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Jesus’ Resurrection as an Apocalyptic Event

In my previous post I started to discuss the eschatological implications drawn by Jesus’ followers once they became convinced that he had been raised from the dead.  I pointed out that the very fact that they interpreted their visions of him as evidence of “resurrection” shows that they must have been apocalyptic Jews prior to his death (as I have argued on other grounds ad nauseum on the blog!).  And I also suggested two of the key conclusions they drew with respect to eschatology (their understanding of what would happen at the end):  they came to conclude that Jesus himself was the Son of Man that he had been proclaiming as the future judge of the earth, and they came to believe that they were living at the very end of time. In this post I am not going to talk about Jesus as the Son of Man – that will require several posts that I will take up soon.  But I do want to talk about this business of Christians thinking that they were [...]

2020-04-03T03:57:47-04:00December 30th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Readers’ Mailbag December 18, 2015

  It is time for my weekly Readers’ Mailbag.   If you too have a question you would like me to address – on much of anything at all! – let me know, either by sending me an email or by commenting on this post.  I’ll be dealing with two questions today, one on dealing with where apocalyptic views came from, the other with my personal experience as a born-again Christian who had been raised Episcopalian. ********************************************************************************************* QUESTION:  Was there something in the air roughly 2000 years ago that gave rise to apocalyptic beliefs? Was the world uniquely viewed as a ‘hell on earth’ requiring imminent Godly intervention, or are such views one of those ‘hardy perennials’ that exist all the time with deluded individuals perceiving themselves as possessing unique insight into the mind of God and so qualified to opinions on The Plan?   RESPONSE:  I suppose the answer is both Yes and Yes!  There certainly was a historical and cultural context from which apocalypticism emerged.  Scholars of ancient Judaism have traced the origins of [...]

2020-04-03T13:04:19-04:00December 18th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

Readers’ Mailbag December 4, 2015

  It is time for my weekly Readers’ Mailbag.   I can’t answer these questions by devoting long threads to them – even though they each deserve a thread; but I can give quick responses, and hope that will be enough for now.  If you have a question you would like me to address in the future, please attach it as a comment to this post.     QUESTION: It is not surprising that Jesus was an apocalyptic end-of-times messiah figure, because we have such people at least once each generation (often leading their people to disappointment if not disaster). Any thoughts on why this is such a persistent theme, even though every previous apocalypticist has been wrong?   RESPONSE:  Yes,  a lot of my students think that the end of the world will happen sometime in their own lifetimes, that we are living at the end of time, that things taking place in our world are happening in fulfillment of Scripture, that these are the last days proclaimed by the prophets.  And why wouldn’t they [...]

2020-04-03T13:05:53-04:00December 4th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

The Teaching of Jesus

I have been providing necessary background to the question of whether Jesus could have considered himself the messiah, and have done so by trying to situate him in the world of first century Jewish apocalyptic thinking.  We now need to move to a summary of Jesus’ teaching given that apocalyptic framework. We could obviously have a year-long thread on the topic of what it was Jesus taught during his itinerant preaching ministry.  Many people have written very long books on the subject – and the books just keep comin’ out.   If you want a more extended discussion of my views on the matter, you can see my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.  I include bibliography of other works to consult.  For my money, among the best and most influential have been John Meier, E. P. Sanders, Dale Allison, and Paula Fredriksen – all of whom agree that Jesus is best understood as an apocalyptic preacher. Here let me summarize under several rubrics what I think we can say with reasonable reliability about [...]

2020-04-03T13:08:18-04:00November 23rd, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Beginning and End as Keys to the Middle

In my last post I showed why it is so widely acknowledged that Jesus began his ministry by associating with John the Baptist, an apocalyptic preacher of coming doom.   The reason that matters for our purposes in this thread is that it shows that Jesus chose, of his own free will, to join an apocalyptic movement at the very beginning of his public ministry.  That certainly demonstrates that Jesus started out his public life as a fervent advocate of a Jewish apocalyptic message.  He too must have been expecting the judgment of God soon to appear in which those aligned against God would be destroyed and those who sided with God would be rewarded. That in itself does not show, however, that Jesus’ own proclamation, after he got started, was apocalyptic.  Maybe he changed his mind!  Maybe he decided John was wrong!  Maybe he went his own direction! There are two arguments against the idea that he changed.  The first is one I have already recounted several posts ago: apocalyptic sayings are significantly attributed to [...]

2020-04-03T13:08:40-04:00November 19th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

The Baptism of Jesus as an Apocalyptic Event

Over the years scholars have adduced lots of reasons for thinking that Jesus – like many others in his day – was a Jewish apocalypticist, one who thought that the world was controlled by forces of evil but that God was very soon going to intervene to overthrow everything and everyone opposed to him in order to set up a good kingdom here on earth.  As I pointed out in my previous post, this is the view found in Jesus’ teachings in Mark (e.g., ch. 13), in Q (the source used by Matthew and Luke for many of their sayings), in M (Matthew’s special source[s]), and in L (Luke’s special source[s]). There is another very good argument for thinking that Jesus must have subscribed to some kind of apocalyptic view (I’ll lay out what his exact views apparently were in a future post).  In fact, this argument is so good that I wish I had thought of it myself!  But alas, credit goes to others.  The argument, as I usually phrase it, is that “the [...]

2020-04-03T13:08:48-04:00November 18th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Albert Schweitzer and the Apocalyptic Jesus

In the current thread I’m trying to establish that Jesus believed he was the messiah.  I have pointed out that his followers would not have considered him the messiah because they believed he had been raised from the dead (since the messiah was not supposed to die and rise again) unless they had already considered him the messiah prior to his death.  But that, of course, does not mean that Jesus *himself* thought he was the messiah.  And so we have to look for evidence from Jesus’ life that indicates that this is what he thought about himself, and my argument is going to be that there are several pieces of evidence that strongly suggest it is, of which my plan is to stress two. As background, in my previous post, I laid out the world view that Jesus himself almost certainly subscribed to, a view that scholars have called Jewish apocalypticism.  I need to develop these thoughts a bit in this post; and the next;  after that I’ll lay out in (very) summary fashion [...]

2020-11-07T23:49:29-05:00November 16th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Apocalyptic Context for Jesus’ View of the Messiah

In this thread I am trying to argue that Jesus understood himself to be the messiah.  So far I have made one of my two main arguments, with the understanding that *both* arguments have to be considered in order to have a compelling case.  So the first prong doesn’t prove much on its own.  But in combination with the second argument, it makes a strong case.  The first argument is that Jesus’ followers would not have understood him as the messiah after his death (as they did) unless they believed him to be the messiah before his death – even if they came to believe he had been raised from the dead, that would not have made them think he was the messiah.   I’ve explained why in my previous post. The second second involves showing that it was not only the disciples who understood Jesus to be the messiah before his death, but that Jesus himself did.  This is even harder to show, but I think there is really compelling evidence.  There are two major [...]

2020-11-08T00:05:18-05:00November 15th, 2015|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Readers’ Mailbag on Revelation: November 6, 2015

Last week I started a new feature on the blog, a weekly “Readers’ Mailbag,” where I answer two or three fairly random questions that have come in to me, ones that I do not simply want to answer in a sentence, as in most of my replies to “Comments” on my posts, but also not as fully as a thread or even a full post.  Most of these questions do indeed deserve full posts, or threads, and I may in fact get around to devoting some to them.  But for now I will be content with giving short answers that are hopefully packed with content. Feel free to ask me questions for this weekly feature.  I don’t know how I can get to all the viable questions by doing this just once a week (last week I received a dozen interesting questions).  Some weeks possibly I’ll do the mailbag twice.  But this week I do it just once, addressing three questions.   QUESTION:  Since Revelation was probably written around the year 95 why does it [...]

More Evidence that Jesus was an Apocalypticist

I am not going to belabor the point much longer, that Jesus is best understood as a Jewish apocalypticist who anticipated that God was soon to enter into history to destroy the forces of evil and bring in his good kingdom; he was not a lestes, one who supported a military uprising against the Roman forces.  Rather than subscribing to the idea of military violence, Jesus believed that the Son of Man was coming in judgment and that he would destroy all that was aligned against God.   I’ll be giving more evidence for why Jesus was not a lestes later.  For now, it is enough to stress that an alternative understanding accounts much better for the evidence that survives. I have already given fairly compelling reasons for thinking that Jesus was an apocalypticist.  In this post I’ll give another kind of argument, which to me has always seemed like a slam dunk. In a nutshell, the argument is that we know beyond any reasonable doubt what happened at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry [...]

2020-04-03T17:36:52-04:00December 31st, 2013|Historical Jesus|

Who Can Still Be A Christian?

QUESTION: If historical Jesus scholars believes that Jesus' main message was the imminent apocalypse, and that didn't happen, how can anyone who believe that remain a Christian, given that Jesus was wrong on the main focus of his life? RESPONSE: This is a great question, and one I get asked a lot. Let me say at the outset that I think it is exactly right in its evaluation of who Jesus was. As I’ve explained in a lot of places, for over the past century – since Albert Schweitzer’s classic, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), the majority of NT scholars in Europe and the United States have been convinced that Jesus was indeed an apocalyptic preacher, like others of his day. Apocalypticism appears to have been widespread throughout Palestinian Judaism at the time. In rough form (with lots of variations) it was held by the Pharisees (who believed in the “resurrection” at the end of the age, an apocalyptic idea; they therefore probably held to other apocalyptic notions), by the Essenes who produced [...]

2017-09-16T23:05:00-04:00November 10th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Historical Jesus Scholarship and Christians

QUESTION: If historical Jesus scholars believes that Jesus' main message was the imminent apocalypse, and that didn't happen, how can anyone who believe that remain a Christian, given that Jesus was wrong on the main focus of his life? RESPONSE: It’s a great question.   Let me say several things briefly in response.    First, there are a number of historical Jesus scholars who do not see Jesus in this way (most prominently, members of the Jesus Seminar, such as Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan).   Their views are not in the majority among critical scholars, but it is worth noting that they see Jesus as thoroughly *non*-apocalyptic.   My sense is that the majority of scholars, however, continue to see Jesus as apocalyptic in his preaching – including such noteworthies as E. P. Sanders, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen, Geza Vermes, and – well, it’s a long list. Most New Testament scholars – and, of course, that subset: Historical Jesus scholars – are Christian.  For obvious reasons.   The people most likely to be interested in early Christianity and [...]

2020-04-03T18:29:33-04:00May 29th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Heaven and Hell: When was Heaven and Hell Invented?

Heaven and Hell: When was Heaven and Hell Invented? (QUESTION): If I were to ask the average mainstream Sunday morning Christian why they are a Christian I would probably get an answer (other than to meet friends in church) such as this, “To be saved and go to heaven when I die.” When I look at the obituaries in the newspaper, I so often see a statement assuring me that “Mable is with Jesus now,” and was advised by a bumper sticker yesterday, “Heaven or Hell: It’s Your Choice.” If Jesus’ message was as you and others state, “repent now for the Kingdom of God is just around the corner,” affirmed by Paul and the early did we get this fast-track-ticket-to-heaven in contemporary popular Christianity? I cannot find that explicitly in the New Testament (except for some hints in the Gospel of John). How did we get from the Apocalyptic Jesus to the Pearly Gates? RESPONSE: Ah, this is a great question, and as with all great questions, it does not have an easy answer!   [...]

Resurrection and Resuscitation

The following is just a small chunk that I've written up for my Bible Introduction on the idea of "resurrection" -- in relationship to other views of afterlife in the Bible. It's short, but it's the last sentence that is very much worth thinking about (most people haven't thought about it; I know I never did, until fairly recently). ************************************************************************************************************** Many readers of the Bible are surprised to learn that the ideas of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible are not closely related to what most people think today.   The idea that after you die, your soul goes either to heaven or hell (or even purgatory) is not rooted in the Jewish Scriptures.  The few passages that refer to an afterlife in the Hebrew Bible assume that after death, a person goes to “Sheol.”  That is not the Hebrew equivalent of “hell” – a place of punishment for the wicked.  It is the place that everyone goes, good or evil.  It is sometimes spoken of as a place of rest (remember how Samuel was not [...]

A Final (for now) Post on the Resurrection

     A final posting, for now, on the question I was asked on the resurrection. Most people – even those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection – never stop to think about what the idea of resurrection would have meant to first century Jews.  Jesus’ followers, of course, were just that, Jews from Palestine in the first century.   Today people (Christians) are so accustomed to thinking of Jesus’ resurrection that there is nothing odd about it – it fits directly into our (their) way of thinking about the world.  But in fact the very notion of resurrection is a thoroughly Jewish notion with deep roots in the Jewish apocalyptic (as opposed, say, to the American capitalistic) world view. Throughout most of their earlier history, Jews did not hold to the idea of a resurrected afterlife.  In the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament), most authors (e.g., of Job and Ecclesiastes) think that death is the end of the story, so that there is no afterlife, or that if there is an afterlife it is a shadowy [...]

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