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The Virgin Birth and the Gospel of John: A Blast from the Past

As I’ve indicated on the Blog before, I tend to go to a Christmas Eve Midnight service with my wife Sarah (usually my one time in church during the year), and this year was no exception.  We were in Suffolk, England, in the town of Woodbridge, and attended the Anglican church there for a very nice service.  The Gospel reading was from John (1:1-14), a standard reading.  But I wondered whether anyone in the congregation realized that this passage in John says nothing about Jesus’ being born of a virgin — one of the very big points of the Christmas message today!   And just now I wondered if I had ever talked about that very interesting factoid on the blog.  It turns out, the answer is yes, precisely three years ago today.  This is what I said then.

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I have pointed out that our earliest Gospel, Mark, not only is lacking a story of the virgin birth but also tells a story that seems to run precisely counter to the idea that Jesus’ mother knew that his birth was miraculous, unlike the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  It is striking to note that even though these two later Gospels know about a virgin birth,  our latest canonical Gospel, John, does not know about it.   This was not a doctrine that everyone knew about – even toward the end of the first century.

Casual readers of John often assume that it presupposes the virgin birth (it never says anything about it, one way or the other) because they themselves are familiar with the idea, and think that John must be as well.  So they typically read the virgin birth into an account that in fact completely lacks it.

As is well known, John’s Gospel begins …

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Year in Review 2017!
Did They Crucify the Wrong Guy? Jesus’ Identity Switch.

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Comments

  1. Liam Foley  December 28, 2017

    Before reading your work, and that of others, I never realized how much jumping from book to book and author to author Christians did to harmonize the account and create a one large gospel and that Christians do take issues, or beliefs, and read into, or project onto, the gospels thing that are not there.

    This leads to my questions. I have been watching/listening to your debates on YouTube (just listened to the two part debate with Timothy McGrew who does this frequently) and I wonder if those that do Biblical Scholarship (or display knowledge/interest in the subject) and are also Theologians, it seems to create a conflict of interests. Can one be a Biblical Scholar and a Theologian? That seems like a recipe to produce Christian Aplogists. Not saying one cannot be a believer but it does muddy the waters. I think it puts believers in a precarious position when Scholarship challenges orthodoxy. I think that creates a False need to harmonize and reconcile discrepancies and McGrew is a prime example of one who does that.




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 28, 2017

      Answer: there are biblical-scholar/theologians and there are biblical-scholar/theologians. Very conservative evangelical biblical scholar theologians see no contradictions/discrepancies/mistakes in the Bible and doing theology involves synthesizing the various biblical views of this that or the other thing into a consistent whole; non-evangelical biblical scholar theologians (most of my friends: e.g., Dale Martin; Joel Marcus; Jeffrey Siker; Elizabeth Johnson; etc. etc.) see the Bible the way I do and have a very critical view of it (Paul did not write the Pastoral epistles; John’s Gospel is not historically accurate; the book of Acts is historically problematic; it’s hard to know what the historical Jesus said and did; etc. etc. etc.) Their job is to figure out how God speaks to his people and what his message is, since obviously it is not in an inerrant revelation of Scripture. Scripture is still *used* (along with other things — such as your head and the tradition of the Christian church throughout history); but it is used critically. THere is no easy one-line statement that can summarize how it is done: it is a sophisticated undertaking by believing Christians who are, at the same time, serious historical scholars.




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  2. joncopeland  December 28, 2017

    When you go to a Christmas eve service, do you sing the songs? Or just hum along?




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Ha! I sing! I love Christmas carols. But I don’t say the prayers, etc.




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      • Telling
        Telling  December 31, 2017

        Someone should put Biblical inconsistencies to song, arranged to flow perfectly with the music, example lyrics:

        “We three kings, or are we four, or six, twenty-four or twelve, are bearing gifts …. etc”.

        Now that you confess that you sing, perhaps you’ll post “The Bart Ehrman first fully accurate Christmas Songbook” as. an audio file. I would do so, surely, but I don’t sing.




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  3. jdmartin21  December 28, 2017

    “For example, you could imagine that the human sperm emitted by Joseph was replaced by a divine sperm.” I realize that people anthropomorphize God all the time, but if God is a spiritual (non)being, he has neither the testes to produce a human sperm nor the requisite plumbing to emit one. The only way he would have to acquire a human sperm would be to appropriate one from a human man (Joseph?) or create one out of nothing. Since Christians seem to be locked in on that “begotten, not made” bit in the creed, the second option seems to be out of bounds. I don’t see how the biologically literal “Son of God” claim works.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  December 30, 2017

      You’ll never understand this until you get yourself out of the 21st century! Greek/Roman religions were full of demigods and demiurges, half-man half-god. Here’s just one list. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_demigods

      If your favorite demiurge created the universe, do you think he would have any trouble making a human woman pregnant? Even the usual way? Why would you think the gods have less pleasure than humans?




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  4. 4Erudite  December 28, 2017

    You mentioned in the intro to this blog that you attended a church service…now I know you stated it was one of the few times a year you attended a service…but I was wondering, when you find yourself listening to a sermon or in an environment where someone is discussing the NT and/or a stories related to scriptures, gospels, etc…do you ever feel like jumping up and saying, “excuse me, close but not exactly”…I would think it is hard to just listen in such a situation when you know there is so much more to the story…of course, there is a time and place for all things and I am sure you act in a socially acceptable manner based on the situation and pick and chose when to offer education and/or a debate…but sitting through a Christian church sermon, I would think you have to sit on your hands and keep your tongue between your teeth.




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      I never feel like jumping up and saying it, but that’s always what is going on in my mind.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  December 30, 2017

      I’m not Bart, but for me, that’s the norm. I don’t challenge a sermon during the service. I usually don’t bother challenging it at all, because generally, they don’t care. They’re stuck in their ideological rut. But I will speak up in a class that allows participation. I don’t attend a class that doesn’t allow participation. I’ll make a point simply, clearly, and concisely, providing as much background material as people care about. It’s rare that I change anyone’s mind about anything.




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      • Telling
        Telling  December 31, 2017

        We should be careful about laughing at the simplistic views of others.

        At one time, people thought the earth was flat because it looked flat.

        Now people “know” it isn’t flat, it is round because when we step into outer space the earth looks round.

        But new theories indicate the earth is probably not round, it is, rather, a strand of consciousness. The “new” idea is known only to the West; eastern philosophies have known this since recorded time.

        A “strand of consciousness” world is a game changer; all of what we know probably just isn’t true. But “we” know the earth “really” is round. We’re not dumb like the rest. And who believes those crazy eastern philosophies anyway, when we already know everything?

        And here’s a possible hint: The physical eye is a lens, and lenses, as we know from cameras, make everything appear a little round.




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  5. talmoore
    talmoore  December 28, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, this is the exact type of hole-filling that I find so suspicious about the gospels. And all the gospels are replete with such hole-filling — I would argue the vast majority of all the gospels are made up of this type of hole-filling. (The technical term for this “hole-filling,” which I’ve brought up many times on the blog over the years, is a retcon; that stands for retro-active continuity, and it’s often used to retroactively fill in the holes in a narrative or to reconcile contradictions or inconsistencies in the narrative. One of the most famous retcons in history is when George Lucas decided to make Darth Vador Luke’s real father, an idea he originally abandoned in the first Star Wars but wanted to revive in the Empire Strikes Back, so he basically shoe-horned it in. Anyway…)

    One clear example of this retconning in the gospels is the empty tomb narrative. It’s clear that when the first Christians started preaching the resurrection of Jesus, they were being asked (reasonably) how they knew Jesus’ body wasn’t simply taken from the tomb. So the Christian apostles introduced the retcon of having guards posted by the tomb. And why would Pilate feel the need to post guards? Well, because he was concerned that Jesus’ body would be stolen, obviously. And why would Pilate have such a concern? Presumably because he was worried that Jesus’ disciples would claim…that Jesus had risen from the dead? And so A) why would Pilate be concerned about that (presuming he thought such a freak occurrence was somehow significant), and B) who would have put such a random concern in his mind to begin with? And here’s where we get to the serious retconning. When confronted with such reasonable questions, the first Christians couldn’t simply admit that their belief in the resurrection was nonsensical and ridiculous (because of “faith” and “hope”). They had to justify it somehow, so they simply made Pilate subject to the whims of the Jewish priests (which is itself ridiculous, but the gentile proselytes didn’t know that) and since the priests knew about the prophecy of the risen Messiah (for some convenient reason) they forced Pilate to place guards in front of Jesus’ tomb in order to thwart said resurrection. But, aha! Jesus got the last laugh on all of them, because as rose and emerged from the tomb he blinded the guards with his divine radiance and ascended into the heavens!

    See what I mean? I would say you can’t make this stuff up, but, yeah, someone made this stuff up.

    Which brings me to the Virgin Birth narrative. The very same type of retconning happened in the construction of that narrative. Christian Apostles were going around saying Jesus is the “Son of God”. Well, in the Jewish context, they could simply have meant that Jesus is the Messiah, because the Hebrew Bible regularly describing the king of the Jews, and thus the Messiah, as a “son of God” — in the metaphorical sense, not the literal sense. But those gentiles to whom the apostles were preaching didn’t know that. They didn’t understand the metaphor of a Jewish king being something like the adopted son of a god. They took it literally. Jesus was literally the offspring of the God of the Jews! So how does that happen? Well, God obviously impregnated Mary the same way Zeus and the other gods impregnate women. But this image was not acceptable the to first Christians, because it forced them to imagine a presumably immaterial god (the “living” God of Israel was definitely immaterial) having a penis with which he could inseminate Mary, and that was clearly ridiculous. So they had God impregnate Mary via an immaterial means, and conveniently they had the Holy Spirit ready to do the job.

    Okay, so where am I going with this? Now imagine you’re a pagan Greek listening to this message by some Christian apostles. What’s going to be your first question? Of course, you’re going to ask how these Christians know that Mary was impregnated by this Holy Spirit thing, rather than the old fashioned way? Well, if you’re a Christian apostle, the obvious answer is that Mary was still a virgin when she conceived with Jesus, so the ONLY explanation is that the God of Israel must have impregnated her, right? Classic retconning. You start off with the belief that Jesus is literally the son of God, but as inconvenient questions get asked, exposing holes, inconsistancies and contradictions, you have only two options: you can change your mind (“Well, I guess Jesus isn’t the literal son of God then”) or you can try to resolve the problems by retroactively adding new details (“Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus, so it must have been God who knocked her up.” i.e. retconning).

    This process is so blatant in the gospels that I’m regularly amazed that everybody doesn’t see it.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  December 30, 2017

      Thank you for presenting and defining retcon (retroactive continuity). Good to know it’s a recognized paradigm. You have added value to this blog.

      That’s an example of why the synoptic gospels are such under-appreciated literary masterpieces. It’s a kid explaining on and on about why he shouldn’t be punished for a particular act, blended with a political stump speech, crafted into a story worthy of Homer.

      The authors go to great lengths to explain why the ideas of Christianity, especially later Christology, were unknown during the lifetime of Jesus. If Jesus really was who Christians say he was, then how come no one ever heard of him? No one wrote of him. Only Christians talk about him. The diarists offer many explanations.

      The idea doesn’t even occur to us. Today, everyone has heard of Jesus. Other exaggerations in the gospels show his fame spreading far and wide. The authors had to reconcile this apparent contradiction. Perhaps he was well-known as a sage of Second Temple Judaism in backwoods Galilee, but the Christian ideas were hidden. Or the disciples were dense. Or they were told not to tell anyone. Or it was not yet time. Or Jesus didn’t reveal it even to his disciples until after his death. The defense attornies flail madly about as they try to refute evidence from the prosecution.




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    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  December 30, 2017

      I, too, tend to think that the first rumors circulating were that Jesus’ body was stolen. You’ve noted that Pilate has guards placed at the tomb in Matthew’s gospel. What’s interesting in Mark’s gospel is that Joseph of Arimathea seals the tomb up with a stone. Then Mark creates a conversation with the women saying, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” As if to say it was impossible for the body to be stolen because of the heavy stone rolled over it. (Never mind that Joseph put the stone over the entrance by himself but the three women have no idea how they’re going to manage it.)

      A few sources I’ve read say that the custom was to *not* seal up the tomb for 3 days—“The tomb, however, was not immediately closed over the dead. During the first three days it was customary for the relatives to visit the grave to see whether the dead had come to life again (Massek. Sem. viii.; see Perles, “Leichenfeierlichkeiten,” p. 10, and Brüll, “Jahrb.” i. 51). http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3842-burial

      In your comment, “This process is so blatant in the gospels that I’m regularly amazed that everybody doesn’t see it.” You have an education and background with this stuff, but as the everyday layperson, I don’t think we’re part of the norm for what the average person knows for biblical topics. I see a lot of commenters on various sites who say all the time, “Why can’t Christians see these contradictions? Why do Christians smash the gospels together?” When I was a believer, my mind naturally pulled them together couldn’t see any contradictions.

      I firmly believe that education is key to helping future generations apply critical thinking skills for understanding the Bible, and it needs to start at an early age. There’s a few states that have begun teaching the Bible in high schools as an elective. What’s really important are the Standards. Standards are the law for every public school teacher in the U.S. The SBL is responsible for this, so if they set loose Standards, then teachers will be free to do what they want, and they WILL do what they want with them. The problem is, I don’t think the SBL realizes just how important it is for them to create Standards that follow the consensus of critical Biblical scholarship. They also need to provide professional development training to those who will be teaching these classes. They can’t expect teachers to do a good job without the proper training. I hope someone realizes this before more states become involved and the whole thing becomes a huge mess because I’ve looked at the Standards, and they’re way too generalized. Certain Christian teachers are having a hay day with these Standards right now.




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    • Telling
      Telling  December 31, 2017

      Some people say the same about macro evolution.

      And spirits in “heaven” are amazed (I’ve read and studied this) that we think a baby born into the world having all the abilities and resources that it has, is a brand new being, popping in from nowhere.




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  6. Abdullah Ahmad  December 28, 2017

    Behold! The angels said: “O Mary! God gives you good news of a WORD from Him, whose name will be Christ Jesus, son of Mary, held in high honor in this world and the hereafter, and he will be one of those nearest to God. He shall speak to the people in his infancy and in his adulthood, and he shall be among the righteous. She said: “My Lord, how can I have a child when no man has ever touched me?” He replied, “Even so, God creates what He Wills. Whenever He Wills a thing to be, He simply says to it: “Be!” and it will be.” He will teach him (Jesus) the Book and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel. And will make him a Messenger to the Children of Israel, saying: “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord.” [Quran 3:45]

    “(The creation of) Jesus in the sight of God is like (the creation of) Adam. He created him (Adam) from dust; then said to him, “Be!” and he became (into existence).” [Quran 3:59]




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  7. Tony  December 28, 2017

    Some NT scholars hold the view that the virgin birth sets Christianity apart from other Pagan religions with dying and rising gods. Fortunately, we know exactly where the Christian virgin birth comes from.

    Mt 1:22-23, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son”, quotes Isa 7:14. Matthew, (and the other Synoptic’s), mined the Greek Septuagint for prophesy fulfillment’s and more. The original Hebrew version (OT) read, “young woman,” instead of virgin. It also tells us that “Matthew” lived in the Jewish diaspora and was likely unable to read Hebrew. Nevertheless, Matthew hit the jackpot by combining a prophesy with a miraculous virgin birth!

    Enter “Luke” who liked Matthew’s virgin birth very much, but decided to write his own version, (as with the Matthew’s birth narrative). Luke skips the prophesy argument altogether and in Lk 1:26-38 has an angel talk to Mary directly – instead of informing Joseph first – as in Matthew.

    The virgin birth was the result of an overzealous Septuagint prophesy miner. Nothing more.




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    • talmoore
      talmoore  December 30, 2017

      How interesting is it to see my comment, then Abdullah Ahmad’s comment, then Tony’s comment in succession? You couldn’t get three more different approaches and conclusions to the same material. Fascinating.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  December 30, 2017

      There were plenty of others to choose from. This particular mistranslation / misinterpretation of Isaiah was to claim that the miraculous birth of Jesus was predicted by Jewish prophecy. Therefore Christianity is really a Jewish religion. Therefore it should receive respect as an ancient religion, and perhaps even religio licita legal protection.




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      • Tony  December 31, 2017

        Yes, there were plenty to choose from, and using them they did!

        http://www.kalvesmaki.com/LXX/NTChart.htm

        Paul uses the term “according to the scriptures” in 1 Cor 15:3 and, particularly Matthew, took that advice to heart. The use of Isaiah 7:14 had some remarkable long term term results, but so had the Bethlehem birth from Micah. Obviously, creating prophesy fulfillment was the major objective. Through my skeptical 21st century mindset it seems like a cheap trick, but it worked, then and now!




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  8. HistoricalChristianity  December 28, 2017

    This misses the point of the author and his demographic. He refers to logos, the Greek philosophical concept, hijacking it to say that this force materialized on earth in the form of Jesus. It’s not referring to Genesis or anything Jewish.




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  9. Candlestickone  December 28, 2017

    Imo, the virgin birth was what was supposed to have happen in the gen. Account,sparked by the tree of life, they instead procreated physically ” the fall ” and so all of us were born of ” the original infraction” or original sin as some would say




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  10. Steefen  December 29, 2017

    Have you done a post on Paul referencing “my gospel” in the authentic Pauline Letter Romans (Romans 2: 16) and 2nd Timothy (2 Timothy 2: 8) which isn’t one of the authentic Pauline Letters.

    Do scholars use these two verses as proof Paul had access to oral gospels or even written gospels, perhaps Q?

    Paul had some acquaintance with James and Peter, are we to conclude even with his disagreements with James or Jame’s disagreements with him, he adopted their lessons about Jesus to him as “his gospel”?

    Thank you.




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      The term “gospel” simply means “good news.” Paul used it to refer to his proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was only many decades later that the term came to refer to a kind of book, a narrative account of Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection.




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      • Steefen  December 31, 2017

        I’m familiar with announce news of [angello, the verb in the etymology] ]an outcome of a military engagement (good or bad?)
        What would it be if it was bad outcome of a military engagement, if evangelize is good news?

        So, it was his news to share/evangelize.

        In Jesus’ ministry, his news to share/evangelize, his gospel was more tell John, the lame are healed and sight given to the blind, your God isn’t the scary God of the Torah but a loving Father; and good news is proclaimed to the poor.

        What is the Greek at Matthew 11:5 “good news” is proclaimed to the poor? Is it the same Greek term producing “gospel” or Paul has “his gospel” but Jesus has “good news”?

        Thank you.




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  11. ardeare  December 29, 2017

    I like to imagine how it would turn out if different groups wrote my biography. My immediate family (John) would certainly have a unique story to tell and one that only comes from living with me. My closest friends (Matthew) would have a similar view as family, but there would be stark differences. Coworkers (Luke) would have a similar storyline but again, there would be distinct differences. Finally, acquaintances (Mark) and fence-line neighbors would have a different story to tell based more on observation than any intimate or regular verbal exchanges.

    Is combining the four stories the best way to re-tell my story?




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      That would be a good way if the four people who wrote all knew you and had different takes. If instead the four authors are people living decades later who are relying on earlier oral traditions that have been floating around for so many years, and earlier written materials also written by people who were not eyewitnesses but were basing their accounts on oral reports — well, that would be a different situation entirely.




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      • AnotherBart  January 11, 2018

        Well said. I’d been taught, had read, and believed the 2nd view (oral tradition, 40 years later, anonymous authors) for a very long time (nearly 30 years), as Dr. Ehrman does. I still hold to documentary hypotheses for the Old Testament, but my understanding of the New has, to my own surprise, moved to the first view (they…. wha?… they actually knew each other?!!!)

        The key is Acts 17-28, Ist & 2nd Thess, 1st & 2nd Corinthians & Romans.

        Listen to them narrated about 50 times. Use the map. put every name mentioned in a spreadsheet. See who is in what city, with whom and when. Put it into a timeline.

        Together, their weight, like an elephant on a see-saw, sends the synoptics sailing overhead from modern scholarship’s post 70 AD date of authorship to land squarely on the pre-side of 60 AD.




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  12. seahawk41  December 29, 2017

    I’ve heard it said explicitly by some that you must interpret scripture in the light of other scripture. There aren’t/can’t be conflicts between different authors, books, passages etc., so you use one passage to “clarify” another, rather than letting each speak for itself.




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Yes, that’s a view that “works” if there is only one (infallible) author (e.g., God) behind each of the books.




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  13. DavidBeaman  December 29, 2017

    Speaking of the past … 🙂 my way of segueing into this question, have you noticed that the image of Jesus on your book, THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIANITY, resembles you?




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Nope! It’s an artist’s rendition based on the Shroud of Turin!!




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    • Telling
      Telling  January 1, 2018

      David,

      For the record, Bart didn’t quite exactly answer your question.

      Just to be clear, Bart may be correct in saying he hasn’t noticed that the shroud resembles him, and he may be correct in saying it’s an artist’s rendition based on the shroud. But he does come short of saying the image is not a picture of him. I’m not trying to say the shroud was superimposed on his own image to obtain the artist’s intended result. I’m not _trying_ to say that.




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      • Bart
        Bart  January 1, 2018

        Oh, I’m happy to answer it! The answer is no. The artist doesn’t even know me! He was working from a different model.




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  14. godspell  December 29, 2017

    It’s obvious that John doesn’t see Jesus as human, and I almost wonder why he even mentions Mary (not by name), since she was not necessary to anything. He places her at the scene of the crucifixion, where she quite certainly would not have been in reality, something no other gospel writer does.

    Obviously Mary was remembered and revered by Christians of that time (some of whom would already believe in the Virgin Birth), but that in itself doesn’t explain John including her. He wants Jesus to have a mother, even though the Incarnate Word of God requires no mother, virgin or otherwise.

    Perhaps just so that he can bestow the ultimate honor upon ‘The Disciple Jesus Loved’ by saying “This is your mother now”?

    What strikes me most about this fascinating article you’ve written is that John’s conception of Jesus actually comes closest to Paul’s. Both saw Jesus as a pre-existent divine being, waiting through eternity to be incarnated in the flesh for a few short years.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  December 30, 2017

      I agree, though the case for Paul’s belief is much weaker. You don’t see it emphasized or elaborated until Colossians, which is likely not Paul.




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      • godspell  December 31, 2017

        In How Jesus Became God, I was struck by Bart’s suggestion that Paul thought of Jesus as an angel in human form. That really does explain how Paul could write about Jesus as if he were more than human, while at the same time talk about how he’d met people who knew Jesus as a man. To him, Jesus wasn’t a person, because he never knew Jesus as a person. Just as we today often deify certain real people who we only know by reputation. Lincoln comes very close to being a god for many Americans. We even go to our nation’s capital to pay reverence to a huge statue of him. (Paul wouldn’t think much of that. Idolatrous.)

        I’d say that wherever Paul refers to Jesus directly, you get that feeling from him. That in his mind, even though Jesus walked around in a human body, and interacted with other people, he was never really one of us. Mark’s Jesus is a man. Luke and Matthew are on the fence. John isn’t. He fully embraces the Pauline conception, and takes it to the next level.




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        • HistoricalChristianity  January 1, 2018

          Where does Paul say he met someone who knew Jesus as a man? What does Paul say about Jesus other than his death and his role as a universal sacrifice?

          Americans don’t deify Lincoln. I’ve never met anyone who thought Lincoln was supernatural.




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          • godspell  January 3, 2018

            Paul says he met Peter and Jesus’ brother James (who is also attested to by Josephus, in a passage the authenticity of which has never been contested).

            You can try to explain those references away (as some have, unconvincingly), but to just not be aware of them? Have you even read the Pauline epistles? Or have you just read very narrow interpretations of them from people who want to cast doubt on the historicity of any aspect of the gospels? Sorry to tell you, but there is real history in there.

            Pontius Pilate. for example, is not a fictional character–but he was also someone we had no direct evidence for until recently, other than the mentions of him in the gospels. Then an inscription was found, identifying him as the Roman governor of Judaea. The gospels remembered him, but history didn’t, because a great deal of Roman history was lost when the empire fell.

            Paul did not know Jesus, almost certainly never saw him in the flesh, but he met people who met Jesus.

            A lot of people think Lincoln had prophetic dreams where he foresaw his own death. There is no hard evidence of this (anecdotes, which can’t be substantiated, and all of them told after Lincoln was killed) but it’s something you can’t avoid encountering when you read a lot about Lincoln. Which I’m guessing you haven’t. Honestly, if you want to discuss history, READ history.

            Or do you just want to be told what you already want to believe. To have your prejudices confirmed as fact, even when they’re not?

            I think that’s what at least some people mean when they claim to be religious.




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          • HistoricalChristianity  January 6, 2018

            In Galatians 2, Paul refers to “James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars.” That’s a very limited acknowledgement, but it’s not a claim that any of them had met Jesus, or that it was any specific set of people by that name.

            In his Antiquities, Josephus mentions “and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” This refers to a James who was a brother to Jesus (and presumably not “Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest” mentioned later in that same paragraph.

            It’s not necessarily the same James, though tradition says it is.

            “Paul did not know Jesus, almost certainly never saw him in the flesh, but he met people who met Jesus.” — The subject is historicity, thus the request for evidence for this claim. The sentence in Galatians would not be considered by a historian to be evidence of that.




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  15. SidDhartha1953  December 29, 2017

    Those who cannot wrap their heads around the idea that God can be incarnate in carnally produced human flesh might consider the mind-body or body-soul dualism I suspect is the default view of most people even now. Mom & Dad produce the body in the way of all flesh, but God creates or inserts the soul, we know not when our how. Well, popes know when, but not how. And no body or soul can make even pseudosense of where one ends and the other begins. Bonne anée!




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    • godspell  December 30, 2017

      My human friends that my late dog made for me are not in the main religious people. Some are outright atheists. And sometimes, when we talk about bad breeding practices (for dogs), and how this or that dog we love because of his or her ebullient spirit is physically unhealthy because of such practices, I’ll say something along the lines of “The breeder doesn’t put the soul in the dog” and everybody always thinks that’s very true and NOBODY says “There’s no such thing as the soul, we’re all just a collection of evolved chemical-electronic impulses.” Nobody who has loved a dog can ever believe that of them. Humans, maybe. 😐




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    • HistoricalChristianity  January 1, 2018

      Yes, Jewish (Philo) and Christian (Augustine) philosophers worked to incorporate Platonic Dualism into their respective religions.




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  16. jhague  December 29, 2017

    “In the controversy that Jesus has with his Jewish opponents in John 8, they make a comment that is often taken to be directed to Jesus paternal lineage, when they say “WE (emphasize the “we” here) were not born from an act of fornication” (8:41).”

    What is your thought on what the Jewish opponents are saying here?




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Yes, I think they are referring to the rumors about his illicit birth to an unwed woman.




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  17. RonaldTaska  December 29, 2017

    Little has impacted me more than the Trump phenomenon. I often channel surf between CNN and Fox News. The different perspectives presented on the two channels about any Trump story are amazing. Both channels seem to be reporting the “truth,” but what a difference. Hence, how in the world do we know which channel, if either, is presenting the correct news? I think most of us, myself included, follow our confirmation biases.

    So, what in the world does this have to do with different Christian stories? Well, I think it suggests that different traditions and cultures can produce very different accounts and people can fervently and honestly be convinced that their preferred account is the correct one and that such confirmation bias is part of being human and has been going on since ancient times. That is my two cents worth….




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  18. John4
    John4  December 29, 2017

    It is not at all clear to me, Bart, that Luke did in fact believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. Rather, Luke’s view appears to be that the Holy Spirit impregnated a virgin (Luke 1:35) who then, as a result of this deflowering by a divine being, conceived and gave birth to Jesus.

    Am I missing something here?

    Many thanks! 🙂




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      I’d say it’s ambiguous what Luke has in mind. In any event, it does not appear that the Spirit took on human form with male genitals and used them to get Mary pregnant, the way, say, Zeus or Jupiter did on occasion.




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      • tompicard
        tompicard  January 8, 2018

        If Mary’s question in verse 34 were missing, do Gabriel’s words alone imply a virgin birth?




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  19. Wilusa  December 29, 2017

    Would John’s Gospel even be consistent with the idea that Jesus simply *appeared* on earth, as a mature man? With a body that was *real*, but had come into existence miraculously?




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Some scholars have read John this way, that it is more or less “naively docetic.” But there does seem to be a reference / allusion to his illigitimate birth in 8:41, and he does have a mother and brothers. So the author does seem to think he was born some how….




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  20. Pattylt  December 29, 2017

    When discussing the Bible with literalists, they insist that the Bible must be interpreted by mashing the various gospels together to get the full picture (and always using the word “context” in there). I now realize more fully why they are doing this! Question: Has this mashing together method always been used or is it a more recent development in response to critical scholarship?




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Yes, it’s been around as long as Christians have realized there was more than one Gospel.




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  21. Silver  December 29, 2017

    Two questions re Luke if I may, please.
    1. We are told in Colossians 4 that Luke was a doctor. Given that we do not know who wrote the Gospel of Luke is there any indication of sound medical knowledge (for the period) within its pages?
    2. The idea that Luke was a doctor/educated man has been used by apologists, I have found, to argue that he was also a very able historian (and therefore his gospel was accurate with regard to such things as the Census [despite evidence to the contrary]). Do you feel that there is any justification for the claim that generally his accounts could be relied on?




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      1. Great question. Scholars have explored the matter fully and shown that no, in fact there is no more (or more accurate) medical information in Luke-Acts than in other writings of the tinme; 2. I’m not sure why being a medical doctor would make someone a good historian. (!) Would good historians necessarily be good doctors? In any event, there are lots of reasons for thinking that Luke is not accurate. I’ve talked about this at length on the blog (search for: the book of Acts), but maybe I’ll return to it.




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      • AnotherBart  December 30, 2017

        Might Luke’s ‘cleaned up’ version of Mark’s little barb at the medical arts suggest that Luke was defending his profession?

        Mark 5:25-26
        “And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.
        She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors
        and had spent all she had,
        yet instead of getting better she grew worse. ”

        (Luke says “Spent all she had on doctors but got worse? Thanks a LOT Mark! (sigh) I’ll get you for that you little stubby fingered translator you!!”)
        (Luke breaks out his quill & papyri, crosses out & rewrites)
        Luke 8:43
        “And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years,
        but no one could heal her.”

        Luke thinks ‘ “But no one could heal her”…. much better’, sets quill down, folds arms.




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        • Bart
          Bart  December 31, 2017

          Interesting idea. But he does shorten a number of Mark’s stories, so it may just be an editorial technique.




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      • AnotherBart  December 30, 2017

        Why is it that medical doctors, dentists who play the piano/organ at church are in abundance?

        3 that I could name come to mind immediately.

        People with high cognitive ability tend to be able to use their noggin in many ways. Having an M.D. neither makes one a good nor a bad historian. Having a strong intellect, and knowing how to use it, can make one a jack of many trades.




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      • AnotherBart  December 30, 2017

        But what about medical terminology in comparison to the other Gospels or Paul? You said “compared to other works at the time”. That’s vague.




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    • godspell  December 30, 2017

      Well first of all, the Luke described in Colossians would not have been the author of the Luke gospel, anymore than Mark, Matthew or John authored the others.

      As to the argument you’re presenting on behalf of others, think about some of the doctors you’ve met in your life.

      Think about some doctors who are in public life, politicians, media personalities, personal physicians to sitting Presidents, etc.

      The question kind of answers itself, doesn’t it?

      Some medical doctors can be brilliant writers (anyone could be born with that talent), some can even be good historians, but ‘Luke,’ whoever he was, whatever training he had, was not attempting to write good history, any more than the other gospel writers were–unlikely any of his contemporaries who were historians by profession would have even understood modern academic standards of historical accuracy and objectivity.

      But that’s not what Luke wanted. I would say that more than any of the others, he wants to tell a complete story that engages and holds together and corrects what he sees as problems with the varying accounts he’s read and heard about–even if he has to spackle like hell to get there. In some ways, I would call his the most modern gospel, but I don’t entirely mean that as a compliment.

      The only thing we can say with certainty is that if the author of Luke’s gospel was a doctor, his nurse would have needed to rewrite it for him, because nobody else would have been able to decipher his handwriting. 😉




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      • SidDhartha1953  January 1, 2018

        Also, Colossians is one of the “pseudo-Pauline” letters, so it’s doubtful the author had met a companion of Paul. He was probably including a tradition about Luke to give the letter an air of authenticity.




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        • godspell  January 3, 2018

          That too.

          But we know so little of these people who had such an outsized influence on posterity, it’s painful to give up any small details we do have, even if there’s no real substance behind them.




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    • AnotherBart  December 31, 2017

      “The Medical Language of St. Luke” by Hobart (1882) makes the case.

      It is found here:
      http://www.archive.org/stream/cu31924029342254#page/n13/mode/2up

      John Wenham has a pretty good summary of scholars’ back & forth on Hobart’s work. page 186 of “Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic problem.” (1992)
      https://www.amazon.com/Redating-Matthew-Mark-Luke-Synoptic/dp/0830817603/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1514728428&sr=8-1&keywords=wenham+redating+matthew+mark

      p. 186:
      “A. Harnack, W. M. Ramsay and several other scholars declared the argument basically sound, but H. J. Cadbury showed that the so-called medical words are also to be found in non-medical authors, like Lucian and Josephus. A.T. Robertson, the grammarian, considered that Cadbury had by no means demolished Hobart’s case and that Luke’s interest and choice of words did in some measure corroborate the tradition that he was a physician. J. M. Creed also thought that the case retained some weight. L. C. A. Alexander in her thorough investigation of the prologue’s genre concludes that the author could well be a physician, but equally well he could be an engineer.”




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      • Bart
        Bart  January 1, 2018

        Almost everyone is convinced by Cadbury; it’s a compelling case.




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        • AnotherBart  January 1, 2018

          I’m inclined to think of him as a lawyer.
          https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0785245987/ref=od_aui_detailpages00?ie=UTF8&psc=1




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        • AnotherBart  January 1, 2018

          🙂 I assume this is Cadbury’s case, p 39 to which we’re referring.
          https://archive.org/details/cu31924008115481

          Of course, it would go well with a glass of milk, and the other Cadbury
          https://www.cadbury.co.uk/

          I take that it neither proves, nor disproves his authorship, or medical training… but does suggest above average education… just as I, with a Music degree, can discuss Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Strabismus, Telescoped duodenums, Laproscopic Nissen Fundoplication, the function of Hypocretin/Orexin in the Hypothalamus, and what GABA and glycine do to motoneurons, perhaps not intelligently enough to pass the MCAT, or feign my weigh impersonating an MD, but enough to have nominally pleasant conversation.




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        • AnotherBart  January 1, 2018

          “Almost everyone is convinced by Cadbury; it’s a compelling case.”

          Sounds like peer pressure to me!!!! LOL!!!!

          Then again, \/ this \/ Cadbury
          https://www.cadbury.co.uk/
          is QUITE compelling,
          and if I could, I’d order a case!!!!




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 2, 2018

            Actually, I wasn’t convinced until I actually read the argument and saw the evidence.




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          • AnotherBart  January 2, 2018

            Ehrman:
            |||Actually, I wasn’t convinced until I actually read the argument and saw the evidence.|||

            AnotherBart:
            I’m a kidder… I just got a kick when I saw the word ‘everyone’, as in “All the cool kids are going to be at the party… EVERYONE’s gonna be there” 😉 (you did say ‘almost’ everyone….. 🙂

            I’m just now getting into the Cadbury reference. It is indeed strong!! I believe that J. Wenham, whose work I appreciate–sided with him in “Redating Mt/Mk/Lk”||||




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  22. andersg89  December 30, 2017

    I’m arguing for the idea of the virgin birth is a Christian myth in my church. For simplicity I focus on just one historical point, the fact that Joseph is officially recognised as a direct descendant to David in the Gospel of Luke.
    Would it be fair to say that it’s highly improbable that Jewish and Roman authorities would recognise and validate a poor illiterate galilean family as descendants of David? One would imagine it to come with a rather unwelcome Messianic hope among the Jewish population for one thing.




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2017

      I’m not an expert on genealogy, but my sense of it all is that *most* Jews in Jesus’ day in one way or another were descendants of David, no? But yes, the authorities would certainly not want to sanction any messianic pretenders.




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      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  December 31, 2017

        Matthew and Luke say Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. Was being from Judah significant somehow?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 1, 2018

          I suppose because of Gen. 49:10. But the reality is that by this time the only tribes left were Judah, Benjamin, nad Levi (because of Assyrian destruction of Israel seven centuries earlier)




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          • HistoricalChristianity  January 1, 2018

            And yet Israel always referred to itself as the twelve tribes, though even that list varied with time and author.




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      • HistoricalChristianity  December 31, 2017

        Well, since David and Solomon were said to have had thousands of wives and concubines between them, was anyone NOT a descendant of David? Besides, only kings were supposed to be from the line of David. And even that chain had already been broken with the Babylonian captivity. Jesus could still have filled a role of a messiah as a prophet or even as a Zealot. They just might not make him king. But then some recent kings (Hasmoneans?) were not Davidic, and some people complained about that, but they were still king.




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      • andersg89  December 31, 2017

        Yes, by now even most Europeans are probably descendants of David in some way, still that’s a long way off having a unbroken male line and the evidence to back it up.




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        • HistoricalChristianity  January 1, 2018

          Evidence? Who needs evidence! People find a way to believe or justify whatever they want. What was the evidence that a child of a wife or concubine of David or Solomon was actually sired by one of them? Do you think they all just sat around waiting for the king to pick them for sex that night?




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          • godspell  January 3, 2018

            I think they’d have thought long and hard about having a child with any other man.

            Or are you not aware of the penalty for adultery back then?

            Of course there’s no DNA evidence, and of course it’s a commonplace for people to claim they’re descended from royalty of one kind or another. In Medieval Europe, many so-called noble families were just commoners who got rich, and over time just created a story about their background to cover the real story, and people accepted it, because how would they disprove it, and why would they want to?

            Symbolically, metaphorically, all Jews of that time were children of David, as we are children of George Washington. Father of his country, remember? And he slept around a lot. Look at all those country inns. 😉




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      • Jim  December 31, 2017

        Could it be possible that Jesus (being from Galilee) was not an actual descendant of David, and possibly not even of Jewish (tribe of Judah) descent? Re Jodi Magness’ Great Course: “About a century before Jesus’s birth, the Hasmonians had Judaized Galilee.” Presumably by the time of Jesus’ birth, Galilee was a mix of descendants of “genetic Judean” colonists, along with non-Jews forced to convert to Judaism. So at the time of Jesus birth, a century after this Hasmonian imperative, did anyone in Galilee really know their ancestry with certainty? Is there any way to establish, with historical certainty, that Jesus was an actual blood descendant of David, or was that just a presumption, even for Paul?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 1, 2018

          Galilee was predominantly Jewish at the time, except for a notable gentile population in the big cities (Tiberias and Sepporis)




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        • godspell  January 3, 2018

          It’s possible Jesus’ family were relatively recent converts to Judaism (from one of the rare periods of Jewish proselytizing), but I don’t know offhand how anyone of that era could have proved beyond any doubt he or she was descended from David. David probably sired a lot of children, who went on to sire many more, and genes tend not to respect religious boundaries, so whether Jesus’ family were Jews going back to David’s time or not doesn’t really come into play.

          They didn’t have ancestry.com, and the genealogies they did have were probably quite imaginative. Not just the ones in the gospels, either. It is a long-standing human tradition to claim descent from the famous. The Romans took it to the next level of course, and claimed descent from the gods.




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          • Jim  January 5, 2018

            Ty for your thoughts on this.




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          • HistoricalChristianity  January 6, 2018

            The gospel diarists didn’t think they were recent converts. That’s why they created genealogical accounts for both Mary’s side and Joseph’s side. It’s doubtful these authors had any idea who the parents of Jesus were.




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      • SidDhartha1953  January 1, 2018

        Have you read A Natural History of the Rich? The author suggests that most Europeans (including those born in the U.S.) who claim descent from royalty are probably correct because kings got to have sex with anyone they wanted.




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    • godspell  December 31, 2017

      The Davidic succession is just one aspect of the Nativity story, though. As is the slaughter of the innocents. As is the trip to Egypt (which must have been so important to Copts, and I’m sure still is–we have some in my neighborhood–they run a pet supply store, nice people, I’m not asking them religious questions).

      I could believe there was some little core of truth in there somewhere, but I don’t know where it would be. Jesus was born. He had a biological father and mother. He certainly came from Galillee, because they never would have made that up. (They kept trying to write around it). There could have been strange stories surrounding his birth–all births have a story (all births are significant events in the life of a family). And those stories can get larger over time.

      Myths are usually built around real events. There was a Troy. We found it. But so far, no large wooden horse.




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      • HistoricalChristianity  January 1, 2018

        Even those weren’t universally agreed upon by early Christians. Those who believed the later idea of a virgin birth would say he didn’t have a biological father. They could have invented Galilee to explain why no one had heard of him during his lifetime. Some Docetics and Gnostics said he wasn’t even born. He just appeared on earth in the form of a human. You can even interpret Paul that way. Then there are the stories in the (non-canonical) infancy gospels. If you believe the infancy stories in Luke, why not those in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas? The birds of clay? Do you think there was a ‘little core of truth’ in that?




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    • HistoricalChristianity  December 31, 2017

      Rome wouldn’t care. They would accept as king (like Herod) anyone the Jews wanted, as long as they would properly represent the Roman Empire and not try to rebel from it. The Jews had already acknowledge Cyrus as a messiah of Israel, and he certainly wasn’t Davidic. I think they were better than Christians at recognizing that the line of Davidic kings was over. They recognized that either the Davidic Covenant (as we Christians call it) didn’t continue forever as promised, or that ‘forever’ meant indefinitely.

      Israel in Diaspora accepted non-Davidic (even non-Jewish or non-Israel) kings. Even back in their land under the Greek and Roman empires, they had their own kings, but they were subservient to the Roman emperor, the king of kings. Most were quite content with that. Not all Jews sympathized with the Zealots.




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  23. AnotherBart  December 30, 2017

    And you are absolutely certain that the author of John had no knowledge of the contents of the Synoptics?




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2017

      Nope. But it’s the position I lean toward.




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      • AnotherBart  December 31, 2017

        Couldn’t this be a bit of ‘one upsmanship’ between John & Peter? As if to say, “Yeah, Peter got there first, but only because I LET HIM WIN.” 😉

        Luke 24:12 (NIV)
        “Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

        John 20:3-8 (NIV)
        “So Peter and the other disciple [i.e. [John] started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple [John] outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, [John]
        |||who had reached the tomb first, |||
        also went inside. He saw and believed.”

        My hypothesis, which places Luke written prior to and John after the deaths of Peter and Paul, sees John clarifying, making his case, and saying things that couldn’t offend Peter. Because he was dead.

        So the two passages are as if to say, “I got there first! Yeah, Peter actually went in first, but was confused, but not me!!”




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 1, 2018

          Yup!




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          • SidDhartha1953  January 1, 2018

            I took it to mean the beloved disciple wasn’t willing to go in because there might be a corpse in there and he was more observant than Peter (not a compliment to Peter). Is that a likely implication of the text?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 2, 2018

            It’s usually thought that a Pro-Peter editor had a story in which the Beloved Disciple outran Peter, and made up for it by adding the detail that, even though that was true, Peter was the first to go in.




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          • AnotherBart  January 1, 2018

            So are you agreeing that its possible John, writing post-death-of-Peter, might have read Luke’s pre-death-of-Peter account and was staking his place in history, as in “Yeah, Peter WENT IN first, and DOUBTED (ha!) But I actually ARRIVED first AND BELIEVED!!!)

            “Peter ran to the tomb….saw the strips of linen…went away, wondering …what had happened”
            Luke 24:12 (NIV)

            “….Peter and [John] …. were [both] running, … [John] outran Peter , [John] reached the tomb first,
            also went inside. [John] saw and believed.”
            John 20:3-8




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 2, 2018

            It’s usually thought that a Pro-Peter editor had a story in which the Beloved Disciple outran Peter, and made up for it by adding the detail that, even though that was true, Peter was the first to go in.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  December 31, 2017

      The Johannine community (the Gnostic Christian community of Asia Minor) was very different from the proto-orthodox communities. They hated each other more than the Irish Catholics and Protestants. Look at the language Paul used for those who disagreed with them. He wanted them damned to hell. If you wonder where the Johannine community was, look at the locations of the churches in Revelation.

      Even if a community knows about writings from other communities, they reject them. So a Johannine author certainly wouldn’t copy a proto-orthodox author. He probably went out of his way NOT to copy Mark.




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  24. BlowingInTheWind  December 30, 2017

    Mr Ehrman, You wrote above, “…This is precisely what legend says about the mother of Romulus, the founder of Rome….” which lends itself for me to bring up again the concept (I did once before a month ago but a couple lost souls here decided it was more fun to name play my last name so I walked away) which makes more sense that mayhaps the Vespasian Flavian dynasty of Roman emperors 69-96 C.E. via adopted son Josephus (former Maccabee Hebrew rebel) was maybe instrumental playing a hand life dealt him in the writing of aspects of these “gospels”, etc late in that first century when the Israel area was actually a genocide war zone like what

    I have and have read (studied over and over) most of your books as well as the works of innumerable other scholars of the existing original artifact texts. Hundreds of books on origins of religion in my (short) 65 years on this planet. The Nag Hammadi texts decades ago is what pulled me in this direction. Examining the Q scholar studies, so many others, etc etc

    You and others have clearly spelled out that virtually all of the earliest “gospel” existing texts are in later stage Greek which had been Romanized and/or in Latin. This is true, correct? There are none known in Aramaic and/or Hebrew written in that first century or so after Jesus supposedly existed.

    That Titus completed the destruction of the Hebrew main temple in Jerusalem when his father V was called back to Rome following death of the Nero 68 C.E., then carted back the goodies from therein which most of that booty can still be seen on the triumph arch near the remnants of the Coliseum.

    My understanding is Titus, Vespasian’s son, had the Roman Senate declare his father a God. That Titus then called him self a Son of God.

    Why is it the only semi-contemporary place one finds Jesus mentioned outside of Christian-centric writings is in those of Josephus, adopted son of Vespasian?

    The theories I see in and around this deals with there are two main ways to control huge populations: large standing armies and religion. Religion is ultimately a lot less expensive (so they say)

    It took a while but the energy of Christianity moved from Jerusalem to Rome. Then it was Roman Constantine had his cabal pick the 27 ‘books’ which constitute in the main the New Testament.

    My understanding also is most all the early Christian churches in Rome were built on top of the Mithras temples. That the garments worn by the popes are a refinement of the garbs worn by Mithras priests. Am I correct?

    Have you delved in to this at all in your own writings?
    If so, can you point me in the proper direction to same?
    Thoughts? (And I thank you for any response)




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2017

      I’m having a little problem understanding your question, but I think you’re asking whether Josephus (or those connected to him) may have been in part responsible for the Gospel accounts of Jesus? If so, then no, I’m afraid that does not really seem possible. Jospehus knows very little about Jesus and was certainly not his follower or one who thoguht that he was the messiah (which is ultimately the main point of the Gospels). And no, the Greek of the NT has not been Romanized/Latinized; it is the common Greek of the period.




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      • llamensdor  December 31, 2017

        I don’t know about the Mithras reference, Bart, but weren’t the Pope’s garments related to the garments of the Jewish High Priest?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 1, 2018

          I doubt it. The pope didn’t get any garments until *centuries* after there were no more high priests.




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  25. Gary  December 30, 2017

    Dr. Erhman: You mention above that John was not historically accurate. Could you specify how? Are you referring to his choice of the day of the week for the crucifixion?




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2017

      Generally John is seen to contain the least amount of historically reliable material among the Gospels. In part that is because it is so very different from the earlier Gospels in content and perspective. It was the last Gospel written and has claims about Jesus made in no other early source. You can see some of the differences in some of my posts that I made this past Sept. 29-October 3 or so.




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  26. Seeker1952  December 30, 2017

    Could you expand on whether or to what degree the virgin birth stories are evidence that Jesus was born out of wedlock? I don’t know if it would require a separate post or could be done as a response to this question. Or maybe there’s an earlier post in which you addressed it?




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    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2017

      I’m not sure they are *evidence*, but they certainly are suggestive that it was known that there was something unusual about his parentage.




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      • godspell  December 31, 2017

        I’ve wondered. Suppose it was just that more and more, the Christians wanted a godly Jesus, more than the human one most of them had never met, and never would? The pagan influence kept getting stronger, and pagans liked stories about men of destiny born of the union of gods and mortal women. I don’t say Matthew and Luke copied those stories, but they were widely known throughout the Greek-speaking world.

        I don’t get the same defensive “We have to fix this” feeling from the annunciation stories in Matthew and Luke that I do from their trying to get him born in Judea, or from them trying to explain his baptism (which John’s gospel turns into a defacto coronation).

        Would they have been responding to the Pantera story? I have this suspicion that was more of a reaction to the virgin birth stories than the other way around. A bad joke, a ribald lampoon of Christian beliefs. Not a memory of old gossip.

        It does seem Joseph (if he existed) was gone before Jesus’ ministry began. Which would be nothing unusual. In such a patriarchal society, Jesus needed to have a father. He ended up with two.

        Just as Moses had two mothers.




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        • HistoricalChristianity  January 1, 2018

          Of course! They wanted to portray Jesus as a good man, worthy of being the universal sacrifice. So they portrayed him as a sage of Second Temple Judaism. But from backwoods Galilee, explaining why no one had heard of him or even written of him (Talmud, Mishah). But they wanted a plausible scenario for him to be executed by Rome. Easy. Paint him as a Zealot. But then show both Pilate and Herod declaring him innocent of those charges. Well then, what did he do worthy of execution? Nothing. Tell stories about trumped-up charges and about people threatening to riot. That would do it. Annunciation stories and ‘special baby’ stories were typical Jewish literary fodder. Perhaps even Greek, though I don’t know as much about that.

          Yeshu ben Pandera/ben Pappos, and Yeshu the Pharisee are mentioned in Talmud. Those are plausible and consistent with the synoptic gospels. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_the_Talmud




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  27. AnotherBart  December 31, 2017

    For the record, I’m of the view that John’s Gospel was well aware of the other three, and is deliberately complimentary, explaining gaps of knowledge left by Mat/Mk/Lk, which were all written at a time when certain individuals were still alive and whose identities, locations could not be compromised.

    One such example is that John divulges the sibling relationship between Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lazarus. He’s clear that the chief priests were trying to kill Lazarus, and that his being raised from the dead was the reason everyone went berserk, shouting ‘Hosanna’ at the triumphal entry.

    If Matthew was written 41 AD as tradition held, then this would make sense. The Magdalene, & Lazarus would have likely been alive, and therefore deliberately left out of the Synoptics. (Remember, Jesus did say “be as interested in self preservation as a snake, yet gentle as a dove.” [quoted in Matthew]. A snake’s first instinct is to hide, not attack. Snakes can hide in daylight because of their camouflage.)

    And that is exactly what we see. M. Mag. was referred to as ‘a woman’ in Mat/mk/lk.

    Then John comes along, after their death, c. 80-100 CE, and *** before he gets to the part where M.Mag anoints Jesus*** he—clarifying mat/mk/lk–explains that this mary was the same mary mag who was the woman who anointed jesus. And he does so, before his account of the anointing.

    See the link for the scripture references on Bible Gateway
    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+26%3A7%2C+Mark+14%3A3%2C+Luke+7%3A37%2C+John+11%3A1-5%2C+John+12%3A3&version=NIV

    I, for one, am not a ‘casual reader’. And neither was Eusebius:

    “And when Mark and Luke had now published their gospels, John, we are told, who hitherto had relied entirely on the spoken word, finally took to writing for the following reason. The three gospels already written were in general circulation and copies had come into John’s hands. The welcomed them, we are told, and confirmed their accuracy, but remarked that the narrative only lacked the story of what Christ had done first of all at the beginning of His mission.

    “This tradition is undoubtedly true. Anyone can see that the three evangelists have recorded the doings of the Saviour for only one year, following the consignment to John the Baptist to prison, and that they indicated this very fact at the beginning of their narrative. After the forty days’ fast and the temptation that followed Matthew shows clearly the period covered by his narrative when he says: ‘Hearing that John had been ……. p132. Eusebius History of the Church, trans. G.A. Williamson




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  28. llamensdor  December 31, 2017

    I believe that you and most other scholars believe that Jesus was actually born in Nazareth, and that the Bethlehem story is an invention in order to conform to some Davidic expectations. I believe that because Jesus’s birth was, as you say, “unusual,” Joseph and Mary chose to travel to another town where there wouldn’t be so much unpleasant gossip. In my version, Joseph has family in Bethlehem who are more tolerant, and there aren’t all these gossips nattering around. Of course, I’m writing historical fiction, but it is plausible.




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  29. AnotherBart  January 1, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman:
    Mat/Mk/Lk all say ‘a woman.. with alabaster jar’. Then, John, a chapter before (important point!) his perfume pouring account, explains (another important point!) to the reader, that ‘a woman’ and M.Mag are the….. same person! Why would he feel it necessary to do that? He hadn’t even gotten to that part yet!!! Is he not assuming the reader’s knowledge of the Synoptics–which obscure her identity–…. and demonstrating his own? This makes sense, if, as the earliest traditions hold, the synoptics were in circulation in the 60’s 70’s and John’s Gospel was written from 85-100, not to cover again material already told, but to compliment, & clarify.

    Otherwise his explanatory note (and others like it) doesn’t make much sense to me. The whole “Mat/Lk/Jhn were random anonymous collectors of urban myth writing in separate vacuum chambers post 70AD” seems to hold little weight, regardless of whether one believes in the miracles or not.

    Matthew 26:7
    …a woman with an alabaster jar …. which she poured on [Jesus’] head…
    Mark 14:3
    …a woman came with an alabaster jar …broke the jar and poured …. on [Jesus’] head.
    Luke 7:37
    A woman in that town who lived a sinful life ….. …with an alabaster jar of perfume…..
    John 11:1-5
    [Lazarus] was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
    ***(This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)***
    So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
    …….Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

    John 12:3
    Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      Yup, it’s long been seen as an intriguing question! He may not be presuming knowledge of the Synoptics, but he is presuming knowledge of the Jesus traditions.




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      • AnotherBart  January 2, 2018

        Very interesting! What do you make of the verse where John refers to the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s death, and the synoptics do not?

        John 21:18–19 NIV
        ‘Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
        URL:https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John.21.18-John.21.19&version=NIV




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 3, 2018

          The author of John knew about Peter’s death.




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          • AnotherBart  January 6, 2018

            Did the synoptic authors know about Peter’s death?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 7, 2018

            We don’t know.




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  30. AnotherBart  January 2, 2018

    Do you still think that the Jesus presented by Luke did not see himself as a pre-existent being?

    I tend to think he did:
    Luke 10:18 He [Jesus] replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.

    I’m going to look at Mat/Luke more carefully…..




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 3, 2018

      In 10:18 he appears to be referring to the massive conquests over the demons that his followers had achieved when he sent them out on their mission.




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      • AnotherBart  January 3, 2018

        Good point. Perhaps also a reference to Isaiah 12:14.

        “How you have fallen from heaven,
        morning star, son of the dawn!
        You have been cast down to the earth,
        you who once laid low the nations!”

        According to Q Jesus appears to have been literate:
        It is written, A person does not live by bread alone.
        it is written, He will command his angels concerning you,
        It is written, You shall not test the Lord your God.
        It is written, Worship the Lord your God, and only serve him.
        (from Matthew 4 & Luke 4)
        |||||||||||||||||||||||||
        https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+4&version=NIV




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      • AnotherBart  January 4, 2018

        Dr. Ehrman:

        Could the Jesus of Mark/Matthew/Luke have been proclaiming his pre-existent divinity when he referred to himself as the ‘bridegroom’?

        (Matt 9:15, 25:1,5,6,10, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-5 / John 3:29)

        ===================================
        Isaiah 54:8
        For your Maker is your husband—
            the Lord Almighty is his name—
        the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
            he is called the God of all the earth.

        2 Corinthians 11:2
        I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.

        Hosea 1:2
        When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

        Romans 9:25
        As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”

        Hosea 3:1
        The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

        Ezekiel chapter 16 [God is the husband, Jerusalem the adulterous wife]

        Respectfully,

        AnotherBart




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 5, 2018

          No, I don’t think so.




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          • AnotherBart  January 5, 2018

            If Luke didn’t believe Jesus was God incarnate, then how would we explain Jesus’ words in Luke 19:44?

            NIV “……….because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
            NASB ” ……..because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

            ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝ 19:44
            καὶ ἐδαφιοῦσίν σε καὶ τὰ τέκνα σου ἐν σοί, καὶ οὐκ ἀφήσουσιν λίθον ἐπὶ λίθον ἐν σοί, ἀνθ’ ὧν οὐκ ἔγνως τὸν καιρὸν τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς σου.

            |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||
            Strong’s Concordance
            episkopé: a visiting, an overseeing
            Original Word: ἐπισκοπή, ῆς, ἡ
            Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
            Transliteration: episkopé
            Phonetic Spelling: (ep-is-kop-ay’)
            Short Definition: visitation of judgment, oversight
            Definition: (a) visitation (of judgment), (b) oversight, supervision, overseership.
            http://biblehub.com/greek/1984.htm




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 7, 2018

            You would need to do an exegesis of τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς σου




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          • AnotherBart  January 5, 2018

            So, what. *did.* he mean when he said ‘bridegroom’?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 7, 2018

            In the Gospels he is referring to his return.




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          • HistoricalChristianity  January 8, 2018

            The ‘time of your visitation’ is a simple cut/paste of a popular meme of prophetic and apocalyptic literature. You will be conquered by your enemies because you [Israel] didn’t obey Torah. Visitation was a trigger word for a prophetic judgment by God. No prophetic author or preacher (including, here, Jesus) is claiming that he will execute the judgment. All say God will do that. Similarly, no such author or preacher is claiming pre-existence.




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          • AnotherBart  January 8, 2018

            Dear Dr. Ehrman:

            I noticed in 𝖕75* and 𝖕1 (Matthew 1:1 etc) that the words “Jesus” and “Christ” and “Son of” “God” and even “Son of Man” [υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου] are abbreviated, in the same way that Jews today do not spell out the name G-d. I’ve heard that the Jews did not say the name YHWH for fear of taking His name in vain.
            Ις = Jesus, or Yeshua, same as Joshua
            Χς =Christ Christos, anointed one
            ΘΥ = θεοῦ / THEU = God
            Υς = υἱὸς = son of

            Do you discuss the following in any of your books? Aren’t these indications that the earliest manuscript writers equated Jesus with God?

            Luke 22:69-70
            Numbers indicate lines from the bottom.In Line 12 and 10, and 9, the words
            υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (12)
            θεοῦ; ______ (10)
            θεοῦ; _______(9)

            The following is from the Greek New Testament, but in papyrus 75 the terms are the abbreviations as above.
            -τήσω, οὐ μὴ [l]ἀποκριθῆτε. verse 69 ἀπὸ τοῦ 13
            νῦν [m]δὲ ἔσται ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καθήμε-12
            -νος ἐκ δεξιῶν τῆς δυνάμεως τοῦ 11
            θεοῦ. verse 70 εἶπαν δὲ πάντες· Σὺ οὖν εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ 10
            θεοῦ; ὁ δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἔφη· Ὑμεῖς λέγε- 9
            -τε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι. 71 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν· Τί ἔτι [n]ἔχο- 8
            -μεν μαρτυρίας χρείαν; αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἠκού- 7
            -σαμεν ἀπὸ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ. Καὶ 6
            ἀναστὰν ἅπαν τὸ πλῆθος αὐτῶν ἤγα- 5
            -γον αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸν Πιλᾶτον. 2 ἤρξαν- 4
            -το δὲ κατηγορεῖν αὐτοῦ λέγοντες· 3
            Τοῦτον εὕραμεν διαστρέφοντα 2
            τὸ ἔθνος [o]ἡμῶν καὶ κωλύοντα [p]φόρους 1

            ===============================
            * (Luke 22:56 – 23:2 |||| CSNTM Image Id: 153913)
            _(http://www.csntm.org/manuscript/View/GA_P75)_




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 9, 2018

            These are “nomina sacra” — typically abbreviated words in Christian manuscripts.




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          • AnotherBart  January 9, 2018

            Nomina Sacra: in the earliest manuscripts. Do they not go against your idea that the authors of Matthew, & Luke did not see Jesus as God?

            I did not always see Matthew (aramaic) as the first NT book written. But I do now. When I look at 𝖕1, I see a man who wrote with the permission of the other disciples, writing to the Jew first, starting out in the spirit of Leviticus, (___ begat____), with the first sentence:

            “This is the geneology of Ις Χς Υς David….. ”

            And he didn’t dare place his name “Matthew” above Ις Χς Υς. And due to his humility, and reverence for ΘΥ, we’ve been paying the price ever since: the myth of the anonymity of the Gospel accounts lives on.




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 11, 2018

            Matthew and Luke did not use nomina sacra; only later scribes did. But nomina sacra were not just words meaning “God.” The words “cross” and “David” and “mother” are among them, e.g.




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  31. Professor47  January 2, 2018

    My observation about the origin of the virgin birth concept was one of expediency and profound understanding of the target audience by the early Christian fathers. If the overarching agenda was to become the only accepted religion of the Roman empire then it would by necessity mean that whatever was venerated by the Romans be incorporated into Christianity. A central theme that the Romans were comfortable with was that the founding king Romulus was born of the vestal virgin Rhea Sylvia. Christianity would continue to evolve in way that would have given it credentials and value to the Romans of all classes by reflecting their own belief system. ( A very astute way to appeal to converts.) On a personal note, I am always behind in my readings of Dr. Ehrman’s works…. any day now I will receive “Jesus Before the Gospels “, which means I have to rush to finish ” Jesus Interrupted “, having barely digested ” Forged ” , while just having learned of the release of the ” Triumph of Christianity “.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  January 4, 2018

      When my company sees a competitor add a new feature to its product and that feature becomes popular, we have to add it also. But we have to implement it. A religion needed only to claim it. That was all well and good until a religion became a religion of the book. It helped keep the religion from changing, and helped maintain the power base of the priesthood. But now, 2000 years later, how do we define Christianity? Fundamentalists limit the scope of writing to the proto-orthodox canon (New Testament), rejecting all competing forms of Christianity. What do you do when those texts are ambiguous or contradictory? Invent an academic field called systematic theology, aiming to synthesize a unified philosophy into which you can force-fit all those texts. Is there an alternative? Sure. As you move toward Conservative / Evangelical, you look at what early influential Christian leaders and philosophers thought and wrote, the Apostolic Fathers and the Church Fathers. Of course you need to pick and choose among them. Reject the writers whose ideas you don’t like. Reject from the writers you do like the ideas you don’t like. Since none of these ideas are testable truth, you can employ lots of theologians. The field will continue as long as there’s a body of people willing to pay them.




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  32. Sahansdal  January 2, 2018

    Bart, you ask if there are cut and paste jobs in the NT.

    What about First Apocalypse of James, Second Apocalypse of James and “the Betrayal”? Do you really think that the author of Mark did not use gnostic material in the canon?

    For example: The “kiss” of James to Jesus, inverted in Mark from a kiss of spirit in the gnostic story of succession to a kiss of death from Judas; “the flesh is weak:”/”the flesh is weak”– word-for-word in both sources; the Mark 14:50 ‘naked’ man “fleeing” (up, spiritually); and , “Hail, Master!” (Mark 14:45/Matt. 26:49) — where Second James from Nag Hammadi has “Hail, BROTHER!” –showing later developed virgin-birth Pauline theology. Everyone thinks the canon came first and then the gnostic texts. But did it? No one knows the date of composition of the Nag Hammadi texts. And Charles W. Hedrick says, in The Nag Hammadi Library about Second James, “The absence of later developed gnostic systems, and the almost total absence of allusions to New Testament traditions suggest an early date for the origin of the tractate.” We don’t know which came first, except by examining the internal data.

    The clincher, for me, is the Apocalypse of Peter, where at the end of the first paragraph is, “as he was about to reprove you three times in this night” — about failure in meditation, but with three details appearing in the canon betrayal scene, inverted tendentiously to ridicule Peter: Jesus denied by Peter in place of Peter ‘reproved’ by Jesus. Not an accident. Not canon first, but gnostic first. The “kiss”; the denials, even the idea of sacrifice of the master came from inverting the gnostic original of succession. The New Testament Gospels are evidently derived fiction.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2018

      Yes, I am confident that Mark did not use Gnostic materials for his Gospel, in no small measure because Gnosticism did not exist yet.




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  33. dvhcmh  January 5, 2018

    I have never seen why it matters to people if Jesus was conceived by a virgin. Conception produces a physical human body. But surely it was not Jesus’ human body that made him divine to begin with. It would have been his soul, his spirit that made him sinless etc. So why could he not have been conceived in the usual way, then be infused with the spirit of the son of God just as the rest of us are supposed to be infused with a (non-divine) soul?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 7, 2018

      Because for these early Christians he was *uniquely* the Son of God.




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      • tompicard
        tompicard  January 11, 2018

        where did they get that idea?

        not from 4 gospels, cause i think you are saying
        the virgin birth preceded Mark and Luke ( as well as other 2)

        I dont even believe the voice heard at Jesus baptism as understood by Mark means Jesus was unique . . .
        from Paul???

        or is that all explained in HJBG ?




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