Friday, August 17, 2012

Problems for Ehrman: #1, "Author of Life"

Bart Ehrman, in his book, Did Jesus Exist?, argued that the early followers of Jesus did not think he was God. Rather he thinks that there was a gradual theological development, where Jesus was first scene as a human being that was "adopted" as the Son of God at his resurrection; then later at his baptism; then still later at his conception; then still later as having pre-existed as the Son of God in Heaven. He cites the speeches in the book of Acts as evidence that the adoptionist view of Jesus was the original view. According to Ehrman, "...some of the speeches in Acts contain what scholars call preliterary traditions: oral traditions that had been in circulation from much earlier times that are found, now, only in their written forms in Acts. This is important information because, here again, it shows that Acts is not simply a document from the 80s CE. It incorporates much older traditions." The problem (for Ehrman) is that among the speeches that he includes as representing much older traditions is the one given by Peter in Acts chapter 3. But right in the middle of that speech Peter says,

"You killed the author of life [Jesus], but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this."

That's a startling thing for Peter to say. The only "author of life" in Judaism was Yahweh. This reflects a much higher theological view of Jesus that an adoptionist theology would allow for. And I suspect that Ehrman would know that. So I'm puzzled as to why he included it in the list of speeches that he thought incorporated "much older traditions" than the document of Acts. Now perhaps it was just an oversight on Ehrman's part, which he forgot to edit out of his book. Or perhaps he thinks that statement by Peter is an interpolation of some kind. Or perhaps he has some other explanation as to what "the author of life" might mean. I would be curious to know what it might be. Maybe it's in one of his other books. He certainly didn't include it in this book.

But meanwhile, it is a problem for Ehrman on two counts. First, Ehrman argues against the common Mythicist view, which is that Jesus was first a divine mythical figure who later was transformed into a human being. Ehrman maintains that this couldn't be the case, since the first followers of Jesus didn't think he was divine at all. And second, Ehrman himself maintains that Jesus was merely human, relying upon the earliest oral traditions, which he thinks clearly reveals this. But if a speech that refers to Jesus as "the author of life" is one of the earliest oral traditions, then Ehrman's claim that the earliest historical sources support his view that Jesus was merely human must certainly be questioned.

There are other problems in his book, which I'll get to next time.


Steven Carr said...

I wonder why the earliest followers of Jesus thought of him as a normal human being , and the agent through whom the world was created (1 Cor. 8:6)

I wonder why they ate his body and drank his blood in a ritual meal, when they did not think of him as a divine being at all.

Steven Carr said...

Bart Ehrman claims on his blog that somebody 'made up' that account in Acts 3.

Bilbo said...

Good questions, Steven. Thanks for the info from Ehrman. I didn't realize he has a blog.