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The Apocalyptic Background to Jesus’ Messiahship

To make sense of my claim that Jesus himself told the disciples that he thought he was the messiah, I have to set his teachings generally in a wider context.  As I have repeatedly argued on the blog, Jesus’ teachings are best understood as apocalyptic in nature, and to understand any of them it is important to remember what the world view we call Jewish apocalypticism entailed.  This is essential background to the question I’m pursuing, since I will be maintaining that Jesus did indeed consider himself the messiah, and said so to his disciples, but he meant this in a completely apocalyptic sense.

So, to set the stage for my consideration of the messianic self-teaching of Jesus, I need to provide a quick refresher course on Jewish apocalypticism.  Here is what I said in an earlier post on the matter.

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Jewish apocalypticism was a very common view in Jesus’ day – it was the view of the Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, of the Pharisees, of John the Baptist, later of the Apostle Paul – and almost certainly of Jesus.  This is a widely held view among critical scholars – by far the majority view for over a century, since the writings of Albert Schweitzer.

What did early Jewish apocalypticists believe?  Let me break it down into four component themes.  I have …

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I have drawn this discussion from my textbook on the New Testament.

 

Dualism

Jewish apocalypticists were dualists.  That is to say, they maintained that there were two fundamental components to all of reality: the forces of good and the forces of evil.  The forces of good were headed by God himself, the forces of evil by his superhuman enemy, sometimes called Satan, or Beelzebub, or the Devil.  On the side of God were the good angels; on the side of the Devil were the demons.  On the side of God were righteousness and life; on the side of the Devil were sin and death.  These were actual forces, cosmic powers to which human beings could be subject and with which they had to be aligned.  No one was in neutral territory.  People stood either with God or with Satan, they were in the light or in darkness, they were in the truth or in error.

This apocalyptic dualism had clear historical implications.  All of history could be divided into two ages, the present age and the age to come.  The present age was the age of sin and evil, when the powers of darkness were in the ascendency, when those who sided with God were made to suffer by those in control of this world, when sin, disease, famine, violence, and death were running rampant.  For some unknown reason, God had relinquished control of this age to the powers of evil.  And things were getting worse.

At the end of this age, however, God would reassert himself, intervening in history and destroying the forces of evil.  There would come a cataclysmic break in which all that was opposed to God would be annihilated, and God would bring in a new age.  In this new age, there would be no more suffering or pain; there would be no more hatred, or despair, or war, or disease, or death.  God would be the ruler of all, in a kingdom that would never end.

 

Pessimism

Even though, in the long run, everything would work out for those who sided with God, in the short term things did not look good.  Jewish apocalypticists maintained that those who sided with God were going to suffer in this age, and there was nothing they could do to stop it.  The forces of evil were going to grow in power as they attempted to wrest sovereignty over this world away from God.  There was no thought here of being able to improve the human condition through mass education or advanced technologies.  The righteous could not make their lives better, because the forces of evil were in control, and those who sided with God were opposed by those who were much stronger than they.  Things would get worse and worse until the very end, when quite literally, all hell was to break loose.

 

Vindication

But at the end, when the suffering of God’s people was at its height, God would finally intervene on their behalf and vindicate his name.  For in this perspective God was not only the creator of this world, he was also its redeemer.  And his vindication would be universal: it would affect the entire world, not simply the Jewish nation.  Jewish apocalypticists maintained that the entire creation had become corrupt because of the presence of sin and the power of Satan.  This universal corruption required a universal redemption; God would destroy all that is evil and create a new heaven and a new earth, one in which the forces of evil would have no place whatsoever.

Different apocalypticists had different views concerning how God would bring about this new creation, even though they all claimed to have received the details by a revelation from God.  In some apocalyptic scenarios, God was to send a human messiah to lead the troops of the children of light into battle against the forces of evil.  In others, God was to send a kind of cosmic judge of the earth, sometimes also called the messiah or the “Son of Man” to bring about a cataclysmic overthrow of the demonic powers that oppressed the children of light.

This final vindication would involve a day of judgment for all people. Those who had aligned themselves with the powers of evil would face the Almighty Judge, and render an account of what they had done; those who had remained faithful to the true God would be rewarded and brought into his eternal kingdom.

Moreover, this judgment applied not only to people who happened to be living at the time of the end.  No one should think, that is, that he or she could side with the powers of evil, oppress the people of God, die prosperous and contented, and so get away with it.  God would allow no one to escape.  He was going to raise all people bodily from the dead, and they would have to face judgment, eternal bliss for those who had taken his side, eternal torment for everyone else.  And there was not a sweet thing that anyone could do to stop him.

 

Imminence

According to Jewish apocalypticists, this vindicaton of God was going to happen very soon.  Standing in the tradition of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, apocalypticists maintained that God had revealed to them the course of history, and that the end was almost here.  Those who were evil had to repent, before it was too late.  Those who were good, who were suffering as a result, were to hold on.  For it would not be long before God would intervene, sending a savior — possibly on the clouds of heaven in judgment on the earth — bringing with him the good kingdom for those who remained faithful to his Law.  Indeed, the end was right around the corner.  In the words of one first-century Jewish apocalypticist:  “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that that kingdom of God has come with power.”  These in fact are the words of Jesus (Mark 9:1).  Or as he says elsewhere, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away before all these things have taken place” (Mark 13:30).

Our earliest traditions about Jesus portray him as a Jewish apocalypticist who responded to the political and social crises of his day, including the domination of his nation by a foreign power, by proclaiming that his generation was living at the end of the age, that God would soon intervene on behalf of his people, sending a cosmic judge of the earth, the Son of Man who would destroy the forces of evil and set up God’s kingdom.  In preparation for his coming, the people of Israel needed to repent and turn to God, trusting him as a kindly parent and loving one another as his special children.  Those who refused to accept this message would be liable to the judgment of God, soon to arrive with the coming of the Son of Man.[/private


Jesus’ Crucifixion as King of the Jews
Why Would Jesus’ Disciples Think He Was The Messiah?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  November 20, 2016

    How do loving one’s enemies, turning the other cheek, mercy and forgiveness, and Jesus’s other ethical teachings fit with the eternal torment that the evil should expect? Shouldn’t Jesus’s followers love those people, forgive them and have mercy on them? It sounds like a case of “do as I and the Father say [eg, love enemies] and not as the Father and Son Man do [eg, deliver eternal torment to enemies].”

    It’s not only that it seems inconsistent. What I also wonder is whether, say, loving one’s enemies might have less to do with willing their good and more to do with simply not getting upset about the evil in this world since this world is going to come to an end very shortly anyway. Keep your eye on the ball and don’t let anything distract you, including retaliation against evil, from the imminent kingdom of God.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2016

      I guess these rules only apply to this life?

      • Avatar
        mwbaugh  November 21, 2016

        I’m guessing we’re getting into a controversial area. Are the apocalyptic teachings authentic and the ethical teachings from a different source than Jesus? Are they both authentic Jesus and his community didn’t see the contradictions that modern people see? Did they see the contradictions but have a way of reconciling them in a framework that we no longer have access to? Are we running up against the limits of the evidence we have?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 23, 2016

          My view is that hte ethical teachings are apocalyptic in nature and have to be put in their apocalyptic context to be understood.

    • Avatar
      godspell  November 22, 2016

      It’s about proving yourself worthy of the Kingdom. And we’ve all met a lot of people who will never be worthy. Let’s face it, we’re a pretty effed up species. Genuinely good people are rare.

      I’m not convinced Jesus believed in eternal torment. His statements on this subject are contradictory. He said tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of Heaven before many seemingly good citizens.

      And remember, the Kingdom of Heaven, for him, was not the afterlife. It would be this life, transformed by God.

    • tompicard
      tompicard  November 23, 2016

      ditto to all ‘godspell’ comments
      . . . not convinced Jesus believed in eternal torment. . .

  2. Avatar
    Wilusa  November 20, 2016

    Do you think at least some of the Jewish apocalypticists may have had theories about *why* God was allowing Satan to rule that age, and it just happens that they’re not mentioned in any surviving writings?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2016

      Some thought it was because of the sin of Adam; others because of the fall of the angels.

      • Avatar
        mwbaugh  November 21, 2016

        How was the sin of Adam discussed in Jewish apocalypticism? I’ve heard from modern Jews that the interpretation of the Genesis story as the fall from God’s grace and an earthly paradise is foreign to Jewish interpretation. Is this a strand of Jewish thought that was abandoned but kept alive by the Christians? Did it come from a non-Jewish source?

        Also, when did the story of the fall of the angels develop in Jewish thought? I’m not aware of any mention in the Hebrew scriptures except for the story of the Nephilim in Genesis. Did this develop in the intertestimental period? What sources do we have for it?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 23, 2016

          Adam: off the top of my head, I don’t know! Fall of angels: yes, there wsa a lot of discussion of that. See especially the Book of the Watchers in 1 Enoch.

          • Avatar
            cjeanne  November 25, 2016

            This sounds an awful lot like the wars between the gods in ancient mythology.

          • Avatar
            dankoh  November 27, 2016

            My take on it is that by the time Judaism came in contact with dualism (Zoroastrianism, etc.), it’s theology was sufficiently established as a pure monotheism that a dualist theology made little impact (outside Daniel and some apocryphal writings). But Christianity was more easily influenced.

  3. Avatar
    Tony  November 20, 2016

    An excellent description of the beliefs that led to Paul’s Gospel on the imminent arrival of his Lord Jesus Christ as in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Except that Paul’s Jesus was empowered by being mistakenly killed, and hung from a tree (crucified) in Satan’s world. As a Pharisee, Paul added resurrection of the dead to the mix.

    The Gospel writer attempts a fulfillment of prophesy with Mark using the “Son of Man” term from Daniel as a predictive statement coming from Jesus as in Mark 10:45 etc.

  4. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  November 20, 2016

    Something I find puzzling is that Jesus was accused of being possessed by demons. He was also casting out demons and around the same time he was doing this, his family thought he was crazy. Could his family thought he was crazy because he was casting out demons? Was it normal for a Jewish preacher to perform such an act or would Jesus have been the first to do it?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2016

      The text is frustratingly vague about what made them think this. But yes, others could cast out demons and were not thought to be crazy for doing so.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  November 21, 2016

        Did Jewish preachers normally appoint disciples like Jesus did?

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  November 21, 2016

        I’m stuck on this–Jesus cast out demons, but others did that too as you said. He was also accused of being possessed, but why would onlookers believe he’s possessed and his family think he’s crazy? I don’t know if being a miracle worker would be enough to think he was possessed and crazy, but claiming to be the messiah would really give people pause. In John 7, Jesus’ family admonished him to come out publicly because they didn’t believe in him. Didn’t believe he was a miracle worker? Meh. Didn’t believe he was the messiah? That sounds possible. John also says that people were divided over him and some thought he was deceitful. So, for now, I really do think he was portraying himself as the messiah.

        Something else I’ve thought, too, is that there may have been a time lapse from the time Jesus’ family thought he was just a regular, Jewish preacher to the next time they saw him–a miracle working messiah. Where did he go and who was he with that radically influenced his thinking? My theory is that it was John the Baptist. I’m not sure if John influenced Jesus or Jesus was the one who influenced John.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 23, 2016

          I’m pretty sure it was John who influenced Jesus. That’s what all the records indicate — even those who would have been more comfortably with it being the other way around.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  November 20, 2016

    Another cliffhanger!

    Dr. Ehrman, could you please address an issue that I have yet to see resolved in any of the works by Jesus scholars I’ve read so far (including yours), an issue that has bugged me incessantly ever since I started trying to outline an historically plausible narrative for my Jesus novel. That issue is this: Even if we allow for the possibility that Jesus’ ministry lasted up to three years (I, for one, not only think that length is ridiculously far-fetched, I think it was less than a year — closer to four or five months long, for reasons I’ve mentioned in previous comments), if Jesus truly believed, and if he actually preached that Judgment Day was right around the corner — within months, if not weeks or days or hours — then the notion that Jesus believed his mission was to save ALL of humanity becomes utterly absurd. In other words, that Jesus’ message (i.e. the “good news”) was BOTH a message of immediate urgency (“For Godsake, prepared yourselves now, now, now!) AND universal (“I bring the one true message of hope; spread it to the four corners of the earth!”) are as incompatible, incomprehensible and self-defeating as 20 measly lifeboats on the Titanic.

    I totally agree with you and other scholars that Jesus preached an imminent, almost hour-by-hour urgency for salvation. If that is, in fact, the truth of Jesus’ mission, then there is absolutely no possible way Jesus could have spread that message to all of humanity within 3 years, let alone a year (let alone the 4 to 5 months I think he was active!). That’s why I think Jesus did NOT preach a universal message. I don’t, for one second, think Jesus was going around saying “I have the one and only true message of salvation to all Israel,” let alone to ALL humanity. That’s simply ludicrous.

    Do any scholars address this problem? If they do, can you recommend some?

    I, for one, have been forced to take this into consideration for the Jesus of my novel. My Jesus doesn’t go around saying he has the one and only message of salvation. He does not go around saying his message is universal, that it must be spread to all humanity. My Jesus only says he has a message (possibly one of many?), that his message is a special message reserved just for his devoted followers who have been privileged by God to have received it (why? because that’s what ALL charlatans say!). I mean, there’s no way getting around it. No matter how much I try to square that circle, Dr. Ehrman, Jesus comes out a religious huckster. Every sign points to it!

    So what do you make of that?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2016

      Yes, I don’t think Jesus had a universal message. It was for Israel. That’s why he went to Jerusalem to preach the message at Passover. But no, I don’t think he was a huckster. In our day he could / would be seen that way, but not in his.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  November 21, 2016

        I should be more clear about what I mean by “huckster”. I don’t think Jesus was an intentionally unscrupulous Elmer Gantry type. I think Jesus truly believed “the End is nigh”. I think Jesus believed he had a special role to play in the end times drama, whether as prophet or leader or both.

        Do I think Jesus really believed he was the Messiah? Mmm, I suspect he had his moments. From what I’ve studied of other messianic figures, they tend to shift back and forth between moments of doubt and moments of resolve, going in and out like a sinusoidal wave. (And that’s how my Jesus is portrayed; everyone keeps treating him like the Messiah, and, unlike Monty Python’s Brian, Jesus soaks in the adulation and accepts the role he believes he was destined for.)

        What I mean by “huckster” is that, from the outside looking in, to us today it would be just as apparent that Jesus was a charlatan as it seems to us that Osho Rajneesh, or Benny Hinn, or Sathya Sai Baba, or J. Z. Knight are all charlatans. Maybe Knight actually believes she’s channeling Ramtha. (We can’t get into her head to know for sure). But we’re pretty near 100% certain that she is not. And we can be pretty sure she’s, at best, terribly confused. (Though I’m sure you would avoid such undiplomatic terms, I have no qualms calling such “prophets” kooks.) I place Jesus squarely within the same camp as those “prophets”.

        There are two cases where men have purposely pretended to be religious hucksters that I’ve taken as models of deception. One was the documentary Kumare, where an Indian guy pretended to be a guru to expose how easy it is to fool believers, and the other was the hoax created by James Randi, where he taught his boyfriend how to fake channeling an ancient spirit. Both are great experiments in credulity.

        Randi’s experiment: https://youtu.be/jksKtGoz3og
        Kumare experiment: https://youtu.be/Liqtk_qV0PE

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  November 23, 2016

      I kinda thought Jesus message was pretty much like every other prophet- turn back to God or you’ll be in trouble. For the OT prophets the emphasis was on Israel as a whole, whereas for Jesus it was about each individual (in an apocalyptic sense). In essence he wanted people to follow the law (to the extreme). So I don’t think he thought he had to personally save everyone. The people all knew what they had to do, Jesus message was more a message of urgency and a wake-up call. I imagine John the Baptist was spreading essentially the same message. But yes, he did think he himself was something special.

  6. Avatar
    smackemyackem  November 20, 2016

    So sort of on topic. About to finish Daniel Boyarin’s “The Jewish Gospels”. Are you familiar? I’m finding his connection between Dan 7 / the Jesus movement….being very jewish in context, interesting. Essentially, the whole messiah/divine son of man/son of god is an ancient form of Israelite religion…and very jewish. The Ancient of Days and Son of Man being the precursor to the trinity. I would love to know your opinion on this work. Is his work gaining any ground in scholarly circles?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2016

      I’m not sure it is. He’s scary smart and very creative. I do agree that there was a sense of other divine beings in Judaism before Christianity came along.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  November 27, 2016

        I’m not sure I agree with this point. While the Tanakh shows a development from multiple gods to monolatry (or henotheism, if you prefer), Ezra forced the Judaeans to practice a pure monotheism. And he and his successors were around long enough for it to stick. if by “divine beings” you mean angels, well possibly, but they were seen as messengers, not independent beings. Supernatural beings, such as demons, golems, etc., did abound – and continue to – in folk Judaism and show up in the Talmud, but I would hesitate to say that Jews thought of them as “divine.”

        • Bart
          Bart  November 28, 2016

          You may want to look at my discussion in How Jesus Became God, where I address the issue.

  7. Avatar
    Bilbo  November 20, 2016

    You wrote above that Jewish apocalypticism was a very common view in Jesus’ day. Do you mean that most Jews were apocalypticists?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2016

      I don’t think we know. But my sense is that a lot in Palestine were.

      • Avatar
        Bilbo  November 21, 2016

        If a lot were apocalypticists, would they be expecting the Messiah to show up imminently?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 23, 2016

          Possibly — we don’t have any writings from any of them (except the Essenes, who expected a major battle to occur soon)

  8. Avatar
    davitako  November 21, 2016

    Is it known when and why Jews started developing this apocalyptic view of reality? In which books of the Old Testament is this becoming noticeable?

  9. Avatar
    chrispope  November 21, 2016

    Bart, a question please (nothing to do with the current thread, probably).
    It’s about the Samaritans. My limited understanding is that they claimed to be the ‘true followers’ of Judaism but were held in contempt by the Judean jews, thus used as examples of people ‘beyond the pale’ a bit like ‘tax collectors’ in the NT.
    The story in John 4 about the woman at the well seems to talk about this, as does the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’.
    My reading suggests that whilst there is scant historical evidence for David, a successor from a couple of generations later Omri is much better attested. Omri established his capital in Samaria but this was destroyed by the Maccabean kings about 100-150 years BC. This suggests an ongoing feud/mistrust/contempt between southern jews and Samaritans.
    My mind is drawn back to your post about the research done by the Italian husband and wife team into different ‘Jesus teachings and events’ in different parts of Palestine. Seems to confirm that the idea of a ‘united Israel’ – even under Pax Romana (let alone in earlier or later times) – is erroneous and thus the idea of ‘the Jews’ as portrayed in the gospels as some sort of united opinion group misses the point.
    (Sorry for being a bit rambling!)

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2016

      Sorry — I don’t see a question!

      • Avatar
        chrispope  November 24, 2016

        OOPs! Sorry!

        Question is this: If, in Jesus’ time there was a fundamental difference/hostility between ‘Jerusalem Jews’ and ‘Samaritan Jews’ was that a significant point in the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’, was it likely to have been an original story (or a later addition) and how would recipients at the time of Jesus viewed it?
        Thanks

        • Bart
          Bart  November 26, 2016

          Yes, I think it may have been original — though it is not multiply attested (it is found only in Luke). ANd yes, the point is that the despised half-breed follows the Torah better than the highly religious Jews, and that’s what all should do.

  10. Avatar
    godspell  November 21, 2016

    If The Son of Man was one version of the Messiah, and if Jesus did not (as you have said) refer to himself when he referred to The Son of Man, that creates certain problems for the notion that Jesus believed he was Messiah. Yes, he could have simply interpreted the Son as being a separate manifestation of God’s will, but then why is he acting at the end as if the time has come, when the Son is nowhere to be seen? He seems to be trying to trigger some great change.

    Jesus saw what happened to John the Baptist, his master. He knew very well what would happen to any religious figure who sufficiently aggravated the temporal powers. He must have believed at some point in time that John was someone very special–perhaps even the Messiah himself. He said that no one born of woman was greater than John. Obviously the Messiah would be greater. Unless he believed John would return as the Son of Man? That seems a bit forced.

    It is hard to pierce the reasoning of a true mystic, in any belief system, or none. That’s why I think it’s dodgy to say, with certainty, “Jesus believed he was Messiah, and said so.” I just don’t believe it could ever be that simple.

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 21, 2016

    I used to think that the one thing that Ehrman had not done is put it all together in one book. Actually, he has pretty much done that in his textbook of the New Testament. I strongly recommend it.

    The big thing that is bothering me today is how few are really interested in the historical approach to early Christianity. I have spent considerable time visiting different churches for extensive periods of time and this historical approach is almost never presented. I did find a discussion of Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” at one Unitarian fellowship one time and a discussion of Spong’s “The Sins of Scripture” at another Unitarian Fellowship, and a discussion of another of Ehrman’s books (“Jesus, Interrupted”) at a Presbyterian Church once, but that is about it. Such discussions are rare indeed and this is both odd and disappointing. You would think that such a topic would be of crucial importance to Christians, but it is not. So, this website provides a discussion that is hard to find “out there” where people seem to have almost no interest in the topic.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  November 21, 2016

      I know what you mean. It’s very frustrating to have a passion for something that doesn’t have much of an outlet for the average layperson. The blog is very helpful in that regard, and I’m grateful for it. There are other scholars, too, who are really nice and willing to share some of their time via social media, but I wish I wasn’t limited to mainly being a keyboard critic.

    • Avatar
      iameyes137  November 24, 2016

      It is why “they” call it FAITH. Spend as little time pondering the deeper questions and meanings as possible. Just trust that you have all that is needed for salvation and run with it. In my more than 50 years of human experience, at least this time around, I have seen the vast majority never wanting to explore any subject in any depth whatsoever. I have been accused of “thinking too much” since the 1970’s. This community that has evolved around Bart and his refreshing knowledge is akin to drinking the most pure water available, when the population at large is enjoying the Cholera Pump.

  12. Avatar
    Vatikan  November 21, 2016

    Interesting Read, Dr. Ehrman do you believe the non-violent aspects of the Gospels stems from Jesus’s personal apocalyptic message or was added and adapted later by the Gospel authors?

  13. Avatar
    Tempo1936  November 21, 2016

    Early Christians said that Jesus was the MESSIAH who got crucified. Did they believe that because God raised him from the dead has Paul preaches ?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2016

      My point is that a resurrection in and of itself would not make anyone the messiah or make anyone else think the person was a messiah. There must have been something else. I’m trying to explain that something else in this thread of posts.

  14. Avatar
    mjt  November 21, 2016

    Fundamentalist Christians always ‘interpret’ passages of the 2nd coming to make it seem like Jesus and the NT writers didn’t really expect it in their lifetimes. Do you think there are any passages that teach, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the 2nd coming was supposed to happen in the first century?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2016

      Yes, that’s the burden of my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

  15. cheito
    cheito  November 21, 2016

    Dr Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    These in fact are the words of Jesus (Mark 9:1). Or as he says elsewhere, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away before all these things have taken place” (Mark 13:30).

    My Comment:

    These are in fact are NOT the words of Jesus but are the words of the person who wrote the gospel attributed to Mark and we can’t be certain that he quoted Jesus correctly.

    As you well know the gospel of Mark is anonymous. It was written about 40 years after the death of Jesus. The person that wrote this book was not an eye-witness.

    We also don’t know why he wrote this book… What were His motives? How could he had known what Jesus said? What he wrote was hearsay and most likely historically inaccurate.

  16. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 22, 2016

    As you usually do, you made this topic clear for us non-scholars, this time by dividing into 4 concepts. This is a very helpful way to remember this, especially if you are one of those “lists” people, like I am.

  17. Avatar
    VincitOmniaVeritas  November 26, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, do you think that Jesus himself was a member of a divergent sect of the Essenes ? I think it is extremely probable, even certain, that a member (or members) of the Essenes were named Jesus in the early 1st century. We know from Josephus that “Jesus” was an extremely common name in 1st century Judea, and specifically in religious circles. I’ve counted 8 mentioned in total between Antiquities and War, and it’s probably the most frequently mentioned name by Josephus for that period in Judea (and also Judas, Simon, James and John). Certainly, some of the “impostors” (prophets) mentioned by Josephus likely came from the Essene sect and were involved in the tumult described by Josephus during the period when Pilate, Marcellus and Fadus were prefects and procurators.

    There is an analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls, from a portion of them dating to the early 1st century, that they may have mentioned Jesus: http://www.simchajtv.com/jesus-discovered-in-dead-sea-scrolls/

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2016

      No, I think Jesus was definitely not a member of the Essene sect. Maybe I’ll do a short thread on the issue! (Simcha, by the way, is a film producer. He is not a qualified expert on the New Testament, ancient Judaism, or much of anything else!)

      • Avatar
        VincitOmniaVeritas  November 27, 2016

        Yes, I am aware that he is a film producer, but those he interviewed about the possible mention of Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls are experts, including those who translate the documents in Israel. I posted that link because it has a video of his interviews with some of them discussing the strong possibility that portions of the scrolls mention or allude to Jesus, his followers or even Paul and James. What is your opinion on the matter ? Do you think the mention of “Jonah (dove)”, “Teacher of Righteousness” and “crucifixion” in a part of the scrolls could be referring to Jesus ?

        As for the Essenes, their doctrines as described by Josephus do have many strong parallels with the early Christians, not to mention they inhabited the areas of the Judaean desert, Peraea and the Decapolis where the Gospels say Jesus spent time preaching in.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 28, 2016

          I’m afraid there aren’t any bona fide scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls that I know of (I suppose I know many of the world’s experts) who thinks that the Scrolls mention Jesus or his followers. If you would like to read authoritative accounts, I’d suggest trying the works of James Vanderkam, Peter Flint, John Collins, or even the older Joseph Fitzmeyer.

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            VincitOmniaVeritas  November 29, 2016

            In the video I provided, Simcha interviews Prof. Emil Puech from the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, who translated the Scrolls. He also interviewed Dr. Robert Deutsch, a respected Aramaic and Hebrew epigrapher.

            Both of them mention the significant possibility that the Scrolls could be referring to Jesus in fragment 4Q541.

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        VincitOmniaVeritas  November 27, 2016

        I do give Simcha credit as well in his “The Exodus Decoded” for contributing to increasing the public awareness about the discussion of the connection between the Hyksos expulsions of Semitic Canaanites from Egypt, the enormous Thera eruption at Santorini and the Exodus narrative, not to mention the possible link of the historical Moses with AhMOSE I, or maybe one of his sons AhMOSE-ankh and RahMOSE.

        I mean, there are clearly some academics and archaeologists in Egypt, like Zahi Hawass, who illogically don’t even consider it and make ridiculous statements that there’s “no evidence for the Exodus”, because of his well-documented personal political and religious biases against Israel and Jewish history. Many of the most important sites, like the Hyksos capital at Avaris, aren’t even permitted to be completely excavated by the Egyptian government for such reasons.

        Egyptologist Donald Redford has asserted that the Hyksos expulsions remained a shared memory of the people of Canaan, including the Israelites, for centuries. (https://books.google.ca/books?id=lu6ywyJr0CMC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=expulsion&f=false)

        Clearly, the Hyksos being Semitic Canaanites expelled from Egypt circa 1500 BC is a massive piece of evidence for a relation to the Exodus narrative. “Israel” is then mentioned in the Merneptah Stele to exist circa 1200 BC. Josephus was discussing the link between the Hyksos and the Exodus in the 1st century in his “Against Apion”.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 28, 2016

          Yes, the Hyksos theory has been around for a very long time. Every scholar of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament knows it quite well! And to my knowledge it is not widely credited these days. Probably any solid Introduction to the Hebrew Bible textbook will explain why.

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            VincitOmniaVeritas  November 29, 2016

            I personally find the link with the Hyksos extremely strong. They were Semitic Canaanites, like the Israelites. Their main area of settlement at Avaris is in the same area east of the Nile Delta as the Land of Goshen. They were expelled circa 1600 – 1500 BC, at a time of the violent Minoan volcanic eruption at Santorini which produced a massive tsunami (parallel to the plagues), as well as when several figures in Egypt had the name of “MOSE” (Moses), including Ahmose I, and two of his princes named Ahmose-ankh (who mysteriously dies before his father and siblings) and Rahmose.

            As I stated above, Redford clearly states the expulsions were a strong shared memory of the people of Canaan, and the Exodus narrative may have developed from those memories or oral traditions.

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            VincitOmniaVeritas  November 29, 2016

            One of the “inconsistencies” with the theory often leveled by some is the mention of the Israelites being put to work in the city of Ramesses (Pi-Ramesses) in the Exodus narrative. They claim this is inconsistent because that city was not a capital and major city until circa 1279 BC and the reign of Ramesses the Great, nearly 300 years after the Hyksos expulsions.

            However, the city of Pi-Ramesses was built on almost the same exact location as the old Hyksos capital of Avaris. Thus, the authors of the Exodus narrative may have simply been referring to the precise location of Avaris by the name that was current for it at the time of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel (10th – 8th centuries BC), when the oral narrative may have taken on many of its present elements or been first written down in part.

            Hosea and Amos, dating to the 8th century BC, certainly both allude to the Exodus and wandering in the wilderness.

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        VincitOmniaVeritas  November 28, 2016

        Josephus describes a fourth sect comprised of the numerous “impostors” ( a numerous number of prophets Judaea is filled with, and which are anonymous to Josephus), “magicians” (e.g. Theudas), zealots, rebels, “robbers”, etc. Do you think Jesus and his followers were more likely from that “fourth sect” then instead of the Essenes ?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 28, 2016

          My sense is that the vast majority of Jews didn’t belong to *any* of the sects. But I owuld not put Jesus’ followers in Josephus’s “Fourth Philosophy.” Those were Jews who advocated vioent overthrow of the Romans, and Jesus’ followrs appear to have been pacifists.

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            VincitOmniaVeritas  November 29, 2016

            So, the several anonymous “impostors”/prophets or “magicians” which filled the countryside circa 30 – 60 would not have belonged to any of the four sects ?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 1, 2016

            That’s right. 99% of the people probably didn’t belong to any. Josephus says that the Pharisees were the largest group and they numbered 4000. There were over 4 million Jews at the time, throughout the world!

      • Avatar
        Eric  November 30, 2016

        Is he (Simcha) also not a naked Archaeologist?

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    SidDhartha1953  November 27, 2016

    Some of your readers have mentioned the notion that Jesus intended to bring about salvation and whether it was universal or specific to the Jews. I think it is generally assumed among present-day Christians that this salvation involves forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God. I’ve read some scholars (from the Jesus Seminar, for instance) who state point-blank that Jesus did not die for anyone’s sins, which I accept as historically accurate, but Paul and others in the NT definitely believe Jesus accomplished something they call salvation. My question is, does the salvation the NT authors proclaimed bear any resemblance to the “fire insurance” model proclaimed by evangelical and fundamentalist preachers — and even some Roman Catholics, truth be told? If not, what is it?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2016

      There is some fire and brimstone in the NT (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 1; the book of Revelation). It appears to become more of an evangelistic tool by the second Christian century (I’ll be discussing this in my new book, The Triumph of Christianity)

  19. Avatar
    drussell60  November 28, 2016

    You mentioned Mark 9:1, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that that kingdom of God has come with power.”

    Have you ever encountered anyone (scholar or otherwise) who argued that this verse was fulfilled when Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to witness the transfiguration, thus attempting to say that this event was the kingdom of God coming with power?

    It seems to me I heard someone make this stretch some time ago.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 29, 2016

      Yes, that’s a standard interpretation. Many critical scholars find it unconvincing because see Jesus radiant is not really seeing the Kingdom of God “come in power” (Jesus explains what that means more fully in Mark 13)

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        drussell60  November 29, 2016

        Take comfort in my words, these things shall come to pass………………….. in another couple of thousand years or so.

  20. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  December 4, 2016

    Bart,
    1. the apocalypticists didn’t mean that “the entire creation had become corrupt because of the presence of sin and the power of Satan” literally and universally, did they, since a part of that creation were “those who had remained faithful to the true God”? Does apocalyptic language ever explicitly allow this exception?
    2. Was the distinction between the pre-Christian Jewish of the world as corrupt and Christian beliefs about the world as corrupt that the apocalyptic view focused on corrupt leaders whose power oppressed the Jewish world and more, while the Christian view was that the corruption was within every soul?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      1. I’m not sure htere was just one apocalyptic view. But for many, the creation refers not to humans but to the world they live in; 2. I don’t understand what you’re asking.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  December 5, 2016

        In “2,” I’m asking if the following is a fair thing to say: for Israel, redemption was needed because of the corruption of the world around them while for Christians, redemption was needed because every soul was tainted by sin.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 7, 2016

          I would say for some Jews yes; and for some Christians yes. But there are huge varieties of both religions.

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