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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling but fascinating
This is a long, detailed, well written book which presents a view of the early Christian Church that many may find surprising. I personally found it a little unsettling and this reaction may be the power of this book. I was not sure about the material and its interpretation. The problem is that you need to be a New Testament scholar to be in a position to read this book...
Published 7 months ago by Mac McAleer

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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Helpful and interesting but flawed and idiosyncratic
This is my concluding review of Ehrman's How Jesus Became God, giving a summary of the book and my overall impressions. For a slower in-depth walk through the book, its arguments, and the reply book How God Became Jesus, I have a series of blog posts on my blog (search for "mydigitalseminary")

Whenever Bart Ehrman releases a book it is an event. I'm sure one...
Published 6 months ago by Lindsay


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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling but fascinating, 28 April 2014
By 
Mac McAleer (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How Jesus Became God (Hardcover)
This is a long, detailed, well written book which presents a view of the early Christian Church that many may find surprising. I personally found it a little unsettling and this reaction may be the power of this book. I was not sure about the material and its interpretation. The problem is that you need to be a New Testament scholar to be in a position to read this book critically. It is a best-seller in the USA, which surprises me. Why would Christians want to read a book that so profoundly undermines their beliefs and why would non-Christians be interested? The answer is: Because Christians read it to refute it and non-Christians read it to understand the origins of the Christian and post-Christian culture in which they live.

THE ARGUMENTS: Ehrman starts with a description of the treatment of the divine in pagan society where there were many gods and many levels of divinity. He then moves on to the treatment of the divine in the monotheistic Jewish society including attitudes to angels, to heretical Jewish beliefs of a second divinity, the "Son of Man", in Daniel and the non-canonical Book of Enoch and the traces of pagan divinities in the older parts of the Old Testament. Did Jesus think he was God? Ehrman says that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher and as such could not consider himself as God but could consider himself as the messiah. It would be the Son of Man, separate to Jesus, who would bring the apocalyptic change on earth in God's name and it would be Jesus who would be king of this new reformed kingdom. Ehrman says there was no empty tomb; the Romans would not have allowed the body to be buried after crucifixion. He notes that the references to the risen Jesus are all inconsistent with each other. The subtitle of this book is "The exaltation of a Jewish preacher from Galilee". For Ehrman, exaltation is the process of adoption of a human to the divine by an act of God. What exactly is meant by divine can be disputed. This is not the same as incarnation, where a pre-existing divinity such as an angel becomes human. Ehrman thinks that early Christians exalted Jesus. The Church later introduced incarnation. It is the process of moving from exaltation to incarnation that Ehrman discusses in his later chapters. He also asserts that St Paul considered Jesus a sort of Jewish angel.

THE CHAPTERS: The book's 9 chapters sequence Ehrman's arguments. Chapter 1 introduces the idea of divinity as understood by the Greeks and Romans of the time; Chapter 2 describes how the Jews understood divinity. Chapter 3 asks "Did Jesus think he was God?" Chapters 4 and 5 discuss what we know, and do not know, about the Resurrection. Chapter 6 is about Jesus and exaltation; Chapter 7 is about Jesus and incarnation. Chapter 8 discusses "dead ends" in Christian theology in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Chapter 9 is the "Road to Nicea". The Council of Nicea in 325 AD produced the Nicene Creed, which was intended to be the definitive definition of orthodoxy in Christian belief. Finally, in the Epilogue, Ehrman concludes that the idea of Jesus moved from being an apocalyptic preacher to a pre-existent divine being temporarily human, to the Word of God made flesh, to God in every respect co-eternal and of the same substance as God the Father.

THE BOOK is quite substantial with 9 chapters, an Introduction and Epilogue spread over 371 pages. There are also Notes (13 pages), a Scripture Index (3 pages) and a Subject and Author Index (14 pages). There are no maps or illustrations.

THE AUTHOR was a born again Christian. He is now an academic historian of the early Church who has lost his faith and says that he is ". . . no longer obsessed with the theological question of how God became a man". He has written several other popular books on early Christianity and often appears in the American media.

THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE to this book has already been made in How God Became Jesus written by five biblical scholars. They accept some of the things that Ehrman says but they do not think that he has presented anything new or anything that will extend the current knowledge of Christian origins. They disagree with many of his conclusions. For example, they do not think that the empty tomb is a late fiction and say that the burial of Jesus in a tomb is in line with Roman considerations of local Jewish law and traditions and the resurrection would not have been accepted if the body was still in the tomb. They think that his understanding of St Paul's theology of Christ is uninformed and even superficial and they disagree with his treatment of some of the divergences of the early Church after the New Testament had been written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jesus' evolution into God, 14 Jun 2014
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An excellent overview of early Christian history. A brilliant but succinct analysis of the Two Powers in Heaven and the concept of the Angel-of the-Lord as a foundation out of Biblical Judaism towards arguing Jesus was of the Elohim.
A clear explanation given of how Jews understood the term Messiah king-prophet idea and Christianity's evolution of it into the 'Son of Man' and the Son of God idea, eventually formulating Jesus into God, although he himself never states "I am God". The Quran also refers to Jesus (Isa) as the "Word" of God and "Messiah" son of Mary. This book gives a very helpful understanding for any Muslim of the origins and context in which these ideas gradually evolved in Judaeo-Christianity, well before Islam.
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5.0 out of 5 stars to be followed !, 28 Oct 2014
This review is from: How Jesus Became God (Hardcover)
I fully recommand Bart Ehrman's books. But this time, pay attention not to buy Bird's book. The title is 'similar' and you find the reference on the same 'amazon' page when you look for Ehrman's book.
Maybe, Ehrman's "How Jesus Became God" can be considered as some sort of sequel of his excellent "Did Jesus exist?" (HarperOne, 2012). If you read French, you could also start with M. Sachot's "L'Invention du Christ" (Odylle Jacob, 1998, sept. 2011) before reading "How Jesus Became God". I hope Ehrman's students fully realize how lucky they are.
P. Godin
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another fine book by Ehrman, 12 Oct 2014
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Mr. R. J. L. Payne "Heath Guy" (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How Jesus Became God (Hardcover)
Another fine book by Ehrman, tracing the transformation from Paul onwards of the Jewish teacher for the Jews into the god-man of history and mythology. Ehrman brings all his massive study and research, along with his former convictions as a committed fundamentalist Christian. Not for the faithful, but a must for those who seek to understand why living myths rather than history determine human cultures, not least in the case of Jesus because his historical reality is mostly lost to us, quickly vanishing, as Jung said, behind the swarm of myths projected onto him
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic - I hope an academic monograph follows!, 20 May 2014
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This ranks highly among Bart Ehrman's many 'trade' books written for a general audience. The scope of his investigation into the nature and history of divinity in the ancient world, its relationship to Second Temple Jewish ideas about divinity and the afterlife and how the early Christians developed their ideas is quite impressive. His relatable style and acquaintance with the audience makes the text all the more readable; if you're not seeking to explore the issue in the dull formalities of academic formatting and impersonal scholarship, I highly recommend this as a popular text that will respect your intelligence as well as your beliefs. Ehrman leaves open the question of whether Jesus 'was' God and I am sure many open-minded Christians could read this and be happy to expand their understanding of Christian origins without endangering their faith. However, a certain amount of cognitive dissonance may be required; without attempting to harm anybody's deeply-held beliefs, I should state that Ehrman makes some fairly convincing arguments that among other things. Jesus probably did not claim to be God (certainly not saying "I am the way the truth and the life"), he probably did not predict his death until it was absolutely imminent, and almost certainly told his followers that the world was going to end very soon. There was also probably not an Empty Tomb and Jesus may have been given a deeply ignominious burial after being left on the cross to be pecked at by birds. If not, an 'honorable' burial would have far more likely involved being buried in the ground and not a "rich man's tomb".

If we're generous, Jesus was an inspirational and charismatic teacher who inspired hope and taught a spirit of forgiveness among his followers - he just had the misfortune of being born in a terrifying environment of apocalypticism and doomsday proclamations among scores of competing Jewish sects, taking on some variant of this theology as his own. If we're being less generous, he was essentially a cult leader, who promised "the Twelve" (yes, Judas as well) that they would serve with him as judges of the Twelve Tribes of Israel in a divinely-ordained Kingdom that would be set up in the imminent future. The failure of this kingdom prompted some fervent rethinking and rationalisations among his despondent early followers - I recommend reading Kris Komranitsky's 'Doubting Jesus' Resurrection' alongside this for greater exposition. Ehrman demonstrates convincingly that all that was required for belief in the Resurrection to occur was between one and several of the disciples to have visions of Jesus or 'experience' him in some other way. From then on, the rumour mill gets kicked into gear and the Second Coming is proclaimed to be just around the corner. The conversion of Paul probably resulted from a combination of Paul's guilt at persecuting a sect that he was becoming more familiar with (it's often overlooked that Paul had relatives who were members of the Jesus sect *whilst* he was persecuting it) and one impressive conversion experience, whether epileptic or otherwise. The rest, as they say, is history - a rather confusing history dependent on documents from the early Christian church which, as Ehrman has elaborately demonstrated elsewhere, are infested with forged letters, misattributions and outright fabrications.

Even if one does not believe Jesus was God, Ehrman presents a compelling story of the birth of a new religion and how the devoted, loving followers of a father-like figure put his message into action. At times, one gets a disturbing realisation of the similarities between Jesus and other 'Latter Day Saints' (Joseph Smith is too easy to compare - it's cruel but necessary to mention David Koresh - if you're really mean you many even drop in Charles Manson). At other times, one can really begin to appreciate the good parts of his message as coming from a human moral teacher, what Thomas Jefferson took from Jesus when he compiled his own version of the New Testament excised of miracles and supernatural events. At any rate, this book would be an ideal read for non-believers or just non-Christians, particularly Jews, who want to understand Jesus' essential Jewish roots in the context of the Hellenizing influences that came to shape Christianity. I highly recommend it, as with everything that the great scholar at UNC Chapel Hill produces.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Helpful and interesting but flawed and idiosyncratic, 16 Jun 2014
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This review is from: How Jesus Became God (Hardcover)
This is my concluding review of Ehrman's How Jesus Became God, giving a summary of the book and my overall impressions. For a slower in-depth walk through the book, its arguments, and the reply book How God Became Jesus, I have a series of blog posts on my blog (search for "mydigitalseminary")

Whenever Bart Ehrman releases a book it is an event. I'm sure one reason is his controversial and eyebrow-raising topics. The wary amongst us no doubt see him as an apostle of the skeptical and not unappreciative of the profits that come with the role. I'm sure his standard release dates doesn't hurt either - right before Easter! However, we mustn't also forget that Ehrman is a master communicator. He is not only an accomplished scholar (particularly in the realm of textual criticism), but he has the talent for making the difficult understandable to a wider audience. Bring together all these factors, then ratchet them up a notch and you have How Jesus Became God, an account of how the beliefs regarding the person of Jesus developed throughout history. In other words, "[h]ow did Jesus become God?" (p1).

Ehrman's approach is straight-forward. He begins with a wide-angle view at the Greco-Roman and Jewish backgrounds and concepts that he believes provide a foundation for early Christian's conception(s) of Jesus as "divine". Many today are guilty of an anachronistic reading of the Bible, where we read the text with our own concepts and categories, missing the original context. In contrast to the modern mind that often conceives of an unbridgeable gap between man and g/God, Ehrman contends that not only did pagans "[imagine] that humans could be divine in some sense" (p83), but perhaps surprisingly, "the same [was] true within Judaism" (p83). They held to a gradation of divinity, with different kinds and levels of divinity. So when we approach the question of whether Jesus is divine, we need to ask "in what sense" (p84) or rather, in what senses; a point that Ehrman emphasizes throughout.

Having restored the conceptual world of the ancients, Ehrman now places Jesus within it and sees how He fits. Ehrman takes a very pessimistic view on the Gospel's reliability, and when he applies historical methods for identifying the realities behind the text we find a different Jesus than we are used to. Instead, we have a man who, stripped of the later theologizing reflected in the Gospels, saw Himself as an apocalyptic prophet-Messiah awaiting the in breaking of God's kingdom. Jesus' message was certainly not, "Hi, I'm God". in Ehrman's words, "Jesus did not declare himself to be God" (p128).

So when and how did Jesus's followers think of Him as God/divine? It was through a belief in the resurrection that the man Jesus was then "elevated to a divine position" (p210). From here, Ehrman begins to walk forwards in history where belief about Christ's divinity was meanwhile being backdated, with "increasingly exalted things" (p212) being said about Him as time goes on. For example, the beliefs of the earliest Christians (early Christology) saw Him as a man-made-divine upon His resurrection, but that quickly developed to seeing His exaltation taking place at His baptism (in the Gospel of Mark), and then backdated further to His very conception (in Luke and Matthew). It is not surprising, then, as Jesus' "divinity" was being pushed backwards in His life, that soon enough it would start tipping over into ideas of preexistence. Development is even seen here, with Paul portraying Jesus as an angel exalted to equality with God after His obedience, while John and Hebrews show Him as equal with God before His earthly existence.

Moving past the New Testament writings, Ehrman then traces the development of Christology through the early Christian centuries to the council of Nicea, and beyond. Different strands of Christology start to merge into one as greater clarity is reached, or, according to Ehrman, alternative views were most often just stamped out by applying the "heretical" label. While early Christians held a multiplicity of views on Jesus, "one perspective from early Christianity emerged as triumphant" (p287). As "orthodoxy" became more clarified, other viewpoints became frowned upon (or worse). This leads to Ehrman's conclusion, which implies that this battle over Christology even leads to antisemitism, as "the Jews killed their own God" (p361).

Readers of my blog series will know I was fairly critical on Ehrman's argumentation and will be expecting some kind of blunt instrument to make an appearance at this point, but I would like to begin with points of appreciation. I must say that as a teacher, I am very jealous of Ehrman's clarity and pedagogical skills. I have no doubt that he is an engaging teacher; he manages to remain readable even in the most complicated of subjects. Ehrman is not only clear, but is ambitious; he is attempting to cover a substantial amount of ground in a relatively short book without steamrolling over the complexities of the topic! As to the content itself, he makes a number of good points and rightly highlights that Christology did not fall fully-formed from the heavens. I was also glad that Ehrman took a "high" view of Jesus in much of the NT, such as Phil 2:9-11, John 1:1-3 - rightly rejecting the more liberal exegeses.

With this said, my disagreements with Ehrman are substantial. Most fundamentally, I believe Ehrman's methodology and presuppositions lead to his skewed conclusions. His approach is much like a ship setting sail a few degrees off course: as time goes on the discrepancy becomes more and more apparent until the ship is utterly lost. A number of his insufficiently-substantiated presuppositions completely colour his arguments, and if the reader doesn't share these presuppositions then they will be left behind as Ehrman rides off into the distance, dropping entire Gospel pericopes like dead-weights along the way. The details of my disagreements can be found in my blog series, but risking vagueness, I just didn't find his arguments compelling. His arguments on Paul's angel Christology are weak and half-baked. Ehrman even admitted that he reached this view only a few months before publication. It is skeptical beyond reason to simply assume with Ehrman that the early Christians "made up" perhaps the majority of the Gospel stories. Too much NT data was treated like an unfortunate petal in a game of "she loves me, she loves me not": he has Biblical authors disagreeing with themselves in their own writings, draws an artificial wedge between texts by applying his "adoption" and "incarnation" labels to them, and reads other texts in odd ways to fit his own conclusions. While this is a popular level book, it is a shame that Ehrman doesn't give more space to "disproving" his opponents, since many Christians (or those with a Christian foundation) will read this book and be surprised when Ehrman doesn't consider or even mention a traditional Christian view of a given text. Neither does he engage thoroughly with scholars who are of a different persuasion then him, most notably Richard Bauckham. An account of Christology needs to make sense of all the texts and rebut the best of alternate views, something Ehrman certainly doesn't do here.

Also, Ehrman's rhetoric runs away from him at times and at times he resorts to little more than snap shots at Christians. When he does engage with evangelical scholarship, it is often only to dismiss or portray in a negative light. Apologists face the worst of Ehrman's rhetoric, and are cast in a purely negative and ignorant light. On the flip side, "scholars" and particularly "critical scholars" are apparently all on Ehrman's side and are implied as beyond criticism by virtue of their "scholarly" status. Ehrman presents "scholars" (who all agree with him) as the only ones in the loop, with Christians and apologists either ignorant or deceptive. Instead, what matters is the arguments, not who is making them; in reality, sentences beginning with "scholars say" actually mean very little as it is possible to find scholars who agree with virtually any conclusion.
Conclusion

For anyone interested in Christology, How Jesus Became God may be good reading. Ehrman is fun to read, he introduces the issues clearly, gets the reader thinking, gets many points right, but misses the mark through his often weak argumentation and faulty conclusions. It is for this reason that I would hesitate to recommend it widely.

My final question is what is Ehrman trying to achieve? I hope I don't spoil the ending for anyone here, but How Jesus Became God concludes on such a surprisingly abrupt note that I will quote the last paragraph in full, "This God Christ may not have been the historical Jesus. But he was the Christ of orthodox Christian doctrine, the object of faith and veneration over the centuries. And he is still the God revered and worshiped by Christians throughout our world today" (p371). That's it! So I am left asking why write this book? What is Ehrman's purpose, since his work is too heavy on rhetoric and his views too idiosyncratic to offer a purely detached and objective historical account of Christology? What does he want the reader to know or think? That the Christ of faith is not the Christ of history? If so, I'm afraid that he has failed to convince me. But if one doesn't have ears to hear then strong rhetoric mixed with thin argumentation may unfortunately suffice.

[Many thanks to HarperOne and Kuperard for providing a copy of How Jesus Became God in exchange for a balanced review]
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How Jesus Became God
How Jesus Became God by Bart D. Ehrman (Hardcover - 28 April 2014)
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