How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

New York Times bestselling author and Bible expert Bart Ehrman reveals how Jesus’s divinity became dogma in the first few centuries of the early church.The claim at the heart of the Christian faith is that Jesus of Nazareth was, and is, God. But this is not what the original disciples believed during Jesus’s lifetime—and it is not what Jesus claimed about himself. How Jesu...

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Title:How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee
Author:Bart D. Ehrman
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Edition Language:English

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee Reviews

  • Louise

    Bart Ehrman digests biblical scholarship into an easy to read text for believers and non-believers alike. While 270pp is more than sufficient for his thesis, along the way he presents interesting concepts and the reader learns a lot about the process of biblical research.

    Ehrman develops the concept that it was resurrection and its aftermath that confirmed Jesus as equal to god. In learning how "exaltation Christologies gave way to incarnation Christologies" (p. 263), I also learned a host of oth

    Bart Ehrman digests biblical scholarship into an easy to read text for believers and non-believers alike. While 270pp is more than sufficient for his thesis, along the way he presents interesting concepts and the reader learns a lot about the process of biblical research.

    Ehrman develops the concept that it was resurrection and its aftermath that confirmed Jesus as equal to god. In learning how "exaltation Christologies gave way to incarnation Christologies" (p. 263), I also learned a host of other new vocabulary words and terms (synoptic, hyperstasis, heresiology and docstism to name a few).

    The book begins with the context of Jesus's time. Many early religions had human-deity combinations, the emperor was considered a god and it was not uncommon for gods to mate with (or rape) female mortals. While all this was present in his world, Ehrman concludes that in his lifetime Jesus did not claim divinity nor was divinity ascribed to him. Ehrman feels a case can be built that Jesus might have said he was a king, but the case for Jesus claiming divinity for himself is flimsy. There were many apocalyptic preachers in this time. Jesus, is baptized by one, and becomes one.

    The reader learns how unique the gospel of John is. It is the most theological of the gospels and is the only one where Jesus is quoted as alluding to god-like status for himself.Written long after Jesus's death and resurrection, (Ehrman sees these as words ascribed to Jesus, not words he had said.) The other gospels are silent on this. Ehrman concludes that Paul considers Jesus like an angel but not the equal of a god.

    In the two centuries following the death of Jesus, followers had disparate views of how to understand his life and death. Ebionites kept their Jewish customs and saw Christ as a human adopted by God. Theodotians also felt Jesus was a human adopted by god, with some members believing he was divine and others that others that he was a man "empowered" by baptism. Docetists believed him completely divine by nature. Marcionites, Gnostics, Separationists and Modalists all had different interpretations, some believing in the existence of two or more gods. Ideas were first unified by theologians Hippolytus and Tertullian into the concept of the trinity which over the centuries has endured. A description of these schools of thought is followed by a discussion on the early attempts to resolve the (human/divine) "ortho-paradoxes".

    Ehrman concludes with his personal journey. He is up front (from Chapter 1), that while a biblical scholar, he is not a believer. This does not at all color this work which has plenty of information and food for thought for both believers and non-believers. To describe his personal journey he goes back to his understanding of Jesus and the apocalyptic nature of the times. Just as Jesus was "recontexturalized" in the 400 years covered in the text, he continues to be today by believers and non-believers.

    While this will anger fundamentalists, others, believers and non-believers interested in this topic will appreciate the scholarship this book presents.

  • Andrew

    When reading books about religion, it's important to read them for what they proclaim to be rather than what we wish they would be. Bart Ehrman doesn't claim to be doing theology, or offering proof for God, or [insert desired misconception here]. He styles his study as an examination of the historic process by which a first-century Jewish preacher came to be viewed as God by his followers.

    It's a history of belief.

    And in this narrow endeavour Ehrman succeeds. There's a firm grounding in the belie

    When reading books about religion, it's important to read them for what they proclaim to be rather than what we wish they would be. Bart Ehrman doesn't claim to be doing theology, or offering proof for God, or [insert desired misconception here]. He styles his study as an examination of the historic process by which a first-century Jewish preacher came to be viewed as God by his followers.

    It's a history of belief.

    And in this narrow endeavour Ehrman succeeds. There's a firm grounding in the belief systems of the time, especially how Romans and Jews understood divinity. There's also some clever (sometimes too clever) parsing of the New Testament in admirable attempts to reconstruct the apostles' perceptions of Jesus immediately after the crucifixion. And it follows the paths by which those perceptions and beliefs evolved right up to the Council of Nicea and the orthodox belief in Jesus' twin divinity and humanity.

    The requisite quota of German theologians are cited.

    Follow me on Twitter:

  • Dennis Mitton

    I’ve sat in enough churches to know that sooner or later the question will rise: “If Jesus were to walk in here right now would he recognize this place as His church?” In ‘How Jesus Became God’ Bart Ehrman argues well that the answer is no. Not because the modern church is doing it wrong but because the question is wrong. Ehrman argues that our view of Jesus is an amalgam of historical fact, purposeful fiction, and a lot of wishful thinking that would probably surprise even Jesus.

    During the firs

    I’ve sat in enough churches to know that sooner or later the question will rise: “If Jesus were to walk in here right now would he recognize this place as His church?” In ‘How Jesus Became God’ Bart Ehrman argues well that the answer is no. Not because the modern church is doing it wrong but because the question is wrong. Ehrman argues that our view of Jesus is an amalgam of historical fact, purposeful fiction, and a lot of wishful thinking that would probably surprise even Jesus.

    During the first centuries of the Christian church there was a constant battle for the primacy of ideas. Some believed that Jesus was fully human but an excellent moral teacher. A strong argument was made that Jesus was human and adopted by God at his baptism. Gnostics argued that Jesus discovered secret knowledge that was available to anyone as a trade for mortifying the evil flesh. It surprises people today to learn that many early Christians were vehemently anti-Semitic, believing the god of the Jews to be spiteful, mean, and petty in comparison to the gentle teachings of Jesus.

    Ideas, beliefs, and values change over time and the church is no different. In ‘Misquoting Jesus’ Ehrman outlined a strong argument that the New Testament is to some degree a fiction: we really can’t say for sure what the autographical texts said and we have firm evidence of tinkering. The history of the church follows a parallel line. During the first century one could take their pick from various views of Jesus, the new Christian church, and its relation to other religions. As an orthodoxy emerged, competing ideas were rooted out. “Heretics’ were hunted down. False teacher run out of town. The idea that Jesus was ‘very God of very God’ became prominent and dissenters where shunned. This ‘orthodoxy’ would have surprised many early followers of Jesus.

    For readers of Ehrman this will be familiar ground. His writing is accessible and he notes enough references to provide plenty of research. Like the response to his other books, not everyone will be amused. His argument is historical and fact based and doesn’t settle well with current orthodoxy. It’s a good read, though, for anyone interested in early Christianity and the development of the early church. There’s lots to think about here no matter what side of the coin you enjoy. A good book.

  • Will Byrnes

    And it came to pass that I read and ye shall learn of a pretty amazing book. Biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman takes on the subject of how, in history, the notion of Jesus as god developed. Was it there from the beginning? How did it arise? What does it even mean? Was he considered divine by believers before conception, at conception, at baptism by John, when he died on the cross, when he rose from the dead, when he headed upstairs to the executive offices? And the answer? Yes.

    As with many myster

    And it came to pass that I read and ye shall learn of a pretty amazing book. Biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman takes on the subject of how, in history, the notion of Jesus as god developed. Was it there from the beginning? How did it arise? What does it even mean? Was he considered divine by believers before conception, at conception, at baptism by John, when he died on the cross, when he rose from the dead, when he headed upstairs to the executive offices? And the answer? Yes.

    As with many mysteries there is a paucity of physical evidence. One might consider Ehrman’s task a very challenging episode of [Incredibly]

    , or maybe fodder for a new version of a favorite show (as if there are not enough already)

    .

    Not much to work with here as far as physical evidence goes, but Ehrman does apply his considerable skill to analyzing what documentation we have, tracing provenance, to the extent possible, applying what we know of the period(s), and lasering in on crucial questions.

    Ehrman makes it very clear that he is not about trying to turn anyone away from a particular set of beliefs.

    Or who said what, and when, where and why did they say it? And who saw what, where, when, how and why?

    My knowledge of the period is extremely limited. Twelve years of Catholic school taught me a lot more about obedience than it did about biblical scholarship, and while I have read the odd book here and there about the period, I claim no particular expertise, so am not in a position to offer a particularly educated consideration of the information presented here. Ehrman, on the other hand, has written vast amounts on things biblical. I refer you to his considerable bona fides,

    . I am inclined to give his very accomplished, educated interpretation of the material he examines a bit more weight than I might the opinions proffered by individuals boasting lesser scholarly accomplishment.

    Key, of course, is the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Without that there is no such thing as Christianity, as prophets and Messiahs were sold by the gross at the dollar-store equivalent of the era. In fact, Ehrman opens his book citing an unnamed individual whom one might expect is JC, as the details are incredibly reminiscent. But no, it turns out to be

    entirely. (No, not Brian) His pilot was not picked up by the world at large, so you might find him in the antiquity channel’s version of “Brilliant but Cancelled.” And he was not alone. But, since any Tom. Dick, and Appolonius could claim to be a prophet, it was the claim that Jesus was

    that was key to a long run, and Ehrman focuses on that.

    He looks into the details of Jesus’s death and supposed return. For example, how likely was it that he was buried at all? The answer will surprise you. How about the likelihood that someone who had just tried to have him done in would arrange a burial? How likely might it be for wanted criminals, as the apostles were, to stick around after their chief had been so harshly treated? It continues, but you get the idea. Each tiny piece needs to be examined.

    One of the things that Ehrman does consistently and well is to define terms. Divine? In what sense? There is a lot of variety in levels of divinity. Ehrman points out a pyramidal structure common to many religions, and how supposedly monotheistic faiths shuck and jive trying to explain how the multiple divine entities in their religions do not violate the monotheism-

    covenant (it’s in the mouse print). He applies his piercing logic to notions of resurrection as well.

    (

    knows about that, for sure) So what was it that was supposedly seen?

    Who knew there was such a level of detail to consider? Was the risen Jesus made of chunky human flesh or the sort ectoplasm more usually associated with someone like, say,

    . Or was he some ethereal non-substance?

    And what about the veracity of the stories that were told of the supposed resurrection?

    So, we are relying, in the gospels at least, on an inconsistent story, from multiple non-witnesses, that was the end result of a decades-long biblical version of the game

    ? These days, of course, you can probably become a god, or at least obtain, Wizard-of-Oz-style, a document attesting to your divinity, by sending a certain sum to a particular web site. (GodsRUs.com would be my guess). It was so much more complicated back then.

    So, what might be less than divine in Ehrman’s examination? Well, we

    digging through some very old material here, and it is not surprising that in a book focused in the Middle East a bit of sand gets in. The level of detail does, on occasion, cause one’s eyes to ascend to another level of being. But I found this a fascinating, and educational read, opening up many notions to consideration that I had never really thought about. Whatever it may do for your spirit, this book will definitely stimulate your brain.

    Whether you find this examination of history divinely inspired or deserving a place on the lower levels of you-know-where, it is certainly a fascinating look at a critical element of history, and, by implication, religious belief. But don’t take my word for it. See, feel and read it for yourself. And if it doesn’t work for you the first time, hey, you can always come back to it.

    Posted May 23, 2014

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    Ehrman’s blog,

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  • Clif Hostetler

    This is a series of twenty-four lectures that explain Christian history, texts, and traditions that created conditions that allowed an apocalyptic prophet from the backwaters of rural Galilee crucified for crimes against the state to become thought of as equal and one with God.

    The lecturer is Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. These lectures parallel the contents of a book with the same title published in March 2014.

    The lectures begin b

    This is a series of twenty-four lectures that explain Christian history, texts, and traditions that created conditions that allowed an apocalyptic prophet from the backwaters of rural Galilee crucified for crimes against the state to become thought of as equal and one with God.

    The lecturer is Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. These lectures parallel the contents of a book with the same title published in March 2014.

    The lectures begin by describing the common understand of gods/God in the ancient world. Then it moves on to describing the experience of the contemporaries of Jesus and provides a discussion of what historians can and cannot know about miracles and the resurrection.

    Then there are a series of lectures showing how the understanding of the divinity of Jesus changed over time. At first Christians thought he became divine at the time of his resurrection. Then it became more common to believe that Jesus became divine at the time of his baptism (e.g. Gospel of Mark). By the time of the writing of gospels of Matthew and Luke it was thought he became divine at birth. The last gospel written of John says that Jesus had been divine and present with God the father from before the existence of time.

    By the time of the writing of the Nicene Creed the image of the trinity was fully developed, and it had become an understanding of God, Holy Spririt and Jesus far different from anything Jesus had said about himself. It's interesting to note that the word "trinity" in not in the New Testament.

    Ehrman is an interesting lecturer. He explains things clearly and simply; almost too simply for people who are already familiar with the subject. I have previously listened to many of his other lectures so I've already heard almost everything he says in these lectures. Fortunately I forget enough stuff that if feels good to be reminded of them again.

    The following short review of this book is from the 3-25-2016 PageADay Book Lover's Calendar:

    Good Friday

    Written by a Bible expert, this book describes how a prophet from rural Galilee became thought of as equal with God. The author explains how Jesus was transformed from a human prophet to divine god, and how this occurred because his disciples experienced visions after his death. We see how the transformation occurred, and the seismic shifts throughout history that made this happen. A fascinating and provocative read for both religious and secular audiences.

    by Bart D. Ehrman (HarperOne, 2014)

  • Roberto

    Inizio subito con il dire che questo saggio, scritto da Bart Ehrman, filologo, accademico, biblista specializzato in studi sul Gesù storico, non si ripropone di cambiare la credenza dei lettori in merito a Gesù (Ehrman non è Odifreddi, è uno studioso raffinato e obiettivo). Sostiene infatti correttamente Ehrman:

    "

    "

    Al termine dell'interessante saggio quindi chi crede continuerà a credere e chi non crede continuerà a farlo

    Inizio subito con il dire che questo saggio, scritto da Bart Ehrman, filologo, accademico, biblista specializzato in studi sul Gesù storico, non si ripropone di cambiare la credenza dei lettori in merito a Gesù (Ehrman non è Odifreddi, è uno studioso raffinato e obiettivo). Sostiene infatti correttamente Ehrman:

    "

    "

    Al termine dell'interessante saggio quindi chi crede continuerà a credere e chi non crede continuerà a farlo.

    Ehrman, con metodo, senza pregiudizi e in modo assolutamente pragmatico analizza solo le fonti disponibili, incrociandole e aggiungendoci poco di suo (e in questo caso dicendolo chiaramente).

    Cito solo alcuni punti a mio parere interessanti. Innanzitutto l'idea che oggi noi abbiamo di Dio (altissimo, potentissimo, distantissimo) non è quella che avevano le persone a quei tempi. La gente in quei periodi era abituata a parlare di dei pagani che scendevano sulla terra; dei che addirittura si potevano incontrare, basti pensare al fatto che Alessandro Magno era considerato figlio di Zeus, ossia dio egli stesso. In questo contesto, assume una diversa prospettiva l'idea che una persona potesse essere "divina". Resta il fatto che non esiste traccia del fatto che Gesù abbia detto di essere figlio di Dio.

    Un secondo concetto è che i fatti del tempo di Gesù sono stati tramandati solo per via orale. Gli apostoli parlavano aramaico, non sapevano leggere né scrivere e quando Gesù fu crocefisso scapparono tutti a gambe levate dalla paura. E' immaginabile pensare che chi, parlando, cercava di convincere qualcun altro di avere conosciuto una grande persona, si lasciasse trasportare dall'entusiasmo e calcasse un po' la mano con miracoli e aneddoti. Se le cose si svolsero così, è comprensibile che i vangeli, che comparirono decenni dopo scritti in greco da persone istruite, riportassero i fatti in una forma per così dire imprecisa o distorta, tra l'altro parlando in prima persona, come se citassero direttamente la parola di Gesù.

    Un terzo concetto importante è quello della presunta resurrezione, peraltro citata in modo sempre vago e impreciso dalle stesse fonti. Bene, è proprio per questa presunta idea di resurrezione che Gesù ha potuto differenziarsi da tutti le altre centinaia di profeti che circolavano in quei tempi. Senza quella, che "sanciva" la vita oltre la vita, di fatto non ci sarebbe stato cristianesimo.

    Un ottimo saggio, che nonostante la mole si legge bene, anche se spesso i dettagli riportati sono minuziosi e forse non così fondamentali.

    Il senso del libro credo sia contenuto nella frase seguente:

    "

    "

    Un libro che, alla fine, parla di storia.

  • BlackOxford

    Christians, or more precisely Paul of Tarsus, invented not just a religion but also a new form of religion, one constituted by belief rather than by ethical or ritual action. This religion is markedly different from that which was practiced by its nominal focus, Jesus. And it is different from all contemporary and subsequent religions. It is a religion which claims to know the ultimate truth about reality and demands that its adherents accept, profess, and, if called upon to

    Christians, or more precisely Paul of Tarsus, invented not just a religion but also a new form of religion, one constituted by belief rather than by ethical or ritual action. This religion is markedly different from that which was practiced by its nominal focus, Jesus. And it is different from all contemporary and subsequent religions. It is a religion which claims to know the ultimate truth about reality and demands that its adherents accept, profess, and, if called upon to do so, enforce that truth. Such a religion, based on correct belief, is bound to insist that its own origins are divine in order to justify its claim. Faith, that is, created the divine Jesus as an epistemological imperative.

    The above is my view not Ehrman’s. But it could easily form the overarching theory for which Ehrman, and the scholars on which he bases his argument, provide the factual data: Faith, once adopted as the principle of finding out about the world, inevitably leads to the divinization of some part or aspect of the world. The object of faith is not the source of faith but its essential product. This object is not born complete in the minds and culture of a group but evolves as necessary to protect the principle of faith itself, adapting and, where necessary, distorting, the existing, usually implicit, epistemological principles as it proceeds. The narrative of

    outlines this historical process.

    Faith, in other words, manufactures a guarantee for its own validity. It constitutes a self-sealing system of thought which is impenetrable. Faith also attaches to what is available to ‘prove’ itself. Paul in his writings, the earliest in Christianity, uses what is convenient (but never central) in Hebrew literature to make his point. No wonder he frequently appears somewhat confused about his object, which is only of secondary importance. This object was not a man, since Paul never met Jesus and apparently knew next to nothing about his life. Nor was it the authority of a religious tradition or scripture, since Paul took great pains to show why historical Judaism was wrong. Faith for Paul is a kind of intellectual obstinacy.

    Paul’s object of faith was a vague idea, his own, which he called Christ. The precise character of this idea was uncertain to him and to his contemporaries. Paul hints at its divinity but can’t seem to make up his mind about what that means. Only subsequently is the confusion reduced, after perhaps six or more generations of faithful believers have a go at retelling, embellishing and editing the stories they have heard about Jesus.* Even then the confusion about Paul’s object never is completely eliminated. Conflicts, heresies, and intellectual politics are the hallmarks of Paul’s religion of faith to the present day.

    The reason for such continuing conflict of course is that Pauline Christianity is an extremely literal affair. Whatever the object of faith, that object must be formulated in words before it can be attested by believers. The formula is the only reality of concern, no matter how arcane, incomprehensible, or self-contradictory it may be. Language not experience becomes definitive. Thus the creed (from Latin credere, to believe) takes the place of any emotional or spiritual event in religious life. This, of course, places language itself in the position of a divine, and therefore unchanging, entity. And this in turn necessitates ecclesiastical control of the meaning and interpretation of language. Ultimately, religious authority claims its place not just as the arbiter of doctrine but also as the arbiter of thought itself.

    Christianity is, consequently, a decidedly aberrant form of thought. Aberrant because it is a departure from every other standard of thought, philosophical or religious, that has ever been proposed. But it is also aberrant in its classification of all other modes of thought as various sorts of belief in competition with itself, as statements of alternative belief rather than what they are: ethical and liturgical rituals... and some very fine poetry that no one takes literally.

    The world, Pauline Christianity claims, cannot live without faith and refuses to admit even the possibility that faith is its own questionable invention. Christianity’s self-guarantee is constituted by the Incarnation and Resurrection, the doctrines of God’s becoming a part of his own creation and overcoming it - not as explanatory myth, or edifying example, or evocatively fey poetry but as certain truth. It is not sufficient to act as if these doctrines were true; it is necessary to convince oneself fervently and without hesitation that they are true in order to be ‘saved.’ This distinguishes Christianity not only from all other religions but from all other modes of thinking.

    Therefore, according to Christianity, the object of faith is of central relevance to human life. Of course, in the ensuing debate about this object, Christianity has both the home team advantage as well as age on its side. The Christian apologetic makes all religion a matter of faith: Judaism is incomplete faith; Islam is erroneous faith, Buddhism doesn’t merit the term faith at all; and polytheism, ancient and modern, is childish, superstitious faith. Atheism, of course, is simply ungrounded faith because it refuses to specify a divine object. The issue being pressed is faith not Jesus - this is the perennial sleight of hand which has been performed by Christian apologists in plain sight for two millennia.

    So I think that Ehrman has done a service in summarising the historical, sociological, and biblical research about

    Jesus became God. But I also think he misses something important about

    Jesus became God. This why it seems to me is inherent in Paul’s conception of faith as the essence of religion. Once his premise about faith is accepted, something or someone has to be supplied as its object. Anything will do, no matter how mundane or abstract. Paul invented Christ as that object. More modern folk, imbued with the Pauline spirit, have substituted any number of cult leaders, other arcane deities, language in the form of uncertain ancient texts, or even alien beings as their objects of faith.

    To put the matter bluntly, if somewhat crudely: Paul’s most enduring contribution to the world is not his promotion of the divinisation of Jesus. Rather it is his establishment of the principle of faith as a legitimate criterion for human action and a requirement for authentic religion. To put it even more crudely, it is this same Paul who has provided the world with its first defensible theory of terror: faith justifies. It justifies not just unkindness, but also cruelty, murder, war and the continuous persecution of any who oppose the idea of faith. Medieval Crusaders, ISIS, the Know-Nothing American fundamentalists, and the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult all share Paul’s theology of a justifying faith. It seems to me obvious that the evolution of this theory of faith has come to mean far more than the question of Jesus’s divinity.

    *Ehrman has raised considerable ire among evangelicals by suggesting that the idea of Jesus’s divinity evolved. Authors like Larry Hurtado claim that the recognition of his divine status was ‘explosive’ and complete ab initio. This despite a clear development in thought from Paul’s epistles to John’s gospel, a period of seventy years or more (and some rather different accounts in the intervening Synoptic Gospels). The indisputable fact that the character of Jesus’s divinity remained problematic even among fervent believers over centuries also undermines any claim to ‘explosive certainty’. One reason why I am concerned to shift attention to the epistemological principle of faith is that it really doesn’t matter whether the ‘revelation’ of Christianity was more or less instantaneous or developed in the course of time. Once faith becomes the criterion of truth, it demands a divine object. Paul apparently had such an explosive experience. Others had to interpret his reports. In doing so, they differed, and continue to differ, in their opinions about what he meant. To claim instant recognition would seem absurd as well as irrelevant.

  • Max

    Ehrman dissects the scriptures to show how beliefs about Jesus’s divinity formed and changed in early Christian communities. He does not dwell on his personal beliefs, although he mentions that he started out as an evangelical Christian and has become a skeptic. His thesis is that during Jesus lifetime his followers did not regard Jesus as God. It was belief in the resurrection that first persuaded early Christians to believe Jesus was divine and even God, but what this meant to different Christ

    Ehrman dissects the scriptures to show how beliefs about Jesus’s divinity formed and changed in early Christian communities. He does not dwell on his personal beliefs, although he mentions that he started out as an evangelical Christian and has become a skeptic. His thesis is that during Jesus lifetime his followers did not regard Jesus as God. It was belief in the resurrection that first persuaded early Christians to believe Jesus was divine and even God, but what this meant to different Christians varied widely. Ancients did not have the same perception of God as Christians do today. Again Ehrman is not espousing his personal beliefs. He does not say that he personally believes that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, only that this became an accepted belief among early Christians.

    Underlying Ehrman’s conclusions is his methodology. He relies primarily on the gospels, the Pauline epistles and the book of Acts. Except for Paul we do not know who the actual authors were, but we can tell that they were well educated writing in Greek and far different from the lower class illiterate Aramaic speaking followers of Jesus. Ehrman breaks these scriptures down into their underlying sources based on the construction, style of writing, vocabulary and consistency. For example, the author of Luke is also identified as the author of Acts, but not all of Luke came originally from the same source. Luke, Mark and Matthew are based on some of the same original materials and thus similar to each other. John is very different and was written later. All were written well after the death of Jesus and likely based on oral traditions that were later converted to writing. Also our earliest existing copies of the gospels were made centuries later and subject to changes made by the scribes. These changes too can often be teased out. Paul’s writings are the closest in time to the death of Jesus but say relatively little about what Jesus said or did. Ehrman points out that even some parts of Paul’s writings are copied from an earlier source and some letters ascribed to Paul were written by later followers.

    Ehrman then analyses the sources for consistency. He identifies, as have many others, some sources shared by the gospels called Q, M, and L. He then uses the “criterion of independent attestation” to determine what is likely to have been held as a common belief by Jesus’s followers. He is looking for multiple sources that say the same thing. Thus if the same thing appears in writing unique to Mark and John and Q, Ehrman accepts it. Conversely if it is only in Q, even if the same Q text shows up in both Matthew and Luke, Ehrman does not. When the same incident is reported differently in the different sources he rejects each interpretation as having been a common belief.

    Ehrman also analyses the scriptures in the context of the culture and writing style of the times. The idea of God was different for ancient peoples than what we are accustomed to today. Ancient peoples had hierarchies of gods. For Romans, Jupiter and Mars might be particularly powerful, while someone like Julies Caesar or Augustus may have also been considered a god but also being human he was near the bottom in the ranks of divinity. The Jews too had hierarchies of divine beings with angels and humans ascribed varying degrees of divine powers. Thus when analyzing text it is important to understand what the text’s author meant by god. As for the writing style in antiquity, embellishment was common practice. Accuracy was often less important than making a point.

    Sifting through all this Ehrman comes to the conclusion that prior to belief in the resurrection, Jesus may have been ascribed some small level of divinity by his followers but he was not considered God. Belief in the resurrection is based on visions of Jesus after his death. Ehrman only accepts that those of Peter, Paul and Mary (Magdalen) are actually proven to have taken place based on his analysis of the scriptures. Again Ehrman is not saying that Jesus actually appeared in these visions, but he does accept that those three sincerely believed they saw Jesus. Here again one has to put the visions in the context of the beliefs of ancient peoples who would much more readily accept supernatural events than people today. The belief that Jesus could not only rise from the dead but leave earth and return at will made him a powerful divinity indeed.

    After Jesus death other notions of his divinity developed as diverse Christian communities formed. Some as recorded in Mark thought Jesus became divine when baptized by John the Baptist. Others as recorded in Luke thought Jesus became divine when he was conceived or born. Paul writes of Jesus as an angel who became human and then was exalted upon his death by God. Perhaps he was the Angel of the Lord referred to in the Hebrew Bible who appeared to Hagar, Abraham and Moses. Only later did the concept develop that Jesus was also God as expressed by John. John was written decades after the other three gospels and represents Jesus’s divinity very differently. John quotes Jesus affirming that he shared Godly status with the Father. John, however, was the author of these quotes, not Jesus, according to Ehrman based on his analysis. The style of language of Jesus and John are exactly the same in John’s gospel. This is totally out of context of the way Jesus would have spoken, but it is consistent with the writing style of the times. Authors regularly made up the speeches of those they were writing about to embellish their points.

    In the second century the earliest Christian views became regarded as heresy and John’s view increasingly became accepted as orthodoxy. The history of early Christian beliefs was rewritten to show that the apostles and others had always shared the emerging orthodox view of Jesus nature. Opposing views were slammed by writers known as heresy hunters. The adoptionists held that Jesus was basically just human. The docetists claimed Jesus was always a spiritual being that just appeared to be human. The Gnostics believed Jesus was two beings, a human who became inhabited by a separate divine being.

    What became the orthodox view accepted by most Christians by the third century held that Jesus was one being both truly human and truly God, also that he was both with God and God. But this left a question. Were there two Gods or one? Orthodoxy called for monotheism. Some ideas that were accepted as orthodox for a while later became heresy. For example those by Justin Martyr, Novatian and Arius which held that Jesus was part of God and human but not quite equal to or one with the father. The modalists believed that Jesus, the Father and the Holy Ghost were simply different expressions or modes of behavior of a singular God. The modalists too were later deemed heretics. By the fourth century the answer finally accepted as orthodox, though more perplexing, was that there were three separate persons in one God, the trinity.

    The Council of Nicea in 325 CE resolved that Jesus was of one substance and coeternal with the Father. The Nicene Creed was adopted as a statement of Christian faith. Under pressure from Constantine to have a unified church for the Empire, few attending objected. As Ehrman states, “…an itinerant apocalyptic preacher from the rural backwaters of Galilee…had now become fully God.” However the Arian point of view still maintained many adherents in the fourth century. Followers of Arius believed that Jesus had been begotten by the Father and thus was not coeternal and was subordinate to the Father. The Nicene Creed was designed to cast aside the Arian point of view but it would have to wait for The Council of Constantinople in 381 to clearly establish Arianism as heresy. Other finely nuanced views evolved and were put down at succeeding ecumenical councils in the next century. Heretics were punished, but none more so than the Jews who Christian orthodoxy held responsible for killing Christ.

    Ehrman stops at the fifth century. Obviously new ideas about what it means to be Christian and what Christians should believe didn’t stop. Ever since, vitriol and war between Christians have been used to establish who is right. I don’t know how accurate Ehrman is about what Jesus’s followers believed. We have no firsthand accounts. But he does create serious doubts about the reliability of the scriptures. The upshot to me is that Jesus offered a simple message to simple people only for it to be taken over and distorted by theologians, philosophers, emperors and other powerful people, the very people Jesus confronted. They turned the simple message into highly nuanced abstract metaphysical concepts that I can’t get my head around and many who disagreed lost theirs. I’ll end on a high note and recommend one of Ehrman’s favorite passages that he believes truly represents the words of Jesus. Google Matthew 25:31-46 or go to

    .

  • Darwin8u

    . - Revelation 3:16

    'How Jesus Became God' is a good packaging of current scholarship on the historical Jesus for the neophyte. The book basically explores how the crucified Jesus transformed into not just the Messiah, but the Lord of all creation. He examines the exaltation of Jesus from an apocalyptic preacher from Galilee into a figure fully equal with God. He looks at how this type of change happened

    . - Revelation 3:16

    'How Jesus Became God' is a good packaging of current scholarship on the historical Jesus for the neophyte. The book basically explores how the crucified Jesus transformed into not just the Messiah, but the Lord of all creation. He examines the exaltation of Jesus from an apocalyptic preacher from Galilee into a figure fully equal with God. He looks at how this type of change happened in Greek and Roman culture, in Jewish culture, and how Paul and later disciples of Christ were influential in transforming their crucified prophet into their risen Lord. He also spends a fair amount of time explaining why it is impossible for historians to validate miracles, a person's divinity or specific religious events like Christ's resurrection.

    Perhaps, I was just wishing for a bit more meat on the bones of this book or perhaps I was just not that surprised by many of Ehrman's points (He has covered several sections of this book in previous books about early Christianity and Jesus), but I kinda felt like this was just a watered-down repackaging of some of his better, more academic past efforts. Nothing too revelatory or Earth shattering. For me, it was about the same level of writing as Aslan's

    . It just seems these books while aiming for a bit of controversy (controversy sells), don't load their books with enough weight. Those who agree with them have already traveled a bunch of this same ground, those who don't agree with them are served a slim dish that seems a bit too facile. Or maybe it was just me.

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