Bart D. Ehrman’s book “Jesus Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium ” is a book I recently finished reading this past week. The book is extremely readable and presents a compelling case that Jesus was, as you may have guessed from the title, an Apocalyptic prophet teaching the destruction of the temple. It’s an old book originally published in 1994, but the concepts and reasoning seem to hold up pretty well.
First the good parts:
Jesus the Radical
The Jesus in the gospels definitely doesn’t come across as the Jesus worshiped in Christian churches all over America today. Ehrman does a good job in calling out all the different teachings Jesus did. First there is “The Kingdom of God” in which it is argued Jesus was fully expecting God to come down at any point.
Ehrman also goes into the radical teachings including:
- Divorce should never happen
- People should sell all they own, give to the poor and follow Jesus
- Prepare now because God will come any day now.
Many of us try to put Jesus in our own time: he was a feminist, capitalist, etc. he was none of those. He was a first century Jewish peasant and you shouldn’t try to take him out of his time.
Jesus and the Son of Man
Ehrman talks that Jesus never says he was the son of God but that there was someone named the Son of Man that would be coming to establish the kingdom of God. I always thought about how the disciples saw it that way but never that Jesus was the one who may have taught it that way. Ehrman says Jesus never claims to have been the son of man but when all 4 gospels agree on the fact that he was crucified for sedition then it does seem clear that he at least thought he might have been. There are also parts in the gospel where he does seem to claim divinity. I think Ehrman was a little causal with respect to who Jesus really thought he was. But of course, I don’t necessarily disagree with Ehrman.
Jesus being rejected
I had always heard how much Jesus was rejected by the people but always thought of it just being the mobs in Jerusalem. Ehrman does a really good job of bringing this out that really causes one to reflect on just how much Jesus suffered for his ministry.
- He was rejected by his family according to Ehrman. This, of course is conjecture, but is argued for. Seeing how radical Jesus may have been it would not be a stretch to think his family wouldn’t follow him into selling all they own.
- He was rejected by the people in his boyhood home of Nazareth
- He was rejected by his closest friends. His disciples abandoned him. The Bible talks about him being crucified with thieves, or fellow threats to the empire. Were these thieves perhaps disciples who were captured with him or did all his closest disciples forsake him?
He was certainly a man well acquainted with grief and this made me appreciate more the deep spiritual strength Jesus had.
Parts I would like more discussion
There are parts I wish were covered more in this work . I realize I’m asking for information that doesn’t exist because frankly we just don’t have any records on the matter. However, as Ehrman is comfortable making conjectures on possible areas of Jesus life I see no reason to not go further with other aspects. Here goes:
- We still don’t really get a solid idea or theories on why Jesus became so famous after his crucifixiones. Ehrman stresses how unknown Jesus was to everyone until people (Paul) started writing about him 20 years after the events recorded in the gospels took place. If he was so unknown, how did that change?
- Why so much talk about how a Jesus family rejected him. There is a concept of criterion of dissimilarity expressed in the book several times and then from a few hand picked sources Ehrman infers that Jesus was probably rejected by his own family and that his brother James probably converted after the matters took place. I don’t think this is likely.
- I would have liked more discussion on the relationship with John the Baptist. Certainly it is likely Jesus was a disciple of John but I would have liked more on where John may have been teaching. Was he a Galilean as well? Perhaps they had a very close relationship and then perhaps a falling out. When John was then put in prison Jesus decided to take up the mantel and continue John’s work.
That about sums it up. The historical Jesus is an incredible person. The sad part is that we know so little about him, and what we do know about him probably comes from people who conflated or distorted the facts of his life to fit their own dogmas.
I recommend getting this book at the local library and having a good read.