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John W. Loftus
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In this book Bart Ehrman attempts to provide the theological road-map whereby Jesus started out as a Jewish apocalyptic prophet and ended up having the high Christology of the historic Nicaea Creed (solidified by the Council of Constantinople in 381). As a historian he does not believe Jesus was God in any sense, or that he arose from the dead. He's merely being a historian telling us what he thinks is more probable than not.
In Ehrman's previous works he has argued that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who predicted the end of the known world and the coming of the Son of Man in his generation who would subsequently rule over the re-created world. Most scholars seem to agree with Ehrman, but others disagree with this view of Jesus, most notably Geza Vermes, Burton Mack, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Stephen Patterson, Bruce Chilton, John P. Meier, Gerd Thiessen, Elisabeth Fiorenza, S. G. F. Brandon, Morton Smith, Reza Aslan, along with mythicist scholars Richard Carrier and Robert M. Price. Some of these different views of Jesus would require a different road-map to get to the high Christology of the fourth century, especially the mythicist view. So from the very beginning as we travel this map there are these obstacles.
Passing over those disagreements though, Ehrman's map seems to me to be a fairly standard mainline one which I've read in other works. Michael Coogan, John Collins and Paula Fredriksen probably agree with Ehrman since they wrote blurbs for it. Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar, in the last chapter of his book "Honest to Jesus," says some of the same things.
Regardless, I'm very glad Ehrman wrote it. It's written so that the general populace can understand it. He has a way of communicating these ideas very well. Included are personal stories that may help readers know more about him as he considered this road-map in the first place. Several times he tells the reader he didn't at first agree with this or that idea, only to embrace it later. He describes himself as an "agnostic" now (p. 354).
In this brief review I've decided to tell readers a bit about how he argues so people can decide for themselves whether to buy it or not. My 5 star recommendation is based on his knowledge, communication skills and the fact that his views should be dealt with. In other words, this book shouldn't be ignored. It will be discussed in the years to come. Already there is one book length response by conservative Christians.
In the first chapter Ehrman tells us there were several divine humans believed to exist in ancient Greece and Rome. There was Apollonius, whom he goes in some depth about since his life parallels the life of Jesus. Then he tells us of gods who became human, like Philemon and Baucis (cf. Acts 14:11). There are divine beings believed to be born of both a god and a mortal, like Alexander the Great and Hercules. There are even humans believed to be divine, like Romulus, Quirinus, Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus.
Ehrman shows us there were lots of gods, and that according to the beliefs in those early first century days "they were graded levels of divinity" (p. 39). This was a new thought to him, as it is to me. One can construct this as a divine pyramid with one great god at the top tier (according to some beliefs) and several tiers below, all of which were inhabited by divine beings. Just below the top tier were the great gods within each pantheon, then below that tier many other local gods and goddesses. At a still lower level were the demonic beings. On the lowest level were believed to be divine humans (perhaps demigods if you will).
In the second chapter Ehrman shows there were possibly divine humans in ancient Judaism. The first commandment, after all, doesn't deny other gods existed, only that the Israelites were to worship Yahweh. There were the Nephilim of Genesis 6, offspring of the sons of god who had sex with the daughters of men. The "Angel of the Lord" was believed to be a divine human being, as were kings, (Psalm 82) and angels ("the Watchers"). There was Daniel's "son of Man," and divine hypostases (an attribute of God that takes on its own essence) like Wisdom itself. Ehrman argues that given these traditions it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to think of Jesus in the same terms as divine. We see it especially in the Gospel of John who described the pre-incarnate Jesus as the "Word" that became flesh (i.e., Logos).
In chapter three Ehrman argues that Jesus thought of himself to be the Messiah, but he did not claim to be God. Ehrman thinks when Judas betrayed Jesus he also told the authorities Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah. After all, that was what he was accused of, claiming to be the king of the Jews, and what he had to deny at his trials if he wanted to escape death on the cross. After Jesus died we find his Jewish disciples proclaiming he was the Messiah, even though "no Jew before Christianity" thought of a dying Messiah. Says Ehrman, "The only plausible explanation is that they called Jesus this after his death because they were calling him this before his death."
In chapter four Ehrman provides good strong reasons why Jesus did not rise from the dead using the tools of the historian, which are the only reliable tools we have at our disposal. If those tools cannot do the job then it cannot be done at all (faith has no method, correct?). In chapter five Ehrman tells us what historians can know. They can know that some of Jesus' followers believed he arose from the dead due to visions of him after his crucifixion, and that "this belief led them to reevaluate who Jesus was, so that the Jewish apocalyptic preacher from rural Galilee came to be considered, in some sense, God." (p. 174). His disciples concluded that Jesus was exalted to heaven. God had taken him into the heavenly realm "to a position of virtually unheard-of status and authority." (p. 205). "Jesus now had been exalted to heaven and is the heavenly messiah to come to earth. In an even more real sense, he was God. Not God almighty, of course, but he was a heavenly being, a superhuman, a divine king, who would rule the nations" (p. 208).
Ehrman calls this "exaltation Christology" and it took hold early on in the minds of his disciples. "It was because of his exalted status that Jesus was deemed worthy of worship" (p. 235). When Mark, the first Gospel was written, we read that Jesus was God's Son at his baptism. Later gospels kept placing his divinity further back in time. Jesus was believed to be divine at birth in Luke. The gospel of John, written last, says the Logos that became flesh was always divine. The Logos became incarnate in Jesus. Paul's conception of Jesus shares that of the gospel of John whereby we see an "incarnational Christology." It surely developed from exaltation Christology quicker in the mind of Paul than others, but that's how it developed for them all, Ehrman seems to say.
By the time of the fourth century "many of the great thinkers of the Roman world had come to believe that a huge chasm separated the divine and human realms. God was 'up there' and was the Almighty. He alone was God." (p. 43) Gone was the pyramid of gods. So Ehrman argues, "One of the mistakes that people make when thinking about the question of Jesus as God involves taking the view that eventually was widely held by the fourth Christian century and assuming that this was in place during the early days of the Christian movement." "Jesus became God in that major fourth-century sense. But he had been seen as God before that, by people who did not have this fourth-century understanding of the relationship of the human and divine realms" (pp. 43-44).
While there were plenty of controversies in the first few centuries over the precise nature of this Christology and how Jesus could be God that were not settled quickly, even at Nicaea, and continue today, Ehrman goes on to show the important role of Constantine in this debate by favoring Christianity over all other religions, especially Judaism, and even the council of Nicaea against other Christianities.
265 von 334 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Robert M. Bowman Jr.
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Bart Ehrman’s book _How Jesus Became God_ is the most recent example of a scholarly tradition of books offering to explain how Christianity turned a simple itinerant Jewish teacher into the Second Person of the Trinity. Already the skeptics are giving the book obviously partisan five-star reviews. Rather than engage in book review “star wars” by giving the book only one star I am giving it three stars, even though as a biblical scholar of an evangelical Christian point of view I strongly disagree with the thesis of the book.
Ehrman’s thesis is that Jesus was not viewed, by himself or his disciples, as in any sense divine during his lifetime, but that belief in his divinity arose almost immediately after his disciples had visions of Jesus that they interpreted as meaning that God had raised him bodily from the dead. According to Ehrman, the earliest Christians thought Jesus had been exalted by God to a divine status at his resurrection, but this belief quickly morphed, resulting in the idea that Jesus was God incarnate. The premise of his argument is that the category of divinity was an elastic one in the ancient world, even to some extent in Jewish thought, and so first-century Christians were able to entertain quite different conceptions of what it meant to regard Jesus as divine or even as “God” (a point Ehrman elaborates in two chapters, 11-84).
Having laid the foundation, Ehrman builds the house of his theory of Christian origins. Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher who mistakenly thought the end of the age was imminent and who hoped he would become the Messiah (a merely earthly king) in the impending age to come (86-127). Instead, he was executed by crucifixion and his body was probably not even given a decent burial, contrary to the Gospels (133-65). However, a few of Jesus’ disciples who had fled to Galilee had some visions of Jesus, perhaps of the type people sometimes have when they are bereaved (174-206). The disciples interpreted these visions almost immediately as meaning that Jesus had risen from the dead to an exalted, divine status in heaven as God’s adopted “son” next to God himself. Ehrman finds this earliest “exaltation Christology,” dating from the early 30s, in preliterary creedal statements imbedded in Paul (Rom. 1:3-4) and Acts (2:36; 5:31; 13:32-33), even though he recognizes that neither Paul nor Luke held to this view (216-35).
Ehrman thinks this exaltation Christology developed with extreme rapidity into what is the more recognizable view of Christ. By the 40s or at the latest the 50s, some Christians thought Jesus had become God’s Son at his baptism or at his birth, while others, such as Paul, thought Jesus was God’s Son even before his human life, serving as God’s chief angel (240-69). This angelic incarnation Christology was developed before the end of the century into the idea of Jesus as God incarnate, seen especially in John and Colossians, which Ehrman denies Paul wrote (269-80). Christian leaders of the second and third centuries hardened this incarnation Christology into a standard of orthodoxy, rejecting Christologies of their day akin to those of the earliest Christians attested in various parts of the New Testament. This process of defining orthodoxy and condemning heresy eventually led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity and its codification in the creeds of the fourth and fifth centuries (284-352).
As I see it, Ehrman gets a surprising number of things right. Jesus was a real historical person. The New Testament Gospels are our best source of information about that person. Jesus was crucified at the order of Pontius Pilate and died on the cross. Some of Jesus’ original followers sincerely believed not long afterward that 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 yet. Ehrman agrees that the earliest Christians regarded Jesus as in some sense divine and that within about twenty years, even before Paul, at least some Jewish Christians believed that Jesus was a preexistent divine being. (Skeptics usually try to blame this idea on Paul.) The belief that Jesus existed before creation as God (and yet not God the Father) arose even before the Gospel of John. One could hardly wish for more agreements and even concessions from the world’s most influential agnostic biblical scholar.
Having given credit where credit is due, I must move on to identify what I think are some of the weakest links in Ehrman’s argument. For sake of brevity I limit the list to five.
1. Ehrman’s foundational premise of the fluidity of ancient concepts of the divine is certainly a major problem. Ehrman rightly finds such fluidity in Greco-Roman thought, but what he never addresses even once is the consistent, pervasive opposition to Greco-Roman notions of the divine throughout the New Testament—even when he touches on obviously relevant passages. For example, Ehrman discusses the tale of Jupiter and Mercury (or Zeus and Hermes) visiting Phrygia (19-22), commenting on the incident reported in Acts when Barnabas and Paul preached in Phrygia and were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:8-18). But Ehrman glosses over Paul’s response to the Phrygians, in which he summoned them to turn from their idolatrous beliefs to accept the God of Jewish monotheism (Acts 14:15-17). Generalizations about “divine humans” in antiquity are simply irrelevant to understanding the origins of a monotheistic Jewish movement that regarded its crucified human founder as God.
Ehrman presents three models of the divine human in Greco-Roman culture: “gods who temporarily become human” (19-22), “divine beings born of a god and a mortal” (22-24), and “a human who becomes divine” (25-38). He admits that the case of Jesus does not fit any of these: “I don’t know of any other cases in ancient Greek or Roman thought of this kind of ‘god-man,’ where an already existing divine being is said to be born of a mortal woman” (18). He could have added to that sentence, “or Jewish thought.” This is the Achilles’ heel of Ehrman’s whole account of Christian origins. By his own admission, the Christian view of Jesus—a view he admits emerged within twenty years of Jesus’ crucifixion—was literally unprecedented.
2. Ehrman’s main thesis on its face appears completely lacking in credibility. According to Ehrman, whereas Jesus did not view himself as anything more than a man and did not expect to become anything more than a glorious earthly king, within a few weeks or months of Jesus’ death his original followers were sincerely proclaiming that Jesus was a divine figure ruling over all creation at God’s right hand in heaven. Apparently Jesus’ original disciples, who had walked all over Galilee and Judea with him and listened to him teach for hours on end, simply discounted Jesus’ own self-image as nothing more than the future human Messiah.
3. To make his theory work, Ehrman has abandoned his earlier view that the burial of Jesus in a tomb just outside Jerusalem was historically likely. He now accepts something like John Dominic Crossan’s view that Jesus received no decent burial at all. In a way, denying the tomb is a smart move on Ehrman’s part. As long as he acknowledged both the tomb and the appearances, he remained vulnerable to the vise grip of the historical argument for the Resurrection. So Ehrman, who knows he cannot deny that at least some of the disciples had experiences in which they thought they saw Jesus alive from the dead, has gone the more sensible skeptical route and questioned the burial in the tomb. But this move, while sensible enough from his agnostic perspective, lands him in evidential hot water, because the evidence that the Gospels are telling the truth about the empty tomb is very good. Craig Evans, in his chapter in the book _How God Became Jesus_ that responds to Ehrman’s book, does an excellent job of critiquing Ehrman on this point.
4. Ehrman’s attempts to explain the appearances of Jesus naturalistically ignore entirely the testimony of the apostle Paul that Jesus had appeared to him when Paul was still a persecutor of Christians. Ehrman quietly omits any mention of Paul’s experience throughout his treatment of the resurrection appearances in the fifth chapter of his book. Then, having finished with the subject of Jesus’ resurrection, at the beginning of chapter 6 Ehrman says only that Paul, after converting to faith in Jesus, “later claimed that this was because he had had a vision of Jesus alive, long after his death” (214, emphasis added). That is all he says—and it is difficult even to take his statement seriously. That Paul sincerely thought he had a vision of the risen Christ is really beyond debate. That fact is a stubborn datum that Ehrman failed to incorporate into his account of the origins of the Christian movement.
5. Ehrman labors to defend the premise that the apostle Paul thought Jesus was the chief angel come in the flesh. He has one proof text for this claim—Galatians 4:14, where Paul reminds the Galatians that when he visited them they welcomed him “as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” Ehrman takes this statement to mean that Jesus is an (or the) angel of God. However, it is far more likely that Paul’s language is progressive or ascending: the Galatians treated him as if he were an angel of God, and even as if he were Christ Jesus himself (for similar constructions in Greek, see Psalm 34:14 LXX; 84:14 LXX; Song of Sol. 1:5; Isa. 53:2; Ezek. 19:10). Earlier in the same passage, Galatians 4:4-6 shows that Paul thought of the Son and the Spirit as two divine persons sent by God the Father—one of numerous proto-Trinitarian passages in Paul.
Ehrman has done the church a service by reminding us that the issues of the resurrection of Christ and the deity of Christ are inextricably linked. He has also thrown down a challenge to Christian scholars to make the case for both of these truths in a fresh way that engages the evidence within a broader range of religious studies. His own theory, however, suffers from some various serious—one might say grave—flaws. I have offered a more detailed review of his book on the Parchment and Pen blog.