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Yale Shaffer Lectures 3 of 3 – Christ Against the Jews

Here is the third of my Shaffer Lectures delivered almost exactly ten years ago.   This final one has to do with textual variants and apocryphal texts that show evidence of Christian anti-Judaism.  I call this one: Christ Against the Jews.   It is a topic that I continue to be interested in, and on which I plan to write a book for a general audience, at some time in the next few years (not about textual variants, but about the rise of Christian opposition to Jews and Judaism.)

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Letter from Urban Ministries of Durham



  1. Avatar
    Steefen  September 21, 2014

    In the parking lot after church, a fellow member said John, an eye-witness of Jesus wrote the Gospel of John. Now, I’m at home and I just finished looking in the book, Jesus, Interrupted. Chapter Four: Who Wrote the Bible does not seem to outline and provide details as to whether or not John, eye-witness of the biblical Jesus, wrote the gospel of John. I thought for sure you have been telling your readers that the Gospel of John was not written by one of the 12 disciples. I did a search on this site but what I found went into what type of literature the gospel of John is.

    Where are your conclusive evidence and concluding statements about the authorship of the Gospel of John?

    I think you would consider Jesus, Interrupted a trade book for general audiences. What would be your scholarly work that explains the latest research and conclusions about the authorship of the John and the Synoptics?

    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 22, 2014

      I haven’t written a detailed scholarly work on that. But the author of John never claims to be an eyewitness to Jesus’ life — or even to be someone named John. So why should someone think he was either?

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  September 22, 2014

        The way I heard it when I was younger is that the disciple John is never named in the Gospel, but always referred to as “the disciple Jesus loved” (or something like that)…which was taken to be the author’s “modest” way of referring to himself.

      • Avatar
        gabilaranjeira  September 22, 2014


        The Gospel of John was written by different authors, writing in different times in the Johannine community and there was a later redactor that put the writings together. Is that right? Would it be possible that the community started out with John son of Zebedee and his close associates and that some passages of the Gospel could go back to him?


        • Bart
          Bart  September 23, 2014

          It’s theoretically possible; but the problem is that John was almost certainly illiterate, so he would not have been able to write anything.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  September 23, 2014

        Dr. Ehrman: the author of John never claims to be an eyewitness to Jesus’ life.

        Steefen: I think my fellow church member got it from John 19: 35 (at Jesus’ crucifixion): The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. Then, there is John 21: 24: This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

        Jesus even tells the beloved disciple he is now the son of Jesus’ mother and to Mary, this is your son.

        It seems you’re against the claim of the author eye-witnessing anything. Wikipedia references Lost Christianities, Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code, and the Lost Gospel of Judas.

        Dr. Ehrman: Why should someone think it was John?

        Steefen: What I found follows.

        The Beloved Disciple is the evangelist, John.

        [John’s identification and authorship]…can be deduced in a general sense from the [following] facts. He indicates the precise hours when particular events took place (John 1:39; 4:6,52; 19:14). He records quotations of the disciple Philip (John 6:7; 14:8), Thomas (John 11:16, 14:5), Judas (not iscariot) (John 14:22), and Andrew (John 6:8-9). He leaned on the breast of Jesus at supper on the night of the betrayal (John 13:23-25) and was among the three ‘inner circle’ apostles, Peter, James, and John. Peter is distinguished from this author by name in 1:41-42; 13:6,8 and James had become a martyr very early, long before the Gospel was written (Acts 12:2). He has a particular way of introducing himself (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). These facts cumulatively make it difficult to come to any other conclusion, but that John was the author of the Gospel which bears his name.

        [ The closing words of John’s Gospel state explicitly concerning the Beloved Disciple that “It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.” ]

        – Merril F. Unger

        It also seems you’re for an anonymous authorship of John. Wikipedia notes your The New Testament an Introduction.

        Some say a Johanine community wrote this Gospel.

        Given the above, it is reasonable that a person cannot easily discredit John or his followers from writing the Gospel of John.

        I simply have not read your reasons against the Beloved Disciple and your reasons for an anonymous author.

        Thank you !

        • Bart
          Bart  September 23, 2014

          You’ll notice that in both of these passages the author is talking about someone other than himself.

          • Avatar
            Steefen  September 24, 2014

            John 21: 24

            As old as John would have been you wouldn’t allow the scribe to write in first person putting the writer in third person? Can you imagine being 70 to 80 years old hand writing the Gospel of John, not even in your native language? You’ve heard of the modesty and anonymity defense of the third person. I’m adding the good probability that John wasn’t that swift in written Greek and his penmanship was not up to scribal quality. The scribe defers to John saying he wrote them because the content is John’s, not the scribes. The scribe goes on to say “his testimony is true.”

            Given this:
            John the Apostle was the son of Zebedee and the younger brother of James, son of Zebedee (Saint James the Greater). According to Church tradition, their mother was Salome. Zebedee and his sons fished in the Lake of Genesareth. The brothers were firstly disciples of John the Baptist.

            If his livelihood was fishing, even more reason for him to employ a scribe and with author’s license, let the scribe take the 1st person in the narrative.

            Jesus just didn’t seem to have a historian or a poet as one of the 12 who was gung ho about writing biography.

          • Bart
            Bart  September 24, 2014

            One question is whether we have any evidence that authors had a scribe write a book for them. I have a lengthy discussion of the question in my book Forgery and Counterforgery (the excursus on the “Secretary Hypothesis”) if you’re really interested. I don’t know of any evidence other than what I mention.

          • Avatar
            Steefen  September 25, 2014

            Yes, I would love to see what you’ve written about the “Secretary Hypothesis.” Given the table of contents, I am also wondering how many biographies are compromised because forgers were using the names of the subjects of the biographies.

            I would think there is also the possibility of people writing under a different person’s name in order to be anonymous–example, using someone else’s name as a pen name.

      • Avatar
        Jim  October 5, 2014

        Would (apparently) solid knowledge of the topography in and around Jerusalem reflected in GosJn make it plausible to surmise that the author or editor of some portion or an earlier edition of GosJn was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, or his life and death? Granted, it is not the same thing to say knowledge of topography = knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, but is it fair to surmise that knowledge of the topography and the literary content of GosJn make it plausible that an eyewitness had some level of involvement in composition or editing? Are you subtly saying 1) you dismiss the recent scholarship on GosJn’s apparent knowledge of the Jerusalem topography (and traditions), 2) regardless of apparent knowledge of topography there is no possibility an eyewitness contributed to GosJn, or 3) both?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 5, 2014

          My sense is that if there are accurate accounts of the topography of Judea, that would suggest that the traditions were started by someone familiar with Judea. It would not be evidence that the person had ever seen Jesus. (You could have people in 50 or 60 years who are highly familiar with Durham who say something about me; but the fact they know Durham has no bearing on whether they knew me.)

  2. Avatar
    Jana  September 22, 2014

    The most sobering lecture I’ve heard in some time. I had asked months ago if antisemitism originated with Christianity and you had suggested yes in that there are no records before Christianity. This last lecture further flushes your brief response. This segment requires more than one listening. What could possibly have been the motive(s) behind such hatred?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 22, 2014

      I hope to explore that in a future book!

      • Avatar
        Jana  September 22, 2014

        How does one get a book kicked up to the near top of a growing list ? 🙂

        • Bart
          Bart  September 23, 2014

          I know — I have all these book ideas and I want each one to be next!

  3. Avatar
    Steefen  September 22, 2014

    Is there a difference between the first century concept of euergetism and philanthropy?

    Euergetism (also called evergetism), derived from the Greek word “εὐεργετέω,” meaning “doing good deeds,” was the ancient practice of high-status and wealthy individuals in society distributing part of their wealth to the community. This was evident in the patron-client relations in ancient Rome.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  September 22, 2014

      Did Jesus Feed 5000 because Everybody Forgot to Pack Lunch or Was There a Famine?

      Word of Mouth: Jesus will be speaking.
      We have to go hear him speak.
      It’s likely to be an all day event.
      Let’s tell our wives to pack something for us to eat and drink.

      How can 5,000 people forget to bring something to eat?

      Jesus did a miracle and fed a small baseball stadium of people. A fellow church member said he did it again feeding 3,000.

      As we read Dr. Ehrman’s writings on the historical Jesus, we must tackle the historicity of Jesus miraculously feeding thousands of people, multiplying small amounts of food to large amounts of food or using un/non-mythologized explanations of events. When we do this, leave the biblical Jesus for the historical Jesus, we get a different timeline; for, 5,000 + 3,000 people forgetting to pack a lunch for a day with Jesus is fictional. And if he did it once, then the next time he did it, the crowds would have been larger.


      There was a famine and Jesus was providing famine relief. Jesus was a king. King Izates was that king. His mother is Queen Helena. She bought figs for famine relief. She bought famine-priced grain from Egypt for famine relief. His father Monobazus is known for giving away all his money in two draughts.

      After looking at a few pages in Land and Economy in Ancient Palestine, a book published in 1997, I can answer a question I got earlier today. Was the famine just in Jerusalem because when Jesus fed the 5000 he later crossed the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum? Whatever the cities and body of water involved, when Jesus fed the 5,000, it was north of Jerusalem. Queen Helena’s palace was right outside Jerusalem.

      The euergetism of Queen Helena and King Izates would not have prevented them from traveling throughout Palestine distributing money, figs, and grain.


      Dr. Ehrman how have you and would you address the biblical Jesus feeding the multitudes and the historical Jesus feeding the multitudes?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 22, 2014

      My sense is that “philanthropy” is usually restricted to “giving money,” where as euergetism is much broader. But maybe I’m wrong!

  4. Avatar
    Steefen  September 22, 2014

    I kind of like the flowers in front of you.

  5. Shanewag1
    Shanewag1  September 22, 2014

    Sorry for the off topic question but I was wondering… As an atheist who is soon to enter college and study New Testament, I am becoming very concerned about my prospects for one reason in particular: As the world becomes increasingly non-religious, will people continue to value NT Scholarship in the same way that they have when the church was/is so heavily invested in it? I’m sure for Christian scholars, they’ll have the church to keep them employed but what about people like me? Will we be out of a job?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 22, 2014

      I don’t think you need to set your career goals yet! Go to college, study lots of things, see what you’re most interested in (your interests will almost certainly change over the next few years), major in it, and go where your passions take you. The study of the New Testament, in any event, is not going to disappear anytime soon. But I wouldn’t worry about that. Pursue your academic interests, whatever they are.

  6. Avatar
    Kabir  September 23, 2014

    Hello Bart,
    Speaking of the 5,000 people! Is there any Historical evidence, just any! that people in Israel at the time of Jesus amount to that population? I sometime find those figures outrageous or is it really a “metaphor”?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2014

      I’m not sure what the demographics were — but I suppose there must have been a million or so living in Palestine at the time.

      • Avatar
        Kabir  September 23, 2014

        Is there any thoughts on how Jesus’ message could have been passed around while he speaks to the “5,000” having no Public Address System. Is there any arena in Jerusalem capable of holding such people?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 24, 2014

          It’s even more severe than that. That’s 5000 men, not counting the women and children! So let’s say 13,000 people. Yes, it certainly does strain credibility! Imagine trying to make yourself heard in the open air to 100 people!

  7. Avatar
    RecoveringCalvinist  September 24, 2014

    You spoke of the parallels of Jesus’ life and that of his followers found in Luke and Acts. Isn’t one of the most striking when Paul’s (presumed) demise happens when he returns to Jerusalem and gets in trouble with the temple authorities? Does the text tell us that Paul’s death is also the fault of the Jews?

  8. Avatar
    Jana  September 24, 2014

    btw: I’ve forwarded this link and the corresponding youtube video link to Dr. Marty Kaplan, Dean of USC’s Norman Leer Center with whom on occasion I correspond. He also writes for the Huffington Post.

  9. Avatar
    Devapriya  September 28, 2014

    Dear Bart,
    I thank you for allowing free membership.

    My look out is “Where and Length of Jesus ministry?

    Mark places it entirely in Galilee, except for the final week of passion.

    John- says last 7-8 months he was in Jerusalem- he was there for Festival of Tents, Re-dedication and Passover.
    John mentions 3 Passover visit to Jerusalem, which means that the length of ministry could be 2 years + few days if the first visit taken as visit on which he got his Baptism for Repentance of Sins form Baptist.

    Kindly clarify.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 28, 2014

      Yes, Mark appears to take place over the course of five or six months; John is at least 2 years and a few months. I’m not sure they agree on that!

  10. Avatar
    Lance  October 9, 2014

    Professor Ehrman, I know this may be a bit off topic. I was in a discussion with a friend regarding the historical Jesus and an argument he brought up was that the historical Jesus was marginalized because he was not fully Jewish. My friend is convinced of it. Was curious if you had ever heard of this or is there any debate among critical scholars? Is this idea found maybe in a later Christian text or tradition? Maybe something I could find in your “Lost Christianities” book? But I am assuming it may be more conspiracy nonsense with no trace back to any ancient sources, sort of like the mythicists claims for why Jesus never existed? Or Not?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2014

      Well, that’s certainly not the view of any scholar that I know of — Christian, Jewish, agnostic, or whatever. Almost everyone thinks that Jesus was *thoroughly* Jewish. If you want some representative views, read the books of Geza Vermes, John Meier, E. P. Sanders, Paula Fredriksen, Dale Allison, or A. J. Levine. (Some Jews, some Christians, one none of the above).

  11. Avatar
    fabiogaucho  November 30, 2015

    Professor Ehrman, what idiocy annoys more when you give paid letters to a random audience, and in the Q and A period, someone challenges you with:

    1) the frequent Josh Macdowll talking point that the Gospels CAN be squared through “aristotelian logic” (for example, when one evangelist said two men and the other said one men, tjey just say that one doesn’t exclude the other – an evangelist was focusing on one of the angels/men, the other on both).
    2) someone who read the Da Vinci code and was utterly convinced
    3) someone brings up the important source that is the Book of Urantia
    4) add your own number 4 here

    I was going to add number 5), mythicists militants, but I didn’t see any of them coming up and asking questions.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2015

      Ha! Yes, well, you have to meet people where they are!

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