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Traditions About Jesus that Are Probably Not Historical

I have been arguing that there are ways to extract historical information about Jesus from the Gospels – even if they were not written to provide disinterested accounts of what he really said and did but were meant to promote faith in him.

So far I have discussed two positive criteria: independent attestation (if a tradition is found in multiple independent sources then that increases the likelihood that it goes back to the life of Jesus, since none of the sources themselves could have made it up) and dissimilarity (if a tradition contains information that the followers of Jesus would decidedly not have wanted to make up, then it more likely is something that actually happened).

Now I move to a negative criterion, one that eliminates possible traditions from consideration as unlikely to be historical (rather than a positive criterion that shows which ones are more likely).  It is called the criterion of contextual credibility.   Again, this is from my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet.

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If The Shoe Fits…. The Criterion of Contextual Credibility.

You’re probably not going to believe a witness in a court of law if his or her testimony doesn’t conform with what you otherwise know to be the facts of the case.  The same applies to historical documents.  If a recently “discovered” diary purports to be from the hand of “Joshua Harrison, explorer of the Western territories of the United States,” and is dated A.D. 1728, you know that you have a problem.

For ancient documents, reliable traditions must …

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My First Taste of Critical Scholarship
The Trickiest Criterion for Determining What Happened in the Life of Jesus

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Comments

  1. RonaldTaska  July 23, 2018

    Excellent series of posts.

  2. fishician  July 23, 2018

    Do you think the Great Commission at the end of Matthew is problematic according to this criteria, specifically having Jesus say to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?” If Jesus taught this one would expect the earliest Christians to use this phrase when baptizing but I am under the impression that this phrasing came later.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2018

      Yes indeed! I don’t see how it can be historical.

      • JohnKesler  July 25, 2018

        Are there any manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew that omit 28:19? Do any early patristic authors omit the verse when discussing this Gospel, even if citing it would strengthen an argument?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 26, 2018

          No, the verse is in all the mss. There is some question about whether Eusebius omits the verse (or knew of mss that omitted it).

  3. Mhamed Errifi  July 23, 2018

    Hello Dr Bart
    speaking about historical information about Jesus I read in the book of revelation the verse 19 : 11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.

    was it true in tradition that jesus was known by a famous name or title truthful and trustworthy based on the verse which says he is called faithful and true

    many thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2018

      Sorry, I”m not sure what you’re asking.

      • Mhamed Errifi  July 24, 2018

        hello dr bart
        let me rephrase my question in the revelation verse 19 : 11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.

        from the verse the one who was called Faithful and True was jesus my question is : who is he known by that name during his ministry

        many thanks

        • Bart
          Bart  July 26, 2018

          No one. It’s a title used by the author of Revelation for Jesus, but before that Jesus was never given that title directly.

  4. doug  July 23, 2018

    Once a relative took me to their mainline Christian church service. On the program for the service it said, “Stop doubting and just believe!”. It reminded me of one reason why I had stopped going to church years before.

  5. Tempo1936  July 23, 2018

    Richard Carrier, a well educated scholar with a PhD from Columbia, writes and speaks frequently on history of Judaism Christianity and Jesus.
    Mr. Carrier Argues that judaism adopted apocalyptic views Of the afterlife From the Persian Zoroastrianism Religion during captivity.

    Christianity view of a suffering dying and rising savior providing eternal life was-adopting from well known religious beliefs in Osiris( Egyptian god), Adonis(Greek God)and Romulus (Roman God).
    The gospels were written in a high form of Greek. So the gospel Authors would be familiar with the afterlife myths and likely incorporated them into their stories according to mr Carrier.

    Does your new book examine the historical context of these other religions beliefs as they shows up in the Bible?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2018

      Carrier here is simply repeating what scholars frequently used to say about Zoroastrianism and the Jewish doctrine of the resurrection. It is a much debated topic among experts. And yes, I do focus on the historical roots/context of these beliefs.

      • SidDhartha1953  July 24, 2018

        A high form of Greek? My understanding is that all the NT is written in Koine(common) Greek and that it is not always very good at that: Mark being rather crude. Am I misinformed?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 26, 2018

          Yes it is. But the authors would have been among the top 1-2% of educated people in antiquity. They simply aren’t among the top .01% of our great Greek authors.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  July 24, 2018

      I see that Richard Carrier and his ridiculous ideas have become something of an epidemic.

  6. HenriettePeterson  July 23, 2018

    What do you think about modern bible rewrites, such as Peterson’s The Message?

  7. gavriel  July 23, 2018

    The aramaic speaking Jesus and Nicodemus converse in the Greek of the gospel writer. The expulsion from the synagogues is pushed back to the time of Jesus. Aren’t these examples just variations on the good old concept of “anachronism”? Do we need another word for it?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2018

      The second is an anachronism; the first is more a problem of translation.

      • flcombs  July 24, 2018

        Not an anachronism, but in a view of the context and understanding of the times of the Bible writers: Are the views of the functions of body organs vs the brain show lack of real knowledge or is it justified to just say they are symbolic? I’m curious of the view of critical scholars and linguists.

        It’s common today for people to say “heart” for the location of thoughts and emotions, even though we know from modern science and medicine it’s in the brain. Pushed, people just say it is symbolic. But isn’t it just “symbolic” because it was common belief in the past? And weren’t beliefs like that are common in the bible times concerning their understanding of body organs for emotions, thoughts, etc. instead of the brain?

        One example: doesn’t Rev2:23 … “I am the one who searches minds and hearts”… literally translate to “I am the one who searches kidneys and hearts”?

        There are numerous examples in the bible, but since history says people actually believed similar things in those times, it looks to be a real versus a symbolic understanding. It would appear that a literalist should be concerned about heart and kidney transplants (and some other specific organs) because they would get the soul/sins and personality of the person donating the organ if the bible is correct. Or maybe if a big sinner, just have a kidney, heart, etc. transplanted from an innocent person so you will be saved: Jesus isn’t looking in the brain.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 26, 2018

          Yes, I think it’s hard to know — today as well as in antiquity — whether references to body organs (e.g., today: the heart; in the ancient world: the bowels) were meant by one person or another as simplistically literal or simply as metaphors.

  8. Tony  July 23, 2018

    Comment: …..they reference as denying an historical Jesus: Reza Aslan, Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, and you.

    Bart: good god….
    ———————————————-
    My work is done! Time to move on….

    I joined this blog to address inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and straw man arguments against Mythicism. Disagreeing with an hypothesis is fine, but it should be based on an accurate representation of that hypothesis.

    My comments reflect the mythicism hypothesis as developed by Earl Doherty, Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Raphael Lataster, David Fitzgerald and others. This hypothesis creates mental whiplash for those brought up with the traditional Jesus story. In summary:

    Christianity started as a Jewish mystery religion about a suffering, dying and rising Son of God. Like its Hellenistic equivalents it taught eternal salvation for it’s members, had initiation rituals such as baptism, the Eucharist (1 Cor 11: 23-26) and a set of rituals required for eternal life. Doctrines are called “mysteries”, (Rom 16:25-26, 1 Cor 4:1, 15:51-55).

    The mystery religion main figure was God’s Son, called Jesus, the Lord, or Christ. This celestial Jesus was, sometime in the past, handed over and (mistakenly) killed by Satanic forces in the lower heavens (1 Cor 2:6-9). This would atone for the original sin committed by Adam, (Rom 5:12, 8:32). The sacrificed Jesus was hanged from a tree (Gal 3:13), but resurrected on the third day. Knowledge of these events came through scripture and revelations to select members who were called apostles, (1 Cor 15:3-8). Paul wrote that the Lord Jesus would come to earth shortly, and take the Jesus believers with him to heaven, (1 Thess 4:13-18).

    A generation after Paul someone we call Mark created an allegorical story, based in part on Paul’s letters, about an earthly Jesus of Nazareth. Mark is the originator of the Jesus of Nazareth story. All other gospels, canonical or apocryphal, are dependent directly, or indirectly from Mark.

    Christians read the gospels back into Paul’s letters. But ironically, the reverse had happened; gospel authors took Paul’s writings and made his celestial Christ Jesus into Jesus of Nazareth. Gal 3:13 was turned into a Roman crucifixion, twelve disciples were created from the anonymous “the twelve” (1 Cor 15:5, Mk 3:14), and the Lord’s supper (1 Cor 11:23-26) became the Jerusalem Last Supper, (Mk 14:22-24).

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    • ardeare  July 24, 2018

      ” All other gospels, canonical or apocryphal, are dependent directly, or indirectly from Mark.” If John used Mark, he was most certainly a poor student. The Jesus of Mark’s gospel doesn’t want any attention for the miracles he’s performing. He’s baptized but no one hears a heavenly voice but himself. He’s rushed before Pilate and quickly to crucifixion. In John, he is an eternal being who is with God from the beginning. At baptism, it’s John the Baptist who bears record of the Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove. He declares himself “I am.” He has a full-blown trial in which he eloquently converses with his accusers.

      I don’t see how John could possibly have used Mark *unless* he was intentionally trying to destroy Mark’s gospel, and that’s not likely.

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    • mannix  July 25, 2018

      I’m not a biblical scholar (far from it!) and am somewhat confused about “Mythicism”. It’s one thing to deny Jesus’ divinity, miraculous works and resurrection/ascension, and another to deny he even existed. If the latter, the implication would be the 12 apostles never existed and all accounts of his teachings were manufactured simply because a Pharisee named Paul had some kind of epiphany/guilt trip/vision about someone who never lived and started a religion. Furthermore, an unknown individual took it upon himself years after Paul’s death to embellish Paul’s writings into a story which others further embellished.

      Is it such a stretch to accept the existence of an itinerant Jewish apocalyptic preacher who had a following, ticked off Jewish and Roman authorities in some way, and was executed by crucifixion for sedition in the setting if 1st Century Palestine?

      What I’m asking is whether “Mythicists” deny only what Paul imagined a certain individual represented and did or that Jesus himself (the man) ever existed at all.

      • godspell  August 2, 2018

        It’s a purely emotional belief system, Mythicism. It is based on a desire to not only deny the validity of Christian beliefs, but to erase the central figure inspiring them from history. It is, in essence, a proto-religion itself. But one that exists only as a parasitic outgrowth of Christianity, much as some forms of Satanism do. It does absolutely no damage to fundamentalist Christianity, since fundamentalist Christians don’t want the historical Jesus, and are fine with having him erased, so they can concentrate on the mythical Christ inspired by his memory. So everybody’s happy! (Except people who care about history.)

        Satanists at least can use their shtik to have fun parties, wear cool black clothing, and hook up. All you get from Mythicism is the right to shell out a lot of money for really boring books and videos from Carrier & Co.

    • DavidNeale  July 25, 2018

      Why do you believe that ἄρχων in 1 Corinthians 2 refers to “Satanic forces in the lower heavens”? I accept that it’s not impossible that demons could be referred to as “rulers”, but I see nothing in the context that would compel that interpretation. Surely the simplest interpretation of “rulers of our age” is that it means just what it says – the people currently in power, on earth, in the time in which Paul was living.

      And the mythicist hypothesis has never given me “mental whiplash”. I was raised Christian, but have been an atheist for many years, so I do not believe in “the traditional Jesus story” – I don’t think that Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, or was resurrected. And I accept that it’s difficult to construct anything like a complete picture of the historical Jesus. But I do not find the Doherty-Price-Carrier thesis at all credible. To make their case they have to find ingenious ways of explaining away significant amounts of contrary data. Carrier is of course an expert at doing just that, hence his convoluted argument that “called Christ” in Ant. 20.200 is an accidental interpolation and that Origen was confusing Josephus for Hegesippus (despite the fact that Origen literally quotes the precise words we find in the textus receptus of Josephus). The far more parsimonious explanation is that Ant. 20.200 is wholly authentic and that it refers to the same James we find in Gal. 1.18-19, like the rest of the scholarly world thinks.

      (Also, when the only two professional scholars associated with your position are the Trump-supporting crank Robert Price and the professional contrarian Richard Carrier, it’s a sign that your position may be questionable. Though I admit that that’s an ad hominem.)

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  9. John Uzoigwe  July 23, 2018

    Dr Bart Ehrman, do you think there’s any connection between the gospels about Jesus and ancient astronomy (Astrology).?

  10. Ryan  July 23, 2018

    Hello. By this criterion, what do you think of the Sermon on the Mount – seem reasonable that at least the main ideas in it were something Jesus could have preached? Peace.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2018

      Some of the sayings go back to Jesus, but the Sermon as a whole looks like a construction of Matthew. I talk about this a bit in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

  11. godspell  July 23, 2018

    Bart, there’s something that’s bothered me for a while.

    In Mark, Jesus is quoted as saying “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

    This is in the context of someone who claims to drive out demons in Jesus’ name, but is not himself one of Jesus’ disciples. I can easily imagine somebody hearing stories about Jesus, perhaps seeing Jesus speak, falling under his spell, and engaging in what I suppose we could call wildcat exorcisms in an excess of enthusiasm. And Jesus’ attitude is, basically, the more the merrier. He likes it when people act as if they have faith, and frankly, I’m not even sure he cared whose name it was done in, but Mark would.

    But Matthew tells a different story. The Pharisees hear Jesus is driving out demons, and has thus cured a man who was blind and deaf (because demons). The Pharisees say that demons would only listen to someone who was invoking the chief demon could do such a thing. I’m not sure I believe it was a widespread idea among Jews at this time that a chief demon existed, or that the Pharisees would have believed that successful exorcisms could only be performed by demon worshippers, but I could believe they were upset by this kind of activity.

    Jesus then makes a statement that Lincoln would repurpose many centuries later, saying that a house divided against itself cannot stand–meaning Satan, Beelzebub, whoever, would not weaken his own grip on humanity by allowing his demons to be driven out in his own name. This has something of Jesus in it–the kind of arguments he made. But it’s what follows that bothers me.

    Because he reverses what he says in Mark, and says anyone who is not with him is actively working against him (this has also had some resonance in American politics).

    Now I believe Jesus was human, and fallible, and humans contradict themselves frequently, particularly when under attack.

    But if Matthew read Mark, why would he write something so different from Mark–and so much more confrontational? Is this simply a very different variation on the first story, with a more aggressive stance with regards to proselytization?

    I’ve always preferred the first story, but then again, nobody ever used it to argue for the abolition of slavery, so there’s that.

    What does current scholarship say?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2018

      If you’re asking why Matthew has made Jesus’ words more caustic toward the Jewish leaders, that would be consistent with his Gospel generally. Cf. the “woes” of chapter 23, in particular.

      • godspell  July 24, 2018

        No, because Jesus’ words in the passage from Mark I quoted were directed at his own disciples, telling them to be more open, more welcoming, less cliquish. What do they care if somebody is formally part of their group, so long as he/she is acting in the right spirit, spreading the word? They’re concerned he is claiming authority from Jesus, but Jesus believes all authority comes from God, and anyone acting in the proper spirit, with true faith, has as much authority as him to work miracles.

        Whether these are Jesus’ own words or not, they reflect a diametrically opposed attitude from that seen in Matthew, a few decades later. Much more exclusive, demanding, doctrinaire. If you are not for us you are against us.

        This is more than just the increasing antipathy and lack of understanding between Christians and unconverted Jews that the gospels progressively document. This is, I’d think, the difference between a more loose-knit open-ended movement that waits in joyful hope for Jesus’ return, and one that is starting to think in terms of closing ranks, becoming an institution. And one that doesn’t allow kibbitzers. As you said in The Triumph of Christianity, one factor in that triumph was that once you’d become a Christian, you had to give up all other beliefs you may have had. You were either in or out.

        But that is not the attitude we get from Jesus in Mark. Only those who actively oppose us, and what we do are against us. Anyone moving in the same direction, even if on a separate yet parallel path, is for us. And we for them.

        And even at the time Mark was writing, this must have been at least a bit controversial within the ranks of Christians. Paul certainly wouldn’t have liked it. What’s the point of belonging to a club if anyone can be a member, without any precondition other than good intentions?

        So I think the odds are pretty good Jesus did say something like this–and did not say the words ascribed to him in Matthew.

        What do you think?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 26, 2018

          I generally think if Matthew reports words found also in Mark but changed in significant ways, that Mark’s version is more likely to be authentic.

          • Robert
            Robert  July 26, 2018

            “I generally think if Matthew reports words found also in Mark but changed in significant ways, that Mark’s version is more likely to be authentic.”

            But in this case you have to deal with the negative form of the saying coming from the older hypothetical Q source. See my comment below for the source-critical details.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 27, 2018

            I’ve never been quite sure how people date Q to a time prior to Mark (necessarily).

          • godspell  July 26, 2018

            Possible that neither is authentic, in the sense of Jesus having actually spoken either phrase. I also think Mark is closer to the ideas the real Jesus was promulgating, and the attitude behind them, which is that we’re not here to form a new religion, we are here to save as many as we can in advance of the coming of the Son of Man. So it makes sense, in that context, that Jesus would look at some guy preaching and healing in his name and think “Great! The message is getting out there.” He’s going viral! 🙂

            In practical terms, neither phrase is strictly true, of course. Just because somebody isn’t against you doesn’t mean they are for you, or vice versa. Most people were presumably indifferent to Jesus, and those who came after him. Until such time as they couldn’t afford to ignore them anymore.

            Whoever we consider the institutional founder of Christianity to be, Jesus its its spiritual founder, whether he intended to be or not. And so it does matter what he thought. I don’t believe he thought anybody not actively fighting him was for him. But it’s possible he made that extreme statement in order to impress on his disciples that he didn’t want them wasting their time and energy trying to police the fringe elements of the movement he was inspiring. What matters to him is people having faith, good will–and acting on it. That is how the Kingdom will come.

          • Robert
            Robert  July 27, 2018

            “I’ve never been quite sure how people date Q to a time prior to Mark (necessarily).”

            There is, of course, no way to assign a necessary or certain date to a hypothetical document. It’s a pretty serviceable hypothesis, but I am probably softer in my support of the Q hypothesis than you. Certainly, I do not attribute much likelihood to the elaborate theories of stages of Q-redaction or the confidence with which the late, great Maurice Casey reconstructed Aramaic sayings of Jesus (in Mark or Q). And I do not think Q was particularly early. I tend to favor a late dating of Q, such as Fledderman’s dating it toward 70 (and Mark around 75), which makes good sense of the woes against Jerusalem at the end of Q.

            Aside from questioning necessary dating of a hypothetical document, do you really think that one should merely consider Mt 12,30 as Matthew’s caustic redaction of Mk 9,40 without giving any attention to Q 11,23 in the context of some kind of Mk-Q overlap in the Beelzebul exorcism pericope?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 29, 2018

            Nope, not at all. I was just giving a quick down and dirty response. Of course any real analysis would have to be careful and detailed.

          • Robert
            Robert  July 27, 2018

            “Possible that neither is authentic, in the sense of Jesus having actually spoken either phrase. …”

            Of course, my referencing the scholarly debate about this saying in Q was in no way intended to attribute authenticity to the statement in either form. I was merely trying to answer your question about what current scholarship has to say. It is part of a a thorny source-critical debate. Because of the source-critical questions, late dates of composition, and the confessional nature of the gospels and their sources, I am relatively skeptical regarding the once again popular Leben Jesu Forshung. I think the best we can do is try to appreciate the meaning of the sayings in their literary contexts. But I do appreciate your more attempt at more philosophical considerations of the implications of the widely divergent nature of the two versions of this statement.

          • Robert
            Robert  July 31, 2018

            “Of course any real analysis would have to be careful and detailed.”

            Do you have a view of the development of the two parallel, independent sayings of Mk 9,40 (positive) and Q 11,23 (negative)? Or would you recommend someone else’s analysis?

            Q 11,23: ὁ μὴ ὢν μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ κατ᾿ ἐμοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ ὁ μὴ συνάγων μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ σκορπίζει.

            Mk 9,40 ὃς γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν καθ᾿ ἡμῶν, ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐστιν.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 31, 2018

            At one time I thought these two were logically coherent. In fact, I think I made a comment to that effect in one of my books (Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet?), and a philosopher told me I should learn logic….

          • Robert
            Robert  July 31, 2018

            “At one time I thought these two were logically coherent. In fact, I think I made a comment to that effect in one of my books (Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet?), and a philosopher told me I should learn logic….”

            Ha! Tell him that Luke, the eminent classical logician, certainly seems to have thought they were logically coherent.

            Lk 9,50-51 ὃς γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν καθ᾿ ὑμῶν, ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ἐστιν.

            Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ συμπληροῦσθαι τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ἀναλήμψεως αὐτοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς τὸ πρόσωπον ἐστήρισεν τοῦ πορεύεσθαι εἰς Ἰερουσαλήμ.  

            Q 11,23: ὁ μὴ ὢν μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ κατ᾿ ἐμοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ ὁ μὴ συνάγων μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ σκορπίζει.

            Luke seems to have created a two-fold progression of the doublet by moving Mark’s positive saying forward, prior to his version of the Q Beelzebul controversy: It is not clear to what extent Luke may have intended for us to focus on the shift in pronouns found in his progression (he did not change Mk’s ‘us’ to the ‘you’ found in Q), but it is possible he was nonetheless illustrating more positive relations of his disciples and others at the end of the Galilean ministry, immediately prior to beginning his travel narrative with Jesus ‘setting his face toward Jerusalem’, where we see the increased opposition specifically to the person of Jesus that he will face there.

            But you still have not told us your view of the prior development of the two, independent sayings of Mk 9,40 (positive) and Q 11,23 (negative) and how you would handle the Mk-Q overlap in the Beelzebul story.

            Or would you recommend someone else’s analysis?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 1, 2018

            I think you misunderstood me. The philospher was arguing that they *were* logically coherent, to correct me.

          • Robert
            Robert  August 1, 2018

            “I think you misunderstood me. The philospher was arguing that they *were* logically coherent, to correct me.”

            All the better! But don’t you have a view of the development of the two parallel, independent sayings of Mk 9,40 (positive) and Q 11,23 (negative) or the thorny issue of the Mk-Q overlap in the Beelzebul story? Or would you at least be able to recommend someone else’s approach or analysis?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 2, 2018

            What I”ve been trying to say is that no, I don’t have a view of it! And don’t have one to recommend. Always best just to start with the commentaries….

          • Robert
            Robert  August 2, 2018

            “What I”ve been trying to say is that no, I don’t have a view of it! And don’t have one to recommend. Always best just to start with the commentaries….”

            Sorry, I thought you were just avoiding the question. It is a thorny one for those (of us) who follow the two-source theory.

      • Iskander Robertson  July 24, 2018

        i just noticed that the pharisees did not say to jesus that he is DIVIDING the kingdom of satan, they seem to be assuming that he is some how reinforcing his (satans ) kingdom. In your opinion is the author having jesus attack a straw man???

        • Bart
          Bart  July 26, 2018

          He’s responding to their claim that he is empowered by the Devil by explaining that the Devil would not work to hurt his own cause.

          • Iskander Robertson  July 27, 2018

            the charge was that jesus was doing the will of satan, he was removing subordinates of satan. back in those days, was there a view which held that only satan could remove SUBORDINATES of satan? if yes, then how could this hurt the cause of satan ? if satan is waging war against one of his subordinates how does that prove that it will hurt satans cause?

          • flcombs  July 29, 2018

            I understand this is about what Jesus said and meant. But I disagree with the logic of the position. It’s like in chess: sacrificing a pawn to take a queen. In wars it isn’t very unusual to sacrifice something of lower value if it protects something of higher value of yours or to capture something of higher value.

            So in theory why couldn’t Jesus be doing the work of the devil and his miracles against demons just be false flag to bolster Jesus?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 30, 2018

            Sure, in theory. I’m not agreeing with what Jesus said, simply indicating what he meant.

          • godspell  August 1, 2018

            First of all, let’s remember that Jesus’ argument was later used by Abraham Lincoln to argue that the United States could not remain half-slave and half-free (probably the most influential single speech in American history), whereas nobody ever used the purported arguments of his enemies to prove anything.

            It’s impossible to come up with a wholly logical argument regarding demonic possession, since there is no rational basis for believing any such thing takes place.

            Would it be rational to say that “This man has driven the vermin from our house. How do we know he is not in the service of the vermin, and they do not leave voluntarily, to increase his reputation, so they may use him against us”?

            At the time this was happening, nobody was talking about Satan as the Chief Devil. That was a later idea, just starting to take hold as the gospels were written. Demons, evil spirits, were taken to be a lawless anarchic horde, taking control of humans just because they could, because it was pleasurable for them to have a physical form. This idea can be found all over the world. It was a way to explain mental illness.

            People were then, as now, frightened of the mentally ill, and it was useful to have an explanation for it, since the workings of the mind were largely unknown. Sometimes exorcisms probably helped such people. If they believed they were possessed, they might feel better if they believed they’d been exorcised. “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

            Jesus is getting a reputation, in part, by performing exorcisms. Those who don’t want to see him become influential are suggesting he can only perform exorcisms by being some kind of black magician in league with the demonic world. This doesn’t make sense, in the context of the beliefs people had then. Demons aren’t out to control the world, they are just out to possess our physical bodies. They don’t want to be driven out, become formless again. For this argument to work, there has to be a controlling mind behind their activities, manipulating us to some unknown end, and it’s not clear anybody believed that at the time Jesus was alive.

    • Robert
      Robert  July 24, 2018

      “But if Matthew read Mark, why would he write something so different from Mark–and so much more confrontational? Is this simply a very different variation on the first story, with a more aggressive stance with regards to proselytization? … What does current scholarship say?”

      “If you’re asking why Matthew has made Jesus’ words more caustic toward the Jewish leaders, that would be consistent with his Gospel generally. Cf. the “woes” of chapter 23, in particular.”

      It is not so simple as merely looking at Matthew’s negativity.

      This negative form of this saying is already found in Q since it is in both Mt & Lk and is part of the complicated question of Mark-Q overlaps, especially in the Beelzebub pericope and not that Luke has both the Markan positive version (Lk 9,50) and the Q-negative version (Lk 11,23). The majority of scholars who believe in the Q-hypothesis and the two-source theory will attempt to reconstruct Q 11,14-15.17-20-23 and consider how Mark interacted with a similar tradition.

      Some scholars, like Goodacre, adopt the Farrer hypothesis that Luke was familiar with Mark and Matthew.

      • godspell  July 29, 2018

        The fact that it’s in Matthew and Luke does not prove it’s from Q. It’s evidence, sure. But hardly conclusive. (And if we had Q, we’d have to question that as well. And ask ourselves what sources Q drew upon).

        And I was not, in fact, asking why Matthew’s version of the story is more critical of Jewish leaders, since Mark’s story doesn’t even mention Jewish leaders, and is about Jesus criticizing his own disciples for being too prissy and exclusive. And I see plenty of evidence in all four gospels that this is how Jesus genuinely thought and expressed himself.

        So while I can well believe Jesus expressed himself in this general manner towards the leaders of his community at times, I think the story from Mark got rewritten and repurposed. Jesus criticizing his own followers for acting as if they were a religion with defined rules of membership was just not going to play by the time Matthew and Luke were writing. We should not assume they just copied out Q (whatever it was) word for word. If they were, their own gospels would read a lot differently.

        I am, you should know, rather skeptical that Matthew never read Mark. Given how much earlier Mark’s gospel was written, and how small the Christian community was, that seems a tough pill to swallow. Obviously Matthew and Luke had other sources, which is one reason why we talk about Q. But in all three cases, they are shaping the information they have into a distinct narrative, with distinct points to make, that are deeply personal and unique to each author.

        When in doubt, trust Mark more than the others, and trust nobody 100%. Is my general rule of thumb.

        • Robert
          Robert  July 30, 2018

          No, I did not know that you are skeptical of Mark’s literary dependence upon Mark. That is an extreme minority position among scholars. And it in no way contradicts the view that he was ‘shaping his own distinct narrative, with distinct and unique points to make’. How do you explain the high degree of word-for-word agreement in the Greek of the two authors and the secondary character of many little grammatical or stylistic improvements by Matthew?

          • godspell  August 1, 2018

            ??????

            First of all, I would think no one would be skeptical of Mark’s literary dependence on Mark. That can’t be what you meant to say. I certainly never meant to say Matthew never read Mark. I kind of thought you were saying that (my bad), and I was saying I did NOT believe it. To be skeptical that Matthew never read Mark means I believe Matthew read Mark. I believe in the two source hypothesis, by and large. (Could have been more, but not less.)

            I read a bit too quickly, then you read a bit too quickly, and then you typed a bit too quickly (Mark’s dependence on Mark), and here we are, all befuddled with each other.

            Let’s backtrack.

            Mark says “Whoever is not against us is for us” in the context of saying “Leave that man preaching and healing in my name alone, he’s not hurting anybody.”

            Matthew says “Whoever is not with us is against us” in the context of attacking the Jewish religious leaders, which Matthew does at every possible opportunity (He even makes John the Baptist hate on them, even though there’s no evidence of any great emnity between John and the Pharisees.)

            Then Luke echoes Mark. It seems reasonable to assume his source IS Mark. Not Q.

            Matthew is probably the only source for the negative inversion of the saying.

            Why? Matthew 7:22 and 7:23 are the relevant verses.

            Wherever Matthew got them from (we can’t rule out that he wrote them himself), they directly contradict what Jesus says in Mark. Matthew doesn’t want that conflict. So Mark’s story has to be revised, and turned into another hook to attack the Pharisees (Matthew really really hates them).

            Luke has a related account, but there the damned wretches are those who come to Jesus saying “We ate and drank with you and you preached in our streets.” Not that they preached and did miracles in his name.

            Matthew is rewriting his sources in many cases–both Mark and Q. He is sometimes doing it in what I would have to call a somewhat jaundiced fashion.

            The angriest gospel.

        • Robert
          Robert  August 2, 2018

          Sorry for the befuddlement! Yes, I thought you were saying that you were skeptical that Mt used Mk and also mistyped my response. Mea maxima culpa! We both agree on the two-source hypothesis (‘though I must admit to liking Mark Goodacre a lot).

          This issue is that Luke has both Mark’s positive version (Lk 9,50) as well as Matthew’s negative version of the saying (Lk 11,23). Luke’s negative version agrees verbatim with Matthew’s version and is found in the same Matthean context (not in the Markan context) with two important contextual agreements.

          So, following the two-source theory, the negative saying is typically thought to be not only part of Q but also a Mk-Q overlap. Thus Mark and Q would not be totally independent in some passages.

          For Mark Goodacre, and others who believe Luke knew Matthew’s gospel and there was no Q (Farrer hypothesis), this is obviously not a Mk-Q overlap, but Mt-Lk major agreement (as opposed to the minor agreements of Mt & Lk against Mk).

          Globally, the Farrer hypothesis seems like the easiest to accept, but Frans Neirynck and Christopher Tuckett and other two-source theorists would tell you that once you get into the nitty-gritty details, the two-source theory still makes more sense than the Farrer hypothesis.

          Hope that clears things up!

          PS: I always enjoy your posts, by the way.

          • godspell  August 27, 2018

            Oh no offense taken, and I’m at least as much to blame for the confusion.

            Intensive textual analysis is not my thing. I’m more interested in the meaning of the text, and what it can tell us about the people and events it refers to. I agree, of course, that textual analysis can give us more information about that, but it can also become a distraction–the devil in the details.

            Is it likely that Jesus would say both things? No. Is it likely that Matthew’s account is the true one? No. Is it possible neither account is true? Sure. But Mark’s story rings true precisely because it sticks out.

            Why does Mark need some wildcatter to be running around performing miracles in Jesus’ name? He doesn’t. He heard this story, believes it to be true, and he puts it in there. I think Mark, although an inspired storyteller, is the kind of storyteller who responds to the material at hand, let’s it shape the story he’s telling–rather than simply reshaping it to his own ends. Which is, I’d say, the mark of a lesser storyteller. All writers shape narratives, but the best ones let the narratives shape them as well.

            He may have been one of those people who tried to unite and reconcile different strains in early Christianity, and (to use a modern metaphor) a glass half-full type of personality. If the world is full of people who hate you, why make enemies where you don’t need to?

            And Mark, like Jesus, doesn’t think you have to be an angel or God’s Begotten Son, to work wonders in God’s name. Jesus is special, but not because he was a divine being from birth, anymore than because of his high mitochlorian count or Lord Voldemort’s spell backfiring. He’s the Chosen One, literally–God chose him. Not at birth, but at baptism. Because he had the most faith, and the most desire to help others.

            And his goal is for everyone to be like that. So when he hears about this man he’s never met doing likewise, his reaction is “About time.” To him, that’s further evidence the Kingdom is imminent.

            Matthew isn’t inventing Jesus’ feud with the Pharisees and Saducees out of whole cloth. But he is much more concerned with that division than Mark, so he’s ironing out what he sees as inconsistencies, and in so doing, creates an inconsistency.

            That’s life.

          • Robert
            Robert  August 27, 2018

            “Matthew isn’t inventing Jesus’ feud with the Pharisees and Saducees out of whole cloth. But he is much more concerned with that division than Mark, so he’s ironing out what he sees as inconsistencies, and in so doing, creates an inconsistency.”

            But, according to the two-source theory, Matthew did not create the negative form of the statement. He (and Luke) would have found it in Q. It is Luke who would have allowed the apparent contradiction to stand, perhaps with an intended sense of development that resolves the apparent contradictiin.

            I am not at all opposed to your reflections upon what you consider the more likely reality in Jesus historical ministry, but before reaching back 40-60 years prior to the gospels, we are on much firmer ground in trying to investigate the views of the evangelists and their contemporaries. The gospels are primarily historical witnesses to their own times, less so to the life and times of Jesus.

          • godspell  September 2, 2018

            I don’t think we should assume that if Matthew would rewrite Mark, he wouldn’t rewrite Q as well. None of them are just blindly copying out stories they’ve heard by rote. All of them are contributing their own ideas as well, their own interpretations of events they all believe to have happened.

            The two source hypothesis works, but it’s not a perfect explanation of the texts we have. There probably is no perfect explanation. For that, or anything else.

          • Robert
            Robert  September 3, 2018

            “I don’t think we should assume that if Matthew would rewrite Mark, he wouldn’t rewrite Q as well. None of them are just blindly copying out stories they’ve heard by rote. All of them are contributing their own ideas as well, their own interpretations of events they all believe to have happened.

            The two source hypothesis works, but it’s not a perfect explanation of the texts we have. There probably is no perfect explanation. For that, or anything else.”

            I agree wholeheartedly. But if a two-source theorist claims that Matthew revised Mark or Q to produce the negative version of the saying, she or he must also claim that Luke also independently revised the saying to produce the exact same wording of the negative saying. Surely you agree that this is a much less likely hypothesis.

    • Robert
      Robert  July 29, 2018

      “Nope, not at all. I was just giving a quick down and dirty response. Of course any real analysis would have to be careful and detailed.”

      So what do you think about the development of the two parallel, independent sayings of Mk 9,40 (positive) and Q 11,23 (negative)?

      Q 11,23: ὁ μὴ ὢν μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ {κα}τ᾿ ἐμοῦ {ἐστιν}, καὶ ὁ μὴ συνάγων μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ σκορπίζει.
      Mk 9,40 ὃς γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν καθ᾿ ἡμῶν, ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐστιν.

      Lk 9,50-51 ὃς γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν καθ᾿ ὑμῶν, ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ἐστιν.
      Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ συμπληροῦσθαι τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ἀναλήμψεως αὐτοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς τὸ πρόσωπον ἐστήρισεν τοῦ πορεύεσθαι εἰς Ἰερουσαλήμ.  

      One can also reconstruct an underlying logic of Mark’s Q-like Vorlage where something like Mk 9,38-40 might fit rather well with the Q Beelzebub story.
      A: Opponents of Jesus attack his exorcism practice
      B: Jesus asks about how his opponents’ disciples perform exorcisms
      C: Even non-disciple of Jesus perform exorcisms in Jesus name!

      I can’t go into full detail here, but here’s what makes the most sense to me:
      Both Matthew and Luke have the negative Q-form of the logion in the context of the Beelzebul controversy and immediately following the overpowering a strong man logion. Thus an extended Mk-Q overlap. Further, one can see a potential reason for Mark having some kind of Q-like Beelzebul controversy before him and removing the negative statement (not his point of the story) and placing a modified positive version later. Luke might then creating a two-fold progression of the doublet by moving Mark’s positive saying forward, prior to his version of the Q Beelzebul controversy: It is not clear to what extent Luke may intend for us to focus on the shift in pronouns found in his progression (he did not change Mk’s ‘us’ to the ‘you’ found in Q), but it is possible he was nonetheless illustrating more positive relations of his disciples and others at the end of the Galilean ministry, immediately prior to beginning his travel narrative with Jesus ‘setting his face toward Jerusalem’, where we see the increased opposition specifically to the person of Jesus that he will face there.

      One can also develop potential reasons for Q redacting a positive statement and making it more negative, but that is perhaps even more hypothetical.

    • Sabina  July 30, 2018

      The Golden Rule:
      is it “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
      Or is it (repurposed?) “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you”
      Almost the same, but no, not the same.

  12. Telling
    Telling  July 23, 2018

    Bart,

    Is there1st century evidence of there being talk of bread being peoples bodies and wine being their blood? I suspect the only 1st century evidence is the canonical gospels and what preserved texts grew out of them.

    Can it be that just “orthodox” church teachings are called 1st century because “unorthodox” teachings were banned, destroyed, and never preserved? What do historians have that shows otherwise?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2018

      No, nothing outside of the Gospels.

      • Telling
        Telling  July 24, 2018

        Well then, it looks that the historical method has a self-referencing flaw; historians accepting orthodox spin on Jesus sayings because the sayings are 1st century. The method deems non-canonical gospels automatically as 2nd century because they don’t have orthodox spin, and thus, any gospels not lucky enough to find favor and inclusion in the establishment canon are doomed to forever be labeled heretical for their declared 2nd century status. Does anything ever change?

        Am I overlooking something?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 26, 2018

          I agree, it would be completely wrong headed for a historian to assume a dating of ideas and to date documents in relation to them. The only way we can date ideas is by dating the documents that convey them.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  July 24, 2018

      It might help if you think of it this way. All ancient peoples, including pagans, practiced the sacrificing of victims to gods. Those sacrificial victims were then sometimes consumed, sometimes by the priests who performed the sacrifice and sometimes by the people who brought the animal to be sacrificed and sometimes both. But the Christians explicitly forbade converts from eating meat that was sacrificed to other gods and idols (e.g. the proscriptions from Paul and Acts). But then after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, there wasn’t even a place where Christians could eat meat that was offered in sacrificed.

      However, since Jesus’s death could be seen (and apparently was seen) as a sacrifice to God, then somehow eating his body could be seen as performing the kind of sacrifices that ancient people were used to. So it probably became a custom among Christians to call the bread of the communion “Christ’s body” in lieu of the customary sacrificial victim that is consumed during most sacred ceremonies.

      I hope that makes sense. If not, just think of it in analogous terms. Jesus was the sacrifical victim. The bread of the eucharist was the “meat” of the victim that was consumed during the ritual. It’s a way of performing the customary sacrifical ritual without actually having to sacrifice an animal, because Jesus Christ is, essentially, the perpetual sacrificial victim.

      • Telling
        Telling  July 26, 2018

        talmoore,

        I’m familiar with the idea, and I think Paul probably coined it. But it makes no logical sense. I agree with Bart that Jesus probably had no intention of being crucified. But I personally believe he was not crucified, and I think the “last supper” phrases make perfect sense uttered by a Master explaining that your body doesn’t stop at your skin, it is everything in your present experience. And I think the “orthodox” elders didn’t understand it and so they embraced Paul’s interpretation.

  13. forthfading  July 23, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    How do conservative scholars handle the issue of the Greek/Aramaic word meanings in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus? In my experience, they always have an explanation. Sometimes they offer a logical alternative but most often it is just an amusing slight of hand.

    Best

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2018

      I suppose those who don’t want there to be a problem say there’s an explanation!

  14. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  July 23, 2018

    I had no Idea that the words in Greek and Aramaic had different meanings. I find that fascinating. I have a Fundamentalist friend that says “the text says what it says.” In other words it says what he thinks it says. But this passage of Jesus with Nicodemus does raise its authenticity of going back to the Historical Jesus because it is absent from the Synoptic Gosepels? It also seems to be a passage teaching a theological position. Being born from above has been interpreted to mean “accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior” but is there a different interpretation in context with what the text says?

  15. prestonp  July 24, 2018

    “Jesus says “You must be born from above,” but Nicodemus misunderstands him to mean “You must be born again.” The misunderstanding is understandable, so to say, since the Greek word for “from above” also means “again.” Nicodemus has to ask for clarification, which leads Jesus to enter into an extended discourse about experiencing a heavenly birth. From a historical point of view, the problem with this passage (one of the favorite passages of many Christians today!) is that the confusion created by the word Jesus uses makes sense in Greek, the language of the Fourth Gospel, but it cannot be replicated in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus himself. In Aramaic, the normal word for “from above” does not also mean “again.” The result? If this conversation did take place (it passes neither of our other criteria either), it would not have occurred exactly in the way described by John’s account.”

    “Both the Greek text and Aram. translations suggest two possibilities: (1) the possibility of an original Aram. conversation (with Ehrman we presume Christ and Nicodemus would have probably spoken Aramaic, from which the Gospel of John was translated into Greek) with double entendre on men derish or (2) the possibility that the narrative considered from the perspective of both Aramaic and Greek reads just fine with a single meaning of either ανωθεν/anothen (Gk.) or men derish (Aram.) in view, as “again” without inductively presuming there absolutely had to have been an original double entendre (which is certainly possible, but is not an absolute exegetical necessity, but an inference, however plausible it may be made to seem by ancillary arguments). Either way, (1) since there is an Aramaic word that allows the double entendre, or (2) since it is not an absolute exegetical necessity to presume the narrative requires a double entendre in the first place, Bart is incorrect.

    if we presume double entendre, men derish (lit. from the head) s translated “again” -i.e. a second time, and serve the purpose of double entendre just fine;[1] but that, alternately, (2) if it is not absolutely irrefutable to presume double entendre in the Greek narrative (which it isn’t) the narrative in both Gk. and Aram. could make perfect sense understanding the respective words to simply mean “again” without any double entendre.” katachriston

    • DavidNeale  July 25, 2018

      Preston: I’m assuming that your second quote comes from this blog post: https://katachriston.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/the-born-again-narrative-in-john-3-an-aramaic-impossibility-well-no/ This blog (with which I wasn’t previously familiar) appears to contain apologetic posts on wide-ranging topics. It’s unclear to me who the authors are, or what qualifications they might have in Aramaic or other ancient languages, and they don’t cite any published scholarship (other than a lexicon and an interlinear translation). But please correct me if I’m missing something. It would be helpful if you had linked the source rather than just copypasting an unattributed quote.

      I would like to see what actual Aramaic scholars are saying about this “men derish” claim. I assume that the late Maurice Casey covered this passage in “Is John’s Gospel True?” but I haven’t been able to find a copy of that book available at a reasonable price, so far.

  16. SidDhartha1953  July 24, 2018

    I only recently began to notice the amount of anti-sacrificial language in the OT, not only in the prophets, but also in Psalms, to the effect “I never commanded you to…” directly contradicting the commands in the Pentateuch. Has anyone written for a general audience on the sacrificial/anti-sacrificial conflicts in ancient Israel and how the sacrificial cult prevailed?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2018

      I don’t know!

    • talmoore
      talmoore  July 24, 2018

      It’s not that the OT is necessarily anti-sacrificial. It’s that the prophets of the OT were warning Israelite rulers that sacrifices weren’t enough. If those in power behaved unrighteously — for example, by ignoring orphans and widows, by overburdening and oppressing the working people, by waging unjust wars, etc. — then God could and would choose to ignore those sacrifices.

    • Hormiga  July 24, 2018

      Yes, it would be interesting to see a discussion of OT sacrificial references, or at least possible references. What was meant by “devoting” and “consecrating” and, not quite sacrificial, “cutting off?” And as you say, there’s also the anti-sacrificial material, which does look like protesting too much.

      Not something for this blog, I’d think (Bart may disagree), but if anyone knows of such a discussion elsewhere some pointers would be appreciated.

    • JohnKesler  July 25, 2018

      SidDhartha1953, the following isn’t exactly what you are looking for–I don’t think–but you may find interesting the following entry and comments at Dr. Steven DiMattei’s blog:
      http://contradictionsinthebible.com/sacrifices-in-the-wilderness-or-not/

  17. cioaraadi  July 25, 2018

    I’m just asking: what criterion passes the verse in John’s Gospel that the Jewish priests of that time decided to kill Lazar because their people left them and went to Jesus??

  18. Iskander Robertson  July 25, 2018

    the story of the canaanite woman is a very interesting story. we see that jesus’ love did not help her get the cure, but simple realisation that crumbs fall naturally when food is eaten. she used abuse and insult to make an argument to win her a cure. when jesus said “great is your faith” could this mean that jesus felt guilty because of how he treated her? she acknowledged that she was not invited to dine at the table and that she would benefit from crumbs which were not intended for her.

    • godspell  July 27, 2018

      I don’t read it the same way as you. First of all, let’s assume the story happened more or less the way we have it now. Canaanites were polytheists, and not the refined Roman kind. They were people Jesus had been raised to look down on.

      In his mind, his mission is mainly to the Jews, the only people who understand the true nature of God, but who have frequently failed to live up to their beliefs. He would have had relatively little social intercourse with such people, since he was not in a trade that would require it, and there’s a general feeling that you stick with your own kind.

      But as he travels, and his reputation begins to grow, he increasingly comes into contact with such people, and they aren’t as he expected. They can be decent. They can have faith, different as it is from his.

      He’s ready to dismiss her as just some pagan looking for a magic trick, but the woman pleases him with her words. It’s the kind of language he likes to use, metaphorical, subtle, and yet to the point. He finds her preferable to many a smug stick-in-the-mud Pharisee he’s met.

      She is, after all, no poorer than he was, and is. His mission is first and foremost to the poor. Her concern is for her daughter, not for herself. And for her daughter, she is willing to call herself a dog. To humble herself. Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted……

      He looks again, and instead of seeing a Canaanite, he sees HER. A living soul. Worthy of respect. Worthy of attention. Worthy of help. He’s not guilty. He’s delighted. There are more souls worth saving than he’d previously believed. The Kingdom doesn’t have to be just a section of his fellow Jews. The Kingdom will be inhabited by whoever has the sense to perceive its truths.

      Whether this specific incident happened or not, clearly others like it did, and Jesus began to develop an expanded sense of mission. Still primarly ministering to the Jews, but not exclusively. And that could be why his followers gained so many pagan converts after he was gone, while the cult of his teacher John gradually languished and disappeared.

      • Iskander Robertson  July 29, 2018

        in other words she converted jesus ?

        • godspell  July 30, 2018

          No, she just got his attention. Surprised him. One of the most appealing aspects of the Jesus we meet in the earlier gospels is his capacity for surprise. (John’s Jesus knows everything, and has since the dawn of time).

          I had forgotten that in Mark’s version of the story, she’s described as Syrophoenician, not a Canaanite. It seems unlikely that there would have been any clear memory of her race and origins among later Christians, but it’s agreed she was a gentile, and therefore almost certainly a pagan (Though she could have come into contact with Jewish beliefs, and have had some belief in the ability of a Jewish holy man to expel demons. When you’re desperate enough, you’ll try anything, as we all should know.)

  19. dankoh  July 25, 2018

    Would you agree that the gospel portrayals of Jesus predicting the destruction of the Temple are also not credible? This is both because we know they were written after the destruction, but more because Paul’s letters and the reconstructions of Q (as far as I have found) give no hint of this, and they are pre-70 CE. The gospel of Thomas, possibly pre-70, also says nothing about what has to be THE most significant event in early Christianity after the crucifixion itself. (I am following Fredriksen and Dunn, among others, here.)

    • Bart
      Bart  July 26, 2018

      I”m inclined to think that Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple (just as people today are predicting the collapse of the economy: it doesn’t make them a Son of God!)

      • flcombs  July 27, 2018

        The temple destruction prophecy doesn’t appear very fantastic.

        As to Jesus and the temple prediction (if it was in advance and he really said it): historically was it that much of a prediction really? Wasn’t there enough Jewish unrest going on and simmering revolt? And weren’t the Romans known to be brutal in putting revolts down? If those are true, it would seem that the temple destruction is likely. At some point a revolt that is likely coming, the Romans would react and they would tend to destroy religious and other cultural elements as punishment. All it really took for the “prophecy” was a sense that a revolt or enough unrest was in the wind for the Romans to eventually react.

        Many Bible prophecies are funny that way. People generally forget context of the current events. Even if you accept that they were stated before events (quite an assumption), you have the “DUH” factor. For example in cases where the destruction of a city is prophesied. When you look at the details of the situation, often there is a huge army coming, it is conquering everyone else, your defenses are known and probably weak…. so DUH “we are about to be conquered!” And like today, you get most outcomes predicted by someone, so with enough prophecies someone is going to be right.

        It’s like someone in 3019 finding a prediction by Bart Ehrman made in 2019 that UNC is going to win the national championship in basketball. Seems like a wow on the surface, but if at the time UNC had gone undefeated in regular season, key players in top competitors were injured, etc. it wouldn’t be much of a prediction!

        • Bart
          Bart  July 29, 2018

          Especially since I make it every year. 🙂 (OK, not really. Didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance last year…)

  20. JohnKesler  July 26, 2018

    My question is slightly off-topic, but I don’t know where else to ask it. At Mark 7:19b, some versions, like the NRSV, refer to Jesus in the third person–“Thus he declared all foods clean” (or some variation)–making it clear that the translators think that this is a parenthetical comment from the Evangelist. The International Standard Version translates the verse, “Because it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then into the sewer, thereby expelling all foods,” which suggests that Jesus wasn’t addressing kosher-food law at all. The parallel account in Matthew 15 says nothing about cleansing meats, but Gospel of Thomas’ Saying 14 states in part: “When you go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they will set before you, and heal the sick among them. For what goes into your mouth will not defile you, but that which issues from your mouth – it is that which will defile you.” Do the words of Mark 7:19 or Gospel of Thomas 14 go back to Jesus? What is the correct interpretation of Mark 7:19, and to whom should the latter part of the verse be attributed? Is the reason that Luke doesn’t include this pericope because his Gentile audience wouldn’t be interested in the topic?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2018

      Yes, I think they both might go back to Jesus, and yes, I think it is a parenthetic remark by the author, added to a statement of Jesus, to try to explain them in terms important for the author’s audience. Mark’s Xn readers don’t need to keep kosher. That’s probably not at all what Jesus himself thought.

      • Iskander Robertson  July 27, 2018

        i think it is confirmed by scientific evidence that foods do affect the human mind.
        if this is fact, then isn’t it a case that foods do help with how we think ?

        ” “Because it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then into the sewer, thereby expelling all foods,”

        i wonder if historical jesus thought alcohol affected human mind?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 29, 2018

          If he drank a lot he did.

          • godspell  July 29, 2018

            What do you mean, ‘If’? If you could turn water into wine (and exceptionally good wine at that) would you ever be sober? And if he was hung over, he could heal himself! Now that’s a Kingdom of Heaven, if ever there was one.

            I was just recently remembering what I’d read about how Christian temperance advocates insisted the wine mentioned in the New Testament was really grape juice.

            Leaving aside what they thought would happen to grape juice in a warm climate with no refrigeration, did you ever run into this claim during your evangelical days?

            My dad told me a story about how he was at the seminary (it didn’t work out, which is why I’m typing this), and they had some fresh apple cider, but no refrigerator, so they left it outside. It was winter, but not a freezing cold winter.

            What followed was, you might say say, miraculous (if a bit embarrassing). I say this without irony. Fermentation is one of the greatest miracles of all.

            (Note: The poster’s memories of this story he was told are a bit fuzzy, and it should perhaps not be taken literally, since if he’d stuck in all the qualifiers it wouldn’t read as well.)

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