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Mythicists and the Virgin Birth: Readers’ Mailbag May 6, 2017

I’ve been devoting the blog to some autobiography recently, so in this Readers Mailbag I’ll make a shift to a couple of academic questions, one about Mythicist claims on the virgin birth and the other about the usefulness of ancient translations of the New Testament for establishing the original text.   QUESTION: I often read mythicists argue that Jesus was a mythological figure because he (allegedly) has many parallels in pagan gods. One of the parallels, of course, is him being born to a virgin. My question is: do mythicists realize that the concept of the virgin birth is a much later development?   RESPONSE: I have spent time with Mythicist groups, and have always enjoyed myself, finding the people friendly, eager to talk, cordial, and interesting.  But the general lack of basic knowledge about the Bible is shocking, even among the most outspoken among them.  What is shocking is not that they don’t know much about, say, the New Testament – that’s true of most people on the planet  -- but that they have [...]

How Do We Know When the Gospels Were Written: A Mailbag Blast from the Past

I occasionally get asked how we know when the Gospels were written.  Why do scholars date them when they do?  I answered that question here on the blog over four years ago now.  Most of you weren't on the blog then.  And if you were, and you're like me, you'll have no recollection at all about what was said four years ago!  So here is the post I made back in May 2012. **************************************************************************** QUESTION: How are the dates that the Gospels were composed determined? I've read that Mark is usually dated to 70 or later because of the reference to the destruction of the temple. Is this the only factor that leads scholars to conclude that it was composed in 70 CE or later or are there other factors? I've heard that Luke and Matthew are likewise dated aroun 80-85 CE to give time for Mark to have been in circulation enough to be a source for them. Is this accurate? How is John usually dated to around 95 CE (or whatever the correct [...]

2020-04-03T02:34:57-04:00February 19th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

The Gospel Truth: Sometimes A Little Hazy

One of my all-time favorite interviewers is Terry Gross, the host and co-executive producer of Fresh Air on NPR.  I have done her show six times over the years for various books I've written, and it has been a terrific experience each time.  She is an amazing interviewer.  She asks really perceptive questions and knows how to get to what is especially interesting about a guest's work. If you've listened to her show, you'll know that it always sounds like she is in the same radio studio with the person she is interviewing, talking to them face to face.  That's not how it is.  The person being interviewed is physically somewhere else, in a radio studio in their own location, and the interview is happening over headphones and cable hookups.  It certainly never seems that way!  But I've never met her face to face. Here is an interview I did with her on March 4th, 2009 about my book "Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them)." [...]

Gospel Evidence that Jesus Existed

In yesterday’s post, I began to show how Jesus is the best attested Palestinian Jew of the first century if we look only at external evidence. Josephus is better attested because we have his own writings. I am also not including Paul because I’m talking only about Jews from Palestine; he was from the Diaspora. The Gospel Sources that Jesus Existed We have four narrative accounts of Jesus’ life and death, written by different people at different times and in different places, based on numerous sources that no longer survive.  Jesus was not invented by Mark.  He was also known to Matthew, Luke, and John, and to the sources which they used (Q, M, L, and the various sources of John). All of this was within the first century. Non-New Testament & Non-Gospel Sources - We Have Many! This is not to mention sources from outside the New Testament that know that Jesus was a historical figure – for example, 1 Clement and the documents that make up the Didache.  Or -- need I say [...]

2022-06-19T21:07:13-04:00October 28th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Anti-Judaism in the Gospels: A Blast From the Past

Four years ago now I offered up the following response to a question about whether the Gospels of the New Testament are anti-Semitic.  Here's the post! ****************************************************************** QUESTION: It is in my understanding that it is of common scholarly opinion that the Gospel writers (at least Matthew, Luke, and John) were rather anti-Semitic in nature. Correct? How would you respond to that claim? After reading “The Origin of Satan” by Elaine Pagels, it is a subject that deeply interests me, and I would love to hear your professional opinion on the matter. RESPONSE: This question actually ties into some of the things I’ve been thinking about with respect to the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and so it seems appropriate to answer it now rather than in a separate blog. I won’t deal with the question on the very broadest level, but will consider one feature of the Gospels that shows that with the passing of time they become more and more anti-Jewish. I should say at the outset that I do not think [...]

The Inerrancy of the Bible? And Those Who Doubt. Readers’ Mailbag October 2, 2016

  How did I deal with inconsistencies and discrepancies as a young Christian?  And why does the NT indicate that some of Jesus' own followers doubted the resurrection?  Those are the two questions I deal with in this week's readers' mailbag. QUESTION: I assume that Bart Ehrman today when he reads the books of the New Testament sees large discrepancies between them.  My question is about the precocious sixteen-year-old Ehrman, Did he too see this variety (which opens up the possibility of inconsistency)? Or did it all as he read it cohere, seem of a piece, convey one doctrinally comprehensive and orthodox and uniform message? And if it did, how does today’s Ehrman think young Ehrman managed to overlook all those obvious discrepancies?   RESPONSE: Ah, right, my former life!   When I was young and Christian – say, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two – I was already passionate about the Bible, but was absolutely convinced that it was, in every way, the Word of God.  I never doubted it.  And I never saw [...]

Debate with a Mythicist! And the Book of Revelation. Readers’ Mailbag September 25, 2016

In this week’s Mailbag I’ll be addressing two questions, one about me personally – my preparations for the upcoming debate with Robert Price on the question of whether Jesus even existed as a human being – and the other about the book of Revelation.  If you have a question you would like me to address on the Mailbag, simply ask it in a comment on this post or any other.   ************************************************************************ QUESTION It seems the debate between yourself and Robert Price will be going ahead next month, right? I follow Price on Facebook and he has evidently been re-reading all your books in preparation. How much of his books do you intend on reading prior to the debate? How will you prepare for the debate? I’m really looking forward to it! RESPONSE Right!  Yes indeed!  On October 21 I will be having a three-hour debate in Milwaukee with Robert Price, who has two PhDs from Drew University, one in New Testament Studies and the other in Theology, and who is an atheist who supports [...]

Fear of Dying etc.: Weekly Readers Mailbag, September 18, 2016

What is my personal feeling toward death?  That's the first of two questions in this weeks' Readers' Mailbag! QUESTION: How do you feel about dying? Is that not in some part terrifying?  And us losing our loved ones forever? How do you get over that?   RESPONSE: Ah, how do I feel about dying?  In general, I’m against it.  :-) But do I find the prospect terrifying?  I would say that over the years I have had different attitudes toward death.  I suppose when I was very young, I hoped I was a good enough person to go to heaven.  I was certainly terrified of going to hell.   When I had a born again experience in high school, I became absolutely convinced I was going to heaven, as would anyone else who did what I did (accept Christ as their Lord and Savior) and believe what I did.  Anyone else (i.e., most of the billions of people in the world): well, too bad for them.  They are going to roast forever in hell. When, over [...]

Paul in a Nutshell and NT Views of Crucifixion: Readers Mailbag May 13, 2016

In this week’s Readers Mailbag I will deal with two rather massively significant questions, one on the life and message of Paul and the other on the different understandings of Jesus crucifixion in the New Testament. If you have any question(s) you would like me to address in the future, let me know! *******************************************************************   QUESTION: I am wondering what you would consider the most important things to know about the Apostle Paul.   Sometimes when I am forced to give a succinct answer to a question, it can have a lot of value.  So while I will be going into some depth in the Sunday School class, including referencing some of your work, I would love to hear your expertise on Paul distilled into a brief summary (if at all possible).   RESPONSE: Right!  Obviously some scholars have written very long books on Paul’s life, message, and mission.  So, let me give here the very basic essentials, as I see them, in bullet point form. Paul started life as a highly religious Jew, zealous to [...]

HNN News Story on Jesus Before the Gospels

Below is an article that I published for the History News Network, based on my recent book Jesus Before the Gospels.  Enjoy!! ******************************************************************************** Historians/History article featured on HNN (History News Network) posted 3-18-16: Are the Stories in the Bible About the Last Days and Hours of Jesus True? by Bart D. Ehrman The season of Lent has come upon us, the time when Christians focus their devotional attention on the last days and hours of Jesus. Even though we devote more social (and media) space to Jesus’ birth, historically the Christian church has paid far more attention to his death. That is certainly the case with the New Testament itself. The Gospel of John, the perennial favorite of believers, after spending eleven chapters on the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, devotes fully ten chapters to his final week and its aftermath. It says not a word about his birth. The stories of Jesus’ last days – his Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his cleansing of the temple, his last supper, his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, his [...]

Why Are the Gospels Anonymous?

In my previous posts I have tried to establish that the four Gospels circulated anonymously for decades after they were written.   To some modern readers that seems surprising.   Why wouldn’t the authors name themselves?   Surely they named themselves.   Didn’t’ they? The clear answer is, no, they did not.   But why? There have been a number of theories put forth over the years.   Possibly the most popular one (at least it’s the one I’ve heard most often) is that the Gospel writers thought that what was most important was the message they wanted to convey about the life, teachings, deeds, death, and resurrection of Jesus.   The authors did not want their own persons to “get in the way” of the message, and so they wrote their Gospels anonymously. In rough outline I suppose that might be true, but I would refine the idea a bit myself – as I will in a moment.   Before doing so, I should respond to an objection to this view.   Most of the *other* books of the New Testament identify their [...]

2020-04-03T14:19:46-04:00November 28th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

When Did the Gospels Get Their Names? Name of the the Gospels

When Did the Gospels Get Their Names? In this series of posts on the authors’ names associated with the New Testament Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – we have so far seen that the texts themselves are completely anonymous.  The authors of two of these works (Luke and John) do speak in the first person in a couple of instances, but they do not say who they are.  By the end of the second century, roughly a century after the books were written, they were being called by the names that are familiar to us today.   So naturally one might wonder, when were they given these ascriptions? When Did the Gospels Get Their Names: Evidence  Contrary to what you may sometimes have heard, there is no concrete evidence that the Gospels received their familiar names early on.   It is absolutely true to say that in the manuscripts of the Gospels, they have the titles we are accustomed to (The Gospel according to Matthew, etc.).  But these manuscripts with titles do not start appearing until [...]

2022-05-09T11:07:41-04:00November 17th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, History of Christianity (100-300CE)|

Why The Gospels Are Anonymous

Among the interesting questions I’ve received recently is the following.   It’s on something other than How Jesus Became God!  Rather than type out a completely new answer, I’ve resorted to the discussion I set out in my book Forged, cited here, as relevant, in full. QUESTION: I still can’t quite grasp why the Gospels were written anonymously. What is the prevailing theory? Why did the authors not attempt to pass themselves off as disciples by stating so at the beginning of their writings? RESPONSE: It is always interesting to ask why an author chose to remain anonymous, never more so than with the Gospels of the New Testament.  In some instances an ancient author did not need to name himself because his readers knew perfectly well who he was and did not need to be told.  That is almost certainly the case with the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John.  These are private letters send from someone who calls himself “the elder” to a church in another location.  It is safe to assume that [...]

Dates of the Gospels

EMAIL QUESTION How are the dates that the Gospels were composed determined? I've read that Mark is usually dated to 70 or later because of the reference to the destruction of the temple. Is this the only factor that leads scholars to conclude that it was composed in 70 CE or later or are there other factors? I've heard that Luke and Matthew are likewise dated aroun 80-85 CE to give time for Mark to have been in circulation enough to be a source for them. Is this accurate? How is John usually dated to around 95 CE (or whatever the correct period is) since it is usually described as independent of the other Gospels? RESPONSE This is a great question, and one that I get asked a lot.  How do we actually know when the Gospels were written?   It is actually a difficult question to answer, but the things you’ve already read and heard cover some of the important territory. So let’s start on some basics that I think everyone can agree on.   (Well, [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:50-04:00May 7th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

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 [...]

More on the Resurrection

     As I pointed out in the previous posting, we cannot know that there was an empty tomb three days after Jesus’ death.   We also cannot know which of his twelve disciples came to believe that he had been raised from the dead, or when they started to believe it.  They later indicated that he was raised on the third day, as Paul, a later Christian who knew some of the disciples, tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.   But Paul does not indicate that the disciples of Jesus started to believe that it was three days after Jesus’ death that his disciples started to believe he had been raised –only that that was the day on which he was raised.  They may have come to realize it weeks later. The Gospels, written decades after Paul, indicate that the disciples came to believe on the third day.   And it indicates that they all (except Judas Iscariot, of course) came to believe.   I don’t know if that is historically right or not.  There are a lot of Christian [...]

Another Question on the Resurrection

[h3]EMAIL QUESTION[/h3] From all of my studies, I still have one open question about the resurrection…or the resurrection story.  I do not understand how or why or when that story was invented.  It is easy to understand the retroactive invention of the virgin birth stories and other theoretical miracles of Jesus, but it seems to me that no one would have gone to the trouble to create those prior stories if they had not believed sincerely in the resurrection. …but how did the resurrection story get started?   Practically speaking, after Jesus’ crucifixion, I imagine the Disciples were terrified.  My hunch is they wanted to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible.  So, after the horror of the crucifixion…..what in the world triggered one of them to say…”you know, Jesus was really the Messiah…we have to spread his message…but nobody will believe us so how do we get the message across? O.K. Let’s make up a story about him being resurrected…and then we will tell everyone about that miracle and then certainly they will believe [...]

2020-04-03T19:46:04-04:00April 28th, 2012|Afterlife, Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|
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