Bart Ehrman says that Jesus existed

NOTE ADDED:  Several people have pointed this out, but when we’re asking whether Jesus existed in more than the sense of simply somebody named Jesus, there are two ways of construing that claim.

1. An itinerant apocalyptic preacher around whom the myths of Christianity coalesced (and who may or may not have been crucified).

2. The miracle-working divine being resembling that of the New Testament.

Note that Ehrman is claiming only #1, NOT #2, so it’s not valid to criticize his historical scholarship if you think he’s claiming any miracles or divine manifestations.  Again, he claims #1 (and I’m not sure what he says about crucifixion.)

_____

If you’ve read Bart Ehrman, you’ll know that, as a Biblical scholar, he thinks that Jesus was a real person: an itinerant apocalyptic preacher who wasn’t divine.  Ehrman has a new book out on the subject, Did Jesus Exist?,which he’s vigorously flogging at at HuffPo. His answer is a resounding “yes,” and you might be interested in a summary of Ehrman’s evidence:

With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are is pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind. Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus’ life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus’ closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it.

Moreover, the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. The alleged parallels between Jesus and the “pagan” savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions).

Moreover, aspects of the Jesus story simply would not have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The earliest followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah. But prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah. The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that. Why did the Christians not do so? Because they believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah. And they knew full well that he was crucified. The Christians did not invent Jesus. They invented the idea that the messiah had to be crucified.

I can’t judge the first paragraph, but we should take it seriously since Ehrman is indeed a serious scholar—and an agnostic. The second and third paragraphs seem more dubious to me, simply because the “evidence” is simply the assertion that “the story is too improbable to have been concocted from whole cloth.” But I’ll reserve judgment until I read the book.

Ehrman shows unexpected contempt for people who dismiss the reality of Jesus without the proper training to do so:

That [Jesus did not exist] is the claim made by a small but growing cadre of (published ) writers, bloggers and Internet junkies who call themselves mythicists. This unusually vociferous group of nay-sayers maintains that Jesus is a myth invented for nefarious (or altruistic) purposes by the early Christians who modeled their savior along the lines of pagan divine men who, it is alleged, were also born of a virgin on Dec. 25, who also did miracles, who also died as an atonement for sin and were then raised from the dead.

Few of these mythicists are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies or any cognate field, let alone in the ancient languages generally thought to matter for those who want to say something with any degree of authority about a Jewish teacher who (allegedly) lived in first-century Palestine.

Well, Ben Goren, you’re being characterized as an untrained “Internet junkie.” Have at Ehrman; I’ll expect your response on this website by 9 a.m. Chicago time!

420 Comments

  1. Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    If anyone’s is interested, Ehrman will join us this weekend 3/25 on the Think Atheist Radio Show to discuss the book. Should be fascinating…

    http://www.thinkatheistradio.com/episode-51-dr-bart-ehrman-mar-25-2012/

    We’ll have some questions about some issues we perceive in his treatment of the subject in the book.

    • Rob
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      Question to pose: How is this consistent with Dr. Carrier’s latest book, which is wrong and why?

      (I haven’t read either book to be able to compare)

      • Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

        @Rob:
        We’ve had time to read and consider both Ehrman’s and Carrier’s books before their release. The scholarship that exists critiquing the methodology Ehrman and other historical Jesus scholars use to establish that Jesus existed and what he is likely to have done and said (those critiques being discussed by Carrier in his forthcoming book) is one of the things we’re eager to hear Dr. Ehrman respond to.

        And stay tuned in the coming weeks when we have Carrier join us for a second time, this time to discuss the new book. We’re certainly going to discuss that scholarship.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

          You’ll have to do more than just post here advertising your radio show (twice!) without saying a word about what you think. Before you tout your show again, please say something substantive about your agreements or disagreements with Ehrman. This is not a place for advertisements, but for discussion.

          • Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

            That’s certainly fair. Although. It’s really only the first post that could be considered promotion since the second one was in response to someone’s reply to me.
            But quite right. Forgive me. I’ll say what I think.

            Everyone is commenting to say that there are no sources and some are saying that Ehrman is going all Christian apologist in alleging that there are sources for Jesus. But this is an indication that the person saying this hasn’t read up on the historical Jesus (HJ) methodology. HJ scholars employ an historical-critical criteria that, when applied to the Gospels, the only sources they admit we have, that methodology (they argue) allows us to peel away the late-developed myths and legends to uncover the historical core.

            So when anyone points out that there are no non-biblical sources they’re misunderstanding HJ scholarship and they’re unaware of the methodology. HJ scholars have no problem acknowledging that the apologetic claims of being able to find evidence for Jesus in Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, etc. are all just false.

            Now. Does the methodology work, can it do what HJ scholars claim it can? Well. It seems there are good reasons to question whether it can, and perhaps even reasons to conclude it certainly can not.

            For my own part, I recognize that even if he did exist, if the methodology works, it produces a picture of Jesus (different, depending on which HJ scholar you read; one of the problems with the methodology in fact) that is totally at odds with the Christ of the Christian faith. So even HJ scholarship undermines Christianity’s truth claims.

            • Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

              I think your add was perfectly pertinent btw…

            • Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:22 am | Permalink

              That’s an insightful analysis, Nelson. Thanks.

              /@

              PS. I’m not sure if Jerry’s aware that your Sunday Service often carries “ads” for this bl— um , website… 

            • herewegoagain_a
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:01 am | Permalink

              Thanks for the heads up. Wasn’t aware of your site until now. Look interesting. Will be listening on the 3/25. Cheers.

  2. David Leech
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Here we go, call yourselves sceptics blah blah blah, historical Jeebus did exist. I call bullshit on that claim. The first century is actually considered one of the best-documented periods in ancient history, and Judea, far from being a forgotten backwater, was a turbulent province of vital strategic importance to the Romans. The place was full of historians and philosophers and religious scribes. Any mention of Jeebus none, nada, zilch. Figures like Epictetus, Pomponius Mela, Martial, Juvenal, Seneca the Younger, Gallio, Seneca the Elder, Pliny the Elder, Plutarch, Justus of Tiberias, Philo of Alexandria, Nicolaus of Damascus and more. The ones you mention are discussing Christians not Christ and we know Christians exist. The only evidence we have is the very worst kind of evidence — a handful of biased, uncritical, unscholarly, unknown, second-hand witnesses.Indeed, you really have to look hard to find another event that is in a worse condition than this as far as evidence goes.

    • Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

      In those time, internet, tv and radio didn’t exist. People didn’t know how to write and Palestine was a far province of the roman empire.

      I think it is normal that a minor jewish sect that started with 12 frightened disciples didn’t have a big coverage in the beginning…

      • Neil
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        You’d have thought that all those miracles–loaves and fishes, walking on water, raising the dead–would have caught the attention of the literate Romans, no matter how jaded they were.

        • Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

          That misses the point. No one, least of all Ehrman, is claiming that if Jesus existed, then all of his supposed miracles also happened. All Ehrman seems to be claiming (based on several of his books I’ve read, but not this latest one yet) is that the MAN Jesus existed, and that’s all.

          It DOES seem fairly likely that even if he did exist, no one would have written about him.

          • Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

            That is the point.

            • Neil
              Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

              Oh. A non-miraculous man, who no one would notice, perhaps named Jesus, lived in Palestine around that time. Gee, who’d have thunk.

              • Filippo
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:35 am | Permalink

                Anyone have a ballpark idea what per centage of male children in Latin America are named Jesus?

              • michaelkgray
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:38 am | Permalink

                But how many are named “Yeshua” is the real question.

              • Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:16 am | Permalink

                But wait! Maybe “Yeshua” is also a later confusion, just like the miracles!

                Maybe there was a g u y who lived s o m e w h e r e around that time.

                I’m pretty sure that’s documented, actually. Ergo kill the infidels.

            • Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

              I was supporting Neil’s comment… and can’t remember the las time I went to church…

              • Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

                Arggh no, John’s comment…

                But Neil, that the man was non-miraculous didn’t prevent him to become the most popular figure on earth. That alone has value no matter your belief.
                I understand that an american atheist surrounded by Jesus freaks wouldn’t be happy if an irrefutable proof that Jesus existed for real could be found, but it looks like you guys are overreacting because of a specific cultural context…

          • cooperator
            Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

            Does anybody consider the posibility that the man jesus existed, and people did write about him when the (physically possible) events happened, but that their reports did not conform to the mythical interpretation, so that over time, every single copy of the writings were destroyed?

            • Gluon
              Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

              So many things are possible. This is one of them, and it doesn’t seem implausible at all. It’s a bit of a waste, though, to spend a lot of time trying to figure out the truth, since so little evidence comes to bear. Nothing about atheism requires that Jesus didn’t exist. Did Buddah exist? Mohammed? Moses? David? Maybe, maybe not. Who cares?

              Personally, I bet a charismatic man named Jesus did exist, that his followers were few in number and went unnoticed at the time. I’d wager, if I had a time machine to check up on it, that he was crucified for being some kind of trouble maker. I’d go so far as to wager that his body was moved or stolen, and that this accident of history gave his distraught followers the crazy idea that he was raised from the dead. I suspect they did see an empty tomb, and took that as all the proof they needed that they hadn’t wasted their time with this guy. I doubt anyone but those guys noticed or cared, either that Jesus was crucified or that his body was moved/stolen, but this belief could easily have given them the kind of crazed assurance that can be effective in convincing others. By the time “Christians” were noticed, decades had passed (most of the NT was written many decades after Jesus supposedly lived). It is really quite simple to imagine such a series of events that would leave no record, no trace, except for that written by his zealous and revisionist followers.

              For comparison, even in this media saturated age, how much do you know about L. Ron Hubbard? Without the internet to preserve all the newspaper clippings and stories and so on, how much would we know 100 years after his death? And that’s now. It’s not hard at all to imagine that no one noticed Jesus while he was alive, but that 60 years after his death there would be a substantial group of followers that were noticeable, so that a real man left no trace except for his followers.

              • Dan L.
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

                For comparison, even in this media saturated age, how much do you know about L. Ron Hubbard?

                Quite a bit. Even with the CoS destroying or hiding all the biographical sources they could get to on Hubbard, plenty has already come to light to describe his entire life from birth to death. Many detailed biographies have been written. Hubbard just isn’t a good example of this.

      • MadScientist
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

        But surely a genuine miracle worker (as opposed to the hordes of scam artists of the era) would have received the attention of the Roman officers?

        • Filippo
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:40 am | Permalink

          Do I correctly recall the claim in the Bible that on the day of Christ’s crucifixion some number of graves/tombs opened and their occupants walked the streets of Jerusalem? Would chroniclers find that noteworthy?

          • michaelkgray
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:42 am | Permalink

            Were it not utter fixion, sureley.

            • Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:03 am | Permalink

              Ah, nicely done.

              Yes, we should refer to the Passion of Christ as the crucifiction.

              /@

              • michaelkgray
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:16 am | Permalink

                Oh, I love it when you talk Deity to me…

          • bernardhurley
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

            Obviously it was an everyday event – they probably thought “Just another Messiah being crucified.”

            • Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

              Brian: I am NOT the Messiah!
              Arthur: I say you are Lord, and I should know. I’ve followed a few.

              /@

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:40 am | Permalink

        The scenario may be possible. But we are talking about proof and belief here. Possibilities may turn out to be true if accompanied by unassailable proof.

    • Dominic
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:16 am | Permalink

      That those contemporaries did not mention such a person (or people, for Jesus could be more than one figure conflated), does not mean that he was not about at that time. It could be that he was irrelevant to them. I am sure there are plenty of historically important people who have vanished into the mists, however Jesus did not have to be a mega figure at the time – it could be his was just the one snowball that went on growing out of many.

      I am sure that there were some real people behind these myths, which then acquired other myhs on the way – a sort of religiogenesis.

      • Dominic
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:17 am | Permalink

        acquired other MYTHS! as opposed to Mythters!

      • michaelkgray
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:31 am | Permalink

        See both my, and Ben’s observations regarding the Essenes.
        These folk were ‘on the hunt’ for a Jesus-figure, and existed mainly with goal as a reason for living.
        This fact alone puts paid to the trope that you suggest as a ‘possibility’.

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

          It concords with what Edgar Cayce said. He told that the word Essene meant expectancy.
          Btw, Cayce talked about Jesus and its relation with the Essenes in 1934, 13 years before the dead sea scrolls were discovered.

          Freaky eh?

          • michaelkgray
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

            Edgar Cayce is was a total crank of the first order.
            Truly insane by any standard.

            • Posted March 22, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

              Probably. That is why he could know that the word essene meant expectation and that Jesus, mary and Joseph were members of that sect…

      • Sajanas
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        Richard Carrier posted a very long list of Messiah figures that *were* mentioned (somewhere around 20 to 30), and he had I think a pretty valid point that some of them were utter, utter losers, the sort of minor figures who basically held one little rally before being slaughtered by the Romans. His point was that if someone so unimportant was being written about, why would Jesus not get a mention? Its always possible to imagine some accounts of Jesus got lost, but at the same time, some of the various Messiahs described had at least some resemblance to Jesus. Given that the people in that area dealt with nearly a generation of revolts and a nearly apocalyptic war with Rome, it doesn’t seem surprising that names, places, and stories of unrelated people could get mixed up and named Jesus in that time.

    • Posted March 22, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

      This assumes that the claim is that Jesus was a “somebody of interest”. That is a separate claim. Those who scholarly suggest Jesus existed, as opposed to the religious believers, tend to claim he was a nobody at the time. There’d be no reason to expect a poor nobody to be written about in that period. His “fame” would have only come long after his death, and stories evolve into myths and pick up agendas along the way.

      I haven’t read Ehrman’s book yet, but I did hear him talk about it in an interview. It sounds like some of the early writings include Paul talking about Jesus’ relatives (whom he knew) nonchalantly. That is, if you are making someone up for an agenda, you tend to keep the stories to the agenda. You wouldn’t start talking about the time his brother ripped his pants bending over, or stuff like that. The argument is that this sort of writing behaviour isn’t consistent with a made up Jesus.

      Personally, it makes more sense to me that there was somebody with a message and small following, like a David Koresh but even smaller scale, who got arrested and executed, and would have faded as a nobody if Paul hadn’t picked it up and carried the torch. From there, exaggerations, myths, and agendas arose and attached themselves. Most Christian beliefs probably evolved from Paul’s own beliefs that branched off into wide variants that got downselected via memetic natural selection.

      But, I can’t prove that.

  3. Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    I’ll see your “king of the Jews” and I’ll raise you one Apollonius of Tyana.

    • Glenn Butler
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      Quoting Ehrman, “The alleged parallels between Jesus and the “pagan” savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead.”

      John, could you expand your comment. My understanding is that Apollonius of Tyana was an itinerant preacher who performed miracles and ascended to heaven, but not that he died as any atonement for sin. I believe Ehrman recognizes the existence of other first century miracle men. Is he just denying that we don’t have perfect parallels with Jesus? Ehrman’s own work describes the parallels between Apollonius and Jesus.

      • MadScientist
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

        Of course the early christians were too stupid to add “salvation from original sin” to the list of magical properties of the gods, so it must have been true.

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        More importantly, we need to know if 1st Century “sages” discussed crop circles or the importance of desert wandering podiatry.
        Only a thorough examination of the Aramaic scrolls will conclusively elucidate such concerns. Of this you can be assured.

  4. Brian
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you should respond to Crazy Wacko Rabbi Lurie while you are at it with the Huffington Post clowns: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-alan-lurie/crazy-wacko-rabbi-responds-biology-professor_b_1346395.html?ref=religion

  5. stewart61
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    “With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life…”

    On the surface, it sounds like we actually “have” those, but that can’t be what he means, can it? If it were, nobody whatsoever would be doubting his existence. Looking forward to Richard Carrier’s take on this.

    • Marella
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      What are these sources of which he speaks? I have never heard of them. Does he really mean to assert that we have documents dated to the fourth decade AD attesting to Jesus’ life?? Really?

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        I think (I haven’t read his book) that he is referring to the oral accounts upon which the gospels were based.

        So we have this set of folklore, and we can toss out the claims that Jesus performed various miracles, and the claim that Jesus was God/the son of God, and the claim that Jesus rose from the dead; and the claims about the circumstance of his birth: the slaughter of the innocents, his childhood, which were made up post hoc to satisfy alleged OT prophecies, and we can note that the gnostic sources all disagree with the canonical sources as to details;

        but when the same set of folklore claims that a man named Jesus existed and was an itinerant preacher, then that is too much to deny.

        I am not impressed, and will shortly be hauling out my comparison to “the historical Paul Bunyan.”

    • Heber
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      Well, here is part of what Carrier thinks:

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/294

      And here is a somewhat lengthy reposte by Acharya (generally in favor of the parallelism)

      http://freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=1461&p=25012#p25012

    • Posted March 22, 2012 at 3:20 am | Permalink

      Carrier’s response: Ehrman is talking completely made-up shit. And Carrier’s a fan of Ehrman.

      • Posted March 22, 2012 at 3:45 am | Permalink

        & see #72 & #75.

        /@

  6. Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    We need to read the entire book. For myself, I’ve never understood why so many people seem emotionally invested in the claim that Jesus never existed. The gospels look to me awfully like mythologised accounts under which there lies some substratum of truth – e.g. perhaps there was some apocalyptic prophet, or maybe more than one, who did or said similar things, without the miracles, etc. So what? That’s not evidence of a God or of the bindingness of Christian morality.

    I’ll read Ehrmann’s new book with interest.

    • Willie Buck Merle
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      RB, we are so simpatico, are you a mathematician (grin). Look there is undoubtedly a person back then named “Jesus”… then they built upwards. I really get the feeling Ehrman believes this story could some how be replicated nowadays without it caving in. Sure it works without miracles, but that is the “cream of this jest”. My 2c and not to sound too dickish about a person who was crucified.

      • Marella
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        There was undoubtedly thousands of people back then named Jesus, it was the most popular name in the region.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        Mathematics? How ’bout this:
        The historical Jesus:The Jesus of the gospels::The historical Arthur:The Arthur of the medieval legends.

        This is not to say that I rule out, a priori, those who say that no historical Jesus ever existed.

        • Willie Buck Merle
          Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

          The Lone Pell Grant recipient in a darkened classroom:
          Yes, the historicity of Jesus works without the miracles, Dr Ehrman. But… isn’t that what this is all about?

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:07 am | Permalink

          ::The historical Robert of Locksley:The legendary Robin Hood

          /@

    • Tyro
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      I agree, although I would flip it around and say that I don’t understand why so many agnostics & atheists are so emotionally invested in the claim that Jesus did exist.

      I’ll admit that I’m a dilettante but the evidence for Jesus’s existence seems pretty weak. And rather than deal with the arguments by the mythicists, most scholars content themselves with personal attacks. It’s really off-putting.

      But as you say, let’s wait for the book. I would very much like to read one that deals honestly and accurately with the opposition. It isn’t merely a matter of an absence of evidence for Jesus but a positive case that the earliest evidence points to a non-Earthly Jesus. Just skimming across Ehrman’s latest writing, it looks distressingly like he hasn’t bothered to learn this and is yet again attacking a strawman.

      • Marella
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

        When you’ve built an entire academic career trying to tease out the ‘historical Jesus’ it’s unlikely you’ll welcome suggestions that Jesus never existed.

        • Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

          +1

        • Jeff Engel
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:18 am | Permalink

          I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of Ehrman’s career. It’s been built on teasing out more what certainly _isn’t_ the teaching of an historical Jesus – because it’s a later addition or change, not because there wasn’t necessarily something at the bottom.

          Myself, I get perplexed about the venom of the debate when the positions aren’t all that clearly distinguished. You don’t get that simply by saying it’s about whether or not there was (1) or was not (2) an historical Jesus, when what counts as an historical Jesus is up in the air.

          I don’t know that there are “mythicists” who suppose that no Levantine preacher in the Jewish tradition with a name something like “Jesus” came to a bad end due to authorities sometime between around 100 BC and 100 AD, whose biography had something to do with the origins of Christianity, but I do think some people will count that as “an historical Jesus”. (No, sadly, I do not have an example.)

          I’d really, really like to see two authors I like and respect – Ehrman and Carrier both – come to a mutually agreed definition of an historical Jesus about whom they make inconsistent existence claims before I’m going to be confident they’re managing to disagree.

          • Sajanas
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

            Yeah, it surprises me that Ehrman is so pro-historical Jesus, since when you read through a lot of his books, he is pretty open about how muddy the waters are around that period in history regarding Jesus’s life. He wrote whole books on how people forged portions of the New Testament, changed and added to the Gospels, and how whole strains of Christianity were blotted out and forgotten. Its like he spent nearly 10 years hacking away at the evidence in the Bible, and yet still expects us to imagine that one can distill an account of the life of the historical Jesus from the consensus of Paul and the primary Gospels, and I’m not sure if he hasn’t discredited this idea already by showing what shaky ground those works rest on already.

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

          Agreed. I’ve read Misquoting Jesus and respect Bart’s scholarship, but I think he is treading a thin line: if Jesus were shown to be a mythical person who never existed it would demote the status his work. Plus, he works at UNC and may prefer to not be seen as too radical in a state populated by southern Baptists; hence he identifies himself as an “agnostic”.

          • Posted March 22, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

            Agnosticism is an honest position, if not the most honest one.

  7. Strider
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    JC is trying to convince us that the evidence that JC existed is thin. What’s going on here?!

  8. Enkidu
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Call me an Internet junkie…but

    This is the first I have heard of all these Aramaic documents, does he give any references? Paul says virtually nothing about Jesus’ life, so hardly qualifies as a witness. As for meeting any of the so called Apostles, pull the other one.

    The virgin bit comes from a mis-translation of young woman in the Greek Septuagint.

    As for the improbability of the Christian see Richard Carrier FTB.

    • Enkidu
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Should be Christian gospel

    • Michael
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      On what Paul says about Jesus, I suggest you take a look at Garry Wills’s “What Paul Meant,” chapter on “Paul and the Pre-Resurrection Jesus”. He makes a pretty convincing case that Paul knew a lot of traditions (compatible with those that lef to the Gospels) about the life and sayings of Jesus.

      • Marella
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

        I’m not interested in reading stuff written by christians, they’ve already proved that they can’t think straight.

        • Filippo
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:52 am | Permalink

          I’m currently finding that Wills’s “Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America” worth the effort and engaging. At least there I’m finding his thinking straight.

          However, I recall an interview where at least twice, in response to questions about what he specifically believed, he said, “It’s in the Creed,” as if that ipso facto were sufficient justification for his beliefs.

        • Phil
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:09 am | Permalink

          What a profoundly stupid thing to say.

          • Dan L.
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

            Not really. Most Christians have a pretty obvious bias on the question of the existence of Christ. Which isn’t to say Christians are incapable of unbiased scholarship, the problem is actually distinguishing those who are from those who aren’t.

            Even those Christian historians with a profound bias won’t admit to that bias in scholarship so we’re stuck looking for indicators of possible bias. One of these is Christianity. It’s not smoking gun but I’m always going to be skeptical of what Christians have to say about the history of their religion.

            Especially when so many show they have no compunction about lying about it.

          • Marella
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

            I didn’t mean that I didn’t wish to read what they have to say on all subjects, I meant that I wouldn’t waste my time reading what they have to say about Jesus. They have a clear agenda and a demonstrated inability to separate truth from wishful thinking. I should have been clearer. But they have certainly demonstrated an inability to think straight and a preference for their fantasies over reality, which means that you can’t trust them on any subject which they have an emotional investment in.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      This is the first I have heard of all these Aramaic documents…

      Read again. “Sources,” not “documents.” Ehrman is referring to the sources upon which the various Gospel accounts are presumably based. I’m a little curious as to why he suggests these sources were Aramaic, not Greek, which is the language all the canonical Gospels were written in.

      • michaelkgray
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

        This is a stretch of the most profound degree, is it not?
        To even weakly imply that non-existent documents were conveniently written in Aramaic, with ZERO supporting evidence, is wildly surpassing “curious”, is it not?

        It smacks of a not so hidden agendum; a means to a pre-determined goal.

        • Dan L.
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

          It smacks of a not so hidden agendum; a means to a pre-determined goal.

          No, it’s all based on the methodology of textual criticism. You can criticize the methodology (you should learn about it first) but skipping the methodology and jumping straight to insinuating bias is kind of dirty.

          • Dan L.
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            I realized it’s likely you know significantly more about textual criticism than I do. Point about impugning motives stands though.

    • Scott de B.
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      The documents mentioned are those used by Mark, Matthew, and Luke to generate their narratives. By looking at those texts we can reconstruct the sources that they used. This is pretty standard in ancient history, where we often have later sources but not the originals.

      An analogy is the life of Alexander. We know of several narratives by contemporaries, including Hieronymus of Cardia and Ptolemy, but those do not survive. We can reconstruct with some confidence what they said about Alexander, however, because later writers used their works.

  9. Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m somewhat puzzled by those who have such certainty on either side. It seems like it’s pretty much been lost to the sands of time. Mighta been a Jesus (or more than one — Jesii?), or might notta been.

    • raven
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

      I’m somewhat puzzled by those who have such certainty on either side. It seems like it’s pretty much been lost to the sands of time.

      That has always been my position.
      I’ve read most of the popular scholarship in the field.

      The question is not answerable. It’s been too long and the data simply doesn’t exist. That is why these jesus debates just keep going on and on and on, like a berserk energizer bunny.

      I lean towards a historical jesus but can’t prove it. Or prove it wrong.

    • raven
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

      FWIW, we do have a huge amount of evidence that any jesus wasn’t a godman.

      1. If jesus was god, he could show up any minute and settle the issue.

      2. If jesus was god, he would have his own website (not a blog), TV show, and radio program. These are tasks within the reach of smart third graders and most adults.

      3. He would have left a concise instruction manual written in plain understandable modern languages. Instread we ended up with the bible, a kludgy contradictory mess of obvious fiction, written in languages almost no one speaks any more. This is also something most people could do.

      The fact is, we have absolutely zero writings of jesus. A lot of historical scholars think he may have been illiterate, common at the time among his class.

    • Gluon
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, the list of figures who may or may not have existed is large: Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, Gautama Buddha, Shakespeare (! ;-) and on and on.

      It’s fun to consider the evidence for and against, to form an opinion and debate it. But none of these things are going to be settled without a big trove of new data from somewhere, and that’s just not likely at this point.

      It’s a parlor game.

      • Dan L.
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

        It’s fun to consider the evidence for and against, to form an opinion and debate it. But none of these things are going to be settled without a big trove of new data from somewhere, and that’s just not likely at this point.

        It’s a parlor game.

        Never mind that the human race didn’t know the age of the earth or the universe until within the last century. Or that we’ve figured out more about ancient Rome in the last 30 years than in the last 300 years before that.

        Critical methods get better all the time and as we do more archaeology we discover more and more. Evidence is cumulative so while law of diminishing returns may apply to the rate of new discoveries it doesn’t apply to knowledge in general. We can never be absolutely sure about these questions but we can make discoveries and arguments that have huge implications for the relative probabilities of different hypotheses.

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          This is true, and certainly if compelling new evidence did emerge, I would change my mind about the knowability of this question. Definitely it is not difficult to imagine discoveries that would definitively establish the existence of one or more historical Jesuses (e.g. a well-authenticated Roman document complaining about a rabble-rouser by the name of Joshua causing general mayhem in Jerusalem in approximately the right time frame, with other corroborating details convincing us we’re talking about the same guy). It is harder, though still not impossible, to imagine evidence that would “prove” the negative (maybe a well-authenticated confessional from the first century giving a detailed and plausible account of how the myth was fabricated…?). But I don’t rule it out.

          I’m not holding my breath to see any of this stuff, though. Either there is intact evidence to be found, or there isn’t; no amount of refinement of critical methods is going to help if the evidence one way or the other just isn’t there.

          • Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

            Ask and ye shall receive: Lucian of Samosata on the Passing of Peregrinus.

            Granted, it’s second century…but that’s when the stuff was fabricated — the story was set in the time of the Herods, but that’s not when it was created.

            b&

  10. onceupona
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    So Ehrman is really going to move in a direction that even an honest Christian Scholar would not go- claiming that there is evidence that Jesus existed. Although I’m not sure what his point is… I mean what difference does it make if he wasn’t raised up from the dead? A crucified messiah is a worthless messiah as far christians go. Even liberal Christians say there is deep meaning in Jesus’ resurrection. No resurrection and… what? But if he was raised from the dead then he was god’s son and if he was god’s son then… etc., etc.

    His scholarship is worthy of an evangelical christian- i.e. most liberal christian scholars don’t deny that the interpretation of Jesus being born of a virgin is an incorrect interpretation of Old Testament scripture which the writers of the NT added to add authenticity to their story. No reason it had anything to do with Jesus, if there was such a man.
    -Danette

    http://conch-to-be.blogspot.com/

    (wordpress logon is a family blog)

  11. Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Er, I mean “Ehrman’s” – just one “n”.

  12. Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    I have expected contempt for those who believe “Jesus the savior” really existed.

  13. Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    In other words, you mostly think that christianity was a roman plot concocted by Constantin, and thanks to him, it became suddenly hip to be one…

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think that anyone has said that on this thread. A response to what you appear to be saying is given at http://monicks.net/2012/01/02/what-i-believe/

      The key part reads: “Regarding the shared bits of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, etc., here it is, in second person:

      I believe that your God was the favorite tribal deity of a polytheistic, nomadic, historically insignificant Bronze Age people living in North Africa and the Near East. Through a bizarre historical accident, a tiny messianic doomsday cult of this people was adopted as the state religion of the most powerful empire on the planet, despite the utter failure of any of the doomsday prophecies to transpire in the allotted time.

      I believe your shared “testament” is a heterogeneous anthology of self-aggrandizing revisionist history, stolen legal codes, institutionalized bigotry, justifications for ethnic cleansing, “Just So” stories, the ravings of the mentally ill, census data, a sprinkling of common sense, and some truly beautiful poetry and children’s literature, all of which was rolled together and authorship attributed to a deity, which means to many of you that it has to be 100% factually accurate, even when it’s internally inconsistent or demonstrably wrong.”

      ***

      In other words, the rapid spread of Christianity after the time of Constantine is no more evidence of the truth of its doctrines that the spread of Islam after the death of Mohammad is evidence of the truth of its doctrines.

      • Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

        The point is not the “truth” of the doctrine but if the spreader of the doctrine existed for real, no matter how embellished his life was…
        (Btw, I can’t remember the last time I went to church…)

      • Bonzodog
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:43 am | Permalink

        As in many things, blame the British for that :-)

        (Before anyone asks WTF the British have to do with this, Constantine was declared Emperor in York ….)

        • Mike B
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

          Hey, ‘as in many things?’ Such as?
          Signed
          A Brit

          • Bonzodog
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

            Warm beer ….

            Also A Brit!

  14. wunelle
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Not to rebut what isn’t being claimed, but who cares if he existed? The issue is not whether there was a dude named XXXX who was in love with the sound of his own voice, but rather whether he suspended the laws of nature. Of course he did not–and so he was just another guy, of which there have been billions.

    • Tyro
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      Exactly! Just like the Free Willies, the historicists are using a bait and switch to redefine Jesus. Behrman certainly isn’t talking about a miracle worker son of God but possibly an itinerant preacher. It’s dishonest.

    • Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      That Jesus is one of the most popular figure on earth and that his doctrine shaped the occidental culture doesn’t really count???

      • raven
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

        No.

        Fallacy of argument from popularity.

        In recent times past the majority of the population was sure the earth was flat and orbited by the sun. A lot of people still believe, this. There are 60 million geocentrists in the USA.

        Hundreds of thousands of people are convinced that a weird, divorced Korean excon is Jesus Christ the Second, Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

        And BTW, the vast majority of the world’s population doesn’t “believe” in jesus. 72% of the world’s population are nonxians. If a vote was taken, jesus would lose bigtime.

        and that his doctrine shaped the occidental culture doesn’t really count???

        What??? Huh!!! News to me. A lot of our modern civilization is due to the Enlightenment. Which was basically pushing back on religious superstition. Much of our modern HI Tech civilization is built on science.

        We scientists created modern Hi Tech 21st century civilization. All xianity did was get in the way from time to time.

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:14 am | Permalink

          “There are 60 million geocentrists in the USA.” — What? Really? (This is astonishment, not disputation!) Citation please! (For future reference.)

          /@

          • raven
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

            Wikipedia, Modern Geocentrism.

            Google will provide the original Gallup and other polls.

            Yeah, 20% of the US population are Geocentrists and can’t diagram the solar system, a task I learned in the first grade.

            There are still Flat Earthers around as well. Boko Harum, the latest in religious terrorists and killers, are Flat Earthers because it says so in the Koran.

          • Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

            Indeed, I wandered over to a Catholic geocentrism site and had a headache in under 10 minutes. They even refused the idea that the Earth actually turns on it’s axis (“Have you ever tried standing on a moving treadmill!! Yuck Yuck!”) and that EVERYTHING therefore rotates around the Earth. Whiiich would mean Betelgeuse is currently moving at a couple thousand times the speed of light (the further stars broke my calculator). It’s polluted with the usual conspiracy theories and doubtful scientists. Apparently Einstein doubted heliocentrism among other notable scientists (quote mining) and of course the bottom line that “it says so in the Bible”.

    • Sajanas
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      The thing is, most Christians go through their daily lives without a single hint that the scholarship around Jesus’s existence is based on such flimsy evidence as it is. And this isn’t whether he taught this or that, or which Gospel had it rightest. If you were to do a survey of Christians today, I expect most of them would think that the Gospels where written by eye witnesses, and specifically by the people whose names are given as an author. Believing that is a source of most of the power quoting chapter and verse has. Knowing that Jesus is a lot more myth than man (even if there were a core of historical apocalyptic rabbi) has profound implications for how Christians view their Bible. Suddenly its not divine command, its historical fan fiction.

      And if Jesus never existed, the whole point of Christianity vanishes… in a way that Buddha or Socrates not existing wouldn’t have.

      • ivo
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        Seconded.

  15. joe piecuch
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    being now about halfway through the book, i’d suggest that those of you carping loudest try reading it before assuming your arguments somehow diminish his case, as most of the objections mentioned here have so far been addressed. ehrman is not attempting to convince anyone that jesus the miracle workin’ son of god existed, rather that there was a real, human person around whom the mythology coalesced.

    • Tyro
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      So why say Jesus existed at all?

      • Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

        Exactly.

        Santa is real!

        …his real name is Harold, he lives year-round in Florida, he hates kids, he loves reindeer burgers, he’s thin as a rail, and the only Christmas present he ever gave was the one that his third grade teacher forced him to.

        But he’s the real Santa!

        b&

        • Bernard Ortcutt
          Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think that’s accurate as an account of any person around which the mythology of Santa coalesced. There was a Saint Nicholas in the 4th Century though, who obviously didn’t live at the North Pole, but who is a real figure onto which the mythological parts were added by Clement Clarke Moore, Coca Cola and others, by way of Sinterklaas. That is, unless you want to dispute the existence of Saint Nicholas as well.

          • Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:33 am | Permalink

            The Santa-mythos has also coalesced around retributive gnomes.

        • joe piecuch
          Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

          …unless your preferred mode is ignorance.

      • Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

        I think it is a good thing to know that one of the most popular figure on earth existed for real…

        • raven
          Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

          I don’t see why.

          We don’t know that for sure and never will.

        • michaelkgray
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:35 am | Permalink

          I think it is a good thing to know that one of the most popular figure[sic] on earth existed for real…

          Let those amongst who doth not believe in the existence of Prof. Coyne cast the first stone that is so heavy that he cannot lift it.

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:19 am | Permalink

          But the point is that it is the Jesus of the Gospels who is “one of the most popular figures on earth”, and he is largely (if not entirely) a fiction, whereas the “Jesus” that existed for real (if he did) isn’t.

          /@

      • joe piecuch
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

        the point isn’t saying it, but trying to achieve a better understanding of how christianity developed into what it now is.

        • Jeff Engel
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:35 am | Permalink

          Indeed. Still though – the difference between

          (1) some preacher in the general area, time, and cultural tradition with a name maybe like “Jesus” said, did, and/or suffered some things that had something to do with how Christianity developed, and
          (2) it happened without anyone really fitting even that bill all that well

          for the development of Christianity may not be one that’s going to do a whole lot for our understanding of the development of Christianity. Not nothing, mind you, and it’d be an interesting something. But in proportion to this much heat about it? And given the very low confidence we’re ever likely reasonably to have in our conclusions between the two? That’s harder to believe.

          I have to suppose that most people supporting (1) and (2) vigorously are not really interested in (1) so much as in using it in support of (0), or in opposing (0), where (0) is:
          (0) The Jesus Christ of the Christian tradition is an essentially historical figure.

          • michaelkgray
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:41 am | Permalink

            But in proportion to this much heat about it?

            I take it that you do not vote in the USA?

            • Jeff Engel
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:30 am | Permalink

              Oh, pshaw. We get heat in the US elections over differences in positions in which at least one is genuinely crazy. Neither (1) nor (2) is that, and the difference between them is modest. You get crazy and wild only when (0) gets thrown in the mix.

        • Tyro
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

          For many (most?) the point really is about trying to find a way to justify the claim that Jesus existed. If they have to redefine “Jesus” to be almost totally detached from the Bible or what any religious person would recognize, then so be it.

          It has many parallels with our recent discussion of Free Will (or Superman, Popeye and Santa – other examples used elsewhere). And like Free Will (or like God for that matter), once you need to change the definition as much as defenders do then it is far more clear and honest to come out and say that free will/Jesus does not exist before going on to discuss the origins of those ideas.

          • Dan L.
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

            Another way to look at it is to suppose that JK Rowling’s character “Harry Potter” was inspired by a real-life young British man also named Harry Potter. If I was to say “Harry Potter is one of the most popular characters in the world” it would not follow that I was talking about the flesh-and-blood Harry Potter (who’s obviously not a wizard) upon whom the character was based. I’m obviously talking about the fictional character and not the real-life inspiration therefor.

            Similarly when people say “Jesus is one of the most popular figures in the world,” they’re talking about the fictional wizard Jesus, not the (allegedly) flesh-and-blood Jesus upon which the wizard character is based.

            • TJR
              Posted March 22, 2012 at 4:01 am | Permalink

              We know that James Bond was real, from a thread here a few weeks ago.

              • Dan L.
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

                That’s actually another good example of what I’m saying. “James Bond” is a spy. James Bond is an ornithologist. If I was having a conversation with a friend about James Bond we would almost certainly be talking about a suave, dapper, ruthlessly efficient, hopelessly misogynistic secret agent, not a zoologist.

                We’d be much more likely to talk about 007’s showdown with 004 in Goldeneye than about tropical birds, but the James Bond you mentioned isn’t numbered 007 and never fought anyone numbered 004 as far as we can tell. So we’re not talking about the ornithologist James Bond, we’re talking about a fictional spy who is named “James Bond”.

      • Scott de B.
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        Because he was a historical figure? Why say Charlemagne or Hammurabi existed?

        I have to say, as a historian, I scratch my head at these sorts of arguments. History is important. Reconstructing what happened in the past, so far as we can, is the very job of the historian.

        • Dan L.
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

          Because he was a historical figure?

          Isn’t this begging the question?

        • Tyro
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

          Let’s assume that there was a preacher that the Jesus-of-the-Bible character was based on. He probably didn’t share the same history, wasn’t born in the same place, didn’t do the actions attributed to him, and probably didn’t even have the same name. None of those things apply to Charlemagne or Hammurabi so that’s a pretty poor comparison.

          We can talk about the person upon whom the Santa Claus myth is based, but no one would honestly say that Santa is historical. And this despite the fact that (from what little I know) we have more and better information about the historical Santa than we do about the historical Jesus.

        • michaelkgray
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          One could say exactly the same thing about Sherlock Holmes.

  16. richcon
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    “Jesus’ closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it.”

    According to the (often disputed) First Apocalypse of James, this is in James’ own words:

    “It is the Lord who spoke with me: ‘See now the completion of my redemption. I have given you a sign of these things, James, my brother. For not without reason have I called you my brother, although you are not my brother materially. And I am not ignorant concerning you; so that when I give you a sign – know and hear.’”

    I’m sure Ehrman must be aware of this text, and probably discounts it as a second century fabrication. But the same can be said of the gospel story which cannot be reliably dated any earlier than the early-to-mid second century. The important thing is that this account of Jesus as a vision matches perfectly with Paul’s (vision), John’s in Revelation (vision), and Peter’s in 2 Peter (ambiguous spiritual encounter involving hearing the voice of God while being “with” Jesus on a mountain top).

    • Scott de B.
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      “But the same can be said of the gospel story which cannot be reliably dated any earlier than the early-to-mid second century. ”

      Untrue. Mark pretty clearly talks about the First Jewish revolt as a contemporary or near-contemporary event.

      • Dan L.
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        Reliably dated. If you think the Jewish revolt think is actually well-established please cite the relevant scholarship.

      • michaelkgray
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        By which extant original document? What is the earliest reliable date for this document?
        How can we tell that the whole story was not fabricated in say 220AD, but cannily included some historical events?
        Answer these first.

  17. Brett
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    I think Ehrman is absolutely correct to insist that the historical evidence favors the existence of a Galilean peasant who lived in the first century and preached an apocalyptic message. And not all of the evidence is from Christian sources, by the way; there are accounts in Suetonius, Tacitus and Josephus as well. In fact, the existence of Jesus is at least as secure as almost any other figure from antiquity, such as Alexander the Great or Augustus. The next question of what we can know about this guy Jesus is more difficult, and most serious NT scholars will answer with “not a whole lot”! The Jewish man Jesus was quickly replaced with the utterly concocted savior Christ, thanks in large part to Paul, who didn’t care one bit about the historical Jesus.

    But beyond all of this (which will clearly be available and elaborated upon with the release of Ehrman’s book), as an atheist and biblical studies student, I personally find the studies on the historical Jesus to be equally damaging to the truth claims of Xianity as those that say he never existed. After all, serious scholarship on Jesus reveals him as a thoroughly HUMAN figure who was gravely mistaken and got himself executed waiting for the kingdom of heaven to arrive. This is impossible to reconcile with the Xian claim that Jesus was God, despite the best efforts of apologetic NT scholars.

    • Ray
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

      I mostly agree with you, but your examples (Alexander and Augustus) are clearly overkill. Jesus is about as well documented as Socrates or Apollonius of Tyana, but it’s not like he founded any cities or commissioned coinage with his face on it.

      • michaelkgray
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        Unlike Darth Vader.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

      As secure as Alexander the Great??!!
      So untrue, and vastly untrue.

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

        Clearly, Jesus, Alexander and Bill Clinton are about equally well established. I haven’t seen Bill Clinton this year.

    • palefury
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

      I can allow you a itinerant, apocalyptic dissident jewish preacher, and a crucification. Both seem plausible and consistent with the historical period, not really provable one way or another.

      But that is not really the point is it! Christians consider the MIRACLES and RESSURECTION to be historical fact, and by extension theirs is the right faith and they can justify their bigotry to anyone who doesn’t share it.

    • raven
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

      And not all of the evidence is from Christian sources, by the way; there are accounts in Suetonius, Tacitus and Josephus as well.

      Bad examples.

      The Josephus quotes are mostly or completely later additions.

      All Suetonius and Tacitus say is that there were xians around early on. Which was already known from the simple fact that there were a lot more xians around later on.

      • michaelkgray
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

        Are you able to point me to the original documents that support the claims that “Suetonius and Tacitus say is that there were xians around early on”?
        I should be most obliged.

        • Posted March 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

          No?
          How long have I given you?
          I suspected as much.
          They said no such thing.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      And not all of the evidence is from Christian sources, by the way; there are accounts in Suetonius, Tacitus and Josephus as well.

      Cattle effluence.
      Suetonius, born ~ 69 CE.
      Tacitus, born 56 CE.
      Josephus, born 37 CE.

      Not one of those persons could have met a historical Jesus. They could at most have met early Christians, which is not the question at hand. You have marked yourself as someone who does not know what they are talking about.

      • Scott de B.
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        And of course the only way to know that someone existed is to have met them. By your logic, I conclude that nobody wrote the above message.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

          I look forward to your responding with a list of ways those writers could have known of the actual historical existence of Jesus H. Christ, having lived a generation or more later. Did they read the many books Jesus is claimed to have written?

    • David T.
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Yeah I think its highly likely that there was a John the Baptist around that time and there was a person named Jesus.

      I think this misses the point though, I’ve come to the conclusion that who cares if someone named Jesus existed. He likely existed but what we know about him is almost completely myth. Now the for the question did a miracle worker who was the son of god, died and rose again exist? The answer to that question is almost certainly no.

    • yesmyliege
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      “In fact, the existence of Jesus is at least as secure as almost any other figure from antiquity, such as Alexander the Great or Augustus”

      You are joking, right?

      “After all, serious scholarship on Jesus reveals him as a thoroughly HUMAN figure who was gravely mistaken and got himself executed waiting for the kingdom of heaven to arrive.”

      Ok, so you are not joking, just a bad student.

  18. Daryl
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Ehrgo, Jesus

    • Badger3k
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      Eggo Jesus?

  19. Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    That misses the point. No one, least of all Ehrman, is claiming that if Jesus existed, then all of his supposed miracles also happened. All Ehrman seems to be claiming (based on several of his books I’ve read, but not this latest one yet) is that the MAN Jesus existed, and that’s all.

    It DOES seem fairly likely that even if he did exist, no one would have written about him.

    • Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      And yet, if Jesus was “merely a mortal,” then Ehrman is claiming that every single piece of “evidence” supporting Jesus is fundamentally flawed in the most profound way.

      I mean, seriously. If you’re going to go around saying that all these documents are flat-out worng on the fact they place the most importance on, you can’t very well then turn around and somehow claim that they’re reliable sources for much of anything. If you’ve established that the Christian Bible is nothing but an anthology fantasies about a man named, “Jesus,” what on Earth makes you think that they even got his name right?

      b&

      • joe piecuch
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        that’s not what he’s saying at all; however, reading what he wrote and engaging with what he says would seriously undermine your basis for shrieking and flinging poo, though, wouldn’t it?

        • yesmyliege
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          Well I have not read his book, yet, but it does, according to some who have posted here, appear to depend heavily on the material of the Gospels themselves.(Or perhaps theoretical documents theoretically common to the Gospels) The Gospels, which claim to reliably report that Jesus was followed by thousands supporters, who gave the Sermon on the Mount to thousands as the basis of the entire New Testament, and which are, of course, therefore unreliable.

          Not to mention the fact that it is very much like quoting from drafts of Harry Potter to prove the historicity of Harry Potter. I don’t see how non independent sources are going to satisfy anyone who has any background on the topic of historicity.

      • Phil
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:14 am | Permalink

        I guess if nothing else you’re a good reminder that atheists can be as hysterical, dogmatic and irrational as the worst godbotherer.

        • michaelkgray
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:25 am | Permalink

          Some can: yes.
          Atheism, the sole characteristic of which is the absence of a belief in ludicrous sky-daddies, pending evidence, is not intimately packaged with any other logic concept.
          On that point, you are correct.

          But Mr. Goren as a “good reminder” of this rare fact?
          “hysterical”? Ben does not have a womb, unless I am woefully informed.
          “dogmatic”? I hazard a guess that you will not be able to proffer a single instance of Ben forcing other folk against their wills to pretend to believe in nonsense.
          “irrational”? I’ll grant this observation conditionally, sir.
          What I do request from you in your defence is the single-most egregious example, quoted in context.

          • michaelkgray
            Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:48 am | Permalink

            No response?

      • Stacy
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink

        If you’re going to go around saying that all these documents are flat-out worng on the fact they place the most importance on

        The facts they consistently place the most importance on were his eschatology (the gospels, Paul’s letters) and his faith-healing/exorcisms (the gospels).

        The predictions regarding the end of the world were a bust and had to be rationalized and reinterpreted using some pretty sophistimacated theology. Like many other details retained in the gospels (despite all the redaction) they were an embarrassment. Who, inventing a religion, would include falsifiable details like “the world will end before all you guys are dead”?

        Faith healers were common. Heck, they’re still around. Their followers believe they work miracles, exaggerate their exploits, and interpret their doings supernaturally. It’s not at all surprising that the healing stories are presented as miracles, or that first century Palestinian peasants would have been impressed by (and experienced psychosomatic “cures” thanks to the “exorcisms” performed by) a charismatic travelling faith healer.

  20. Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    I just had to check email one last time for the night, didn’t I?

    <sigh />

    Once more unto the breach….

    With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves).

    This is a pure, unadulterated lie, and Erhman knows it. He cannot possibly have any excuse for propagating it aside from proselytizing, regardless of his protestations of unfaith.

    What we do have with respect to the Gospels, at absolute best, is a postage-stamp-sized fragment of the Gospel According to Saint John, in the form of Rylands Papyrus P52. Christian apologists have “analyzed” the handwriting to “determine” a “likely” date of of “roughly” 125 CE. They have, however, repeatedly refused to submit it to non-destructive radiometric analysis, including requests from our very own occasional contributor, Michael Kingsford Gray.

    Literary analysis reveals extensive copying amongst the Gospels, and attempts to forensically reconstruct their history indicate that there would have been one or more older source documents that they all copied from. Ehrman would seem to be claiming these hypothetical, unknown sources as his “numerous, independent accounts.” Further, he has the audacity to simply assume that these mystery sources “originated in Jesus’s native tongue [of] Aramaic.” This is purest bullshit. He has not one shred of evidence to support his claims.

    Historical sources like that are is pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind.

    This is one of the most blatant apologetic Christian lies for Jesus you’ll ever account for. “Jesus is the best-evidenced historical figure there is,” they blather.

    ORLY?

    Let’s compare Jesus with a man who was born just a few decades before Herod never massacred any babies. I refer, of course, to the man who actually can lay claim to the title of, “most influential individual in history prior to the Rennaisance.”

    That would be Gaius Julius Caesar, Imperator Romam.

    We actually have (copies of copies) of Caesar’s own autobiographical account of his conquest of Gaul. Not only that, but archaeological excavations have been done at some of the sites he identified, and those excavations have confirmed details of his account, such as number and type of Roman troops. Of course, radiometric dating of these sites are consistent as well.

    We also have letters Caesar wrote, and letters others wrote to him. Including both sides of a conversation, in some instances.

    And we have other contemporary documents describing Caesar and his actions, as well as accounts from literally every generation of historian ever since.

    We have all the engineering works he ordered built — roads, buildings, monuments.

    We have statues of him, statues that match written descriptions of his appearance.

    We even have coins, minted during his lifetime, with his likeness. In fact, we have so many of them that you can probably find one for sale for less than whatever you currently pay for a month’s mortgage or rent — though, of course, gold Caesar coins in good condition will fetch quite a pretty penny.

    Now, let’s compare that with the “evidence” for Jesus. Namely, we have the New Testament, which I’ll get to in a minute, and we have the Apocrypha, which even the Christians reject as false and which are utterly bizarre to modern readers. The Ophites thought Jesus was some sort of a snake god, for example, and Marcion’s Gospel opens with Jesus beaming down like a scene out of Star Trek. We have not one shred whatsoever of physical evidence, despite entire forests worth of splinters of the “true cross” and dozens of foreskins attributed to Jesus.

    “Best-evidenced historical figure” my ass.

    Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus’ life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus’ closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it.

    More apologetic lying for Jesus.

    First, Ehrman neglects to mention that even the most apologetic of Christians consider several of the Epistles that bear Paul’s name to have been written by somebody else. And what Christians do claim is authentic barely amounts to a chapter’s worth of Caesar’s or Philo’s or Josephus’s — hardly “extensive.”

    Next, Paul’s closest encounter with Jesus was in what is obvious to modern readers was an hallucination. Worse, Paul establishes his bona fides by using this experience, which he explicitly states was exactly the same type of experience as those of other witnesses.

    Continuing, Paul is completely oblivious to Jesus’s biographical facts and to the words later attributed to him. The closest we get to any mention of Jesus’s biography is when Paul instructs his readers in how to perform the Eucharist, which is a religious ceremony that patterns itself on the Last Supper. We also know from Justin Martyr that the Christian Eucharist was indistinguishable from the Mithraic Eucharist…and we know from Plutarch that Tsarsus, Paul’s home town, was a hotbed of Mithraism in the first century BCE. Perhaps even worse, Paul attributes the Crucifixion not to then-just-deposed Pilate, but rather to “the Archons (princes) of that age.”

    Finally, if Paul existed — rising star of the Pharisees, persecuting their worst enemies, then turned against them to become Christianity’s greatest Evangelist — then you’d think somebody would have noticed him. At the very least, he’d deserve a footnote in the Talmud. But, like Jesus, this larger-than-life figure was entirely forgotten by history.

    Moreover, the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. The alleged parallels between Jesus and the “pagan” savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions).

    Can he spew any more bullshit?

    Who here has heard of Perseus? Remember his story?

    Let’s see…there was a prophecy that Danae, King Acrisius’s daughter, would bear a son that would one day take the throne. You’d think that he’d be glad to know his line would continue, but the dude was afraid of death and so locked his virgin daughter up. Zeus, the Father of the gods, one day took on his holy spiritual form (a shower of gold), visited Danae, and impregnated her. Herod — oops, I mean, “Hera” — was infuriated and wreaked havoc to try to kill the baby, so the holy mother and child fled to a distant land where he grew up. When he was an adolescent, he performed miraculous feats, eventually took his father’s throne, and eventually Ascended to the heavens (on the back of Pegasus) to take his place in the celestial palace where he reigns to this day. (Seriously — his constellation is visible in the Northern Hemisphere.)

    Any of that sound familiar to all y’all?

    Or how ’bout Orpheus, who was driven by love (of a woman) to Hades itself, where he fought and conquered Death, returned from the grave, only to face a farcical trial where he was unjustly convicted and brutally executed…but his dismembered head made it to the Elysian Fields, and, if you live your life in his model, you too will one day join him.

    Bacchus turned water into wine…Asclepius raised the dead…Vespasian restored sight to a blind man by spitting in his eye….

    Indeed, I would challenge anybody, Mr. Ehrman included, to give just one example of something from the Gospels that doesn’t have a well-known similar precedent.

    And so we finally come to the conclusion about the Gospels that they are a collection of well-known Greek fables written in scholarly Greek by Greeks addressed to Greeks that Greek parents had been telling to their Greek children for about as long as there had been Greeks…but set in Judea.

    Moreover, aspects of the Jesus story simply would not have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The earliest followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah. But prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah. The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that. Why did the Christians not do so? Because they believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah. And they knew full well that he was crucified. The Christians did not invent Jesus. They invented the idea that the messiah had to be crucified.

    Silly boy. He actually thinks that Jesus was a Jewish invention. Obviously, it’s all Greek to him.

    Now that I’ve exposed all his lies, permit me to continue a bit to demonstrate just how absurd the claim of an historical Jesus truly is.

    First, first-century Judea was superbly well documented. Though most documentation from that period only exists in the form of copies of copies of copies, we actually have, quite literally, an entire library’s worth of original pieces of “paper.” The Dead Sea Scrolls were penned by Essenes Jews (the most likely sect Jesus would have belonged to had he not been a figment of the imagination) in and around Jerusalem before, during, and after any and all possible dates he could have lived. They include copies of the very passages of Isaiah that the Greeks mistranslated to come up with their “prophecies.” (Read Martyr’s Dialogues with Trypho to learn how, even in the second century, non-Christians have been calling Christians on their lies and the Christians have been ignoring the critics.) They include blessings (aka “beatitudes”), but not the ones Jesus was supposedly spouting off. They include commentaries on war and on peace and include all sorts of fascinating insights into the lives of Jews in first-century Judea.

    But they’re as devoid of Jesus as Monty Python’s Cheese shop is of cheeses.

    That right there should settle the case…but, as they say, wait, there’s more.

    Philo was a Jewish diplomat, philosopher, and prolific author. He would have been Joseph’s contemporary, had Joseph existed. He was the brother-in-law of Herod Agrippa, the King Herod the Gospels mention at the time of the Crucifixion. He is the person who integrated the Greek Logos — the “Word” of John 1:1 — into Judaism. His last surviving literary work was his account of his participation in an embassy of Jews to Rome where they petitioned Caligula about the mistreatment of Jews at the hands of the Romans.

    He didn’t mention Jesus, either.

    Pliny the Elder was fascinated with all things supernatural. Jesus must have had one Hell of a vanishing act, because he sure managed to fly beneath Pliny’s radar.

    The Roman Satirists made their stock in trade the exact type of humiliation Jesus heaped upon Pilate and the Sanhedrin. Perhaps Pilate abdicating his responsibilities and the Sanhedrin all but flinging poo at Jesus wasn’t scandalous enough for them to notice? Yeah, sure.

    Even the greatest historian of the era, Josephus, didn’t notice him (this we know because Origen bemoande the omission in the second century). Eusibeus, who espoused the Platonic “virtue” of lying to people to bring them to a “greater truth” was so upset by the omission that he forged the Testamonium Flavanium and “discovered” it in his copy.

    Want to know just how extensive his omission is from history? Here’s a partial list of authors, any one of whom could have noticed Jesus, all of whom should have noticed the spectacular events of the Gospels, none of whom breathed a word:

    Damis, Juvenal, Martial, Petronius, Persius, Pausanias, Epictetus, Aelius Aristides, Fronto, Dio Chrysostom, Aulus Gellius, Lucius Apuleius, Marcus Aurelius, Musonius Rufus, Hierocles of Alexandria, Cassius Maximus Tyrius, Arrian, Appian, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, Lucius Annaeus Florus, and Marcus Annaeus Lucanus.

    And what should they have noticed?

    Well, the Gospels would have us believe that Jesus reanimated Lazarus’s stinking corpse, and that this particular bit of necromancy was so horrible that they just had to violate not only the Sabbath but Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, to hold a kangaroo court and have him crucified. (Why not just pay some schmuck to slip a shiv in his back when nobody was watching?) Normally, that’d be the end of the story, but, of course, it’s just the beginning. At the moment he “gives up the ghost,” there’s an eclipse (that nobody noticed), an earthquake (that went unrecorded), the Temple Curtain was torn (known not to have happened until the Roman conquest in 70 CE)…and there was a massive zombie invasion of Jerusalem. That, of course, nobody noticed. Jesus himself then reanimates his own body, and, for a month and a half, he wanders around Jerusalem, still with holes in his hands and feet and a gaping chest wound — and, even in the story, nobody notices. He gets an intestinal hand job from Doubting Thomas, gives his disciples the power to heal the sick and drink poison, and flies up into the sky from a hill overlooking Jerusalem. Again, completely unnoticed.

    I’m sorry, but anybody who even pretends to believe that bullshit is a complete and total blithering fucking idiot. If you’re reading this and you believe that, you’re an idiot — the exact same type of idiot you’d be if you thought you could catch Harry Potter waiting at platform 4 3/4 in London, or that Darth Vader can levitate flaming swords with his thoughts, or that it was leprechanus who let the air out of your tires.

    Either that or you’re a con artist.

    …and now I really ought to get Baihu’s food ready for tomorrow.

    Cheers,

    b&

    P.S. Sorry…I have neither the time nor energy to poorfeed this. Not even a spellcheck. I’m sure there’re all sorts of atrocities in there, and I know I should hack out a good lot of it to make it more readable. But, Jerry, that’s what you get for challenging me like that on no notice late in the evening…. b&

    • Mandrellian
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      All I can say is:

      Thank God for Goren.

      I’ll fondle your duodenum any time.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      Wow, nice job, Ben. It’s amazing you can cover so much ground in a single dash.

      Most of what you write I have seen written up elsewhere. But it’s great to see it effectively concentrated. Thank you for the effort.

      I have read the initial Ehrman book (I forget the title, and it’s in storage)and it surprises me, and then again doesn’t, that he’s pursued this “Human, All Too Human” approach in his new book.

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        “Wow, nice job, Ben. It’s amazing you can cover so much ground in a single dash.”

        Much like a great, red kangaroo.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      Pleasure to read your contribution, Ben, as always.

    • joe piecuch
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      fortunately ehrman’s (footnoted) text is a lot easier to read than your hyperventilating hysteria; you could have saved yourself the effort of arguing with statements he doesn’t make if you had free will and could make a choice…

      • Mandrellian
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

        Ugh. They have a cave troll …

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

        Ben is nothing if not readable.

        • joe piecuch
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

          i understand that a lot of people think the same thing about dan brown.

          • michaelkgray
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

            Then, to follow that syllogism to its ultimate end: Dan Brown is nothing.

            • joe piecuch
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

              don’t bother trying to introduce logic into this conversation…there’s apparently not much value placed on it.

            • joe piecuch
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

              anyway, i’d never suggest that ben goren is nothing. certainly, the tempe nero limply applauding a lizard-mauling cat in his backyard colosseum is SOMEthing, at least as far as the lizards are concerned.

              • daveau
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

                Classy, and right on topic, Joe.

    • Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

      Yes, this is very helpful, but in some parts of your argument you have built a bit of a straw man to attack. You argue that anybody who raised the dead and caused miracles should have been noticed, and therefore, in the absence of such contemporaneous notice, the claim that such a miracle-worker existed must be false. However,judging from the commenters above (like #15) who have actually looked at Ehrman’s books (I have not), Ehrman is only arguing for the existence of a regular guy with a penchant for preaching and drama. Such a man need not have been noticed by major historians.
      Of course, as others have said, arguing that the central figure of Christianity was such an ordinary man is another nail in the coffin of Christianity.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

        Ehrman is only arguing for the existence of a regular guy with a penchant for preaching and drama.

        Yes he is. But he is arguing from the same sources that claim all the supernatural stuff. He discounts the supernatural stuff, but says that questioningthe sources on the non-supernatural stuff would be too much.

        • Scott de B.
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

          Ancient historical sources include supernatural stuff all the time. Herodotus recounts a story that the goddess Athena was seen striding into battle alongside the Athenians at Marathon. That doesn’t mean we discount the historicity of the battle.

          • Dan L.
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            Herodotus: Someone told me that supernatural stuff happened. I did not see that supernatural stuff but I am passing along the story as an interesting second-hand account. (In other words, we can believe that Herodotus is telling the truth here about having heard this story without actually believing the story is true. The story about Athena can be false without ANY reason to doubt the rest of Herodotus because he’s not vouching for its truth in the first place.)

            The gospels: Supernatural stuff happened. Period.

            See the difference?

          • Reginald Selkirk
            Posted March 22, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

            We also have considerable evidence for the battle of Marathon outside of Herodotus’ account. Not so for Jesus H. Christ.

    • onceupona
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      Is this all in one place (read: book)anywhere? I’d love to have it on my bookshelf.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        All those in favor of Ben writing a book, raise your mice!

        • michaelkgray
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:17 am | Permalink

          Perhaps a simple monograph.
          We need to return to this genre of scholarly ‘short and simple’ treatise, rather than the lengthy paper-back-book format that has become popular amongst publishers.

          • Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

            A pamphlet in print-and-fold format?

            • michaelkgray
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

              One Benny Franklin would approve of such suggested guidance, I expect.

        • daveau
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

          Good luck getting him to keep it down to a single volume. ;-)

          • Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

            Hey! I resemble that remark….

            b&

      • cornbread_r2
        Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

        Check out Earl Doherty and/or Richard Carrier’s stuff.

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      As I understand it, Dr. Ehrman is claiming that there exists extant contemporary Aramaic document(s) (plural) that support even this weak claim. (Of a non-magical “Jesus”, who would have actually been named Yeshua, but no matter, I’ll let that ‘go through to the keeper’)

      If so, this is truly astounding and utterly Earth-shattering archaeological news!
      The most major find in the last 2,000 years!
      Why does he choose to present it to the world in a measly book, and not a paper in Nature, or Science, or present the find to The Royal Society?

      And, I concur with most, if not all, of what Ben hath vouchsafed above, although I would hesitate to refer to the plain and obvious falsehoods as ‘lies’ without reading a copy of the book first hand.
      In it’s original language.
      For that is how I prefer to conduct all of my biblical analysis.
      Bart may well have skillfully implied these claims, with the linguistic dexterity pf a Philadelphia Lawyer, for all I know:- skilled in rhetoric in order to avoid outright lies whilst promoting falsehoods.

      I DO know that neither I, nor anyone else who is expert on these matters has ever, ever EVER heard of a soupçon of an inkling of a hint of a ghost of these so-called Aramaic originals, despite decades of scholarly searching.

      Damn. I may just have to resort purchasing a copy, as my local library has deteriorated to the extent that it now looks like a paid distributor for Mills & Boon.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        As I understand it, Dr. Ehrman is claiming that there exists extant contemporary Aramaic document(s) (plural)

        Read again. “Sources,” not “documents.”

        • michaelkgray
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          Granted. But what does that really mean?
          “Sources”?
          What else can it be but some sort of writing?
          Or a weasel-word.

    • stewart61
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:06 am | Permalink

      Ben gets the points as far as I’m concerned. I’m not in the slightest emotionally invested in whether or not there was such a person and for years just assumed there had been one who had been mythologised. One of the things that got me thinking and reading more was precisely the obvious emotional investment behind those who could not accept that there might be only myth there. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read and seen of Ehrman, but when he spends more time telling me what percentage of the relevant academics don’t question the historical figure’s existence than he does laying out the solid evidence for that existence (and how many of the relevant academics happen also to be believers in a more-than-human figure? – that is not irrelevant), then I get the feeling of special pleading for something he’s unable to let go of. And there’s also a question of scale here. Such complete absence from the contemporary historical record does not accord with making an impression on anyone then alive. What I mean is: there’s a certain minimum of action/influence one must demand from any real person to make it even worth the effort of trying to link him to the character who became famous. Without it, it’s all pointless. But if it is/was there, those question marks about why the chroniclers of undisputed history never got wind of it do become ominously big.

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        “…there’s a certain minimum of action/influence one must demand from any real person to make it even worth the effort of trying to link him to the character who became famous.”

        Exactly.

        As someone else posted far upthread in a canny lampoon of those claiming evidence for a historical Jesus (paraphrase): “there was a guy somewhere at some time; that’s pretty well-documented.”

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        “then I get the feeling of special pleading for something he’s unable to let go of”

        Ditto.

    • Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:46 am | Permalink

      “first-century Judea was superbly well documented”??? The Qumran texts are important, but if Judea was, in fact, “well-documented”, why would they be considered important? In any case, did even one of the writers you cited mention Theudas the Egyptian, or Athronges, the Samaritan? They made a much larger immediate impact than Jesus. Origen merely said Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah.

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:26 am | Permalink

        There should be a comma betweem “Theudas” and “the Egyptian”.

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

          Also, there should be an “or the” between “Athronges,” and “the Samaritian”.

      • michaelkgray
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

        The Qumran texts are important, but if Judea was, in fact, “well-documented”, why would they be considered important?

        1) Because we retain the ORIGINALS. Not copies, as with every other document.
        (Although we have originals of stæli, statuary, durable votive monuments, coins & c from that period)
        2) Because these originals are EXACTLY what Christians might look to: Preserved originals from a sect in the very region, at the very epoch, who were desperate for a Jewish Messiah to appear to an alarmingly pathological degree.
        If they didn’t notice, nor even ‘invent’ Yeshua, then no-one would have at that time & place.
        This is why they are not only ‘important’, but VITAL to the establishment that no such creature existed at the time, irrespective of nomenclature.

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          Many messianic claimants were around in the days of the Qumran sect. Some had to be put down by Roman forces (e.g., every one of those mentioned in my first comment). Are any of these recorded in the Qumran texts? Might I remind that the reconstructed ‘Historical Jesus’ did most of his preaching in Galilee, not Judah or the Jordan valley?

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      and there was a massive zombie invasion of Jerusalem. That, of course, nobody noticed.

      For lack for bains.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        Oops. Brains.

    • Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Ben, I think you are a wonderful writer, and this comment is a great example of why. I shared a link to it on the Facebook fan page for that “vociferous nay-sayer” Robert M. Price. Now someone there has put your text into a doc there: https://www.facebook.com/groups/thebiblegeeklisteners/doc/295715897167081/

      Hope you and Jerry don’t mind. If so, please let me know and I’ll pass that on.

      I honestly don’t know where I stand right now on the historical Jesus question. Maybe I never will. But it really is exasperating to see Ehrman, a guy who has written several books and given many lectures about the unreliability and inauthenticity of the New Testament, relying on that very same collection of “copies of copies of copies” to make his case.

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        Thanks! No objection. Attribution and indication of edits (if any) would be nice. Gotta run.

        b&

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        This is purely Ben’s call; not mine. He wrote it and posted it. I have no objections to anything.

  21. Bernard Ortcutt
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    I would hope that Christians would apply the same standards that they would apply to the question of existence of any figure and that atheists would do the same. I don’t have much confidence in either case though.

    Ultimately the evidence is too limited to determine the matter either way, and the probabilistic inferences we make are too dependent on what prior probabilities we assign.

    I’m just glad that as an atheist, I don’t need to care whether Jesus was a real person or not.

    • Mandrellian
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      Yes, we do have that luxury :)

  22. bernardhurley
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Does it matter?

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      Yes.

      • bernardhurley
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

        Why?

        • michaelkgray
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

          Partly because the acceptance of the triple divinity of the vicious Clown Captain Casper Jeebers is the crucial[1] basis of several nations’ government. Some of them possess nukular weapons.
          And I know you to be of such high learnedosity as to know exactly what I mean, and meant, so don’t play dumb with me, mate!

          __________________
          [1] Both literally and figuratively.

          • bernardhurley
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

            But that is one reason why it has not to matter whether Jesus existed or not.

  23. Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Hardly the most original title. “Did Jesus Exist” by G. A. Wells (Pemberton 1975, rev 1986) comes to a different conclusion – he need not have. Since it’s very hard to say exactly what “Jesus existed” means – birth at Bethlehem, of a virgin, miracles, preaching as written, execution, resurrection? Which or all of the above? – that seems a conservative conclusion.

    There was probably a prescher called Jehoshua, but so what? What, more than the name, is attached to the person worshipped by Christians?

    Interestingly, Wells says the existence of John the Baptist was quite well attested. And he says the 12 disciples seem to have been there largely for numerological reasons: their identities are vague.

    • Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      Can the Ehrman book be considered a Dawkinsian flea on the Wells book?

      • cornbread_r2
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:12 am | Permalink

        IIRC, Wells isn’t a mythicist. He’s more like Ehrman. If anything, I think Ehrman’s book will be more of a flea on the movie Zeitgiest, which even some mythicists criticize.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      And he says the 12 disciples seem to have been there largely for numerological reasons: their identities are vague.

      The March 2012 issue of National Geographic has a lenghty article on the apostles, with abysmal standards.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

        “execrable” is how judged it.

  24. MadScientist
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    “… independent accounts of his life in the sources *lying* behind the Gospels …”

    How apt.

    If none of the archaeological and civic history claims in the bible are true (and none are), why should we think the Jesus character is not fictional? On top of that, the earliest *fragments* (and good luck getting much out of fragments) of new testament text are dated to ~200AD (some claim there are texts from the 1st century), so there’s one hell of a problem with the provenance of extant bibles. The Jesus character is just as likely to have existed as Antigone or Achilles.

    • Scott de B.
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Is Mohammed also fictional, then?

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        He sure smells like it.

        b&

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

        Mohammed is fairly well documented. What is troublesome is that the Qu’ran was recited originally in a language that had no written form. So it went for an entire generation.

        See the scholarly dissection of the Qu’ran by Luxembourg (a pseudonym to avoid physical harm). It is found on the internet.
        Highlight: the original promise in the afterlife was “glistening grapes” not dozens of virgins. Mere typo, that.

        • stewart61
          Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:50 am | Permalink

          Seems to be a feature of developing religions – whatever gets mistranslated gets translated as “virgin” or “virgins.”

        • monobazus
          Posted May 17, 2012 at 3:32 am | Permalink

          It’s Luxenberg.
          And no, the existence of Mohammed is not “fairly well attested”. See on this point eg. Nevo and Koren “Crossroads to Islam” or the recent Robert Spencer “Did Muhammad exist?”.
          The existence of Muhammad is an open matter.

  25. Gluon
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how this work will differ from E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, which was published in 1996. I read that book shortly after it came out, and if I recall, it seemed to make these same points. It was a conservative book that didn’t seem to be polluted as much by contemporary politics as some other historical Jesus efforts.

    • raven
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:16 am | Permalink

      Or Crossans, Spong, Wells or Borg.

      This historical jesus debate has been going on for centuries.

      I liked Daniel Crossans take. Didn’t completely agree with it but his scholarship was thorough.

  26. bjartesf
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    I once wrote a very long article (in Norwegian) advocating the Jesus Myth theory, largely based on the arguments of people like Earl Doherty and G.A. Wells (and to some extend Robert M. Price). As I got more deeply into skepticism and critical thinking, that article became a source of ever greater embarrassment until finally I decided to remove it from my (then) website. Why did I delete it? Because I started recognizing many of the same errors that I had criticized conspiracy theorists of making (the anomaly-hunting, the motivated reasoning, the selective interpretations of data to make them appear suspect etc.) in my own writing. (In my feeble defense, I did not include the stupid internet meme about Jesus being a copy of Horus). The lesson I take home from this experience is that just because there are no good arguments in Christianity’s favor, doesn’t mean all arguments against Christianity are good ones.

    Needless to say, just because Jesus was an historical person doesn’t mean we must also accept all the ridiculous claims about virgin birth, miracles and resurrection from the dead. There are so many BETTER reasons for rejecting Christianity in particular and theism in general, that the Jesus Myth Theory should rank very low on our list.

    • Dan L.
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Needless to say, just because Jesus was an historical person doesn’t mean we must also accept all the ridiculous claims about virgin birth, miracles and resurrection from the dead. There are so many BETTER reasons for rejecting Christianity in particular and theism in general, that the Jesus Myth Theory should rank very low on our list.

      See, I reject the miracle-worker Jesus on different grounds than I reject the historical Jesus. It’s not important to me that the historical Jesus not exist. I just think, based on the nearly complete lack of evidence for the existence of such a person, that he did not.

      • bjartesf
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        It is far from obvious to me that we should expect much evidence for the historical Jesus if he did exist. Anyway, it is not enough to simply point out the lack of evidence for the historical Jesus (I freely admit there isn’t much) and then claim victory for the mythicist position by default. Postulating an alternative explanation for the origin of Christianity is not “for free”, but something that would require at least as much evidence as the current consensus among scholars (not all of them Christians). From what I have seen, no such evidence has been provided.

        To be clear, I don’t claim to know that there definitely was a historical Jesus, but if I had to guess, I know what my answer would be. Unlike gods we know for a fact that there are such things as humans and that some of them start cults, most of whom are not widely noticed. I don’t find it the least bit implausible or far-fetched that this happened 2000 years ago without causing much stir at the time.

        The worst thing about this whole “Jesus Myth” crap is that it gives free ammunition to religious apologists who can point to it and say “Look here, everybody! This is the level that atheists must stoop to in order to deny the otherwise undeniable truth of Christianity!”

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          The evidence is simple.

          First, is the lack of evidence supporting even the most mundane claims of Jesus.

          Next, we have lots of examples of other religions being born as modifications and amalgamations of earlier religions. So many that there’s a term for it, “syncretism.” Christianity is a textbook example of the phenomenon.

          Supporting that hypothesis is the extensive writings of Justin Martyr, who was obsessed with the parallels between Jesus and Pagan “Sons of Jupiter.” He was quite prolific on the subject.

          Last, Lucian of Samosata provided a short, detailed, and entertaining account of syncretism in action in the early Christian church.

          Really, what more could you ask for?

          (Actually, there’s lots more, but I have real work to do….)

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Dan L.
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          It is far from obvious to me that we should expect much evidence for the historical Jesus if he did exist.

          I didn’t say “much.” I said “any.” Apart from the gospels I haven’t seen anything suggesting that such a person did exist.

          Anyway, it is not enough to simply point out the lack of evidence for the historical Jesus (I freely admit there isn’t much) and then claim victory for the mythicist position by default. Postulating an alternative explanation for the origin of Christianity is not “for free”, but something that would require at least as much evidence as the current consensus among scholars (not all of them Christians).

          I’m not validating the “mythicist position.” I’m putting the burden of proof where it belongs. The story of the “origin of Christianity” that we have is known to be heavily fictionalized so I really DON’T have to come up with a plausible alternative. The plausible alternative is that the whole thing is a fiction that was long believed to be true.

          Unlike gods we know for a fact that there are such things as humans and that some of them start cults, most of whom are not widely noticed.

          See my Harry Potter argument elsewhere in the thread. You’re straining to justify the conclusion and you can see this easily if I reduce your argument to a clear English-language statement of it:

          “Nothing about the gospel stories is implausible once you take out all the implausible stuff.”

          We can say exactly the same for Hercules or Perseus or Harry Potter and be correct, yet we do not insist that there is a real historical person at the hearts of any of these myths.

          The worst thing about this whole “Jesus Myth” crap is that it gives free ammunition to religious apologists who can point to it and say “Look here, everybody! This is the level that atheists must stoop to in order to deny the otherwise undeniable truth of Christianity!”

          In my case, they’re wrong. I’m not stooping. As I’ve already said, the cases for magic Jesus and history Jesus are two different cases and I think they both fail but for different reasons. If you let the rhetoric of your opponents steer your criteria for investigating truth or falsehood then you’ve conceded the game to them, incidentally. I don’t think this is a good attitude to have. You should worry about whether it’s true and argue on that basis, not as part of some greater moral battle to make atheism more palatable.

          • bjartesf
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

            “If you let the rhetoric of your opponents steer your criteria for investigating truth or falsehood then you’ve conceded the game to them, incidentally. I don’t think this is a good attitude to have. You should worry about whether it’s true and argue on that basis, not as part of some greater moral battle to make atheism more palatable.”

            As I said, it was not “the rhetoric of [my] opponents” that made me abandon the mythicist position, quite the contrary, it was noticing the flaws in the mythicist arguments that I had initially (and unwisely) accepted. I have been accused of many things in the last few years (like being an extremist, a “fundamentalist atheist” etc.), but fighting “a moral battle to make atheism more palatable” is not one of them (I am one of those who don’t think Dawkins goes far enough). My problem with the mythicist position is not just that it gives ammunition to the critics of atheism, but that the critics will be right, and I HATE it when that happens.

            To give the standard response I give to climate change deniers etc. when I don’t have time (or the will) to spend the next couple of weeks digging through tons of crappy arguments: If anyone here thinks he/she knows better than the vast majority of those who actually study this topic for a living, they are in the wrong place: Instead of telling lay-people in the comments section of a bl.., sorry, website, they should be sharing their insights with the community of scholars through the proper channels (i.e. publish articles in the peer reviewed literature, argue for their ideas at scholarly conferences and let the other scholars criticize them etc.) and get back to me once they have convinced the experts. (Goddamnit, Bjarte! You are definitely not going to win a popularity contest this way..)

            • Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

              If anyone here thinks he/she knows better than the vast majority of those who actually study this topic for a living

              In this particular instance, said vast majority are self-described true-believing Christians who weekly recite the Credo, who are employed by institutions whose primary function is evangelization, and whose writings are official documents in furtherance of the institutional stated primary missions.

              I don’t think you’d have to take off your shoes to count the number of non-Christian academics who’ve made a career of the study of the Bible, and those who have (Hector Avalos springs to mind) have generally come down on the side of it all being bullshit.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Dan L.
              Posted March 22, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

              As I said, it was not “the rhetoric of [my] opponents” that made me abandon the mythicist position,

              No, you said this:

              he worst thing about this whole “Jesus Myth” crap is that it gives free ammunition to religious apologists who can point to it and say “Look here, everybody! This is the level that atheists must stoop to in order to deny the otherwise undeniable truth of Christianity!”

              And that’s what I was arguing against. You DID cite the rhetoric of your opponents as a reason not to take this position. Your defense on this point is a non sequitir.

              but fighting “a moral battle to make atheism more palatable” is not one of them

              GO back and look at the last bit I quoted from you. “…it gives free ammunition to religious apologists…” was the reason you yourself gave not to take my position. So whatever denial you may cook up at this point, you did in fact argue that I should adopt your position on this question on the basis that it does not “give free ammunition to religious apologists,” i.e. it makes atheism more palatable.

              but that the critics will be right,

              That’s what’s being debated. Maybe if you had an actual argument things would be different but you just keep repeating, “no way there was totally a Jesus” without offering any evidence or argument for why I should believe such a thing.

              I’m sick of being accused of being a conspiracy theorist just because I don’t believe a premise for which there is essentially no evidence whatsoever. I’m also sick of the evasive, substance-less arguments you’ve employed so far to make your “point.” Stop with the denialism/conspiracy theory bullshit and offer REAL evidence or argument or just acknowledge that you don’t have such a thing and that my position is therefore completely justifiable.

              • bjartesf
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

                I’m not writing here to win a popularity contest, but just to be clear. I did indeed say that mythicists give free amunition to apologists. I did NOT say that that’s the REASON we should reject their arguments in the first place. If their arguments were good ones, I couldn’t care less what apologists might come up with (just like I don’t care how many “refutations” of “The God Delusion” are published as long as all they have is semantic sophistry, obscurantism, and special plading).

                The reason we should reject the myticist position in the first place is that the arguments in its favor all stink, and as I said, it’s no good to point out the lack of evidence for an historical Jesus if the evidence for a mythic origin of Christianity is even worse. This is what I meant by “the critics will be right” and that is indeed “The worst thing about this whole “Jesus Myth” crap.”

            • Dan L.
              Posted March 22, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

              Another thing. You’re straight out accusing me of reaching my conclusion due to bias. That is a very unscrupulous way to argue especially when I also pointed out that it’s NOT the result of bias. (I.e. it’s not because I’m “mad at Christianity. That might have something to do with why I’d reject magic Jesus, but since I already stated that I do so for different reasons than the ones for which I reject historical Jesus it’s irrelevant.)

              Notice I haven’t done the same to you. I haven’t implied you’re a crackpot religious apologist masquerading as an atheist so as to kick up dirt and create confusion. I’d appreciate you extend me a similar courtesy.

        • Tyro
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

          The argument for a mythical Jesus is not based on the absence of evidence. That is certainly a part of it, after all if there was this good evidence then it would definitely undermine the argument. However it isn’t just an argument from absence or silence, there is a positive argument that the earliest writers show signs that they did not believe Jesus was real.

          Look at Ben Goren’s post. He shows that Paul only saw Jesus in visions and what’s more, everyone else did the same and accepted this as perfectly natural. Paul didn’t think Jesus was killed by Humans, but by demonic rulers. There is a lot more. Throughout the Pauline epistles there are signs that not only did the early church not think of Jesus as earthly but that it didn’t even come up as a point of discussion. And as we go into later and later works, we see Jesus taken from the realm of spirits and planted more and more on Earth.

          So yes, there is a silence and an absence of evidence but it is definitely not the entire (or even a major) argument.

          It’s this ignorance of the mythicist case that bothers me most from people like Ehrman. I haven’t read this latest book but in his other writings and interviews, he seems content to sneer at mythicists while remaining ignorant of their arguments. Or perhaps, like some apologists, he does know their argument but refuses to address it but I prefer not to imply that unless necessary.

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          “It is far from obvious to me that we should expect much evidence for the historical Jesus…”

          So…the lack of evidence for a historical Jesus somehow counts as evidence for a historical Jesus?

          We’re venturing into Russell’s Teapot territory, here. There are countless things for which we shouldn’t expect much evidence. This does not count in their favor.

          • bjartesf
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

            “So…the lack of evidence for a historical Jesus somehow counts as evidence for a historical Jesus?”

            [sarcasm]Yeah, that is indeed the point I was trying to make[/sarcasm]

            Carl Sagan famously argued that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. I think there are exceptions to this rule (when we should have expected evidence), but this is not one of them. Do I really need to spell out the difference between “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” and “Absence of evidence IS evidence of presence”

            • Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

              Absence of evidence is proof of nonexistence when existence would, of necessity, create evidence.

              See, for example, the lack of evidence for a rampaging herd of angry hippos in the room where you read these words. The lack of evidence of evidence of the herd is, indeed, proof of their non-existence.

              Similarly, the lack of mention in any contemporary document of a dude getting his intestines fondled for weeks after unleashing a zombie invasion upon Jerusalem….

              b&

              • bjartesf
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

                “Similarly, the lack of mention in any contemporary document of a dude getting his intestines fondled for weeks after unleashing a zombie invasion upon Jerusalem….”

                Obviously, but what is this supposed to prove? I hope you agree that it’s a false dichotomy to put as your premise that EITHER there was no historical Jesus at all OR the claims made about him in the gospels are true.

              • Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

                Any theory that Jesus was other than essentially that which is described in the Gospels is doomed to failure, on two counts. First, no positive evidence exists to support it; and, second, it contradicts the evidence that actually does exist.

                Might as well claim that Darth Vader is an unimposing middle-aged woman with no unusual skills now working in Brooklyn as a florist named “Maude” and be done with it.

                In the case of Jesus, the closest you could possibly get would be to pick one of the Apocrypha and declare that bit of insane rambling to be representative of the “real” Jesus, but then you’re right back where you started with the canon.

                TLDR: claims lacking supporting evidence that contradict extant evidence are bullshit. Got evidence?

                b&

              • bjartesf
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:06 am | Permalink

                “First, no positive evidence exists to support it”

                As I have already said, I don’t see any reason to expect positive evidence for the historical Jesus even if he did exist. If you disagree with this, is it GENERALLY true that we should expect evidence for the existence of single individuals who lived two millennia ago unless they didn’t exist? If not, then why is it true of Jesus in particular (Again, you don’t have to convince me that there wasn’t a divine miracle-worker)?

                “and, second, it contradicts the evidence that actually does exist.”

                …if you are motivated to interpret the evidence in certain ways. However, it doesn’t follow that this is the only way – or indeed the most straightforward way – to interpret that very same evidence. I am very familiar with the lines of arguments favored by the likes of Doherty and Wells, and find it all basically worthless. Real scholars like Ehrman (not a Christian and hardly a popular man among apologists) know this, and so do virtually every other scholar in the field whether they are Christian or not. (And where else have we heard arguments dismissing an entire academic field as reflecting the ideological biases of the other side…)

                I remember someone on the Richard Dawkins Forums a few years ago calling the arguments of Doherty “very convincing” to which someone else responded (from memory) “If you are looking to be convinced”. That pretty much says it all.

              • Posted March 22, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

                As I have already said, I don’t see any reason to expect positive evidence for the historical Jesus even if he did exist.

                No matter how you slice it, a man of that name who could reasonably be identified as “the” Jesus just simply couldn’t have gone unnoticed.

                If he wasn’t a popular charismatic preacher who was brought before Pilate, who washed his hands and handed him over to the Sanhedrin to be tried on the eve of Pesach and ordered crucified on the Sabbath, I hardly see how he could be considered “the” Jesus. Do you?

                And even that would have been a delicious scandal that simply would not have gone unnoticed.

                Or would, in your mind, a person qualify as “the” Jesus if he was born in 24 BCE, died in 12 CE, was once overheard mumbling something about blessing his cheese, and was named, “Sue”?

                If you disagree with this, is it GENERALLY true that we should expect evidence for the existence of single individuals who lived two millennia ago unless they didn’t exist?

                But we’re not talking about just some random schmuck. We’re talking about the human incarnation of the divine force that created Life, the Universe, and Everything — or, at the absolute least, the popular and charismatic public speaker who founded the most powerful religion in the history of the Western world.

                “and, second, it contradicts the evidence that actually does exist.”

                …if you are motivated to interpret the evidence in certain ways.

                You hardly need any special training or inclination to read the New Testament and conclude that it’s about the Zombie of Zion and his Magical Mystery Tour. Um, hello? Angels cheering YHWH as he cuckolded Joseph? The Devil Hisself beaming Jesus up to the holodeck where he tempted Jesus with replicator technology if only he’d join forces with him? Jesus’s antigravity sandals? Thomas getting it on with Jesus’s intestines? Jesus’s Captain America jetpack departure from Jerusalem?

                Jesus was nothing if not a vastly-larger-than-life fantasy. Surprise, surprise, larger-than-life fantasies (even non-vast ones) don’t have any non-literary foundation in reality.

                I am very familiar with the lines of arguments favored by the likes of Doherty and Wells, and find it all basically worthless. Real scholars like Ehrman (not a Christian and hardly a popular man among apologists) know this, and so do virtually every other scholar in the field whether they are Christian or not.

                Okay, then. You’re such a hotshot expert. Prove it. Show us some 1337 hax0r skills of an honest-to-god hotshot historical expert.

                Who, precisely, was Jesus; what positive evidence do you have to support your theory; and how do you explain conflicts between your Theory of Jesus and extant evidence?

                I’ll go first.

                Jesus was the fictional hero of a syncretic Hellenistic Judaism.

                This is directly supported primarily by the Gospels, which describe a Jewish demigod in Palestine whose biography and signature magic tricks all have direct and obvious parallels with well-known Greek deities. It is further supported by Justin Martyr, who detailed the parallels in the second century, and Lucian of Samosata, who described how Peregrinus was responsible for many (but not all) of the examples of syncretism. That Jesus is fictional is directly supported by the combination of his spectacular biography and the perfect lack of evidence for any of it in the exhaustive extant contemporary record. If you care to read elsewhere in this thread, you’ll find lots more examples of positive supportive evidence that I’ve given.

                I am unaware of any evidence that contradicts this theory.

                (Note that there are cranks like Ehrman who read the Gospels and fabricate, out of whole cloth, “contemporary Aramaic sources” by numerologically reading between the lines. For my purposes, “evidence” consists of, ideally, original documents…though, for the sake of argument, I’m willing to also use what is standard fare in these matters: centuries-late un-provenanced copies-of-copies-of-copies.)

                Cheers,

                b&

              • bjartesf
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

                “a man of that name who could reasonably be identified as “the” Jesus just simply couldn’t have gone unnoticed.”

                Actually, given how eager people are – even today – to form unshakable beliefs on absolutely no basis at all, I see no justification for assuming that a human founder of Christianity would have to be special in any way in order to be identified, by some, as “the” Jesus – reasonably or not. If myticists would confine themselves to saying that the founder of Christianity certainly wasn’t anything like “the” Jesus of the Gospels, I’d be right there with you. But it doesn’t follow that there was no human founder at all.

                “Who, precisely, was Jesus; what positive evidence do you have to support your theory; and how do you explain conflicts between your Theory of Jesus and extant evidence?”

                This is why I made the comment about “when I don’t have time (or the will) to spend the next couple of weeks digging through tons of crappy arguments”. Of course I should have just ended on that note, but I never learn, do I… I might write a point-by-point refutation of my old pro-mythicist article at some point in the future. If comparable to the original, it should be about 15000 words long and take about 3 months to write.

              • Posted March 23, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

                How utterly unsurprising.

                You know, I’ve been asking that question of an awful lot of people who, like you, believe Jesus is real.

                And I’m not asking for a dissertation, or even an essay. Even a few paragraphs would be overkill. How would I know Jesus if I ran into him on the streets of first century Jerusalem? What positive evidence (a handful of references will do) do you have that supports your claim? What, if any, pieces of evidence are you aware of that contradicts your claim, and how do you resolve the contradiction?

                Either y’all quote credos at me and Bible Babble, or you pull out the Vatican’s tired old list of authors born long after the alleged events in question and whose words clearly don’t say what the Vatican says they do, or you make up transparent bullshit like Ehrman’s “reconstruction” of “contemporary Aramaic sources!” that the Holy Spirit has clearly told him can be found if he reads the Gospels just right…or, as you’ve chosen to do and is by far the most common response, you simply run away.

                And why the fuck do you think I’d give a damn about your refutation of something you yourself wrote and now think is bullshit? Do you think I’ve got some sort of a fetish for straw bonfires?

                If you want to refute something, refute that single paragraph of mine up above. Did I mischaracterize the writings of Martyr and Lucian? Do you have evidence that they were themselves worng or being deceptive? Do you disagree that the documents we do have describe Jesus as a very public and noticeable figure? Do you have any documents (not sentence fragments from the Gospels) that paint a picture of Jesus as something less than an amazing entity? Do you have contemporary evidence supporting the existence of Jesus in any form?

                Contradict me on even one of those points, and I’ll have damned good reason to reconsider my position.

                But, no, you oh so bravely run away….

                b&

            • Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

              You can lose the attitude. I was commenting in earnest.

              The words of mine you quote constitue what is known as a reductio ad absurdum. You may not have explicitly intended to make that point, but it was there in what you wrote, implicitly. What else would you make of this exchange:
              “But there’s no good evidence for a HJ.”

              “Well no, there wouldn’t be. But that’s as it should be.”

              “So there probably wasn’t a HJ?”

              “No! Sure there was!”

              • bjartesf
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

                “You can lose the attitude”

                Sorry, can’t do that until you stop putting words in my mouth. What part of “I don’t claim to know that there definitely was a historical Jesus” was too unclear?

              • Dan L.
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

                You are not in a position to accuse people of putting words in your mouth after my exchange with you upthread. The conspiracy theorist insinuations do indeed demonstrate a bad attitude on your part. You are not arguing honestly or fairly.

            • yesmyliege
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

              “Do I really need to spell out the difference between “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” and “Absence of evidence IS evidence of presence””

              Please, please, think this through.

              Absence of evidence is INDEED evidence of absence. How could it not be? It may not be persuasive evidence in all cases, and it is not PROOF of absence in virtually any case, but it most definitely is evidence against the presence of something.
              Ex:

              A lack of zebra hoof prints in the mud outside my window is evidence of the absence of zebras walking around outside my window. Yes?

              And Sagan did not say this, btw. He quoted someone else who used the phrase and there is a context to hSagan’s use of the quote.

              • bjartesf
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

                I am not responding to any more comments that ignore what I have already said, such as “I think there are exceptions to this rule (when we should have expected evidence)”

  27. raven
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves).

    What Ehrman is saying here is obvious.

    1. We don’t really have the sources of the gospels. Not as old, independent documents.

    2. But forensic literary criticism can deconstruct them and see what and where the earlier sources are. That is how we end up with the Q document and so on.

    He must be referring to earlier documents reconstructed from later ones, the gospels.

    3. Here it gets a bit murky. I don’t know that there is any evidence that they were in Aramaic. It seems likely from the historical context, Aramaic was the common language of Israel at the time.

    But the New Testament is written all in…Koine Greek.

    The timing also seems a bit flakey. Within a year or two of jesus’s lifetime. Really? How does he know that.

    • cornbread_r2
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:30 am | Permalink

      When Ehrman refers to those really early sources he may be referring to oral transmission. Some historicists get a lot of mileage from the few Aramaic words that survive in the NT.

      • michaelkgray
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:11 am | Permalink

        References, please. Pretty please?
        I would truly appreciate it if you might educate me on this assertion.

        Flippantly, “Oral transmission” is only relevant evidence to herpes clinics, not biblical scholarship. In the former case, it is “Hear! Say…” and in the latter it is “hear-say”

        The “NT” was authoured entirely in Koine and a smattering of Latin, as far as I have read it, as close to the originals as humanly possible. (Unless Dr. Ehrman has uncovered some hitherto cryptic original Aramaic writings[1])

        The few Koine attempts at Aramaic resulted in aborted translations, such as “Virgin” for “young woman”.

        Post Scriptum:-
        Don’t forget to provide the requested references, please.

        _______________________
        [1] Which would have had to be, perforce, in the physical form of single-sided hide scrolls, not codices or codexes (double-sided leafed bound ‘paper’ books, as is the above-mentioned Greek fragment P52 (or more accurately Rylands’ P457)

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:04 am | Permalink

        It’s like the flu: it can be transmitted orally!
        Ah, wait!
        Via “ESP/telepathy” too…

        *Checkmate atheists!*

  28. M.L.
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    I yet post had time thus far to read the excerpts from Ehrman and Parton B. Goren’s response, but I have a few quick thoughts nonetheless.

    This definitely does not sound like the Ehrman I am familiar with. I recall a debate he has with William Lane Craig a few years back in which he called into question many of the same points he seems to be championing here. Odd. Is he returning to the fold? Or is this simply an attempt to generate interest in his new book by making provocative statements that within the greater context of his book would be revealed as not nearly as bible thumper friendly as this sounds.

    What did read of Goren’s post concerned itself with something Ehrman didn’t actually say, namely, that Jesus is “he best evidenced historical figure”. He simply said that there is considerable evidence that Jesus actually existed and that this is unusual for ancients. That’s hardly suggesting the evidence for Jesus’ existence is as compelling as the evidence for that other JC, Julius Caesar. I’ll reserve making an ovall judgement on Goren’s post until I’ve read the whole thing of course.

    I’m an atheist who has always skeptical as to whether Jesus actually existed but but certainly never convinced that he did not. I agree with Ehrman that there are a lot of people who are too quick to dismiss the possibility of an historical Jesus, and attribute and too quick to accept claims of how commonplace the elements of the Jesus myth are.

    Based on what is known, if an all knowing alien arrived and forced me to guess whether there was an historical Jesus, and if I guessed wrong I’d be thrown into a small closet filled with giant Japanese hornets, I’d probably guess that he is based on an historical figure, but I’d be bracing for those hornets. If however I had to ‘guess’ whether any of the supernatural mambo jumbo attributed o him were true, I’d very comfortably say hell no without amybfear of being tossed to the hornets.

    Incidentally, though Ehrman does seem to be saying some surprising things here, he has long the view that Jesus did exist and was an apocalyptic preacher, so that part at least is not new. In any event, I suspect he isn’t saying anything in gisnew book as unexpected or pro-woo-woo as this HuffPo piece may suggest.

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:01 am | Permalink

      I do not “dismiss the possibility of an historical Jesus”, but instead the “probability”.
      Chalk & Cheese.

    • Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:21 am | Permalink

      How about the possibility of a historical teapot in orbit around the sun? :)

  29. Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    Ain’t it hair-splitting to disagree about whether (A) Jesus DID exist, but as a scarcely known itinerant preacher (rather than the pacifistic wonder working kind of guy we know), or whether (B) Jesus DID NOT exist, but was modeled according to a scarcely known itinerant preacher …?

    I could even expand that question to include the possibility that this particular itinerant preacher never existed as a MAN but only as a MYTH 2000 years ago and still find the question hair-splitting. The interesting part is the difference between the Jesus (myth or man) of two millenia ago with the current one – ain’t it?

    • M.L.
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:41 am | Permalink

      I actually don’t find Jesus particularly interesting at all. I do however find the phenomenon of belief in him very interesting.

  30. M.L.
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    PS – Sorry for the bizarre smartphone typos – autocorrect stokes again. Maybe Jeebus made it happen, eh?

  31. Bonzodog
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    The idea that a wandering preacher called Jesus existed in the first century who he was executed for sedition doesn’t either faze or worry me. In fact I suspect that it really is true. Actually the name Jesus actually wan’t that uncommon – a “Jesus ben Ananias” is mention in Josephus’s (one of the prize shits of history BTW) Jewish War – and the idea that someone of that name preached “goodness and light” is perfectly fine. What I don’t get and never will is any idea that this man who was crucified for rocking the apple cart was some deity. THAT is the invention …..

    • Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:02 am | Permalink

      Right, but the way the discussion is spin doctored in the USA sounds like conspiracy-theory versus DaVinci-code.

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:31 am | Permalink

      a “Jesus ben Ananias” is mention[sic] in Josephus’s

      What is the earliest date for an original extant document that supports this claim?

      For that lies at the nub of scholarship on these matters.

      • Bonzodog
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:59 am | Permalink

        Truthfully? I don’t know. I just remember seeing that name in my elderly Penguin Jewish War. But there is no reason to doubt that that particular name given that there were plenty of Jesus’s kicking around then….

        http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/surfeit.htm

        • Bonzodog
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:01 am | Permalink

          arrgghh … sorry for the double “that”. That that double that !

        • michaelkgray
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

          And do you know the publication date of this Penguin edition? I’m guessing that it was a liitle after 1935, when Allen Laine was looking for something interesting to read on the train-ride to work, and decided to start a cheap but good publishers as a result.

          1935AD >> 125AD

          One must ask ones-self: whence did Penguin acquire their document from which they quote. and so on…

          Pursue this paper trail, and thee wilt become a scholar by default!

          • Bonzodog
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink

            Up to a point I agree: but (and I am perfectly aware that there will be plenty of people here with very strong biological sciences background) surely its not much different from the reconstructing of ancient proteins from modern DNA sequences from related currently living organisms? We don’t – and never will – have a complete DNA sequence of the ancestral hominids – but by the careful mapping of sequences we can deduce what the ancestral proteins could well have been like. The analogy , of course, is in reconstructing ancient texts from surviving fragments – frequently each with major differences between them. I don’t know enough about Josephus’s Jewish War but such a project is extant in attempting to identify – as far as possible – what the original MSS of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. (IIRC Dawkin’s alluded to that explicitly in Ancestor’s Tale).

            • michaelkgray
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:16 am | Permalink

              You are getting the ‘gist’ of it, admirably!
              In that seeking the truth to a proposition works best backwards in time.
              (Not forward, as the Xtians would have it)

              Seek back until one hits a (current) knowledge roadblock, yet not further, unless one is willing to assume the mantle of concoctor of fiction, as opposed to the previous ‘serious historian’.
              Alas, not many folk are as perspicacious as thee, they chronically conflate the two in their ignorance.

  32. Griff
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    Personally I couldn’t give a rats arse whether the Christian mythos is based on a real live human being.

    In my experience, humans exist. So it’s possible. (note POSSIBLE)

    It’s when they start claiming crazy stuff that I personally start backing off – you know, walking on water, curing leprosy by laying on of hands, yadda yadda yadda.

    I’m my experience, the only people who make claims of this sort are charlatans.

  33. Bonzodog
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Must admit, what might convince me is to read about some ancient parchment discovered in a cave in modern Israel which, when translated from the fading Aramaic read “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:41 am | Permalink

      Amusing, but it also archers an arrow straight into the very sacré-cœur of the claims.
      As Prof. Goren et alia have alluded, the Essenes wrote in Aramaic, were active during “The Jeeber’s Years”, were in the very region, were desperate for a Messiah, ANY messiah, were astoundingly literate, (the true Über-Nerds of the region), yet wrote nothing of this Jeebers chap.
      To my mind, this closes the case for any kind of Jesus, fakir or not. End of discussion.

      Your comic interlude illustrates the absurdity of the point most effectively, if I may be permitted to say so.

      • Bonzodog
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:03 am | Permalink

        Too kind!

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:24 am | Permalink

        I once read an interesting, if politically uncorrect, book about Mohammed claiming that that was not a name initially, but a title or so. Something along the line “The one to be praised” (or the son of that one).

        Anyway, what if Jesus (or Yoshua) was not a name of a man either (but an exclamation like “God is salvation”) initially. What if some later folks had become iliterate of the older language mistook it for the name of a man?

        There would still be an interesting history, if not a historical person, behind the myth. And the job of scholars would still be to tell the history of how one thing (man, title, whathaveyou) became another (Jesus as currently believed in) as far as possible.

        • michaelkgray
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:43 am | Permalink

          Funny you should mention that very thing, as I was going to wait for Mr. Goren to pen a post about the crudities of failing to understand the colloquialisms, and nuances of the Greek (Koine) translation at around that time, and thought it a trifle too obsessive a topic on which to observe.
          One to which I have alluded above is the egregious mis-translation of the Aramaic “young unmarried female” (the approximate Western equivalent: “teenage girl”) rendered as “virgin”.

          In the original languages “Chrestus” was a specific nick-name for a favoured slave.
          Much as in the older “Jeeves” or “Rastus”, irrespective of their actual given names.
          Chrestus was simply common colloquial Greek for “Useful one” at the time.

          I do not deny that a few Roman writers, and one Jewish one, wrote of the influence of a “Chrestus” (meaning an influential Butler-slave)

          Illiterate rogues have corrupted this to the bizarre point whereby many folk today think that “Chrestus” = “Christian”!

          (Where it, in fact, holds no such correspondence, apart from a loose etymological urban myth)

          • michaelkgray
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:33 am | Permalink

            Dr. Erhman included.

          • Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

            But that linguistic spin immediately brings back the possibility that the Essenes did write about the Lord’s salvation (Yeshua) – didn’t they? And weren’t some of them itinerant preachers?

            Would be vastly more plausible to me, if some quirk of mistranslation personalised one of them or the whole collective.

            By the way, do you suggestion that “Jesus Christos” would correctly have to be translated as “Lord’s salvation through his influential Butler” or some such thing?

            • michaelkgray
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

              pet me take this one query at a time, if I may:

              But that linguistic spin

              What ‘lingustic spin’?
              The correct trasnlation of a common idiom is not spin.
              In fact, the reverse. It is common honesty.
              Right. Next!

              immediately brings back the possibility that the Essenes did write about the Lord’s salvation (Yeshua) – didn’t they?

              You tell me.
              “Possibility”, “didn’t they?”
              I urge you to learn Aramaic/Hebrew and research that specific enquiry for yourself, as you seem not to trust my readings. Which, by the way, is wonderful skepticism!

              And weren’t some of them itinerant preachers?

              Yes, many of them were, in a loose reading of the term.

              Would be vastly more plausible to me, if some quirk of mistranslation personalised one of them or the whole collective.

              I have no idea of what this sentence/question(?) means.
              Are you able to rephrase it for me, please?

              By the way, do you suggestion that “Jesus Christos”

              I don’t remember writing “Christos” as the original transliteration of the Greek.
              I had thought that I wrote “Chrestus”. If I actually type it with an “i”, then I humbly apologise.
              Chrestus & Christos are two wholly different words, with different meanings.

              …would correctly have to be translated as “Lord’s salvation through his influential Butler” or some such thing?

              I don’t recall having ever proclaimed such a patently ludicrous notion.
              If you would be so kind as to proffer a referenced quote, I shall revise this mutedly intemperate response.

              In your reply, if you might provide the original Greek upon which you based your phraseology, that would be right champion.

              • Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:30 am | Permalink

                The last at first:
                I was just wondering what would come out of it, if one was not taking Jesus, or Yeshua, or Christus as names but as once colloquial terms. As far as I know, Yeshua is the predecessor of Jesus and meant lord’s salvation. I only cobbled that together with what you told about Christos coming from Chrestus and forgot the smiley.

                Second last:
                The idea is simply that the Essenes might have talked and written about the “lord’s salvation” and that later reader might have mistaken that term for a name and thus personalised Jesus.

                First:
                I took the word spin to be synonymous with turn – no offence implied. Just serves to illustrate the vagaries of languages and translation.

              • michaelkgray
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

                The last at first:
                ….and forgot the smiley.

                Accepted.

                The idea is simply that the Essenes might have talked and written about the “lord’s salvation”

                I hate to press you, but is this just wild speculation, or does it have a scholarly backing? The rest is pure fantasy if the latter.

                I took the word spin to be synonymous with turn – no offence implied. Just serves to illustrate the vagaries of languages and translation.

                Ah, very clever, in fact! My sincere appreciation for your efforts. No ‘smiley’ needed.
                Had you used, instead, a pun on the Greek “tropos” loosely: “turn-about” (as in tropic or troposphere), I would have been doubly impressed, intrinsically coupled as it is to the language under discussion!

                Will you forgive me for my former sharpness?

              • Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

                “I hate to press you, but is this just wild speculation, or does it have a scholarly backing? The rest is pure fantasy if the latter.”

                Jep, just wild speculation on my part. The mere cobbling together of Yeshua with Chestos should be capital crime for any true Bible scholar. I think you have taken the whole stuff much too seriousl, or I to lightly. Eitgher way a misunderstanding.

              • michaelkgray
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

                I think you have taken the whole stuff much too seriousl(y)

                You are quite cogent in that observation.
                But hey, everyone has to have a hobby, eh?
                Biblical criticism happens to be one of mine.
                It has been fun, and I thank you for your measured and honest approach.

  34. Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    Bart once wrote an interesting article questioning the identification of Cephas and Peter.

    So how can it be unquestionable evidence for the existence of Jesus when Bart questions it?

  35. Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    It should be pointed out that not a single Christian in the first century put his name on a document claiming he had ever even heard of Lazarus, Judas, Thomas, Bartimaeus , Jairus, Joseph of Arimathea , Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Mary, Joseph, etc etc.

    They only exist in anonymous, unprovenanced works which plagiarise each other and the Old Testament.

    Good new! Bart says he doesn’t need provenance for the Gospels.

    History just got an awful lot easier…

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

      Agreed. In fact, it is worse than that, for we have zero extant 1st C writings/documents/carvings that mention anything to do with, or even vaguely related to any hint of Christianity, in any language, anywhere.[1]

      If Dr. Ehrman can show them to me, I will eat my hat.
      If anyone else can point me to them, I’ll give them a share of my Nobel Prize winnings that will result.

      _____________________
      [1] Forget Mara Bar-Serapion, or Josephus, or Tacitus etc as they all fall at one or more the above hurdles

  36. andreschuiteman
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    Superman really existed. But he couldn’t fly, wasn’t unusually strong, wasn’t born on the planet Krypton, and never wore a fancy blue costume. He was just an obscure journalist called Clark Kent, nothing more.

  37. Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    BRETT
    I think Ehrman is absolutely correct to insist that the historical evidence favors the existence of a Galilean peasant who lived in the first century and preached an apocalyptic message

    CARR
    And the historical evidence favours the existence of a sailor who used to get in fights over a girl.

    So we know Popeye was based on a real historical character.

    So let us not hear any of this nonsense about Popeye being made-up.

    Sure nobody mentions Olyve Olm, Brutus, Wimpy, except in works of fiction etc, but then nobody mentions Judas, Thomas, Joseph of Arimathea except in works of fiction.

    • Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

      Actually Popeye is “really” sailor Steve Costigan – “a lovable, hard-fisted and innocent semipro pugilist who takes on dastardly villains in exotic ports of call” – from the boxing stories of Robert E. Howard. Except for the spinach. Costigan didn’t eat the stuff.

      /@

  38. Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    Heinrich Schliemann took the Ilias as a historical document rather than made up from cloth. Therefore, he discovered the ruins of Troj. Does that mean that Odysseus existed? Or even if a clever Greek warrior of that name existed, does that mean all the stories in the Odyssey must be true?

    The most silly discussion I can imagine would be between “DaVincy decoders” claiming that because some evidence for Biblical figures exist, then everything about the Bible must be true, against “conspiracy theorists” claiming that because some stuff is made up then everything must be false.

  39. Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    How marvellous the lofty intellect who tells us that to disbelieve something you must be qualified. That is certainly true with regard to understanding submissions of proof. Nevertheless, one has no need to be qualified when it comes to any religion. They idea that ancient or historical writings are true under the test that “nobody would just make them up” implies gullibility to say the least.
    Personally, the fact that Jesus may or may not have existed is of no benefit when it comes to the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient God like figure.
    Purveyors of any idea need to provide the proof. Rumour, hearsay and eloquence are spurious when it comes to real credibility. I will not believe anything where the only evidence is that someone somewhere wrote down their ideas.

  40. penn
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read all 130+ comments, so I apologize if this has already been mentioned, but this really stuck out at me.

    The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that.

    How exactly could a group make up a messiah of grandeur and power? The traditional role of a messiah would’ve been to lead an overthrow of the Romans in Judea, but that’s not something you can just lie about. People would notice there were still Romans hanging about.

    A similar argument that I thought was reasonable in the past was that the Gospel writers didn’t have Jesus just born in Bethlehem. They had to come up with convoluted stories (e.g., an ahistorical census or flee from Herod’s ahistorical slaughter of innocents) to get a Nazarene born in Bethlehem. There could be a million reasons the Gospel writers would do this that are lost to history, but in the absence of additional information it seems consistent with writers trying to fit ancient prophecy with the life of an actual person.

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:46 am | Permalink

      Ah: the old “I can’t believe that anyone would be as bone-headed as to fabricate this patent bollocks, so it must be true! Even if I have to invent parts of it myself.”

  41. Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    I’ve often wondered why it is that people made such a big deal out of this question, surely the meaningful question would be to what extent a historical Jesus is chronicled in the biblical accounts. It’s the biblical Jesus that matters, and showing a historical figure isn’t going to do the theological claims about Jesus any justice.

    I look forward to reading this book, hopefully it’ll put the discussions into perspective. Also, would love to see a debate between Ehrman and Price on this matter.

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      A major element of “the big deal” is that if even an historical Yeshua were found to be a fabrication or fiction, then the whole foundation of the current “Christian Church”, as well as its monumental edifices, (eg: the British/Australian/Canadian/… monarchies) most of the culture of South America/Spain etc. would instantly be seen to be utter frauds.
      If you do not consider that tumbling of western democracy to be a big deal, then I am left but dumb-founded.

      • Jeff Engel
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

        It wouldn’t take anything that extreme to have a rather profound effect that way, on the one hand, and even that wouldn’t do the trick for certain liberal theologies that aren’t wedded to the historicity of Jesus anyway.

        That there was around that time some guy with a name related to “Jesus” who did, said, and/or suffered some things that had something to do with the early development of Christianity – approximately the minimal claim for “an historical Jesus” – simply isn’t enough to keep the Christian Church from being an utter fraud. It’s not built on that claim – it’s built on the one that he was literally God on Earth, or that it’s a damn fine story and you really, really shouldn’t (e.g.) use a condom because of it. It’s not enough in the first case; it’s beside the point in the second.

        I will be stunned if it turns out Ehrman is here making some case that this historical Jesus was literally God on Earth, and rather surprised if he makes the claim that we should abandon condoms on account of it being a damn fine story.

        • michaelkgray
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

          I might be in error here, but I had assumed that the entire edifice of Xtianty rested upon the bogus notion of “original sin”, and it’s ever inflating supporting lies.
          The only shit that they could come up with as a solution was Jesus H. Christ dying for my ‘sins’.
          So, if Jeebers was even only a mortal, that would surely shake the faith to its foundations, no?
          Or am I not ‘getting’ something intrinsic to the superstitious/selfish/greedy/lazy/power-hungry mind that is in most of us?

          • Jeff Engel
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

            No, you’re right here, and it’s one of my points: a merely mortal historical Jesus isn’t enough to support traditional Christianity.

            It’s relevant here because Ehrman at least isn’t going to argue for a more-than-mortal historical Jesus, not unless his views have changed enormously. So that source of great pitch and moment in the debate isn’t even present.

            There may, possibly, be some variety of Christianity that does depend somehow on an historical Jesus but not a supernatural one, but I’ve never heard of it, never imagined it, and suspect it’s sheer confusion to lump it with the “rest” of Christianity. But it’s the only theology (if you could even call it that!) that would have any stake here.

            • michaelkgray
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

              Unitarianism?

              • Jeff Engel
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

                How heated are we going to get over the possible undermining of Unitarianism?

                But okay, point taken. Still, I think we would find that many, even most Unitarians will fall to either side of the historical-but-simply-mortal Jesus stool, requiring a miracle-working and/or prophetic Jesus on the one hand or being liberal enough not to get hung up on historicity at all on the other.

              • michaelkgray
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

                How heated are we going to get over the possible undermining of Unitarianism?

                527.67 Rankine °R

              • Tim
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

                527.67 °R. You’re dead to me.

      • daveau
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        Knocking the supports out from under Xianity would not make much difference. Even if you could bring Paul back from the dead long enough for him to confess that he made it all up. Maybe in a rational world, yes, but there isn’t any Christian I know who would change their fundamental beliefs in the face of such evidence.

        • Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

          Some will be persuaded, or at least suffer a few cracks in the foundation of their faith.

          For the rest?

          Zombie snuff pr0n!

          No kid will admit to wanting to eat the revivified flesh of the zombie king who liked having his intestines fondled, so long as all the other kids are laughing at him for his fantasies.

          Not many grown-up kids will admit to the fact, either.

          b&

      • Posted March 22, 2012 at 2:29 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure about those other countries, but Australia is a secular democracy with freedom of religion in our constitution. And I’m pretty sure it will survive the question of whether or not Jesus raising Lazarus is a legend or a fiction…

        • michaelkgray
          Posted March 22, 2012 at 2:50 am | Permalink

          Australia is a constitutional Monarchy.
          With a monarch who is also the titular god-head of a church.
          It is in no way ‘secular’. Prayers to the Monarch, and to her ‘god’ are recited before each meeting of both Parliaments.
          Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.

  42. Sigmund
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    “With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life”
    This is the critical point for me.
    Ehrman has long posited a view of Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher rather than a God but I was not aware that he had particularly strong evidence in favor of this hypothesis (the hypothesis that Jesus was a human historical figure, not the hypothesis that he was the miracling son of God).
    What exactly are the sources quoted above?
    Has someone read the book yet?
    If they have could they tell us what Ehrman means.
    I can only guess two possibilities.
    A. New parchments have come to light that reliably mention Jesus and that can be dated to the fourth decade of the first century.
    or
    B. A textual analysis of the gospels and writings of Paul that is used to recreate the most parsimonious version of the story. Presumably if you can work out the agreements between the writings of Paul and the Gospels you, hypothetically, have a story from a few years of Jesus life that would originally have been told in Aramaic.

    Having read a few of Ehrmans books I tend to suspect the latter possibility, although the way he’s worded the claim makes it sound like he has got new sources. Is he just fishing for people to buy the book only to find out- “wait a second, this is all just textual analysis, there’s no new evidence here at all!” ?

    • stewart61
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

      @Sigmund:

      As I already said above, I concur that this is the most and perhaps only really important apparently new point made now by Ehrman and I cannot imagine the answer to be anything but your point B. Were it to be A., then something is wrong with not making that claim the main headline, not just in HuffPo, but in most publications worldwide. I have this horrible suspicion Ehrman is allowing people to believe something that he knows they would be mistaken to believe, presumably just to draw attention to the new book. We shall soon know with greater certainty.

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:39 am | Permalink

      Well, the cryptic ‘spin’ has (almost) konvinced me to indulge in purchasing this tome, and as I do not possess free will, I might just do so!
      Mind you, there are worse folk to fund on this planet.
      I expect that I shall be thoroughly disappointed when it come to his evidence screeds, and that will be the third time that I have been disappointed in my life.

    • Egbert
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      Ehrman has nothing new, he’s just being dishonest. That doesn’t mean his earlier works don’t have value, but it is a shame that he has chosen to side with deception rather than enlightenment.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      B.

  43. Egbert
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    I think Bart Ehrman is being dishonest. There is no doubt he’s a brilliant lecturer and knows his stuff, which is why he is the first to know that his claim is such bullshit.

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:42 am | Permalink

      Quite.

    • mordacious1
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      I wouldn’t call him dishonest until I read the book…

  44. Chet
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    I guess I don’t get it. If the best scholarship can do is assert that the “historical Jesus Christ” wasn’t named “Jesus Christ”, wasn’t the son of God, performed no miracles, did not found an enormous religion, and may or may not have been crucified, that’s a bit like saying there’s a real Santa Claus, and he’s a guy who lives in Brooklyn named Karl who’s never been to the North Pole, doesn’t work on Christmas, and has no particular love for children.

    At some point you have to conclude that your putative “historical Jesus” lacks so many of the foundational qualities of Jesus that he simply can’t meaningfully be said to be him. The mere fact that there was an itinerant preacher in Judea with the area’s most common name doesn’t demonstrate the existence of a historical Jesus. James Bond doesn’t stop being a fictional character just because a real ornithologist was the inspiration for the name. It takes more than that to conclude historicity.

    • MAUCH
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      Yes! If you base a fictional character on a real character you still have a fictional character.

  45. bernardhurley
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    Actually there’s more evidence for St Nicolas, who morphed into Santa Claus, than for Jesus.

  46. Anonymous
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read this book, but I suspect 3 things:

    1. The name of the book was specifically picked to get believing Christians to BUY THIS BOOK! from a Live! biblical scholar.

    2. The book will likely contain chapters dwelling on things Jesus said that were lies -his apocalyptic predictions.

    3. Ehrman’s intent is that the True Believer will, at this point, look up and say “Wait a minute….”

    • Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Quite possibly. He is at UNC in a state populated by southern Baptists.

  47. Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    I concur, while enjoying the back and forth of the argument between the two camps. I think it helps to clarify what approach can and should be taken to historical claims, which has a bearing on the claims of theists in the end too.

    • Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

      Ugh, WordPress. This is a reply to Joachim @ 38.

  48. andreschuiteman
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it.

    I have news for Bart Erhman: Mother Goose is not an historical figure.

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      Hey, doesn’t blockquote work anymore? The first sentence was a quote from Ehrman.

  49. michaelkgray
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    That [Jesus did not exist] is the claim made by a small but growing cadre of (published ) writers, bloggers and Internet junkies who call themselves mythicists.

    True.

    This unusually vociferous group of nay-sayers maintains that Jesus is a myth invented for nefarious (or altruistic) purposes by the early Christians who modeled their savior along the lines of pagan divine men who, it is alleged, were also born of a virgin on Dec. 25, who also did miracles, who also died as an atonement for sin and were then raised from the dead.

    False.

    Few of these mythicists are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies or any cognate field, let alone in the ancient languages

    Maybe, but not in this case.

    generally thought to matter for those who want to say something with any degree of authority about a Jewish teacher who (allegedly) lived in first-century Palestine.

    False.

    So, Dr. Ehrman, is this going to resolve into dueling BScs?
    If yes, then you have lost the moral, the ethical and factual battle.
    This is not primarily about who is able to translate biblical Coptic with the most proficiency, (although if it were, I should relish the challenge), but who can muster the most telling evidence, surely?

    Telling: in that it be extant, contemporary and as original as possible.
    In the original text, script, and language.

    NOT presupposing speculation, as you seem to generate whenevr your base assumptions require invisible support.

  50. MAUCH
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    At least in relation to continued devotion to the tenets of Christianity the question of whether the histical preacher named Jesus actually existed is irrelevant. The more important thing to understand is that at best the biblical Jesus is a fictional character based on the real Jesus. It would not seem to be sensable to structure ones life around the worship Of this or any other fictional character.

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      Tell that to the Scientologists!

  51. Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Jerry, per your added note, we have piles and piles and piles of evidence of who and what people thought Jesus was, with the New Testament being Exhibit A.

    And, though that evidence is fantastic, bizarre, and wildly contradictory, there is one thing all agree upon: that Jesus was the divine source of salvation for humanity. Indeed, that’s even the character’s name fer chrissakes. “Jesus Christ” is best translated as “YHWH’s anointed savior.” Hardly subtle, or the sort of destiny you’d expect a peasant to live up to outside of fiction, is it?

    More to the point, there is not one single piece of evidence supporting the hypothesis that Jesus was “just zis guy, you know?” The closest we get is the well-worn literary trope that looks can be deceiving. And, even then, the literary clues to Jesus’s…unusual nature are laid out in plain sight.

    Finally — and this may well be my last post for the day — we do know the origins of Christianity, or at least the basic gist. Unsurprisingly, it’s no different from any other Pagan mystery cult, or from modern religions for that matter.

    I think I made reference earlier to Trypho’s takedown of Martyr, but I’m sure I didn’t mention that Martyr was obsessed with the parallels between Christianity and Paganism. He documented them (in the early second century, mind you) in excruciating detail, and rhetorically used the similarities to convince Pagans that Christians weren’t as wacky as they seemed at first blush. And then he went on to claim that Jesus was the real deal, and all the Pagan stories were planted by time-travelling demons centuries before Jesus’s arrival so that people would think Jesus was just another ripoff of ancient boilerplate.

    For that’s exactly what Christianity is, and it’s how religions then (and today) got started. Centuries before Caesar, scholars had already identified Osiris and Dionysus as different cultural interpretations of the same deity. And we also know that Serapis was born of a political alliance between Greece and Egypt, the union of Osiris / Dionysus and Apis.

    Want more? Read Lucian’s short and entertaining account of the passing of Peregrinus. He tells the story of a lovable rogue who inserted himself into a bunch of gullible fools starting a silly new religion, and got them to adopt all sorts of Greek “mysteries” as their own just by changing a couple names here and there. Sound familiar? It should — those fools Peregrinus duped were Christians.

    If even that doesn’t convince you, find the usual apologetic list of “Dozens of First-Century Documents Proving Jesus’s Existence” </breathless> And read them. You’ll find that the Pagans who allegedly mentioned Jesus were only describing the beliefs of a bunch of whackjob lunatic cultists who’d fit right in today amongst the Raelians, the Branch Davidians, the Scientologists, the Moonies, the Mormons….

    Gotta run. Enjoy the fracas, y’all!

    Cheers,

    b&

  52. Lurker
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Ben — Your ramblings read to me much like an oil executive denying global warming — confirmation bias writ large.

    • TomZ
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Really?! Cause, to me, his well-written responses read like a chemist trying to explain (again!) why the new “evidence” for alchemy isn’t going to hold up.

  53. mordacious1
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I seem to remember Ehrman stating in at least one of his books that an itinerant preacher named Jesus most certainly existed, in fact hundreds if not thousands probably did and it could be possible that decades later, when it became convenient to produce a “Jesus”, the teachings of all these preachers were sifted through and a composite Jesus was created to satisfy the desire to have such a figure. Included were things not said by anyone named Yeshua and things that just needed to be added because it was important to the myth. This is why there exist conflicting stories from different sources. Am I wrong? I’ve read way too much on the historical Jesus that I may have mixed up my sources. No time to dig out my Ehrman books right now, but my memory is saying that he did write that.

    Regardless, it seems obvious to me as it must to Ehrman, that all the “historical facts” about Jesus were created after the fact (except that there werJewishsh rabbis walking around preaching various things). I think Ehrman even wrote that he couldn’t have been crucified (for many reasons) but mostly because the “crime” he committed wouldn’t have received that punishment.

    I’ll have to read his new book as I have all his older ones to find out what he is really saying. I do have respect for the man and his works.

    • mordacious1
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Boy! Spellcheck mushed that up, I’ll have to check spellcheck from now on. It wanted to cap Jewish and changed it to “werJewishsh”. I miss my FireFox.

    • mordacious1
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Okay, I took the time to look through my Ehrman books and I was wrong. Ehrman, as far as I can tell, has consistently felt that Jesus was a historical figure. In “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium” he states outright that Jesus was a historical figure. I was getting the compendium of many Jesuses mixed up with other authors, probably Freke/Gandy. This is a problem when reading so many books on one topic…my bad.

  54. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    That [Jesus did not exist] is the claim made by a small but growing cadre of (published ) writers, bloggers and Internet junkies who call themselves mythicists

    There is a distinction between claiming that a historical Jesus did not exist, and pointing out that the evidence offered in favour of his existence is weaker than most people, including Bart Ehrman, think it is.

  55. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    When I started on this thread, it listed as 195 comments, and I read every one of them. Meanwhile, it has increased to 231, so I don’t think I can keep up.

  56. daveau
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Difficulty keeping up also, so apologies if this is redundant.

    What does it matter if there was a “real” guy that they pinned this whole Jesus thing on, as opposed to no existence whatsoever? Either way, he’s not the son of God, wasn’t born in a manger on xmas, and didn’t die on a cross and get resurrected. Even Ehrman won’t argue that.

    • joe piecuch
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      seriously? so, if oswald wasn’t a cia agent, or a part of a vast conspiracy of (name your preferred villain), then ascertaining accurate details of his life as far as can be done is of no use or even interest?

      • TomZ
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        Analogy fail.

        To make this one work, you’d have to say that even if there never was a POTUS named JFK and so of course no assassination, and the real person of Oswald that one fictionalized character was based on was actually paralyzed from the wrists down, making it physically impossible for him to do what was claimed in the story, that the world should still be interested in the REAL Oswald’s life details.

        • daveau
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

          That too.

        • joe piecuch
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          the point was that, 50 years after a public event with numerous witnesses and plentiful evidence, what transpired and how it came to happen is still heatedly debated; even, as far as some people are concerned, with regard to the true identity of major players. the fact that evidence about someone who may have existed 2000 years ago is fragmentary and inconclusive hardly makes a case that the person never existed at all.

          • daveau
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

            Instead of being merely fragmentary and inconclusive, there is no actual contemporary evidence for Jesus. So, 50 years later there would not have been much discussion about it.

            The complete lack of contemporary evidence makes a reasonable case to at least examine the possibility that no historical Jesus ever existed. Not that it would affect my life one way or another.

            • joe piecuch
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

              there is almost no evidence of the vast majority of every homo sapiens that has ever existed; we still know they did. there is almost no evidence of most of mankind’s many predecessors, and yet what little there is can be analyzed and interpreted to yield a great deal of knowledge. your argument is specious and irrelevant.

              • daveau
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

                Well, Jesus wasn’t just any person was he? And the period of time that we are talking about is very well documented, including many mentions of preachers and prophets of the sort Jesus was. Yet no Jesus. In such a case of historic proportions, you’d expect to see something in the papers, even if it is just a blurb on page 8. And no mention of any of the major events that supposedly took place, where he could have maybe just been hanging around, unnoticed.

                Is that proof that he never existed? Of course not. But it certainly does tip the scales in that direction.

                Let me know if you come up with any, you know, evidence that can be analyzed and interpreted. Otherwise it’s called making shit up.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

                “…the period of time we are talking about is very well documented…”

                yeah? name some sources. seriously, who SHOULD have mentioned him, but does not?

              • Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                name some sources.

                The Dead Sea Scrolls. Philo. Pliny the Elder. The Roman Satirists.

                That’s enough right there to seal the deal.

                But wait! There’s more! See one of my lengthy posts in this thread for a list of, literally, dozens of others.

                b&

              • daveau
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

                Well, Joe, for a person who values the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, you sure don’t seem to read much. Or you are being deliberately obtuse. Yes, please see Ben’s above comments for such a list. Thank you as always, Ben.

                I still fail to find a point behind your commentary, other than incredulity that I really don’t give a rat’s ass as to exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin to 10 decimal places, or whatever other nonsense Christians have dreamt up. That being the case, make a small effort to find something either humorous or interesting to say on the subject. I have other things to turn my attention to.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

                you are making the monumentally silly error of assuming that had jesus existed, he would have had to be perceived then, as he is now, by his believers…as god. he was not viewed that way; he was known, to a relative few, as a preacher, competing for attention with others of his ilk, and all the mythologising took years to transform him into ‘god’. the process continues even now with the evolution of jesus, in the minds of some, into a kickass navy SEAL and football fan. why the hell would any of the people you mention take note of him? he was a nonentity! later in the century the christian movement had developed some momentum and was attracting attention. tacitus and possibly suetonius mention him; pliny the younger certainly does.

                who, in 1844 illinois, would have described joseph smith as the founder of a modern, nearly-mainstream american religion with nearly 10 million worldwide adherents? no one, and almost any non-believer upon whose consciousness he did intrude would have regarded him as a con man.

              • daveau
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

                Jesus supposedly entered the city of Jerusalem to tumultuous accolades. He was not flying under the radar.

                Joseph Smith was a complete fraud. I rest my case.

                Get over it.

              • daveau
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

                Come to think of it, Joseph Smith is an apt comparison to Saul of Tarsis.

              • Posted March 22, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

                Careful. Ol’ Solly is as unknown to history as Jessie. And even more worthy of a mention in the Talmud….

                b&

              • daveau
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

                I’ll just refer to him as “The Paul Collective” from now on. K?

              • joe piecuch
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

                ‘Jesus supposedly entered…’

                yup, that’s part of the legend, all right. however, the falsity of the legend doesn’t mean there was never a person; it shouldn’t be a difficult point to grasp. keep trying, though; don’t get discouraged. i’m sure you’re doing the best you can.

                ‘Joseph Smith was a complete fraud’

                hooray! see? you’re doing better! you got that one!

                ‘I rest my case’

                oh, dear…that was a bit of a setback. let’s start over on that one: what IS your case?

              • daveau
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

                So, Ben. How is Baihu doing? Must be time for his 2nd walk or so…

              • joe piecuch
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

                “classy, and right on topic, Joe”

                heh heh heh…you two just pull whatever right outta your asses, don’t you?

              • daveau
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

                What’s the matter? The other kids get tired of playing with you, too? Done with you, Joe. I’m talking to Ben now.

              • Posted March 22, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

                Hey, Dave!

                Baihu’s doing well. It’s lunchtime, so, as I type, he’s chowing down on (commercially ground, frozen, and pre-packaged) raw Bambi.

                The lizards are doing well, too — I can see one right now on the fence from my office window — but it’s been a while since Baihu caught one. I *did* hear from Mom, though, that one of her chickens caught a lizard the other day, and that the flock had a riotous time chasing each other until all had managed to snatch a limb from the victor’s beak. Quite a spectacle, as Mom described it.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • daveau
                Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

                You know if you didn’t actually kill Bambi with your bare hands, it’s not real, right?

                It takes so little to entertain chickens, apparently. Where is the gecko safety squad when you need them?

                Thanks for the update.

            • joe piecuch
              Posted March 22, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

              hey hey hey!, you know, you two are more clever than i thought! (koff)

      • daveau
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Yes, Joe, srsly. Ascertaining the veracity of the existence or not of some marginally Jesus-like figure is not going to change a damn thing except in scholarly circles. Even if you disprove his very existence, which is just not realistic, you will never change the fundamentals of Christianinty. No Xian is going to believe you.

        If you showed me evidence that there may have been an historical basis for such a person, how is it not grasping at straws to equate him with the new testament Jesus? Even if possible, I will still question any of the rest of the story, especially the supernatural aspects, until there is reasonable evidence for them.

        Evidence for the existence of God = 0. Evidence for the existence of his son = 0. Evidence for the existence of an indigent first century preacher named Yeshua? As near zero as makes no difference. And I’m only granting that because I haven’t read Ehrman’s latest book.

        AFAIK, Lee Harvey Oswald and John F Kennedy were real people. It’s not that I lack curiosity, it’s more that I don’t see how knowing details about Oswald’s childhood changes anything about the last 50 years. I have other things to concern myself with. What’s your point?

        • joe piecuch
          Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

          who ever mentioned trying to change christianity? my interest is learning, as far as can be determined, whether such a person existed, who he was, what ‘really’ happened, and how all that was changed, via human brains, into what, for the sake of brevity, has become ‘christianity’ today.

          • daveau
            Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

            Rhetorical “you”. Should have said “one”.

            Regardless of whether or not there was this dude, there was no Jesus who is the son of God, ergo, no true basis for Christianity. Now if you want to say how interesting it is that Christianity developed anyway, good for you. For me, that particular pursuit holds no interest. It’s still a bogus claim and I prefer not to waste too many brain cells on it.

            • joe piecuch
              Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

              and yet here you are, discussing it.

              • daveau
                Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

                I could be arguing on my own time.

                I don’t mind discussing it. Because a discussion is different than the intellectual pursuit of minutiae for minutiae’s own sake. It also depends upon the minutiae.

  57. KP
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    “We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers”

    That’s crap, Hitchens lists all of the gods and demi-gods born via the “one-way birth canal.”

    • KP
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      … in God is not Great, btw.

  58. rexsalad
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    This paragraph bothers me:

    Moreover, the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. The alleged parallels between Jesus and the “pagan” savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions).

    Does Bart Ehrman mean that it’s important there’s no exact match among other ancient myths?

    The gospel claims certainly aren’t all that unique relative to common mythic themes of the time. That the alleged Jesus’ life did not PERFECTLY duplicate the series of events in another fable doesn’t negate the likelihood that the bible was influenced by other ancient sources, just as they liberally if loosely borrowed from eachother.

    A side point also occurs to me: Ehrman is not arguing for the historicity of the supernatural episodes anyway so even if Jesus didn’t somewhat resemble other godmen the most you could say is (barring evidence that the stuff actually happened) those Christian writers had great imaginations.

    All props to historians, Phds etc but I’m skeptical one can reliably deduce a persons existence if your ONLY source is book that is so thoroughly imbued with sheer fantasy. The charge that Earl Doherty and other mythicists have made is that bible scholars have an a priori bias in acceptance of the bible as a credible historical text.

  59. Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Regarding what Bart Ehrman and “historical Jesus” studies, you may be interested in checking out this debate transcript:

    http://academics.holycross.edu/files/crec/resurrection-debate-transcript.pdf

    It’s a debate between Bart Ehrman and William Lane Craig that is titled “Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?”

    The “tl;dr” version of Ehrman’s position is that historians attempt to arrive at the most-likely conclusion based on the available evidence and “miracles” (by definition) are not the most-likely explanation for the resurrection stories in the Gospels.

    On the printed page, Ehrman seems to hold his ground against William Lane Craig (who is a professional Christian apologetic “hired gun”).

    • Badger3k
      Posted March 22, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      I lost the website when I had to replace a hard drive (the first or second, I’m not sure which one), but you can find a lot of debates online. I have quite a few with Ehrman, Price, Craig, and others. If you have a long drive, it makes for interesting (if sometimes frustrating or dangerous when you try to headdesk the steering wheel) listening.

  60. Kevin
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Late to the party, but I think there are three viable scenarios.

    1. There was a “real” Jesus who did live in the time and place, preached widely, was extremely popular for a brief time, but came up against opposition from the Sanhedrin and was eventually executed by the Romans in the manner claimed. The religion is based on his teachings. (Note: he was just a person — not a god.)

    2. There was a group of messianic preachers in that era. No one person was “Jesus”, but instead all of their preachings and various activities (eg, turning over the money-changing tables in the temple) were melded together to give us a composite character named “Jesus”. The composite “Jesus” was then heavily mythologized by the Greeks, and this mythologized form became the basis of the religion.

    3. The religion was made up out of whole cloth — pure fabrication on the order of the Labors of Hercules. Jesus is just Hercules with different super powers and not as many muscles.

    Seems to me the most-likely explanation is number 2 and the least likely number 1. I think concept number 3 is actually a bit of a stretch. Reading the so-called Gospel of John, I’m left with the impression that these are stories about human activities. He turns over the changing tables, and when challenged, he runs away. He preaches a blasphemous message and some try to stone him, so he runs away again. These seem to be stories culled from real life. The healings and such were just stuff added later to embellish his CV.

    But even though the activities seem “human”, the concept of a single Jesus does not track. It just goes against everything we know about the historical evidence — or lack thereof.

    I’m with Ben Goren on this. There were scholars aplenty living at the time and place who had intense interest in such doings. An individual named “Jesus” who was as remarkable a preacher as alleged would have been noticed. Especially if he was later executed for sedition. But there’s zero evidence that his happened.

    But I do love frustrating the Jeebus-bots by challenging them to come up with a contemporaneous eyewitness account of Jesus, or some other official mention of him outside of the myths. They sputter “Josephus”. I retort “forgery” and point out that Josephus wasn’t born until after the time alleged for the events in question.

    Even the biblical accounts fall apart. Paul doesn’t claim to have seen Jesus “alive” in the intestine-fondling flesh. Luke claims only to be an historian, not an eyewitness. And on and on.

    For a god that demands you worship him or else, there is a singular lack of evidence that he actually — well — existed.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      The healings and such were just stuff added later to embellish his CV.

      Which is open to charges of cherry picking.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        We know that the entire post-crucifixion section of Matthew was added much later. We know that the three synoptics were not written “from memory” but were cribbed from earlier sources, which themselves relied on oral tradition.

        The likely scenario is that when this myth sprang up — like those of John Henry or Paul Bunyan — there was probably a kernel of “real life” behind the myth. And the silly stuff just came afterwards in the oral traditions before stuff started getting written down. And then embellished even further by the writers of the fables. You can see it in Luke, his being the last and most-fabulous (as in fable) account.

        It’s like the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. There he is, standing in the midst of a wave-tossed waters, bravely facing a treacherous journey. … Except if you’ve been to the actual location of the crossing, it’s pretty much about the width of a six-lane divided highway, very placid, and about as not-treacherous as you can imagine. In the summer, you can float it in an inner tube and never fear drowning. But if you want to cross with an army and their munitions in winter, you’re gonna need a boat, because there were no bridges anywhere near there at the time. The hagiography came later. At the time, the crossing itself wasn’t the biggest deal — acquiring the boats was.

    • Lurker
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      “But I do love frustrating the Jeebus-bots by challenging them to come up with a contemporaneous eyewitness account of Jesus, or some other official mention of him outside of the myths. They sputter ‘Josephus’. I retort ‘forgery’ and point out that Josephus wasn’t born until after the time alleged for the events in question.”

      This is some combination of ignorance and/or lying with confirmation bias sprinkled in.

      For example, the consensus of scholars (including non-Christian scholars) is that the Testimonium has been edited but is not a forgery (see Fredriksen’s From Jesus to Christ for details) and that the “brother of James” passage is wholly genuine. The “internet junkies” never mention this. Instead, they keep making the same tired arguments without even being honest about existing scholarship, which tells me all I need to know about their credibility.

      • Tyro
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        Ehrman used the “brother of James” line in response to a question about the historicity of Jesus.

        It’s what first really soured me on him. Not only is this dealt with by the mythicists, the use of “brother” throughout the epistles actually creates a huge problem for the historical Jesus unless we recognize that it’s an honorific and not a familial title.

        Also it strikes me as entirely too much like Creationists, to imagine that there’s a single smoking gun rather than as a body of evidence which needs to be dealt with as a whole. That’s not a hallmark of a good scholar looking to understand how all the evidence fits together, but of a charlatan who is trying to make troublesome questions go away.

  61. Persto
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I read what I could of the comments–276 of them–and both sides are arguing AGAINST the mythical Jesus.

    Why is this such a heated debate?

    • TomZ
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Probably because of the methodology used to arrive to your conclusion. By stating that the evidence gathered makes a strong case in either position, that displays your individual threshold for what makes evidence in any area compelling.

      This speaks to what you believe meets a minimum burden of proof level. And what I’m seeing is that with no new evidence or analytic method of evidence revealed, there’s no reason to change your previous position. Whatever that may be.

      • Persto
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        I am not on either side. Just an unenthusiastic spectator.

        The methodology seems to be: that shouldn’t be used and that can be used.

        I agree, though.

      • Persto
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        That was a very unclear comment.

        Are you saying that one side has definitive evidence?

        Initially, I thought I agreed with you, but on closer examination you may be saying something I don’t agree with.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      I think it speaks to what people see as a sleight-of-hand trick by Ehrman.

      He’s claiming facts not in evidence–existence of contemporaneous documents written in Aramaic that attest to a “real” Jesus. Frankly, I’ve been asking for contemporaneous eyewitness accounts for years from True Believers, and if there are any, they’ve never been offered. Which leads me to believe they don’t exist.

      So, we accuse Ehrman of either a) overstating his case, or b) lying his ass off to sell more books.

      You won’t find many here who believe in the mythical superhero zombie Jesus. The issue is whether Ehrman is over-reaching in his claims that a person named Jesus lived at the time and was the sole source of the mythography that arose after his death. I, for one, would like to see his source documentation. If it’s like his past books, the sources aren’t primary. They’re textual analysis of secondary sources. Not contemporaneous eyewitness documentation.

      It’s about honesty. I don’t think he’s being honest.

      • Persto
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        Gotcha. If Ehrman is using secondary source evidence as the backbone of his claims about the historicity of Jesus–which the majority of serious biblical scholars are unsure about–then I completely understand your gripe, if that, indeed, is the case.

        Also, I think Ehrman would over-state his case, but I don’t think he would be dishonest. Nevertheless, let’s wait and see.

        Thanks, btw.

  62. alnitak
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    The story of Yesu was concocted by “Mark”, based on stories he heard, a witty sayings collection, and a play: the Passion Play preceded the passion. Careful readers of the text can tell where the seams between the parts lie. Was the play based on a real-life character? Were King Arthur, William Tell and Robin Hood based in fact?

  63. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    To strip Jesus of miracles (no virgin birth, no divinity, no healing of the sick, no resurrection, etc.) is to end up with a Jesus that is beyond recognition. To reject miracles is tantamount to the affirmation that Jesus never existed as understood in the New Testament. No miracles and one is left with a mendicant preacher of which Palestine was infested at the time. At this point, the guy can have any name as far as I am concerned.

  64. ForCarl
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I may have missed this in scanning the comments, but did anyone mention Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle? I found it to be a very plausible arguement against a historical Jesus. Plus, it doesn’t take too long to figure out just reading the writings of the person claiming to be “Paul” that he was a delusional control freak with some clear issues about women, sex and jews. Not someone whose testimony would exactly stand up in court.

    Thanks to Ben Goren for his great summary.

  65. Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    In 1965, Dr. Hugh Schonfield published a book called “The Passover Plot” (a timely mention, given that Pesach and Easter, i.e., the dual “plots,” land upon us in a couple of weeks). Although I have no intention of re-reading it today, as I remember it Schonfield (who was one of the original translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls) says that in the Scrolls the Essenes recorded the mystical signs predicting the eventual arrival of the Messiah — all of which were layered on the various tales concerning Jesus. So the proselytizing early Christians weren’t proven truth tellers, reporting on fact. Nor did they have to make it all up: they had the Essenes to do it for them. (Schonfield also informs his readers how the secretive Essene teachings made it out into the wider early C.E. world, in time to be grabbed up as an early app.)

    When I, for the first time, read the New Testament, I found paranoid schizophrenia as the only explanation that made sense of Jesus’s communications.

    And having read Schonfield, as well as a smidgeon of ancient history, it’s my personal opinion that the most accurate version of the arrival of the Messiah was in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”

  66. joe piecuch
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    some of prof. ehrman’s arguments are more convincing than others, and i got hung up briefly on what i think must be a significant typo, but i thought i’d hear him out before making up my mind about what he has to say. it’s an approach that at least some of you might want to consider; engaging with what he actually says will give your arguments against him more coherence and credibility.

  67. Steve
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I just started reading Dr Carrier’s latest book on this subject. I haven’t seen anyone mention the title of it, so here it is: “Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus.”

  68. Willie Buck Merle
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Dealer firstly deals himself a winning hand
    ——————————————–
    The waiver for my credentials* is this: In the youtube book promo Dr. Ehrman invites you to “look at the hard cold facts”. Ok then, I’ve bought the ebook, lets have some fun now and reconstruct the Jesus story.
    1. The year is now 2112 in the future. We are investigating the validity of a person named “Mary Jane” who lived in the early 21st century.
    2. There exists no photographs of Mary Jane (physical evidence).
    3. Mary Jane is mentioned in numerous family letters, although no official records can be found. (disinterested parties)
    4. It has been found that Mary Jane is mentioned in an obscure court document, but it also could be explained as merely a misspelling of someone else’s name (fragmentary evidence).
    5. An oral tradition has been established for Mary Jane thru her descendants (eyewitness accounting). But, we discover these are in no way WITHOUT bias towards her existence.
    6. In the stories of Mary Jane, she speaks in the vernacular of her region.
    7. Many of these family letters & tales start appearing around the period after her death, more or less authenticated by experts in the field.

    Ehrman assures me as a historian, this person certainly existed during the beginning of the 21st century. Of course I’m inclined to agree allowing for his standard of evidence, if it wasn’t for the nagging fact that her majority of MJ theologians & believers accept:
    a. Mary Jane was 60 feet tall.
    b. When she was thirsty she usually drank the entire Edwards Aquifer dry, in front of multitudes.
    c. Mary Jane went faster than the speed of light, ALLWAYS.
    d. Numerous esoteric explanations that must always supercede those questions of scientific verification/scientific validity and a great deal of common sense.

    Irregardless of that, Dr. Ehrman says, these MJ gospels must be regarded as historical documents. They collaborate each other and this in itself is difficult to explain fully to those outside the field. Hence Mary Jane’s historicity can be established with certainty here. Enough said.

    *I’ve read the bible, read books and seen movies about it. I’ve also read Sherlock Holmes and enjoy Columbo.

    A professorship of theology should have no place in our institution.
    — Thomas Jefferson

  69. Max
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    A couple of people have asked why some atheists or agnostics would have an emotional response to claims that Jesus did not exist. Speaking only for myself, my predominant emotions are three in number.

    First, exasperation. So many people now rely on the internet for most of their general education, and yet there is so much misinformation to be found there. Creationism, climate change denial, antivaccinationism, heterodox theories about HIV/AIDS, Paleolithic diet, Austrian economics, Southern Heritage history, Christian Nation history, Holocaust denial, 9/11 conspiracy theories, moon landing hoax theories, ufology, parapsychology — I’m just getting started and mentioning only the stuff that immediately springs to mind. Laymen are usually not equipped to refute these positions, because their proponents all have plausible-sounding arguments and often have an impressive acquaintance with factual or quasi-factual evidence that would require considerable research to counter. (Even if you’re prepared to put in some work on one or two of these topics, you can’t become an expert on all of them.) Further, on many of these topics, the people with real expertise tend to regard it as unnecessary or inappropriate to engage with the proponents of crank ideas, while the proponents have seemingly unlimited time to post messages on websites or comment boards, and to add response to response (escalating at need into capital letters) until their interlocutors give up in disgust. It’s a mess. I have no solution. I find this exasperating.

    Second, indignation. Real expertise, real accomplishment deserves respect. I’ll skip the implied disrespect for actual education shown by those who imagine that casually trolling through resources available on the web is a substitute. I’ll stick to the fact that cranks almost invariably resort to abusive language and accusations of cowardice, dishonesty or venality against those who hold mainstream views. Buzz Aldrin went a bit too far when he punched a moon-landing hoaxer in the face, but he was making an important point. The men who traveled to the moon invested immense effort and singular talents in the project, and they risked their lives to accomplish something grand and noble. When a pathetic loser tries to puff himself up by disparaging their achievement, I feel indignation. Mutatis mutandis, the same goes for mainstream, secular biblical scholarship. It’s a hard field. The people who have actually mastered it deserve respect — not deference, but minimally the respect of civil and constructive discourse.

    Finally, anxiety or uneasiness. I’m an atheist, and atheists, for better or worse, are my people. The New Atheism has put a spotlight on us, and a lot of casual observers, one might imagine, are looking around to find out what atheism is all about and whether atheists seem like the sort of people you might expect to have reasonable ideas. I worry that if such people come to websites such as this one and find that the discussion of certain topics is dominated by cranks, it will reflect badly on atheism. It will make atheists look like cranks, and unfortunately we’re already more than halfway there in most people’s minds, for reasons that we might discuss another day.

    Needless to say, if the nonexistent-Jesus position is correct, these feelings are beside the point. It seems to me, however, that they are appropriate responses to genuine crankishness and crackpotism. Since I believe that I have adequate grounds for putting nonexistent-Jesus theories in that category (another topic for another day), I believe that my having these feelings is justified.

    • Tyro
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      the same goes for mainstream, secular biblical scholarship. It’s a hard field. The people who have actually mastered it deserve respect — not deference,

      In this case I think you’re mistaken. There’s so much that’s shoddy and downright rotten in the field that I do not think these so-called scholars deserve respect by default. Just as there may be good chiropractors, there may be good biblical scholars but that should not be our starting point!

      Plus, didn’t Ehrman (or was that Avalos) write a book about how the whole field of biblical studies was so corrupt that it should be abolished and absorbed by departments with a real tradition of scholarship?

      • Max
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        Was it Ehrman? Or Avalos? Or somebody? I’m pretty sure someone must have said something like that somewhere . . .

        Right. It’s an honor to be the recipient of such a well-informed comment.

        Don’t bother to check. It was Hector Avalos, in The End of Biblical Studies. Have you read this book? Didn’t think so. You should give it a look, and you should also read some of the thoughtful, and often quite sympathetic reviews it has received in biblical studies journals. The field is actually pretty good about taking cricitism seriously (or self-criticism, in this case, since Avalos is a biblical scholar).

        More the point, look at what you’re doing here. You’re authority shopping. You have a conclusion you want to reach. You search until you find an authority that supports it. Then you cite this authority as definitive, without inquiring into its reliability or checking to see what else may have been written on the subject. If it’s the one book that reaches the conclusion you like, then that’s the book for you. Any crank worth his salt can do the same, because, to paraphrase Cicero, there’s nothing so foolish that someone hasn’t managed to get it published somewhere.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Well said!

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      I might also add fear. Fear of legislation based on nothing more than batshit mythology.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      So no evidence but feelings?

      Why did you even bother to comment? At least trolls want to provoke rather that emote.

      • Max
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        As I said, several people have raised a question about feelings, and I provided an answer. Do you read before you comment?

  70. Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    So… the historical Jesus is piece of grit around which the pearl of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has accreted. Ehrman has written other books about the nacre. And now he’s written a book setting out what we can infer about the grit. Hmm…

    /@

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      Nifty analogy!

      • Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

        I concur.

        • Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:25 am | Permalink

          Nifty, yes. The problem is, however, others call it the core and think the grit is on the outside.

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:36 am | Permalink

            I think it’s grit on the inside and irritated-mollusc secretion on the outside. That pretty well covers the whole shebang.

            • michaelkgray
              Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:46 am | Permalink

              True Grit!

        • Posted March 22, 2012 at 3:48 am | Permalink

          Thank you both! :-D

          /@

  71. ForCarl
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    One last point. I am skeptical of any scholar who feels the need to blast a certain group of other scholars and historians for not being as qualified as he/she is. Ehrman should just put forth his theories and let them stand or fall and not pre-blast those who have presented other scenarios. The fact that he felt the need to put-down others as unscholarly mythicists, etc. speaks volumes.

    • mordacious1
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I read that in the intro to his book that’s online and felt uncomfortable with that kind of stance. It also has the problem of: We study telekinesis, no one else studies it like we do, therefor only our opinions count (and yes we can move things with our minds).

  72. Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Carrier’s take: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/667/

    h/t some other biologist, who doesn’t like cats

    /@

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      AND WHO WILL REMAIN UNNAMED!

    • yesmyliege
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      Man. Richard Carrier was not amused.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

        Whoa! Can’t wait for his book review! This could take a lot of popcorn.

  73. PB
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    This is a very popular thread. Surprise surprise!
    I’ve read some of Ehrman’s books, he’s a scholar, he knows a lot of things biblical, that’s for sure.

    But he’s also trying to sell books in a crowded industry, and his kind – somebody with biblical scholarship – is losing the market to atheists, biologist, philosophers.

    He wants to regain his turf.

    Actually, his position is much less controversial, he posited that jesus is not god, christianity is an evolved belief based on mistakes. whether a man named jesus (jeshua) actually lived doesn’t really matter in big picture. If he did live, he was not a god or son-of-a-bitch or whatever.

    That’s Ehrman’s position as well.

    But, he tried to make an emotional appeal by insisting that jeshua did live, and sent some highly charged words (as quoted by Jerry) to annoy people to raise interest in his new book.

    That’s that. I don’t think it’s really matter.
    We may be certain that Hannibal was a real person, but not so sure with many other historical figures, definitely including jeshua, paul, mary magdalene, judas etc.

    So what?

    This is a tempest in a teacup, sold by teacup dealers …

    • michaelkgray
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:27 am | Permalink

      Russell’s Teacup?

  74. Badger3k
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I’ll definitely read this, but I have heard he addresses none of the mythicist claims put forth by Doherty, and after he claimed that their was either the same or more evidence for Jesus as their is for Julius Caesar, I lost respect for his scholarship. Anyone who says that isn’t really consistent in what “evidence” means. It sounds like he hasn’t said anything new that wasn’t in his other books, but I can hope.

  75. Tyro
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    FWIW, Richard Carrier has posted a response to Ehrman’s article on his blog at: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/667

    It starts: “This is either the worst writing he has ever done, or there are far more serious flaws in his book than I imagined” and then goes into details.

    • stewart61
      Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:54 am | Permalink

      Carrier’s response is a welcome sign that my senility has not prematurely arrived.

    • stewart61
      Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:54 am | Permalink

      Carrier’s response is a welcome sign that my senility has not prematurely arrived.

      • stewart61
        Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:55 am | Permalink

        And I only clicked that once…

        • Chris
          Posted March 22, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

          Or, you’re senile and forgot you’d already clicked….

    • Posted March 22, 2012 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      & see #72.

      /@

  76. Ray Moscow
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    My take on the ‘historical Jesus’ is that practically none of the teachings or actions that the gospels ‘record’ about Jesus can be reliably attributed to this potentially ‘historic Jesus’. Therefore, I think it’s a bit misleading to even call him ‘Jesus’.

    It’s instructive to look at the huge variety of reconstructions of the HJ and realise that most are mutually exclusive (and therefore most are necessarily false). At most one might be real, but none are necessary to explain the Bible or Christianity.

  77. Michael Simpson
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I’ve got to keep up with my reading. Great article.

    Here’s my issue. The “Jesus is real” crowd (which surprisingly contains a lot of atheists) have an extraordinary claim, the positive assertion, and they need to provide evidence.

    We the “Jesus probably didn’t exist” crowd, only has to be critical of said evidence, we are under no obligation to “prove” that he did not exist,” since proving the negative is pretty much impossible. You know, Bertrand Russell’s teapot and all.

    The Romans were anal-retentive about records. We have uncovered documents that tell us when Centurion Biggus Dickus bought a flagon of wine. You’d think that we would find some contemporary written evidence from one of their more important provinces in the east. We just don’t.

    I once said that there is more evidence that King Arthur is a historical person than there is for Jesus.

    Of course, without Jesus, we’d all be here writing about how Thor was a myth, as that would probably be the Anglo-Saxon god-myth that would carry down through English-speaking countries.

    • Jim Jones
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      The west came damn close to worshiping Glycon, the snake god, instead of Jesus. A few twists of history and it would all have been different.

  78. Willie Buck Merle
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Man, this would be a great time to co-opt Mythicism.

    sincerely,
    Mormon Joe & the Urantians

    ps. It’s all real

  79. Chuck
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Ehrman is engaging in well poisoning. Dr. Robert Price and Dr. Richard Carrier are two respected and well-credentialied scholars, the first a biblical one and the second an antiquities expert, who have formulated well-reasoned arguments for the myth hypothesis. It is a straw man to reduce the myth hypothesis to simple cultural theft. It is an evolutionary argument that acknowledges how syncretic practice (mythic borrowing) gets embedded in stories to avail doctrinal authority. We’ve seen it in our life-time with the rise of Mormonism.

  80. dephlogisticated
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Being born of a virgin birth is nothing new. This was a common way of noting someone of importance, with the last claim being Genghis Khan. There have been over 250 documented stories about virgin births. All happen to be important people in their area and time.
    Next, the 4 gospels were each ‘written’ by someone who wound up preaching further and further from Jerusalem. And if understood as such, it is not difficult to see more and more antisemitism being written into them. Matthew, very pro-Semitic; John, anti-Semitic. This would, of course, also make political sense, in trying to separate themselves from those of the Jewish faith.
    Last, when one compares the various stories of Jesus in these books, you can find stories in a later book, which are not in an earlier book, and vice versa. But those later stories also wind up being eerily similar to myths and legends of the various locals that they were trying to convert. This would also make sense in trying to provide familiarity of this new faith to potential converts.
    It would be interesting to get Ehrman, Carrier, and Hector Avalos together and see what happens.

  81. Jim Jones
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Apropos of your “predendum”:


    1. An itinerant apocalyptic preacher around whom the myths of Christianity coalesced (and who may or may not have been crucified).

    2. The miracle-working divine being resembling that of the New Testament.

    Note that Ehrman is claiming only #1, NOT #2 …

    Despite its age, this sums up the reality as well as anything.

    Quote: “The Jesus Christ of the Gospels could not possibly have been a real person. He is a combination of impossible elements. There may have lived in Palestine, nineteen centuries ago, a man whose name was Jesus, who went about doing good, who was followed by admiring associates, and who in the end met a violent death. But of this possible person, not a line was written when he lived, and of his life and character the world of today knows absolutely nothing. This Jesus, if he lived, was a man; and, if he was a reformer, he was but one of many that have lived and died in every age of the world. When the world shall have learned that the Christ of the Gospels is a myth, that Christianity is untrue, it will turn its attention from the religious fictions of the past to the vital problems of today, and endeavor to solve them for the improvement of the well-being of the real men and women whom we know, and whom we ought to help and love.”

    From “Did Jesus Christ Really Live?” — by Marshall J. Gauvin (ca. 1922)

  82. Tim Donk
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    In his book “Forged”,Ehrman gives a litany of reasons why Christians would forge various works, both in the canon and extant text, namely to promote their fledgling religious views. Why would it not also follow that they would fabricate a hero to base these writings on? Jesus may be no more than the Robinhood of Christianity.


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] read the article.Bart Ehrman also now has a blog: Christianity in Antiquity: The Bart Ehrman Blog.It is disappointing to see the discussion on Jerry Coyne’s blog, where a group that has banded…. Shame!There are other posts about the book around the blogosphere, The most interesting is […]

  2. […] I am saddened by the poor arguments many have made in this thread. False arguments include the ignorance of the Jewish context of Roman Palestine, where Christianity […]

  3. […] traction in the mind of anyone who has said farewell to god. So, when Ophelia Benson, Jerry Coyne (here and here) and Richard Carrier showed such keen interest I was mystified, and, I suppose, I still […]

  4. […] A. COYNE Bart Ehrman says that Jesus existed. […]

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