Explaining Jesus’ Apocalyptic Assumptions

One other aspect of Jesus’ teaching is important to emphasize before continuing on to consider his understanding of the afterlife.  That is the thoroughly apocalyptic character of his views.

I have discussed Jewish apocalypticism a number of times on the blog—including some months ago on the current thread.  I don’t want to repeat all that here in the same form, but I do want to summarize what the view is and discuss its underlying assumptions.

In a small nutshell, apocalypticists believed that ...

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The Preaching of Jesus in a Nutshell

I am trying to set up what I want to say about Jesus’ view of the afterlife, and am finding that it requires a good bit of background information.  I have already done two things: shown what he taught about the coming kingdom and explained that his teaching (about the kingdom and everything else) is very different in John from the Synoptics.  Scholars are almost unanimous that given these differences, the older sources (the Synoptics and the accounts they built ...

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A Resurrection for Tortured Jews (2 Maccabees)

I have pointed out that the notion of “resurrection” first appears in Jewish writings in the book of Daniel, and I am arguing that this notion is intrinsically connected with the apocalyptic view of the world that developed at the time.  In this view of the world, as I’ve laid it out on the blog before (e.g.: https://ehrmanblog.org/the-rise-of-apocalypticism/) the people of God suffer *not* necessarily because God is punishing them for their sins but because there are forces of ...

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The Origins of Heaven and Hell

Where did the idea of a “differentiated” afterlife come from?  I’m not overly fond of the word “differentiated,” since it’s not one we normally use.  But for the moment I can’t think of a better one for the phenomenon I’m thinking of.

An “undifferentiated” afterlife is one in which everyone has the same experience: there is no difference between one person and the next.  It doesn’t matter if the person lived a good life, was kind to strangers, was meek, humble, ...

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The First Apocalypse: The Book of Daniel

I have been arguing that to understand the radically new view of the afterlife that emerged in ancient Judea in the horrible years leading up to the Maccabean revolt, it is important to know something about a new genre or literature that began to be produced at the time, the apocalypse.  The first surviving writing of this kind is in the book of Daniel.  Here is what I say about Daniel as an apocalypse in my book The Bible: A ...

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Background to The Christian Afterlife: The Maccabean Revolt: A Blast from the (Recent) Past!

Back in April I was in the middle of a thread about the afterlife, and now, after this unusual hiatus, I am able and eager to return to it.  For those of you who were with us at the time, you may remember that this is the topic of the book I am working on now, that I have been reading massively about for most of the past year.  My views have developed, changed, and deepened since April.  I’ve had ...

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The Origins of Apocalypticism

In my previous post I began to explain how, in 1985, while teaching a class at Rutgers on the Problem of Suffering, I came to realize that I simply didn’t accept any longer most of the views of the Bible on why there was suffering in the world.  But one view did continue to appeal to me, the apocalyptic view that emerged toward the end of the New Testament period, and became the view of Jesus, John the Baptist before ...

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The Prophetic Background of Jewish Apocalyptic Thought

Several members of the blog have asked me to go into greater detail to explain where Jewish apocalypticism came from.  I’m happy to do so: it’s an important topic for understanding Jesus, Paul, and other early Christians.

As is true for all religious and political ideologies, the historical background to the rise of apocalyptic thinking is complicated.  To make sense of it, I have to say something about a very different perspective which provided the matrix out of which apocalyptic thought ...

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Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 10 (and last!)

Q.   In what way is the Jewish notion of a resurrection a different idea than either the fertility crop cycle idea, or what is sometimes said about pagan deities that either disappear or die?

A.   One of the reasons for thinking that the belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection is not exactly like what you can find in pagan myths about their gods is that it is solidly rooted in Jewish apocalyptic beliefs of the first century.  This should come as ...

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