In a newspaper interview, New Testament scholar and author Bart Ehrman discusses his new book, How Jesus Became God, and shares his claims that Jesus never said He was divine and that Christianity began with "visionary experiences" and not due to the Resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus did not go around calling Himself God, and even His disciples did not think He was God, Ehrman, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells The Boston Globe in an interview that was published on Easter Sunday.
"The problem is that Jesus only makes claims for himself as being divine in the Gospel of John. ... But what scholars have long noted is that Jesus doesn't say any of those things in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and that Matthew, Mark and Luke are [written] much earlier than John. ... What I argue in the book is that it's virtually inconceivable that if it was known Jesus called himself God that Matthew, Mark and Luke would just leave that part out," says Ehrman, who calls himself an agnostic.
The people who came to believe in the New Testament had a vision of Jesus afterwards, including Paul, argues the professor of religion. "That led me to look into what we know about hallucinations, based on modern psychological research," he says. "The two most common kinds of hallucinations are of deceased loved ones. … And the second kind is of revered religious figures. ... My view is that the disciples had some kind of visionary experiences; some of them did. And these visionary experiences led them to conclude that Jesus was still alive."
On when and how Christianity originated, Ehrman claims what is the religion of over 2 billion people in the world today began with "the visionary experiences of some of Jesus' friends and at least one of his enemies."
The publisher, HarperOne, describes Ehrman's new book as revelation of "how an apocalyptic prophet from the backwaters of rural Galilee crucified for crimes against the state came to be thought of as equal with the one God Almighty, Creator of all things."
"But how did He move from being a Jewish prophet to being God?" the description adds. "In a book that took eight years to research and write, Ehrman sketches Jesus's transformation from a human prophet to the Son of God exalted to divine status at His resurrection. Only when some of Jesus's followers had visions of Him after his death - alive again - did anyone come to think that He, the prophet from Galilee, had become God. And what they meant by that was not at all what people mean today."
Ehrman thinks Christians have nothing to be afraid of in his book. "But there are things in it that some kinds of Christians will find objectionable, including, for example, the idea that Jesus did not call himself God during his lifetime," he admits. "And including the claim that He probably wasn't given a decent burial so that there wasn't an empty tomb. I think those two claims in particular, conservative Evangelical Christians might find disturbing and wrong."
Ehrman has authored several controversial books that have become New York Times best-sellers, including Misquoting Jesus: The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why and Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible.
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How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)
Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament