Bart Ehrman Debunks the Claim that Jesus was Married

Yep. Ehrman is usually helpful when it comes to the more conspiratorial claims regarding early Christianity, even if he’s not the most helpful when it comes to New Testament scholarship overall. The Bible claims Jesus was buried during the peacetime between Jews and the Romans, but Ehrman, using sources from after this peacetime had ended (that is to say, sources regarding the relationship between Jews and Romans after the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 AD) claims that Romans actually didn’t allow Jews to bury their dead. Nevermind the fact that first-century historian Josephus in the early 70’s explicitly says that the Romans allowed Jews to bury their dead in his War of the Jews 4.317, Ehrman finds it more productive to go to painful lengths to try to explain it away.

Thankfully, Ehrman is a good conspiracy beater. His most recent book The Triumph of Christianity (2018) regarding how Christianity became the dominant religion, though not perfect as Tim O’Neill shows, is very good, and refutes the myth that Constantine didn’t really convert to Christianity made by online atheistic conspiracy theorists. Over the last week or so, I’ve been reading through his book Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code (2004, available online in PDF here) devoted to explaining the historical myths propagated all throughout Dan Brown’s international bestseller The Da Vinci Code book (which ended up becoming a movie). In one especially good section, Ehrman exquisitely refutes the myth that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. As Ehrman shows, Jesus was not married to Mary Magdalene, let alone married at all.

It is true that there have occasionally been historical scholars (as opposed to novelists or “independent researchers”) who have claimed that it is likely that Jesus was married. But the vast majority of scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity have reached just the opposite conclusion. This is for a variety of compelling reasons. (pg. 153)

As Ehrman points out, Jesus having a wife is never mentioned in our earliest and most reliable sources on the lifetime of Jesus, the four Gospels. These Gospels mention Jesus’ brothers, sisters, and parents, but never appears to offer any space for mentioning a supposed wife of Jesus. This is strange, and becomes even more strange if we think it was Mary Magdalene, out of all people, married to Jesus. In ancient times, last names didn’t exist. “Christ” isn’t Jesus’ last name, it’s just a title that comes from the Hebrew word for Messiah, and means “the anointed one” in English. Many people often were giving identifying appellations to distinguish them from other people with the same name. So, how is Mary Magdalene distinguished from the rest of the Mary’s in the Gospels (of which there are quite a few)? She’s given the appellation ‘Magdalene’, denoting that she came from the city of Magdala along the shore of the Sea of Galilee (once the major maritime port city at Galilee until Tiberias was built). However, if she was the wife of Jesus, why wasn’t she just identified as “Mary the wife of Jesus” (Jesus mother, Mary, is identified as ‘Mary the mother of Jesus’ (Acts 1:14))? Even the wives of Jesus’ blood brothers are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9;5. It’s strange to think that such an important characteristic of the life of Jesus would be absent given all this information.

In The Da Vinci Code, it’s claimed that marriage was very common at the time and that celibacy was condemned. But as Ehrman shows, this is wrong again.

We know about one group of Jewish apocalypticists in particular from this time and place, as we have already seen. This is the group of Essenes who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. As it turns out, according to ancient records of these Essenes, they were predominantly single, celibate men. This is the testimony of Jewish sources from the time, such as the first-century philosopher Philo, who indicates that “no Essene takes a wife,” and the historian Josephus, who indicates that the Essenes shunned marriage; on the other hand, this view is affirmed even by non Jewish sources, such as the writings of the Roman polymath Pliny the elder, who indicates that the Essenes renounced sex and lived “without any woman.” (pp. 155-6)

Though Jesus wasn’t an Essene, he was concerned with the end of the world, and many men in first century Judaism concerned with the end of the world simply did not take part in marriage in order to entirely focus themselves on their religious goals. Including the apostle Paul himself (1 Cor. 7:8). So it actually isn’t surprising at all Jesus was married. There goes another atheist myth about Jesus.

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The Scientific End of Materialism and Determinism?

The age has come by, and with quantum mechanics (and even classical mechanics) in the picture, both materialism and determinism seem to have come out. Classical mechanics deals with the motion of macroscopic bodies (such tennis balls, planets and asteroids) whereas quantum mechanics deals with the universe at the subatomic level (i.e. what happens at the level of anything smaller than an atom, such as photons and electrons). So, despite the technical names, we all know (or have heard of) a thing or two about these forms of physics, including quantum mechanics, if we’ve ever heard of wave-particle duality (all entities are both waves and particles), nuclear decay (when an atom emits protons/neutrons/photons to become more balanced), wave functions (probability waves) of electrons around an atom, etc. The first book I read introducing me to all these concepts was a well-articulated book by physicist Brian Greene titled The Elegant Universe.

Here, materialism and determinism start becoming problematic. Materialism is the idea that everything that exists has a composition of matter, merely constructed in different modifications, and determinism, the view that everything that will happen is ultimately determined outside of the will, so for example, if you knew everything about every particle in the universe and its movement, size, interaction, etc, you would be able to perfectly predict the future based on inevitable interactions between these particles. These views aren’t synonymous with atheism or naturalism at all, but atheists and naturalists form almost their entire membership, and of course, both concepts contradict supernaturalism (the view that there exists things beyond the natural world) and theism (the view that God/ a god(s) exists). Idealism, certainly, is not a popular view in unbelieving circles.

Determinism, of course, is outright impossible to reconcile with quantum mechanics. According to quantum mechanics, all particles exist in a probabilistic state before being observed/measured. That is to say, the particle/entity literally does not exist in one state as an object, but only exists in a probability region where the particle might be found. This is why things like quantum tunneling occur. In quantum tunneling, a ‘particle’ can pass right through an object (imagine someone walking through a wall) because the wave function it exists as enters the other side of the object by random chance. If this explanation isn’t perfectly clear, this video helps really helps explain the concept.

In other words, in light of the fact that the universe is completely probabilistic, determinism is false, since there is nothing deterministic about the wave function. In fact, it turns out that, according to a 2015 physics paper titled Determinism, independence, and objectivity are incompatible in the journal Physical Review Letters by physicists Radu Ionicioiu, Robert B. Mann, and Daniel R. Terno, determinism is incompatible “not only with quantum mechanics” (from the abstract) but even any classical theory of mechanics. So, the physics community seems to have come to terms with this truth resulting from physics. So why not many atheists?

Materialism falls into the same trap. Matter simply isn’t all that exists, since wave functions exist and are decidedly not matter (also see here). Also, as I was reading some comments by some people on this subject, another simple point was brought up that also does away with materialism, the beginning of the (not just the observable) universe! The fact that matter began to exist is the end of materialism. It’s also important to note that realism, the view that reality exists independently of us, has also been falsified by quantum mechanics (see the book from the renowned physicist Anton Zeilinger’s, Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation). Admittedly, Bohmian mechanics is one way to get out of all this, but it’s probably wrong anyway. Local hidden variable theory has been virtually ruled out by Bell’s inequalities. It’s always nice when physics and science contribute to the slow deconstruction of the unbelieving worldview.

How the Ancient Greeks Did Not Invent Separation of Church and State

The Christians sometime a few centuries ago invented the idea of the separation of church and state, not for secular reasons, but from theological motivations. Hard to believe, I know. That’s why when I was discussing this with someone earlier, and I brought up this fact, they strangely attempted to argue that the real progenitor of the concept of the separation of church and state was the ancient Greeks. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re about to see how the Greeks were anything but secular in their government, and then I’ll explain the motivation for making this claim in the first place.

The Greeks not only did not separate their institutions of ‘church’ and state, they didn’t view these institutions as different to begin with. They were morphed in ancient Greek (and Roman) society in such inextricable ways that even speaking of a ‘separation’ might seem confusing. Everett Ferguson in his highly important monograph Backgrounds of Early Christianity writes;

We have already stated the civic basis of Greek and Roman religion; yet more needs to be said. Modern Western ideas that put religion in a separate category from government, society, and culture can seriously mislead us. Religion was closely interwoven with society in the Greco-Roman world. It was official and a part of the civil order. (pg. 170)

Therefore, it is not only incorrect to claim that the Greeks had a separation of church and state, but the mere idea of such a thing would have been inexplicable to the ancient Greeks. Indeed, the Greek government was almost the precise opposite of what this concept would normally mean to any of us. In the Greek city-states, all laws were devised and enforced by the magistrates (and anyone could be one). All magistrates in city-states like Athens, once they entered the government, had to pledge allegiance to the gods. Pierre Bonnechere thus writes;

Indeed, Athenian magistrates began their mandate with an oath which obligated them to the gods, and ended their terms by settling accounts. (pg. 367 in the edited voume A Companion to Ancient Greek Government)

This is only the beginning. Each Greek city-state had its own patron deity (i.e. Athena for Athens, Artemis for Ephesus). Meetings of assemblies and councils involved sacrifice and prayer, public funds were used to build temples and taxes used to support certain cults, many trials were held within sanctuaries. It doesn’t stop here, indeed, as Bonnechere continues to write (note: polis = city-state);

Again, citizens and other residents joined in various organizations of thiasotes or orge¯ones, private but endorsed by the polis and centered on a divinity, who might be foreign like Bendis. Finally, the cult of the dead remained a private prerogative, though the state often tried to limit its excesses and could hold commemorative ceremonies for the war dead, or organize, as at Athens, the annual festival of the Genesia (Georgoudi 1988b). (pg. 367)

The ancient Greeks and their governments were intimately married with religious precepts and practices, and religious Greek zealotry is why Socrates was executed by the government.

So, why this myth was invented in the first place? I have to admit, it’s a pretty rare myth and you probably won’t encounter it. However, it’s certainly part of a larger view that modern Western culture owes more, morally and scientifically, to Greek philosophy and ideas rather than Judeo-Christian culture. This is a surprisingly wrong idea, but it is indeed an attempt to erase history in order to synthesize a denial of the positive influence of Christianity and credit it as lowly as possible with where its credit is due, and redirect the credit to people whom it can’t be given to, but seem to be pretty smart, such as the ancient Greeks. By the end of the Middle Ages, Christian Europe had advanced the ancient Greeks so vastly in every sector of society; scientifically, ethically and morally, architecturally, philosophically, historiographically, etc, etc. The Middle Ages had successfully laid the foundations for the scientific revolution with countless natural philosophers (essentially an ancient scientist) making staggering contributions and advancements, largely motivated for theological reason and funded by the Church.

A Good Short History of the War

That is, the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 AD, of course, when the Romans, in response to Jewish aggression, invaded and pillaged Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, thus ending the Second Temple Period. This is a very complex historical event and process that went on for a period of several years, and not much of any laymen understand the details. The war was recorded in detail in the seven books of the War of the Jews, written between 70-75 AD by the Jewish historian Josephus whom himself took part as a general in the war, initially on the Jewish side of the conflict. These seven books are long, tough, and not many people seriously have the time to read the books. Martin Goodman’s highly influential academic monograph The Ruling Class of Judea: The Origins of the Jewish Revolt Against Rome A.D. 66-70 is available online for free in PDF with the click of a button, though albeit an easier read, also tough and not something many people have time for.

Thus, I recently came across a gem in the making. Biblical scholar Joel Edmund Anderson has a nice little blog called Resurrecting Orthodoxy, where he has started to create a series articulately and cogently explaining the history of the Roman-Jewish War. It is really good and enjoyable, and I thought I’d share quickly share this series in the making year. It will certainly increase ones historical understanding of the period if you care about a major event Jesus probably predicted!

The Jewish War Series:

Part 1: The Beginning of the RevoltPart 2: The Bloody Deeds of Menahem the ZealotPart 3: Chaos Erupts Throughout the Region; General Cestius Makes a Move in GalileePart 4: Cestius’ Attack and Inexplicable RetreatPart 5: Josephus Secures Galilee, and the Rise of John of Gischala, Part 6: Vespasian Begins the Roman Advance into GalileePart 7: Vespasian Conquers GalileePart 8: The Revolutionaries in JerusalemPart 9: Ananus the High Priest vs. The Zealots (and further betrayal by John of Gischala), Part 10: The Jewish War Series (Part 10: The Idumeans Come to the Aid of the Zealots)Part 11: The Idumeans’ and Zealots’ Reign of Terror in Jerusalem

Finding something like this really makes you wanna hallelujah.

Christianity versus Secular Culture

Note: Part of this post was pulled from my comments on this BioLogos discussion page

Though Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life continues dominating the bestselling lists on top, there is still another one jumping up and down the top 20 by one of the West’s most well-known intellectuals, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now. Though I have not read the book yet (though I intend to), I have recently watched one of Pinker’s recent lectures about the book delivered to the Cato Institute delivered on March 6th, 2018.

Essentially, Pinker demonstrates that since the Enlightenment, the world has gotten better in almost every way that we can use to measure the prospertiy of humans (with a few outliers, such as the increase of the opioid epidemic, climate change and AIDS, though I will qualify that at least the last two examples I named are also being reduced). Now, Pinker attributes a lot of this to humanism, i.e. not religion, and at one point in the lecture refers to the religious as believing in a “father in a sky”, the typical strawman version of religion (just as creationism is the strawman version of Christianity). He’s a secularist and likes to attribute the achievements of the Enlightenment to Enlightenment philosophy, including the moral philosophy that matched the rise of the Enlightenment. Now, I have two problems with this.

For one, Pinker seems to flatly not recognize just how enormously Enlightenment values are rooted in Judeo-Christian culture. Without it, it’s not clear whether or not an ‘Enlightenment’ would have taken place within a thousand years of when it did take place, or if ever (though he likes to use the Enlightenment as a direct alternative to Christianity and religion, and lets not forget one of the main men to bring about the Enlightenment, John Locke, wanted atheists jailed). Pinker tries to divorce Enlightenment values from religion (he manages to achieve this without even discussing the origins of the Enlightenment values), something that is historically invalid. Though, of course, this is not the first time that Pinker’s books have historically befuddled. To Pinker’s credit, this aspect of his discussion on Enlightenment values remains a minority portion of his book, thankfully enough. Pinker is not the only secular intellectual to have a surprising misunderstanding of ancient history. While reading Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene, I noticed a significant historical error in an admittedly very well written scientific treatise on pg. 190:

Admittedly the current burst of improvement dates back only to the Renaissance, which was preceded by a dismal period of stagnation, in which European scientific culture was frozen at the level achieved by the Greeks.

This is so mistaken that it is hard to overstate. There was so much advancement between the period of the Greeks to the end of the Middle Ages (the ‘Renaissance’ is also a term now abandoned by serious historians of the period) that a Greek living in the 2nd century, transported to the 15th, would have no clue where they’ve been taken to. The invention of the mechanical clock, printing press, windmill, compass, gunpowder, and countless scientific advancements that laid the foundations for the scientific revolution, revolutions in all sectors of society, marked the remarkable period of advancement in human history known as the Middle Ages. There is of course a ridiculous idea in popular culture that the Middle Ages, between the 5th to 15th century, was marked by a thousand year long stagnation where no progress was made under the overarching fist of an almighty Catholic Church, something that never occurred. The refutation of this Gibbonian thesis was long and arduous, and was completed by historians by the end of the 19th century. Now, books such as the 2009 God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam, explaining and refuting this thesis, has been shortlisted for two highly prestigious awards for the history of science, as well as receiving many lavish endorsements by some of the worlds foremost historians of science, including none other than Edward Grant;

Hannam has written a splendid book and fully supported his claim that the Middle Ages laid the foundations of modern science. He has admirably met another of his goals, namely that of acquainting a large non-academic audience about the way science and various aspects of natural philosophy functioned in medieval society and laid the foundation for modern science. Readers will also learn much about medicine, magic, alchemy, astrology, and especially technology. And they will learn about these important matters in the history of science against the broad background of the life and times of medieval and early modern societies.

So, why does this thesis still exist, given that no credible historian believes in it? Why does it continue getting rehashed in boneheaded books by amateur historians like Closing of the Western Mind (2003) and The Darkening Age (2017)? How many more times does Cantare Amantis have to curbstomp this thesis on Twitter until the message gets across!? The answer is quite simple, dear reader. It is in order to maintain the fictitious idea, believed by secular culture, that Christians destroyed intellectual learning and advancement. It’s quite popular if you’ve not heard of the academic study of the history of science. Secular culture is the majority in the West, without doubt, and the dominant ideology generally likes to invent things in order to discredit its competitors. In this case, Christianity and Christians. This is not the only things happening to Christianity in secular culture, though, there are many other popular myths radiating out there (Constantine wrote the Bible, anything to do with the Council of Nicaea, almost anything to do with the Galileo trial, the mythicist thesis, etc). Now, it may be very difficult to be a Christian under a different, hostile dominant ideology. So how are we to be Christians? This not only has been answered, but the answer is almost two thousand years old. Christianity was in the world of the Roman Empire, a long-lasting and vast power that swarmed over a fraction of the known world, an empire that the late ancestors of Christianity had not known without.

Something that is not well known, or well understood at the very least, is that the influence of pagan religion on the early Christians was just as strong, if not stronger, than the secular influence and argumentation against Christianity in the modern day, and Christians won then. We can win again, but we must not be stupid. I recently finished reading Larry Hurtado’s (Emeritus Professor of Edinburgh University and world renowned scholar) At the Origins of Christian Worship. The first chapter is devoted to understanding and discussing the Roman (and to a lesser extent, Jewish) background to the early Christians. By no means for the Christians was it easy, and that is entirely besides the sporadic persecutions that eventually would have killed several tens of thousands of Christians (and oppress many more) until Constantine finally converted and legalized Christianity (though he did not make it the official religion of the empire, that did not happen until the end of the 4th century under Theodosius I).

In the ancient Roman world, every sector of society was inescapably linked to religion. Numerous deities permeated many societies, many imported over time through the newly conquered peoples of Rome, and almost all official offices had religious obligations. The emperor himself was no doubt excluded. Not only was he included, but he was often deified, where the Roman citizens were expected to worship the emperor directly. To an ancient Roman, even conceiving of some sector or norm of society not explicitly linked with religion would have been inconceivable. As Hurtado explains;

Perhaps the first thing to emphasise is the pervasiveness of religion in the Roman world. It is in fact difficult to point to any aspect of life in that period that was not explicitly connected with religion. Birth, death, marriage, the domestic sphere, civil and wider political life, work, the military, socialising, entertainment, arts, music – all were imbued with religious significance and associations. Any civic and public office also had religious connotations and often involved ex officio religious duties, such as public leadership in periodic ceremonies in honour of the city deities. Any association of tradesmen had its patron deity, and meetings included ritual gestures in honour of the deity. Practically any meal, and certainly any formal dinner, included ritual acknowledgement of deities, and might well be held in rooms that formed part of the temple of this or that deity. Each military unit had its patron deities and performed regular religious acts in honour of them. (pp. 8-9)

Hurtado simply goes on. Perhaps among the most literate philosophers (who were also all aristocratic), some skepticism arose, but this was by and large permeated to the fringes of intellectual society and the masses flauntingly conducted their religion with not only the acceptance, but endorsement of the the rare aristocratic skeptic. In every serious Roman city, there would be numerous temples devoted to the pagan gods, and almost without exception, they would constitute the largest, most lavish buildings in the Roman city. It was an inescapable part of Roman archictecture and life. Not only this, but these temples and religious buildings usually maintained many aspects of Roman life that were not available anywhere but inside of their services, including many cultural centers, zoological parks, museums, aviaries, concerts, art galleries, public lectures, offered nowhere else in the society. Thus, Hurtado points out;

This means that the sacred places of the gods were not only prominent but heavily frequented, both for what we would think of as obviously religious purposes and for wider social and cultural purposes as well. In particular, cult centres were places where groups of people could eat and drink together easily… At this point, however, I want to note that the temples of the pagan gods were also frequently used as convenient places for social dining and often had rooms attached to the central shrine that could be used (likely rented out) for such purposes. Thus, part of the reason that Roman-era temples are to be seen as so important a feature of city life is that people frequented them for a range of purposes and combined social and religious life and activities easily within their precincts. A great deal of financial outlay was involved in shrines and temples, and a great deal of life was related to them. (pp. 20-21)

With so many deities, there would be many holidays throughout the year devoted to the gods, many of which were attended by extraordinary pagan parades that could not escape one’s attraction and notice. I would certainly recommend reading the full chapter of Hurtado’s book, which is actually available freely online in PDF format here. The truth is, we need not lose hope over the secular state of society, this is not something that Christians haven’t dealt with before. Christians, by the way, won that one. We must be ready to defend the faith, and know the intricate, complex truths. This means, at least for me, immersing oneselves in scholarship and academia, since that is where the complex, profound truths of the world lie. I believe in defending the faith. I think we all should, indeed need, to do so if we want to see our friends and family, and wider culture, come to the truth.

We must continue worshipping, and worshipping together in gatherings, a highly important feature of early Christian society. We need our own culture. We have to hold to the truths of our predecessors. Christians, in the past, did not sit around doing nothing. They vigorously defended and proclaimed the faith all the time, converting the city dwellers and the aristocrats. A fantastic account of the rise of early Christianity is the one by the renowned sociologist Rodney Stark, one that I find quite profound in its truth. Though I was perhaps harsh in this article, it is to try to nail my point into your head. Hopefully I will be forgiven. Remember, as long as there is one of our fighters, there is a hope yet to come.

Watch oνer your life: do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming. 2 Gather together frequently, seeking the things that benefit your souls, for a the time you haνe belieνed will be of no use to you if you are not found perfect in the last time.

The Didache (16.1-2) 100-200 AD

Did Jesus Historically Predict the Fall of the Temple?

While Jesus was sitting opposite of the Temple on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem with His closest disciples (Peter, James, and John) around him, He predicted that the Temple would fall.

Mark 13:1-2: As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

I have a quick word to say here about the historicity of Jesus predicting the fall of the Temple. Sometimes, this prediction of Jesus mentioned in Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:5-6, and Matthew 24:1-2 is used to date the earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, to 70 AD or later. The reasoning goes is that “well, this text mentions the fall of the Temple which took place in during the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 AD, so that’s when this Gospel and the later ones must have been at least written by”. This argument presupposes Jesus couldn’t have predicted the fall of the Temple (by presupposing He was just human and that’s that), and then uses this to date the Gospels to a specific period when the event took place. In a short note here, I’m simply pointing out that historically, this idea collapses. Jesus did not even need to be divine or a prophet in order to predict the destruction of the Temple, since the Book of Daniel had already prophesied such would happen centuries earlier (also see Daniel 8:9-14 and 12:11).

Daniel 11:31: Forces sent by him shall occupy and profane the temple and fortress. They shall abolish the regular burnt offering and set up the abomination that makes desolate.

This means that Jesus did not need to look anywhere else than the scripture He always quoted from in order to know that the days of the Temple were short. In other words, this argument against the historicity of the destruction of the Temple is untenable. Secondly, Jesus behavior of predicting the destruction of the Temple is consistent with one nearly certain aspect of His historical life: His incident at the Temple. As most people familiar with the Gospels know, Jesus entered into the Temple, overturned the tables and outcried about how it was being corrupted by the authorities, being turned into a place of gambling rather than its purpose and giving glory to God. This event is mentioned in all four Gospels (Mark 11:15-19; Matthew 21:12-16; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-22), and is therefore independently used by Mark and John, meaning it predates them both (at least before 70 AD). As the scholar Michael Vicko Zolondek writes, “That Jesus did, in fact, perform some such action in the temple is so widely accepted by scholars that in most works its historicity is hardly discussed for more than a few sentences, if at all” (pg. 135, We Have Found the Messiah, Wipf and Stock 2016). Zolondek explains this in a footnote, where Zolondek summarizes the massive evidence for the event in the same page (fn. 17):

It is plausible; it is likely multiply attested (cf. John 2:13-21); it does not appear to be consistent with post-Easter attitudes toward the temple; and it accounts for Jesus’ arrest with simplicity and ease (for all of this, see Snodgrass, “The Temple Incident,” (435-39). For attempts to deny its historicity, see Mack, Myth of Innocence, 291-2; Seeley, “Jesus Temple’ Act,” 268-83. For Snodgrass’s refutation, which makes ample reference to other scholarly literature also refuting this overly-skeptical view, see “The Temple Incident,” 435-39. For another recent and comprehensive discussion of the incident’s historicity, see Adna, “Jesus and the Temple,” 2638-54.

Therefore, there appears to be good reason to assume that Jesus really did predict the destruction of the Temple, and no comparatively good reason to doubt it.

Did the Non-Religious Stop Growing?

I suppose that by all means, 2017 was a chaotic year in many (good and bad) ways. The political landscape has taken on many developments, especially the rapidly increasing growth of conservatism in the Western world. Anywho, I have just looked over the religious figures in America in the 2017 year, and it appears as though something very good is happening: the religious populations are stabilizing, including the cessation of non-religious growth. According to a report titled 2017 Update on Americans and Religion by Gallup, from 2016-2017, the total Christian population went from 71.9% to 71.2%, an overall decline of 0.7%, whereas the non-religious population grew from 20.8% to 21.3%, a 0.5% increase. While there is still decline in Christianity in America/growth in the non-religious, these declines are waaaaay lower than before. In 2015, Gallup reported that 75.2% of the population was Christian, meaning that in 2016 it hit 71.9%, which is therefore a decrease of over 3% in one year. This spiral downwards looks to have finally disappeared. What can be the cause of this?

Well, I happen to have realized that in the political climate of the 2017 year, the Christian/religious and conservative side of politics has become much more powerful. With the monumental rise of Jordan Peterson, a renowned psychologist who is a Christian with a Christian perspective (although not by any means the conventional one, not to mention the incredible Bible lecture series he has put out which have been viewed many millions of times in the last year), as well as the continued advance of other rising religious cultural stars (such as Ben Shapiro, whether or not you agree with all their views), it’s clear that atheism and the irreligious worldview has been subject to more and more criticism and its nihilistic flaws and incoherencies are becoming so blunt. I’d also like to point out that 2017 was one of the greatest years in biblical archaeology discoveries in recent decades. Seriously, even I’m flabbergasted over how good the year was.

A lot is changing. New religious blogs, well-informed ones in fact, are popping up left and right (I’ve been noticing the trend myself). Mines has made a lot of gains in 2017 as well. Our societies and literature are increasing. Just one example is BioLogos, which from my own tracking, has had their website visits increase from ~150,000-200,000 a month to ~400,000-500,000. Obviously, atheist literature remains in its eternal stagnation, considering it fundamentally has nothing to provide, and is thus the largest progenitor of nihilism in the world. Perhaps people aren’t so quick anymore to think that God does not exist, which is in my view very good progress indeed. What is coming next? We can only wait and see.

EDIT: To note, this good news doesn’t apply to Europe. While overall European numbers continue to decline, I have found a recent indication of what may eventually become a revival. These, however, are the early signs and we must wait to see fully. Things are not bleak, though.

The Sea of Chaos and the Biblical Masterpiece

As I was reading some books recently, I found out something quite important when it comes to the eschatology of the biblical narrative that also shows just how grand and incredible the biblical narrative is, a true masterpiece in what it says and in its entirety from beginning to end.

Eschatology is the study of the ‘end times’ to put it simply, and the sea of chaos has upmost symbolic significance for the end of the world. The ‘sea of chaos’ plays an important role in its symbolic representation of God coming to redeem the world from its sin. We are reminded that according to Genesis, God’s wind sweeps over the face of the waters in the very first day. In the days of the composition of Genesis, the sea was thought to entirely surround the world (which would be the land mass of what we would today call the world, encompassed by a dome which God had created to allow a space for the life of humanity to exist). This sea was thought to be chaotic, unrestrained and at any time could enter our world and crush us. Therefore, in Genesis 6-9, onlooking the sin of the world God lets loose the chaotic sea into the world and destroys all humanity besides Noah himself. After the flood took place, where God rose the seas to cover the mountains and cover the entire world, God promises to set a boundary over where the water can never cross again.

Psalm 104:6-9: You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken. You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight. They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.

Therefore, the sea of chaos was always something that was a threat to the world restrained by God Himself. It always existed, and in the biblical eschatology, it would be a source where the beast would rise from.

Daniel 7:2-3: I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.

Revelation 13:1: And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names.

Therefore, the sea of chaos was a symbolic marker of which the evil forces against God were associated with, since they, like the sea, are sources of destruction for humanity, from past to present. Now, according to the Bible, God will finally destroy all evil in the end of the world, and He will create a “new Earth” and “new heaven” at the end of time (whether or not this means physically annihilating the current heaven and Earth and replacing it with new ones in God’s creation, or simply the resuscitation/cleansing of this world from sin like in the story of Noah’s flood doesn’t matter), where we will eternally live in God’s glory and bliss for the end of time. Therefore, we find towards the end of Revelation something almost no one notices. God shows the author of Revelation, John of Patmos (‘of Patmos’ since he lived on the island of Patmos, see Rev. 1:9) how the new creation will be like.

Revelation 21:1: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

The sea was no more. God has done away with all the evil and source of destruction in the past world, by making it new once again, and perfect this time forever more, He has made a new heaven, new Earth, and the sea, which is a symbolic representation of all the things that have gone wrong before, is now gone, as God’s confirmation for the good eternity of the coming age. This, I think, is another detail that again reveals the literary masterpiece and unification of the single story of the sixty-six books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, and reminds us once again what God has in store for us very soon indeed.

What on Earth is the Book of Revelation?

“The church’s witness will be of value only if it knows truth worth dying for.” (pg. 160, The Theology of the Book of Revelation)

The Book of Revelation, written toward the end of the 1st century AD, is probably the most confusing book in the entire Bible, and given that it’s also at the end of our modern canon, someone who sequentially reads the all the books of the Bible might come out with an exhilarated yet confused feeling. As my own motto goes when trying to understand Christian ideas, especially ones as important as those in Revelation, you should read the text a lot and see what modern scholarship has to say. Here, I’m going to try to systemize some of what Revelation is.

Revelation is a book that cannot be relegated to a single genre. It is an apocalyptic text, such as the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament. That is to say, it concerns God transferring heavenly information to a human being through an otherworldy mediator (an angel, in the case of Revelation) about the present world and temporal context of the author of the text and its recipients, and in many cases, specifically about how this will play out (alongside judgement) into the end of the world (as is also the case with Revelation). Revelation is also a prophetic text, which is made obvious in Rev. 22:7: “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” Thirdly, it is a letter, like the letters of Paul. There is a difference, though, between the way in which Revelation is a letter compared to Paul. Paul’s letters are usually directed to a single church, such as Romans (which is directed to the church in Rome), Galatians (directed to the church in Galatia), 1 and 2 Corinthians (directed to the church in Corinth), and so on. However, Revelation is directed towards seven different churches in the Roman province of Asia: “saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea” (Rev. 1:11). Revelation was written as a circular letter, as it was to be sent to the first of these churches (written in the sequential order in the verse above), then to the second, then to the third, and so on. Why seven churches? Well, besides the enormous symbolic importance of the number seven in Revelation and other texts Christians used at the time, as Richard Bauckham points out, seven was the number of completeness in this time. “We shall observe quite often in this book the symbolic significance which attaches to numbers in Revelation. Seven is the number of completeness” (The Theology in the Book of Revelation, pg. 16). Now, it is not correct to think that Revelation was only directed to these seven churches (i.e. we’re not included), rather, as Bauckham points out, it is the case that these seven churches were representatives of all the churches as is signified by when Revelation continuously says “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).

Since it is addressed to these seven churches, chapters 2-3 of Revelation provide seven introductions, each directed towards a specific church. Here, we encounter another prophet in Asia named Jezebel who is part of the church at Thyatira, who John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, considers a false prophet. He warns the church of Thyatira to avoid this women who entices the church to commit sins of the eyes of God, and speaks vividly of the punishment that Jezebel will have for not listening to change her ways and repent:

Revelation 2:19-25:  “I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first. 20 But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. 22 Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; 25 only hold fast to what you have until I come.

Revelation is a book that is heavily concerned with symbolic meaning and evocation, and it is laden with Old Testament meaning and significance (though it never explicitly quotes the Old Testament). Revelation must be properly understood in the historical context it was written in, just like all other books of the New Testament (and the entire Bible), and this is the only way to understanding its meaning correctly, in the way that it was meant to be taken by the seven churches it was directed to. Revelation was written in a time of Roman imperialistic power, where the Roman Empire had vast control over the known world of Revelation. In this time, and before, many Jews had come to become wary over that God had not come to end the world yet — they saw a world where they were unable to see God’s presence and righteousness, where the people of God were dominated under the great pagan empires, and they saw the evil that the world was ridden in. Thus, many apocalypses were written to engage with such views, and in one sense, Revelation also does this. Revelation, unlike the others however, instills its own context and way and world by which it hopes to instill upon the reader, to give them a new perspective of how to see things. In one way, it is meant to counter the Roman viewpoint, which always surrounded the readers of Revelation, with God’s world and perspective.

Several symbols are very important in the Book of Revelation. Something that Revelation does is play on, and amplify the fears of Rome. This includes, for example, the many earthquakes that the cities of Asia Minor were subjected to, the contemporary Roman fear of the invasion by the Parthian Empire to its east, the recent volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD that which sent shockwaves through the Roman Empire (and famously crushed the city of Pompeii), and more. Although none of these are explicitly mentioned, scholarship has undoubtedly shown the role they play in how Revelation props up its symbols and meaning (to mention Richard Bauckham again, see his 1977 paper The Eschatological Earthquake in the Apocalypse of John to see how this plays out in Revelation). All in all, in Revelation, John is brought to the heavenly throne room of God to see the world from a new understanding, which John hopes that the rest of us will also share. This all culminates in God’s creation of a new heaven, new earth, and a new Jerusalem (“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1-2)), an idea which first appears in the Old Testament (such as Isaiah 65:17-19) and intertestamental texts at Qumran, and therefore was certainly familiar to the readers of Revelation. Revelation was originally meant to be read aloud to the churches it was sent to, and though it carries much of the meaning of earlier apocalyptic texts, it newly does so through the new understanding of the world and its coming end through the theology and belief in Jesus Christ.

Revelation 1:1-2: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

Have we found the Messiah?

Another important question in the quest for the historical Jesus is the Davidic messianic question, that is to say, whether or not Jesus believed that He was the coming Messiah prophesied in the scriptures of Israel. Christ, though we say the word “Jesus Christ”, was not Jesus’ last name, rather it is a title that derives from the Hebrew word for ‘Messiah’: Mashiach. So, when we say “Jesus Christ“, we also affirm that Jesus is the Messiah, a point central to the teachings of Christianity. So, did the historical Jesus consider Himself the Messiah? This has been the subject of critical debate in academia, and recently I’ve read a monograph titled We Have Found the Messiah: How the Disciples Help us Answer the Davidic Messianic Question (Wipf and Stock 2016) by the scholar Michael Vicko Zolondek that I think not only comes to the right answer but provides an incredible, and new approach in scholarship to answering this question. As Larry Hurtado, a renowned New Testament scholar and textual critic says, “Zolondek succeeds in the improbable objective of making a fresh contribution to studies of ‘the historical Jesus.'” Here, I’ll follow Zolondek’s approach to seeing how we can answer that yes, Jesus considered Himself to be the Davidic Messiah.

Zolondek’s approach is pretty straight forward. In a short, and tightly argued book, Zolondek first 1) reviews previous scholarship on the studies of the Davidic messianic question, namely whether or not Jesus thought of Himself as the Messiah and identifies problems he sees in this research that is problematic, 2) establishes the methodology he will use to answer the question himself, and 3) investigates the ancient records, draws information and finally 4) comes to his conclusion.

Firstly, Zolondek begins reviewing previous literature of scholarship and how they have answered the messianic question themselves. He goes through the work of scholars including Geza Vermes, E.P. Sanders, Marcus Borg, James Charlesworth, Otfried Hofius, James D.G. Dunn, and some others. Most of these scholars have actually concluded that Jesus either did not consider himself to be the Davidic Messiah, or that there is not enough information to draw any conclusions. However, Zolondek demonstrates three problems in this work: it treats Jesus as if he was an individual personality, rather than looking at him in the dynamical context between him and his followers as a ‘group personality’ (since indeed, as anthropological studies have shown, ones self-views are often shaped by the people around you, and for Zolondek that is the understanding of Jesus that the disciples had of him and how they treated him). Secondly, previous scholarship places far too great emphasis on what Jesus personally said and how he exalted himself. Indeed, as Zolondek shows, other messiah figures of the time of Jesus (and the first kings of Israel, including David) never exalted themselves or proclaimed themselves to be the Messiah, rather, they exalted God and were established and proclaimed as the Messiah by their followers. So, we must look elsewhere to answer the Davidic messianic question. Thirdly, scholars unjustly attribute importance to Jesus’ lack of military earthly ambitions. Although other messiah figures of the time had high military ambitions, and there were expectations that the Messiah would have such ambitions (in order to recapture Israel from the Romans and declare God’s eternal kingdom on Earth), this was hardly the only expectation the messiah had. Indeed, as Zolondek shows, the Messiah was a ‘multifaceted’ figure who had many expectations on top of them, of which Jesus could have taken up if He considered Himself to be the Messiah. As Zolondek says and later shows, “There were various other things that one might do or say, apart from or in addition to harboring earthly military ambitions, if one were taking up the Davidic messianic role” (pg. 53).

Having shown flaws in previous scholarship, Zolondek lays out three propositions what I consider to be a valid approach to demonstrating how we can answer whether or not Jesus considered himself to be the Messiah. They are that “(1) that Jesus behaved in a manner which suggested to the disciples that he might be the Davidic Messiah; (2) that he was viewed and treated as the Davidic Messiah by the disciples; and (3) that in the context of this view and treatment, Jesus behaved in a manner consistent with that role” (pg. 138). Zolondek then examines and establishes a number of points about the historical Jesus in good and highly convincing detail, that among other things, Jesus enacted a number of potentially Davidic messianic acts including that he appointed twelve disciples in His ministry (many messianic figures regularly appointed figures that would have been gauranteed important positions in their future kingdoms), his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey (which would have had royal connotations in both the Roman and Jewish context of His day), the confession of Peter in Mark 8:27-30 and in its parallels (where Jesus asks the disciples who they think He is, and Peter eventually says that He thinks Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus warns Peter and the others not to tell anyone about it), and the request of James and John in Mark 10:35-40 and in its parallels (where James and John go for a power grab by asking Jesus for the highest positions in His future kingdom, demonstrating again that the disciples considered Jesus like a royal and messianic figure). All this information (and more), which Zolondek establishes as plausibly historical, is much more consistent and logical under the framework that Jesus considered Himself to be the Messiah rather than a prophet or simply eschatological figure, especially since the disciples themselves surely understood Jesus to be the Messiah.

Zolondek then asks objectors to the framework that he’s has built some several questions that need to be answered if Jesus really did not consider Himself to be the Messiah in light of the several pieces of historical information about him that can be established, such as: why did the disciples misunderstand who Jesus was? Are modern scholars really in a better position to understand who Jesus was than the disciples themselves? Why didn’t Jesus discourage their misguided views about Him? Finally, to deal another blow to the opposition, Zolondek points out that any serious answer to these questions are necessarily conjecture, and seem to be made in the attempt to explain away data rather than to explain data. Therefore, it is the most historically plausible to conclude that Jesus acted in the Davidic Messiah role, Jesus was a Davidic messianic figure, therefore answering the Davidic messianic question.