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The Trickiest Criterion for Determining What Happened in the Life of Jesus

Here I continue the thread on how scholars go about establishing which traditions in the Gospels appear to reflect what actually happened in the life of Jesus.   Of all the things I’ve said so far, this is the most controversial.   But after thinking about it for some forty years, I still think it makes good sense, for reasons I try to explain.

 

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What An Odd Thing to Say!  The Criterion of Dissimilarity.

The most controversial criterion that historians use, and often misuse, to establish authentic tradition from the life of Jesus is sometimes called the “criterion of dissimilarity.”  The criterion is not so difficult to explain, given what we have already seen about the Gospels.

Any witness in a court of law will naturally tell things the way he or she sees them.  Thus, the perspective of the witness has to be taken into account when trying to evaluate the merits of a case.  Moreover, sometimes a witness has a vested interested in the outcome of the trial.  A question that perennially comes up, then, involves the testimony of interested parties: are they distorting, or even fabricating, testimony for reasons of their own?  The analogy does not completely work, of course, for ancient literary sources (or for modern ones either, for that matter).  Authors from the ancient world were not under oath to tell the historical facts, and nothing but the facts.  But when examining ancient sources, the historian must always be alert to the perspective of the witness.

We know that early Christians modified and invented stories about Jesus.  There is no one who disputes this: otherwise we would have to think that …

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Traditions About Jesus that Are Probably Not Historical
An Important Criterion for Establishing What Actually Happened

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Comments

  1. godspell  July 20, 2018

    One doesn’t need to believe in any supernatural prescience to think Jesus might have had an inkling of his death. And there are many stories in history of people who foresaw their demise. Going into Jerusalem to preach was inherently dangerous for him. And he’d know if John the Baptist could be killed, anyone could.

    There may have been a fatalistic streak in his nature, a touch of melancholy, for all his outward positivism. He did see people very much the way they are, which is what I like best about him.

    Would you say that the disciples themselves abandoning him, Peter denying him, also fit this criterion? Yes, the story seems dressed up a bit, but it feels very genuine, for all that–there’s raw emotion there, the kind that’s hard to fake. Which is why it’s a story that captures the imagination, inspires people across the centuries. If the gospels were all about perfect people who always do the right thing, they’d be far less effective as stories. The humanity of the people involved bleeds through. We can put ourselves in their place so easily. Perhaps everybody has, in some way, failed a loved one in a time of need. It’s the worst feeling in the world.

    There must have been enormous guilt there, which served as fuel for what followed.

  2. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  July 20, 2018

    I understand the claims of miracles do not fit any criteria for historical verification. However, my stumbling block is to question how and why did these claims to miraculous deeds develop? Was there a theological need to ascribe miracles to Jesus, to prove the growing theological belief in the divinity of Jesus growing within the Christian community?

    Do the multiple claims of miraculous deeds of Jesus point to there being some historical event at the center of of these claims? Why develop stories of miracles unless there is some basis of fact behind them? Ah, so many questions! I may not be asking them correctly but in my research into historical events my desire is to learn the origins of how and why certain events or beliefs occurred or developed. What was the origin or the need to ascribe miracles to the life of Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 22, 2018

      Maybe I’ll post on this. It was one of the big issues I dealt with in my book Jesus Before the Gospels. It would be a good threat to follow up on the one we’re doing now on how to establish what really happened in the life of Jesus.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  July 22, 2018

      “Was there a theological need to ascribe miracles to Jesus”

      Jews back then (and some today still) believed that when God gifted his prophets the power to prophesy, he also gave them the power to perform nessim (heb. “wonders” or “signs”) as proof of their divine gift. Compare, for example, the miracles performed by Moses and Elijah. So for Jews to be convinced that Jesus was given such divine powers, via the Holy Spirit, they would need to be either shown such signs and wonders, or they would need to be convinced, via stories, that Jesus had done such signs and wonders during his life.

      Most, if not all, of the purported “miracles” ascribed to Jesus in the gospels probably stem from stories used by the Jewish apostles to convince other Jews that Jesus was, indeed, a prophet of God. Notice, furthermore, that, post-resurrection, the apostles also claimed that the Holy Spirit entered them and allowed them to perform “miracles”. This was an extension of the same reasoning. That is, the Jewish apostles — such as Peter, John, James, and even Paul — claimed that their ability to perform signs and wonders was proof of their divine gifts through the Holy Spirit. This was a very Jewish form of reasoning.

      The Greeks, on the other hand, tended to be more convinced by philosophical arguments (if they were sophisticated Greeks) or mythological connections and the occult (if they were less sophisticated). Hence, once we start seeing the kinds of ideas that the Greeks would have understood — such as Jesus having cryptic dialogues with other wisemen (such as in John) and an emphasis on Jesus being the “son of God” — and a de-emphasis on miracles, that suggests that we’re reading material geared toward a non-Jewish audience.

    • Alemin
      Alemin  July 23, 2018

      Having lived in Africa, I’ve seen first hand how miracle stories grow. I’d love to read a good study on it. It seems to me that they’re based around a true event that maybe had ‘something strange’ happen, some kind of coincidence or whatever. Because people can’t explain what happened, they conclude something supernatural must have happened. The story gets retold and sensationalized. As time passes the details aren’t as important as the ‘narrative’, ie, something great and mysterious happened. There’s no investigation or thought of falsification, because everyone ‘knows’ that these kinds of things can happen. I suspect that if there’s any truth in the gospel miracle stories, it’s this kind of truth, where something unexplainable happened, and that grew and grew and superstition and excitement took over. People weren’t going around trying to falsify these claims.

  3. SidDhartha1953  July 20, 2018

    Are the Carta OT & NT Atlases backed by sound scholarship? Do they seem to have an apologetic slant? Thanks.

  4. RonaldTaska  July 20, 2018

    A good explanation of a difficult concept. Thanks

  5. JohnKesler  July 20, 2018

    You’ve said on more than one occasion that you don’t think that there was a historical Moses, yet Moses’ existence seems to be well established:

    1) Moses’ existence is attested in all four strands of the Torah.
    2) He passes the criterion of dissimilarity. E.g., he is said to have lived in Midian; he married the daughter of a Midianite priest (Jethro). His name is of Egyptian origin, which the Exodus 2:10-author tries to explain away as coming from the Hebrew for “drawn out.”
    3) He passes the criterion of embarrassment: e.g., Yahweh tried to kill him (Exodus 4:24-26).

    Why do you think that Jesus existed–and I agree that he did–but don’t think the same for Moses?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 22, 2018

      For every historical figure we have to look at the sources. Those for Moses are nowhere near as good as those for Jesus. The earliest ones are *centuries* after he would have lived. I think the ones that pass the criteria are easily explained as having been generated by story tellers over the years. When I say I doubt that Moses existed, I mean pretty much that if there was such a person, we know almost nothing about him (certainly not that there was an Exodus, etc.)

      • JulieGraff  August 7, 2018

        The Rav I’m studying the Torah with answers this question about not having anything written specifically on Moses personnally (or so many others) saying that it is because the Torah has nothing to do on putting the spotlight on someone, it has everything to do on the education of the People of God.

        If some part of someones life is not completaly relevent to all, in a way that anybody can apply the teaching written it is not relevent to be in the Torah. That’s why you dont find the life stories of the people in the Torah, you only find the messages relevent to all. That’s why the period of Moses life mentionned in the Torah is just a minuscule time of his life.

        Again, as they say, the Torah is not a history book, it’s a book about messages!

        I find very interesting to look at the history of things, but looking at the legacies and teachings of the Jews we really have to put ourselves in their mindset, as I’m shure you know!… Btw Mr. Ehrman have you ever written something about the clashing of greeks mindset and the jews mindest?… I find interesting the fact that the gospels are written in greek where as the apostols were Jews with their so different mindset! How can we reconcile that as we study the texts?

        (p.s: sorry for the mispellings my primary language is french)

        • JulieGraff  August 14, 2018

          Mr. Erhman, maybe you did not see the question I asked about the mindset of the Greeks different from the Jews… The good thing about it is that it got me to search about it on my own…

          I found some interesting information about Prométhée’s stealing fire (divine knowledge) as he beliefved it was for the advancement of all… and that this, it seems, was widely spread in the greek’s collective conciousness as an ok thing to do…

          So then, one may ask , steeling the fire, or shall I say the light, or shall I say to Ora of the Tora of God from the Jews, with the intention of the advancement of all… could that have been part of the history?

          So then my question is, and I’m shure you talked about it elsewhere and I haven’t seen it yet: are the oldest Gospels copies that where found in aramaic then translated into greek… or realy the oldest ones are in greek?

          Thanks!

          • Bart
            Bart  August 15, 2018

            They are all in Greek. There appear to have been translations of the NT into Syriac by the late second century, but these were based on the older Greek originals.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  July 22, 2018

      The name Moses is itself Egyptian. It’s etymologically related to ancient egyptian names such as Ahmose and Thutmose. Plus, around the time that Moses supposedly lived, the northern part of Egypt was controlled by a Canaanitic peoples (the so-called Hyksos). So it’s totally possible there was a Canaanite man called Moses who lived in 2nd millenium BCE Egypt.

      But as to whether this man marched hundreds of thousands of “Hebrew” Canaanites back into Canaan, well, that starts to stretch the bounds of credulity. There may very well have been an historical man Moses, but the acts attributed to him in the Torah are almost certainly legendary. Any historical Moses would be unrecognizable to us.

  6. Ryan  July 20, 2018

    Hello.

    “Well, probably not. For it appears that most early Christians understood that a person who was baptized was spiritually inferior to the one who was doing the baptizing. This view is suggested already in the Gospel of Matthew, where we find John protesting that he is the one who should be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. What conclusion could be drawn?”

    Wouldn’t that, for the first “Christians,” depend somewhat on their christology? I mean, if it was an adoptionist view, then would the there be a problem with John baptizing him? It seems to me that it would only be an issue after later folks decided Jesus was both fully divine & fully human (whatever that means) trouble would arise in this regard. Just a thought.

    Peace.

    • godspell  July 22, 2018

      By the time the gospels are being written, obviously all Christians–including Mark–would have believed Jesus was superior to John (even though Jesus reportedly said no one born of woman was superior to John).

      It’s a problem for them, no matter who they think Jesus was. Because the cult of John the Baptist still existed at that point, and there were probably arguments between the rival camps as to who was superior–who was really Messiah. To the majority of Jews, of course, neither was. The Messiah can’t have been killed by some Roman official, or by a Roman puppet king.

      The Christians won out over the Cult of John, outlasted them, because they could win converts outside Judaism. But it still matters to them. Because John mattered to Jesus. A lot.

      Based on what we know, John was his teacher, his mentor, his inspiration. John’s death was an enormous blow to Jesus, a turning point in his thinking. He must have talked a lot about the baptism, how much it meant to him, how it was the beginning of a new life for him. So they couldn’t forget it. They had to find some way to explain it.

      It’s not rational, no–and what human belief ever is? I don’t just mean religious beliefs.

  7. Sabina  July 20, 2018

    You, Prof. E. may not have met anyone who believes all of these stories, but I am currently working with a Bible literalist, Creationist, and anti-feminist (we could not be further apart, politically or in these philosophies) who buys into the Truth lock, stock, and barrel, hook, line and sinker. Were it not for the fact that we are in a retail environment, and, therefore, have to maintain civility, more numerous conversations, possibly escalating to debates, might have taken place between us over the past five months since her arrival. Now, I would not wish you to think me intolerant purely of her (or anyone’s) spiritual beliefs; y’all are free to indulge in whatever fantasies keep your batteries going through the day to day grind. The discomfort stems from the fact that to me, she is (albeit brainwashed) a person, an individual, a colleague, a neighbor. To her, I am an unsaved instrument of the devil, full of facts but lacking in the only knowledge that matters. I am wasting my time reading any book that is not The Good Book. To her credit, she does not proseletyze. It just comes up, like a bad penny, whenever anyone mentions science or higher education or taxes or elections or immigrants, which, in our particularly literate, liberal-leaning locale, is daily. So it makes me want to ask her, WWJD? (Who Would Jesus Deport?)

    • Bart
      Bart  July 22, 2018

      Oh, I used to be a very serious Bible literalist myself. People like that (like me in my former life!) can be very difficult to reason with!

    • mtelus  July 22, 2018

      Taking the Bible literal is a modern convention, probably started in the 1500’s or onward. I don’t think anyone in the ancient times would have had believed the all claims written in the New and Old Testament and would have had understand them in their cultural context. I question the motive of those who do take the Bible literal, and I find some Christians are able to admit some of the writings are allegorical. I question the motives of anyone who is an extremist because in psychology they say the cost is too high to justify this as a rational course. As Christian I find all of this very eye opening, especially Coogan’s Old Testament and Ehrman’s New Testament textbooks which really puts things in perspective.

    • doug  July 22, 2018

      Good insights, Sabina. When Christian fundamentalists have tried to “save” me, I have sometimes felt dehumanized – as tho if I don’t give up my own life I should just be thrown away into hell forever.

  8. Hormiga  July 20, 2018

    Do you think the criteria you describe could be useful for winnowing stories in other contexts, such as modern events? To pick a couple, could they be applied to the Kennedy assassination or the Gulf of Tonkin affair?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 22, 2018

      Yes, historians may not articulate these principles, but the are more or less the ones they use.

  9. jmmarine1  July 20, 2018

    What is your stance on the authenticity of Matthew 25:31-46; the analogy of the sheep and the goats. It certainly passes the above listed criteria (dissimilarity), but it misses all the others. Similarly, it sounds a lot like the kind of statement that fits with Matthew’s Jewish agenda, and it is oddly placed after a series of parables, and right before the passion narrative begins. I read recently that the Jesus Seminar deemed this passage inauthentic (I did not read the reasoning why), but what is your sense of this very important passage?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 22, 2018

      I think it goes back to Jesus. I’ll be dealing with it in the book I’m writing now on the Afterlife.

  10. seahawk41  July 20, 2018

    This is not about today’s post, but going back to a question I asked you several weeks ago. The question was whether the Christian triumph in the Roman Empire led to abandonment of the public baths. Today I read an article in National Geographic History (July/August 2018) about the history of showers. The article began with a discussion of bathing and the importance of cleanliness in Greek and Roman times. Then it said this: “With the rise of Christianity, public bathing began to be regarded as indecent and extravagant. Cyprian, the third-century Bishop of Carthage warned a woman ‘a bath sullies; it does not purify … you are looked at immodestly.'” It goes on to say that until relatively recently European society equated cleanliness more with purity of the soul rather than the body. Skimpy information, but the article was more focused on the development of showers in the 19th Century.

  11. forthfading  July 20, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I want to ask a question concerning your previous post about independent sources, its really a follow up to a question I asked about the Gospel of Thomas being independent from the canonical Gospels.

    It is possible that Thomas is independent from the canonical Gospels, but with the Gospel of Thomas having much of the same teaching (especially Matthew), are scholars divided on the issue if the Gospel of Thomas is independent or reliant on the earlier Gospels? Sorry for getting off topic from the current post.

    Thanks

  12. john76  July 20, 2018

    Just because later writers found Jesus baptism by John embarrassing doesn’t mean Mark found it to be so. Mark may simply have been inventing a theologically charged story to show Jesus succeeding John the Baptist was even greater than when Elisha succeeded Elijah. As Bob Price says: “In view of parallels elsewhere between John and Jesus on the one hand and Elijah and Elisha on the other, some (Miller, p. 48) also see in the Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.”

    • Alemin
      Alemin  July 23, 2018

      I heard a Jewish scholar at HU in Jerusalem say that ‘double-portion’ is a mistranslation, and that the term, while little attested, usually meant 2/3. It goes back to the tradition of giving the older brother a ‘double portion’ of the inheritance, which doesn’t mean he got twice as much as the father had to give (!), but 2 parts of the whole, while the younger brother got 1 part. This makes sense. He thinks that Elisha was basically saying, “Elijah, may I have the older son’s portion of your inheritance and therefore be the one to carry on your ministry!”

  13. prestonp  July 20, 2018

    And then the author explains why the man’s parents refuse to cooperate, in one of the most intriguing verses of the entire Gospel: “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” (9:22).

    “This verse is significant from a socio-historical perspective because we know that there was no official policy against accepting Jesus as messiah — or anyone else as the messiah, for that matter — during his lifetime. On the other hand, some Jewish synagogues evidently did begin to exclude members who believed in Jesus’ messiahship towards the end of the first century.”

    We need more testing categories: The Jewish leaders put Christ to death. It is a good bet they didn’t welcome Jews For Jesus long before the end of the century, official policy or not.

    “In Mark’s Gospel, for example, when Jesus predicts that he is to go to Jerusalem, and that he will be rejected by the scribes and elders and be crucified, and then in three days be raised from the dead, he is proclaiming precisely what the early Christian preachers were saying about him.”

    Strange why they would do that. They repeated exactly what He promised would occur and fulfilled gloriously, so that they should preach about it reduces the likelihood that it actually happened! That is one exceptional way to weed out unlikely events.

    “Why was it so difficult for them to persuade others? Because prior to the Christian proclamation of Jesus, there were no Jews, at least so far as we know, who believed that the messiah was going to be crucified. On the contrary, the messiah was to be the great and powerful leader who delivered Israel from its oppressive overlords.” “Where then did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened.” Amen

    So, too, did the virgin birth, every miracle, the resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, various languages, spontaneous acts of healings. No one expected Him to blow into town as the Person described in the N.T. He was the strangest, most unlikely God anyone could have dreamed up and more. He wasn’t good looking. They didn’t even recognize Him for His first 30 years.

    Still denied 3 comments a day.

    • godspell  July 22, 2018

      I’m going to use up one of my comments to tell you that you’re misunderstanding the new system. Nobody is personally denying you your rightful comments. It’s just that there’s a specific time period within which you get those comments. They don’t get stored up if yo don’t use them, and you have to wait a certain period for the new ones to be available.

      Sheesh, Jesus got crucified, Paul may have been beheaded, St. Sebastian got shot full of arrows, Joan of Arc got burned at the stake, and you’re crying over how many times you get to post the same bad arguments in a 24 hour period?. They don’t make martyrs like they used to. 😉

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  14. SidDhartha1953  July 21, 2018

    Your comment on the word “Nazorean” has caused me to notice that the NRSV mistranslates it in places, as Luke 18:37. You’ve said the meaning of Nazorean is a matter of controversy. Could you do a post on the various opinions and what the title “the Nazorean” may have meant in the context of the blind man story in Luke 18?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 22, 2018

      Interesting idea.

      • SidDhartha1953  July 25, 2018

        I have a rather convoluted hunch, but it’s based only on my reading of English translations. I’ve read that “nazorean” resembles a Greek word for “branch.” Isaiah 11:1 says, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (KJV) II Sam. 5:6-10 tells of David’s conquest of Jerusalem in which he orders the slaughter of the blind and lame, because of the taunt that even the blind and the lame would repel his attack. The episode in Luke 18 comes very near Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so the blind man, on hearing that Jesus “the Branch” was passing by, begged for mercy, of which David showed none. The next episode before the entry into Jerusalem concerns Zacchaeus who, being a small person, may have substituted for the lame in the David story. Both men overcame Jesus with their words and faith, not physical strength.
        Does any of that make sense, based on the Greek and Hebrew?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 26, 2018

          Yes, my view is that He shall be called a Nazarene is an allusion to Isa. 11:1.

  15. SonOfZeusTruly
    SonOfZeusTruly  July 21, 2018

    John the Baptist had disciples? What ever happened to them? I think I know! A wise man once told me, that was me so I think I would know.

  16. doug  July 21, 2018

    Mark 1:4 – “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a *baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins*.” And he baptized Jesus. Not something early Christians were likely to have made up.

  17. dankoh  July 21, 2018

    “Dissimilarity” is very similar to the Talmudic jurisprudential technique of “migo” – testimony to one’s own disadvantage is given credence. They give this example: A woman coming from a far country to a place where she is not known is asked if she is married. She replies that she was, but is now divorced and free to marry again. Applying the principle of migo, we believe her on both the marriage and the divorce, since she could have said she was never married and we would have no way to check. (A divorced woman is ineligible for marriage to a Cohen – priest – so her testimony is to her disadvantage.)

  18. prestonp  July 21, 2018

    One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”

    He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

    They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”

    So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”

    All the people will stone us because they believe John was a prophet. So, what did they really think was the honest answer to His question? They were trapped. Jesus was a pretty clever old cat. Teachers of the law, elders, and chief priests, all of them were afraid the crowd of average schmoes would stone them if they refused to acknowledge John was a prophet. So, they chickened out and refused to answer. These were the same killers who determined that He must go. He was shaking up their world. (BTW, why were they hassling Jesus in the first place? He was openly teaching in the Temple the necessity of obeying the commandments, correct? We know this because it has been proven that He preached a different message than Paul. Jesus was all about keeping the Law. Why did they object?)

    “the story that John initially refused to baptize Jesus, on the other hand, is not multiply attested (it is found only in Matthew) and appears to serve a clear Christian agenda.” What is the Christian agenda? Does it include the resurrection? Or did that come later? The crucifixion was always in? Why did anyone bother to write about Him in the first place? Bart says He was a failed and confused apocalyptic preacher, but He amassed a following. Turns out He was off His rocker. Boom, it’s over! So, why write up this big spiel after He got whacked? Why bother to get scribes to copy it? What was the big deal? The guys that wrote up the whole 9 yards or contributed to it must have known they could end up like Jesus.

    • flcombs  July 22, 2018

      Duh: is it possible a religious group had an agenda of growing and convincing others to join by justifying itself? Ever heard of such things?

      You must believe ISIS/ISIL and other extremists represent the truth and true God. Why would they sacrifice and do what they do if it wasn’t true? Haven’t Christians followed false teachers and prophets, or risked their lives for them even after their deaths? Hint: check out origins of various denominations. At a high level Catholics and Protestants were killing each other so if you are Protestant, you know Catholics were right since they died for their beliefs.

      But as we know, it wasn’t very special in many ways as early Christians acknowledged, so not really unusual in beliefs:

      “And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter.”
      Justin Martyr (to Antoninus Pius, his sons, and the Roman Senate), The First Apology, Chapter 21

      “But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours, who suffered as we have now enumerated.” Chapter 22

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    • Iskander Robertson  July 23, 2018

      “Why did anyone bother to write about Him in the first place? Bart says He was a failed and confused apocalyptic preacher, but He amassed a following. ”

      what does amassing a following prove ? jesus said that MIRACLE working prophets will amass following too (what does DECEIVE many mean? ), so what does “amassed following” prove ?

      how is it possible that muhammad convinced jews, christians and pagans that their beliefs are false and that the Quran is the true word of God? muhammad was persecuted for 13 years and he was able to build a huge following which convinced people to join him and FIGHT for his beliefs. how did desert arab with NO MIRACLE do a better job than jesus christ ? according to the gospels, ALL the pals of jesus LEFT jesus and forsook him, muhammad had his pals fighting with him side by side. muhammad convinced the christians that trinity , original sin, crucifxion, and pauline jesus is false. how did he do it ?


      Turns out He was off His rocker. Boom, it’s over! So, why write up this big spiel after He got whacked?”

      BEcause the whacking had to be REPAIRED. every nt writer seems to be thinking that his REPAIRED jesus is coming back in his/her life time.
      i am sure jesus sinned plenty and was baptised because he was a sinner, but you see how the gospel writers do the repair job and try to sell their failed to return jesus ?

      ” Why bother to get scribes to copy it? What was the big deal? The guys that wrote up the whole 9 yards or contributed to it must have known they could end up like Jesus.”

      1. where were they writing ?
      2. if they were fleeing from persecution , they would be safe enough to write
      “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”

  19. Lev
    Lev  July 21, 2018

    May I ask an off-topic question?

    I’ve been re-reading your chapter on anti-adoptionistic corruption of scripture in your book ‘Orthodox Corruption of Scripture’. I’m struck by just how much effort went into changing the story of Jesus so the references to him being the chosen one, instead of born of God, were altered.

    I’m also increasingly convinced that the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke were early 2nd century additions, rather than part of the original text – that sometime in the opening decades of the 2nd century, Christian leaders decided that Jesus was born the Son of God, rather than chosen the Son of God.

    I can’t help but ask the question – why?

    I’ve heard you explain that in Pagan tradition, you could become a son of divine/god by either:

    1. Legendary accounts of the god Jupiter appearing in human form and impregnating your mother. (Born son of god)
    2. Being adopted by Ceaser as your son and successor, and having your predecessor posthumously made divine. (Chosen son of god)

    So given that both methods were acceptable to pagans, what do you think was the motivation of 2nd century Christians to change the story from one to the other? Why did they think it necessary to monkey about with the story of how Jesus became the Son of God? Why bother changing it, if either method was acceptable to Pagan ears?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 22, 2018

      I don’t think they were concerned about what was acceptable to pagans; they had decided theological views of their own about Jesus, and sometimes modified the text accordingly.

      • Lev
        Lev  July 24, 2018

        Thanks Bart. In your view, what was the motivation for the early church to invent the story of the virgin birth?

        Could it have been in reaction to persecution? Perhaps if Jesus, descendant of David, was seen as the chosen King / Son of God, then this may have been seen as a direct challenge to Rome (that’s how their Ceasers were titled in the 1st century), whereas if he was born Son of God (and without any lineage to David) according to a more legendary (supernatural) method, then this may have been more acceptable to Rome?

        That is, the church may have thought that if they added emphasis on Jesus as being King of a heavenly, rather than temporal kingdom, and broke the lineage with David, then perhaps the Roman persecution would cease?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 26, 2018

          Two motivations. One (most important) was to show that Jesus really was the Son of God. The other was to show that he really was a miraculous fulfillment of scripture (Isa. 7:14).

          • Lev
            Lev  July 26, 2018

            I understand that the Jewish expectation was that the promised Messiah would assume the title Son of God in the same way King David was decreed as such in Psalm 2.

            So someone who was a decendent of David and annointed with the Holy Spirit (1Sam16:13).

            I don’t think the Jews expected their Messiah to be born son of God in the same way the Pagans recognised their sons of gods (supernatural conception).

            The original reading of the gospels reflect this with Jesus, son of David, being declared Son of God after being annoinnted by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. So the original reading of the gospels fulfils the Jewish expectation of the Messiah.

            The prophecy in Isa7:14 refer to a young woman (in the Hebrew) rather than a virgin (in Greek) and as Trypho made clear to Justin, this prophecy was fulfilled in the days of Hezekiah.

            The virgin birth story twists Isaiah’s words in an awkward way and projects an already fulfilled prophecy onto Jesus, so I think something else must be going on – it’s just I can’t find a satisfactory explaination.

  20. balivi  July 22, 2018

    “…perhaps Paul, at the end of Jesus’ life he was betrayed by one of his own followers.”
    Dear Prof! Which parts will testify to this: perhaps Paul betrayed Jesus by one of his own followers?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 22, 2018

      I’m not sure I understand the quesiton. Paul didn’t know the historical Jesus.

      • balivi  July 22, 2018

        Yes I know, but you said Paul could heard for the betrayed. From wich pauline letters we can know this?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 23, 2018

          I don’t understand your question.

        • stevenpounders  July 23, 2018

          Dr. Ehrman said in the post above, “According to all four canonical Gospels, and perhaps Paul, at the end of Jesus’ life he was betrayed by one of his own followers.”

          Dr. Ehrman is saying that Paul (perhaps) wrote about the betrayal of Jesus – NOT that Paul betrayed Jesus himself.

          In suggesting that Paul ‘perhaps/possibly’ wrote about the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, Dr. Ehrman is probably referring to 1 Corinthians 11:23, part of which is sometimes translated “On the night in which he was betrayed.”

          However, Dr. Ehrman also argues elsewhere that this is probably a mistranslation and does not actually refer to a betrayal by Judas: https://ehrmanblog.org/does-paul-know-about-judas-iscariot/

          • balivi  July 29, 2018

            Perfect! Thanx😉 yes the “paradidomi” problem. And this is the prof translation. Why do not understand the prof? Paul dasent heard the betrayal by Judas.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  July 23, 2018

      I believe you’re partially quoting from this balivi—“According to all four canonical Gospels, and perhaps Paul, at the end of Jesus’ life he was betrayed by one of his own followers.”

      I think you may be misunderstanding this quote? The Gospels say Jesus was betrayed by one of his followers. In addition to that, it’s POSSIBLE Paul knew Jesus was betrayed by one of his own followers as well.

      Here is an example:
      1 Corinthians 11:23 “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was BETRAYED took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

      The point is, the Gospels independently attest to Jesus being betrayed by one of his followers. It’s POSSIBLE Paul knew that too. The problem is, Paul does not tell us WHO betrayed Jesus and if he knew anything about a betrayal. The word “betrayed” can also mean “handed over.” Paul is not clear, but it’s POSSIBLE he knew that Jesus was betrayed by one of his followers. If he did know, then that is another independent attestation.

      • godspell  August 4, 2018

        Paul is often unclear, avoids going into detail, and you can explain this in two ways.

        1)These are letters, and the people he’s writing to know all the same details he does.

        2)There is disagreement over the details among the different Christian communities, and Paul, ever the politician, is wary of stepping on any toes. He picks his fights. This wasn’t a debate he saw any percentage in joining.

        The story of Judas changes, from telling to telling. How likely is it that anybody knew exactly what happened there, other than Judas himself?

        Suppose it was more than one follower who betrayed Jesus, and Judas ended up taking the whole rap? You have to figure it was more complicated than any of the stories we get. But we do have to conclude there was a betrayal. Which became the quintissential betrayal, and Judas is as immortal as Jesus now.

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