Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium 1st Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Frequently bought together
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
"Jesus is a superb example of how scholarship can be as full of suspense and surprises as a well-plotted mystery."--The Los Angeles Times
"As fine and succinct a gathering of the voluminous Jesus scholarship as you're likely to find."--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"An elegantly written, much-needed book....Ehrman's should be the first book for any lay reader interested in the historical Jesus."--Kirkus Reviews
"[Ehrman's] warm, inviting prose style and his easy-to-read historical and critical overviews make this the single best introduction to the study of the historical Jesus."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Bart D. Ehrman is Bowman and Gordon Gray Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of many books, including The New Testament: A Historical Introduction and The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
This is hard reading for Christians because Ehrman, formerly a Christian, methodically examines other historical sources along with the oldest surviving materials of the New Testament to make informed, rational, evidence-based arguments consistent with proven principles of scholarship. He's not pulling this stuff out of the air — in fact, much of it has been long-proved but ignored — and he's well aware of the crisis this awareness can cause. But evidence in the text and subtext of Jesus' message shows that Jesus’ life was altogether human. His story, however, made a compelling impression that took on a life of its own almost immediately. Ehrman traces where emphases, errors and additions were made to the Jesus story from the start, possibly while he was still alive. (Possibly, even by him.)
But it became a powerful story, one that his followers couldn't let go of. Many of us still can't.
Ehrman's point is that the actual Yeshua from Nazareth, however, was simply not the character that emerged through First Century fan fiction. We don’t know a lot about that person. But the later Jesus of legend stood the test of time because, for good and for ill, the canonical gospels allowed believers from different times, cultures and contexts to emphasize those parts of the official story that they most craved. And even with all the tampering the story received as a result, the underlying ideas communicated by the mortal Yeshua from Nazareth gave us a lot to work with over the last twenty centuries. The world was sorely ready for that man's radical ethical message -- all the more contagious because he mixed it with an equally radical license of apocalyptic urgency. It was a powerful combination, but flawed. The actual Yeshua believed that the world, a mistakenly tiny world, was about to end in a spectacle of doom and magic. He wasn’t the first cultural prophet to bet his life on such beliefs, and to be wrong. We know now that history wasn't over. He was in fact writing history, in ways he never imagined.
So the personal question Christians are left with after considering Ehrman's work is: What do we do with God, without Jesus as God? For some, faith dies without religion. Ehrman went from being an evangelical fundamentalist 'Bible college' Christian to a moderate, literate Christian, and ultimately an agnostic heavily influenced by the New Atheism. He had very good reasons for this, and his journey was painful and real. But the same route isn't for everyone.
The truth is, if you're a Christian who has seriously read Ehrman's work then you've already crossed the Rubicon into literate faith. Literal faith is over for you, whether you recognize it or not. You probably don't need a textual historian to convince you that Earth is more than 5700 years old, that theocracy is disastrous, that the Left Behind series is reckless huxterism. You may have already come to the conclusion that God wants you to be rational and intellectually honest, and that loving God -- however less certainly you view God now -- involves doing so with the mind you were given. Sometimes faith dies. But as the Jesus legend demonstrates, sometimes that's also how we experience faith anew. It's possible that Ehrman's theses have been on your spiritual reading list all along; that it's your time to encounter these facts about the faith, and to be further changed into the thinking spiritual person you're meant to be.
If so, welcome again to the Emmaus Road, where God no longer has the face you knew. For what it's worth, you're not traveling alone.
As a historian, Ehrman is called upon to reconstruct what we can actually know about the historical Jesus and his teachings. As such, Ehrman uses the earliest sources to tell the reader about Jesus and what he did. He dissects which aspects of the Gospel we can fairly conclude as historically accurate. Ehrman utilizes three tools along the way: (1) Multiple attestations [i.e., are the sayings attested to in many of the earliest sources (or, those sources least likely to be effected by future Christionization)?], (2) Dissimilarity (do the sayings/deeds go against some Christian teaching or at least not further a Christian agenda?), and (3) does it make sense in a historical context (given what we know about the first century, does what is said to have happened make sense?).
Ehrman makes the case that it is absolutely essential that we understand Jesus in his context. Too often we hear Christians attempting to make sense of Jesus in modern terms. That just can’t be sustained, because as a historian, Ehrman wants to know what Jesus actually did and said.
Although many Christians won’t like what Ehrman has to say, his conclusion is substantially backed up by the evidence we have: Jesus was a Jewish apocalyptic preacher. Jesus taught that the world was going to end in the lifetime of his followers and people better heed his warning.
Anyone interested in Jesus from a purely historical (and not theological) perspective could not start at a better place.
A few quibbles: the Oxford Press paperback is printed in absurdly small type. I had to wear high powered reading magnifiers to get through it. Also, hoards and hordes are not the same thing.
Top international reviews
Dr. Ehrman is the best scholar I have read on the matter of the historical Jesus. It is too bad the nut cases at the other end of the spectrum don't enlarge their views by reading him. Of course, many are predestined not to accept fact and reason but proceed only on faith.
In the twenty-first century, impending catastrophe is more likely to be linked with climate change than with the will of God, though there have always been some enthusiasts who have made the connection between destruction and the deity. Predictions of the end of time are made and the world continues to turn. That these millenarian fantasies were often couched in biblical terms did not prevent them from being pushed to the fringes of Christianity. After all, having built all those lovely churches and established their careers, few priests were keen for the end to arrive on their watch.
According to Ehrman, however, Jesus himself "predicted that the God of Israel was about to perform a mighty act of destruction and salvation for his people." This wasn't a distant event, far into the future. Jesus "thought that some of those listening to him would be alive when it happened." So, "how does one understand the movement from Jesus the Jewish prophet, who proclaimed the imminent judgment of the world through the coming Son of Man, to the Christians who... maintained that Jesus himself was the divine man whose death and resurrection represented God's ultimate act of salvation?"
The answer lies in accepting that - whatever he later became to Christians - Jesus was himself a thoroughgoing apocalypticist. While he never described himself in public as the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Messiah or the King of the Jews, he did, in multiply attested traditions, use the phrase "the Son of Man" to refer to "a cosmic judge of the earth" - someone other than himself. Although the early Christians thought Jesus himself was the Son of Man, Ehrman argues that, "in sayings like Mark 8:38, there is no indication that he is talking about himself." The phrase goes back to "our oldest surviving apocalypse, the book of Daniel".
Most ancient Jews "believed that God had made a covenant with his people to be their divine protector in exchange for their devotion to him through keeping his Law." So why was Israel "constantly being dominated by foreigners?" A new way of thinking developed in which "God was still in control of this world in some ultimate sense" but "for unknown and mysterious reasons he had temporarily relinquished his control to the forces of evil that opposed him." Only at the end of this age would God intervene in history and destroy the forces of evil by sending the Son of Man. Only when this new kingdom came would God fulfil his promise to his people and establish them as rulers over the earth.
That Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist - an apocalyptic prophet - is a familiar story. It is also likely to be historically true - not something "the early Christians would have been inclined to invent, since it was commonly understood that the one doing the baptizing was spiritually superior to the one being baptized." Jesus, a repentant sinner, seeking baptism? No wonder Mark's plain tale needed a little embroidery by the later evangelists. However much the details were revised, one thing is clear: this "ministry began on a decidedly apocalyptic note".
Throughout his teachings, "Jesus warns of the coming judgment and the need to prepare for it" and thought, like other apocalypticists before and since, "that God was going to extend his rule from the heavenly realm where he resides down here to earth." Preparation for the coming kingdom was all that mattered. Far from promoting "family values" as some Christians fondly imagine, Jesus "urged his followers to abandon their homes and forsake families". He didn't encourage people to pursue fulfilling careers and he "did not propound his ethical views to show us how to create a just society and make the world a happier place for the long haul." What would be the point? There wasn't going to be a long haul.
"If Jesus were to be taken literally - that is, if he really meant that the Son of Man was to arrive in the lifetime of his disciples - he was obviously wrong." No wonder Christians soon began the business of interpreting his words and taking them out of their original apocalyptic context. They tend to interpret his life "from a dogmatic, rather than a historical, perspective." There is a Jesus of history, it seems, and he was "a Jewish teacher who taught his Jewish followers about the Jewish God who guided the Jewish people by means of the Jewish Law". He "did not teach about his own divinity or pass on to his disciples the doctrines that later came to be embodied in the Nicene Creed."
In one sense, the absence of Jesus the apocalypticist from Christianity is not surprising, since "Christianity is a religion rooted in a belief in the death of Jesus for sin and in his resurrection from the dead." It is not a sect of Judaism. For the historian, "Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in his resurrection." As one can ask - which Bible do you believe to be the word of God? - one can also ask - which Jesus do you believe in? There will be as many answers as there are believers, but the answer no Christian will give is the historical Jesus: the first-century prophet who was proved wrong.