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Would the Disciples Die for A Lie? Proofs for the Resurrection.

Reminiscing about blogs of years gone by, I found this one from almost exactly six years ago.  And it’s still relevant for today.  The disciples all died for their belief that Jesus was raised from the dead, right?  So they must have *known* he was actually raised.  No one would die for a lie.  Right?   Here’s the question a blog member asked, and my response.  I still hold to it!

 

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QUESTION:

Another very very popular evidence put forward for the resurrection is “the disciples would not have died for what they knew was a lie, therefore it must have happened.” I hear this all the time. You note that they really believed they saw Jesus after he died so they were not lying. However, is there evidence (historical or literary) that they were killed because of their belief in Jesus’ resurrection?

RESPONSE:

Ah yes, if I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this comment over the years, I could retire to a country-home in Maine…. Several other people have responded to this question on the blog by saying that we have lots of records of lots of people who have died for a something that they knew, literally, not to be true. I am not in a position to argue that particular point. But I can say something about all the disciples dying for believing in the resurrection.

The way the argument (by Christian apologists) goes is this (I know this, because I used to make the same argument myself, when I was a Christian apologist!): all the apostles were martyred for their faith, because they believed Jesus had been raishgggged from the dead; you can see why someone might be willing to die for the truth; but no one would die for a lie; and therefore the disciples – all of them – clearly believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. And if they *all* believed it, then it almost certainly is true (since none of them thought otherwise, they must have all seen Jesus alive after his death).

The big problem with this argument is that …

To see my response, you will need to belong to the blog.  If you don’t belong yet, now’s your big chance.  Don’t blow it!  You don’t know what tomorrow holds, so grab for all you can get today.  JOIN!!

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Did My Loss of Faith Affect my Scholarship?

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Comments

  1. SonOfZeusTruly
    SonOfZeusTruly  September 13, 2018

    I hope you are safe from the hurricane Dr. 🙏

    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2018

      Thanks! So far so good. Those poor people on the coast though….

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        turtlepc  September 14, 2018

        Good to hear! – stay safe… was worried about the flooding more than anything

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      Steefen  September 14, 2018

      Chapel Hill, NC to Virginia Beach is 207 miles, according to google maps

      230 miles to Kity Hawk Beach

      • Bart
        Bart  September 16, 2018

        Yes, it circled around us, strangely enough. Just lots of rain.

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  September 13, 2018

    Most people would be shocked and chagrined by how many people would die and have died for a lie.

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      godspell  September 14, 2018

      Sure. Everybody who died for the causes espoused by the French Revolution, for example. There were endless lies there. Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake” to name one example out of many. The revolution ended up being not about liberty, equality, brotherhood, but about settling old scores, empower ideologues, creating despots, mass executions, and a bizarre calendar nobody could figure out. The Russian Revolution was even worse.

      All causes people die for are based heavily on lies that people believe, because they need to. The real truth is so complicated and hard to explain, everything gets boiled down into catchphrases and memes, that invariably mislead and often deceive. Christianity was no different. But there is an inherent flaw to the argument we’re discussing here, and I don’t mean the fact that most Christians in that time period were never required to choose between their beliefs and their lives.

      We had two world wars in the 20th century, which killed more people than lived in the Roman Empire at any time in its existence –both were supposed to bring about a better world, and end war for all time. That is what the people fighting in those wars were supposed to be dying for. I feel ironic jibes would be inadequate here. But it should be noted that in all these conflicts and causes that led to bloodshed, people were not in fact all fighting and dying for the same reasons.

      The flaw is that we’re assuming Christians died for the proposition that Jesus rose from the dead.

      What Roman authority figure ever asked them about that? What Roman authority cared what they personally believed in?

      They were dying because they were monotheists. Bart has explained this very well. They would not even pretend to worship the pagan gods, and the Romans believed that worship of those gods was integral to the well-being of the polis. That was the basis of the persecution. If Christians had said “We will sacrifice to your gods, but Jesus rose from the dead” they’ve been like “Okay fine, whatever.”

      They were dying because they refused to give up their beliefs. They were in fact monotheists, and would not pretend to be polytheists. So they were dying for the truth.

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        godspell  September 14, 2018

        The disciples were Jews, of course–they could worship their own God exclusively under the grandfathered-in arrangement they had with the Romans. But they were converting gentiles, in increasing numbers. Converting them to monotheistic beliefs which the Romans considered a threat.

        If somebody said “I’m dying for my right to worship as I please, to exercise my right to speak, to freely assemble to discuss shared ideas”–would you consider that dying for a lie?

        Seems to me that’s one of the things the soldiers of the Continental Army died for.

        And let’s admit that many of the ideas many non-religious people have since died for began, in part, with the Christians.

        People die for ideas all the time, and since ideas can never be factually proven right or wrong–unlike empirical facts–all ideas are lies, in a sense. Or rival truths. Your pick.

        There’s a great song called “Mourir Pour Des Idees” which takes a different slant–nobody should be forced to die for ideas. He’s not talking mainly about religion, but it’s part of what he means.

        However, he wrote this song in the context of being attacked for not fighting the Nazis in France during WWII.

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          godspell  September 14, 2018

          Link to a translation of that brilliant song by Georges Brassens, and a video of him singing it.

          https://lyricstranslate.com/en/mourir-pour-des-idées-die-some-ideas.html-0

          I fully believe that nobody should be forced to die for anything he or she does not believe in, and that we should not be in any great hurry to die for any idea. Life is short enough as is, and being willing to die for ideas very often goes very well with being willing to kill for them.

          (Though Jesus wasn’t, and neither were his followers, for quite a long time–and unlike the ideologues Brassens lampoons in his lyric, who somehow walk around breathing while so many bleed for their ideas–Jesus put his money where his mouth was, and reportedly died in the place of his followers, asking them to live and carry on his ideas, and I think that’s what the disciples were really dying for–the sense of duty and guilt they felt for having abandoned him.)

          All that being said, if nobody was willing to die for any idea–and remember, all ideas are just that, not facts–where would we be?

          Rival truths. There is no final solution.

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    rivercrowman  September 13, 2018

    Bart, if you do decide to “retire to a country-home in Maine,” do some research please. With climate change in recent decades, the coast now gets tons more snow (compared to inland), has very high property taxes (compared to inland), and is exposed to more unhealthy air pollution (compared to inland). Thought I’d give you a heads up.

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    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2018

      Actually, over the years I’ve known a number of people who go that route, and I’ve never quite understood it. All I can think of are black flies….

  4. epicurus
    epicurus  September 13, 2018

    Even if all the disciples were executed, it may have just been because they were leaders or prominent figures in the local church area. No discussion of the resurrection or beliefs may have come up. They could have been quickly arrested and executed with no opportunity to recant, or still killed even after recanting – I assume the persecutions under Nero played out this way..

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    Eric  September 13, 2018

    ” There are indications that Peter and Paul were martyred that come from the first century (from the book of 1 Clement). My view is that both of them did indeed die in Rome, possibly under Nero.”

    This is interesting. It suggests that they were associates for some time in Rome together (as Catholic legend has it, I believe).

    Curious as to why Peter would have gone there?:

    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2018

      He had a mission to Jews, and there were more Jews living in Rome than most anywhere. So my guess is that he took his mission there.

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    RonaldTaska  September 13, 2018

    A really good blog. Thanks

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    Lopaka  September 13, 2018

    “They may just as well have heard from someone they trusted”

    Yeah, I think it takes very little for people to believe. I used to know the Christian apologist Hugh Ross, the supposedly smart scientist apologist. He told a story of a friend of his buying a shirt from a witch (why I don’t know.) The friend began to be sick, and thought the shirt had been cursed. So he threw the shirt in a fire and the shirt made some sound as the demons in the shirt were burned. Hugh Ross would tell this story as justification for God needing to destroy everything in Noah’s flood – evil contaminates everything.

    Anyway, the scientist Ross sincerely believed all this and even used it in sermons to convince other people, and then they believed it…

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    fishician  September 13, 2018

    Well said. I think of the story of John the Baptist’s execution. It was because of his criticism of Herod’s marriage and had nothing to do with his preaching of the coming kingdom. Even if early disciples were killed we have no knowledge of why. Maybe the authorities simply found them irritating!

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    DaveAyres  September 13, 2018

    Thereme was a certain white skinned politician whose parentage of black skinned woman was a secret – except that it was also common knowledge. But the value of pretending that the truth of the sexual liaison and offspring never happened exceeded the value of facts. Facts are nothing when a community values an alternate reality more.

    Perhaps the “reality” of a resurrection far exceeded any common sense understanding. Or perhaps the common sense understanding included the possibility of the Divine mingling with the human, where an offspring of Divine and human nature was possible and where this happened in the past.

    It is easy to see how legends would grow to include people dying for a belief, especially in a world where belief and the supernatural stood in the place that scientific facts stand today.

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      Sabina  September 14, 2018

      “Facts are nothing when a community values an alternate reality more.”
      Best sentence I’ve read this morning.

      Without ‘googling’, who knows
      Which of the following originated in the Americas:
      A) the horse B) penicillin C) slavery D) democracy E) none of the above

      Which originated in Europe:
      A) pasta B) the tomato C) the potato. D) sugar E) none of the above

      Which originated in the East:
      A) the human race B) philosophy C) math D) the alphabet E) all of the above

      Which is the most persistent and seemingly incurable problem we face:
      A) hunger B) pestilence C) war D) ignorance E) insert your favorite bugbear (Jewish control of the media is a good one, for example…)

      This audience is a learned bunch. But try putting these seemingly simple questions to the average coworker,high school student, dinner guest, or current American leadership. It is truly frightening how ignorance willfully persists.

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        godspell  September 18, 2018

        Yes, but again, facts were never the point of the persecution. The Romans were killing Christians (on occasion) for refusing to admit to the factual existence of the pagan gods by sacrificing to them. So again, this entire line of questioning is pointless, and both sides of the argument fatally flawed, and rather sloppy.

        Now let me take a crack at this quiz of yours:

        The horse originated in America, but not in the form we currently know it in. (Also dogs, and ditto.)

        None of the above originated in Europe.

        There is no such place as ‘The East’ so this question is badly phrased. ‘The East’ is more of a concept. At least you didn’t say ‘The Orient.’ Might I suggest ‘Asia’?

        As to the last question, five people with exactly the same set of facts could give five different answers–or a thousand. That is not a question that can be answered factually. I’d say “Climate change”, but I suppose the real answer would be “shortsighted greed.” Which we’re all guilty of sometimes.

        You seem to be confusing facts with values, which one would have thought was the error you were trying to correct.

        And I’m not sure I consider people not knowing where the tomato came from is really such a major problem in the grand scheme of things. I can’t eat them lately anyhow.

        Ignorance is a problem, but then again, our ancestors survived for over a hundred thousand years knowing basically nothing except how to make simple tools, hunt, gather, and procreate.

        They also created the first religions, all of which are now forgotten. If they hadn’t, you wouldn’t be typing this. Or anything else. You’d still be an animal, running on instinct, and ignorance wouldn’t be an issue.

        PS: I didn’t need to google any of that.

  10. Avatar
    snf7893  September 13, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    If there is no historical or literary evidence that the disciples were martyred, how do you suspect that the legend started in the first place?

    Thanks

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    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2018

      It’s a modern myth (at least I don’t know of it from earlier periods) invented by apologists who want to stress the point precisely so they can “prove” that the disciples actually saw the resurrected Jesus.

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      • Robert
        Robert  September 14, 2018

        “[The martyrdom of the disciples] is a modern myth (at least I don’t know of it from earlier periods) invented by apologists who want to stress the point precisely so they can “prove” that the disciples actually saw the resurrected Jesus.”

        Is it really a modern myth? I vaguely recall that there were such church legends about the fate of all the disciples. Not historically reliable, of course, but invented relatively early rather than in modern times. Did these church legends not relate the martyrdom of all or most of the disciples?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 16, 2018

          Ah, nothing comes to mind. If you track it down, let me know.

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          • Robert
            Robert  September 16, 2018

            “Ah, nothing comes to mind. If you track it down, let me know.”

            A pseudo-Hippolytus in his Of the Twelve Apostles wrote of the martyrdom of 7 of the 11 apostles (Peter, Andrew, James son of Zebedee, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus); I don’t know when this text was written, but it was not discovered until the 19th c. Note that some of the details of manner of martyrdom here recounted sometimes conflict with other traditions about these 7 apostles. As for the other apostles, a fragment (4.2) attributed to Philip of Side, a 5th c church historian, cites Papias for the view that both of the sons of Zebedee (James and John) were both killed by the Jews and this tradition is also found in George the Sinner in the 9th c. This is interesting because Mk 10,38 already seems to imply that both sons of Zebedee were known to have been killed already in the 1st c. Caravaggio depicts the tradition that Matthew had been martyred by the King of Ethiopia, a tradition that goes back at least as far back to the 13th c Legenda Aurea of Jacobus da Varagine. Jude (aka Lebbaeus/Thaddaeus) is traditionally said to have had his head chopped off (hence he often appears with an axe) but I have not bothered to trace the date of this tradition, the Armenian church claims him as their evangelist and says he was martyred. Simon the Zealot is sometimes said to have been martyred with Jude but others claim that he was crucified in Britain (a claim that may not predate the 19th c)! Already at the end of the 16th c, Cristoforo Roncalli painted Jude being sawn in half (vertically from the head down!) by the Persians. Obviously, very few of these accounts have any credibility but it does seem that some of them are rather old and certainly predate modern apologists.

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        RVBlake  September 15, 2018

        In the TV movie “The Bible”, produced by Roma Downey and her husband, the end of the series portrays the fates of Matthew in Ethiopia and Thomas in India with great authority.

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    godspell  September 13, 2018

    I think the correct argument is “They wouldn’t go through all that for something they BELIEVED was a lie.” Some might, of course. You never know. Joseph Smith certainly knew there were no golden disks, but he was surrounded by armed men most of the time, was armed himself. He wasn’t planning on being martyred. It just worked out that way.

    See, the bad argument results from a different bad argument, mainly from atheists–that early Christianity was a scam, a hoax, a hustle. It wasn’t. They weren’t getting rich from it, and no question they did sometimes suffer consequences. One extreme leads to another.

    Whatever happened to the disciples–and I should not have to remind anyone here what Josephus said happened to Jesus’ brother James–not to mention what happened to Jesus himself, which I think qualifies as pretty severe persecution–there was persecution. You wrote a good bit about it in your last book. We have more than enough evidence that not only was there persecution, but that many times Christians refused to give up their beliefs in the face of certain death. They also tended people during epidemics, at the cost of their own lives–taking fewer precautions than they might have, because it was an act of love, not public hygiene. Yes, they believed. Some a lot more than others. But it was no hoax.

    But people can deeply believe stories that are factually incorrect. And stories that are factually incorrect can have a deep core of truth behind them.

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  12. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  September 14, 2018

    Simply, is there any historical evidence that the apostle Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and that he was martyred upside down on a cross?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2018

      There are legends to that effect, yes, from teh second century. But he almost *certainly* was not the “first bishop” of Rome. I think I’ll post on that!!

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        saavoss  September 14, 2018

        Yes, please do. I was always fascinated with stories of Peter’s tomb. They say the know he was buried there because they found his bones. But wasn’t Vatican hill an ancient necropolis with many people buried there. Of course they found a bone. There are probably millions of ancient bones in that site. But how does anyone know they belongs to Simon bar Jonah (Peter)? They didn’t have DNA testing back then… and isn’t there an ossuary in Jerusalem inscribed with the name Simon bar Jonah? How could his bones be in both places at the same time? Folklore and the formation of legend are fascinating to me.

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    Uxorious  September 14, 2018

    That’s a really interesting point, people today believe in the resurrection without seeing it with their own eyes, so why can’t this be true of 1st Century Christians!

    When discussing with Christians, trying to find out why they believe that Jesus rose from the dead, their arguments are often built on legends of disciples being martyred, or the gospels being written by eyewitnesses. Their world view is developed on these many stories, making it very difficult to have a productive conversation with them. When you discuss with them, I find myself disagreeing with so many of their sources and interpretations, that any progress is almost impossible. Do you have any advice on this?

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    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2018

      I would simply ask them what their sources of information are for the disciples being martyred. They almost never will have an answer. Our earliest records are the apocryphal Acts (Acts of Peter, Acts of John, Acts of Thomas, etc.) They almost certainly will not have read them, or even know about them. If you want to know how highly untrustworthy/legendary they are, just read them. It’s pretty obvious they are not great hisotircal sources!

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        Uxorious  September 14, 2018

        Thanks! I actually own your “After the New Testament, a reader in early Christianity” and I just took a look, and the texts you mention to read are in there! Well, that decides my next book to read!

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        Sixtus  September 14, 2018

        I’d just recommend to them Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution, How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (Harper-Collins). It’s as eye-opening a read as any of your own books.

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        godspell  September 16, 2018

        I’d be very surprised to learn that the disciples all died of natural causes.

        It just doesn’t pass the smell test.

        But I understand we can’t know for a fact. And again, it’s irrelevant, because they wouldn’t have been martyred for believing in the Resurrection. They would have been martyred for convering gentile pagans to monotheism, which they were doing, in part, because they believed Jesus had risen from the dead. But why did they believe that? Because they were tortured by guilt over having abandoned him.

        Nobody ever does anything for just one reason.

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      ftbond  September 15, 2018

      Uxorius –

      re: “When discussing with Christians, trying to find out why they believe that Jesus rose from the dead, their arguments are often built on legends of disciples being martyred, or the gospels being written by eyewitnesses”

      I’m one who believes that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that he did indeed appear bodily – not a ghost, a spirit, a phantom, a vapor – but in a body (although, unlike our present bodies) to a number of people.

      But, I’ve never, ever, relied on tales of martyred disciples or the authorship of the gospels. In fact, I have virtually no reliance on the gospels at all for the resurrection story, nor for my belief in it.

      I suppose, though – because somehow “Christianity” became to be “Jesus PLUS the Gospels” – most Christians feel some kind of need to defend the Gospels (not “the gospel”), so, in that defense, the authors were eyewitnesses, and at least Matthew and Mark must have been martyred for their faith. Something like that. In the bigger picture, it’s super-easy to observe that most Christians do buy into those “stories”.

      Totally unnecessary, though. I certainly don’t buy into them, and, as I said, I do believe Jesus was, in fact, resurrected. But, then, I’m an outlier… 🙂

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    craig@corbettlaw.org  September 14, 2018

    I remember reading something like this type of argument in CS Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity. But I don’t recall that he had any historical support for the assertion.

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    1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  September 14, 2018

    Paul give a brief account of many eye witnesses but his own encounter with Jesus was a mystical one – in vision. This may have been how other “witnesses” experienced the resurrected Jesus as well. Whether they actually saw him physically as in the gospel accounts and John’s epistle or in vision their experience with Christ either directly or indirectly produced great faith. Unfortunately, like the afterlife (I eagerly anticipate your forthcoming book) the story of Jesus Christ has accumulated much mythology over time to the point where I doubt the original disciples of Jesus would recognize Christianity today as having anything to do with what their Master taught them. Stay dry. I hope you and your family are safe with Florence invading North Carolina and SE USA.

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      ftbond  September 16, 2018

      1jdfrancisco —

      re: “Paul give a brief account of many eye witnesses but his own encounter with Jesus was a mystical one – in vision.”

      We don’t have any such account for Paul at all. What we have is what LUKE says that Paul saw.

      Paul, in his own writings, simply indicates that he’s “seen” Jesus.

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        1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  September 17, 2018

        See 1 Cor. 15:1-8.

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          ftbond  October 6, 2018

          1 Cor 15: — “…and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”

          Are you seeing something “descriptive” in that phrase? I don’t see where Paul is describing what he saw.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 7, 2018

            Descriptive only in the sense that he is saying that Jesus appeared to him as living, as he indicates, as well, in 1 Cor. 9:1.

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            1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  October 8, 2018

            Please read my post again. Paul gave an account of others seeing a resurrected Jesus in 1 Cor. 15. His own encounter was mystical and not with a physically resurrected Christ.

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    mkahn1977  September 14, 2018

    Is this a similar phenomena to those who swear they’ve seen Elvis? I don’t remember if you made the same point in one of your writings.

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    Steefen  September 14, 2018

    The Son of God, Octavian, Caesar Augustus had a succession plan and had to redraft his succession plan due to deaths of people in the original plan.

    Jesus spoke of Son of Man in the first person. Then he spoke of Son of Man in the third person.

    Was Jesus as the first manifestation of the Son of Man and the second Son of Man were both to be mortal or was the earthly Kingdom of God supposed to be a Camelot of immortality?

    If immortality was not to be brought to Earth, then Jesus has no succession planning as did Son of the Divine and Pontifex Maximus, Divus Augustus.

    Jesus sought to usher in a new kingdom and has no plans for the sons and grandsons of Herod the Great, nor did he lead a delegation to Rome. Neither did God send Jesus to Rome since Rome was the empire and Judea was the province.

    Question: While members of the earthly Kingdom of God would pay taxes to Rome, this kingdom would be a light to Rome, but given the blind getting sight and all the other characteristics healings and resurrections, was it supposed to be a place with no death for the third person Son of Man and members of his kingdom?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 16, 2018

      I think Jesus imagined it as an eternal kingdom. No more death.

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    turtlepc  September 14, 2018

    Visions or not (of Jesus) – Why do we not have other historical accounts of say Matthew 27:52-53 – if such a thing were to happen – would it surely not be recorded elsewhere (in other historical records)? — It is this line of thinking that makes me doubt other such types of claims..

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    • Bart
      Bart  September 16, 2018

      Yes, a lot of these experiences are reported by only one author, which automatically makes them a shade suspect….

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        1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  September 17, 2018

        In addition to Matthew we also have sightings of a resurrected Jesus reported by Mark, Luke, John, and Paul. Again, some of these were visions while others are recorded as physical appearances.

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      Ephraimlad  September 18, 2018

      This makes me wonder something. If one has a vision, and interprets that vision, is he not a prophet? Doesn’t Constantine’s [presumed] vision at the Milvian Bridge and his subsequent [presumed] interpretation of that vision entitle him to the title of prophet?

      • Bart
        Bart  September 19, 2018

        I’d say no more or less than someone who has a dream and interprets it (in the ancient world there was no clear division between dreams and visions.)

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    madi22  September 14, 2018

    Hi Bart,

    Do you think modern day apologists making arguments like this for the resurrection actually truly believe they are correct, or do they know their argument is weak however still go along with it?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 16, 2018

      I think they truly believe it. But I wonder if deep down, below the level of consciousness, they wonder….

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    ftbond  September 15, 2018

    Dr Ehrman –

    re: “I think Peter and, later, Paul certainly did have a vision of Jesus after his death, and possibly Mary Magdalene did as well ”

    By “a vision”, I presume you mean to say “an hallucination”. Is that correct?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 16, 2018

      My personal view is that these were hallucinations; but even if they were actual “sightings” they would have been “things seen” — and that’s the definition of a “vision,” something you see.

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      • Rick
        Rick  September 17, 2018

        How about ghosts? Did First Century Galileans (or people overall) believe in ghosts? They apparently believed in “shades” of the dead. Was the interpretation of the vision as a resurrection more of an improbable “stretch” versus seeing a ghost then. I think it would be today – but as always I find it terribly hard to imagine a First Century context!

        Thanx
        Stay safe

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        Iskander Robertson  September 17, 2018

        if we had the mind set of the disciples AND those who thought that x appeared in the resurrected body of y, then do you think we would be convinced Elvis Presley was really alive even if we knew there was a body in his grave?

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