(Part 3) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus


(Part 1) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus

(Part 2) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus



The first Ehrman lecture is Who Was Jesus According to Jesus?  Here are what I found to be some of the main highlights:

The different gospels are going to give different portrayals of Jesus.  Luke’s Jesus is not Matthew’s Jesus.  The Jesus of Revelation is not the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount.  The various gospels are often at odds with each other and contradict one another in details.

One key for historical reconstruction is finding the same story in independent sources, because this suggests a source earlier than these.  Moreover, a story about Jesus is more likely to be historical if it really doesn’t look like something a Christian would make up, that cuts against the bias.  It is almost universally accepted Jesus was a Jewish teacher from Galilee crucified by Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem.  Moreover, it’s highly likely Jesus preached about the coming Kingdom and the need to repent. 

Who did Jesus say or think he was.  Jesus hardly ever talks about himself in our earliest gospel sources.  He proclaims the soon coming kingdom of God.  Jesus sees himself as the son of God and refers to God as Father, and more familiarly abba or daddy.  But this means father as “our father” and “your (plural) father.  Son of God in ancient Judaism didn’t immediately suggest “divine,” but rather the mediator of God’s will on earth.  Jesus was a prophet in the Jewish tradition of someone who has special insight into God’s word and is predicting a crisis. 

Jesus never calls himself God in Matthew, Mark Luke, or Q, but rather asks Peter to not make known he is the Messiah, which is not a divine figure but the future king of Israel.  Jesus then says the son of man must suffer, but this is not referring to the cosmic son of man of Daniel.  Jesus in John makes a lot of divine claims for himself that are simply absent from Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Q.  Reasoning historically, we can say if Jesus was going around calling himself God there would be a lot of references to this in our earliest sources – which there aren’t.

Ehrman says Paul is the main figure who put into play the idea that Jesus’ death and resurrection is what puts us into right relationship with God.  Ehrman doesn’t address this, but why is this so?  There were tons of humiliating crucifixions going on at that time.  Why were none of those salvific (saving)?  Jesus even declares John the Baptist was greater than he (among those born of men), so why wasn’t John’s humiliating death salvific?


For me the number one problem in western continental philosophy is how commentators regurgitate the vocabulary of the thinker they are examining without bringing any meaningful sense to it.  We see the same thing with many critics of Christianity who can only see the superstition and are simply unwilling to dive under for the philosophical underpinnings.  Let’s get philosophical when we talk about the gods in ancient Philosophy!

For the Greeks the inner principle of all things was movement, and so for instance the flame strove/moved up while the rock strove down.  We say of the mansion that it is houseness incarnate, “Now that’s what I mean by a house” as though houseness was appearing/presencing through the mansion, and by contrast was “merely present” in the average house, and was presencing deficiently through the dilapidated old shack.  And so Socrates says with the beautiful thing beauty is “present” along with it.  Presence and presencing is thus the basic characteristic of Being for the Greeks.  Aristotle clarifies this in the Physics that it is not the abstract concept “Art” that is the really real and the painting just a mere particular, but rather the true work of Art defines Being, like how a painting might be the inception of the more general cubism movement. 

Homer says the gods don’t appear to everyone in their fullness, and so a woman might be presenscing like a goddess to Odysseus, but not so to the man beside him.  When the Greeks speak of God or theos, they primarily mean an event, which could be the goddess appearing through the radiant woman, or even the god appearing when someone walks in a certain way. Aristotle thus says for the Greeks movement is the basic determination of beings, and it essentially is an appearing/presencing out of that which is not movement/appearing.  In this way Aristotle talks about a prime mover as an unmoved that movement emerges out of, like the emergence/presencing of houseness incarnate to me out of the mansion. 

Houseness presences through the mansion out of nothing, out of no prior presencing/appearing/movement.  In this way Aristotle’s god or unmoved mover has little relation to what later writers did by hijacking  his God into a Christian framework.  Motion means that something which is in motion occupies a place and leaves that place behind already in occupying it; what is in motion is extant in one place and simultaneously not extant in the same place. This is what Plato already noticed: Motion is determined by a contradictory predicate.  Movement needs to be thought out of a non presencing/non moving/non appearing to be thought at all.  Kant thus said motion in the everyday sense can’t be grasped by logic.

Callaso helpfully outlines:

  • Yet there was a time when the gods were not just a literary clich?, but an event, a sudden apparition, an encounter with bandits perhaps, or the sighting of a ship. And it didn’t even have to be a vision of the whole. Ajax Oileus recognized Poseidon disguised as Calchas from his gait. He saw him walking from behind and knew it was Poseidon “from his feet, his legs.”  Since for us everything begins with Homer, we can ask ourselves: which words did he use for such events? By the time the Trojan War broke out, the gods were already coming to earth less frequently than in an earlier age. Only a generation before, Zeus had fathered Sarpedon on a mortal woman. All the gods had turned up for the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. But now Zeus no longer showed himself to men; he sent other Olympians along to do his exploring for him: Hermes, Athena, Apollo. And it was getting harder to see them. Odysseus admits as much to Athena: “Arduous it is, oh goddess, to recognize you, even for one who knows much.” The Hymn to Demeter offers the plainest comment: “Difficult are the gods for men to see.” Every primordial age is one in which it is said that the gods have almost disappeared. Only to the select few, chosen by divine will, do they show themselves: “The gods do not appear to everyone in all their fullness [enargeis],” the Odyssey tells us. Enargeis is the terminus technicus for divine epiphany: an adjective that contains the dazzle of “white,” argos, but which ultimately comes to designate a pure and unquestionable “conspicuousness.” It’s the kind of “conspicuousness” that will later be inherited by poetry, thus becoming perhaps the characteristic that distinguishes poetry from every other form.  But how does a god make himself manifest? In the Greek language the word theos, “god,” has no vocative case, observed the illustrious linguist Jakob Wackernagel. Theos has a predicative function: it designates something that happens. There is a wonderful example of this in Euripides’ Helen: “O theoi. theos gar kai to gigno’ skein philous”–“O gods: recognizing the beloved is god.” Kerenyi thought that the distinguishing quality of the Greek world was this habit of “saying of an event: ‘It is theos.'” And an event referred to as being the?s could easily become Zeus, the most vast and all-inclusive of gods, the god who is the background noise of the divine. So when Aratus set out to describe the phenomena of the cosmos, he began his poem thus: “From Zeus let our beginning be, from he whom men never leave unnamed. Full of Zeus are the paths and the places where men meet, full of Zeus the sea and the seaports. Every one of us and in every way has need of Zeus. Indeed we are his offspring.”  “Iovis omnia plena,” Virgil would later write, and in these words we hear his assurance that this was a presence to be found everywhere in the world, in the multiplicity of its events, in the intertwining of its forms. And we also hear a great familiarity, almost a recklessness, in the way the divine is mentioned, as though to encounter divinity was hardly unusual, but rather something that could be expected, or provoked. The word atheos, on the other hand, was only rarely used to refer to those who didn’t believe in the gods. More often it meant to be abandoned by the gods, meant that they had chosen to withdraw from all commerce with men. Aratus was writing in the third century b.c., but what became of this experience that for him was so obvious and all-pervasive in the centuries that followed? How did time affect it? Did it dissolve it, destroy it, alter and empty it beyond recognition? Or is it something that still reaches out to us, whole and unscathed? And if so, where, how?

I talked last time about Anaximander, Browning, and Montgomery about something special happening that makes everything in your life fall into place out of the usual disjointedness, and so to speak figuratively “God’s in his heaven and all is right with the world:” The great invisible jointure of all beings and the human.  Heraclitus refers to such joined beings as the “shimmering harmony” (harmonia phanere). Yet in Heidegger’s  view, Heraclitus’s chief concern was not with beings but with the “non appearing harmony” (harmonia aphanes), that is, the “hidden” joining and ordering motion through and throughout all beings.

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