Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A critique of Bart Ehrman's thesis on orthodoxy: part 1: Second Temple Jewish monotheism

Bart Ehrman is one of the most recognizable voices today representing a certain scholarly perspective. This post is the first part of a two-part critique of Ehrman's thesis that Christian orthodoxy is ultimately meaningless and arbitrary. Part 1 will critique his thesis from Jesus' and his disciples' involvement in Second Temple Judaism. Part 2 will critique his thesis from the perspective of ancient Christian writings. (By the way, Part 2 will have to wait until after my next crunch time at work, so it may be a few weeks.)
But the alternative forms of Christianity in the early centuries of the church wrestled over much larger doctrinal questions, many of them unthinkable in most modern Christian churches, such as how many gods there are (one? two? twelve? thirty?); whether the true God created the world or whether, instead, it was created by a lower, inferior deity; whether Jesus was divine, or human, or somehow both; whether Jesus' death brought salvation, or was irrelevant for salvation, or whether he even died. (Bart Ehrman in Lost Scriptures, 2003 Oxford Univeristy Press, p. 1).
This is Bart Ehrman's opening salvo on the first page of his book, Lost Scriptures, something of a companion book or sequel to Lost Christianities. He follows up on the next page with his take on the formation of the Christian consensus:
These beliefs, and the group who promoted them, came to be thought of as "orthodox" (literally meaning, "the right belief"), and alternative views -- such as the view that there are two gods, or that the true God did not create the world, or that Jesus was not actually human or not actually divine, etc. -- came to be labeled "heresy" (= false belief) and were then ruled out of court. Moreover, the victors in the struggles to establish Christian orthodoxy not only won their theological battles, they also rewrote the history of the conflict: later readers, then, naturally assumed that the victorious views had been embraced by the vast majority of Christians from the very beginning, all the way back to Jesus and his closest followers, the apostles.
Now, is Ehrman suggesting that Jesus and his apostles taught the existence of two gods (or twelve, or thirty), or that we cannot know whether Jesus taught one God, or two gods, or twelve, or thirty? Unless he is suggesting something of that sort, then his mention of all that is -- to say the least -- out of place in his argument. Is he suggesting that Jesus and his apostles weren't rooted in Jewish tradition of the Second Temple period? Or is he suggesting that the Jewish tradition of the Second Temple period wasn't completely decided about monotheism? Perhaps he's suggesting that the Jewish followers of Christ had some variant teachings about whether God was actually the creator of the worlds?

But unless he is suggesting exactly that, then even he would have to admit that the teachings that trace back to Jesus and his apostles are, on the question of how many gods, monotheistic. Unless Ehrman is suggesting that Christ and his apostles taught the "other creator" theory, then even he would have to admit that the teachings that trace back to Jesus and his apostles are, on the question of the creator, in favor of the one true God also being the creator. On the question of whether Jesus died -- unless Ehrman is suggesting that one of Jesus' apostles taught that he never actually died, then even Ehrman would have to admit that the teachings tracing back to the apostles are decided in favor of Jesus' real, physical, historical death on a cross under Pontius Pilate. Likewise as to the teaching on whether Jesus was actually human; does Ehrman suggest that the teaching that Jesus wasn't actually physical and human traces back to Christ and the apostles? And if not, then the teaching that traces back to Christ and his apostles is of Jesus' real humanity.

The simple fact of Jesus' and the apostles' Judaism in the Second Temple era gives us overwhelming reason to believe that they were monotheists. The same fact gives us overwhelming reason to believe that they held that same One God to be the creator of heaven and earth. Likewise even if one of the Jews should have taken Jesus for a prophet or a sorcerer, there would still have been unanimity about his humanity amongst those who knew him, and about his death. Absent is any credible suggestion that Jesus and his followers held different views on any of these things. To review what Ehrman had said:
Moreover, the victors in the struggles to establish Christian orthodoxy not only won their theological battles, they also rewrote the history of the conflict: later readers, then, naturally assumed that the victorious views had been embraced by the vast majority of Christians from the very beginning, all the way back to Jesus and his closest followers, the apostles.
But if Jesus and is followers were Second Temple Jews -- and they were -- then we have overwhelming reason to believe that orthodox view of one God, and that one God as the creator, does in fact trace to "the very beginning, all the way back to Jesus and his closest followers."

One thing which Ehrman does not appreciate -- and in fairness to Ehrman, he is in good company as many scholars have not fully appreciated -- that in the earliest days of the church, in the face of all these conflicting views which, as Ehrman mentions, actually were floating around -- there was already underway something that I will call the Very First Quest for the Historical Jesus. From our vantage-point, we probably have a greater knowledge of Judaism than many of the pagans who met Judaism in depth for the first time when they began to follow Christ. And as much as it's in bad taste to quarrel about religion, we do have to affirm that Christ and his apostles, as Second Temple Jews, were definitely on the side of one God (not two, or twelve, or thirty), and of that same One God creating the world, and of Jesus' true humanity, and of Jesus' true death. I do not see any rational dispute on these particular things as to what Jesus and his disciples originally taught. The findings of the Very First Quest for the Historical Jesus shaped what we now know as orthodoxy, and the orthodox views on these subjects gained prominence by the simple means of being right about what Jesus and his disciples actually taught. Orthodoxy was, in its early days, nothing else than the Very First Quest for the Historical Jesus.

Today's orthodoxy has the same task as orthodoxy has always had: seeking the real Jesus so that the key questions can be answered: Who is Jesus? Is he only human or is he also divine? What does his death mean for us? What does the cross mean for salvation? These are the depths of theology, the questions over which multiple views still wrestle as they have since the beginning of the faith, since Christ first pressed the question: Who do you say that I am? But this second type of question cannot be answered by looking at Second Temple Judaism alone; it requires a closer look at the actual contents of what we know about Christ in particular. That is the subject of part 2.

7 comments:

Anders said...

Who then was the historical “Jesus”?

The Qumran scroll 4Q MMT makes it crystal clear that at the beginning of the 1st century C.E., not only that Torah was the center of the life of every religious Jew but that the Oral Law was the core of Torah for every religious Jew – including Ribi Yәhoshua and the Nәtzarim!

Did you know that the original “Matthew” was written in Hebrew and it’s called Hebrew Matityahu. It speaks about an Orthodox Jewish leader.
The historical Ribi Yehoshua were a Pharisee.

I am a follower of Ribi Yehoshua – Mashiakh – who practiced Torah including Halakhah with all his heart.
He was born in Betlehem 7 B.C.E . His faher name was Yoseiph and mother’s name was Mir′ yâm. He had twelve followers. He tought in the Jewish batei-haknesset (synagogues). Thousands of Jews were interested in His Torah-teachings. The “Temple” Sadducees (non-priests who bought their priest-ship in the “Temple” from the Romans, because they were assimilated Hellenist and genealogically non-priests acting as priests in the “Temple”; they were known by most 1st-century Jews as “Wicked Priests.” decided to crucify him. So they did - together with the Romans. His followers were called Netzarim (meaning offshoots [of a olive tree]) and they continued to pray with the other Jews in the synagogues.

Christianity does not teach the teachings of Ribi Yehoshua. Ribi Yehoshuas teachings were pro-Torah.

If you want to learn more click at our website www.netzarim.co.il -- than click at the lick "Christians"; click at my photo to read about what made my switch religion from Christianity to Orthodox Judaism.

Anders Branderud
Follower of Ribi Yehoshua in Orthodox Judaism

Weekend Fisher said...

Anders, I have to wonder: is the Messiah you follow the Shechinah of God?

Take care & God bless
WF

Anders said...

Hello, Thanks for your reply!

Thanks for your answer!

My comment:
Ribi Yehosha - Mashiakh - is a human who did his utmost to practice Torah. He followed Hasheims - the Creators - Instructions - Torah.

”Neither Ribi Yehoshua nor י--ה has changed. The same is no less true today. Only those practicing the same religion, and within the same community (whether Jew or non-Jew geir), as Ribi Yehoshua are authentic or legitimate.

(Documentation and details in the book Who Are the Netzarim? (WAN).)
The Nәtzarim of today, like Ribi Yehoshua and his immediate Nәtzarim followers in their time, are the only followers of Ribi Yehoshua to reject the Hellenist (Roman pagan) apostasy of the antichrist and restore his authentic — pre-135 C.E. Judaic (as demonstrated from Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT) — teachings in the religious community with which Ribi Yehoshua identified: the Pәrushim (today's Orthodox, i.e., legitimate, Jewish Community) and in legitimate, i.e. Orthodox, Judaism. Therefore, the Nәtzarim are the only followers or Ribi Yehoshua who can possibly be legitimate!!! All others professing to follow the displacement theology apostasy of the Roman-Hellenists and their antichrist — regardless of the name they cite (J*e*s*u*s, Yehoshua, Yeshua, et al.) — have been deceived, and are deceiving others, into the synagogue described in Revelation 2.9 & 3.9!!!”

(quote: Netzarim.co.il)

If you want to follow the historical Ribi Yehoshua you need to start studying in our Khavruta (Distance Learning). You will find it at “Foreign Ministry” in the left menu at www.netzarim.co.il

Anders Branderud
Follower of Ribi Yehoshua - Mashiakh
www.netzarim.co.il

Anders said...

(I don't recieve any blessing from the christian g*od)

Take care you to!

Be blessed when you practice Torah and its commandments!

From Anders

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Anders

Are you interested in a more in-depth discussion? I'd love to speak more but I think the comments section is not much place for a couple of bloggers to be having any in-depth discussion. Would you be interested in our going back and forth in a series of posts on our blogs?

Let me know what you think.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anders said...

Hello Anne!
If you write a post I shall consider answering the arguments on the post at one of my blogs.
I recommend you to first read through our page “Christians” at the first page at www.netzarim.co.il and also “History Museum” in my left menu. It answers all frequent questions.

Take care!

Be blessed when you practice Torah and its commandments!

Anders Branderud
Follower of Ribi Yehoshua - Mashiakh
www.netzarim.co.il

David V.S. said...

Anders visited my blog with the same writing. My rebuttal is here.