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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 would make up a spectacularly significant person who was crucified.  And I’m not arguing that no one would make up a God/man who was crucified.   I mean, I doubt anyone would, but that is decidedly not my point.  My point is that no one would make up a messiah who was crucified.

The key point to remember: the term messiah …

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Jesus the Messiah Before the Resurrection
Lost Gospels: The Greater Questions of Mary. A Blast From the Past



  1. Avatar
    godspell  November 16, 2016

    Even Paul, who came to think Jesus was up there in heaven since the dawn of creation, waiting his moment to be incarnated in human form–very hard for me to believe he thinks of Jesus as God. I liked your notion that Paul thought of Jesus as an angelic being–but an angel is a created being. In the Jewish context, a created being, however majestic and powerful, isn’t God. God is the creator of all things, and all things created by God are subordinate to God, inferior to God–even Jesus. Until, later on, the notion that Jesus was somehow coterminous with God the Father began to develop. But the gospel story existed well before that.

    Atheists of this particular ilk are often not very well-educated on this subject, nor do they think they need to be. “God-Man” “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” I love sarcasm and satire too, but it doesn’t constitute an argument, in and of itself. If you want to discuss what people believed in a bygone era, you have to try to understand them on their terms, not yours.

  2. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  November 16, 2016

    You’re probably going to address this in a future post but why would 1st century Jews think, prior to his crucifixion, that Jesus was the messiah?

    He wasn’t a powerful king or priest or a Danielesque Son of Man figure. So Jesus wasn’t what it was expected the messiah to be. I had thought perhaps that Jesus’s early followers’ experience of him as resurrected might have led to the idea that he was the messiah. But you denied that in response to an earlier question and in any event it would seem to suffer from the same defects as you address in this post.

    Could it simply be that Jesus himself claimed to be the messiah and, prior to his crucifixion, was able, through his teaching and actions and personality, to convince at least a small following?

    So his resurrection may have ultimately “confirmed” a precrucifixion belief that Jesus was the messiah — even though the crucifixion temporarily disconfirmed his messiahship?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      Yup, that’s my current thread! See today’s post.

  3. Avatar
    Eric  November 16, 2016

    This reminds me of a nagging question. This is NOT a mythicist question although I believe the “oddity” was brought to my attention in a mythicist polemic years ago.

    What does it mean when Paul writes that Christ died and rose “according to the scriptures”? I’ve considered or read that this might mean that Paul knows of it solely by reading (OT) scriptures, which I suppose one would call the “strong” argument if one were a mythicist, or that is could mean more of “in accordance with the scriptures”, i.e as foretold in the OT. This could be advanced as a “weak” argument for making a mythicist case, in that it suggests that Paul thinks, at least, that a crucified messiah was indeed to be expected (undermining your first point)

    I’m NOT asking you to refute the mythicist use of this peculiarity (to my reading), but your thoughts on whether you think it is a rather difficult choice of phrasing and/or what you think Paul’s intent or meaning is with this usage. It does seem to be a carefully chosen and stated modifier or caveat or whatever it is.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      Yes, Paul and others in his day had re-read their Scriptures with their belief in Jesus in mind, and “found” him there. What we wish we knew is which Scriptures he was referring to. (Isaiah 53? Psalm 22?)

      • Avatar
        bdawg2390  November 17, 2016

        I agree, Bart, an invented messiah just doesn’t make sense given the information we have to work with. I also like to point out how Paul admitted the movement wasn’t very successful to that point. Paul said they preached Christ crucified, a “stumbling block” to Jews and a “folly” to Gentiles (or something along those lines). Paul seems to be acknowledging there that most Gentiles viewed the claim to be ridiculous and that this concept was a serious problem to Jews at that time. This seems to fly in the face of an idea that the idea was appealing to Jews at that time. Doesn’t prove it was a problem to ALL Jews of course, but what possibly would? We can only go by the surviving sources and I think we can agree we wish scholars had more of Paul’s authentic letters to look at.

        This sort of self-conscious admission seems to be in line with the writings in other parts of Paul’s letters, where he seems to lack confidence in himself. For example, Paul said something along the lines of not being the most impressive in person, but he believed he wrote strong letters. Ironically, at other times, he appears to boast a bit, before returning to acting self-conscious again.

        I think another thing people need to keep in mind is the notion of probability. I believe the chances Jesus existed are very high. Does that mean it’s impossible? No, but scholars are looking at the information that survives and people can speculate about anything. Some people who constantly search for reasons to argue Jesus was “invented” are individuals who love exploring other sorts of conspiracy theories. Some of these people are anti-religion, but others are not, just people who appear to dedicate a lot of time to exploring ideas that experts do not find convincing.

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  November 16, 2016

    Another great post! I may have thought at times that there were *leaving and returning* deities (Persephone, and the Irish goddess Etain), and that was *symbolically* the same as “dying and returning” – associated, really, with the change of seasons. But your argument based on the meaning of the term “Messiah” is an absolute clincher.

  5. Avatar
    DavidBeaman  November 16, 2016

    I first learned the information in this post from reading your books. I founded my non-profit as a church, though I don’t think Jesus ever intended to build a church, but people are conditioned to it. I want to reconcile the historical Jesus, as you define him, with the fact that it is possible to know that Jesus was everything you say he was and still have a faith based on trust in his actual sayings as best as can be determined from textual criticism. I believe that faith that is not mythological must have a basis in fact, historical fact in the case of Jesus.

    I trust what you say about history, textual criticism, etc. I trust it all the more because you are an atheist. For me, it makes you all the more credible and less biased than most Christians writing about the same thing.

    However, I must say, that losing faith because of suffering in the world is not a good reason to me. I appreciate your work very much. I believe that your work is correct. I would do my best to defend your work against naysayers. And I see the suffering in the world and hate it. I worked in a civil war-torn country in Africa and saw more suffering than most people ever do. Furthermore, when I was much younger, I spent a couple of decades as a New York City cop and, in that context, experienced the suffering of so many people and saw so much senseless death. I have also experienced suffering and death in people that are friends and relatives of mine. I have seen people die and have been with them as they died. Yet, I never lost faith that there is one God who created everything by setting things in motion through the Big Bang. I see the good and the bad in the world. And I understand that it is hard to understand that a “loving” God can have created a world, knowing that there would be suffering in it.

    I believe in God as the uncaused cause and because I see indications of intelligent design in the universe. I have also had personal experiences of God, which I know is easy to argue against. For me, I accept that free-will seems to be very important to God, else we would just be programmed robots, puppets or the like. With free will comes bad behavior, intentionally or unintentionally, and suffering. I think God knew that, but still gave us free will because it is important enough to warrant the suffering that comes along with it.

    You may also point to geological, atmospheric and biological caused suffering. I think those things could not be avoided if there was to be planet Earth in the Universe. I don’t believe in any magic, including miracle as magic. I think God works within the context of His creation with the material of his creation even if we cannot yet understand the process. I do not believe in a magical God, nor a God who can do magical things. I do not think that everything that can be thought or imagined can be real. I think God is real and works the only way possible with the reality that is and the reality which is him.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      The bigger question is why God would have to make the laws of physics in such a way that you would need a planet like earth with, e.g., tectonic plates. Are the laws of physics bigger than God?

      • Avatar
        DavidBeaman  November 17, 2016

        I believe that the “stuff” (perhaps energy) that God is composed of can only create in a certain way, which we have labeled the laws of physics. Perhaps God used some of that “energy” to make the Big Bang and that is the only method by which our Universe could be created with a planet that could give rise to human life. In that case, the laws of physics aren’t bigger than God, they are in fact the nature of the consistency of God.

        In any event, since I believe in an uncaused cause and an intelligently designed Universe, i believe there is a God who created me. If that’s correct, then who am I to say that my morality should be superior to God’s. I think anyone who could create the Universe has to know more than me about everything and be superior to me in everything. Instead of applying my morality to God, I choose to try to understand God’s. I prefer to seek the superior of mine in all things.

        • Avatar
          Pattycake1974  November 19, 2016

          So what you’re saying is that there’s a God, but he’s limited.

          • Avatar
            DavidBeaman  November 20, 2016

            God cannot do what is impossible because he is real. Humans can see that as a limitation because we imagine that a supreme deity can do the impossible because we have been conditioned to believe that the impossible can be done by Hollywood, special effects, fairy tales, etc. No one and nothing can do the impossible because the impossible can never be real. Only the possible can exist, can be and can do.

    • Avatar
      clipper9422@yahoo.com  November 17, 2016

      I think it’s a very interesting and attractive idea to form a church around our best understanding of the historical Jesus. However, I wonder if that church already exists, ie, Judaism. Of course, such a Judaism would have to be one that emphasizes what the historical Jesus emphasizes. And the same kind of historical criticism would have to be applied to Judaism as Bart and other historical-critical scholars apply to Christianity. But I’m speculating that the result might look more like certain strains of contemporary Judaism than like any strains of contemporary Christianity.

    • Avatar
      Wilusa  November 17, 2016

      Can’t help commenting, including a few paragraphs from an essay of mine. I’d first pointed out that there are possibilities other than an Uncaused Cause (a literally infinite chain of Causes and Effects, or levels of reality on which the concepts of Cause and Effect don’t apply). But if the explanation is an Uncaused Cause, I speculated as follows…

      The Cosmos itself may be the Uncaused Cause.

      How might it have come into existence? Many scientists now speculate that “Big Bangs” create new universes (within the same Cosmos) from the eruptions of supermassive black holes. But many years ago, when they’d first realized our universe was not going to end in a “Big Crunch” that might be followed by another “Big Bang,” they’d thought everything was going to fly apart – even individual atoms – and simply end. Isaac Asimov, however, wrote that there was hope…because there are always random fluctuations in a vacuum, and even one of those fluctuations might give birth to another universe. I know Asimov wasn’t an actual scientist; but he was a very intelligent, learned man.

      Was a “fluctuation in a vacuum” the infant Cosmos? (And if so, is even a vacuum a “thing,” whose origin has to be accounted for?)

      Personally, I’m willing to accept a Cosmos that came into existence as a “fluctuation in a vacuum” – and has been evolving ever since, with life and intelligence developing as features of that evolution – as the Uncaused Cause.

      Consider two possibilities for that Cause: the Cosmos itself, vs. a completely unexplained separate Being that somehow had the power – and desire – to “create” such a thing. And chose to create a Cosmos in which eons would have to pass before anything as interesting as intelligent life could appear. (If we think of the Cosmos as the Cause – especially if we think of it as a living Being – at least a rudimentary form of Mind was probably there from the beginning. But if we assume a separate “Creator,” there’s no reason to think any form of intelligence existed within the Cosmos until it could evolve in animals, on planets.)

      If we trust “Occam’s Razor,” the simpler possibility – the one that requires fewer assumptions – is the more likely to be correct.

      • Avatar
        DavidBeaman  November 18, 2016

        Thank you for your comment.

        I keep up with theoretical physics, so I am aware of what you are saying.

        I do not believe that the Cosmos is alive. And I do not think that a fluctuation in a vacuum could have caused a universe that displays so much evidence of intelligent design. The precision that makes the Earth so conducive to human life cannot, in my opinion, be explained by such a fluctuation.

        Theoretical physics is just that, theoretical. It is unproven. And when it comes to string theory, the multiverse, etc. there is no way to remove it from the realm of the theoretical. I cannot waste time on that.

        Recently, more physicists have been leaning in the direction of intelligent design. Even Stephen Hawking who says that the Universe didn’t need a God to create it has made a recent statement to the effect that the most recent findings of physicists are hard to explain without bringing to bear the idea of intelligent design.

        Furthermore, a fluctuation implies motion, and nothing can be set in motion without a cause. Fluctuations are not uncaused causes.

        For me, God is the simpler explanation. Think of energy, possibly light energy, which we know can be coordinated (think of lasers). Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. God could be an eternal energy, coordinated to the point of being sentient and intelligent.

    • Avatar
      mjkhan  November 18, 2016

      David ,You have written good on the point of suffering and its giving arise to question why God is doing this.
      You are a respectable Bishop and people must be asking this.Islam answers it like this.This world is the test,an opportunity for people to prove how they will perform in this life so either they can earn paradise or wind up in hell.Man was told in Heaven not to listen to satan who was upset on God’s curse on him for not prostrating to adam when he was created by God so he took it upon himself to misguide Adam,God gave him permission but told humans in Quran,he is your open enemy who is bent on proving that you humans are not worth anything.So prepare yourself ,be alert of him.Now Satan excites people to do sin,which cause suffering to others and eventually to themselves.Those who consider this life as test and try to live a controlled life make it.It is the suffering of some whole life and of those to make life miserable for others in all their life makes me believe there must be a God,otherwise what is the purpose of creating a man,if there is no reward or punishment.I would recommend you to read Quran to see Muslim’s perspective as in your duty is to reply to questions of people and surely many would be asking about Islam as well.
      Regards,IF you like to ask me any other question,you are welcome to do it.I will be honored.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  November 18, 2016

        “what is the purpose of creating a man,if there is no reward or punishment.I”? Life! That is the purpose. Being alive as a human being and conscious enough to enjoy it, to experience joy and ecstasy, and sorrow and love and all of it–THAT is reward enough. I’m an existentialist and begin with what is here and clear: we’re here. Why and for what, etc., is sheer speculation to me.

    • Avatar
      Wilusa  November 19, 2016

      I’ll post a reply here again, because your reply to me shows up in my e-mail but not yet at this site…

      Yes, I’m sure we can agree, cordially, to disagree! Here’s the way I see it:

      We know whatever it was that happened at the instant of our “Big Bang” could have had many different results.

      If there had been equal amounts of matter and antimatter, they would have canceled each other out. So it wouldn’t have produced a viable universe.

      Or suppose the amount of gravity hadn’t been just right. Too little, and nothing would have adhered to anything else; too much, and everything would have collapsed into black holes. Again, not producing a viable universe.

      I’m guessing at figures here. But let’s say there was only one chance in a million that our “Big Bang” could have produced the universe it did.

      A believer in “intelligent design” will say some thinking Being (or Beings) had to be responsible for its outcome.

      At least a few years ago (I’m not sure whether the idea is as widely held now), non-believers in “intelligent design” speculated that every possibility became – if only momentarily – fact. A million universes (still guessing at the figure) came briefly into existence; and necessarily, only one survived.

      More recently (I think), most non-believers have speculated that “Big Bangs” are taking place all the time, throughout a larger Cosmos. So even if only one in a million “gets it right,” that still results in new, viable universes being born.

      Really, since we’re “inside of” something – our universe – we can’t have certainty about everything that’s in it. Let alone what it “looks like from the outside”!

      I’m reminded of the old “elephant” analogy. Suppose a person has never seen or heard of such a thing as an elephant. He’s blindfolded, and allowed to feel…an elephant’s tail. Based on that, how well will he be able to describe an elephant?

      • Avatar
        DavidBeaman  November 20, 2016

        You are speaking about speculation. One can speculate anything, but that doesn’t mean it can be real. Once set in motion, I think the big bang could only produce what it did. You attribute chance to it. I don’t think there was any chance in it. See my reply above to Pattycake1974. I think that what happened in the Big Bang was the only thing possible to happen. Speculation and guesses aren’t proofs. Neither of us can prove what we believe. That’s where faith comes in. You have faith in what you think could have happened as a result of the Big Bang. I have faith that there is God. Everyone has faith in something or other for some reason or other that cannot be proved. So, yes, we can agree to disagree. There are differences in the way people see things. When it comes to what cannot be proved, no one can say whose right or wrong.

        • Avatar
          Wilusa  November 21, 2016

          I have to make one point: I never use the term “faith” in the sense you do.

          I say that I have “speculations,” or “hypotheses.” Or that I “incline to believe” or “incline strongly to believe” something. It’s because I don’t presume to claim certainty that I call myself an agnostic.

          I do sometimes go a little farther out on a limb, and say I “believe” in reincarnation. But that’s because there’s very strong evidence for it. And I flat-out “believe” only in the basic fact – that reincarnation takes place – not in any of the notions, my own included, that have developed around it.

          “Faith”? Faith is something I might have in, say, the honesty and integrity of another person. And I wouldn’t have that kind of faith without good reason.

          But I do recognize that religious faith enriches some people’s lives. And if it’s really doing that, I’d never urge them to abandon it.

      • Avatar
        dragonfly  November 22, 2016

        I remember Australian band The Whitlams singing about love lost. “She was one in a million, so there’s five more just in New South Wales!”

  6. Avatar
    Michael Fischer  November 16, 2016

    Sometimes I read your blog and it baffles me that you are no longer a Christian.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      I sometimes think of myself as a Christian atheist.

      • Avatar
        DavidBeaman  November 17, 2016

        I can understand that.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  November 18, 2016

        Is that because you somehow see a way in which “Christian” can be an ethnicity (and not a religious belief) as much as “Jewish” can?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 20, 2016

          No, it’s because I particularly resonate with aspects of the Christian message.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  November 17, 2016

      I get the opposite impression. As an atheist Jew, I read Bart’s blog and wonder what took him so long.

  7. Avatar
    JamesFouassier  November 16, 2016

    Professor, do you think that Jesus’ earliest followers – the disciples who lived and traveled with him – actually believed him to be THE Messiah? No doubt that they were traumatized when he was executed, resulting in all of the “post-Easter” developments that may have flowed from a belief that he was resurrected. Also, no doubt that Paul believed Jesus to be the Messiah. But all the discussions and disagreements about what Jesus meant by “Son of Man” ( a human being or something more) and – if more than a mere human – whether he believed that he was that Son of Man, confuses me as to what his earliest followers – those who actually knew him in the flesh – really believed him to be.

  8. Avatar
    bbcamerican  November 16, 2016

    It appears that the Devil (or the Jesus in this case) really IS in the details!

  9. Avatar
    mjkhan  November 16, 2016

    I know yours is a christian site with christian perspective only.I respect that but I still want to bring one point to your and the attention of the readers.That is there is no other faith besides Islam that gives so much respect and love to Jesus.There is a whole chapter on Mary in Quran saying that Mary is the woman most respected among all women.Jesus came and said that I have come to revive the law.,meaning the law of Moses which was corrupted and jeremiah 8:8 was written already,before Jesus came.Jesus said about the coming of another prophet after him in JOhn 16:12-13 that when I go I will send a truthful spirit(some bible versions it is comforter,some place is advocate) who will come and will speak what he hears(Muhammad was an illiterate man who heard Quran and repeated it after what Angel Gabriel said.
    My point is that if the scholars of christianity like Prof.Ehrman whether they are agnostic or what ever bu present these facts so they can contribute to bring a bigger understanding and tolerance and brotherhood between adherents of both faiths.Muslim Scholars already call both Jews and christians as people of the book as Quran tells them to say so.Just an idea to think a food for thought,any which ever way we can make the world a better place for the mankind,will be good.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      I don’t think you have followed this site very long, if you think it is Christian!!!

    • talmoore
      talmoore  November 17, 2016

      In the Qur’an Muhammed says that Mary (Miriam) the mother of Jesus was born to Imran, but in the Torah Imran (Amran in the Hebrew) was the mother of Mary (Miriam) the sister of Moses. So either Muhammad made such a glaring mistake because he’s an incompetent prophet or because he wasn’t a prophet at all and made it all up. Either way, it doesn’t look good for Muhammad.

      (For the record, I don’t believe there is a God so I don’t believe there’s such a thing as prophecy.)

      • Avatar
        mjkhan  November 18, 2016

        Talmoore,Here is my reply to your point.

        There are more than one explanation for your allegation(not analysis)
        If there is discrepancy between names in Torah and Quran then Torah can as well be corrupted with lies as is said in Jeremiah 8:8 as it says:

        Jeremiah 8:8New International Version (NIV)
        8 “‘How can you say, “We are wise,
        for we have the law of the Lord,”
        when actually the lying pen of the scribes
        has handled it falsely?
        Also at that time there were many people with similar names and names were mostly one,not name and father.

        Thirdly you have said:
        So either Muhammad made such a glaring mistake because he’s an incompetent prophet or because he wasn’t a prophet at all and made it all up. Either way, it doesn’t look good for Muhammad.
        First thing to remember that Quran is the word of God not of Muhammad,word and doings of Muhammad are compiled in a book called”Hadith and Sunnah”Quran is specifically the word of God as was read to him,the unlettered prophet who repeated them as he heard by Angel Gabriel.
        Then about making it up doesn’t make any sense because he was unlettered.Then we can do another test,let us test Quran via science.There have been many many research done to evaluate the authenticity of the book based on science,looking for discrepancies but didn’t find anything.
        WHich other divine book on this planet is memorised from cover to cover by millions?

        • talmoore
          talmoore  November 20, 2016

          Or!…or…Muhammad wasn’t a prophet, because there’s no such thing as a prophet, because there’s no such thing as prophecy, because there isn’t really a God. So it’s all wrong. The Qur’an. The TaNaKh. The New Testament. All of them are man-made.

          I mean, that’s one possibility. Probably the most parsimonious possibility as well.

          But as I’m not here to step on anyone’s toes, I’ll just say whatever floats your boat.

      • Avatar
        dragonfly  November 18, 2016

        …or the Torah got it wrong so God had to send Muhammad to set it straight 🙂

        • Avatar
          mjkhan  November 23, 2016

          Dragonfly you wrote:
          Torah got it wrong so God had to send Muhammad to set it straight.
          Well Moses came with Torah but today jewish scholars say Torah is not original it has been changed as it is written in Jeremiah 8:8,not the fault of Moses or good jews but of those bad people who changed it.Then God sent Jesus who said”I have come to revive the law,that meant clearly that the law of Moses is corrupted.This Jews didn’t like because they didn’t want to be reminded of their wrongdoings.No one likes that either.But Jesus left without much success.Jews got him on cross(Muslims don’t believe that God will allow his representatives,or ambassador to be hanged like a thief,with them(If in this world if some country will kill the ambassador of another strong country will invite an attack and destruction.Yes or No,so is God not most powerful and strong.But Jews are smart people they would not have stopped at the death of Jesus,they made sure that Gospel according to Jesus is no where to be found.SO people don’t correct them.The persecution of Aramaic speaking tribe started so much that they had to leave Palestine and today they are in Syria,near Aleppo area.The gospels were written first time around 70 years after the demise of Jesus by these 4 people Mathew,Mark,Luke and John.and today christian scholars many many say they are altered,interjected,interpolated and changed.Therefore Quran had to be sent with another prophet Muhammad who lived and taught this book over 23 years.The coming of Muhammad is written in both OT and NT.

    • Avatar
      DavidBeaman  November 17, 2016

      I admire the faith of Muslim’s, MJKhan. I believe some similar things, though my prophet is Jesus. When you say, “My point is that if the scholars of christianity like Prof.Ehrman whether they are agnostic or what ever bu[t] present these facts so they can contribute to bring a bigger understanding and tolerance and brotherhood between adherents of both faiths,” I concur. Islam, Judaism and Christianity all believe in the same God, though they understand that God differently. All should have tolerance for each other and live peacefully with each other. I say this to you not only as a member of Dr. Ehrman’s blog community, but as the presiding bishop of a Christian church.

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  November 16, 2016

    Bart, I know you think that what Judas actually “betrayed” was the fact that Jesus was calling himself, among his disciples, the future “King of the Jews.” (Because that was the actual charge against him; and it *wasn’t* a term his followers ever used, at least publicly.)

    And you also think the ruckus he’d caused in the Temple was minor, by our standards.

    So…do you think anyone was interested in arresting him *before* Judas denounced him? I’m guessing they weren’t.

  11. Avatar
    miket  November 16, 2016

    You state that “the idea that there was a widespread notion in antiquity of dying-rising gods is a modern myth.”. I have not read ‘Drugery Devine’ but I have read Frasiers ‘Golden Bough’. It appears to me that the basic idea of a God dying and then returning to life (i.e. Osiris, Ishtar, Dionysus, etc.) was actually fairly common in antiquity. Agreed there does not seem to be a direct parallel with Jesus (i.e. a sacrificial death with self-resurrection); however, it would seem, based on these examples, that the basic concept of a god (or person becoming a god) dying and then returning to life would not be an alien concept in 1st Century Judea.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      Yes, Drudgery Divine is explicitly a response to Frasier, showing how he imported a *Christian* idea of a dying and rising god into other religions of the ancient world.

  12. talmoore
    talmoore  November 16, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, it seems like today’s mythicists have been so indoctrinated — ironically! — into the notion that the Messiah must be a god or THE God, that they can’t seem to get it through their heads that early Christians, including Paul, almost certainly did not equate Jesus with God Himself. For them, Jesus was, at most, an angelic being that came to inhabit a physical body (a preview of sorts), in order to be killed (physically killed as a real, flesh and blood human being!) as some kind of sacrifice, and taken back up to heaven to await the coming feature presentation. It was only in the next generation, amongst Gentile Christians, that his notion of a God/Christ duality probably emerged.

    It may actually be better to make a distinction between Jesus and Christ. Jesus was a real, flesh and blood human being who walked the earth. Christ, on the other hand, is the myth made up to explain why the real Jesus was unexpectedly and prematurely killed. Christ is the myth. Jesus is the real historical person.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  November 17, 2016

      A familiar distinction to me, as a Jew. It shows too how much is overlooked by the simple assertion that “Christ” means “messiah.” It’s much more complicated than that, as you know. “Christ” in Christianity does not just mean “messiah.”

    • Avatar
      Eric  November 17, 2016

      Maybe you would need a third distinction, based on the Messiah definitions around at the time. Jesus the person, Christ as the interpretations of who he was among his early followers, in a messiah-as-special-man-or-created-being context, and the later “second-person-of-the-Trinity-uncreated-being”.

  13. Avatar
    mjt  November 16, 2016

    Was there really an overwhelming expectation of a messiah among Jews? There aren’t that many OT passages that speak of the Messiah, and those that do, don’t even use the word. I’m really confused about why there would be so many people expecting someone that was only briefly mentioned in their scriptures.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      My guess is that most Jews were not expecting a messiah of any kind.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  November 17, 2016

      Consider how many nominal Christians today believe that Jesus is going to return “any day now,” and that might be a good indictator of the proportion of Jews in Jesus’ day who believed the Messiah was going to arrive “any day now”. Extrapolating from the current poll data, we could estimate that roughly 25 to 40% of American Christians definitely believe that Jesus will be returning “any day now”. (As a student of history, I’ve noticed that this proportion has been pretty consistent throughout history, with times of peaks and troughs. For example, during the Great Awakenings, the late 17th century and the Crusades were times of peak expectation, while the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were times of low expectation.)

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers were similar in ancient Palestine — roughly 25 to 40% of Jews were anxiously awaiting the Messiah. And the sense I get from reading not just the New Testament, but Josephus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, is that there were pockets where messianic zeal was more pronounced than in others. For instance, places such as the Judean desert (especially around the Dead Sea and the Jordan river valley) and the lower Galilee (where Jesus started his mission) were probably hotbeds of messianic fervor, where possibly a majority of Jews were hotly anticipating the Messiah. Meanwhile, in more urban, Hellanized areas of Judea and the upper Galilee, such as Jerusalem (and environs) and Sepphoris, messianic expectations were very low — probably even fringe. Messianic expectations were probably almost non-existent in the Diaspora.

  14. Avatar
    gavriel  November 16, 2016

    Do you count “the crucified messiah” as an extreme case of the Criterion of Embarrassment, or is it something separate from the traditional criteria?

  15. Avatar
    Tempo1936  November 16, 2016

    On the one side Prominent scholars have spent their lives studying manuscripts in a scientific manner. Their conclusions about Jesus , Paul and the Gospels are nearly the exact opposite as what is taught by the vast majority of pastors every week. These pastors normally have phD’s and spent their lives studying the Bible.

    Overtime the post modern scientific method will dominant.
    Thanks for your pioneering work particularly your many books aimed at larger audiences.

  16. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  November 16, 2016

    Just to be clear, did Jonathan Z. Smith conclude that the belief in a killed and risen god was nowhere to be found in those times or that such beliefs simply weren’t widespread?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      Yes, he says that the entire motif has been foisted on myths that did not have it (by Frazier and those after him)

  17. TWood
    TWood  November 16, 2016

    I know you answered this a few times already, but in my mind you haven’t fully answered it (I’ll ask once more and then leave it alone). I’ll lay it out it with a few bullet points. I hope you can see my confusion on your position.

    • You said Q did *not* include Jesus’ prediction of his resurrection.

    • You said you didn’t know if Q included Jesus’ “3 days/3 nights” in the sign of Jonah (you said either Matt added or Luke subtracted).

    • The “3 days/3 nights” statement is an implicit, if not explicit, prediction by Jesus of his resurrection.

    My question/confusion: How is it that you say Q did *not* include Jesus’ prediction of his resurrection if you think Q might have included the “3 days/3 nights” statement? Doesn’t this mean that you think Q *might* have included Jesus’ prediction of his resurrection after all?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      I’m apparently not being clear. If 3 days/nights is not in both Matthew and Luke then you have no compelling way of knowing if it was in Q. If Matthew and Luke both have the exact same wording for a claim about the resurrection, on Jesus’ lips, if that wording is not found in Mark, then it was from Q.

      • TWood
        TWood  November 17, 2016

        That is a clarifying way to see Q. Thank you. But another part still seems unclear (in my mind—not in your explanation). Let me say it like this: Since both Matt and Luke refer to an evil generation being given the sign of Jonah (and since Mark does not mention such a sign)—Does it then follow to think that Q did mention the “sign of Jonah” (common to Matt & Luke) without the 3 days/3 nights (unique to Matt)? Or are you saying there’s no way to say if Q said anything about the sign of Jonah, regardless of the 3 days/3 nights part?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 18, 2016

          I’m having trouble conveying my point. The only things you know were in Q were things that are in both Matthew and Luke. If something is in Matthew but not Luke, or vice versa, you cannot know if it was in Q.

          • TWood
            TWood  November 18, 2016

            I think it’s more that I’m having trouble asking my question. Here’s just a direct question:

            Do you have a sense for where Matt got his 3 days/3 nights source (is it “source M” that is basically the unknown source that’s independent to Matt?)

          • Bart
            Bart  November 20, 2016


  18. Avatar
    Tony  November 16, 2016

    Paul’s Messiah may not be exactly the one described in this post. Paul describes his Messiah in 1 Cor 8:6 as follows: “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”

    So, a Messiah, “through whom all things and we exist”. Paul’s Messiah sounds more like a creator and the operating arm of God the Father. The wording of John 1:3 is almost identical: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Paul’s Messiah is the heavenly Son of God.

    Mythicist agree that Paul’s Messiah was indeed the son of God, acting as a divine Judge, and send from Heaven to destroy God’s enemies. But God’s enemies are not the earthly Roman and Jewish authorities so admired by Paul in Rom 13. They are Satan and his Demons identified by Paul as Powers, Rulers and Authorities.

    Here is Paul in 1 Cor 15:22-25: “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”

    Paul’s followers agreed, and thought that the death and resurrection of their Messiah had brought forgiveness of the original sin. Col 2:13-15: “And when you were dead in trespasses and the un-circumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

    So, who killed (crucified) Jesus Christ, the Lord? Paul identifies the culprits in 1 Corinthians 2:8: “Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

    The ignorant “rulers of this age” who are “doomed to perish” are Satan and company. The crucifixion and resurrection took place in Satan’s world. The “Ascension of Isaiah” describes how in a vision Isaiah gets a guided tour of the heavens and he he is shown the events of the last days. The Son of God is send down the heavens where he assumes human form and at the lowest level is mistakenly killed by Satan and being hung (crucified) from a tree, but resurrected three days later. This narrative seems very similar to that believed by Paul and his followers.

    Paul’s Christ has never been on earth. The references to Christs imminent arrival, such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, are always, and only, in future tense. There are no indications of an earlier earthly residency, a return, or an expected second appearance, in any letter. Paul and others obtained this information from Jewish scripture (according to the scriptures) as he states in Romans 16:25-26, and direct revelations (appearances) from Christ as in 1 Cor 15:3-8.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      Yes, once Paul came to think Jesus was the messiah he altered radically what he thought the messiah was.

  19. Avatar
    mjkhan  November 16, 2016

    Religion fascinates me,I see what is common among their teachings to prove that though these religions were geographically and time wise way apart to each other,in time when there was no phones,electriclty,paper, overseas mail(except caravans doing business) etc etc if have similar points then they must have been coming from same source,i.e.GOD,ONE GOD.
    Abraham is called father of the three faiths,There is lot about him in Quran as well.His offering to sacrifice his son Ismael who was replaced by lamb is a story in Quran and Islam.In those times there was human sacrifice being done i.e.before Moses,Jesus and Muhammad.So when Abraham saw the dream to sacrifice his son,the one who he had gotten in old age,he understood this is a test (and didn’t think this is some effect of old age,nor did his wife,nor his friends told him to keep away from the son).God wants to test my obedience and submission,he thought when he said this dream to his son.But God wanted to make this is an example to stop human sacrifice,human killing due to his infinite mercy.(sadly even today human sacrifice goes on in Hindus,in Christians some sect,in Mexico)But imagine for a minute if this human sacrifice was rampant today.Many of us would have been kidnapped for sacrifice,would never reach home after night shift or going in alone streets,or in a new palace.Muslims today observe this thanks to God by celebrating a feast of thanks by sacrificing lamb/goat/sheep/cow every year at the time of pilgrimage called Hajj.Muslims go to Mecca and circum ambulate around the first house of worship to ONE GOD ,built by both Abraham(Called Ibrahim by Muslims)and his son Ismael.
    Big Question is why would God crucify and offer the sacrifice of his son who was christ after he himself stopped this evil practice and told to the father of the three faiths.I mean ,I am surprised at the contradictions in Christianity when I read.Yes there are many in Hinduism etc etc as well.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  November 17, 2016

      Interesting indeed. You write that “religions were geographically and time wise way apart” have “have similar points” and conclude that they “then they must have been coming from same source.” One could just as well conclude from the fact that they are so similar that they all came from the same source–human beings. But, then, since the God of the Hindus (Brahman) is not so much like the biblical God, would you conclude that Hinduism could only have come from Brahman?
      Also, as far as I know, neither the Bible nor, specifically, the story of Abraham and Isaac claims to be a story teaching the end of human sacrifice. That’s a later interpretation of the story.

      • Avatar
        mjkhan  November 18, 2016

        You have written few points.
        You have written:
        Interesting indeed. You write that “religions were geographically and time wise way apart” have “have similar points” and conclude that they “then they must have been coming from same source.” One could just as well conclude from the fact that they are so similar that they all came from the same source–human beings.
        My reply:
        Well they could be coming from human beings.This is one of the allegations thrown at Quran that it is copy of Bible.If it is copy of bible then it should have also same mistakes as bible has?But it doesn’t have any mistake,let alone the same mistakes!
        Then you write:
        But, then, since the God of the Hindus (Brahman) is not so much like the biblical God, would you conclude that Hinduism could only have come from Brahman?
        My reply:
        Islamic explanation is this.That There is one God who sent prophets to all mankind in different areas(geographically)and different times.There are some which are mentioned in Quran by name and others are not.But when you read their book,i.e.Vedas,you be surprised to find similarity in it of message and even wordings.E,g The concept of God is same as in Quran,that”God has no image”,that God can’t be compared to anything”That God is merciful and punishes the transgressors.Even the wordings,like they listen but hear not,look but see not is also same as in Quran.Even more so that mention of coming of Prophet (Muhammad) is written in old testament,new testament and Hindu vedas in detail.
        Then you write:
        Also, as far as I know, neither the Bible nor, specifically, the story of Abraham and Isaac claims to be a story teaching the end of human sacrifice. That’s a later interpretation of the story.
        My reply:
        First the son offered for sacrifice was not Isaac but Ismael.Read your book over.And a bigger point is that God has sent prophets to give guidance to people of the time or place who listened ,give them glad tidings of paradise in second birth and scary news about entering hell to those who rebelled.This guidance has been in both their preaching and their actions.If you think that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Ismaeil just for fun then it is sad to know.A God whose every action that our todays’ so called advance science finds to be very precise and based on reasoning,logic and for a definite purpose will do such a stupid thing(if it has no purpose).
        The purpose of this human sacrifice to be replaced with animal sacrifice was to tell humans to stop sacrificing humans form that time on wards.This was his infinite mercy and saved mankind from extinction.IN this thanks giving festival that Muslims celebrate world over should be joined by both Jews and Christians for the sake of solidarity.

        • SBrudney091941
          SBrudney091941  November 22, 2016

          You make fun of my view by pretending that I said that God had Abraham do “just for fun.” That’s hardly what I said and it is your response that “is sad to know.” What I had written was that claims that the story of Abraham and Isaac was teaching the end of human sacrifice is not in the Bible but a later interpretation of the story. Your response was merely to repeat yourself.
          You wrote, “a bigger point is that God has sent prophets to give guidance to people of the time or place who listened ,give them glad tidings of paradise in second birth and scary news about entering hell to those who rebelled….” First, that is a theological belief, not a historical approach which is what this site takes. Second, neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor Judaism is about Heaven and Hell as consequences of good and bad behavior or faith, respectively.
          Please don’t preach here.

          • Avatar
            mjkhan  November 23, 2016

            We live in a small world and when we speak about others we should also be listen to others.
            YOu have surprised me about Torah that it is not about paradise or hell lined with good or bad behaviour.It is surprising to me.Because according to Quran Moses who is the prophet of Muslims as well(Quran says don’t discriminate among prophets)He came for a purpose which was same as of all others before and after him.
            But all the previous prophets said they were for some people in certain time while Prophet Muhamamd and Quran are for all the mankind for all time.
            To quiet someone form saying truht by accusing him of preaching is not open mindedness nor tolerance.

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  November 19, 2016

      Judaism evolved from Canaanite polytheism into henotheism and then to monotheism. Then Christianity evolved from Judaism. The old and new testaments were translated and spread around the world, then Muhammad started preaching a modified form of them. So that explains the similarities between those three religions- they’re all related. Most of the religions created in the last 200,000 years were probably polytheistic. Does this mean they must have all come from the gods?

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  November 21, 2016

        I think the oldest signs of a human activity that might have been religious in some way goes back to about 24,000 years ago in what is now Turkey.

        • Avatar
          dragonfly  November 23, 2016

          Actually I think it’s 70,000 years ago in Africa. I got confused. But I do think religion is biological and would have existed in some form much earlier than that.

  20. Avatar
    puzzles  November 16, 2016

    I just happened to add a book to my Amazon wish list called “The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ” by Daniel Boyarin. The advertising blurb mentioned the Gabriel Revelation Stone discovered in 2008 and how that supports Boyarin’s claim that Christianity existed before Jesus. Apparently the inscription on the stone says something about a Jewish hero rising from the dead within three days. If ideas like that were common in Judaism before Jesus, then the idea of a Messiah rising from the dead within three days might be a natural myth to create.

    MY REAL QUESTION is what do you think of the Enoch Seminar and the books written by Gabriele Boccaccini and Daniel Boyarin. I just finished reading “Beyond the Essene Hypothesis” by Boccaccini, and I thought it was very interesting. HOWEVER, I don’t want to waste time reading these types of books if they are way out on the fringes of the historical consensus – no matter how interesting they are to me.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      Yes, they are two absolutely superb scholars.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  November 19, 2016

        Do you agree with Boyarin that Christianity existed before Jesus?

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