- The trouble with Bart Ehrman.
I downloaded Bart Ehrman's series of lectures on the historical Jesus on The Teaching Company label and have been listening to them sporadically recently. He is certainly very prolific and knowledgeable about all things "earlyChristian," but I think he's wrong in ascribing a "certain" apocalypticism to Jesus like he does. It is one of his repeated maxims throughout these lectures, in fact. He stresses this apocalypticism as the primary context of Jesus' words and deeds. But I think he's missing the forest for the trees.
Here's where I think he misses the point the most, specifically:
Yes, there are traditions in both Q and Mark that are certainly apocalypse-minded. In order to ascribe this eschatological framework (it really IS the foundation on which Ehrman's theses depend—and ultimately fall) to Jesus himself, it is necessary first to explain why, if Jesus' primary genre was the parable, there is no apocalypticism in any of the parables which survived those first few waves of oral tradition. Ehrman of course does bring up the parables of the yeast and of the mustard seed, the only two places that I can think of in the texts that even come close, but fails to persuade me of their relevance to apocalypticism.
Ehrman implies that it is self-evident these are apocalyptic.
It fails my "blind space alien" test:
Suppose an alien from planet Zircon landed on Earth today and you wanted to evangelize it, or to merely answer its curiosity regarding our religious traditions. If all one showed it are the letters of Paul, it would have no way of knowing whether the Jesus that Paul lauds is a real person or not, so little information do they contain at all about anything having to do with Jesus' physicality or historicity. Only after the details of the story have been filled in by our acquaintance with the synoptic tradition and the later writings can we retrogradely connect those dots and see this historicity reflected in Paul's epistles.
Similarly, if we were to only show this alien the parables themselves and none of the evangelists' narrative, it is impossible to interpret those parables as apocalyptic. Only in light of what we already know about what the gospels had to say about the coming end are they "self-evidently" so. I suggest that we leave those anachronistic accretions aside (as if it were that easy to do once we are conditioned, I know) and I argue that there is no apocalypcism implied at all in those two parables. They are about growth from a lowly state to a lofty one, not about cataclysm or supernatural intervention.
Also, if Jesus preached an impending apocalypse, then Jesus was just flat wrong. After all, the promised 'kingdom" never came. A imminent second coming two thousand years in the making is no imminent second coming at all. No?
1) This lack of apocalyptic material in the parables and 2) Jesus' certain failure as a clairvoyant (what kind of a Son-of-Man could get THAT wrong, after all) are problems that need to be addressed if I am to take Ehrman's construction of an apocalyptic Jesus seriously. Until then, his academic posturing, though prolific, is ultimately but full of sound and fury . . . etc.
. . . all that said . . . I enjoy reading his work and will probably continue to do so.