2012-04-16

3. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Chapters 1-2

by Earl Doherty

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 3

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In this post Doherty covers Ehrman’s arguments dealing with:

  • the argument from silence and the positive case for mythicism
  • why is Paul so silent on the historical Jesus?
    • Paul’s “words of the Lord”
  • Problematic Gospels and their basis in scripture
  • Dependence on Mark / no variety in Passion story
  • The question of parallels with pagan salvation myths
  • Uncertainty surrounding Jesus’ teachings

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Before embarking on “the positive evidence that convinces everyone except the mythicists that Jesus existed,” Bart Ehrman provides “a rough idea about why some of the smarter and better informed writers have said he did not exist.”

The Basic Mythicist Position

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 30-34 of Chapter 1)

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Positives, negatives and Ehrman’s silence

Ehrman divides the mythicist arguments into negative and positive, claiming the former are “far more” numerous. This I would dispute, and certainly in my own case. Too much stress is laid by historicists on the supposed reliance by mythicists on the argument from silence. Yes, on my website I have a feature titled “The Sound of Silence: 200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles.” It is meant to highlight and deal individually with the extensive occurrences of that silence and the perplexity—indeed, the impossibility—of such a situation if an historical Jesus had existed, especially in the face of historicism’s blithe dismissal of it as inconsequential or as ‘explained’ by the weakest and most unworkable excuses.

But in my books and website I spend far more space on presenting the positive aspects of the mythicist case than the argument from silence, laying out the actual picture of the early Christ cult movement which the epistles provide, demonstrating that it not only needs no historical Jesus, it actually excludes one. And in dealing with the Q side of things, I demonstrate that the Q record itself shows that no historical Jesus founder was present at the root of the Kingdom preaching sect, but was only developed and inserted into the Q record as the sect and its document evolved, a common sectarian feature.

But that will come later. Ehrman provides a telling description of the fact that no mention of Jesus can be found in any Greek or Roman source for at least 80 years after his death. He also acknowledges the mythicist claim that the two famous references to Jesus in the Jewish historian Josephus are very likely interpolations, without putting up a fuss about it (“If they are right…”)—at least at that moment. He goes on to further acknowledge that mythicists are right to point out that

the apostle Paul says hardly anything about the historical Jesus or that he says nothing at all. This may come as a shock to most readers of the New Testament, but a careful reading of Paul’s letters shows the problems. (pp. 31-32, DJE?)

What he doesn’t add here is that this situation is far from peculiar to Paul. It exists across virtually the entire range of the non-Gospel record from almost the first hundred years of Christianity. One writer’s silence (and peculiar language we will look at) could perhaps be an idiosyncrasy though still curious; the entire flock of them outside the Gospels showing the same curiosities would be so unlikely as to be rejected out of hand. (Ehrman will later try to get around this by declaring that those other silent authors, such as of 1 Peter, Revelation and Hebrews, nevertheless “clearly indicate that Jesus existed.” I will be demonstrating that he is mistaken—and not by claiming interpolation!)

Paul’s silence: problematic; Ehrman’s silence: misleading

Ehrman asks rhetorically:

But [Paul] says very little indeed about anything that Jesus said and did while he was alive. Why would that be, if Jesus was in fact a historical person? Why doesn’t Paul quote the words of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount? Why does he never refer to any of Jesus’s parables? Why doesn’t he indicate what Jesus did? Why not mention any of his miracles? His exorcisms? His controversies? His trip to Jerusalem? His trial before Pontius Pilate? And on and on. (p. 32, DJE?)

Good questions. Here Ehrman inserts the frequent historicist defence that “Paul on several occasions does appear to quote Jesus,” which is a reference to the so-called “words of the Lord” (usually numbered at four, including Ehrman’s mention of “1 Cor. 11:22-24” concerning what Paul calls the Lord’s Supper). He points out that some mythicists explain these as interpolations. I do not, and I’m not sure that too many mythicists claim the other three as interpolations. However, Ehrman also notes that “other mythicists” explain these sayings as “words the heavenly ‘Jesus’ has spoken through Christian prophets in Paul’s communities.”

Here we can note the first of several times throughout his book in which Ehrman attributes to mythicists a certain interpretation, without noting that such an interpretation is also held in some circles of mainstream scholarship. (For example, mainstream scholars Jean Magne and Winsome Munro have argued that 1 Cor. 11:23-26 is an interpolation or part of a larger interpolation.) This is something he can certainly be faulted on, for he has created for the uninitiated the impression that such an interpretation is something flawed or outlandish, held only by mythicists. This reflects a mindset which seems unwilling to credit mythicism with any arguments that can be used in its favor, even if this is to be accomplished through deception or concealment. And it is hard to believe that Ehrman was not conscious of what he was doing and what he was leaving out in these cases.

There is indeed a traditional thread in modern NT scholarship that such “words of the Lord” reflect a practice in early Christian preaching: apostles like Paul made pronouncements which were perceived as coming to them from the spiritual Christ in heaven, communicated through personal revelation and not by passed-on tradition. The very example which Ehrman mentions, the Lord’s Supper words in 1 Corinthians, is prefaced by Paul telling us that “For I received from the Lord…” signifying such a personal revelation. Similar language in regard to the other “words of the Lord” passages conveys the same thing. Rudolf Bultmann, Burton Mack, Werner Kelber are only a few of the scholars who maintain this interpretation, though they usually try to qualify the Lord’s Supper one. (See Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.30 and note 15.)

Gospel narratives modeled on scripture

Mythicists point, says Ehrman, to the problematic nature of the four Gospels coming several decades after Jesus’ alleged life, to their “contradictions and discrepancies,” their biased approach to their subject. And to the fact that they have modified their stories, if not entirely invented them, particularly the miracle stories. There is no mention here of the recent work of critical scholars like Robert M. Price, who have demonstrated that almost every pericope found in Mark, not just the miracle stories, and encompassing both the passion and the ministry, has been constructed out of one or more passages in the Hebrew bible. The blueprint has been scripture, not history remembered, not oral tradition—at least there is no identifiable sign of any such input. No wonder mythicists (and others, too) regard the Gospels to be unreliable as providing any genuine picture of the life of an historical Jesus.

Does Ehrman seriously dispute almost 200 years of NT research?

But Ehrman again misleads the uninitiated reader:

Furthermore, many mythicists insist that the four Gospels ultimately all go back to just one of the Gospels, Mark, on which the other three were based. This means that of all the many writers—pagan, Jewish, and Christian—that we have from the first century (assuming Mark was written as early as the first century), we have only one that describes or even mentions the life of the historical Jesus. How plausible is that, if Jesus actually lived? (p. 33, DJE?)

Is Ehrman denying that Matthew and Luke “ultimately . . . go back to just one of the Gospels, Mark”? Is that just a risible idea by mythicists? Markan priority is the mainstay of almost two centuries of NT research. In fact, it ought to be striking that neither Matthew nor Luke betrays any reliance for their own passion story on anything but its predecessor—and first appearance in the entire record—in Mark. They have not incorporated any differing version that we ought to expect would, by their time, have been developed in their own communities through diverse transmission of oral tradition or different emphases on those traditions. (The sometimes claimed reliability of oral tradition to transmit exact remembrances even over time and under variegated circumstances, territory and communities, especially in extended narratives, is simply groundless. And besides, there is no indication in the entire non-Gospel record that any such oral tradition even existed, let alone was being widely and carefully transmitted.)

In the Gospel passion stories we find no differences in the narrative layouts, no changes of emphases. Any little additions or tweaking of details, such as fleshing out the co-crucified thieves or a background for Joseph of Arimathea, or Luke’s invention of a hearing before Herod (hardly historical if no one else records it, the same thing being true of Matthew’s ‘guards at the tomb’), can be put down to the work of the individual evangelist, often patently a reworking of Mark or prompted by scripture. As for John, recent critical scholarship, such as that of Robert Price, Lawrence M. Wills, Norman Perrin, C. K. Barrett, Frans Neirynck, M. Sabbe, Hartwig Thyen, M. E. Boismard, Manfred Lang, Udo Schnelle, has demonstrated quite clearly that the longstanding dispute about whether John’s version of the passion was dependent directly or indirectly on a synoptic source has been settled. It was. (See Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 445-8.)

Parallels

When Ehrman goes on to mention the mythicist claim that the Gospels are also unreliable because they “are paralleled time and again in the myths about pagan gods and other divine men discussed in the ancient world,” he is making a point which he regards as an Achilles’ heel in popular mythicism. And to some extent he is right. The “parallelomania” which has characterized some mythicist writers past and present has been overblown, uncovering a parallel between the Gospel Jesus and the pagan savior god myths under every rock. But some legitimate parallels do exist and are unmistakable; some others have feasibility even given the uncertainty of the record or the artefact. The virgin birth is a good example of a common mytheme in the culture of the time, and many others could be added. With due caution and qualification, these parallels are a legitimate further argument that elements of the story of Jesus are not history remembered, not genuine biography, but fictional traits given to him to create a picture which will resonate with the popular mythology of the day and support the symbolic significance which the evangelists are bringing to their allegorical tale. Ehrman will revisit the topic of such parallels later in the book.

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Ehrman’s Chapter Two: Non-Christian Sources for the Life of Jesus

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Having outlined the reasons why mythicists do not believe in an historical Jesus, Ehrman proceeds to his “evidence which convinces everyone except mythicists that an HJ existed.” Like most historicist defenders, he chooses to start with the non-Christian witness. I usually take this as a tacit admission that the Christian record itself is a comparatively weak and problematic witness, and indeed Ehrman’s summary of the mythicist reasons for rejecting an HJ has demonstrated why. But is the non-Christian witness any more conclusive?

Admiring the genius of Jesus the teacher

This section is prefaced with a defence of himself against a common accusation levelled against him, by believers more conservative than he, that he is anti-Christian. Ehrman assures the reader that he is an admirer of the bible and that its voice should be listened to, even if imperfect and not inerrant. Some biblical writers, he says, were geniuses (no doubt, as geniuses have been found everywhere and at all times), even if not inspired by God. To those geniuses he adds Jesus.

At the same time, he probably was not well educated. He may have been only semiliterate. But he certainly lived, and his teachings have impacted the world ever since. Surely that is one gauge of genius. (p. 37, DJE?)

The problems with Jesus being a genius

The problem is, the catalogue of Jesus’ ‘genuine’ teachings, as judged by critical mainstream scholarship today, is extremely limited and uncertain. The Jesus Seminar tossed out at least three-quarters of the sayings attributed to Jesus found in the early record (canonical and non-canonical), and critical scholarship since has largely followed suit. This leaves a huge majority of the teachings alleged to Jesus as having been spoken by others. How reliable can the attribution of the minority to him be? The tendency has been, of course, to judge as authentic the perceived “best” of those teachings, a subjective choice which in circular fashion identifies Jesus as a singular and charismatic individual to whom we can attribute such outstanding teachings. This process also makes him innovative. Yet when we examine the supposed innovative and laudable teachings of Jesus, we find that in many cases similar sentiments can be found in figures preceding him, from Confucius to Rabbi Hillel to the best of Greco-Roman ethics. If Jesus’ individuality is thereby undermined, then there is less need to claim that the content of the teachings requires a charismatic, unique individual which supposedly strengthens the case that such an individual existed.

The catalogue of sayings that were attributed to Jesus includes many that are not so commendable, not so tolerant and far-sighted, not so different from a lot of the stuff being bandied about at that time. Naturally, these teachings tend today to be rejected as not authentic to him, on the basis that the good teachings have established a figure who was not likely to have spoken the less admirable ones, another part of the circular exercise. But if a mix of good and bad would be relatively normal in any sect, with the good often drawn from broader or previous sources, then it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that a unique founder is unnecessary, and doubly so when that founder is obscure in nature, hard to detect historically, and is even excluded in some pictures of the faith. It certainly becomes difficult to justify the claim that “he must have existed,” other than by wishful thinking. It certainly becomes a travesty to condemn those who claim that the evidence can suggest otherwise as misguided agenda-driven quacks not deserving a moment’s consideration.

How secure is Ehrman’s one dimensional Jesus?

Make no mistake, Ehrman is not a regular, even liberal, Christian. He does not believe in the resurrection. In fact, he declares: “I certainly do not mean to say that I consider myself either a Christian or an apologist for Christian causes. I am neither.” I am sure that we could find some others of similar outlook among today’s critical scholars of Christian origins, even in Religion departments of major universities and still managing to hold onto their tenure. So this puts Ehrman in the position of defending the existence of a Jesus who has been stripped of almost all that traditional Christianity holds dear. Ehrman believes essentially in a one-dimensional Jesus, Jesus the rabbi, with an emphasis on his apocalyptically-oriented prophecy.

But how secure is the support for that single dimension when it is impossible to be sure what sayings in the catalogue are actually his? How can we feel secure when one entire segment of the record doesn’t even declare him to have been a teacher or prophet, or when the paltry number of words supposedly quoted from him sound like perceived revelation? Where is the ‘impact upon the world’ of these allegedly innovative teachings when the whole non-Gospel Christian world shows no sign of having any knowledge of or interest in them?

Was it only Galilee that ever heard of Jesus’ message?

I don’t know how many Christian preachers I have heard declare as a kind of summation of Jesus’ preaching that “he taught us to love one another.” This may not be that innovative even in the ancient world, but a Jesus without such a teaching in his catalogue should hardly be acceptable in any view of him, past or present. But was it only in Galilee that the early Christians heard of such a thing? We would have to think so in view of James 2:8, or Galatians 5:14, or Romans 13:9, which urge readers to love one another, but fail to appeal to Jesus’ teaching on such a subject. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:9 goes so far as to say: “We are taught by God to love one another”! By any rational standard, this belies any knowledge of a teaching Jesus on Paul’s part, let alone any impact on the early Christian world.

Preaching: the lost power needed to raise the dead

Was a mark of Jesus’ “genius” that he could impel some people to turn him into God and have him rise from the grave to redeem the world’s sins? Aside from the incredibility of such a quantum leap, the only feasible link is missing. For Ehrman, Jesus’ genius resided in his teachings. If he did not actually rise from the grave, then the power that impelled such a reaction to him had to have been his preaching career. This was so impressive that everything else, no matter how lofty, proceeded from it. Jesus the man had to impel his transformation to Jesus the God.

But that fuel for lift-off is nowhere to be found in the epistolary record. Jesus the man is in eclipse; miracles as well as important teachings prophetic or ethical are missing, even when they would have related to issues central to the sect. The very location of his career in Galilee, let alone anywhere else on earth, is likewise missing. Ehrman must defend the highly dubious—indeed contradictory and wholly infeasible—proposition that Paul was so impacted by Jesus’ earthly teaching that he turned him into God while promptly losing all interest in the earthly man. And not just Paul, but apparently every writer and community that was converted to him. (The Q community with its sayings collection cannot be included here because it shows no sign of turning its founder figure into God—possibly excepting a beginning of it in its very latest addition, the Temptation Story—and nowhere does it give him a death and resurrection or even a soteriological role.)

Ehrman at the very least must dissociate Paul and the epistolary communities from any connection with the Galilee-based Jesus figure and tradition, and regard Paul’s faith and soteriology as not based on a human being. We will see whether he does.

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to be continued . . . .

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30 Comments

  • 2012-04-16 02:05:06 UTC - 02:05 | Permalink

    ‘including Ehrman’s mention of “1 Cor. 11:22-24” concerning what Paul calls the Lord’s Supper). ‘

    EHRMAN
    Steven,

    Thanks for your note. Good questions. A lot of scholars question whether 1 Cor. 11 contains the actual words of Jesus at his last meal — all part of the larger debate over how to establish which of the recorded sayings are authentic and which not. They don’t in any event pass the standard “criterion of dissimilarity” (for reasons you lay out). All best,

    – Bart Ehrman

  • David Hillman
    2012-04-16 04:19:46 UTC - 04:19 | Permalink

    On the lack of originality of the teachings, for example Matthews “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’, I have just been rereading Homer’s Odyssey and noticed in book 17 530-40 that the gods are said to wander about dressed as strangers to test how we treat beggars and strangers. I wonder how much of the teaching was perhaps commonplace in the Ancient Mediteranean and Near East. The teaching is more difficult to source than the narrative which is obviously just midrash on the Old Testament stories. Ehrman’s reliance on spurious multiple attestation is embarrasingly shallow which surprises me since I have enjoyed his books.

    • 2012-04-16 06:08:54 UTC - 06:08 | Permalink

      Ronald F. Hock has a chapter titled “Why New Testament Scholars Should Read Ancient Novels” in Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative. It’s for the very reasons you are alluding to here.

      I also think no-one should presume to have understood the thought-world of the Gospels and Acts until they have read the Homeric epics, Virgil and the famous trio of Greek playwrights, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, as well as some of the popular “novels” Hock discusses. Oh, and Hesiod, too, and the Argonautica, and Epictetus and Plato . . . . ;-)

      But I agree — one can no longer be caught out expressing devout ‘amazement’ at the ‘advanced’ or ‘higher’ ethics supposedly found in the teachings of Jesus. His ethics were the commonly expressed ideals of the day. There is nothing profound or innovative in the Gospels’ ethical teachings.

      • 2012-04-16 06:56:32 UTC - 06:56 | Permalink

        Nor caught out at expressing the fatuous attitude you still occasionally encounter that the ancient world, before Jesus came along, was a cesspool of immorality and utterly lacking concern for one’s fellow human. I caught a broadcast of the classic “Spartacus” (1960, starring Kirk Douglas) on TV recently, with a real groaner voice-over introduction I hadn’t remembered, saying something to the above effect. I do remember they did the same thing with Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments (voice of Cecil B. DeMille himself opening the latter).

        • David Hillman
          2012-04-18 01:15:52 UTC - 01:15 | Permalink

          Actually even the concept of witness or martyr against overwhelming force has its precedents. Josephus has, I think, more than one story of Jewish passive resistance to unacceptible demands of the Roman governor.

  • Blood
    2012-04-16 12:27:55 UTC - 12:27 | Permalink

    “If he did not actually rise from the grave, then the power that impelled such a reaction to him had to have been his preaching career. This was so impressive that everything else, no matter how lofty, proceeded from it. Jesus the man had to impel his transformation to Jesus the God. But that fuel for lift-off is nowhere to be found in the epistolary record. Jesus the man is in eclipse …”

    Excellent point. The silence of the epistles is a huge problem any way you slice it, but if someone (like Ehrman) wants to make the case that Jesus’s earthly ministry and personality were so revolutionary, that this was the reason why his followers mythologized him, then it really is incredible that the epistles’ sole concern is with his death and resurrection.

    I suppose that Ehrman’s response would be that Paul never met Jesus, and most of his letters are forged anyway, and the letters of Peter, James, and John, also being forged, are not be eyewitnesses to “his majesty” either. But then, that invites the question as to why the gospels could rely on oral tradition but the epistles could not. It’s a hopeless problem …

    • 2012-04-16 15:19:21 UTC - 15:19 | Permalink

      Blood: “But then, that invites the question as to why the gospels could rely on oral tradition but the epistles could not. It’s a hopeless problem . . .”

      Exactly so. Another question is why authors writing (supposedly) from 50 to 70 CE show no interest in the teachings of the earthly Jesus, while those writing (allegedly) from 70 to 100 CE show a profound interest. In fact, it would appear that the more time passes, the more people claim claim to know.

    • 2012-04-16 15:26:45 UTC - 15:26 | Permalink

      Another question is why very early Christians took this perfectly ordinary human being, not a god at all, no way, that came later, and decided they needed to eat his body and drink his blood (perhaps symbolically).

      We should remember that symbolically eating somebody’s body and drinking his blood was a very Jewish thing to do.

      Because Christians were so hermetically sealed from pagan influences that they certainly didn’t imitate them and probably didn’t even know any pagan practices or concepts.

  • 2012-04-16 15:49:21 UTC - 15:49 | Permalink

    ‘Ehrman will later try to get around this by declaring that those other silent authors, such as of 1 Peter, Revelation and Hebrews, nevertheless “clearly indicate that Jesus existed.” ‘

    Ehrman tries to get around this on page 137 by claiming that the author of 1, 2 and 3 John does not refer to parables or miracles.

    But these are incredibly short letters, while Romans and 1 Corinthian are much longer.

    And even 2 John manages to tell us that Christ left some teaching, which is more than Paul ever tells us,

    Ehrman also repeats the old, tired claim that Romans was written to ‘churches to address their problems in hand.’, and so wouldn’t have found anything Jesus had ever said or done relevant to the problems early Christians faced in their religion.

    Had Ehrman read the Bible? How did 2 John manage to tell us that Jesus came in the flesh and had teachings when 16 chapters of systematic theology in Romans couldn’t even find space to tell us that Jesus testified to this new righteousness or that Jews had even heard of Jesus?

    Ehrman informs us that Paul was only interested in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that the authors of 1 Clement and Barnabas never tell us that Jesus was born in Nazareth to a virgin etc.

    If all these early Christians had so little interest in the life of Jesus, what was in this rich oral tradition that was handed down? What did they find to talk about, when they just weren’t interested in telling each other about the life of Jesus?

    • 2012-04-18 01:09:10 UTC - 01:09 | Permalink

      Actually, the “commandments” spoken of in 1 and 2 John come from the Father, not from Jesus. While this can be discerned in 1 John, in 2 John it’s pretty plain in verse 4 and 6. In verse 9 it speaks of the “teaching…Christ (in the genitive)”. This should be taken as an objective genitive, Christ as the object of the teaching: teaching about Christ. For one thing, never is a teaching of Christ given in the three epistles. It is always the commandments of the Father. Also, 2 john goes on to condemn those as “evil” who go about without the teaching…Christ. Turn him away from your door. This is a bit extreme if it is simply meant that some apostles don’t tell you about things that Christ taught. Whereas, if it is a teaching (note always singular) about Christ, namely his existence and role in salvation, so that in doing so, one “has both the Father and the Son,” this makes the best sense.

  • 2012-04-16 16:02:06 UTC - 16:02 | Permalink

    EHRMAN
    He certainly lived and his teachings have impacted the world ever since.

    CARR
    As Doherty pointed out, it is difficult to claim that the teachings of Jesus impacted the world, and then say that very early followers like Paul weren’t interested in the teachings of Jesus, and taught the Corinthians only about the death of Jesus.

    page 139 ‘… the teachings of Jesus were not relevant to their purposes.’

    What an impact the teachings of Jesus had! Even early Christian letters , discussing the Law and how to pray and the relationship between Christians and scripture, found the teachings of their apocalyptic prophet irrelevant, even when Paul is writing about how to behave in view of the forthcoming apocalypse,

  • mP
    2012-04-16 22:27:09 UTC - 22:27 | Permalink

    Ehrman at one stage that Paul wrote many books but only the shepharding ones have been saved for our time. By some strange chance they have almost nothing about Jesus the man. My almost is qualified, i think a better word would be all but that is too absolute, the truth is there are barely 2 – 3 phrases that possibly mention anything about Jesus the man. In all fairness if the Bible removed the gospels and only included Paul and the other books, we would know nothing of the man or the god. The real interesting question for me is what exactly did Paul preach ? Why is it the vast numbers of churches and communities he visited and converted never kept or wrote down anything about their religion. Perhaps the question should also be raised did Paul exist ? Could it be said that Jesus and Paul are just device to talk about God and nice stuff ? If Jesus existed why would Matthew have to invent such absurd stories that we all know are not true. The stories i refer too are the zombies walking around Jerusalem when he died and others. If Matthew and Luke had information outside of the ministry captured by Mark why did they copy so much of Mark word for word and in other parts edit. Why couldnt they use their other sources to produce something new rather than a revision. How do we explain the absurd invention of Nazareth the town which most likely did not exist at Jesus time and was a misunderstanding of Nazarene the religious vocation ? If Matthew knew so little religion or geography how can he honestly be trusted for anything.

    How can Bart say Jesus existed when the name Jesus is allocated to a God and not a man, surely the man if and its a big if did exist should not be called Jesus. At best he should be called by his jewish name in the jewish style to differentiate him. Yeshua bin Joseph (sp) cannot be confused when Jesus the Christ.

    If Jesus existed using Barts proofs, surely we can also say Zeus existed and was born on Crete. The rest the thunders, mount olympus is all elaborate myth, but that hardly matters because Zeus existed right ?

    Is it just me or does Bart spend a enormous time drilling us that Jesus existed. If he has so many proofs from the scriptures why does he continually revisit the same text over and over again. Why does Bart never address the myth solar stories and tell us how they are wrong and dont fit Jesus. It seems that he is very vague in his words about this matter and never satisfactorily tells the reader why the mythists are wrong. It seems from my viewpoint he thinks telling us is enough.

  • John
    2012-04-17 03:41:45 UTC - 03:41 | Permalink

    “Ehrman asks rhetorically:

    ‘But [Paul] says very little indeed about anything that Jesus said and did while he was alive. Why would that be, if Jesus was in fact a historical person? Why doesn’t Paul quote the words of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount? Why does he never refer to any of Jesus’s parables? Why doesn’t he indicate what Jesus did? Why not mention any of his miracles? His exorcisms? His controversies? His trip to Jerusalem? His trial before Pontius Pilate? And on and on. (p. 32, DJE?)’

    Good questions.”

    I think the reason for this silence is that Paul says he did not receive “the gospel which was preached by me … from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12), and that afterwards he “did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me” (1:1:16-17). Whatever he may have later learned from Cephas and James (1:18-19) and those “of repute” (2:2), he says that they “added nothing to me” (2:6).

    His attitude here and elsewhere strikes me as dismissive of whatever these people may have told him about Jesus.

    In any event, Paul says that his preaching is concerned with Jesus’ crucifixion:

    “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

    “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).

    “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

    I think this is why Paul’s gospel consists of his interpretations of the OT concerning the crucifixion of Jesus and whatever revelations he thought he was receiving from a heavenly spiritual Jesus.

    • mP
      2012-04-17 07:52:55 UTC - 07:52 | Permalink

      Exactly Paul or perhaps Apollonius, was the first attempt of the Catholic church to adopt the followers of another faith by integration. The pagan George and the dragon became a saint, and Paul became an apostle. Paul teaches many things that Jesus did not approve, such as not doing the circumcision thing. If Paul did meet Jesus surely he would have talked to him about this but we are left with a story about his fights or discussions with the leaders in Jerusalem.

      • mike santell
        2013-10-24 07:08:34 UTC - 07:08 | Permalink

        hahaha just another example that those who invented jesus (as opposed to Christs overall, since there were many priesthoods with competing “Christs” AKA anointed ones, including Serapis and Horus) were the various northern sects of Israelites (and centered originally not in Rome but Alexandria which became up to 2/3 jewish at one point) doing so throwing off 200 years of judean oppression which included enforced circumcision

        • Neil Godfrey
          2013-10-24 07:38:52 UTC - 07:38 | Permalink

          I can’t routinely accept comments like these that make bald assertions without evidence or argument.

  • sahansdal
    2012-04-17 08:05:27 UTC - 08:05 | Permalink

    I just asked Bart if he would debate Doherty or Carrier (are we talking Australia, though?). Here is his reply:

    I have no objections to it. I normally have three stipulations for a debate: that it be sponsored by some recognized body (usually an institution such as a church or college), that it fit my schedule, and that I receive my standard speaking fee. Best,
    - BDE

    • 2012-04-17 08:47:55 UTC - 08:47 | Permalink

      Ah, so perhaps the reason Bart did not reply to my emails requesting him cite sources for some of his assertions about mythicism was because I failed to offer him an email-reply fee? Or maybe I could promise him I’d send some money to his charity.

    • mP
      2012-04-17 10:00:55 UTC - 10:00 | Permalink

      Did Bart get paid to debate Craig in those vids on YouTube ? I find it hard to believe that Craigs backing church organisation would pay someone to debate against them.

    • 2012-04-18 01:14:51 UTC - 01:14 | Permalink

      I’m afraid I don’t do live debates. That requires a background in lecturing, etc., and experience, which I don’t have. The debater with the best sound bites and quick presence of mind always wins, no matter what the arguments he may have at his disposal. Written, internet-based debates are best. And a lot of people can tune in as it goes alone.

      • mike santell
        2013-10-24 06:47:07 UTC - 06:47 | Permalink

        let’s face it, if everybody stopped believing in a real jesus tomorrow, what sociopolitical, geopolitical, and even economic calamities would ensue? what would happen to Christmas, the sole event which puts most American retail businesses in the black each year (literally depend on Christmas to survive). people have instincts, even if those instincts never reach to the conscious level, and by this point they aren’t even so much protecting the existence of Jesus as the existence of their livelihood (and of course this applies to the “tenured” as well). obviously jesus never existed, he was invented by northern samaritans, israelites etc who wanted to divorce themselves from judaism after 200 years of judean oppression and had the motive and saw the opportunity to do so. . . just as the Zadokite authors of the Last Jubilee dead sea scroll “foresaw” (blue-printed) a messiah in the priestly line of Melchizedek . . . note “paul” twice ascribes jesus to the priestly line of Melchizedek. . . then they (among them Marcion, son of a Syrian northern Israelite proselyte to christianity) and Justin Martyr (a hellenized Samaritan jew) factionalized over what Jesus should be, with the historicists insisting Jesus be a real man of the line of David so that the Judeans would be responsible for not only rejecting their “own” messiah but also murdering him in the bargain. Thus the creation of Jesus was also POLITICAL in nature . . .

        • Neil Godfrey
          2013-10-24 07:36:52 UTC - 07:36 | Permalink

          This is an unfalsifiable conspiracy hypothesis, I think. You seem very sure about knowing the motives of people back then. What is “obvious” to you is not at all obvious to others. If the Samaritans invented Christianity to divorce themselves from Judaism then we have lots of questions about human nature, identity, psychology, etc to answer. I can’t buy any of this. I think the evidence you have for many of your statements is very slender indeed.

          • mike santell
            2013-10-24 08:18:39 UTC - 08:18 | Permalink

            it’s not an unfalsifiable conspiracy hypothesis, in fact jews in the north and south of israel continue to this day to recognize if not actually fight over some cultural distinctions. the judeans conquered israel in 150 BC and imposed judaism including enforced circumcision (note Paul like a good northern Israelite tells his followers to reject circumcision). Are you just going to ignore the whole fight between the priesthoods the very politics of which not only underly the gospels but are part of the reason for the ministry of Jesus (and one reason why John is so different from the others, but like the other sects responsible for the gospels willing to be part of the canon as long as their views were included). it’s the very reason Jesus is “arguing against the jewish law”! the Zadokites were literally thrown out of the temple, and their response was to write the Last Jubilee/Melchizedek Redivivus messiah blueprint found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Can it really be just coincidence this same sort of figure is eventually proposed by Paul/Marcion/Justin Martyr while differing among them in some major details . . .like whether Jesus should actually have been a “man born of woman” and such. It’s Marcion’s contention that Paul is a gnostic, which is why Marcion includes ten epistles in the “original” New Testament. “Paul” twice ascribes Jesus to the priestly line of Melchizedek (once in “fake Paul” Hebrews, I forget the other). There is even politics in Marcion rejecting the Old Testament while the historicists embraced it . . . because the historicists wanted the Judeans to have murdered their “own” Messiah (in the line of David), whereas the Judean heirarchy would have been “correct” to treat Marcion’s messiah as a false messiah. Tertullian (“Against Marcion” being the main reason we even know of Marcion) said Marcion’s Jesus was “not born of woman, not a jew, not even a man, but a salutory spirit who descended fully formed at Capernaum to argue against the jewish law.” By a certain point after the Diaspora, Alexandria was nearly 2/3 jewish, most of them disaffected from Judaism, and it was these “souls” that the early factions were competing to influence.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2013-10-24 09:06:13 UTC - 09:06 | Permalink

              If you want others to read your comment then you need to conform to standard grammatical constructions that we are all trained to read. Paragraphing breaks would be a good first step. I got as far as your appeal to what other modern folks believe. That alerted me immediately to an invalid argument. If you want me to take seriously various ancient fights then you need to provide specific evidence for such things. I suspect my next engagement here will be to direct your comments to spam but I always have hope that I will not need to do that. I say that in part because you appear to have ignored my points made in my earlier comment — e.g. awareness of inner motives of peoples we can no longer examine.

              • mike santell
                2013-10-24 21:10:58 UTC - 21:10 | Permalink

                OK let’s start with “awareness of inner motives of peoples we can no longer examine.”

                What do you call any examination of history, which this whole discussion of Jesus is supposed to be about? What do you call a historical document? you call Jesus an invention, so what is wrong looking at the things that preceded or required that invention? isn’t that the whole point of investigation, the goals, often published goals, of the people who invented someone? such as the Last Jubilee/Melchizedek Dead Sea Scrolls document where their motives are quite on display? They want a Messiah in the priestly line of Melchizedek and Paul eventually explicitly gives them one, twice ascribing Jesus to that line.

                The published duel between Marcion and Justin Martyr over the makeup of Jesus is both cultural and explicit. They come from the same geographical area (also the area of the authors of Last Jubilee), but they want completely different kinds of Jesus. Marcion’s Jesus is not even the son of Jehovah; based on the Old Testament the Judeans would have regarded Marcion’s Jesus as a false messiah. In other words to the historicists among the Christians, Marcion’s jesus would not be an effective enough propaganda tool in converting Israelites to the new religion.

                Historicists like Justin backed a messiah as described in the Old Testament and some insisted the Judeans not the Romans be blamed for murdering him. This has in fact been a discussion in academia for decades if not centuries, including observations the Roman church wrote their own gospel in a way that avoided placing blame on Rome. At the time of the Marcion/Martyr arguments the largest cohesive group of jews/potential proselytes constituted 50 to 66 percent of the population of Alexandria. Christianity was truly born in Alexandria.

                Inventing gods was nothing new, and one must assume reason for invention. Gods were even changed in process (see Doherty etc arguments on the evolution of Jesus and/or Christ concept) or swapped around. Egypt had just effected a major change when the Osiris priesthood gained power. The old pantheon was essentially discarded and one of the chief gods Horus demoted to the son of Osiris. Horus became a savior god figure like Jesus, and savior godlings like Serapis also sprung up (Serapis largely in Alexandria). Emperor Hadrian (died 138 AD) famously referred to Christians as followers of Serapis, and his predecessor Trajan in a letter to Pliny sounds equally confused about Christianity. Where were Jesus and Paul really all that time? Presumably MUCH lesser figures in a landscape filled with Christ (“anointed one”) wannabes. Serapis, Horus and Osiris were all called anointed (“good”) ones. The hieroglyph for Osiris is a cross on a hill.

                I would refer you back to Earl Doherty’s discussion of a sect. Sects survive in one of three ways, they gain converts/adherents through their arguments, they align with other sects despite minor disagreements, or to begin with they have the funds to exist long enough to bear fruit from the first two. Christianity appears to have had wealth from the very beginning. Marcion of Sinope/Pontus was the son of a shipbuilder family which would have been one of the richest in the extant world. By the late second century AD, Celsus says Christians are a secret society that whispers in corners, but he also acknowledges Christians are good at business (“infructuosi in negotiis”). This presumably gradually gained them entry into the Roman aristocracy, and is likely a major reason Xtianity even came to the attention of Constantine’s mama, and we all know what happened after that.

              • rich
                2013-10-25 06:29:18 UTC - 06:29 | Permalink

                Was it a Messiah or a prediction that the ‘son of man’ was coming? A lot of stuff in the Dead Sea Scrolls reads as eschatological but is in fact past history. If you stop to think about this for a little while, what is the ‘son of man’, for example who, or maybe what, is ‘man’?

  • John
    2012-04-18 01:51:30 UTC - 01:51 | Permalink

    In his April 16th “The Bible Geek” podcast, Robert M Price says it has come out that Bart Ehrman never even read through any of the mythicist books he talks about in “Did Jesus Exist.” Ehrman just had his graduate students read them and report to Bart about what sections he should look at.

  • mike santell
    2013-10-25 03:41:18 UTC - 03:41 | Permalink

    (p.s.) plus I don’t really understand all the fuss over my replies. Doherty would agree with 99 percent of what I said in the second one, and confirm as accurate all the historical details.

    It’s hardly a stretch (or a conspiracy theory) to state that Christianity was created by jews disaffected from strict Judaism. What is Paul if not a jew disaffected from strict Judaism (or at least the Paul of Tarsus as historicized by the church, since all sides now admit there was more than one person writing under the name Paul)?

    If you infer or charge on top of this, that Jesus was invented, then it follows that the same people who created the religion invented Jesus (back to those numerous authors of Paul, which all sides agree predate the gospels)

    The only real question along those lines is whether the Christ concept pre-dated Jesus and originated elsewhere (greece, hellenized egypt) and was latched onto by inventors of Christianity, and that the concept of an anointed one may also have been an outside one adopted by the writers of the OT, since Osiris by then had been called an anointed (good) one for thousands of years.

    (plus I don’t understand why Doherty seems to apologize for parallels to other gods; the christians were accused of this so constantly as the religion grew, that they came up with the “devil created the false ones before the real one came along” defense)

    My point is that all this is confirmed by the genesis of the groups and individuals involved:

    1. Last Jubilee (Dead Sea Scroll in the hellenized library at Qumran): calls for a Messiah, explicitly Melchizedek Redivivus (priestly line of Melchizedek) to oppose and bring down the Judean heirarchy. Israeli historians also starting to come around to the view this was written by a Zadokite sect thrown out of the temple.

    2. The mysterious Pauls. We can’t know who they really were (Marcion has been accused of writing some or all of them; Martin Luther claimed Appolonious of Tyana wrote one), but Paul twice ascribes jesus to the priestly line of Melchizedek. The later Catholic Church found it necessary to historicize them into a single Paul (Saul) of Tarsus).

    3. Bible scholars of every stripe now acknowledge that historically Marcion and Justin Martyr were the main proponents/antagonists over what Jesus was (should be), and that their main audience were proselyte -able jews mostly congregated in Alexandria after the Diaspora. Turns out both of them were born in the same narrow strip of land that produced the Zadokite sect and the Last Jubilee

    • 2013-10-25 11:15:45 UTC - 11:15 | Permalink

      These are your views and that’s all very fine. But they remain to be argued, not merely asserted. I’d just like readers to keep in mind what we’ve said in recent months about comments policy here.

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