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Advice for New Scholars (from an older one)

January 6, 2018

The latest video in the series prepared by our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins is me offering some advice for new scholars:  here.  It’s all pretty basic, and will likely seem obvious.  But it’s what came to me for this brief video.  There are likely additional things to say, but not at the expense of the what I refer to in the video.

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  1. A large part of this thread illustrates how a posting on a topic of importance and interest can be hi-jacked by people who are really seeking an excuse to talk about a pet theory of theirs that is totally unrelated to the original posting. Dr Hurtado’s graciousness and patience in dealing with this will no doubt be noted by many.

    • Thanks, Trevor. I agree that this one-on-one conversation isn’t really appropriate here.

      • Please excuse my lack of patience with regard to some postings; I get e-mails when there are new postings, and these indicate the theme, as described by you in your original title. Expecting a further comment on the same theme, which has a particular relevance to the person to whom I sent the original link, I have been finding it irritating when the postings turned out to be on an unrelated theme (as you will have noticed from my previous comment!).

  2. Gary permalink

    Dr. Hurtado: An off-topic question:

    I am currently in a conversation with a Christian about what the majority of NT scholars believe constituted the earliest “Jesus Story”. I agreed with him that the majority of NT scholars hold that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus had been bodily resurrected and that they also believed that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to them…in some fashion…shortly after his death. What I was not willing to agree to was my Christian friend’s claim that the majority of NT scholars, including yourself and Bart Ehrman, hold that the earliest Christians believed that they had seen a resurrected BODY.

    Here is what he said: “I see your point about the virgin Mary [that people claim to see the Virgin Mary when what they mean is that they saw the very real, living, and present Virgin Mary…in the shape of a cloud, or shadow, or bright light…one does not need to see a body to believe that one has truly “seen” Mary], and it may well be true, but it is not relevant to what we have been discussing. Remember we agreed that there was a difference between the core beliefs of the early Christians and what we each think actually happened? I have been talking about their core beliefs, i.e. what the historians can tell us. So when you say ”People can claim to have seen a dead person without claiming to have seen a body.”, you are clearly right, but it seems that scholars like Bart Ehrman and Larry Hurtado don’t think that was the case with Jesus, as the quotes I gave show. They say the claim was that they actually saw Jesus, which obviously means his body, alive. Whether you believe they didn’t is secondary to the historical conclusion that that was the early core belief.

    Gary: Who is correctly interpreting your position, Dr. Hurtado? Is it possible that all the early claims of appearance by Jesus were real experiences, just real experiences (such as vivid dreams illusions, false sightings) that were incorrectly perceived and interpreted? Do you believe that the earliest Christians claimed to see a walking/talking/fish eating body with two arms, two legs, and a head?

    • The earliest reports on post-resurrection appearances of Jesus seem to make it clear that what believers saw was Jesus. But the resurrection body portrayed in early NT writings is characterized by differences from the mortal body. E.g., in 1 Cor 15 Paul discusses what resurrection means and characterizes the resurrection body as immortal, glorious, powerful, and Spirit-empowered. So, a real body, and early reports also mention Jesus’ burial (e.g., 1 Cor 15:1-7), which I take to allude to the vacated grave. So, this seems to me to mean a transfigured body, as Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:51-55.
      The resurrection-appearance narratives in the Gospels are decades later, and some (e.g., the references to the risen Jesus eating, etc.) seem embellished to emphasize a real resurrection-body, not a spirit/ghost. Certainly, all witnesses affirm something other than a dream, or ghost-apparition. But the resurrection-body they also describe as markedly different from the mortal body.

      • Gary permalink

        Thank you for your response, but I may not have been clear what I am looking for so let me restate it more succinctly:

        —Do you think that the early Christians believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus because they had seen his actual walking/talking body alive again after his execution [even if it was in a “transformed state”), or can we only say that the earliest Christians believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus because they saw something that they thought was the bodily resurrected Jesus?”

        Can someone claim to have seen a dead person alive again without actually seeing a body?

      • Many (perhaps most) JEws of the time expected a resurrection of the righteous. The experiences of earliest believers was such that they were convinced that God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him to heavenly glory. That is, they saw the risen Jesus as the initial experience of what they hoped to include all the elect. Resurrection = a bodily state, not a disembodied state. But it’s an eschatological body, not the one we know.

      • Jeff permalink

        Dr. Hurtado,

        Have you ever studied the raising up to heaven of dead children mentioned in Testament of Job 39-40 (9:4-14 in the versification here: I am curious what you make of the word “crown” in verse 9:13: “they looked and saw my children with CROWNS near the glory of the King, the Ruler of heaven.” I am reading a treatise of this passage by Cees Haas, “Job’s Perseverance in the Testament of Job,” in Studies on the Testament of Job (1989). He cites several examples of the “crown” terminology being used in the New Testament (1 Cor 9:25; Jas 1:12; 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 2:10, 3:11, 4:4,10; 2 Tim 4:8), and they all seem to be referring to the end times general resurrection. Haas does not come out and say it, but do you think this is evidence that the T. Job intends that the dead children have been resurrected from the dead up to heaven into their final immortal bodies, a very close parallel to or exactly what Jesus’ followers believed of him? I realize the dating of T. Job is controversial. Do you know of any studies on T. Job that have addressed this question?

      • I can’t point to studies that address your question about TJob. It’s an interesting text.

      • Gary permalink

        Ok, so in other words, you and the majority of NT scholars believe that all the appearance claims listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15 are based on claims that the individuals listed believed they had seen a BODY. None of these claims could have been based on an individual or group of individuals seeing a shadow, bright light, or other phenomenon and believing that they had just seen the resurrected Jesus (whom they believed had been resurrected bodily) even though all they had seen in their “appearance experience” was a shadow, bright light, etc.?

        The reason I believe it is important to make this distinction is this: How do we explain the alleged appearances of the risen Jesus to groups of people as claimed in the Early Creed? I suggest that these groups of people most likely experienced the same phenomenon that some devout Roman Catholic Christians experience today: They all see SOMETHING real in their environment such as a cloud formation, shadow, or bright light but instead of seeing just a cloud, a shadow, or a bright light, these people perceive these real objects to be something else (a misperception; an illusion): they see the Virgin Mary.

        Could the reports of groups of early Christians receiving appearances of Jesus have been based on a similar phenomenon or are scholars certain that the early Christians believed that each appearance claim as listed in the Early Creed was based on a claim of seeing a BODY?

      • Gary: Anything is possible and should be considered, of course, when attempting to “do” history. Please note that visions and apparitions were familiar experiences of people in the ancient world as subsequently. And the earliest claims about the risen Jesus specifically disassociate these experiences from such things. So, however you choose to understand what happened, the earliest witnesses appear to have been convinced that what they experienced was a novel type of event.

      • Gary permalink

        FYI: Here is Bart Ehrman’s response to my question:

        —”It’s complicated because there were different opinions among the early Christians: some thought the disciples saw a real body (that could eat food); others thought they had seen a phantom/spirit; others thought they had seen a “heavenly” body, and so on. There wasn’t just one view.

        There’s a big different between what the disciples (a few of them? a couple of them?) thought they saw, what the later Christians thought the disciples saw, and what I myself think they saw. We don’t know the answer to the first question; the answer to the second question is varied (as I said in my earlier comment); the answer to the third is: visions of something that wasn’t really there physically.”

        Thank you for your time and expertise, Dr. Hurtado!


      • Jeff permalink

        Dr. Hurtado,

        Related question: What do you make of Sirach 45:2, where God made Moses “equal in glory to the holy ones”? Do you think this is good evidence that in the second century BC some Jews thought Moses had received his immortal body in heaven before the general resurrection (similar to what is described for Enoch in 2 Enoch 22:5-10)?

      • Jeff: The passage in Sirach simply means what it says: that Moses was made equal in glory to the “holy ones” (angels). Nothing about resurrection.

      • Jeff permalink

        Dr. Hurtado,

        I realize Sirach 45:2 does not say anything about resurrection (I think behind the passage lies the belief that Moses was assumed *alive* into heaven). But doesn’t the language in the passage suggest some kind of *bodily* transformation (“equal in glory” to the holy ones), which would seem to mean that Moses fleshy body was no more, which would seem to imply that Moses here is receiving his final immortal body, i.e., the same final body that others would enjoy at the general resurrection. If not, what do you think “equal in glory to the holy ones” could mean? It seems like there are lots of Jewish and Christian passages using some form of the word “glory” to refer to the bodies of everyone at the general resurrection, which made me wonder about the connection.

      • Yes, what you suggest is a plausible view of the matter. Let’s take this conversation offline, however, as it doesn’t pertain to the blog posting.

  3. Nemo permalink

    Professor Hurtado,

    In your long experience, do you find any correlation between a scholar’s interpersonal skills and his ability (and willingness) to represent the views of others fairly and accurately in his scholarly works?

    • Nemo: Interesting question. I haven’t considered it, and can’t immediately think of a view of the matter.

  4. I thought it was also great general advice as well. I forwarded the video to my son who is finishing his doctorate in interpretative literature. Thanks!

  5. Nick Tavanj permalink

    Thanks for this excellent advice. I immediately passed it on to two of my sons completing thier doctorates.

  6. Jeff permalink

    Dr. Hurtado,

    I guess I was so late posting on your previous thread that the comments closed, so I hope it is okay if I ask my followup question here.

    It seems like the corpse (or bones or known burial location) of virtually all of the many prophets and would-be messiah figures before Jesus would have been available to disconfirm any wild speculations about their body being raised to heaven. But Enoch, for example, seems to be an exception, and Moses and Elijah seem to be others where a corpse (or bones or known burial location) may not have been available, and this is what opened the door to wild speculations about them being assumed alive up to heaven. My question is just a hypothetical, but it seems like you might have missed my qualifier — IF Jesus’ body was somehow not available to Jesus’ followers after his crucifixion (crucifixion ruling out Jesus being raised to heaven alive), do you think the resurrection belief and all of the other beliefs that emerged about Jesus could plausibly be accounted for as part of a dynamic creative process by Jesus’ earliest followers and those that followed? I feel like you are uniquely qualified to answer this question based on your lifetime of studying how Jewish traditions informed early Christian beliefs. If the answer is yes, it would not mean that this is what happened. I am just wondering if you think the kind of mutations in Judaism that became Christianity would have been possible if there was not the disconfirming evidence of a corpse. There just seems a lot of similarities between Jewish speculations and Christian beliefs even though there were some mutations.

    • Jeff: You’re confusing two different things. The figures of Moses and Enoch are legendary figures of the distant past in 2nd temple Judaism, and they serve as symbolic figures. The stories of Enoch or Moses being taken up into heaven appeared centuries after the biblical mention of them. It had nothing to do with the absence of bones or a body.
      An empty tomb proves little, only that the body is missing. In the case of earliest Jesus-followers, however, their experiences of the risen Jesus (however you understand them) interpreted for them the empty tomb.

  7. Good advice. I have forwarded your e-mail to someone who is just starting a postgraduate course in theology.

    Many thanks and Happy New Year!


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