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Jesus’ Private Teachings about the King of the Jews

In this thread I am discussing whether Jesus considered himself the messiah prior to his death.   So far I have made one major argument for that view, involving his death itself.  All of our sources report Jesus was executed by the Romans specifically for calling himself the King of the Jews.  They do not report that the Roman governor Pontius Pilate ordered him crucified for raising an army, or for causing a disturbance in the temple, or for being a pain in the neck for the Sadducees, Pharisees, or anyone else.  They report that the charge was for calling himself the Jewish king. This seems almost certainly historical, because it is not a report Christians would have made up.  The title “King of the Jews” appears in the Gospels only in connection with Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.  It is not a title that Christians ever (so far as we can tell) used of Jesus.  And so it’s unlikely they invented it for the occasion of his death. Moreover, I think it is fair to say [...]

2020-04-03T02:52:05-04:00November 23rd, 2016|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus’ Crucifixion as King of the Jews

One of the main reasons I think Jesus called himself the future messiah is that this best explains the best attested event of his entire life: his crucifixion by the Romans. There are a few things we can say with virtual certainty about Jesus.  For example: he was a Jewish preacher from rural Galilee who made a fateful trip to Jerusalem and was crucified by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  There are, of course, lots of other things that we can say, without quite so much certainty (see my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium).  But that much is certain.  So why did the Romans crucify him? Romans had to have a reason to crucify a person.  There had to be a criminal charge.  There could be lots of charges – runaway slaves, brigands, insurrectionists, all could be crucified.  So why was Jesus crucified?  The Gospels tell us, and in this particular case, there are very good reasons for thinking what they say is right.  Jesus was crucified for calling himself King of [...]

2019-11-10T11:09:21-05:00November 21st, 2016|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Why Would Jesus’ Disciples Think He Was The Messiah?

The big question to emerge from my previous post is: If Jesus’ disciples (or at least some of them) believed he was the messiah before he died (as I tried to show they must have done) then what would have led them to think so? I think there are two possibilities, one of which strikes me as implausible.  The implausible one, in my opinion, is that Jesus did things that the messiah was expected to do, and because of that, his followers thought he was the messiah.  My reason for not being drawn to this interpretation is precisely that Jesus in fact did not do any of the things that the messiah was expected or supposed to do. Some of my Christian students don’t get this.   Doesn’t the Bible predict that... The Rest of this Post is for Members Only.  It doesn't cost much to join -- about a Starbuck's coffee a month (NOT a decaf caramel macchiato or whatever crazy other thing people drink -- just a coffee!) .  And the blog will keep [...]

2020-04-03T02:54:30-04:00November 18th, 2016|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus the Messiah Before the Resurrection

In my recent posts I have argued, against the Mythicists, that the idea of someone (or lots of someones) inventing Jesus as a crucified messiah does not seem plausible, given the fact that no one expected a messiah to be crucified.  If you were to invent a messiah, it would not be one that was completely different (opposite, actually) to what anyone expected. In response to these posts, several readers have asked why, then, Jesus’ own followers thought he could be the messiah while he was alive: the historical man himself, as reconstructed by contemporary scholars, also does not seem to be like what anyone would have expected the messiah to be.  He too was not a warrior-king, or a cosmic judge coming on the clouds of heaven, or a mighty priest (he was not from the priestly line, for one thing).   So why would anyone think a lower-class itinerant preacher from the rural backwoods of Galilee was the messiah? It’s a great question, and obviously a completely fundamental one.  The followers of Jesus did [...]

2020-04-03T02:54:39-04:00November 17th, 2016|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Invention of a Crucified Messiah

This is a follow-up to my recent post in which I argued, against the mythicists who maintain that Jesus was not a real person but was invented by his earliest followers who had learned of a cosmic Christ who was crucified by demons in outer space, that it does not make sense, in my judgment, that first century Jews would make up the idea of a human messiah who got crucified.   I received a number of responses to that post, most of which were very positive.  But every now and then I got a response that said something like this:  “I would say inventing a God/man who was crucified *does* make sense in a 1st century context.” It’s an important objection and I want to take it very seriously.  First, recall my argument, the precise nature of which is important.  I am not arguing in a vague way that no one would make up someone who was crucified, or that no one would make up an important person who was crucified, or that no one [...]

2020-04-03T02:54:47-04:00November 16th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Mythicists and the Crucified Messiah

In my previous post I explained what ancient Jews who were expecting the messiah were expecting.  I do not want to give the impression (one widely held today) that most Jews *were* expecting a messiah.  My sense is that most ancient Jews didn’t spend much time thinking about the matter, any more than most Jews today do.  But for those who did expect a messiah, there were certain expectations.   In this post I want to explain why those expectations relate to the question about whether Jesus existed. Recall: whatever the specifics of what this, that, or the other Jewish group thought, everyone thought the messiah would be a figure of grandeur and power, one who would be a mighty figure who would rule Israel, the people of God, as a sovereign people under no foreign oppression.  The most popular view was that he would be a mighty military leader and political ruler who would overpower the enemy and set up a kingdom for Israel like that of his ancestor David of old.  Another popular view [...]

Mythicists, Jesus, and the Messiah

I am now able to finish off this thread dealing with my debate with Robert Price on whether Jesus existed.  I have already laid out most of the arguments that I gave during my 30-minute presentation at the debate.  As I did in that talk, I now would like to set forth the argument that seems to me to be one of the most convincing of all. Mythicists say that the early Christians invented historical man Jesus, that there never was such a real person.  I think that view runs smack up against a brick wall.  The early Christians claimed Jesus was the messiah.  It was arguably the main thing they said about him – they said it so much that “Messiah” – or “Christ” – became Jesus’ last name.  They also claimed, incessantly, that he got crucified.  Why would Jews invent a messiah who got crucified? To explain the problem I have to provide a bit of background.  That will be this post.  Once that is done, in the post to follow, I’ll explain [...]

Paul, Jesus, and the Messiah

My current thread on the blog is less like a thread and more like a tapestry.  Ultimately it is all related to the book I’m now working on, The Triumph of Christianity, which is interested in the question of how the Christian movement that started with just a couple of dozen people after Jesus’ death (i.e., those who almost right away, soon thereafter, came to believe he had been raised from the dead) came to be a prominent religion by the early fourth century and the official religion of the Roman state by the end of the fourth century.  Good questions!  I just hope I can give some good answers! Scholars have long worked on the problem, of course, and there are many parts to the overall picture.  Which is why this thread is a tapestry.  At present (on the blog) I am wrestling with the importance of the apostle Paul, and am ruminating on his significance for the early Christian movement.  And the first thing that I noted about him is that before he [...]

The Death of the Messiah for Salvation

In a previous post I argued that Christians invented the idea of a suffering messiah.  Because Jesus was (for them) the messiah, and because he suffered, therefore the messiah *had* to suffer.  That was clear and straightforward for the Christians.  They backed up their newly devised theology by appealing to Scripture, finding passages of the Bible where a righteous person suffered but was then vindicated by God, passages such as Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Psalm 69 and so on.   They reinterpreted these passages (where the messiah is never mentioned) in a messianic way, and they were massively successful in their reinterpretations.  Many Christians today cannot read these passages without thinking (knowing!) that they refer to Jesus, the suffering messiah. But why would the messiah have to suffer?  Yes, for Christians, it was because it was “predicted.”  But why would God predict it?  That is, why would he want his messiah to suffer?  This is where Christians came up with yet another innovation, the idea that the death of the messiah brought about the salvation of [...]

2020-04-03T03:58:08-04:00December 28th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Jesus Death as King of the Jews

I now can mount a second argument for why Jesus almost certainly called himself the messiah during his lifetime.  Remember: by that I do not mean that Jesus wanted to lead a military rebellion against the Romans to establish himself as king. On the contrary, I think Jesus was not a supporter of a “military solution.”   Jesus was an apocalypticist who believed that God himself would take action and do what was needed – overthrow the evil ruling authorities in a cataclysmic show of power and destroy all that was opposed to himself, and so bring in a good, utopian kingdom on earth.  And Jesus would be made the king. I don’t need here to give the extensive reasons for thinking that Jesus held to this kind of apocalyptic view in general – I’ve talked about it at length both in a number of my books and on the blog.  The question here is the more narrow one: did Jesus think he would be the king of the coming kingdom?  I have given one strong [...]

2020-04-03T13:06:02-04:00December 2nd, 2015|Historical Jesus|

Jesus’ Claim to Be the Messiah

  I’m afraid I have been sidetracked from my thread within a thread within a thread, but now want to get back to it.  This particular sub-sub-thread is about whether Jesus considered himself to be the Jewish messiah.  My view is that Yes he did.  But he meant something very specific by that, and it is not what most people (Christians and non-Christians) today mean by it. Recall what I have tried to show thus far.  There were various expectations of what the messiah would be like among Jews of Jesus’ day – a political ruler over Israel, a great priest who ruled God’s people through God’s law, a cosmic judge of the earth who would destroy God’s enemies in a cataclysmic act of judgment.   All these views had one thing in common: the future messiah would be a figure of grandeur and might who would come with the authority and power of God. And who was Jesus?  For most people of his day, Jesus was just the opposite – an itinerant Jewish preacher from [...]

2020-04-03T13:06:21-04:00November 30th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

How Do We Know What Jesus Said About Himself?

Do we know what Jesus said about himself? Yesterday I started my two-prong argument for why Jesus probably considered himself the messiah.  The first prong is that Jesus must have been called the messiah during his lifetime, or it makes no sense that he would be called messiah after his death. Even if there were Jews who believed that Jesus was raised from the dead after he was crucified (as indeed there were!  Otherwise we wouldn’t have Christianity), the resurrection of a dead person would never lead anyone to say “Ah, he’s the messiah!”.  No one expected the messiah to be a resurrected person. So Jesus was being called the messiah before his death.  Otherwise, we can’t make sense of the fact that he was called the messiah after his (believed-in) resurrection. Do We Know What Jesus Said About Himself? Several readers have pointed out that this does not mean that Jesus *himself* thought of himself as the messiah.  It simply means that some of his followers did.  That is absolutely right.  I couldn’t agree [...]

2022-06-17T23:36:13-04:00November 12th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus, the Messiah, and the Resurrection

I have been talking about the early Christian understandings of Jesus as the messiah – not just the messiah, but the “crucified messiah,” a concept that would have seemed not just unusual or bizarre to most Jewish ears in the first century, but absolutely mind-boggling and self-contradictory.  I’ve been arguing that it was precisely the contradictory nature of the claim that led almost all Jews to reject the Christian claims about Jesus. Several readers have asked me whether I think Jesus understood himself to be the messiah.  Probably those who know a *little* bit about my work and my general views of things would think that my answer would be Absolutely Not.   But those who know a *lot* about my views will know that the answer is Yes Indeed. I think Jesus did consider himself the messiah.  But not the to-be-crucified-messiah.   The key to understanding Jesus’ view of himself is to recognize what he *meant* by considering himself the messiah.  I will get to that in a later post.  For now I want to give [...]

2020-04-03T13:09:23-04:00November 11th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Another Problem with Calling Jesus the Messiah

I have been arguing that most Jews rejected Christian claims about Jesus because Jesus was just the *opposite* of what the messiah was expected to be.  The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who would overthrow God’s enemies and set up a new kingdom on earth in which God’s will would prevail.  Jesus was and did none of that.  He was a lower-class peasant who was arrested, humiliated, tortured, and executed.  He didn’t destroy God’s enemies.  He was crushed by them. Paul is the first Jewish persecutor of the Christians that we know by name; there is really no doubt that he was bent on wiping out the followers of Jesus – since he himself says so (and says so to his own shame [Gal 1:13); he did not gain any glory for this rather despicable past) (despicable in both his eyes and the eyes of the Christians).  Presumably his reasons for hating and opposing the followers of Jesus were comparable to those of other Jewish persecutors. But Paul gives us [...]

2020-04-03T13:09:32-04:00November 9th, 2015|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Jesus and the Messianic Prophecies – Did the Old Testament Point to Jesus?

In my previous post I started to explain why, based on the testimony of Paul, it appears that most Jews (the vast majority) rejected the Christian claim that Jesus was the messiah. I have to say, that among my Christian students today (most of them from the South, most of them from conservative Christian backgrounds), this continues to be a real puzzle. "But there were prophecies of Jesus being the messiah," they argue. "Hundreds of Old Testament passages, such as Isaiah 53, describe him to a tee." They genuinely can’t figure it out. What About Old Testament Messianic Prophecies? In their view, the Old Testament makes a number of predictions about the messiah: he would be born in Bethlehem his mother would be a virgin he would be a miracle worker he would be killed for the sins of others he would be raised from the dead These are all things that happened to Jesus!  How much more obvious could it be?  Why in the world don’t those Jews see it?   Are they simply hard-headed [...]

2019-10-30T15:05:21-04:00November 8th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Public Forum|

The Crucified Messiah in 1 Corinthians

Historians usually have reasons for what they say; that is, when they make a historical claim, it is almost always based on a close reading of the surviving sources.  When it’s not, they’re just blowin’ smoke.  But if they’re blowin’ smoke – that is, taking a guess –they’ll usually tell you.   I suppose that’s one difference between an expert (in any field) and an amateur: the expert actually has a deep and nuanced reading of the sources that informs his/her views. I have to say, as you probably have noticed in your own areas of expertise, it is pretty easy if you are an expert to know who else is an expert and who is not.  I say that as someone who is an expert in one or two areas, but an amateur in thousands.  When I have an interpretation of Hamlet or Lear that I bounce off my wife – who is a hard-core, internationally recognized expert on Shakespeare – I realize that, for the most part, I’m just taking a stab at something [...]

2020-04-03T13:09:50-04:00November 5th, 2015|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

The Jewish Messiah

In my previous post I began to discuss the understanding of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, in the Gospel of Mark (this is a thread within a thread within a thread – but it doesn’t matter.  Each of these posts makes sense on their own).  I am trying to show that Mark portrayed Jesus as the Son of God (meaning:  the one who was in a particularly close relationship with God who was chosen by God to mediate his will on earth) and the messiah.  But he was the Son of God/Messiah whom no one understood.  Even his disciples. What though would it mean for first century Jews to think of someone as the messiah? Some serious background is necessary.  As I pointed out in my previous post, the word Messiah is a Hebrew term (the Greek equivalent is “Christ”) which meant “anointed one.”  Why would you call someone the anointed one? In Jewish circles the term goes back to a kind of royal ideology (i.e., understandings of the kingship) from centuries [...]

Jesus as the Messiah in Mark’s Gospel

In this thread within a thread within a thread I’m discussing the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark as the Son of God whom no one knows.  For background, see my preceding post on the topic.  One of my overarching points is that Mark goes out of his way to portray Jesus as the Son of God, even though the title does not occur very often in the Gospel – but only at really crucial points of the narrative, in the first episode of Jesus’ life (his baptism), in the final episode of Jesus’ life (his crucifixion), and at the very middle of the Gospel (the transfiguration). My other point is that even though both Mark and God himself, in the narrative, declare straightforwardly that Jesus is the Son of God, no one understands it.  And when they do start to understand it, they misunderstand it. That no one “gets” it is obvious if you read the first eight chapters carefully.   Everyone around Jesus – his townsfolk, his family, the leaders of his [...]

2020-04-03T13:10:05-04:00November 2nd, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Is Luke’s Christology Consistent?

Does Luke present a (strictly speaking) consistent view of Jesus throughout his two-volume work of Luke-Acts? I raise the question because of the textual problem surrounding the voice at Jesus’ baptism.  I have been arguing that it is likely that the voice did NOT say “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (as in most manuscripts; this is what it clearly does say in Mark’s version; Matthew has it say something different still); instead it probably said “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” In the past couple of posts I’ve suggested that this wording – found in only one ancient Greek manuscript, but in a number of church fathers who quote the passage (these fathers were living before our earliest surviving manuscripts) – makes particular sense if the Gospel did not originally have chapters 1-2, the accounts of Jesus’ birth.   In yesterday’s post I gave the evidence for thinking that originally the Gospel began with Jesus’ baptism. But if I’m wrong about that (and hey, it won’t be [...]

Jesus as the Messiah

Here's a draft of a few paragraphs from ch. 3 of my book How Jesus Became God. Again, it's only in rough draft, but let me know if you see any problems with it. ********************************************************************************************************************* It appears that some Jews who had this expectation of the future messiah saw him in purely political terms: a great and powerful king who would bring about the restored kingdom through military force, taking up the sword to dispose of the enemies. Other Jews – especially of a more apocalyptic bent – anticipated that this future event would be somewhat more miraculous, an act of God when he personally intervened in the course of history to make Israel once more a kingdom ruled through his messiah. Those who were most avidly apocalyptic believed that this future kingdom would be no ordinary run-of-the-mill political system with all its bureaucracies and corruption, but would in fact be the kingdom of God, a utopian state in which there would be no evil, pain, or suffering of any kind. FOR THE REST OF [...]

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