A while ago I addressed key points in Bart Ehrman’s eagerly awaited response to Christ Mythicism, Did Jesus Exist? and was honoured that Earl Doherty accepted an invitation to post his initial responses to the book here, too. I had much more to say at the time about Ehrman’s efforts but let it all drop since so many others were busy doing the same thing.
I have gradually been getting to know a little more of Frank Zindler’s work since then, and comparing it with what Ehrman himself wrote about it. That, in part, led me to write a defence of Frank’s right to write a chapter about his personal correspondence with Bart Ehrman. A couple of readers disagreed with me on that point, but we will have to agree to disagree. I am still deciding if I will write a post on that chapter about the Zindler-Ehrman correspondence and what it quite fairly tells us.
This evening I revisited the following passage written by Bart Ehrman, but by now I have learned more about Frank’s own arguments. It’s hard to know how to say how I felt without sounding trite. I think it is a good thing not to forget the outrageously unprofessional and scurrilous ways in which Bart Ehrman treated the arguments of mythicists. Those mythicists have every right to reply and defend themselves. That’s not stooping to the level of Ehrman’s unprofessionalism. It’s the right thing to do. If the result is not a stand-alone compendium of mythicist arguments, that’s a loss, but at least we will hear the defence of those Ehrman has so blatantly misrepresented. (Richard Carrier calls Ehrman a liar, a probable liar, or a suspected liar, at least seven times in his chapter.)
Here is what Bart Ehrman wrote about one of Frank Zindler’s points. I will follow this with the quotation from Frank’s own book which Ehrman claimed to be reading and citing.
The [Mithras] cult was centered, Zindler claims, in Tarsus (the hometown of the apostle Paul). But then the astrologers involved with the cult came to realize that the zodiacal age of Mithra was drawing to a close since the equinox was moving into Pisces. And so they “left their cult centers in Phrygia and Cilicia . . . to go to Palestine to see if they could locate not just the King of the Jews but the new Time Lord” (that is, they invented Jesus.* Zindler says this in all sincerity, and so far as I can tell, he really believes it. What evidence does he give for his claim that the Mithraists moved their religion to Palestine to help them find the king of the Jews? None at all. . . . This is made up. (p. 212, DJE?, my highlighting)
The asterisk marks where Ehrman leaves his endnote marker: Zindler, “How Jesus Got A Life”, p. 66
Note that Ehrman distinctly leads his audience to understand that he, Ehrman, is reading Zindler’s argument as published. He implies he knows the context. He is not relying on a couple of decontextualized extracts. He gives the impression that he has read in Zindler’s original words exactly what he has outlined — that the Mithras cult astrologers left their cult centres and moved to Palestine and invented Jesus. Ehrman believes Zindler is arguing that the Mithraic cult moved to Palestine and invented Jesus.
Here is what Frank Zindler actually wrote on page 66. Sit down before you start reading because it turns out Frank was only speaking of a possible background to the Magi Matthew says turned up at the birth of Jesus:
V. The Magi mentioned in the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel were Mithraic astologer-priests . . .
The Mithraic clergy involved activity in the astrology of the cult were know as Magi . . . and are depicted as wearing Phrygian . . . caps such as Mithra is supposed to have worn. It is conceivable that some of these Magi, realizing that the age of Mithra was drawing to a close (the equinox would move into Pisces some time during the first century CE), would have left their cult centers in Phrygia and Cilicia, in what is now central and southeast Turkey, from cities such as Tarsus to go to Palestine to see if they could locate not just the King of the Jews, but the new Time-Lord, the ruler of the new age of Pisces. (Pisces was considered to have special connections with the Jews.) It is significant, I believe, that early depictions of the Magi’s visitation of the Christ Child (including one in a church at Bethlehem) showed them wearing Phrygian (Mithraic caps).
Ehrman offers no indication whatever that Zindler was referring to a conceivable scenario to explain the story of the Magi in Matthew 2 — a scenario not unlike one that is often enough found among general commentary on Matthew’s nativity scene.
Not that Dr Bart would care. On page 142 he dismisses those who criticize his work, scholars included, as not worth his time.