely us), he dreamed of a divine solution to the problem–but what’s important, what matters, what’s lasted, is his insight that God would not intervene to help us unless we were ready to help ourselves. That God was inside each of us, waiting to be set free.

    If we stop believing in that, we really might as well all give up. Maybe we never reach The Kingdom, but that’s no excuse for not trying. Nobody is a true Christian–probably not even Jesus (who probably never even heard the word pronounced). But in admitting that to ourselves, we can be better. Not only those who aspire to be Christians, but those who simply aspire to be human–or rather, to make the word human mean something better than it currently does.

    I respect the process you’re going through, and many have been through it before you. But it doesn’t end here, or shouldn’t.

  12. cjeanne  March 7, 2017

    First….I entirely agree, although it took me some 60 years and the death of a spouse to get here.
    I have a question, though, do any other religions have this view that their God will ultimately destroy evil and then we will all live in peace and harmony with no suffering, hunger….etc. Could this belief actually have been the cause of the spread of Christianity. That was 2 questions, actually.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2017

      The view may have come into Judaism from Zoroastrianism; and yes, the Christians’ eschatology may well have made their views more attractive. I deal with this a bit in my book The Triumph of Christianity.

  13. Gary  March 7, 2017

    Some conservative Christians are under the impression that we secular humanists “stole” our humanistic principles from Christianity; that without Christianity, secular humanism would never have developed. But as you say, Jesus was not the first person to teach the Golden Rule. After thousands of years of bloody trial and error, we humans have learned that looking out for the well being of everyone in the “herd” is in the individual’s best interest. Let’s keep the Golden Rule, but abandon the silly (and dangerous) supernatural superstitions.

    • jwesenbe  March 8, 2017

      I’ve always contended the only problem with religion is god.

      • Steve  March 27, 2017

        And I have the view: the only problem with god….is religion!

  14. rblouch  March 7, 2017

    Ahh. Very good. You do meditate.

    Very few teachers teach meditation as a transcendent practice. None of the Rock Stars do.

    There is fashion in spirituality as much as anything else and the “hopeless” school currently holds powerful sway in the meditation community. There is no hope. Get over yourself. Hopeless is a viewpoint worth considering but is not truth in any real sense. It’s just one more viewpoint that is most often presented as truth. It is strongest in those schools of practice that call themselves Mindfulness.

    A transcendent experience throws a real wrench in the hopeless pantheon of belief so almost every modern teacher I know of aims students away from techniques that facilitate them. There are exceptions but for the most part they are rare. Transcendental Mediation is a notable one.

    I wrote a response to a Quora question the other day that offers a simple shift in perspective that can lead someone who is already meditating into the transcendent.

    https://www.quora.com/I-want-to-reconnect-with-the-Universe-How-do-I-do-it-and-what-are-the-steps/answer/Ron-Blouch-1

  15. ngraham  March 7, 2017

    Hello Dr. Ehrman,

    I reached the same conclusion as you did independently about 35-40 years ago; about the same time in my life as you did though I am about ten years older. I first heard your interview on NPR driving home from work and was struck how similar if not the same my conclusions were about religion as a onetime serious bible student and former believing Christian (Jehovah’s Witness). I attended your lecture in Philly a few years ago. I simply cannot come to worship and reconcile a Supreme Being that permits/allows so much human suffering to make a point about his sovereignty and god ship. If he/she does exist, I could not worship such a uncaring deity. I continue to follow your blog to learn about the formative years of Christianity. The phenomena of Christianity continues to hold my interest as a humanist into my early 70s, though like yourself I no longer consider my self a Christian.
    I admire your ability to express yourself so clearly and look forward to following your blog.
    Norm

  16. tompicard
    tompicard  March 7, 2017

    one view
    “But Jesus’ entire ethics were completely predicated on the coming kingdom of God.”

    another view
    “But the coming kingdom of God was completely predicated on Jesus’ entire ethics. “

    • HistoricalChristianity  March 8, 2017

      The idea of the kingdom of God predates Jesus, and even John the Baptist, who also preached it.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  March 10, 2017

        i read Dr Ehrman statement assuming his use of ‘predicated’ was in causal not not temporal sense

  17. Liam Foley  March 7, 2017

    There are many philosophies across many religions that I do admire yet I do not agree with everything that they teach and preach. I do certainly pick and choose what I agree with and believe. I have been criticized for doing that yet I have observed that all people do pick and choose what they believe. I do label myself a Buddhist because there is much of that philosophy that I tend to practice but in the end I really abhor labels because they pigeon hole me and might not portray an accurate picture to others. For once you label yourself I find it opens yourself up to people making many assumptions about you based on how they perceive that label. I think you’re a good example how a person can be an agnostic/atheist and still be very spiritual.

  18. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  March 7, 2017

    It has never seemed to me that following and admiring “some of the principles of Jesus” in themselves give cause to call oneself a Christian–not if Christianity truly is a religion not of Jesus but about him. Whether Jesus was teaching his hard morals in view of the coming Kingdom or whether he was teaching an ethical code for the long term, he was teaching these as a Jew, not as a Christian–even allowing for their new universality. (Wiping out other tribes, I think, was more a practice more typical of more primitive Israelite behavior or lore but not typical of it by Jesus’ time.)

  19. wrengles  March 7, 2017

    Your practical concern is one I’ve thought about quite a bit: essentially every one of us, no matter how generous with our time or money, is selfish to some degree. I do not live in the smallest house, spend the least amount on food and amenities, etc. that I theoretically could. In short, I do not maximize the amount I give to others.

    But I don’t think that means one does not follow the principals of love and compassion taught by Jesus (even if, like me, you don’t do it *because* of Jesus’s teachings). It’s all a matter of degree. Bill and Melinda Gates have probably done more to help their fellow humans than anyone else on earth, but they live well at the same time. Virtually no one could be considered to follow Jesus’s teachings if you literally have to give *all* you can.

    • jwesenbe  March 8, 2017

      Exactly. Jesus called on all to do the hard thing and in reality, almost no one does (Mother Theresa comes to mind as one who may have). That is why the entire faith is bogus. No one is following Jesus’ teachings, they are following the invented teachings that have developed over the last 2000 years.

  20. FreiDenker  March 7, 2017

    Someday I would like to see an Ehrman book on John’s gospel. I have wondered if parts of John’s gospel are post facto justifications for emerging sacramental theology, rather than sources for the eucharist, ordination,confirmation,
    and other practices of the Catholic beliefs.

  21. TWood
    TWood  March 7, 2017

    “If there is a future judgment scene with the separation of the sheep and the goats, I can pretty well imagine the cosmic judge saying, ‘What the hell were you thinking???'” Haha. Yes, but I can imagine him saying that to everyone else too. Modern science has made us all apocalypticists in a sense… we know the sun will become a red giant and destroy all carbon based life on this earth. The kingdom of god would then be finding an inhabitable planet in another solar system. Real scientists actually work on this. It’s pretty crazy to think about. I know it’s not directly relevant, but it’s still an interesting thought, in my view at least.

  22. HistoricalChristianity  March 7, 2017

    Hillel expanded neighbor to include Samaritans, and Jesus followed that. But neither encompassed Gentiles. That took Paul, who wanted Christianity to be universal. Your enemy was someone who wasn’t a neighbor.

    In Babylonian Diaspora, Israel expanded neighbor to include the empire that conquered them. When Assyria later conquered Babylon, and Cyrus granted religious and political freedoms, Israel need a way to justify or rationalize how they could think Assyria (whom they hated for conquering their northern lands and people) was now a good guy. So they wrote Jonah. Their explanation was that a prophet preached them and they repented (stopped oppressing Israel). Jews thrived in Diaspora, even when they didn’t control their own political destiny. It’s why most Jews could support the Roman Empire.

    I don’t see any texts justifying the idea of ‘love your worst enemy’ as we think that idea. They still punished crimes. But they didn’t have to involve themselves in war with other states. Rome took care of that, and also imposed rule of law on the sub-states within the Roman Empire.

    “I don’t think that there will be a supernatural intervention in the course of human affairs in which all that is evil will be destroyed and all suffering and misery will be removed from the human realm.” Darn. That means, if we want a better society, we’ll have to do all the hard work ourselves. That’s why I’m so upset by those Christians (obviously not all) who rationalize their laziness and refusal to get involved in the betterment of society by saying that everything is just gonna get worser and worser until the apocalypse, and then God will fix it all. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke

  23. JamesFouassier  March 7, 2017

    Leaving aside the moral and philosophical value of the “ethics” that we attribute to Jesus, Professor, you yourself often have pointed out that its difficult to know just WHAT Jesus said. Would anything you discuss in today’s posting be different if the scholarly consensus is that Jesus had not actually spoken the words? How much of what we ascribe to Jesus’ ethical teachings are historically of Jesus, how much are post-Easter phenomena, and how much are traditions and legends that found their way into the earliest extant versions of the Scriptures? And how much does it matter?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2017

      Well, nothing would change about how I want to live my own life.

  24. Antonio Campos  March 7, 2017

    Not by coincidence, the apostle Paul also had an apocalyptic vision. He believed that the coming of the Son of Man was near, and this could happen at any time: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord”. 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17

  25. Wilusa  March 7, 2017

    Yes, your view makes perfect sense.

    But for me, I admit, it’s a lot simpler. I think of the basic two-point ethical teaching (“Love God above all else, and love thy neighbor as thyself”) as being sound (if you’re going to believe in an all-powerful God, it’s more healthy, psychologically, to imagine him as a loving father than as a harsh judge – hence the emphasis on love rather than fear). But really, it’s so obvious that it’s almost a platitude. Of course we should try to empathize with our fellow humans! I don’t know whether Jesus was one of the undoubtedly many long-ago preachers who actually said something of the sort…and I don’t care.

    I know Jesus’s cultural background was very different from mine. In light of that – if I imagine my somehow meeting him, and there being no language barrier, I feel sure we wouldn’t like each other. And I suspect that would be true for just about any 21st-century person, even those who *worship* the man they think he was.

  26. Robert  March 7, 2017

    “I don’t believe any of that. I don’t think there is a divine realm above our realm. I don’t think that God exists, let alone that he grounds the meaning of existence.”

    So it seems you might agree with pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (God does not exist, rather he is ‘not being’, *mn wv*) or with John Scotus Eriugena (God is ‘nothingness through excellence’, ie, *nihil per excellentiam*) or with Paul Tillich (“it is as atheistic to affirm the existence of God as it is to deny it”).

    Or, even if you don’t agree with any of them, it is practically impossible to definitively disagree with them.

  27. Pegill7  March 7, 2017

    According to Evolutionary Psychology the reason that we appear to be altruistic is that over long periods of time some of our species have learned that if we treat others as we would like to be treated it benefits the group, and that in time that group becomes larger and larger until it consists of all other humans and some animals. Those of our species who learned this were more likely to survive than the free loaders and egotists who would ultimately die out (unfortunately not all of them). This even accounts for Reciprocal Altruism in which individuals even risk their lives for others in the belief that others may do the same thing for them.. You mentioned, I believe, that altruism may be hardwired in our brains, because over long period of time, altruism has proved to bring success to our species so that those of us who share the altruistic gene will in the long run survive at a better rate than those who do not.The Mirror Neurons that we and certain animals possess make it possible to feel the pain experienced by others and make us able to sympathize with them and to avoid inflicting pain on them and restrain others from inflicting pain on others. Except , of course, psychopaths and sociopaths who know when others are in pain but don’t care unless it is they who feel the pain. The majority of us can even feel the same sympathy for animals whom we see in pain, hungry, etc., and avoid inflicting pain on animals and, through legislation, prevent others from so doing. I think Pinker is on to something!

  28. clipper9422@yahoo.com  March 7, 2017

    My comment is similar to several to the previous post. I think what you call Jesus’s “horizontal” view of the Kingdom of God places incomparably more value on the kind of material existence we have than, say, John’s “vertical” view of the kingdom. The same with “resurrection of the dead” vs “heaven.”

    Arguably, Jesus doesn’t seem to place much value on, say, enjoying, our pre-kingdom earthly existence. The critical thing is whether we show ourselves worthy of the future kingdom. But the things we do to be worthy are the same things we’ll be doing post-kingdom and they are meant to also be part of a utopian future world.

    My knowledge of, say, liberation theology is that it identifies the kingdom of God (in large part ) as the utopian future which we (in large part) bring about by living in accord with Jesus’s ethical teachings.

    That may well be much different than Jesus’s apocalypticism but it clearly values this material existence that we have now.

  29. clipper9422@yahoo.com  March 7, 2017

    If there is a divine world (and the evidence seems slim that there is) I would like to think that it’s “continuous” with our material existence. We don’t leave behind our material existence but, in the divine world, our material existence is a part of (or blossoms into) a much fuller existence. Our material existence is one dimension of a fuller existence. By acting ethically, we obtain glimpses of this fuller existence. But, unfortunately (in my opinion), that doesn’t seem to be the way reality is.

  30. webattorney  March 7, 2017

    I came to realize long time ago that there is no way in hel* that you can follow everything Jesus said literally. At least, I cannot. I also came to realize that no matter what your belief is, you believe in that because such belief helps you or you THINK such belief helps you. If it does not help you (or make you think it helps you), then you will not believe. Simple as that. There is a specific psychological reason for each person.

  31. gavriel  March 7, 2017

    I wonder if you agree with Bertrand Russel in his famous lecture “Why I am not a Christian”, in which he states that there is “one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character..”, and explains that this is his belief in Hell and a “..vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching…”.
    And are these attitudes invented by posterity or do they stem from Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2017

      I think Jesus did hold to the idea of post-mortem punishment, but not the views found among most Christians today (that the body rots and the soul lives forever)

      • gavriel  March 8, 2017

        Sure, but I’m thinking about the gospel stories, in which he is shoveling invectives at his opponents and those who disagree with him, like in Matt 3:7 or 23:33. I find it hard to believe that this is the same person who stands behind the Sermon on the Mount.

        • HistoricalChristianity  March 10, 2017

          That’s because few of us are familiar with the typical style of rabbinic argument of the day. That’s just how they love to argue. Except for the subject of divorce, an author could have portrayed Hillel with precisely this dialog.

          But the sermon on the mount is monologue, not dialog. No one is there to argue. Most of it was vanilla preaching of the Hedge of Hillel, with a little hyperbole thrown in for good measure.

  32. Scott  March 7, 2017

    I have a similar problem with Christianity. In addition to the problem of suffering and the historical failure of Christianity’s claims, I have a real problem with the expectations of what a “Christian” should be.

    I have listened to more sermons than I can count that implore me to be gentle, kind, charitable and loving. But not just in the normal, Ehrmanian, way. I must , it is explained, model these behaviors in ways that exceed those of mere mortals. Impossible you say? No one can live up to such a commandment? Of course not! That is why we all need the help of the Holy Spirit.

    While I know many fine and compassionate Christians, none of them seem to be measuring up. They strive. They pray. They do missions. They hold yard sales. But none of them seem to be getting a measurable boost from the Holy Spirit. Seem odd? Not to me. I simply belief that there is no Holy Spirit or Creator Father or Imminent Kingdom.

    So I, like you, take from Christianity and those attracted to it by its teachings on Love and Charity what I can to be a slightly better person. But I do not accept the basic premise, that there is a spiritual power that makes impossible things possible, and hence do not consider myself a Christian.

  33. mathieu  March 7, 2017

    If you are don’t believe in god but lead an ethical life you are a closet Christian. Give me a break. The only people who would say that are those that believe that only Christians are ethical. That obviously is not the truth. Many people are ethical, most are ethical sometimes (when it suits them, usually). By that logic Muslims who behave ethically are Christians, pagans who behave ethically are Christians, atheists who behave ethically are Christians (I know that’s circular, but it’s the point I want to make). Ethics are not a Christian attribute, a better statement would be that some Christians are ethical (not all that many, IMHO).

    That puts me in mind of many years ago I was speaking with several Christians about ethics and one of them asked me, “If you don’t believe in God, what keeps you from killing someone”. At that, I looked him in the eye and said, “If you really believe that, will you stand only in front of me always, please?”

    He looked at me for a bit, maybe 10 seconds, then laughed, shook his head and said, “You’re right”. He was the most honest Christian I’ve ever talked to.

  34. James Chalmers  March 7, 2017

    I’m trying to think how Jesus’s view, his dismissal of the value of this world, might be defended. Here goes.
    Human existence has gone through three eras, two happy and one miserable.
    The happiest time, rather as Rousseau thought, it was the first, the 190,000 years spend on the savanna in small bands. It was happiest because we, the species, evolved there, and so our nature was suited to conditions there.People live in equal conditions, and if they don’t like the rules of their band, they can form or find another.
    Then came agriculture, domestication, sedentism, And eventually, life among strangers and the state and civilization. Elites form, and engage in exploitation and oppression. A small minority, that is, exploits and oppresses the great majority, who are obliged to serve the interests of the elite minority. and lead lives only marginally above subsistence levels, as the elite extracts from them whatever its power permits, constrained only by the necessity not to kill the goose.
    This is Jesus’s era, and though life in Persia may be better than in Assyria, and life under Rome remarkably peaceful and relatively prosperous, still taxes are high and rulers alien. So Jesus is right to devalue this world and the things thereof–it affords, to all but the fortunate few, only a miserable existence.’
    Then comes the Industrial Revolution, when, even if exploitation and oppression continue to prevail, still the standard of living rises to levels, even for the average worker, that are more than tolerable–that are good enough that, as you say, Jesus’s devaluation of this world and the things thereof makes no sense.
    Sp. given the conditions of Jesus’s time, and that prevailed till two or three centuries ago, an apocalyptic rejection of this world makes good sense.

    • HistoricalChristianity  March 8, 2017

      All of this is barking up the wrong tree. The life of the Pharisee was all about teaching Torah and encouraging obedience to it. Recognize this simple hyperbole as their way of emphasizing what they believe its priority should be. Don’t stop working. Don’t hate your parents. But give due priority to Torah.

  35. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  March 7, 2017

    When someone asks me if I’m a Christian or if I go to church, I hesitate a little. I know my answer is going to open a can of worms, and there’s a small part of me that feels like lightning is gonna strike me dead.

  36. Jimmy  March 7, 2017

    Have you read Sam Harris’s book ” Waking up: A guide to spirituality without religion” ? He talks about meditation from a neuroscience and a psychological point of view. it was a breath of fresh air for me and my wife.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2017

      YEs, I’ve liked several of his books (esp. Letter to a Christian Nation). Not so much End of Faith, where he equates religion with fundamentalism.

  37. mjt  March 8, 2017

    I’ve always wondered about some of the advice that Jesus gives; it just seems wrong to me. Do you think he meant that we should take NO thought of tomorrow–meaning no planning at all? If it’s only acceptable to divorce because of adultery, is it wrong to divorce for spousal abuse? Should Christians who get sued, settle out of court, and pay twice what they’re being sued for? (Give them your tunic as well.)

  38. Silver  March 8, 2017

    Thank you very much for sharing your personal feelings in current threads.

    Please may I, however, return to your recent posts re the corruption of texts. My query relates to the ‘Zombie’ verses of Matt 27:52-3.
    I have today been in conversation at the door with Jehovah’s Witnesses and they argue (from their New World Bible) that what this passage means is that the bodies were disturbed by the earthquake and people from Jerusalem saw the dead lying around. Is there any way the original could be translated in this way? Of course they need such an interpretation to avoid the problem that the resurrection of the dead had begun.
    We have debated that one would need to go back to the Greek to determine this. I read French, German and some Spanish but feel sure that these languages indicate the same as what I read in English (that the dead bodies went into Jerusalem).
    I have just started to learn NT Greek (4 weeks ago) but at 73 years of age it is tough going and I shall probably have popped off before I can handle such passages.
    Thanks for your forbearance.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2017

      It can’t mean that. Just read the verses. The bodiess “are raised” and the “go out” and they “enter into the city” and “appeared” to many” The term “raised” is the same Greek term used for Jesus’ resurrection.

      • Silver  March 8, 2017

        Thank you for your response to the ‘Zombie’ verses query.
        I quote here an explanation on a ‘Defending JW’ website:
        “First of all, let it be noted that the pronoun “they” (Matt. 27:53, RS) could not refer to the “bodies,” because all pronouns in the Greek have gender and “they” is in the masculine, whereas “bodies” is in the neuter gender. Nor could “they” refer to the “holy ones,” for the text does not say that the holy ones were raised but merely that their bodies were raised or thrown up. Further, even the most ancient manuscripts are not in agreement with one another as to the reading of this text. The Sinaitic omits the words “and the memorial tombs were opened” and “entered.” ”

        Please are you able to comment on the grammatical points made here?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 10, 2017

          I’m afraid that statement is pure obfuscation. The nearest antecedent to the masculine plural “they” (went out) is the masculine plural “the saints who had been sleeping” whose bodies had been raised. They are the ones who go into the city. The last point about codex Sinaiticus is meant simply to obscure the issue: it is a complete irrelevancy.

      • dragonfly  March 9, 2017

        Matt 27:53 “After his ressurection they came out of the tombs…” Whose ressurection? Jesus? But he hasn’t even been buried yet, let alone ressurected. The many saints? But “his” is singular. What does this mean?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 10, 2017

          Yes, Jesus’ resurrection. The author is stating what happened at Jesus’ death (the others had been raised) and indicating what would happen after his resurrection (they would go into the city)

        • HistoricalChristianity  March 10, 2017

          I think the author felt the idea a better fit here thematically, compared to later chronologically.

  39. madmargie  March 8, 2017

    Regardless of what you say, you are very close to being a Christian….as I understand being a Christian. I believe just about as you do. I do believe in God although certainly not like other Christians believe. I do not believe Jesus was God in any sense. I believe he was a remarkable human with the cultural view of the world very much like others of his culture. But he had compassion for the unfortunate poor and sick.

    I do believe we are living in God’s kingdom..just a very flawed kingdom since humans are in charge of it and some of them inevitably screw up anything they involved in. But there are millions of humans that do their very best to follow Jesus’s teachings. They do feed the hungry, heal the sick, help the homeless find shelter…they try to live good productive lives.

    I believe, even though you may not agree with me, that you try to follow the teachings of Jesus too. I don’t really believe God cares if you enjoy a good life that you have obviously earned. You are trying to be compassionate and help others too.

    • jwesenbe  March 8, 2017

      Christians are not following the teachings of Jesus, they are following what the teachings have become. There is a difference.

  40. RonaldTaska  March 8, 2017

    Thinking about it “at the moment”:

    I have tried hard to remain Christian and went through the following steps:

    1. After I struggled with the atonement, the divinity of Jesus, the concept of hell, and theodicy issues and the textual and historical Biblical criticism issues, I became a red-letter Christian following only that which Jesus taught in the Gospels, which was underlined in red in my Bible. This would be much like the “Jefferson Bible” of Thomas Jefferson.

    2. I then became a 25th chapter of Matthew Christian just focusing on the parable of “the sheep and the goats.”

    3. Now, I guess I am a secular humanist although I remain extremely puzzled and thoughtful about the origins of the universe or multiverse and remain open to the cosmological and teleological arguments concerning the existence of God since the creation of such a vast multiverse from nothing makes no sense to me

    Anyway, I share your search and basic conclusions. Thanks for sharing. Putting it all together has always been my chief project and your many books, etc. have been really, really helpful with that project.

    • jwesenbe  March 8, 2017

      Something either came from nothing or was always. Both are equally explainable.

    • dragonfly  March 9, 2017

      We all look at things differently. The cosmological and teleological arguments make no sense to me.

  41. Iris Lohrengel  March 8, 2017

    How can we be sure that Jesús was an apocalypticist and that those apocalyptic passages were no laid into his mouth by either apocalyptically minded followers ( who added to his teaching their own convictions) or the gospel writers? Even if apocalypticism had been the prevalent view, how do we know – or rather, can we really be sure beyond doubt – that Jesús shared into the prevalant view? Nowadays, so many people hold views, but there are always other people who don’t share those views. Sure he taught the coming of the kingdom, but what did he really *mean* by that? If we all follows the golden rule and his ethical principle, would we not be able to create heaven on earth? Peace and well-being for everyone?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 10, 2017

      It’s a good question. It’s the one I address at length in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

  42. Eskil  March 8, 2017

    The Seven Noahide Laws are easier to follow just in case universalism doesn’t hold water.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Laws_of_Noah

    I wouldn’t interpret golden rules as harsh as Bart either.

    “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”

    I don’t expect others to do everything they can do for me, I like to stand on my own feet and my taste could also be different.

    Hence, the positive could equal to “be reciprocal”

    “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated”

    and the negative to “do not be hypocritical”.

  43. tompicard
    tompicard  March 9, 2017

    From February on this blog
    Dr Siker wrote
    ” being a Christian means that I find my fundamental orientation to the world and to God in the person of Jesus as reflected in the NT writings”
    In a comment you wrote “I think it’s a perfectly legitimate definition. If I believed in God, I would be happy to apply it to myself and call myself a Christian.”
    Now to call yourself a christian, in addition to a belief in God you must also believe that this God is going to magically change an evil world into a good world. is that right? and is it really reasonable?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 10, 2017

      I don’t think Jeff Siker believes God is going to magically change the evil world into a good one, not at all.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  March 10, 2017

        that wasn’t the question,

        Neither you nor I nor Dr Siker (we assume) believe God, if he exists, is going to bring a cataclysmic change. Now I agree with you that Jesus taught the bad world would become good, but not that Jesus taught this transformation was contingent upon an antigravity Son of Man who can walk on literal clouds.

        As I read this blog it seemed to me your objection to being called a a christian had something to do, not merely that Jesus believed in God and you don’t, but with the idea that Jesus also taught/believed that this God would perform magic to turn this ‘evil’ word good.

        Maybe I misunderstood that position, you referred to as the ‘theoretical problem’.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 12, 2017

          I don’t think I can call my self a Christian (I’m not speaking for anyone else!) if I fundamentally disagree with the very heart and soul of what Jesus proclaimed — both his apocalyptic scenario and the theological basis for it.

    • HistoricalChristianity  March 10, 2017

      You can definitely be a Christian without being an apocalypticist, even one who recognized that it didn’t happen on earth but would happen in an afterlife. I consider that a minor aspect of Christianity. The essential is that you consider Jesus as the universal sacrifice.

  44. Alanizd1  March 10, 2017

    Thank you. You have given me another way to look at and further develop my views of my ethics. I guess ultimately the label doesn’t matter as much as living well and helping others.

  45. Fairsaithe  March 10, 2017

    We could go to a new meeting house; above the door, the sign says JESUS ENOUGH. Just the two featured statements as referenced aboved, deployed as a call to thought and action, without any dogma, but with a helpful study of the history of religions. And music, singing, poetry, plays. And plans to make a difference. Lol

  46. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  March 11, 2017

    I have not forgotten about you and your hard work. I am working on my Masters in Business, and Elaine has already sent warm wishes. When I do graduate I will make sure to let you know, because deep down inside you care. 😉
    I will not give up with life, because you dont.

  47. Rick
    Rick  March 11, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, am wrapped around the axle about the historical Jesus here because I am not able to distinguish what he might have really said… so:
    If First Century Judaism taught ” you were supposed to *kill* the Canaanites, Moabites, and Midianites. But your fellow Israelite you were to love as yourself.” But, ” Jesus had a broader vision, as I understand him. Your neighbor included even your worst enemies.” How do you view Mather 15:21 and his approach to the Canaanite woman? First, do you think the historical Jesus said that? If he did, was his acquiescence to her because of her faith an exception or was that part added for later Gentile followers also?
    Many thanx

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      No, this is not something first-century Jews believed (for the most part). It is what God told the children of Israel in the Hebrew Bible centuries earlier.

      • HistoricalChristianity  March 12, 2017

        True. And if anyone taught “Your neighbor included even your worst enemies.” it was Paul, or more likely someone after Paul.

  48. stevenpounders  March 14, 2017

    Though Jesus’ version of the Golden Rule is positive, I have noticed a number of Christian apologists claiming that he was the first to “invent” a positive version of the Golden Rule. As a friend of mine has pointed out with research, this is simply not true:

    “A monk should treat all beings as he himself would be treated.” (Jaina Sutras, Sutrakritanga, bk. 1, 10:1-3 – 4th to 3rd century BC)

    “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain and your neighbor’s loss as your loss.” (T’ai-Shang Kan-Ying P’ien – 12th century BC)

    “Universal love is to regard another’s state as one’s own. A person of universal love will take care of his friend as he does of himself, and take care of his friend’s parents as his own. So when he finds his friend hungry he will feed him, and when he finds him cold he will clothe him.” (Book of Mozi, ch. 4 – writings collected between 8th and 3rd century BC)

    “One who regards all creatures as his own self, and behaves towards them as towards his own self attains happiness. One should never do to another what one regards as hurtful to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of righteousness. In happiness and misery, in the agreeable and the disagreeable, one should judge effects as if they came to one’s own self.” (Mahabharata bk. 13: Anusasana Parva, §113 – 400 BC or earlier)

    “As the virtuous man is to himself, he is to his friend also, for his friend is another self” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 9:9 – 350 BC)

    “Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.” (Mencius, Works bk. 7, A:4 – between 319 and 312 BC)

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 16, 2017

      Back in the days when I had more interaction with conservative Christians proselytizers, I decided I liked the negative version of the G.R. better because it was clear that a one of these Christians (or those of other faiths) would say to himself, “I know that, if I were not a Christian, I’d sure wish someone would come along and tell me about him.” In other words, there are clearly some things that some people would like others to do to them that they, accordingly, would like to do to me but which I don’t want them to do. The negative version seems more of a “live and let live” message.

    • HistoricalChristianity  March 21, 2017

      Thank you! Both the positive and negative are expressions of the same idea. In the language of science, use your mirror neurons. Your best guide to the morality of an action is to think about how you would feel if the action were done to you. But that too can be abused. I would be happy if she forced me to have sex with her, so it’s morally good if I force her to have sex with me.

  49. Steefen  March 15, 2017

    Dr. Bart Ehrman
    I don’t think there is a divine realm above our realm.
    Steefen
    That is an article of your faith. There is past life regression and there are accounts of reincarnation that inform and contradict your position. It is only fair that you think on these things.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 16, 2017

      Yes, definitely, it is what I believe. But you’re wrong to think it’s because I have not considered long and hard the options!

      • Steefen  March 18, 2017

        You have not thought it through publicly so I/we can incorporate your objections to past life regression and reincarnation into our thoughts. I know of no books, lectures, or debates by you debunking either. This week I picked up Michael Newton’s third book about Life Between Lives (where our consciousness entities go when we become discarnated–when we lose our incarnation). The name of the book is Life between Lives: Hypnotherapy for Spiritual Regression. Maybe it is too ideal that you teach us well all things…

        • HistoricalChristianity  March 21, 2017

          Be patient! Dr. Ehrman is just now working on his book about afterlife ideas. He might include ideas such as yours, especially now that you mention them. But don’t get your hopes up. Even if he covers those ideas, he may not debunk them. A theologian might argue against them on his own theological grounds. A scientist might argue against them on the basis of implausibility and the absence of evidence for them. Instead, I suspect Dr. Ehrman would instead trace the origin and development of the ideas, not pontificate on their correctness.

          • Steefen  March 23, 2017

            Tracing origins and developments does not complete a case for or against the claim “I don’t think there is a divine realm above our realm.” If a case and claim against an afterlife was made, then a stance for being an agnostic could be advanced as shown below.

            agnostic: a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

            Agnosti-cism is a belief system. If we are going to have a discussion of reason, then we take it to the level of objectivity.

            Existence requires a place or realm of existence.
            Not only can we not know if there is one or more gods,
            we cannot place one or more gods in the unearthly realm of the “afterlife”
            although we can place one or more gods in the non-material realm of human archetypes and principles.

  50. Steefen  March 15, 2017

    Jesus’ ethics were not completely grounded the way you described. First they were but not after he accepted his own fate and the Roman crush of the Jewish Revolt–that God was not going to intervene in favor of his people, his Temple, his Son of Man, or even himself, Jesus, prophesized via the Wicked Tenants Parable to be killed by Rome.

    During Jesus’ Son of Man Movement ministry, Jesus had good news about his God and the Kingdom. Then, reality set in: Herod Antipas, Herod II, Herod Agrippa I, Herod Agrippa II, and Temple authorities were not Jesus’ sponsors. Rome was looking over their shoulders.

    Without Man and God sponsoring him, Jesus’ ethics made him teach people to do the one thing that would turn people away from God and separate people from those who did not turn away from the God of Moses. Without sponsorship neither in Heaven nor on Earth, he saw suffering (Deuteronomy 28: 53, 55), stress (Jeremiah 19: 9), and destruction (Lamentations 4: 10). So, he manufactured the severing of God’s face upon God’s people, and a rift in the people by way of Leviticus 17: 10. He taught them eat his body and drink his blood. He led them astray from a religious movement that really had no sponsorship at that point in time.

    By the time the Gospel came out, Rome had already killed a Jesus of Galilee and a band of mariners. Having Jesus break the back of Jewish theology and religion 1) by admitting via Tribulation vision Judaism self-destructed via the Jewish Civil War and the Jewish Revolt defeat by Rome (see Deut 28: 53, 55, Jer 19: 9, Lam 4:10) and 2) by creating, with the teaching to eat his body and blood, an exodus from the face of God via Lev 17: 10–is just further squashing by Rome or self-destruction by the defeated.

    Dr. Ehrman, if a God of a people became powerless to save his people, temple, son, and hopes for a brighter future, should a person take an atheistic stance against that God and lead people to sever ties with that God?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 16, 2017

      Ah, that’s a quesiton for a theologian to answer, not a mere historian like me!

      • Steefen  March 20, 2017

        The textual criticism of the New Testament is the analysis of the manuscripts of the New Testament, whose goals include identification of transcription errors, analysis of versions, and attempts to reconstruct the original.

        Historical criticism, also known as the historical-critical method or higher criticism, is a branch of literary criticism that investigates the origins of ancient texts in order to understand “the world behind the text.”

        Dr. Ehrman, yes, I see the reason you identified it as a theological question. (I would also say, so much of what Jesus did (history) was theological.)
        What would be your objection to the claim that the question is also a question of historical criticism?

        To understand Jesus’s instructions to consume his body and blood textual criticism encourages us to know what is behind that: his basis, the Hebrew Bible, which has specific precedents about consuming a human body and blood. Second, historical criticism encourages us to know the historical context (cannibalism during the destruction of Jerusalem, and there is even a son of Mary whose body and blood was consumed).

        Dr. Ehrman, I see you more of a New Testament textual critic, specifically, rather than a historian. When I think of a historian, I think of Manetho, Josephus, Suetonius.
        “Bernard Bailyn won the Pulitzer Prize in History twice. He did tons of original research, mostly with Revolutionary pamphlets. He is one of the founders of Atlantic history as a field of study.” James K. Hoffmeier, author of Ancient Israel in Sinai, I see as a historian. Are you more the historian because of your textbooks? Your trade books seem to be New Testament textual criticism. I do not think I could have found a book in the history section at Borders (when i t was open) or Barnes & Noble. Which books of yours really are categorized (not just in books stores but Library of Congress) as Ancient History?

        I’ll try to be on a watch for who you think are important contemporary theologians. I would like the question answered by someone of your stature while you pass on the question, even though you have told us you are a former minister. It is also an important question to consider when considering Christianity.

        With gratitude,
        Steefen

        PS: Given the definition of historical criticism above, you are not a historical critic?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 20, 2017

          Virtually all of my writing over the past twenty years, and my teaching, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, has been on historical aspects of early Christianity. I started out as a textual critic (that is a technical term: it refers to someone who examines surviving manuscxripts to determine what an author originally wrote), but I had very little formal training in that area, just an advisor who directed my reading.

        • HistoricalChristianity  March 21, 2017

          Dr. Ehrman’s book, Did Jesus Exist, has a Dewey Decimal classification of 232.908 (historicity of Jesus Christ). That is a work from his role as a historian. The book does exactly what you describe.

    • HistoricalChristianity  March 21, 2017

      The parable of the tenants (Matthew 21) was written by Christians to justify anti-Semitism and to justify ending Judaism in favor of Gentile Christianity. God would disinherit Jews from benefits of the Mosaic Covenant, and give them to Gentiles instead.

      The synoptic authors portray Jesus as predicting (not accepting) his fate (execution by Rome). They portray him at least partly as a Zealot, or at least as an apocalyptic preacher. Both faced the risk of execution. Only John, even later, shows Jesus as accepting, even desiring, that fate. Instead of explaining why the ideas of Christianity were unknown during the lifetime of Jesus (as do the synoptic authors), John pretends Jesus and others knew them, and that Jesus even sought the role of dying as the universal sacrifice.

      Israel had a long history of rationalizing apparent failures of their philosophy, embodied in the Mosaic Covenant. First seen I think in Exodus 34:6 from the Jahwist source, it explains why sometimes bad people don’t suffer. God is being patient (longsuffering).Their later apocalyptic worldview explained it as a cosmic conflict between the forces of good and evil.

      The priests were desperately determined to defend their covenantal worldview. Abandoning that would destroy the foundation of their religion, therefore destroying the power of the priests. Their writings are what we have to read.

  51. gmdave449
    gmdave449  March 27, 2017

    Coming in late on this but I do want to say that I think the good ethical teaching in the OT tend to get overlooked and the violent parts like the conquest of Canaan tend to get overemphasized. I often hear skeptics say they admire the ethical teachings of Jesus in contrast to OT. Maybe that isn’t the impression you meant to give. In any event, when I look at the big picture in the OT, what I see is call after call to provide justice to the poor, the foreigner, widow, etc. Jesus’ ethical teachings continue a tradition that flows right from the Israelite prophets which he counted himself among. Here are just a few of many passages with this theme:

    “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow”
    -Deuteronomy 27:19

    “Thus says the LORD, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”
    -Jeremiah 22:3

    ‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.
    -“Leviticus 19:34”

    “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
    -Isaiah 1:17

  52. sksinks  March 27, 2017

    I associate the word “Christian” as being defined by the league of churches and the apostles creed and the adherence to teachings of Paul. By that definition, I am not a Christian. I am however, a believer in Christ and His mission. I can myself a follower of Christ not a Christian. I would think, but could be wrong, that to be a Christian, you would foremost need to believe that He lived and that He was and is the Christ. The rest that you do is develop your own soul’s perfection. For one person to give the poor their cheeseburger maybe at the understanding of one individual and then for a millionaire to give all he has to the poor and hungry may be the understanding of another. Then there is everything in between. We are supposed to be the best that we can be, within our own capacity, then try to grow from there. I respect your right not to believe in God, my God is my friend and not my persecutor and I am not His whipping girl, but, I don’t view God in the typical “Christian” definition. I view God as an overseer not a rescuer (unless I ask). I believe stories like the Red Sea, Jonah and the Whale, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Job as stories with morals, not actual histories. I don’t see God as flooding the earth because all man kind was evil, to me it is just a story created by man to explain mammoth floods in their personal space. I believe the writers of the Bible Books were men and just that, that thought they had something spiritual to say. Imagine if 2000 years from now Tim Layhe became the prophet to follow. For me that would be unthinkable but that is who the men of the Bible were too. Some history, lot of culture, some stories, and some unfounded predictions. I still think the Bible itself is important in our history and culture just not literal. My biggest issue is: I DO NOT KNOW IF WHAT IS QUOTED IS TRUTH. You can tell my daughter something and when she retells it you have a whole new story that resembles what you told very little and that is only one retelling. I have found in my life ( I am 62) that sometimes you have to know what is not before you can know what is. And in this life, you may unbelieve something before you come full circle (learning what you couldnt figure out) and be again what you once were.

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