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Paul as a Persecutor of the Church

The questions of what early Christianity originally *was* and of how it got *started* are closely related to one another.   Both questions are also closely tied to the life, beliefs, and writings of Paul, for one very good reason: Paul is the first Christian author whose writings survive.   Any discussion of Christianity before his time needs to consider at some length what he has to say.  I should point out as well that a lot of modern people (including some scholars) claim that it was Paul himself who started Christianity.  I think that is going too far, in fact maybe way too far, for reasons that will become apparent in this post and the next.

Occasionally Paul will give us some clues about pre-Pauline Christianity.   One of the most important passages is in Galatians 1, where he discusses his own “about face,” when he turned from being a persecutor of the faith to being its great apostle.  In Gal. 1:13 Paul reminds his readers that they know what he was like before he had come to believe in Christ: “For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, that I was persecuting the church of God beyond all measure and trying to destroy it.”

Paul here indicates that his first contact with the Christian church was hostile.  He persecuted it to the extreme and was attempting to wipe it off the map.  There are a couple of conclusions that can be drawn from this brief statement (Paul is reminding his hearers of what they already knew, so he doesn’t need to explain any further what he has in mind; but how we wish we ourselves knew!).   One is that “the church of God” (which for Paul always means the *Christian* church) existed before he belonged to it.  Otherwise he couldn’t persecute it.  Moreover, he gives no indication that the church that he was persecuting was located in Judea.  In fact, several verses later he indicates that the Christian churches “in Judea” did not know what he even looked like (1:22).  That suggests …

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Was Paul the Founder of Christianity?
A Personal Note and a Bit of a Bummer

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Comments

  1. marcrm68
    marcrm68  May 30, 2016

    Sorry to hear about your back !

    I idea that there was a large enough Christian community 400 miles away from Jerusalem 2-4 years after Jesus supposedly died, that Paul would feel threatened enough to persecute them is a little hard to swallow… It makes me wonder if the Christian movement hadn’t been around for longer that 2-4 years at that point.

  2. Todd  May 30, 2016

    I mentioned in a comment to a previous post, that, when I read the canonical NT, I see a distinction between what Jesus teaches and what Paul teaches. I am not a scholar…I just notice the differences (perhaps in emphasis). One thing that stands out to me is the absence of Jesus’ ethical teachings in Paul (as we might find in “Q”) (although Paul does mention such issues as faith, hope, charity and such), and it seems that Paul mentions very little of events in Jesus’ life except for the crucifixion aND resurrection. Paul’s message seem to emphasize a post resurrection cosmic Christ in contrast to a more human Jesus, trudging along the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea.

    Perhaps I am being too picky about these different aspects we find in the documents. Perhaps it is going too far to say Paul invented Christianity and that we need to view the documents in a more holistic way.

    Question: don’t you think that there is a significant difference in the message of Jesus (the coming of God’s Kingdom and the kingdom ethics Jesus presented) and the more cosmic spiritualized view that Paul presents of the resurrected Christ? To me, these differences are quite obvious. Your thoughts please.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2016

      Yup. See today’s post.

      • Todd  June 1, 2016

        I ready today’s post and truly appreciate you discussing the distinctions and similarities between Jesus message and that of Paul. I want to respond to today’s message with respect to the source of Paul’s message (“my gospel “) …something I rarely hear or read about…Paul’s visions (conversations?) With the Risen Christ.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  May 30, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, when I look at a historical figure such as Paul, my first inclination is to do a dialectical analysis (in the Hegelian sense). That is, I combine a thesis and an antithesis and find the synthesis.

    So the thesis would be what Paul initially would have believed before coming into contact with any Christians. If we take Paul at his word that he was Pharisaically inclined, there are at least seven beliefs we can acribe to his pre-Christian self. 1) He believed in the coming resurrection of the dead. 2) He believed in the coming Messiah. 3) He believed in the Day of Judgment. 4) He believed in the consignment of the wicked to death and oblivion (possibly with eternal hellfire?). 5) He believed in the reward of the Righteous, to a new Eden on earth (possibly even the so-called Kingdom of God?). 6) He believed in Israel’s resurgence as ruler of the whole the earth with Jerusalem as its capital. And, finally, 7) he believed that scripture (the Law and the Prophets) can be mined by exegetes to justify these events and to predict how and when they will occur.

    Now, as we can see, that right there is already more than halfway to Christianity. So let’s see what the very first Christians (pre-Paul) had to add to that list. 8) Jesus was the Messiah. 9) The Messiah must come, suffer, die and arise again (as he has already come, suffered, died and rose again in the form of Jesus) before the final coming End Times. 10) Upon Jesus’ resurrection he had been exalted to a position of authority next to God (literally at the “right hand” of God). 11) Those who were with Jesus and those who come to believe that he was the Messiah who would suffer, die, resurrect and be exalted within the heavenly host, those believers will be counted amongst the Righteous on the Day of Judgment and, therefore, will be saved. 12) Scripture predicts all of this.

    So, as we can see, the stuff the Christians believed would have seemed decidedly incredible if not ridiculous to a Pharisaic thinker such as paul (not to mention to Essenes and Sadducees as well), so it’s no surprise that his initial response to coming into contact with Christians was to “persecute” them. However, one can also see that the these two beliefs, Jewish and Christian, were not entirely incompatible. It was actually possible to believe both, and that’s where the synthesis occured. I think Paul’s major contribution to these twelve beliefs was to add the remaining four to arrive at the sixteen core beliefs of Pauline Christianity. 13) Jesus “Christ”, the once and future Messiah, came to initiate the engathering of ALL the Righteous who are to be saved on Judgment Day. 14) There were Righteous amongst the Gentiles who, therefore, required hearing the “good news” of the coming Day and their salvation through Jesus. 15) Being Gentile believers, rather than Jews, the Righteous Amongst the Nations need only follow the universal Laws (i.e. the Noahide Laws) required of all non-Jewish believers in God (i.e. the god of the Jews Yahweh) — that is, they weren’t obligated to become fully Jewish (no circumcision, kashrut, sabbath observence, etc. necessary). 16) Once all the Righteous Amongst the Nations and the Jews (or the so-called Elect) have come to Jesus “Christ” to be saved, Jesus will return to bring about the End Times.

    And this is what I think was the state of Pauline Christianity ca. 40-45CE.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2016

      If you’re really interested in Hegelian approaches to early Christianity, you’d be interested in the 19th c. scholar F. C Baur, who goes at it with vigor!

  4. JB  May 30, 2016

    This is kind of a basic question, but how would someone like Paul go about persecuting Christians or anyone else for that matter? He wasn’t a Roman official (although he was a citizen), and Jewish laws wouldn’t have applied anywhere outside of the somewhat-autonomous kingdom of Judea, am I right? So what are we to make of Paul’s claim to this effect, was he just arguing with Christians or would he have some real means of coersion?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2016

      Yes, I’ll be exploring the question soon. I think it’s difficult to come up with a definitive answer.

      • godspell  June 1, 2016

        He had no official authority, true, but really, neither did Matthew Hopkins and the so-called witchfinders, who caused so many women to be burnt in Britain and Europe. And that was itself a form of religious persecution, albeit in a very different context. Paul couldn’t denounce Christians for believing differently, but he could suggest to the local authorities that they were seditious and a danger to the Roman state–this was, after all, how Jesus came to be crucified.

  5. Karol Dziwior  May 30, 2016

    My questions are not – strictly speaking – related to Paul being persecutor, but it is still in the matter of persecutions. Here they come:

    In “Misquoting Jesus” there is a place where you describe how did persecutions “work” in Roman Empire. You emphasize that “most of the pagan opposition to Christians during the church’s first two centuries happened on the grassroots level rather than as a result of organised, official Roman persecution” (p. 196) After that you show the mechanisms that were involved in this whole persecution process. You clearly stress the fact that it was rather pagan mob who was responsible for these attacks and that they had their own reasons for it. It looks like scapegoating to me. Is it fair to understand it like that?

    However, in your “Introduction to the New Testament” the emphasis lays somewhere else. It looks like it has been moved from the scapegoat mechanism to Christians themselves – that they are to be blamed for their own persecution (because they disturbed the social peace and they were to be punished by the Roman authorities).

    Could you please explain this to me, dr Ehrman? What am I missing here? Because I’m sure that you don’t present two, totally different opinions on that matter. How would you explain the story behind Christians being persecuted? Were they more seen as a threat to society’s health or maybe more they caused some disturbances and Roman authorities had to react?

    By the way, what is the scholarly view on Nero’s persecution? Is it taken by scholars as the example of scapegoating? Tacitus presents it that way in “Annales”. He clearly shows that Nero wanted to find someone who could be blamed for arsoning, but I’m wondering what’s the scholar’s opinion on that? Is it trustworthy description from Tacitus?

    Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2016

      I think both things are true. The persecutions began at the grass roots level and they were because Christians were perceived as socially (and politically) problematic.

  6. turbopro  May 30, 2016

    Dr Ehrman, as I have just started reading, “Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity,” (James D Tabor), where the author maintains that Paul essentially defined Christianity that we know today, and that the original followers of Jesus (and of his brother James after Jesus’ death) were part of a lost Christianity. I have just started the tome, so for now I’m interested to know if you are familiar with the work, and, if so, what are your thoughts on the author’s theses?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2016

      I haven’t read the book (sorry James!), but you’ll be getting my take on the question over the next couple of posts.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  June 1, 2016

      I read it maybe last year and my take on it is that, after presenting what is, to me, an argument why James and the others should be called Christians, he nevertheless goes right ahead and refers to them anyway as “the earliest Christians.”

      • turbopro  June 9, 2016

        Just saw your response today.

        “… after presenting what is, to me, an argument why James and the others should be called Christians, he nevertheless goes right ahead and refers to them anyway as “the earliest Christians.”

        Did you mean to state “…should [not] be called Christians”?

        • SBrudney091941
          SBrudney091941  June 11, 2016

          yes. Thanks for catching that!

  7. Jana  May 30, 2016

    You certainly are very good at “cliff hangers!” 🙂

  8. gabilaranjeira  May 30, 2016

    Hi,

    Can we deduce from Galatians 2 that the belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus as the means to salvation is pre-Pauline? I ask because this doesn’t seem to be a matter of divergence between Paul and Peter in the meetings described in this chapter, even though they have some controversy about what Paul calls hypocrisy of Peter.

    Another thing that caught my attention was how early the concept of orthodoxy (and therefore heresy) appeared in Christianity. Paul explicitly says there is only one Gospel.

    Thanks!

  9. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  May 30, 2016

    Paul does not characterize what he calls the “church of God.” The only indication we have of their beliefs are that Paul believes things after his “about face” that he implies (too strong a word?) were what the people of the “church” believed. But I wonder. I still find it difficult to believe that, so soon after Jesus’ death and the reports of his resurrection, there was a church that could be called “Christian.” But we’ve been through this before: who do we call “Christian”? Were they followers of Jesus only in the sense that they continued to believe he was the messiah even after he was executed or did they view his death as a sacrifice the believers in which could be saved? It seems quite possible that, although Paul suggests he now believed what they believed, they might have had no beliefs about the salvific power of Jesus’ sacrifice but had been persecuted for continuing to believe Jesus was the messiah and maybe for some other associated belief or activities and that it was Paul who added on the salvific message. I don’t think we know and think that it is therefore going too far to conclude that they were followers of Jesus in any Pauline sense. Maybe the truth lies somewhere between his obviously self-important declaration that it was his Gospel he received from no man and his apparent slip or admission that he did receive “it” from those before him.

  10. Omar6741  May 30, 2016

    Is there any evidence Paul spoke any language other than Greek?
    Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2016

      No, not really. (Except when he was speaking in tongues!)

      • talmoore
        talmoore  June 1, 2016

        So you don’t accept the claim that Paul studied with Gamaliel the Elder (or other Rabbis) in Jerusalem? Because if he did he certainly would have known Aramaic and Hebrew.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 2, 2016

          No, I don’t think he did. It’s one of those statement in Acts that is meant to provide him with street creds….

      • jdmartin21  June 1, 2016

        When Paul spent a couple of weeks with Peter and James sometime after Paul’s conversion how did they communicate if Paul couldn’t speak Aramaic and Peter and James couldn’t speak Greek? Is the language barrier possibly one reason Paul seems to know so little about the life of Jesus?

      • Rogers  June 2, 2016

        So Luke author in Acts, and Paul, both report a phenomena of speaking in tongues? Interesting…

        An aquaintance posted on FB (this past week) that his wife said he got up in the middle of night and began to walk about speaking in some language that she could not distinguish as to what it was, that he was very animated, very cheerful in demeanor, and that he seemed to be in conversation with someone (but not her, which he didn’t evidence awareness of). He eventually returned to bed and in the morning didn’t have any recollection of the episode.

        A sort of a speaking in tongues possibly…

      • dragonfly  June 2, 2016

        In Acts 22 Paul speaks in Aramaic.

  11. Adam0685  May 30, 2016

    Paul must have thought the Christian message was believable enough for a substantial number of people to actually believe it. If not, why waste time trying to stop it? In the end he was right, Christianity would take off! He was simply wrong when he thought he was not going to be a part of it!

  12. Greg Matthews
    Greg Matthews  May 30, 2016

    I know about the unreliability of Acts concerning Paul, but do YOU think the early chapters that discuss the early church are at all reliable? Martin Hengel devoted a book to the issue “Between Jesus and Paul” (which I enjoyed), but I’ve wondered how other current scholars view the reliability of Acts. Seems like either Damascus (close to Galilee) or Antioch (close to Tarsus) could have been locales with relatively large early Christian groups that were also Greek speaking.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2016

      I don’t think they are *very* reliable, no. The early chapters seem to be more legendary than historical.

      • Greg Matthews
        Greg Matthews  June 4, 2016

        Regarding my question on the reliability of Acts, do you think some of the books by Richard Pervo (his Hermeneia commentary, “The Mystery of Acts” and/or “Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists”) are good places to start or do you recommend something else?

  13. llamensdor  May 30, 2016

    I don’t believe there is any evidence other than Paul’s word that he persecuted Jews, nor that he was sent by the authorities to root out heretics in Damascus and bring them bound to Jerusalem. Who was Paul that the High Priest would designate him for this (fanciful) task? A.N. Wilson speculates that Paul may have been a Temple guard and thus known to the hierarchy. The Temple guards were supposed to be prime physical specimens. Paul was short, bald, paunchy and bandy-legged.
    Further, Jerusalem was in Judaea, Damascus in Syria—different provinces and different Roman governors. Who says that the Jerusalem hierarchy had any religious authority over, let alone any interest in, Jesus followers in Damascus? Is there evidence of a significant and dangerous “Christian” sect there in the 40s CE? I understand that most scholars of early Christianity tend to accept Paul’s story of his persecution of Christians, but I don’t find any real basis for it. I don’t think it helps to suggest that persecution by Paul may have taken place somewhere other than in Judaea, but how does that explain Paul going to Jerusalem and getting authority from the Temple hierarchy?
    Paul was not “converted” on the road to Damascus, although some scholars such as B.B. Scott believe he had a vision, a “revelation.” I doubt it, but whether true or not, this enabled Paul to tell the leaders of the Jerusalem Jesus sect that his knowledge (and mission) was superior to theirs. They only knew Jesus during his “life.” Paul was in communication with Jesus when he was in heaven—so take that Peter and James! Still, Paul was not preaching against the Jews or the Jewish hierarchy; his enemy was the Roman Empire. In the course of time, unfortunately, Paul was “converted” by some folks into an anti-Semite. Thankfully, this does not apply to Dr. Ehrman.

  14. godspell  May 30, 2016

    One thing consistent about Paul throughout his life is how peripatetic he is. He was apparently born in what is now Turkey, then raised in Jerusalem, then traveled to areas outside of Palestine where he encountered Christian communities and tried to stamp them out, then had a vision on the road to Damascus that made him a convert, then he spent the rest of his life wandering large areas of the Roman world, spreading the faith. He covered a whole lot of ground.

    Most people in the ancient world did not travel that much, unless they were traders, sailors, or in the military. Paul does not seem to have been any of these. That could be said to speak to his personality. He’s always looking for something.

  15. Wilusa  May 30, 2016

    It’s my understanding that scholars can’t be sure Jesus died in the 30-33 CE time frame; while it may seem less likely, he *could* have died several years earlier in the prefecture of Pontius Pilate. Is that right? If so, the Christian “movement” would have had a few more years than generally assumed for – as an example – the number of Christians in a region to reach a certain figure.

  16. Stephen  May 30, 2016

    After so many years of reading theology I would be up for a good discussion about Pauline chronology. Sooo…can you recommend a book about the problem? Perhaps a commentary on Galatians you favor?

    thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2016

      For two very different views try Gerd Ludemann’s Paul The Founder of Xty and Douglas Campbell Framing Paul.

  17. lbehrendt  May 31, 2016

    Bart, I’ve long hoped that you’d focus on the question of Paul as persecutor of the early Church. Has any scholar critically examined this claim? It doesn’t make much sense to me. How many Christians could there have been for Paul to pick on, in those first few years after Jesus’ death? Why pick on the Christians, when there appear to have been so many other sects for a zealous Pharisee to concern himself with? It seems to me that Paul liked to exaggerate, and maybe he was exaggerating here. Krister Stendahl described Paul’s extremes as follows in his book “Final Account”: “He was always the greatest: the greatest of sinners, the greatest of apostles, the greatest when it came to speaking in tongues, the greatest at having been persecuted. That is because he wasn’t married. Or perhaps that is why he wasn’t married. Nobody could stand him …”

    But I guess the first question has to be, are we looking just at the letters of Paul on this question, or are we also looking at Acts? There’s not much in the letters of Paul to go on, other than his statements that he DID persecute the Church.

    As an aside, I’ll note that you’re drawing conclusions not strictly based on the limited information in Paul’s letters: (1) he was motivated as a Pharisee to undertake this persecution (what evidence do we have outside of the NT that Pharisees reacted violently against non-Pharisees who were behaving in ways Pharisees did not like?), (2) Paul considered the early Church to be a “threat” (there are other reasons to persecute people), and (3) he thought the early Church was “perverse” because of their view of Jesus (he doesn’t tell us in his letters why he persecuted the Church).

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2016

      Yes, I don’t think there’s any question among scholars that Paul started out as a persecutor. As to evidence for what Pharisees said and did, as you might know, we have the writings of only *one* Pharisee from before the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. As it turns out, that one is Paul.

      • lbehrendt  June 1, 2016

        Bart, given that you’re one of my favorite scholars, I hope you train some of your reknown critical scrutiny on Paul’s claim to be a persecutor of the early Christians–and in particular, that he did so as a result of his being a Pharisee. Granted, we know much less about the Pharisees than one might think. But we’re certainly not limited to the writings we have from self-identified Pharisees, as you’re well aware. If you look at Josephus, or the evidence from the anti-Pharisaic writings we have from the DSS community, there’s no evidence of Pharisees acting as heresy-hunters. There’s evidence (I believe in the Talmud) of intra-Pharisee dispute that got violent at times, between the schools of Hillel and Shammai. But was there enough Jewish inter-sectarian violence in the 30s CE to provide us with an historical context for Paul’s claim? There was sharp verbal exchange, to be sure. But Daniel Boyarin (for one) has examined this question and concluded that the Jewish sects were not at each other’s throats. Certainly, there’s no evidence outside of the NT that the Pharisees took it upon themselves to roam the Roman Empire to persecute outlying Jewish sects.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 2, 2016

          I agree that we should critically examine everything that is stated in our sources. But the fact that Paul persecuted the church before joining it is rock solid, and there do not appear to be grounds for doubting it. We do know that Jews inflicted harsh punishments for heretical beliefs. Later in life, Paul himself was flogged (on five occasions, he tells us). All of our sources — Paul, Acts, 1 Timothy — indicate that he was a persecutor. None makes an alternative claim. And when Paul admits it he does so to his own shame — so he does not appear to be making it up.

          • SBrudney091941
            SBrudney091941  June 2, 2016

            But it’s not explicit, is it, just what the “church of God” that he persecuted believed and whether they believed salvation was in believing in the sacrifice and resurrection of JC?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 3, 2016

            Sorry, I’m not following your question.

          • lbehrendt  June 3, 2016

            I’ll grant you multiple attestation here, though I suspect that Acts and 1 Timothy got their information on Paul the persecutor from Paul’s letters. But I don’t agree on criteria of embarassment. I think Paul’s story of his history of church persecution works to verify the story of his Damascus Road experience of Jesus: something must have happened to turn him 180 degrees! We hear something similar in modern conversion stories: it rather HELPS the story if the convert claims to have once been a terrible sinner.

            Paul claims to have been flogged, yes. But he also claims to have been flogged in synagogues that he’d entered to preach the gospel. He also claims to have been persecuted in cities he’d entered after he’d preached in their synagogues. But did het claim that individual self-appointed Jewish vigilantes crossed the Roman Empire in pursuit of him?

            Now, maybe what Paul meant was that when a Christian preached the gospel at a synagogue where he was present, he’d join in with other members of the synagogue in punishing the Christian. That would be plausible. As opposed to the picture we get in Acts 9:1-2, where Paul is given priestly Temple letters of appointment as a roaming persecutor of Christians. I’ve checked with a scholar or two, and none corroborates that the Temple issued these kinds of letters.

            I appreciate your willingness to engage here, and look forward to your developing this line of thought.

      • llamensdor  June 1, 2016

        Why does no one question that Paul began as a persecutor of “Christians?” That makes for good story-telling, and the vast majority of scholars apparently accept it, but what is the evidence for it besides Acts, which is of dubious authority and Paul himself? You’re a guy with an open mind. Is it absolutely essential to your thinking that Paul was a persecutor?

  18. Menoclone  May 31, 2016

    This recalls to mind the “supposed” conflicts Jesus and his followers had with some Pharisees and whether they happened or were added later on, due to later “Christian” dislike of the Jews. So, I’m looking forward to your continuation of Paul’s conflicts. Thank you & I wish you well.

  19. Liam Foley  May 31, 2016

    I once read, sorry I can’t cite the author, that Paul was the first one to distort Jesus’ message. While I have not been one of those who believed Paul started Christianity, and I have met some very strong anti-Pauline Christians who believed just that, I do believe Paul did shape Christianity to his own theology.

    My initial thought to Paul persecuting Christians may have revolved around the early belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Since Jesus did not fulfill what Jews believed the Messiah was supposed to do (getting crucified by the Romans was not part of the plan) Paul may have felt Christianity was a cancer upon Judaism that needed to be removed.

  20. RonaldTaska  May 31, 2016

    Interesting, as always. The first thing that struck me about reading Paul’s letters is that they seem much harder to understand than the “story” format of the Gospels.

  21. Jana  May 31, 2016

    Ah and I just found this article .. A New “Ground Breaking” Bible Translation Available: ( although I hope it gives a lift to your day … don’t laugh too hard. it might hurt your back 🙂

    http://www.npr.org/2016/05/31/480100328/a-new-translation-of-the-bible-is-available?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=morningedition

  22. RonaldTaska  May 31, 2016

    Possible Friday Mailbox Question: I once had the rather odd experience of having three patients on a VA psychiatry ward at the same time with all three claiming to be Jesus. Moreover, each patient thought the other two were Jesus imposters. If Jesus were seen in a medical facility today, I imagine that the evaluating psychiatrist would, at least, consider that Jesus had bipolar disorder, manic phase with delusions of grandeur. Long ago, I read Albert Schweitzer’s 1911 classic book entitled “The Psychiatric Study of Jesus.” One of the weaknesses of the book is that psychiatry was in its infancy in 1911 and diagnoses have markedly changed in the past 100 years. My question: Do current scholars ever discuss whether or not Jesus was mentally ill and, if so, who can I read about this matter? Thanks

    • gabilaranjeira  June 2, 2016

      Maybe there was a Jesus before Jesus, so Jesus thought he was Jesus! :o)

  23. Hormiga  May 31, 2016

    Thanks for this developing discussion. As a very secular layman, I’m quite interested in how our current narratives of the first century CE came to be put together.

  24. prairieian  May 31, 2016

    It is an extremely interesting question as to the numbers of Christians this early in the movement. If, within a handful of years, there were already Christian communities scattered about the Levant the numbers must have been considerable in total. Perhaps most (every?) Jewish communities in the diaspora had their own fissures and conflicts, amongst them this new-fangled Christian crew. It makes one wonder at how interconnected these communities were and how fast movements could spread via the mechanism of trade and government. My image of the time, no doubt ill-informed, is of fairly static communities for the most part without a great deal of toing and froing save for small segments of the population (merchants, administrators, soldiers). If within five years of Jesus’ death there were Christian communities hundreds of miles from Jerusalem it bespeaks of a pretty rapid dispersion from its point of origin. That implies fairly large numbers of adherents. Perhaps this rapid growth of the sect was what impelled Paul in his zealous unholding of righteous Jewish practice.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  June 1, 2016

      “Perhaps most…Jewish communities in the diaspora had their own fissures and conflicts, amongst them this new-fangled Christian crew.” The Christian worship houses were gentile houses. We don’t know how much they proselytized Jewish congregations but, not being Jewish, they probably weren’t mixed in with them. I doubt that the Christian message was attractive enough to convert that many Jews or pagans. Writers like Robin Lane Fox argues against the common notion of a rapid growth of the church.

  25. Kazibwe Edris  June 1, 2016

    respected Dr ehrman

    “And [b]you will see [/b]the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

    But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

    But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There [b]you will see[/b] him, just as he told you.’ ”

    1. notice that jesus does not say that the disciples will see him in galilee?
    2. the unknown man at the tomb says they will see him in galilee. how do we know the man at the tomb didn’t have “and you will see the son of man…” in mind/ mark wasn’t referring back to this verse?

  26. tpsouers1976  June 1, 2016

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,
    Are there are non-Biblical sources for Paul’s origins?

    For instance, I once read a review of one of Dr. James Tabor’s books, in which the review claimed that Jerome, the fourth-century Christian writer, wrote that Paul was born in Galilee, and moved to Tarsus later in life. Yet, I cannot find any real source for this claim. (I’m not a scholar, so admittedly, I don’t know where to look).

    Also, I read Hyam Maccoby’s book, the Mythmaker, in which Maccoby claimed that Ebionite writings depicted Paul as a gentile who tried and failed to convert to Judaism.

    Once again, I cannot find any source for Maccoby’s claim, and if it were true, one would think that atheist, Jewish, and even Muslim apologists, would routinely cite this claim in debates. (I no longer have a copy of Maccoby’s book, but as I recall, it was interesting but poorly documented).

    Lastly, how likely is it that Paul was from Tarsus, yet, was also a student of Gamaliel?

    If Gamaliel was a member of the Sanhedrin, wouldn’t he have had to live in Jerusalem? If true, this means that Paul would have lived in Palestine at some point, perhaps, within Jesus’ lifetime. Yet, Paul makes no mention of this in his writings.

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  June 2, 2016

      The only reference to Paul that we have are in the writings of the New Testament, in forged apocryphal works (such as his alleged letters back and forth with Seneca), and in later Christian authors — most of whom were dependent on the NT books for their information (though not all: e.g. 1 Clement and Ignatius mention him.)

  27. llamensdor  June 1, 2016

    Paul was not a do-gooder, he was a self aggrandizer. Did he believe what he was selling? Maybe, but I think of him as a televangelist before there were televangelists.

  28. Smiling_Monk  June 1, 2016

    something very interesting w.r.t. paul.

    Saint Paul’s famous revelation may have been ’caused by epileptic fit’, say scientists. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/saint-pauls-famous-revelation-may-have-been-caused-by-epileptic-fit-say-scientists-a7058681.html

  29. gabilaranjeira  June 3, 2016

    Is the death of James, brother of Jesus, mentioned by Josephus, considered as solid evidence of Jewish persecution of Christians?

    Thanks! :o)

    • Bart
      Bart  June 4, 2016

      Interesting question. I’ve never heard it used that way, but I’ll have to think about it….

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