How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, by Bart D. Ehrman

“What we think of as the twenty-seven books of ‘the’ New Testament emerged out of these conflicts, and it was the side that won the debates over what to believe that decided which books were to be included in the canon of scripture.”

“Different authors have different points of view. You can’t just say, ‘I believe in the Bible’.”

“It was only after his death that the man Jesus came to be thought of as God on earth.”

“One of the greatest Roman poets was Ovid, an older contemporary of Jesus (his dates: 43 BCE–17 CE). His most famous work is his fifteen-volume Metamorphoses, which celebrates changes or transformations described in ancient mythology. Sometimes these changes involve gods who take on human form in order to interact, for a time, with mortals.”And also the similitude of Jesus’ story to that “Romulus was a ‘god born of a god’ (History of Rome 1.16).”

“Only two people known by name were also called ‘Son of God.’ One was the Roman emperor—starting with Octavian, or Caesar Augustus—and the other was Jesus. This is probably not an accident. When Jesus came on the scene as a divine man, he and the emperor were in competition.”

“The time when Christianity arose, with its exalted claims about Jesus, was the same time when the emperor cult had started to move into full swing, with its exalted claims about the emperor. Christians were calling Jesus God directly on the heels of the Romans calling the emperor God.”

Jesus being a Zealot (read the book of Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth) resonates also in Bart’s book when he draws examples from the ancient Roman world: “The political benefactors are considered ‘religious’ heroes. They have statues and a place in the temple, and sacrifices are made in their honor. In a very real sense they are the ‘saviors’ and so are treated as such.” Hence, ” Jesus was not the only “savior-God” known to the ancient world.” And Bart emphasizes this even more saying: “Jesus was charged with insurgency, and political insurgents were crucified.”

Some facts have been slid into obscurity by evangelists of which you will see no mention anywhere in their rhetoric, preaching, apologetics or polemics, for example Bart states: “Jesus was not originally considered to be God in any sense at all, and that he eventually became divine for his followers in some sense before he came to be thought of as equal with God Almighty in an absolute sense. But the point I stress is that this was, in fact, a development.”

“Jews also believed that divinities could become human and humans could become divine … The first Christians who started speaking about Jesus as divine were not pagans from Priene. They were Jews from Palestine. These Jews, of course, also knew about the emperor cult … In ancient Judaism the king of Israel was considered both Son of God and—astonishingly enough—even God.”

If you ever wondered what the Islamic testimony (There is No God but God) actually means, then you have to hear what Bart has to say about the biblical following Commandment: “The Commandment says, ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ This commandment, as stated, presupposes that there are other gods. But none of them is to be worshiped ahead of, or instead of, the God of Israel. As it came to be interpreted, the commandment also meant that none of these other gods was to be worshiped alongside of or even after the God of Israel. But that does not mean the other gods don’t exist. They simply are not to be worshiped … Henotheism is the view that there are other gods, but there is only one God who is to be worshiped. The Ten Commandments express a henotheistic view, as does the majority of the Hebrew Bible. The book of Isaiah, with its insistence that ‘I alone am God, there is no other,’ is monotheistic. It represents the minority view in the Hebrew Bible.”

“Jews may not (usually) have called other superhuman divine beings ‘God’ or ‘gods.’ But there were other superhuman divine beings. In other words, there were beings who lived not on earth but in the heavenly realm and who had godlike, superhuman powers, even if they were not the equals of the ultimate God himself. In the Hebrew Bible, for example, there are angels, cherubim, and seraphim—attendants upon God who worship him and administer his will (see, for example, Isa. 6:1–6). These are fantastically powerful beings far above humans in the scale of existence. They are lower-level divinities. By the time of the New Testament we find Jewish authors referring to such entities as principalities, dominions, powers, and authorities—unnamed divine beings in the heavenly realm who are active as well here on earth (e.g., Eph. 6:12; Col. 1:16). And these divinities stand in a hierarchical scale, a continuum of power. Some cosmic beings are more powerful than others. So Jewish texts speak of the great angels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. These are divine powers far above humans, though far below God as well.” He continues and explains how such practice ended up in the following: “But there were other Jews whom we know about who thought it was altogether acceptable and right to worship other divine beings, such as the great angels. Just as it is right to bow down before a great king in obeisance to him, they believed it is right to bow down before an even greater being, an angel, to do obeisance.”

“Within Judaism we find divine beings who temporarily become human, semidivine beings who are born of the union of a divine being and a mortal, and humans who are, or who become, divine.” How more explicit one actually wants it to get than: “in some ancient Jewish texts there is a figure known as ‘the Angel of the Lord,’ who is regarded as the ‘chief’ angel. How exalted is this figure? In some passages he is identified as God himself.”

Another interesting paradoxical statement in the Bible is pointed at by Bart: “In Exodus it is explicitly stated that no one can see God and live (Exod. 33:20). Yet they did see God and they did live.” Bart theorizes that the reason such a contradiction of statements happened because there were other higher godly power in heavens that Jews exalted other than God himself.

“The idea that Wisdom could be a divine hypostasis—an aspect of God that is a distinct being from God that nonetheless is itself God—is rooted in a fascinating passage of the Hebrew Bible, Proverbs 8 … God made all things in his wisdom, so much so that Wisdom is seen as a co-creator of sorts.” And NOT only wisdom they worship but even the word of God: “Already in the Hebrew Bible the “word of the Lord” was sometimes identified as the Lord himself (see, for example, 1 Sam. 3:1, 6).”

Bart presents the historians take on the historical Jesus: “But one thing they all (i.e., E. P. Sanders, Geza Vermes, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen, and many others) agree on: Jesus did not spend his ministry declaring himself to be divine.” And he notes that: “Paul, by the way, never says that Jesus declared himself to be divine.”

People acquire whatever knowledge or misinformation about Jesus from their environment “by osmosis”; but however they like to think, at the end “We want ancient sources.”

Another pivotal information that will not be imparted to you by Christians is that: “The Gospels are not written by eyewitnesses … they were written anonymously—the authors never identify themselves—and they circulated for decades before anyone claimed they were written by these people … The very first surviving account of Jesus’s life was written thirty-five to forty years after his death. Our latest canonical Gospel was written sixty to sixty-five years after his death … I should stress that the Gospels are in fact virtually our only available sources.”

Bart offers a good example to you how the Gospel of John is intended to direct the message into a totally different, maybe opposite, direction to the original one: “If Jesus predicted that the imminent apocalypse would arrive within his own generation, before his disciples had all died, what was one to think a generation later when in fact it had not arrived? One might conclude that Jesus was wrong. But if one wanted to stay true to him, one might change the message that he proclaimed so that he no longer spoke about the coming apocalypse. So it is no accident that our final canonical Gospel, John, written after that first generation, no longer has Jesus proclaim an apocalyptic message. He preaches something else entirely.” Another interesting point: “Most notable is Pontius Pilate, who, as a thoroughly bad guy, condemned Jesus to death in our earliest Gospel Mark. But he does so only with great reluctance in Matthew and only after explicitly declaring Jesus innocent three times in both Luke and John. In later Gospels from outside the New Testament, Pilate is portrayed as an increasingly innocent good guy, to the point that he actually converts and becomes a believer in Jesus.”

Christians indoctrinate the masses about the function of the expected Messiah; Bart elaborates on this point: “Ancient Jews had no expectation—zero expectation—that the future messiah would die and rise from the dead. That was not what the messiah was supposed to do. Whatever specific idea any Jew had about the messiah (as cosmic judge, mighty priest, powerful warrior), what they all thought was that he would be a figure of grandeur and power who would be a mighty ruler of Israel. And Jesus was certainly not that. Rather than destroying the enemy, Jesus was destroyed by the enemy—arrested, tortured, and crucified, the most painful and publicly humiliating form of death known to the Romans. Jesus, in short, was just the opposite of what Jews expected a messiah to be.”

Historically, Bart comments: “Almost certainly the divine self-claims in John are not historical.” People are simply deceived by their leaders and their gentile heritage cannot undo what satan has inflicted upon their ancestors until they decide to change themselves, something which is not happening to everybody of course: “pastors don’t want to make waves; or they don’t think their congregations are ‘ready’ to hear what scholars are saying.”

The growth rate of Christianity should not be invoked when drawing theological conclusions: “If Christianity started out as a relatively small group in the first century but had some three million followers by the early fourth century—that’s a 40 percent increase every ten years. What is striking to Stark is that this is the same growth rate of the Mormon church since it started in the nineteenth century.”

“Belief in the resurrection is what eventually led his followers to claim that Jesus was God.” A project that had been undertaken and eventually established in the western Greek/Roman world by Paul.

Bart then gives you a taste of the various discrepancies in the narratives: “Who was the first person to go to the tomb? Was it Mary Magdalene by herself (John)? or Mary along with another Mary (Matthew)? or Mary along with another Mary and Salome (Mark)? or Mary, Mary, Joanna, and a number of other women (Luke)? Was the stone already rolled away when they arrived at the tomb (Mark, Luke, and John), or explicitly not (Matthew)? Whom did they see there? An angel (Matthew), a man (Mark), or two men (Luke)? Did they immediately go and tell some of the disciples what they had seen (John), or not (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)? What did the person or people at the tomb tell the women to do? To tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee (Matthew and Mark)? Or to remember what Jesus had told them earlier when he had been in Galilee (Luke)? Did the women then go tell the disciples what they were told to tell them (Matthew and Luke), or not (Mark)? Did the disciples see Jesus (Matthew, Luke, and John), or not (Mark)?1 Where did they see him?—only in Galilee (Matthew), or only in Jerusalem (Luke)?”

The historians are convinced that: “The whole story was in fact a legend, that is, the burial and discovery of an empty tomb were tales that later Christians invented to persuade others that the resurrection indeed happened … The empty tomb narratives came later—after the creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 and after the writings of Paul. In other words, they were not part of the early tradition.”

Bart says that one fourth of the book of Acts consists of speeches; and on the origin of these speeches: “Scholars have long recognized that Luke himself wrote these speeches—they are not the speeches that these apostles really delivered at one time or another. Luke is writing decades after the events he narrates, and no one at the time was taking notes.”

Another good point to know: “In this connection I should stress that the discovery of the empty tomb appears to be a late tradition. It occurs in Mark for the first time, some thirty-five or forty years after Jesus died. Our earliest witness, Paul, does not say anything about it … The Synoptics simply accept a Christological view that is different from Paul’s. They hold to exaltation Christologies, and Paul holds to an incarnation Christology.”

So, this later tradition needed a kind of justification because the apostles were not present when crucifixion took place according to Christians and historians alike: “Our earliest sources are quite clear that the male disciples fled the scene and were not present for Jesus’s crucifixion. As I stated earlier, this may well be a historical fact—that the disciples feared for their own lives and went into hiding or fled town in order to avoid arrest.” This is where Bart infers that this was the major reason why one sees women mentioned in the Bible who were the ones firstly to discover the empty tomb; it is significant to note: “The Need for an Empty Tomb … If there was no empty tomb, Jesus was not physically raised.”

When addressing the “objectivity” towards such a topic one is discussing, one has to take into consideration that: “There are very serious reasons to doubt that Jesus was buried decently and that his tomb was discovered to be empty … Faith is not historical knowledge, and historical knowledge is not faith.”

And a clear non-historical event: “The idea that Jesus rose on the ‘third day’ was originally a theological construct, not a historical piece of information.”

It is important to note that pre-Pauline creed differs from Christian creed:“The idea that Jesus was made the Son of God precisely at his resurrection is … stressed.” And this is also to be found: “In this pre-Lukan tradition, Jesus was made the Son of God at the resurrection. This is a view Luke inherited from his tradition, and it is one that coincides closely with what we already saw in Romans 1:3–4. It appears to be the earliest form of Christian belief: that God exalted Jesus to be his Son by raising him from the dead … THE VIEW THAT THE earliest Christians understood Jesus to have become the Son of God at his resurrection is not revolutionary among scholars of the New Testament. One of the greatest scholars of the second half of the twentieth century was Raymond Brown.” So it is crucial and important to keep in mind “The earliest Christians held that God had exalted Jesus to a divine status at his resurrection. (This shows, among other things, that this is not simply a ‘skeptical’ view or a ‘secular’ view of early Christology; it is one held by believing scholars as well.)” But when it comes to the Gospels, you have A TOTALLY DIFFERENT STORY: “This oldest Christology of all may be found in the preliterary traditions in Paul and the book of Acts, but it is not the view presented in any of the Gospels. Instead, as we will see at greater length, the oldest Gospel, Mark, seems to assume that it was at his baptism that Jesus became the Son of God; the next Gospels, Matthew and Luke, indicate that Jesus became the Son of God when he was born; and the last Gospel, John, presents Jesus as the Son of God from before creation.”

Remember that: “I have already made the case that followers of Jesus were not calling him God during his lifetime and that he did not refer to himself as a divine being who had come from heaven. If they had done so, surely there would be a heavy dose of such views in our earliest records of his words—in the Synoptic Gospels and their sources (Mark, Q, M, and L). Instead, it was the resurrection that provided the turning point in understanding who Jesus was, as an exalted being.”

Yet with all the confusion, “It is worth stressing that Paul does indeed speak about Jesus as God, as we have seen. This does not mean that Christ is God the Father Almighty. Paul clearly thought Jesus was God in a certain sense—but he does not think that he was the Father. He was an angelic, divine being before coming into the world; he was the Angel of the Lord; he was eventually exalted to be equal with God and worthy of all of God’s honor and worship.”

The fact about the author of the Gospel of John: “Whoever wrote the Gospel of John (we’ll continue to call him John, though we don’t know who he really was) must have been a Christian living sixty years or so after Jesus, in a different part of the world, in a different cultural context, speaking a different language —Greek rather than Aramaic— and with a completely different level of education .. The author of John is speaking for himself and he is speaking for Jesus. These are not Jesus’s words; they are John’s words placed on Jesus’s lips.” Then Bart points out to the christological difference between Paul and John: “The exaltation (of Jesus by crucifixion) is not to a higher state than the one he previously possessed, as in Paul. For John, he was already both ‘God’ and ‘with God’ in his preincarnate state as a divine being.”

Interestingly enough: “It is widely held among scholars that the Prologue is a preexisting poem that the author of John has incorporated into his work—possibly in a second edition.”

After the theological development of exaltation, resurrection and incarnation Christologies: “Eventually incarnation Christologies developed significantly and overtook exaltation Christologies, which came to be deemed inadequate and, eventually, ‘heretical’.”

“The view, that Christ was not by nature divine but was adopted to be God’s son, emerged not out of Jewish Christianity, but from purely gentile stock.”