For several months now I have discussed various problematic reasoning found in Bart Ehrman’s book, Did Jesus Exist? My last post focused on Bart Ehrman’s Scriptural argument against Jesus being God. Lord willing in the not so distant future, I am planning on reading another of his book, God’s Problem and offer a Presuppositional (Van Tillian) critique of it. Pray that I am able to do this in the midst of a busy schedule.
In today’s post I wanted to examine the reasoning behind Ehrman’s rejection of the historicity of Jesus’ so called Triumphant entry into Jerusalem during the last week of His life.
Bart Ehrman succinctly stated his case on page 293:
Conversely, the likelihood of Jesus entering into Jerusalem straddling two donkeys and with the crowd shouting out that he was the messiah is decreased by the circumstance that had such an event really happened (unlikely as it is on its own terms), Jesus would no doubt have been arrested by the authorities on the spot instead of a week later.” (293)
And with a bit more extended comment Ehrman stated earlier on page 202:
If it is true that the crowds were shouting that Jesus was the messiah now arriving in the holy city, why didn’t the authorities immediately take notice and have him arrested both for causing a disturbance and for claiming to be the Jewish king (when only Rome could appoint the king)? Instead, according to Matthew and the other Gospels, Jesus spent an unmoltested week in Jerusalem and only then was arrested and put on trial. But it defies belief that the Roman authorities who were in town precisely in order to prevent any mob actions or uprisings would have failed to intervene if the crowds shouted in acclamation for a new ruler arriving in town” (202).
Ehrman’s argument is essentially that he can’t believe it took a full week after Jesus entered into Jerusalem in a Messianic fashion (with it’s political implication) before He was finally arrested and put on trial. His reasoning is not without it’s problem. One can group them into two basic categories: Ehrman has not properly handle the Biblical data and also his conclusion does not necessarily follow from his reasoning in light of historical parallels. We will look at the first set and save the second for our next installment.
I. PROBLEM WITH EHRMAN’S REASONING IN LIGHT OF THE BIBLICAL DATA
Problem 1: Ehrman claimed that “according to Matthew and the other Gospels, Jesus spent an unmolested week in Jerusalem” (202). But the week following his “Triumphant entry” was not a totally “unmolested week” for Jesus since the Jewish religious leaders were actively involved in opposing and harassing Him. Ehrman’s claim about “Matthew and the other Gospels” portraying Jesus as having “an unmolested week in Jerusalem” is inaccurate: Matthew 21:23-22:46, Mark 11:27-12:35, Luke 20:1-44 record intense debates as attempts by the religious establishment to stump Jesus and refute Him publicly.
Problem 2: Ehrman’s other argument against the historicity of Jesus’ “Triumphant” entry to Jerusalem is cast in the form of a rhetorical question: “why didn’t the authorities immediately take notice and have him arrested both for causing a disturbance and for claiming to be the Jewish king (when only Rome could appoint the king)” (202)? Ehrman assumption here is that if the Triumphant entry took place, “Jesus would no doubt have been arrested by the authorities on the spot instead of a week later” (293). But careful attention to the Gospels give two factors why it’s plausible for Jesus to survive from being apprehended immediately “on the spot.” First, the authorities were held back by their fear of the multitudes following Jesus. Though Luke 19:47 mentioned that they wanted to destroy Jesus, verse 48 states that “they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging on to every word He said.” This explains why the authorities didn’t directly apprehended Him, but instead chose a strategy of debating Him before the multitude in order to undermine the people’s esteem of Jesus. Someone might ask, “Why didn’t the authorities secretly take him out?” The second factor that makes it plausible why Jesus was able to stall instant arrest and covert apprehension was because before and after the “Triumphant” entry Jesus avoided staying in Jerusalem for the night. Jesus stayed at Bethany instead, which according to John 11:18 was a town two miles away. Prior to John’s account of the “Triumphant” entry (John 12:12-19), we read in John 11:57 of how “the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it, so that they might seize Him.” The next verse goes on to say “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.” Jesus must have known about the religious authorities’ scheme since the Greek word for “therefore” is ουν that functions to indicate the consequences of the authorities’ scheme. Both Mark 11:11 and Matthew 21:10-17 indicate that after the “Triumphant” entry, Jesus did not stay in Jerusalem but went to Bethany for the night.
Problem 3: Whether it took a week, a day, an hour or a minute for Jesus to be arrested after His “Triumphant” entrance into Jerusalem seem rather nit-picking and a superficial argument against the historicity of the “Triumphant” entry. In the end, Ehrman himself agrees that Jesus was arrested by the Jewish and Roman authorities.
Problem 4: Ehrman seems to have things backwards: Rather than see Jesus’ arrest a week later as a disproof of the historicity of the “Triumphant” entry, wouldn’t it be better to see that the reason why Jesus was arrested at all was because the authorities suddenly experienced a rude awakening in the form of some public event in which someone claimed to be the Messiah and had a significant popular support? The historicity of Jesus’ “Triumphant” entry into Jeruslaem would have the better explanatory power than the denial of it.
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