Jesus Became God, Or God Became Jesus?

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 17 2014 @ 4:37pm

A Book Clubber writes:

I just want to say how fascinating I’m finding Ehrman’s book. Can hardly wait for the discussion!


Dear Professor: The book is great. I love it. But I haven’t had much time to read, what with work and house hunting and 420 coming up here in Denver. I bet we’d all appreciate one more week to read about the Jesus transformation. It will make a more lively debate and we’d all be so impressed by your leniency.

with 41% of the book read …

Heh. Well I just had to absorb the Becker book in around 24 hours … so I’m a little behind myself. I plan to post my review of How Jesus Became God next week, and start the discussion with readers thereafter, so buy the book here if you still want to join. There’s still time. Another reader:

I don’t have an e-reader, so I bought the hardbound book1/2 finished – a good read. How do I join the book club? I want to play too!

You join simply by reading the book, in any form, and participating in the reader thread next week, if you like. Another:

I suggest you refer your readers to Harper Collins’ companion/response book, How God Became Jesus. bookclub-beagle-tr It sounds like you could benefit from reading it yourself, after your somewhat surprising admission that Ehrman’s book “may not be the most spiritually sustaining text for Holy Week.” Seeing that the only reason Ehrman has been noticed in the popular realm is for his (somewhat tired yet passed off as something new) arguments denying the truth of traditional Christianity, I wonder exactly what you thought the book would offer. That’s not to say that Ehrman’s work shouldn’t be recommended or discussed, only that a more interesting conversation might come from providing your audience with a more comprehensive understanding of the subject and the arguments on both sides.  After all, I imagine that for many of your readers, the assumption is that Ehrman, like Reza Aslan most recently, is offering some fresh insight, when in reality, as Father Robert Barron notes here, it’s a more of the same old same old.

We actually made a quick mention of the response book in a previous post, but many readers may have missed it, so here’s the link to purchase that book as well, if you’re interested. Its counterpoints will certainly come up in the discussion thread, but the primary focus will be Ehrman’s book.

Update from a reader, who gets into the Book Club spirit already:

You quote a reader: “his (somewhat tired yet passed off as something new) arguments denying the truth of traditional Christianity.” I think you should encourage such responders (on both sides, of course) to cite specific instances from the book that support their charges.

I myself did not get the impression that there was much if anything new in the book, but rather that the author learned much of what he presents from others in his undergraduate and graduate studies, twenty and thirty years ago, and well-known in historical circles for much longer, although bolstered in living memory by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other artifacts. What did he pass off as something new?

That is, new to experts in the field. Your readers can speak for themselves as to whether the material is new to them or not. Speaking for myself, in 19 years of Sunday School classes, Sunday morning sermons, evening “Youth Services”, summertime Daily Vacation Bible School, and Thursday Release-Time Religious Education (one class for Protestants and one for Catholics – probably not done anymore since it seems illegal, but done in my high-school years), I had not heard a word of it. However, I had noticed some of the rather glaring biblical inconsistencies for myself, and reached the same general conclusion.

It seems to me that rarely does a year go by without some “new” book of religious apologetics/proselytism/propaganda. I wonder does the quoted reader apply the same criticism to them? I often walk past a church which has a signboard out front. A few days ago it carried this message:


That sums up religion in general to me. Adherence to it demands a rejection of objectivity and ignoring conflicting evidence. After all, such evidence is not new.


Some of your readers seem to assume that Ehrman is making the case against religion. I disagree. The question he is trying to answer is one I have puzzled over for a long time, and one that I assume that the most religious of people might puzzle over. Because the question is NOT how Jesus became God. The question is how his followers, and those who followed them, came to BELIEVE (a believer would say “came to REALIZE”) that he was God.

Of course, some will insist that God simply put the truth into their heads. But many will think that God does not work that way, and that he let the early Christians work it out for themselves – just as he did not create the world in seven earth-days, but enlisted the Big Bang to take care of part of it, and evolution to work out the part most relevant to us. I’m grateful to Ehrman for making the work of scholars on this question accessible to the rest of us.

My one, mild complaint is that it would have been useful to have seen the various steps in the progression tied to things that we’re going on in the world outside the Church. He does some but not much. Of course he can reasonably reply that it wasn’t his intention to write THAT book.


This reminds me of “Is an object holy because God loves it, or does God love it because it’s holy?” from your “Lecture FAIL” post, perhaps my favorite Dish video of all time …