Amazon Product Description
This controversial new book argues that Jesus, like many of his later followers, proclaimed that God was soon to intervene in human affairs and bring all of history to a screeching halt. Through a careful evaluation of the New Testament Gospels and other surviving sources, including the more recently discovered Gospels of Thomas and Peter, Ehrman shows why Jesus should be understood as an apocalyptic prophet who anticipated the destruction of evil, the end of the age, and beginning of a new world - not 2000 years after his lifetime, but in less than 30. Amazon Customer Review
- I first learned of Ehrman's views about the apocalyptic Jesus while reading his recent The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed. Even in that book, his interest in Gnostic Christianity seems secondary and he appears to be using the opportunity with that book to present again his arguments for an apocalyptic Jesus. So I decided to read this book for a more complete presentation of that viewpoint.
- Ehrman generally explains material so well and his knowledge of history and the Bible seems so complete that, at first glance, it would seem foolish to doubt him. His case seems compelling. Given that the four New Testament gospels provide our first known accounts of Jesus and using well-established scholarly criteria for evaluating scriptural statements, Ehrman provides a convincing case that Jesus was an apocalyptic Jew.
- But is he too quick to accept the reliability of the New Testament gospels in revealing the historical Jesus? In The Origin of Satan, Elaine Pagels takes into account the historical conditions of each of the gospel writers and wonders to what extent those texts were concerned more with motivating the Christians of those times and not with a historical account of a Jesus none of those gospel writers is likely to have known first hand. She writes that the four gospels were "chosen not necessarily because they were the earliest or most accurate accounts of Jesus' life and teaching but precisely because they could form the basis of church communities".
- Ehrman devotes only several pages of the main text to the views of Crossan (and hence the Jesus Seminar) that Jesus was not an apocalyptic Jew. He simply dismisses Crossan on the issue of the dating of some texts. He doesn't mention other arguments from the Jesus Seminar members supporting their view of Jesus (The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate appeared in 2001 and it seems unlikely these conflicting issues would have been unknown to Ehrman).
- Having relied on the four gospels as the best evidence to reveal the historical Jesus, Ehrman then relies heavily on criteria used often by Biblical scholars which he himself admits are only probabilistic: independent attestation, dissimilarity and contextual credibility. Using these, he shows how changes since Mark, generally presumed to be the earliest gospel, suggest that the depiction of Jesus as an apocalyptic Jew became muted over time and that any depiction of Jesus as an apocalyptic Jew didn't seem to support subsequent Christian teachings about Jesus. That leads Ehrman to conclude that Jesus must have been an apocalyptic Jew, which helps him to make sense of some of Jesus's important but otherwise obscure statements in the Gospels. Ehrman does acknowledge important ethical teachings by Jesus but makes them seem dependent on the expectation of an imminent direct action of his god and not by the people.
- I'm just a lay person but I grow suspicious when it seems that a scholar has avoided squarely addressing the views of other leading scholars, especially in an area for which any scholar must rely so heavily on speculation. What if the dating of the texts is wrong or if other texts were lost? What if the probabilistic criteria Ehrman relies so heavily on are wrong in some of these particular cases he applies them to? What about the motives of the Gospel writers and their distance from Jesus? Is it feasible, as Ehrman suggests, that Jesus viewed himself as having a special relationship with a god who would establish a kingdom on earth that would overturn Roman rule and place Jesus, with his 12 disciples, in charge? It may be and that may explain why Christianity soon afterward retreated from teaching a apocalyptic Jesus who seemed entirely wrong in his expectations, but the views of the Jesus Seminar and Pagels seem worth addressing. Ehrman appeals to a "wide range of scholars who have devoted their lives to studying the ancient sources for the historical Jesus [who have] concluded that he proclaimed the imminent end of history as we know it] without acknowledging almost at all those who didn't so conclude or who may have suspected Jesus was calling for popular action rather than an direct intervention by his god.
- That Ehrman remains wedded to this view and wanting to present it even ostensibly in a book about "The Gospel of Judas" (i.e. The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed) and that he avoided to such an extent in this book discussing the views of the Jesus Seminar that Jesus was not an apocalyptic Jew calls into question for me Ehrman's commitment to scholarship. Even in a book such as this for a lay audience, and perhaps especially so given that us lay readers may find it difficult to understand the conflicting conclusions of scholars, it seems irresponsible to dismiss alternative views in a few pages. I may have to read The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate to get further input on this issue and, even if Ehrman is right, the manner in which he has presented his case will make me quite suspicious of his work in the future.
Preface - ix
- The end of history as we know it - 3
- Who was Jesus? Why it's so hard to know - 21
- How did the gospels get to be this way? - 41
- Looking about a bit: non-Christian sources for the historical Jesus - 55
- Looking about a bit more: other Christian sources for the historical Jesus - 65
- Moving on to the past: how can we reconstruct the life of Jesus? - 85
- Finding a fit: Jesus in context - 103
- Jesus the apocalyptic prophet - 125
- The apocalyptic teachings of Jesus - 141
- A place for everything: Jesus' other teachings in their apocalyptic context - 163
- Not in word only: the associates, deeds, and controversies of Jesus in apocalyptic context - 183
- The last days of Jesus - 207
- From apocalyptic prophet to lord of all: the afterlife1 of Jesus - 227
- Jesus as the prophet of the new millennium: then and now – 239
Oxford University Press, 1999
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)