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Why Have I Stopped Explaining How I Lost My Faith? Readers’ Mailbag June 4, 2017

I will be dealing with two questions in this weeks’ Readers’ Mailbag.  The first is about what happened to that thread I was supposed to be doing on why I lost my faith (!) and the other about whether Mark’s account of Jesus’ death contains an inner discrepancy (one verse flat out contradicting another).

 

QUESTION:

I’m a bit confused. A few weeks ago you said you were going to write about what you tell your students on the last day of school about why you lost your faith, but it seems you may have gotten off track, unless I missed a post or two….  Anyway, I am sorry I seem to have missed the posts that were about what you say to your class each year about why you lost your faith. I hope you will repeat it sometime soon.

 

RESPONSE:

Ha!  Right!  I can see how this could be confusing.  When I started this thread I did not know it was even going to *be* a thread.  I had planned to make one, or possibly two, posts, to lay out what I told my undergraduate class on the New Testament the last day of class, as I explained to them how and why I had lost my faith and moved from being a committed conservative evangelical Christian to becoming an agnostic/atheist.   But I began that explanation six weeks ago!  Once I started dealing with the issue I realized that I could take the opportunity to go into more depth than I have before – in my books or here on the Blog – about how all this happened to me and my faith.   And I still *am* in the middle of that thread even though it may not on the surface seem like it.  So let me explain where I am.

I am now at the point of explaining how I continued to be a Christian even after I came to realize that the Bible is full of mistakes, contradictions, and discrepancies of various kinds.  This is the part of my story that I have never explained much about before, and as a result a lot of people tell me either that they are surprised, or not at all surprised, that I went from being a fundamentalist to being an atheist.  Those who are NOT surprised tell me (usually with great assurance and self-congratulation) that the reason that happened to ME and not to THEM is because I never stopped being a fundamentalist: I simply went from one extreme (Christian fundamentalism) to another (atheism) because I obviously am a person of extremes, unlike someone with a balanced view of the world (like them).

What I’m trying to explain is that I did not in fact start OUT as a fundamentalist (I started as a mainline Christian in the Episcopal church) and I did not go immediately from one extreme to another.  There were many years when I was a completely mainstream, fairly liberal Christian who continued to believe in God, and in Christ, and in the major beliefs of the religion without being fanatical about them.

But how can one believe in the Christian truths without being committed to the absolute inerrancy of the Bible?  That’s what I’m trying to explain now, at some length.  The Bible does indeed have errors and contradictions in it.  It absolutely does.  But knowing that did not lead me away from the faith.  It led me away from a fundamentalist understanding of the faith.   To make sense of that transition in my life, though, I have had to show that the Bible can *not* be seen as an inerrant revelation from God.  It is full of mistakes.

Then how can one believe?  By not believing “in the Bible” but by believing in God.  Which is what Christianity is supposed to be about.  I’ll be explaining more in posts to come as I continue the current line of reasoning, that is trying to show how someone can think the Bible contains “truths” without being flawless.

Only then will I talk about how I actually lost my faith – not because of my scholarship on the Bible but because I no longer could explain to myself how there could be a good God in control of this world given the massive amounts of misery, pain, and suffering that fill it.

 

QUESTION:

Bart, if Mark were internally consistent I think a stronger case could be made for either author (Mark or John) having an agenda, or truth, they were trying to convey. But Mark isn’t internally consistent. As another reader has pointed out, Mark 15:42 says that Jesus died on the day of preparation, which is inconsistent with Mark’s prior narrative, but consistent with John’s chronology.   So was Mark 15:42 added by a later (different) author?

 

RESPONSE:

To make sense of this question I have to provide a bit of background by way of reminder.  I was arguing in an earlier post that Mark and John contradict each other with respect to the day of Jesus’ death.  In Mark’s Gospel Jesus dies on the day of the Passover, the morning after the Passover meal was eaten.  But in John Jesus dies the day *before* the Passover, the day on which the Passover meal was being prepared, which was therefore called the “Day of Preparation” for the Passover.

What this reader is pointing out is that in Mark 15:42 we are told that Jesus died on “the day of Preparation.”  His point is that this seems to be a contradiction in Mark – either Jesus died on the day of Preparation or on the Passover day itself: which was it?   Even more frequently this verse is taken to show that in fact Mark and John do NOT contradict each other.   For both, Jesus dies on the same day, the day of Preparation.  Right?

Wrong!  This verse is often a source of confusion, but it doesn’t need to be.  What the whole verse says about the time of Jesus’ death is this:  “And it was becoming evening, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before Sabbath.”  It is that last phrase that is all important.  In Mark Jesus does not die on the Day of Preparation FOR PASSOVER but on the Day of Preparation FOR SABBATH.

Explanation:  Whenever there was a Jewish festival on which no work was to be done, the meal for the special day had to be prepared the day before.  That was the day of Preparation.   Every week there was a day of preparation, since every week there was a Sabbath.  Friday, during the day, was when the Sabbath meal would be Prepared for that evening (remember: the day *begins* in Jewish reckoning, when it gets dark – so the Sabbath, which is Saturday, actually begins when it gets dark on Friday; that is why the Sabbath meal, still today, is eaten on Friday after dark).

But also the meal celebrated on Passover (whichever day it fell on) was “Prepared” the day before.  That would be the day of Preparation for Passover.

So if you read Mark carefully, Jesus dies on the Day of Passover which is the Day of Preparation for Sabbath.  In other words, the Day of Preparation for the Passover itself (for Mark) was Thursday.  Passover fell on a Friday.  And (for Mark) that day of Passover was the day of Preparation for the Sabbath (which, of course, was Saturday).

John has a different sequence.  As in Mark, Jesus dies on a Friday (the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath), but in this case that Friday was not the day of the Passover but the Day of Preparation for Passover (19:14).  In other words, in John’s account, the Passover day fell on a Saturday (not a Friday, as in Mark).  That is why in 19:31 we are told that the next day, the Sabbath, was a “great Sabbath” – meaning it was a dual holiday, a Sabbath on which a festival (Passover, in this case) also occurred.

So Mark and John agree that Jesus died on a Friday.  For Mark that was the day of Passover itself, the morning after the Passover meal had been eaten; for John, it was the day of Preparation for the Passover, the day before the Passover meal was eaten.  For Mark it was the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath – for John it was the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath AND for the Passover.

Mark therefore does not contradict himself (in 15:42); but he does contradict John.

 

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What Really Happened to Me: Demythologizing the New Testament
Why It Didn’t Happen that Way. The Stories of Jesus’ Birth

49

Comments

  1. Danny  June 4, 2017

    I’m not sure if this is a problem with your reading of Mark, but there is ancient Jewish tradition of לא אד”ו ראש (see Babylonian Rosh HaShanah 20a), which means that Rosh HaShanah cannot fall on Sunday, Wednesday, or Thursday, so as to avoid Yom Kippur falling out on a Friday or Sunday. This is now worked in to the Hebrew calendar, but in Temple times, the Sanhedrin would intentionally postpone Rosh Hashanah by one day if that happens.
    The consequence of this is a secondary rule of לא בד”ו פסח. Since Passover is always 163 days before Rosh HaShanah (23 weeks and 2 days), the first day Passover cannot fall out on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. This is important, because the beginning of the counting was actually from the month of Nissan, Passover’s month, since it is counted as the first month. In any event, this means that the Preparation day (offering the sacrifice) could not be on Thursday, and the first day of Passover could not be a Friday, as you have it according to Mark.
    While it can be argued that the standardization of the calendar was post-Temple, it was based on Temple period rules, intended to avoid the inconvenience of שבת שבתון, or two days in which no food could be prepared (Yom Kippur and the Sabbath, as opposed to most holidays, when food can be prepared). In other words, it is highly unlikely, even in Temple times, that the first day of Passover would be a Friday.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 5, 2017

      Yes, I think it is very hard to show that rabbinic rules were in force in the first century. As you probably know, there is a huge amount of scholarship devoted to just this question.

      • Danny  June 5, 2017

        Sure, but we do have evidence that the Sanhedrin in the Temple would actually find excuses to reject witnesses if their testimony that they saw the New Moon would, for example, have the first day of Passover fall on a Sunday, since then the Passover sacrifice would have to take place on a Saturday, Shabbat (לא אד”ו instead of לא בד”ו פסח). While Hillel the Elder overturned that (or at least tried to overturn it, though the High Priesthood was controlled by the Sadducees), arguing that the Passover sacrifice overrides the Sabbath (B. Pesahim 66a), we nonetheless have evidence that even in Temple times, the Sanhedrin was performing the calculations of the calendar in order to make it easier to perform the rituals.
        As such, it seems as if the Friday of the crucifixion would have been the Day of Preparation as in Mark 15:42 and John. Mark was writing while the Temple was still standing, so he was familiar with the internal calculations of the Temple hierarchy) and John, written later, was echoing an older tradition. From a theological perspective, it would make sense to have the crucifixion coincide with the actual slaughter of the Passover lamb on 14 Nissan. Preparation would then mean preparation for the Passover, which would be Saturday (the seder taking place Friday night). It makes sense too, since the Sanhedrin would not meet on festivals, nor is it likely that someone would be released on the festival itself (15:6), but rather on the eve of the festival.
        The authors of Matthew and Luke, however, were writing for Diaspora Jewish and gentile audiences, neither of which would be familiar with the intricacies of Temple calculations, and they were writing post-70. For them, the highlight of the familiar Passover ritual would be the seder itself, so they would therefore try to link that to an important event in Christ’s life, i.e, the Last Supper. They therefore moved the date of the crucifixion to coincide with the first day of the holiday, though it is questionable whether the Romans would have crucified someone, never mind several people, on the holiday itself.
        I apologize if I sound argumentative. Just trying to express some thoughts on the issue. I certainly agree that it is very difficult to prove what rabbinic rulings were in vogue at the time.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 6, 2017

          I”m afraid we too do not know the intricacies of Temple calculations. Sources written centuries later are cannot really be definitive for us. (This has been shown through lengthy and detailed analyses of modern scholars of Judaism, starting especially with Jacob Neusner)

          • Danny  June 6, 2017

            Actually, Neusner talks about the calculations of the Passover specifically in Dictionary of Biblical Judaism as being after based on the the vernal equinox (possibly contested by Finkelstein, who places the major emphasis on the ripening of barley, i.e., aviv). What Neusner also suggests (intro to Four Stages of Rabbinic Judaism) is that we work backwards from the “generative premises” of rabbinic (i.e., mishnaic) Judaism to Scripture to see how rabbinic Judaism emerged. The overarching theme is that before Hillel set the calendar in the mid-4th century (as Neusner says, using the equinox), there were rules allowing flexibility in the determination of the new months. I think that what we are debating is the scope of that flexibility. I suggest that the statement in Pesahim reflects a historic memory of Temple-time norms, or else there would be no reason to include it. In any event, thank you for a fascinating discussion.

      • danieljcathers  June 5, 2017

        Maybe some day we can get a post on this scholarship?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 6, 2017

          It’s a highly complicated field entered where angels fear to tread only by highly trained specialists. But I may say a few words about the general idea at some point. (The one who is usually credited with showing it in a big way is Jacob Neusner, who has written more books than anyone on the planet)

    • talmoore
      talmoore  June 5, 2017

      This would, indeed, be a solid explanation were it the case that the Synoptic accounts didn’t add up, but, in fact, it just so happens the Synoptic accounts add up perfectly. Watch.

      — Luke says John the Baptist began his baptizing mission in “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar”. That would, in fact, be in or around the year 29 CE.
      — All the synoptic accounts say the Last Supper (or shall we say the Last Seder?) was on a Thursday night (Friday eve in the Jewish reckoning), Jesus being arrested and “tried” that very same night, and crucified that Friday morning.
      — In the year 30CE, the first night of Passover, when the Last Supper would have been eaten, was, in fact, on a Thursday night (Friday eve).
      — As a bonus, the years 29 to 30 also had: Pilate as governor of Judea, Caiaphas as high priest, Herod Antipas as tetrarch of Galilee and Herodias as his new wife (who Antipas probably married a couple years earlier).
      — So all the puzzle pieces fit perfectly. This is just about as airtight a chronology one would hope for in an historical account.

  2. Brian  June 4, 2017

    Why do we always adopt the phrasing, “losing one’s faith,” which suggests that it’s a negative thing. (OMG, I’ve LOST something!) why not talk about gaining one’s sanity, instead?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 5, 2017

      Ha! Right. I guess what I’m thinking is that I used to have something and I no longer have it. So whatever I gained, I also lost something.

  3. Todd  June 4, 2017

    Bart, thank you for addressing directly my question concerning how you lost your faith and became an agnostic/atheist. I am also deeply concerned about the issue of suffering in the world.

    I too am going through much the same struggle you have experienced, so, I understand why you are now getting into the issue of “…trying to show how someone can think the Bible contains “truths” without being flawless.” I don’t like “cherry picking” Bible verses to prove a doctrine, but I do read the Bible seeking truths that are often hidden in the clutter of errors.

    I read your blog daily and have gained a great understanding of the biblical text from our discussions here.

    Again, I appreciate you taking the time to prepare these articles for us.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  June 4, 2017

    When I was a child and still believed there was a God, I could see how fundamentalism and atheism were extremes, and a liberal faith was the reasonable middle ground — such as how the pendulum will swing from the extreme of fundamentalism to the extreme of atheism, but over time the irresistable forces of friction and gravity will eventually cause the pendulum to come to rest in the trough in the middle.

    But then I became an athiest and I realized I had the analogy all wrong. Atheism *is* the reasonable trough in the middle where the extremes come to rest. Why is that? Because, as there are an infinite number of directions in which a pendulum can swing, but only one point in which it can rest, there are an infinite number of ways to believe there is a God, but only one way to not believe their is a God. The various beliefs in God themselves are the extremes on the pendulum. The lack of belief in God is the point where all the forces of reality eventually make the pendulum come to rest.

    • SidDhartha1953  June 7, 2017

      But what if the pendulum is moving through space? As it comes under the gravitational influence of different stars or planets, its natural resting point will shift accordingly. So the reasonable middle path between extremes on any controversy will shift as our perspectives change throughout life.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  June 7, 2017

        Reality doesn’t care about your prespective, just as how the earth doesn’t care about other stars and planets in the universe. In either case, the pendulum is going to come to rest before the object with the greatest influence.

  5. flshrP  June 4, 2017

    So, in the week that Jesus was crucified did Passover occur on Friday (per Mark) or on Saturday (per John)? I’ve read about the “Great Sabbath” idea, which seems to imply that Passover was a movable feast. Right or wrong? Very confusing. If John is correct and Jesus died during a Great Sabbath, does this fact provide any way to accurately identify the year of his death?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 5, 2017

      We don’t know, because we don’t know which year he died.

      • SidDhartha1953  June 7, 2017

        Meier (A Marginal Jew, vol. 2) argues for John’s chronology and settles on a likely date of 7 April 30 CE. What would you say are the best arguments for or against John’s chronology?

        • SidDhartha1953  June 8, 2017

          I’m rather disturbed by something I read on the biblical archaeology society website. It’s a reprint of an article from August 2015, including the comments from then. Two readers in 2015 pointed out multiple errors (8, according to one) but the same purported errors are still there with no acknowledgement. My question: do you consider the BAS reputable in terms of it’s scholarly and publishing standards? I’ve been subscribing to their online content and wonder if I’ve been throwing good money after bad, as they say round these parts.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 8, 2017

            Yes, they normally have very high standards, and the authors who write their articles are often world-class. I know nothing about this particular instance.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 8, 2017

          The best arguments are that John’s chronology make better sense given later rabbinic rules about what observant Jews could do on Passover (not the things the high priest and sanhedrin did); the worst arguments involve using later rabbinic rules to decide what happend around 30 CE, some 200 years and more from the rules that were later developed….

    • Eskil  June 5, 2017

      Isaac Newton first and some more recent scholars later have thought that with certain presumptions the year of crucifixion can be calculated based on the course of the moon – Jewish passover being on full moon.

      You need to presume at least that
      1. Jesus was crucified while Pontius Pilate governed Judea.
      2. Jesus was crucified on Friday 14 Nisan like in Gospel of John.
      3. Some rabbinical rules of Jewish calendar were already in use in Jesus time.

      I think Newton was convinced on the last one was true because he
      managed to calculate two passover dates mentioned by Josephus in his books – in The Jewish War I assume- based on the course of the moon. Based on Newton the year was either 33 or 34.

      You can find Newton’s ideas here
      “Of the Times of the Birth and Passion of Christ”
      http://www.newtonproject.ox.ac.uk/view/texts/normalized/THEM00205
      Wikipedia naturally provides more information
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronology_of_Jesus

  6. ask21771  June 4, 2017

    Some say the pre-pauline creed found in Corinthians was made only a few months after christs death, how could rumors if something that didn’t happen (i.e. the resurrection) turn into something like that in a few months

    • Bart
      Bart  June 5, 2017

      There is zero evidence to indicate this creed came into existence a few months after Jesus’ death. That’s just wishful thinking by CHristian apologists.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  June 5, 2017

      Even if this were true, which it probably is not, you would be shocked at how fast a rumor can turn into a legend. To take a recent example, one saturday morning the president tweeted that his predecessor “wiretapped” Trump Tower, and by Monday morning 1 in 3 Americans believed it to be true. Unsubstantiated rumor became accepted fact to nearly 100 million people within only a matter of days. Think about that the next you find yourself wondering “how could rumors of something that didn’t happen” turn into fact in such a short amount of time.

  7. twiskus  June 4, 2017

    This last question/answer should be stickied. Excellent.

  8. darren  June 4, 2017

    Hi Bart,

    One thing I don’t recall you discussing much is what we know about the communities that produced the four canonical gospels. Do we know much about where they originated? What type of community they were?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 5, 2017

      We don’t know for sure about any of them, though scholars have taken some stabs (often in long books devoted to just one community or another). Our only way to know is to read back from the surviving texts themselves to the communities they appear to presuppose. The most successful effort at this was Raymond Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (on the community behind the Gospel of John).

  9. Eskil  June 4, 2017

    Don’t you think it’s odd that “the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders” and “the servant of the high priest” etc. do not seem to observe passover in Mark – abstain from working, walking and carrying clubs, etc.? Didn’t they have any passover meal? etc.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 5, 2017

      They almost certainly are understood as keeping Passover. But the rules for Passover that we learn from later rabbinic texts would not have been in force in the early first century.

  10. dragonfly  June 4, 2017

    The fundamentalist trinity: God the father, God the son, and God the holy bible.

  11. probablynot  June 4, 2017

    Thank you so much for that explanation about the days of preparation! Boy, it gets really confusing, doesn’t it? …But what you said makes sense. Thank you!

  12. jgking61  June 4, 2017

    So Friday was Passover and it was also the Day of Preparation for Sabbath? I am no expert, but would not the law require that preparation for both the Passover and the Sabbath be made on Thursday, or would that only be a hardline interpretation by groups such as the Essenes?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 5, 2017

      Yes, it probably would require that. But they still called Friday the Day of Preparation — it was just their name for the day.

  13. catguy  June 4, 2017

    Do we know what year Jesus was crucified? The reason I am asking is that Passover is a fixed date. I believe it is Nisan 14 so each year it can be on a different day. What if Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, not a Friday, and then rose on a Sunday morning. Math was not my best subject in school but even I can figure that from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is not 3 days and 3 nights. It is also possible and purely theoretical that Jesus could even have been crucified on a Wednesday and arose on a Saturday. Since no one visited the grave on Saturday, how would they know He did not leave the grave on Saturday? They didn’t visit the grave until Sunday. Purely theoretical but I have not heard these questions answered so I am just wondering.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 5, 2017

      Unfortunately we don’t. But in all the accounts he is killed on a Friday, the day before Sabbath. In Mark that day is also the Passover, in John it is the Day before Passover.

      • catguy  June 5, 2017

        Perhaps I am sounding technical but in all accounts is Christ killed before a Saturday Sabbath or before a High Sabbath such as Passover would be? I am asking if those reading the accounts are assuming that He was killed before the weekly Sabbath or before a special Sabbath such as the Passover which is a fixed date?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 6, 2017

          I’m not sure how people are actually reading the accounts, but in each account yes, he is executed on a Friday, the day before the Sabbath.

          • catguy  June 6, 2017

            I won’t harp on this. It goes back to something that has always bugged me. And that is how you get 3 nights out of Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. I have heard some really convoluted explanations but to me they don’t add up. If I checked into a resort and the owner promised me a weekend special of 3 nights for $200 I would think that is terrific. So I check in Friday afternoon and things are going great until he forces me to leave Sunday morning. Do you think I would have a right to feel I was swindled? I continue to have a problem with the Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 7, 2017

            Yes, I don’t see three nights in it either, unless the early dawn of a day counts as a night

  14. godspell  June 5, 2017

    To me, what one believes/disbelieves is a very personal thing, and I’d have been fine with it if you had stopped talking about it. People are going to misunderstand your motives no matter how carefully you explain them, Bart. And some of us are more concerned with the history. Which you are dealing with now, as a means of talking about how your beliefs changed, so I guess that works.

    But I’ve gone through a lot of the same changes you have as I’ve aged, and learned. And I could never–under any circumstances–refer to myself as an atheist, and I just reflexively dislike the word agnostic. Freethinker, maybe. But that’s so 19th century. Lapsed Catholic seems to work best for me. It’s still part of who I am, what I believe. It still means something to me.

    It clearly still means a lot to you, but you were a fundamentalist evangelical, as I never was, which means that ‘losing faith’ has a different meaning for you. I always had doubts–without doubts, faith is meaningless. It’s not a new experience for me, and to be honest, it’s kind of old news.

    One thing I noted with bemusement, the first time I read an atheist newsletter, was that people would describe how they became atheists the same way that born again Christians would describe how they ‘found Jesus’ (I didn’t know he was lost–I thought we were). Some of the most rational coherent people I know are believers. Some of the nuttiest people I’ve ever encountered describe themselves as atheists. And vice versa, obviously. It doesn’t really seem to change the underlying personality structure at all, going from one to the other. We are what we are.

    What’s most important is that we all respect each other’s beliefs, and disbeliefs, but one of the ways we do that is to respect each other’s privacy. Sometimes I think the endless confessionals are a detriment to that, because words will never be fully adequate to the task of explaining what someone truly believes. There’s always something faltering and uncertain about the process. But if you feel you need to do it, it’s your blog, and Lord knows, that’s what people with blogs tend to do. I won’t throw stones. My house is glass also.

    • catguy  June 6, 2017

      Yes, I agree I think we all need to respect the beliefs of others. We live in a country that believes in freedom of speech and sometimes you see on TV that certain groups get radicalized when others express their opinions. Scary stuff. Anyway, I personally enjoy Dr. Ehrman’s personal account of his transformation of his beliefs. Maybe some day we will cross those same pathways though probably not me since I am not an academic. And in his personal accounts I think it helps us gain an understanding of where he is leading us in his discussions. How he got there so to speak. I do want to comment a bit on atheists. I live in the Midwest in a conservative region so you won’t find many professing atheists. Lots of agnostics, though. Maybe they are being safe, eh. Of the handful of atheists I have personally known I think maybe two of them didn’t want to believe in the Bible or God because it interfered with their libertine lifestyle. No belief, no guilt. But I think the majority of atheists just got fed up with all the conflicting “stuff” out there. Everything from mainstream Christianity with how many hundred different denominations and some of them won’t even talk to one another. Then all the whackos on TV and the prosperity gospel being the most egregious. Well, in my opinion anyway. To each his own. So I can understand if a person maybe wanted to believe but got all this static and not sure who is right or what ulterior motive some of these “churches” might have. So that is my take on all of this.

  15. ftbond  June 5, 2017

    Re: Dr Ehrmans comment: “But also the meal celebrated on Passover (whichever day it fell on) was “Prepared” the day before. That would be the day of Preparation for Passover.”

    The first century was a time of great disagreement between the Pharisees and the Sadduccees. Exactly “when” certain things were to take place – ie, festivals – was a point of great contention between the two sects.

    Josephus wrote “Because of these views they (the Pharisees) are, as a matter of fact, extremely influential among the towns­folk; and all prayers (vows) AND SACRED RITES OF DIVINE WORSHIP are performed according to their exposition”.

    What we see today in Orthodox Judaism is (I believe most would agree) what Pharisaic Judaism became over the centuries. And, in Orthodox Judaism, there certain (and sometimes confusing?) rules regarding Sabbaths, “High Sabbaths”, etc. For example, if Passover falls on the day *after* a regular weekly Sabbath, then when does one actually prepare for the Passover itself? After all, work – including cooking – is forbidden on Sabbath. So, in some cases, the days of preparation themselves are changed. But what I am getting at is this: At the time of Jesus, it is entirely possible that on the Passover in question, the Pharisees (which represented more of the masses) may have actually celebrated the Passover a day before the Sadduccees (which essentially governed the Temple cult).
    [ note: I’m not making a case for anything here… Just info… ]

    Additionally, there can, for the gentile (and, probably even some practicing Jews) some confusion as to whether the Passover is on th 14th or on the 15th of Nissan. The answer? Both. The slaughter takes place on the 14th (which is a daytime), the meal is eaten on the 15th (which is the nighttime following immediately after).

    And, an very many cases – in Jewish writings – “Passover” can refer to the day of slaughter, the night of the meal itself, or, the combination of the day of slaughter, the night of the meal, and the Feast of Unleaved Bread. But, because the whole 7 (or is it 8?) day celebration is often referred to as “the Passover”, then we don’t exactly know what is meant when John says that the chief priests didn’t want to enter the Praetorium “…that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover”. This could very well have been a reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

    On top of this, you have to throw in the fact that the first and last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were themselves “high” days, and, as for all “high” days, there is a Day of Preparation.

    Bottom Line: I’m not trying to solve anything here. I’m just saying that there’s a whole bunch we don’t really know. If the picture given in the gospel accounts is confusing, it shouldn’t be remotely surprising.

  16. anthonygale  June 5, 2017

    What are your thoughts on the possibility that God exists but is not quite what most (or any) people think? Would a creator, regardless of the extent to which that creator interacts with the world, necessarily be all powerful or all good, at least in the sense we think of? I think there are certain things that aren’t possible even for an “omnipotent” being. How can anything positive (e.g. happiness) exist without a negative (e.g. suffering) to compare it to, any more than a left or up can exist without a right or a down? I also think that people tend to anthropomorphize. If a being does exist capable of creating a universe, would it desire to prevent all suffering in the world or necessarily do anything we would do in the same situation? I am getting dangerously close to the “just trust in God, his ways are higher than ours” answer, which I despise because it gives people an excuse to ignore problems. Yet I still think there may be some truth to it.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 6, 2017

      Sure, it’s possible. The question would be why someone would think such a God exists, and what difference it would make.

      • anthonygale  June 6, 2017

        I think it’s simply easier to believe that such a God exists. It’s easier to believe there exists an imperfect being than a perfect one and it is hard to argue that an imperfect being would necessarily prevent all suffering in the world. I realize that’s not how most people view God, but I don’t think it would negate most of the reasons people provide for believing in God. I’m surprised more people don’t discuss the possibility because it seems like a much simpler “solution” to the problem of suffering. If such a God existed, I think it would be analogous to knowing that the city of Troy really existed. It wasn’t a myth after all, yet the story told in the Iliad probably isn’t quite accurate.

        • ftbond  June 7, 2017

          I think most people misunderstand what is meant by the idea that “God is perfect”. In the biblical view, God existed before anything and everything else. He is the Beginning, the Absolute Singularity, the Ultimate-Buck-Stops-Here “God”. As such, God – whatever His “personality traits” might be – is “As God As It Gets”. In this respect, God – being entirely self-existent, requiring no additions or improvements to His “God-ness”, is Perfect – *As God*. Whole and complete in Himself. And, *that’s* what is meant by “God’s Perfection”.

          But, here’s the deal: if God Himself is Perfect, then it means that He is Perfection Itself. And, this is ultimately the very reason the Universe is imperfect: for God to create something Perfect, He would have to create a clone of Himself, but, even that wouldn’t work, because the clone wouldn’t be self-existent. So, nothing in nature can possibly be “perfect”, because nothing in nature can be self-existent. Nothing in Nature can be “God”; God is God.

          So, from the get-go, there was *always* going to be imperfection in Nature. Even the old Hebrew tale found in Genesis says that God created the universe and said it was “good”, not “perfect”.

          Me? I’d argue that the vast majority of suffering we have on earth is Man-caused.

          I’ve read atheists post the question “how can a good God allow a innocent fawn to die an horrific death in a forest fire”?

          You know how many forest fires are cause by humans? According to the National Park Service, about 90% of all wildfires are cause by *humans*. Take humans out of the picture, an guess what? You’ve reduced the number of “bambis” dying in forest fires by 90%.

          According to WorldHunger.org, there is enough food produced, right now, to feed the entire population of earth. The problem? Affordability. In other words, God’s creation – earth – can and does actually produce enough food for everybody. It just *costs* too much for some people. But, that “cost”? That’s a “human” thing. WE put the price on foods. And you know what? I’m guessing that if everyone simply GAVE a dollar or two a month to offset the price of foods for people in poor countries, we could probably eliminate hunger in the world. And, guess what? “Feeding the poor” has been something that the “God of the bible” has long said that WE are supposed to do. Most of us don’t. Dr Bart Ehrman puts an effort into doing so, though. And I think it’s an example we should all follow. But, ultimately, there’s enough food produced – so – this isn’t a “God problem”, it’s a “Mankind problem”.

          I could ramble on, but I won’t. This is just food for thought.

      • dragonfly  June 7, 2017

        Before Jewish monotheism, most people on the planet believed in gods that were neither all-powerful nor all-good.

  17. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  June 9, 2017

    Dear Bart, we know there Princeton is the the president of ivy league. Also, if I worked my with all my heart and effort, I could fit in with Princeton. I have heard, anything is possible. I have been to community college, and perceive it to be easy and not challenging. Intoxicated, I will want to express to you, that you are my inspiration, and yet you gave up ? Because of suffering, you gave lost you heart. Because of not interfering with human progression, you lost your faith. Oh Bart, everyone has to live a story, it written in the book life. Somebody had to deal with something; from pathetic to extreme… You have been blessed, do not loose that understanding sir. It breaks my heart….
    JOSEPH… (A.J)

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