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Why I’m Obsessed with Jesus

There is a relatively new online journal, “On Faith,” that is top-of-the line and very interesting. A couple of days ago they published a short article that I wrote, in connection with How Jesus Became God; I called the article “Why I Am Obsessed with Jesus.” It contains some views you will have seen from me before, and some others. Here is the article as I sent it to them. (The full link to the online version in the journal comes at the end).

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I finally figured out why I’m so obsessed with Jesus.

It makes sense that Jesus mattered to me when I was young. I was raised in a Christian household, we went to church, we revered the Bible, and Jesus was God.

It makes sense that Jesus mattered to me as a late teenager, when I had a born-again experience and became a conservative evangelical. (What I converted from to “become a Christian” continues to puzzle me.) At that point Jesus became not only my Lord and Savior, but also my best friend and closest ally.

 

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 8, 2014

    Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this about yourself. I am obsessed as well, but for a somewhat different reason. I really want to make the Christian religion work for me because of the strong pulls of its sense of community, its comfort, its hope, and its power to make some of us sometimes better than we would be without it, but I just can’t seem to make it work because of all of the legends, divine killing, Bible contradictions, and textual problems associated with the religion. This back and forth pull drives my obsession. Somewhere, somehow, someone must have worked this out in a way that makes sense so I keep searching. In contrast to my obsessive searching, most others I know reached some sort of conclusions about Christianity long, long before they reached my age and are no longer obsessed with the search.

  2. Avatar
    toddfrederick  April 8, 2014

    Your comments today surprised me. A number of months ago I asked a question related to my assertion that the belief in Jesus as God and Constantine’s actions through the council of Nicaea was the turning point of the Jewish Jesus movement becoming the Christianity we have today. You thought that Constantine had very little influence in this matter and suggested I view the documentary Constantine’s Sword. Have your views changed since I asked my question that States essentially what you wrote here today?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2014

      I’m afraid I don’t remember the exact question or my response. I do think that after Constantine converted, and Christianity came to be a powerful political and economic force, the Jews began to suffer for it, significantly. I’ve been saying that for years. So I’m not sure whta I may have said to you before! (Maybe it was about a slightly different question?)

      • Avatar
        toddfrederick  April 9, 2014

        I’ll try to find it. Won’t be easy going back a year or so. Your position is exactly what I was saying…that Constantine was a “game changer” when it came to the direction western Christianity took.

        I asked the question around the time that Tabor first published “Paul and Jesus” and, while reading his book, it struck me that the direction Paul was headed was into Hellenism (perhaps not intentionally) and then Christianity became “legal” with Constantine and then the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius. At least we agree. Thank you for your response.

        Also, I remember when you first discussed writing “How Jesus Became God” and included us in the conversation on your blog. I appreciate that. I want to buy a hard copy of it and will do so next month. Do you have any available for autographing?

        I can not remember a day in my life that I ever though that Jesus was God (totally irrational and demeaning to his mission, IMO) and then came the Trinity at Nicaea…the kiss of death.

        I do find that I need spiritual community and just began attending a very tiny Unitarian church which fits me perfectly.

        Blessings.

  3. Avatar
    FrancisDunn  April 8, 2014

    Dr Ehrman: Look at it this way…Science may have progressed further without the interference of the church. We may have landed on Mars in the first millenium. We could have had a much better world without the church…This is how I see it. What do you think?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2014

      Yup, it’s possible! That’s what I mean — things could have been significantly different!

  4. Avatar
    FrancisDunn  April 8, 2014

    What about the millions of people who died for NOTHING..They either refused to believe and were killed for it..They could have had the cure for cancer….I really think the church was the worst thing that could have happened to the human race

  5. Avatar
    fishician  April 9, 2014

    The study of Jesus and the Bible in general is fascinating because it has been such an influence in the world. I think the main fault with atheists/agnostics is that many of them aren’t familiar enough with the Bible to intelligently discuss it or argue against it. Believers think the Bible is the best argument for God, but atheists believe the Bible is the best argument against him! (At least the Judeo-Christian version of God).

  6. Avatar
    timber84  April 9, 2014

    I believe you mentioned in your book Did Jesus Exist that you have a brother who is also a professor. When you had your born-again experience, did you convince him to become an evangelical Christian? Did you have any influence on him becoming an academic as well?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2014

      He is still very much a church person, but I don’t think I had much to do with it. (We were raised in the Episcopal church) He’s three years older than me, and was an academic long before I was!

  7. Avatar
    shakespeare66  April 9, 2014

    It is fortunate that you have that obsession. How else would anyone have ever known about the historical Jesus had you not popularized your work? For that, many of us are eternally grateful. Grateful for the truth instead of fiction. Generally people just do not realize what kind of effort it takes to get at the truth, and the life of a scholar is not all a bed of roses. It is work! Your work ethic is really second to none. Perhaps you needed to do this because this is what you knew. You were born to do it, and your circumstances in life gave you the foundation to do it. It helped that you were very intelligent, but it also helped that you had that burning desire to know everything you could about that era. It is such an incredibly amazing thing you have done….that is, to discern the truth as you see what history has laid out for you. As you know, I am a total admirer of your work and have read about 15 of your works. I am waiting the delivery of How Jesus Became God. I grew up a Catholic and started questioning a lot of the dogma while a teenager and then in college. I then embarked on a 37 year career teaching high school and college English. I did not have time to probe the matter until I retired 6 years ago and began reading your works. I have been obsessed ever since. Please continue yours so we may benefit from this understanding. I think the simple understanding of Christ as an apocalyptic Jew has been the biggest secret in history. I say this because I had never heard that about Jesus in my life until I read your book. Keep up the great work!

    • Avatar
      Matilda  July 1, 2014

      Same here, Shakespeare. I’m a “recovering” Catholic. I feel I’ve been lied to all these years and now thanks to Bart, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, I feel liberated. It is sometimes a painful process but well worth it.

  8. Avatar
    JBSeth1  April 9, 2014

    Hi Bart,

    I too am, I wouldn’t say “obsessed” with Jesus, but I would say “intrigued” with Jesus. Though, to be honest, for me, I’m mostly intrigued by what can actually know or say about him, from a historical / critical approach.

    It occurred to me that perhaps what we can know or say about Jesus, may be similar to the idea you shared in your latest book about the levels of divinity.

    For example, perhaps at a fundamental level, given our knowledge of the likelihood that there was an oral tradition after Jesus was crucified, the possibility of embellishments that occurred in the story of Jesus during this time, the much later writings of Q, M, L, and the 4 Gospels, and the inconsistencies that exist in all these documents, all we can really say about Jesus at a “Fundamental” level is that he probably existed (Paul met Peter and James).

    Then perhaps at another level, where we take at what has been written and making the best use of the historical critical approach that we can, perhaps we can also say that Jesus lived in Nazareth, was probably a follower of John the Baptist, probably preached an apocalyptic message and was crucified and died.

    Then perhaps at another level, given what was written and believed about Jesus and what he did, perhaps we could say that Jesus may have performed both healings and miracles, and may have been “resurrected”, (whether that implies, people had visions only or a full body resurrection) after his death.

    Along these lines, at some point in the future, I’d be curious to know, what you think we can know about Jesus at the “Fundamental” level.

    John

  9. TracyCramer
    TracyCramer  April 9, 2014

    Dear Bart,
    Thanks for sharing that. I read the bio at the end of the article and it says: “Bart Ehrman is one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today.”

    But you have always impressed me most for your thoroughly critical approach to scholarship. What could be “controversial” about following the evidence wherever it leads you? Moreover, you are probably best known for your presentations on the historical Jesus. But you have repeatedly stressed that “… the majority of scholars think of Jesus as an apocalypticist.” So where is the “controversy” there?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2014

      I guess what is controversial is that so many people are rather vehemently opposed to critical scholarship! But there’s not much question that my views are controversial. Just check out the internet!

      • TracyCramer
        TracyCramer  April 9, 2014

        Forgive my naivete, but how could any adult be opposed to critical scholarship (that is, other than unreasoning people who need to hold onto certain beliefs in spite of the weight of evidence)? Or did I just answer my question? So really, you are only controversial among those people, or are you controversial in any way in academia?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 10, 2014

          Ah, you don’t live in the American South!!!

          • TracyCramer
            TracyCramer  April 10, 2014

            That would explain the former! 😀 But what about the latter? Are you controversial or “out there” in any way in academia?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 11, 2014

            Not among like-minded scholars. 🙂

  10. Avatar
    natashka  April 9, 2014

    I wonder if the male disciples invented the “women at the tomb” story…so that if their claims fell apart in the near future while they were still alive and they were proved wrong, they could conveniently blame the women for making it up, hallucinating, tricking them, etc.
    But if the women made it up, I don’t blame them. They were probably ticked off they weren’t allowed to be official apostles (if indeed, they were not) and eager to balance the power somehow. It didn’t work, however. I bet they didn’t expect all this…AND to not be allowed to priests, as well! Aargh!

    One sentence, one idea, uttered to a small group of vulnerable, frightened, emotional people…and look what happens. It’s shocking how powerful belief can be.
    One day, when someone finally invents a time machine–we’ll get to the bottom of all this.

  11. Avatar
    cobbr66  April 15, 2014

    I appreciate your honest, scholarship-driven approach to uncovering the truth. I, too, live in NC and have been brought up in a Methodist church since birth (I’m now 47). What drives me to uncover the true Jesus? Because that is exactly what Jesus would have wanted. Many will deceive, based on unscrupulous motives. Others are just following the parental bandwagon. I do not want to be in either camp. I have recently changed my major from M.Div. to Business in order to give my full attention to understanding and grasping what God really wants me to know. Fellowship has turned its back on scholarship. I applaud your fervor and am eagerly testing your theories and evaluating your conclusions as I would with any material of high importance…so far you have been spot on. Please continue on this quest.

    Ryan

  12. Avatar
    donmax  April 15, 2014

    Bart,
    Seems to me you’ve just found a different explanation for something and someone you have always been obsessed with. It keeps you going forward on more or less the same path as before, but with fresh insight and understanding. What I want to know is: given your new awareness, did the claim of JC’s divinity, and it’s success, become a good thing or a bad thing, historically speaking? And if you choose to split the baby, what do you think was the worst and the best of these historical consequences??
    D.C. Smith

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 15, 2014

      Ah, that question takes us outside of the realm of history into the realm of ethics and moral judgments, about which I am no expert. I can indeed think of good and bad consequences. Maybe I’ll post on it.

      • Avatar
        donmax  April 16, 2014

        Hope you will. More than that, I think you should. 😉

  13. Avatar
    madmargie  April 15, 2014

    I have been fascinated with your books for a long time. I have read most of them and am reading one now. When I get finished with this one, I will read your latest book.

    Still I wonder why we still mention the prayer over the bread and wine with what I consider the wrong prayer. When Jews were not permitted to drink any blood and even the sacrifices that were eaten by the priests were drained of blood, why do Christians not use the didache prayer for that sacrament. It makes a lot more sense.

    I don’t believe you have addressed that issue in any of your books.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 16, 2014

      I don’t think the Didache was used widely enough for its prayers to have made it into the broader Christian usage.

      • Avatar
        madmargie  April 18, 2014

        Do you think that was because most of the later versions of Christianity emerged from Gentile disciples (pagans) and the blood was not an issue with them?

        Wouldn’t the very early Jewish church have objected to the one generally used by Christians now that mentions the blood and body of Jesus?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 18, 2014

          Sorry — I’m lost on what you’re asking (I don’t have our previous conversation in front of me).

          • Avatar
            madmargie  April 18, 2014

            My question was the reason the didache prayer is not used in the gospels.: “Do you think that was because most of the later versions of Christianity emerged from Gentile disciples (pagans) and the blood was not an issue with them?

            Wouldn’t the very early Jewish church have objected to the one generally used by Christians now that mentions the blood and body of Jesus?”

            That was my question, Dr. Ehrman.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 20, 2014

            That prayer wasn’t in existence yet; the Didache was written after the Gospels. I think “eating the flesh and drinking the blood” of Jesus means “participating fully in his death” — which Christians are supposed to do.

  14. Avatar
    madmargie  April 21, 2014

    I see. Thank you for clearing that up for me.

    The Didache prayer makes so much better sense to me since it does not mention the blood and flesh of Jesus but instead makes reference to the community he promoted .

  15. Avatar
    Jesse  June 12, 2014

    So where is the very first reference to Jesus as God (chronologically)? Paul speaks of one God and one Lord separately. I don’t recall Synoptics so would it be John?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 13, 2014

      Paul calls him God in Romans 9:5

      • Avatar
        ebateman  September 3, 2014

        Well, so ok, now I have another question. If Paul calls him God in Romans 9:5, how did he figure this out? He never met Jesus as I recall. Also, if Jesus is supposed to be descended from the House of David, wouldn’t that be Joseph’s line? But if Jesus was conceived of a virgin (I subscribe to the “young woman” translation though) through God, or the Holy Spirit, that shoots the Joseph lineage. Was Mary descended from David? Isn’t “Jewishness” passed through the mother? So how can I go to a church and recite the Creed when I’m so messed up? How can Jesus be divine? Yes I read your book and attended your lecture. He’s apparently not. So how can I go to church at all? So if not, my former Catholic self pokes me. I guess I’m not TOTALLY recovered. How do you reconcile all of this when you used to be more fundamentalist than I’ve ever been?

  16. Avatar
    ebateman  September 3, 2014

    I’m a recovered Catholic, occasionally go to an Episcopal church and have been really conflicted for about 15 years since a lousy Episcopalian priest (he was fired) sent me off in my own direction reading. Dr. Ehrman, your Historical Jesus with The Teaching Company was one of my first forays into an alternate spiritual set of possibilities. Since then I’ve read most of your books, have seen you twice at the Smithsonian and sent your books to one of my sons who is also searching for his comfort level. I’m less of a mess than I used to be, but still don’t know how I’ll wind up at the end of this “journey year” (my new year’s resolution instead of hitting the gym). I am curious, regarding your post, just who exactly declared Jesus God? Also, if that is what launched Christianity globally, what is it that has created such a major religion out of Islam? How have Islamic extremists become so bloody? Yes, I know Christians have done the same thing, but why is religion used as the scapegoat? Thanks.

    • Avatar
      ebateman  September 3, 2014

      Oh, funny. I just looked above my post and got your answer to Paul calling Jesus God in Romans. I still have my Islamic questions, though.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 4, 2014

      I”d suggest you read my book How Jesus Became God, where I deal explicitly with the question of who declared Jesus God. About Islam, I”m afraid I’m not an expert and so can’t really say.

  17. Avatar
    Laurel700  November 17, 2014

    I’m just finishing “God’s Problem” for the second time. This was preceded in rapid succession by “Jesus, Interrupted”, “Misquoting Jesus”, “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction…”, “Forged…”, “The Text of the New Testament…” (Metzger & Ehrman) and about a dozen other books by others on related themes (I’m recovering from a broken hip). I really do love your books and I’m glad you got down and personal in “God’s Problem” about your own experiences. I feel the authenticity because I’ve been there, done that. For me, I wasn’t “kicking and screaming,” it was more like a protracted de-fleshing and it took 26 years, step by step. I think I started earlier than you did since I was raised in a family that came from a long line of ministers and I certainly took some other paths here and there; but mainly, it was research beginning with buying my first Greek lexicon when I was bedridden after my fourth child was born. You know the poem “The Hound of Heaven”? Well, turn it around: I’m the hound and I’m the one who was hunting Jesus; that’s how it felt. I think my obsession was similar: HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN? Our whole Western Civilization was shaped by this! Surely there has to be SOMETHING there?!

    Well, I’ve got several more books of yours to read in the stack and I can spend very little time in my desk chair so back to work. Many thanks for truly beautiful books.

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