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My Work as a Historian and Paul in Conflict with the Jerusalem Church: Readers’ Mailbag August 20, 2016

Some people (conservative Christians who don’t like my scholarship) maintain that I’m not a historian, a view I find very odd since virtually all of my scholarship (for well over twenty-five years) is historical.  I address the question in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag, along with a question that many readers will find more interesting (since it’s more germane to anything), of whether Paul and the Jerusalem church were on the same page theologically or if there were tensions between them.

If you have any questions you would like me to address in a future Mailbag, let me know!

 

QUESTION: 

In a debate online a Fundamentalist friend said you were a textual critic and not an historian. I said you wore both hats. Do you also consider yourself a historian?

 

RESPONSE:

Anyone who thinks I’m not a historian simply has never read any of my books – including my books on textual criticism!   The vast majority of my books are not even about textual criticism, but about the history of early Christianity (first to fourth Christian centuries).  I haven’t done much scholarship in textual criticism over the past fifteen years or so, but even when I was active in that field, I approached the task historically.  That made me pretty unusual – OK, highly unusual – in the field.  To explain that I need to define some terms, since my sense is that most people don’t really know what the term “textual criticism” actually means (and so they say something like “you’re *only* a textual critic!!).

New Testament textual criticism is the discipline that attempts to establish what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote and how their words came to be modified over the course of their transmission as they were copied, by hand, for centuries.  Textual criticism is *not* the literary analysis of texts, the study of what they mean.  It is the *reconstruction* of the texts, determining what the texts originally said.   That makes textual criticism different from exegesis (the latter of which attempts to understand what a text means, once the textual critics establishes what the text says).

The irony, though, is that to know what the texts originally said …

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Comments

  1. talmoore
    talmoore  August 20, 2016

    William Lane Craig considers himself a philosopher, and he’s a philosopher like I’m Usain Bolt. Dr. Craig is a religious shill posing as a scholar. Dr. Ehrman, when the fundies accuse you of not being an historian, just keep in mind that these people believe that Satan buried fossils in the ground in order to trick us into thinking the earth is more than 6,000 years old. Moreover, Richard Carrier believes he’s an objective historian, and he’s almost as ridiculous as William Lane Craig. You should consider it a badge of honor that these men vehemently disagree with you.

    • Avatar
      Scott  August 22, 2016

      I would say any “historian” intent on using Bayes’ Theorem must think that history is a mathematical exercise and should have his diploma seized!

      • talmoore
        talmoore  August 22, 2016

        Yeah, when Richard Carrier is critical of scholars who don’t understand statistics I have to wonder if he understands statistics, because, as a social scientist myself, who regularly uses advanced statistical methods in my research, I can tell that Richard Carrier has not one clue how statistics and probability are supposed to work. Same goes for William Lane Craig’s bizarre attempts at using probability to “prove” miracles are true. By definition, a miracle is when a supernatural agent (e.g. a deity) suspends the normal causal laws of nature in order to make something happen that otherwise could not happen. How, exactly, does one construct a probability density function around an event that, by definition, is not a result of the normal cause and effect relationship of the natural world?!?!?

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  August 23, 2016

        You lost me. Who thinks that?

        • talmoore
          talmoore  August 24, 2016

          Both William Lane Craig and Richard Carrier — a highly influential fundamentalist scholar and a highly influential atheist scholar, respectively — have attempted to use Bayes’ Theorem to “prove”, respectively, that Jesus rose from the dead or Jesus the man never existed at all. Not only do both men hold untenable positions, their use of statistical methods in their respective cases is highly unsuitable if not preposterous.

          • Bart
            Bart  August 25, 2016

            Yes, I’ve always thought that was hilarious. At first I thought it was because of Bayes’ Theorem. But people who actually know something about it tell me that it’s instead about the people who sometimes try to *use* Bayes’ Theorem.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  August 23, 2016

        Bayes’ Theorem wouldn’t be appropriate to use in establishing historicity I would think. It’s more of a forecasting tool.

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  August 20, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, speaking of alternate branches of Judeo-Christianity, what do you think about the Mandaeans’ claim to being descended from the disciples of John the Baptist and the sect of the Nasoraeans?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 21, 2016

      I don’t really know much about the Mandaeans, but I should think it would be hard to demonstrate (or disprove) their claims….

      • talmoore
        talmoore  August 21, 2016

        The Mandaeans are one of the reasons I hypothesize that “Nazorean” was a neologism for those Jews who believed the Messiah was coming in the time of John the Baptist and Jesus, and that Jesus wasn’t called a Nazorean because he came from a village called Nazareth (which he may or may not have). Instead Nazorean, is what I think apocalyptic Jews such as Jesus, John and their followers were called (or called themselves), because they were “girded” for the Lord (i.e. they were fully prepared for imminent Judgment and salvation), coming from the Hebrew/Aramaic נאזורי — “girded”. (cf. Luke 12:36; Psalm 18:33; Psalm 18:40; Psalms of Solomon, 17; Isaiah 11:5; Isaiah 45:5; IQapGen, IQ20; and, of course, Acts 24:5)

  3. Avatar
    Radar  August 20, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, what is the text where you think Paul probably implies that he lost? Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 21, 2016

      That’s a common judgment among commentators on Galatians. It’s based on a couple of factors. One is that he never reports the result of the confrontation, whereas if everyone there had agreed with him, it seems likely he would have indicated that he came out on top. Another is that he gives no indication anywhere that he returned to visit the church in Antioch, which seems odd if he was on good terms with them.

  4. Avatar
    Junto  August 20, 2016

    I’ve always been fascinated with the mysterious turmoil surrounding Paul and the early church. Any book recommendations on this subject? I started Eisenmans book, James the brother of Jesus, but could not finish.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 24, 2016

      I’ve been trying to think of a good book on this — and nothing comes to mind! Maybe someone else on the blog has a suggestion?

      • Avatar
        andysan89  August 26, 2016

        Hello Bart,

        I got one in mind, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity by Hyam MacCoby, have you read it? if so what do you think of the ideas and the author?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 28, 2016

          I’m afraid it has been many years since I read it, and so can’t say anything authoritatively about it….

      • Avatar
        pdahl  August 26, 2016

        Bart,

        I would suggest a book entitled “The Brother of Jesus [i.e., James] and the Lost Teachings of Christianity.” Written by a Lutheran minister, Rev. Jeffrey J. Butz, and published in 2005, this book argues from multiple sources how James is theologically a much-overlooked figure in Church history. In his narrative, Butz cites Eisenman, among many other scholars both liberal and conservative, but is far more objective and far less dogmatic than Eisenman. Plus, at 220 pages, Butz’s book is far shorter and much more readable than Eisenman’s tome. I highly recommend this book. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in Reader Mailbag question #2, above.

    • Avatar
      Habakuk  January 26, 2017

      I know I am late, but I just (re-)joined the blog (can’t leave me hands off, every time I thought my CIA addiction was cured, Bart just comes up with new fascinating stuff 🙁 ).

      “Paul and Jesus: How the apostle transformed Christianity” (written by James D. Tabor) would be my suggestion regarding the early church. Tabor’s evaluation of the early sources is that Paul and the Jerusalem church finally became bitter rivals.

  5. TWood
    TWood  August 20, 2016

    1. In a nutshell, what the are main reasons the six pseudo Pauline letters are not considered genuine? I ask because I’m wondering how much has to do with textual criticism vs. exegesis. For example, is it mostly due to the very different ways they were written from the genuine, so is it mostly due to different theology and circumstances that seemed to rise during times after Paul died?

    2. In your view, are textual criticism and historical criticism the two most important components to good exegesis, or are there others you see as equally important?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 21, 2016

      1. They use a vocabulary and writing style unlike Paul and their theological views are at odds with hijm

      2. Textual criticism is a form of historical criticism; it is the preparation for exegesus. You can’t interpret what a text means if you don’t know what it says.

      • TWood
        TWood  August 21, 2016

        Thanks, I get that. Aside from text criticism, what are the other crucial forms that fall under historical criticism? I’m just wondering how you’d break down the various forms or categories that are required for proper exegesis.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 22, 2016

          Historical criticism covers a very wide range of subfields: source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, socio-historical criticism, genre criticism, literary criticism — as key examples!

          • TWood
            TWood  August 22, 2016

            Thanks, that makes sense. Back to your previous answer as to the reasons why many (most I think) scholars agree that six of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul are pseudepigrapha… One reason you gave was the pseudo-Pauls were at theological odds with the real Paul. Is it possible to give a very short summary on the theological differences you see for each of the six pseudo-Pauline letters?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 22, 2016

            Good idea! But it would take more than a single comment reply!

          • TWood
            TWood  August 22, 2016

            I figured it might be too much for a comment! No worries. Maybe one of the upcoming mailbag topics…

  6. Avatar
    marcrm68  August 20, 2016

    It’s very odd that these Pillars in Jerusalem produced no writings that have survived !!! How could an illiterate, Peter, stand up to Paul? There is something wrong here!!!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 21, 2016

      They probably didn’t produce any writings precisely because they were illiterate. But people can argue perfectly well without being able to write!

      • Avatar
        marcrm68  August 22, 2016

        In earlier posts, you talked about the importance of written words in the spreading of the early church, and how scripture and later Paul’s letters would be read at services. If the church in Jerusalem was indeed headed by illiterate leaders, wouldn’t that put them at a severe disadvantage?

        Also, I recall you posting that you once wrote a paper arguing that Cephus from the Corinthian creed, and Peter the pillar were in fact two different people!

        In fact Paul never refers to Peter as a disciple, but as an apostle… All this makes me question if Peter was really illiterate, and may not have produced some writtings that were so far of the mark for later orthodox church leaders, that they were destroyed.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 22, 2016

          Good question about the Jerusalem church. My sense is that in that particular case (Jerusalem) the leaders came to the fore for reasons other than ability to read texts.

          • Avatar
            marcrm68  August 23, 2016

            Thank you! Just one more quick question… Are you basing your belief that Peter was illiterate on Acts, or just the the belief that Peter the Pillar was Peter the Disciple, and his past, as portrayed in the gospels, made it a fordrawn conclusion that he was illiterate?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 24, 2016

            I’m basing it on what we know and can surmise about fishermen in remote rural areas of the empire. But Acts 4:13 does confirm this view.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  August 23, 2016

        And the smartest person in the room is not always the most influential. One need only refer to some of your debates with fundamentalist/evangelicals and the fact that few people change their opinions as a result.

        • Avatar
          VaulDogWarrior  September 20, 2016

          My opinion is that debates are almost useless in converting anyone. I’ve pretty much not listened to one in years because of this. An open mind and lots of time is required. Debates seem to force sides and many times each side cannot adequately present their side. Sometimes one side may be right, but are not adequate debaters or vise a versa.

      • Rick
        Rick  August 24, 2016

        Paul and Acts say that Paul was accepted as an Apostle, but, is it not likely James and Peter saw him as lesser than themselves? At least in terms of authority over their movements theology (even if they could not spell the word in any language)? At face value Paul heard Jesus apparition say a couple dozen words and got the rest by spiritual telepathy! James and Peter closely knew the living man. I can’t see them rolling over regardless of Paul’s education and erudition.

  7. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  August 20, 2016

    Your name comes up from time to time in a closed group I belong to called Deism, Atheism, Theism, Agnosticism, Philosophy, Discussion Group. I don’t recall anyone ever referring to you as a historian. In fact, I just had a debate with a mythicist the other day who had no idea that any biblical scholar could be a historian.

    I have to admit, I was just as ignorant of this fact until a little less than two years ago. How mainstream is it that biblical scholars are also known as historians? Maybe people think of biblical scholar–historian as two entirely separate entities.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 21, 2016

      Ah, I think I see the problem now. I think I’ll address this in a readers’ mailbag.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  August 25, 2016

      Just this past week, I’ve read someone criticizing your work as a text critic, claiming that you’re not a real historian, and angry that you led someone astray. I hope you’re good at blocking naysayers out.

  8. Avatar
    Tempo1936  August 21, 2016

    The 12 likely remained in Jerusalem believing Jesus was returning soon and regenerate the earthly Kingdom where the disciples would rule on 12 thrones.
    They sold everything and probably stopped working (you don’t need material goods in the coming kingdom).
    This was very different from Paul’s 1 Cor 15 gospel (very simple and powerful, believe in Jesus as God and live forever, open to all, no religious acts, just believe). Btw no way to prove Paul’s gospel wrong because it’s based on one miracle , Jesus’ resurrection.
    Over time the Jerusalem church became poor and that’s the reason Paul brought support/gifts from the gentile churches.
    As time passed , Paul’s gospel dominated and the 12 either took up his message or they were forgotten as a failed Jewish sect.

  9. Avatar
    Himb4i  August 21, 2016

    Thanks for this post I really enjoy your perspective on things.

    I had always thought the Jewish Synagogues spilt from the early small groups of “new” Christians.– but it seems after reading your post, you say Christianity took over. Could you or have you gone into this?
    When were “Christians persecuted”, I couldn’t imagine them having a static church while being hunted down…

    Could you help me build the narrative?
    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 21, 2016

      Sorry — I’m having trouble understanding your question (although I understand that you’d like me to talk about early persecution, which I’m glad to do)

      • Avatar
        Himb4i  August 22, 2016

        I apologize.
        I’m trying to build the narrative in my head.
        So some Jews chose to follow Jesus as Messiah and most other Jews did not.
        How did this play out in everyday life? Did the Jews following Jesus build their own Synagogues or took over previous Synagogues?

        I thought Christians were persecuted and so if that is the case how could they be public about their meeting locations?

        Paul is sending letters to Jewish Synagogues? Or small groups?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 22, 2016

          It appears that Jewish followers of Jesus left the synagogues only when they were booted out. Persecution was not steady and regular, but sporadic and occasional. Christians did not need to go into hiding.

  10. ronaldus67
    ronaldus67  August 21, 2016

    Very odd indeed! You are a historian by definition. I guess some people don’t know the difference between a historian and an archaeologist.

  11. Avatar
    Scott  August 21, 2016

    I know that Paul and Barnabas likely split up over the Antioch Incident. What other fallout can we detect from this episode? How should we take Acts 21 where Paul is warned about the blow-back from Antioch when he arrives in Jerusalem? Is this what precipitates Paul’s ultimate arrest?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 21, 2016

      My sense is that there was a split between Paul and most of the people in the church in Antioch. (I’m not sure what you’re referring to from Acts 21; I don’t think the Antioch church is mentioned in Acts after ch. 18)

      • Avatar
        Scott  August 22, 2016

        In Acts 21:20-22, James and the elders say,

        “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? …”

        It appears that, even after the Council of Jerusalem, Paul’s teachings were not very popular in Jerusalem. Even if the teachings had been garbled, the crowds – especially those from Asia – were against Paul.

        It appears that Paul’s teachings an ongoing controversy within the church and the ultimate cause of his arrest? I guess I was wondering if this issue is a much bigger deal than we usually consider it -maybe the most important of the time seeing how Paul’s version actually won out?

        • Avatar
          Scott  August 22, 2016

          … I am assuming that “believers among the Jews” is referring to Christian Jews

        • Bart
          Bart  August 22, 2016

          I’m not sure that Paul and his standing was seen by most early Christians as the most pressing matter they were confronted with.

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 21, 2016

    With regard to Question #1: I have been slowly working my way through Priestley’s “A History of the Corruptions of Christianity” which might be of interest to reader’s of this blog. The book is not written as clearly as your books, but it is fascinating that people were thinking about many of these very basic issues well over 200 years ago.

    With regard to Question #2: There are two disciples named “James,” but neither is the brother of Jesus. Do you think it is odd that someone who is not a disciple would become the leader of the Jerusalem church and the Ebionites? I also assume that the author of the Bible book of “James” was neither a disciple nor the brother of Jesus. Is this correct?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 21, 2016

      Yes, it’s striking how the leadership of the Jerusalem church fell out, especially since James appears not to have been a follower of Jesus during his lifetime. I guess blood has its privileges.

      The author of the book of James seems to want his readers to think he was James the brother of Jesus, but I don’t think he could have been. (For one thing, that James could not write, almost certainly!)

      • Avatar
        Scott  August 22, 2016

        If Eusebius’ story is true of Symeon, “cousin, as they say, of the Saviour”, taking over for James, “the brother of the Lord” then keeping it in the family seems to have been the order of the day!

      • Avatar
        SteveWalach  August 22, 2016

        James’s leadership might have been due to good, old-fashioned nepotism but there could be more to it.

        First of all, Paul eventually and humbly submits to James’s authority — as does Peter, and neither Paul or Peter are the type to knuckle under just because James had a blood connection with Jesus. As we know, Paul attacked Jewish “Christians,” and in so doing was mounting at least a virtual offensive against Jesus.

        And at one point in the gospels Peter contradicts Jesus himself and then is swiftly rebuked by him. Neither Paul nor Peter are shrinking violets. Could it be that James possessed a deserved aura of authority that earned him the role of leader, which is clearly acknowledged by Paul’s and Peter’s submission. His sibling relationship to Jesus does not seem to be the decisive factor.

        Secondly, when Paul is killed in 62 C.E. by the high priest Ananus (if we can believe Josephus’s account), a large group of prominent Jews lobby Roman authorities to have Ananus censured — and they succeed. Those pro-James Jews would have been taking a sizable risk to rise up against the established order and a high priest endowed with the blessings of Rome. Their defense of James was an act of loyalty if not devotion.

        And then there’s the accounts by some of the early church fathers, who claim James entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur at the behest of his followers. Here we have an example of chutzpah in the extreme and hardly the actions of a weak heir whose leadership depends solely on a blood tie to the Master.

        With regard to the way in which James has been marginalized by the Church — and even by many serious scholars, I find that James Tabor and Robert Eiseman mount reasonable arguments in support of James as the authentic successor to Jesus and that James’s diminishing reputation and presence through the centuries was a deliberate attempt to un-track the movement from its Jewish roots and increase the power and influence of the Roman Church and theology of Paul.

        How would you debate the theses put forth by both Tabor and Eiseman that I have hastily and — regrettably — insufficiently represented?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 22, 2016

          I think you mean when *James* was killed in 62 CE?

          (a) There really is nothing to suggest that Paul submitted in the least to James! Paul certainly doesn’t indicate that he did — just the contrary. (b) I don’t remember precisely, but I don’t recall that we have any record of a large number of prominent Jews protesting James’s death to the Roman authorities. (c) Later traditions about James certainly elevated (crazily) his status, but that doesn’t mean he really had that kind of status.

          • Avatar
            SteveWalach  August 25, 2016

            You’re right, I did mean James. Thank you.

            a) In Acts 21, under James’s leadership Paul is directed by the Jerusalem group to “go through the rite of purification” with four men who are under a vow and also “pay for the shaving of their heads.” Paul complies! He purifies himself in the temple and was “making public” the purification process. Following the money (at the very least), seems to me that James and his cohorts have the upper hand.

            In Galatians 1 Paul clearly recognizes James as an “apostle” and refers to him as “the Lord’s brother.” In 2 Galatians, Paul’s version of the purification meeting is different. In Paul’s version he is indignant, saying “we did not submit to them even for a moment,” a denial very much at odds with Acts. In his own letter, Paul can say whatever he wants. However, his tone in the English translation has all the false indignation of Bill Clinton’s infamous denial when defending himself against allegations of a relationship with a young intern: “I did not have sex with that woman.” Paul protests too much.

            The author of Acts — clearly a pro-Paul story — nevertheless paints a picture of a much more compliant and less assertive Paul. The obvious dissimilarity of Paul’s behavior in Acts compared with the way Paul would prefer to see himself in Galatians makes Paul’s surrender — in my mind at least — to James’s authority all the more believable.

            In Galatians 2 there’s also the so-called “bribe” — a collection for the poor required (Paul says “asked”) by the Jerusalem church. Paul tries to smooth over James’ authority its by saying it was actually a gift “I was eager to do.”

            It is James’s people who clearly have authority over Peter, whom in his angry resentment Paul accuses of “hypocrisy.” Given his own pulpit, Paul writes what he wills but Acts 21 won’t let him get away with it scot-free.

            b) According to Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews (Book 20, Chapter 9, 1), after the high priest Ananus has James killed “the most equitable of the citizens … went also to meet Albinus … Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months …”

            I’ve always though Josephus account of James’s murder and the retribution staged by his allies against Ananus was settled scholarship. Is it not?

            c) Yes, there is some crazy talk about James from Hegesippus: knees as horny as a camels …no razor came upon his head, etc. But is that is merely eccentric and probably the stuff of legend. However are those personal quirks noted by Hegesippus crazier than a dead man rising from the dead in the NT?

            I have to ask myself what made Ananus so murderous? Was it anger over his leadership of the Jerusalem church? Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius name James the bishop of Jerusalem. (Multiple attestations?) Or was it pure jealousy over James’s easy entrance into the holy of holies. According to Hegesippus: “He alone was permitted to enter the holy place.”

            I think it’s clear that even Paul — who had conflicts with James — acknowledged his status as leader of the Jerusalem church and also gave James the title of “apostle” as well as “brother of the Lord.” When an enemy recognizes another’s authoritative status — no matter how begrudgingly — I tend to conclude the status was widely acknowledged and the real deal.

            Thank you for you patience.

  13. Avatar
    teg51  August 22, 2016

    This is a very interesting topic Bart, and one that I have read extensively about. I wonder though, since Paul claims that the pillars of the church(James, peter John) recognized the grace given to him, and agreed that he should go to the gentiles, and they themselves would go to the uncircumcised, I ask, did Peter or any of the disciples actually have the intention to go to the gentiles, or was it just to other Christian jews? I know this kind of sounds like a dumb question considering how the Christian faith spread, but I am curious what u think about it. Also, i find it interesting when Paul claims in Galatians how he has as much authority as the disciples and that God shows no favoritism; I kind of find it funny because i can imagine Paul saying it in kind of a snobbish way.

  14. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  August 22, 2016

    My faulty memory might discredit Elaine Pagels, if so, mea culpa.
    I recall, correctly or not, her opining in “Revelations” that the author of Revelation was a Jewish Christian opposed to Paul, that some of the psychotic imagery (“code”) was directed specifically against Paul and his then followers. Nero for this author (of Revelation) apparently was not the only beast.
    Have you an opinion, i.e., agree with Pagels?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 22, 2016

      I don’t think there’s really any good evidence that hte author of Revelation knew or interacted with Paul’s letters/ideas.

  15. Avatar
    TomSmith  August 22, 2016

    Bart,

    I think another issue–not directly related to conservative critics of your work–has to do with the narrow conceptions many mainstream, respectable academics have of their own disciplines. My own work focuses on 4th-6th century history of theology, but when I moved as an administrator to a university that has no religion department and needed a home for my tenure, the history department, which had no use for intellectual history, decided I should be in philosophy, and the philosophy department, which didn’t think much of the history of philosophy, thought I was really a historian. It got worked out, but some folks are captive to their academic prejudices.

  16. Avatar
    jhague  August 22, 2016

    It seems to me that Paul was in conflict with most everyone he met. Him and Barnabas separated, he had a conflict with Peter, he disagreed with the Jerusalem leaders on at least Gentiles not converting to Judaism, it seems Jews and Gentiles doubted his vision claims, and the list goes on. Is this a fair assessment?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 22, 2016

      good point!

      • Avatar
        jhague  August 23, 2016

        From 8/22/16 post: “When you read Paul, for example, there is a huge discussion (e.g. in Galatians and Romans) about how the death of Christ brings about salvation, and about how this salvation affects both Jews and Gentiles, and about how Gentiles can have this salvation without becoming Jews, and about how nonetheless God has not abandoned his promises to the Jewish people, and…”

        Would Paul’s thinking on this topic have seemed odd to most Jews (especially the Jews that actually knew Jesus)? Everything is the same for Jews but now it includes Gentiles who do not have to become Jews? Plus Paul seemed to act Jewish when needed and become something different if needed in a different setting.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 24, 2016

          Yes, most Jews would have found it both odd and offensive.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  August 26, 2016

        That’s when the therapist says to the four-times-divorced man or woman, “So, what is the common denominator in all these broken relationships?”

    • Avatar
      marcrm68  August 24, 2016

      I imagine Paul as a physically large man, with a great personal charisma… But also quick to anger, and a man who did not suffer fools! Possibly the commander of some type of a regional military force before his conversion.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  September 2, 2016

        Paul was short, bald, paunchy and bandy-legged. He never “converted.”

        • Bart
          Bart  September 2, 2016

          That would be a description taken from the apocryphal Acts of Paul. Whether the author had any clue or not is another story! On Paul’s conversion: it depends what you mean by “convert.” If you mean “left one religion to join another” then I’d agree. If you mean “radically changed his mind about Christ and became his follower after being his persecutor” then I’d disagree.

          • Avatar
            llamensdor  September 2, 2016

            Are there any other descriptions of him?
            We agree that he didn’t leave one religion and join another. Was there another–there was the Jerusalem “church” but they certainly didn’t think they were creating a new religion. As for Paul being a persecutor, I don’t believe there’s any more evidence for that than there is for his physical appearance. The tale of being sent by the authorities to deal with the Jesus-followers in Damascus seems to me to be pure fiction. Did he claim to be a follower of Jesus? Yes? Did he differ with Peter and James? Yes. Was he a sincere believer? I don’t know. I think he enjoyed the role he played (do we really believe he was flogged time and again?), and he was very good at it. Would there have been a religion we now call Christianity without him? Impossible to know, but there can be no doubt that he had an enormous impact on not merely on middle-eastern, but world history.

          • Bart
            Bart  September 3, 2016

            No, no physical desriptions apart from that passage in the Acts of Paul.

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    estebanpolo  August 24, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, sorry for my bad English, my maternal language is Spanish. My question: regarding Paul differences with Jerusalem church you have cited Acts, Galatians and 1st Corinthians. What about 2nd Corinthians 11 and 12? Why 11:13 is -like a sandwich- between 11:5 and 12:11? Was Paul calling “false apostles” to the Jerusalem apostles?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 25, 2016

      My sense is that the “super-apostles” in 2 Corinthians were not representatives of the church in Jerusalem. Their views and concerns appear to be very different. They are not interested, for example, in the question of circumcision but in spiritual power.

      • Avatar
        estebanpolo  August 25, 2016

        Thanks.

      • Avatar
        jhague  December 4, 2017

        Any thought on where the super apostles might be from?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 4, 2017

          Sometimes it is argued Jerusalem. But I don’t really know.

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    Lostallfaith  August 26, 2016

    In the words of Thomas Jefferson to William Short, Monticello 13April1820, “Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart.” I couldn’t agree more.

  19. Avatar
    Marsha Brown  September 12, 2016

    The confrontation that occurred in Galatians 2:11 – 14 between Paul & Peter/Cephas, according to the Orthodox church, was between Paul & a Cephas that was not the the Peter of the 12 apostles, but Cephus of the
    70 Apostles.

    Consider the following testimony from the 3rd century demonstrating this knowledge:

    “In the 3rd century Clement of Alexandria observed that “Cephas was one of the 70 disciples who happened to have the same name as Peter the Apostle.” This same belief is found in the writings of St. Dorotheus of Tyre (4th c.) and Eusebius, the well-known historian of the ancient Church (4th c.). In yet another early Christian writing “Epistle of the Apostles” dated about 160 A.D. can be read:
    “We, John, Thomas, *Peter*, Andrew, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Nathaniel, Judas Zelotes, and *Cephas*, write unto the churches of the east and west, of the north and south…”

    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2016

      Yes, I wrote a scholarly article on this once, citing every reference I could find that indicated Cephas and Peter were two different people, and then ending the article with an argument that they really *were* two different people. I don’t buy it any more, but it was an interesting argument!

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    VaulDogWarrior  September 20, 2016

    You replied to someone above that Acts 4:13 helps confirm that Peter was illiterate, but if Acts is pseudepigrapha and cannot be used as evidence in favour of a traditional reading of Church history, can the same not be said when using it for a more liberal view either?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 21, 2016

      My point is not that Acts was or was not really written by Luke, but that whoever wrote Acts realized that Peter could not read or write.

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