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Yale Shaffer Lectures 1 of 3 – Christ Come in the Flesh

Ten years ago now — October 12-14, 2004 — I delivered the Shaffer lectures at Yale University Divinity School. The central theme of the series was “Christ in the Early Christian Tradition: Texts Disputed and Apocryphal.” Among other things, I tried to show how early Christian groups tried to restrict readings of their sacred texts to suit their own purposes. This first lecture is entitled on “Christ Come in the Flesh.” (The video quality will not be up to what we all have come to expect, as it was recorded on VHS.)

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  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 1, 2014

    I look forward to seeing the video. Don’t people still cherry pick their texts?

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 1, 2014

    1. This Sunday morning I watched the video of your Freedom From Religion Foundation lecture. It is terrific, especially your closing summary. Thanks so much for sharing it. You are an incredibly productive person who has been very helpful to many who think and read about the subject of early Christianity.
    2. You might find some humor in my recent decision to spend each Sunday morning for the next several months watching an Ehrman video rather than attending church.
    3. With regard to your comments about the Churches of Christ in Alabama, I would like to make a few additional comments, I spent 50 years with the Churches of Christ, They were started in Tennessee in the early 1800s by
    Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell. This movement then migrated mostly to Texas. Hence, if you meet someone from the Churches of Christ, they more than likely come from either Tennessee or Texas. The main goal of the group is to, as much as possible, restore early Christianity as it was first practiced using the Bible as the best way of doing this. Hence, for example, there is no piano or organ music in the services because there were no pianos or organs in early Christianity.
    4. I understand your opposition to fundamentalism, but don’t you think that non-fundamentalist Christianity also does harm and that humans might be better off without it?
    5. I agree that people often use the freedom of religion argument in a way that it imposes religion on others. The Hobby Lobby case is an example where the religious freedom argument of the employer imposes a religious view on employees.
    6. Thomas Jefferson in essence stated that the religion of others was of no concern to him if that religion leaves him alone. Unfortunately, religion, even of the non-fundamentalist type, does not always leave others alone.
    7. Thanks and keep plugging away!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 1, 2014

      Yes, one of my closest friends, Dale Martin, Professor of NT at Yale, was raised Church of Christ (in Texas) and he has been telling me about it for over thirty years!!

      • Avatar
        RonaldTaska  September 2, 2014

        Yes, when I took Dr. Martin’s online Yale New Testament course, he mentioned this in the first lecture. One of the other interesting things is that the Churches of Christ focus on being like the first Christians leads them to emphasize the teachings of Paul much more than most other Chrstian groups.

    • Avatar
      prestonp  September 2, 2014

      “…don’t you think that non-fundamentalist Christianity also does harm and that humans might be better off without it?”

      Would you list each way that non-fundamental christianity does harm, at your convenience? Are you aware of and would you list the ways non-fundamental christianity has benefited humans?

      • Avatar
        RonaldTaska  September 2, 2014

        Both of your questions are good ones. I, however, was more raising questions myself than giving answers. I probably did not word it very well, but my fourth response does have a question mark after it and was not a declarative statement. If I had it to do over, I would word my question differently. Sorry about that. Anyway, keep reading this blog. I have learned so much from it and I bet you have or will too. I am a daily reader of the blog, but have had such bad experiences responding to comments on other similar websites that I usually don’t get into discussions on websites. It is not personal with regard to you. It’s just been my past experience. So, I probably won’t respond further.

  3. Avatar
    shakespeare66  September 1, 2014

    Well, this was absolute fun to listen to and a really enlightening lecture. Obviously it is something that takes more than one listening to fully comprehend and then my “lay” mind is still far behind the scholarly world. It is really amazing to me how complicated early Christianity really was. It was like a horse race where different “horses” were leading the race and then “fell behind” ( declared heretical) and never to be leading the race again. It seems to me that these early arguments are arguments that continue to be in vogue today with 200 different sects of Christianity. So Luke was altered in order to make it appear that Christ was “different” than he actually was? Certainly that is what it appears early Christianity was–a kind of horse race to arrive at the orthodox view and declare a winner. This was accepted for quite a few centuries until the Protestant Reformation and we have had splintering ever since. This splintering is why Islamics think Christians are nuts–they are not on the same page.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 1, 2014

      Actually, the Muslims have a few rather noticeable splinters themselves! Who doesn’t?

      • Avatar
        BrianUlrich  September 2, 2014

        There is a hadith according to which Muhammad predicted his community would split into either 70 or 72 sects. Sunni and Shi’ite are obviously the two big divisions, but there are also Ibadhis in Oman. There are multiple subgroups of Shi’ism (Twelvers, Isma’ilis, Zaydis, etc.) and different views within Sunnism that don’t give rise to clearly defined sects the same way due to a lack of institutionalization.

      • Avatar
        shakespeare66  September 2, 2014

        I know, but 200? Sunni and Shia are the main split, but that is still a 87% to 13% Sunni/Shia split. I know there are splinter groups, but they are still not nearly as numerous as Christian Sects.

        • Avatar
          mjardeen  September 4, 2014

          Sunni and Shia, and splinters of those groups exist. As Bart’s books tell us there were many at the start of Christianity that narrowed down to the Catholic Church. With the reformation the split became more complicated. I think Islam is heading to a similar split. I think they are about 300-500 years behind Christianity in terms of splits. The next question is will we make it another 300-500 years.

    • Avatar
      BrianUlrich  September 2, 2014

      And actually the “winner” was accepted mainly in either Western Europe or the Orthodox one, depending on what you think of the papacy and filioque. Copts, Armenians, the Church of the East, and others continued to have their own views.

      This is true of all religions as they grow. There’s even a split in the Bahai Faith.

  4. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  September 2, 2014

    yes was going online this semester Yale etc has online course for free as well
    you don’t receive a degree from it
    which is fine it is still free for all to interpret there lectures online
    ( i have sat in a few YALE lectures once or twice ) well there religious related lectures.
    well due to finances which get everyone some times i am going to be homeless for the next few months to and i hope to blog again when i get back on feet.

    • Josephsluna
      Josephsluna  September 3, 2014

      never mind things have worked out
      my god and my father zeus who has not and never will let me down.
      i will continue to support your blog and its purpose

    • Avatar
      doug  September 3, 2014

      Good luck to you Josephsluna – we will look forward to your posts when that time comes.

  5. Avatar
    hschick  September 3, 2014

    Prof. Ehrman, this is one of your best recorded lectures I have seen. Many thanks for sharing this.

  6. Avatar
    GJohnson39  September 4, 2014

    Watching this I was prompted to search out and watch the other two lectures in the series. You are helping me to confirm that my own problems with the Bible are reasonable and reasoned (at least by scholars like yourself) and that the fragmented and disjointed nature of the books we have today are the result of premeditated editing and revisionist viewpoints. I am coming to understand my lifelong difficulties with Christianity are not problematic and the result of an incomplete understanding of the nature of Jesus, as Christian friends have inferred. Thank you for your dedication to this field.

  7. Avatar
    Jana  September 21, 2014

    I am trying to catch up with this series (I’m tutoring more Maya children). Sorry so very late with my question. So the concept of original sin and the sacrifice (Jesus) for the sins of the world was originally a Jewish one? This is a question that has plagued for some time. I have thought erroneously that it was a Christian attempt to rationalize Jesus’s barbaric death.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 22, 2014

      Yes, Jesus’ earliest followers were Jews and understood his death in light of their own religion — including the sacrificial system, so taht his his death was the divine sacrifice for others. But it also was indeed an attempt to explain why he had to die as he did.

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