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My Testier Days: A Response to a Critique of How Jesus Became God

I often look back over all the posts I’ve made on the blog over the past six years, and one of the things that constantly strikes me, these days, is how testy I frequently was, in those days!   Four years ago I expressed some dismay at a review of my book How Jesus Became God.

A  bit thin-skinned, would you say?  Either I’m getting a better sense of humor, or am taking myself less seriously, or am becoming more laid back, or, well, just getting older.   Anyway, here is the post.

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The responses to How Jesus Became God are starting to appear, and I must say, I find the harshest ones bordering on the incredible.   Do people think that it is acceptable to attack a book that they haven’t read – or at least haven’t had the courtesy to try to understand?

Some of the reviewers are known entities, such as the Very Rev. Robert Barron, a Roman Catholic evangelist and commentator who has a wide following.   His full response is available at http://wordonfire.org/Written-Word/articles-commentaries/April-2014/Why-Jesus-is-God–A-Response-to-Bart-Ehrman.aspx   I find it very disappointing.  Here is his opening gambit:

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“In this most recent tome, Ehrman lays out what is actually a very old thesis, going back at least to the 18th century and repeated ad nauseam in skeptical circles ever since, namely, that Jesus was a simple itinerant preacher who never claimed to be divine and whose “resurrection” was in fact an invention of his disciples who experienced hallucinations of their master after his death. Of course Ehrman, like so many of his skeptical colleagues across the centuries, breathlessly presents this thesis as though he has made a brilliant discovery. But basically, it’s the same old story. When I was a teenager, I read British Biblical scholar Hugh Schonfield’s Passover Plot, which lays out the same narrative, and just a few months ago, I read Reza Aslan’s Zealot, which pursues a very similar line, and I’m sure next Christmas or Easter I will read still another iteration of the theory.”

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So I have to ask in all seriousness:  has the Very Reverend Robert Barron actually read my book?

Where to start?   How about with …

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the “invention” of the resurrection of Jesus’ disciples based on their hallucinations?   Maybe Barron was so caught up in the idea that I am (in his view) a reincarnation of 18th century skeptics that he didn’t bother to look very closely.  I took great care in my book precisely not to say what he accuses me of saying.  Nowhere do I say that Jesus’ resurrection was invented by his hallucinating disciples.  In fact I spent considerable length arguing that the visions of Jesus would be seen by his modern-day followers as appearances of Jesus – that is, as veridical visions – and by non-believers as non-veridical hallucinations.  But I pointedly did not take a stand on the issue in the book.  My view is that the disciples saw visions, and each of us can decide whether they really saw Jesus or simply thought they did.   In other words, Barron is attacking a straw man.  (I also do not take a stand on the central theological question of whether Jesus really was God or not.)

Moreover, it is offensive to say that I “breathlessly present this thesis” as though I “had made a brilliant discovery.”    This is mockery, not a serious evaluation.   I have tried to present a sober historical analysis.  It is based on many years of research.   If I’m breathless, it’s only because of the hard work and many long hours I put into doing the work.   If he imagines that I’m pretending that everything in my book is my new, spectacular, first-time ever made discovery – why doesn’t he cite some passages where I say that or even suggest it?  If he had read my book he would see that I cite and mention previous scholars at virtually all the key points.  But, of course, it is easier to disparage someone for their “breathless” presentation than it is to engage with them.

OK, so I’m a bit testy.   But what really has sent me over the edge is his claim that my view is simply a re-hashing of Hugh Schonfield’s Passover Plot.   Is he SERIOUS?  Maybe he forgot what the thesis of the Passover Plot is.  Or maybe he doesn’t care, but simply wants to tarnish me by association with an absurd thesis that someone else advanced, which in fact has nothing to do with mine.

For those of you who don’t know, The Passover Plot maintained that Jesus believed he was to be the messiah, and he “knew” that to be the messiah he had to die and be raised again.  And so he planned for that to happen.  He arranged to have himself drugged on the cross so that his vital signs would slow down and he would go into a coma, appearing to be dead.  He worked it out with a couple of his followers then to retrieve him from the tomb so that he could revive, appear to others, and convince them then that he had been resurrected.  Unfortunately he was not counting on a Roman soldier piercing his heart with a spear, and it was this injury that unfortunately killed him.   He did revive, but only long enough to escape the tomb, which his disciples later found empty and came to argue then that he had left as the lord of heaven.  Jesus himself died very soon after his failed plot.

What does this reconstruction of events have to do with the historical sketch that I give in How Jesus Became God?   Almost precisely NOTHING.  (And if he thinks I’m regurgitating anything like the thesis of Reza Aslan, he might do well to consider the sustained critique of Zealot found in multiple posts devoted to the subject here on this blog.)

I really don’t mind having serious criticism leveled against my book, or serious academic engagement over scholarly reconstructions of what happened in the life of Jesus or in its aftermath in the birth of Christianity.   But I simply cannot stand cheap shots condescendingly delivered, by people – popular authors or not – who do not want to interact with historical data and serious interpretations, but instead want to take potshots to make the “faithful” think that all is well with the world and that their preconceived notions about religion cannot be shaken by historical inquiry.  My view is that my book should have ZERO impact on intelligent, informed, Christian belief.  (And I have evidence: I have intelligent Christian friends who are scholars of early Christianity who agree with almost all of my analysis.)  If The Very Reverend Robert Barron does find my book threatening, it is either because he has not read it closely enough or because he holds to fundamentalist views that have somehow or other managed to work their way into the hearts and minds of the Catholic clergy.   Or both.

 


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Comments

  1. Avatar
    kscalf  May 5, 2018

    To Godspell’s post, “…I may have mentioned I work at a Jesuit university. Rev. Barron is a Benedictine.” A point of clarity: Barron graduated from a Benedictine high school in the western suburbs of Chicago but he was a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, not the Benedictines. Given the extensive, thorough, and disciplined training of all Benedictines in both the intellectual and monastic way of life in the world’s oldest Catholic religious order, I would be surprised if any of them would make such a sweeping and unsupported claim in a public forum.

  2. Avatar
    Lilly  June 2, 2018

    Mr. Ehrman

    I joined your blog a few days ago and I amazed at the dizzying array of substantive content , just a click away. I’ve read many of your books , going all the way back to the first publication of , ‘ Misquoting Jesus. ‘ I’ve also watched many of your debates on YouTube . One debate stands out, your debate with James White .
    The reason it stands out for me is because he is still debating you , without you being there. He has posted numerous videos under different names and organizations. He typically is seated, in what he has tried to make look like a radio station, with a towering microphone dangling above his head . Apparently, has made a cottage industry on keeping this debate alive to attract viewers and perhaps keep himself relevant.
    If you get a chance , you might get a kick out of watching this man going on and on about …..well, I’m sure you know . ( smile )

    I love your work and dedication to this blog and the different charities it helps support

    Lilly

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  June 2, 2018

      Wow. I had not idea about James White. How strange is that??

      • Avatar
        Lilly  June 3, 2018

        Thank you for responding. Here’s just a small sample I found on YouTube , The links are below :

        1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1O5TpEKv0Ps In this one he is criticizing you for taking $ 5,000 to debate. him

        2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97Xt0MPkFRU He reviews one of your books then a long diatribe about your debate.

        3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsFDM0A6wfk I believe this was before your debate, but he examines your life and beliefs rather disparagingly..

        4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHXV3k-bX5A He says he was not being critical by comparing you to a Muslim and the Koran .( wow, try and figure this one out )

        5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCYLih0CR8U Regarding your podcast with San Harris.

        I won’t bother you again with further links, but when you feel like looking at a man obsessed with you , have fun . 🙂

        Lilly

        .

        • Bart
          Bart  June 3, 2018

          Wow. OK, thanks. And he’s right about the $5000; I should have asked for $10,000. 🙂 (Does he reveal how much he was paid? I suspect not!)

          1
          • Avatar
            Lilly  June 3, 2018

            Mr. Ehrman, the quick answer is no, he does not reveal how much he was paid. And $ 5,000 is a humble amount considering your traveling fees, preparation , meals, etc .

            By the way , I loved your answer and I’m having a ball on your blog. 🙂 The information is incredible !

            Lilly

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  June 3, 2018

          I think what you’re seeing here is a loop. The first one is a clip from the Yahyasnow channel that John Smith put on his channel which is actually from White’s webcast. It’s been uploaded three times, but it’s all the same thing.

          The second is from the Oakley channel, but it’s also in regard to an older comment by Yahya Snow. The fourth one is the actual comment that Yahya put on his channel.

          The third one was in 2012 regarding a previous debate they’d had. White has over sixty videos regarding Islam, so his main focus was on that for a while which is probably the reason he brought it up in the debate. (It’s on his brain all the time.) Not relevant to what they were talking about, but it’s not a surprise he interjected either. That channel wasn’t his either.

          The fourth one is from his Alpha Omega channel which can also be found on Facebook. It’s only one of many videos about lots of different topics.

          By the way, I’m definitely not a fan of James White, but I really think what you’re seeing is clips from the same debate that’s been uploaded by different channels.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  June 3, 2018

            I meant the last video which was the fifth one listed is from White’s channel Alpha & Omega.

          • Avatar
            Lilly  June 4, 2018

            Hi
            Thank you for being so kind in helping me understand how all this works. Some of the videos i linked were not actually uploaded by him, but someone who saw him speaking and posted the video themselves . They were not posted by actual representative of his ministries.
            But he was in the videos and the comments were actually him expressing his views regarding Dr. Ehrman. Again, just not sanctioned by him or his ministries.
            I think were are on the same page now. I really appreciate your detective work and input !

            Thank you so much…..

            Lilly

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  June 3, 2018

          I agree he’s mean-spirited toward Bart, and yeah, his credentials are wonky.

          • Avatar
            Lilly  June 4, 2018

            I couldn’t agree more , there is something about him that gives me pause for concern. And his credentials , or maybe his lack of credentials, is wonky …..
            let’s say Very wonky 🙂

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  June 3, 2018

      James White does have a studio-type room where he webcasts his channel Alpha and Omega Ministries. He also has a channel called Dr. Oakley 1689 that’s centered around Islam. I don’t see anything regarding Bart though. What videos are you referring to?

      • Bart
        Bart  June 3, 2018

        See the list that “Lilly” provided today.

      • Avatar
        Lilly  June 3, 2018

        Hi ‘ Pattycake1974 ‘ thank you for noticing my comment. James White is a hard guy to keep track of , he has posted dozens of videos attacking Dr. Ehrman ( on YouTube ) under various names and organizations . The critiques of Dr, Ehrman go way beyond scholarly ( in my humble opinion ) criticism and quickly become personal and mean spirited.
        According to Wikipedia his PhD was obtained from an unaccredited correspondence school and he is currently attempting to get an accredited degree from a correspondence school in South Africa.

        Lilly

  3. Avatar
    prestonp  June 23, 2018

    His critique goes on: “You have heard it said, but I say…” he is claiming superiority to the Torah, which was the highest possible authority for first century Jews. But the only one superior to the Torah would be the author of the Torah, namely God himself.

    And affirmations of divinity on the lips of Jesus himself positively abound in the Synoptics. in Matthew’s Gospel, “He who does not love me more than his mother or father is not worthy of me,” he is implying that he himself is the greatest possible good.

    When in Luke’s Gospel, he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away,” he is identifying himself with the very Word of God. When he says in Matthew’s Gospel, in reference to himself, “But I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here,” he is affirming unambiguously that he is divine, since for first century Jews, only Yahweh himself would be greater than the Jerusalem Temple.

    Obviously examples such as these from the Synoptic authors could be multiplied indefinitely. The point is that the sharp demarcation between the supposedly “high” Christology of John and the “low” Christology of the Synoptics, upon which the Ehrman thesis depends, is simply wrong-headed.

  4. Avatar
    Neurotheologian  May 10, 2019

    Dear Bart,
    Sorry to see you were subjected to a lot of unfair abuse. Having read Jesus before the Gospels, I’m a third of the way through How Jesus Became God and just want to say that I am finding it a fascinating, original, deeply-researched and fairly argued work. I was particularly interested in your explanations of the continuum of divinity and the history of the concept of the logos. As an evangelical Christian (not fundamentalist), I’m finding the arguments about the context and content of the historical Jesus’s apocalypticism chalenging, but so far intriguing and well argued. I’ll post again when I’ve finished it 🙂

    • Avatar
      Neurotheologian  May 17, 2019

      Finished the How Jesus Became God. Really insightful. Thank you for all your effort and scholarship that you put into this. It’s really deepened my understanding of Jesus especially the different concepts of what it means to be God from different perspectives, the Son of God, the Son of Man, hypostases, Messiah concepts, exaltation, adoption and incarnation Chrstologies, apocalypticsim, and the struggle to make sense of it all leading to the increasingly nuanced debates reagrding the Trinity in the early Church. Wonderful stuff. Also the visions bibligraphy noted. I have my own bibliography for this issue as well. Not fully convinced that apocalyptcism was the main thrust of Jesus’s ‘Kingdom of God’ preaching – though clearly part of it. More anon

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