Jesus Interrupted

Been Here, Done That
Modern Discoveries
Petitio Principii
Do the Synoptic Gospels teach that Jesus is God?
Katagelogical Method
No Charisma
Ignore the Testimony
Lord of All
Resurrection in the Flesh
Four Gospels
Pagan Anti-Semitism
Bad Greek
Police State
It's Plato

Been Here, Done That

To listen to Bart Ehrman, you would think the Christian church and what they used to call the 'Higher Critics' are two ships passing in the night. Most folks just haven't quite ever heard about these new-fangled teachings and don't know what to make of them:

"Scholars of the Bible have made significant progress in understanding the Bible over the past two hundred years...Yet such views of the Bible are virtually unknown among the population at large." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus Interrupted,' p. 1).

This is so strangely unlike the actual state of affairs as to leave one wondering. In fact, from the time the 'Higher Criticism' reared its head, and was judged acceptable to what used to be called the 'main-line' Protestant churches, it has produced a deep and lasting schism. On one side of this dividing line, the church continues to flourish and attract converts, but on the other side is desolation: dying, vacant churches whose God-fearing congregants long ago streamed out the door, into the open door on the other side. The people who still fuss around these hulking corpses are not people who believe in God themselves, but those who somehow think that if they kick these dying beasts and get a twitch out of them, they are influencing somebody else. Thus Elaine Pagels imagines that, if she convinces the main-line churches to go in for mother goddess-worship, she will improve the state of women's rights. What actually happens is that, once the main-line churches willingly adopt mother goddess-worship, whatever God-fearing remnant was still left in the pews vacates their places and joins the Bible-believing church down the street.

The recently published American Religious Identification Survey has shown the dramatic implosion of main-line Protestantism. The churches where you show up for Bible study and are offered the wisdom of Bart Ehrman are closing their doors. Because these churches adopted the world view Dr. Ehrman is pushing, they lost their congregations and are marching toward extinction.

This popular college professor has evolved a rhetorical strategy intended to bully undergraduates into abandoning their inherited faith. Unfortunately, it trades shamelessly on their naivete. These young people do not know anything about the long quarrel between the fundamentalists and the higher critics; thus they believe Dr. Ehrman's fairy-tale: 'Isn't it odd, most people just don't know anything about this stuff. But you're smart, surely you, too, know enough to believe what is taught in practically, almost, virtually all the seminaries!'

Has Bart Ehrman invented a new and sweeter flavor for the Kool-Aid in which to conceal the church-destroying poison? Not only is it not improved, it is not even a new formulation. So why does he not know that the church has gagged on it before? Those who are glory-bound have spit it up, and those who are headed in the other direction have swallowed it down.

Modern Discoveries

The twentieth century saw stunning discoveries, treasure troves of ancient manuscripts, including the papyrus finds from the Egyptian desert and the Dead Sea scrolls. Bart Ehrman would like the warm glow from these finds to bleed over onto his own field of endeavor, as if he and his colleagues approach the Bible as they do on account of these discoveries:

"Scholars of the Bible have made significant progress in understanding the Bible over the past two hundred years, building on archaeological discoveries..." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 1).

The reality is almost precisely the inverse of this picture. The manuscript discoveries of the twentieth century did not bolster nor confirm the intuitions of the 'higher critics,' but rather forced them to withdraw their most ambitious flights of creativity. It used to be normal for 'higher critics' to date the gospel of John to the middle of the second century. Lest 'early' seem too much like 'authentic,' they preferred dates as late as possible. What was 'possible' changed in the twentieth century:

"Although the extent of the verses preserved is so slight, in one respect this tiny scrap of papyrus possesses quite as much evidential value as would the complete codex...Had this little fragment [P52] been known during the middle of the past century, that school of New Testament criticism which was inspired by the brilliant Tubingen professor, Ferdinand Christian Baur, could not have argued that the Fourth Gospel was not composed until about the year 160." (Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, p. 39).

What this scrap of papyrus shows is that John's gospel cannot have been as late as they used to claim: "How we could wish that P52 were more than a fragment! Yet it gives undeniable evidence of the circulation of the Gospel of John in Egypt, where it was found, possibly within a few years after it was written. What of the radical hypotheses that proposed a late date for John's Gospel, some as late as A.D. 170? These, as Adolf Deissmann said, 'must now be recognized as hothouse plants which will quickly fade away.'" (Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, p. 122). Material evidence clipped their wings, it gave them no encouragement.

The "archaeological discoveries" of the twentieth century vindicated conservative Christian views, not the wild theories of the 'higher critics.' The sentence above should read, not "building on archaeological discoveries," but 'insofar as archaeological discoveries have not yet invalidated...' Hopefully some day some little metal canister will come popping out of a stone wall in Petra and put the final nail in the coffin of this endeavor.


Petitio Principii

Why has this magnificent edifice of thought, the 'Higher Criticism,' not won over the Christian household? Because it is premised on the denial of the supernatural. Thus when Dr. Ehrman and his predecessors patiently explain that their new science has discovered that the Bible is not inspired by God, people adept at logic patiently explain back to him that you cannot prove that the Bible is not inspired by God by assuming your conclusion. This is the logical fallacy known as 'begging the question.' It is a big 'no-no.' It is strange that he does not know this.

The reader may object, surely no one could be so fatuous as to seek to prove there is nothing supernatural by invoking a field of study premised on the denial of the supernatural. But there is someone so fatuous; his name is Bart Ehrman:

"[This book] is, however, about how certain kinds of faith -- particularly the faith in the Bible as the historically inerrant and inspired Word of God -- cannot be sustained in light of what we as historians known about the Bible." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 18).

One instance of the supernatural involves God, who transcends time, intervening in history to tell people what, to them, lies in the future. The living God knows the future; to Him it not 'future.' The distinction Isaiah draws between the living God and dead idols is just this, that the living God tells His prophets what will happen in time to come:

"Produce your cause, saith Jehovah; bring forward your arguments, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forward, and declare to us what shall happen: show the former things, what they are, that we may give attention to them, and know the end of them;— or let us hear things to come: declare the things that are to happen hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods; yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be astonished, and behold it together. Behold, ye are less than nothing, and your work is of nought; an abomination is he that chooseth you." (Isaiah 41:21-24).

Reductive Bible 'scholarship' denies that such a thing is possible:

  • “As was true with the Hebrew writing prophets, the apocalyptic prophets are speaking to their own day — they are not crystal-ball-gazing into times thousands of years removed. In most instances (not all), the apocalyptic seers write their accounts pseudonymously — claiming to be some famous religious figure of the past...One of the virtues of having a famous person of the past write an apocalypse is that the future events that he sees are, in fact, from the time of the actual writer, already past. As a result, the 'predictions' that the pseudonymous author allegedly makes are certain of being fulfilled: they have already happened!”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'God's Problem,' p. 212).

And not only have these wise scholars ascertained that prophecy is impossible, they actually date the material in the Bible accordingly. Any recognizable historical event described in the text was described after it happened. So if an event described occurred in 586 B.C., its description is thereupon dated subsequent to 586 B.C.

Now, what legitimate conclusions follow from this procedure? 'Modern Bible scholars have discovered the 'prophets' lived after the events they foretold?' No, they have not "discovered" this; they posited it. It is the assumption upon which their dating system rests. 'Because modern Bible scholars have discovered there is no prophecy, therefore there is no God?' No, because you cannot allow a premise to do double-duty as both premise and conclusion! If these simple logical errors could be cleared away, 90% of this author's contribution to the discussion would go with them.

Do the Synoptic Gospels teach that Jesus is God?

"The idea that Jesus preexisted his birth and that he was a divine being who became human is found only in the Gospel of John..." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 74).

The reader may wish to put Handel's 'Messiah' on the stereo, and start looking up the verses, if they are listed on the insert. Where does Matthew ever say that Jesus is God? Matthew 3:3:

"For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Matthew 3:3).

  • “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
    Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.
    The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
    Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
    And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
    The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
    The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
    The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
    O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!”
  • (Isaiah 40:1-9).

What was that? Behold who? YOUR GOD! And who might that be? JEHOVAH! Are there many of these verses in the Old Testament, verses which speak of a visitation of God Almighty, that God Himself would sojourn amongst His people? Yes. Are these verses ever, in the New Testament, applied to Jesus Christ in such a fashion that no other visitant can be identified but He? Yes; John the Baptist is the fore-runner to the Messiah and no other. Here's another:

"As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." (Mark 1:1).

What messenger is this? The same. Whose way is he preparing?:

  • “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”
  • (Malachi 3:1).

Who is to come to the temple? The Lord. Notice, please, that He comes to "His" temple and none other's. Did that actually ever happen? Yes, several times, the first time He was carried in as an infant.

Again, Isaiah prophesies a day when the eyes of the blind will be open:

"Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped." (Isaiah 35:5)

Bart Ehrman is even aware of this:

"In another passage the followers of John the Baptist come to Jesus wanting to know if he is the one to appear at the end of the age, or if they are to expect someone else. Jesus tells them, 'Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me' (Matthew 11:2-6). In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is the long-expected one who will usher in the kingdom." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 82).

And who is the One who will come bringing sight to the blind?:

"Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you." (Isaiah 35:4).

'Oh, but it doesn't mean what it says, of course not.' But the church thought that it did, and so thinks today.

If this material is in the New Testament, and it is, then why is it not recognized by the science of 'Bible scholarship'? Because this science, or more accurately pseudo-science, started life as the academic arm of a sect, Unitarianism. The quest for the 'historical' Jesus is, and has never been anything but, the quest for the Unitarian Jesus. Is it inherently impossible for a man to claim to be God? Not at all, though most such claimants languish in mental homes. Jesus escaped that fate: "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself." (Mark 3:21). All of our sources report that Jesus did make this claim, yet all of our sources are to be discarded, because:

"Jesus never once gave utterance to the sacrilegious idea that he was God." (Chapter 5, The Life of Jesus, Ernest Renan).

Notice, please, the methodology here employed: the historical data that Jesus claimed to be God is to be discarded, because certain people find that claim "sacrilegious." Therefore, He must not be allowed to make that claim, or He cannot be the object of their devotion! When Unitarianism was revived in the early nineteenth century, it made progress at first, even taking over some Congregational churches. But then it hit a brick wall. What was the brick wall? The Bible. You cannot defend, from the Bible, the claim that Jesus was a mere man. So those who wanted to make the claim anyway retreated to the safety of academia, where they could feel secure they would not have to confront opponents who knew the Bible well enough to show the vacuity of their assertions, as had happened in the churches. The Unitarians had lost in the churches; the overwhelming majority of believers who heard the dispute found the Trinity vindicated, which is always the outcome of this debate in the churches.

What Bart Ehrman does, this field of endeavor, is more productively classed as 'bad religion' than as science or scholarship, and has been from Day One. The contrast between what the Bible actually says, and what the 'experts' say that it says, is so glaring in this instance that Ehrman himself was obliged to back-pedal from these indefensible claims.

More from the Bible:

Jesus is God

Who is Jesus?

The Son is God.

Your Throne, O God The Work of Your Hands Let Angels Worship
True God Express Image Visible and Invisible
For Himself Son of God Kiss the Son
A Son is born Honor the Son Only-begotten God
Pantocrator Believe on the Son Only Savior
The Dead were Judged Everlasting to Everlasting

Jesus is Jehovah God.

Jehovah of the Old Testament.

Jesus is Jehovah.

A Voice Crying Temple Visitor Stone of Stumbling
The Rock of Israel The First and the Last Lord of all
The LORD our Righteousness Holy, holy, holy Captivity Captive
House of David Answered prayers With all His saints
Israel's Savior Giver of Life Every Knee Shall Bow
Pastoral Supply I send you prophets Who forgives sin
I am He He is Lord Call upon the Name
Doxology God with Us Lawgiver
Great Shepherd You Only Lawful worship
Builder I AM THAT I AM Moses' Veil
Wine Press Lord Willing Secret Things
Boasting Excluded King of Israel Fount of Living Waters
Searches the Heart Till Death Do us Part Angel of the LORD
Take Refuge Has Reigned On His Forehead
Me Whom they have Pierced Stretched Out My Hands Head
Keeper of Israel The Amen

Jesus is God.

Jesus our Lord.

Jesus Christ is God.

The Eyes of the Blind Thought it not Robbery Eternally Blessed God
Fullness of the Godhead Great God and Savior Faith in Him
Redeemed King of Kings Spirit of Christ
Destroyed by Serpents Lord of Glory Renewed in the Image
New Jerusalem's Lamp Now is Christ risen Upholding all Things
Light to the Gentiles My Companion Miracles
Prosecutors' Indictment Sun of Righteousness Thirty Pieces
Testator's Death Author of Life The Blood of God
My Lord and My God One Mystery of godliness
God was in Christ The Word was God Shared Glory
Omniscience Omnipotence Omnipresence
Change Not Yesterday, Today and Forever Whose Hand?
Not of Man Receive my Spirit Believe in God
Only Holy Sole Proprietor Priests
Walk on the Water

Katagelogical Method

Bart Ehrman wants his way of reading the Bible to be known as the 'historical critical' method, which will not do. Honest and intelligent Bible readers have commended the "grammatico-historical" method (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy); might something more descriptive of this author's unique contribution be found? May I suggest 'Katagelogy,' formed from the word for 'derision,' 'katagelos,' plus 'logos:' the study that seeks to bring its subject matter into derision. This is the bottom line for this author. He will reach into the stratosphere to find unlikely and implausible interpretations, if only they bring the Bible authors into disrepute. For example, there is no reason to suspect Luke the physician of flat-earthism; he says nothing to suggest such a viewpoint, nor was it the dominant scientific consensus of his day. Yet he must be willed into flat-earthism by Dr. Ehrman, because this makes him seem ridiculous. Here is the typical work product of Dr. Ehrman's Bible study:

  • “In Matthew...what does it mean that there is a star guiding the wise men, that this star stops over Jerusalem, and then starts up again, leads them to Bethlehem, and stops again over the very house where Jesus was born? What kind of star would this be, exactly? A star that moves slowly enough for the wise men to follow on foot or on camel, stops, starts again, and stops again? And how exactly does a star stop over a house?”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 32).

The reader is supposed to visualize something like a hot-air balloon with a spot-light shining upon it hovering this way and that, and substitute this low-budget contrivance for the star of Bethlehem. Evidently God did not have the income for decent special effects back then. I doubt that one reader in a thousand would imagine that's what is meant by the star of Bethlehem without Dr. Ehrman to suggest such imagery. Its selling point is that it's really, really dumb. This is what Dr. Ehrman's audience wants from him.

A variety of theories have been developed over the years about the star of Bethlehem. Was it a supernova, comet, a planetary conjunction, or some special creation? To judge with any certainty requires more information than is actually available; the date of Herod's death can be inferred from Josephus, but not with complete confidence. Given the length of time this star was visible, it was not a phenomenon of the lower heavens, such as a meteorite or shooting star. How can a 'star' stop? Under the ancient vocabulary, 'stars' include 'wandering stars,' i.e. planets. Going back to Kepler, some interpreters have looked for a conjunction of Jupiter with other planets, giving the appearance of a bright, new star. These wanderers do, to all appearances, stop in their peregrinations about the heavens, and then go backwards in retrograde motion. Our fellow travellers about the sun do not really stop, but from our perspective on a moving platform, they certainly seem to, as comets also. It seems our author is not familiar with the basics of observational astronomy. For a fixed star, like a supernova, to 'stop' might mean it has attained its highest ascent in the night sky. The distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is all of five miles, due south; presumably the star remained to the south from the wise men's perspective. He wants something to appear ridiculous which is not ridiculous, though its exact meaning is left to conjecture.

Both planets and fixed stars move relative to an observer on earth. When people relied on these celestial time-keepers, they came up with instructions like the one here quoted, from the Middle Ages:

"Until the thirteenth century, there were no clocks; day and night were divided into twelve hours anyhow, and the daylight hours were consequently very short in winter, the night hours short in summer. The timekeepers, therefore, had to carefully watch the stars, which they related to exact locations in their own monasteries. Thus, the instructions for a monastery near Orleans read: 'On Christmas Day, when you see the Twins lying, as it were, on the dormitory, and Orion over the chapel of All Saints, prepare to ring the bell.'' (Life in the Middle Ages, Richard Winston, p. 121).

Were the people who gave instructions like that thinking of the constellations as hot-air balloons hovering just above the tree-tops? No, the Ptolemaic astronomy which inspired poetry from medieval clerics displays no such feature. The instructions are somewhat opaque, the context having dropped out: where is the observer's station-point? In the courtyard? Whatever its exact meaning, the reader who insists on ridiculing it is a child. These are meaningful instructions which can be followed, if the context can be restored.

Do not look here for even such psychological insights into Bible figures as a secular literary critic might uncover. Rather the whole is pitched to elicit adolescent mirth. The subtitle to any one of Bart Ehrman's books might well be, 'Giggling Through the Bible with Bart.' The children are staying up late, bouncing on their beds, trying to imagine what motivates the adults, without ever quite 'getting' it. Needless to say one does not look here for the kind of insight into the text with which the classical Bible commentators, like John Gill, reward their readers. One does not read Bart Ehrman's take on a passage and say, 'Wow, I never knew that.'

This material is filled with mindless animadversion, like "Seneca had almost certainly never heard of Paul." (Bart D. Ehrman, Forged, p. 91). Really? His brother Gallio, before whom Paul stood trial, is mentioned in Acts 18:12-17. Seneca was in the government that tried Paul: "As Seneca was Consul suffectus during Paul's imprisonment he must have had some acquaintance with the case." (George Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century, Lecture IV, p. 89). Dr. Ehrman's readers are aware that he has been lugging around the same thread-bare satchel of 'Bible contradictions' for years now. When these are sufficiently deflated, as for example is his assertion that Luke did not know of the atonement by Acts 20:28, he neither withdraws nor modifies them. His target audience for these 'Bible contradictions,' his fellow agnostics and atheists, do not care if they have been answered, and neither does he. The bare minimum that Samuel Clarke asked of the atheist debater is that he avoid mockery and scoffing, because "Hearing the reason of the case, with patience and unprejudicedness, is an equity which men owe to every truth that can in any manner concern them; and which is necessary to the discovery of every kind of error." (Samuel Clarke, A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, Kindle location 246). It should be noticed that this modern-day atheist propagandist does not meet that very minimal, and very defensible, standard; he is a mocker.

This approach is a constant with this author. Our author assures us that the many who converted to Christianity in the early church era did so because they heard, albeit at second or third hand, from the neighbor down the street, miracle stories about talking dogs. I kid you not: “The result is a massive conversion: 'When the multitude with great astonishment saw the talking dog, many fell down at the feet of Peter.' Others, for whom one amazing feat is not enough, ask him for another miracle, and Peter responds by bringing a smoked tuna back from the dead, tossing it back into the water to swim.“ (Ehrman, Bart D., The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World (p. 147). Simon & Schuster.) This is not history, it's not scholarship, it's just par for the course for internet atheists.

No Charisma

According to Bart Ehrman, Paul never dreamed that his own writings were inspired by the Holy Spirit:

  • “When Paul wrote his letters to the churches he founded, he did not think that he was writing the Bible. He thought he was writing letters, addressing individual needs as they came up, based on what he thought, believed, and preached at the time. Only later did someone put these letters together and consider them inspired.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 63).

Joel had prophesied a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter days:

"And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit." (Joel 2:27-29).

The apostles thought this is what happened on the Day of Pentecost:

"But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy..." (Acts 2:16-18).

When Paul went to church, he was jostled, he was surrounded, he was shouted down by people speaking the Word of God. It was a common thing in those days. Did Paul think he himself was one of those inspired? Absolutely: "...and I think also that I have the Spirit of God." (1 Corinthians 7:40). Why should he have been one of the unlucky ones left on the outside of this Holy Ghost deluge?

Oddly enough, Professor Ehrman himself is aware that Paul believed he had received his gospel directly from God, and has said so, seven pages earlier:

"In Paul's letter to the Galatians he wants to insist that his Gospel message came directly from God himself, through Jesus. He didn't get it from anyone else -- not even the other apostles -- so anyone who disagrees with him about the Gospel is really disagreeing not with him but with God." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 56)

It is difficult to reconcile Professor Ehrman's comments on page 63, that Paul did not consider his gospel message to be inspired, with this earlier offering, that Paul understood people who disagreed with his gospel message to be disagreeing with God Himself. A more muddled, confused and self-contradictory thinker than Bart Ehrman can scarcely be found; he says whatever he thinks the audience of the moment will find most shocking, whether that agrees with, or contradicts, what he has said on other occasions. Consider, for example, his brilliant treatment of gnosticism:

  1. Jesus and His disciples were undoubted monotheists who worshipped the God of Israel;
  2. The gnostics were pagan polytheists who despised the God of Israel;
  3. We really can have no idea which of the two competing factions: the gnostics, polytheists who despised the God of Israel, or the apostolic Christians, monotheists who adored the God of Israel, were closer to the faith of Jesus and the apostles, because "...all of these Christians claimed to represent the views of Jesus and his disciples." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 121).

How did the media build up this Professor Cool into a great Bible expositor?


"The Bible is filled with discrepancies, many of them irreconcilable contradictions. Moses did not write the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament)..." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted, p. 5).

A noted Bible scholar, Jesus, says that Moses did write the Pentateuch, frequently prefacing His comments on the law with the phrase, 'Moses said..."; for example, Mark 7:10: "For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother..." Jesus is uniquely positioned to know such things, having a personal interest in the matter:

"Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." (1 Peter 1:10-11).

It is surprising how many people claim to follow Jesus, and indeed claim to have devoted their lives to Him, who will not take His word on this point. Years ago there was a story in the paper about a sports star, to my best recollection Larry Byrd, who kept getting interrupted when he sat down to dinner in a local restaurant. People just had to have his autograph because, they said, 'My wife will never believe me when I tell her I saw you in the restaurant.' He in his turn inquired, rather grumpily, 'What kind of a relationship do you have with your wife that she wouldn't even believe you if you told her you saw me in a restaurant?' Some people have that kind of a relationship with Jesus.

Far from being one of the brightest pearls in the atheist tiara, the 'Documentary Hypothesis' is one of the most unsightly kludges anyone has ever inherited and had to drag around. This theory proclaims,— I'm not making this up,— that every time there is a different name for God, there's a different author. Try out that theory with more recent works of theological literature and see how brilliantly it works. The old atheist objections to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, for instance that Moses could not have authored this law because the Hebrews did not then have a written alphabet, have been cleared away. A great advantage of the theory of Mosaic authorship is that it explains why the law of Moses was called the law of Moses:

"But the children of the murderers he slew not: according unto that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein the LORD commanded, saying, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin." (1 Kings 14:6).
"On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever;..." (Nehemiah 13:1).
"And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel." (Joshua 8:32).
"And keep the charge of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself..." (1 Kings 2:3).
"As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth." (Daniel 9:13).

Yet people like Bart Ehrman still think they are being clever when they deny Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Ignore the Testimony

Bart Ehrman must convince his readers to discount the ancient testimony that the church's four gospels were written by two apostles and two associates of the apostles, or the game is up. To accomplish this, he points out that Matthew talks about himself in the third person:

"Moreover, Matthew' Gospel is written completely in the third person, about what 'they' --- Jesus and the disciples -- were doing, never about what 'we' -- Jesus and the rest of us -- were doing. Even when this Gospel narrates the event of Matthew being called to become a disciple, it talks about 'him,' not about 'me.'" (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 104).

By this line of reasoning we can prove that Caesar never wrote 'The Gallic War,' because he is continually saying things like, "When Caesar observed this he gave orders for the warships, which were of a type less familiar to the barbarians and more maneuverable at need, to be moved a short distance from the transport vessels..." (Julius Caesar, The Gallic War, 4.25). No doubt this will be Bart Ehrman's next great discovery, that 'The Gallic War' was written by 23 different persons, most of them concealing their identities. Centuries earlier is was Xenophon who said, “'And now, gentlemen,' he went on, 'let us not delay; withdraw and choose your commanders at once, you who need them, and after making your choices come to the middle of the camp and bring with you the men you have selected; then we will call a meeting there of all the troops.' . . Thereupon the commanders were chosen, Timasion the Dardanian in place of Clearchus, Xanthicles the Achaean in place of Socrates, Cleanor the Arcadian in place of Agias, Philesius the Achaean in place of Menon, and Xenophon the Athenian in place of Proxenus.” (Xenophon, Anabasis, Book III, Chapter 1). Who is our author? "Xenophon the Athenian"! Was this the style preferred for military dispatches, with its apparent modesty and objectivity? In the most dramatic scene in this exciting, fast-paced story of a band of Greek mercenaries breaking out from deep in the depths of a hostile Persian empire, when they scale a hill and catch sight of the sea, we hear again about "Xenophon:"

“But as the shout kept getting louder and nearer, as the successive ranks that came up all began to run at full speed toward the ranks ahead that were one after another joining in the shout, and as the shout kept growing far louder as the number of men grew steadily greater, it became quite clear to Xenophon that here was something of unusual importance; so he mounted a horse, took with him ahead to lend aid; and in a moment they heard the soldiers shouting , 'The Sea! The Sea!' and passing the word along.” (Xenophon, Anabasis, Book IV, Chapter 7).

Polybius the historian, who uses both formats, explains that it can be offensive to talk about one's self:

"For as I was much personally involved in the transactions about to be related, it becomes necessary to vary the methods of indicating myself; that I may not weary by continual repetition of my own name, nor again by introducing the words 'of me,' or 'through me,' at every turn, fall insensibly into an appearance of egotism. I wished, on the contrary, by an interchangeable use of these terms, and by selecting from time to time the one which seemed most in place, to avoid, as far as could be, the offensiveness of talk about one's self; for such talk, though naturally unacceptable, is frequently inevitable, when one cannot in any other way give a clear exposition of the subjects." (Polybius, The Histories, Book XXXVII, Chapter 4).

Whatever the reason, use of the third person does not carry with it the implications Bart Ehrman imagines. The early testimony Bart Ehrman must make disappear includes Papias:

"Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter...So Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew language and each person interpreted them as best he could." (Fragments of Papias, p. 316, The Apostolic Fathers, J. B. Lightfoot, J. R. Harmer, Michael W. Holmes).

Incidentally, 'interpret' means 'translate,' as in "And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise." (Mark 5:41). Bart Ehrman disposes of this valuable historical information by his usual method. He understands it in accordance with the hyper-literalism of a two year old child. Papias says that Mark wanted to leave nothing out. Can this be true?:

"The Gospel of Mark takes about two hours to read out loud. After Peter had spent all those months, or years, with Jesus, and after Mark listened to Peter preach about Jesus day and night, are we to imagine that all Mark heard was two hours' worth of information?" (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 109).

It's true indeed that Mark never wrote a book like 'Remembrance of Things Past;' by that standard, he did leave a lot out, but then people did not write books like that then. We have wandered into absurdity here, but let's wander further. Papias tells a story about branches with ten thousand shoots that doesn't make much sense. So people discount it. This perplexes Bart Ehrman: "Why do these scholars accept some of what Papias said but not all of what he said?" (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 110). There you have it, the pearl of great price, 'scholarship' the Bart Ehrman way: accept everything Papias said, or none of it. Who ever says this about Suetonius or Josephus, or any other witness to history? And what jury has ever been instructed, 'you may ignore the unanimous consent of the witnesses, if you prefer to believe something else?' There is no substitute for testimony from people in a position to know. Why toss it out for no reason?

If a cop comes running down the street in pursuit of a bank robber, is he going to refrain from asking the man standing at the corner 'which way did he go?' just because the man wears a silly grin and looks a bit foolish? It's a simple question; most people can understand it and respond appropriately, even simpletons. The question 'who wrote these books?' is simple enough. If Papias does no more than repeat what he was told by the people he was in contact with, his witness is invaluable.

The Lord told a story about the mustard shrub. As a matter of fact, the Lord told lots of stories about agricultural produce. Let's tell the story Papias' way: 'In the Kingdom, there's going to be a big old honking mustard shrub. Man, is that thing going to be huge! It will be humungous!' The story as told does not make sense, yet it is not true that the Lord never told a story like that. When the Lord tells stories about agricultural produce, the items in the grocery cart are usually stand-ins for something else. The first interpretive error Papias makes is to invoke the principle, 'Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.' In his interpretation, the vine is just a vine. That is not usually the case with the Lord's parable. Usually the vine is Israel/the Church or something like that. And the Lord told lots of stories about the harvest, but usually the harvester is not the saints, but the Son of Man. Is this a story about the natural branches of the vine squabbling with the grafted-in ones for the vine-dresser's attention? It's hard to tell, since the point has dropped out. Papias understands this to be a story about how huge agricultural produce is going to be in the age to come. Let's not ask Papias to interpret parables, since he lacks the gift, but let's do ask him what the people he knew told him about the authorship of the gospels.

Lord of All

Our author, having forgotten that he elsewhere accuses Luke of making up the speeches in Acts, notices what is indeed likely to be true, that these speeches represent some of the earliest proclamation of the gospel on record:

  • “When I was in college I had already for many years believed that Jesus was God, that this was and always has been one of the most central and fundamental tenets of the Christian tradition. But when I began studying the Bible seriously, in graduate school, I began to realize that this was not the original belief of Jesus' earliest followers, nor of Jesus himself...It has long been thought by scholars that some of the speeches of the apostles in the book of Acts may represent views that were popular among Jesus' early followers, years before Luke wrote them down...In none of these speeches in Acts is Jesus spoken of as divine.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' pp. 245-246).

Is this true, that "In none of these speeches in Acts is Jesus spoken of as divine?" No more so than usual:

"...and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead." (Acts 3:15).
"...preaching peace by Jesus Christ -- he is Lord of all." (Acts 10:36).

Who, Biblically, is the "author of life"? Who is the "Lord of all"? These are not titles borne by any mere man.

Resurrection in the Flesh

According to Bart Ehrman, Christians at some point gave up believing in a physical resurrection. They no longer expected any such event as is described below to occur at any time:

"And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army." (Ezekiel 37:3-10).

  • “When the end never came, Christian thinkers reconceptualized this time line...No longer is the physical resurrection discussed or even believed. Now what matters is this world of suffering below and a world of ecstasy in heaven above...In short, with the passing of time, the apocalyptic notion of the resurrection of the body becomes transformed into the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. What emerges is the belief in heaven and hell, a belief not found in the teachings of Jesus or Paul, but one invented in later times by Christians who realized that the kingdom of God never would come to this earth. This belief became a standard Christian teaching, world without end.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' pp. 265-266).

Dr. Ehrman is a bit vague about when precisely the denial of a physical resurrection became "standard Christian teaching." Was it during the day of Thomas Aquinas?:

"For our resurrection will conform to the resurrection of Christ, as the Apostle has it: 'He will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of His glory' (Phil. 3:21). After His resurrection, of course, Christ had a body one could touch, constituted of flesh and bones, because after His resurrection -- so we read in Luke (24:39) -- He said to the disciples: 'Handle and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as you see me to have.' Therefore, when other men rise, they will have bodies one can handle, composed of flesh and bones. [...]
"There is more. For a man to rise with numerical identity there must also be numerical identity in his essential parts. Therefore, if the body of the man who rises is not to be composed of the flesh and bones which now compose it, the man who rises will not be numerically the same man. But all these false opinions are most clearly rejected by the words of Job (19:26-27) who says: 'Once again I shall be clothed with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God. Whom I myself shall see and not another.'" (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four, Chapter 84 3-8).

Hmmm...not him. Was it perhaps the Protestant reformers who tossed out the inherited idea of the resurrection in the flesh?:

"Equally monstrous is the error of those who imagine that the souls will not receive the same bodies with which they are now clothed but will be furnished with new and different ones. [...] And there is another saying of Christ's that is equally plain: 'The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who have done good will come forth to the resurrection of life, but those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment' [John 5:28-29]. Shall we say that souls rest in the graves, that from there they may hearken to Christ? Shall we not say rather that at his command bodies will be restored to the vigor which they had lost?" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XXV, 7).

Hmmm...not him. Shall we say it was John Shelby Spong who made this great discovery? This Episcopal bishop, indeed, does not believe anybody walked out of any empty tomb, nor that His followers will follow in His steps. Few I think would go that far, but it is among the 'liberal' Christians of the present day that you will actually find this modification of the original Christian doctrine. These people, however, are rather recent to justify the language, "world without end," which Dr. Ehrman applies to this "standard Christian teaching."

Although he claims to have come out of fundamentalism, it seems likely that if he actually had, he would be aware that fundamentalists generally preach the resurrection of the flesh, just as did the early church. Perhaps he was more accustomed, in his Christian phase, to hearing liberal preaching, which does indeed focus around the immortality of the soul:

"Then comes Easter to answer the question. Easter comes out ringing in terms that we all hear if we seek to hear it, that the soul of man is immortal. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have fit testimony that this earthly life is not the end, that death is just something of a turn in the road, that life moves down a continual moving river, and that death is just a little turn in the river, that this earthly life is merely an embryonic prelude to a new awakening, that death is not a period which ends this great sentence of life but a comma that punctuates it to more loftier significance." ((Martin Luther King, Jr., Sermon: Questions that Easter Answer, April 21, 1957, at Stanford University Archive)

This is vintage Bart Ehrman: glib, facile, and completely uninformed on those matters about which he imagines he will teach others. No doubt the churches where Bart Ehrman is invited to speak do not believe in the physical resurrection, neither of Jesus of Nazareth in the first century nor of the church in days to come. But those churches who would rather burn down their sanctuary than allow Bart Ehrman to speak there believe in it just as fervently as did Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.

Part of what went wrong here is Bart Ehrman's recurring problem. It is impossible for a thing to both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect: this is the law of contradiction. It is not, however, impossible for two different things to be true at the same time: for example, the statement 'the steam engine was pivotal to the Industrial Revolution and Buenos Aires is in Argentina' is not self-contradictory. Bart Ehrman is popular owing to his contributions to the fund of 'Bible contradictions;' yet most of his contributions to this body of literature are just different things the Bible says, not any legitimate contradiction. Here is a case in point. In Dr. Ehrman's mind, Christians must choose: either they believe in the resurrection in the flesh, or they believe in the intermediate state: that, upon death, men's spirits journey to keep company with the Spirit who was their fondest companion in life. If they will believe in the one, they cannot also believe in the other. But looking at one Bible author, Luke, we read the following:

"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame." (Luke 16:22-24).

This is one thing. Here is another:

"And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:42-43).

Yet another:

"Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter." (Acts 17:31-32).

In Bart Ehrman's world, these statements cannot all be true, because they are different. These three statements do contain a common term: they all describe the circumstances of deceased persons. But they are not contradictory; they describe circumstances at different times, before the second coming and after the second coming. Why should the same circumstances prevail before the second coming and also after? Likewise, 'walking' and 'chewing gum' are different, but not contradictory things, which might be found in the same subject at the same time.

Four Gospels

Bart Ehrman wants it understood that, even though we have no idea who wrote the four gospels, we know of a certainty it was no apostle nor associate of an apostle. Even though retaining this belief requires that we discard all the actual testimony from antiquity, we are fully up to the task:

The first proponents of the theory that Mark's gospel was first written were not reluctant to offer as evidence, that Mark's gospel is the shortest. And Bart Ehrman seems to 'get' it: "The solution that emerged from these analyses indicated that Mark was the first Gospel to be written. It is our shortest account, and there are good reasons for thinking that it was used as  a literary source by the authors of Matthew and Luke for many of their stories." (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 59). To those who adopt the tendentious theory that gospels grow by accretion, becoming bigger as people 'invent' new material, it seems logical that the shortest gospel should be the first. It is apparent, however, that under other theories of authorship, for instance that two of the gospels are eye-witness accounts and the other two incorporate eye-witness material, there is no reason at all to suppose the shortest would also be the first. Certainly people who accept the tendentious theory that gospels grow by accretion might also accept the conclusion that follows from that theory, that Mark wrote first. But what one must not do is use the conclusion that Mark wrote first as evidence to prove the accretion theory, because Mark's priority was itself proved by appeal to the theory. That would be arguing in a circle! In spite of the fact that this manner of arguing is formally invalid, it is a great favorite of Bart Ehrman's. Objectively, there is no reason to believe that Mark wrote first. Nor is there reason to believe that stories about Jesus were passed down by word of mouth for decades before being recorded. The evangelist Luke writes as someone sitting at a desk sorting through a pile of testimonies. Nevertheless these arbitrary assumptions form the basis for this pseudo-science.

It's dismaying to watch as 'modern Bible scholarship' reels people in. Bart Ehrman uses the supposed lateness of the gospel record in his polemic against Christianity: the gospels cannot be reliable, he alleges, because they were written such a long time after the events they describe. And how does he know this? Well, because they 'prophesy' the destruction of the temple. But prophecy is impossible. As every atheist knows, no one can know the future, so therefore the gospels must have been written after 70 A.D., when the temple was destroyed. No theist has any reason to respect this logic. Sadly, people don't realize that's all there is here. They observe Bart Ehrman dating the gospels, imagine he must be doing so on the basis of some objective fact, a rediscovered ancient manuscript, perhaps,— he is, after all, a great expert,— and allow themselves to be taken in. People ought to study this field; many would be surprised to see how very little they have to offer by way of credible, documented fact as opposed to their own insights into Bible theology: "Most important are the theological ideas, views, and perspectives of the book." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 122). The weight and value of these insights varies in the eye of the beholder. This is why the 'Jesus' publishing industry is more productively classified as 'bad religion' than as any form of science or scholarship.

Pagan Anti-Semitism

Bart Ehrman sagely intones that pagan anti-semitism differed from Christian anti-semitism:

"It comes as a surprise to some readers to learn that this kind of anti-Judaism did not exist in the Roman, Greek, or any other world before the coming of Christianity and is therefore a Christian invention." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 244).

Did it ever. Pagan anti-semitism revolved around such theological insights as that there was an image of an ass in the Holy of Holies:

"Nothing, however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all directions over the plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees...In their holy place they have consecrated an image of the animal by whose guidance they found deliverance from their long and thirsty wanderings." (Tacitus, History, Book V, Chapter 3-4).

This is a concept you've certainly never heard from any Christian...oh, I forgot, the gnostics were authentic Christians, or so these people tell us, and some of them liked this 'ass' idea. Anti-semites like Marcion and the gnostics had inherited a ready-made deconstruction of the Old Testament from pagan anti-semites like Apion. Their shared interpretation perceives the Old Testament as the annals of a small, albeit megalomaniac, god, who just doesn't 'get' how little he is, compared to all the other gods. The deconstruction of the Bible carried out by pagan anti-semites like Apion produced results every bit as repugnant as what people like Bart Ehrman have to offer. Readers interested in understanding gnosticism might find it profitable to study this material direct from the source, and see at whose feet the gnostics learned their theology. Some of this material is preserved in Jewish defenses, and some seeps into pagan anti-Christian polemics:

Against Apion
Flavius Josephus
Against Flaccus
Philo Judaeus
Embassy to Gaius
Philo Judaeus
True Doctrine

In its formative phase, Christian anti-Judaism displays a characteristic nervous looking over the shoulder. The Jewish church did not die a natural death, but die it did, in great numbers at Bar Kokhba's hands. This Messianic aspirant and leader of the Second Jewish Revolt killed any Christians who fell into his hands:

"And when this was done, the books remained with the Egyptians, where they are until now. They [the books, i.e. the Old Testament] are also in the possession of all Jews throughout the world; but they, though they read, do not understand what is said, but count us foes and enemies; and, like yourselves, they kill and punish us whenever they have the power, as you can well believe. For in the Jewish war which lately raged, Barchochebas, the leader of the revolt of the Jews, gave orders that Christians alone should be led to cruel punishments, unless they would deny Jesus Christ and utter blasphemy." (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 31).
"Hadrian's Year 17 (A.D. 133) Cochebas, duke of the Jewish sect, killed the Christians with all kinds of persecutions, (when) they refused to help him against the Roman troops." (Latin version, Eusebius' Chronicle, quoted p. 258, 'Bar-Kokhba, The rediscovery of the legendary hero of the second Jewish Revolt against Rome,' Yigael Yadin).

Some have thought he is 'caught in the act' in this letter discovered in the Judaean desert. Perhaps the 'Galileans' he wants done away with are followers of The Galilean:

"From Shimeon ben Kosiba to Yeshua ben Galgoula and to the men of the fort, peace. I take heaven to witness against me that unless you mobilize [destroy?] the Galileans who are with you every man, I will put fetters on your feet as I did to ben Aphlul." (Letter from Bar Kokhba, quoted p. 137, 'Bar-Kokhba, The rediscovery of the legendary hero of the second Jewish Revolt against Rome,' Yigael Yadin).

One might even suspect this state of circumstances had something to do with the ill-will some early Christian authors do, regrettably, express. It is conceivable, after all, human nature being what it is, that if you sit down with some surviving Tutsis and ask them what they really and sincerely think, they might so far forget themselves as to say unloving things about the Hutus. One hates to harbor suspicion, but after all it's possible.

Bar Kohkba did not have the enthusiastic backing of the entire Jewish nation, but neither did Adolf Hitler ever win the votes of more than a third of the German electorate. He had enough backing to put up a good fight against the pagan Roman empire. His habit of murdering Christians provokes no rebuke in the Talmud, though his habit of amputating his fighters' fingers,— as a loyalty test?,— does.

Though the rhetorical vehemence of some early church authors is alarming, and in centuries to come would issue in real violence, there is nothing in Christian rhetoric to compare with the benediction, or rather malediction, wherein the Jews, beginning in the late first century, sent a death wish rocketing toward the Christians every time they met for corporate worship:

"For apostates let there be no hope, and the kingdom of arrogance do Thou speedily uproot in our days; and let Nazarenes and heretics [minim] perish as in a moment; let them be blotted out of the book of life and not be enrolled with the righteous. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant." (12th of the 18 Benedictions, quoted p. 386, F. F. Bruce, 'New Testament History')

Readers who are relying on Dr. Ehrman to elucidate this history for them are like people stationed outside the door, overhearing a family argument with plenty of hollering and carrying on, but only able to make out one side.

Readers who ponder such pagan atrocities as the effort by the successors of Alexander the Great to force Jews to conform to Hellenistic culture, as recorded in the book of Maccabees, may wonder what Bart Ehrman is talking about when he claims Christians invented anti-semitism. This author can be relied upon to be politically correct, however much evidence he must ignore to arrive at the desired result.

For both persecuting communities, the pagan Romans and the Jews, this behavior is out of character, though it is well documented in the case of Christianity. Neither community was ever prepared to welcome all viewpoints; writers like Edward Gibbon, for polemical reasons, vastly overstate the tolerance of the pagans. The pagans from time to time evicted from Rome practitioners of 'foreign superstitions,' astrologers, philosophers, and Jews:

"Cn. Cornelius Hispalus, Foreign Praetor, in the Consulship of M. Popillius Laenas and L. Calpurnius [circa 50 B.C.], ordered the astrologers by edict to leave Rome and Italy within ten days. For they spread profitable darkness with their lies over frivolous and foolish minds by fallacious interpretation of the stars. The same Hispalus made the Jews go home, who had tried to infect Roman manners with the cult of Jupiter Sabazius." (Valerius Maximum, Memorable Doings and Sayings, Book I.3)

They did not normally however kill the devotees of these 'foreign superstitions' down to the last man, woman and child. Even these periodic evictions left many people remaining in their places, keeping a low profile. The Jews normally let alone any who conform their conduct to orthopraxy, thus the gnostic Kabbalists are left unmolested, even uncriticized. So why were the Christians, many of whom were willing to conform their behavior to the law of Moses (Acts 21:20), persecuted? Our author is so lost in his comforting fairy-tales about how inconsequential Christianity was, that he cannot notice the problem. Since he has started by denying the facts, that the facts do not add up doesn't trouble him. Listen to this odd note of fear in this Talmudic reference to the 'minim:'

"R. Ishmael said: [One can reason] a minori: If in order to make peace between man and wife the Torah decreed, Let my Name, written in sanctity, be blotted out in water, these, who stir up jealousy, enmity, and wrath between Israel and their Father in Heaven, how much more so; and of them David said, Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? And am I not grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate then with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies." (Shabbath 116a).

The 'minim' are heretics, but this section of the Talmud has in view a particular breed of minim: the Christians. And of what are they accused?: "...stir[ring] up jealousy, enmity, and wrath between Israel and their Father in Heaven." A strange accusation! On what is it based? Did this author know that Christians pray to 'Our Father who art in Heaven?' What "wrath" can the pacifistic early Christians have stirred up? And why did the Romans, after the fire of 64 A.D., wonder what god was warring against them? What are these people afraid of? The fates of these three groups, the Christians, the pagans, and the Jews, are locked together, and it is not clear at whom the disasters that befall them are aimed. One late Christian historian, Sulpitius Severus, thought the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. was aimed as much at Christians as at Jews, though it sailed right over their heads:

"But on the opposite side, others and Titus himself thought that the temple ought specially to be overthrown, in order that the religion of the Jews and of the Christians might more thoroughly be subverted; for that these religions, although contrary to each other, had nevertheless proceeded from the same authors; that the Christians had sprung up from among the Jews; and that, if the root were extirpated, the offshoot would speedily perish." (Sulpitius Severus, Sacred History, Book 2, Chapter 30).

Is this because they ducked? Church-goers nowadays are quite used to hearing explanations as to why Christians do not have to obey the Sermon on the Mount. But turning to early Christian literature like the Didache and Justin Martyr, we are startled to notice these authors had never heard nor thought of any such reasons, and took the Lord's injunctions quite seriously and literally. How can the inoffensive early Christians have been a threat to anybody? When someone is trying to kill you, it is not because he thinks you are of no importance. There is a puzzle here to be disentangled; yet these 'Jesus' industry authors, who have no curiosity about the world and no interest in the matter except to demonize Christians and Christianity, are not the ones to resolve it. The pagans and the Jews tried to stamp out Christianity and failed. Though commanded to turn the other cheek, the Christians in their turn, when they had the power, stamped out European paganism and persecuted the Jews. It's a shameful story, to fall short of such a high calling; nevertheless leaving out half the story is untruthful.

Bad Greek

Back in the nineteenth century, the atheists used to say that the New Testament could not be inspired by God, because it was written in 'bad Greek.' The art critic and one-time evangelical John Ruskin fell for this one:

"I notice in one of your late letters some notion that I am coming to think the Bible the 'Word of God' because I use it . . . for daily teaching. But I was never farther from thinking, and never can be nearer to thinking, anything of the sort. Nothing could ever persuade me that God writes vulgar Greek." (36.538-539)
(John Ruskin, Letter to Joan Severn, 1867, quoted in 'The Aesthetic and Critical Theories of John Ruskin,' by George P. Landow, Chapter 4, Section II)

The reader must share Joan Severn's perplexity that an avowed agnostic like Ruskin could not stop quoting the Bible. It seems he could only think through the Bible and not outside; the Bible was his instrument of thought. And once he turned atheist, he became even more vehement that everyone must live by the Sermon on the Mount, though theists are full of arguments why one need not. In any event, this 'God could not have written bad Greek' argument was a popular and successful one for the atheists, right up until the twentieth century, when they had to give it up because nobody believed it anymore. A cache of letters had been discovered in the Egyptian desert, which showed that the language of the New Testament was not unique to that book, but widely used. A self-consistent language in common use is not 'bad' or 'vulgar' anything, though it is not classical Attic Greek.

So the atheists had to drop their 'bad Greek' routine. But now Bart Ehrman has had the bright idea of inverting the argument: the language of the New Testament is now, it has lately been discovered, so very refined and elegant that it could not have been written by an unsophisticated man like James, the Lord's brother!:

  • “It is also hard to believe that these letters could have been written by two lower-class Aramaic-speaking peasants from Galilee (whose more famous brother is not known to have been able to write, let alone compose a complicated treatise in Greek) is in theory possible that Jesus' brothers--raised in the backwoods of rural Galilee, working with their hands for a living, never having time or money for an education--decided later in life to acquire a Greek education and to take courses in literary composition, so that they could write these heavily rhetorical and relatively sophisticated books. But it seems somewhat unlikely.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' pp. 154-155).

Evidently, when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. But in reality, the student who enrolled in a first century class in Greek "literary composition" would not learn how to craft a finished product like James' letter. Greek literary taste in that era ran to archaisms and bountiful quotations from Homer, absent from James. This is the old 'bad Greek' argument turned on its head, but it doesn't work upside-down either.

Incidentally, the changeable Ruskin is a good test case to try out the critical method. The 'Bill of Attainder' is a law addressing the behavior of only one, or several, individuals; civil libertarians rightly suspect it, and it is unconstitutional in the United States. If this man's conduct is wrong, why not draft a general law forbidding it to all? The reader should likewise suspect a school of literary criticism addressing only one book. The 'higher critics' aspire to explain how a book is written, but only one book. Only the Bible is read this way, nothing else. Let's see how well the method works with other authors. Recall that we expanded Paul, like an accordion, into multiple 'Pauls' owing to minute variations in vocabulary, style, and emphasis. What are we to make of the complete reversals of field with which Ruskin presents us? Why, they must have switched Ruskins!

However, the multiple Ruskin theory runs into obstacles. When William Holman Hunt encountered Ruskin in later years and the latter disavowed his earlier support for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt failed to mention that, 'Gosh, he didn't even look like the same guy.' Nor did his doting parents ever thrust the imposter out of their nest. The photos look like the same guy, only older. And if they switched Ruskins, what did they do with the first one? So this is not a very good theory. Why do people fail to notice its inadequacies to the Bible evidence as well? For instance: if Paul did not write Ephesians, who did? Was there a religious genius at large in the early church, and no one even knows his name? How likely is that, really?


Bart Ehrman's quote above conjures up a lost world, a world submerged into the condition in which India stagnated for centuries, with a small hereditary elite, like the Brahmins, possessing literacy as a birth-right, and other people having to take their chances. It is a lost world indeed, or rather a 'never-was' world. If it were so, we could expect to stroll down the 'Classics' lane at Borders' and see the literary productions of the sons of the elite. Is that what we see? Or do we actually see the poetry of Horace and Virgil, the sons of farmers?

"Whom Euripides had for a father or Demosthenes for a mother was unknown even in their own period. But the writings of almost all the learned speak of the mother of the one as selling vegetables and the father of the other as selling knives. But what is more famous than the power of the first in tragedy and the second in oratory?" (Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings, Book III.4).

Epictetus the Stoic philosopher had lived as a slave, and learned through his suffering the maxims he propounded. Bart Ehrman's assumption that because James was the son of a carpenter, he cannot have contributed anything to the world's literature, is based on nothing that is real about the ancient world.

Of course, other authors came from a well-to-do background. To which category did 'James' belong? Perhaps he leaves us a hint: "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you." (James 5:1).

And as for the inhabitants of Galilee speaking Greek, have you ever wondered why you get phone calls from 'Brad' and 'Patricia' selling stuff from a call center in Bombay, India? Why would there be people named 'Brad' and 'Patricia' in India, and why do they speak English? In reality, they are not named that, and the people in India speak English because they used to be governed by the British, and, being prudent people, they thought it advisable to learn the language spoken by their governors. We are to surmise the people in Galilee weren't equally smart?

It is common to hear from unbelievers the argument, 'The New Testament cannot be early, lest it be authentic. The New Testament documents cannot be early because. . .because. . .because almost everybody was illiterate! Yes, the literacy rate at the time was in the single digits.' This argument is very common, but it's hard to find classicists who will agree with these low numbers. Ehrman obligingly acknowledges the rate may have been as high as 10% ('Forged,' p. 71), though of course he prefers a lower number, without however seeing any need to revisit the conclusion drawn therefrom. (Ten percent of the early Christian community would have been a massive number of people.) How many people in the ancient world, and in particular Jews in Palestine, could read and write? What is the testimony of the actual remaining evidence?:

This really is the crux of the matter, as these people themselves realize:

"It is crucial to remember that those who were involved with Jesus in his ministry were lower-class Aramaic-speaking Jews in rural Palestine. They were not literate. They were not educated. They were poor." (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 101).

To believe what these people are telling us, we also have to believe that almost everyone who addressed the topic of literacy who lived in the ancient world was lying. How likely is that? Their 2-3% literacy rate, their "oral culture," their "illiterate peasants" (p. 70) and all that drivel, is not real. It is not historically accurate. They are selling us a land of make-believe, a country of the imagination.


Police State

For many years the Soviet Union built up an educational system which sought to inculcate atheism in the minds of students. While the Soviet constitution protected the right to freedom of religion, a student who sought to acquire an education and then secure work in a responsible field was well-advised not to rock the boat. Going with the flow was the way to succeed. Advertising religious convictions did not land the pious student in jail, but the system was set up to reward a very different set of convictions.

While this system was in place, comity and agreement seemed to prevail. Once the system collapsed, loyalists were pained to discover that many of their comrades, who had made the noises they were obliged to make to move through the system, were not true believers after all. In its declining years, enthusiasts for the system were doubtless pained when their comrades did not take every opportunity to develop the Marxist-Leninist line as they had been taught to do. Of course, one of the drawbacks of a coercive system is that you can make people parrot it back, but you can't make them believe it's true. No doubt the true believers began to feel the same kind of unease Dr. Ehrman feels when he realizes pastors, who have been subjected to his system in seminary, are not interested in teaching it from the pulpit.

Like the Soviet Union, the State of North Carolina protects its residents' right to freedom of religion. Like the Soviet Union, the State of North Carolina educates its young, according to certain principles and not others. Professor Ehrman does not consider his student's religious convictions to be their private affair, rather he interrogates them about these convictions at the end of the term. Are they impressed, or dismissive, of his satchel of 'Bible contradictions'? Have they obediently drawn the conclusion from these 'contradictions,' that the New Testament is a tissue of forgery? Those students who have diligently regurgitated what was pushed down their gullet are in for a wonderful surprise: they don't have to be atheists. Dr. Ehrman is grandly willing to allow them a weakly theistic liberalism provided only it tolerate homosexuality and the like: "Most of these students do not think that the Bible is inerrant...Students are often surprised to learn that I am completely sympathetic to this final point of view." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 271). What grade is received by those students who think that Dr. Ehrman's 'Bible contradictions' are bogus?

Bart Ehrman

It's Plato

Plato in the Phaedrus shares the theory that the introduction of writing did nothing to enhance human memory, but rather weakened it:

Socrates. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves." (Plato, Phaedrus).

This became a common observation, ". . .it generally occurs to most men, that, in their dependence on writing, they relax their diligence in learning thoroughly, and their employment of the memory." (Julius Caesar, Gallic Wars, Book VI, Chapter XIV). This view may well have come to Plato from the same original source as it came to Caesar's Druids, namely Pythagoras. Reportedly Plato took an interest in the earlier holy man: "Some authorities, amongst them Satyrus, say that he [Plato] wrote to Dion in Sicily instructing him to purchase three Pythagorean books from Philolaus for 100 minae." (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Volume I, III. 8-10, Plato, p. 285 Loeb Edition). Pythagoras wanted his doctrines spread by a living voice, not by written texts, partly to keep the 'wrong' people from learning them.

The convergence of views is apparent. Plato was less of an original thinker than a literary stylist who combined existing ideas, some good, some bad, into a seductive product. Pythagoras was not the only influence on Plato; his teacher, Socrates, an anti-democratic political philosopher who abominated rule by "the many," was also important. But there is a synergy here; Pythagoras was no democrat either. Conspiracy theorists of the present day talk about 'The Illuminati,' a secret society who aspire to rule the world. This is folklore today, but if you lived in the Greek-speaking parts of Italy when the Pythagorean Brotherhood was a living religion, it was no idle tale. They really did want all political power concentrated in the hands of a secret society, namely, themselves.

The same avenue of influence is apparent with the Gauls. Having absorbed the doctrine from visiting Pythagorean missionaries, the peoples of Britain and France seemed, at the time of Caesar's invasion, to have been well on their way to developing a common culture and religion, not following upon military conquest, nor having achieved political unity. Their doctrine centered around Pythagoras' pet idea of reincarnation. It is frequently pointed out that the Romans were 'confused' about the Gauls and the Celts, using these terms vaguely and broadly to refer to a wide variety of people who must have been very different from one another, rammed down in the vertical ghetto of tribalism. But perhaps it was not the Roman historians who were confused; perhaps these people were well on their way to developing a common cultural identity, before being rudely interrupted by Roman conquest.

If the idea that writing a matter down makes it fly from one's memory were really an empirical observation about the world, then it would be less critical to ask who first discovered this fact. But it seems not to be a fact, at least to my experience. Jean Jacques Rousseau insisted that this is indeed just the way his memory operated:

"This is one of the singularities of my memory which merits to be remarked. It serves me in proportion to my dependence upon it; the moment I have committed to paper that with which it was charged, it forsakes me, and I have no sooner written a thing than I had forgotten entirely." (Jean Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, Chapter VIII, Complete Works, Kindle location 7122).

He is aware that this property is a 'signularity' of his; in other words, people do not start nodding their heads in rueful agreement when he explains the problem. Though mostly self-educated, Rousseau was generally familiar with classicial literature, which already puts him in a different category from the 'Jesus' Publishing Industry, who know no more of the matter than does a new-born babe. Perhaps Plato won a convert though the power of suggestion. I can only speak to my experience, but I would say rather that writing a matter down fixes it in one's memory, rather than causing it to fly; this is why students take notes. So I cannot confirm from experience that literacy is working at cross purposes from memory.

Nor does Bart think so. I was recently reading, with the kind of half-attention that is all one can really muster for Bart Ehrman's oracular baby-talk, in 'Jesus Before the Gospels,' and noticed that Bart keeps wondering where the theory came from, that written language weakens rather than strengthens memory:

  • “Given these realities, as attested by numerous anthropological studies, why do people in literate cultures so often claim that people in past oral cultures had phenomenal memories and worked hard to recount the details of their past with great accuracy and consistency?”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus Before the Gospels,' p. 188).

See, I'm waiting for him to say, 'It's Plato,' or maybe it's Pythagoras, from whom Plato may have borrowed this meme. He must ask this question a half dozen times; how coy not to reveal the answer. Surely he must know it! Is it really possible he does not? Like, it's kind of famous! So I'm sitting there waiting for the great reveal, where he says, 'These undergraduates did not realize it, but they were repeating a meme from Plato.' I'm waiting and waiting. So I got impatient and searched the Kindle volume for 'Plato.' Want to know something funny, dear reader? Who doesn't realize it's Plato? Him. He doesn't know it's Plato. I kid you not. Yet young people pay good money to hear him bloviate about the world of classical antiquity. Why pay anything, when he knows nothing about it at all? He is rumored to be an expert, on something or another, or so you would think if you listened to National Public Radio. How gullible can young people be?

Ehrman's inability to date the origin of the view that literacy weakens memory to within millenia of its actual first publication is probably related to his inability to date the displacement of oral tradition by literacy to within centuries of its actual occurrence. Given that there never was any forty years of exclusively oral transmission of the gospel, it is somewhat irrelevant whether the disciples were, or were not, well-plastered cisterns retaining every drop.


The same sensitivity and insight Bart Ehrman brings to the gospel, he brings also to pagan religion:

Seneca the Younger
Trojan War
Suffering Servant
Fair Play for Cuba
Real and Ideal
The First Missionary