(2/2) Bart Ehrman On The Difference Between What Paul Taught And What Jesus Taught


Bart Ehrman On The Difference Between What Paul Taught And What Jesus Taught


I’ve been talking about Bart Ehrman’s new course on the difference between the historical Jesus and Paul. In one of his teaser videos he gives this example:

The Rich Man

  • 17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not defraud. Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:17-27)

Look at how interesting this is. Jesus is not saying salvation comes from the cross/resurrection, but through following the law. And this has a particular Jesus flavor to it whereby he says he did not come to abolish the law, but fulfill it: eg., make it stricter (adultery is not just the sex act but a lustful eye). In terms of Jesus’ thought this means not only specific laws but as is clear in this case love of neighbor more than self. So, if Bart has found a layer before the cross/resurrection theology latched on, this lowers the probability that Jesus started our as a dying/rising savior God who was later fictionalized in history (Euhemerized, as mythicists try and argue). But if Jesus didn’t teach a cross/resurrection theology (Mark, for instance, awkwardly inserts Jesus predicting this which raises questions about whether it was originally there), why is this attached to Jesus?

There are in fact many plausible explanations, but one seems very simple and straightforward. If Jesus was viewed as the beloved (agapetos) who taught the fundamental principles of love of God and neighbor more than self (eg., love of enemy), then it is a natural extension of this to frame Jesus’ death as loving God more than self (eg., in Gethsemane where no one could hear the prayer: “take this cup from me, but your will, not mine”). What could be more loving than a terrified Jesus who was still willing to trust God to the bitter end (as the Psalm 22 cry of panic suggests)? Moreover, Catholics have long pointed out the similarity between the death of Socrates / the impaled just man in Plato’s Republic and Jesus (which I have dealt with at length before), and so it is not odd that the post-death Jesus tradition got mixed at a very early stage with this Greek death philosophy (all the New Testament writers were native Greek speakers, Paul was from Tarsus, the birthplace of the stoic enlightenment, ect) and a critique of unjust Yom Kippur goat sacrifices with the satire of the unjust release of Barabbas .

So, I’m excited to be taking Ehrman’s course soon and to see what there is to learn about the historical Jesus there. It’s been about 11 years since Ehrman started engaging mythicists like Price and Carrier, and I can only imagine this course is in part in response to them. This is especially the case since Carrier has adopted Ehrman’s high Christology interpretation of Jesus from Paul in Ehrman’s “How Jesus Became God” to bolster his argument, so it only makes sense Ehrman needs to clarify a Jesus before Paul.

It will be interesting to see how mythicists respond. There is an informal logical fallacy from arrogance whereby the listener concludes from overconfidence and cockiness of a presentation, especially how condescending one party is toward the opponent, that this degree of sureness correlates positively with the degree of truth of the argument: eg seen with fringe theories like Flat Earthers or Young Earth Creationists. Sometimes you will find mythicists who are understandably insecure about their minority position that try to exploit this feature in an audience with a haughty (or even abusive) and charismatic presentation. It is refreshing that mythicists like Robert M Price, who has debated Ehrman, does not resort to such tactics.

Let’s see what happens!

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