A very good, but very long, review of skeptical historian Bart Ehrman’s new book. It’s written by Rob Bowman, co-author of “Putting Jesus in his Place“.
Here are some of the really bad mistakes made by Bart Ehrman, according to the review.
#2: Ehrman thinks that Jesus didn’t think he was the “Son of Man” figure from Daniel:
A second notable weakness in Ehrman’s theory is his claim that Jesus expected to fill the role of the Messiah but not of the Son of Man. This interpretation gets its initial plausibility from the fact that Jesus routinely referred to the Son of Man in the third person. However, even in most of the Synoptic Son of Man sayings, it is quite clear in the immediate context that Jesus is referring to himself (Matt. 8:20; 9:6; 11:19; 12:8; 16:13; 17:22-23; 20:18-19, 28; 26:2, 24, 45; Mark 2:10; 8:31; 9:31; 10:33; 14:21, 41; Luke 5:24; 7:34; 9:22, 44, 58; 19:10; 22:22, 48). The Messiah and the Son of Man are both understood as eschatological figures that receive an eternal kingdom on behalf of God’s people; it is simply not plausible that Jesus, who used the title Son of Man incessantly and rarely used the title Messiah or Christ, claimed to be the latter but not the former.
#3: Ehrman can’t explain the early church’s proclamation that Jesus was divine:
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. Keep in mind that in Ehrman’s mind, Jesus did not rise from the dead and did not actually speak to his disciples after his death. Nor does Ehrman suggest that the disciples thought Jesus had made these stupendous claims about himself during his appearances to them. Rather, Ehrman credits the disciples with inferring these things about Jesus by interpreting their visionary experiences in the light of the apocalyptic worldview he had taught them before his death (205-206). What all this means is that Ehrman’s view requires that 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.
#4: Ehrman denies the burial of Jesus, which makes him one of a handful of ancient historians who do:
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. Accept the empty tomb and discount the appearances, and you can postulate that the body was moved or stolen or lost. Accept the appearances and reject the empty tomb, and you can speculate that the disciples had hallucinations or “bereavement visions.” Accept both the empty tomb and the appearances and you have to come up with a blatantly ad hoc explanation like Greg Cavin’s identical-twin theory (what William Lane Craig mischievously labeled “the Dave theory”) or strain credulity by accepting two unrelated explanations for the evidence (e.g., the body was stolen and the disciples had hallucinations). 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.
#5: Ehrman discounts Paul’s resurrection appearance, which he speaks about in 1 Cor 15:
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.
The post mentions a new book out that challenges Ehrman’s book, and describes all of the responses to Ehrman’s views. It is edited by well-known Australian scholar Michael F. Bird, whom I have blogged about before.
Here’s one snippet:
Craig Evans’s treatment on the burial of Jesus is the stand-out chapter of the book. Evans rightly criticizes Ehrman’s argument from silence regarding the omission of the name of Joseph of Arimathea from the pre-Pauline confession of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (90-91). Evans shows, against Ehrman, that rabbinical and Qumran texts attest to the Sanhedrin taking responsibility for the burial of executed criminals (80-81, 88-89). This means that the supposed discrepancy between Acts 13:29 and the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial (even Luke’s account!) evaporates. Evans is especially in his element when he documents painstakingly from both literary and archaeological evidence that burial in a tomb was not, as Ehrman had argued at length, inconsistent with Roman policies and practices regarding criminals who were crucified (73-80, 83-86). This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
You really can’t deny the burial – it’s in 1 Cor 15:3-7, and that’s early eyewitness testimony. I really am not sure what has gone wrong with Bart. You can’t say the things he says in this book and maintain your respect as a historian, in my opinion. His views are fringe, and worse, they are in conflict with evidence that is undeniable, historically speaking. He’s reaching, because something other than history is making him reach.
Here’s a video about the new book, featuring Craig Evans:
He talks about the evidence for the burial. That video is 20 minutes, but worth watching. If you want to get a full treatment of the divinity of Jesus, then click here and buy Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), for $1.99 (Kindle edition).
You can also view a debate on Youtube between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman here. (Transcript here)
Filed under: Polemics, Ancient History, Apologetics, Bart Ehrman, Bible, Bible Study, Christianity, Craig Evans, Divine, Divinity, Historiography, History, How God Became Jesus, How Jesus Became God, Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, Michael F. Bird