Remembering the Constructed Biblical Jesus and Why This Is or Is Not Important

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    May 05, 2015 2:14 AM GMT
    Bart Ehrman:

    The comment that I sometimes get from readers that I find puzzling or disheartening is when they tell me that if there is something in the Gospels that is not historical, then it cannot be true, and if it is not true, then it is not worth reading. My sense is that many readers will find it puzzling or even disheartening that I find this view puzzling and disheartening. But I do.

    But even though I do deal with the Bible as a historian, I do not personally think that is the only way to deal with the Bible, and I find it disheartening when readers think that once the Gospels are shown to have discrepancies, implausibilities, and historical mistakes that we should just get rid of them and move on to other things.

    I find that disheartening because the Gospels are so much more than historical sources. They are memories of early Christians about the one they considered to be the most important person ever to walk the planet. Yes, these memories are all distorted, when seen from the perspective of historical reality. But that doesn’t rob them of their value. It simply makes them memories. All memories are distorted.

    Is Dickens’s great novel David Copperfield of no value because its main character didn’t actually live? Well, that’s different you say, because it’s fiction. Yes indeed, it’s fiction. And fiction can be life-transforming because it is full of meaning — even though it never happened. Or consider further: can historical discoveries undermine the power of great literature?

    The Gospels are shared memories of the past. Yes, they can be scrutinized by historians who want to get a better sense of what actually happened in the life of Jesus. That’s what I do for a living. But if they were only that, they would be dry, banal, and frankly rather uninteresting to anyone except those with rather peculiar antiquarian interests. The Gospels are more than historical sources. They are deeply rooted and profound memories of a man whose memories ended up transforming the entire world.

    Does it matter if Jesus really delivered the Sermon on the Mount the way it is described in Matthew 5-7? It matters to me historically. But if Jesus didn’t deliver the sermon, would it be any less powerful? Not in the least. It is, and in my view deserves to be, one of the greatest accounts of ethical teaching in the history of the planet.

    Does it matter if Jesus really healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead? Does it matter if he himself was raised from the dead? But if these stories are not historically accurate, does that rob them of their literary power? Not in my books. They are terrifically moving accounts. Understanding what they are trying to say means understanding some of the most uplifting and influential literature that the planet has ever seen.

    Christian memory is particularly and uniquely important. Christian memory transformed our world. Christian memory brought about a revolution in the history of Western Civilization. Christian memory continues to influence billions of lives in our world today. Ultimately, of course, Christian memory goes back to the earliest memories of Jesus. These too need to be studied, both for what they can tell us about the historical person who stands behind the memory, but also about those who came in his wake, who remembered him and passed along their memories to those of us living today.
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    May 05, 2015 2:43 AM GMT
    Steefen/Stephenoabc

    What we hold sacred has to be of the highest quality. I can end my comment there.

    Second, people have been tortured and killed for the contents of the gospels; and, people have subjected themselves to torture and death for the quality of the contents of the gospels.

    As a corollary, people have tortured and killed others because they had a life bet on the accuracy of the gospels. People have diminished the lives of others because they held the "gospel truth" standard. Children! Children have committed suicide because they were outside of the community of the heaven-bound gospel standard. People have rejected lonely people who had higher standards of the rational as compared to the gospel truth standard. People have blamed the victim on their dying bed because they transgressed not only the gospel truth but God's Word--remembered incorrectly or worse?

    Do you think after being imprisoned for millennia people are not going to fly the coop? You're the guard who says, "Stay."

    We stay for what Jesus deserves. We do not play hit and giggle tennis with the meanings of life, death, life after death, and life between lives. You've seen someone off at the airport. You know there is a substantial distance that will be covered and a substantial place of landing. That is the way it is when people see someone off on their death bed. The vehicle, the crossing over, and the landing are substantial engineering. This is real, not literature. And then, you have Paul building flaw on top of flaw: we are going to have a resurrection body like Jesus--a resurrected body that Mary Magdalene and the disciples didn't even recognize. And, Jesus did not literally raise Lazarus on the fourth day and "God" did not literally raise Jesus on the third day (that's more Hebrew literature, Hosea 6: 1-2).
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    May 07, 2015 3:43 PM GMT
    StephenOABC saidBart Ehrman:

    The comment that I sometimes get from readers that I find puzzling or disheartening is when they tell me that if there is something in the Gospels that is not historical, then it cannot be true, and if it is not true, then it is not worth reading. My sense is that many readers will find it puzzling or even disheartening that I find this view puzzling and disheartening. But I do.

    But even though I do deal with the Bible as a historian, I do not personally think that is the only way to deal with the Bible, and I find it disheartening when readers think that once the Gospels are shown to have discrepancies, implausibilities, and historical mistakes that we should just get rid of them and move on to other things.

    I find that disheartening because the Gospels are so much more than historical sources. They are memories of early Christians about the one they considered to be the most important person ever to walk the planet. Yes, these memories are all distorted, when seen from the perspective of historical reality. But that doesn’t rob them of their value. It simply makes them memories. All memories are distorted.

    Is Dickens’s great novel David Copperfield of no value because its main character didn’t actually live? Well, that’s different you say, because it’s fiction. Yes indeed, it’s fiction. And fiction can be life-transforming because it is full of meaning — even though it never happened. Or consider further: can historical discoveries undermine the power of great literature?

    The Gospels are shared memories of the past. Yes, they can be scrutinized by historians who want to get a better sense of what actually happened in the life of Jesus. That’s what I do for a living. But if they were only that, they would be dry, banal, and frankly rather uninteresting to anyone except those with rather peculiar antiquarian interests. The Gospels are more than historical sources. They are deeply rooted and profound memories of a man whose memories ended up transforming the entire world.

    Does it matter if Jesus really delivered the Sermon on the Mount the way it is described in Matthew 5-7? It matters to me historically. But if Jesus didn’t deliver the sermon, would it be any less powerful? Not in the least. It is, and in my view deserves to be, one of the greatest accounts of ethical teaching in the history of the planet.

    Does it matter if Jesus really healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead? Does it matter if he himself was raised from the dead? But if these stories are not historically accurate, does that rob them of their literary power? Not in my books. They are terrifically moving accounts. Understanding what they are trying to say means understanding some of the most uplifting and influential literature that the planet has ever seen.

    Christian memory is particularly and uniquely important. Christian memory transformed our world. Christian memory brought about a revolution in the history of Western Civilization. Christian memory continues to influence billions of lives in our world today. Ultimately, of course, Christian memory goes back to the earliest memories of Jesus. These too need to be studied, both for what they can tell us about the historical person who stands behind the memory, but also about those who came in his wake, who remembered him and passed along their memories to those of us living today.


    Reply from Someone Else:

    No two soldiers remember the same battle.

    History isn't journalism.
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    May 07, 2015 3:50 PM GMT
    StephenOABC saidBart Ehrman:

    The comment that I sometimes get from readers that I find puzzling or disheartening is when they tell me that if there is something in the Gospels that is not historical, then it cannot be true, and if it is not true, then it is not worth reading. My sense is that many readers will find it puzzling or even disheartening that I find this view puzzling and disheartening. But I do.

    But even though I do deal with the Bible as a historian, I do not personally think that is the only way to deal with the Bible, and I find it disheartening when readers think that once the Gospels are shown to have discrepancies, implausibilities, and historical mistakes that we should just get rid of them and move on to other things.

    I find that disheartening because the Gospels are so much more than historical sources. They are memories of early Christians about the one they considered to be the most important person ever to walk the planet. Yes, these memories are all distorted, when seen from the perspective of historical reality. But that doesn’t rob them of their value. It simply makes them memories. All memories are distorted.

    Is Dickens’s great novel David Copperfield of no value because its main character didn’t actually live? Well, that’s different you say, because it’s fiction. Yes indeed, it’s fiction. And fiction can be life-transforming because it is full of meaning — even though it never happened. Or consider further: can historical discoveries undermine the power of great literature?

    The Gospels are shared memories of the past. Yes, they can be scrutinized by historians who want to get a better sense of what actually happened in the life of Jesus. That’s what I do for a living. But if they were only that, they would be dry, banal, and frankly rather uninteresting to anyone except those with rather peculiar antiquarian interests. The Gospels are more than historical sources. They are deeply rooted and profound memories of a man whose memories ended up transforming the entire world.

    Does it matter if Jesus really delivered the Sermon on the Mount the way it is described in Matthew 5-7? It matters to me historically. But if Jesus didn’t deliver the sermon, would it be any less powerful? Not in the least. It is, and in my view deserves to be, one of the greatest accounts of ethical teaching in the history of the planet.

    Does it matter if Jesus really healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead? Does it matter if he himself was raised from the dead? But if these stories are not historically accurate, does that rob them of their literary power? Not in my books. They are terrifically moving accounts. Understanding what they are trying to say means understanding some of the most uplifting and influential literature that the planet has ever seen.

    Christian memory is particularly and uniquely important. Christian memory transformed our world. Christian memory brought about a revolution in the history of Western Civilization. Christian memory continues to influence billions of lives in our world today. Ultimately, of course, Christian memory goes back to the earliest memories of Jesus. These too need to be studied, both for what they can tell us about the historical person who stands behind the memory, but also about those who came in his wake, who remembered him and passed along their memories to those of us living today.


    A Member Reply:

    The French Dominican biblical scholar and archaeologist Roland de Vaux noted that “if the historical faith of Israel is not founded in history, such faith is erroneous, and therefore, our faith is also.”
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    May 07, 2015 4:12 PM GMT
    A Member Reply:

    The French Dominican biblical scholar and archaeologist Roland de Vaux noted that “if the historical faith of Israel is not founded in history, such faith is erroneous, and therefore, our faith is also.”


    Stephenoabc / Steefen

    The historical faith of Israel is not founded in accurate history.

    The 23rd Psalm with rod and staff comfort me is Egyptian.
    In the valley of the shadow of death, one finds Egyptian royals with what over a sarcophagus?

    Answer: a rod and staff (flail and crook, an Osirian icon; hence, David's famous psalm is about Osiris.

    In fact, as I imply in my book, The Greatest Bible Study in Historical Accuracy: Insights on the Exodus, King David, The 23rd Psalm, Jesus and Paul, First Edition, the 23rd Psalm suggests an amduat.

    Second, the Star of David / City of David actually refers to Tanis, Egypt if one wants to speak of a great kingdom during the time of the biblical King David. Look at the cartouche of the pharaoh (Psusennes) of Tanis and you will find a star. The star of David is the star of the pharaoh, or, it honors (or dishonors) that pharaoh.