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Sources for the Hebrew Bible: A Blast from the Past

I was fishing around for something different to post today, and came across this Q & A from exactly six years ago.  I get asked the question a lot, and I would answer it the same way even now, despised my advancing age…




Do you have a suggestion for a book concerning the OT’s construction? I believe in the History of God (by K. Armstrong) she mentioned that there were about five distinct writers for the OT. Is this the scholarly view and do you have a book suggestion to delve deeper into it?



Right!  The Old Testament (for Christians; otherwise: the Jewish Scriptures, the Hebrew Bible; the Tanakh – these are all more or less synonyms.)

It’s been on my mind a lot lately.  Right now, my current writing project is a college-level textbook on the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation.   This seems to me to be way too much to cram into a semester, but as it turns out, something like half the colleges in the country teach biblical courses this way, rather than having Hebrew Bible in one semester and New Testament another.   And, in my judgment, the textbooks currently available for the course are not as good as they should be.   So my publisher, some years ago, urged me to write one myself.   I decided to make the attempt, and I’m in the midst of it right now.

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Why Does Luke Appear to Contradict Himself?
Does Luke Flat Out Contradict Himself?



  1. Avatar
    godspell  June 24, 2018

    In a sense, the ‘authority’ of many OT texts stems from their very obscurity–the fact that nobody knows who wrote them, or when, and therefore it seems as if they’ve just appeared out of thin air–divinely inspired. As with the gospels, they just got into circulation, people read them, passed them around, and they took on this aura of antiquity. You could make up an author for them if you liked, but there’s a sense of mystery there, conducive to religious faith–and to projecting your own ideas onto them. Which basically everyone does.

    Islam went a different way with it–but of course there would be no Islam, no Quran, without Muhammad’s being heavily influenced by the OT and NT.

    Ideas of authorship were so different in ancient times–it’s hard for us today to imagine somebody writing a whole book and not going to great pains to make sure everybody knew you wrote it. But writing down stories (factual, confabulated, or some combination of the two) was not a profession at that time. Telling stories to people orally was, which is why we’ve heard of Homer (but did he exist? and how much of those two epic poems did he write? could he write?)

    Always more questions than answers.

  2. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  June 24, 2018


  3. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  June 24, 2018

    What is your position on the existence of Moses as a real person or a myth, and I have read many historical scholars question the authenticity of the Exodus itself, do you think the Exodus was a myth or not?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 25, 2018

      I don’t think there was a Moses — I see all these stories as legendary.

      • Robert
        Robert  June 25, 2018

        “I don’t think there was a Moses — I see all these stories as legendary.”

        ‘Legendary’ would typically imply some historical kernal that has been greatly exaggerated in the popular imagination. Perhaps you meant to say ‘mythical’?

        At any rate, it would be interesting for you to give your arguments, or the specific scholars you follow, in critiquing Friedman’s defense of a Levite Exodus as an historical core for later legends. Like your own popular works, Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? is one of the great examples of a scholar writing a popular work for a general audience.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 26, 2018

          I tend to use the term “myth” when it involves the actions of divine beings as the principal characters. I would consider Moses a legend since there was certainly *someone* who was an ancient hero of some of the ancient Hebrews (lots of someones!), and someone actually wrote down the law, and someone…. etc. the Moses legend is the result of storytelling about these various someones.

          • Avatar
            flcombs  June 26, 2018

            I don’t think anyone can be certain of the specific origins but wish we could determine them. I found the story of the Hyksos a very interesting possible basis for some if it. While not “Exodus”, it is easy to see how it could have been adapted or evolved.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 27, 2018

            Yes, back when I was in graduate school the Hyksos hypothesis was very popular. Since then scholars have come to think that it’s problematic.

          • Robert
            Robert  June 26, 2018

            “I would consider Moses a legend since there was certainly *someone* who was an ancient hero of some of the ancient Hebrews (lots of someones!), and someone actually wrote down the law, and someone…. etc.”

            How likely do you think it is that one or more of these legendary figures might have been a heno- or quasi-monotheistic Egyptian priest perhaps influenced by the tradition of Akhenaten and seeking some kind of religious liberty or following in Canaan? It is somewhat intriguing that someone felt a need to fabricate a Hebrew origin story and etymology for what may have been an Egyptian name (Ex 2,1-10) and Richard Elliott Friedman notes other Egyptian names but only among the Levites. The need to make up a secret Hebrew origin of (a) legendary Egyptian figure(s) may pass the criterion of embarrassment.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 27, 2018

            I think that’s more than we can say. It’s all so murky back there….

          • Robert
            Robert  June 29, 2018

            “I think that’s more than we can say. It’s all so murky back there….”

            Sure. I don’t think we can say anything with any degree of probability, let alone confidence, about these legends. Assigning probability numbers such as some people do in using Baye’s Theorem has always struck me as ridiculous historical methodology.

            At best we can perhaps propose relatively plausible scenarios that might account for some legendary elements in early history. It does indeed seem curious that someone felt a need to fabricate a Hebrew origin story and etymology for an otherwise Egyptian figure (Ex 2,1-10) or group (Egyptian names of Levites) aligned with their priestly and monotheistic sympathies. Are there more (or equally) plausible hypotheses to account for this aspect of the legend? Or is Friedman just wasting his and everyone else’s time?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 29, 2018

            I’m not sure those are the only two choices! But yes, one could imagine lots of reasons for someone picking an Egyptian name for a legendary figure in ancient Hebrew history. You can easily think of analogies from later periods, when “wise men” were thought to come from “the East” or from India or from Egypt.

          • Robert
            Robert  July 2, 2018

            “I’m not sure those are the only two choices! But yes, one could imagine lots of reasons for someone picking an Egyptian name for a legendary figure in ancient Hebrew history. You can easily think of analogies from later periods, when “wise men” were thought to come from “the East” or from India or from Egypt.”

            But this is sort of the opposite situation where figures of Egyptian origin are being said to really be Hebrews. The Hebrew origin of this Moses figure is fabricated and even the presence of the whole of the Israeli people in Egypt and their subsequent deliverance from Egypt is fabricated to try and authenticate what otherwise would be considered foreign people (Levites), practices (circumcision), and beliefs (pseudo-monotheism). His thesis also helps explain why the conquest of the Book of Joshua needed to be fabricated. We’ll never know what really occasioned the fabrication of all these stories, but the thesis of Friedman (not original to him) has some real merit as an attempt to get behind these legends and propose a rationale for an historical core and explanation of the growth of the legendary fabrications. It would be interesting to hear better, opposing theories.

      • Avatar
        swall  September 2, 2018

        Freud’s Moses and Monotheism is worth reading from a purely literary/philosphical/ biographical (pertaining to Freud himself as an ‘enlightenment Jew ) perspective…I think it was his last work..

        Speaking of Egyptian montheism- Phillip Glass’s opera Ahknahten (sic?) will be produced next year ? at the MET and is fascinating re monotheism in pharaonic Egypt.. libretto written by a Durham local I believe!!

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  June 24, 2018

    R E Friedman refers to the person (or persons) who compiled the Torah into one work as a “tradent” — rather, that is, than a redactor. A tradent is someone who in Rabbinical tradition hands down received texts and lore, like the Masoretes did with the TaNaKh. Anyway, I’m inclined to think that Ezra is the tradent of the work that I like to call the Epic of Israel: the complete narrative from Genesis to 2 Kings. It might not have been Ezra, but I like the idea of attaching a name to the work.

  5. Avatar
    flyboydh1  June 24, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, I think many secular scholars presuppose the Hebrew Bible was written by multiple authors, without coming into this without any presuppositions. The fact is, no scholar has shown any evidence that there was a broken chain of transmission of the Torah. What I mean is that the Torah has been preserved and transmitted the same generation over generation. What evidence is there that the Torah has changed or been added to in any way? Every Torah scroll in existence all over the world is identical. Comparing the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament in any way is comparing apples and oranges. Jewish tradition has far better answers than the secular world as to the issues scholars pose, including the ones you list above. What is sad is that secular world doesn’t even bat an eye at Jewish answers to these questions nor understand what Judaism is.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 25, 2018

      The Dead Sea Scrolls show that the Hebrew Bible was changed, sometimes significantly, in the course of translation. So too does the early translation(s) into Greek, the Septuagint.

      • Avatar
        Hormiga  June 25, 2018

        Wasn’t a major motivation of the Masoretes’ effort to produce a standard Tanakh the worrisome number of different versions in circulation in the late first millenium CE? (Somewhat like Jerome’s commission, in fact.)

      • Avatar
        flyboydh1  June 25, 2018

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but the DSS was written by a fringe group. A group that did not survive, much like other fringe groups such as the Sadduccees. I don’t think there are good grounds to trust these fringe groups wrote their versions of the Hebrew Bible accurately. As far as the LXX, it’s long been acknowledged that the LXX was only the greek translation of the Torah, not the other books of the Hebrew Bible. Whoever translated the other books into greek and when is unknown. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Hebrew Bible as Jews have and study today is no different than the original books.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 26, 2018

          There were lots of fringe groups! Your point was that the Hebrew Bible was always produced accurately, and I’m saying that I don’t think it was.

          • Avatar
            flyboydh1  June 26, 2018

            Agree there were many fringe groups, but I guess I’m trying to say that normative, classical Judaism (Pharisaic Judaism, Judaism that believes there is an Oral Torah to go along with the Written Torah), as we see today, is the Judaism that survived and transmitted the Torah and other books accurately and without corruption or extraneous motivations. The same cannot be said of the fringe groups, such as the Essenes, Sadduccees, Dead Sea Sect, etc…

          • Bart
            Bart  June 27, 2018

            That’s certainly true in the Middle Ages. But there simply isn’t evidence for earlier periods, except, well, for the evidence we have. And the evidence we have points in the opposite direction. (And we don’t know how the Sadducees, e.g., copied their texts. We don’t have any of their texts.)

      • Avatar
        Hormiga  June 25, 2018

        Also the Samaritan Torah. Each of those — LXX, DSS, ST — predate the Masoretic Text by centuries.

        Can you recommend any overview of the current status of textual criticism of the Masoretic Text and/or how the Masoretes went about doing their job and what earlier sources they might have used?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 26, 2018

          I’d suggest the book on textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible by Emanuel Tov.

          • Avatar
            Hormiga  June 26, 2018

            Thanks! Tov’s book is a bit pricey for me, at least as an introduction to the subject. I’ve ordered
            “Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction” by E.R. Brotzman to get started and, if that goes well, will give Tov’s to myself as a birthday present in a few months.

      • Altosackbuteer
        Altosackbuteer  July 2, 2018

        Both Judaism and Coptic Christianity tell this story of the composition of the Septuagint, which I’m inclined to believe because it has come to me from these two wildly disparate sources.

        After Alexander died, his empire was split into various kingdoms of The Successors. The Greek general who wound up with Egypt was Ptolemy I. He had an ambition to build the greatest library in the world, one which would hold copies of every single book ever written.

        He heard that the Jews — at that time, Eretz Judea was part of his realm; it only turned over to the Seleucid dynasty of Antioch over a century later — had this holy book. He asked the (forerunners of the) rabbis in Jerusalem for a copy, nicely translated into Greek. They REFUSED.

        So Ptolemy said like this: “OK, cool. I’m no tyrant. And I understand why you don’t want to share your holy book; you fear that doing so will cause error to spread. So if you won’t do it, I won’t force you.

        “But know THIS — I WILL acquire a copy, SOMEHOW. If YOU guys won’t translate it for me, I’ll find someone else who will. And he’ll do a sloppy job, causing error to spread, ’cause he won’t be as good as you guys. But that won’t be my fault; it’ll be YOUR fault, because you top guys wouldn’t help me when I asked you nicely.”

        Jerusalem realized Ptolemy had them over a barrel. So they sent 70 of their best guys (which is why it’s called the SEPTUAgint), their Bart Ehrmans, to Alexandria to do the translation. The idea was, each would translate in isolation; then after all were done, they’d compare the versions and agree to the “best fit.”

        But a miracle happened. All 70 versions were identical. No process of reconciliation was needed.

        All the scholars, independently, knew to “mistranslate” several passages to make it make sense in Greek. For example: “In the beginning, God created the Heavens…” The Hebrew goes, “Bereshit bora Elohim” which means, literally, “The beginning created gods.” The 70 scholars all independently knew to reverse subject and object so the Greeks would not think the Jewish Bible endorses polytheism.

        Is this story true? If so, was it therefore later that errors crept in to the Greek text?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 2, 2018

          No, of course it’s a legend, not historically how it happened at all.

      • acircharo
        acircharo  August 7, 2018

        Yes, the Tanakh was translated, however I’ve heard from a number of Hebrew scholars that argue that – in it’s original language, i.e., Hebrew – there is very little changes represented in the work. They use the intentional mistranslation of the Tanakh by the Greek writers of the NT in order to support the various “prophecies” about the birth of Jesus and his claim to the messiahship. I wonder what your thoughts are on this?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 8, 2018

          The Hebrew Bible we read today is indeed very similar to the Hebrew Bible in circulation 2000 years ago — although there are some differences, and it is clear that the text was not “fixed” until the Masoretes worked on it. But no, the NT writers did not intentionally mistranslate, so far as we can tell: they were for the most part utilizing Greek texts of the Scripture available to them.

      • Avatar
        brandon284  August 24, 2018

        I think Craig Evans would disagree, Dr. Ehrman 😉

        • Bart
          Bart  August 24, 2018

          Well, he usually does. 🙂 But I don’t think he does on this one.

  6. Avatar
    rivercrowman  June 24, 2018

    Keep those Blasts A Coming! It’s apparent I wasn’t among your “maiden” members six years ago. Just ordered one of the books you mentioned in this post.

  7. Lev
    Lev  June 24, 2018

    I recently read a fascinating interview with Richard Elliott Friedman, Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia, where he proposes that the J source (the oldest) belonged to the Semitic people who had always lived in Canaan (not Egypt) whereas the other sources (EDP) belonged to the Levite tribe who were connected with the Exodus from Egypt: https://reformjudaism.org/exodus-not-fiction

    Friedman’s theory is that the Exodus has a historical basis, but only involved one tribe – Levi, rather than the whole of Israel, and it was this tribe that brought over Egyptian names, the practise of circumcision, caring for aliens (foreigners) and the design of the Tabernacle (thought to be based on the battle tent of Pharaoh Rameses II).

    The reason I find this so fascinating is that it shows that there were two distinct forms of Judaism that have been sewn together to form a single tradition. The Canaanite Hebrews worshipped Yahweh, the Egyptian Levites worshipped Elohim – but somehow they came to an understanding that it was the same God with different names and blended their worship and laws together to form one religion, rather than two.

  8. Avatar
    JohnKesler  June 24, 2018

    “…different episodes use different names for the divinity (Yahweh – or in German, Jahweh – for the one source, and so that is why it is called J; Elohim, the Hebrew word for God, in another, hence the E source)…”

    I have a minor nit to pick, Dr. Ehrman. I’ve read some of the Dr. Friedman’s books, privately corresponded with him, and viewed his video lectures. One point that he consistently emphasizes is that the real issue isn’t that different sources use different names for the deity, a misunderstanding that lends itself to the criticism of “circular reasoning.” (Just pick out the different names of God and assign a source for it, the critics allege.) Rather, the evidence hinges on *when* the name YHWH was revealed. In the Levitical sources E and P, God’s name is not known until it is revealed to Moses (in Exodus 3 and 6, respectively). After that, both of these sources–as well as the non-Levite J, who claimed that the name was used all along (Genesis 4:1, 26 et al.)–use YHWH. You can view the relevant part of a video lecture that he gave here: https://youtu.be/H-YlzpUhnxQ?t=561

    • Bart
      Bart  June 25, 2018

      OK, fair enough. But different sources do *prefer* different names for lengthy sections of the text, and that is one of the features of the Pentateuch that led scholars to suspect different sources. You can see for yourself. Compare what the divinity is called in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  June 25, 2018

      The significance probably has something to do with the fact that YHWH is the name of God, while Elohim is one of his titles. That is, Elohim is short for El-Elohim, or “God of gods,” similar to how Melekh-melekhim means “King of kings” — a title, incidentally, that is of Persian origin, refering to the Persian emperor. To me, this suggests that all references to Elohim in the Hebrew Bible comes from the Persian era, when refering to God as “the God of gods” would have made sense. Before the use of El-elohim (or the shortened Elohim), YHWH may have been given titles familiar from the patriarchs section of the Torah, such as El Shaddai (the fact that we aren’t exactly sure what El Shaddai means is a hint that it’s quite old). Another possible early title is El ‘Elyon, or “the Highest God”.

      Either way, it’s important to keep in mind that El (and Elohim) was a common name for west-semitic gods. The Canaanites, the Arameans, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, et al., they all used the word “el” to refer to gods. Often times they would give their gods the honorific “ba’al,” meaning lord or master (as in Ba’al Zebub), but, again, that was just a title, not a name. YHWH was the actual name of the god of the Israelites. Not Elohim. That’s why the difference in usage is significant.

      • Avatar
        truthseekerofallthings  June 26, 2018

        If you’ve ever watched the Superman movies have you’ve ever noticed his original name was Jor-El

        The suffix El, of course, means “of God” in Hebrew

        • Altosackbuteer
          Altosackbuteer  June 27, 2018

          It’s probably no coincidence. Shuster and Siegel created Superman, and both were Jews. For that matter, MOST of the men in the comic book industry at that time were Jews. Stan Lee would be another example.

          Jor-el was Superman’s Kryptonian father’s name. His own name was Kal-el. And his mother’s name was Lar-el.

          By the way, ALL names which end in “el” are nothing more than short prayers. “Nathani-el” = “My God gives;” Rapha-el” means “God heals;” “Gabri-el” means “God is mighty;” Dani-el” means “My God judges;” “Samu-el” means “God hears.”

          The famous one that Christians always take out of context and get wrong is “Immanuel” — “God (IS!) with us.” They infer from this name’s appearance in Isaiah 9 (I think it is) that it is a christological reference which says Jesus will be called this because Jesus is God.

          Uh-uh. A number of things elude Christians on this point, perhaps most particularly being the fact that Hebrew (like Russian) lacks a present tense of the verb “to be.” (Which is why Boris and Natasha in Rocky & Bullwinkle sound so funny — “Moose and Squirrel not here!”)

          Immanuel as “God with us” can just as easily mean, “God IS with us,” which of course changes the meaning totally.

          These “el” prayers are nothing more than short mottoes or slogans. And, depending upon the person with an “el” name, might mean nothing more than the belt buckle that German soldiers wore during WWII — “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us).

      • Avatar
        Iskander Robertson  June 26, 2018

        i have a question about the hebrew bibles view on how to get right with god. does the hebrew bible support the view that only faith can make one right with god? when i read some verses, i feel as if doing WORKS/DEEDS is primary thing and faith is secondary. christians from evangelical thought say that ONLY faith can get one right with god, but from scholarly and academic view, is the hebrew bible pushing works/deeds/actions at the top ? how do you interpret tzedeka , dr Ehrman ? how is tzedeka employed in hebrew bible?
        i am looking for the SCHOLARLY understanding of this. is WORKS more important than faith for SOME authors of the hebrew bible?

        • talmoore
          talmoore  June 27, 2018

          One way to think about it is that in ancient times all major gods and goddesses (ALL major gods and goddesses!) were essentially treated like disembodied royalty. That is, everything you would do for a king you would do for a god.

          ~ You would swear fealty to your king. You would swear fealty to your god.
          ~ You would trust your king to protect you. You would trust your god to protect you.
          ~ You would trust your king to provide for you. You would trust your god to provide for you.
          ~ You would pay tribute to your king (in the form of taxes). You would pay tribute to your god (in the form of sacrifices).
          ~ You would have festivals in honor of your king. You would have festivals in honor of your god.
          ~ You would come to your king to settle disputes with your neighbors. You would come to your god (via his clergy) to settle matters with your fellow religionists.
          ~ You would beg for forgiveness and mercy from your king. You would beg for forgiveness and mercy from your god.
          ~ You would offer thanksgiving to your king for all he provides you. You would offer thanksgiving to your god for all he provides you.
          ~ You would show humility before your king. You would show humility before your god.
          ~ You would praise your king, listing all his great accomplishments. You would praise your god, listing all his great accomplishments.
          ~ You would compose and sing songs of devotion to your king. You would compose and sing songs of devotion to your god.
          ~ You would go to war for your king. You would go to war for your god.

          and so on and so forth…

        • Altosackbuteer
          Altosackbuteer  July 1, 2018

          I will answer your question.

          In Pauline Christianity, works are useless, even if one believes in God.

          But Judaism is the opposite of Pauline Christianity. In Judaism, doing works is what it’s all about; faith can be irrelevant.

          In other words, as long as a Jew continues to observe the Law and do works, whether he actually BELIEVES in God is UNimportant! He can be an atheist and still be in good standing, as long as he continues to do works.

          How can this be? For the Apostle Paul was not wrong when he wrote, works without faith is dead.

          It’s like this: Judaism holds that works do, in fact, CAUSE faith.

          Imagine this: You’re a Jew who doesn’t believe in God. A rabbi persuades you to “do the mitzvot” — to do the works of the Law. You tell him, but I don’t believe that any God ever authored or commanded these works! The rabbi chuckles, and says, never mind that; just do the works anyway.

          So you do them. And, naturally, a great conflict builds up in your mind. You, naturally, ask yourself, why am I doing this at all?? What is the point?

          But you continue to do the works. A great tension builds up inside you. You then seek answers — WHY am I doing these inane things? This tension, the need to know WHY, brings the Jew to FAITH in God, for the works of the Law make no sense without God.

          On Mr Sinai, when God gave the Law to the Children of Israel, they cried out, “Ya-asay v’nishmah!” “We will DO the commandments, and THEN listen to them.”

          This is counter-intuitive. The natural human response would be, waitaminute!; before I actual DO these things, I first gotta know WHY I should do them.

          But with the Children of Israel, it was just the opposite; first they did the works of the Law without understanding, confident that understanding would follow.

          So there it is. TO the OT authors, DOING works was EVERYTHING. Actual faith was NOT important. Because actual faith was a CONSEQUENCE of doing works! In other words, from a Jewish perspective, doing WORKS leads to faith in Jesus.

          This point, of course, totally eluded the Apostle Paul.

      • Altosackbuteer
        Altosackbuteer  June 27, 2018

        You have said before that you have a Jewish background. I am therefore assuming you have participated in a seder on the first 2 nights of Passover.

        You therefore may be familiar with the “Dayenu” prayer that is sung as part of the seder. The sense of it is, it would have been enough if God had stopped after each of His miracles, but he kept adding to them. For example, God not only did the 10 plagues of Egypt, and that would have been enough, but He split the Red Sea too; it would have been enough if God had only split the Red Sea; but He also gave us the Law at Mt. Sinai, etc.

        “El Shaddai” means, sort of, “The God of Enough.” The God Whose mere word was ENOUGH to accomplish Creation, etc.

        • talmoore
          talmoore  July 1, 2018

          Yeah, that’s just the typical nonsense of the Rabbis. They come up with some truly stupid theories.

  9. Avatar
    Hormiga  June 24, 2018

    > despised my advancing age

    A Freudian slip if I ever saw one! 🙂

  10. Avatar
    ask21771  June 24, 2018

    how much wealth did the roman empire make off the city of rome itself

    • Bart
      Bart  June 25, 2018

      I’m still not sure what you’re asking. Are you asking what the tax rates were for people living in Rome? I have no idea.

  11. Avatar
    prestonp  June 24, 2018

    On Chucking Miracles

    Valentine Long, O.F.M.

    And it is these who are here under review: the pioneer form critics who could read with a cold eye that the Savior went to his death “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,” because they could analyze the validity out of the prophecy, or thought they could, but could not. To reduce to a minimum the prophet’s authorship of his own book, they contradicted the testimony of the historian Josephus who states that Cyrus recognized himself in Isaiah—the testimony from Sirach with a reference to “the illustrious prophet Isaiah who saw the truth in visions”-the testimony of other books of the Old Testament which consider Isaiah the inspired work of one man—and, in superabundance, the testimony of the New Testament.12

    The four Gospels quote the prophet all of twelve times, always naming him the author. St. Mark opens his Gospel with an Isaian passage. And St. Luke, early in his, describes the Son of God standing in the synagogue at Nazareth and reading from the prophet about himself: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” In his comment on this Messianic prophecy, the all-knowing Messiah does not say with the liberal critic that he might have been quoting someone else than Isaiah.

    At least the liberal biblicists, right on down to the present, show no favoritism between the Old and the New Testaments. They maintain an unyielding impartiality, demythologizing the “Infancy Narratives” of St. Luke and St. Matthew with the same zest with which they went to work on the book of Isaiah. They say that neither evangelist, in telling of the virgin birth of Jesus and how it came about, was stating historic facts. It is all midrash. The influence of Rudolph Bultmann lies embedded like a cancer in their fabrications. Any reference to the supernatural must be reduced to the natural level, which means that its miracles are out and that the whole New Testament does no more than reflect the faith of the early Church and does not record actual events and actual teachings.

    371 words

    • Avatar
      flcombs  June 25, 2018

      The big problem for many about miracles is the lack of any consistent standard by those that claim them. Many gods over many religions and ancient stories claim them. By that standard, many Gods have been proven true, or that “God” manifests through many religions and is a generic kind of God and not the Biblical one. So why pick just a few? Jesus and Christian claims are just one set among many. And of course it hasn’t been shown that miracles weren’t actually done by aliens with very advanced technology. So even if miracles DID happen, not necessarily by a “god” or proof of one.

      Today’s claimed miracles are pretty ho-hum and mostly hidden in medical uncertainties. But anytime you want to prove the power of Christianity as claimed in the Bible, there are many amputees available to prove your power on. Go to a morgue and raise a decapitated body. Or just pick up a sinking ship and set it on land, or pick up a crashing airliner and set it softly directly on the ground. Move the Rockies to Kansas. Something really clear. Opportunities abound for proof to set your claims above others. Now if you are claiming miracles only happened “them thar days” then it doesn’t matter since there are so many back then.

      Years ago I was invited to a resurrection miracle: raising the dead. But they weren’t happy with me when they were showing me the “body” and I stuck it with a hidden pin and the guy jumped up. Quick recovery though: they claimed I had the power of God and resurrected him! Singing and praises abounded. Oh well… I should have started a ministry or something because I apparently had “the power” and didn’t know it.

      • Avatar
        prestonp  June 28, 2018

        You certainly have a lot of assumptions.

        “Ehrman and Metzger ( The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. ) that we can have a high degree of confidence that we can reconstruct the original text of the New Testament, the text that is in the Bibles we use, because of the abundance of textual evidence we have to compare. The variations are largely minor and don’t obscure our ability to construct an accurate text. The 4th edition of this work was published in 2005 – the same year Ehrman published Misquoting Jesus, which relies on the same body of information and offers no new or different evidence to state the opposite conclusion.” Melinda Penner

        Again, you just stated assumptions in your post and haven’t shown why you made your claims as fact.

        “The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament,” Danny Wallace quotes Bart.

        “Years ago I was invited to a resurrection miracle: raising the dead. But they weren’t happy with me when they were showing me the “body” and I stuck it with a hidden pin and the guy jumped up.”
        Do you remember where that party was? Do you recall any names of the people who invited you, or the denomination or organization? Where was this? Who was the fella faking death?

        “Many gods over many religions and ancient stories claim them. (miracles)* By that standard, many Gods have been proven true,…”

        Would you mind listing your favorite 5 and present in detail their claims?

        Have you studied Systematic Theology?

        *my edit

        • Avatar
          flcombs  June 29, 2018

          Yes you still assume that the stories are true and written by reliable sources, the claimed sources, and should be accepted at face value. Read further into Dr Ehrman’s work since you quote him already. You could validate the script of “Titanic” but it doesn’t prove the main love story true.

          As to other gods: REALLY? You must have internet access. If you really don’t know about them I would suggest looking at ancient cultures, Roman and Greek mythology, etc

          Are you going to be doing any miracles to prove Christian claims or is that not possible?

        • Avatar
          flcombs  June 29, 2018

          Don’t know the name of the guy faking it. Took place in Maryland thirty years ago. Forget the name of specific group but might have been some variation of church of God charismatic with people running around speaking in tongues, all that stuff. Had been meeting with a person trying to convert me and she said they could still do miracles and had the power of the spirit etc. I asked if they could still raise people from the dead and she said yes. So I said I would love to see that sometime for proof of it all. A while later she invited me to that event. With all the speaking in tongues and running around there wasn’t a lot of, “hi, what’s your name and let me write it down.”

          But it doesn’t matter because you may be able to do miracles and prove them so someone else faking it doesn’t matter. Can Christians do miracles and raise people from the dead or not?

          But it shouldn’t be an issue. You apparently accept unverified accounts from the Bible as valid stories. Why should I have to prove something from 30 years ago when I’m really not asking you to believe or change your life by me?

  12. Avatar
    stevenpounders  June 24, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, I always enjoy your “blasts from the past”! In some cases they are posts that I missed; in other cases they are great rereads of posts I’d read but forgotten.

    Since you tend to take two breaks from the blog a week (well-deserved), what if you used each of those two breaks for a blast from the past?

    I wouldn’t even mind three blasts from the past a week, if you’re having a busy week.

  13. Avatar
    prestonp  June 24, 2018

    “Another literary expert, who like Lewis saw through the pretenses of the higher criticism, exposed it no less trenchantly, if not so seriously. For in the process Ronald Knox had fun applying its treatment of Holy Scripture to certain English classics. From hidden suggestions in the text and outward similarities between it and the verse of lady authors and by means of the rest of the formidable technique, he concluded without fear of contradiction that, definitely not Alfred Lord Tennyson, but unquestionably Queen Victoria wrote In Memoriam. Again, he proved from the same know-how method of approach that Pilgrim’s Progress also came from the pen of some woman, either an Anglican or crypto-Roman Catholic feminist, which left John Bunyan out, and that of course the adventures of Christian the Puritan were in plain truth the adventures of a non-Puritan heroine whose name ought to have been Christiana. Then, best of all in his Essays in Satire, the mimic of form criticism was easily able to argue down the stubborn tradition that Samuel Johnson was an authentic writer since he never did exist.”
    These examples are exactly what the doctor ordered. We would do well to perform all manner of tests to calculate the accuracy of criticism.

    “The existential exegete, such as Bultmann, has this for another working principle: the Gospels are to be interpreted only in the light of modern experience. If that is not a symptom of mental vacuity, what is?

    Of the Gospels it is the fourth that has suffered the most vicious assaults from the higher critics. They argue that, since it disagrees with the other three, John did not write it. But it does not disagree. It is an addition to them. An eyewitness to the public life of Jesus, and repeatedly saying he was, the apostle John reveals in the text a close intimacy with his fellow apostles, has an exact knowledge of Palestine, and gives no reason for the conclusion that he was not, as he claims to be, the true author. He was no alien to his subject matter.”

    “Lewis found that method of exegesis an unreliable system of guesswork, which defies tradition, which claims to have information beyond what the texts themselves supply, which pretends to know the sources each writer used, the precise time and place in which he wrote, why he wrote and under what influence.”

    Valentine Long, O.F.M.


  14. Avatar
    anthonygale  June 24, 2018

    This post reminds me about another old post that I meant to ask a question about. If there really was a Moses and he really wrote anything (I realized there is a good chance that neither of those things are true), whatever he would have wrote would not have been in the language the Hebrew Bible is written in.

    But let’s just say Moses wrote some of what is in the Torah and people copied it over the centuries. As the language developed over time, and the originals were lost, what happens to the language of the text over time?

    Im asking broadly, not trying to practice apologetics. But if I wanted to support an apologist, its seems that 1000 years from now, an English Bible is far more likely to be dug up than a Greek one. Does that make it more feasible that written sources go farther back than one would think?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 25, 2018

      The usual idea is that Hebrew was spoken in the days of Moses, and that’s the language he wrote in. Just because a language changes doesn’t mean that older writings are updated with time. Today Shakespeare still is not put in modern English, e.g. (I’m not sure I’m getting to the heart of your question)

      • Avatar
        anthonygale  June 25, 2018

        That addresses my question. I have a follow up.

        How much might Hebrew have changed from the time of a hypothetical Moses to the time the Hebrew Bible was written? We may read Shakespeare as he wrote it but Beowulf is usually translated for us. Once a language evolves enough, might the oldest surviving copy to no longer reflect the language of the original? Probably not for a modern book, but for an ancient one?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 26, 2018

          Yes, it did change significantly. There are Semitic linguists who spend their lives working on just this issue! (My colleague Joseph Lam is one of them.)

      • Rick
        Rick  June 25, 2018

        Professor, to believe the story is historical and written by Moses…. Where would an Egyptian prince learn to speak read and write Hebrew?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 26, 2018

          He was born a Hebrew and raised by a Hebrew mother, even in the biblical account.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  June 26, 2018

        Of course, there’s a number of significant problems with the idea that Moses himself wrote the Torah. Since there’s a word limit now, I’ll make it brief.

        First of all, there’s the glaring problem that the Torah, as we have it now in the MT, is written in the Aramaic script, not the actual Hebrew script. The way the rabbis get around this problem (i.e. why would Moses compose the Hebrew Torah in the Aramaic script?) is by theorizing that Moses originally composed the Torah in both the Hebrew language and script, but when Ezra re-wrote the lost Torah from memory he used the Aramaic script of his time and place, i.e. 5th century BCE (San. 21b). Of course, a more obvious answer would be that the Torah is written in the Aramaic script because it was actually composed (or redacted) during the time when the Aramaic script had come to replace the Hebrew script, i.e. ca. 5th century BCE.

        Second, the Hebrew language of the Torah, as we know it, wouldn’t have existed during the purported time and place of Moses: 14th century BCE Egypt. The name of the language itself — and, thus, of the “Hebrew” people themselves — comes from the Hebrew root ‘a-v-r, which means to cross over. That is, the “Hebrew” people who spoke the “Hebrew” language were the people who “crossed over” the Jordan into the land in which they came to reside, namely, the land of Israel. We get a good idea of when these people crossed over from archaeology (see Finkelstein’s The Bible Unearthed), where we find that after the Bronze Age collapse at the end of the 2nd millenium BCE (the time of the “Sea Peoples” and the Trojan war when the eastern mediterranean civilizations had collapsed into a dark age) a new culture slowly took over the deserted Judean highlands that eventually became the land of the Hebrew peoples.

        That is, Hebrew was the language of the people who lived on the eastern bank of the Jordan (who were relatively unaffected by the collapse) who “crossed over” and took over the deserted lands on the west bank. That’s why they were called Hebrews, or those who crossed over. In other words, no, Moses didn’t compose the Torah in Hebrew. He didn’t compose it at all. Ezra (or someone like Ezra) composed it.

        (394 words)

  15. Amy
    Amy  June 24, 2018

    Thanks Dr Erhman, as a recent member to your blog, I always wanted to hear your thoughts regarding the old testament 🙂

  16. Avatar
    HawksJ  June 24, 2018

    If you are looking for topics, I would love to see some more on the OT, even though I know it’s not your specific field of expertise. The supposed prophecies about Jesus are always an interesting topic, imo.

    On a related note, when you were a true believer, how did you reconcile the completely different portrayals of God in the two Testaments, the anthropomorphic God of the OT who ‘walks in the garden’ – apparently sensitive heat, physically wrestles all night with Jacob, can be negotiated with, and displays human emotions, to the strictly supernatural, but Omni-everything, God of the NT?

    One of the themes of Christianity, of course, is that God needed an intermediary of sorts (Jesus); but he had no problems communicating directly with humans in the OT.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 25, 2018

      I thought that Genesis 1 gave an overview of what happened, and Genesis 2 the play-by-play of part of the event. (Like a sports page where the first paragraph gives the outcome, but then the following account explains how it actually happened)

  17. Altosackbuteer
    Altosackbuteer  June 25, 2018

    The arguments made about the Old and New Testaments are mirror images of each other (in my humble opinion).

    In the New Testament, the theory, advanced by the likes of Licona, is that, first the “pure” manuscripts came into existence. These are “inerrant.” Then came latter-day redactors who fiddled with the “pure” texts for whatever reason. Licona et al freely admit that there are numerous problems with New Testament texts as we know them today, and that’s why we have these variations. (How could they not admit this and still have any shred of credibility?).

    With the Old Testament, you argument is opposite. Here, you’re saying that first the variants appeared — JEDP, etc.. Then, at some time in the 1st millennium BC, one (or more) redactor(s) had all the variant texts in front of them and produced the unified, composite texts we have today.

    Which gives rise to a question. I assume this 1st millennium redactor was reasonably intelligent. Why then did he consciously include two creation stories (and many others) which (seem to) contradict each other? Having both (or more) variants in front of him, why would he not harmonize the (apparent) problem(s)?

    Could it be that he scrupled not to make changes, but include the variants, because he regarded it all as the Word of God?

    There is a Midrash told about the time Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah from God. God was dictating to Moses, and together they arrived at the section in Genesis where God creates Man, and God dictated for Moses to write, “Let US make Man in OUR own Image, after OUR own Likeness.” And Moses objected, saying, he could not write that because someday the non-Jews would see it and get the wrong idea that there’s more than One God. And God basically told Moses to MYOB and write what He says to write. “Never you mind what the non-Jews might think!” declared God. “I will worry about that, and he that errs, let him err. In the meanwhile, YOU just write what I tell you to write!”

  18. Avatar
    Silver  June 25, 2018

    I, today, picked up your textbook ‘The Bible’ to see what you had to say about Esther. You note the often observed fact that God is not mentioned at all in the book.
    I understand, however, that some claim that God is indeed in the book, hidden as YHVH in a series of four acrostics. It appears to me that they seem rather contrived (especially as the sentences which are so formed translate into English with acrostics containing LORD and they have to be read sometimes backwards, sometimes forward).
    Have you encountered this claim and do you have any comment, please?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 26, 2018

      Yes, I’ve heard that argued, but I haven’t ever pursued it and don’t have much of an opinion on it. My point is simply that neither the word “God” nor the name of God (YHWH) is given in the book (not hidden, but given).

  19. kadmiral
    kadmiral  June 25, 2018

    At what point does one simply admit defeat in claiming that the OT represents an accurate picture of information concerning what true “God” may or may not be? For example, two sources claiming contradictory knowledge of when “God” was first known by his name Yahweh (according to their respective religious agendas, of course)? If any of it is true, concerning the revelation of the name Yahweh, one is right, and one is wrong, and yet both were blended together in narrative, put forth as if correct by a later editor.

    It is like how you say concerning the last words of Jesus, that when one takes a little of all the gospels and puts them together, one has made a new gospel that none of the others taught. Is this not the same thing–a later editor taking two traditions of the revelation of the name of Yahweh, thereby making a new and now inconsistent narrative?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 26, 2018

      Yup, pretty similar!

    • Avatar
      truthseekerofallthings  June 26, 2018

      Was YHWH revealed in the Garden and how dow this conflict of YHWH being revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:15

      • Bart
        Bart  June 27, 2018

        I’m not sure what contradiction you’re seeing.

        • Avatar
          truthseekerofallthings  June 30, 2018

          Was Moses the beginning of the revelation of the name YHWH to mankind and what about its first mention at Genesis 2:4 earlier in Scripture.

          Did Adam and Eve know and use the name or others prior to Moses hearing it at Exodus 3:15.

          Was Moses told the name because it would have a distinct meaning to the Pharaoh he was being sent to.

          Some say YHWH has another meaning in some translations other than simply ‘I AM’ that would prove him unique in comparison to all the other gods that Pharaoh and the Hebrews would known.

          For example: “I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE” or similar at Exodus 3:15 in some translations in context with YHWH’s name means that YHWH can adapt himself to be whatever is needed and prove to be whatever in any given situation as is needed to bring about whatever results would prove he was the true God and improvise as needed.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 1, 2018

            Yahweh was already known to Abraham and his descendants, according to the Torah, long before Moses. There are different sources in the Torah, though, and these stand at odds with one another on this issue.

  20. Rick
    Rick  June 25, 2018

    Professor, if as some scholars (I think) believe, the Samaritans were Hebrews not taken into slavery – does thier religion and culture tell us anything about the pre exilic Hebrews that was perhaps “lost” in the exile and post exile redactions? Perhaps that the single Temple was not always central to the faith?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 26, 2018

      I”m not familiar with that theory. Samaritans are normally (I think) taken to be descendants of the intermarriages of Hebrews with other peoples in the northern part of the land after the Assyrians destroyed Israel and moved in other peoples, long after the Exodus stories.

    • Alemin
      Alemin  June 27, 2018

      Samaritans, like Jews, also don’t pronounce God’s name, YHWH. There’s good evidence that the name was commonly used in the 7th cent. Most scholars think that Jews stopped pronouncing God’s name sometime after the Babylonian exile, ~6th cent BCE, and more likely 4th-3rd cent BCE. So, it’s tenuous, but perhaps suggestive that they didn’t split till after that.

      • Avatar
        truthseekerofallthings  June 30, 2018

        Didn’t earlier copies of the Septuagint in fragments more recently discovered prove that YHWH was translated as ‘IAO’?

        JAO, YAO and couldnt some have pronounced it in Greek as YAHO or JAHO, sometimes the ‘H’ before the ‘O’ is
        silent before a word [but sometimes in translation it isn’t] or in some other places in Greek.

        Greek has changed a lot over thousands of years and I only know very little of its vocabulary and grammar

        • talmoore
          talmoore  July 2, 2018

          My pet theory is that YHWH is actually the Canaanite moon god Yerich. When Canaanites immigrated to Egypt (as mercenaries, refugees, etc.) they adopted the Egyptian name for the moon god, which is Yah (just like Yerich, Yah is both the name of the moon in Egyptian and the name of the moon god). When those Canaanites (the Hyksos?) returned to “Canaan” — the Judean hill country and Jordan river valley — they continued to call the moon god Yah, as well as Yerich. That is why there is a city right in the middle of this region call Jericho (named for the Canaanite god Yerich). Jericho was the early capital of Yerich/Yah worship.

          As time passed, these Hebrew speaking Canaanites formed a confederacy against the Philistines — the so-called confederacy of Israel — which spread the worship of Yah throughout the tribes, such as at Shiloh, Bethel and, eventually, Jerusalem. Then during the rise of the Neo-Assyrian empire, from around 900 BCE, two important changes occured. First, the name of Yah was semiticizes, so-to-speak, by adding the typical “-u” suffix to his name (if you look up the names of Assyrian gods, you’ll see that a lot of them end in “-u”). Thus Yah also came to be called Yahu. Second, many, if not most Israelite names — especially those of Israelite kings and leaders — became theophoric. That is, they had the name of God — Yah or Yahu — in their names: Yahushfat (Jehoshaphat), ‘Atalyahu (Queen Athaliah), Amatzyahu (Amaziah), etc. This marked an explosion in the worship of Yah/Yahu in Israel.

          Anyway, to make a long theory short, and to keep the word count small, that’s why I think the original pronunciation of the name YHWH is “yahoo” — like the cowboy exclamation and the website.

        • Robert
          Robert  July 8, 2018

          There are indeed a couple of manuscripts of the Septuagint (very early 4Q120 & late Codex Marchalianus) that sometimes have IAO for YHWH, but there is absolutely no reason to insert a rough breathing mark in the middle of the word so the ‘h’ sound is in no way indicated in the Greek. This Greek transliteration may reflect the use of the trigrammaton in the Aramaic Elephantine papyri (יהו) and among a few other Greek authors. Ironically, while the ‘h’ sound is in no way indicated in the Greek, it could be pronounced in the Elephantine form, but it most likely was not.

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