RSS

Author Archives: chab123

How God became Jesus: Bart Ehrman gets it wrong, again

Here is a great review of the new Bart Ehrman book by Michael Bird.

 

Easter is now upon us, and we await the predictable onslaught of naysayers who declaim with an almost evangelical fervour that the Jesus story is one big lie. Such tirades by the evangelists of scepticism seem almost to constitute a pastoral responsibility on their part annually to reinforce the ideological conceits of their tribe of followers, thus providing atheists, agnostics and “nones” with reassurance that they needn’t take Jesus too seriously.

The opening salvo this year comes courtesy of the indefatigable Bart Ehrman. For those who don’t know, Ehrman is something of a celebrity sceptic in the United States. A professor of religion at the University of North Carolina, he was formerly a fundamentalist Christian who de-converted to agnosticism, and now writes books exposing the apparently fallacious claims of traditional Christianity. He has several New York Times best-sellers to his name, including Misquoting Jesus: The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible and Forged: Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Ehrman is a regular on the talk-show circuit, frequenting programs like The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Dateline, CNN, and National Public Radio.

To read on, click here:

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Crucifixion and The Cursed Messiah

 

Jesus’ crucifixion is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3. Historian and author Dr. Ian Wilson says the following about crucifixion:

Even the Roman statesman Cicero (106-43 BC) deplored it as “a most cruel and disgusting punishment.” And further, he would remark, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder; but to crucify him is what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed . .(1)

Regarding the historicity of the event, Even John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar even says the following:

“Jesus death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if not follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.” (2)

According to Martin Hengel, “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated.” (3)

Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts.

There is a relevant verse about crucifixion in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”-the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God.

Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

A Dead Messiah and Sheol

In light of what Jewish people knew about Sheol (the realm of the dead), a dead Messiah was an absurdity. In the Hebrew Bible, the pictures of the fate of the wicked are presented as consciously suffering in Sheol, or the grave. It is also described as the place that both the righteous and the unrighteous are expected to go upon death (Ps. 89:48). God does no wonders for those that are in Sheol; those that are there cannot praise God. Let’s look at some of these passages:

1. “For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks?” (Ps. 6:5).

2. “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?” (Ps. 30:9).

3. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah. Will Your loving-kindness be declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Abaddon?” (Ps. 88:10-11).

4. “The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor do any who go down into silence” (Ps. 115:17).

5. “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness (Isa. 38:18).” (4)

It can be concluded that any attempt to proclaim a dead Messiah who had been consigned to Sheol would have created a tremendous barrier for a Jewish person in Second Temple Period. Furthermore, a dead Messiah would have extinguished any hopes of the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty.

Blessing and Curses

 In the context of the covenant of Israel, the Near Eastern pattern was of both blessing and curse. The blessing is for those who obey the stipulations of the covenant while the curse is upon those who violate the stipulations. Deuteronomy 27:6 says “ Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” We see this in the following passage:

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all the commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God. (Deut. 28:1-2)

For a Jewish person to be blessed was to being the presence of God and enjoy his presence and all the benefits that this entailed.  The blessing was to experience God’s shalom in one’s life. In contrast to blessing, to be cursed was to be outside the presence of God. To be declared “unclean” or defiled meant was an offense to the Jewish people. 

To see a longer version of this topic, see our post here called The Death of Messiah.

To see The Death of Jesus: Why Was Jesus Accused of Blasphemy?- see here:

Sources: 1. John Stott, The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove:InterVarsity, 1986, p. 24. (Quoting Cicero in his Against Verres II. v64, para. 165. (Interestingly, the Apostle Paul was not crucified (but rather, “beheaded,” according to tradition) because he was in fact a Roman citizen, and Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion) — cf. Cicero., Verr. Act., I, 5; II, 3, 5; III, 2, 24, 26; IV, 10 sqq.; V, 28, 52, 61, 66).
 2. J.D. Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1994), 45. While it is true that scholars agree that there are some interpolations in Josephus, it should be noted that while the manuscript tradition of Testimonium of Josephus has the interpolations, a solid case can be made that the original passage is accurate- especially the part about Jesus being crucified under Pilate. Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. Tacitus confirmed Jesus died by crucifixion during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE), under Pilate’s governship (26-36 CE).

3. See Martin Hengel: Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).

4. Roy A. Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2006), 17-18.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Is Good Friday a Myth? What 5 Ancient, Non-Christian Writings Reveal.

This is a  good post written by Mikel Del Rosario.

Is Good Friday a Myth?

“Good Friday? What’s the difference between Good Friday and a fairytale?”

Imagine a skeptical relative asked you this question at a family gathering. I know–Awkward. But really, what would you say?

Something similar happened to me when I was a teenager. But what was odd about it was that this lady just threw out a challenge that seemed to come out of nowhere. Not sure if she even expected a response. I actually had no clue what to say.

Still, it got me thinking, “What should I have said?” What is the different between the crucifixion of Jesus and a fairytale? I had to find some answers for myself.

For you, it might not be skeptical relatives. It might be a challenge from a Muslim coworker. Or an atheist student who saw something on YouTube about Good Friday being like a bunch of other mythological stories about crucified saviors. What can you say to that friend who starts to tune you out as soon as you reach for your Bible?

Unexpected Evidences

One strategy is to start with something unexpected. I discovered something interesting while I was teaching World Religion courses at a secular university: Even though Jesus’ death by crucifixion is recorded in the traditional gospels, I found most of my skeptical students seemed to perk up and get curious when I started talking about non-Christian sources that also mention this event.

Besides piquing their interest, leading into a topic in an unexpected way actually helps make your conversation more memorable.

To read on, click here:

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Paul’s Warnings About Bearing False Witness About the Resurrection of Jesus

Given Paul’s  letters are the earliest records we have for Jesus, he is a very important component to the birth of the early Jesus movement.

Well known New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman writes the following regarding Paul’s experience:

It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection” -Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, (Third Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 276.

Even New Testament scholar Dale Allison even says that Paul converted from a persecutor of the church to one of its greatest promoters because of an experience he perceived was of the risen Jesus appearing to him.–see Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters (New York: T&T Clark, 2005), 263-268.

Some Background on Paul

The undisputed letters of Paul that can be used to give us an understanding about who he was and what his mission was are in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The rest of the letters yield very little about the life of Paul.  From Paul’s Letters, we can gather that:

1. The man’s name was Paul: A Greek name.

2. He had a Jewish name, Saul. Remember, having two names was not uncommon for Jews who lived outside Palestine in the first century.

3. Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in Southwestern Asia Minor.

4. He came from a family of Pharisees of the tribe of Benjamin and was named for the tribe’s most illustrious member, King Saul.

5. Paul studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3), the grandson of Hillel. Hillel is known as the Academy of Hillel, founded by a Jewish sage called Hillel the Elder.  The House of Hillel was a school of Jewish law and thought that was very well known in the 1st century B.C.E. Jerusalem.

6. Since Paul’s letters show familiarity with rabbinic methods for interpretation of Scripture and popular Hellenistic philosophy to a degree, this makes it likely that he received a formal education in both areas. Hence, Paul’s exegesis of the Old Testament shows evidence of his rabbinic training.

7. Paul was probably, as an adult, a resident of Damascus.

8. In many places, Paul discusses his Jewish identity. He says “ I am a Jew” (Acts 22;3) “I am a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6), and “I am a prisoner for the sake of the hope of Israel”  (Acts 28:20). -see Marion Soard’s The Apostle Paul: An Introduction to his Writings and Teaching (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1987), 10-11.

Paul was an active persecutor of the early Christian movement:

The language Paul uses in his pre-revelatory encounter with the risen Lord shows how much how antagonistic he was towards the messianic movement. In Gal. 1:13-15, Paul uses terms such as “persecute” and “destroy” to describe his efforts to put an end to the spread of the early  faith.

 Paul and Bearing False Witness

One the most pertinent texts about not bearing false witness to the resurrection of Jesus is the following:

“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;  and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.  Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised  Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.” - 1 Cor. 15: 13-15.

 

Being that Paul was raised on the Torah, he knew the consequences of bearing false witness. H. Douglas Buckwalter says the following about the use of testimony in the Bible:

The biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Linguistically, the biblical term principally derives from the Hebrew yaad, ud, anah  and Greek marturein word groups; conceptually, it broadly influences the thought patterns, truth claims, and theology of nearly all of Scripture.

 

Its validity consists in certifiable, objective facts. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficientfor testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses ( Deut 19:15 ).-see H. Douglas Buckwalter , “Testimony” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996).

 

As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note in the book The Jesus Legend: A Case For the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Christianity cannot be understood apart from it’s first century Jewish context. The Sinai teaching that multiple witnesses was retained Mark 14:56,59; John 5:31-32; Heb 10:28) and also used for church discipline (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1;1 Tim 5:19). Also, the principle of giving a true testimony and making a true confession are evident in the early church (Matt 10:18; Mark 6:11;13:9-13;Luke 1:1-2;9:5;21:12-13;22:71;John 1:7-8,15,19,32,34;3:26,28;5:32; Acts 1:8,22;3:15;5:32;10:37-41;13:31;22:15;18;23:11;26:16).

So given these issues and that Paul was a Pharisee, we can gather he was aware of the issues of bearing false witness. He wanted to get his facts straight. And to say that Paul would create a mythic Jesus that was later historicized in the Gospels is problematic.

 As James Warner Wallace points out in his latest book people lie or have an ulterior motive for three reasons:

1.Financial Gain: In this case, we don’t see any evidence for this. The NT shows the disciples/apostles being chased from location to location, leaving their home and families and abandoning their property and what they owned.

2. Sexual or Relational Desire: The NT does not say much about their “love lives.” There are Scriptures that speak to sexual purity and chastity.

3. Pursuit of Power:

While Christianity became a state sponsored religion in the 4th century and the Popes became powerful both politically and religiously, there is no evidence (pre 70 AD), for the early disciples pursuing power as they proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. Just look at Paul’s testimony here:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” – 2 Cor. 11: 23-27

 Why does this matter?

In my opinion, the false testimonies hypotheses isn’t even on the table anymore. Therefore, I can see why most skeptics like to punt to psychological explanations for the resurrection of Jesus. Most scholars concede that Paul and others at least thought they saw the risen Jesus. They just disagree about what they actually saw. We can provide answers to these objections  as well.

Paul’s Warnings About Bearing False Witness About the Resurrection of Jesus

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Handling a Rabbi’s Objection About The Resurrection of Jesus

Dan Cohn-Sherbock, a well-known rabbi of Reform Judaism, and Jewish theologian has given some of his reasons for rejecting the resurrection of Jesus.  He says:

“As a Jew and a rabbi, I could be convinced of Jesus’ resurrection, but I would set very high standards of what is required. It would not be enough to have a   subjective experience of Jesus. If I heard voices or had a visionary experience of  Jesus, this would not be enough. Let me sketch the kind of experience that would be necessary. If Jesus appeared by hosts of angels trailing clouds of glory and   announcing all for His Messiah ship to see, this would be compelling. But it  would have to take place in public domain. Such an event would have to be witnessed by multitudes, photographed, recorded on video cameras, shown on  television, and announced in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Jesus appearance would have to be a global event, televised on CNN, and other forms  of the world’s media. Further, if as a consequence of his arrival, all the prophecies   recorded in scripture were fulfilled; the ingathering of the exiles, the rebuilding of  the Temple, the resurrection of all those who died, the advent of the days of the  Messiah, final judgment-I would without a doubt embrace the Christian message and become a follower of the risen Christ.”-Gavin D’ Costa, Resurrection Reconsidered, pgs, 198-199.

The comments by Rabbi Cohn-Sherbock demonstrate the attitude among many in the modern world today. He also raises some objections based on another traditional role of the Messiah in Judaism.  However,  there is not one messianic expectation in Judaism. Also, whether or not certain  passages are clearly Messianic depend upon what the preconceived idea of the  reader. What do they believe the Messiah is supposed to do? If a traditional  Jewish person says the Messiah cannot suffer and die, how would we expect them  to interpret the Messianic passages?  It is also quite obvious that Cohn-Sherbock has unrealistic explications for the evidence for the resurrection. If I applied the same criteria to the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, we could never know that happened as well.  After all,  the giving of the Torah was  not witnessed by multitudes (they saw Moses after he received it),  photographed, recorded on video cameras, shown on  television, and announced in newspapers and magazines worldwide.

So the giving of the Torah and the resurrection of Jesus should be treated the same way anything else would in antiquity.  Of course, the resurrection took place in the public domain.  As Paul says, the events were ” not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). But even though the events were done in public, it is in the past.  Gary Habermas writes:

“The occurrence of past events can usually be discovered (within a certain probability) by a careful investigation of the facts. These former events are only accessible by a study of the available historical evidence. Although the historian usually did not personally participate in what he is studying (assuming he wasn’t originally there), he can inspect the relevant data such as the eyewitnesses, written documents, and various other records, structures, and archaeological finds. Upon such confirmation the historian must build his case. Such tools comprise the working principles of historical research. “- Gary Habermas, “Appendix One: Historiography,” in The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MO: College, 1996), 270.

Rabbi Cohn-Sherbock needs to realize that his expectations for evidence for the resurrection of Jesus would not hold up for the central event in Judaism which was the giving of the Torah.  Hence, we need to be consistent in what we  we consider to be evidence for something in the past.  I guess Sherbock will have to wait for the return of Jesus.  I will be praying for him.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The Death of Jesus: Why Was Jesus Accused of Blasphemy?

Over the years I have heard many skeptics say Jesus was just another messianic figure who got himself crucified. The old saying, “Jesus is just one of several messiah’s in the first century” is not only patently false but also a gross oversimplification. Just because someone leads a messianic revolt does not qualify them as “the Messiah” (notice the capital “M”). Here are some of the figures who claimed royal prerogatives between 4 B.C.E and 68-70 C.E but are not called “the” or “a” Messiah:

1. In Galilee 4 B.C.E.: Judas, son of bandit leader Ezekias (War 2.56;Ant.17.271-72)
2. In Perea 4 B.C.E.: Simon the Herodian slave (War 2.57-59;Ant 17.273-77)
3. In Judea 4 B.C.E.: Athronges, the shepherd (War 2.60-65;Ant 17.278-84)
4. Menahem: grandson of Judas the Galilean (War 2.433-34, 444)
5. Simon, son of Gioras (bar Giora) (War 2.521, 625-54;4.503-10, 529;7.26-36, 154)

Another issue that can tend to be overlooked is that we can minimize the issue of blasphemy in a Jewish setting. by the way, none of the above figures were accused of blasphemy. According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal, nor capital offense. Therefore, the claim to be the Messiah was not even a blasphemous claim. (1)

If this is true, why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? According to Mark 14:62, Jesus affirmed the chief priests question that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world. This was considered a claim for deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to himself.

Also, many parables, which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus, show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2: 1-12). Forgiving sins was something that was designated for God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. In Mark 14:58, it says, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ The Jewish leadership knew that God was the one who was responsible for building the temple (Ex. 15:17; 1 En. 90:28-29).(2)

Also, God is the only one that is permitted to announce and threaten the destruction of the temple (Jer. 7:12-13; 26:4-6, 9;1 En.90:28-29). (3) It is also evident that one reasons Jesus was accused of blasphemy was because He usurped God’s authority by making himself to actually be God (Jn. 10:33, 36). Not only was this considered by the Jews to be blasphemous, it was worthy of the death penalty (Matt. 26:63-66; Mk. 14:61-65; Lk. 22:66-71; Jn. 10:31-39; 19:7)

As the late Martin Hengal said:

“Jesus’ claim to authority goes far beyond anything that can be adduced as prophetic prototypes or parallels from the field of the Old Testament and from the New Testament period. [Jesus] remains in the last resort incommensurable, and so basically confounds every attempt to fit him into categories suggested by the phenomenology of sociology of religion.” (4)

Remember that there was a Jewish leader named Bar Kohba who made an open proclamation to be the real Messiah who would take over Rome and enable the Jewish people to regain their self-rule (A.D. 132-135). Even a prominent rabbi called Rabbi Akiba affirmed him as the Messiah. Unfortunately, the revolt led by Bar Kohba failed and as a result and both he and Rabbi Akiba were slain. And remember, Bar Kohba was not accused of blasphemy. He never claimed to have the authority to forgive sins or claim to be the Son of Man (as referring to Daniel 7).

What is interesting is that in relation to the Daniel 7 text is that there is an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two: Messiah ben Yossef who is also referred to as Mashiach ben Ephrayim, the descendant of Ephrayim will serve as a precursor to Messiah ben David. His role is political in nature since he will wage war against the forces that oppose Israel. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef is supposed to prepare Israel for its final redemption. The prophecy of Zech. 12:10 is applied to Messiah ben Yossef in that he is killed and that it will be followed by a time of great calamities and tests for Israel. Shortly after these tribulations upon Israel, Messiah ben David will come and avenge the death of Messiah ben Yossef, resurrect him, and inaugurate the Messianic era of everlasting peace.(4)

What is also interesting is that R. Saadiah Gaon elaborated on the role of Messiah ben Yossef by starting that this sequence of events is contingent. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef will not have to appear before Messiah be David if the spiritual condition of Israel is up to par.(5)

This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a).

Sources:

1. See Darrell L. Bock. Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism: The Charge Against Jesus in Mark 14:53-65. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.
2. William Lane Craig. Reasonable Faith: Third Edition. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008, 307.
3. Martin Hengel, The Charismatic Leader and His Followers. New York: Crossroad, 1981. 68-69; Cited in Edwards, 96.
4. Jacob Immanuel Schochet. Mashiach: The Principle of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition. New York: S.I.E. 1992, 93-101.
5. Ibid.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

A Closer Look at the Death of the Messiah

jesus-washes-feet-of-disciples-07

Introduction

Over the years, there have been a slew of books that discuss the birtth of Christianity. Historians generally look at historical causation and ask what might be the best explanation for a specific event. Skeptics have posited that the birth of the Christian faith does not rely on a miracle such as the resurrection of Jesus..

The Jewish Messiah

When it comes to talking to Jewish people about the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah, there is a wide range of thought. For some Jewish people a personal messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential messiah or a time when there will be a Messianic Age. For the disciple of Jesus, His death is a “ransom” (Mark 10:45), “reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Col. 1:22), and “redemption” (Rom. 3:24; 8:23; Eph. 1:7, 14; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12–15).

Jesus is also called the “Suffering Servant” (Acts 3:13; 8:32ff), and the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19). While the Christian community takes these truths for granted, the majority of the Jewish community asserts that Jesus’ death automatically annulled the possibility of Him being the promised Messiah of Israel.

One word of advice: Words and concepts are separate entities. “Word-bound” approaches to what really are concept studies can lead us astray. Messianism is a concept study. While it can be seen that the word “Messiah” means “Anointed One” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone,” it must be remembered that “Anointed One” almost never refers to the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. This is why the reader must not assume every time they read where a priest, prophet, king, or even Cyrus in Isa. 45:1 is annointed, this automatically means the individual is “The Messiah.” Furthermore, other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One.

Traditional Jewish Expectations

One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace. Part of the Messiah’s mission is to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4) and create a pathway for universal worship to the God of Israel (Zeph.3:9; Zech.9:16 ;14:9). Another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9; 40:5; 52:8).

Even in the Qumran community which predated the time of Jesus thought there were possibly two Messiahs, one priestly and one royal (1QS 9.11; CD 12.22-23; 13. 20-22; 14. 18-19; 19.34-20.1; CD-B 1.10-11; 2.1; 1Q Sa 2. 17-22). (1)

The Davidic Messiah

The term “messiah” which means “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Hebrew Bible. While this term was used for those who were of Davidic kings (Psalm 18:50;89:20; 132:10-17), it is also used of Cyrus in Isa. 45:1. While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised King David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps.89:28-37).

The Messiah was called to defeat the oppressive enemies of Israel and enable the Jewish people to help “set up an earthly kingdom that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 2:44). The prophets spoke of a Davidic King who would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-5; Jer 23:5-6; Mic. 5:2-5). Both Hosea and Ezekiel spoke of the Davidic aspect of the Messiah. While Hosea spoke of a time when the northern tribes of Israel would seek out David, Israel’s king (Hos. 3:5), Ezekiel spoke of a new David who would be a shepherd as well as a prince and a king to Israel (Ezek: 34:23-24; 37:24-25). This king’s function would help restore the Davidic dynasty after the exile.

One of the best resources that speak to the messianic expectation of the time of Jesus is found in The Psalms of Solomon. The Psalms of Solomon is a group of eighteen psalms that are part of the Pseudepigrapha which is written 200 BC to 200 A.D. Even though these works are not part of the Protestant Canon, they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Therefore, they help provide the historian with valuable information about the messianic expectations at the time of Jesus. In it, there are two passages about a righteous, ruling Messiah:

“Taught by G-d, the Messiah will be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. He will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war. The Lord himself is his king, the hope of the one who has a strong hope in G-d. He shall be compassionate to all the nations, who reverently stand before him. He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord’s people with wisdom and happiness. And he himself will be free from sin, in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word.” (Psalms of Solomon 17.32-36)

 

” Lord, you chose David to be king over Israel, and swore to him about his descendants forever, that his kingdom should not fail before you. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from the gentiles…..to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth…He will gather a holy people who he will lead in righteousness; and he will judge the tribes of his people…He will not tolerate unrighteousness (even) to pause among them, and any person who knows wickedness shall not live with them… And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was from the beginning.” (Psalms of Solomon 18:4,22,26,27,30)

Even though divine sonship appears in the Hebrew Bible with regards to persons or people groups of people such as angels (Gen 6:2; Job 1:6; Dan 3:25), Israel (Ex. 4:22-23; Hos 11;1; Mal. 2:10), the category that has special importance to the Messiah are the kings. It is the king who has a special relationship to God and is called or elected to a specific task as well.

As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. God promised David that his “seed” would establish the kingdom. The New Testament states that Jesus the Messiah, the “seed of David.” Jesus is God’s chosen vessel to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; Rev. 22:16). Therefore, the fulfillment reached its completion in the Messiah, both son of David and the one greater than David ( Psalm 110:1-4). As it says in Luke 1:32-33, “He shall be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.” In this sense, Jesus is not simply a son of David, but instead, the Son of David.

The Priestly/Prophetic Messiah

There were other figures in the Bible that were anointed such as priests and prophets. There are implicit passages in the Hebrew Bible that discuss a priestly aspect of the Messiah (Hag:1:12-14; 2:2-4; 20-23; Zech:3:6-10;4:2-5,11-14). (2) The priest was anointed in his role as a mediator between God and the Jewish people because of his ability make to make atonement (Lev.4:26;31,35;5:6,10; 14:31).

However, Jesus’ role as a priest goes beyond the function of the priest in the tabernacle. Even though the high priest was consecrated, he was by no means sinless and could not offer up himself for the whole congregation. Given that Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6), it is no surprise to see Jesus’ current messianic work is a priest-advocate (1 Jn. 2:2; Rom. 8:34). Christians hold the position that Jesus’ death put an end for further sacrifice (Heb. 7:27-28; 9:23-26). During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He displayed a priestly element in His authority to forgive sins (Mk. 2:7).

Forgiving sins was a prerogative of God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9;) and it was something that was done only in the Temple. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. In Mark 14:58, it says, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’

The prophet was to listen to God and then speak God’s words to the people. In His role as a prophet, Jesus did not use the trademark formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” Instead, He spoke in His own authority.

Therefore, it is misguided to limit the role of the Messiah to only one aspect, such as a ruling king. In the words of Craig Evans,

“If we understand “messiah” to mean one who believes himself to be anointed by God in order to play a leading role in the restoration of Israel, a restoration which may or may not involve a Davidic monarchy, then it is correct to speak of anointed kings, anointed prophets, and anointed priests.” (3)

Crucifixion

So in regards to Evans comment, we see in the first century that the messianic expectation was by no means monolithic.To read more about this issue, click here. Within the Gospel of John, it can be observed that there is confusion about a crucified Messiah. It says in John 12:34, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up?” It is evident that from this verse that Jesus’ audience thought the Messiah was not supposed to die.

Jesus’ crucifixion is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3.

Even John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar even says the following:

“Jesus death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if not follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixition, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.” (4)

According to Martin Hengel, “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated.” (5)

Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts.

There is a relevant verse about crucifixion in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”-the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God.

Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

A Dead Messiah and Sheol

It also must also be noted that in light of what Jewish people knew about Sheol (the realm of the dead), a dead Messiah was an absurdity. In the Hebrew Bible, the pictures of the fate of the wicked are presented as consciously suffering in Sheol, or the grave. It is also described as the place that both the righteous and the unrighteous are expected to go upon death (Ps. 89:48). God does no wonders for those that are in Sheol; those that are there cannot praise God. Let’s look at some of these passages:

1. “For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks?” (Ps. 6:5).

2. “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?” (Ps. 30:9).

3. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah. Will Your loving-kindness be declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Abaddon?” (Ps. 88:10-11).

4. “The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor do any who go down into silence” (Ps. 115:17).

5. “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness (Isa. 38:18).” (6)

It can be concluded that any attempt to proclaim a dead Messiah who had been consigned to Sheol would have created a tremendous barrier for a Jewish person in Second Temple Period. Furthermore, a dead Messiah would have extinguished any hopes of the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty.

The question still remains as to whether Jesus’ first followers knew He was going to die. After all, within Judaism, had there even been any belief in a suffering, or atoning Messiah? There are several texts that speak to the possibility of a suffering Messiah (Zech 13:7; Dan 9:26;Tg.Isa.53;T.Benj.3:8;4Q521frgs.9, 24;4Q285 5.4;4 Ezra 7:29-30;2 Bar.30:1). As it says in Isaiah 53:10, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. In order for the Servant to make full expiation, he made his soul an “asham” i.e.,” a propitiatory victim for sin on which the guilt and penalty being laid, ceases to be imputed to us.

Even in The Shottenstein Talmud, a comprehensive Orthodox Jewish commentary that was composed long after the time of Jesus states the following about Isaiah 53:

” They [namely, those sitting with Messiah] were afflicted with tzaraas- as disease whose symptoms include discolored patches on the skin (see Leviticus ch. 13). The Messiah himself is likewise afflicted, as stated in Isaiah (53:4). Indeed, it was our diseases that he bore and our pains that he endured, whereas we considered him plagued (i.e. suffering tzaraas [see 98b, note 39], smitten by God and afflicted. This verse teaches that the diseases that the people ought to have suffered because of their sins are borne instead by the Messiah [with reference to the leading Rabbinic commentaries].”  (Tractate Sanhedrin, Talmud Bavli, The Shottenstein Edition (Brooklyn: Mesorah, 1995), vol 3 98a5, emphasis in original).

There are also several expressions of the belief that the death of the righteous will benefit, or even save, God’s people (1 Macc: 6:26-28 17:20-22; T Moses 9-10). But if it is so obvious that Jesus’ mission was to die, then we need to explain why the Gospels record the fact that the disciples were confused about a suffering Messiah:

Second, let’s say the New Testament authors had been reading Isaiah 53 and were not surprised with the announcement by Jesus that he was going to suffer and die. Let’s look at what the Gospels say about this issue. One passage that refers to the crucifixion is John 12:34: “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up?”

As we look at a couple of other places in the Gospels, we see a similar theme about the confusion of a suffering Messiah:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you! (Matt 16:21)

 

He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise. But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:31)

We are also left to ponder this comment by Michael Bird: “If there was a well-known tradition about a suffering or dying Messiah, how could the hopes of the disciples be shattered after Good Friday?” (7)

How has a dying Messiah been received by the Jewish community throughout history? Perhaps a couple of comments can shed some light on this issue:

“Jesus mistake was that he thought he would be the Messiah, but when he was hanged his thought was annulled.” (R. Shimon ben Tzemah Duran (1361-1444)

“We are obligated to believe that a Jewish man will come who will begin to save Israel and will complete the salvation of Israel in that generation. One who completes the task is the one, while the one who does not complete it in that generation but dies or is broken or is taken captive (Exod 22:9) is not the one and was not sent by God.” (R. Phinehas Elijah Hurwtiz of Vilna (1765-1821), Sefer haberit hashalem (Jerusalem, 1990), 521 (8)

Another Messiah?

It is true that the old saying, “Jesus is just one of several messiah’s in the first century” is not only patently false but also a gross oversimplification. Just because someone leads a messianic revolt does not qualify them as “the Messiah” (notice the capital “M”). Here are some of the figures who claimed royal prerogatives between 4 B.C.E and 68-70 C.E but are not called “the” or “a” Messiah:

1. In Galilee 4 B.C.E.: Judas, son of bandit leader Ezekias (War 2.56;Ant.17.271-72) 2. In Perea 4 B.C.E.: Simon the Herodian slave (War 2.57-59;Ant 17.273-77) 3. In Judea 4 B.C.E.: Athronges, the shepherd (War 2.60-65;Ant 17.278-84) 4. Menahem: grandson of Judas the Galilean (War 2.433-34, 444) 5. Simon, son of Gioras (bar Giora) (War 2.521, 625-54;4.503-10, 529;7.26-36, 154)

So what if Jesus was a failure? Maybe there was another Messiah who would come that would restore the Jewish people to self- rule. Out of the all the messianic movements within Judaism, I will mention some that I believe are rather significant.

Simon bar Giora of Geresa (as mentioned above)

According to Josephus, Simon led a rebellion against the Romans in the spring of 69 C.E. (J.W. 4.9.12 §577). Among the leaders of the rebellion “Simon in particular was regarded with reverence and awe . . . each was quite prepared to take his very own life had he given the order” (J.W. 5.7.3 §309). Finally defeated and for a time in hiding, Simon, dressed in white tunics and a purple mantle, made a dramatic appearance before the Romans on the very spot where the Temple had stood (J.W. 7.1.2 §29). He was placed in chains (J.W. 7.2.2 §36), sent to Italy (J.W. 7.5.3 §118), put on display as part of the victory celebration in Rome (J.W. 7.5.6 §154), and was finally executed (J.W. 7.5.6 §155). (9)

Simon Bar Kochba

Simon Bar Kochba made an open proclamation to be the real Messiah who would take over Rome and enable the Jewish people to regain their self-rule (A.D. 132-135). Even a prominent rabbi called Rabbi Akiba affirmed him as the Messiah. Justin Martyr even noted that Bar Kokhba commanded Christians to be led away to terrible punishment unless they denied Jesus as their Messiah.” (Apology 31.6) Unfortunately, the revolt led by Bar Kochba failed and as a result and both he and rabbi Akiba were slain. Even though it is said that Rabbi Akiba hailed Bar Kokhba as the Messiah, (cf. y. Ta‘an. 4:5), the slaying of Bar Kokhba had nothing to do with any accusation of blasphemy. He did not make the same messianic claims of Jesus by asserting His authority to be the Son of Man, nor did he ever claim to have the authority to forgive sins. According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal, nor capital offense. Therefore, the claim to be the Messiah was not even a blasphemous claim. The war ended in 135 CE. Simon was subsequently remembered as Simon ben-Kozebah (“son of the lie”). (10)

Sabbatai Sevi

Another messianic figure was Sabbatai Sevi. Sevi was a seventeenth-century Jewish teacher who claimed to be the Messiah and was heralded by a contemporary named Nathan. It is said after Sevi’s death in 1676 that his brother found his tomb empty but full of light. If anything, the Sevi story sounds like it was borrowed from the resurrection story about Jesus.The Sevi story has little historical backing. In contrast to the resurrection claim of Sevi, in the case of Jesus, there are multiple eyewitness appearances after his resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15). What is more ironic is that Sevi later left the Jewish faith for Islam.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Within Judaism, there is a sect called Hasidic Judaism. Within Hasidic Judaism, there are leaders who are called a “tzaddik” which is Hebrew for “righteous men.” A tzaddik is sometimes viewed as a Rebbe which means master, teacher. By the way, in the book of Acts, it was during Stephen’s famous speech that he refers to Jesus as a tzaddik : “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52)

Such an example of a present day tzaddik was seen in Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1951-1994), the leader of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidim. Some of the followers of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson think He is the Messiah and that He will come back from the dead (Schneerson died in 1994). Some in the Lubavitcher movement have even asserted that Isaiah 53 can be used as a proof text that the Messiah will rise from the dead. Of course, this has led to great controversy. Some in the Orthodox community have complained that the attempt to portray Schneerson as one who will rise from the dead and return a second time has too much in common with the Christian claim about Jesus.

So after glancing at these issues, what needs to asked is the following:

1. Would there be a Christianity today apart from the resurrection of Jesus? Sure, just because a new religious movement grows doesn’t make a faith true. But given the negative views of crucifixion and a dying Messiah, it seems that the early Christian movement (pre-70 A.D.) should of ended very quickly.

Hence, in light of all the varied messianic expectations and given the failure of messianic revolts, the Christian can echo the comments by scholar C. F.D., Moule in his book, The Phenomenon of the New Testament. Moule affirmed that the actual existence of the Nazarenes, which is an event, called for an explanation. Moule went onto say that the phenomenon was brought about by ‘a most powerful and original mind and a tremendous confirmatory event.’ (11)

In the words of N.T. Wright: “ If nothing happened to the body of Jesus, I cannot see why any of his explicit or implicit claims should be regarded as true. What is more, I cannot as a historian, see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and to regard him as the Messiah. There were several other Messianic or quasi-Messianic movements within a hundred years either side of Jesus. Routinely, they ended with the leader being killed by authorities, or by a rival group. If your Messiah is killed, you conclude that he was not the Messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family (But note: Nobody ever said that James, the brother of Jesus, was the Messiah.) Such groups did not go around saying that their Messiah had been raised from the dead. What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless they were telling the truth.” (12)

2. What led to the a very high Christology pre-70 AD?

To read on see our post called The Resurrection of the Jesus: A Look at The Birth of Christianity and The Birth of Christology

Sources: 1. Michael F. Bird, Are You The One To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 35. Qumran is the site of the ruin about nine miles south of Jericho on the west side of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls contains some 800 scrolls with parts or the entirety of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, discovered in the caves near Qumran. 2. Ibid, 40. 3. Craig A. Evans, Noncanonical Writings And New Testament Interpretation. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.1992, 239. 4. J.D. Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1994), 45. While it is true that scholars agree that there are some interpolations in Josephus, it should be noted that while the manuscript tradition of Testimonium of Josephus has the interpolations, a solid case can be made that the original passage is accurate- especially the part about Jesus being crucified under Pilate. Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. Tacitus confirmed Jesus died by crucifixion during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE), under Pilate’s governship (26-36 CE). 5. See Martin Hengel: Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977). 6. Roy A. Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2006), 17-18. 7. Bird, Are You The One To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, 148-160. 8. David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, (Portland: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. 2001), 21. 9. Evans, Noncanonical Writings And The New Testament Interpretation. Peabody Massachusetts. 1992, 244-245. 10. Ibid. 11. C.F.D. Moule, The Phenomena of the New Testament (London: SCM, 1967, 3, 17) ; cited in Paul W. Barnett. Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1997), 18-19. 12. John Dominic Crossan and N.T Wright, The Resurrection of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2006), 71.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Agreement with Ehrman

By Amy Hall at STR

In Rob Bowman’s review of Bart Ehrman’s new book, How Jesus Became God, he enumerates the many points of agreement evangelicals have with Ehrman:

I think evangelicals should be quick to acknowledge and even capitalize on a large number of agreements that they can have with Ehrman about Jesus and Christology. These include but are not limited to the following facts:

  • Jesus was a real historical person, a Galilean Jew who preached the kingdom of God. Ehrman has devoted a whole book to defending this fact.
  • The canonical Gospels are the earliest and, for all practical purposes, the only valuable sources of detailed information about the historical Jesus. The “Gnostic” gospels and other apocryphal writings date from much later and are not significant sources of historical information about Jesus.
  • Jesus thought he was, or at least would become, the Messiah.
  • Jesus was crucified at the order of Pontius Pilate.
  • Jesus actually died on the cross.
  • Some of Jesus’ original followers sincerely believed they saw Jesus alive from the dead.

(Already, we’ve eliminated about 90 percent of the nonsense we so often hear from skeptics about Jesus! And we’re not done.)

  • The belief that Jesus rose from the dead convinced Jesus’ disciples, practically immediately, that he was a divine figure, exalted to the right hand of God. The very earliest Christians thus made some astounding claims about Jesus.
  • The belief that Jesus was a divine figure who existed before his human life was accepted by at least some Christians within twenty years of Jesus’ death, even before Paul’s earliest epistles. (Say good-bye to the baloney about Paul radically changing Christianity from Jesus’ Jewish moral code to a Hellenized savior cult.)
  • Philippians 2:6-11 teaches that Jesus Christ was a preexistent divine figure who became a human being; Ehrman rejects the “Adamic” interpretation of the passage that tries to circumvent the preexistence of Christ.
  • Paul calls Jesus “God” in Romans 9:5!
  • John clearly teaches that Jesus existed before creation in some way distinct from God the Father, yet he was “God” and was equal to God. (Jehovah’s Witnesses, take note.) Furthermore, John did not originate this view, because the Johannine Prologue derives from a pre-Johannine source.

One could hardly wish for more agreements and even concessions from the world’s most influential agnostic biblical scholar.

With all these points of agreement between us, why does Ehrman end up with such a different view of Christianity? I think Ed Komoszewski pinpointed the root difference between Ehrman and Evangelicals in his review of the 2011 debate between Bart Ehrman and Dan Wallace:

Wallace painted Ehrman as a radical skeptic. Is that picture true to form? One person from the audience asked Ehrman what it would take for him to be sure that we knew what the original of, say, the Gospel of Mark was. He said if we had ten first-generation copies, written within a week or so of the original, with “0.001% deviation” between them, then he could be relatively assured that we had Mark’s Gospel intact. Forget the fact that such requirements are not made for any other ancient literature, or that the New Testament is so rich in copies that scholars can get a very good sense of the original wording. Ehrman’s response to this question confirmed that Wallace had indeed framed things accurately.

See why Michael Kruger thinks this kind of skepticism is unreasonable, and read the rest of Rob Bowman’s extensive review.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Adam and Eve?

 

Here is a good post by my friend James Rochford at Evidence Unseen:

Critical biblical scholars do not believe that Adam and Eve were real people; instead, this account is just a myth or fable about the moral fall of humanity. For instance, biblical scholar Alan Richardson compares the narrative material in Genesis 1-11 to the parables of the New Testament.[1] More recently in his book The Evolution of Adam, theologian Peter Enns argues that science and Scripture shouldn’t be harmonized with one another.[2] He writes elsewhere, “The Bible is ancient literature that speaks from an ancient point of view… These stories clearly and undeniably look so very similar to the stories of other ancient cultures and have nothing to do with history or science as we think of those ideas today… Divorcing the creation stories of the Bible from their ancient settings and forcing them to speak to contemporary scientific discussion over evolution isn’t just wrong or stubborn or misguided… It is sub-Christian.” However, there are a number of reasons to deny this view and to affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve:

REASON #1: The NT authors believed that Adam and Eve were real, historical figures.

valentin_paul_writing1800x1337The NT authors compare the historicity of Adam with the historicity of Jesus (Rom. 5:12-15; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45; Acts 17:26; Lk. 3:38, Mt. 19:4-5). Paul refers to Eve as a real, historical person, as well (1 Tim. 2:13-14; 2 Cor. 11:3). There is nothing in the text that indicates that this section is mythical, rather than historical. In fact, the repeated expression toledot is used throughout the book of Genesis (“This is the account…”) to explain all of the historical events of Genesis from beginning to end (Gen. 2:4; 5:1; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 36:1).

REASON #2: Human innovation abruptly surged roughly 40,000 years ago.

There is a large gap between Australopithecus and Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis several million years ago. However, more recently (~40,000 years ago), human innovation exploded. Paleoanthropologist Christopher Stringer writes,

For millennia upon millennia, we [hominids] had been churning out the same forms of stone utensils, for example. But about 40,000 years ago, a perceptible shift in our handiwork took place. Throughout the Old World, tool kits leapt in sophistication with the appearance of Upper Paleolithic style implements. Signs of use of ropes, bone spear points, fishhooks and harpoons emerge, along with sudden manifestations of sculptures, paintings, and musical instruments… We also find evidence of the first long-distance exchange of stones and beads. Objects made of mammals bones and ivory, antlers, marine and freshwater shells, fossil coral, limestone, schist, steatite, jet, lignite, hematite and pyrite were manufactured. Materials were chosen with extraordinary care: some originated extraordinary catalogue of achievements that seem to have come about virtually from nowhere—though obviously they did have a source: What was it?[3]

A number of aspects of human culture emerged abruptly at this time.

(1) Humans created novel stone tools. While earlier hominids used tools, the period from 50,000 to 40,000 is a “quantum leap”[4] in tool manufacture.

(2) Humans developed highly sophisticated weapons for hunting. The animal remains are more diverse during this era, which suggests that humans began hunting difficult game like buffalo and wild boar. Moreover, they also learned to fish with nets and hunt with traps.

(3) Humanity developed in its social structure, living in communities, rather than isolated.

(4) Humans began to make complex jewelry for themselves and one another. Of course, jewelry offers no benefit for survival; it reflects the creative capacity for the aesthetic.[5]

(5) Humans developed detailed art—specifically cave paintings. Archaeologists have discovered roughly 150 caves with paintings and carvings.[6]

(6) Humans developed music at this time, developing flutes and whistles out of the bones of birds.[7]

(7) Humans created clothing for themselves, which is a unique human distinctive. No other species tries to cover its nudity.[8]

(8) Humans also buried their dead. In Sungir (an archaeological site in Russia dated to ~30,000 BC), there is a grave with an older man with two children. The burial place was filled with grave goods (e.g. ivory-beaded jewelry, clothing, and spears). Of course, our belief in the afterlife still persists to this day. Columbia University Professor Alan Segal authoritatively wrote, “Most, if not all, of the world’s cultures maintain some sort of belief in life after death.”[9] This human feature dates back to the earliest humans.

To read on, click here:

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Reviewing the Oral Phase of the Jesus Story

Even though  the Christian can always offer certain dates for the Gospels, it should remembered that there was a gap of time between the ascension of Jesus and when the Gospel authors actually wrote their individual biographies about the life of Jesus.  Therefore, there was  a period where the words and deeds of Jesus were committed to memory by the disciples and transmitted orally. Remember, the home, the synagogue, and the elementary school was where Jewish people learned how to memorize and recall information such as community prayers. As Craig Evans notes in his article on Jewish Scripture and the Literacy of Jesus, according to the Shema, which all Torah observant Jews were expected to recite daily, parents were to teach  their children the Torah ( Deut 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; 31:12-13; 2 Chr 17:7-9; Eccl 12:9).

As Richard Bauckham notes, “In short, memorization was a mechanism of control that preserved the Jesus traditions as faithfully as the early Christians required. It was exercised to the extent that stable reproduction was deemed important and in regard to those aspects of the traditions for which stable reproduction was thought appropriate” [1]

How would Jesus have made his teaching memorable?

Jesus was a called a “Rabbi” (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2), which means “master” or “teacher.” There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. His disciples had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1). [2]

Jesus taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme. Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize. [3]

According to Webster’s Dictionary, an aphorism is “a concise statement of a principle or terse formulation of a truth or sentiment,”  (“he who has ears to hear, let him hear” [Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8; 14:35] or “he who has ears, let him hear” [Matt. 11:15, 13:9, 43]. The parables of Jesus also seem streamlined for easy memorization. [4]

If you followed Jesus twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week wouldn’t you expect him to repeat some of the aphorisms throughout his ministry? [5]

We also see an emphasis on the importance of remembering the words of Jesus:

Jesus says: Listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you.” (Luke 9:44)

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”  (Matthew 28:19-20)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away  (Mark 13:31)

“ It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life  (John 6:63)

“So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68)

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works”  (John 14:10)

“ But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”  (John 14:26)

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”  (John 15:7)

Even after the ascension of Jesus, the apostles gave their eyewitness testimony to the words of Jesus. Hence, the Gospel writers could base their word on a “fixed distinct tradition about Jesus-a tradition that was partly memorized and partly written down in notebooks and private scrolls.” Therefore, the oral tradition eventually was written in the form of the Gospels, emulating the written Torah of the Jews and reflecting the general revelation of Jesus the Messiah. [6]

Even when we come to Paul, we see he employs rabbinical terminology such as “delivering,” “receiving,” “passing on” “learning,” “guarding,” the traditional teaching within his letters. This can be observed in the following passages:

Romans 16: 17: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”

1 Corinthians 11:23: For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread.

I Corinthians 15: 3-8 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

Philippians 4:9: The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

1 Thessalonians 2:13: For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

2 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

So according to Paul, the church possesses a normative standard which he refers to as “tradition” or “traditions” (paradosis, paradoseis, 1 Cor.11:2 2 Thess 2:15;3:6). The manner in which it is passed on is expressed in the verbs paradidonai, ‘hand over’ (tradition) and paralambanein, “receive” (as tradition), 1Cor.11:23; 15:1,3; Gal. 1:9; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess.2:13; 2Thess.3:6. The young congregations are to “maintain” or “hold fast” or “uphold” these traditions; the verbs used are among others, kratein (2 Thess.2:15), katechein (1 Cor. 11:2) and hesteknai (1 Cor. 15:1).[7]

It is also important to note the role of how the disciples were active participants of the life of Jesus. They saw the importance of bearing witness to the deeds and sayings of Jesus:

As Richard Bauckham says:

” The sense (not a properly one generic one) in which the witnesses of the Holocaust created a new literature of testimony, is much the same sense as that in which the witnesses of the history created the Gospels. Those witnesses understood the imperative to witness to a command of the risen Christ, but the parallel is sufficient to be suggestive. In both cases, the uniqueness required precisely witness as the only means by which the events could be adequately known. In both cases, the exceptionality of the event means that only the testimony of participant witness can give us anything approaching access to the truth of the event.” [8]

Conclusion: The first followers of Jesus had a strong motivation to pass on both the actions and sayings of Jesus with considerable accuracy.  Also, we need to remember that in the early faith community there was a center (Jerusalem) which consisted of leaders (the apostles). Hence, there would be checks and balances in place to control the tradition.

Sources:

[1] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: 2006), 287

[2] Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997), 138.

 [3] Reid, D. G., The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament: A One-Volume Compendium Of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2004), 460.

[4] These points are emphasized in James M. Arlandson’s wonderful set of articles called The Historical Reliability of the Gospels available at http://wap.bible.org/series/historical-reliability-gospels

[5] Ibid.

[6] Robert L. Thomas, Three Views On The Origins Of The Synoptic Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publications, 2002), 281.

[7] Birger Gerhardsson, The Origin of the Gospel Traditions (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 11-14.

[8] Bauckham, pgs 499-502.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 140 other followers