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The God Christ and the Jews

I should probably at some point provide a sketch of how my book How Jesus Became God will be structured and organized (I don’t *think* I’ve done that yet; I need to look).  In any event, in the second to last chapter  I show how by the fourth century there was a broad consensus that Jesus was God in a very concrete sense: he was co-eternal with God the Father (there never was a time before which he did not exist) and was “of the same substance” with the Father, and therefore was actually equal with the Father.  In the final chapter, I go into the ramifications of this view for various polemical relationships Christians were in: with pagans (whose emperor used to be a competitor-divine-man with Jesus), with one another (as more Christological controversies erupted), and with Jews.   Here’s a part of my section on what the effect of the claim that Jesus was God had on the relations of Christians and Jews.

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To discuss the rise of Christian anti-Judaism in antiquity would take an entire book – or rather it has taken an entire book, lots of entire books, especially in the aftermath of the holocaust.  Here I want to consider just one aspect of the topic.   The Christian belief that Jesus was God had serious ramifications indeed for Jewish Christian relations in antiquity, because it was widely thought that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death.  If the Jews killed Jesus, and Jesus was God, does it not follow that the Jews had killed their own God?

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The Next Trade Book: Jews and Christians
Humans Who Become Angels

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Comments

  1. Adam0685  April 28, 2013

    Melito’s statement that “Because he had healed their lame, And had cleansed their lepers, And had guided their blind with light, And had raised up their dead” got me rethinking about the origin of the miracle accounts in the gospels. Considering the gospels are 40-60 years removed from Jesus’ death, I wonder how these miracle stories arose so quickly. Do you discuss the origin of the gospel miracle stories anywhere in your books?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2013

      I don’t think 40 years is long for miracle stories to arise. When I was an evangelical Christian I would hear stories about things that happened *last week* that I know for a fact didn’t happen….

      • Adam0685  April 30, 2013

        They may have arose in some cases because the divine and the miraculous go hand in hand (as seen in Acts 14:8-12 and elsewhere). Logic for those who later invented these stories was probably not Jesus did miracles therefore he is divine; but rather Jesus was divine therefore he must have performed miracles.

      • Pofarmer  April 30, 2013

        All the time. There are constantly stories circulating about this or that miraculous occurance. There was one couple weeks ago about how all the apostles were martryed. I debunked it, and started to send it back, but thought better of it. Weak moment.

      • Joshua150  May 1, 2013

        Excellent observation. Me too. Remember those stories and publications about some Pentecostals raising people from the dead in some SE Asia islands in the 70’s? It ran like wildfire through the Preaching circuits I was around at the time.

  2. Xeronimo74  April 28, 2013

    Bart, the one thing I’ve never understood about Christianity, and still don’t is: ‘Jesus’ was only the human incarnation of one part/aspect of the Trinity, right? So his ‘death’ simply meant that the physical body he was in was ‘shutdown’. The soul or spirit animating that body never ceased to exist though, right? Nor did God/Trinity in ‘Heaven’ while all the drama occurred on Earth.

    So what’s the big deal again? That the physical incarnation of an allegedly eternal being had to endure a couple of hours of human pain? But that’s not more than a tiny blip on the big scale! It’s like me having had a bug bite as a child. Hurt at the time, can’t remember the pain today.

    Also, wasn’t this death required by God so he’d be able to save Humankind??

  3. Wilusa  April 28, 2013

    Horrifying! And the tragedy is that, given what the Christians who heard this sort of sermon had been indoctrinated into believing, they would have thought it made perfect sense. Melito (or his speech-writer, if he had one) was a terrific writer.

    Re one of your other topics, the fact that Roman emperors had previously been regarded as “divine men in competition with Jesus”…I’d never thought about the shift in beliefs that must have required! I’m surprised, when I think about it, that the emperors *let* a faith take hold in which someone who’d once been a human being was exalted above themselves.

  4. philologue  April 28, 2013

    The whole narrative of Christians persecuting Jews because they killed Jesus, is too simplistic, and ridiculous. (Not saying it didn’t happen, I just think the Christians responsible were idiots.) 1, Christianity NEEDED Jesus to die to even exist, that was the whole purpose of his coming as far as they were concerned, death and subsequent resurrection, so they should be thanking the Jews for fulfilling that vital part of his mission; 2, it wasn’t the entire Jewish people for all generations that were responsible for Jesus’ death, but rather an elite minority of chief priests and such that called for his death, so it makes no sense to persecute the entire Jewish population for centuries to come; and 3, Jesus himself taught to love your enemies and turn the other cheek, so why was that never applied to Jews? The whole thing is unfathomable to me.

    Thanks for the post anyways, just had to get that off my chest haha.

    • Newbhero  October 22, 2016

      But if jesus needed to die, and he couldnt suicide or just die of old age (for some reason?), he needed a murderer. The jews were perfect since it would simultaneously provide a scapegoat, AND an explanation to why of ALL the people in the world that should have believed christianity (since christianity claims to be in line and a fulfillment of the OT), would the people that knew the OT the most be precisely the people that did not believe christianity. Obviously it couldnt have been because christianity was contrary to the OT and thus not to be paid attention to, but it must have been because the jews secretly DID know Jesus was god, but they HATED god and thus hated jesus and christianity because they are evil.

  5. hwl  April 28, 2013

    I always find the sentiment up till Second World War among some Christians towards Jews perplexing: whatever the crimes of some 1st century Jews done towards Jesus, it is wholly irrational to blame Jews living centuries and millennia later for the crimes of their distant ancestors.
    Regarding the notion of committing deicide: by the late Patristic period, how did the theologians understand the death of God – did God the Son die on the cross, if so, how is the mortality of God the Son compatible with an equally firm notion of the immortality of God?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2013

      Well, church fathers believed God the son became a human, and humans can die. But his spirit lived on!

      • hwl  April 30, 2013

        Jesus as God is immortal because his divine spirit lives on? I thought by the late Patristic Period, the theologians believed all human spirit live on after death in one form or another. Then in what sense is the divine Son immortal whereas humans are mortal?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 4, 2013

          Well, in traditional theology it is because his body was raised immortal — something that hasn’t happene yet for believers.

      • bobnaumann  May 2, 2013

        But they also believed he was completely God and completely human (if that makes any sense) so did God die when the human died?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 4, 2013

          Ah, I can see that you need to read some good patristic theology, where the church fathers wonder about such things….

  6. toddfrederick  April 29, 2013

    Barnabas also wrote a letter that was extremely anti-semitic by today’s standards, so I understand, since I have never read it. Where can that letter be found? I understand that it nearly made it into the NT Canon.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2013

      It’s in the Apostolic Fathers. I have translations in several of my publications, including Lost Scriptures.

  7. RonaldTaska  April 29, 2013

    Although you have touched on the topic in your posts about your book, it is still not completely clear to me how you conceptualize the Resurrection. I have been reading about the Lady of Medjugorje where 6 adolescents claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in June, 1981 in what used to be Yugoslavia and millions have now become convinced that this occurred. So, is this Lady of Medjugorje event analogous to the Resurrection in that there are a few eyewitnesses who then convince millions of others? In addition to the supernatural explanation, there are, at least, four natural explanations as follows:
    1. Mental illness in the eyewitnesses and/or the subsequent believers
    2. Drug-induced psychosis
    3. A manipulative lie for a variety of possible reasons
    4. Some imagined they saw a deceased person (actually this is not all that uncommon during grief) and this imagination gets amplified by wish-fulfillment and “group think.”

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2013

      Ah! I’ll be dealing with these issues in the book!

      • RonaldTaska  April 30, 2013

        Thanks. I look forward to reading what is going to be a really good book. I know you have explained that no one expected a Resurrected Messiah so the belief that Jesus was/is God does not completely depend upon a belief in the Resurrection, but clearly the belief in the Resurrection enhances the claim that Jesus was/is God and so the Resurrection has to be understood in some way or other. Thanks again and have a good trip. .

  8. talitakum
    talitakum  April 29, 2013

    In this sermon I find no explicit reference to “Jews” or “Hebrews” as murderers, but rather to “Jerusalem” and “the right hand of Israel” – I’m not sure but I think that in OT we can find similar rhetorical figures in the prophets’ speeches, like “woe to the shepherds of Israel” (the right hand of Israel?) or “Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem!” (btw, why did they speak such an old-fashioned english??)… Even Jesus accused “Jerusalem” to kill prophets..
    So it seems tome that the real new and dramatic thing in Melito’s anti-Jewish sermon is the kind of crime committed (!). Kind regards,

  9. Mikail78  April 29, 2013

    With no disrespect towards those who struggle with schizophrenia (and I really do mean that. I’m not trying to be funny here), I’ve always found Christian hostility to Jews for “killing Jesus” to be almost, in a way, schizophrenic. First of all, even though the Biblical passion narratives aren’t exactly friendly towards the Jewish community, they do mention Roman involvement in the death of Jesus, and the book of Acts explicitly says the Romans also crucifed Christ. Regardless, the death of Christ is one of the main foundations of Christianity! In the gospel of John, you have Jesus saying that he lays his life down and that no one takes it from him. According to Christian Theology, Jesus had to die for our sins. So, if people are going to get mad at someone for the death of Jesus, shouldn’t they get mad at God? Ultimately, according to Christian theology, it’s God who is responsible for the death of Jesus.

    • Pofarmer  April 30, 2013

      I’m thinkng there has been evolution of the theology over time.

  10. Pofarmer  April 30, 2013

    Teh crazy has been going on for a long, long, time.

  11. JamesFouassier  April 30, 2013

    Could you please summarize how this may have been the culmination of the internecine struggles between “traditional” Judaism and the new Jewish-Christian movement ?

  12. dhjones1  May 1, 2013

    Professor: I hope will cover the origins of transubstantiation.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 4, 2013

      Well, Catholics would say that the “origins” were the words of Jesus as the Last Supper: “this is my body” — etc.

  13. bobnaumann  May 2, 2013

    Martin Luther was a virulent antisemite. His book “the Jews and Their Lies” was used to stir up hatred against the Jews in Germany ever since the 16th century and was quoted by Streicher and Himmler to justify thei treatment during WWII.

  14. Jdavis3927  May 4, 2013

    I bet the tithes were looking good that day.

  15. lreadl  May 8, 2013

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I am looking forward to your new book. Just wondering if you had read Richard Rubenstein’s similarly titled “When Jesus Became God” and if so, what you thought of it. Also, the same question regarding L. Michael White’s “Scripting Jesus”?

    Thanks.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 9, 2013

      Yes, I thought it was a fine book. But it’s really about the ARian controversy, not about when Jesus *really* became God (which was much earlier than that).

      • BattlinMoses  December 2, 2013

        I would tend to agree, that at some specific time, Jesus’ original status as Prophet — Preist — King or rather, ‘functionally’ Theos on earth, took several progressive steps…functional/adamic (NT)…modalistic (Ignatius) subordinationist unitarian (mostley all Patristic writers before the 4th century and even beyond). If one should need to classify these Antenicene fathers as lowerchase “t” trinitarian, en masse they would have considered the One God to be a member of a triad (Tertullian); where the father generated God the Son, Truths projection, two beings, one Begotten and the other Un-begotten. Together the Father and the Son send the Spirit by way of procession.

        Really, the Platonic overtones are too apparent to not regard the use of ’emanation’ language as Gnostic ideals creeping in the back door, while speaking as if ,by way of a subtle apology, to be against Gnosis in any form in the open. To me, the idea of the ‘eternal’ spirit flying away from ‘the man’ Jesus has not escaped into history as to vanish from antiquity to modernity. The idea of dualism gave rise to the Spirit escaping unscathed as to have leaving the body, the passenger leaving the ship, and Re-incarnating at his Resurrection or disregarding the body and rising as the Gnostic rendition of ‘soma pneumatikon’. Can anyone deny that the idea of soul/body dualism is not Platonic, that the death of God incarnate is not Gnostic, that the doctrine of orginal sin is not Manichaeism, that the doctrine of The Trinity is not Mysterianism? That the leap from a Jewish apocalyptic Prophet and Messiah proclaiming the Kingdom of the One God has abounded to a 3 person Godhead, will never cease to amaze me.

        Thanks

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