(Part 5) 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

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

(Part 4) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus


(i) What I consider to be the big takeaways from Ehrman’s lecture number 3: Ehrman un-covers the hidden historical Jesus’s teachings through historical reasoning:

  • Jesus’ ethical teachings were deeply rooted in his apocalyptic views: since the end was near, people needed to prepare for it by turning their lives around. Otherwise they would be destroyed on the imminent day of judgment.  How then are people to live? On this, Jesus’ teachings were similar to the Hebrew prophets Amos and Isaiah. God was not interested in “religious” practices or high spirituality per se. He wanted his people to take care of those in need, the hungry, the homeless, the outcast, the neglected. Jesus insisted they devote their entire lives to the task, even if it meant selling everything and giving to the poor. (Bart Ehrman)

This time professor Ehrman invites us to consider Jesus’s moral teaching as they go against the later Christian bias of promoting belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection as leading to salvation.  Rather, right behavior toward the needy is your ticket to the coming Kingdom.  Jesus’s moral teachings can’t be understood in a vacuum, and need to be taken in their apocalyptic context.  Jesus in our earliest sources does not teach faith in his death and resurrection, but that the Kingdom will arrive soon and people need to behave the way God wants them to behave to other people like widows, orphans, and strangers in order to enter the Kingdom.  In Amos as Jesus’ precursor there is exploitation of the poor and sexual immorality, etc and God is angry at this and is going to punish them (in a non-apocalyptic context in Amos’s case).  Being really religious will not save them.  In Amos and Isaiah sacrifice of animals is of no avail, God wanting people to behave.  People need to live Just lives socially, politically, and economically.   Jesus comes from this tradition understanding himself as a Jew and believing in the Hebrew bible and the law. 

It has long been known the law is vague and general, so it’s hard to know how to obey the rules: eg., what constitutes not working on the sabbath?  In early Judaism there are all sorts of debates going on over all sorts of topics and Jesus is one of these voices.  Jesus doesn’t say it’s always right to work on the sabbath, but it’s better to help someone on the sabbath than do nothing.  When laws come in conflict you follow the more important law.  The most important Torah law is love of God, which is accomplished through the second most important of love of neighbor. 

Jesus says love of God was the most important law in the Torah, and love of neighbor was the second most important.  This isn’t psychological analysis, but rather as you take care of yourself with shelter, clothes, and food, you should care for your neighbor in the same way.   Love of God isn’t a feeling for God but doing what God wants you to do.  Amos and Isaiah say religious observance is not ultimately what God wants.  Jesus preached God would destroy evil at the end of the age, which included the temple.  The pharisees did not live lives of love toward others, so God would judge them.

Jesus indicates a number of antitheses in the sermon on the mount, where as the traditional view is God doesn’t want murder, but to really get a the root of the problem you shouldn’t even get angry.  That’s what God really wants.  Jesus says God doesn’t want you to just have a checklist of rules, but to give God your heart in doing what he wants you to do. 

Jesus does not, as in Leviticus, say love of neighbor just means other Jews.  Rather, take care of those in need regardless of whether they sare you religion and nationality (parable of the Good Samaritan).  People are welcomed into the Kingdom if they cared for the least of the people, and judged if they did not care for those in need.  It makes sense that the historical Jesus said this because after his death his followers thought salvation came through believing in his death and resurrection, whereas the story of the saved sheep and judged goats says the key is caring for the needy – so it’s unlikely later Christians would have invented it. 

Believing in Jesus has nothing to do with salvation here.  Jesus thought the end was imminent, so people needed to love their neighbor radically, hence love of enemy: wish for what is right and do what is right for those who hate and persecute you.   Similarly, Jesus is asked by a rich man how to get eternal life, and Jesus says keep the commandments and sell everything for the poor (compare camel, eye of a needle saying).  The disciples gave up everything to follow Jesus and he praised them for it.  Don’t worry about eating or what you wear, because that is how close Jesus thought the end was.

In the earliest parts of the synoptics (Mark Matthew Luke), Jesus teaches salvation through caring living, not belief in Jesus and his death/resurrection.  Next time, we move on to Paul.

Now, recall that our New Testament writers were highly educated native Greek speakers, so let’s learn some more from the Greeks:

  • (ii) Further un-hiding the essence of humanity with the Greeks

Heidegger addresses Protagoras’s “Man is the measure of all things, of those that are [der seienden], that they are, of those that are not, that they are not” (Pantōn chrēmatōn metron estin anthrōpos, tōn men ontōn hōs estin, tōn de me ontōn hōs ouk estin [cited in Plato’s Theaetetus, 385E ff.]).  This is obviously wrong, so perhaps Protagoras was a fool.  But, Plato warns against such an average reading.  In view of this thoughtful circumspection on Protagoras’ part, it is no wonder that Socrates says of him (Plato,Theaetetus 152b), Eikos mentoi sophon andra mē legein (“We may suppose that he [Protagoras], as a sensible person, was not [in his statement about man as the metron] simply babbling” [“Well, what a wise man says is not likely to be nonsense”—Cornford]).  Let’s unpack this.

The Greeks thought of Being in terms of presencing and presence, and so “housensess” may presence for you incarnate through the mansion as exemplar (now that’s what I mean when I say “house”), be merely present for you in the average house, and be deficiently present in the run down shack.  Of course the mansion might presence or appear gawdy to the next person, the poet Homer noting the gods don’t appear to everyone in their fullness (enargeis).  Similarly, the run down cottage may appear quaint or rustic to someone else.  We develop criteria to assess and evaluste appearing, eg assessing fine wine, although ultimately these fall at the feet of the person (someone may hate the taste of wine, in which case the criteria of fineness are meaningless to them).  Similarly, in ethics, 9’ll may appear horrific, or the most holy, depending on who you ask.  Heidegger thus clarifies Protagoras’ statement as: “man receives and preserves the measure [Maβ as extent] of that which presences and that which absences,” which we can now understand.  Eg.,  in thinking, not I thought up an idea, but it came to me.  I stayed up all night trying in futility to solve the problem when suddenly the answer came to me.  Analogously, I don’t know why I requested that song, it just came to mind.

This relates to the luster of beings (eonta).  The understanding of light as the noble and lustrous” in the Greek follows, among older sources, Pindar’s usage of the notion of glimmering Gold, “‘goldea’ So that we may hear more clearly this word and what it calls, let us recollect a poem of Pindar’s: Isthmians V. At the beginning of this ode the poet calls gold periosion panton, that which above all shines through everything, shines through each thing present all around. The splendor of gold keeps and holds everything present in the unconcealedness of its appearing (PLT, L, 20 1 ).”  Beings that elicit our concern have a radiance or luster, the way lighting a cabdle in the dark attracts the eye. 

Heidegger himself sees all of this in relation to Pindar, which will be important for us in a moment: Fr. 29 of Heraclitus also names the polloi next to the aristoi (the best). In Fr. 1, the polloi are compared with the apeiroisin, with the untried, who are contrasted with ego, that is, with Heraclitus … The many do not strive, like the noble minded, after the radiance of eternal glory; they indulge in transitory things and therefore do not see the one … Pindar also connected gold, and thus the radiant, with fire and lighting (HS, 22; also cf HS, 106-7).””There is one thing which the best prefer to all else; eternal glory rather than transient things.” Heidegger also treats this passage at IM, 103-4).  Plato determined whatness, to ti einai, as what is constant in something despite the various particular instances of it (houseness, for instance). I’ll consider the “constant” below in a moment.  For Plato, the particulars are me on, not nothing, ouk on, but deficient with respect to the universal because a particular is not in the fullness of its possibilities but restricted to a particular form. It is in relation to, for instance, houseness that is seen in advance by  the mind’s eye, that the particular houses can be encountered as such, especially in Heraclitus Fr. 54, aphanes, what “does not appear.”  If we don’t have the idea of grapeness in mind we will not be successful at grocery shopping.

Illustrating having an idea before the mind’s eye, during the first world war, it was reported that a certain fort had been taken, and looking through binoculars at the fort it was confirmed that friendly soldiers were indeed perched on the wall and friendly flags were flying. The outcome was disastrous because the fort was later approached as though it was friendly, and it turned out the fort had not actually been taken, but that the person looking through the binoculars saw friendly flags and soldiers because he had seen them there in advance – since he had been previously told there were there. The initial mistake “became the ground” of the incorrect seeing.

Aristotle, Plato’s disciple, relates at one place (Nicomachean Ethics, Z 7, 1141b 77ff ) the basic conception determining the Greek view on the essence of the thinker: ‘It is said they (the thinkers) indeed know things that are excessive, and thus astounding, and thereby difficult, and hence in general ‘demonic (daimonia)’- but also useless, for they are not seeking what is, according to the straightforward popular opinion, good for man.’ … The Greeks, to whom we owe the essence and name of ‘philosophy’ and of the ‘philosopher,’ already knew quite well that thinkers are not ‘close to life.’ But only the Greeks concluded from this lack of closeness to life that the thinkers are then the most necessary – precisely in view of the essential misery of man.  Aristotle says Philosophical life, if it is maintained over the whole of one’s life by being understood as the proper one, is a kind of deathlessness, athanatizein, since the comportment that relates to and hence apprehends the eternal, the unchanging, must itself be unchanging, must not stray but tarry with the unchanging, and hence in a sense is deathless.  Heidegger summarizes  “Therein resides the peculiar tendency of the accommodation of the temporality of human life to the eternity of the world … This is the extreme position to which the Greeks carried human life (PS, 122).” 

The masses, by contrast, randomly latch on to whatever is temporarily calling them at the time only to have the luster fade and the search for the next distraction begins anew.  We can see our essential homelessness when we are stuck in a rainy cottage with nothing to distract us and our inner restlessness pushes to the surface as cabin fever.  Life is thus being-addicted, and cabin fever is withdrawal from distractions.  Aristotle says anyone who delights in solitude is either a beast or a god: see my post here.  Burckhardt, adopting the insight of his teacher Bockh, structured his teaching of the Greeks around the ground that “the Hellenes were more unhappy than most people think (P, 90; also cf. BQP, 40).” A young Nietzsche attained an auditor’s transcript of this lecture and, as Heidegger says, “cherished the manuscript as his most precious treasure (90).”  There is a famous story about Nietzsche in a rainy cottage where everyone was going stir crazy but he felt great working on his third untimely meditation.

For Plato one of the key ideas was kala, the beautiful, because that idea of the beautiful, as Plato says in the Phaedrus is what is most radiant and sparkling in the sensuous realm, in a way that, as such brilliance, it lets Being scintillate at the same time.  So, when we say the mansion is houseness incarnate, “that’s what I mean when I say house!,” we co-mean it is beautiful.

Hence, Heidegger is able to connect Heraclitus’ fire with the lustrous radiance of the gold of Pindar, “[t]he hearth is the site of being-homely … Latin vesta is the Roman name for the goddess of the hearth fire … para: alongside – beside, or more precisely, in the sphere of the same presence; parestios, the one who is present within the sphere of protection and intimacy belonging to the homestead and who belongs to the radiance and warmth and glow of this fire (HHTI, 106, my emphasis). ” In this way the Greeks saw human existence as a tragedy, going from the fire and being-absorbed of youth to the tedium and listlessness of old age: In a famous passage from Homer Apollo says ‘”Why should I do battle for the sake of mere mortals!’ exclaims the sun god, ‘mortals, who are as wretched as the leaves on the trees, flourishing at first, enjoying the fruits of the earth, but then, no longer having their hearts in life (akerioi), vanishing (1, 21, 464-66).”

How are we to understand the hearth and the one in the sphere of its warmth and protection, parestios?   Philosophers are said to pursue only the fantastic, and so when people come to philosophers, they too wish to find the fantastic, where they can temporarily satiate their desires. And yet, for the men who came to Heraclitus and saw him warming himself at the stove, they were disappointed because there was nothing of the extraordinary. Heraclitus, noticing their disappointment, called to them and said for them to come in, for even there at the stove “the gods come to presence (Pa, LH, 270).”  We often hear, a new song that, for whatever reason, we deem to be our new favourite and hence buy the song so that we can play it over and over again. What happens, though, is not that the song in any way changes, but over time and repetitive playing the song loses the lustre it originally had for us so that we no longer are so concerned to hear it at every possible juncture – if at all anymore.

We can see with Pindar the idea of the lustrous gold that permeates and links all beings (the sun shone Dora, the birds sang Dora in Dickens).  But beings are also lustrous in the negative that presses upon us (eg a stomach ache casts a pall on all beings).  Heraclitus thus speaks of a Logos as the first principle.  Just as the logos of Heraclitus, as we shall soon see, as legein, is primarily that which concerns us, so too is the noein of Parmenides, which is why Heidegger says Parmenides and Heraclitus agree in their basic position. Noein is a perception, not in the sense of a mere gaping perception, but rather “what is perceived concerns us in such a way that we take it up specifically, and do something with it … We take it to heart (WCT, 203).”  This is the sense that Heraclitus’ gathering and laying logos still bears within it, following the older cognate of that word, “[t]he old word alego (alpha copulativum), archaic after Aeschylus and Pindar, should be recalled here: something ‘lies upon me,’ it oppresses and troubles me.” (EGT, Logos: Heraclitus fragment, 60) In this regard, for the Greeks, even pain, as that which troubles me is involved here, as pain is also what concerns us, and so serves the same function of alego, “the Greek word for pain, namely, algos … [is presumably] related to alego, which as the intensivum of lego means intimate gathering. In that case, pain would be that which gathers most intimately.” (Pa, OQB, 305-6). 

But why then does Heraclitus identify the first principle of beings as such and as a whole the Logos, which usually means language?  With a logos (eg., the dog is black), the form is something as something (the dog as black), or more specifically something as something else.  And so for a being to be it must be related to in terms of something other than itself (blackness).  In this Plato in the Sophist called the position that thought beings to be simple the most laughable, because to be a being it must first be seen in the light of concepts like (einai) Being, (choris) separate from, (ton allown) the others, and (kath auto) in itself.  There belongs to both kataphasis (affirmation) and apophasis (denial)  a diairesis (taking apart) and a synthesis (putting together), a taking apart of the original whole and a putting them back together in the form of the “as.”  The addressing something as something, as a being, addresses a being in terms of what is beyond it, namely its Being.  We could not encounter equal beings, for instance, unless we already had the idea of equality before our mind’s eye in the light of which the equal beings could be seen as what and how they are.

Heidegger translating Pindar’s Nemean Ode III, 70, in his 1953 book Introduction to Metaphysics, “in venturesome exploration of the entity [there] is manifested perfection.” (IM, 113) Pindar’s usage is identical with what Heidegger understands Heraclitus to mean by the term polemos, “not mere quarreling and wrangling but the conflict of the conflicting, that sets the essential and the nonessential, the high and the low, in their limits and makes them manifest.” (IM, 1 13-4)

Aristotle adopts Heraclitus insight into the Logos and defines man as the living being with speech (logon), not meaning man is a rational animal (since no animal is susceptible to irrationality to the degree man is), but rather man allows beings to present themselves as they are in a “something as something else,” eg I encounter the dog as not-me, or Dave in the light of the concept of “in itself (eg, who Dave is, not in terms of his favorite garnish or his dandruff, but who he is in his ownmost self)” 

Man’s basic stance is “taking as” and so if I hear a living thing in the woods only to look down and see it was rustling dead leaves, this “mis-taking” shows that our normal way of being in the world is “taking something as something,” which is speaking beings as what and how they are.  To be a being, as Nietzsche noted, Life, in the sense we say thinkers are not close to life (eg., Thales falling in a ditch), is then the totality of what presses on me.

For My Scriptures Study Index SEE