Bart Ehrman and Real Jock StephenOABC "On an Introduction to the New Testament"

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    Sep 28, 2014 11:01 AM GMT
    Bart Ehrman:

    First, the way I was thinking of the New Testament books in broad terms was completely different. I was not thinking simply about the “canon of the New Testament,” where the only thing of interest were the books that Christians had at some point decided to call Scripture. I saw the books of the New Testament as *some* of the literature produced by the early Christians; and I saw *all* of the early Christian writings as some of the religious literature of the Greco-Roman world. Looking at the New Testament in this way had several fairly important and even radical implications, which I’ll talk about in this post and the next.

    To begin with, if the books of the New Testament are simply *some* of the early Christian writings, then an Introduction to them has to situate them in relation to the other early Christian writings at the time. That is their literary context. One has to deal with these other writings then, for example, other early Gospels (The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, etc.), or other early apocalypses (the Apocalypse of Peter; the Shepherd of Hermas); and so on. I was so convinced that you cannot really understand the New Testament without knowing about the broader literary context within which it stood that I was bound and determined not to call my book an Introduction to the New Testament – as if these 27 books were the only ones that mattered in the history of early Christianity.
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    Sep 28, 2014 11:02 AM GMT

    When I think of an Historical Approach to the New Testament, the first thing I think of is the historical accuracy of the content. The second thing I think of is the historical context: literature under Roman occupation, under Rome dealing with an uprising, under Rome putting down an uprising, under Rome not wanting to deal with another rebellion anytime soon; under Rome which put an end to the biblical Jesus's earthly ministry, under Rome which, very importantly, supplanted or usurped the Son of Man's Kingdom of Heaven/Righteousness--Rome which didn't necessarily come like a thief in the night, but certainly did steal Jerusalem, took away the treasures of the Temple, destroyed the City, destroyed the Temple, destroyed Temple Judaism, destroyed Masada.

    When I think of an Historical Approach to the New Testament, I think primarily of what was written no later than 95 Common Era. Maybe a modern investigative reporter or an archaeologist can uncover something to add to biblical accounts circa 27 - 36 Common Era (for Jesus). But then again, historical accounts about Jesus and all his wonders needs to have been written no later than 40 Common Era. The flurry of gospels were written after: 1) the death of other Jewish purists a) King Izates [50 C.E.], b) Queen Helena [no later than 56 C.E.], and c) James the brother of Jesus [64-66 C.E.; 2) the start of the Jewish Revolt in 66 or 67 Common Era and/ or when sacrifices for the well-being of the Roman Emperor stopped; 3) the Destruction of the Temple by Rome, 70 CE; and 4) the end of the Jewish Revolt, 73 C.E. The flurry of gospels being written after all these suggest an impetus not of the wonders of Jesus 27 - 36 C.E. but the need for a collection of writings that calm the rebellious nature of Roman subjects. And, that's what the New Testament is, a book to build character away from rebelling against Rome.

    Given Rome's indispensable contextual value, we must explore even further the great story of a man sacrificed so others can live. When we do this, we come to the historian Livy (64 or 59 BCE to 17 CE). For the full reference, see The History of Rome 8,9. Briefly, the following: "Decius exclaimed: Valerius, we need the help of the gods! Come now, you are a state pontiff[!, I'm adding emphasis on the word pontiff] of the Roman people--dictate the formula whereby I may devote myself to save the legions..." Decius Mus was did lose his life for victory which is a model for victory in Jesus. The sacrifice of Jesus is palatable for Roman ears where Christianity survived in Roman Christianity. Decius Mus saved a military advance and that was the military good news. Decius Mundus would be a savior of the world, a Christian claim. The character Decius Mundus appears in the second of three passages in Antiquities of the Jews, written by the Roman historian, Josephus. The first passage is the Testimonium Flavianum where Josephus speaks of Jesus being crucified by Pilate and appearing to loved ones after his death. Jesus who died to save others (only he was taken from the Garden of Gethsemene, saving his disciples from capture, let alone saving people by dying for the sins of the world) is linked to Decius Mus who died for his followers, let alone Rome or whatever the stakes were in the battle being fought. So, Jesus is Decius Mundus who appears to a loving devotee on the third day. Josephus, an insider to Rome's patronage of Christian literature, whistleblows a fact of Christianity to us at the end of the Decius Mundus passage and in the third passage of the three.

    So, a historical approach to the New Testament brings its readers to the mountains of Christian History: Rome's governance of Palestine, the gospels/military good news of Rome's keeping the peace in the area, Rome's historians, Rome's propaganda to quell descent, Rome's theft of the treasures of the Temple, Rome's theft of Temple Judaism and Jesus's Kingdom of God/Heaven/Righteousness.
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    Sep 28, 2014 11:10 AM GMT
    Another reader of the blog wrote:

    Hi again Mr. Ehrman. According to this recent article:, you’re now reconsidering whether or not Jesus was a pacifist. Have Reza Aslan and Dale Martin got under your skin? or do you still hold that the story of Jesus’ armed disciples was simply a set-up for him to deliver the famous line “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword”? Keen to hear your new thoughts on this question.

    Bart Ehrman responded:
    YEs, I may discuss it on the blog at some point!

    I responded:

    Now that I’ve written my reply, below and I am enjoying other replies to your post, I come to this one. When I was writing about Decius Mus showing the similarity of Decius Mus giving his life to save his army, I wrote that Jesus gave his life when he was captured and his followers were not. To complete the parallel, Decius Mus : Jesus AND Decius Mus and army : Jesus and army. Peter wasn’t the only one armed when Jesus was captured in the garden / near the garden.
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    Sep 30, 2014 6:40 AM GMT
    "The flurry of gospels being written after all these suggest an impetus not of the wonders of Jesus 27 – 36 C.E. but the need for a collection of writings that calm the rebellious nature of Roman subjects."

    And why the need to write them in Greek and the need of patrons to have them written in Greek? Did Rome believe its destruction of Jerusalem would lead to a better sitting of Hellenism in Judea?

    Some teach that there was an oral tradition. If the oral origin was Aramaic (and Jesus reading synagogue scriptures in Hebrew and Aramaic), why did the written preservation of the oral tradition flip to Greek? Well, the patrons were Greek speakers, they surely would not have been the Temple authorities whom Jesus criticized.

    Queen "Helena" probably could be classified as a Hellenist. When this question came to me earlier when I was writing the first edition of The Greatest Bible Study in Historical Accuracy, I could not get people in Adiabene or Edessa to use the Greek language. What was it, Syriac? The Parthians contemporary Armenians didn't seem to be the height of cultural refinement--probably, partially the reason why Queen Helena preferred the cosmopolitan setting of Jerusalem under Rome. She moved there when Herod the Great certainly was giving pull factors in building projects. What affluent and top 10% would not have wanted to experience Jerusalem at that time?

    At church Sunday, the minister was setting the stage for the biblical Jesus' entrance to the Jerusalem scene. Again, there was mention that there is no proof that Jesus addressed the Hellenists. I say, "again," because when Highland Park UMC - Kerygma teaching service was covering Acts, the same thing was said then. Can we really say Saint Stephen didn't hear Jesus speak and was so impressed that his loyalty led to martyrdom?

    Still, the writing down of the Gospels in Greek does not happen until the vacuum created by the destruction of Temple Judaism. (And the New York University course I took circa 1983-1984 taught by F. E. Peters, author of "The Children of Abraham" and other books still provides structure to my understanding of Judaism.)
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    Sep 30, 2014 7:20 AM GMT
    Look at this: F. E. Peters wrote a book called, The Harvest of Hellenism: A History of the Near East from Alexander the Great to the Triumph of Christianity. (Unfortunately, at amazon, there's no look inside so we can see the table of contents.)

    Dr. Ehrman, have you had a chance to read anything by Dr. Peters? Maybe the book above when writing Early Christianities?

    Look what one reviewer says about Peters' book: "Immensely informative, never dull, often written with an eye for the absurd and humorous, the book describes both the history and the cultural phenomena from the death of Alexander the Great to Constantine. Chapters of history alternate with chapters on various philosophies. The rise of Christianity is delineated without bias--which I found very pleasant, as I am not a Christian enthusiast. The various conflicts of the early Christian sects are well-explained, as is the incredibly complicated politics of the entire region, and for the first time, I found Greek philosophical movements like the Epicurians and the Pythagoreans understandable. In the past quarter century, I must have reread the book half a dozen times."

    P.S.: yes, there was a vacuum created by the destruction of Temple Judaism, but not just the actual destruction but earlier, when it became evident. (Some would say it was evident to the biblical Jesus who made a prophecy approximately 40 years before Rome's victory.) So, the early dating of the publishing of the Gospel of Mark could still be a preparation for something to replace militant, messianic Judaism.