The following is a write up from notes I took at the time of my first listening to the debate. I have not been able to access the online debate since to check the details of the following.
Bart Ehrman (BE) opened by saying that he would not address the mythicist argument (“after all, no mythicist arguments have been presented yet”) but instead present the strongest case he knew for the historical existence of Jesus.
But first, he digressed, he would mention just two of the mythicist arguments.
Mythicist argument #1, Nazareth
One mythicist argument that he said was commonly found among mythicists was that since there was no Nazareth at the time of Jesus it followed that Jesus of Nazareth could not have existed. But on the contrary, BE assured his audience, archaeologists have discovered the site of Nazareth; its existence is not a debated point because they have found there a house, pottery, a farm, coins dated to the days of Jesus.
“Anyone who says otherwise simply does not know the archaeological record,” BE concluded, adding that whether Jesus existed is not dependent on his being born in Nazareth anyway.
Mythicist argument #2, Tale types
The second arguments mythicists come up with, he asserted, related to the Jesus in the Gospels being portrayed according to patterns of other figures in the Old Testament and other gods. Such a portrayal was not an argument against historicity for the simple reason that most historical figures — Washington, Julius Caesar, Baal Shem Tov — the have legendary portraits made of them. Octavian (Augustus) was said to be the son of god and performed miracles and ascended to heaven. The lives of famous people are told in stereotypes, such as the divine saviour or the rags to riches stories.
That a person’s life is told according to a type does not mean that person did not exist.
The Case for Jesus Being Historical: One of the Best Sourced Figures of First Century
Jesus is one of the best attested Palestinian Jews of the entire first century.
Gospels and their sources
We have more evidence of Jesus that we do about Josephus. We have four gospels about Jesus and zero narrative accounts of Josephus. For Caiaphas (and Pilate?) we likewise have no narrative accounts.
The gospel accounts are problematic, yes, but they are four narratives about a person in history and they do give us information. All are based on different literary and oral sources.
Mark is absolutely based on oral sources that he heard. John didn’t use Matthew, Mark or Luke but used other sources.
There are so many sources for Jesus and they are independent of each other; they are not copying each other.
They contain information based on sources going back to the Aramaic stories in Palestine years before the gospels were written.
Writings of Paul
Before the four gospels we have the writings of Paul. Paul makes off-the-cuff biographical comments that give us a chronology of his life. We know he began as a persecutor of Christians within two years of the death of Jesus.
Paul talks about a real historical figure crucified by earthly opponents. Paul firmly believes Jesus lived in Palestine as a man even though he had been divine.
BE compared the letters of his very devout Christian mother. Her letters do not talk about Jesus’ baptism, etc. So don’t expect all details in Paul’s letters. Yet Paul does tell us that Jesus
- was born physically
- had a woman as a mother
- had brothers, including James
- preached to other Jews
- had disciples (sic), including Peter
Two points of what Paul says need to be noted:
#1 — Galatians 1:19 says Jesus had a brother and “brother” means what it means. Paul is contrasting James with Cephas — that is, Cephas is not the brother of the Lord — only James is the brother of the Lord.
#2 — Jesus is the crucified messiah, that is, he suffered a Roman crucifixion as a criminal.
The Case for Jesus Being Historical: Messiah a Crucified Criminal
If Christians invented Jesus as the Christ they would not have invented the idea that he got crucified.
They also said he was buried.
As posted here, on other blogs, and above all in the scholarly literature, there is abundant evidence presented in the professional channels that argues against BE’s assertions about Jewish messianic concepts of the first century. The same applies to his interpretation of it was about the preaching of Christ crucified that Paul’s Jews found to be a stumbling block.
I suspect many mythicists would have liked BE to have addressed the logical fallacy underlying his “they would not make it up” claim given that they have repeatedly pointed it out in publications and responses to his DJE?
It is important to understand what was meant by the term Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew). The Christ was the King of Israel; he, the king, was the “anointed one”. Jews believed that the Messiah would be a great warrior figure like David and would rule over his enemies. Some Jews also thought he would be a cosmic figure who would destroy his enemies on earth. But ALL expected a great, powerful figure who would destroy his enemies and set up God’s Kingdom.
But Christians said Jesus was a crucified criminal. That’s the opposite of what a Messiah would be.
So we can’t explain a crucified messiah as something that was made up. Christians believed he was a Messiah who then got crucified as a criminal. That’s why Paul said that for Jews a crucified messiah was a stumbling block. It’s why they all rejected Jesus as a Messiah — because he was crucified.
There is historical data for Jesus. It’s in the gospels but we need to find it. Hope you don’t decide to believe only what is convenient!
Next — Price’s opening address