Who Do They Say That I Am? Scholar Asks If Jesus Was Man, God or Both - and Why It Matters

By Denova, Rebecca I | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), January 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

Who Do They Say That I Am? Scholar Asks If Jesus Was Man, God or Both - and Why It Matters


Denova, Rebecca I, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


"HOW JESUS BECAME GOD"

by Bart D. Ehrman

HarperCollins ($27.99).

For believing Christians, the identity of Jesus was announced at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451): Jesus was always divine and human simultaneously. How did this work? Very simply, "it's a mystery."

But a fuller explanation of how a peasant became God is the subject of Bart Ehrman's latest book, "How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee," and the subject of contentious debate among scholars. Several colleagues published a response titled "How God Became Jesus."

Mr. Ehrman, a professor at the University of North Carolina, is a popular speaker on the evolution of Christian theology ("Misquoting Jesus," "Lost Scriptures: Books That Didn't Make It Into the Bible").

Dismissing his earlier training in Evangelical Christianity, he also dismisses most of the stories in the Gospels. He explains the rules of modern historical criticism, focusing on what we cannot know about Jesus because of the absence of evidence.

Most readers will either disagree with him or be outrageously offended as he explains that we can never verify a proper burial for Jesus, let alone a physical resurrection: "Faith is not historical knowledge, and historical knowledge is not faith."

For Mr. Ehrman, Jesus never thought himself divine in the sense that was later confirmed at Nicea, as the same essence as God. These are startling claims, but not new ones among academics.

The strength of the book is found in a much-needed corrective for understanding divinity in antiquity. The heavens were thickly populated by gradients of divine figures in descending order for both Jews and pagans. The original Jewish followers of Jesus would have had little trepidation in making divine claims.

The biggest challenge was not exalting Jesus to heaven, but finding room for him there; the Jewish heaven was a very crowded place. From at least 600 B.C., there were cherubim, seraphim, angels, archangels, "wisdom" (Sophia in Greek), "the son of man," and "ha-Satan" (the Devil).

According to Mr. Ehrman, the disciples first exalted Jesus through his resurrection (a la Moses or Elijah), but other early followers claimed he was a pre-existent being present at creation (Paul, John's Gospel). …

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