Review of Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium By Bart D.Ehrman

If you haven’t heard of Bart D. Ehrman, he is a popular New Testament scholar who writes extensively about the life of Jesus and the gospels. With an angle of explaining the many conversations had among scholars to popular audiences.

This is why I felt compelled to read one of his earlier works about Jesus.

Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium was written in 1999. The turn of the millennium, which Ehrman leans into to start the conversation about Jesus and present his interpretation of his life and actions.

Ehrman has an uncanny ability to explain the complex things of scholars in a simple fashion that you can enjoy, and understand without a Ph.D.

“And yet it is scarcely known to the general reading public. This is the view embraced in this book.”

Bart Ehrman p.x

In this book, Ehrman tries to explain a common view among scholars about Jesus, little known by the general public. That Jesus taught and lived believing that the end of the world was at hand. That God was about to act in a big way, and everything was going to change with the coming of the kingdom of God.

A view popularized by Alberta Schweitzer in his groundbreaking book, The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Which not only presents this understanding of Jesus’s ministry but also summarizes 150+ years of work about Jesus. A good read.

Ehrman comes out right off the bat and acknowledges that many of the beliefs and thoughts of Schweitzer’s book have fallen out of fashion with further research about Jesus. But that many scholars, he proposes the majority still hold to the central premise. Jesus was an Apocalyptic Prophet.

He spends the next 245 pages explaining why.

Wisely he doesn’t back up the truck and overwhelm you with scholarly micro analyzing of text and information but uses select passages and examples to show his point.

“A full history of scholarship would be remarkably complex,”

Bart Ehrman p.23

These are selected passages. I am sure you could flip the page and argue the reverse, but that is not his point. His point is to explain a popular-held view among New Testament scholars. And pull the curtain back just enough to show that they are not pulling it out of thin air. That there is evidence considered.

Let’s get to some of that evidence.

Content of Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium By Bart D.Ehrman

With fourteen chapters, this soft cover fits into my pocket. Read it while riding the bus the other day, or at least some of it.

This is not a scholarly book, so the notes at the end our brief comparatively, but Ehrman is a teacher. So his ideas are sourced, and indexed for study purposes.

But written to be enjoyed, and informative, not to impress his peers with his insight.

Chapter 1; is a fun recounting of some popular “Christian” end-time prophets through the centuries. Including Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth.” Remember him?

And less know William Miller. Along with other end-time prophets.

The point being that Christians have always “enjoyed” people made popular with the message of the “end of the world.” This is not a new phenomenon with the turn of the millennium.

Like it or not, it’s in our DNA, going all the way back to Christianity’s founder, Jesus.

Chapter 2; lays out the challenge of ancient documents in which we know about Jesus. What is historical, and what is myth? How can we know?

“These accounts were never meant to teach interesting facts about the first century. They are meant to teach things about Jesus.”

Bart Ehrman p.40

Settling on the gospels as our best sources, with occasional other sources. He shows how he sifts through these stories for history and a clearer understanding about Jesus as a historical figure.

You may agree or not, but he reveals his method.

Chapter 3; Titled “how did the gospels get to be this way? Ehrman works through the complications of ancient sources in particular the “gospels”.

Are they eyewitnesses?

How close to the event are they?

Does it matter?

Setting up for a further conversation about interpreting.

Chapter 4; beyond the gospels, there are mentions about Jesus that are written by “non-Christians.” Pagan and Jewish, affirming his existence but not written by fans.

Not adding much to our understanding about Jesus, but need to be acknowledged.

Chapter 5; looks even further to the non-canonical sources about Jesus’s life. Gospels or writings that are not in the Bible but reference Jesus. Of the kind that are believed to be written by “Christians.” Or at least people with a high view of Jesus.

Some add to the historical conversation, but many do not. As they are deemed to be too far removed from the events to be considered accurate.

Plus, the events often recorded contradict the gospel’s presentation or simply seem too fanciful to be trusted as history.

Chapter 6; with the last few chapters laying out what we have to work with. Chapter 6 lays out how we can go about reconstructing the life of Jesus.

How do historians go about doing this? What do they wish for and look for?

  • Early dating
  • Intent or biases
  • Independent attestation
  • Dissimilarity balanced with contextual credibility

The wonderful part is the little catchphrases simply explaining these scholarly ideas in simple terms.

“if the shoe fits” explains contextual credibility.

With some quick examples applied to some well know “events” of Jesus’s life. Like his birth. How do these pass historical mustard?

Chapter 7; Starts off with a fun personal story about context. Beautifully illustrating why context matters.

Then explaining key issues about First-century Palestine.

Jewish society, along with recent national events. That plays into our understanding of what Jesus said and did.

Chapter 8; with the table set, the big reveal.

Using the historian’s tools to analyze the idea that Jesus was an Apocalyptic prophet.

Chapter 9; builds on the previous chapter but focuses on the teaching of Jesus.

What about Jesus’ teaching that places him among end-time teachers?

Chapter 10; Broadening out to Jesus’ teaching beyond the obvious end-time focus saying.

If we consider him an apocalyptic prophet, how does it change our understanding of what he taught?

Going through some key teaching such as family and ethics. Showing how if Jesus felt that the world was about to end, how would he understand these?

Along with adjusting behaviour to fit into the soon-coming world.

Chapter 11; Moving from the words of Jesus.

How could we understand Jesus’ actions in the context of a soon-to-disappear world?

For example, the choosing of the twelve. Why is this group important if God is about to usher in his kingdom?

Ehrman also elaborates in this chapter about the struggle of miracles for historians. And what he considers acceptable treatment of such recorded events and their impact.

Notes in Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium By Bart D. Ehrman

Finally, touching on possibly why his “end-time” actions, beliefs and teachings put him into conflict with others.

There must be a reason that he butts heads so often with the Pharisees.

Chapter 12; the last days and death of Jesus.

“The link between Jesus’ message and his death is crucial, and historical studies of Jesus’ life can be evaluated according to how well they establish the link.”

Bart Erhman p.208

In this chapter, he tries to do exactly that. Tying together Jesus’ beliefs, teaching and actions in the shadow of the end to explain what happens in his last week and why.

Chapter 13; evaluating the events after Jesus died.

How could someone go from an apocalyptic prophet to one who is worshiped as a god?

Looking at beliefs and interpretations of the Hebrew scriptures that were involved in interpreting what happened. Not forgetting that his followers believed that this was the beginning of something new.

Chapter 14; a brief summary of responses in beliefs about Jesus. How people responded to Jesus’ teaching and how they made them work in their lives and worldview. Have we possibly changed the central theme of Jesus’ life and teaching from end to him?

But ironically, among the many responses to Jesus, there still remain on the fringes those who still hold to his central message. The end is upon us.

Is Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium By Bart D. Ehrman Worth Reading?

Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium is one of Ehrmans’s first popular books.

He does an excellent job of introducing readers to the subject matter of Jesus’s life, along with one of the more popular views held by many scholars of who Jesus was. An end-time prophet preaching of the coming kingdom of god and the end of the current age.

I appreciate how he expands on Alberta Schweitzer’s assessment of Jesus by showing how his teachings and actions fit into this role. Explaining in much better detail and fleshing the idea out.

Where Schweitzer drops hints in The Quest for the Historical Jesus of who Jesus was. Ehrman comes right out, claiming it and then providing evidence without overwhelming you.

In short, it’s a good read, but I would not put it as a must-read to understand the life of Jesus.

As Ehrman shared at the beginning of the book, Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet is a common idea among scholars.

There are numerous books in which you can read and see this idea play out.

But if you enjoy Ehrman’s writing style. Pick it up. It’s an enjoyable read in his entertaining style. It is rare to find such an easy read about the Historical Jesus written by a scholar.

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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