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Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: January 16, 2016

 

It is time for the weekly mailbag.  This week there are only two questions, but the first has two parts: why (many) Christians are so pro-Israel and how can they be pro-Jewish and still worship Jesus.  The second question involves how we know which letters of Paul were actually written by him.  If you would like me to address any question you have, just add a comment here or at any other time on the blog, or send me an email

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QUESTION:  Why are Christians so Pro Israel? Seems like to me if they agree with Judaism they couldn’t be a Christian. Because of the first commandment.

RESPONSE:   I’ll answer the second part of the question first.   What the reader is saying (I think) is that since the first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me,” then Christians cannot be pro-Jewish because they also worship Jesus – therefore two gods.   I have two responses to that.

The first is that the commandment is *not* that:  “You must believe that I am the only God.”  The commandment instead is that: “Of all the Gods that exist, you cannot worship any of them ahead of me.”  That was usually interpreted to mean “You cannot worship any of the other Gods.”   It is not, in other words, a command to be monotheistic (to believe only one god exists).  It is a command to be henotheistic (to worship only one of the gods).  Jews eventually, of course, and then Christians after them, became monotheistic, as most are today, thinking that there are, in fact, no other gods other than the God who created the world and called Israel to by his people.  But that’s not the commandment.

My second response: Christians do not think they are worshiping some other god ahead of God the Creator.   When they are worshiping Jesus, they are worshiping the *same* God.  The doctrine of the Trinity insists that Father, Son, and Spirit are One God, with one essence, one will, and one purpose.   This one God is manifest in three persons, yes, and the persons are all distinct, in that there really are three of them.  But the three are so wholly united in will, purpose, and essence, that they make up just *one* God, not three.  And so worshiping Jesus does not, for traditional Christians, mean worshiping some other God.  It is worshiping the same God.  By worshiping Jesus one is in fact worshiping the Father; or rather it is *through* worshiping Jesus that one worships the Father.

So, on now to the other part of the question, the original one, “why are Christians so Pro-Israel?”  It’s a complicated question and I’m not sure I have the definitive answer – or rather, I’m not sure that a definitive answer exists.  But I do have two answers, one that should make sense to a lot of people and the other that most people would never have thought of.

First, most Christians who are pro-Israel are pro-Israel because…

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The Rise of Apocalypticism
Are the Prophecies Being Fulfilled?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 16, 2016

    “Forged” is a terrific book and I highly recommend it to readers of this blog. I hope to become the seventh reader of the more complicated book.

    Obviously, where, and into what family, one is born is the most important factor in determining what one believes.

    I read all of the “Left Behind” novels and certainly realize that Christians support the Jews mainly because of something to do with eschatology, but the information about the importance of building another temple is new for me. Thanks

  2. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  January 16, 2016

    “My second response: Christians do not think they are worshiping some other god ahead of God the Creator. When they are worshiping Jesus, they are worshiping the *same* God. The doctrine of the Trinity insists that Father, Son, and Spirit are One God, with one essence, one will, and one purpose. This one God is manifest in three persons, yes, and the persons are all distinct, in that there really are three of them. But the three are so wholly united in will, purpose, and essence, that they make up just *one* God, not three. And so worshiping Jesus does not, for traditional Christians, mean worshiping some other God. It is worshiping the same God. By worshiping Jesus one is in fact worshiping the Father; or rather it is *through* worshiping Jesus that one worships the Father.”

    sometimes they are using language in such a way that it is seen as if the father is looking at himself in a mirror. in order for their to be distinction the son must have properties the father lacks or the father must have properties the son lacks otherwise it becomes the same person, twins , triplets.
    distinction itself requires separation otherwise it is like arguing that (sorry for sick example) two testicles are so wholly united that they are 1 testicle.

  3. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  January 16, 2016

    I was taught that the reason we’re pro Israel is because God promises to bless those that stand by his chosen people–the Jews. We’re the most blessed nation on earth because of our alliance with Israel. If we don’t support them, we’ll be cursed with famine, economic problems, sickness, etc…

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2016

      Yes, that’s part of it too. Which makes it even more surprising how anti-Jewish (and even anti-semitic) so many Christians are!

    • Avatar
      Omar6741  January 23, 2016

      How is it that the idea of God promising to bless those who stand by his chosen people, the Jews, didn’t occur to Christians till this century? After so many centuries of anti-Semitism and Judeophobia in Christian history — frequently erupting in mass killings and brutality — doesn’t it strike Christians as odd that it is only *now* that they have started to realize that they should stand by God’s chosen people?

      India has an alliance with Israel as well, and they are “blessed” with extreme poverty and destabilizing Marxist movements in large areas of the country, along with an expensive occupation of Kashmir and an ongoing threat of nuclear war as a result.

  4. Avatar
    toejam  January 16, 2016

    Michael F. Bird posted a reply to one of James McGrath’s posts indicating that he will be debating you next month on the topic of Christology. Is this confirmed? Will it be filmed and uploaded anywhere?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2016

      Yup, we’re debating at New Orleans Baptist Seminary on “How Jesus Became God.” I’m sure it will be available, but I’m not sure in what format.

  5. Avatar
    BrianUlrich  January 16, 2016

    Lots of strongly pro-Israel Christians I know refer to some Old Testament passages about God blessing those who favor his chosen people.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2016

      Yes, that’s part of it too. Which makes it even more surprising how anti-Jewish (and even anti-semitic) so many Christians are!

    • Avatar
      mjordan20149  January 18, 2016

      You know, I find something deeply troubling about Christian Zionism.It seems to me that so many Fundamentalist Christians are so strongly pro-Israel that they ignore the plight of Palestinians. I think that many, if not most, Palestinians yearn for peace, and are victims of Israeli oppression. Of course, this is a complex issue with very very deep historical roots, and hard-liners on both sides of the issues involved prevent any kind of just resolution (if resolution indeed exists) I just don’t think that it is helpful for a bunch of religious fanatics who live in comparative luxury in the US to act as cheerleaders for a government that oppresses people as rigorously as do the Israelis. While I certainly support Israel’s right to exist as a nation, I don’t think that their actions in recent years have been all that productive in terms of managing conflict with Palestinian hard-liners. I, personally, don’t much care about the Eschatological issues mentioned above, mainly because Eschatology is steeped in metaphor and symbolism: everyone who has tried a “literal” approach to it has been sorely disappointed. What is even worse, now, in my view, is that Christian Zionists are making the conflict in Israel worse. I know my views are subject to being labeled “anti-semitic,” but I think that there are probably some Jewish people out there who share them. My only wish for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is some sort of peaceful and just resolution to end the violence. Let’s forget the silly Eschatology.

      2
  6. Avatar
    godspell  January 16, 2016

    This modern support for Israel among evangelical Christians has a lot of angles to it, including a growing hatred for Islam, and a link-up with the now-fading neo-conservative movement that saw Israel as a crucial ally in the Middle East. It’s political as much as religious, and partly motivated by the desire to win Jewish votes for conservative candidates (in the main, that has proven to be a failed tactic).

    Also, any Christian might want to visit the Holy Land, walk where Moses and Jesus walked, and good relations with the people who now control that territory makes sense. It’s also good for Israel’s tourism industry. One can imagine them rolling their eyes a bit at the things these people believe, but their money is still good.

    But yes, the apocalyptic angle is very strong here, and not so new either. It’s a very old idea that in order for the Apocalypse to come, the Jews need to convert to Christianity. There’s a line in Andrew Marvell’s great poem “To His Coy Mistress” where he tells a young woman he’s trying to seduce that “And you should, if you please, refuse, till the conversion of the Jews”–meaning that if they were both immortal, he’d gladly wait until the end of the world for her, but since they’re both going to grow old and die, they’d better hop to it. All of his readers would have understood what he meant.

    You can support Israel and still be anti-semitic, strange as that sounds. But I would say that a lot of the bigotry that used to be directed at Jewish people has now redirected towards Muslims. Jews are seen as the lesser evil. But as Ted Cruz’s attack on Donald Trump at the debate on Thursday shows, there’s still an underying current of dislike for the perceived values of American Jews in urban areas–liberalism, tolerance, education, cosmopolitanism, pluralism. Those bastards. 😉

  7. Robert
    Robert  January 16, 2016

    Despite the purposeful anachronism, I wonder if anyone has ever discussed the forged letters of 1 and 2 Peter as the earliest examples of ‘papal encyclicals’ by someone thinking of himself as the successor of Peter. I know the papacy developed over many centuries, and the idea of the successor of Peter is largely a pious fraud, but maybe it started with one of these forgeries.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2016

      I think not so much, since no one who sees these letters as forgeries imagines that Peter was actually the first pope! (Or was thought to be that early)

      • Robert
        Robert  January 18, 2016

        It would only have been the original forger who might have thought of himself, or at least wanted others to think of his views, as having Petrine authority.

  8. talmoore
    talmoore  January 16, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, as an Israeli myself, I often get the sense from conservative christians that I’m like a duckbill platypus–that is, a very odd, very rare creature that evokes wonder and curiosity. It seems like evangelical christians are so invested in the tales of the Bible that when they meet an actual Israelite it’s as if they’re like an ancient Athenian seeing an actual Trojan. To an evangelical christian an Israeli is like a character popping out of the pages of the Bible, just as to the Athenian the Trojan is a character popping out of the pages of the Illiad.

  9. Avatar
    Pegill7  January 16, 2016

    In regard to the matter of why many fundamentalists are pro- Israel, isn’t there some notion that Christ will not come again until 144,000 Jews are converted to Christianity (144,000 comes up several times in Biblical contexts)? Therefore, the more Jews there are the larger the pool for converts to be drawn from. Isn’t this one of the ideas behind “Jews for Jesus”?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2016

      Are you referring to the 144,000 virgins in the book of Revelation? I’m not familiar with the idea that 144,000 Jews would convert.

      • Robert
        Robert  January 18, 2016

        Are the 144,000 in Rev 7,4 14,1 virgins?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 19, 2016

          Ha! I must have been thinking of something else! Serves me right for not looking it up!

          • Robert
            Robert  January 20, 2016

            Oh how the mighty have fallen from their fundamentalist days!

  10. Avatar
    paul c  January 16, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman,

    An unabashed discussion of method! There are those of us who really are interested in the historiogarphy.

    Thanks.

  11. Avatar
    flshrP  January 16, 2016

    Re: Christian support for the state of Israel: I think the Holocaust photos that were put in the public domain at the end of WWII explains this for many, if not most, Christians. The horror of these images were enough to trigger support for Israel. A smaller subset of Christians, who took an interest in the history of anti-Semitism ( a filthy doctrine based on 19th century racial nonsense) and Christian anti-Jewishness (starting with Paul, the Gospel of John, and early churchmen such as John Chrysostom, Melito of Sardis, Augustine, and later ones like Thomas Aquinas, and a host of others too numerous to mention), came to realize the culpability of Christianity for the horrors of the Holocaust. They would have learned that pre-war anti-Semitism was endemic to Catholic Christian countries (Poland, Austria, Croatia) and in Orthodox Christian Russia. This burden of guilt produced more Christian support for Israel.

  12. Avatar
    Jim  January 16, 2016

    I’ve been waiting for the moment where this question could have at least some remote connection – and today’s question #1 might just be that moment. Prof Jodi Magnus in her “Jesus and His Jewish Influences” Great Course mentions that Galilee had been Judaized by the Hasmoneans about a century before Jesus’ birth. That would imply that by Jesus’ time, the population of Galilee was made up of people of natural Judean descent along with people whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Judaism by the Hasmoneans.

    Is it possible then, that Jesus’ family might not even have been actual descendants of Judah, but possibly were descendants of those who were forcibly converted to Judaism sometime during the century prior to his birth? (Maybe gospel writers Matt and/or Luke were trying to establish two fronts; that Jesus was *both* a descendant of Judah and more specifically of Davidic lineage?).

    And if it ever did turn out that Jesus wasn’t an actual descendant of Judah (although I don’t know how we could ever know that, but …), would that affect the pro-Israelite stance of Christians? Again, both questions are mega-speculatory, but without speculating, life sometimes becomes … well … non-speculatory and orthodox.

  13. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 16, 2016

    I stopped being any kind of Christian a long time ago. But I was very favorably impressed when a group of Catholic bishops visited Israel *and* the Palestinian region last year, and the representative from my area (a Bishop Emeritus who’d been required to retire because of his age) spoke very sympathetically about the plight of the Palestinians. I think the Pope also shows equal concern for the Israelis and the Palestinians – though these religious figures tend to urge “peace” without acknowledging the need for *justice*.

    Would that my state’s Catholic *Governor* were so even-handed! I have no objection to his *personally* supporting Israel. But when he seemed to be pledging the *state’s* alliance with Israel, I decided I’ll never vote for him again.

    1
  14. Avatar
    Cristian  January 16, 2016

    Bart, has that Mark MS been published? Do you have any update on that?

  15. Avatar
    uziteaches  January 16, 2016

    Bart, the idea that Christians are pro-Israel because of the Christian end-time considerations you mentioned (the need to have the Temple rebuilt) may be true for some Christians. But for many who are pro-Israel, it is because they truly believe that God will bless those who bless the Jews (Genesis 12:3), and that the Jewish people are the apple of God’s eye, and that Christians owe to the Jews a debt of gratitude for bringing God’s word into the world, and reasons such as that. Pastor John Hagee and the group he founded, Christians United For Israel (CUFI) are examples of that. And that latter group of Christians would protest furiously if it were claimed that their motives are related to Christian end-time theology.
    Uzi Weingarten

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2016

      Yes, that’s part of it too. WHich makes it even more surprising how anti-Jewish (and even anti-semitic) so many Christians are!

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  January 22, 2016

      Genesis 12:3 is God speaking to Abraham who, like Job, was not a Jew and who became the father of Israel and of Arabs. So which is the great nation? Israel since only it is referred to as a nation? Or the much more numerous Arab people?

    • Avatar
      Omar6741  January 24, 2016

      “But for many who are pro-Israel, it is because they truly believe that God will bless those who bless the Jews (Genesis 12:3), and that the Jewish people are the apple of God’s eye,”

      Why do you think this idea was ignored by Christians until *this* century? They hadn’t read Genesis 12:3 till now?

      • Bart
        Bart  January 25, 2016

        Well, I wouldn’t say it was *universally* ignored (any more than it is universally followed today)! But yup, I get your point!

  16. Avatar
    Jimmy  January 17, 2016

    Hi Bart, I have a question about sources outside of the new testament that contradict the gospels. For example the census that takes place in Luke. One of the reasons that scholars doubt that that census took place is because it contradicts what Josephus says about it. I have heard some responses that say maybe Josephus may have gotten some of the details wrong so the apparent contradictions are not really a contradiction. I think they are opening a whole can of worms that they are not prepared to deal with. Should we take the gospels and Paul as more reliable sources since they are closer to the events than later sources such as Josephus and other historians?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2016

      Yes, this is an important point. Historians don’t trust Josephus any more than any other ancient source — he too needs to be used critically. The Gospels are not given special treatment in this way. (But there are other sources besides Josphus that also confirm that Quirinius was not the governor of Syria when Herod was the King of Israel)

      • Avatar
        rolmeda  January 22, 2016

        Could you elaborate on that last sentence, or show where you have elaborated on it in the past?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 24, 2016

          Tacitus and Josephus also give us grounds for dating Quirinius’s governorship to 6 CE.

  17. Avatar
    dragonfly  January 17, 2016

    My partner has told me some stories about what she learnt as a child in sunday school. How you get to go to heaven when you die (or when Jesus comes back, which ever happens first) is, as you would expect, you pray some prayer and ask Jesus into your heart. But what I found interesting is there were extra loopholes. If your spouse is saved, you are automatically saved too. And the strange one is that the Jews are automatically saved. I’ve never heard that idea from a christian (or anyone) before. I’d be interested to know if anyone else has.

  18. Avatar
    Jayredinger  January 17, 2016

    Hi Bart, are you familiar with Richard Bauckham and his book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”? Are any of his views those of mainstream Biblical scholarship? What do you make of his arguments?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2016

      Yes, I deal with it in my next book Jesus Before the Gospels. I wholeheartedly disagree with Bauckham on lots of issues!

  19. Avatar
    Stephen  January 17, 2016

    Prof Ehrman

    Do you think the Israelis who welcome the support of the Religious Right in this country realize that in the “End Times” they expect the vast majority of Jews to be murdered and the remnant converted to Christianity?

    thx

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2016

      Probably not! I’m not sure.

    • Avatar
      Kirktrumb59  January 19, 2016

      Whether-or-not those Israelis realize it, that’s what would happen.

  20. Avatar
    jgranade  January 18, 2016

    “Conservative Christians are ultimately pro-Israel because they only way for the Christian eschatology to work out is if Israel overcomes its enemies and establishes itself as dominant in the Middle East.” I have heard this argument many times, mainly from right-wing Republicans. In fact, Paul Broun, the former Congressman from my district in Athens, Georgia (to my embarrassment) said that the US should support Israel because God promised Abraham that he would curse Abraham’s enemies. Athens is a liberal college town, but because of gerrymandering, Athens was split in half, absorbed into two conservative districts.

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