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The Radical Implications of the Resurrection

Over the years on the blog, I have reflected a number of times on the significance of the earliest Christians’ belief in the resurrection.  On this Easter morning, I thought it would be appropriate to return to one of those reflections.

The most important result of the disciples’ belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead was that it radically changed their understanding of what it meant to say Jesus was the messiah.  As I have explained before that in my view, ,Jesus did believe he was the messiah (in a certain sense), and his followers believed it.  Given everything we know about Jewish beliefs at the time, that almost certainly mean that they thought that he was (or would become) the king of the Jewish people.   That’s certainly how the Roman governor Pontius Pilate took it.  It was because Jesus made such a claim that Pilate ordered him crucified.

The crucifixion would have proved beyond any doubt  — to anyone paying attention — that Jesus was not the messiah after all.  Rather than overcoming the enemy to establish a new kingdom, he was squashed by the enemy, publicly humiliated and tortured to death.  That was the opposite of what would happen with the messiah.

But then something equally dramatic happened.  The disciples came to believe that  Jesus was raised from the dead.  They started working out the implications of that belief for understanding Jesus, and it led, over a long series of reflections among a number of Jesus growing band of followers, to rather amazing conclusions.  It in fact is the beginning of the idea of a trinity.

For Jesus’ first followers, the resurrection that God really had showered his special favor on Jesus (though in a complete unexpected way).  That meant that, contrary to what they initially thought, he was not cursed by God (as one hanging on a tree) but was the one specially blessed by God.  And that is absolutely the key to the disciples’ subsequent train of thought.

They had previously thought, during Jesus’ life, that he was the one anointed by God to perform his task on earth, his future king.   They now came to think he really was the one anointed by God.  In fact, he had been taken by God up to heaven – and as I pointed out before, ancient people, whether Jews or Gentiles, who came to think that someone was taken to heaven came to believe that he had been made a divine being, the Son of God, or a god himself.

That’s what the followers of Jesus (those who came to believe in the resurrection) came to think of Jesus.  For most Jews, the messiah was indeed to be the son of God – but only in the way that David had been the son of God, or that Solomon had been the son of God (see 2 Sam 7:11-14).  That did not (for most Jews) make David or Solomon *God*.   They were, instead, sons of God because they were the ones who mediated God’s will on earth.  But with Jesus it was different.  He was not only the messiah/son of God (a human called by God to mediate his will) .  He actually had been made a divine being.  He was THE Son of God!

And that means that he was a “messiah” in a different sense from what they disciples had originally thought, during his lifetime.   At that time, the disciples thought that the future scenario was to be this:  sometime during their, and Jesus’, lifetime a cosmic divine figure called the Son of Man would arrive in judgment from heaven to destroy the forces of evil and set up God’s kingdom on earth, with Jesus at the helm.   But once the disciples came to believe in the resurrection they “knew” that he was himself a cosmic divine figure.   And it was he himself who was coming *back* from heaven in judgment.  Jesus himself was the Son of Man.

In the Gospels Jesus frequently speaks of himself as the Son of Man.  Why is that?  It is not, in my opinion, because the historical Jesus understood himself to be the Son of Man.  Jesus thought someone *else* was that cosmic judge of the earth (as I have argued on the blog before; I better deal with this again in a subsequent post).  But when his disciples came to think that he had been exalted to heaven, they also came to believe he was that one (the Son of Man), and so they transformed his sayings to reflect their beliefs.

Moreover, when Jesus was to return from heaven in judgment (a common belief in the early Christian communities) he would not establish someone *else* as the king over the people of God in God’s new kingdom.  He himself would be installed.  In other words, the disciples still thought of Jesus as the future king.  But he would be installed as king in a cosmic sense as a divine figure.  This was a different kind of messiah from the one the disciples had originally imagined.

More than that, Jesus who had been exalted to God’s right hand was already in some sense given power and authority, he was already ruling with God in the heavenly places, he already was sovereign over the earth, he was already the Lord, he was already the King.   And so in that yet further sense Jesus was believed to be a cosmic, and all-powerful messiah.  He wasn’t simply the ruler of Israel.  He was the ruler of All.

I have argued that the death and resurrection of Jesus in and of themselves would not have led anyone to call him the messiah, since these things were not supposed to happen to the messiah.  They were the last things that could possibly happen to the messiah.  But since they happened to someone who had already been *thought* to be the messiah, they came to be interpreted in light of that belief, and the belief itself – that Jesus was the messiah – in turn came to be interpreted in light of those events.

What emerged was an altogether new way to understand Jesus.  He was not simply the one to be installed on the throne in some future act of God.  He was to come from heaven himself to destroy the forces of evil and set up a utopian kingdom on earth, in which he, the powerful Son of Man, Lord, and King of All would rule forever.   As exalted as the view was that the historical Jesus appears to have had of himself, it pales significantly in comparison with the view that his followers had of him after his death.   He was the one God almighty had made the Lord of heaven and earth.  Eventually they came to think he was actually equal with God himself, from eternity past.  And this became the orthodox Christian understanding of Jesus down to this day.

If you belonged to the blog, you would get substantial posts like this five times a week.  Joining doesn’t cost much, and every dime goes to charity.  You get masses for your money and everyone benefits.  So why not join?


Did Jesus Go to India? A Modern Gospel Forgery.
Pilate Released Barabbas. Really??

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    AstaKask  April 21, 2019

    Why did Matthew include a zombie invasion of Jerusalem (27 50-54)?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      It showed the apocalyptic power of the act of God; the resurrection of Jesus would lead to the resurrection of all the saints.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  April 27, 2019

        Dr Ehrman –

        Of all the inaccurate/unbelievable things that could be written, why choose a broader resurrection occurrence that could be *so easily checked* within the remnant of the Jerusalem church? “Hey, you remember the time the saints came back on the streets of Jerusalem?” “Uh, nope.” Given the periodic cross-travel / communication between communities, this story is so liable to empirical disconfirmation that it’s surprising it wasn’t excised. The unhistorical treatment of Pilate in the gospel, the trial, the empty tomb, these are all pretty easy to see why they stuck once proffered – there’s a first-(or second)-hand information vacuum plus no one (or very few) to disconfirm. But the dead roaming in the city – *so* easy to access in the collective memory. And all the more confounding given Matthew appears to be sufficiently familiar with Palestine to correct Mark’s geography gaffes and avoid some of Mark’s Herodian family name mistakes. Is your sense that this was likely meant literally or allegorically – both when written and then later when interpreted/copied in future? That intellectual biblical literalists have trouble with this passage is another decent, albeit anachronistic, litmus test…

        Many thanks!

        • Bart
          Bart  April 28, 2019

          Because the account was written over 50 years later by someone not living in Jerusalem to people who had never been in Jerusalem or knew anyone there. (We get incredible reports in our own day a week after an event that can be checked and disverified, and often are disverified, but are believed by people who want to believe them; just read the political news!)

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  April 28, 2019

            …I know, I know – you keep reminding me and yet it still never ceases to amaze…

            In this case, Matthew goes out of his way to correct Mark’s bad Palestine geography and political names, and yet even that isn’t enough to mean he’s sufficiently close to the action to avoid a real whopper…

    • Avatar
      SScottb149  April 29, 2019

      Zombie version… Ha! That is so funny!

  2. Avatar
    godspell  April 21, 2019

    Fascinating piece, but I still think it’s dodgy to say Jesus definitely believed he’d be an earthly king, or said as much to anyone. What he says to Pilate in the gospels is clearly made up out of whole cloth. If others said he made this claim, they might have been lying, or misunderstanding him.

    I can believe the words above the cross–meant ironically–very funny, Pilate. But Jesus was misunderstood by basically everyone around him–the author of Mark was right about that, and it was true for Mark as well.

    So I respectfully decline to accept this conclusion. To have claimed Kingship would have been Jesus exalting himself. Whatever he believed was coming, he wouldn’t have made such a claim. And I continue to think it’s more likely he believed he was a necessary sacrifice for the Kingdom to come–as Moses never saw the Promised Land, he would not see the Kingdom.

    We have precious few solid facts here, and we must draw a clear line between facts and interpretations.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      OK. But why then did they crucify him?

      One of the reasons for thinking the legal charge of calling himself “King of the Jews” is actually historical — i.e. that it is not something Christians would have made up about Jesus when he was on trial – is that it is not a term (King of the Jews) they ever used when talking about Jesus themselves (anywhere in the New Testament). Anyway, I’ve posted on this before under Jesus’ own understanding of what it meant to say he was the messiah.

      • Avatar
        godspell  April 22, 2019

        Possibly because he was attacking the authority of the Temple authorities, who were part of the Roman authority structure in Palestine, which would tend to argue that he didn’t accept Roman authority over any aspect of Judaism, which would be consistent with how Christians later comported themselves with regards to Roman authority over Christian practice.

        The Romans tortured and killed some Christians later on for nothing more than refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods (and if they did, they would usually be released). None of those people were claiming to be the king of didley-squat. They obeyed the laws, paid their taxes, and as you’ve said, it wasn’t even an official legal requirement that they had to sacrifice, but they died anyway. Roman law could be very very arbitrary and capricious, because it was mainly about keeping a variety of fractious ethnic groups under one state umbrella–somebody makes trouble, you make that person go away.

        Other people got crucified that day. It wasn’t that hard, particularly in a tense situation like the Passover in Jerusalem. My question to you would be, if Jesus wasn’t attracting a lot of attention from the crowds (as you’ve said a few times), why did they care what he claimed?

        I think it’s likely they did say he claimed to be king, or that he would be king, but does that prove that he did? Why would Christians not later report these secret conversations where he said he’d be king? He did reportedly tell his disciples they’d rule in the Kingdom. Why would the part about him ruling be left out? Equally seditious, either way.

        Misunderstood or possibly traduced. Either way. Not proven. Possible, sure. But there is much to contradict it. “He who exalts himself shall be debased.” Whatever Jesus believed would happen, he believed that.

        I’m not saying it’s not a defensible opinion. I’m saying that’s precisely what it is.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 23, 2019

          Yeah, maybe. But none of the accounts or references to the account say anything about being crucified for opposing Jewish authorities and institutions. It was the Romans who killed him, and it appears to have been for making a political claim.

          • Avatar
            godspell  April 23, 2019

            True, but all the references we have are from Christian sources. Josephus doesn’t say Jesus claimed to be king, and neither do Tacitus or any other Roman sources. We know the disciples weren’t witnesses to any part of Jesus’ ‘trial’, and therefore all we’ve got is what we ASSUME is the accurate account of the somewhat sarcastic legend affixed to the top of the cross. Who ordered it put there? Pilate, we’re told. And we’re told the Temple leaders objected to his wording but he refused to be edited. We have no reason to believe any of this. For all we know, it was put up there without Pilate having any knowledge of it, by some wit who crucified people for a living–or that it was never there at all.

            ALL Christians believe Jesus was crucified for (allegedly) claiming to be King of the Jews. It’s a tenet of Christian faith. The question is, and here’s the rub–did he really make such a claim, or was he saying something else? Would Pilate or any Roman have understood what he was saying? Pretty sure Pilate didn’t speak Aramaic, and we’re agreed Jesus didn’t speak Greek or Latin.

            You would say, and I agree, that he meant God was going to transform the world and where we differ is where Jesus believed he’d be after this happened. But if Jesus had believed he’d be king after God did this, and the Romans had understood it–is that really insurrection? They would regard it as madness, and I don’t think even the Romans crucified people for being mentally ill.

            So it’s a really flimsy case by modern standards, but by Roman standards, how good a case did they need? “I’m not sure if this guy is a problem or not, so let’s remove all doubt.”

            Yes, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (that you think was probably not so triumphal) is an item on your side of the ledger. But entering a city on the back of a donkey is not exactly something the Romans would associate with an aspiring monarch. They’d think that was pretty funny.

            Related question–do we know when, if ever, before Constantine,the Roman authorities started reading Christian writings? They arrested enough Christians to have gotten their hands on some gospels, or Paul’s letters.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 25, 2019

            The earliest clear references we have to pagans actually reading Christian writings go back to the end of hte 2nd century (the anti-Christian antagonist Celsus)

          • Avatar
            godspell  April 25, 2019

            Which I’d heard of (via Origen’s contradiction of it, which is the only reason we do know about it.)

            Obviously some Romans in power could have been curious, could have made a study. I’d guess Emperor Julian must have made some study of it, since he tried to incorporate elements of Christian practice into paganism, as a way of reviving paganism, to keep it from being subsumed and destroyed by Christianity. Far too late by then.

            My point is that even centuries after the crucifixion, Roman pagans still had a very poor idea of who Jesus was, and what his followers believed.

            So how good would Pilate’s have been? It doesn’t seem he had any network of spies out there gathering intelligence. He relied upon brute force and intimidation, more than most Roman governors of the province, it would seem. He didn’t even understand the beliefs of the Jewish authorities he used to control the populace, who he had regular dealings with. Any information he might have gotten about the ‘secret teachings’ of Jesus would be suspect, produced by enemies of Jesus, and perhaps paid informers. We wouldn’t accept such evidence as legitimate today. (Well, some of us would.)

            I’m supposed to believe Pilate was a cruel and arbitrary governor, and nothing like what the gospels portray him as–I do believe that. But believing that, why should I believe he would devote much attention to determining whether Jesus was actually guilty of what he was accused of? Why should I believe there was any attempt to get at the truth? Why should I think there was an investigation, let alone a trial?

            If he did, in fact, tell his disciples they would be kings, wouldn’t that be enough to convict him? And give further emphasis to the necessity of his disciples abandoning him? And why would the gospel record leave out his claim to kingship? All Christians came to believe he would come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom would have no end. There is ample evidence in the gospels that he spoke many times of his own impending death, to the horror of his disciples.

            With regards to his saying he would reign over his fellow Jews once the Kingdom came, I think the only just verdict is ‘not proven.’

          • Bart
            Bart  April 26, 2019

            My guess is that Pilate knew next to nothing about him, and almost certainly nothing before that morning before he was one of the many items to be disposed of quickly on a busy docket. He was brought to him, they told him he was calling himself a king, he asked him about it, and decided he could be a trouble maker. Ordered him crucified and that was that.

          • galah
            galah  April 25, 2019

            Dr. Ehrman, you don’t seem to take the anti-semitic route and blame the Jews. Somehow, you believe, historically, the Romans were fully responsible for killing Jesus. Is this true?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 26, 2019

            I wouldn’t call the view anti-semitic (it’s not opposing Jews because of their bloodline), but no, I don’t take it. It was the Romans who crucified Jesus, not the Jews. (It’s always been odd that Christians called Jews “Christ-killers.” Why didn’t they call the *Italians* “Christ-killers”???)

          • Avatar
            godspell  April 26, 2019

            Reasonable enough. Pilate could not have had a real conversation with Jesus, of course. Jesus probably had little or no Greek or Latin. Pilate would have had little or no Aramaic or Hebrew. Their worldviews could not have been more different. Even if they had a shared language–what could they possibly have communicated to each other in it?

            It’s reasonable to assume that Pilate was told Jesus was another messianic pretender. He may have known just enough to know that the Jewish Messiah was a prophesied deliverer of the Jews from foreign enslavement, who would then rule over them. Jesus might have tried to explain his idea of the Messiah was different (or he might have already resigned himself to death).

            There could have been a translator present. (You know better than most how hard it is to translate such things from one language to another). And as you say–Pilate would tarry not for an answer. Not long, anyway. If you don’t understand it, get rid of it. Pilate reputedly subscribed more to this methodology than the average territorial governor.

            So again, it’s not really strong evidence for what Jesus believed. It’s just evidence of what some others said about him. If even his own disciples could misunderstand him…..

          • Bart
            Bart  April 28, 2019

            I agree, the fact of the crucifixion is not itself evidence of what Jesus believed. He might have denied the charge and they killed him anyway. The reasons for thinking Jesus saw himself as the messiah lie elsewhere, as I’ve discussed before on the blog.

          • Avatar
            godspell  April 27, 2019

            Regarding the supposed guilt of the Jews or Romans–the entire question is absurd. Edmund Burke (defending the American colonies in rebellion) put it best. “I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.” Yet everyone does it anyway.

            No matter what version of the story you subscribe to, you’re talking about the actions of a miniscule percentage of Romans and Jews in Jerusalem, who would in turn comprise an infinitesimal percentage of Romans and Jews overall.

            I would just as soon not be held responsible for the actions of every American, every Catholic, every person of Irish heritage. Jesus believed each person is responsible only for his or her own actions–for what we do, and what we fail to do.

            In any event, the Jews as a group were not hated by some early Christians (who by their own beliefs shouldn’t have hated anyone) because of their perceived complicity in Jesus’ death. The anger stemmed from the unwillingness of most Jews to accept Jesus as Messiah, and from the hostile and sometimes violent way they behaved towards Christian proselytizers.

            (I believe Acts and other texts exaggerate this persecution, but unlikely they make it up out of whole cloth. The Middle East is not a very tolerant place to this day. Though I’m not throwing any stones. Not on the day a synagogue got shot up by one of my countrymen. Who wants to take credit for his actions? Anyone?)

          • Avatar
            godspell  April 30, 2019

            I’m not arguing against Jesus seeing himself as Messiah. But as we have discussed elsewhere, that word could have different meanings to different Jews–Jesus was a very different Jew indeed. I don’t think we can assume his thinking of himself as Messiah meant that he also thought he’d be an earthly king.

            We have ample evidence he believed he’d be killed. He didn’t need prophetic abilities to know how likely that was. Possible he believed God would bring him back and put him in charge, but somehow that doesn’t feel right, and isn’t backed up by the accounts we have.

            Moses never came back. Moses never saw the Promised Land, except from a distance. Moses sacrificed himself for his people. Jesus is looking to make meaning out of a chaotic reality, as apocalyptic preachers always do. But he did it very differently from most of them.

        • Avatar
          AlaskaRoy  April 23, 2019

          My understanding (I have no references to cite) is that it was a capital crime (under the Roman occupation) to run an organized gang containing known zealots. If “Simon the Zealot” really were a Zealot, then Jesus violated Roman law and was subject to execution precisely for supporting the move to destroy Rome’s control in Judea and re-establish an independent Jewish king.

          • Avatar
            godspell  April 27, 2019

            That’s a pretty big stretch, and we don’t have enough evidence to support it. Jesus clearly didn’t support any form of violence. Simon would have had to renounce violence in order to become a disciple of Jesus. Possible that Jesus being willing to talk to zealots could be guilt by association. But not enough in itself to get him killed. (Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been any zealots for him to talk to).

            I mean, if there was a guy named ‘Simon the Zealot’ answering to that name, it took more than just calling yourself that to get the Romans in a crucifying mood.

  3. Avatar
    Anton  April 21, 2019

    To me, son of man means Jesus was born of an earthly woman.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      Yes, in later theology it came to mean “human.” But it is usually understood in early Judaism instead to be a reference to Daniel 7:13-14.

  4. Avatar
    rivercrowman  April 21, 2019

    Thanks for making yet another informative and interesting post — on Easter Day even! … Here in my rural town, only churches and gas stations are open today. … And I’m blessed with over a quarter tank.

  5. tompicard
    tompicard  April 21, 2019

    Whatever the teachings were during Jesus lifetime, the beliefs changed radically after he was killed.

    I agree with the theory that
    >At that time {before Jesus’ death], the disciples thought that
    > the future scenario was to be this: sometime during their,
    > and Jesus’, lifetime . . the Son of Man would arrive in judgment
    > . . to destroy the forces of evil and set up God’s kingdom on earth,
    > with Jesus at the helm.

    but unfortunately (in my opinion) you infer that the ONLY a COSMIC, DIVINE being can do that, that doesn’t seem to be supported in the gospel texts,

    Can you reference where Jesus taught that the Son of Man was necessarily a divine cosmic being ?
    if not why not accept the more plain and plausible explanation that the son of man is just a man ( a son of a man ??) ? like used in prior scripture (see Ezekiel)

    Do you think Jesus meant literally that the son of man would appear among the ‘clouds of heaven’ ? (Matt 24:30) isn’t it more plausible and sensible that (even if Jesus used the words ‘clouds’ there) that he meant the son of man would be universally seen surrounded by his human supporters (see Heb 12:1)

    are there other indications besides the mere ‘clouds’ mention that Jesus thought the son of man was some kind of superman?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      Yes, I think Jesus and other apocalypticists of his day literally believed there would be a cosmic event initiated above in heaven and coming down. It might seem counterintuitive today, but it’s important to remember that there are still millioins of people who still expect it to happen this way. No reason Jesus couldn’t either.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  April 22, 2019

        > Jesus and other apocalypticists of his day literally believed
        > there would be A COSMIC EVENT initiated above
        > in heaven and coming down.

        if by a COSMIC EVENT you mean others (everyone else?) receiving an experience similar to what he had experienced during his baptism – a theophany in which he came to understand that God is his Father and that he (and everyone else on the planet) is greatly loved by God (and the changes in human relations that would necessarily entail) – then, yeah, I guess that could well be a COSMIC phenomena Jesus might reasonably have expected.

        But if you mean some kind of magical being appearing in the sky, dead corpses coming out of their tombs, end of natural phenomena like earthquakes and human mortality, that is not at all likely part of his views. [well at least not from anything I find presented in the book]

      • galah
        galah  April 25, 2019

        I definitely think Tom is on to something. Perhaps, just perhaps, this new movement was smarter than we give them credit. Perhaps they knew that the masses “believed” or would believe that “there would be a cosmic event initiated above in heaven and coming down,” even as millions of people do today. Perhaps they used this gullibility to their advantage. The fact that millions believe it today as they did then only proves that we’re not so different now than we were then.

  6. Avatar
    bensonian  April 21, 2019

    Powerful post, thank you. I never understood the historical significance of the resurrection (or belief in the resurrection) and appreciate your perspective about why things ended up this way in christianity.

  7. epicurus
    epicurus  April 21, 2019

    Are there any scholars (legitimate, critical, non evangelical etc) who think that one or a few of the disciples just decided a bit later to carry on Jesus message of the coming kingdom without believing He was resurrected, and that it was the later writers of the Gospels and NT that attributed a view of disciples believing in the resurrection? Maybe some of Paul’s issues with the leaders were a result of this?

  8. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  April 21, 2019

    Human beings are human beings. We do not change. When the snake oil we’re selling doesn’t cure your cough, do we say ‘Oops, my bad, here’s your money back’ – ? No! We say ‘Hey! Look at your skin! It’s radiant! My snake oil gave you a glowing complexion!’
    Roll up! Roll up! Buy my skin oil . .

  9. Avatar
    SScottb149  April 21, 2019

    Hello. I am brand new to the blog so forgive me for any unnecessary hubris on my part. I have a question for Dr. Erhman specifically (but also anyone else who wishes to chime in) in reference to Easter and the general events surrounding the disposal of the bodies after crucifixion before “Easter Sunday”. Several people have pointed out to me when I agree with Dr. Ehrman concerning the probable circumstances surrounding the “burial”of Jesus’ body, by pointing out that the tomb burial was historical due to a human foot bone that was found re-buried in an ossuary box (name was Jochaim I think?). Was it not true that on the very FEW cases that bodies were taken down and allowed proper burials of some kind (besides thrown into common graves), and that only the rich and/or the influential ALONE were allowed this favor by the Romans? It seems to me that despite this discovery, that Jesus who was neither rich nor influential and thus WOULD NOT be allowed to be re-buried in this matter (even more so given that no family lived in Jerusalem to bury Jesus in a family tomb and his closest friends were as far away as Bethany. What can anyone tell me of the relevance that this archaeological find can be for Jesus? Thank you,
    S. Scott Bohanan

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      I have heard that argument a lot too. When someone tells it to me I ask them, how long after the person died (whose ankle bone was discovered in modern times) was he placed in his tomb? Was it the same day he died? Was it five days later? Three weeks later? See the problem: the fact they found an ankle bone with a stake in it doesn’t have any bearing on the question of whether Romans allowed bodies to be buried on the day they were crucified.

      • Avatar
        SScottb149  April 22, 2019

        Very good point. Thank you Dr. Ehrman.

  10. Avatar
    doug  April 21, 2019

    Thanks for another fine article. There was a time when I would have rejected what you’ve said here, because I would not have *wanted* to believe it. But now I cannot, in honesty, deny the likelihood that what you’ve said is true.

  11. Avatar
    JoeWallack  April 21, 2019

    My one question here (I can’t help being reminded of What’s My Line(age)).
    You say “The Disciples” came to believe that Jesus was resurrected. I’m
    guessing you would clarify that “some disciples” would be better (a real
    question, not a rhetorical one).

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      Yes, I don’t know for a fact that all the disciples came to believe.

  12. Avatar
    Hon Wai  April 21, 2019

    “he had been taken by God up to heaven – and as I pointed out before, ancient people, whether Jews or Gentiles, who came to think that someone was taken to heaven came to believe that he had been made a divine being, the Son of God, or a god himself.”
    Until the birth of the Christian church, were there any other human being thought to be divine by the Jews? It’s been some years since I read “How Jesus became God”, and I can’t remember if you cited any. Enoch and Elijah were taken to heaven (without experiencing death, unlike Jesus). Yet did 1st century Jews view them as divine “in some sense”?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      Yes, I give numerous examples in my book How Jesus Became God.

    • galah
      galah  April 25, 2019

      Did 1st century Jews, or any thereafter, view Jesus as divine? What did Jews think from the second century until now? What did 1st century Jews really believe? That’s a good question.

  13. Avatar
    Brand3000  April 21, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Was it Jesus’ death on the cross that was so “offensive” to him being the messiah or was it more that he died and the messianic age didn’t arrive? Someone told me this: “death on a tree is mentioned by Paul, but that should not have been a problem, since Jews understood martyrdom.”

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      The precise issue for Paul is that the Hebrew bible says “cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree” (Deut 21:23); so that would mean that God cursed Christ. And Paul can’t get his mind around that one.

      • Avatar
        godspell  April 22, 2019

        The original quote doesn’t refer to crucifixion, though–it seems to refer to hanging someone from an actual living tree for ‘a crime worthy of death.’ The person is only cursed if you leave him there overnight, instead of burying him immediately. Since Jesus only lasted around six hours on the cross, and then they took him down and divided up his garments, we now have a good motive to come up with a burial story, and there it is. (I’d be perfectly okay with being eaten by dogs. Recycling.)

        If you’re an early Christian, arguing Jesus’ case with somebody who takes Deuteronomy very seriously, you can say it doesn’t apply, since Jesus was not executed for a crime worthy of death, but for proclaiming the supremacy of the Jewish God over Roman authority, and he was put to death by pagan conquerors. And a crucifix is not really a tree. It’s milled lumber taken from several trees. If somebody was hung from a wooden fence, you wouldn’t say he was hung from a tree. (Yes, overly legalistic and hair-splitting, but so’s the entire conversation, by its very nature.)

        The real reason they’re not going to accept Jesus as Messiah is that he’s dead and came from Nazareth, and they probably never heard of him to begin with, but if they did they’re most likely Pharisees who heard he had mainly bad things to say about them, kept questionable company, and didn’t observe the Sabbath. The tree thing is just an excuse.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  April 22, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman,

        Do you think (Deut 21:23) was the major ‘stumbling block’ that prevented Jews from accepting Jesus, and that it may well have been why Paul originally rejected Jesus? Why would the Gentiles reject it ‘foolishness’? They had no expectation of a “messiah.”

        • Bart
          Bart  April 23, 2019

          No, I think it was really Paul who was hung up on it — and possibly others, but Paul in particular.

      • Avatar
        SScottb149  April 29, 2019

        Dr Erhman,
        It was my understanding that crucifixion often happened on all kinds of “trees” whether the crossbeam was attached and re-attached to a living tree or not, particularly in dry and desert-like areas like Jerusalem. In times of shortages of wood (like when the Roman’s crucified people as they tried to escape the seize of Jerusalem in 70 c.e.). When I visted the city in 1999 there certainly was not near enough trees (and therefore lumber products) as compared to Galilee for example. It is hard for me to imagine that the environment was much more lush in the days of Jesus. Am I way off the mark on this one? Thank you for any comments.

  14. fefferdan
    fefferdan  April 21, 2019

    Reading Matthew’s account of the Resurrection today I was reminded of a nearly completely ignored verse: Mt. 27:52-53 (NRSV)

    ‘The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.”’

    The implications of this supposed event are stupendous. There was not just one Empty Tomb but “many.” Jesus’ supposed physical resurrection was by no means unique. Resurrected OT characters were wandering around Jerusalem by the dozens. The resurrection of the saints was not only a future event but had already happened for many. What does all this imply for Christians who believe in biblical inerrancy? For me, it’s evidence that many Christians of this era [at least those who were represented by Matthew’s “M” source] did not believe in a physical resurrection but a spiritual one. Either that, or we missed a literal Zombie Apocalypse, even if a benign one!

  15. Avatar
    Celsus  April 21, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, how do we know the Messiah wasn’t expected to die? There are certain passages which seem to imply this. Were they not interpreted this way until *after* Jesus’ death? How do you know?

    Daniel 9:26
    After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death [cut off] and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.

    Isaiah 53:8-9
    By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was *cut off from the land of the living*; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was *assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death*, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

    Wisdom 2:20
    Let us condemn him to a shameful death

    4 Ezra 7:29
    And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath.

    These passages are examples of how Jews could come to believe in a dying Messiah. So I think it’s debatable if the death of the Messiah was expected or not during the time of Jesus.

    • Avatar
      Celsus  April 22, 2019

      There is also the claim in the New Testament of another contemporary apocalyptic prophet being raised from the dead.

      Mark 6:14-16
      King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

      Others said, “He is Elijah.”

      And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

      But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

      Lastly, there is some evidence that John the Baptist’s sect survived after his death and that some even believed he was the Messiah. In Acts 19 Paul is said to have visited some of John’s disciples which shows his sect lived on.

      Luke 3:15 “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.”

      John is referred to as “more than a prophet” in Mt. 11:9.

      Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions 1.54
      “Yea, some even of the disciples of John, who seemed to be great ones, have separated themselves from the people, and proclaimed their own master as the Christ.”

      Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions 1.60
      “And, behold, one of the disciples of John asserted that John was the Christ, and not Jesus, inasmuch as Jesus Himself declared that John was greater than all men and all prophets. ‘If, then,’ said he, ‘he be greater than all, he must be held to be greater than Moses, and than Jesus himself. But if he be the greatest of all, then must he be the Christ.’

      So we have precedent of people claiming John the Baptist, a similar Jewish apocalyptic preacher to Jesus, had been raised from the dead and was believed to be the Messiah. Coincidence? Both John and Jesus shared the same socio-cultural background – apocalyptic Judaism and both had their followers proclaim they had “risen from the dead” after their unjust executions.

      Hmmm…

      • Bart
        Bart  April 22, 2019

        These are all Christian sources, written by Christians who thought the messiah *did* have to die.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      Daniel 9 is talking about the anointed high priest Onias, not about the future nmessiah. Isaiah 53 is talking about the Suffering Servant, not the Messiah. Wisdom 2 never mentions the messiah; it is talking about a righteous man. 4 Ezra is talking about the king dying after reigning for 400 years. Naturally most Jews who thought that the future king who ruled Israel would eventually die, since he was human. They didn’t think that a person who was never king and never set up a kingdom and never defeated the enemy, but was killed by the enemy even before he started getting going, could have been the messiah.

      • Avatar
        Celsus  April 22, 2019

        “Daniel 9 is talking about the anointed high priest Onias, not about the future messiah. Isaiah 53 is talking about the Suffering Servant, not the Messiah. Wisdom 2 never mentions the messiah; it is talking about a righteous man. 4 Ezra is talking about the king dying after reigning for 400 years.”

        I realize there is a correct historical context in which these passages were written but I’m specifically asking *how would they have been interpreted by Jews living in the early 1st century*? There is a key difference. Was it not until the Jesus sect came along that these passages became interpreted as being about the death of the Messiah?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 23, 2019

          Ah, yes, that’s a good question, and right, it’s a different one. The short answer is that we have no record of any Jew at the time anywhere thinking that the coming messiah was going to suffer and die (prior to having a long and successful ruling career).

  16. Avatar
    aar8818  April 21, 2019

    Hi Dr Ehrman. I was just reading a bit of j Warner wallaces cold case christianity and in it on page 51 he states “In the earliest accounts of the disciples activity after the crucifixion, they are seen citing the resurrection of Jesus as their primary piece of evidence that Jesus was God…” He also assumes that the empty tomb is an accepted fact. But isn’t it probably more accurate to understand that the account he is probably referring to (mark) was more likely a theological account than an historical one?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2019

      I think Mark saw it as both theological and historical. I would correct this person’s statement: the resurrection for the earliest Christians showed them (among other things) that Jesus had *become* divine. Not that he had always been God.

  17. Avatar
    The Agnostic Christian  April 22, 2019

    If it is accepted as historical, based on NT documents that Paul was converted a mere 1-3 years after the events that led to the story of the resurrection and then went to see Peter 3 years after that and received the creed he passed on to the Corinthians in ch. 15 of 1 Cor., then isn’t Apostolic succession through Paul more or less legitimized? Wouldn’t that after all exclude the other Christianities?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 23, 2019

      It would show he knew the other apostles early on. But it wouldn’t show that he agreed with them or passed on their own views. And other Christianities all claim similar lineages. It’s tricky establishing actual apostolic succession!

      • Avatar
        The Agnostic Christian  April 23, 2019

        Peter at the very least affirmed Paul’s Gospel, twice. Paul rebukes Peter, which Peter accepts. Irenaeus uses this argument against the Gnostics. They have no historical link. I’m not arguing that it’s a valid argument, as it’s clear theology has been in constant evolution, but it seems the Gnostics were the Early Church’s Mormonism. Can they make the same historical claims Irenaeus could?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 25, 2019

          We don’t have any record of how Peter responded to Paul’s rebuke. But yes, the Gnostics did claim to have direct apostolic roots — for example Valentinus claimed to be a disciple of Theudas who was a disciple of Paul.

          • Avatar
            The Agnostic Christian  April 25, 2019

            I have a lot more questions. Would love if you would do an article on it sometime. Thanks as always for your hard work.

  18. Avatar
    meohanlon  April 22, 2019

    Hi Bart,
    Assuming Jesus is basing his idea on Daniel’s “one like a son of man”, and understands it the way the writer of Daniel meant it , it seems like there are 3 distinct possible interpretations, and I’m wondering if Jesus himself or his immediate followers might’ve left its meaning and usage deliberately ambiguous, perhaps suggesting it might by some combination of the 3. What are your thoughts?
    Now isn’t such a designation relevant specifically for emphasizing the final ruler, is simply a human, in contrast to an angel or cosmic/ divine being, or to contrast it at the same time with a beast of prey (which the oppressive forces have been compared to)?
    Or -by the subtle wording according to Daniel, and perhaps Jesus, are we to understand the “one LIKE a son of man” to mean similar in appearance to a human (a son of man), but actually of a higher nature?
    Or lastly, as Jesus seems to be using metaphorical language ( for example, at the “right hand” of God – Jews, from what I understand didn’t, and were commanded even not to associate any form, human or other wise with God; so to with son of man) simply to refer, NOT to a specific human ruler that is to come, but a new realized form of humanity (true to Genesis, embodying God’s image), which he himself, or John the Baptist’s community perhaps, were hoping to inaugurate; and that had, before been personified by Israel’s righteous kings? And that the 12 were to become the models, as evidenced by his words, “greater things ye shall do” – such that Son of Man is the transformed or transfigured version of humanity, according to a latent potential, almost like the next evolutionary stage (hence “Son of”) but with a collective address.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 23, 2019

      Yes, for Daniel the person is “like” a son of man; the contrast is with those four horrifying beasts who come out of the water. This human-like one is, well, humane, and comes from heaven instead of the seas of chaos. Later in Judaism this heavenly figure came to be called “The Son of Man” (obviously a bit different from “like” one)

  19. Avatar
    Brand3000  April 22, 2019

    On a recent documentary a scholar said there were 2 messiahs expected in Jewish tradition. It’s obvious Jesus wasn’t a political/military leader, but why wasn’t he accepted by the Jews as the ‘spiritual messiah?’

    • Bart
      Bart  April 23, 2019

      The scholar was probably referring to the Dead Sea Scroll community at Qumran, that expected two messiahs, one a political figure like David, the other a great priestly figure (who would be the one in charge). Neither was a ‘spiritual’ messiah in the sense Christians later said about Jesus.

  20. Avatar
    deanegalbraith@yahoo.co.nz  April 22, 2019

    Dale Allison describes it as “a short step” from the pre-Easter confession of Jesus as the anointed eschatological prophet or *prophetic* messiah (Luke 4.16-30, Acts 3.22-23, Elijah traditions, etc) to the post-Easter confession of Jesus as anointed eschatological king or *kingly* messiah.

    So my question: Do you think this alternative theory might provide an equally good reason why Jesus would be acclaimed as ‘messiah’ after his death? Moreover, wouldn’t death of a claimed prophetic messiah be quite the expectation for a prophet, unlike the death of an eschatological kingly messiah?

    (One benefit of concluding that the pre-Easter claim was of a prophetic messiah, of course, is that one can hold to the still compelling Wrede thesis of the messianic secret, as well as to the Strauss-Bultmann-Crossan thesis that the kingly passion story is primarily historicized prophecy, not historical. This ‘king of the Jews’ stuff could be as much a post-Easter development as it was when placed in the mouths of ‘pagan’ magi in the post-Easter nativity story. And given the ruthless picture of the Romans in Josephus, it wouldn’t have taken much of a disturbance during festival time to warrant killing Jesus; nobody need go so far as to claim he was king of the Jews, would they?)

    • Bart
      Bart  April 23, 2019

      I don’t recall Dale’s precise discussion; does he cite any authors who actually call the eschatological prophet a “messiah.” They are usually understood to be different kinds of figures. So the transition would involve some “steps.” Romans, of course, did not crucify people who considered themselves prophets, unless they made other actual political/threatening claims.

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