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Paul on Trial for the Resurrection

In previous posts I have discussed the different Jewish sects that we know about from the first century, at the dawn of Christianity (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Fourth Philosophy) in order to show that (a) there were different understandings of the afterlife among them, but (b) there was a belief in a future resurrection of the dead attested in at least two of the groups: the Pharisees and Essenes.   We don’t know what the eschatological views of the Fourth Philosophy were; possibly different Jews who wanted the violent overthrow of the Roman overlords had various expectations.  We really don’t know.

One reason we don’t know is that we don’t have any writings from any of them.  On other hand, that’s true of the Sadducees and the Pharisees as well.  That may seem weird, but it’s the case.   We have no clear and certain writing from any Sadducee in all of antiquity that explains what it is they thought and believed.   Even more strange, from all of antiquity up until the time of the Jewish war, leading to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, we have only *one* author who was a Pharisee who explains his views.  As it turns out, that author is the apostle Paul.  His writings, though, were produced after he became a follower of Jesus.  Still, he was a Pharisee and he left us writings.  Obviously they will, though, be of limited use in knowing what Pharisees believed (except for what this particular Pharisee believed after he became a Christian).

We do have later writings that …

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Jesus’ Teaching About the Kingdom of God
Is Luke’s Christology Consistent? A Blast from the Past



  1. Avatar
    Stephen  September 26, 2017

    The contradictions between ACTS and Paul’s letters would lead one to think the author of the book didn’t have Paul’s letters before him. But the author was a gentile who knew and collected stories of Paul’s exploits and thought Paul a major enough character in the development of the early Church to devote much of ACTS to him. So is it a reasonable conclusion to come to that by the last quarter of the first century there were gentile Christian communities who knew about Paul but didn’t know any of his letters?


  2. Avatar
    flcombs  September 26, 2017

    “As I tell my students, that’s why they were “Sad, you see.” GREAT 🙂

    Also a good memory plug…

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  September 26, 2017

    “As I tell my students, that’s why they were “Sad, you see.””

    I literally had to roll my eyes at that one.

    But on a serious note, I would venture that there were actually two separate but overlapping groups of Pharisees at the time, and I don’t mean necessarily the schools of Hillel and Shammai, though they could be a distinguishing factor. I’m speaking particularly about what I would call the Establishment Pharisees and the Radical Pharisees. The main distinction between these subgroups of Pharisees (besides the Establishment possibly being associated with the Hillel school and the Radicals with the Shammai school) is that the Establishment Pharisees saw Judgment Day as a distant reality, far from the day-to-day concerns of Jews here and now. The Establishment Pharisees didn’t want to stir up trouble. They sought to work with the Roman occupiers in order to keep the peace, and they felt that, in the meantime, it would be best to not incite anything, because God works on his own schedule, and when he’s good and ready to bring about ‘Olam-ha-Ba, he will.

    The Radical Pharisees, on the other hand, were men who had begun to lose their patience. They saw signs everywhere (violence, oppression, sacrilege, celestial events, populace movements, etc.) that God’s Day was coming soon, and that all the injustice and oppression brought on by the Roman occupiers was at a breaking point. The Radical Pharisees tended to be stricter than the Establishment Pharisees, and they tended to be the intellectual Men-of-words (to borrow a term from Eric Hoffer) behind revolutionary movements (cf. Zadok the Pharisee). The Radical Pharisees believed that the one and only concern of every Jew at the moment should be תשובה (tshuvah or repentence) and צדקה (tzdaqah or righteousness), because the Messiah was coming soon, and with him the Day of Judgment and the World-to-come. In other words, these two strands of Pharisaism had varying degrees of urgency in their beliefs and preaching. Historical Pharisees who fit into the Establishment category were men like Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabban Gamliel (and later the Rabbis who would compile the Mishnah). Radical Pharisees included men like the aforementioned Zadok in Galilee, John the Baptist, Paul, possibly Rabbi Akiva and even Jesus himself. The Radical Pharisees and their teaching were then extirpated by the first and second Jewish wars (ca. 66 to 140 CE), leaving only the Established order to continue on into modern day Judaism.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 27, 2017

      What sources are you looking at to come to this view?

      • tompicard
        tompicard  September 27, 2017

        Dr. Ehrman,

        Which of the four philosophies would you think Jesus most identified with?
        or do you consider the apocalyptic philosophy a distinct fifth?
        or were his views uniques (as everyone’s are to some extent), or some syncretic conglomeration of the above four? [if you are getting to this let me know . . .]

        I noticed before that you wrote that Jesus shared (some) beliefs with Pharisees and Essenes, which led you to conclude that he also shared the Pharisees’ understanding of ‘the resurrection’, That may be so, but appears to me an unwarranted inference. Especially as we know that Jesus did not see eye-to-eye with every teaching of the Pharisees. Be that as it may, your above comment seems reasonable

        • Bart
          Bart  September 29, 2017

          None of the above. These are four “sects” and most Jews didn’t belong to any of them (just as most people today don’t belong to the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Elks, etc.)

          • Rick
            Rick  October 1, 2017

            So my only background in any of this is “The Shaping of Jewish History” by Professor Ellis Rivkin (taught at Hebrew Union College until he passed in 1997; PhD from Johns Hopkins) …. which I have by pure accident. He makes the point that the Pharisee’s were of a scholarly class historically “descended” from the scribal class with their evolution somewhat prompted by Hellenization (if I recall correctly). So, my question is, is there any evidence Jesus had the background to be a Pharisee? Would literacy have been a factor given the oral law was still oral?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 1, 2017

            Every now and then a scholar comes along to claim Jesus as a Pharisee, but it seems unlikely. His disagreements are too vast and deep. But he certainly appears to have known what they taught.

        • talmoore
          talmoore  September 29, 2017

          This is a real puzzle. In my Jesus novel, which is told Rashomon style, in one version of the story Jesus is actually a student who studies under the Pharisees in Jerusalem and adopts their eschatological views. In another version, Jesus becomes an ascetic in the Judean desert, where he comes into contact with the ideas of the Essenes. In the third version (the one that I think is the most historically accurate), Jesus picks up some of the ideas of the Pharisees from the revolutionaries in Galilee who were connected to men like Judas of Gamala and Zadok the Pharisee (let’s not forget that Jesus could have been as old as 10 years old during Judas’ rebellion) and when Jesus goes out to see John the Baptist, he picks up some of John’s ideas as well, and he combines them: the revolutionary ideas from Galilee and the apocalyptic ideas from John. In the fourth version, Jesus is pretty much a complete phoney. He merely convinces his followers that he knows more than he actually does.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  September 27, 2017

        The first source is Josephus himself, who paints two distinct pictures of the Pharisees. In Antiquities XVI, 16 and Jewish Wars I, 5 he portrays the Pharisees as a political power, influential, if not embedded within the power structure of Jerusalem. These Pharisees weren’t revolutionaries. They were part of the establishment. In historical terms, it’s extremely rare, or non-existent, that every member of an established power would become radicalized to the point of seeking to overturn the current power structure from the outside. At some point, there had to be a schism within the Pharisees themselves, between Establishment Pharisees and Radical Pharisees. And Josephus at the very least implies such a schism in Antiquities XVII, 1, where he calls Judas of Galilee’s partner Zadok a Pharisee. Now, certainly, Zadok’s revolutionary ideals weren’t the ideals of the Pharisees as a whole. Zadok’s views diverged from those of other Pharisees — namely, the established Pharisees in Jerusalem. In other words, there was a schism within the Pharisees between those who sought revolutionary means and those who didn’t. And Josephus very explicitly blames this new revolutionary ideal as the catalyst for the revolutionary fervor that came to grip Palestine and formed the basis of the so-called Fourth Philosophy of the Zealots. Quote: “for Judas and Sadduc, who excited a fourth philosophic sect among us, and had a great many followers therein, filled our civil government with tumults at present, and laid the foundations of our future miseries, by this system of philosophy, which we were before unacquainted withal, concerning which I will discourse a little, and
        this the rather because the infection which spread thence among the younger sort, who were zealous for it, brought the public to destruction.”

        The clue that the Pharisees had a schism is in the New Testament itself, where the Pharisees are protrayed as having some amount of temporal power. Those would have been the establisment Pharisees. But two of the Pharisees we actually know most about in the 1st century both became revolutionaries: Josephus and Paul. In other words, there appears to have been a continuum between an establishment pharisaism on one end and a radical pharisaism on the other, and it was perfectly possible for members to move along the continuum from one end to the other, as both Josephus and Paul eventually did. It’s not like there was only the establishment Pharisees and suddenly some Pharisees became radicalized all at once, in the same time an place. There already existed a radical branch of the Pharisees, and various establishment Pharisees would choose to cross over into it: Zadok ca. year 6, Paul ca. year 33, Josephus ca. year 66, and so on and so forth. By the time Josephus became a radical Pharisee, they had already become a sister movement to the Zealots (who themselves emerged from an earlier stage of radical pharisaism), kind of like how Al Qaeda and ISIS are both sister Islamic terror organizations (emerging from the earlier Muslim Brotherhood movement) separated by only ever-so minute differences in doctrine and method.

    • Avatar
      Kirktrumb59  September 27, 2017

      I can’t, obviously, help myself, sorry. As always, a learned commentary, talmoore. Your establishment v radical Pharisees reminds me of the fracas among the Judean People’s Front (JPF), the People’s Front of Judea (PFJ), and the Judean Popular People’s Front (JPPF). All SPLITTERS!! http://www.montypython.50webs.com/scripts/Life_of_Brian/8.htm
      Now back to work.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 26, 2017

    Great ending!

  5. Avatar
    seahawk41  September 26, 2017

    Oh, my!

  6. Avatar
    Tempo1936  September 26, 2017

    The great story in Matthew 25:31+ about the sheep and the goats is a liberal interpretation of Ezekiel 34:17/20 In Matthew 25 the writer goes to great lengths to describe the compassionate activities Of the sheep like feeding and clothing the poor. Those that focus on helping the poor are promised eternal life and those that don’t will be tortured forever.
    In these scriptures there is no requirement to believe Jesus is the son of God or that he died for the sins of the world.
    Are these passages In Ezekiel referring to an afterlife or promises for more blessings for Israel in this life?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 27, 2017

      Ezekiel is referring to a judgment to occur in this life, not in the afterlife (notice that a descendant of David will shepherd the sheep.)

  7. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  September 26, 2017

    Of the sects that believed in a resurrection, did they all agree it would be a bodily resurrection or was that a point of contention?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 27, 2017

      Yes, resurrection always meant “of the body,” precisely in contradistinction to the idea of “the soul separating from the body and living for ever”

      • Rick
        Rick  October 2, 2017

        So in rereading Rivkin after you got into this thread I ran into something I had totally missed: That apparently the Josephus era Jewish/Pharisaic belief was not that people died and were in Sheol or limbo/nonexistent until resurrected into new bodies in Gods (new) Kingdom – but that they had immortal souls and were in Heaven in the interim…. He cites Josephus – Wars, III:371-76… I found it in Wars of the Jews Book III, Chapter 8, Paragaraph 5:

        “Do not you know that those who depart out of this life according to the law of nature,
        and pay that debt which was received from God, when he that lent it us is pleased to require it
        back again, enjoy eternal fame; that their houses and their posterity are sure, that their souls are
        pure and obedient, and obtain a most holy place in heaven, from whence, in the revolutions of
        ages, they are again sent into pure bodies; while the souls of those whose hands have acted
        madly against themselves are received by the darkest place in Hades, and while God, who is
        their Father, punishes those that offend against either of them in their posterity?”

        So, granted Josephus wrote late 1st Century… but he was/had been a Pharisee. If this also became a proto Christian belief it would be a slight evolution for “died – went to Heaven – came back resurrected” to turn into “died and went to Heaven” when the apocalypse never came?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 2, 2017

          Yes, this sounds a lot like Plato. And that’s part of the problem: Josephus presents his work, in part, for a Greek-speaking audience. How much has that affected how he describes the Jewish sects of the time?

  8. Avatar
    caesar  September 27, 2017

    When it comes to Paul’s actual writings–is there reason to think he’s lying about anything? One thing in particular I’ve always been suspicious of, do you think Paul had the ‘endorsement’ of the original disciples? I can’t harmonize Paul’s teaching on grace with Jesus’ ‘works righteousness’ teachings in the synoptic gospels (eg rich young ruler Mt 19, sheep and goats Mt 25, good Samaritan Lk 10), and I’ve wondered if there is good reason to think the disciples would have thought Paul was teaching heresy. If I’m right and Paul contradicts Jesus on salvation, I can’t imagine Jesus’ disciples being convinced by Paul’s message of grace.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 27, 2017

      Paul is far more circumspect about the endorsement he received from the others than the book of Acts is (when talking *about* Paul). Galatians 1-2 is the key. He admits to having controversies with them and having to try to twist arms and to having a falling out with Peter.

    • Avatar
      Oikonomos  September 27, 2017

      It may be too black and white to simply depict Jesus’ message as “works righteousness” and Paul’s as “grace.” There is definitely an emphasis towards works in the synoptics compared with Paul, but the synoptics also contain Jesus forgiving sins after “seeing their faith” (Mark 2, Luke 5), as well as the woman with the jar of ointment while only mentioning her remorse. As for the rich young ruler, the situation is also rather mixed; Jesus spells out the code he must strictly adhere to, causing his disciples to question if anyone can be saved, to which Jesus replies, “For mortals it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” How do we differentiate between the works and the grace here? And note that even in the parable of the laborers that follows up this account in Matthew 20, the reward for the laborers is the same, without respect to time worked, which muddles the whole notion of works vs. grace again.

      Additionally, Paul himself says everyone will be judged according to deeds in Romans 2 (to the consternation of many evangelical ministers), while still arguing that salvation comes from faith (or faithfulness?) in the next two chapters.

      Pauline thought frequently takes a different tone, but I’d hesitate to say it’s opposed to the early gospels outright.

    • Avatar
      heronewb  October 2, 2017

      Paul clearly taught that obedience to mosaic law by Jews was no longer necessary and that “God dwelleth not in temples made by human hands”. In acts, the Christian leaders (James, Peter etc) “hear of a rumor that (Paul) he was teaching against Moses and against the temple” and summoned him to inspect the rumors (obviously they were displeased by the rumors and were still keeping mosaic law and paying reverence to the temple). Then acts says that Paul shows up and denies the rumors. He then goes to the temple and makes a nazerite vow (which includes a ritual sacrifice) to disprove the rumors, and the apostles are pleased and declare that the rumors are false. However, we know from Paul’s own writings that he indeed was teaching those things rumored, and even confesses that when he is with Jews, he “pretends to keep law”, but that he then goes back to not keeping law. It’s actually pretty f’d up and sounds like he hijacked a movement that had nothing to do with what he wound up creating, while crushing what the “religion” actually taught.

  9. Avatar
    Silver  September 27, 2017

    Please may I ask an off-post question?
    Why is it common practice to transliterate NT Greek words e.g. Ό θεος’ becomes ‘Ho Theos’? Surely if you cannot read the former, writing it phonetically will not help you understand the word. It appears to me that it complicates things since one must learn how to represent the letters in this different way. Do scholars, say, in Japan or Russia write the words using their own lettering systems?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 27, 2017

      It’s just so people can know how to pronounce the words instead of having them look like nothing at all. And yes, all languages have their modes of transliteration.

  10. Avatar
    Judith  September 27, 2017

    This is so good and I loved the ending!

  11. Avatar
    godspell  September 27, 2017

    This is my favorite story about Paul, and I’d hate to think no version of it could be true. I don’t think it would be hard for a Pharisee’s son to recognize other Pharisees, that’s not a problem. But it is odd, certainly, that Pharisees would be on the Sanhedrin.

    I’d suggest that the word Sanhedrin is the inaccuracy here. The author of Acts can’t resist drawing a parallel between Jesus being brought before the Sanhedrin, and Paul’s more trickster-like experience.

    This is not Jerusalem, there is no Temple. There must have been some instances in which a Jewish community in a given place would unite to try and repel heretics, establish some shared orthodoxy. This could have been one such occasion.

    But the alliance would be fraught with difficulties, because of their many differences, and Paul would know better than most how to use those to split their ranks, sow confusion, and use the distraction to escape unscathed to continue his mission.

    The story may be garbled–certainly is garbled, like most of the stories we have in the New Testament (or ancient history in general)–but I would not say it has been proven to be a complete fiction, based on what I read here.

    Most likely, Paul was never really ‘on trial’, but simply being confronted by an angry mob, understandably disturbed by his teachings. There was perhaps some danger to his person, but if it had been a trial, it would have ended much the same way Jesus’s did. Because, after all, by their lights, both men were guilty.

  12. Avatar
    Riedez  September 27, 2017

    As a Dutch person I had to read the last sentence three times. But, indeed, now I see it is very nice.

  13. Avatar
    dankoh  October 1, 2017

    Well, Josephus reports what he thinks the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes believed, so there is some (post-70) information there, even if if has to be judged critically. (Josephus claimed to have studied with the Pharisees, and the Pharisees were – along with the Jesus Movement – the only sects left standing after the Romans got through with Judaea.)

    Also, the Talmud has a number of things to say, more about the Pharisees, not surprising since the rabbis saw themselves as the heirs of the Pharisees. Here too caution is needed, since the Talmud is a few hundred years later and has its pro-Pharisaic bias.

    But I think one thing that is clear is that the descriptions of the Pharisees in the gospels is wrong. The gospels were all written after 70 (Mark may have been started earlier) and the Jesus Movement was now competing with the Pharisees to be normative Judaism, so of course the evangelists were going to make the Pharisees look bad.

  14. Avatar
    kminor2  November 8, 2017

    I agree with the general sentiment that this is a great story about Paul. It’s one of my favorites as well.

    I think it is paramount for understanding the natural development of Christianity (as opposed to a supernatural development: actual resurrection, actual appearances from Jesus, etc). Knowing that Paul, as a Pharisee, most likely had a preexisting belief in resurrection (as a general principle) makes it all the more plausible that his religious fervor was not necessarily dependent on an actual appearance/vision from Jesus. I think it was enough for him to simply believe that Jesus was resurrected (as is the case with 100% of Christians today). Maybe he had an actual appearance/vision, but given his predisposition to be expecting this sort of thing I don’t think it is absolutely necessary for that to have happened historically.

    If he was a Sadducee, he potentially would have needed a vision/appearance to tip him over the edge but it sounds like a Pharisee could readily believe in a resurrected Jewish apocalyptic preacher.

  15. Avatar
    ftbond  March 5, 2018

    Dr Ehrman –

    re: “This is a great story. I don’t think it’s *historical*, however. In other words, I don’t think it actually happened. There are a number of problems with it. One fairly obvious one is that we have no evidence that there were any Pharisees who served in the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin comprised the wealthy, aristocratic, elite, and there do not appear to have been Pharisees in the group. ”

    Lawrence H. Schiffman, professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, writes:

    “MMT is a foundation text of the Qumran sect. It was written in the early Hasmonean period when the Temple was managed and its rituals conducted in accord with Pharisaic views.”. . . . “Various elements in MMT and in the Temple Scroll [another Dead Sea document] represent the polemic of those who continued piously to hold fast to Sadducean views against the Hasmoneans and their Pharisaic allies”. . . . *** “It can no longer be claimed that there is no evidence for the Pharisees earlier than the tannaitic materials and the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. In fact, the scrolls provide extensive and wide-ranging testimony about the pre-destruction history of the Pharisees and their ideology. MMT and the Temple Scroll provide evidence of Pharisaic dominance over the Temple ritual in the early days of the Hasmonean period.*** (Ibid., p. 54) ”

    What’s your take on Schiffman’s view?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2018

      Schiffman is an absolutely brilliant and first-rate scholar. On this particular point he represents very much the minority view, and I accept the view of the majority of experts instead.

  16. Avatar
    ftbond  June 24, 2018

    Dr Ehrman –

    You say “The problem with that view is that he explicitly states in the account that he had no idea that the person in charge was the high priest, indicating these people were strangers to him.”

    Now, wait a minute. I might know someone personally, and perhaps beyond mere “acquaintance”, but, I might not know that that person had become the PTA President.

    I don’t see any reason at all to make the jump from Paul’s not knowing that so-and-so was High Priest, to then figuring it’s an indication that so-and-so was a stranger.

    Heck, I’ve been in far too many situations in my own life when I learned – sometimes in a moment of embarrassment – that a person I knew was now in some position that I didn’t know they were in beforehand.

    In short – I totally disagree with your view; the scenario described in Acts is not at all an uncommon one – learning, in an “uncomfortable” moment – that your friend was now on the School Board which you had just wrote a scathing letter about to the School District (or, something similar). I would think that simple, human experience would tell you this.

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