Friday, May 2, 2014

How Jesus became God

This is an interview by Terry Gross on National Public Radio of Bart D. Ehrman, who's just published a new book called How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.

It is, of course, a very careful interview, though that won't assuage NPR's right-wing critics in the slightest. Just interviewing Ehrman at all is probably making them furious. But I thought it was fascinating.

I haven't read his latest book, though I certainly enjoyed two of his previous books (see my reviews here). Ehrman is a former evangelical Christian turned atheist (Gross calls him an agnostic, which is probably another attempt to mollify believers) when he learned too much about the history of the Bible.

But Prof. Ehrman does believe that Jesus actually existed as a historical figure. That's the view of most Bible scholars - certainly, most Christian Bible scholars - but not all. (And I'm not sure we can call it a consensus, anyway, because they're all over the place in what they do believe about him.)

The four Gospels which made it into the Bible (there were many others - even more diverse - which didn't) were written at various times after Jesus supposedly died on the cross, all written anonymously by highly educated Greek-speakers (Jesus and his poor, illiterate disciples would have spoken Aramaic) by people who didn't even claim to have met the man themselves.

And they show a steady progression of adding to the story, from the earliest Gospel of 'Mark,' for their own purposes. Even the Gospel of Mark had a new ending tacked on later, because the first one - or the earliest that we know about, at least - was so unsatisfying to later Christian believers. (To my mind, it ended exactly like you'd expect fiction to end, and certainly not like history!)

But as I say, Ehrman does believe in a historical Jesus, and he's careful to say that he makes no claims in the book about the divinity of Jesus or the reality of a resurrection. He says he considers those things to be religion, not history. Maybe that's even true, I don't know.

Still, there's a reason why his increasing knowledge of Biblical history turned him into an atheist, and his comments here should make anyone think (though they won't, of course - not in all cases).

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