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Who Is Really God?

This is how my chapter 2 of How Jesus Became God starts, in the current draft.


When I first started my teaching career in the mid 1980s I was offered an adjunct position at Rutgers University. My teaching load was three courses a semester. The tenured faculty taught three courses as well, and were, of course, considered full time. But since I was only an adjunct, my three courses were considered part time. You just have to love university administrations: since I was part time, they did not have to provide a decent salary or benefits. To make ends meet, I worked other jobs, including one at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.

There was a long-term project under way there called the Princeton Epigraphy Project. It involved collecting, cataloguing, and entering onto a computer data base all of the inscriptions (writings carved on stone) in major urban centers throughout the ancient Mediterranean. These then were eventually published in separate volumes for each location. I was the research grunt for the person in charge, who, unlike me, was a highly trained classicist who could read inscriptions like the newspaper. I had the job of doing all the dirty work of entering and editing the inscriptions. One of the localities that I had responsibility for was the ancient city of Priene, on the west coast of Turkey. I had never even heard of Priene before that, but I collected and catalogued all the inscriptions that had ever been found and previously published from there.

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The Jewish King as God
Gods Who (Apparently) Become Human



  1. Avatar
    larafakhouri  March 19, 2013

    You might be right but it is not a solid argument. Ceasar had an army and was powerful, Jesus was not.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 22, 2013

      Jesus’ followers inthe first century disagreed with you. His army is heavenly and it’s gonna wipe out Caesar’s!

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      Isa  September 22, 2015

      Interesting, Moses was made into/like a god/God to the pharaoh who was clearly considered a god by the Egyptians. Perhaps the precedent for Jesus was biblical! We also shouldn’t forget that Philo, considered Moses a god and King, as well as “the unspoken logos” or “reason” (and Aaron, the manifest logos or speech). The gospel of John who sees Jesus as a King like Moses and logos, simply follows a “monotheistic” Jew, when unashamedly calls Jesus god.

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    hwl  March 20, 2013

    The blinding “revelation” you received at ruins of ancient Priene seems to have provided you with insights other scholars of 1st century christology have overlooked. Do you plan to publish your revelation in journals?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 22, 2013

      Nah. I’ll tell them to read the trade book. 🙂

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        dallaswolf  March 22, 2013

        Too funny…

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        bamurray  March 24, 2013

        I *would* be interested to know if this is also a view of (some?) other mainstream scholars. Is this a new path that you are blazing, or are you converting to a view already held by others?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  March 25, 2013

          Well, there are few things in early Christainity that are completely new ideas to scholars. But a lot of what I’.ll be writing is based on new views that I’ve developed through my research.

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            bamurray  March 26, 2013

            Great! I’ll definitely have to buy the book, then!

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            Rosekeister  July 18, 2014

            “Well, there are few things in early Christianity that are completely new ideas to scholars.”

            One of the funniest things in my reading of NT studies is that I’ve had many completely original ideas (in the sense that I haven’t seen them elsewhere) only to find the ideas aren’t original and have long histories in the world of NT scholarship. Now when I get “original” ideas I start Googling or checking Amazon to find who actually had the idea and how it has been argued, accepted or ignored. It really makes you appreciate the scholars that have actual original ideas.

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    Adam0685  March 20, 2013

    oh the suspense!

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    toddfrederick  March 20, 2013

    Tell us more!!!

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    billgraham1961  March 20, 2013

    I love it. Keep it coming!

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    Christian  March 20, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this with us. It is a rare privilege to be able to follow so intimately the process of writing a book.

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    Xeronimo74  March 20, 2013

    The parallels, and differences, between the cult of Augustus, son of (a) god and the cult of Jesus, son of god are fascinating indeed!

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    RonaldTaska  March 20, 2013

    Terrific start. I like the way it blends your personal experience with the ancient history of emperors being called divine. It makes it all more readable for the Barnes and Noble crowd of which I am a member,

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    DMiller5842  March 21, 2013

    Wasn’t Augustus known as the “Son of God” since Julius was declared God by the Roman Senate?

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    DMiller5842  March 21, 2013

    I am so confused… I thought the Jews (early or ever) did not accept Jesus as God or even Son of God.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 22, 2013

      Well some Jews obviously did (the disciples and Paul and their Jewish converts, e.g.); but most didn’t. What are you confused about?

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        Mhamed Errifi  January 25, 2015

        You said the disciple believed jesus was god this quote : Well some Jews obviously did (the disciples and Paul and their Jewish converts, e.g.); but most didn’t.

        this is my argument about that i used judad

        judah iscariot did not believe that jesus was god the proof is nobody will participate in conspiracy to kill god because god would know about the conspiracy and you will get exposed. God can know what ran in your mind before you carry out your decision he does not need spy or cia to inform him about your plan every jew in first century know that so the fact of the matter that judah went ahead and sold jesus because he knew that jesus will not be aware of his plan hence he did not regard him as god 

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  June 30, 2016

        But wouldn’t these Jews have meant a non-literal “son of God,” similar to how they’d seen David, the anointed one, as son of God? He would have been viewed more like one favored by God….an adopted son of God, wouldn’t he?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 30, 2016

          I suppose it depends on which Jews we’re talking about.

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    DMiller5842  March 21, 2013

    “In the Greco- Roman world, the vast majority of people believed that life was controlled by innumerable divine forces. To ensure a happy life, these divinities had to be appeased through sacrifice and other acts of devotion. Some gods remained aloof from human beings; others intervened directly in everyday affairs. Even human beings could manifest different levels of divinity. Military and athletic heroes and exceptional rulers were acclaimed as gods posthumously, and sometimes while still alive.
    …. It is not surprising that after his death the followers of Jesus struggled with the connection between their leader and God. Given his accomplishments, it is natural that the Jesus movement came to understand Jesus as a son of God, and eventually as God incarnate. But although the faith in Jesus developed in the polytheistic Roman world, its roots were firmly planted in Jewish monotheism. Calling Jesus, “God” then raised significant questions about how there could be more than one god. For centuries there were many attempts to resolve this issue, until the Council of Nicea in 325CE developed a credal formulation and declared all of the others heretical.”

    Michael D. Coogan, ed. The Oxford History of the Biblical World”.New York: Oxford University Press, 1998

    I would like to know more about the attempts to resolve the issue and who you think were/ or was the first to call Jesus the son of God or God?

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    Dennis  March 22, 2013

    But what did Dale think?

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    dallaswolf  March 22, 2013

    Bart, the early High Christology of the poem of Philippians 2 and the prologue to John’s Gospel seem to make a nice evolution to, and expansion of, the Logos tradition of the Stoics and Philo. John’s revelations were to persoanlize the Logos and incarnate him as Jesus. That plays right into the development of the mystery of the Trinity in the third and fourth centuries which addressed the monotheistic problem.
    Do you think that the development of the first century High Christology cited above was geographical (e.g., Alexandria or Antioch), philosophical (e.g., Stoic), cultural (e.g., Hellenized Jews), or some other factor or combination of factors?

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    Bonnie-Joy  March 26, 2013

    It doesn’t seem surprising to me that Jesus was identified as ‘G-d’ by his gentile followers. It doesn’t even seem extraordinary since the religious understanding for people embodied in that age included a cadre of “divine men’ who seemingly shared the unique characteristic of having one parent that was human and the other a deity. Seems perfectly normal to me that Jesus’ followers would use the ideas and notions already accepted by the people they were attempting to proselytize into the emerging Jesus sect in order to validate the one who they themselves and chosen to follow. They first had to convince others about who Jesus was before they could instruct them in the ways of a new way of life in the novel “Kingdom of G-d”.

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    tawfiq  April 6, 2013

    Was Second Temple Judaism an expression of Monotheism, Monolatrism or Henotheism? Subtle, but important distinctions. I am sure you are familiar with the work of Professor Mark S. Smith (Ancient Near East Studies, New York University) The Early History of God (ISBN-10: 080283972X) and The Origins of Biblical Monotheism (ISBN-10: 0195167686).

    One can examine the fundamental articles of faith which are considered the essence of the three Abrahamic religions. What can be seen in the first of the Ten Commandments: ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ which does not deny the existence of other gods but only commands that the no other gods are to be worshipped before God. In the Christian traditions and the Nicene Creed the confession is ‘We believe in One God, …’ which only requires that We, the confessors, believe in the one God and not that there is only one God. Islam’s confession of faith, the Shahada, reads:
    لَا إِلَّهَ إِلَّا الله

    ‘There is no god but God’ which is emphatic, unambiguous and universal and it may be argued that it is the only truly monotheistic confession.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 7, 2013

      I’m not sure there *was* a monolithic form of 2nd Temple Judaism; different Jews had different beliefs….

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        tawfiq  April 7, 2013

        The Romans had deified the assassinated Julius Caesar on the 1 January 42 BC; Octavian (63 BCE – 14 CE), as the adoptive son of Caesar, assumed the title of Divi Filius (son of a god), Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus.
        The use of the term “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον) seems to echo directly the “good news” of Roman imperial propaganda (the Priene Calendar Inscription, ca 9 BCE). One has to ask is it such a big leap to make from Divi Filius to Dei Filius for the King of the Jews?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2013

          In Michael Peppard’s book on the Son of God in the Roman World he argues that the terms are interchangeable.

          • Avatar
            tawfiq  April 10, 2013

            Very interesting..
            Graham Stanton was very cautious in The Gospels and Jesus and did not seek to draw explicit conclusions from his detailed observations about the Roman Imperial cult in the Eastern Mediterranean world in the first half century of the Common Era.

            Assimilation and differentiation are powerful forces in the evolution of theology be it Judaism from Canaanite, Mesopotamian and Egyptian religions or Christianity from Judaism and the Greco-Roman religions. Syncretism has always been a very sensitive subject for the revealed Abrahamic faiths, the claims to Truth requires the denial of any antecedence.

    • Avatar
      Mhamed Errifi  January 25, 2015

      There is no god but God’

      wrong translation
      There is no god but Allah

      Allah is personal name of God and names cant be translated just your name tawfiq which mean success you never translated
      if i want to say my god in arabic i will not use the word allah on the other hand english man would use the same word God

      the word god or God in arabic is Elah just take a look the shahada in arabic and you will se the word إِلَّهَ

      and thats the word i will use and so anybody who speak arabic regardless of his faith if he want to say my god in arabic

      • Avatar
        MMahmud  January 1, 2016

        There is linguistic evidence for both-that it is a contraction “the God” and also a personal name.(Nouman Ali Khan explains this)
        Ultimately, today it is a personal name but that doesn’t mean it is unrelated to the word ilah.

        • Avatar
          Mhamed Errifi  January 11, 2016

          Nouman Ali Khan does not know Arabic as much as I do

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    sawalsh07  April 8, 2013

    An off-topic follow up on the last comment, could you suggest any recommended reading or authors on Old Testament literature and/or 2nd Temple Judaism that present information in a similar fashion to you? In other words I’m looking for an OT version of you to read. Thanks! -Steve

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

      I like the Introductions to the OT/Hebrew Bible by Michael Coogan and by John Collins

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    Xeronimo74  July 2, 2013

    Bart, I’m just wondering: if ‘Luke’ thought that Jesus was God (in whatever sense) then why didn’t he write, for example in Luke 1:35 “Therefore the child to be born will be divine; he will be called the Second Person of the Trinity and actually be YHWH himself”? Instead of only claiming that the child was ‘holy’ and the ‘son of God’?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 3, 2013

      Because he did not know about the doctrine of the Trinity and did not think that Jesus was Yahweh. He was divine in a *different* sense from that.

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  July 3, 2013

        But if Matthew thought Jesus was divine ‘in some sense’ then why didn’t he write “Therefore the child to be born will be divine?” Why does he leave it at the lesser ‘holy’? ‘holy’ does not suggest ‘divine’ (in whatever sense), right?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 4, 2013

          I’m not sure which passage you’re referring to.

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  July 4, 2013

            I’m sorry … I meant Luke, of course. Not Matthew. I was still referring to Luke 1:35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be **holy**; he will be called the **Son** of God.

            So if Luke thought that Jesus actually was divine (in whatever or a ‘different’ sense) then why didn’t he describe the child there as ‘divine’ then (instead of just ‘holy’) and why didn’t he refer to the child as ‘God’ (instead of just the ‘son’ of God)?

            What is the evidence then that Luke thought Jesus was divine or God?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  July 5, 2013

            There are numerous ways ancient people could describe “divine beings.” “Son of God” is one of them. Not every divine being was a member of the Trinity!

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  July 8, 2013

            Ok, fair enough. But does ‘holy’ imply ‘divine’? If not then why assume that Luke thought Jesus was divine (in whatever form) when he only refers to him as holy? I hope you get the nuance I’m trying to convey …

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  July 9, 2013

            Luke thought that Jesus was literally God’s child (God made his mother pregnant); and at the end of his life he ascended to live with God in the heavenly realm. For ancient people, both factors would show that Jesus was divine.

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  July 10, 2013

            Ok. Yet why hasn’t he say the angel then that the child will be ‘divine’? Why only ‘holy’?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  July 10, 2013

            He’s called “the son of God.” That means divine.

          • Avatar
            jill_m  December 11, 2013

            I am intending to reply at the end of the thread, after Dr. Ehrman wrote, “Luke thought that Jesus was literally God’s child (God made his mother pregnant); and at the end of his life he ascended to live with God in the heavenly realm.”

            This had me think of the many Greek myths (and then Roman) myths about the many children that Zeus (Jupiter) had with various human females. Would the early Christians have known of these, and have been influenced by them, incorporating the concept into the early religion in order to more effectively ‘legitimize’ Jesus’ stature?

            (Please excuse if this topic has already been covered elsewhere! This is the first thread I am reading on this very interesting site! Thanks!)

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  December 12, 2013

            Yes, I deal with this question in some my books — espeically the one coming out on How Jesus Became God (and in a different way in Did Jesus Exist). But yes, the myths and legends of other divine humans did influence how Christians talked about Jesus.

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    Steefen  December 1, 2013

    Julius Caesar is not Jupiter or greater than Jupiter.
    Caesar Octavian Augustus is not Jupiter or greater than Jupiter.
    I am unable to think Caligula and Nero were up for the Mount Rushmore of Caesars as Gods.
    Julius Caesar and Caesar Octavian Augustus were not Sol Invictus or greater than Sol Invictus.
    Julius Caesar and Caesar Octavian Augustus did not create the nebula from which the Sun was created.
    Julius Caesar and Caesar Octavian Augustus did not create the Earth or one species of animal.
    Virgil has compared Octavian with the founder of Rome in the Aenid.
    An emperor cannot be deified as high as Mother Earth or Creator Sun, creator of its Planets.
    However, Jesus is shot higher than the founding of a country-empire–shot beyond Augustus and Caesar.
    Jesus could not even win the Jewish Revolt.
    Jesus is hardly greater than Herod the Great with respect to building beautiful cities and temples.
    Josephus got Titus to take a man down from the cross. That man survived crucifixion. Without earthly laurels, Jesus becomes the Osirian Lord of the Resurrection.

    On another point, yes, Salvation is iconic in the human experience, but Jesus did not save Jerusalem, he didn’t save the Temple. The starvation and the horror at the Temple before Titus’ final attack required a Savior. Where was the Son of Man then? To my knowledge, there was never supposed to be a Post-Temple Son of Man.

    Even if we go with the idea that one of the composite characters of the biblical Mary and Jesus, Mother and Child is Queen Helena and King Izates who DID save Jerusalem from a famine, that’s like a losing football score of 105 to 7 (15 touchdowns and field goals) to one.
    Combine that with taking a man down from the cross before he is so dead he’s beyond having a Near Death Experience and we give Jesus the right to STEAL Lord of the Resurrection from the Osiris cult, you still do not have Jesus as equal to God.

    Fine. immortalizing Paul-Josephus’ achievement of getting Titus to give him permission to revive Jesus mythologizes Jesus beyond a Julius or an Octavian but Hades (brother of Zeus, not the place) was no Jupiter, Zeus, Athena, or Cronus. So, Christianity is not the highest plateau of theology. Sorry.

  19. Avatar
    Mohammad Khan  January 4, 2014

    Sir Ehrman wrote,
    “I decided then and there to reconceptualize my book, and you are reading the result. But an obvious problem also hit me, on the spot. The first Christians who started speaking about Jesus as divine were not pagans from Priene. They were Jews from Palestine.”

    Although it gives a proposition to think that how could first century “Jews” treat Jesus (p) as “God”, yet is it really substantial a notion, because:

    (i) It were the “Jews” who had just witnessed loads of miracles which helped them escape the tyranny of Pharoah and, add to it, they were under the direct tutelege of two of the most powerful “Jewish” prophets – Moses and Aaron (peace be upon them), yet they slipped into polytheism; they worshipped or should I say, deified, a mere heifer for worship as their “God”! (How much more would be the susceptance to deify Jesus (p)!)

    (ii) In fact the Hebrew Bible even imputes that some of the hard core “monotheistic” biblical prophets lapsed into blatant idolatry; biblical Solomon for instance who was fooled by his wive(s). If this is the situation with the monotheistic prophets, then we can gauge the monotheistic endurance of first century Jews most of whom were mere fishermen and other everyday workers!

    Thus, humbly, I believe that deifying Jesus (p) is as probable a proposition with first century Jews as could have been with pagan converts into Christianity back then.

  20. Avatar
    jeremiahsvoice  February 5, 2014

    Bart is probably correct when he says that it was in opposition to the deifying of the Ceasar why they deified Jesus. How they did it is an even interesting question, that is, if the first century followers really deified Jesus. I would put it forth that even they, the first century followers and later ones like Paul, did not deify Jesus. In the light of unavailable evidence, it is not wrong to assume that it was added later by the Christianized Roman Church scribes and propagated by the Church Fathers.

    Unfortunately they left a trail of breadcrumbs to follow which leads you to see the fallacy being perpetrated. That is; they used a tactic which is still today the most widely used of all to make converts, “Quoting out of context”.

    Studying the quotatiions of NT writers of OT scripture to give authority to their claims of Jesus’ live, divinity or pupose, you find that it is contextually lacking evidence. My opinion is that in a time of mass illiteracy and without mass reproduction of holy writ, it is plausible that men took advantage of it to start a religion that would benefit the leaders, especially since Rome acccepted the new cult of christianity and later embraced it as the national religion.

    A religion that is state sanctioned has a greater chance of survival than a cult suppressed by the authorities.

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