More on Bart Ehrman’s new book about Jesus

This should anger up those readers who think that Jesus was largely mythological (i.e., not even based on a real person), or that the evidence supporting such a person was weak at best.  HuffPo has a piece on Bart Ehrman’s new book, Did Jesus Exist? called “In ‘Did Jesus Exist?’, Bart Ehrman’s portrayal of Jesus is surprisingly sympathetic.”  (See my earlier post on this book, which, much to my surprise, garnered >400 comments.)

At any rate, Ehrman seems to be taking a harder line than before on Jesus, though I believe he always suggested that Jesus was based on a real person: an early apocalyptic preacher. Ehrman’s never, so far as I know, given an iota of credence to the divinity of Jesus or any of the miracle stories.  Now, however, he’s pretty insistent that a “Jesus” was crucified by Pontius Pilate.

What do mythicists argue?

If Jesus really existed, mythicists ask why so few first-century writers mention him. These mythicists dismiss the Gospel accounts as biased and therefore non-historical. To many mythicists, the Jesus story is based on pagan myths about dying and rising gods.

What does Ehrman argue?

Ehrman points out that only about 3 percent of Jews in Jesus’ time were literate, and Romans never kept detailed records. (Decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, three Roman writers mention Jesus in passing, as does the Jewish historian Josephus.) Though the Gospel accounts are biased, they cannot be discounted as non-historical. As for Jesus being a Jewish version of the pagan dying and rising god, Ehrman shows that there is no evidence the Jews of Jesus’ day worshipped pagan gods. If anything, Jesus was deeply rooted in Jewish, rather than Roman, traditions.

To me this sounds like pretty thin evidence for Jesus—more rationalization for the lack of evidence than any positive evidence—and gives nothing beyond what is in scripture. I’m not sure why there’s a new book if the evidence is just what it was before.  But I’m sure at least a few readers will get this book. If you’ve read it (and there are Amazon reviews), post your take below.

What is new is that Ehrman appears really peeved by the “mythicists,” and is really coming down on those who deny the existence of a historical person on which the Jesus myth is based:

As Christians prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, Ehrman, an agnostic, convincingly demonstrates in clear, forceful prose that there was a historical Jesus, a Jewish teacher of the first century who was crucified by Pontius Pilate. As for the so-called “mythicists” who argue otherwise, Ehrman has some choice words: “sensationalist,” “wrongheaded,” and “amateurish.”

“They’re driven by an ideological agenda, which is, they find organized religion to be dangerous and harmful and the chief organized religion in their environment is Christianity,” Ehrman said in an interview . . .

Yet Ehrman who said he spent a summer boning up on mythicist books, such as “The Greatest Story Ever Sold,” and “The Jesus Mysteries,” sees a growing embrace of the position that Jesus was a fictional figure.

Ehrman said he had long received occasional emails from atheists and others asking him if he thought Jesus actually lived. Then last year, he accepted an award at a meeting of the American Humanist Association in Cambridge, Mass. While there, he was dismayed to find many humanists, who describe themselves as “good without God,” adhered to widely discredited notions that Jesus never lived.

It eventually dawned on him that the Jesus deniers were the flip side of the Christian fundamentalists he had long ago foresworn. Both were using Jesus to justify their relationship to Christianity.

“I keep telling Christians, they don’t have to be afraid of the truth,” said Ehrman. “The same thing applies to atheists and humanists. It’s not going to kill them to think Jesus really existed.”

Of course, the words “Jesus really existed,” are deeply ambiguous, since they say nothing about the divine Jesus, and perhaps Ehrman should have added that immediately.  I’m hoping he isn’t being deliberately ambiguous to cater to believers.

The HuffPo piece is, however, surprisingly sympathetic to the non-divine-Jesus view:

The fact that Ehrman is siding with Christians on the historical truth of Jesus does not indicate a change of heart, much less a conversion. Instead, he said, it’s an attempt to say, “history matters.”

But for fellow nonbelievers, who cheered Ehrman’s previous books as proof that evangelicals are wrong about many biblical claims, the latest publication seems like the beginnings of family feud, if not an outright betrayal.

Some have already suggested Ehrman is painting atheists with too broad a brush.

“I don’t personally know a single atheist who would deny that Jesus existed,” said Louise Antony, professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. [JAC: I think there are a few who post on this site!] “It would be really unfair to suggest that it’s part of being an atheist to deny the existence of Jesus as a historical person.”

. . . Largely missing from the quarrel is an acknowledgement of how far atheists and agnostics have come.

“They’re squabbling over the existence of a man, not a messiah or a god,” said Ryan Cragun, a sociologist at the University of Tampa. “No one is saying Jesus was God. If you step back it’s not that cataclysmic.”

I don’t really have a dog in this hunt, so I am not deeply invested in whether or not there was a historical person on whom Jesus is based.  It seems plausible, though I wouldn’t presume to pass judgment on the evidence, since I haven’t studied it.  But what is important, and all those Christians who buy the book should know this, is that both Ehrman and atheists see not a scintilla of evidence that Jesus was the son of God or divine in any way, was born of a virgin or resurrected, or is the way to salvation. That remains fiction to all thinking people.

358 Comments

  1. newenglandbob
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    To me this sounds like pretty thin evidence for Jesus—more rationalization for the lack of evidence than any positive evidence—and gives nothing beyond what is in scripture.

    Agreed. Show us evidence, Erhman, not wishful speculation.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      ‘wishful’? I don’t think Ehrman’s arguments are based on ‘wishing’ there was a historical Jesus. why would he WISH that?

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        Show us these invisible documents that Bart claims were the sources of the Gospels.

        And Bart’s clinching argument is that some words are in Aramaic.

        And Jesus spoke Aramaic!

        So the Gospels are true. They really go back to Jesus.

        Because Jesus spoke Aramaic.

        Yes, and Hitler spoke German.

        So the Hitler Diaries must be authentic.

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

          The sources of the gospels are described in many books and papers, including Ehrman’s prior work. For “invisible documents”, that sounds like it is referring to the Q source (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_source).

          I often see people objecting to the idea of sources that we don’t have copies of, but there are some very scientific ways to follow the evolution of texts, very similar to the way genetic codes evolve. We don’t need to see an actual specimen of the common ancestor of humans and orangutans to know there was one, and we can know that gorillas, chimps, and humans all came from the same side of the split after (the ancestors of) orangutans split off.

          Likewise, documents change like genetic codes. Errors and modifications in copying and translation were common and by looking at what writings have in common versus different, and statistically across the whole writings, you can reasonably predict a common ancestor. And like fossils in rock, you can use the dating of documents by various methods to predict a range of when those ancestor documents existed.

          It’s quite fascinating science, actually.

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

            Even assuming it’s possible to accurately reconstruct the “original” sources the Gospels apparently plagiarized from, that only gives you a vague idea of the “what.”

            It still tells you nothing at all about “who,” “where,” “when,” “why,” or “how.”

            Who’s to say that the whole thing wasn’t a creative writing exercise, or something dreamed up by a handful of conmen conspiring together over the course of a couple weeks?

            The Gospels openly bear all the hallmarks of fiction. Mark opens with the classical formulaic “a friend of a friend of a friend told me, so you know it’s true,” and all throughout you get descriptions of internal dialogue and conversations between two people all alone, neither of whom is the author.

            Attempting to divine anything from them other than what the authors wanted the audience to read is a fool’s errand.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Jim Jones
              Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

              “Attempting to divine anything from them other than what the authors wanted the audience to read is a fool’s errand.”

              The audience is the author.

            • Georgia
              Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

              I think you mean Luke, not Mark.

          • Reginald Selkirk
            Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

            The sources of the gospels are described in many books and papers, including Ehrman’s prior work…

            Textual analysis might be able to get you back to somehting resembling the original sources. They cannot tell you whether the original sources were fictional or not. Do you know wehre I got that argument? From a textbook about the New Testament – written by Bart Ehrman.

            • Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

              The only sources of the Gospels so far identified are in the Old Testament.

              Why does no Christian in the first century, writing to another Christian, ever mention Judas, Barabbas, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Joseph of Arimethea, Joanna, Salome, Bartimaeus, etc etc.

              The entire cast of Gospel characters vanish from history as soon as there is a public church in Acts 2, as though they had never been.

              Only to appear in Gospels which Ehrman knows plagiarise each other and which are anonymous and unprovenanced.

              So Ehrman just rewrites history and claims the Gospels are based on sources which predate Paul.

              As though anonymous documents were given provenance by claiming they are based on invisible documents, dated by magic to just after Jesus allegedly died.

              How can Bart date the death of Jesus, when not even Luke, who allegedly saw these invisible documents, was able to use them to date the death of Jesus?

              • MadScientist
                Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                I like invisible documents like Joseph Smith’s Gold Tablets.

            • Jim Jones
              Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

              “Textual analysis might be able to get you back to somehting resembling the original sources.”

              Textual analysis tells us that one author wrote Luke and Acts. It tells us another author wrote Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Philemon. All the others (except Revelation) have unknown and unique authors.

              From that I deduce that the Shroud of Turin and the 18 foreskins of Jesus are just as reliable as these books.

              • sahansdal
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thess. were Paul.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

        If he produces no credible evidence then it IS wishful.

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

          “Credible” is a loaded word. Credible to whom?

          I’ve read many biblical scholarship works (as an atheist) and they are quite scientific, including peer review. I’ve read some of Ehrman’s books (Misquoting Jesus and Jesus, Interrupted mostly) and he does present the methods and evidence in detail there. I haven’t read this new book yet, but I can’t imagine he doesn’t provide the method or evidence in them. I have heard him discuss the book on radio and he referenced evidence even there.

          I wouldn’t say any of this evidence is ever 100% conclusive. But then neither is most science. Ehrman tends to use real evidence following scientific methods and peer review. I’d suggest that Lawrence Krauss’ book, A Universe from Nothing, is based on even less conclusive evidence than Ehrman’s typical work. (Again, I haven’t read the latest book yet.) But that doesn’t make it non-scientific. Multiple sources of imperfect evidence, within bounds of uncertainty, combining to give a common, consistent picture is decent science.

          • Sajanas
            Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

            The thing is, although Krauss may not be making all the right connections, his work is still amenable to additional discoveries. Ehrman is arguing for a very specific scenario (which, it must be remembered, is not the same as the one the Gospels propose), against silence in the other remaining records. Unless there are a lot more records discovered from the early portion of the 1st century, I don’t think *anything* can be conclusively argued, given that its perfectly within the rights of people to make something up, or adapt the history of a completely different person into “Jesus”, or the like. And he’s welcome to belief his theory, but I think in 50 years, there will be a lot more evidence for one way or the other with Krauss’s (and all other natural sciences) than there will on the historicity of Jesus.

          • Torbjörn Larsson
            Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

            Correlation is not causation. A common source or serial fictionalizing would give the same result.

            More to the point, how does a common/serial sourcing say anything on historicity, which is the actual evidence needed? (And at best, this observation detracts from historicity. But that is not the point either.)

          • Aratina Cage
            Posted April 5, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

            No one is asking for 100% proof of the existence of a cult figure the stories were built up around. We are asking for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a burden which has not been met. Doubt is still a reasonable conclusion to hold on this issue no matter how much swagger these historicists pack into their screeds against this mythicist monster.

            • Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

              “Proof beyond a reasonable doubt” — hell, at this point, I’d simply settle for one pice of admissible evidence.

              And, really. Whether you’re talking about the living incarnation of the divine power that Created Life, the Universe, and Everything, or you’re talking about the popular rabble-rousing preacher who was so threatening to the Sanhedrin that they had to manipulate Pilate into violating the Pesach Shabbas to have a mock trial and immediate public execution (Ehrman’s version of Jesus), one would expect to find something.

              Caesar’s easy. Trivial, even — for about as much as you spend on rent or mortgage, you can buy for your very own a coin, minted during his reign, with his likeness upon it. And that’s the minor, small stuff we have for Caesar. And not just Gaius Julius Caesar — all Twelve are quite well-evidenced.

              For Pilate, we not only have (copies-of-copies-of-copies of a) scathing commentary by a contemporary (Philo), we even have an inscription with his name dated to his reign. And the provenance of Philo’s works and his reliability as a chronicler just barely maybe perhaps possibly rise to the level of admissibility, though I’d expect an objection or three and not at all be surprised if the objections are sustained.

              But for Jesus? There’s Paul, poorly provenanced, who established his bona fides by describing his hallucination of Jesus and equating it with everybody else’s personal encounter with him. There’re the Gospels, which are anonymous, abysmally provenanced, self-described hearsay, full of blatant plagiarism, and would have you think Jesus wandered the streets of Jerusalem for a month and a half demanding people stick their hands in his gaping chest wound and grab his great and glorious greasy gory guts. And there’re the various historians, Pagan and Jewish alike, mostly poorly provenanced, none of them born until long after the “fact,” all of them reporting on the beliefs of Christians, most of them dismissive and / or derisive of those beliefs, and some of them even describing the active and intentional fabrication of fraudulent fiction into the Jesus canon. Hell, even the early Christians went out of their way to equate Jesus with the Pagan gods that even then and still today are clearly understood to be entirely fictional.

              And this is the case upon which the argument for historicity is built?

              Every judge I know would throw the case out of court, with prejudice, and be threatening the Jesus side with contempt charges — and the Bar would be sniffing at their heels for malpractice, as well.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Aratina Cage
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

                Yeah, slim pickings at best, but not enough to support the doubt-free assertions made by people railing against mythicism. The shocking paucity of evidence should be what people like Ehrman and McGrath publicize and go on rants about against the tide of popular opinion.

                The lack of concrete evidence for a real person being there is something a lot of people don’t know about. And why would they?–it’s much more politically convenient to not make that well known in nations where a large portion of the population believe the blindingly obvious mythical accounts are actual history (and that is no conspiracy)!

                By holding up these piddly pieces of evidence and ascribing far greater weight to them than they actually have, historicists these days are actually doing a massive disservice to contemporary historical knowledge. They are turning it into a political game which it should not be.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        To sell books. The wiffle-waffle religious market is much bigger than the atheist market…

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          I don’t think Ehrman’s books can be categorized as part of the ‘wiffle-waffle religious market’.
          I’m fairly sure his main audience is to be found in the atheist/agnostic ‘market’.

          And that authors actually want to sell their books .. hmm.. you may be on to something there!

          • MadScientist
            Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

            Any atheist/agnostic reading Ehrman’s work would form a grotesquely perverse notion of the historical origins of christianity. I think Ehrman’s fantasies are worse than the bible.

            • pulseteresa
              Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

              I’ve read four of Ehrman’s books (though not this “Jesus was Real” book yet) and they hardly come across as fantasies. I’m willing to hear Ehrman out in this new book, but I’m also looking forward to Richard Carrier’s (who *does* have relevant qualifications – a PhD in ancient history – on this topic) mythicist book, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.

              Once this book comes out* I want to see an Ehrman-Carrier debate!!

              *hopefully by the end of the year.

              • Jeff Engel
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

                Seconded. Ehrman seems to be overstating the case for an historical Jesus in the articles advertising this book, and painting mythicists with a broad and sloppy brush. But he’s done solid work before and I’m going to consider this one in that context.

                I don’t think that the case for or against a simply historic, natural Jesus of some sort of another is a slam-dunk. There’s a curious, and distressing, tendency for people to fall down on one side or the other of the question with – no other word for it – religious fervor, and that just among the non-believing community. Carrier doesn’t seem to suffer from that kind of narrow devotion to his position the way Ehrman is subject to on his side. (Which isn’t to say Carrier’s exuberant confidence in anything he claims and condemnation of people holding the contrary views isn’t grating at times.)

                So, yeah. I’d be looking forward to a debate on the history even more strongly if I didn’t dread the misplaced hurricane of nastiness.

              • Chris
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                Unfortunately Carrier’s ‘Historicity…’ won’t be out until sometime in 2013 – he’s still writing it.

                (That’s what I recall from his blog, anyway.)

          • sahansdal
            Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

            You can believe in God, as I do, and not in Jesus as Lord. I read Ehrman, but not this one.

      • Posted April 5, 2012 at 2:28 am | Permalink

        I don’t know Ehrman or what he wishes for, but I can understand anyone who has built a career educating wider audiences and peers about a historical Jesus having some resistance to the mere suggestion that everything he had built his career upon was an unsupportable assumption.

    • Tyro
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      If the only argument against Jesus was an absence of evidence, even this thin soup would be enough to shift me to say that the balance is in favour of there being at least an historical figure upon which some of the Jesus myths grew. However it’s head-in-the-sand denialism to totally ignore all of the arguments for a mythical Jesus and just point to these one or two references. It comes across as the same sort of lunacy that creationists use – pointing to a single observation and imagining that it could wipe out everything else.

      I don’t think I’m speaking for just myself when I say that I’m looking for an historicist who can first fairly present the argument for mythicism, explain all of the evidence, and then show why the evidence points best towards an historical Jesus. The combination if ignoring opponents’ arguments while smearing them in the press does not impress me one whit.

      • yesmyliege
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        +1!!

      • Jim Jones
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        But if Jesus wasn’t real who rode the dinosaur to the promised land?

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          Maybe it was Adam & Eve? I believe Hollywood renamed them Fred & Wilma, but surely they are the same characters?

      • Marella
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        You won’t find this historicist because the evidence doesn’t point to an historical Jesus, it points to a mythical one.

    • NMcC
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:52 am | Permalink

      “I keep telling Christians, they don’t have to be afraid of the truth,” said Ehrman. “The same thing applies to atheists and humanists. It’s not going to kill them to think Jesus really existed.”

      This simply isn’t true. The Christians should very much ‘be afraid of the truth’. For the atheist, it’s no big deal really whether Jesus existed or not. For the Christian, on the other hand, the truth that Jesus was simply a wandering preacher of some sort, is a truth that sure as hell makes a massive difference.

      For a start, this ‘truth’ would undermine and make a nonsense of their entire religion.

  2. Sajanas
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I can understand why Ehrman would write a book like this… his previous series of books have done a lot to popularize the kind of scholarship about the New Testament, and how the various stories were manipulated over time, and weren’t necessarily even intended to be historical accounts. Ehrman made all these books still imagining their was a historical Jesus (and I think he outlines his personal idea of Historical Jesus’s life in one of those earlier books), but surely he can understand why people would just discard the whole story after he has exposed so many holes in the story.

    After all, his notion of Historical Jesus isn’t Gospel Jesus at all. And really, Christianity doesn’t have much cause to exist if Historical Jesus isn’t the Gospel Jesus… I mean, some of Gospel Jesus taught was alright, but a lot of it was creepy cult leader talk. If he isn’t a resurrecting God, then you take the parts of his advice like you would any philosopher you enjoy, and not go to church weekly and give up 10% of your income.

    • Marella
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      Erhman wrote “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet” all about the ‘real’ Jesus. He’s not likely to abandon the idea in a hurry.

    • sahansdal
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      10% tithing is part of the ruse. It is 10% of one’s TIME. Read Genesis 14:20 and 28:22 carefully. The Hebrew has “of all” and “of all the Lord gave” — which is TIME > in meditation. 2 and a half hours a day. http://www.RSSB.org

  3. Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    whether or not there was a historical person on whom Jesus is based

    It seems clear to me that “there was a historical person on whom Jesus is based” is likely just as true as saying that there was a piece of grit around which a pearl has accreted.

    Pointing to a piece of grit and saying this is what the pearl is based on doesn’t make it any less a piece of grit or any more a pearl.

    /@

    • MAUCH
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Very good analogy!

      • Ryan Anderson
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        Saying “Jesus existed” is like saying “Julius Caesar existed”. Did he? Sure, but not the one from Shakespeare’s play.

        • Griff
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

          Except that the independant evidence for the existence of the historical figure of Julius Caesar is far stronger, including 2 books written directly by him (or at least attributed to him)

          Load of contemporary monuments, contemporary references to him from both his enemies and supporters, contemporary busts which are consistent in appearance coinage etc.

          The same cannot be said for the other JC!

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

            May be, but someone can say that the new testament is the same of Caesar’s De Bello Gallico or De Bello Civili… new teastament is a book (or a collection of), a story (history) about a man.
            And is the same also for the cultural influence.

            So we can not say this, a concept based on these point of view is not so… scientific. I’m a biotech researcher so i TRUST in evolution, but… “Fides est magna”… a contradiction.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      PS. And just as a pearl is 99.x% nacre, “Jesus Christ” is 99.x% myth, Judaic, Greek, pagan or otherwise.

      PPS. I now find that “the commonly held belief that a grain of sand [or grit] acts as the irritant is in fact rarely the case.” Still.

      • Ray Moscow
        Posted April 5, 2012 at 4:42 am | Permalink

        You a-gritists are simply not fit to be taken seriously by the serious pearl-scholar community (SPSC).

    • MadScientist
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      Jesus is more likely to be an amalgam inspired by many people of the era rather than a fantasy based on a single person. Oh, hang on … yes, Jesus was inspired by numerous older myths. Oh, wait – the “historical” Jesus just went *poof*!

    • Aratina Cage
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      Nice one! :D Let’s rewrite that bit where Ehrman compares people who doubt a Jesus actually existed with Christians, then:

      “I keep telling pearl worshipers, they don’t have to be afraid of the truth,” said Ehrman. “The same thing applies to atheists and humanists. It’s not going to kill them to think a piece of grit which gave rise to the stories of the pearl really existed.”

      Now, why would anyone who doesn’t buy into the whole pearl worshiping business be afraid that a starting piece of grit had actually existed? Answer: They wouldn’t! It’s patently ridiculous to act as if they would be afraid of the existence of some grit. The problem isn’t the possible existence of the grit, it’s that the evidence that the grit actually existed isn’t good enough!

  4. MAUCH
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Arguing thar Santa Clause was in fact a real person is irrelevant. What’s more important is that we face the reality that Santa will not bring our kids gifts on December 25th. If gifts to appear at Christmas it’s up to us to go out and do some shopping.

    Conversely if you want to live the good life don’t expect some mysterious benevolent god to hand it to you.

  5. J
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    My lack of belief in the supernatural is not contingent upon the existence of a man called Jesus who preached a radical message, so to me the question is academic but interesting.
    Having said that, the lack of any Roman sources noting a riot outside Pilate’s palace around a major Jewish festival seems telling to me that even the non-supernatural aspects of the Jesus story cannot be substantiated, so I still don’t see any positive affirmation that Jesus existed (though perhaps his book might allude to some).
    Maybe some will turn up, but until then I don’t see how Ehrman can be so thoroughly dismissive of the mythicist position (nor, to be fair, how anyone could be *completely* dismissive of a historical Jesus – though if so much of the Gospel stories can be dismissed it’s unclear what would actually count as a ‘historical Jesus’, it may not be enough that a guy called Jesus preached in Judea & was crucified).

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think you can claim a historical person without presenting historical evidence. So yes, we can be *completely* dismissive about that.

      Albeit not *completely* dismissive about the possibility for some evidence eventually turning up.

      However, seeing that it has been 2 millenniums and a lot of interest in the idea of such a person, that possibility reads as slim to none. Certainly much lower than the possibility needed to not empirically reject the idea of such a find.

      I’m not sure if the difference between completely dismiss and completely reject is reasonable, but I’m sure that the latter is what an empiricist would have to do with this mess.

      • J
        Posted April 5, 2012 at 4:58 am | Permalink

        I don’t think it is fair to completely dismiss the possibility of a historical Jesus without direct affirmation of his existence. The fact that a cult sprang up in 1st Century Judea that called themselves Christians who were followers of their ‘Christ’ who was crucified (or at least executed by the authorities, be they Jewish or Roman)*. I’d say this is indicative of there being a man who the stories were based around but obviously by no means proof, but surely(/Shirley) it counts as evidence to some degree?
        As I implied (I hope) in my comment, I think the mythicist case is pretty strong, certainly too strong for it to be brushed aside. However, I think it would be easier for the myths to form around some nucleus than to be manufactured & gather a following (though I would hope that any historians backing a historical Jesus would be able to come out with stronger statements than could be boiled down to that one!)
        *I can’t remember if I’ve read any quotations that specifically link their Christ to someone called Jesus that come from early sources, perhaps someone can comment one way or the other on that.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      That is the key question. If we rip off the supernatural features and discount the miraculours deeds of the Christ of faith (the “pearl”) to obtain a residue called “Jesus” (the “grit”), what kind of man do we get? When speaking of “Jesus”, whom are we talking about? Who is meant by this name? Ehrman is absolutely correct that something has to be salvaged to give this figure any meaning connected to, not just the Gospels, but also Paul’s letters, and all the other Christian writings of the 1st and 2d century. Making this “Jesus” an apocalyptic preacher, of Jewish or stoic origin, is one way to restore some substance to this phantomatic figure. Ehrman is part of a long tradition that reduced divine Christ to a human Jesus substratum — apocalyptic, revolutionary, stoic wisdom preacher — he’s got to have something going for him more than the common name Jesus, of which there were thousands in Judaea.

  6. Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    There is hard evidence, I believe, that Jesus is a fictional character. It’s in the parallels between Josephus’ War of the Jews, that describes Titus Flavius’ war in the Galilee crushing the first Jewish rebellion culminating in the laying low of Jerusalem, and the canonical gospels. The Son of Man prophecy of Jesus is describing exactly what Titus did 40 years after its setting (with there was much gnashing of teeth.)

    The Roman Flavian imperials who waged this costly war invented Christianity for various reasons, including as a replacement for militant Judaism, as well as that they were expert ayt creating and administering religions through the caesarian cult bureacracy.

    Joseph Atwilll has put all of the parallels side by side in his book Caesar’s Messiah. It seems that it cannot be accidental to me. I understand why the Christians don’t want this mentioned, and people like Ehrman wedded to the idea of a historical Jesus, but I don’t understand why it has rarely ever been examined or discussed in the atheist-o-sphere.

    • Chris
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      Just showing ‘parallels’ does not show influence or causation. You need actual evidence to establish influence and/or causation. Establishing parallels is the sort of methodology used by all manner of cranks on subjects such as Atlantis (Native Americans and Egyptians both built pyramids, therefore they were both taught by the Atlanteans, or there was civilizational contact, etc.). Plus, would-be ‘parallels’ are often the result of strained interpretations of ambiguous evidence. As far as I know, there is no actual EVIDENCE (e.g., documents outlining their plans) that Flavian imperials created Christianity.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        The parallels have the same order in the two works, which greatly decreases the likelihood they are accidental. Also, the nature of the the parallels themselves is very telling. You probably have to read it to fully understand. They have a rich literary character, and a coherent vicious message maligning the rebels. For example the concept of the Eucharist and Jesus as a Passover lamb is a take-off on the canibalism that occurred during the siege of Jerusalem, as depicted by Josephus through the woman Mary, who roasts and eats her child while making a speech about how he will become a by-word to the world and a bane to the seditious varlots who brought the Roman wrath down upon them.

        • Chris
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

          Again, parallelism is just bad methodology. It’s the sort of thing you see over and over again in cranks such as Ignatius Donnelly, von Daniken, Velikovsky, Graham Hancock, Sitchin, etc. They pile one interpretation on top of another on top of another – it just builds a foundation out of hot air. Everything is treated as ‘symbolic’ of something else, and once you’re in the land where everything is symbolic, you find more and more parallels, more and more connections. The strange visions of Ezekiel become an obvious UFO experience; then we can connect Ezekiel’s vision/descriptions with other visions and show the ‘parallels’, giving us more more ‘evidence’ of ancient (and current) alien contact, etc. Anything that might go against the interpretations is ignored or, at best, straw-manned.

          For instance, an obvious problem with your example above is that there were •already• Christians before Josephus ever wrote a word. One could just as easily argue that Josephus, being a Jew, has invented an incident in order to create a sly attack on these upstart, heretical Jews calling themselves Christians. Other problems: there is zero evidence that the Romans directed the writing of either the Gospels or Josephus’s works. No evidence whatsoever. Does he present any genuine evidence, or is it all just, basically, literary criticism? Also, Christians were not just passive, pro-Roman sheep, but were instead often troublemakers who were suppressed – it took centuries for that situation to be reversed, so the history of early Christianity doesn’t support Atwill’s idea that Christianity was some sort of ingenious method of pacification – and, in any case, the Jews were expelled after the destruction of the Temple, a rather more effective method of pacification.

          Here is a damning review of Atwill’s work by mythicist Robert Price:

          http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/rev_atwill.htm

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

            I do appreciate the response. I may respond in more detail later.

            These parallels of Atwill’s are very rich and to me very deliberate seeming. For me a big part of it is seeing how the whole thing is a cruel joke and how those people who refused under pain of death to worship caesar, are (intended if not accomplished) being duped into worshiping caesar as Jesus. There are quite a lot of them and preserving order and at varying levels of obviousness or subtlety.

            There were certainly messianic Jews extant prior to the 70s CE, but it is far less clear that there were Christians worshipping Jesus of Nazereth as the son of God. As I understand it, the main argument for there being Christians of the modern sort is the existence of the Pauline literature. Is there something else I should be aware of? This is dated to the 50s CE, which would repudiate the CM thesis, but the dating is only done contextually, based on the setting of the story and an assumption that it is sincere. Atwill argues that it is a later addition, essentially filling in a back-story, commissioned by Titus’ brother Domitian (a.k.a. the Holy Terror (or ghost)). On wikipedia it’s explained how this dating is done. The hypothesis that it is all a deliberate fabrication (or fabrications, given that some of it is already seen as later), would seem to have never been considered. Atwill has an extended argument that it is a fabrication (also Revelations and other NT pieces were written under Domitian, according to Atwill) that involves typology, that used to be partially posted on his website, but is supposed to be coming out as his next book. In the meantime the present book is available as an e-book (in the kindle store).

            I’m familiar with the Price review. I don’t think it is very substantive. I think, he just can’t take it onboard. It is after all pretty directly opposite to the mythicist position he himself takes. He also calls Atwill brilliant at least once in it, and had a lot of this kind of praise for him in the “debate” he had with Atwill on the Infidelguy show. I wrote a response to that review a while ago that should be kicking around somewhere on the interwebs still someplace. I’ll try to find a link later.

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

            About whether the Romans directed Josephus’ works, you do realize that Josephus was an adopted member of the Flavian family? The standard history is that upon his capture Josephus declared it had been revealed to him that Vespasian was the true messiah of the Jews. The title page of War of the Jews has a dedication by Titus. This does not prove direction, but really, how could WOTJ be regarded as anything other than Flavian propaganda?

            Apart from the parallels, there are strange things in WOTJ that seem inconsistent with it being a legitimate history. Cannibal Mary is a good example. Does anyone really believe that the woman roasting her son would make such a speech? Who would have observed it? If she didn’t make it, why does Josephus put such words in her mouth? It’s obvious that he is either writing Flavian propaganda or himself has a hatred for the rebels. But it is still a stretch that he would claim the woman’s roasted child would be somehow a bane to the seditious varlots unless something more is afoot.

            Also, the parallels may have symbolic components, but also have very concrete ones as well. For example, when Atwill suggests that the Good Samaritan is really Titus, he can observe that when Josephus has Titus resupply the legion that was ambushed and lost many of its provisions, staying one night to do so, he has just come from Samaria and this is all happening on the same road as the biblical story. And it goes on and on and on of these poignant and pointed stories that have concrete links, geographic ones in particular, with the NT stories. The Flavians are telling us in no uncertain terms that they did the deed. This is the Achilles’ Heel of Christianity. That’s why everybody here should want to read it. If it’s true, it can be devastating to Christianity.

            • Chris
              Posted April 5, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

              Thanks for your replies as well. I guess all I see in what you’re telling me about Atwill’s work is typical conspiracy-theory thinking, which has unsurprisingly resulted in a crank theory. All crank theories contain startling parallels and uncanny coincidences, things never before seen by anyone else – it’s the very means by which they breathe. I don’t see any good evidence, so far. And absent that, Atwill’s theory will remain forever on the margins – where it belongs, really.

              I do agree that Josephus’s work is (largely) propaganda, but I believe that is the standard view anyway – that he is a biased observer. That’s a far cry from being one of the secret creators of Christianity. As to the Cannibal Mary speech, it was probably just invented. It’s an obvious golden opportunity for Josephus to write a great speech. This was a universal practice among ancient historical writers – every single speech in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War is invented – he says so himself in his introduction (if I recall correctly). That the speech is most likely ahistorical is no evidence in favor of Atwill’s theory. But in a crank theory, nothing is merely neutral with respect to that theory.

              Fwiw, I’ll note that I’m not a Christian and so could care less whether Jesus existed or not. If Atwill and/or mythicism should somehow turn out to be right, that will be alright by me.

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

                I never gave a care either about Jesus’ existence until I came across Atwill.

                Trying to put it another way, Atwill convinces that the gospel stories and the story of Titus’ campaign are the same story. The series of parallels in Luke he calls the “Flavian signature” is even more convincing than the rest.

                Perhaps it comes down to whether one accepts that typology is real. I never heard of it before Atwill, and he writes as if it were universally accepted, but wikipedia says not everyone accepts it. It seems pretty real to me, and if it is, Atwill’s found typology is just as good as any. It’s probably better than most.

                About Mary, though, consider the content of her speech. Why will eating the child make him a bane to the seditious, if not as a religious Pied Piper to lead their followers away?

                Here is an Atwill ally in academia who had already determined the Flavians invented Christianity, not based on typology:

              • ROO BOOKAROO
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

                Chris: Excellent observations.
                Your last comment on yourself sounds exactly like one often made by Richard Carrier, to the point it made me wonder whether this “Chris” name was not another Internet pseudonym for uninhibited postings.

              • Chris
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

                As to the Mary’s speech, it seems like a wild over-reading to connect this to Jesus or the Last Supper. The seditious are clearly the uprising Jews, who have caused the calamity they are all in. She has been robbed (and who knows what else) daily of her provisions by gangs of them, she is starving and pretty obviously on or over the edge of madness, so killing and eating her child and offering it to them seems to me to be her sign to them (in essence, her f*ck you – ‘thou be a fury to these seditious rebels’) that there is nothing left (no food, no hope), and such an insane gesture would certainly be a ‘bane to the seditious’, i.e., a ward against these gangs who are robbing her. Who is going to come back looking for food after that?

                Josephus: “After which, those men went out trembling, being never so much frightened at any thing as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother.”

                Of course, there’s the ‘myth to the world’ bit, and I can see why it would make the conspiracist salivate, but again, it fits the context perfectly naturally: she is aware of the dramatic, intense power of her gesture, that it will survive the circumstances (or she believes or intends it to do so – it’s a melodramatic statement, if you will). And indeed we are still talking about it here in 2012.

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

            Somebody reposted my response to the Price review, that was lost with the Infidelguy forum crash, here (about the fourth post down):

            http://www.apologetics.com/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=123962&page=4

    • Posted April 5, 2012 at 4:58 am | Permalink

      In my view, Earl Doherty’s “smoking gun” is pretty interesting as a single line …

      (This is the passage in Hebrews 8 where it says something to the effect “if he had been on earth …”)

      That said, ED will tear this apart if that’s all Ehrman has to go on.

    • Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      My biggest problem with Atwill is that he ignores the obvious “stone soup” origins of Christianity.

      No matter what date you care to assign to the writings, it’s pretty clear that the Pauline epistles come before the Gospels by a good period of time. It’s also clear that “Paul” was introducing new concepts, new rituals, new myths into an already-established (though perhaps not-well-developed) religion. And that each of the Gospels were also bringing something new to the table, John much more obviously than the Synoptics. We also have evidence from Lucian that Proteus dropped more than a few stones of his own into the pot, though my personal suspicion is that Proteus’s contributions are to be found in the New Testament in as original a form as any we have for any of these works.

      Now, might the Flavians have been at the table, too, also stirring up the pot? Quite plausibly. But it’s disingenuous in the extreme to credit them with the wholesale invention of Christianity when it’s so obvious that no single source was responsible for its creation.

      Maybe they were the original source and the rest piled on later; maybe they were responsible for one of the Gospels (or “Q” or even all three of the Synoptics); maybe they were later editors; maybe they had some other role entirely. But they quite clearly didn’t play all the roles, and, as long as Atwell and his promoters keep implying as much, he and they are going to get dismissed as cranks.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        The Flavian theory … is this the Roman Piso nonsense, or some other swill?

        • Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

          Best I can tell, it’s a re-branded version of the same swill.

          Again, I wouldn’t go so far as to universally dismiss the possibility that Josephus or some other Roman influence took advantage of the wacky new cult to do perform some covert political manipulations, and that some of those efforts may well survive to this day as official dogma and / or canon.

          But the evidence is all of the “coincidence / parallelism” variety, and its proponents either ignore the diverse nature of the contributors to the Christian mythos or declare them to all be part of a vast Roman-winged conspiracy. And that would a hard pill to swallow uncritically, even if there were substantial positive affirmative evidence. I’d need something along the lines of well-provenanced carbon-dated original correspondence between Josephus and Flavius discussing their nefarious plans before I’d do more than grant it as an interesting proposal for an hypothesis.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

          I don’t have those pamphlets but my understanding is that it does bear a resemblence to the Piso theory. Atwill said, (something to the effect that) it’s a mystery to him where the Piso theory came from. There are no Pisos in Caesar’s Messiah at least named such.

          I could imagine some kind of lore that was passed all the way down by Jews who knew the real score. It’s surprisingly really (if it’s true) that there wouldn’t be more people saying yeah we know.

          • Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

            It’s clear I need to write up the Roman Piso thing for RationalWiki. Do you have any tips on, not just what the theory is (there’s lots on the net), but who cooked it up, where it comes from and so on? Anything useful appreciated.

            • Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

              Maybe I will download this to my Kindle later, I’m curious too but I will probably only skim it:

              This is the pamphlet I was thinking of:

              Wikipedia used to have a biblical conspiracy theory page that might have some more “recommendations”.

            • Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

              I didn’t realize those were going to post pictures. Whoboy the historians are going to be on my case now.

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                Also, if I get the Piso kindle book and it’s lendable, I would be willing to lend it after a quick skimming.

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

                Oh God no. Giving that guy money and sales is probably morally wrong. His spoor is across enough web pages for a start. The question is where he got it from. The history of the “history” is always much more fun.

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

                The customer review on the Reuchlin pamphlet is interesting. The claim is that Piso was Josephus’ real name.

                The part about the whole religion being cooked up just to persecute the Jews is pretty much in agreement with Atwill. Atwill makes a fine case for this, in my view, and of course he is not the first. I also have a little book (I don’t have it here and I forget the author) called “Martin Luther, Hitler’s Spiritual Ancestor”.

      • Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        Ben, why is it clear that Paul was written prior to the gospels? Atwill’s claim (as I mentioned already) is that the Pauline literature was commissioned by Domitian, and fictionally set in the 50s CE (ish). Looking on wikipedia it seems that the conventional dating is only based on it’s context and setting, and so if of cynical origin too then all bets are off.

        I did not realize it was the theory previously but on his radio show I think I heard Atwill say that the syncoptic gospels were written under Titus while the other one (is that Mark?) was written under Domitian, plus Paul and revelations. Domitian had a long reign of course.

        I’m curious too if you have an opinion about typology.

        I’m just a simple engineer/amateur classical physicist, but I think I know a non-accidental pattern when I see one.

        • Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

          Paul is almost perfectly ignorant of Jesus’s biography as depicted in the Gospels and he makes no mention of the Gospels. Acts, on the other hand, which was written by the same author as Luke, discusses Paul.

          I agree that the early dating of Paul is specious, but that’s in large part because the Gospels are also dated so early. Tradition says the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, but Mark also describes the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, so they can’t have been written before 70 CE. Christians leap on that “cant’ have been written before” and peg that as the actual date of authorship, but, of course, there had to have been enough time passing between the war and publication for the events to plausibly be linked with Jesus in Pilate’s reign. In my book, that puts it at sometime in the second century at earliest (if not third century), and I would also put Paul in some earlier part of the second century, possibly mid-century.

          As for patter matching? Humans are fantastic at it. Too good, in fact — we see faces and bunny rabbits and rocket ships in the clouds.

          That’s especially of great concern when discussing literature, and trebly so when the literature follows an archetypal mythic form. Jesus’s life story is also much the same as Perseus’s — and Luke Skywalker’s, too, for that matter. That one can also find parallels between the Gospels and Josephus’s account of Titus would tend to tell me that Josephus was doing a bit of classical archetypal heroic literary editorializing to make Titus seem larger than life sooner than it would tell me that there was some sort of grand conspiracy.

          b&

          • ROO BOOKAROO
            Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

            Bravo, and multiple bravos for restoring the ‘s possessive for “Jesus’s”, “Perseus’s”, and “Josephus’s”.
            Too many people have become shy about reintroducing the possessive apostrophe+s, that is ‘s, after a name already ending with an s, but it is perfectly allowable and, in English, correct. There is even a slight difference when reading the possessive ‘s aloud. It makes you practice your sibilants, and it’s great fun too, a perfect justification.

            • Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

              In my home town, there was one street sign that read, “St. Jame’s Close”!

              /@

          • Posted April 5, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

            I understand and wholeheartedly agree about people seeing patterns where they aren’t. But patterns in noise can be real. This is how all of modern communications (convolution) coding works after all. This is not a case of seeing Jesus on a piece of toast. It is much more like correlation of a template with a lot of data containing noise and possible signals.

            Another way to look at it is, if you heard faintly, little bits of a melody (the trumpet part to Bach’s Brandenberg No. 2 say) against a background of loud street noise, how much of it, even with dropouts and interspersed horn honks, would you really need before you could say unmistakably that somebody was playing the real melody. Not all that much when you take into account pitch, timing, and order. It is a very similar thing here. I was convinced after just reading the original edition of CM, which was floating around as a free download for a while, but no more (alas). The Flavian signature bit is even a lot more direct and obvious. There is a little overview of it on Atwill’s site but it looks like the only way to read it for real is to give Atwill 8 bucks. (I don’t think my Kindle copy is loanable.)

            I’m still curious whether you know about this typology business and whether it holds any particular sway with you. And in general what stock is put in it. Obviously it seems real enough to me, and if it is accepted generally, then what Atwill has turned up should be compared with the accepted bits, as they seem to be very similar to what he says is generally accepted typology (between Moses and Jesus, for example).

            • Posted April 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

              The Brandenburg isn’t the right example to use in your analogy.

              Instead, you want “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.” Or is it “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”? No, it must be the Alphabet song — or, I know! It’s Mozart’s piano variations on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman.” Or maybe instead you’re just hearing the opening few notes to almost any of John Williams’s famous movie themes? For that matter, it actually could be the opening to the third movement of the Brandenburg — maybe you were right, after all!

              The point is, the “pattern” Atwill thinks he’s discovered is about as common as opening a melody with an ascending perfect fifth. And, once you’ve latched on to something like that, twisting the rest to fit the model you have in mind is, literally, child’s play.

              b&

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

                Well there’s a place we differ, as I think the song is rich, and there are many varied themes. For example the demoniac, where a legion of demons spring from a man’s head in the gospel, while in Josephus we’re informed that demons are the spirits of the wicked and out of one man’s head (rebel leader John) sprang the ideas that led thousands to their doom. It happens at the same place.

                Also at a common place, Gethsemane, a naked man escapes as a false messiah is captured, while a true messiah escapes an ambush while riding without his armor (i.e. naked) through his wiles and that providence smiles upon him. Also there is the crazy whoa-saying Jesus of Josephus, killed by an artillery stone on the temple walls, and ahe Jesus of the gospels also known for uttering at least his fair share of very similarly-constructed whoas. And on and on.

                Atwill says the various gospel accounts of the empty tomb story fit together as a choreographed comedy. He could be cheating on it so far as I have put the effort into actually checking it, but it seems pretty unlikely that three different writers working independently would accidentally construct a choreography and including time cues.

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

                three different writers working independently

                Erm, if there’s anything clear about the genesis of the Gospels, it’s that the Synoptics were shameless plagiarists. They stole from each other, and it’s not unreasonable to think they also stole from the hypothesized “Q.”

                May I make a suggestion?

                Take two of Atwill’s examples of parallelism, the one you find the most compelling, and the one that has the most specific detail. Then look up the original passages for each — the whole passage, in context. And see just how symbolically you have to interpret each to come up with the match that Atwill is arguing for.

                Then, pick up a copy of Harry Potter, and look for a similar scene — say, Harry making a mad dash across the courtyard without his invisibility cloak in order to escape some monster or other. See how much twisting you have to do to there before you get a comparable match.

                Is JK Rowling the reincarnation of Josephus?

                My point is merely that, once you start looking for those kinds of patterns, they literally exist everywhere. Why? Because the broad-brush patterns really are common, and your mind is excellent at manufacturing matches where only coincidental similarities exist.

                b&

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

                The authors of the Synoptics may have plagiarized, but that doesn’t explain altering the timing between the versions to form the choreography.

                Atwill seems pretty good about providing large swaths of the NT and Josephus side by side. There is oftentimes (but not always) considerable material in between relevant passages, but that doesn’t seem relevant.

                Even supposing we could dig out of Harry Potter parallels of similar quality (I don’t think for a moment one could but granting for discussion’s sake), then we would have to have them be in the same order in the text, and certainly they would not have a common location.

        • sahansdal
          Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          Read Robert Eisenman. He dates Paul with Qumran.

  7. Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I did read Ehrman’s book. It’s quite readable, and well argued. I agree that his answer to the “argument from silence” (if Jesus was real, why don’t we have more evidence of him?) is somewhat weak but, overall, I think that he presents a very good case that the best explanation for a lot of stuff in the New Testament and in other writers — for instance, both Paul (Christian apostle) and Josephus (Jew historian) say that Jesus had a brother called James –, or the narrative contortions that Matthew and Luke are forced to make to give an account of how a Nazarene might have been born in Bethlehem (it is almost the same of having a guy born in Texas being called an Alaskan) is that the stuff contains sme real data about a real man’s life.

    It is just an inference to the best explanation, however, and Ehrman doesn’t deny that the narratives we have today are packed in myth, and doesn’t endorse any miracles or ressurtections or wathever. He presents this vision as the mainstream view among historians, and seems somewhat appaled by what he sees as the popularity of the “lunatic fringe” (to him, the Christ Myth hypothesis) among atheists/secularists.

    The overall rethorical thrust of the book is, atheists, stop saying that Jesus was a complete myth, that such a man never existed; to the knowledgeable historians, this makes you sound almost as silly as creationists sound to biologists.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Knowledgeable historians like Richard Carrier, for example?

      /@

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        Has he discussed it recently? I’ve been reading Carrier’s blog sporadically (including his recent response to McGrath, ha ha) but haven’t noticed him merntioning it recently. I’d love to read what he had to say about it if he did.

        I guesss you are referring to the IIDB discussions of long ago about CM. I did read that. Carrier had not even read the book at that time, and I thought his arguments were easily put down by Verkosigan (sp?) (who is Michael Turton who wrote this review of CM: http://www.amazon.com/review/R7VG5UNAA200Y/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R7VG5UNAA200Y ).

        Also I didn’t care for his comparison of CM with UFO conspiracy theories. The idea that some people got together and made up a religion, who had means and motive, seems hardly far-fetched to me. I guess that’s probably the way it usually works. Certainly it has happened that way recently.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

        oops sorry, Ant, I thought that was replying to my post.

      • Sunny
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        There is a long post (and subsequent ones) by Carrier on Ehrman’s claims:

        http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/667

    • Badger3k
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      I’m not finished – the flu stopped me from reading anything I need to concentrate on, but I’d completely disagree with it being “well argued”. While he makes some good points with Paul, and trashes the fringe-mythicist (like DM Murdock and Frake & Gandy) easily (which really isn’t that hard), he doesn’t address the more scholarly claims (although it could be I haven’t gotten to it yet). All his evidence for his own case is pretty thin, mostly assertions without evidence, and a lot of wishful thinking. It’s sad to see a scholar fall prey to such thin rationalizing, even though the HJ as Apocalyptic Prophet is his pet hypothesis. Maybe someone will write a real book looking at the issue objectively, but I was disappointed at the lack of scholarship he shows in this book.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:58 am | Permalink

      The best, and hence the null explanation, is _of course_ that this religious “Jesus Nazaréan” character is a myth like all the other known myths, from “Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha” over “Muhammad Ibn `Abd Allāh Ibn `Abd al-Muttalib” to “K’ung-tzu”. They were all described long distances away, many (i.e. more than 2) generations after the proposed fact. And we have contemporary texts that doesn’t mention them, or outright describes them as inventions. (The latter for “K’ung-tzu”, “Muhammad”, and the general “Jesus” myth, I believe.)

      Fancy that. It is just when we come up to post-enlightenment (post-literature, post-colonial) invention of religion that we have known scammers: Joseph Smith Jr., Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (twice!), et cetera.

      Those that claim it is a historical person will have to do the heavy lifting to get away from the religious myth null hypothesis. The historical null hypothesis is that we need historical evidence to claim a historical person. However, in such cases the evidence is not known to be mostly or, as it seems, all fraudulent. The scam case is much trickier.

      • Aratina Cage
        Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        Truly. And let’s not forget the patriarchs in the Jewish half of the Bible. Did any of them exist? If not, then how could we have such detailed descriptions of their lives?

        • Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

          There’re plenty of times where too much detail is a dead giveaway of fiction. For example, detailed descriptions of an inner dialogue or a verbatim omniscient third-party account of a private conversation between two people, neither of whom are the person doing the reporting.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • ROO BOOKAROO
            Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

            It’s not just when two people are discussing without a witness. It’s also when a group of conspirators goes into seclusion to discuss an attempt on Jesus and the Gospel writer (Mark) describes all the inner thoughts fueling the secret discussion. Speak of a narrator’s omniscience. This immediately marks off the Gospels as fiction.

            • Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

              …unless, of course, you’re Bart Ehrman, in which case you acknowledge the unreliable nature of the Gospel, but then use that very unreliability to extrapolate an extensive chain of unevidenced hearsay all the way back to an undescribed eyewitness. And, one chapter later, he will paraphrase as absolute fact the events of the secret conspiracy.

              …sorry. Lying liars such as Ehrman can really get to me….

              b&

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                that’s a pretty serious accusation, or it would be, if it came from someone who could be taken seriously. so i’ll disregard it, and ask again the previous question: where are the errors in his scholarship? if you can answer it sans opprobrium, lacking invective, minus the ad hominem nonsense, and without making broad generalisations, it’ll make it much easier to understand the specific point you’re trying to make.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

                you haven’t even read the ehrman book, have you? reading some of the blogs referenced here, i see where you’re getting your talking points. no wonder you won’t respond to a simple, direct question. a blustering torturer of small animals…you’re a real prize!

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 2:08 am | Permalink

      Also this:

      “atheists, stop saying that Jesus was a complete myth, that such a man never existed; to the knowledgeable historians, this makes you sound almost as silly as creationists sound to biologists.”

      I don’t think this is claimed. What is claimed is that there seems to be no evidence for a historical Jesus, an observation which presumably knowledgeable historians can agree with or present evidence against.

      That it is a religious myth is given, that it is a complete myth is as I noted in the previous comment just a sensible and as it happens well supported null hypothesis and not the above type of observation. Again something historians should already agree on, or at best present (much more solid) evidence against.

      But there are also “biblical historians”, which are not historians at all I take it. And to them anyone else will sound silly, however small a criticism is raised.

      • Posted April 5, 2012 at 2:40 am | Permalink

        “But there are also “biblical historians”, which are not historians at all I take it. And to them anyone else will sound silly, however small a criticism is raised.”

        This is an important point.

        Skeptics look at the methodology of Biblical historians and say “that’s epistemologically ridiculous, what is this shit.” Biblical historians then get huffy and say that they use the methods of history and if you don’t like these methods, you must be a pseudohistorical crank.

        Except biblical history does not use the metholodogy used by the rest of history. Richard Carrier (who James F. McGrath spent most of the above comments carefully dodging the existence of – do be sure to closely question him on this matter wherever else he raises his head) spends large chunks of Proving History on this precise point. He researched the methods of Jesus studies in detail, and summarises his conclusions:

        “Then I discovered that the field of New Testament studies was so monumentally fucked the task wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped. Very basic things that all scholars pretend have been resolved (producing standard answers constantly repeated as ‘the consensus’ when really it’s just everyone citing each other like robbing Peter to pay Paul), really haven’t been, like when the New Testament books were written …”

        “… because the biggest thing I discovered is that every expert who is a specialist in methodology has concluded, one and all, that the methods now used in Jesus studies are also totally fucked …”

        That is: when Biblical historians appeal to “you’re throwing all of history under the bus”, this is a lie. They are, in fact, in the opinion of actual experts on non-Biblical ancient history, the pseudohistorical cranks, attempting to dress themselves in the colour of proper historical practice.

      • Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

        To return to my pearl analogy.

        A pearl may form around an irritant by accumulation of nacre.

        Nacrists say, the pearl is composed of a lot of nacre, and there’s no evidence to indicate what the irritant was, but even if we did know, the pearl would be no less lustrous.

        Irritantists say, we have evidence that indicates what the irritant was, and the pearl’s lustre is different because of that.

        /@

        • Posted April 5, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

          To continue the analogy, the heart of the question that all the brouhaha has generated is over whether the pearl is a natural one that resulted from the accidental inclusion of a bit of sand into a wild clam, or if it’s a cultured one which was intentionally formed around a manually-inserted inclusion of an artificial irritant in a clam in a pearl farm designed to produce pearls.

          All signs point to the latter.

          Cheers,

          b&

  8. Sigmund
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    From the piece:
    “Meanwhile, evangelical Christians, watching from the sidelines, are enjoying a breather.
    “I wrote Bart a note and said, ‘Thank you for doing our dirty work for us,'” said Ben Witherington, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and an evangelical blogger. “This saves us some time.””

    I listened to Ehrman’s recent interview on the ‘Think Atheist’ podcast and it was clear that he didn’t have anything new in terms of physical evidence that wasn’t mentioned in his previous books. He seemed to be using a very dubious criteria for judging what was likely to be true about Jesus – namely the idea that stories which put Jesus in a bad light must be true because made up stories would only portray Jesus in a positive way.
    He admitted that others didn’t accept his interpretation and had their own criteria but tried to suggest that his criteria was the consensus view amongst biblical scholars.

  9. Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Having begun reading Ehrman’s book, and being a New Testament scholar, I can say that Ehrman is talking about the historical Jesus having existed, in a way that distinguishes that apocalyptic Jewish figure from the later dogmas about him, much in the same way as a historian would distinguish between what evidence can safely be treated as historical evidence about the man who was later known as St. Nicholas.

    Mythicists are in essence people who, because they disbelieve in Santa Claus, are determined to argue that there must not have been a Nicholas of Myra either.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      I think that analogy fails because we have very clear evidence that (a) Nicholas of Myra existed, and (b) the figure of Santa Claus derives specifically from Nicholas of Myra, canonised as St. Nicholas.

      In Jesus’ case, the evidence for (a’) and (b’) is tenuous to non-existent.

      /@

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        So the gospels are discredited because the more Jesus became popular, the more they were copied and manipulated…

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

          I don’t think that follows from what I said (did you reply to the right comment?), but I find myself in the strange situation of agreeing with you.

          /@

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

          The gosped are discredited because they are not (as many Christians believe) eyewitness accounts, they are not independent, and they were not written down until decades after the alleged life and death of Jesus H. Christ.

          Also, the gospels are discredited because many of their claims about historical events (the census, the slaughter of the innocents, the who and when of rule in Judea) do not match up with historical evidence.

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

            The meeting of The Sanhedrin on the first night of Passover. Shocking!

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

            In a society where reading and writing weren’t common, where the oral tradition was the way things were transmitted, I think it is normal that you have to wait a few decades before the stories start to be written down.

            This can explain the historical errors, and some who were probably intended to give more prestige to their hero.

            If you add that what Jesus started was first a minor jewish sect, it is not surprising that you have no independent eyewitness.

            I don’t know where is the debate about the veracity of Paul’s letter arguing against the apostles and why some people would very soon insist to become christians when that was passible of death, not to forget the graffitis found in roman cities dated from the 1st century that are insulting christians.

            Of course, depending of your position, you’ll find arguments for or against…

            • xuuths
              Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

              Pontius Pilate was literate and kept records, none of which mention jesus or barabbas.

              The Sanhedrin of the time were literate and kept records, none of which mention jesus.

              And for Ehrman to give any credence to Josephus’ writing is . . . well, I think he should have a full neurological workup done, as he may have suffered a stroke or some other such brain damage!

              • Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                I’m calling Poe on this one. We have records from Pontius Pilate and the Sanhedrin for this period? And those who call your views those of a crank should have their heads examined?

                It was a good joke, but unfortunately I don’t think most commenters here will know enough history to get it.

                I don’t have time to repeat here all the relevant scholarship and evidence. Those genuinely interested, like those genuinely interested in science, will inform themselves. Those who don’t see why getting the history right matters will continue not caring, presumably (and unfortunately).

              • Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

                Is McGrath now claiming that there is not an inscription with ‘Pilate’ on it?

                CARRIER
                For we have an inscription, commissioned by Pilate himself, attesting to his existence and service in Judea.

                CARR
                Guess what? McGrath is now blanking out his recent exchanges with Carrier from his memory.

                While psychologically an excellent thing to do, as they undoubtedly left scars on his ego, he should remember that the rest of us will remind him of all those errors he made before, and which he is now repeating.

              • xuuths
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

                Mr. McGrath’s comment demonstrates that he has not studied the history of 1st century Jerusalem. His argument from ignorance can, therefore, be ignored.

                I suggest you follow your own advice and “inform yourself.”

                I don’t have time to provide you with a remedial course on this topic. Perhaps your education was not very comprehensive or of decent quality. Or perhaps you did not pay attention, grasp, or remember what you learned. Or perhaps you are purposely saying things you know to be false for some purpose (or from some mental illness).

                But, I repeat, you can safely be ignored.

            • Torbjörn Larsson
              Posted April 5, 2012 at 2:21 am | Permalink

              If you “wait a few decades” at that time, you are talking 2-3 generations after the purported events, so no eyewitnesses at all.

              Hence the actual possible literary active eyewitnesses (romans, sanhedrins) becomes interesting. So we _have_ independent eyewitnesses, all of which have an absence of the notable events.

              This strengthens the religious myth hypothesis, because that is what other similar religious myth characters show. (If the society is literary at all, exceptions seems to be “Gauthama Buddha” and “Muhammad al-Muutalib” for which there are no independent eyewitnesses testing their absence.)

              • Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

                We have original documents of the the Sanhedrin and the Romans in Palestine around 1 and 50 a.d..?

              • Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

                “If you “wait a few decades” at that time, you are talking 2-3 generations after the purported events, so no eyewitnesses at all.”

                That is my point Tobjörn. So if Jesus was the leader of a 12 pack disciples, it would be normal that no official records can be found about him while he was alive.

              • Posted April 6, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

                We have original documents of the the Sanhedrin and the Romans in Palestine around 1 and 50 a.d..?

                Yes. Most certainly.
                Extant, to boot.
                Will this:
                en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_Stone
                suffice as one such example?

              • Posted April 6, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

                So if Jesus was the leader of a 12 pack disciples, it would be normal that no official records can be found about him while he was alive.

                I presume you assume that his miracles did not manifest.
                But even so, the Essenes are but one literate tribe in the very region, at the very time, who were on the lookout for anything vaguely sniffing of Messiah.
                They left copious writings. Which we have. Originals, not copies.
                They do not mention a hint of Jesus, his disciples nor anything even vaguely related.
                Curious?
                These are extant original documents of the very tribe who, had there been even an historical Yeshua, would have been shouting it from the cave-tops, and killing kids by the hundreds to record it all. Without miracles.

                But no.
                Silence from them.
                That about wraps it up for an historical Jesus.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        You seem willing to trust the judgment of historians about Nicholas but not Jesus, when the evidence for the latter is closer in time and far clearer than in the case of the former.

        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/04/nicholas-of-myra-mythicism.html

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

          Sorry, James, what is the evidence that you have in mind for the claims that (a’) a uniquely identifiable apocalyptic preacher, who may or may not have been called Yĕhōšuă, existed, and (b’) the figure of Jesus Christ derives specifically from this uniquely identifiable apocalyptic preacher?

          /@

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

            Why these qualifiers? Are you suggesting that there were multiple Joshuas who claimed to be the Messiah around the same time, were crucified, and then the groups merged and combined their Joshuas into one? What is the evidence for that? Why not talk about what the sources say, such as that Paul had met Jesus’ brother and believed him to be a human being descended from David – which he may well not have been, genetically, but it indicates that he is talking about an actual person, not a celestial entity as Doherty and others claim.

            • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

              You’re being disingenuous: I’m not making any suggestion about anyone claiming to be the Messiah. I’m not even claiming that any such person was called Yĕhōšuă — in fact, I’m deliberately allowing that he might not have been called Yĕhōšuă. Nor am I suggesting (here), that there were multiple preachers — why do you think I am?

              I’m stating the question in that why because that exactly parallels the statement I made about Santa Claus.

              /@

              PS. Re “Jesus’ brother”, I find Carrier’s interpretation more plausible.

              PPS. You have an unclear antecedent in there! (You may have to read other WEIT posts to figure out why I mention that.)

            • Jeff Sherry
              Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

              James, I’ve read a number of your pages over the past, but it seems difficult to make any claims for a flesh and blood Jesus without any evidence.

              • Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

                Why are you suggesting that there isn’t evidence, when our earliest source, Paul, claims to have met Jesus’ brother, and that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh. Only through strenuous and unpersuasive denialist tactics can one claim that Paul did not have in mind a human being who had lived and died recently.

              • Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

                Only through strenuous and unpersuasive denialist tactics can one claim that Paul did not have in mind a human being who had lived and died recently.

                Oh, what hogwash.

                Paul’s experience of Jesus was in a vision, and he established his bona fides by presenting that vision as the exact same experience everybody else had had of Jesus.

                And as for the “died recently,” the only time when Paul made mention of the timing of the Crucifixion, he attributed it to the “Princes of that age.” Not to Pilate. Hardly recent, eh?

                Not to mention that Paul’s Jesus was the etherial salvation of all mankind….

                b&

              • Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

                Precisely.

                Paul made it up to give his account verisimilitude.

                There. That was hardly strenuous.

                /@

              • Torbjörn Larsson
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 2:27 am | Permalink

                Hardly strenuous and also hardly denialist, I note.

                Btw, what is the historical Jesus evidence that _historians_ accept and skeptics deny? I am not familiar with anything to deny here. It seems to me mythicists mainly are asking for such evidence, knowing that we are looking at a religious myth and that they generally are 100 % non-historical.

              • yesmyliege
                Posted April 6, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

                McGrath says:

                “…Paul, claims to have met Jesus’ brother…”

                No he doesn’t!

                He claims to have met “James, the Lord’s brother” which is much more likely to mean something completely different.

                As you well (should) know.

                I guess that is another demonstration of those highest historical standards you picked up along the way at seminary?

            • Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:01 am | Permalink

              There’s a reference to a “brother of the lord”. That’s a *very* different thing.

            • sahansdal
              Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

              James,
              But he never met Jesus. Only Luke details his vision of him, in three differing versions. He knows nothing of his life, and only the barest essentials of his death. No Judas Iscariot either. Why not? Paul would have had a field day with HIM. The NT is nearly all myth.

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                It’s not just that Paul never met Jesus.

                It’s that Paul had a personal, obviously hallucinatory experience of Jesus, and that he used that experience to establish his bona fides as a Christian because that’s how everybody else knew Jesus.

                b&

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      Is this how you characterise Richard Carrier, for example? (That’s a yes or no question.)

    • Sigmund
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      James, I think it is fairer to say that your description applies to one type of mythicist such as Acharya S. There are others, like Robert Price, who say that there is no reliable evidence that proves Jesus was a single individual and may have been an composite character invented by later Christians based on stories about several apocalyptic preachers from the early first century.
      As for atheists as a whole, most of us, I suggest, are happy enough with the idea that Jesus could have been exactly as Ehrman describes – a first century preacher and teacher with no supernatural abilities.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        Was it Price who suggested that the Pauline Jesus was entirely mythical and only cemented to stories about a historical apocalyptic preacher by the Gospel writers?

        /@

    • SelfAwarePatterns
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Good point. I read the book too and it moved me from being mildly agnostic about the historical Jesus to thinking that, using historical methods, there are things about that historical figure we can say are reasonably probable.

      Erhman points out that the real problem for believers is what emerges from that historical analysis is pretty different from the figure they worship. The historical Jesus appears to have preached an imminent apocalypse that would come before his generation had passed, encouraged followers to abandon their families, and believed in following the Jewish law.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        Bart has simply rewritten history.

        Every Biblical scholar knows that Paul predates the Gospels, so Bart simply rewrote history and put his invisible sources for the Gospels before Paul.

        Ironically, Bart then writes on page 238, that even if something predates Paul …’it does not represent earliest Christian understanding about Christ’.

        So Bart has simply selected a time-line which suits him and rearranged his sources to fit his pre-determined time line.

        Historian rewrites history….

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      It would be easier to take you and Ehrman more seriously on this if you addressed the strongest mythicist arguments rather than the weakest ones.

      But I suspect you really can’t do that because the strongest mythicist argument is: “There actually isn’t any real evidence that a historical Jesus existed.”

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. Addressing Acharya S. and ignoring Richard Carrier just makes you look evasive.

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Mythicists are in essence people who, because they disbelieve in Santa Claus, are determined to argue that there must not have been a Nicholas of Myra either.

      This sort of straw man also detracts from your credibility.

  10. Daryl
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    “They’re driven by an ideological agenda, which is, they find organized religion to be dangerous and harmful and the chief organized religion in their environment is Christianity,” Ehrman said in an interview . . .

    Surely this is unfair. How can Ehrman know what’s going on inside other people’s minds?

    • Aratina Cage
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      That really is unfair. I am driven on this issue by knowing that so many people believe a big ol’ lie. It has virtually nothing to do with my atheism. In fact, as an atheist I would be perfectly content if we had solid evidence that Jesus had been a real person around whom these myths accreted. The problem is that we don’t yet the people with a real ideological agenda (Christian apologists) act like the matter is beyond question. I don’t have to be an atheist to have a problem with that, and in fact I wasn’t when I first started looking into the question.

  11. Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I don’t personally struggle with this either. There are parallels with pagan myths but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of a flesh and blood rabbi with groovy ideas. All the pagan similarities show is that the divine nature ascribed to Jesus wasn’t original and likely brushed on to make him seem special, a tall tale. Apparently similar “gospels” were written about Caesar as propaganda and it follows that the cult of Yeshua might use similar tactics to spread their message. Regardless if there was a real person that was deified by mythological writing is irrelevant. Some person wrote the teachings ascribed to this character, that much is certain. Whether you find these teachings worth a hoot is all that really matters. I wouldn’t personally take a dogmatic position on either account, there just isn’t enough evidence.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      There are a lot of parallels between Josephus and the gospels, and the ordering is preserved between the two works. Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee follows the same path as Titus crushing the Jewish rebellion. Prominent events of the gospels correspond to battles and other events in Josephus, in satirical ways. Reading them side by side in Caesar’s Messiah raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      … but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of a flesh and blood rabbi with groovy ideas.

      Who carries the burden of proof? I would agree with you that the mythicists have not “excluded the possibility” of a historical Jesus, but I do not think that is a proper apportionment of the burden of proof.

  12. George
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    My view on Jesus is that it is more likely than not that there was an apocalyptic preacher (at least one) from the Galilee by the name of Yeshuah who served as part of the inspiration for the Jesus movement(s) – one of many movements in Judean culture that arose in opposition to the mainstream temple Judaism of the time. After the destruction of the temple, the Pharisees won the struggle and transformed Judaism into rabbinical Judaism. The Jesus movement morphed into Christianity. I don’t see that the actual existence of an individual named Jesus as somewhat described in the New Testament is relevant to what happened later.

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      If his name was Bob would he then be disqualified?

      One apparently has to shrink Jesus down pretty small to claim he existed. The Biblical Jesus is plainly a myth and the “historical” Jesus seems to be just some/any guy who might have had one or two mundane things in common with the Biblical Jesus. Two legs, check. Preached, check. Not a resident of Scotland, check. Etc.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        Certainly not a true resident of Scotland!

        /@

        • Achrachno
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

          Jesus was a true non-Scotsman. Surely the stories agree on that much!

      • SelfAwarePatterns
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        Just fyi, the name “Jesus” is actually the modern pronunciation of an anglicized translation of a Latinized translation of a Hellenized translation of the Aramaic name, which is supposed to be Yeshua (or Yeshuah).

        • Ray Moscow
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

          His disciples actually called him ‘Ned’.

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

            Come on now, Ray. Stop joshing about.

            /@

            • Ray Moscow
              Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

              I thought it fit with Him being no True Scotsman. Or was He?

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:00 am | Permalink

                But his name was Joshua… 

                /@

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          … which was a form of the name “Joshua,” and was very common at the time.

      • theobromine
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        If his name was Bob would he then be disqualified?

        Actually, Bob was His brother’s name: http://youtu.be/kc5q142NFkA

      • George
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        That is pretty much the point. What is the difference if Jesus is completely made out of whole cloth or a real person to whom a lot of mythology is attached? Santa Claus is real. There was an actual person, Nikolaos of Myra, who evolved into different versions of Santa Claus in different cultures. Why do we care if some itinerant Judean preacher actually existed or not? The movement that arose in his name has caused numerous problems for centuries. That is the issue.

        • Chet
          Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:14 am | Permalink

          But it’s telling that, despite the verified existence of Nicholas of Myra, nobody goes around defending the existence of the “historical Santa Claus.” That indicates that the burden of proof of establishing the historicity of a figure in mythology requires a lot more than “we can trace it back to this other guy with a different name who may have inspired the legend.”

          Nobody asserts the existence of a historical James Bond despite his ornithologist namesake and the verified historical existence of the dapper Conrad O’Brian-ffrench. Historicity, therefore, can’t simply be a matter of asserting, without evidence, that an imagined itinerant Jewish preacher could have inspired the Jesus legend.

          • J
            Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:39 am | Permalink

            I think that’s an important distinction.
            “Was there a historical Jesus Christ?” where the Christ part incorporates the miracles & whatnot; no.
            Versus:
            “Was there a historical Jesus who preached & was executed?”; possible as far as I’m concerned (though I wouldn’t say probable), yes as far as Ehrman is seemingly concerned (on what evidence has already been discussed extensively, in some cases the lack of having been danced around), but relevant to the former question? Not so much.

        • Aratina Cage
          Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

          Santa Claus is not real.

          FTFY.

  13. daveau
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    What’s Ehrman’s point? Although I lean heavily toward the never existed side, I still ask what’s the difference? The existence (or not!) of some guy doesn’t prove anything regarding the truth of Christianity. He wasn’t born in a manger, a son of God or a virgin, did not sacrifice his life for mankind’s original sin, and did not rise from the dead. Ultimately, they are still putting lipstick on a pig. I’m still waiting for a 1st century middle-eastern biblical scholar to even begin to show the veracity of those claims.

    • joe piecuch
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      “What’s Ehrman’s point?…the truth of Christianity. He wasn’t born in a manger, a son of God or a virgin, did not sacrifice his life for mankind’s original sin, and did not rise from the dead.”

      his point is not any of those things; don’t let that stop you banging your head against the wall you’ve chosen, though.

      • daveau
        Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        …point is…banging…the…chosen…

        See? Anyone can play the elipsis game. Now the name game: Chuck!

        • joe piecuch
          Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

          hey, daveau, someone has hacked into your email and is posting stupid crap under your name on the internet, to make you look unintelligent. you might want to check into that.

          • daveau
            Posted April 6, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

            joe…hack…stupid crap…unintelligent. …check.

            Srsly, Joe, if you ever showed a propensity to be anything other than a troll with a habit of disingenuous argument, it might be worth responding to your bait just for grins. But, alas, the sixth shiek’s sixth sheep is sick, and I must away…

            • joe piecuch
              Posted April 6, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

              disingenuous? would that be like implying that an ellipsis distorts a quote as a way of avoiding addressing an issue?

              • daveau
                Posted April 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

                Except that what you elided was the very nub of my gist. The crux of the biscuit, as it were.

                All right. You win. One last time: Whether or not there was a guy in the first century who may or may not have been named Yeshua, and may or may not have wandered about the countryside preaching about how people should be nicer to each other, or not, has no bearing on any of the fundamental claims christianity. Not that Ehrman claims it does. Therefore, my question to Mr Ehrman, if I may be permitted to rephrase for clarity, is why does he insist on going on about it? He has never, afaik, claimed that Jesus was not based on a real person, nor has he claimed to be anything other than an agnostic, and no one has ever said otherwise in an accusatory voice. So why the big mythicist defense all of a sudden-like? It sounds tremendously boring.

                I don’t feel as though I need to have read his latest book to ask that question.

              • daveau
                Posted April 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

                You don’t have to speak for Ehrman, Joe. Just enlighten me as to your thoughts. I’m not in the least bit out to “get” anyone.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

                i find the subject of perceptions in general to be fascinating, especially the way they evolve through social interaction. i’m interested in learning about the origins of social phenomena that have changed significantly with time. politics and religion provide rich materials for study. christianity, being pretty thoroughly documented (for the last 16 centuries, anyway), a contentious subject and having evolved considerably and in many directions, is endlessly interesting: how did it get from there to here, and how do the proponents of this or that view straightfacedly propound it? ehrman, who was of course once an evangelical christian, has spent his career studying the text of the new testament, which provides clues to answers to some of those questions, many which can of course not be determined with any sort of finality. he published a book making a case for his theory that jesus was a human being whose existence somehow became the basis for an enormously influential, for mostly worse, religion. that’s interesting to me. i read the book and found it generally convincing, if weak in places. i’m interested in hearing what knowledgeable people have to say about his argument. professor coyne has posted twice about the book and some of the publicity it has received; he obviously had no difficulty understanding the point of the book, and he made a clear statement of ehrman’s thesis. in response, a tidal wave of commenters complain bitterly that ehrman says things he does not say, that he said the opposite of what he did say, or that they don’t care. how does it contribute to the discussion to triumphantly point out ehrman’s failure to take account of something that he in fact addresses thoroughly? quite plainly, many of those spouting irrelevant nonsense the loudest not only haven’t read the book, they didn’t even bother paying attention to the original posts…it’s like a bunch of pinheads rattling pots and pans in the pantry. mythicist defense? is that what you intended to write? the book is in large part a refutation of mythicism. it’s interesting because the matter is the subject of debate between more or less learned people trying to come up with a plausible solution to what is probably an unresolvable question. professor ehrman is eminently qualified to opine authoritatively on the subject, but i’m not just interested in hearing people who agree with him. i’d like to know how he could be wrong. i took that to be the point of the posts. but, seriously, if people are going to accuse him of lying, of fabricating evidence, they ought to be ready to justify the accusation. hyperbole, name calling, unfounded and sweeping generalisations…how does any of that contribute to the discussion? for that matter, how does saying you don’t care contribute? he explains in the book why he goes on about it; if it matters enough to you to carp about it, why not go to the bother of reading it and finding out for yourself? then you would be in a position to comment relevantly and intelligently. i took your posts to indicate, despite your disavowal, that you do care, and to indicate that you thought ehrman’s point was to to ‘prove (some)thing regarding the truth of christianity’. it is not. if i misunderstood, then i apologise for distorting your meaning, but it was done unintentionally.

              • daveau
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

                That is a reasoned response, Joe, and I am pleasantly surprised. I may have gotten a little carried away based on a few people on this thread, who have read the book, suggesting that Ehrman was trying to make a basic case for Christianity, as opposed to just saying that there was this guy. These commenters also suggested that Ehrman’s work, in this case, was not up to his usual standards. I have not read the book. I doubt that I will in the near future, so I was taking the word of people who I generally trust. Since you have read the book, and you (finally!) essentially state that Ehrman does not appear to have any motive beyond just saying that Jesus was not a myth, he was based on a historical figure, and that Ehrman supported his arguments in a reasonable way, I have no basis on which to disagree with you. And I concede that you may be correct. Further, I now see why he may have felt a need to write this book, which was my slightly-off-topic concern.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

                the book IS less thorough and in-depth than his usual, which is one reason i hoped for some to the point criticism. i appreciate your considered response.

              • daveau
                Posted April 11, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

                Thank you, too, Joe. Much appreciated. As you are one of the few commenters who have read the book, and the only one of those who does not think that Ehrman is betraying his previous stance, it would be helpful for you to say so more plainly. Maybe you thought you did, but it didn’t come across to the rest of us. We could all do that, probably.

  14. Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    The important point is that this is popcorn time for Jesus scholarship, with Carrier’s book set to make a splash and Ehrman openly threatening mythicists in academia.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      Anyone taking bets?

      /@

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        Price will prevail. Oddly enough, he looks a bit like Santa Claus.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      He’s not threatening them. He’s *scaring* them. There’s a difference.

      (To anyone wondering whether that makes any sense: no, it doesn’t, not in the least. But there’s a reason why I say it and I suspect it will make davidgerard smile.)

  15. justiceforall2
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    A great book to read which has logic and reason is’Jesus Never Existed’ by Kenneth Humphreys.
    http://www.jesusneverexisted.com

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      I’ve been thinking of getting his book. It predates Atwill’s book Caesar’s Messiah, if I remember correctly, and so is uninformed by it, but I think Humphreys is now backing Atwill on his website and in postings elsewhere.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      There’s a pretty incisive review about that unusual book. A kind of mini-encyclopedia that roams through various themes of the Christian myth and history. Some good content overall, but also some amateurish weaknesses. Some of the illustrations are simply ridiculous, and too much material is not properly referenced and sourced.
      The same stuff could be tremendously improved by a professional editor and publisher. The author wanted to do everything by himself, and had to make a lot of mistakes while an apprentice learning how to put a book together on his first attempt. To be read with a thinking cap on.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      An instructive book with an unusual motif, but to be read while keeping one’s thinking cap on

  16. Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    ‘If Jesus really existed, mythicists ask why so few first-century writers mention him.’

    If Judas, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Bartimaeus, Joanna, Salome,Barabbas, Jairus etc etc really existed, why does not one single Christian in the first century ever put his name on a document saying he had ever even heard of them, when they are writing to other Christians?

    Why do they vanish from Christian memory as though they had never been?

    Why do they only exist in unprovenanced, anonymous works which plagiarise each other and the plagiarise the Old Testament?

    Why does Paul say that Jews can’t be expected to believe in Jesus because they had never heard of him until Christians were sent to preach about him?

    Why does Paul praise the Romans as God’s agents who do not bear the sword for nothing and who hold no terror for the innocent – after they had allegedly crucified Jesus?

    All these questions are ignored in Bart’s book, which instead waves invisible documents around, claiming the Gospels are based on written sources, which nobody mentioned, nobody has heard of and which nobody has seen.

    Note to Bart. Invisible ‘written sources’ are not evidence. You need things which exist.

    If you want to prove evolution, you do not put up empty display cases, saying there must have been transitional fossils that would have fitted those cases.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      The crux of the matter is whether one is going to eschew self-published and internet-based arguments against mainstream science which only sound plausible to people poorly informed about science, only to embrace self-published and internet-based arguments against mainstream history which only sound plausible to those comparably poorly informed about the relevant evidence, its context, and the nature of historical inquiry. I would hope that everyone’s answer would be “of course I will do no such thing” but experience has shown me that alas there are exceptions.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        Translation.

        Ehrman couldn’t even get the name of Doherty’s book right on page 17, ignored almost all of the arguments, and then started waving invisible documents around as ‘evidence’.

        And all McGrath can do is expostulate that he and Ehrman are experts.

        Sorry. You don’t get to wave invisible documents around , even if you call yourself an expert.

        And especially if you can’t even get right the name of the book you are criticising.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        Shorter James McGrath: ignore inconvenient questions raised by cranks.

        Let’s put aside the ad hominems. Those seem like pertinent questions to me me. Let the historicists either answer them, or at least acknowledge that they have no answers.

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

          As with creationists being answered by scientists, historians have been working with the evidence for a very long time, researching it, writing it, publishing about it, and mythicists keep claiming over and over that none of their claims have been answered, that there is no evidence, and other things that simply aren’t true.

          Feel free to take a look at the discussions of this topic on my blog, for instance. Steven Carr is notorious for leaving the same inane comments over and over, no matter how one tries to get him to engage in actual human communication. I seriously thought he was a bot at one stage!

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

            I will read your blog — thanks for the prompt.

            But another thing. Atheism is growing into a movement for social progress, challenging the hitherto unquestioned influence of Christian doctrine in forming public policy. To be able to stand up and question whether the entire edifice of Christianity is built on vapor is huge. Calling into question the very existence of an historical Jesus is not just a matter of academic discourse — it should have very real repercussions among rank-and-file believers.

            My point is that even us “people poorly informed about science … self-published and internet-based arguments … those comparably poorly informed about the relevant evidence” have a stake in this.

            • eric
              Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

              To be able to stand up and question whether the entire edifice of Christianity is built on vapor is huge.

              But the ‘historical Jesus’ argument isn’t needed to do that. Christianity, as a religion, is built on the supernatural/divine Jesus. That’s the part that, if vaporous, collapses Christianity.

              Sure, if you can show person-x didn’t exist, you have by definition showed that person-x didn’t work miracles. But it isn’t necessary…and its really hard to definitively do.

              It also shifts the theological/philosophical burden of proof to the wrong place. We should be asking what evidence exists for the claimed miracles and divinity. Not what evidence exists for the myth hypothesis.

              • ROO BOOKAROO
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

                That is an excellent point.
                But the fact of the matter is that the question of the miracles and supernatural has been thoroughly debated and discussed by a long line of historical criticism starting in the 18th century with a new movement called “the Enlightenment”. Brave men who put their lives and comforts in danger dared attack the supernatural character of Christ, starting with people like Voltaire, Reimarus, Baron d’Holbach — an enquiry that continued all through the 19th and 20th century, culminating with the monumental “Supernatural Religion” of Walter Richard Cassels (1874-9), and with echoes all the way to contemporary historians and theologians.
                The question of historicity of Jesus arose as a sideline of this enquiry, and has generated a secondary line of “Jesus existence-deniers” or “mythicists”, more radical than the school of “supernatural” deniers”. There’s enough choice to accommodate all kinds of skeptics.

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

            Is it actually the case that {historians} ∩ {mythicists} = ∅?

            /@

            • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

              No, c.f. Carrier, who McGrath is trying to pretend doesn’t exist.

              • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

                Yes, I’d had Carrier in mind; I was just trying t get James to admit it without prompting… 

                /@

            • Ray Moscow
              Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

              The funny thing is that Ehrman is claiming to be a historian in his PR for this book, when (AFAIK) his degrees are all in biblical studies.

              Carrier’s PhD is actually in history.

              That’s not to say that Ehrman cannot research or write about history, but it seemed strange that he would be questioning others’ credentials in a field in which he doesn’t seem particularly qualified.

          • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

            So McGrath indulges in argument by abuse, and tacitly admits that Ehrman never tackled any of Doherty’s Top 20 Silences.

            We will never know why Paul looked at the stories of the Romans crucifying Jesus and then claimed they held no terror for the innocent and bore the sword for no reason.

            Ehrman ignores all of this. So does McGrath.

          • yesmyliege
            Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

            McGrath:

            “…As with creationists being answered by scientists, historians have been working with the evidence for a very long time…”

            You claim to be a historian? What are your qualifications?

            • Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              I am only a historian in the sense that my degrees focused a significant amount of attention on historical methods and their application. If someone studies Classics, or Biblical studies, they get training in history, among other methods.

              • Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                Hmm… my physics degree focussed a “significant amount of attention” on solid state physics, but I wouldn’t consider myself to be competent to design microprocessors.

                /@

              • xuuths
                Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                That actually depends on where you got your Classics or Biblical studies training. In many places, the training is rather … poor.

                You can get a degree in Biblical studies without being fluent in Hebrew or Greek. You can even do so without taking any History courses (they are only electives in many institutions).

              • yesmyliege
                Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                McGrath:

                “I am only a historian in the sense that my degrees focused a significant amount of attention on historical methods and their application. If someone studies Classics, or Biblical studies, they get training in history, among other methods.”

                Can we be clear about this? I may be suffering under a delusion, but I seem to recall (I can’t verify this as your blog does not cite your educational CV)that your background is in Biblical studies, from divinity institutions.

                Neil Godfrey, at his vridar.wordpress.com blog, has written often and in detail about how the criteria and methods of Biblical scholars such as yourself, and those of actual historians are very different animals indeed.

                I find your assertions that the opinions of “historians” buttress your case re historicism to be, therefore, misleading at best. If you mean ‘Biblical scholars’, please use that term.

              • Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                The real point of this first volume of Carrier’s book, in fact, is to show what actual historical methods are, and how woefully deficient methodologically Jesus studies in particular is. He plans to show in tour de force detail that the transparent bollocks Jesus historicists come out with as their claimed methods is as stupid as it appears to be to the sceptic, and that their claims “this is how history is done” are in fact quite false.

            • Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

              One cannot get a PhD from a university in Biblical studies without the relevant languages. One can get a degree from many seminaries without those languages, but we are talking about scholarly training, not vocational training for ministers, are we not?

              Anyway, feel free to ignore all the Biblical scholars and ask about only what historians of the ancient Roman Empire and ancient Judaism have to say about Jesus. The point remains the same.

              • xuuths
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                I have asked historians of the ancient Roman Empire and ancient Judaism. Frequently. Not a one of them who wasn’t also a christian accepted the historicity of jesus.

                As for your claim that:

                One cannot get a PhD from a university in Biblical studies without the relevant languages.

                You might want to check out Asuza Pacific University. Or Faulkner University. (Perhaps you meant only state universities?) How about Wright State University? Or… my point is made.

                I belive this is an example of the quality of your scholarship.

                You can be safely ignored, without further rebuttal. Sheesh.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        The crux of the matter is the actual evidence presented. And it appears the best available evidence presented by Ehrman, and accepted by many with actual degrees and academic positions in New Testament scholarship, is not particularly impressive and amounts to nothing better than self-published and internet-based arguments. It’s not our fault the emperor is parading about naked.

  17. Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    On page 97 of Did Jesus Exist, Bart Ehrman makes the following statement.

    ‘We have already seen that at least seven Gospel accounts of Jesus, all of them entirely or partially independent of one another, survived from within a century of the traditional date of his death.

    These seven are based on numerous previously existent written sources, and on an enormous number of oral traditions about him that can be dated back to Aramaic sources of Palestine, almost certainly from the 30s of the Common Era.’

    Rather surprisingly, Bart goes into debates to claim that all this astonishing documentation provides no support for any religious claim Christianity makes.

    It is rather a fine-balancing act, praising the Gospels as seven (sic) independent accounts, based on written documentation and oral traditions which go way, way back, and then claiming that nothing in them supports Christianity.

    But Bart has even more explaining to do telling us how 4 Gospels which plagiarise each other turn into 7 independent or ‘partially independent’ (sic) accounts.

    Not even Jesus himself could turn 4 into 7.

    And this ‘partially independent’ is a new one to me. Perhaps historians could confirm that they use the phrase, and that Bart is a real historian.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Even if Ehrman were less disingenuously claiming that an analysis of the gospels indicates that there likely were seven accounts, how is it possible to tell if the sources those accounts are probably based on are written or oral? Is this a point that Ehrman addresses in his book?

      (Or that those accounts are probably about the same Jesus, rather than two or more Jesuses/Jesi/Jesodes?)

      /@

    • daveau
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      But Bart has even more explaining to do telling us how 4 Gospels which plagiarise each other turn into 7 independent or ‘partially independent’ (sic) accounts.

      Particularly since, iirc, he made precisely the opposite argument in Misquoting Jesus.

    • Badger3k
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Since Matthew and Luke contain material not in Mark, they are “partially independent”, and he claims the “Q” non-source as a real, verifiable source (this is still debated by scholars), and he claims independent sources for Matthew and Luke (M & L respectively) as independent sources, since obviously neither the writer of Matthew or Luke could actually make stuff up to serve their own interests – they had to use previously developed oral or written sources. Thus he magically generates 7 independent sources where we really have 4 highly dependent sources (or 3 and a somewhat independent one with John). He also quotes non-canonical sources (Thomas, Hebrews) when it suits him.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        I see.

        So partially independent means ‘did not plagiarise everything’.

        ‘since obviously neither the writer of Matthew or Luke could actually make stuff up to serve their own interests ‘

        You are kidding , aren’t you?

        The Gospels are books which claim Jesus spoke to Satan, and Matthew and Luke changed anything they liked in Mark, hiding from their readers the fact that they did so.

        And all these ‘rich’ oral traditions, and written sources, and not one of them contained enough detail to allow Luke to date a single event in the life of Jesus, not even his death or birth?

  18. Steve Smith
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, three Roman writers mention Jesus in passing, as does the Jewish historian Josephus.

    Maybe. All mention of Josephus and other writers in support of Jesus’ existence must come with the frank acknowledgement that the earliest extant Roman histories of Jesus’ life come not from the first century, but from the eleventh. As has been shown with other thousand-year gaps in the record, fraudulent additions can be made, as has happened with the New Testament itself. This is all widely acknowledged by even Christian New Testament scholars:

    As with Josephus, so with Tacitus our observations must be tempered by the fact that the earliest manuscript of the Annals comes from the 11th century.
    —John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 1, The Roots of the Problem and the Person (New York: Doubleday, 1991, p. 100 )

    • Occam
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Concerning Tacitus: not quite so.

      The oldest surviving manuscript of the Annals 1-6, the Codex Mediceus, was probably transcribed written around 850 the Benedictine abbey of Fulda, Germany. Its particulars suggest that it was copied from a sequence of copies dating from the 4th and probably 3rd century, based on errors in copying the titulature and colophon (typical when transcribing early texts written in comparatively large letters and very narrow columns.)

      For details, see:
      L.D. REYNOLDS, Texts and Transmission: A survey of the Latin Classics, Clarendon Press, Oxford (1983)
      Clarence W. MENDELL, Tacitus: The Man and his Work, Yale University Press/Oxford University Press (1957).
      Revilo P. OLIVER, The First Medicean MS of Tacitus and the Titulature of Ancient Books, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 82 (1951), pp.232-261.

      Anyway, IF a source like the Annals of Tacitus were indeed a forgery or a fraud — and this paranoid thesis goes way back, with several authorship candidates, according to each conspiracy theorist’s pet argument — we’d have a lot more to worry about than just flimsy, circumstantial evidence in the form of mere en passant name-dropping regarding one Yehoshua (or Yeshua) ha-Notzri, who may or may not have been one of the many apocalyptic preachers of the period.
      IF the Annals were seriously called into question, much of Roman historiography would need to be re-re-assessed. THAT would concern the whole of Antiquity.
      Serious business. Maybe.

      But, based on current evidence, I’m awarding this argument a Hofstadter point (Richard H., not Robert or Douglas).

      • Steve Smith
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        You haven’t got the correct date for the relevant manuscript, and even ignoring this mistake your historical argument suffers basic flaws.

        First, the oldest extant Annals in which Tacitus refers to Jesus is the “second Medicean manuscript“, an 11th c. MS at Monte Cassino (Francis Newton, The Scriptorium and Library at Monte Cassino, 1058–1105, Cambridge University Press, 1999).

        Second, it’s simply poisoning the well to label as “paranoid” the observation that manuscripts can be corrupted to serve the interests of translator or copier. There are many famous examples of suspiciously fraudulent corruptions, including a well-known New Testament passage.

        Third, all historic documents must be treated with skepticism about the authenticity of the manuscript, as well as the knowledge and intent of the author. It’s simply not true that a reevaluation of all Roman history would be necessitated by one erroneous passage in Tacitus. No less than Voltaire assaulted (unsuccessfully) the entirety of Tacitus’ works, and all historic knowledge is provisional.

        The bottom line for Roman historic references to Jesus is that there is a one thousand year gap between the 1st century and extant records, and any knowledgable scholar who calls on Josephus or Tacitus without noting this can and should be suspected of attempting to conceal this uncomfortable fact.

  19. Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Bart’s new book is so unscholarly that he didn’t even bother with an index.

    I can only marvel at the work of scholarship that was ‘The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture’ and tell Bart that he has let himself go.

    • sahansdal
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink

      I agree totally. That was a GREAT book. What happened? His kids went to expensive colleges, surely.

  20. Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Robert Price discussed the book briefly on two recent podcasts in “The Bible Geek” series. He is planning a much more detailed reply, I think in a new book. Suffice it to say, he does not agree with some of Ehrman’s arguments and is prepared to spell out in detail where he believes he’s gone wrong.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Richard Carrier is carrying on something of a crusade over at Freethought blogs on this issue.

      Interesting.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        His own book will be coming out soon, and we can have this same argument all over again.

        • Tyro
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

          We can only hope that Carrier will get a fraction of the media attention that Ehrman got. When Carrier’s book comes out, the best case scenario would be that we’re re-hashing these issues but I personally doubt it.

  21. Kevin
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I don’t “deny that Jesus ever existed”.

    However, the preponderance of the evidence is not in favor of there being a single-person Joshua bar Joseph, Nazarene son of a carpenter, who overturned money-changing tables, preached to thousands, committed an act of sedition, and was crucified by the Romans.

    It’s much more likely that Jesus is based loosely on activities of several 1st century messianic preachers, to which was added later all the mythical supernatural nonsense. But I don’t think there was ever “a” Jesus.

    He’s what’s known in Hollywood as a “composite” character.

    Contra Ehrman, we do have a lot of First Century sources that show intense interest in the goings-on in Palestine. There are surviving texts from people who would have been credible non-Christian eyewitnesses to the events described in the alleged “gospels”. Not a single mention of Jesus in any of these texts. No Joseph, no Mary, no census, no slaughter of innocents by Herod, no wedding, no preaching to thousands, no massive crowds proclaiming the arrival of a new king, no trial, no appearance before Pilate, no crucifixion. Nothing. Not one word.

    Why would this be so? Why should there not be a non-religious corroboration of the existence of such an allegedly remarkable individual? There is no reason whatsoever, except for the fact that the person in question never existed whole-and-entire.

    Also contra Ehrman, the “gospels” were not eyewitness accounts. He knows this as much as anyone. No one who put pen to parchment to write down the stories of Jesus actually saw this person live and in person. That’s historical fact. So Ehrman is playing fast and loose with the gospels to support his contention.

    And then you have to overlay the historical question with the theological question. You cannot ignore it the way Ehrman does. Because whether you like it or not, it IS intimately tied up with the historical identity.

    Why would a deity appear in this manner at that time to that group of people in that place? Why would that deity go on to demand you believe in him or burn for all eternity and leave not one scrap of evidence of your visit to Earth for future generations to study and marvel at? Why would your Earthly presence be deemed so remarkable by the fable-writers but so completely unordinary by everyone else who was present at the time? Would not a god on earth want there be to multiple lines of evidence? A real relic or two that could be venerated?

    There’s only one answer: The person in question never existed. He’s a fiction. Made up of bits and pieces of other people, heavily mythologized by the Hellenist Jews.

    There’s one other piece of evidence that I think is very telling with regard to the historicity of Jesus. That’s the tale of doubting Thomas. Here’s a character who doesn’t appear anywhere else, who suddenly is one of the select, and who doesn’t believe the resurrection story. Then, he fondles Jesus’s guts (props to Ben Goren) and suddenly, he’s a believer…but the resurrected Jesus uses this occasion to bless those who believe WITHOUT seeing him.

    It’s a “just so” story. A fable appended to the other fables to answer the question, “why can’t I see the living Jesus?” Simple. He doesn’t exist…and quite likely never did.

    With all due respect to Ehrman, I think he doesn’t make his case. He certainly has provided no new evidence to support his contention.

    The historists have not disproved the null hypothesis.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      “It’s much more likely that Jesus is based loosely on activities of several 1st century messianic preachers, to which was added later all the mythical supernatural nonsense. But I don’t think there was ever “a” Jesus. ”

      So who are these preachers? What evidence is there that the Gospel Jesus was based on them? How does that evidence stack up against the standard scenario that nearly all historians agree on?

      I have to agree with James McGrath here, these “it’s much more likely” scenarios sound a lot like creationists who think a global flood is a much more likely explanation of the fossil record than evolution.

      “And then you have to overlay the historical question with the theological question. You cannot ignore it the way Ehrman does.”

      This makes me wonder whether you have ever read anything by Ehrman. Ehrman has spent his entire career investigating how the theological question influences the historical question. That’s what Jesus, Interrupted was all about: how theological issues influenced the text of the New Testament.

      “Why would a deity appear in this manner at that time to that group of people in that place? Why would that deity go on to demand you believe in him or burn for all eternity and leave not one scrap of evidence of your visit to Earth for future generations to study and marvel at? Why would your Earthly presence be deemed so remarkable by the fable-writers but so completely unordinary by everyone else who was present at the time? Would not a god on earth want there be to multiple lines of evidence? A real relic or two that could be venerated? ”

      These question could just as well be asked of the mythicist. Actually, they tell more against the mythicist view than for it.

      Re: “the tale of doubting Thomas”: Thomas has a whole Gospel of his own:

      http://users.misericordia.edu//davies/thomas/Trans.htm

      The tale in question is plausibly the response of mainstream Christians to the existence of Thomas Christians, who denied that Jesus was resurrected in the flesh. (They thought it was a purely spiritual resurrection.) This sort of intertextual dialogue makes sense in the standard view.

      In your view, it’s a story to explain why we don’t see the resurrected Jesus. But Thomas DOES see the resurrected Jesus in the story. So it doesn’t seem to fill the purpose you suggest for it.

      • Kevin
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        John the Baptist is one.

        There’s also someone called “the Magician”.

        And many others.

        There were hundreds of messianic preachers at that time, and there were people in Palestine who made it something of a hobby to chronicle their exploits. Including Pliny the Younger.

        He writes a lot about these other “messiahs”. Nothing about Jesus. Not one word.

        In this case, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

    • daveau
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      That’s a good summary, Kevin. I’m just going to point to this, then say “next question.”

    • NM
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      “Why would this be so? Why should there not be a non-religious corroboration of the existence of such an allegedly remarkable individual? There is no reason whatsoever, except for the fact that the person in question never existed whole-and-entire.”

      Oh come now. There is at least one quite obvious reason why Jesus would not be recorded by these other sources if he existed: Jesus was a real person, but at the time was quite a minor figure with only a few followers. Itinerant preachers might have almost been “a dime a dozen” — at the very least we know that John the Baptist and the Dead Sea Scrolls folks show the existence of other sects and preachers in the same time period.

      So the hypothesis would be this particular preacher named Jesus had a small group of followers, on occasion preached to hundreds of people, and eventually caused a stir in Jerusalem that got him executed. Probably you didn’t have to do much more than look at the authorities the wrong way to get executed back then.

      Afterwards, distraught members of the cult imagine that they see Jesus, have visions or whatever, and the religion starts to build. Stories about Jesus get told and retold, and grow in the retelling, and soon you have stories about thousands of people and earthquakes and angels etc. Other witnesses don’t record these spectacular events because they didn’t happen, but this isn’t a strong indication showing that a preacher named Jesus never existed.

      Another way to think of it is in terms of Bayesian logic. Presumably, the prior probability on a miracle occurring is low, and a good deal of high-quality evidence should be required to make for a convincing case for a miracle. But what’s the prior probability on a preacher existing who raised a small ruckus and got executed in a brutal age? *That* prior probability is quite high. With some moderately decent evidence in favor of the proposition, it becomes the conclusion of historians that it is very likely true. You would need some good evidence against the proposition to argue the other way. Arguments from silence, as far as I know, only work against Jesus-the-spectacular-miracle-worker, not against Jesus-the-minor-preacher-who-annoyed-the-authorities-one-weekend.

      • Kevin
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        That’s a nice hypothesis you got going there.

        Sadly, it suffers from a complete and utter lack of evidence.

  22. Dave
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I don’t really have an opinion on the subject. I haven’t read enough to really have an opinion and like many here I don’t really care if Jesus was a real person or not. I don’t think he was the son of god.

    I would definitely recommend Ehrman’s book “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why”. I grew up in a evangelical household and I went to an evangelical high school, and when I stopped believing in Jesus, “Misquoting Jesus” was very influential in helping me overcome years of evangelical brainwashing.

  23. David Leech
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    If the Gospels are based on oral traditions of people who had seen Jesus, why is there no characteristics? Was he tall or short, stocky or thin, did he speak loudly or smoothly, length of hair, did he have a beard. How come none of this was past down?

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Definitely white Middle Eastern.

      • daveau
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        With blue eyes.

        • Kevin
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          and rock-hard abs.

          • Aratina Cage
            Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

            And blonde hair! Can’t forget that.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Jesus had a beard,and mustache, and long hair. That’s practically certain. Shaving was a very delicate and expensive operation, that only the rich would indulge in. Roaming around the countryside without baggage or money, it would be impossible for an itinerant preacher to get a shaving, barely a haircut. Otherwise shaving miracles would have been inserted in the stories. In addition, shaving was a style adopted by the Romans, while Greeks and Near East people favored the beard. Look at all the earliest Byzantine illustrations, they all show beards and mustaches. This tradition was respected all through Western art.

        • J
          Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          Wonderful piece of editing in that article: after quoting a rather colourful description of Jesus from Revelation someone has kindly informed us that “These, however, are likely a more figurative description of a spiritual form of Jesus and not his human appearance” AND THEN someone’s put “[citation needed]“. Brilliant.

        • ROO BOOKAROO
          Posted April 5, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

          According to the Wiki article, “The earliest surviving Christian art comes from the late 2nd to early 4th centuries on the walls of tombs belonging, most likely, to wealthy Christians in the catacombs of Rome…The Tomb of the Julii has a famous but unique mosaic of Christ as Sol Invictus, a sun-god.
          The image of “The Good Shepherd”, a beardless youth in pastoral scenes collecting sheep, was the commonest of these images, and was probably not understood as a portrait of the historical Jesus at this period. It continues the classical Kriophoros, and in some cases may also represent the Shepherd of Hermas, a popular Christian literary work of the 2nd century.”
          So, these early images described a youth in a Roman setting, or the Good Shepherd, or the Shepherd of Hermas.
          See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Good_Shepherd_(Christianity)
          Shepherd or Christ, the figure radiated utmost nobility, and was pictured clean-shaven, like the Roman elite. Only lower-class artisans, servants and slaves remained unshaven in Rome.
          This Roman-elite depiction slowly changed, and with the collapse of the Western Empire in the 5th century, Byzantine models became preponderant. Jesus got a nicely-trimmed beard, an elegant mustache, and lovely, long, flowing hair, plus his halo. Nothing unkempt about him, all exuding class and good grooming.
          Regardless of Roman images, the character of the Gospels, a vagrant miracle-worker, always traipsing around on dusty roads, could not have looked like a Roman patrician. He must, per force, have worn beard, mustache, and long unkempt hair.
          And what about washing, cutting nails,changing clothes, and underwear? Did he carry any bags around? Did it ever rain? Or were those mundane details irrelevant once we knew Jesus could always resort to supernatural tricks?

  24. TheMuse
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Paul in Galations mentions in a casual almost off-handed way that he went up to Jerusalem and met with Peter but saw none of the other apostles save for James the Lord’s brother. The mythicists have twisted themselves into knots trying to deny that brother means biological brother but instead brethren, but that dog won’t hunt. Jesus existed and perhaps inadvertently started a new religion when Gentiles converted to Christianity which at the time was no more than a sect in Judaism where Jesus was seen as the Messiah in the Jewish sense of the word – God’s agent on earth who would usher in his kingdom. It was the creative Gentile imagination that elevated Jesus the faithful Jew to the divine creator through whom everything is made.

    • Badger3k
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Ehrman makes a point of that, since this is where he learned of Christianity. However, he ignores Paul’s other words where he claims to have learned it all from revelation and never received anything from human beings. Ehrman will trust Paul as telling the truth when it suits him, and ignores anything which contradicts his own pet hypothesis.

      He also never addressed the likelihood of Paul actually running around Palestine persecuting people without the Romans saying anything about it. Was the region a “Wild West” where religious terrorists like Saul could operate with impunity? (That’s a serious question that I’ve never seen answered, and if anyone has some good sources of information I’d appreciate that)

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        More than that. Why did Saul have to go to Damascus to chase Christians? Who sent him there? When there were bona fide Jesus followers right there in Jerusalem? And pretty easy to find too. Makes little sense, except to create a scenario with a scene on an isolated road and with an isolated and private vision. That vision episode would have been much more difficult to stage in a crowded city like Jerusalem. We have to give credit, the storytelling and scriptwriting in the Gospels and the Acts were superb. Those are spellbinding tales.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      Carrier doesn’t seem at all “twisted … into knots” about James.

      If Jesus did have a biological brother that Paul acknowledges, is it plausible that none of the Gospels mention him?

      /@

      • TheMuse
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        Again I call bullshit on the mythicist theory. Mark 6:3 as well as Matthew 13:55 mentions Jesus brothers and names four of them including one named James. I believe John also mentions Jesus having brothers but does not name them. So we have a well established belief from as early as the time of the writing of the epistles in Corinthians and Galations that Jesus had brothers and Paul almost casually names one of them in Galations as James.

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          Well then.

          Is it plausible that only one of the Gospels mention him by name? ;-)

          Still, it’s not clear to me that that verse in Matthew actually asserts that Jesus had brothers (or sisters). It seems more like a rhetorical device.

          But even if that is its meaning, doesn’t the fact that it’s only in one gospel suggest that it’s just another interpolation of “Matthew” or a later hand?

          I don’t think mythicism falls on this one point.

          /@

        • NM
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

          The Catholic Church, though, since 250 AD or something, has believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary, i.e. she never had any more children. So what did they know about the references to Jesus’s brother that we don’t?

    • yesmyliege
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      “Paul in Galations mentions in a casual almost off-handed way that he went up to Jerusalem and met with Peter but saw none of the other apostles save for James the Lord’s brother. The mythicists have twisted themselves into knots trying to deny that brother means biological brother but instead brethren, but that dog won’t hunt. ”

      Nice assertion. Carrier rips it to shreds.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Read Carrier on this.

      All Christians were called “brother of the Lord”. So, Paul was merely noting that this was one of the “brotherhood”. Not a biological brother of some guy named Jesus.

      There’s no “twisting” needed at all. The writer meant “member of the club”, not “son of the same mother.”

      The practice continues today, as anyone who has ever pledged a fraternity (see, that word) can tell you.

      • TheMuse
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        If ALL Christians were called “brother of the Lord” why did Paul say “…I saw none of the other apostles except for James.” without adding “the brother of the Lord.” Was there another apostle in the group named Jesus who was not a brother of the Lord?

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

          What makes you so certain that “Paul wrote those words, and that he was being honest when he did so?”

          I ask because, best I know, the earliest extant source for those words is a papyrus of questionable provenance that’s been aggressively dated using handwriting analysis to a few centuries after the alleged authorship, and because the text was authored by a lunatic whackjob cultist who saw Jesus in an hallucination.

          Given such dubious sources, it seems pointless to me to engage in precison literary analysis.

          b&

          • TheMuse
            Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

            Well I suppose you can make that argument for any ancient source and call just about anything into question. The fact is Paul in the epistles references the fact that Jesus has brothers and names one of them, James. The gospels also mention that Jesus has brothers and names four of them (James included). No good argument has been presented as to why brothers does not mean just that biological brothers. I don’t find the mythicist arguments persuasive at all when we have much better explanations that account for how Jesus a Palestinian Jew became the founder of a new world religion and a divine figure.

            • sahansdal
              Posted April 5, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

              Jesus never “founded” anything. His only interest was his given (John 17:6) and they were all accounted for while he was ALIVE (17:11). PAUL founded Christianity, not Jesus. Saviors come here at all times to save their “given”. There is one here, in India, right now: Baba Gurinder Singh Dhillon. http://www.RSSB.org
              look up my book for Christians: “Saviors, Beyond Qumran, Nag Hammadi, and The New Testament Code”

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

                awesome…you gave your own book a five star review on amazon.

              • sahansdal
                Posted April 6, 2012 at 1:48 am | Permalink

                Joe, Kirkus wrote the review, I gave it the stars. Why don’t you review it? I wrote it for people like you.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 6, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink

                i’m not a christian, and having read the blurbs and reviews, i can assure you that the book is not intended for me.

              • sahansdal
                Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

                Joe,

                Sorry to hear it.

              • sahansdal
                Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

                Sorry to hear it.

        • Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

          Why are the two times that Paul mentions “brother(s) of the lord” (1 Cor 9.5, Gal 1.19) he also mentions Cephas in the same breath?

          On the ‘brother means family member’ hypothesis, it makes the most sense if Cephas was also a family member, like an uncle or something.

          On the ‘brother means fellow Christian/leadership of some sort’ hypothesis, this makes sense if Cephas was also Christian leadership.

          We have other evidence, in Paul, that Cephas and James were Christian leadership. We have no evidence that any brothers of Jesus were Christian leadership (besides circularly assuming that James was a physical brother). Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in the gospels, but after their breif appearance in a parable that was designed to appeal to prophecy (i.e. prophets get rejected by their family) they disappear. In other words, that parable could have been wholly invented; it could be that a historical Jesus didn’t even have any brothers. Who knows?

          Jesus has no brothers that are in leadership positions in Acts of the Apostles. We don’t even have any evidence that his siblings became Christians (again, other than circularly assuming that James is a physical brother) since they disappear outside of that parable.

          We have no evidence that Cephas was a family member of Jesus.

          There’s also the evidence from John 19 that the “beloved disciples” became Jesus’ “brother” since Jesus declares while he’s on the cross that his mother is to now be the mother of the “beloved disciple”. But again, that’s not a physical brother.

          So I would lean towards the “brother” title as some sort of non-biological description. At least in Paul’s letters. Which makes sense of the earlier part of 1 Cor 9.5 when Paul mentions “sister women”, where most translations translate “sister” as “believing”.

          • sahansdal
            Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

            You’re in for a real treat. Read Robert Eisenman’s “James the Brother of Jesus” and “The NT Code”. You will find out what has been done to the Christ brothers, James, Simeon (Cephas), and Judas Thomas. I love these threads. I never knew that myself about Paul always mentioning Cephas at times he mentions “brother of the Lord”.

            Be sure to read Robert Price on the appearances interpolation in 1 Cor. 15:3-11

            http://www.depts.drew.edu/jhc/rp1cor15.html

            The “Beloved Disciple IS a biological brother. It is James. James is “Lazarus”, “Judas iscariot”, as well as “Stephen”, “Matthias”, “James brother of John”, and maybe even “Jesus” himself. This is what is so amazing. The “Betrayal” is not. It is a fabrication out of mistranslation: “Paradidomai” is Greek for “to deliver”. Jesus says his “Deliverer” is at hand in Matthew 26:46, not his Betrayer. “Judas” is a stand-in for James, who takes over for Jesus, just like in Acts 1, the election to replace “Judas” (James), and the stoning of “Stephen” (read Eisenman). The defeated “candidate” for the “Bishoprick” or “Office” in Acts 1 is “Joseph Barsababs JUSTUS” — James the Just, SON of father (Bar- s -abba- s)Joseph.
            “Saviors, Beyond Qumran, Nag Hammadi, and the New Testament Code” covers most of this. Oh, the Gospel of Judas, with Judas sacrificing “the man that bears me” is James becoming successor, giving HIMSELF up for the Mastership. He runs away naked in Luke 22 leaving his linen clothes (Nazirites wore only linen) behind. He flees UP, not just away, because he does not want to become Master. All this becomes clear with Eisenman and Sant Mat:

            https://ssl.perfora.net/s112005287.oneandoneshop.com/sess/utn;jsessionid=154f4eaf2199db4/shopdata/0110_RSSB+Books/0002_English+Language+Books/product_overview.shopscript

        • sahansdal
          Posted April 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

          But not by Paul. You know of another?

  25. Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    discussion of a historical “jesus” is essentially pointless, except as an exercise on how myths are made. That is not the jesus that Christians worship. There is no evidence for this magical character. None at all. We may as well talk about Coyote or Raven, and claim that they were “real” too, but only as a coyote and a raven.

    • Aratina Cage
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      Well, tell that to the historicists who are so intent on pulling a real white rabbit out of a magician’s top hat that they’ll strangle the magician to make it so.

  26. RFW
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    E P Sanders’ “The Historical Figure of Jesus” covers much the same territory. Sanders discusses, inter alia, how a historian would treat the biblical narrative, pointing out that accounts that are all glowing with goodness are likely false or falsified, but accounts of setbacks and pratfalls are more likely based on reality.

    Sanders’ ultimate conclusion is that the person we denote as “Jesus” existed, had followers, had a short ministry in Galilee, and that there was some unexplained “funny business” (my phrase) when he died.

    What remains unexplained is how the xtian cult formed around the memory of this person, in particular how a small Jewish sect believing the millenium was at hand was transmogrified into a major religion. St. Paul may have a lot to answer for!

    It’s a pretty level headed book in my opinion.

    PS: the mentions of Jesus by Josephus are widely believed by scholars to be interpolations into the text.

    • TheMuse
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Without Paul of Tarsus Christianity would likely have perished in the sands of Jerusalem not long after the end of the first century. The first ‘Christians’ were not Christians at all – at least not in the modern sense of the word – but Jews who believed the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus – a figure who would overthrow Roman rule and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Those first ‘Christians’ were Torah observant Jews who never abandoned Judaism. It was Paul’s mission to the Gentiles that turned the movement on it’s head and resulted in a new world religion – Christianity.

    • Chet
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

      Sanders discusses, inter alia, how a historian would treat the biblical narrative, pointing out that accounts that are all glowing with goodness are likely false or falsified, but accounts of setbacks and pratfalls are more likely based on reality.

      Tony Stark is an alcoholic, but that doesn’t prove that “Iron Man” was a documentary. Storytellers often insert negative character traits to make their characters more believable.

      • Posted April 5, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

        Yes. It’s important to note that the “criterion of embarrassment” is only found in Jesus studies, and is not a method used by proper historians in any other area – it’s a piece of pseudohistory original to Jesus studies.

        • Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

          It’s important to note that the “criterion of embarrassment” is only found in Jesus studies[....]

          I beg to differ!

          It’s an ancient and well-recognized technique of the confidence artist. If it’s too good to be true, it’s a scam, right? So be sure to put a couple minor scuffs in the fresh paint job of that just-wrecked death trap you’re trying to unload for cheap so the marks won’t question why it’s such a great deal.

          And, yes. Christians use it in exactly the same manner and for the same reason.

          Cheers,

          b&

  27. Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Ehrman wrote the book to convince mythicists that Jesus was a real guy. But, he takes such a bratty tone with them, I’m pretty sure they’ll dismiss him Number one rule of debate, treat your opponent like a human being with a different opinion. Plus, Ehrman doesn’t actually do that good of a job at arguing his case. I do think there was a historical Jesus, and he’s almost convincing me otherwise!

    • Kingasaurus
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      That’s what I don’t like. I don’t have a strong opinion on the question, but I don’t like the insinuation that the mythicists are all cranks. Only engaging the arguments of presumed kooks on the periphery of the debate doesn’t settle the question.

      Guys like Carrier and Price might end up being wrong, but they’re not kooks as far as I can tell.

      The attempted conflation of mythicism and creationism is a false analogy.

    • Jer
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Ehrman wrote the book to convince mythicists that Jesus was a real guy.

      That assumes facts not in evidence. In fact, from what I’ve read so far, I’d say this book has a zero percent chance of convincing anyone of anything they don’t already believe on the mythical Jesus front.

      To be charitable, this book seems to have been written to make sure everyone knows that Bart Ehrman doesn’t believe that Jesus was a myth, and that anyone who does should stop citing his works on the corruption of scripture and the foundations of Christianity for their arguments. The preservation of Bart Ehrman’s reputation among New Testament academics seems to be the only rationale for this book from what I’ve read of it so far…

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Ehrman says explicitly that he is not expecting to persuade mythicists, since they are a brand of conspiracy theorists and denialists who refuse to be persuaded. And so presumably the person who asserted otherwise has not read the book.

        Again, isn’t discussing a book one has not read about a topic in which one does not have expertise and drawing conclusions about it something which, based on experience with what some folks do in relation to evolution, a very bad idea?

        • xuuths
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

          Many of us here in fact have expertise in this area, and can dismiss blatant errors in a few quotes on that basis without having to read the whole thing. (Anyone claiming to be a historian and uses Josephus as a source for the existence of jesus . . . nutjob!)

          Dr. Coyne doesn’t have to read the whole book of a young earth creationist to know that any claims of the flood creating fossils is wrong.

          Ehrman makes a terrible mistake by stating people opposing his conclusions are ill informed, or somehow not as expert as he is. What arrogance!

    • Aratina Cage
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Meh. Bratty tone hardly matters in the end. What matters is what the argument behind the tone is. Or I should say, the bratty tone just makes a pathetic argument look even more pathetic. And it is there where we find the difficulty because the argument being presented does not justify the condescending tone.

      • xuuths
        Posted April 6, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

        Excellent point, Aratina Cage.

        When someone starts the argument from their own authority, decrying others for not being able to understand (follow, “get it”, etc.), and sneering about the qualifications of someone else, there’s a decent probability that their points are not supported by the evidence.

  28. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Ehrman:
    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?

    Carrier responds:
    “Answer: the only kind of messiah figure you could invent would be one who wasn’t like that. Otherwise, everyone would notice no divine being had militarily liberated Israel and resurrected all the world’s dead. This means the probability of that evidence (“anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that”) on the hypothesis “someone made up a messiah” is exactly zero…”

    It would be good to see McGrath respond to arguments like that, instead of dismissing it and defaming the character and qualifications of his opponents.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      The problem is that Carrier seems to be ignoring what “Messiah” means. The early Christians were claiming that Jesus was the anointed one descended from David – i.e. the one expected to restore the line of David to the throne. Does it really wash to say that Christians invented a dead king as heir to the throne? Is it really more likely than that they believed someone was that person, he was killed, and the rest results from an attempt to deal with the cognitive dissonance?

    • Greg G
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Ehrman: But prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah.

      From Daniel 9:26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.

      Obviously some Jews expected the Anointed One to be put to death and if one of the major methods of execution at the time was crucifixion, it is very reasonable that they would have assumed that one. Paul had written about Christ being crucified but never mentioned where or when. So when the Romans sacked the city and the sanctuary, some of the Jews would then have assumed the Anointed One had already been put to death before and it was a matter of associating one of the executed religious leaders as that Messiah, ex post facto.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      One of the major problems I have with Ehrman is that he’s being quite disingenuous.

      Of course, no Jew of the day would say “the messiah will be crucified by the Romans”. And so, Ehrman can skate by being technically correct.

      The real issue is whether there was a prophecy of the messiah being killed. … and there it is, as pointed out, in Daniel.

      Ehrman is playing semantic games. It makes me trust him way less than I would otherwise. And he appears to not “get” that the rest of us see right through his sophistry.

      Too bad for him. Ain’t gonna sell me that book — and I’d be a consumer of it otherwise.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        Carrier seemed quite horrified by Ehrman’s first HuffPo piece pushing the book. He’d been a big fan previously.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        Daniel is pseudoprophecy, and quite beside the point. No one is denying that anointed ones – kings and high priests – had been killed at various points in history. The issue is whether it made sense for someone to invent an alleged heir to the throne, who was expected to restore the line of David to the throne, who was crucified.

        • eric
          Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

          It makes perfect sense if the myth was invented after the time the messiah was supposed to have lived.

          Someone inventing a Jesus-myth in, say, 50 AD would have said to themselves: I have to show my protagonist was part of the line of David in order to make my story match Jewish prophesies. I have to explain how his throne-restoration was spiritual rather than literal, because everyone is aware that no literal restoration occurred. And I have to say he’s dead, because otherwise people would want to meet him. Death by old age won’t cut it, let’s make him a roman martyr.

  29. Greg G
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t say there was no historical Jesus (as in zero) but that there was not a historical Jesus (as in exactly one). Josephus lists several High Priests of the Temple who were named Jesus and there would certainly be mfar more religious leaders of other types by that name. Pilate would have executed many people named Jesus so perhaps the two sets intersect. The first century writers would have had no way to disambigulate all the stories any better than we can distinguish all the James, Johns and Marys in the New Testament.

    Paul mentions false apostles (2 Cor 11 and Gal 5). He displays no interest in any earthly Jesus.

    After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, some of the various fragments of believers coalesced in the Gospel of Mark.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it until I see better evidence.

    I have read several of Ehrman’s books and look forward to the latest.

  30. yesmyliege
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Vridar (http://vridar.wordpress.com/) has been documenting the despicable apologetic shenanigans of James McGrath re mythicism for years.

    And Richard Carrier (http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier) has addressed the shortcomings of Ehrman’s introductory remarks about his book at length. With McGrath chiming in to impugn Carrier’s credentials, which has to be the most ironic demonstration of projection in the history of the galaxy.

    Carrier promises a review of Ehrman’s book. I predict he is going to tear him a new pack of exotic chewing gum like you wouldn’t believe.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      If shenanigans can include defending historical study from bunk promulgated by self-published authors, people whose expertise is in other areas, and people who do not publish on the topic in question in reputable academic journals, and yet proclaim their pet theories as definitive, then I am guilty of shenanigans, as is Jerry Coyne on this blog in a parallel effort to defend mainstream science against comparable detractors, among whom there are more people with PhDs than there are among the mythicists. It is crucial to understand what the consensus is and why it exists, without resorting to conspiracy theories.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Let me ask you again, and perhaps you can answer this time: are you talking about Carrier when you say things like that? Or all mythicists except Carrier? Or just a few, if so who?

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        You are implying that the evidence for historicism is just as solid as the evidence for evolution in biology. You are wrong.

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

          +1

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          History and biology do not offer the same degrees of certainty. But in both cases fringe critics deny the conclusions drawn with the high degree of certainty appropriate to the field in question, using similar tactics to do so. That is the point of the comparison.

          • yesmyliege
            Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

            “…conclusions drawn with the high degree of certainty appropriate to the field …”

            And this is where it all falls down.

            This “high degree of certainty” avowed by your fraternity of theologians is finally drawing the attention of properly trained historians who are simply not impressed by your field’s methods and conclusions.

            Indeed, that you even claim a “high degree of certainty” is why many are calling for the removal of Biblical studies departments from true universities. You are hoisted by your own petard.

      • yesmyliege
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        McGrath:

        “If shenanigans can include defending historical study from bunk promulgated by self-published authors…”

        Interested readers can go to http://vridar.wordpress.com/ themselves, search up posts having to do with the key word “McGrath”, and decide for themselves just how compelling and professional is your defense of hitroricism.

    • Bob Carlson
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Concerning Vridar, there are several recent posts there concerning the Ehrman book and its gross inaccuracies in its discussions of the Earl Doherty book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus. I have read the Ehrman book but not the Doherty one. The latter is a greatly expanded version of his book, The Jesus puzzle:
      did Christianity begin with a mythical Christ?
      . I did read that book and thought it excellent. The Ehrman book is amateurish in comparison.

  31. Veroxitatis
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s correct to say that the Romans didn’t keep detailed records. However, it is accepted that there are few Court records surviving from the provinces. On the other hand, educated Romans were great letter writers. Herod and Pilate did not exist in isolation in Jerusalem. There would have been a significant staff. But no letters referring to this acclaimed prophet exist. No anecdotes relating to tales of his miracles. Even your average soldier found time to write home about the unpleasant climate and even more unpleasant natives when serving on Antonine’s and Hadrian’s British walls!

    BTW, Jerry, what is so miraculous about this so called “virgin birth”?

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      BTW, Jerry, what is so miraculous about this so called “virgin birth”?

      That the offspring was male, for starters.

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        I merely meant that Mary could have conceived but remained virgo intacta.

    • Erp
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      And how many of those writings survived? Virtually none.

      Note a historical question is how did Christianity arise? We know Christianity had a start (it is still around and at one time it wasn’t). The mythicists have several versions and the historicists have their versions. On the whole I find the historicists more persuasive in explaining how Christianity started.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

        If you want to know the origins of Christianity, just read the delightful and short account by Lucian of Samosata on the Passing of Peregrinus. For confirmation, look up what Martyr had to say about the “Sons of Jupiter.”

        Short version? Christianity is no different from any other religion. Shocking, eh?

        b&

        • J
          Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:52 am | Permalink

          What exactly does Lucian say on the origins of Christianity? I can only find quotations about Peregrinus as a Christian (in a quick internet search, I don’t have books available to me), which include comments indicating the early Christians were worshipping a man who (they assumed) existed.

          • Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:58 am | Permalink

            Roger Parvus, a formidable intellect who has studied this literature in some depth, has argued a cogent case that the “Peregrinus” of Lucian was none other than the “Ignatius” of the Ignatian correspondence — both craving martyrdom, and much more: he posted his series (which I am still working on bringing together into a single PDF file) here: http://vridar.wordpress.com/category/book-reviews-notes/parvus-letters-ignatius/ — that’s the archive for all his posts. Start at the bottom for #1 and work your way up.

            • Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

              Actually, my guess would be that Peregrinus was another, far better known and much more influential Christian….

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps I do the argument more justice if I say it offers reasons to see the letters now known to us under the name of “Ignatius” (and heavily redacted) were originally by Peregrinus.

          • Posted April 5, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

            I heartily encourage you to read Lucian’s The Passing of Peregrinus for yourself to find out.

            It’s a short and entertaining read, and it’s readily found in a modern translation on the ‘Net.

            The search results you found obviously were the result of a Christian combing through the historical record for every possible hint of a mention of Jesus, Christ, or Christians, and claims each and every one as evidence for Gospel Truth of the Bible, whilst completely ignoring the actual content and context of the source.

            For example, consider if an ancient text were found that read, “Can you believe those nutjob Christians? They worship this “Christ” god whom they think physically rose from the dead and walked around for forty days with holes in his hands and feet and a gaping chest wound. Crazy! How on Earth is one supposed to deal with such lunatics?” Christians would interpret that as “evidence” of the “historicity” of “Jesus.”

            And, no. That’s not much of an exaggeration. Read the letters of Pliny the Younger to Trajan for exactly such an example.

            (You may have noticed Pliny’s name on the same list where you found Lucian’s.)

            Cheers,

            b&

            • joe piecuch
              Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

              ok, so, to try to get back on topic, ehrman is not a christian, and is claiming only that there was a historical person around whom christian mythology accreted. i’ll ask again a question that has previously gotten no response: without digression, obfuscation and irrelevant speculation, where are the errors in his scholarship? what are the mistakes in his book that cripple his argument?

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

                Let’s see.

                Let’s start with the fact that Bart didn’t get right the name of the book he is criticising.

                And then there are the invisible documents he uses as evidence.

                And 4 Gospels turn into 7 independent sources.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                “Let’s start with the fact that Bart didn’t get right the name of the book he is criticising.”

                i don’t think that invalidates his proposition.

                “And then there are the invisible documents he uses as evidence. And 4 Gospels turn into 7 independent sources.”

                those are the same thing, right? those interpretations are not unfounded speculations unique to him; they are the consensus of a large number of researchers with backgrounds that qualify them to comment authoritatively, and who come down on both sides of the question of whether jesus was ‘god’…without an axe to grind, in other words. i will wager that neither of those qualifiers applies to you. so why would i give more weight to your opinion than theirs?

              • Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

                Joe, if you really think that Ehrman’s original Aramaic eyewitness source that he fabricated by pulling a Gideon Bible out of his ass doesn’t qualify as “unfounded speculation,” then permit me to show you my original deed to the Brooklyn Bridge, which I’m more than happy to sell to you for the low, low price of only $1,000,000. Why, the scrap value of the Bridge alone is waaaaaay more than that! Cash only, of course, in small unmarked bills. And no refunds. You know how these things are.

                And the qualifications of your “large number of researchers” who share a consensus as to not only the existence but the content of these never-witnessed “original sources”? Why, it’s nothing more nor less than their ability to properly recite the Credo of the institutions paying their salaries!

                b&

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

                i have a good sense of your approach to argument, having previously experienced you lurching from accusing me of being a bloodthirsty cat killer to, pausing for neither breath nor thought, accusing me of being a worried-about-every-microbe PETA-phile, so i did not expect a direct, coherent answer to a simple question. your crudely distorted mischaracterization of prof. ehrman’s “original aramaic eyewitness source” is also true to form.

                so, the question still stands: what are the mistakes in his book that cripple his argument?

            • joe piecuch
              Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

              and, yeah, what ehrman says certainly sounds more plausible than some of the wackier conspiracy theorizing i’m seeing here (occam’s razor and all). some of you, especially you, are sounding very much like the jfk and 9/11 nuts…kinda like christians, even.

  32. joe piecuch
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    it’s pretty hilarious that so many people willing to deny the existence of an historical jesus for lack of evidence are willing to criticise ehrman without having read his book. i’m one of the as-far-as-i-can tell couple of people here who have done so; while it is in places less thorough and convincing than one could wish, i find it generally persuasive in that the preponderance of evidence suggests to me that it’s much more likely that there was someone upon whom all the stories are based than that there was not…and that’s all he is claiming. most of you doing the decrying are arguing against things he didn’t say, or, in some cases, for things he does say because you’ve erroneously assumed his stance to be opposed. whatever…most people already know what they want to think, and are impervious to reason and evidence suggesting something else.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      So what was it about the invisible documents Bart waves around that persuaded you that they were based on real stories about a real Jesus that unaccountably lacked so much historical context that the Gospellers could not place the date of the death or birth of Jesus?

      And how did Bart explain why the Romans were God’s agents, who did not bear the sword for nothing, after they crucified Christ?

      And how did Bart explain why Paul says Jews can’t be expected to believe in Jesus because they had never heard of him until Christians were sent (by God, not Jesus) to preach about Jesus?

      Did Bart just ignore all these holes in his story line?

      • joe piecuch
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        with regard to your first question, the “invisible documents” were only a part of the evidence ehrman marshals to make his case. a couple centuries’ worth of scholarship stands behind most of what he says about them; the shortcoming you mention hardly merits dismissal of them in their entirety.

        with regard to your second and third questions, as best i can understand you, i think they are issues irrelevant to the matter at hand.

        with regard to your fourth question, it would appear that he did. i would guess that he didn’t feel obliged or inclined to anticipate every tinfoil hat non sequitur he would hear in objection from people who hadn’t bothered to read his book.

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

          So , while historical Jesus studies have crashed and burned to the extent that people now write books documenting the failures, we are told that they are experts so we can trust them.

          The reality is that not only can Biblical scholars not produce Q, but they can’t even agree if it existed.

          But trust them, they are experts and their hypothetical invisible documents prove Jesus existed, even though they cannot agree on their existence.

          And we are now told Bart had no reason to address mythicist arguments.

          As soon as Al-Qaeeda start telling me the American’s are God’s agents, who do not bear the sword for nothing, I will stop pointing out the way historicists duck when things get tricky for them.

          • Ray Moscow
            Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

            Wait — Ehrman says we ‘have’ these Aramaic sources that were nearly contemporary with Jesus’ death, and he wouldn’t exaggerate about that, would he?

          • joe piecuch
            Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

            “And we are now told Bart had no reason to address mythicist arguments.”

            well, he does just that, so it appears that you were provided false information.

            “As soon as Al-Qaeeda start telling me the American’s are God’s agents, who do not bear the sword for nothing, I will stop pointing out the way historicists duck when things get tricky for them.”

            well said, sir! stick to your guns on that one.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      So what you are saying is that there are no historical evidences, so Ehrman is reduced to make up just so stories about untestable likelihoods. Or even “likelihoods”, as likelihoods are based on statistical models out of observations.

      Okay … [/backs slowly from the mad case]

      “reason and evidence”

      Really, make up your mind already. Historical or no evidence!?

      • joe piecuch
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

        “So what you are saying is that there are no historical evidences…”

        no, i am not. sorry.

  33. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Though the Gospel accounts are biased, they cannot be discounted as non-historical.

    Um, what!? Of course they are non-historical!
    They don’t describe contemporary historical information or eyewitness accounts. And they are more than biased, they are fictional in as much as their purpose is to serve as religious texts, not historical accounts.

    Really, is Ehrman supposed to be someone qualified on analyzing this stuff?

    • xuuths
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Of course the gospel accounts are historical. For irrationally broad definitions of “historical” that fly in the face of accepted definitions of “historical” by legitimate historians.

  34. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    It’s not going to kill them to think Jesus really existed.

    Of course not. Bring the actual evidence!

    It’s just amazing and shocking and downright pernicious what non-existent gruel has been proposed to be evidence for a historical person. A sham, and people like Ehrman isn’t willing to admit how preposterous and weak it is.

  35. Ray Moscow
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    The ironic thing for me is that I half-expected for Ehrman to somewhat persuade me of the probability of there being an HJ of some sort. However, his tirade at PuffHo and the excerpts I’ve seen from his book have made it seem ridiculous.

    If an smart guy like Ehrman can’t do better for the HJ hypothesis than this, it’s a dead end.

  36. MadScientist
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Ehrman needs to learn some real history. The Romans didn’t keep detailed records? Oh, please. Perhaps the majority of records from the era did not survive (after all, that was 2000 years ago) and yet there are still numerous records in existence. We know of numerous governors in different parts of the empire, how much people were taxed, what soldiers were paid, etc. I would expect Ehrman to at least show that the “Pontius Pilate” of the bible did exist, what his real name was, and the era of his appointment.

    Ehrman is just weird. So there was this dude named Jesus – he wasn’t a god, but maybe was a preacher, but he really did exist. Wha – hey, what Jesus is he talking about? That’s surely not the Jesus of the bible! I don’t know a single christian who would say that’s their Jesus.

    Jesus!

  37. Jeffy Joe
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I was startled to see UMass Amherst, and a quick search revealed Louise Antony to be someone I routinely see at lunch! And she edited a book on atheist philosophers! I’ll have to strike up a conversation one of these days (the philosophy and psychology professors have even been known to sit together on rare occasions). There’s always something wonderful to discover at WEIT!

  38. Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I am going to leave this frustrating “conversation” but let me say one last time that those who say “there is no evidence for a historical Jesus” sound to someone trained in history like those who say “there is no evidence for evolution” sound to someone trained in science. That people can stand for rigorous scholarship in one area of academic investigation, and against it in another, disturbs me to the core of my being as an educator.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      And here you perfectly summarize all that’s worng with the study of history, or, at least, as the study is too often practiced.

      A real scientist, when discovering that evidence is tainted, will ignore the evidence. Even when the evidence is solid, you’ll still find error bars and other cautions as to the probability of the veracity of the findings, as well as a description of (or at least speculation as to) what would be sufficient to invalidate the results.

      An historian, on the other hand, has no problem making absolute statements based upon Medieval reconstructions of copies-of-copies-of-copies of fragments of alleged mid-first-century documents that describe late-first-century events as having happened in the early first century, and will avoid mentioning the worse-than-dubious provenance of these “sources.” Hell, all y’all even have the gall to “traditionally” quote the documents as if they were authored by the alleged original author, even though it’s well known that the documents are anonymous through and through.

      And Ehrman here has gone even further. He’s fantasized into existence an entire series of generations of perfectly un-evidenced prior documents these were based upon, tracing the imaginary translations they went through to the <breathless>MULTIPLE ORIGINAL SOURCES!</breathless>

      This is not academic investigation. It is fraud, it is dishonesty, it is lies.

      And here you are, defending the liar, rather than calling him on the carpet for his blatant crimes against academia.

      Yes, yes. I know. “But if we apply honest academic standards to history, then we won’t know anything at all about history!” Well, tough shit. The fact is, we really don’t know much about history at all. If history were an honest discipline, that’d be common knowledge. Instead, here you are furthering the lie that reliable conclusions can be drawn from laughably inadequate and tainted data.

      Have you no shame?

      b&

      • joe piecuch
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        “Have you no shame?”

        as per usual, you are accusing your opponent of saying things he did not say in order to facilitate your ‘argument’. i recall no “absolute statements” in professor ehrman’s book. rather than lending weight to your accusations, all the name calling makes you sound defensive and insecure.

        but, hey! i heard that the newest textual analyses suggest that all the old manuscripts that fail to mention jesus do not because satanic stealth monks excised all those parts from their transcriptions! but evidence of evidence is absence of absence! and you can’t prove otherwise, because you don’t have the originals! so, you lose!

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

          i recall no “absolute statements” in professor ehrman’s book.

          Then you clearly haven’t read it.

          Page 331, last paragraph:

          In either case, that was all Pilate needed. He had other things on his hands and other demands on his time. As governor, he had the power of life and death–no need to appeal to Roman federal law, which for the most part did not exist. If there were troublemakers, the easiest thing to do was simply to dispose of them. And so he did. He ordered Jesus to be crucifed. The whole trial may have lasted no more than a couple minutes. And the order was carried out immediately. The soldiers reportedly flogged Jesus and led him off to be exescuted, presumably outside the city walls. Before anyone knew it, the apocalyptic preacher was on a cross. According to our earliest account, he was dead within six hours.

          That’s an absolute affirmation of faith, not a reasoned conclusion based on reliable and well-provinenced sources.

          Oh, and let’s not forget his concluding words, either: “Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not.”

          And funny you should mention Satanic stealth monks altering history. You do know that that was Justin Martyr’s excuse for all those blatantly obvious historical precedents to Jesus, don’t you? And that, to this day, it remains the official position of the Catholic Church on that matter?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • joe piecuch
            Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

            “An historian, on the other hand, has no problem making absolute statements based upon Medieval reconstructions of copies-of-copies-of-copies of fragments of alleged mid-first-century documents that describe late-first-century events as having happened in the early first century, and will avoid mentioning the worse-than-dubious provenance of these “sources.””

            that’s a pretty limp argument coming from someone who cites in support of his arguments as many copies-of-copies-of-copies historians as do you. just sayin’.

          • joe piecuch
            Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

            tell you what; it sounds more like a summation of an argument than an absolute statement to me. and characterising it as “an absolute affirmation of faith” is preposterous.

            hey, how come all the historians that you agree with are reliable? and where are all the 1st through 4th century texts that say ‘there was no jesus! don’t believe the hype!’

    • Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:15 am | Permalink

      Dr McGrath is a theologian, not a historian. I have attempted on numerous occasions to engage him in discussions of historical methods and the nature of history and he gives an excellent impression of never having heard of von Ranke, Collingwood, Carr or Elton. He advised me to read a certain book by Howell and Prevenier about historical methodology and when I quoted back to him the very points that invalidated what biblical scholars try to do with their “criteriology” he launched into the usual ad hominem that I was misrepresenting them but never found the time to explain how or in what way my quotations were misrepresentations.

      Even his fellow theologians have attempted to alert his like to their ignorance of history and historical methods outside the guild of biblical studies. Example: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=GLvGMplSO_sC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

      A small but growing number of “minimalist” historians of the Old Testament have met a lot of resistance, especially among American theologians, to the way they have applied the same methods of source analysis and the standard methods of classical and other historians to the OT. What they do is avoid circular reasoning: they do not confuse the story world of narratives with “historical evidence” for that narrative. They coincidentally agree with Albert Schweitzer (and others) who have pointed out the need for independent corroboration before accepting a claim at face value.

      There are bad and lazy “real” historians, too, unfortunately, who rely on easily accessible narratives — even if unprovenanced — as “evidence” for the historicity of the content of the narrative. But they are usually hidden in the dust of superior research before long.

      The thing that struck me about Carrier’s response to McGrath was that every one of his criticisms of McGrath’s evasions, ad hominems, circular reasoning, inability to sustain a logical and coherent argument, are what I have met with repeatedly whenever I have attempted to engage him in a serious discussion.

      For the record, here is a sample of McGrath’s depth of wisdom in the field of history. He has said that NT scholarship is probably leading the way in genuine historiographical methodology, since NT scholars have discovered that even fabricated material may be most useful evidence for the “historian”:

      “Even fabricated material may provide a true sense of the gist of what Jesus was about, however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned.” @ http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/new-testament-scholars-are-pioneers-in-historical-methods/

  39. Neil
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    If there were a real jesus, he was probably a wild-eyed crazy cargo-cultist preaching about the end of the world and how he could save you. You can find one of those in practically any city of the world today. Just remember to put your spare change in his paper cup.

  40. raven
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    One of the oddest thing about the NT bible is a dog that didn’t bark.

    We don’t have a single word from jesus from his own hand. Today, most third graders could write something down. If jesus is really god, the most powerful being in the universe, seems like he could have left a few Epistles and an autobiography or something.

    The OP refers to Ehrman claiming literacy back then was 3%. The most common numbers I’ve heard are more like 10-15%. And who knows how that literacy number was calculated and how reliable it was.

    Most scholars claim that people of jesus’s class would have been illiterate. So it is entirely possible that jesus never wrote anything because he was illiterate.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      Even Ehrman tends to describe Jesus as a “teacher” and a “preacher,” and such terms are generally synonymous (even literally translated as) “rabbi.” And rabbies of the time were literate, what with having to read from the Torah and all.

      Even still, arguing that “a” Jesus could possibly be “the” Jesus despite being illiterate strikes as most desperate. If we’re going to lower our standards that far, why even reuire that he have been named “Jesus,” or have been male, or Jewish, or have lived in first century Judea?

      Hey, I know! Princess Leia was the real historical Jesus! And you can’t prove me worng! Woo-hoo! I win! I’m a super-sophisticated Jesus historian!

      b&

      • joe piecuch
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        “…rabbies of the time…”

        clearly, you don’t know anything about hydrophobia.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

        The egregious Ehrman is becoming referred to as “Errorman”

        • joe piecuch
          Posted April 5, 2012 at 4:59 am | Permalink

          like they used to call al gore ‘ozone man’! which means that global warming is a hoax! hey, is ehrman fat, too? that would clinch the deal, all right.

          please let me know the errors that capsize ehrman’s argument; i’m asking because i’d like to know. if all you have is a funny name, try to make it funnier!

  41. MikeN
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Not being an expert in the field, it just seems more likely to me that the myths and legends would grow around an actual person -like Muhammed, like Joseph Smith, like the Bahullah (speaking of religions with guys named Bob) but I’ll certainly look forward to Carrier’s new book, knowing him to have originally been a historicist.

    One question: if you’re inventing this guy from whole cloth, why make him from Galilee? That screws up the prophecies so badly that Matthew and Luke have to make up totally contradictory stories about how he got born in Bethlehem and then grew up in Galilee. Why make up something like that?

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      Read Lucian of Samosata’s account of the passing of Peregrinus to learn how Christianity got invented, and compare it with Justin Martyr’s description of the “Sons of Jupiter” along with how Joseph Smith invented the Moron Angel and how Hubbard invented Xenu.

      Consistency is never a big requirement in religious synthesis, or in any other form of mythology. Paul Bunyan goes from head and shoulders taller than the trees he’s harvesting to big enough to carelessly dig the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe behind him — taller than Everst, if you do the math.

      That goes triply when you have multiple authors contributing to the canon, as readily becomes apparent whenever you get nerds arguing over the details of any TV series by citing different episodes at each other.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Aratina Cage
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      And why did Superman grow up in Kansas? It makes no sense!

    • Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Jesus comes from Galilee because that is the source/location of one of the elements which went into the composite Gospel of Mark: the preaching and activities of a sect which announced the coming Kingdom of God and the Son of Man. All the Synoptic communities were expressions of that widespread sect (Galilee and Syria).

      The Q document reflects the sect’s teachings, though it gave no death & resurrection dimension to its perceived founder. Matthew and Luke knew and incorporated it, while the earlier Mark drew only on similar Q-type oral traditions familiar to him. Those Q traditions were used by Mark to create his Jesus character’s ministry, and since the traditions’ location was Galilee, he was stuck with it, if he even had any objection.

      Mark’s Passion dimension (entirely missing in the Q background) seems to be a syncretization with an entirely separate phenomenon on the 1st century scene: the Christ cult of Paul & Co. who had no human incarnated figure. Mark took the spiritual Christ of Paul, wedded it to the Q Jesus, and gave him a trial and crucifixion under Pilate, and a resurrection of some sort. Pilate, Caiaphas and a Jerusalem scene of execution were adopted because only there could all the necessary elements to fashion Mark’s story and its ‘moral’ be found, although it was also the case that the origins of the Christ cult, as revealed in the Pauline epistles, had to be attached to the legendary leaders and early apostles of the cult, such as James, Peter and Paul, and that is the time during which they had operated and the movement seemed to have ‘begun’.

  42. sahansdal
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    I don’t appreciate what Ehrman has done with this book, because it is A DIVERSION from the question at hand. It isn’t did Jesus exist, but why is he still the focus of such interest after all these years when he himself said IT DOESN’T MATTER IF HE WAS SAVIOR, because he can’t be after he IS DEAD? (John 9:4, Codex Sinaiticus version, and 5)

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      The answer is simple. Once the “Light of the World” was gone, the world still got a flickering light from candles — the apostles and disciples — which spread around and brought some feeble illumination to the darkest corners of the earth.
      Centuries passed, and then, ta-da! electrical light shone everywhere! The World suddenly was all lit up, and with electricity, the voices of the priests were heard everywhere, and the Bibles appeared in everybody’s hotel room! The work of God seemed finally to be done!
      Not so fast! The soul who brought electricity to the world, a non-believing demon (Thomas Edison) didn’t want Jesus to be the Light of the World anymore. He didn’t like the semi-darkness that he’d left behind everywhere.
      This marked the time when men and even more so women, discovered that life had become easy and fun, and that they didn’t need lighting from those Jesus candles any more. The inventive demon wanted to prove that mankind could do just fine without Jesus and still enjoy full lighting. He succeeded beyond his dreams.
      John, stuck in his antiquity, simply couldn’t see so far in the future.

  43. Chris
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Life of Brian. It’s all there…

  44. Aratina Cage
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    “I keep telling Christians, they don’t have to be afraid of the truth,” said Ehrman. “The same thing applies to atheists and humanists. It’s not going to kill them to think Jesus really existed.”

    No, I think it is important for Christians (and some agnostics) to let the reality of the situation sink in: there is not much evidence that Jesus existed, and what little evidence there is is second-hand and so brief that it is extremely difficult to parse.

    It has never been about atheism or atheists not wanting to admit reality. This whole historicity debate is about how credulous Christians (and some agnostics) have been and continue to be–how big a fiction their entire religion rests on. That is simply an amazing thing to behold once one starts looking at the actual evidence of whether or not Jesus existed, likely more so for curious Christians. We should point it out to them every chance we get as if they were children learning for the first time that, despite the cookies and milk being gone every Christmas morning–despite what they’ve believed for as long as they’ve been cognizant, Santa doesn’t exist.

  45. FastLane
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Well, considering the sophist-icated theologians keep telling us it doesn’t even really matter if gawd exists, this debate is even more pointless.

    Clearly, we don’t need or care about evidence jeebus, moohammed, buddha, et. al. All that matters is…I forget, what is the point of all that claptrap again?

  46. Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Oh Jesus! Not that old chestnut “Jesus actually existed” bull.

  47. Jasha
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Ehrman is in my opinion out of bounds in comparing Christ-myth proponents to holocaust deniers. He may not think much of the scholarship of Richard Carrier et al, but they aren’t proposing anything dangerous or sinister.

  48. Matt Damon
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Am I the only one who thinks the question of Jesus’ ACTUAL existence seems rather irrelvant from a historical perspective.

    Far more interesting is how the evidence for him or something like him compared to the evidence of other characters from history and how we believe or disbelieve in those.

    • sahansdal
      Posted April 6, 2012 at 1:33 am | Permalink

      More interesting still is why people like Christians care, when he said himself that it doesn’t matter if he was savior BECAUSE HE ISN’T ANYMORE: John 9:4 (“sent US”, not “sent me”, Codex Sinaiticus) and John 9:5.

  49. Paul.J
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    Jesus Mythicists are completelly delusional. As stupid as anti-evolutionists. You lot don’t set a good example for supposedly “sceptical”, rationalists.
    The alternative explanation is the thing. There isn’t one, at least one that cant be demolished with a tiny bit of logic and common sense.

    • Posted April 6, 2012 at 4:50 am | Permalink

      Harry Potter Mythicists are completelly delusional. As stupid as anti-evolutionists. You lot don’t set a good example for supposedly “sceptical”, rationalists.
      The alternative explanation is the thing. There isn’t one, at least one that cant be demolished with a tiny bit of logic and common sense.

      • Posted April 6, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        What a dogmatic irrational position! It is entirely possible that there was a young boy named Harry (or more likely “Harold” since that is the original form) whose parents died in a car crash leaving him with an odd scar on his forehead and under the care of his cranky Aunt and Uncle in Surrey. He may have had a most magical personality, but died young at the age of 17 in a Walmart (read Voldemort as a mistranslation) shopping cart accident. Being such an unremarkable story it was lost in a small local newspaper without an archive, we can call this the N document, yet Rowling happened upon this article and was moved to write an inspiring mythological account in honour of poor Harry (Harold) ending in his ultimate resurrection and defeat of the dark wizard (evil megacorp). He now lives in the “wizarding world” which is why we cannot meet this magical boy as it is hidden from us muggles. Surely this is more plausible than Rowling simply “making it all up”, pfshaw! How could she know all those details? And why would Walmart sell so many of those books if it didn’t feel the least bit guilty about that whole shopping cart incident? JUST A STORY?!? HA! 7 books translated into dozens of languages with millions of copies sold and 8 movies says there is a grain of truth to this phenomenon, there must have been a real boy that inspired this wonderful story that has affected the lives of millions. I know grown men who have wept upon finishing the final chapter!

    • Posted April 6, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      It’s perfectly reasonable to ask for some evidence of historicity prior to adopting a historicist position. But, I tend to agree that most mythicists, like Price or Doherty, don’t have a convincing rationale for how Christianity got so popular that it had to be adopted as the official Roman religion. But, neither do the historicists.

      That’s why I like the Roman Flavian origins theory. It’s almost as good as the supernatural origin because it also has God backing it. Except, in this case it is God in the legal sense of someone who has been deified by the Roman senate. That is the the true “God” of the NT.

      And then there is a great deal of typological linkage between the NT and the writings of that official Flavian historian, Flavius Josephus to clinch it. See the Atwilll book Caesar’s Messiah.

  50. Dermot C
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I come to this thread rather late, having been on holiday, and as an atheist for 40 years. To us, the historicity of the Jesus figure is surely largely irrelevant as, I suspect, the question will never be satisfactorily answered; Carrier attempts to use Bayesian analysis to disprove the preacher’s existence and William Lane Craig also employs that theorem to prove precisely the opposite.

    However, I do want to point out one relevant point which, in my opinion, the thread has overlooked. Paul, it has been observed, had little to say about the life of Jesus. But, this misses what was important to Paul about Jesus’ life, or rather, death and alleged resurrection. That it demonstrated the start of the end times and that this generation had to prepare for the Apocalypse, for the coming of the Son of Man and that the Judgement day was imminent, in which those evil days would be overturned and the Kingdom of God was at hand. Like Jesus, Paul was an apocalyptic Jew. For Paul, the resurrection represented God’s raising up of Jesus and the sign that the End Days were nigh. The development of Christology must be seen in that light.

    Ben Goren wrote. “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.” Ehrman wrote about Jesus, “…and who died as an atonement for sin…” – the key phrase. I can think of no idea of any ‘god’ for whom this was alleged before the Christians starting saying it about Jesus. Carrier himself agrees that this is strictly true. Yes, there are loads of parallels with other pagan gods, which, in the case of Jesus, we can discount as historically untrue because of that fact. But that has no bearing on whether an apocalyptic Jew named Jesus existed in the 20s CE.

    Paul was therefore convinced of the fact of Jesus’ death, and therefore that he lived; Paul says, in one sentence, that within three or so years of Jesus’ death he met Cephas (Peter) and the brother of the Lord, James. In parentheses, it is convincing to me that James was indeed Jesus’ biological brother, otherwise Cephas would also have been called a ‘brother of the Lord’. Irrespective of whether Paul hallucinated his meeting with Jesus, he believed these characters who said they knew Jesus.

    All the rest of the comments regarding the parallels between the Christian mythology heaped upon the Jesus figure are sometimes and sometimes not convincing but they have no causal relationship with the probability of the man really existing.

    We all know that no contemporaneous documents exist and we wouldn’t expect them to; we therefore expect Biblical scholars honestly to do the textual analysis of copies and of copies of copies…

    In the case of the Rylands Papyrus P52 (mentioned by ben goren in the previous posting about Bart Ehrman’s new book), it is indeed the earliest fragment we have. It is located not in any religious institution, but in John Rylands University Library, attached to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in England. I can not find who owns the fragment; I assume, as it was discovered by the Egyptologist Bernard Grenfell of Oxford University, that it is in non-religious ownership. I do not know, assuming it to be non-destructive, why they would not submit it to Michael Kingsford Gray’s idea of radiometric testing. Perhaps it is because they are in the same position as Bart D. Ehrman, who says, “I don’t recall ever hearing of him.” Of course, I would be most interested to hear of the results of the test, if it is indeed non-destructive.

    We can bewail the absence of original documents but we must remember that the idea of a canon only started gaining ground in the late second century, and it was not until the last third of the fourth century with Athanasius, that it was determined; these were writings produced for a poor Church, by amateur scribes, as working documents, across the Middle East and Southern Europe without a central authority, and indeed lacking agreement on what the central tenets of Christianity were. No wonder there were mythological and fantastical accretions. Such as those outlined in Justin Martyr, which again, ben goren, cites.

    Justin wrote at least 100 years after Jesus’ death and therefore can not be used as evidence for Jesus’ historicity. That said, Justin’s agenda was to explain to the Roman pagan world that Christianity was not an enemy, but that it shared many religious practices with that world; he sought to persuade the Roman Emperor himself that they had little to fear from early Christian practices. To us his ideas are patently absurd, but in his time he was evidently seeking to maintain what he saw as the dignity of Christianity, whilst maintaining that it was not as alien to the religious ideas of the Roman establishment, as the latter assumed. Hence his penchant for piling mythological accretions from whichever source upon the man Jesus, who he saw as not merely the Messiah, he who would lead the Jews to rule their own land, but as divine.

    Either a mythological or historical Jesus could account for the events outlined in the last 5 paragraphs. However, I don’t think it is convincing to cite the lack of contemporary Pagan or non-Christian citations of Jesus as evidence that he didn’t exist. To compare the evidence for the dictator of the Roman Empire, Julius Caesar, with that for an obscure lower class preacher from the outskirts of that empire is simply not to compare like with like. The general public can be reasonably sure that Barack Obama exists and so will generations to come; can they also be certain that my wife Carol exists? Just because Christians 400 years later made up stories about Jesus does not mean that the man didn’t exist.

    Furthermore, with regard to the lack of Pagan or non-Christian references to the man Jesus, the earliest dating for a New Testament book is dated to 51 C.E. (1st Thessalonians), or according to some authorities 49 C.E. (Galatians). Philo, who we have often seen as not mentioning Jesus, died in 50 C.E. From his silence about Jesus, we can just as easily conclude that early Christianity had not reached his town, Alexandria, by that date. Philo was not pace ben goren, the brother-in-law of Herod Agrippa I; Philo’s nephew was married to Herod Agrippa’s daughter. Philo anticipates Justin Martyr in claiming that Greek philosophers such as Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – c. 475 BCE) borrowed from the Bible. Despite his extensive knowledge of Judaic writings, (and perhaps because the Judaic Bible had not yet been canonised) not only does Philo not mention Jesus, but neither does he quote Ezekiel, Daniel, Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, or Esther.

    Contra ben goren, I can find no reference to Origen bemoaning the lack of a reference to Jesus (Christ) by Josephus; indeed, Origen makes no direct reference to the Testamonium Flavanium. Scholars are of the opinion that while the Testamonium Flavanium passage is most likely not authentic in its entirety, it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus with a reference to the execution of Jesus by Pilate, which was then subject to Christianised interpolation.

    Parenthetically, how often was the influential Jew, Josephus, mentioned in the Greek and Roman sources of his times? Never.

    Whether Jesus existed or not is a matter of indifference to the way I live my life: but commenters are obviously interested in the topic, as am I. If you are so inclined, I second another post which recommended that you read the peer-reviewed work.

    • sahansdal
      Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

      Dermot C,

      Funny you should say that. Someone else here mentioned that whenever Paul says “brother of the Lord”, it is accompanied nearby with mention of Cephas. He knew Cephas was Simeon Cleophas, Jesus’ second brother, and another full Master, like his other two brothers, James and Judas Thomas, all three minimized in a tendentious effort to overwrite them out of the canon. (see Robert Eisenman’s work)

      • Posted April 6, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

        I cannot find where Eisenmann points to any sort of credible evidence for such a profoundly concrete claim to personal gnosticism.
        Are you able to direct me to a bit of his work that supports your interpretation, please?
        Or perhaps briefly quote it, with references?

        • sahansdal
          Posted April 7, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

          Michael,

          No. I was referring to his work showing the brother relations. He goes into mind boggling detail showing the intentional obfuscation in the gospels/Acts. The “full Masters” is my contribution. I follow the Radha Soami Satsang Beas line of living Masters. http://www.RSSB.org

    • sahansdal
      Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      Here’s the two cites for “brother” Cephas/Peter:

      Galatians 1:18-19. and 1 Cor. 9:5

      • Posted April 6, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

        Galatians 1:18-19 & (Cor. Blimey)
        κύριος ἀδελφός
        (kyrios adelphos)
        Could loosely mean (at an extreme stretch):
        Having the same national ancestor, belonging to the same people, or countryman as the Roman emperor!

        This is hardly convincing “evidence” by any stretch of the most fervent imagination.

        By what authority do you seem to impose upon the English meanings that you do of these passages?

        • sahansdal
          Posted April 7, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

          I don’t get what you’re saying. “Kyrios adelphos” means “Lord’s brother” in my lexicon (bible.cc) Read Eisenman. He is the boss on this sort of thing, I think.

          • Posted April 8, 2012 at 3:09 am | Permalink

            I don’t get what you’re saying. “Kyrios adelphos” means “Lord’s brother” in my lexicon (bible.cc) Read Eisenman. He is the boss on this sort of thing, I think.

            Your lexicon may be a distraction, rather than a help, I fear.
            It *can* men exactly what I personally translated it to mean.
            Lexicons are barely more than guide-dogs for the language-blind. They cannot provide context, nor idiomatic phraseology, for a start. (Idiomatics count highly in Hebrew and Aramaic, for example.)
            As for your subsequent gratuitous advice, it amounts to no more than an argument from authority.

            • sahansdal
              Posted April 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

              Well, I admit freely that I’m in awe of Eisenman. I could not be dissuaded from bowing before his command of the materials of first century Palestine. I use a complete appeal to authority with my Master. It works for me — as a check for my lexicon. I know from their teaching what choices work. Masters don’t guess, they know, and it is apparent from their writings on the gospels that some, if not a lot, of the gospel material is specious.

          • Posted April 8, 2012 at 3:16 am | Permalink

            Ditch your lexicon.
            Find out for yourself what it means.

  51. sahansdal
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Kyrios can mean Master, or Emperor, fine. Adelphos I know from Philadelphia is brother. Eisenman shows in great detail the evidence for Cephas/Peter as Simeon Cleophas, second brother to Jesus. It is too complex to give here, and even for me to remember (there — I hide nothing) but I know it is completely determinative. Much is to do with Cleophas as father to them both. The NT goes to extremes to obfuscate familial relations. It is really the PURPOSE of the NT, not as some guidebook for salvation, which it definitely is not. It is a polemic between Paulines and Jamesians. Only LIVING Masters save. John 9:4 and 9:5 (C. Sinaiticus correct “sent US”) proves that. (Also John 6:40, “SEE the Son”, and a slew of others, like 17:11: all disciples or “given” being “in the world” as he spoke the High Priestly Prayer.)


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Jerry Coyne is having fun tracking the “Did Jesus exist?” debate promoted by Bart Ehrman’s new book arguing for the historicity of Jesus. [...]

  2. [...] 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 am. After [...]

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