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My Next Project

I’ve had several people ask what I’m working on, now that How Jesus Became God has come and gone from.   The answer is: the very next thing!   And it’s something that I’ve gotten really excited about, as excited as I was about How Jesus Became God.  For some reason, when I was doing that book over the past couple of years, I thought that it was going to be the climax of my trade book publishing career, and that everything would be downhill from there.   I was completely wrong about that.  I’m now just as passionate about the next project.

I mentioned the book earlier on the blog, before I decided for sure that it was going to be next.  But it definitely is.   It will be about the oral traditions of Jesus in circulation in the years before the Gospels were written.

So, just to give a bit of background — a review for some of you and new information for probably some others.    Scholars have long held that Mark was the first of our Gospels to be written, and that it probably appeared sometime around the year 70 CE.  Some scholars think it might have been a bit before that (I used to think that); more scholars think that it might have been a bit after.  But almost everyone agrees that Mark dates to around the end of the Jewish War (66-70 CE).  The only ones who consistently have argued otherwise are fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals, who very much want Mark, our earliest Gospel, to be closer to the time of Jesus.

Maybe some time on the blog I’ll explain why 70 CE seems like a plausible date.   For now, let’s just say that this is the virtually consensus view among critical scholars.   The last Gospel has traditionally been thought to be John, and it is normally dated to 90 or 95 CE.   Matthew and Luke then were probably somewhere between these two (since they used Mark and must date after 70 CE, but seem to be older than John and so must be earlier than 90 CE) – so say 80 or 85 CE.

What is striking, and what I have long emphasized in my writings, is that time gap between the death of Jesus in 30 CE and the first accounts of his life in 70-95 CE.   It’s a gap (for those who are mathematically challenged) of 40-65 years.

And so the question is, what was happening during all those years to the stories being told about Jesus?   The Gospel writers themselves do not claim to have been disciples of Jesus, and do not claim to be eyewitnesses of the events they narrate, and do not claim (contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, largely by not reading the texts  in question carefully enough) to have derived their stories directly from eyewitnesses.   The Gospels were written anonymously, in different parts of the world from where Jesus lived, in a different language from the one Jesus used, four and more decades after Jesus died.  So where did they get their stories?

They got them from oral traditions about Jesus that had been in circulation over all that time, in different languages (at least Aramaic and Greek) in different places in different contexts.

All that is well known, and I’ve written about it before.

But what I’m interested in now is…

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My Future Books
ANT: Methods of Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church



  1. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 13, 2014

    One more question
    Was this verse referring to thee ebonite’s beliefs ?
    If there is a physical body and then there is a spiritual body
    Jesus as a host of Christ right comes and goes when? Is the question ? How is the thee question ?
    Heavenly man and earthly man sounds like a host to me
    Or possibly or Poseidon and zeus or
    Jesus is immortal and Christ comes and goes as mortal lol
    Just theories of mine freedom of speech
    I believe in zeus I’m just interpreting the authors is all.

    question on 1 corinthians 15?
    ( alpha omega ? ) one stays and one leaves and comes back ? lol )
    1 corinthians 15 ? ( as one always stays and one leaves and comes back? alpha omega ?)

    If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”[f]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we[g] bear the image of the heavenly man.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2014

      I don’t think the Ebionites were in existence at the time that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians.

      • Avatar
        kidron  August 21, 2014

        The church in Jerusalem under James was obviously in existence … weren’t they called the ‘poor ones’ or ebonites?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 21, 2014

          In the second century there was a group (or more than one group) who called themselves the Ebionites, and they claimed to descend from that church in Jerusalem under James.

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    magpie  August 13, 2014

    YIPPEE! Can’t wait to find out what your thoughts are. Don’t forget to add in what I call the “fiddle factor” – we humans rarely can leave “well enough ” alone. It is why grown women cut up perfectly good lengths of colorful fabric into smaller pieces, rearrange the pieces then sew them back together again losing a quarter inch along each side of each piece to form visually pleasing new fabric. Then they add in “embellishments” like beads, buttons and lace. A whole industry has grown up around this human tendency that had its logical beginning in saving and re-using salvageable pieces of cloth. Yup, I quilt.

    Story telling follows similar patterns and seeks agency, preferably magical and mysterious , behind each tale. It is perhaps an instinct to find novel stimulation for our brains. It is why we tell ghost stories around a campfire at night, why fantasy and science fiction are written and read. It is how humans deal with the balance between the desire to be “certain” about how life is to be lived and explained with the desire to go one step beyond and see what happens if a novel thought or process is introduced. It is how people figure out how to get others to go along with them, to take on power over others. How can I get another to do as I wish them to, by reasoning, or by fear and intimidation? How do I best convince others to see things my way or to do my bidding? It is why humans find ritual comforting but still rebel against it. Such a colorful tapestry we humans weave and then constantly revise.

    • Avatar
      magpie  August 14, 2014

      On re-reading my comment this morning, I can see that it appears to be a non-sequitur . I do not have the depth of knowledge that most of the other members have about early Christianity as I have just begun to read about the origins of this religion. However, my comment is based on a lifetime of observation. The gist of the above comment was meant to be that in addition to the problems of accurately repeating oral traditions by multiple well-intentioned individuals is the inclination to “fix” the story to make its points “clearer” to its audience. We all do this, mostly without any intent to deceive. There is no better example of this than the current state of US political discourse.

  3. Avatar
    Adam0685  August 13, 2014


    With respect to history of oral tradition about Jesus as evidenced in the NT, since Paul wrote before the gospels (it seems a lot of Christians forget this!) a discussion of what Paul knew (and appeared to not know: the many parables in the gospels? the miracle stories? etc.) when he wrote could shed some light on the oral tradition that was circulating in his part of the world. I imagine, given his education and travels, he knew more oral traditions than the average Christian. Yet, what he appears to have known is less than the Gospels and the gospels oral and written sources, which were not written that long after him! Seems like oral tradition was fragmented by time and the space/place they were told. And then there’s the tradition in the apostolic fathers that is not in the NT. Very perplexing stuff!

  4. Avatar
    Loring Prest  August 13, 2014

    Your comments about studying memory issues reminded me (!) of a RadioLab I heard on NPR lately. I know it’s not like a scholarly tome, but for a lightweight listen, go to: http://www.radiolab.org/story/91569-memory-and-forgetting/. I found it very interesting; and it challenged many of my views about memory. I was especially struck by the part where they discuss how the more you recall a memory, the more you change it. In terms of the transmission of oral traditions, this might be worth investigating.

  5. Avatar
    fwhiting  August 13, 2014

    Professor Ehrman: This sounds like a fascinating project. I’ve often wondered where the stories associated with Jesus came from–not just those that made it into the Bible, but the nontraditional legends such as the one describing Jesus as a child fashioning birds out of clay and then turning them loose to fly away. Why did that one not make it into the scriptures while other miraculous events such as turning water into wine, healing the sick and raising the dead *were* included?

  6. Avatar
    SJB  August 13, 2014

    Prof Ehrman

    Are you interested in looking at the development of modern messianic movements as part of your research? If so you might find the case of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson interesting. Apparently his followers believed he was the Messiah before he died and since his death in 1994 the messianic fervor has increased and his movement has developed in some interesting ways that even seem to roughly parallel early Christianity.


  7. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 13, 2014

    So your argument might take the shape of how it is that Jesus came to be “more” than he was given the fact that his was just a historical “blip” on the world of ancient Judea/Palastinia or whatever it was called at the time ( probably two different names given that the Jews had one name and the Romans another)?

  8. johndash
    johndash  August 13, 2014

    Great. I am so glad you are digging into that. Those sections are the best parts of all three versions of “How Jesus Became God;” and it sent me studying up on Philippi, who the people were who lived there and why and how they would have responded to Paul quoting that “carmen Christi.” And I had to read R.P. Martin’s book, and the appropriate pages of the later edition. You are an expensive scout leader, Dr. Ehrman. But it sure is interesting.
    John Dash
    Fairport, NY

  9. Avatar
    mahass  August 13, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Will you be engaging with/critiquing Richard Bauckham’s argument/s in “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”? I know his views are not accepted by all scholars, but I have yet to find a sustained engagement with them (thought that may be because I have not looked hard enough).

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 14, 2014

    It is always good to see your passion about “Christianity in Antiquity” and, as always, I look forward to reading what you learn. Considering 40 years of the telephone game in different places and in different languages, it’s astounding to me that the Gospels resemble each other as much as they do. Why? I guess the use of Mark as a source by the other Gospel authors is one explanation and maybe the lack of very many sources is another explanation. I still would like for you to explain the dating of the Gospels.

  11. Avatar
    ddrtessier  August 14, 2014

    Will you be referencing or addressing the position that Richard Bauckham has taken on this topic?

  12. Avatar
    Steefen  August 14, 2014

    Dr. Bart Ehrman
    But what I’m interested in now is getting deeper (and deeper) into the questions raised by this reality that the Gospel writers inherited their stories from people who inherited them from others who had passed along what had been circulating almost exclusively by word of mouth – for decades!


    A non-authentic letter of Paul, Ephesians, states “put on the full armor of God.”
    There is a coin, possibly of Julius Caesar’s armor on a cross.
    Google: Coin of Julius Caesar’s armor then click Images.

    Julius Caesar’s death included betrayal by Brutus. Jesus’ death included betrayal by Judas.

    We have a template of Jesus, defied, in Julius Caesar, deified.

    Rome incorporated other religions into its culture. Rome also got involved with Judaism. When Josephus declared a Flavian family member, messiah and with the Star Prophecy, such a sign of Jesus–with the Star Prophecy usurped by a Roman historian as well as Josephus; and with Vespasian healing a blind man with saliva similar to the way the New Testament makes an account of Jesus healing a blind man with saliva; Clement an apostolic father(?); and Domitian not waiting to be deified after death, hence, the Living God of Revelation, historically associated with the term “Lord and God”, his priests wearing gold crowns and white robes like the saints in Revelation: Rome also got involved with Christianity.

    What writings do we have of the cults of deified emperors? As soon as Rome came at the call of Jerusalem, 1st century BCE, it probably saw, with the Maccabes, Judaism needed to become less militant. How did Rome infiltrate Judaism, the religion? Rome’s Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis, regulator of foreign cults in Rome, was a think tank for decades on this problem.

    If the symbol on the coin of Julius Caesar’s armor was an icon in the Julius Caesar cult’s rituals or if Julius Caesar’s death was re-enacted by his cult, with Mark Anthony (wait)

    In Roman Imperial cult, the flamen Divi Iulii was the priest of the divinised Julius Caesar,[1] and the fourth of the so-called flamines maiores (the archpriests of the Roman flaminates) to be created. The new flaminate was established in by the Roman senate in 42 BC, as part of Caesar’s consecration as a divus (divinity of the Roman State) two years after his assassination. Caesar had, in his lifetime, been the recipient of unofficial, divine cult from his supporters, and had designated Mark Antony to serve as his priest.

    with Mark Anthony as the precursor to Mark the gospel writer, then, yes, there was a tradition of a deified man with cross icon, betrayed by a friend, pierced in the side.

    Julius Caesar’s cross had armor, Jesus only had cloth around his hips. Caesar’s cross was to hold armor, power, strength.

  13. Avatar
    Scott F  August 14, 2014

    Sounds fantastic! I have been waiting for a book such as this for a long time!

  14. Avatar
    TrevorN  August 14, 2014

    I seem to have a comment locked in moderation, although I can’t imagine how it could have been deemed offensive or inappropriate!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2014

      Really? I’m not sure what the comment was — maybe it disappeared into the electornic stratosphere. Could you try again?

  15. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  August 15, 2014

    In ancient communities, was there a figure specifically in charge of telling stories or was the passing of traditions a more promiscuous process?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2014

      No, like today, just about anyone who wanted to tell a story was able to do so.

      • Avatar
        z8000783  August 15, 2014

        Something Bauckham would disagree with it seems. The disciples and their disciple were the keeps of the tradition it appears.

        Is there evidence to confirm this one way or the other?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2014

          Yes, I will be addressing Bauckham’s views head-on!

          • Avatar
            gabilaranjeira  August 16, 2014

            Ooooops… I don’t know who Bauckham is… I guess I need to find out!

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 17, 2014

            Or not. 🙂

  16. Avatar
    z8000783  August 15, 2014

    Great. It would be good to see some foretasters of that on the blog perhaps.

  17. Avatar
    kidron  August 21, 2014

    It would seem that of particular importance is ‘WHOSE oral tradition’ is acceptable as preserving the teachings of Jesus. As you note the gospel writers did not live in Palestine and wrote in Greek, not Aramaic. In dating the first gospel at the end of the Jewish/Roman war, those who carried the most legitimate oral tradition of Jesus no longer existed in Jerusalem.
    The main source of oral tradition available to the gospel writers were therefore among the churches established by Paul. Thus it is inevitable that the stories of Jesus were strongly influencd by the theology preached and accepted by these churches … mostly attributable to Paul who made no secret of his antagonism to James the brother of Jesus who most likely reflected the teachings of his brother.
    I have to suspect that many of the stories about Jesus were told to reflect the teachings of Paul. For example the story of Jesus designation the bread and wine as symbolic of his flesh and blood … totally insonsistent with a Jewish Jesus who kept the Mosaic Law. I think that you can add stories of Jesus eating with prostitutes and tax collectors as Pauline influenced. Add to this. the stories of Jesus reaching out to the Gentiles … this is from the oral traditions about Paul whose life work was to reach out to the Gentiles. Jesus was a Jew and I seriously doubt that Paul was. From his own claims he was born a Roman citizen (probably of Herodian lineage) and at best could claim to be a Hebrew or Benjaminite.
    If there is any oral tradition that is independent of Paul it probably came from the “Judaizers’ from Jerusalem who visited Paul’s.congregations.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 21, 2014

      My view is that there was not one or two streams of oral tradition, but thousands. Everyone who told stories about Jesus — which almost by definition would be everyone who talked about him, i.e., every Christian on the planet — was passing along (or inventing) traditions.

  18. Avatar
    Luke9733  August 22, 2014

    I’ve often wondered about the two different “Feeding of the Multitudes” stories in Mark (and also Matthew, the feeding of the 5,000 and the lesser known feeding of the 4,000. I know you wouldn’t say the event happened, but do you think those two stories originally started out as just one story and eventually was passed on enough times that there came to be multiple versions of it, and so Mark was recording two different versions of the same story (possibly thinking they were different stories)?
    Side note: if that really was what happened with that story, would indicate that Mark probably heard the story from two different people – each one giving him different details?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 23, 2014

      Yes, this kind of doubling of a story is known as a “doublet.” It is usually thought that two versions of the same story were in circulation, and Mark heard them both, without realizing they were simply alternative versions of the same thing.

      • Avatar
        Luke9733  August 26, 2014

        I can’t remember if you included it or not, but if you didn’t, that might have been an interesting point to make in “Did Jesus Exist”. I don’t know how a Mythicist would explain away both feeding of the multitude stories if they assume that Mark was the originator of these stories (though I have to admit, their imagination never ceases to amaze me). Those two stories alone serve as very strong evidence that Mark must have had sources for what he was writing. Is there a Mythicist explanation for this at all even?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 26, 2014

          I don’t think mythicists have a problem with Mark basing his stories on oral traditions, except if they want to argue (I can remember if anyone does) that Mark himself was the one who made everything up.

          • Avatar
            Luke9733  August 27, 2014

            I think that Richard Carrier argues that. The way he puts it is that Mark “euhemerized” Jesus the celestial being. His argument is (and I’m not making this up!) that before Mark, Jesus was thought of as a celestial being who was crucified by demons (or the devil) in the lower heavens just below the moon. Mark (he argues) was just writing a historicized version placing this celestial being on Earth and it just so happened to catch on.
            I don’t know if anyone else argues that. I also don’t know how in the world he reached that conclusion. If you YouTube “Richard Carrier: The Historicity of Jesus”, you can watch him give a lecture in which he over-simplifies complicated matters, quotes passages out of context (or skips over large, important sections), and (in my own opinion) takes advantage of the fact that most people in the audience probably weren’t familiar with the actual details about he was talking about.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 27, 2014

            Wow. Well, what can I say? Pretty amazing.

  19. Avatar
    discens  September 8, 2014

    Two comparisons which might be relevant to your project (well, the first based on a counterfactual):



    Would you be interested in commenting on the first of them at least, and especially on the statement “the gospels… were written exclusively by Jesus’ supporters”?

    Thank you for your attention and congratulations on your stimulating blog.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 8, 2014

      I’d be happy to address an issue of you want to raise it yourself (I’m afraid I don’t have time to be looking up other blogs/twitters/ and so on . Wish I did!)

  20. Avatar
    prestonp  September 9, 2014

    “And having gone on thence a little, he saw James of Zebedee, and John his brother, and they were in the boat refitting the nets, 20 and immediately he called them, and, having left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, they went away after him.”

    “hired servants” maybe they weren’t as low class as we think

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