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The Next Project: How Jesus Became God

Now that I have finished my Bible Introduction (a dozen or so scholar-teachers are reading it now to tell me what they think; so I have a month to move on to do other things), I am starting in on the next big project, my long-ago promised book “How Jesus Became God”. People have known about this book for years, and keep asking me when I’m going to write the thing.

The answer is: Now!

So the deal is this. I was two weeks away from starting to write the book back in 2005. I had done all the research for it and was literally ready to begin. I had a contract with Oxford University Press, I had the book completely outlined, I was ready to roll.

As fate would have it, I had to make a trip up to New York City in order to … I don’t know what I was doing. Probably just going up for pleasure. Sarah and I try to get to NYC at least once a semester, and for a week or so in the summer (she’s a theater person – until this year was the Chair of Theater Studies at Duke – and so, well, we do a lot of theater). But when I’m up there I often will get up with some of the Oxford University Press people for business, to talk about how the books I’ve done with them are doing, what books I’m working on next, how they will be marketed, what direction my writing should take, and so forth and so on.

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The Resurrection as a Key to Early Understandings of Jesus
Peter, The Smoked Tuna, and the Flying Heretic

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Adam  October 2, 2012

    Really looking forward to this! There seems to be a huge gap between ancient Greek-Roman (non-Jewish) and modern “worldviews” that explain in small part why if Jesus came today in our time doing the same things he did back then without us having any previous knowledge of him we probably wouldn’t considered him God while for some non-Jewish Greco-Romans 2000 years ago it would not have been a stretch to consider him or call him god. Understanding ancient Greek-Roman (non-Jewish) “worldviews” gives one a small but important glimpse into how a man like Jesus become to be thought of as god. I think this mindset is illustrated in Acts 14:11-15:

    11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. 14When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

    If these (gentiles?) thought Paul and Barnabas were “human” gods because of the miracle(s) they did, it would be no wonder why Jesus became to be called and considered god–considering what oral tradition said he did.

  2. Avatar
    lfasel  October 2, 2012

    The early apotheosis of Jesus by the “believers” in the Greek cities would not be a uncommon thing as one can see in Acts 14:11,12. However, the use of the word “God” as recorded by Thomas if indeed Thomas said those words would of had a different connotation then how it is understood by many Christians. Being a Jew it would of meant , my King or even priest or my ruler, not the literal Creator. I look forward to your comments. on this very controversial topic.

  3. Avatar
    hwl  October 3, 2012

    I didn’t know Dale Allison is a Christian believer. I thought in “Resurrecting Jesus”, he identified himself as a deist.
    You wrote an academic version of “Forged” (when is that coming out?) It would be great if you would do the same for this forthcoming book – after all, you have already done the research, so why not go the extra mile to produce an academic book.
    Is it really accurate to characterise N.T. Wright as a “very conservative” author – I thought you view him on a similar theological camp as Metzger. If Wright is very conservative, then pretty much everyone who identifies themselves as evangelical, would be way off the scale.
    If you have strong views on the subject, it would be good to write a post on Markus Vinzent’s recent book “Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament” where he argued the resurrection of Jesus was almost non-existent in many early Christian writings of the first 140 years of Christianity and it was response to Marcion that interest in the resurrection was revived.
    Can you write a blog on whether the phenomenal success of “Misquoting Jesus” and “Jesus interrupted” had taken you by surprise?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2012

      I don’t know whether Tom Wright considers himself as an evangelical, but he is certainly adored by evangelicals and widely considered one within his own context. I just reread Resurrecting Jesus today; I think the deist comment needs to be put in context; he believes God raised Jesus from the dead. It’s very hard indeed to argue that Jesus resurrection was virtually non-existent, since it’s a dominant theme in most of the early Christian writings!

  4. Avatar
    Mikail78  October 3, 2012

    Bart, you said, “That will make it a very different book from the one I had originally imagined for Oxford. It will be less technical, less academic, and will try to have a much wider appeal and interest. And I’m really pumped for it.”

    This is really good news for someone like me, who is a non-elite and a member of the pickup truck and gun rack crowd. 🙂 Seriously, though, Bart, this sounds like it will be an awesome book, as always! Can’t wait!

  5. Avatar
    SJB  October 3, 2012

    I’m also interested in how early Jewish Apocalyptic concepts were translated into Greco-Roman concepts as the movement spread and became primarily non-Jewish. For example, how the “Kingdom of God” on earth gave way to the idea of the “Second Coming” and Heaven. And the tension between the idea of the Jewish Messiah and the pagan Divine Savior. Will this factor into your discussion or is this wandering too far afield?

    Have you considered doing for this subject what you did with the FORGED material and have both a technical scholarly work and a more popular work?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2012

      This *may* feed into it. Haven’t decided yet.

      I doubt if I’ll write a scholarly book on this. I’m not sure there’s a huge need for it (virtually every scholar of the NT already has his/her informed opinion about it).

  6. Avatar
    Sharif  October 3, 2012

    I am really looking forward to this book!

    Also, Dale Allison’s Resurrecting Jesus essay is fantastic! I think it sums up and analyzes the information about the resurrection really well. If you can, please tell us a little bit more about what you think regarding the evidence for/etiology of the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 15:1-8.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2012

      Short answer: I think there stories of Jesus appearing to people — including some whom Paul knew — and that this led eventually to the empty tomb stories (if Jesus came out, it must be empty!)

  7. Avatar
    maxhirez  October 3, 2012

    “Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene” was the last of your trade books that I picked up-and I’m about a quarter of the way through it. I know that I’ll get “How Jesus Became God” and probably every other book after that, but please don’t burn yourself out Bart. It didn’t seem like there was a full year between “Forged” and “Did Jesus Exist?” and now another trade book on top of the “scholarly version” of “Forged” and the Intro to the Bible-you’re the hardest working man in Biblical studies!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2012

      WEll, Did Jesus Exist was originally planned as an e-book only, and we weren’t sure how long it would be. It just grew with time!

  8. Avatar
    Yentyl  October 3, 2012

    Are you going to bring out that the fourth word in the Torah in Hebrew, Genesis 1:1, is “et,” or aleph-tav, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, that coincides with John 1:1 and Jesus’ statement in the book of Revelation that he is the “alpha and omega,” in Hebrew “the aleph and the tav?” That in Genesis 1:1, the creator God (Jesus) created the heavens and the earth? And in the story of the akeidah, the angel said, “God will provide HIMSELF a lamb,” in other words he will be the lamb? And in Zachariah 14:4 it says “HIS feet shall stand that day upon the Mount of Olives.” How did God get feet? God became man in order that He might die for the sins of mankind. His plan from the beginning. The lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

    • Avatar
      Adam  October 4, 2012

      I don’t wanna sound sarcastic, but if one takes everything literally in the OT (God having feet, etc.), what do you do with Psalm 91:4 where it is said “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” I don’t think anyone would say God is going to soon come as a bird.

  9. Avatar
    seeker_of_truth  October 3, 2012

    ,,,delicious anticipation…

  10. Avatar
    brandyrose  October 3, 2012

    So looking forward to this book!

  11. Avatar
    Bill  October 3, 2012

    Well, I’m sure it will be something akin to what Larry Hurtado does so well.

    Also, as an historian (you) it might be useful for folks such as us to give us your take on NT Wright as historian and…

  12. Avatar
    Jacobus  October 3, 2012

    Prof. Ehrman, Isn’t there an in-between stance between Harper and OUP? “How did Jesus become a God?” is such an important theme that there must be a bit more information than “Did Jesus Exist?” Could you share a few trajectories or something like that with us?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2012

      Yes, it will be heavier hitting than Did Jesus Exist. But I will try to make it completely accessible to the non-expert, interested lay reader.

  13. Avatar
    JTShaw  October 3, 2012

    Interesting that you mention N.T. Wright. My library just acquired his “How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels” (HarperOne, 2012), which appears to address something of the same subject, but from a theological rather than purely historical perspective. I can’t tell for sure at the moment…the book was checked out almost the moment it hit the shelf. That happens to your books, too.

    Which leads me to another reason to thank you for your blog: I’m the librarian who orders in Religious Studies, and I’ve added your blog to my regular sources for purchase ideas. Basically, “if Ehrman thinks it’s worth reading, it’s probably worth buying.” We don’t have a graduate program in Religious Studies, so your work with HarperOne is especially welcomed (though I’ll order your Oxford titles as well).

    For the most part, I pass over highly technical studies given the nature of our particular program, but I did order a copy of Stephen Carlson’s dissertation, “The Text of Galatians and Its History.” I thought we needed a recent example of the state-of-the-art, even if it mostly flies over the heads of all but a couple of our professors. I think I have just enough background to appreciate that this dissertation is a truly spectacular piece of work. So, congratulations to Dr. Carlson; and to Drs. Goodacre and Ehrman for shepherding it through.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 3, 2012

      Wow: Carlson’s dissertation!! Yes, it is definitely high flying, an exemplary piece of research. Which most NT scholars won’t even be able to follow!

  14. Avatar
    mark  October 5, 2012

    Bart, are you planning any future projects with The Great Courses? I have the five or so courses you have done already, but a couple more would be great!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 6, 2012

      We’re in discussions now about another one. I’ve done six altogether, but it’s been years now!

  15. Avatar
    glucab86  October 10, 2012

    Will you use the “cognitive dissonance” argument in your book? I can see striking parallels with the story of the first christians and “When prophecy Fails” by Leon Festinger. This could be a key to understanding the interpretation that those who had invested everything in the Messianic hope (Peter) gave about the visions. More investment in a belief, the harder it is to abandon it even with incontrovertible evidence that is false. The brain will find excuses of any kind:

    “Dissonance is aroused when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one’s belief, the dissonance can result in misperception or rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others to restore consonance”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Prophecy_Fails

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      Yes, Festinger’s book is a classic, and a terrifically fun read! I suggest it to everyone! I’ve *heard* that cognitive dissonance is no longer as acceptable among social pyschologists as it once was, but I would love someone on the blog to let us all know. In any event, if you want to see the use of cognitive dissonance in a historical study of ealry Christianity, see John Gager’s (also) classic, Kingdom and Community.

      • Avatar
        glucab86  October 11, 2012

        Thanks for the book advice!

        Perhaps the theory can be challenged to some extent (especially the reasons for cognitive dissonance inside the brain), but there are facts and so many studies that can’t be ignored. Cognitive dissonance “just happens” and in the end just some observation is needed to confirm it 😀 I’ve started 1 week ago “Mistakes were made (but not by Me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts”. Very nice book (2007) by Elliot Aronson, another cognitive dissonance “Giant”.

        A nation that believed in a powerful and mighty god crushed and subdued by the Romans. It seems the perfect condition for giving birth and sustain the most absurd excuses and theories!

  16. Jesse80025
    Jesse80025  November 4, 2012

    So, as I understand it, you don’t think Jesus claimed to be God? Do you also think he predicted he would be resurrected by God or that his death would be an atonement? I find it easiest to explain where the Christians got these beliefs by just agreeing that he said these things. Will you deal with an alternative explanation in the book?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 4, 2012

      No, I’m certain Jesus never claimed to be God. (You’ll note he never does so in our earliest Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke — or in their sources — Q, M, L, etc.) I think those claims (only in John) and the “prediction” that he would be crucified and raised from the dead are best explained as words put on his lips by his later followers, who indeed believed that he was God and that he knew in advance what was to happen to him.

      • Jesse80025
        Jesse80025  November 9, 2012

        Very cool! I can’t wait to see if you explain whether or not you thought Peter or possibly the other disciples thought he was God. Just as a side question, do you think there’s any historicity to the eucharist scene from the gospels? Paul references it in a few creed statements. I thought perhaps there might be historicity to it.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  November 9, 2012

          No, I don’t think any of them did. Eucharist: I doubt if it happened as narrated, as it presupposes not only Jesus’ death but his death “for sins” — a view that I don’t think Jesus at all had.

          • Christopher Sanders
            Christopher Sanders  November 11, 2012

            Two questions; Will you be doing debates for this subject? I’m sure there will be loads of scholars would love to debate you.. though perhaps not when they see the case you present in the book 🙂 I personally have been dying wishing that you would do a debate on purely the issue of authorship, but really would just be extremely happy to see you get back into the debating stage, at all, for any reason. Maybe debate whether aliens could solve the problem of evil? 🙂

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 12, 2012

            Yes, I’ve been avoiding debates lately. I’m just never sure what good they do…. But yes, I may have some debates related to how Jesus became God. One group has asked if I’m interested in debating the related question of whether Jesus saw himself as God (I think the answer is: absolutely not!).

  17. Christopher Sanders
    Christopher Sanders  November 11, 2012

    I meant to ask a second question with that previous one, whoops..

    You stated “One of the keys for the book will be explaining the importance of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection for the altered and altering views of who Jesus was”. Does this include the belief that Jesus died for the sins of mankind? If you don’t believe that Peter or the early disciples believed that Jesus was God, then I’m wondering if you think they believed in the salvation from sins through the blood of Jesus thing?.

    Also, third question; Will you deal with the apologist claim that belief in Jesus as God is to un-Jewish for the early Christians to come to have believed without actually having seen a resurrected Jesus as proof? This claim always strikes me as extremely naive.. Besides, isn’t the Old Testament FILLED with stories of Jews who had been as close to God as you can possibly be (without being Adam or Moses) who came to believe in other foreign gods? LOL I do have to admit that it’s rather complicated to explain why Paul, a pharisee, would have come to believe something so radical from his teachings.. But I certainly don’t find a number of scenarios and motives for such a transformation through natural mechanisms implausible.. Will you deal with that in the book?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 12, 2012

      My view is that the resurrection was indeed the key for making the followers of Jesus come to think that he was in some sense God. But that the earliest followers did not think that he had always been God, but that he was *made* into a divine being at the resurrection. For them, he did indeed die for the sins of others, but not because he was God (any more than the animals sacrificed for the sins of others were gods).

  18. Avatar
    fred  January 11, 2013

    Dr. Ehrman – Have you read Alan Segal’s “Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee”? Segal hints at a couple of things that could be related to the defication of Jesus:

    1) He identifies Jesus with the “Glory of the Lord” — referring to Ezek 1:25-28. Segal writes: “Is Pau’s Christianity rooted in the identification of Christ with the Glory of God (the Hebrew “Kavod”), God’s sometimes human appearance in the visions of the Hebrew Bible? Luke provides the first interpretation of Paul’s conversion by figuring it in terms of Ezekial’s prophetic commissioning: as a conversion, commissioning or vocation, Paul’s movement to Christianity is interpreted is interpreted as the result of a revelation of the image of God’s glory.

    2) Consideration of Jesus as a divine mediator – something like Moses, but even more like heavenly mediators Yahoel (from the Apocalypse of Abraham) and angelic mediators (e.g. Wazir)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 12, 2013

      Yes, I read it when it first came out. He was a terrific scholar and a really good guy, who died way too young. Thanks for recalling these points to my attention.

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