17 votes, average: 5.00 out of 517 votes, average: 5.00 out of 517 votes, average: 5.00 out of 517 votes, average: 5.00 out of 517 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (17 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.
Loading...

Why Do Christians Have an Old Testament? Another Trade Book.

This blog post is available to anyone in the universe, free of charge.  I provide five posts a week on the blog, but to have access to the others, you need to be a blog member.  Joining is easy and inexpensive.  I charge a fee in order to raise money for charity, giving every penny to help those who are poor, homeless, and in need.  So why not join and get full-access?  You’ll get lots for your money and the money all goes to good causes.

A month or so ago I posted a series of blogs about the next trade book I’m hoping to write, which I’m tentatively calling “Expecting Armageddon.”   As I explained then, when I decide what I want to write next, I do a lot of preliminary research to get my ideas together and then write up a kind of overview statement about why I’m interested in the topic, what I imagine the book would cover, why I think it’s both interesting and important, and how I would probably structure it (at least how I’m imagining I would – the end product is never what I anticipate at the outset).  This kind of overview statement to myself ends up being the basis for what I send to my publisher as a Prospectus.

The publisher takes the Prospectus, mulls it over, talks about it among themselves, and then decides whether they want to offer a contract on the book.  If not, I take it somewhere else.  If they do, then we enter into negotiations about the terms of the contract (the advance on royalties, etc.).

When I moved over to Simon & Schuster as my publisher a few years ago (from Harper where I had been before), my agent and I negotiated a two-book deal.    The first was The Triumph of Christianity and the second was a book-to-be-named-later.   (I actually wrote up a detailed Prospectus for a second book, which I really liked; but, well, they weren’t so sure about it.  So we decided to decide later and they gave me a contract without knowing what it would be.  When it came time to get serious about it, we hashed it out to our mutual agreement, and it is the book now in press, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife).

We are thinking about proposing a two-book deal again this time.  One reason I like that is that it allows me to be thinking about the second book for a couple of years before actually getting into the hard-core preparation/research for it full time.   The ideas percolate better that way.

And so for the second book of this possible two-book deal I would return to the idea I’ve had for years, dealing with the question, in short, of why Christians have the Old Testament.  In effect, Christians early on claimed that the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the Hebrew Bible) belonged to them and not to the Jews.   That can be seen as ironic, since Christians who took the Bible as theirs did not follow the laws, customs, rituals, and festivals required in these books.   And so my questions are: why did they insist on having them as part of their Scripture a set of books they chose not to follow and how did the Christian insistence that the Old Testament was Christian rather than Jewish affect the Christians’ relationship with non-Christian Jews who insisted that no, the Hebrew Bible was their Scripture, not the Christians’?

It’s a complicated set of questions, which I’ve blogged about before.  But now that I have achieved some clarity on where I’d like the book to go, I thought I might lay out my thoughts here, in the terms I have laid them out to myself, prior to sending in a Prospectus.  So I’d welcome feedback.  This will take a number of posts.  Here’s how I’m imagining the initial lead-in:

 

************************************************************

 

In the summer of 1994 I was invited to be a speaker at the annual conference of the B-ai B’rith Institute of Judaism, held at the Wildacres Retreat Center in western North Carolina.   The week-long conference normally hosts three speakers to address various issues of interest to its Jewish attendees, in areas related to history, political science, literature, religion, and so on.   Most speakers are Jewish, but the organizers thought it might be interesting to have a non-Jew with historical expertise talk about the ancient history of Jewish-Christian relations, from the beginnings of Christianity up to the fourth century.

This was a topic I had long been interested in, but my teaching and lecturing on the matter had always been to audiences that were predominantly Christian (by upbringing or confession).   Most of the attendees at the conference, nearly all of them well-educated professionals, had only a vague knowledge of the New Testament including, in particular, the writings of Paul, and almost no understanding at all about what transpired in Jewish-Christian relations in the three or four centuries that followed.   Just about everything I told them was news.

For me that made it an exciting week.  But even more interesting were the reactions I received when people began to realize I wasn’t Jewish (it had not been advertised).   Once that happened, I started hearing the stories.  The most moving had to do with what it was like to grow up Jewish in the South.  It wasn’t good. Two of the elderly attendees told me, separately, that when they were in grade school, classmates asked them to show them their horns.

The history of “Jews have horns,” is long and complex.  Though possibly not widely known, it almost certainly has its roots in the New Testament.  In John chapter 8, Jesus is addressing his enemies, called, remarkably enough, simply “the Jews,” and he informs them that since they have rejected him, they are not children of God but “children of the Devil.”   If the devil has horns, so too, apparently, his offspring.

But doesn’t the Bible show that the Jewish people are the people of God?  The Chosen Ones?    How then did they become the progeny of Satan?

The answers lie in the Christian tradition even before the writing of the New Testament, in the novel ways the followers of Jesus, soon after his death, began to interpret the Jewish Scriptures.  This is the short story:  the earliest followers of Jesus thought Jesus had been predicted by the Hebrew prophets, and Jews who rejected him rejected both the Bible and the God who inspired it.   Non-Christian Jews practiced a false religion.

As a strange corollary, as the Christian movement grew, it began to acquire far more gentile believers than Jewish.   These gentiles saw no reason at all to become Jewish in order to follow Jesus, and as a result, they opted not to adopt Jewish customs and follow the Jewish law – a law that occupies the central place in the Bible.   These gentile Christians often looked upon the non-Christian Jews as following an obsolete religion that was no longer relevant.  And yet they retained the Scripture of the Jews (including its laws) and began to call it the Old Testament, claiming it was theirs.   And theirs only.  It was not a Jewish book.   This was not simply a benign theological view with no social implications.  It led to harsh antagonism between Jews and Christians that eventuated in anti-Semitic slander and violence that has characterized much of Western history for the past two millennia.

 


Is the Old Testament a Christian Book?
Interview for “Letters & Politics” on The Triumph of Christianity

89

Comments

  1. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  June 2, 2019

    What a treat to spend time among a host of jewish oldtimers! Some of my fondest memories of older people ‘telling me what’ have been older jewish folk – lovely stories, lovely senses of humour. ‘From your lips to God’s ears’ they would say to me when I said something they liked!

  2. Avatar
    dscottwoodruff  June 2, 2019

    Hello, I am new to the blog but have been enjoying your lectures on Youtube for sometime.

    Is the reference in 2 Peter 3:15-16 actually equating Paul’s letters to the same scriptural standing as the OT or is this a misunderstanding of the text? Also when did the early Christians begin thinking of their leaders’ writings as being scripture? Hope these questions make sense.
    Best,
    David

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      Yup, they make sense indeed. Yes, that does seem to be how the author of 2 Peter is understanding Paul’s letters — on a par with Scripture. This is the earliest evidence of the idea; eventually it would lead to the formation of a collection of Christian writings into a “New” Testament.

  3. Avatar
    godspell  June 2, 2019

    It seems self-evident to me that anti-semitism would have occurred regardless, as prejudice against minorities who are not Jewish has taken hold all over the world–it is in the nature of humans to misunderstand and even attack those who are different, those who stand apart, those who (in some cases) are seen to do a little better, or a little worse. I’m afraid it’s our evolutionary history that is most at fault, but religion is also an expression of our evolutionary history, as well as an attempt to overcome its worst effects.

    None of this erases the crime of Christian anti-semitism, which until the time of the Anti-Christian Nazis (most of whom had been raised Christian, but turned increasingly towards a blend of paganism and nihilism), was far worse than that of anyone else–Muslims often behaved more respectfully towards Jews. Voltaire (who attacked the power of the Catholic Church, rejected organized religion as a whole) was deeply anti-semitic, due to bad experiences with Jewish money lenders.

    It was a lot more complex than just taking ancient texts literally. The texts, as interpreted, simply reinforced something that came from people of different backgrounds rubbing up against each other and forming false impressions.

    There was nothing in the Old Testament against Samaritans–where did the Jewish prejudice against them come from? Jesus was reportedly reviled for associating with them.

    The contagion of ethnic and religious prejudice (including anti-religious prejudice) is a pandemic, impacting all humans. We are each responsible for examining all instances of our disliking a particular group, and asking where this feeeling comes from. Invariably, it comes from ourselves. It comes from our not knowing who we are, and looking for someone else to blame for our own self-inflicted wounds. Or, in some cases, those in power manipulating us to hate some minority, so we won’t turn on them. The fault is in ourselves, that we are underlings.

    A book belongs to anyone who wants to read it. But the Old Testament, as we now call it, is an expression of the Jewish experience, and that is also self-evident. To anyone who doesn’t blind him or herself to it.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      The problem is that prior to Christianity there was no such thing as opposition (let alone violence) to Jews simply for being Jewish; seems weird, but anti-semitism appears to have distinctively Christian roots.

      • Avatar
        godspell  June 3, 2019

        First of all, the term ‘anti-semitism’ was coined in the late 19th century, so its use in this context is anachronistic. The term refers to a racial animus against European Jews, shared by many who are not terribly religious themselves (in many cases anti-religious), which ultimately bore fruit in the Holocaust. You can find hints of it in earlier periods, but as a general rule, there was a feeling that Jews who converted were no longer alien, and could intermarry without prejudice (I’m not saying this makes it okay).. The original Christians were ethnically identical or similar to Middle Eastern Jews, so there was no basis for an ethnic animus until Christianity had spread to places like Northern Europe. (In point of fact the Crusaders were also deeply biased against Eastern Christians, many of whom were slaughtered along with Jews and Muslims when Jerusalem fell in 1099–as I recall, Constantinople was also sacked.)

        We’ve seen ethnic cleansing, genocide, in places that don’t have the gospels as a motivator in any way. We’ve seen antisemitism in places like Japan that have very few Christians. I find it improbable that antisemitism in the modern sense wouldn’t have occurred without Christianity. I find it difficult to imagine a timeline in which Judaism, with its extremely potent ideas, wouldn’t have mutated into other religions that would later develop what might be called an Oedipal complex.

        Antipathy between Christians and Jews due to religious differences requires Christianity to have come into being. Christianity itself requires Judaism to have come into being. Sometimes the argument I’m hearing from some atheists (not you) is along the lines of “Christianity is at fault for antisemitism, but of course Judaism is just as bad as Christianity and should likewise be abandoned.” It seems unlikely Jews could maintain a separate identity longterm without some form of Judaism surviving.

        We use whatever pretext we have to hand. Jews became an identifiable alien minority when they began to emigrate, leading to the usual biased tropes to occur (“They’re richer than us, they stick together, they have strange secret practices”), none of which are in the gospels (Early American Catholics heard similar things) . And a lot of that immigration occurred in response to the massive Roman attacks on the heart of Judaism, when Rome was still pagan.

        What you’re saying isn’t wrong. It’s not the whole picture, or half of it. Still valid.

        • Avatar
          godspell  June 4, 2019

          Actually, what about the Selucids trying to Hellenize the Jews, impose their own Greek-derived culture on them, because Jews were perceived as a uniquely dissident element as long as they were still true to their religion? (In point of fact, the Jews developed what would today be called nationalist ideas long before most other groups).

          The Romans, perhaps seeing the Hellenization didn’t work for the Selucids, and wanting to minimize the need for military intervention, were relatively tolerant of the Jewish insistence on not practicing any aspect of paganism–but there were many cases where this truce was violated. And when the Jews finally rose up en masse, late in the first century, I think you’d have to say the reaction was extreme even by their standards–and the temple (built by one of their client kings) was razed to the ground. It was many centuries before the Jewish people could point to any single attack that vicious.

          You made it very clear in The Triumph of Christianity that persecution of Christians was based largely on their failing to sacrifice to the pagan gods, the gods of the polis, which pagans thought would bring about ill fortune. Jews were usually exempted from this, but there was still pressure on them at times. They resisted. If Christians were disliked for this, why not Jews as well? Wouldn’t this create among pagan peoples who had Jews living among them the notion that Jews were deliberately separating themselves from the polis, not loyal citizens? Isn’t this one of the accusations leveled against much later Jewish populations in Europe? (Definitely Poland.)

          Christians may have been persecuting religious pagans in some areas as early as the fifth century (the story of Hypatia, however mythologized, reportedly ends in 415). But large scale Christian persecution of Jews is generally traced to the early Middle Ages, and seems to have become a serious problem around the time of the First Crusade in 1095–about a millennia after the gospels were in circulation. That’s a very long incubation period, wouldn’t you say? It’s not Birth of a Nation, where white Americans were attacking their black neighbors right after the film came out.

          I can see very clearly that Christian stories, ideas, were used on innumerable occasions as a pretext to viciously attack and marginalize Jews. I’m not convinced, however, that Christian belief was ever the real reason.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 5, 2019

            Yes, it’s worth thinking about. But it’s not completely clear that a powerful drive to Hellenize all peoples is the same as the opposition specifically to Jews for being Jewish. They’re obviously related on some levels.

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 5, 2019

            Trying to erase another culture’s ideas and beliefs is today considered a form of genocide (one example would be what Japan did in Korea during its occupation there–another would be what was done to Native Americans).

            And you can in fact find hints of that concept in the Old Testament texts that talk about expunging all forms of polytheism and sometimes killing those who clung to them–those texts were absorbed by generations Christians all over the world, who didn’t understand the context very well, if at all–let’s not be forgetting that–plenty of blame to go around for all of us–most of us are, after all, goats, and sheep are always thin on the ground.

            So seeing all of this, I find it hard to believe that a handful of lines in the NT are the cause of it all–an intensifier, definitely. But not the origin. The source is closer to home. In the mirror, really. We don’t tolerate differences very well. But where in the world is there the most tolerance for diversity? Mainly in parts of the Christianized west (I see very well that this tolerance is under siege now).

            And I’d like to think that’s at least partly because those hate-filled lines in the NT aren’t all people saw in the NT. That he is still speaking to us, through all the filters of the gospel authors, and some of us still have the decency to compare what he asked with what we do, and feel ashamed.

            .

          • Bart
            Bart  June 7, 2019

            You think the Christianized West is widely tolerant of difference? Wow! OK then!

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 7, 2019

            I think you saw my qualifiers, and my statement that humans as a whole tend to be intolerant of difference–and it’s all relative, isn’t it? Where else is tolerance even an ideal widely aspired to, let alone implemented in law? Where, in fact, did the idea of pluralism originate? The only Pre-Christian figure I can see cited as an influence is Plato, and honestly, I think that citation is in error, but I’m a pluralist, so let’s agree to disagree. 😉

          • Bart
            Bart  June 9, 2019

            I’m not sure what you’re asking. The entire world was pluralistic. Everyone worshiped many gods and almost no one objected to the gods that others worshiped.

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 9, 2019

            True pluralism doesn’t insist that one tradition has final authority over all others. Roman ‘pluralism’ said you had to worship the gods of the polis. Jews were allowed an exemption to this, but there was a consequence to that–they became perceived as a dissident element, not fully assimilated. That leads almost invariably to prejudice.

            We see this pattern repeated in Christianized Rome, in the Eastern Empire, in the Islamic states, in medieval European states, and one only sees it weakening in modern Europe–but then there was the backlash in the form of modern antisemitism, and fascism, and it’s still happening (and not just against Jews).

            In America, where everyone was an immigrant, where there were many religions, and no state religion, things worked out differently–the old prejudices were there, brought from the mother countries, but they became progressively weaker. And yet the disease is still there, still trying to propagate itself.

            And it doesn’t need or even want the gospels to do its work anymore. It’s moved beyond that.

            You seem to be stuck in this “paganism was pluralistic and tolerant” mode–in some ways, yes. But in many others, decidedly no. Because it didn’t accept freedom of conscience. That came under Christianity. And grew under it. Judaism also contributed greatly, because the Jews as a group realized that a multicultural pluralistic society would be more accepting of their right to be part of the larger society while still remaining themselves.

            And hence, there are more Jews in America than anywhere except Israel (with strong links between the two countries, albeit strained by Israel’s increasing intolerance, which was lamentably predictable, since a state based around one religion could never be pluralistic).

            And while antisemitism continues to exist here, it’s a lot weaker than it is in increasingly skeptical Europe–which is in danger of rejecting pluralism altogether, as the old nationalisms reassert themselves, and the old hatreds rear their heads.

            But let’s not take anything for granted.

            End of conversation. I’m sorry I didn’t express myself well enough, and I recognize you have other concerns. But I think the problem is, you don’t have enough time to seriously study the way this type of prejudice works.

            I made the time.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 5, 2019

          I would say that the term is not anachronistic because it is a modern invention. (On those terms, the term anachronistic is anachronistic!) I’d say it’s anachronistic because prior to the invention of the theories of race developed by 19th century anthropologists there simply wasn’t a category for “Semite” (as used today) — or the understanding that eventually led to the Holocaust.

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 5, 2019

            True enough, and in any event, modern ideas are usually evolved (if that’s the right term, and I find it hard to think of it as such here) from earlier ones. I don’t think it began with early Christianity, but it did change, absolutely.

            Still and all, do we have any record of any unusual antipathy towards Jews by early Christians, other than those few lines in the NT and other written sources? Anything from before the medieval period in Europe?

            Was there any particular expression of what we’d now call antisemitism under Christian Rome, for example? I’d think Constantine wanted to avoid internecine violence–disruptive to the empire. It seems that intolerance towards pagans developed much quicker (in part because polytheists were seen as a more serious threat, due to their numbers and influence).

            I see much evidence that Christians and Jews distrusted each other, as they did almost from the start, for obvious reasons. But I don’t see much evidence that anything like the later vilification and persecution of Jews was present. That seems to have taken hold in Europe, once Jews had set up communities there, and (due to their different beliefs and customs) had a hard time assimilating. As an added irony, Jews became known as money-lenders because Jesus’ reported antipathy to the money-changers in the temple was interpreted as a dislike for usury, meaning that Christians were discouraged from loaning at interest–creating a valuable niche for non-Christian entrepreneurs in a world hungry for credit.

            This is something we can see happening in many other places and times (Asian merchants in Africa, for example–expelled entirely from some African nations after the end of the colonial period).

            So again, what the anti-Jewish statements in the NT did was provide a justification for prejudices that were going to exist in either case. And that is a horrible thing. But it’s a very different thing from saying “There’s only prejudice against the Jews around the world because of Christianity.” Not that you said that, exactly. I’m just saying that this is a subject that doesn’t admit of easy answers. If only because it’s something we’d all rather not think too long and hard about. We’d better do it anyway.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 7, 2019

            Maybe so. But the prejudices that led to persecution of Jews for being Jews did not occur *before* Christianity. That can’t be an accident.

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 7, 2019

            I believe that would be known as a correlation?

            Jews certainly have met with intolerance outside the Christian world, and non-Jews have often suffered equal or even greater persecution from Christians in certain times and places.

            The only real difference I see is that only Christians ever bring up the “You killed Jesus!” thing, which is certainly derived from the gospels, primarily Matthew and John. But most of the attacks made on Jews aren’t about that, if you study antisemitism–most modern antisemites would scorn to even bring that up (a fair few of them are atheists).

            Again, I don’t question that Christian texts influenced persecution–but all by themselves? In isolation from any other factor? Then why was the prejudice so much worse in some deeply Christian areas than others, and why did it take so long for persecution to begin?

            A good historian (which you are) never assumes there is one solitary cause for anything. But this is a phenomonen that spans continents and millennia, and you are a student of the era in which the Jewish/Christian divide first can be observed. That, I must note, was a divide between people of the same precise ethnicity (often the same precise family)–and this divide was qualitatively different from what came later.

            I have spent a lot of time studying antisemitism and comparable social pathologies. It seems timely, for some reason–also very confusing. For example, those southern evangelicals you mentioned who think Jews have horns (or used to)–also refuse to hear any criticism of Israel. Doesn’t mean they can’t sometimes be antisemitic as well (or that I agree with unconditional support of any government), but it’s likewise a position that is influenced by the Old and New Testaments. Beliefs may be many things, but the one thing they can never be is immutable. They never stop mutating. Into forms both beneficial and inimical to the common good.

            Himmler advocated wiping Christianity from the earth–a weakening influence, created by Jews–and its greatest failure was that it didn’t eliminate the Jews. The Nazis had contempt for the old school Christian Jew haters. They talked a good game, sure–but no follow through. And many of them still had Jewish friends.

            And some of them–not enough–were willing to die for those friends, or even for total strangers. The real Christians.

            http://ghdi.ghi-dc.org/sub_document.cfm?document_id=1573

            https://www.facinghistory.org/holocaust-human-behavior/himmler-speech-posen-1943

            Enjoy the trip.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 9, 2019

            Are you serious that Nazis were not anti-semitic because many of them had Jewish friends? Uh… I’m not sure how well read you are on the Nazis and their Christian faith, but there are a number of very good books written about it, including some on the prominent Christian theologians in Germany at the time, and their anti-Semitic views. A place to start would be Suzanna Heschel’s book.

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 9, 2019

            The Nazis were antisemitic in the purest sense. And also antiChristian in the purest sense. And I think my meaning was pretty clear, so I’ll put that misunderstanding down to you having a lot on your plate.

            In The Triumph of Christianity, you allow a certain amount of latitude as to what we can assume happened because of Christianity’s rise in the world. So many changes occurred on Christianity’s watch, it’s very difficult to prove a negative, and basically all we can say is “Maybe this would have happened, maybe not.”

            Why so certain about this one thing, when there are so many other explanations available, and the hostility towards Jews as Jews clearly did exist before Jesus was born, and intensified before Christianity became influential?

            More than anything else, it was, I believe, the pagan Empires that found Judaism a problem, because it rejected their authority. Their ‘pluralism’ had a huge caveat–it required absolute fealty to the state. And the gods of the state.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 10, 2019

            But many of them certainly *claimed* to be true Christians. By my standards they weren’t — and yours. But about whom throughout the history of the church could that not be said?

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 10, 2019

            What about the Christians who helped Jews and other minorities, spoke out against the Nazis, accepted imprisonment and execution rather than accept what was being done in their name? Could we deign to accept them as Christians? (Generous, since I’m no more a practicing Christian than you are these days.)

            I agree true Christians are rare (and hard to define, and one runs the risk of the No True Scotsman fallacy), but let’s accept the undeniable historical fact that the backbone of resistance to Nazism, and most of the attempt to save Jews and other persecuted groups, came from committed Christians. While the great majority of their co-religionists either actively participated in persecution, or went along with it out of (very legitimate) fear for their own safety).

            The problem in Europe in the 20th century wasn’t primarily religious in nature, I continue to assert–it was that Jews, even Jews who had ceased to practice Judaism, who had converted, or were atheists–were still not seen as legitimately German, French, etc. It was the failure of pluralism, and it may well fail again, but let’s hope not.

            While there were many camp-followers of the Nazis who were professed Christians (if it had been allowed, there would have been Jewish Nazis as well, given the power of nationalist feeling in Germany after WWI), the core leadership was to a man devoutly opposed to further promulgation of what they saw as a Jewish religion, and of course they had a point–it was founded by Jews, and revered the Old Testament. The Nazis intended to erase the influence of the Jewish people from the west entirely, and how could you do that if the people kept reading books written by Jews? The Bible itself had to go–all the more because it asserted there was a higher authority than the state. Which is where the idea of freedom of conscience comes from. Which is where the basis for all resistance to tyranny comes from.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 11, 2019

            I’m confused by the kinds of questions you’re asking. I’m not saying that all Christians are anti-Jewish or anti-semitic. The anti-Nazi movement in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s was immensely important.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  June 4, 2019

        I can see godspell’s point here. Hadn’t Rome taken over the appointment of the High Priest prior to the start of Christianity? It was the beginning of religious tensions that escalated and led to The Great Revolt. Saying that anti-Semitism began with Christians seems like an oversimplification to me. We can say that Christians (outsiders/Gentiles) started it, but what got the ball rolling in the first place? It was Jesus himself who claimed to be the messiah. Followed by Paul.

        It’s interesting that Christians believed the Old Testament as “theirs”. How did that come about since most of them were illiterate?

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  June 4, 2019

          Also, didn’t Philo write about Flaccus persecuting the Jews? Then there’s Pontius Pilate who antagonized the Jews by setting up effigies and even had the Samaritans killed according to Josephus. And if Pilate did not allow the crucified to be buried, then that’s antagonistic toward Jewish customs.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 5, 2019

            Philo was again talking about a political situation; so too Pilate. Yes, non Jews did thing offensive to Jewish laws and customs. But that’s not the same thing as hating Jews because they’re Jewish. (Pilate didn’t let *anyone* get buried. That was a violation of everyone’s customs. But I don’t think anyone would say that Pilate was anti-pagan.)

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 5, 2019

            This is not meant as “They hit me first”, but if you read the Old Testament, you can see quite a lot of dislike for gentiles cropping up. Now those texts were not written by or for ordinary Jews, they expressed a very specific current in Jewish thought that became canonical long after the texts were written, and I assume that neighbors try to get along most of the time, and people can form friendships across ethnic and religious barriers.

            Nonetheless, to argue that prejudice against people of another religion didn’t exist before Christianity is a non-starter. It did. Many Jews didn’t like pagans, and it seems logical that this dislike was returned with interest (and in many cases, the pagans probably started it, or maybe both sides did).

            And then pagans became Christians, and I’d certainly agree that made it worse in some ways, but again–how long did that take? How much do we know about the relations between pagan converts to Christianity and Jews in the centuries after the gospels were written?

            The persecution of Christians by Jews in the NT (which is certainly exaggerated, but not made up out of whole cloth) is really about a family feud–a heretical sect being punished for refusing to keep a low profile, trying to bring other Jews into the fold. That’s where the anger came from, and it was anger that flowed in both directions. It’s very sad, and very predictable. And deeply misunderstood by later generations of Christians, who knew very little about Judaism (and of course few of them could read the OT or the NT–the vast majority of Christians never read either until sometime after Gutenberg and Luther).

            I see plenty of evidence of hostility against Jews by gentiles before the gospels, but what I’m not seeing is evidence of PERSECUTION of Jews by Christians before the early Middle Ages. I’m sure it existed before then, but how long before?

            All the different forms of what we now call antisemitism have some relation to each other, but shouldn’t we avoid glomming them all together, without making distinctions as to the nature and motivation of each?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 5, 2019

          The Romans could be involved with making decisions about how the Jewish hierarchy was to be manned without opposing the Jewish religion per se. I don’t know of any incidents in the Roman world where Jews were persecuted for being Jews, until the Christians came along. (The Maccabean revolt is the closest thing I suppose; but that too was driven more by political objectives than religious prejudice). But I’m open to learning of some. As to the Bible being “theirs” — you don’t have to be able to read the Bible yourself in order to revere it.

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 5, 2019

            When were Jews persecuted for being Jews in the Roman world after Constantine? I’ve looked around and can’t find much.

            It is a simple fact that Christians were not persecuting Jews for centuries after Jesus died. If only because they weren’t in a position to persecute anyone, but I think we could also allow that in the early days, they didn’t want to persecute anyone, because that would deny them the Kingdom.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 7, 2019

            Constantine started passing anti-Jewish legislation, and it became increasingly severe under Theodosius I. Where have you been looking? It’s in the Theodotian Code.

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 7, 2019

            I would assume Constantine’s position was motivated partly or even primarily by the separatist proclivities of Jews with regards to the Empire. As you’ve made clear, however sincere his conversion may have been, the Empire came first. And persecution of religious minorities obviously began before Christians had the power to persecute, since they themselves were victims of persecution.

            To a great extent, it was just follow-through from the era where pagan Rome was reacting to the Jewish rebellions. And in fact, the anti-Jewish passages in the NT were reacting to that as well, weren’t they?

            It’s never as simple as “Somebody wrote something and then people did things.”

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 7, 2019

            With your kind assistance, I’ve done more research–and what I’m finding is that not that much changed after Constantine. The Jews were a disliked but generally protected religious minority in the pagan and Christian Empire. The precedents were set at the very start, under Caesar, and they were largely stuck to. Basic tolerance, but never acceptance. There would occasionally be an emperor who took a particular disliking to Jews, and things would get worse, but then they’d stabilize again. There would also be instances where Jews of a zealot bent rebelled against the Christian empire, just as they had against the pagan empire, because they were not so tolerant of difference either, and didn’t want to be part of a pluralist society (and in fairness, nobody ever asks to be conquered and colonized).

            Here’s a question for you:

            There was two massive uprisings in Palestine against Roman rule, motivated pretty much entirely by a section of Jews feeling that Roman rule was an abomination against the Lord. Entire legions were wiped out, troops had to be pulled in from elsewhere, it took years to reestablish order (as the Romans saw it). Masada isn’t just a bad movie starring Robert Strauss and Peter O’Toole, (and terrorism didn’t begin in the 20th century).

            That means that after being given special privileges–the right not to be drafted into the military, the right not to worship the gods of the polis (which pagans believed would bring ill fortune), the Jews still rebelled, and tens of thousands of pagan families lost fathers,brothers, and sons because of the actions of some Jews.

            Are you saying you don’t believe this led to any resentment against Jews AS A GROUP among the ordinary people of the Empire? That they said “Well, it’s just the fault of a few troublemakers, we mustn’t blame our neighbors who happen to be Jewish and don’t worship our gods, and don’t have to send their fathers and sons off to fight in foreign wars”?

            I think the original pagan converts to Christianity were Judaism-curious, didn’t have any strong prejudices, may have gotten some negative ideas about unconverted Jews from the converted Jews who inducted them. But I also think that there was unquestionably substantial prejudice against the Jews among pagan Romans before Christianity was anything more than a marginal cult nobody had ever heard of outside Palestine.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 9, 2019

            I”m not sure what you mean by “the” Jews rebelled. That’s kind of like saying “the” Christians opposed Vietnam. The Jews didn’t do any one thing in the ancient world. There were two uprisings based on political, economic, social, and cultural factors that happened in the province of Judea. The vast majority of Jews didn’t live there and didn’t participate.

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 9, 2019

            I said ‘because some Jews rebelled’–that wasn’t the only qualifier–why did you read over that? I know very well many Jews remained loyal to the Empire–Josephus was one–pragmatic obedience and zealot rebellion were a long-standing dichotomy inside the Jewish culture.

            We don’t have to continue this, but the problem here is not my ascribing the same mindset to all Jews. It’s you ascribing a huge complex issue to one cause. Which you normally don’t do.

            There’s a lot of literature out there about antisemitism and other prejudices, and I’ve read a lot of it–it’s been a longstanding interest of mine. And what I’ve found is that it really isn’t contingent on being religious at all.

            I don’t ask you to agree with me, but I would request you not keep ascribing to me prejudices I never had. I wasn’t raised with those prejudices, and we had rabbis come to speak to us at the parish I went to as a boy. If there’s anything in this world I hate beyond measure, it’s the notion that any race or religion is inherently superior to any other.

            And I can’t help suspecting that you’re just trying to dismiss me by misunderstanding what I’m saying. Because this is an area where you are not on such solid ground as is usually the case.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 10, 2019

            I think when you read my book rather than a 1200 word post that I think the matter is rather complex!

          • Avatar
            godspell  June 10, 2019

            If it’s as good as The Triumph of Christianity, I’m sure it will take the complexities into full account. But if it says ethnic and religious prejudice began with Christianity, you are going to have your work cut out for you.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 11, 2019

            Yes indeed! (I had with Triumph as well.) Where do you see ethnic prejudice against Jews before Christianity, in Greek and Roman sources, e.g.? (As you probably know, there is substantial scholarship on this one!)

  4. Avatar
    godspell  June 2, 2019

    An interesting new book out–not all Christians failed to live up to the best in their religious heritage. But it was largely those who had themselves known persecution who risked themselves to save Jews from the Holocaust. And the same pattern, it is suggested here, exists all over the world, all through history. When we know what it’s like to be reviled for who we are, we identify more with others who are experiencing the same thing–and we’re better able to organize to try and help them.

    https://braunrobert.wordpress.com/dissertation/

    We can’t just blame our books. It’s how we read them that matters. These people read their bibles every day–and pitted themselves against the worst murder machine the world has ever known. It would seem not all Christians are created equal. And that’s another enduring trend.

  5. Avatar
    Adam0685  June 2, 2019

    I wonder what the early and largely gentile Christian churches thought about what “true” religion looked like before their version of Christianity emerged. As gentiles, would true religion include following the Hebrew laws, for example. We know what one Christian thought, Marion, but he did not clearly represent the proto-orthodox.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      I don’t think there was just one view — but lots of options, from one church to the necxt; I’ll be saying more about that in later posts on the (potential) book.

  6. Avatar
    AstaKask  June 2, 2019

    Ah, humanity. Ever eager to divide ourself into different teams and then demonizing the other team.

    • Avatar
      Sixtus  June 4, 2019

      And then both teams evoking God to grant them victory.

  7. Avatar
    srrezendes  June 2, 2019

    Why do Jews have horns?
    “A widespread medieval negative image of the Jew was based upon a misinterpretation of the Hebrew Bible. Moses was often depicted with two horns on his head as a result of the Latin mis-rendering of the verb “sent forth beams” (karan) in Exodus 34:35 as “grew horns.” (A horn is a keren.) This image, which was widely portrayed in art of the Middle Ages by artists including Michelangelo and Donatello in Italy, led to the widespread notion that all Jews had devilish horns.”
    This is what I’ve always taught.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      Yes, right. But of course the Latin Bible was created by Christians, for whom this was apparently commonly sense. It’d be interesting to look deeper into it all.

      • Avatar
        godspell  June 3, 2019

        A lot of it really feels more pagan than Christian–European Christianity in particular has more pagan roots than it ever wanted to acknowledge.

  8. Avatar
    meltuck  June 2, 2019

    This seems like a very important question to wrestle with, especially for fundamentalists who want to insist on biblical inerrancy. One OT selection which has always been important to Christians is Isaiah 53, and I find it impossible to read it without thinking about Jesus, so I understand why Christians from the beginning would claim it as their own. They read it as prophecy, but I have always wondered why it was written in the past tense. I can’t think of anyone or any group in Jewish history up to the time it was written who would match the individual the writer describes.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      Note that the servant’s *suffering* is past, but his *vindication* is future!

  9. Avatar
    Neurotheologian  June 2, 2019

    Here’s my intial feedback. You are amazingly prolific! How do you manage it? What drives you? I’ve been working over 4 years on one book on consciousness and am nowhere near submission yet.
    As to the topics. Yes, I would see these as a natural progression: Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet leads naturally to the question of why Christians, after 2000 years, are still expecting Armageddon – immanently. Jesus as a misunderstood, misquoted Jewish Rabbi, whose own interpretation of the Jewish scriptures (especially the prophets) was misconceived, was made into God afterwards by his followers and created a religion that triumphed over all others in its influence and impact. Perhaps this already implicitly answers why Christians wanted (and still want) an Old Testament. Since you clearly plan so far ahead (which is laudable and maybe one of the secrets of your sucess), would you ever consider writing a sort of ‘what if I have been wrong’ type book? 🙂 Not a book which takes away anything from your undoubted scholarship, but a book that sets out to try and make an alternative interpretation of the historical realities of the writings about Jesus of Nazareth that you have set out. That is to say, a book which accepts the contradictions in the Gospels and likely inclusion of some innaccurately-remembered details and oral mythology, that accepts the apocalyptic contextuality of Jesus and JTB, the apparent failure of Jesus as Messiah, that accepts the differences of view that different Gospel writers had about the historical Jesus, that accepts the evolution of Christology (both during and after the life of the historical Jesus), that accepts that there were widely differing views in early Christianity (including amoung NT churchs and apostles), and yet a book which considers the possibility that despite all these caveats and more, that God exists, that the human soul (consciousness) might transcend death, that Jesus the historical man might have been part of the plan, that his suffering and death was a kind of divine identification in human suffering (problem of evil / suffering issue) and that he was exalted and may return in that exalted form when climate-change, polution, population-explosion, war, and AI singularity, bring human world history to a denoument? 2 possible titles for such a book: Who do you say that I am? 1. The 2. Messianic Secret.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      I doubt if I will ever write this book, but others have certainly done so. See Dale Martin, Biblical Truths, e.g.,

  10. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  June 2, 2019

    For me it’s always interesting when, on the blog, you occasionally take a step back from your scholarship to actually amplify it with a vignette from your personal life. Thank you.

  11. Avatar
    Matt2239  June 2, 2019

    Around that same time there were two forms of the Old Testament in circulation. The newest form, that Christians used, was written in Greek. When someone asserts that Christians claimed the Old Testament as their own, it’s important to distinguish between which Old Testament they were talking about — the newer version written in Greek, or the ancient version, which wasn’t. Christianity was the new, enlightened religion of urban elites who could read the Greek letters and who could write compelling narratives about the leader of their new faith.

  12. Avatar
    doug  June 2, 2019

    How did the rejection of circumcision by many first century followers of Jesus affect relations between Jews and first century followers of Jesus? As I understand it (correct me if I’m wrong), Jews considered circumcision to be essential for men as part of their covenant with God and with obedience to God’s commands.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      Yes they did. And so did most Christians at the outset. The interesting questoin (for me)is how/why that changed, and how that affected the Xns relations with non-Xn Jews.

      • Avatar
        flcombs  June 5, 2019

        Well I can certainly understand why men would have had a new “revelation from God” that circumcision was no longer required. I know I certainly would have had it even if others didn’t!!!! God works in mysterious ways.

  13. JMJ
    JMJ  June 2, 2019

    It seems like the early Christians ‘stole’ the OT from the Jews to use it to validate the new religion.

  14. Avatar
    Apocryphile  June 2, 2019

    Sounds like a fascinating topic for a trade book. Of course, modern Christians are just as ignorant of their history as are modern Jews, so once again, any attempt to enlighten the untutored masses is well worth the effort. As we’re well aware, we’re condemned to repeat what we don’t know.

  15. Avatar
    Pattylt  June 2, 2019

    I, too, was a Jew in the south as a child. I was called Christ killer on one occasion and we were denied a motel room in Georgia when traveling. These incidents gave my mother a chance to explain anti Semitism and how best to handle it and also a later reason for me to investigate Christianity to try to find out why.

    Mostly, I learned that there are bigoted and ignorant people in the world and many more that are not. It also instilled a strong belief in minority causes and why we need to be vigilant against any hatred of the “other”.

  16. Avatar
    Stylites  June 2, 2019

    I hope you do this book. There is a critical need for it. The vast majority of churches will never teach this material. Our schools will not either. The book may be the only way most people would have the opportunity to encounter it.

  17. Avatar
    prairieian  June 2, 2019

    You might want to include the relationship of the Old Testament to the Islamic faith. I am not particularly well informed as to the link, but I understand that Islam has a connection with Abraham and so is deeply connected. I have no idea as to the status of either the Jewish scriptures or the Christian scriptures to the Islamic faith or theology, but there is something there.

    The contrast might make an interesting chapter.

  18. Avatar
    brotherjmac  June 3, 2019

    An interesting beginning so far…

    I have been wondering about a question for a while that you may consider to be good to cover in a book regarding the OT and Christianity.
    “How is it that Jesus was supposedly prophesied of his future coming, how he would suffer, die, be born in Bethlehem etc but yet when the days of the NT arrive, the Jews were not expecting a Messiah like the one Christians say is spoken of in the OT?”
    This question dives into the issue if Jesus is really prophesied in the OT or not. If Jesus was, what happened that the Jews no longer realized it, forgot about it, or were too stubborn to accept it? If Jesus was not being spoken in the OT, how did NT Christians get the idea to connect Jesus to OT prophecy? What did Paul see in the OT writings that no other Jews saw before him saw and his fellow contemporaries missed as well? I had a disagreement a couple years ago with a pastor. I proposed that the average Jew in the OT did not know or realize the details of a coming Messiah. They may have believed God in the promise of bringing such a Messiah figure, or they simply believed God was the source of their salvation, but they had no reckoning of the details. But the pastor insisted that since the “gospel” was preached to Abraham (NT reference) that the Jewish community at large all understood that their future Messiah was to come. So he was saying that the message given to Abraham was passed down and was common knowledge. (even though it is never mentioned in the OT) He also insisted in the theological definition of “gospel” from Paul’s 1 Cor. 15:3-4, and not accepting the pure etymology of the word Greek word for “gospel” meaning simply good news. And that the Jews also knew and understood that their sacrifices pointed to a future Messiah.
    I argued back, that most Jews probably didn’t make that connection at all. How could they? Such a connection of sacrifices to Jesus’ future sacrifice is not mentioned in the OT. But if true, wouldn’t it be said more explicitly since that would be a big deal. But it makes a nice homily that people in the OT were saved by looking forward to the coming Cross while Christians are saved by looking back to the cross. No support for it

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      Yup, that’s part of what I’ll be dealing with!

    • Avatar
      flcombs  June 5, 2019

      Along those lines it has always been interesting to compare the claims with the evidence as you say. The claim is that there is a loving god that wants everyone to be saved. Okay, so how does it make sense to hide the evidence and proof of Jesus in obscure and symbolic language that requires so much “interpretation”? And if “all knowing”, how come he apparently didn’t know how much confusion and problems with ancient texts there would be and do it right and clearly to start with?

  19. Avatar
    mikezamjara  June 3, 2019

    Dr Ehrman I have a doubt

    1 . How much do you think the regular jews of the time of Jesus knew about the jewish scripture? If one reads the new testament it seems like all charactes know and cite the words of the old testament, but was that the case? Do regular jews knew their scripture?
    2. If so, how was it taught, in schools, temples or in the familiy or how?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      I imagine it was like today: some Jews would have known the scriptures well, and others almost not at all. Since most would have been illiterate, they would have come to know it by hearing it read, mainly in synagogue, since private copies were too expensive for most families to have and there weren’t schools for the vast majority of kids.

      • Avatar
        Nexus  June 4, 2019

        This is a very vague recollection but I thought I read that at the synagogues they tried to get through all of scripture in a set period of time. I think it was by every sabbatical year they needed to finish.

        I’m left with the impression that this would be done in some logical/chronological order. Which then leaves me with the impression that the Jewish antiquity education in scripture is much more complete than modern Christians, who listen to whatever fancies their pastor/priest

        • Avatar
          Pattylt  June 6, 2019

          The holiday of Simchat Torah is when the final portion of the Torah is read and then started over. It’s a yearly cycle using the Jewish calendar. It represents the continuing cycle of Torah readings. There is evidence of dancing at this point from the first century. This only refers to the first five books, however. I can’t remember if the Prophets were cycled as well? Probably?

  20. Avatar
    Iskander Robertson  June 3, 2019

    Do the writers of Isaiah , Jeremiah and Amos disagree with the priestly practices pertaining to animal sacrifices ? Are these writers focused more on repentance and prayer than animal offerings?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2019

      My sense is that they are not opposed to sacrifices *per se*, but to the idea that sacrifices without justice and moral behavior toward others were of no use.

      • Avatar
        Iskander Robertson  June 4, 2019

        when you say “sacrifices” do you mean specifically animal sacrifices ? would it be far from isaiah (or the authors) mind that human sacrifice is envisioned in isaiah 53?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 5, 2019

          I mean the sacrifices prescribed by Torah. And no, I don’t think they have in mind that someone is to be a literal human sacrifice; he is referring to the nation of Israel that has suffered for the sake of the sins of others (see Isa 49:3 where he identifies who the Servant actually is)

You must be logged in to post a comment.