An Easter Reflection

I read this post on Dr. Bart Ehrman’s blog yesterday — twice as a matter of fact — and there is just no way I can skip it and not let it follow-up my own post April 1, 2018:  April Fool’s Everyone! Dr. Ehrman essentially echoes most everything I’ve posted and commented about Christendom, its very distorted and amputated history throughout its two millenia of existence, and how Christianity became the misguided monstrosity it is today. This is just too good to pass up. Therefore, I am simply going to repost what the acclaimed scholar wrote himself about Easter, or the modern myth that is the resurrection missing body of a Jewish reformer. Here is Dr. Bart Ehrman’s post:

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“It is highly ironic, but relatively easy, for a historian to argue that Jesus himself did not start Christianity.   Christianity, at its heart, is the belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about salvation, and that believing in his death and resurrection will make a person right with God, both now and in the afterlife.  Historical scholarship since the nineteenth century has marshalled massive evidence that this is not at all what Jesus himself preached.

Yes, it is true that in the Gospels themselves Jesus talks about his coming death and resurrection.  And in the last of the Gospels written, John, his message is all about how faith in him can bring eternal life (a message oddly missing in the three earlier Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

These canonical accounts of Jesus’ words were written four, five, or six decades after his death by people who did not know him who were living in different countries, and who were not even speaking his own language.  They themselves acquired their accounts of Jesus’ words from earlier Christian storytellers, who had been passing along his sayings by word of mouth, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.   The task of scholarship is to determine, if possible, what Jesus really said given the nature of our sources.

Fundamentalist scholars have no trouble with the question.  Since they are convinced that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God, then anything Jesus is said to have said in the Gospels is something that he really said.  Viola!  Jesus preached the Christian faith that his death and resurrection brought salvation.

Critical scholars, on the other hand, whether they are Christian or not, realize that it is not that simple.   As Christian story tellers over the decades reported Jesus’ teachings, they naturally modified them in light of the contexts within which they were telling them (to convert others for example) and in light of their own beliefs and views.   The task is to figure out which of the sayings (or even which parts of which sayings) may have been what Jesus really said.

Different scholars have different views of that matter, but one thing virtually all critical scholars agree on is that the doctrines of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection were not topics Jesus addressed.  These words of Jesus were placed on his lips by later Christian story-tellers who *themselves* believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead to bring about the salvation of the world, and who wanted to convince others that this had been Jesus’ plan and intention all along.

My own view is one I’ve sketched on the blog many a time before.  Jesus himself – the historical figure in his own place and time – preached an apocalyptic message that God was soon to intervene in history to overthrow the powers of evil and destroy all who sided with them; he would then bring a perfect utopian kingdom to earth in which Israel would be established as a sovereign state ruling the nations and there would be no more pain, misery, or suffering.  Jesus expected this end to come soon, within his own generation.  His disciples would see it happen – and in fact would be rulers of this coming earthly kingdom, with him himself at their head as the ruling monarch.

It didn’t happen of course.  Instead, Jesus was arrested for being a trouble maker, charged with crimes against the state (proclaiming himself to be the king, when only Rome could rule), publicly humiliated, and ignominiously tortured to death.

This was not at all what the disciples expected.  It was the opposite of what they expected.  It was a radical disconfirmation of everything they had heard from Jesus during all their time with him.  They were in shock and disbelief, their world shattered.  They had left everything to follow him, creating hardship not only for themselves but for the families near and dear to them – leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves and doubtless to suffer want and hunger with the only bread-winner away from home to accompany an itinerant preacher who thought the end of history was to arrive any day now.

This reversal of the disciples’ hopes and dreams then unexpectedly experienced its own reversal.  Some of them started saying that they had seen Jesus alive again.   In the Gospels themselves, of course, all the disciples see Jesus alive and are convinced that he has been raised from the dead.   It is not at all clear it actually happened that way.  The accounts of the Gospels are hopelessly at odds with each other about what happened, to whom, when, and where.  So what can we say historically?

One thing we can say with relative certainty (even though most people – including lots of scholars!) have never thought about this or realized it, is that no one came to think Jesus was raised from the dead because three days later they went to the tomb and found it was empty.   It is striking that Paul, our first author who talks about Jesus’ resurrection, never mentions the discovery of the empty tomb and does not use an empty tomb as some kind of “proof” that the body of Jesus had been raised.

Moreover, whenever the Gospels tell their later stories about the tomb, it never, ever leads anyone came to believe in the resurrection.  The reason is pretty obvious.  If you buried a friend who had recently died, and three days later you went back and found the body was no longer there, would your reaction be “Oh, he’s been exalted to heaven to sit at the right hand of God”?  Of course not.  Your reaction would be: “Grave robbers!”   Or, “Hey, I’m at the wrong tomb!”

Body of jesus the man

The empty tomb only creates doubts and consternation in the stories in the Gospels, never faith.   Faith is generated by stories that Jesus has been seen alive again.   Some of Jesus’ followers said they saw him.  Others believed them.   They told others — who believed them.  More stories began to be told.  Pretty soon there were stories that all of them had seen him alive again.  The followers of Jesus who heard these stories became convinced he had been raised from the dead.

Jesus himself did not start Christianity.  His preaching is not what Christianity is about, in the end.  If his followers had not come to believe he had been raised from the dead, they would have seen him as a great Jewish prophet who had a specific Jewish message and a particular way of interpreting the Jewish scripture and tradition.  Christianity would have remained a sect of Judaism.  It would have had the historical significance of the Sadducees or Essenes – highly significant for scholars of ancient religion, but not a religion that would take over the world.

It is also not the death of Jesus that started Christianity.  If he had died and no one believed in his resurrection, his followers would have talked about his crucifixion as a gross miscarriage of justice; he would have been another Jewish prophet killed by God’s enemies.

Even the resurrection did not start Christianity.  If Jesus had been raised but no one found out about it or came to believe in it, there would not have been a new religion founded on God’s great act of salvation.

What started Christianity was the Belief in the Resurrection.  It was nothing else.  Followers of Jesus came to believe he had been raised.  They did not believe it because of “proof” such as the empty tomb.  They believed it because some of them said they saw Jesus alive afterward.  Others who believed these stories told others who also came to believe them.  These others told others who told others – for days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and now millennia.  Christianity is all about believing what others have said.  It has always been that way and always will be.

Easter is the celebration of the first proclamation that Jesus did not remain dead.  It is not that his body was resuscitated after a Near Death Experience.   God had exalted Jesus to heaven never to die again; he will (soon) return from heaven to rule the earth.  This is a statement of faith, not a matter of empirical proof.  Christians themselves believe it.  Non-Christians recognize it as the very heart of the Christian message.  It is a message based on faith in what other people claimed and testified based on what others claimed and testified based on what others claimed and testified – all the way back to the first followers of Jesus who said they saw Jesus alive afterward.”

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Here was my comment and question for Dr. Ehrman. He usually gets back to me within a quick, reasonable timeframe:

Dr. Ehrman, a wonderful summary of today’s meaning of Easter in modern Christian churches. Well done. Thank you.

As your colleague, Dr. James Tabor has studied, written and published, Paul/Saul and his Christology is a major force in spreading and growing the Gentile/pagan side of the “faith.” When I super-impose the full context of the Hellenistic Roman Empire and geopolitical and socioreligious infrastructure over and onto Second Temple Judaism and the Messianic Era, to me personally the gradual and eventual overshadowing (and eventual success) of Paul’s “Neo-Religion” opened up to all Gentiles, with several Greco-Roman ideals of Apotheosis, throughout the Empire (endearing the social classes struggling to survive — blossoming welfare system) takes on an entirely DIFFERENT form than Jesus the Reformer had ever intended! Notwithstanding Jesus’ true pure teachings/reforms, the new Gentile religion was too far gone, popular, and honestly distorted — particularly when the Jewish-Roman War wiped out so many of the outlying sects and those in Jerusalem by 70 CE! Which might have been some of Jesus’ very Jewish 2nd generation followers? Perhaps?

And I am utterly challenged to find out WHY did Paul go to Arabia for 3-years and WHAT was it that he learned there (about Jesus)? Because when Paul returned from Arabia he obviously had a different version of “the Way” and the Kingdom of God than the disciples and the Jerusalem Council had, yes? Any thoughts?

We’ll see what his response will be. Personally, I find Paul’s/Saul’s business in Arabia for 3-years to be very significant in better understanding why and how a floundering Jewish reform movement led by Yeshua/Jesus, suddenly took off 200-300 years later to become the Western Hemisphere’s primary religion. Who better to ask about that than one of the renown experts in biblical history and that era, right?

4-4-2018 Addendum — Here was Dr. Ehrman’s reply to my question:

“I don’t think he went into the deserts of Arabia to meditate, reflect, and develop his views. I think he went to the cities of the Nabatean Kingdom (then called Arabia) to begin his missionary work. He claims that he realized the significance of Jesus for Gentiles as soon as he had his vision.”

(paragraph break)

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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46 thoughts on “An Easter Reflection

  1. Pingback: April Fool’s Everyone! | Professor Taboo

    • John, I won’t argue that when the average, lazy, uncurious Christ-Believer thinks it all makes people, life, and the planet better — although rarely can any of them spell out unanimously exactly how that is done. But when the exact same ideology summons concepts of unverifiable supernatural gifts, miracles, and revelations — many of which are taken to extremes ala Jim Jones, David Koresh, and a whole host of historical “Messiah-likes” that literally brainwash hundreds or millions — and panders to an unchecked human emotion blocking moderation (something quite familiar in addiction rehab) plenty needs to be done. I realize that overtly and covertly undermining broad, secular, scientific, high quality education that also values scrutiny and critical-thinking skills, is part of most all religion’s Modus Operandi in order to garner continued loyalty and obedience from their gullible minions, let alone their finances.

      My point? Though it is frustrating sometimes for the level-headed and intelligent, we MUST keep trying in all possible ways to not let this get way out of hand. 🙂

      Liked by 6 people

      • Professor it is too late, it already got way too far out of hand. Grand post. OK, I have to admit I read it last night, and again today to make sure I could sound out all the damn big words. 😉😋 But I love it. It sums up why christians have such an unshakable idea that their personal experience is overwhelming proof in their god. It also explains why even though some will dabble in the ideas of science, scientific evidence against their faith doesn’t seem to register on them. Another day of learning, and they said the internet wouldn’t amount to anything. 😃 Thanks. Hugs

        Liked by 2 people

        • Professor it is too late, it already got way too far out of hand. Grand post.

          Thank you Scottie. 🙂 And you are more than likely correct, it is way too late… and THAT demonstrates the power behind the victorious. Not the tale or folklore that is modern Christianity/Christology, but rather “The victors always write history” whether it is accurate and unbiased or complete fiction. And in this case here Rome was the clear victor, not a small floundering Jewish sect called “the Way.” And as Nan has just posted on her blog, Hellenistic Apotheosis has no correlation to true, pure Jewish Messianism. Period!

          Thank you so much for your feedback Scottie! ❤

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent essay and followup question. It’s quite astonishing, from a sociological and historical perspective, how the mass of western civilization could’ve been built upon such a false premise. This has also inspired me to speculate about what might happen to such a civilization if its foundational premise was exposed as fraudulent – a topic I’ve explored in some sci-fi stories.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Robert. I can say this about your great point on “how the mass of western civilization could’ve been built upon such a false premise.” If the powers that be are in control of communications — what any savvy military commander also knows in combat and intel — then they dictate much of the field of conflict. Hence, deception and dissimination of false intel to your enemy, or withholding specific intel that might weaken the resolve of your own troops, then almost anything is possible Robert. Yes, even creating a 200 or 500 year empire and/or civilization. Today, that makes Agnotology utterly invaluable for an empire’s populace — keeping your leaders and the social elite humble and accountable.

      Appreciate your feedback Robert. It’s always welcomed. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, “control of communications” can be extrapolated to control over the masses. Religious indoctrination is perfectly suited for that goal as long as the population is kept ignorant and dependent. With the rise of public education and economic prosperity in the latter half of the 20th century, this traditional role of religious institutions began to falter – and the powers-that-be were forced to use other means (which we are witnessing now in this regressive 21st century).

        Liked by 3 people

    • Oooo, thank you Jim. And thank you John Z. Leave it to JZ to assist in my assertions of just how influential the Hellenistic Apotheosis motifs gradually permeate the orally passed around Jewish reformer’s teachings (named Jesus/Yeshua) and 4-6 decades later the evolving Gospels with Paul’s/Saul’s epistles circulating throughout coastal Mediterranean Synagogues, centuries later morph into a complete theological BEAST of Christological Trinitarianism! By then (c. 315 – 681 CE) it is NOTHING like the original reformations Yeshua — maybe as the Messiah? he was never fully sure himself — wanted to happen within Judaism, not an anti-semiticism new religion!

      Great stuff you two. Thank you! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  3. When I was a Christian, we were warned to avoid Bart Ehrman and those like him. The church tried to convince us that people like him were evil and corrupt men who had been influenced by Satan to pervert the truth. However, after leaving Christianity behind, I have found his story to be much like my own. He wanted it all to be true and searched for more truth. I searched for truth as well. In the search for truth, we both found that it led us away from where we were and where we thought we should be. Instead of being stronger Christians, the truth will always lead you in the opposite direction. Truth and the Bible push against each other with equal force. Sadly, in this battle between the scriptures and the truth, too many people believe the Bible is the real truth instead of actual truth. When it comes to reality and the promises of fantasy, all too often fantasy wins out.

    I have found, on my own and through the brilliant writing of people like Bart Ehrman, that the Bible is the literary work that has been perverted, not the works of people like Bart Ehrman. The writers of the Bible took some truth and mixed in a whole lot of lies, then passed it off as all true. As far as leading people astray, the Bible is the world leader. The church claims the Bible can bring us closer to Christ. Closer to Christ? If Christ did in fact live, he is in now in a grave somewhere. Closer to him is not where I want to be just yet. I have a lot of life left to enjoy and to live out with my family. Wasting my life on the teachings of a dead man (if he lived at all) is not my life’s goal any longer.

    Great post. It is always refreshing to see truth put out there in place of the lies, especially during the “holidays.”

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you Ben. I agree wholeheartedly: “fantasy, all too often wins out.” Having worked for years in the Psych/A&D field, the self-induced escape is a VERY powerful “drug” if you will, that probably Steven Spielberg’s new film Ready Player One aptly alludes to. When (for whatever reasons) people and this life is painful, boring, mediocre, doomed, tragic, etc, etc, “fantasy” makes it go away — or really pushed under the rug, temporarily. Hmmmm. 🤔

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Well, I am going to be the fly in the ointment …. oh, what a surprise!

    I am edging to toward the entire nonsense being made up, and retrofitted. I say this primarily because of the complete lack of verifiable evidence for the two main players, Jesus and Paul.

    And not only the complete lack of evidence for these two but all the immediate peripheral characters that would have been crucial elements in the story.

    Jesus’ family – Mary and James in particular.

    The why is easier to answer than the how.
    I think Marcion was involved somewhere along the line.
    I don’t know how it was done, but somehow the seed was planted and it grew.

    To quote Life of Brian:

    ”There’s a mess in here, but no Messiah!”

    Liked by 4 people

    • Ark,

      I know there are many like you who place no weight in any of the New Testament characters or stories and consider the entire work pure fiction, similar to any of our greatest works of fiction, e.g. Don Quixote or The Great Gatsby. I am totally fine with that posture mainly because specific parts of the New Testament can indeed be tested and determined to be Ancient folklore and popular sensationalism of the time: pandering. Many cultures then (and to some extent today) used these techniques to create tribal or civil unity to a common theme. For me, it is distinguishing cinematic practices versus historical facts/plausibilities for every “scene” in the NT — a sliding scale that determines what is make-believe, inspired by true events, based on true events, documentary, or live video-reporting. It certainly is a mess, no doubt. It is also no doubt today that there is a HUGE DIFFERENCE between literal resurrection for one human being and metaphorical after-lives for all humans… if the latter is continually studied and tested.

      Nevertheless, some people prefer a fantasy world than a real world. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      • Even if we take the only two popular pieces of non-christian evidence available – the TF and Tacitus there is controversy surrounding both.
        If we play Devil’s advocate and remove both these from the table then what’s left?
        As far as I am aware, nothing.

        Trying to glean anything to support the case for christ (sic) quickly sees even the most liberal skeptic compromising hand over fist.

        As I have suggested before, why have a figure behind it all if there was any risk of tracing the story back to the focal point?

        No one would ever dream of putting on their Indiana Jones hat and go searching for evidence of the gods on Mt Olympus, now would they?

        Liked by 1 person

        • I really don’t care what you think Ark and what you spew out. NOTHING will compare to my “new” Cristiano Ronaldo Savior who ROSE and delivered the most spectacular STORY of all time!!!!!!!!! 😲

          ALL HAIL THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL GAME THAT WILL BE AND FOREVER SHALL BE… Amen. 🤪

          Liked by 1 person

        • Yes … I saw it last night. Absolutely marvelous. And the way the Juventus crowd reacted was heartwarming too. Now I’m just biting nails waiting for the City / Liverpool match.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Btw, I was just totally joking, but I think you know that. In the end, regarding Christology and the NT, I like to have solid retorts for Evangy-Fundy Christian zealots (retorts that are well studied, researched, and also held by many scholars) when they attempt to intrude/project their world-view on me. We both do that. 🙂

          City/Liverpool should be a great match, but sorry my Friend… I think City will take it. (prepares to duck and run) 😄

          Liked by 3 people

        • Don’t you bloody well start! I’ve already threatened my wife that she can go sleep in the spare room if she carries on.
          I’ll have to tell everyone your real name is Reginald de le Sidebottom.
          Gotta go … match is on.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, that did surprise me I must admit. Only broken windows? I am quite surprised they didn’t torch the bus to be honest. They were probably feeling a little magnanimous this evening.

          Like

  5. Sounds like a game of telephone that went haywire with people making shit up as they went along. (Some with an agenda to suit their purposes, other as mere rubes) I think this is as close to the truth as we will really ever get.

    They were never able to put together a coherent, non contradictory, believable story, (probably due to riffs in the conman community) without applying the necessity of the ever wonderful world of… faith. Predators preying on the gullible. As true then as it is today.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It is interesting that Christians and non-Christians alike seem to think that it was the ideas of Christianity that ensured its “success.” John Zande has made quite clear that Jesus said nothing new. It is also the case, as argued above, that Christianity has little to do, if anything, with Jesus’s teachings.

    The success of Christianity, actually all religions, has nothing to do with their ideas per se, but with their utility to the secular and religious elites. Even a brief study of the wars for Christian supremacy, fought out over 400 years or so at the beginning of the current era, shows that what Christianity became was about three things: politics, politics, and politics. The various “sees” fought for supremacy; the various bishops fought for supremacy, the various kings and emperors fought to make the religion the weapon it is: a system to control the behaviors of the masses to benefit the elites interests. Had Christianity not benefited the interests of the Roman elites (endorsing slavery, claiming that to obey your master was to obey your god, etc.) then Christianity would never have become a religion of Rome and then the religion of Rome. Having state power backing the religion was the key factor in Christianities success. (They are still after it, btw.)

    The ideas of Christianity are irrelevant, what is relevant is its use as a tool of oppression of the masses, helping to create and maintain the cheap labor that civilization is based upon.

    Liked by 3 people

    • John Zande has made quite clear that Jesus said nothing new.

      Ahh, Steve… have you read Marcus Borg’s Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings? Almost all of Jesus’ likely teachings, i.e. what most scholars agree he likely stated, can be paralleled with Buddhist teachings which were by then several centuries to a millenia old? Not much was original by Jesus, it just hadn’t quite reached Judea and the Levant. It is very/highly likely that Second Temple Judaism — which of course includes Jesus’ lifetime — was frequently exposed to Near/Far Eastern religious practices and teachings for the simple fact that that area of the Roman Empire was a major hub of trading-commerce to and from the Silk Road or Mediterranean routes WITH Roman Legions stationed all around Judea going and coming. All sorts of religious ideas and concepts were shared and it is no stretch at all to say Jesus learned them and saw their pragmatic values!

      The ideas of Christianity are irrelevant, what is relevant is its use as a tool of oppression of the masses, helping to create and maintain the cheap labor that civilization is based upon.

      Excellent summation Steve. 👍

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A great post, Professor. I was raised Christian, but I no longer attend church and have many questions about Christianity that relate to the points you raised here. I also agree with John Zande that not enough people think about these things. That said, I also know a few well-educated, well reasoning Christians who DO think about these things. In fact, an old friend of mine does nothing but study and today is a Catholic priest in Rome. I would be curious to see how scholarly Christians like him would respond to your essay. It would be good to get a dialogue going with both sides.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. ‘Your reaction would be: “Grave robbers!” Or, “Hey, I’m at the wrong tomb!”’ – Hahahahahaha.

    Great post Professor. I’m slower these days in more ways than one, but I read the lot! *falls about*. I did though, and as ever, enjoy the comment thread as much as the post itself.

    – Esme definitely on the right Cloud

    Like

    • Hahaha, yes… or maybe the reaction would be: “Well DAMN IT to all perverts! I thought I was at the hot, sexy (less oppositional now) Jewish woman’s tomb” said one of the 12 disciples. 😒 👿

      I know you are quite busy Lady Esme. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your invigorating humor and charm! 😉 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a surprise, Christianity is based on faith in superstitious beliefs in folk stories, psychological need to be managed and protected by superhuman imaginary being and not on scientistifically verified evidence.

    Like

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