The topics of posts around these parts don't get much deeper than this one. It seems this time of year brings out both the nay-sayers who want to historically put the kibosh on a divine Jesus, as well as the believers who offer refutation to these ideas. Full disclosure here, I am a practicing Catholic with a strong belief in the divinity of Jesus, so you may find anything I have to offer on the subject a bit skewed, though I attempt moderation.
While it does seem to rear its head every year, the argument against Jesus as God got a big boost this year from Bart Ehrman's new book, How Jesus Became God, and I happened to catch his Fresh Air interview.
Ehrman's personal story is an interesting one, and conjures up (in me, anyway) the chutzpah chorus of "So, I ought to know." He was a young evangelistic Christian with fundamentalist beliefs and has became an older and outspoken agnostic. He teaches religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That, in and of itself, is a story worth dwelling on, but I won't here and now.
The "new" idea Ehrman presents is that Jesus never called himself God, and that it wasn't until John drafted his Gospel in the very late first century that the idea appears. Ehrman claims that none of the three Synoptic Gosepls presents the notion that Jesus called himself God. Fr Robert Barron disagrees. I do find the workings of the early Christians a very interesting topic and I am not a "head-in-the-sand" Christian, so my mind is open to the discussion. I do want to draw attention to two points that Ehrman made in his book and during his interview. The quotes are Ehrman's and are taken from the transcript which is available at the npr site linked to above. I am breaking them up into segments, because, as with any interview, there is some superfluous discussion in the midst of the quotes. Feel free to check them out, if you believe I may be highlighting ideas out of context.
The first point I wish to highlight deals with the admitted limitation of historians to know the truth. Terry Gross has just asked Ehrman about whether there was really an empty tomb.
"Well, there are some questions that history can answer and other things that history cannot answer."
"One of the things that historians cannot show as having happened in the past is anything that's miraculous because to believe that a miracle's happened, to believe that God has something in our world requires a person to believe in God, it requires a theological belief."
"So that applies to the resurrection of Jesus. Historians acting as historians, whether they're believers or non-believers, as historians they simply cannot say Jesus was probably raised by God from the dead. But historians can look at the other aspects of the resurrection traditions and see whether they bear up historically. So for example, the question was there an empty tomb, was Jesus put in a tomb and three days later that tomb was found empty? Well, that's a historical question and to answer it, it doesn't require any set of religious beliefs. You can simply look at the sources and draw some historical conclusions.
Ehrman goes on to say he doubts Jesus' body would even be placed in a tomb, because the bodies of crucified people were usually left upon the cross to decompose and be destroyed by scavengers as part of the utter shame of being crucified.
"[I]t seems unlikely to me that the exception was made in the case of Jesus."
I make no judgment on this other than to say if it requires faith to believe in the empty tomb, then it also takes faith to believe Jesus's body was left to be picked at by buzzards and all sorts of insects. To my knowledge there is no historical evidence that Jesus's body was in fact left on the cross to decay.