And now it’s Bart’s turn

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by Neil Godfrey

One does expect a little better from someone who makes a living out of biblical studies and even charges audiences for his scholarly wisdom.

There was not a Jew on the planet who thought the messiah was going to be crushed by his enemies — humiliated, tortured, and executed.  That was the *opposite* of what the messiah would do.  To call Jesus the messiah made no sense — i.e., it was nonsense – virtually by definition.  

That’s according to Bart Ehrman in a recent blog post, Jesus and the Messianic Prophecies.

Has Bart Ehrman not yet caught up with the scholarship of a prominent Jew on early Jewish beliefs, Daniel Boyarin?

Suffering Messiah is a Very Jewish Idea

Or worse yet, the even earlier work of a most prominent Christian scholar, Martin Hengel?

The Influence of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant Before Christianity

From Israel’s Suffering (Isaiah’s Servant) to Atoning Human/Messianic Sacrifice (Daniel)

Or does Ehrman’s personal loathing of Richard Carrier lead him into an unprofessional inability even to address his own arguments and evidence:

Messiah to be Killed in Pre-Christian Jewish Expectation — the Late Evidence

Jewish Expectations of a Slain Messiah — the Early Evidence

Surely Ehrman would not suggest that Jews only came up with the idea of a suffering messiah in order to somehow out-do the Christians!

Or has Ehrman not yet had time at least to consider any of the highly suggestive evidence presented by Thomas L. Thompson, Jon D. Levenson or William Scott Green or Leroy Andrew Huizenga or Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis or Matthew V. Novenson?

The Dying Messiah (Refrain)

The Myth of a General Messianic Expectation in Jesus’ Time

Midrash and Gospels 3: What some Jewish scholars say (and continuing ‘Midrash Tales of the Messiah’)

The Matthean Jesus and the Isaac of the Early Jewish Encyclopedia

Christ Among the Messiahs

Bart Ehrman may be aware of the work that does encourage us to question the conventional wisdom that the only pre-Christian Jewish belief about the Messiah was that he would be a conquering Davidic king. He may disagree with its implications in this direction for good reason. But if so he needs to explain why he can write so confidently that “there was not a Jew on the planet” who thought the messiah would be humiliated…..


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23 thoughts on “And now it’s Bart’s turn”

  1. It’s clear that Ehrman is a bit of a polemicist. Who likes to make spectacularly unequivocal statements, to get attention, and readers.

    That’s why he is only at UNC. And not neighboring Duke, America’s foremost center for religious study. Maybe it’s from his days at Moody Bible College.

    Still, we should be greatful for Ehrman calling the gospels ” Forged,” and so forth.

    1. “Still, we should be greatful for Ehrman calling the gospels ” Forged,” and so forth.”

      Agreed. Just because he’s gone bonkers over historicity doesn’t mean he hasn’t done the world a big favor.

    1. Daniel 9:26 is about a messiah to is cut off…a (foreign ruler) whose people will destroy the temple.

      As it reads…pretty much around the same time, NOT forty years apart.

      The Jewish understanding is that refers to Herod Agrippa (II) who was the last King and who died without issue/heirs.

      The same Herod Agrippa who in one Talmudic reference equates to the “Standing One” and who in the other is clearly a fan of “Two Powers in Heaven.”

      Christians try to have that prophesy refer to Jesus…but it really is more a better fit for Herod Agrippa (II).

      1. This is nonsense apologetics. Daniel was written generations before Herod Agrippa II. This blog is a venue for secular scholarly type discussion and queries.

  2. It is possible that after Jesus’ death, his desperate disciples went to Hebrew scriptures such as Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and Wisdom of Solomon to interpret what happened. But it would only make sense that the first Christians would go to these scriptures because people at that time thought they could be interpreted as referring to the Messiah. The writers of the New Testament wouldn’t have used, for instance, Isaiah 53 to shape Jesus’ passion story unless they believed it referred to the Messiah. You wouldn’t write a story about a Messiah using silent allusions to Hebrew scriptures (such as Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Wisdom of Solomon) unless you thought those Hebrew Scriptures referred to the Messiah. What other reason could there be for the silent allusions? You wouldn’t be making those allusions for no reason.

    1. These passages vaguely fit. Later writers then could be recontextualizing them. And later editors or translators smoothed over any differences. Paul is infamous for that.

      Though they left in… marred beyond human semblace. Which wouldn’t seem to really fit Jesus. Though it might fit Job.

      Many parts of Isaiah tho are highly contested as to date.

      And 2 Mac. 6-7 looks at least 20 times more relevant to me.

      1. More than a few early Church fathers also liked to take a bit from Isaiah, a bit from another prophet, and present it as if it WERE the actual quote.

        This is why anything Christians quote as from the prophets should always be matched against the Hebrew Scriptures to see what was ACTUALLY the right thing.

        The Greeks had a certain cultural arrogance which seems to have carried over into how they viewed having Greek translations of the OT…hence why they thought the Jews changed parts of it, rather than the other way round. More narrative…

        1. More apologetics and racist nonsense. A late Hebrew manuscript is not necessarily any more original than an early Greek one simply because you have some visceral ideas about the respective characters of Jews and Greeks. These sorts of comments are not appropriate.

  3. I don’t think these passages “vaguely” fit. I think they are quite detailed and explicit. Consider:

    Likely the clearest Prophecy about Jesus is the entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 53:3-7 is especially unmistakable: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

    The only thing is, as Spong points out, Isaiah wasn’t making a prophesy aboout Jesus. Mark was doing an exegetical reading of Isaiah. So, Mark depicts Jesus as one who is despised and rejected, a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. He then describes Jesus as wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The Servant in Isaiah, like Jesus in Mark, is silent before his accusers. In Isaiah it says of the servant with his stripes we are healed, which Mark turned into the story of the scourging of Jesus. This is, in part, is where atonement theology comes from, but it would be silly to say II Isaiah was talking about atonement. The servant is numbered among the transgressors in Isaiah, so Jesus is crucified between two thieves. The Isaiah servant would make his grave with the rich, So Jesus is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a person of means.

    Then, as Dr. Robert Price says

    The substructure for the crucifixion in chapter 15 is, as all recognize, Psalm 22, from which derive all the major details, including the implicit piercing of hands and feet (Mark 24//Psalm 22:16b), the dividing of his garments and casting lots for them (Mark 15:24//Psalm 22:18), the “wagging heads” of the mockers (Mark 15:20//Psalm 22:7), and of course the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34//Psalm 22:1). Matthew adds another quote, “He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now if he desires him” (Matthew 7:43//Psalm 22:8), as well as a strong allusion (“for he said, ‘I am the son of God’” 27:43b) to Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which underlies the whole story anyway (Miller, p. 362), “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and
    let us test what will happen at the end of his life: for if the righteous man is God’s son he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture that we may find out how gentle he is and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

    As for other details, Crossan points out that the darkness at noon comes from Amos 8:9, while the vinegar and gall come from Psalm 69:21. It is remarkable that Mark does anything but call attention to the scriptural basis for the crucifixion account. There is nothing said of scripture being fulfilled here. It is all simply presented as the events of Jesus’ execution. It is we who must ferret out the real sources of the story. This is quite different, e.g., in John, where explicit scripture citations are given, e.g., for Jesus’ legs not being broken to hasten his death (John 19:36), either Exodus 12:10, Numbers 9:12, or Psalm 34:19-20 (Crossan). Whence did Mark derive the tearing asunder of the Temple veil, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38)? Perhaps from the death of Hector in the Iliad (MacDonald). Hector dies forsaken by Zeus. The women of Troy watched from afar off (as the Galilean women do in Mark 15:40), and the whole of Troy mourned as if their city had already been destroyed “from top to bottom,” just as the ripping of the veil seems to be a portent of Jerusalem’s eventual doom.

  4. I posted some of the ideas related to Isaiah 53 and Boyarin on Ehrman’s blog, with a link to Vridar. I’ll see if he responds (often he doesn’t respond to comments).

    1. Daniel Boyarin has had the audacity to challenge Larry Hurtado’s conclusions about Christology, arguing (as do a number of other critics) that Hurtado has been somewhat selective and tendentious in the use of his evidence to make his case. But Boyarin is writing among Jewish scholars on “Jewish studies” and Hurtado has responded with a peeved dismissal: “Who is this guy?!” The usual “not a trained New Testament scholar” canard . . .

      1. If some are not familiar with it, The Jewish Annotated New Testament was put together by an international team of experts, including Daniel Boyarin.

    1. Here is a teaser quote from the beginning of one of the articles:

      “However I have suggested elsewhere that a sacrificial Josephite
      Messiah was known in the early second century BCE, the idea ultimately deriving from the
      Josephite warrior of Deut. 33,17 who contains in embryo the main characteristics of Messiah
      ben Joseph.”

  5. Here is Origen arguing that Isaiah 53 is not about the Jewish people, but are about Jesus.

    Origen, Contra Celsus 1.55
    Now I remember that, on one occasion, at a disputation held with certain Jews, who were reckoned wise men, I quoted these prophecies; to which my Jewish opponent replied, that these predictions bore reference to the whole people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations. And in this way he explained the words, “Your form shall be of no reputation among men;” and then, “They to whom no message was sent respecting him shall see;” and the expression, “A man under suffering.” Many arguments were employed on that occasion during the discussion to prove that these predictions regarding one particular person were not rightly applied by them to the whole nation. And I asked to what character the expression would be appropriate, “This man bears our sins, and suffers pain on our behalf;” and this, “But He was wounded for our sins, and bruised for our iniquities;” and to whom the expression properly belonged, “By His stripes were we healed.” For it is manifest that it is they who had been sinners, and had been healed by the Saviour’s sufferings (whether belonging to the Jewish nation or converts from the Gentiles), who use such language in the writings of the prophet who foresaw these events, and who, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, applied these words to a person. But we seemed to press them hardest with the expression, “Because of the iniquities of My people was He led away unto death.” For if the people, according to them, are the subject of the prophecy, how is the man said to be led away to death because of the iniquities of the people of God, unless he be a different person from that people of God? And who is this person save Jesus Christ, by whose stripes they who believe in Him are healed, when “He had spoiled the principalities and powers (that were over us), and had made a show of them openly on His cross?” At another time we may explain the several parts of the prophecy, leaving none of them unexamined. But these matters have been treated at greater length, necessarily as I think, on account of the language of the Jew, as quoted in the work of Celsus.

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