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How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee Hardcover – March 25, 2014
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Ehrman, who has written prolifically about early Christianity, here takes up one of religious history’s most profound questions: How did a messianic Jewish preacher become identified as God? This is a particularly astonishing phenomenon when one considers how fast it happened and how different the idea of Jesus as God was from Jesus’ actual message. Ehrman writes very personally, especially in the beginning, and this approach draws the reader into a subject that is littered with curves and contradictions. Eventually, all writers who tackle this topic must answer the fundamental question: Did Jesus’ followers actually see a resurrected Christ? Ehrman sets up his answer well, first considering the various interpretations of divine humanity in ancient times. When it comes to the resurrection, he explains that whether the apostles actually saw Jesus or saw a vision makes no difference. Their belief in a risen Jesus is what shifted and shaped Christianity. A discussion of later Christologies and heresies becomes complicated, but this fascinating discussion will engage—and provoke—a wide audience. --Ilene Cooper
HOW JESUS BECAME GOD makes the most astonishing and complex topic in the history of Christianity accessible to every reader, and offers a clear and balanced discussion of how various Christians–and non- Christians-see Jesus. (Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University and author of The Gnostic Gospels)
“ In this lively and provocative book, Ehrman gives a nuanced and wide-ranging discussion of early Christian Christology. Tracing the developing understanding of Jesus, Ehrman shows his skills as an interpreter of both biblical and nonbiblical texts. This is an important, accessible work by a scholar of the first rank.” (Michael Coogan, Harvard Divinity School lecturer and editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible)
“Ehrman writes with vigor and clarity, but above all with intellectual honesty. He demystifies a subject on which biblical scholars too often equivocate. Both believers and non-believers can learn much from this book.” (John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament at Yale)
“This careful book starts where the ‘historical Jesus’ accounts ends and lays out how this absorbing story continued for centuries. Candid and direct, it unfolds what often seem to be the unnecessarily complicated controversies that divided early Christians in a fair and understandable manner.” (Harvey Cox, Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at Harvard)
“How did ancient monotheism allow the One God to have a ‘son’? Bart Ehrman tells this story, introducing the reader to a Jewish world thick with angels, cosmic powers, and numberless semi-divinities. How Jesus Became God provides a lively overview of Nicea’s prequel.” (Paula Fredriksen, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and author of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews)
“Ehrman writes very personally, especially in the beginning, and this approach draws the reader into a subject that is littered with curves and contradictions... This fascinating discussion will engage—and provoke—a wide audience.” (Booklist)
“Ehrman’s book raises questions that should interest us all... [and] represents a genuine conversation among informed scholars.” (Christian Century)
“Bart Ehrman has made a career of zeroing in on some of the most difficult questions at the intersection of faith and history.” (Boston Globe)
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One point that I find particularly persuasive, in terms of the question of whether Jesus himself claimed to be God or the Son of God and equal with God, is his comment, repeated a couple of times, about how different the Gospel of John is. Anyone with a more than passing knowledge of the 4 gospels sees this, and anyone with a study bible knows that the gospel of John was written last, probably at least 60 or 70 years after the death of Jesus.
But the key point he makes is that Mark, for instance, never has Jesus say any of the exalted, poetic things that John puts in his mouth. So Ehrman's question is: if, in fact, Jesus went around saying "Before Abraham was, I am," how could Mark have left that out? How could the 3 synoptic gospels have such subtle hints of God-claims, if Jesus actually said the things John attributes to him? To have heard those things from the mouth of Jesus, but just passed them over when writing down the gospels is not imaginable. If I had a hero or leader who taught me a lot of things, and who also claimed frequently to be the son of John D. Rockefeller, it would be pretty strange for me to write a book about him and leave out that last key point, even though it would not technically be false to omit it--but something that would add to the credibility of what he said would be an odd thing to omit.
The reason I don't give the book 5 stars is that it is almost over-simplified and repetitive in some ways. I feels to me like lecture notes written up as a book, where each time class meets, the professor starts by reviewing where we were last time. It does make the book very clear, but almost too much so. And sometimes, I just felt tired of the conclusions of biblical textual scholars--this book claims to have been written by Paul, but we don't think it was for reason x, this passage says y, but it was most likely added and so it actually means z, etc. The textual; critics may be right, but it just isn't persuasive to most readers that a letter that says, I, Paul, am writing to you in Colossae," (or wherever) was actually written 100 years after Paul's death. And I recall that a lot of scholarship about the Old Testament doubts the accuracy of OT texts, until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. So although I am not a believer, I just find some of the scholarly reasoning tedious.
The audience that would gain the most from this book are doubters, ie people within Christianity who are feeling uncomfortable with it, wondering if it's true, and want to know more about how we got from the time of Jesus to where we are now. Any study of how we got our bible, how orthodoxy came to be arrived at, how the early church actually functioned, is salient for a person who wants to know whether what they have been taught about the Bible and about Jesus really holds water. If you read this book and then conclude that Jesus was eternally the Son of God who came down from heaven, then you are standing on firmer ground. And if you find that ground shifting under your feet, keep inquiring until you find a satisfactory place to stand.
--Judas, in “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1970)
According to Professor Ehrman, none of the disciples, nor Jesus himself, believed during His lifetime that He was God.
“King of the Jews,” yes. As an apocalyptic rabbi, He preached that the coming of the Son of Man was imminent, that evil and corruption
would be abolished, and a new Kingdom of Israel established. The twelve disciples would be rulers over the twelve tribes. He, as their lord and master, would be their king on earth, the human successor of David.
It was this claim that Judas betrayed to the authorities, and for this insurrectionist incitement that Pilate crucified him.
His followers made him God only upon his death and resurrection. Crucifixion nullified his ambition to be the earthly messiah foretold by the Hebrew Bible, so God raised him up and made him a different kind of messiah—ruler over the Kingdom of Heaven. That, at least, was the view of his earliest followers.
But wait. The central Christian doctrine is found in the Nicene Creed of 325 AD, which holds that Jesus was “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, … of one Being with the Father” who was “made incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
Reconciling the early with the later positions is Professor’s Ehrman’s objective in this book. He asks, not the theological question, “How did God become a man?” but the historical question, “How did a man become God?” Otherwise stated, What happened between Jesus’s death in 30 AD and the advent of the last Gospel (John) in about 95 AD?
If He was a mere human until resurrection, as His disciples believed, what about the virgin birth, the water into wine, the healing of the sick, the loaves and the fishes, the raising of the dead, all of which occurred before or during His lifetime, as reported in the Gospels?
Well, the Gospels were not actually written by identifiable men named Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. They were written by anonymous scribes between 35 and 65 years after Jesus’s death, and comprised oral traditions passed from mouth to mouth for decades before being written down.
Those oral traditions originated with the eleven surviving disciples, who were illiterate Aramaic-speaking peasants. The New Testament was written by refined, educated Greek-speakers.
The earlier traditions can be extracted from the New Testament writings, particularly from Paul and Acts, as what Ehrman calls “pre-literary hymns and creeds” embedded within them, and identified by their distinctive style and vocabulary. In none of these does Jesus or any disciple claim that he was God. They seem uniformly to assert that Jesus became God on his resurrection. So the Nicene view consists of elaborations on the earliest traditions.
The ancient Middle East was awash with God-men myths, from Romlulus to Hercules to Alexander the Great to Ceasar to Appolonius. It was natural for Jesus’s later followers to embellish his story with the tale of a maiden impregnated by God and delivering a divine human. It was a short step from that to the belief that he was ALWAYS God. The virgin birth was simply the mechanism by which he became, temporarily, God incarnate.
This evolution can be traced in the gospels themselves. Mark seems to assume that Jesus became divine at his baptism; Matthew and Luke indicate that he was the divine at birth; John—the latest of the Gospels, dating from about 95 AD—presents him as God eternal. That is the Nicene position.
Ehrman emphasizes that this evolution was not smooth and linear. There were widely varying views of Jesus bouncing around throughout those 50 years. For example, some Christians explained the miracles by treating Him as a human agent of God, a sort of angel who had supernatural powers. And so on.
What is the relevance of this book today? It depends on whether you evaluate it from a historical or theological point of view.
A historian can only say that it is an admirable work of historical research and deduction, making the best that can be made of a scanty record, whether one agrees with his historical conclusions or not.
The liberal Christian will say that nothing in it detracts from the essential truth of Jesus’s divinity or the value of his teachings. The fundamentalist Christian, maintaining that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, will be mightily flummoxed. The atheist/agnostic will embrace it as showing what frail history the New Testament is.
It makes you feel like you are a member of a jury, examining each piece of evidence then forming an opinion about said evidence.
Bart's books are extremely informative and you will learn a great deal on how we got to present day thinking about Jesus.
A few Other things you will learn:
Why the Bible was backfilled (edited) as beliefs evolved.
In early times there was no such thing as separation of church and state. Constantine pushed Christianity on his empire to gain iron clad political control over the masses.
The church became more powerful than the Roman Emperor himself.
Theological debates continued for centuries and even to present day on Christology.
The Bible of today is not the Bible in early history.
The Bible is not divine written, it is man written and has evolved throughout the centuries at the whim of the powers that be.
The historical Jesus was a Jewish apocalyptic rabbi that thought the world would end in his lifetime. He would be totally shocked to discover a huge religion was based upon him.
People who were crucified were left to rot on the cross. Birds and animals would feed on the corpse until it was just pieces left, then the remains were dumped into a mass grave. The only exception to this was sometimes on the emperor's birthday, the corpse was taken down complete. This never happened on a Jewish holiday. Pilate was totally against any Jewish traditions.