Category Archives: Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist?


2012-08-02

Frank Zindler’s Response to Bart Ehrman: The Parable of the Cheshire Cat

by Neil Godfrey

Frank Zindler’s response to Bart Ehrman is now online, Clarice O’Callighan of the JesusMysteries Forum alerts us. See his online article Bart Ehrman and the Cheshire Cat of Nazareth

His opener:

When all that is left of a Cheshire cat is its grin, how can we be sure it is in fact the grin of a cat? To be sure, if we have watched a grinning cat disappear progressively until all we see is its grin, we can have some confidence that the aerial grin we perceive to remain is in fact that of a cat. As the grin further dissolves into the fog and mist of a perplexing day, however, it becomes harder and harder to determine if the motes that float before our eyes are still the remnants of the grin or just the random rubbish of polluted air. At some point, however, we will have to admit that the cat is gone—completely gone.

This all seems obvious enough and uncontroversial. But what if someone else were to walk by as you were standing at the wayside peering into the low branches of a tree and fixing your gaze on the fading remnants of the grin?

Then there’s this gem:

If Q was a true listing of the wise sayings of Jesus, then Ehrman could probably argue that Jesus had been well educated in Greek literature—including Aesop’s Fables! In fact, Jesus had had such a good Hellenisic education that he even quoted Aesop in one of his sayings that is reported in Q and adapted as Matthew 11:17 and Luke 7:32.

And what must historicists try to do? read more »


2012-07-30

Scholarly Consensus in Biblical Studies — Does It Mean Anything?

by Tim Widowfield

Thomas Kuhn, author of
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

It might surprise some people to know that, even several years after Darwin and Wallace made public their independent discoveries and insights regarding natural selection, the vast majority of Lamarckians were not persuaded. Similarly, some die-hard Steady-State proponents never embraced the Big Bang. Fred Hoyle was promoting variations of his Steady State theory, publishing papers as late as 1993. Even in the “hard” sciences it often takes a new generation to come of age before the paradigm can shift.

More often than you might expect, progress requires this combination — the old guard dying off and new scholars coming of age, cutting their teeth on promising new research — for new ideas to take hold. And take note, I’m not talking about ideas that form the basis of our self-identity, our place in the universe, or our salvation. It’s simply human nature to hold on to ideas that have worked well for us, especially if we’ve held them for decades. Consider, then, how difficult it would be to change your mind if it meant the difference between eternal bliss and rotting in a hole in the dirt until you’re dust.

The limited utility of scholarly consensus

Scholarly consensus in any field has somewhat limited usefulness. It tells us what most people think within a given field at a given time, but does it really give us an insight on fundamental, universal truths? Probably not, but it at least gives us a starting point.

A little over seven years ago Mark Goodacre at his NT Blog asked, “What is consensus?” Tied up in that question, of course, are related questions pertaining to how we determine consensus, what is its value, whom do we ask, and so on. By all means, if you haven’t read it, you should, and while you’re at it, you should check out his follow-up post, “Less of a consensus on consensus.” It’s unfortunate that some of the links Dr. Goodacre refers to are no longer available. At the bottom of this post, I’ll provide a list of alternate links made possible by the Internet Wayback Machine.

In Dr. Michael Pahl’s original post (see Wayback link below), he asked four probing questions:

read more »


Bart Ehrman vs. Earl Doherty. Part 29 of Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism

by Earl Doherty

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Bart Ehrman vs. Earl Doherty

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Using previous scholarship with a different end result
  • Ehrman’s numerous misreadings and misrepresentations of my text
    • Platonic (and other) ancient views of the universe
    • What was the interpretation of the cultic myths:
      • allegorical or literal, heavenly or earthly?
      • among the philosophers?
      • among the devotees of the cult?
      • among the common people?
  • Revisiting 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16
  • Revisiting “the rulers of this age”
  • Was the Christ cult Jewish or Greek—or both?
  • Jewish sectarian thinking moves upward
  • Was Pauline Christianity “Aramaic rural Palestinian Judaism”?
  • Must Christ have shed his blood on earth?
  • Problems and declarations

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Was Jesus Crucified in the Spiritual Realm Rather Than on Earth?

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 252-258)

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The practice of drawing on previous scholarship

Ehrman calls me “one of the staunchest defenders of a mythicist view of Christ.” Well, that’s almost the only valid statement he makes about me in the entire book. He starts off with a complaint which has often cropped up in criticisms directed against me:

He quotes professional scholars at length when their views prove useful for developing aspects of his argument, but he fails to point out that not a single one of these scholars agrees with his overarching thesis. (DJE? p. 252)

First of all, I scarcely think I needed to point this out. What mainstream New Testament scholar subscribes to the mythicist theory, let alone that Paul regarded Christ as sacrificed in the heavenly realm? If any of these scholars I draw on had so believed, does Ehrman think I would not have trumpeted it to the skies? I was hardly concealing what anyone would assume was the historicist orientation of such scholars.

Ehrman’s motive in raising that fallacy is quite clearly to impugn to me some form of dishonest procedure.

More importantly, does Ehrman or anyone else regard it as illegitimate of me to draw on observations and conclusions on the part of established scholarship if they can be fitted into the context of my own argument? Mainstream scholars do that all the time. All of scholarship builds on the work of predecessors, and all of those predecessors are subject to reinterpretation and the reapplication of their work to the new conclusions of their successors. Besides, many of my references to the views of historicist scholars involve a clear indication that I make use of their observations in different ways than they do, with different end results.

Enough said on that fallacy. Ehrman’s motive in raising it is quite clearly to impugn to me some form of dishonest procedure.

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Multiple views of the universe
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This is not simply a misreading, it presents the exact opposite of what I actually say.

One of the “problems” Ehrman finds in my book is its main thesis:

One particular piece is especially unconvincing: in Doherty’s view, Paul (and other early Christians) believed that the Son of God had undergone a redeeming “‘blood’ sacrifice” not in this world but in a spiritual realm above it. (DJE? p. 252)

In the course of explaining why he is unconvinced, Ehrman makes a number of egregious misreadings of my text. (I know it is 800 pages, but it is still incumbent upon Ehrman to actually see the words as they stand on the page if he is going to find fault with them.) He says: read more »


2012-07-25

Richard Carrier Recaps the Bart Ehrman-Historicity of Jesus Exhanges

by Neil Godfrey

Richard Carrier has compiled a “summary of the current state of the debate after the mini blog war between [himself] and Bart Ehrman over his latest book, Did Jesus Exist?, which attempted to argue against various scholars . . . who have concluded, or at least suspect, that Jesus never really existed, but was an invention in myth, like Moses or King Arthur or Ned Ludd. . . .  I will give a state-of-play for everything.”

Carrier is keen to distance himself from those he labels “crank mythicists” and I sometimes think he is committing some of the same hasty misrepresentations of some of these that other scholars do. I’d feel much more comfortable with Carrier if he demonstrated more patience and ability to share his skills with others who lack his specialist training in the field. He only covers his own exchanges of course. Others have dabbled with general comments, most recently Larry Hurtado who seems to indicate that his entire knowledge of mythicism has been filtered to him through a 1938 Student Christian Movement publication mainly addressing the views of J. M. Robertson.

Carrier links to his past responses (March to April this year) to Bart Ehrman and James McGrath and then provides a point by point synopsis of the arguments he made and the responses to each from Ehrman and McGrath.

It’s the sort of outline I sometimes had a mind to do after my own exchanges with McGrath and a few others. What is humorous is the classic responses of both Ehrman and McGrath to the various points made as the exchange unfolded. It’s reassuring to see that the responses from McGrath in particular is no different from what they have been with me. So Carrier dots his epitome with: read more »


2012-07-23

28. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 28 (G. A. Wells)

by Earl Doherty

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1. Did Jewish Personified Wisdom generate Paul’s Christ Jesus?

2. Was Jesus an Unknown Jew Who Lived a Century Before Paul?

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • The (partial) mythicism of G. A. Wells
    • The problems in Wells’ interpretation of Paul
  • Jewish personified Wisdom as inspiration for Paul’s Christ
    • Hellenistic Judaism and the Wisdom of Solomon
    • Is Jesus the incarnation of personified Wisdom?
    • Colossians and the christological hymns
  • Did Paul see Christ as living in the time of Alexander Janneus?
  • The chronology of Jesus’ death and rising and the appearances of 1 Cor. 15.
  • Would Paul trouble to mention something everyone knew?
  • Paul’s “firstfruits” harvested from scripture
  • Taking apart Ehrman’s summation against Wells
  • Related Posts

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1. Was Jesus Invented as a Personification of Jewish Wisdom?

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 241-246)

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George Albert Wells

G.A. Wells

The mythicist views of G. A. Wells

In turning once more to the views of G. A. Wells, Ehrman demonstrates that mythicism is not monolithic, for Wells’ views on what earliest Christians like Paul believed in shows that the opinions of mythicists can be almost as varied as those of New Testament scholars who have sought to uncover the ‘genuine’ historical Jesus. (Of course, only the former are condemned for that diversity.)

Wells and two originating strands of Christianity:

Wells, like myself, sees a Christian movement which originated in two essentially separate expressions that only came together in the Gospel of Mark. Since I did not consciously take this from Wells, this illustrates the principle of different individuals or groups coming up with similar ideas based on available evidence or ‘in the air’ concepts but not dependent one on another. (Unless Wells took it from me! 😉 )

Strand one: Q, Galilee and a founding figure:

Wells accepts the existence of Q as representing one of those expressions: a sectarian movement in Galilee preaching the coming of the kingdom of God; but he came to believe (sometime around 1990) that an historical sage, à la the Jesus Seminar, lies at its root, whereas I see the evidence in Q pointing to a later development for such a founding figure during the evolution of the sect, and that no such founder existed.

Strand two: Paul, Wisdom and the reign of Alexander Janneus:

On the other hand, Wells sees Paul as deriving a non-existent Son/Christ figure from philosophical and scriptural sources, influenced especially by the “personified Wisdom” tradition of the Hebrew bible. But rather than locating him and his acts in a supernatural time and place, Wells interprets Paul as concluding that Christ had been born, lived and died on earth at an unknown time in the past, though he opts for Paul locating this during the reign of Alexander Janneus (103-76 BCE), known to have crucified hundreds of his rabbinic opponents.

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Problems with Wells’ theory

There are several problems with Wells’ theory. read more »


2012-07-20

27. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 27

by Earl Doherty
Slightly edited 3 hours after original posting.

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Did the earliest Christians regard Jesus as God?

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Did the earliest Christians see Jesus as God?
    • God vs. an emanation of God
    • Concepts of the Son and Logos; Paul and Philo
    • Epistolary descriptions of the Son
  • The Synoptic Jesus: Man or God?
    • Why Mark’s divinity for Jesus is subdued
  • The figure in the Philippians hymn: human or divine?
    • “Nature” vs. “image” in the Philippians hymn
    • Yet another “likeness” motif
    • What is the “name above every name”? “Jesus” vs. “Lord”
    • Another smoking gun

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Jesus as God

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 231-240)

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Was Jesus God?
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But what precisely is meant by the phrase ‘Jesus was God’? Much of the problem lies in Ehrman’s semantic woolliness.

Bart Ehrman now embarks on what is probably the thorniest problem in New Testament research. How was Jesus regarded, not only by his followers, but by the earliest Christians who spread the faith? Ehrman declares:

the earliest Christians did not consider Jesus God. . . . scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles. (DJE? p. 231)

But what precisely is meant by the phrase ‘Jesus was God’? Much of the problem lies in Ehrman’s semantic woolliness. Later Church Councils declared Jesus fully a co-equal with God the Father, of the same substance, two ‘persons’ within the Trinity. I am aware of no scholarship, let alone any mythicist, who suggests that this was the view of any segment of earliest Christianity.

But to say that Jesus was an “emanation” of God is something else. The difference between Paul’s Son of God and Philo’s Logos as an emanation of God is largely a matter of personhood. Philo does not personalize his Logos; he calls it God’s “first-born,” but it is not a distinct ‘person’; rather, it is a kind of radiant force which has certain effects on the world. Paul’s Son has been carried one step further (though a large one), in that he is a full hypostasis, a distinct divine personage with an awareness of self and roles of his own—and capable of being worshiped on his own.

But an “emanation” is not God per se. That is why Philo can describe him as “begotten” of God. He can be styled a part of the Godhead, but he is a subordinate part. (I have no desire to sound like a theologian, but to try to explain as I see it the concepts that lie in the minds of Christian writers, past and present. They are attempting to describe what they see as a spiritual reality; I regard it as bearing no relation to any reality at all.) Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:28 speaks of the Son’s fate once God’s enemies are vanquished, a passage which exercises theologians because it looks incompatible with the Trinity. For here Paul says that the Son “will be subjected” to God, in the apparent sense of being ‘subsumed’ back into God, who will then become One again—“so that God will be all in all.” There will only be one ‘person.’

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The “intermediary Son” concept
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Thus the “Son” which we find described throughout the epistles is viewed in the sense of an emanation of God, not God himself.

c. 1165 Sophia - Wisdom (Wikipedia)

There can be little question that the idea of the Son, Paul’s “Christ” and spiritual Messiah, arose from the philosophical thinking of the era, which created for the highest Deity intermediary spiritual forces and subordinate divine entities to fill certain roles and to be revelatory channels between God and humanity. In Judaism, this was the role of personified Wisdom, though her divinity was relatively innocuous and her ‘person’ perhaps as much poetic as real. (She may have been a later scribal compromise when an earlier goddess consort of Yahweh was abandoned). In Greek thinking, the intermediary force was the Logos, though in varied versions (the Platonic Logos and Stoic Logos were quite different), and with an independence and personification less developed than Paul’s.

Thus the “Son” which we find described throughout the epistles is viewed in the sense of an emanation of God, not God himself. He has a personification of his own, and he fills certain roles.

Consider three passages: read more »


2012-07-13

26. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 26

by Earl Doherty

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Mythicist Inventions: Part One – Creating the Mythical Christ from the Pagan Mystery Cults

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Jesus as a dying and rising god
  • Common creations of the religious mind
  • The demise of James Frazer’s The Golden Bough
  • The case for borrowing lies in syncretism
  • Jewish and Greek forms of resurrection
  • Paul on Jesus’ resurrection as “firstfruits”
  • Jonathan Z. Smith’s case against dying and rising gods
  • The resurrection of Adonis: did the mysteries copy Christianity?
  • Gunter Wagner on discrediting the mysteries
  • The appeal of the mysteries
  • The lack of evidence on the mysteries
  • Historicist methodology and a Jewish camouflage

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Mythicist Inventions: Creating the Mythical Christ

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 219-230)

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If there has been one paramount apologetic concern in the long combat against Jesus mythicism, it has been the need to discredit any thought of Christian dependence on the Hellenistic savior god traditions. This has led historicism to adopt a ‘scorched earth’ strategy. Not only must any dependence on the mystery cults be refuted on Christianity’s own turf, the war has been carried further afield in an attempt to eliminate even the alleged sources. Thus, the armies of Christian independence are dispatched to the enemy’s home territory, there to destroy its own precepts.
No longer do the mysteries believe in dying and rising gods; no longer are they based on the cycle of agricultural death and rebirth; no longer do they practice rites which could have resembled and influenced the Christian one; no longer do they even worship such deities.And no longer do ancient Christians contemporary with the mysteries genuinely know anything about them.

But the mysteries knew about Christianity, and they liked what they saw so much that they recast their own ancient beliefs in imitation of the Jesus story.

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“Did the Earliest Christians Invent Jesus as a Dying-Rising God, Based on Pagan Myths?”

Having asked that question, Ehrman presents the situation this way:

ONE OF THE MOST widely asserted claims found in the mythicist literature is that Jesus was an invention of the early Christians who had been deeply influenced by the prevalent notion of a dying-rising god, as found throughout the pagan religions of antiquity. The theory behind this claim is that people in many ancient religions worshipped gods who died and rose again: Osiris, Attis, Adonis, Tammuz, Heracles, Melqart, Eshmun, Baal, and so on. Originally, the theory goes, these gods were connected with vegetation and were worshipped in fertility cults. Just as every year the crops die in winter but then come back to life in the spring, so too with the gods who are associated with the crops. They die (when the crops do) and go to the underworld, but then they revive (with the crops) and reappear on earth, raised from the dead. They are worshipped then as dying-rising deities. (DJE?, p. 221)

According to Ehrman, the view of almost all mythicists is that Jesus is an artificial Jewish version of a dying and rising deity of the above type; the significant parallels between the mysteries and the Jesus story prove this claim.

But this is something of a straw man. It envisions that some founder of the movement, or some Jewish study group (a scriptural book review club perhaps?), consciously sat down and ‘invented’ a new version of an old religion by emulating the latter’s features. Occasionally this sort of thing may happen (Ptolemy I deliberately syncretizing two gods into one to create a national-unity religion, or Joseph Smith inventing the whole gold plates business). But more often than not it is ‘in the air’ concepts and expressions that throw up a new set of ideas and interpretations within a break-away group or a particular cultural or sectarian entity.

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Common inventions of the human mind
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There is much in early Christianity which owes its presence to the Jewish culture . . . But there is also no question that fundamental aspects of the early Christian faith do not have a Jewish character but a Hellenistic one.

Almost every sect that looks back to a divine event or interaction with a deity develops a sacred meal as a commemorative thanksgiving or ritual reflection. (What is more fitting, or available, to give to a god than food and drink, or more traditionally associated with a god’s own nature and bounty?)

If the most fundamental religious impulse is to find a way to believe in a life after death, this is almost inevitably going to take the form of creating a deity who will bestow such a thing; and given our mystical predilections it should not be surprising that a process many would tend to come up with is the principle of the god undergoing the desired goal himself. It would indeed take a god to conquer death, but if we could just find a way to ride through that formidable barrier on his divine coattails. . . .

This is one mythicist who does not overplay the ‘deliberate borrowing’ principle to explain the origins of Christianity. read more »


2012-07-09

25. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism — Part 25

by Earl Doherty

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Is Jesus Based on Pagan Precedents?

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • A cult of parallels
  • Comparing Apollonius of Tyana
  • Kersey Graves as punching bag
    • Compare John Remsburg
  • Evaluating a range of different parallels
    • Birth of Mithras
    • Water into wine by Dionysos
    • Horus the shepherd-king
    • Isis and Horus, Mother and Child
  • Do Christian fathers give accurate knowledge of the mysteries?
    • Justin, Tertullian
    • Celsus via Origen
  • Cultural differences
    • Divine copulation or virgin birth
    • Variant forms of resurrection
    • Dying for sin
  • The pre-Gospel record contains no biographical parallels
  • Paul’s soteriology dependent on pagan concepts
  • The “cult of parallels” only arises with the Gospel story
  • Robert Price’s “mythic hero” archetype
  • Leaving a mark on history
    • Homer, Confucius, Lao-Tze, Buddha, William Tell, Aeneas, Romulus, Remus . . .

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Claim 4: The Nonhistorical “Jesus” Is Based on Stories About Pagan Divine Men

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 207-218)

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Bart Ehrman now addresses what is undoubtedly the most controversial aspect of mythicism, or at least of some expressions of it. It forms very little of my own case for a mythical Jesus and I admit that this whole area must be approached with caution and qualification. One might call it “a cult of parallels.”

As Ehrman puts it,

. . . now rather than arguing that Jesus was made up based on persons and prophecies from the Jewish Bible, it is claimed that he was invented in light of what pagans were saying about the gods or about other “divine men,” superhuman creatures thought to have been half mortal, half immortal. (DJE? p. 207)

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Apollonius Tyanaeus

Apollonius Tyanaeus (Photo credit: Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara)

Comparing Apollonius of Tyana

He gives as an example the career of Apollonius of Tyana, an ancient sage who was reputed to have had a miraculous birth, gathered disciples, taught a spiritual ethic, healed the sick, was in part divine, and after death at the hands of authorities came back to appear to his followers.

Apollonius is perhaps not the best analogy to offer in these circumstances, since he was a figure who apparently lived not prior to or even contemporaneous with the reputed Jesus, but a little after him (he is supposed to have died 98 CE). So there can be no question that early Christians modelled their Jesus on Apollonius. But he does represent a class of ‘divine man’ (the theios anēr) in the ancient world, including much older figures of dubious existence like Heracles, some of whose characteristics the story of Jesus shared.

Ehrman claims quite legitimately that such comparisons with someone like Apollonius of Tyana have little if anything to do with the question of Jesus’ existence. Since Apollonius himself is almost certainly an historical figure (we have a little better attestation to his existence than we do for Jesus), this shows that historical persons can acquire extensive legendary characteristics. But what of those figures who are generally not judged to be historical, more god than man, incarnated to earth in an undefined or primordial past?

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Trotting out Kersey Graves

image of Kersey Graves

image of Kersey Graves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here Ehrman latches onto the very worst and most notorious expression of parallel-hunting in the history of mythicism: Kersey Graves’ 1875 The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors. Poor Kersey has become the favorite punching bag of historicists, much of it due to his own fault. Ehrman styles his work as “an exaggerated set of mythicist claims” with some justification, but his own remark that

Graves provides not a single piece of documentation for any of them. They are all asserted, on his own authority. (DJE? p. 211)

is itself an exaggeration. Graves’ references are anything but exact or even useful, but he is not quite appealing to his own authority when he says things like: “Their holy bibles (the Vedas and Gita) prophesy of [Chrishna] thus,” and goes on to quote several sentences from those bibles (1960 reprint, p.297). Graves hardly made up these passages himself. read more »


2012-07-06

Thomas L. Thompson responds to Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?

by Neil Godfrey

It’s good to see Professor Thomas L. Thompson come out and respond to Bart Ehrman’s crude dismissal of his scholarly contribution to the origin of the Christ myth.

Here is what Ehrman had written of Thomas L. Thompson’s work:

A different sort of support for a mythicist position comes in the work of Thomas L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots o f Jesus and David, Thompson is trained in biblical studies, but he does not have degrees in New Testament or early Christianity. He is, instead, a Hebrew Bible scholar who teaches at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. In his own field of expertise he is convinced that figures from the Hebrew Bible such as Abraham, Moses, and David never existed. He transfers these views to the New Testament and argues that Jesus too did not exist but was invented by Christians who wanted to create a savior figure out of stories found in the Jewish scriptures.

and again read more »


24. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 24

by Earl Doherty

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Mythicist Claim Three: The Gospels Are Interpretive Paraphrases of the OT

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • The Gospels constructed out of scriptural midrash
  • Jesus’ passion modelled on a traditional Jewish story
  • The Gospel of the Old Testament according to Robert Price
  • The Gospel Jesus as a new Moses
  • A Jesus miracle modelled on Elijah
  • What does the midrashic Gospel Jesus symbolize?
  • Fictional episodes vs. the genuine article?
  • Thomas L. Thompson and intertextual dependency
  • What did Paul mean by “receiving” and “passing on”?
  • Putting our trust in Luke and John

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Claim 3: The Gospels Are Interpretive Paraphrases of the Old Testament

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 197-207)

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. . . . scholars began to realize that the events of the Synoptic Gospels were wholesale reworkings of elements and stories in Hebrew scripture.

Bart Ehrman now tackles perhaps the most momentous development in the entire history of New Testament scholarship, and it is a fairly recent one. While there were murmurs and insights in this direction beforehand, it was only around 1980 that scholars began to realize that the events of the Synoptic Gospels were wholesale reworkings of elements and stories in Hebrew scripture. A seminal work in this area was an article published in the Harvard Theological Review No. 73 (1980) by George Nickelsburg, entitled “The Genre and Function of the Markan Passion Narrative.

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The Gospels under a microscope

Nickelsburg first of all clinched the case that the entire Markan passion story is made up of building blocks extracted from the prophets and the Psalms, in some cases literally ‘chipped out’ of their scriptural settings and set into place in a new composition like a bricks-and-mortar construction.

Cleansing of the Temple

Thus, Hosea 9:15, “Because of their evil deeds I will drive them from my house,” and Zechariah 14:21, “No trader shall be seen in the house of the Lord,” became the literal building blocks of the Cleansing of the Temple scene.

Agony in Gethsemane

Psalm 42:5, “How deep I am cast in misery, groaning in my distress,” supplied Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

Beatings of Jesus

Isaiah 50:6-7, “I offered my back to the lash. . . I did not hide my face from spitting and insult,” was inserted literally and graphically into the picture of the ordeals which Jesus underwent.

Gambling for Jesus’ clothes

At the foot of the cross the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ garments because Psalm 22:18 said: “They divided my garments among them and for my raiments they cast lots.”

And so on.

There is scarcely a thread in the entire fabric of the passion story which has not been extracted from the scriptural tapestry. (In The Jesus Puzzle and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man I trace in detail the course of Mark’s passion story through its scriptural and literary sources.)

But it was not only at the nitty-gritty level that Mark used scripture to craft his story. Nickelsburg revealed that the overall shape of it followed a common generic model found in centuries of Jewish writing: read more »


2012-06-29

23. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 23

by Earl Doherty

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Part II: The Mythicists’ Claims – One: A Problematic Record

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.COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Admitting to problematic Gospels
  • Gospel authors unknown
  • Fallacious analogies:
    • Obama’s birth certificate
    • The Hitler diaries
    • Clinton’s presidency
    • George Washington
  • Discrepancies and contradictions in the Gospels
  • Radically different pictures of Jesus
  • How much of the Gospels is fictional?
  • Form criticism and the argument of Robert Price
  • The criterion of dissimilarity: is it applicable in the Gospels?
  • Doubly strong claims? — multiple attestation and dissimilarity:
    • crucifixion
    • brothers
    • Nazareth
  • P.S. Claim 2: Nazareth Did Not Exist


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Chapter Six: The Mythicist Case: Weak and Irrelevant Claims

Claim 1: The Gospels Are Highly Problematic as Historical Sources

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 177-190)

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The present chapter will look at the typical arguments used by mythicists that are, in my judgment, weak and/or irrelevant to the question. (DJE? p. 177)

With that, Ehrman embarks on a direct attempt to discredit some of the arguments on which mythicists like myself base their contention that Jesus did not exist.

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Problematic Gospels as Historical Sources

After allowing that the great number of manuscripts of the New Testament documents we possess, as compared to copies of other ancient writings, has nothing to do with whether they are reliable or not, Ehrman makes a pretty heavy set of admissions:

  • we do not have the original texts of the Gospels, and there are places where we do not know what the authors originally said;
  • the Gospels are not authored by the persons named in their titles (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) but were written by people who were not followers of Jesus but lived forty to sixty years later in different parts of the world;
  • the Gospels are full of discrepancies and contradictions;
  • the Gospels report historical events that can be shown not to have happened.

Moreover,

. . . even though the Gospels are among the best attested books from the ancient world, we are regrettably hindered in knowing what the authors of these books originally wrote. The problem is not that we are lacking manuscripts. We have thousands of manuscripts. The problem is that none of these manuscripts is the original copy produced by the author (this is true for all four Gospels—in fact, for every book of the New Testament). Moreover, most of these manuscripts were made over a thousand years after the original copies, none of them is close to the time of the originals—within, say, ten or twenty years—and all of them contain certifiable mistakes.

But in Ehrman’s view,

 . . . for the question of whether or not Jesus existed, these problems are mostly irrelevant. (DJE? p. 180)

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Inconsistent and contradictory Gospels
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If writers in the early days could play so fast and loose with ‘history’ and sources, with no word or deed of that central character spared revision, what does that say about the stability and reliability, the basic roots, of any supposed traditions these stories are supposedly based upon?

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Well, let’s see. The Gospels do not agree in their wording, or in the inclusion of certain passages in all the extant copies? “So what?” Ehrman asks. It doesn’t matter, for example, if some copies of John are missing the pericope of the woman taken in adultery, this hardly has any bearing on whether Jesus existed or not.

read more »


2012-06-25

22. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 22

by Earl Doherty

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A Crucified Messiah

COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Jesus and David Koresh
  • Was a crucified criminal believed to be the messiah?
  • Ehrman’s “story” of a resurrection
  • A story missing in Q and the epistles
  • The actual picture in the epistles
  • Did Jews invent a crucified messiah?
  • Did Jews anticipate a suffering messiah?
  • The sources and nature of Paul’s new messiah
  • Ehrman’s summary of his evidence with summary responses

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The Crucified Messiah

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 164-174)

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Jesus as an ancient David Koresh

At the end of our last instalment, Bart Ehrman told of putting a question to his university students:

What if I told you that David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, attacked and killed some years ago in Texas by the FBI as a dangerous rebel, was really God’s Chosen one, the Lord of all? (DJE? p. 163)

He was making the point that for the followers of Jesus to declare that a man who had just been executed as a rebel was really God’s prophesied messiah would indeed have been equivalent to survivors of the Branch Davidians making a similar declaration of David Koresh today.

Ehrman is now faced with a major challenge. He must answer the question: How could any Jew judge a man who fulfilled none of the expectations the nation held about the messiah, a man whom society would have regarded as a “crucified criminal,” ignominiously despatched by the very overlords he was supposed to overthrow, to be the fulfillment of all those prophecies in scripture about God’s agent for Israel’s salvation?

The traditional Christian answer and Ehrman’s “story” substitute

Ask that question of an evangelical Christian today and you will get a stock answer: the actual resurrection of Jesus convinced his followers that he was God’s Son and Messiah. I suppose if I had been around at that time and saw a dead man walk, I too would have let that override whatever negative reaction I had to seeing him die on the cross. But Ehrman hasn’t allowed himself that option. And yet, he appeals to much the same thing, just a weaker version of it.

If it is hard to imagine Jews inventing the idea of a crucified messiah, where did the idea come from? It came from historical realities. There really was a man Jesus. Some of the things he said and possibly did made some of his followers wonder if he could be the messiah. Eventually they became convinced: he must be the messiah. But then he ran afoul of the authorities, who had him arrested, put on trial, and condemned to execution. He was crucified. This, of course, radically disconfirmed everything his followers had thought and hoped since he obviously was the furthest thing from the messiah. But then something else happened. Some of them began to say that God had intervened and brought him back from the dead. The story caught on, and some (or all—we don’t know) of his closest followers came to think that in fact he had been raised. This reconfirmed in a big way the hopes that had been so severely dashed by his crucifixion. For his reinspirited followers, Jesus truly is the one favored by God. So he is the messiah. But he is a different kind of messiah than anyone expected. God had a different plan from the beginning. He planned to save Israel not by a powerful royal messiah but by a crucified messiah. (DJE? p. 164)

So now instead of an actual resurrection, with followers seeing Jesus again in the flesh and placing their hands upon him to confirm that he was indeed alive, Ehrman posits a “story” of a resurrection which “caught on.” I’m not so sure that I myself, back then, would have been convinced by a ‘story.’ It hasn’t got quite the same force as actually seeing the dead live, right in front of you. Maybe getting a sworn assurance from someone else who actually did see the dead man alive again might have substituted. But a ‘story’? And what did that story say? That he had actually been seen in the flesh? Or that he had been taken up to heaven immediately, leaving no witnesses behind? Was it a resurrection in flesh, or one in spirit? Did the story offer any proof? Ehrman does not say. read more »


2012-06-23

21. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 21

by Earl Doherty

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“Key Data” in Proving Jesus’ Historicity – The Crucified Messiah

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • The conflict between messianic expectation and result
  • Assumptions based on the Gospels and Acts
  • Why did Paul persecute the early church?
  • Paul’s gospel vs. Ehrman’s view of early church beliefs
  • Christ as “curse” for being “hanged on a tree”
  • Paul switching horses in mid-stream
  • A new view of Christian origins
  • The traditional Jewish Messiah
  • Jesus as lower class Galilean peasant
  • Who would make up a crucified Messiah?

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The Crucified Messiah

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 156-174)

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A conflict between expectation and history

To introduce his second piece of “Key Data” which confer a “high degree of certainty that (Jesus) was an historical figure,” (p. 144) Bart Ehrman offers this:

These early Christians from day one believed that Jesus was the messiah. But they knew that he had been crucified. (p. 156)

This is a good example of what happens when one’s thinking is stuck firmly inside the box. The point Ehrman is making is that the concept of the “messiah,” the expectation of what he would be and what he would do, conflicted with the fact that Jesus had been crucified. In other words, historical expectations were at odds with (alleged) historical events. But if that is indeed one’s starting assumption, and if it is wrong, then it will lead us down all sorts of problematic garden paths and into conclusions which are not only erroneous but unnecessary.

The first part of this assumption, entirely based on the Gospels and Acts, is that certain people made judgments about a certain historical man. If that were the case, then an anomaly would certainly exist between traditional ideas about the messiah and what the life of that man actually entailed. Why, then, the question arises, did those people come to such a judgment when it conflicted so much with standard messianic expectation?

But all we have to do is ask: what if no judgment was initially made about any historical man? Everything that follows would then be entirely different, and perhaps more amenable to understanding how Christianity began and showing a conformity to what some of the texts themselves are telling us.

Paul’s persecution of the church

For reasons that may not seem self-evident at first, claiming that Jesus was crucified is a powerful argument that Jesus actually lived. (p. 156)

Ehrman’s route to supporting this statement is a complicated one. He first calls attention to Paul’s persecution of the church in Judea prior to his conversion. He notes that Paul says nothing specific about what the beliefs of that early church were, or on what particular grounds it was subjected to persecution by the authorities, with himself acting as their agent. Nothing daunted, Ehrman steps into that breach. But because he has made the initial assumption that an historical man was interpreted as the messiah, he embarks on a chain of speculation which not only contains problems, but also looks to be completely off the path of reality. read more »


2012-06-18

20. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 20

by Earl Doherty

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The Brother of the Lord

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • brother of the Lord
  • the meaning of “brother” in the epistles
  • brethren of a sect?
  • plain meanings
  • apologist objections:
    • who is “the Lord”?
    • battle of the prepositions
  • question begging as methodology
  • why not “brother of Jesus”?
  • or “brothers of Jesus”?
  • separating Cephas and James
  • G. A. Wells: a Jewish messianic group?
  • more grammar: genitive vs dative
  • Josephus’ James
  • Ehrman on Robert Price
  • “brother of the Lord” as a marginal gloss
  • question begging as methodology: Ehrman as beggar

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Paul’s Associations

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 145-156)

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English: James the Just, Lord´s brother. Russi...

In his 5th chapter (approximately halfway through the book), Ehrman says he will “wrap up” his discussion of the historical evidence for Jesus by putting forward two points, two pieces of “Key Data” which confer a “high degree of certainty that (Jesus) was an historical figure.”

The first of these is a favorite of apologists everywhere, because it is so straightforward, so plain. No complex study of a text is required, no knowledge about ancient philosophy or obscure languages is necessary. We merely need to bring an obvious meaning to a five-word phrase, a phrase that is simple even in the original Greek where it is only four words, prefaced by a man’s name: “Iakōbon ton adelphon tou kuriou”:

James, the brother of the Lord

What could be simpler? We ‘know’ from the Gospels that Jesus had a brother named James. Here Paul is declaring that when he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion to get to know Cephas, he also saw “James, the brother of the Lord” (Galatians 1:19). How could Jesus have had a brother if he had not lived on earth? Can mythicists not read?

Fortunately, we can. We can read a host of other appearances of the word “brother” (adelphos) in the epistles. Here are a few:

Rom. 16:23 – Greetings also from . . . our brother Quartus.

1 Cor. 1:1 – Paul . . . and our brother Sosthenes

1 Cor. 5:11 – you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is immoral or greedy . . .

1 Cor. 7:12 – If any brother has an unbelieving wife . . .

1 Cor. 8:13 – If food causes my brother to stumble . . . I will not cause my brother to fall.

1 Cor. 16:11-12 – I am expecting (Timothy) along with the brothers. As for brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers.

2 Cor. 2:13 – . . . because I did not find my brother Titus there.

2 Cor. 8:18 – We are sending with him the brother who is praised by all the churches . . .

Phil. 2:25 – . . . to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow-worker . . .

Col. 4:7 – (Tychicus) is a dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord.

1 Thes. 3:2 – Timothy, our brother and fellow-worker of God in the gospel of Christ.

1 Tim. 3:15 – Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

1 Pet. 5:12 – Silvanus, the faithful brother . . .

2 Pet. 3:15 – Paul, our friend and brother . . .

Rev. 1:9 – I, John, your brother, who share with you . . .

Brethren of a sect

All of these refer unmistakeably to men who are members of the sect (and there are a handful of occurrences of the word “sister” referring unmistakeably to a female member of the sect). The above amount to 14 out of a total of over 40 in the epistles.

In addition, there are about a dozen which, while ambiguously worded, are also virtually certain to be meant as members of the sect, such as:

1 Cor. 6:6 – Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers [brothers], but one brother goes to law against another, and this in front of unbelievers?

James 2:15 – If a brother or a sister is in rags with not enough food for the day . . .

James 4:11 – He who disparages a brother or passes judgment on his brother disparages the law and judges the law.

1 Jn 2:9 – Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.

1 Jn 3:10-11 – No one who does not do right is God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love his brother. The latter means a member of sect, since: For the message you have heard from the beginning is this: that we should love one another.

And that’s just in the singular. References to “brothers” in the plural also abound in the dozens, with a clear meaning of “brethren” of the sect, such as:

1 Cor. 15:6 – Then he was seen by over five hundred brothers at once.

Heb. 2:11 – . . . for which reason, he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call (the ones made holy, i.e., believers) his brothers.

1 Pet. 5:9 – You know that our brotherhood throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And at this point we need to note the reference in 1 Corinthians 9:5 to “the brothers of the Lord” which is regularly paired with Galatians 1:19 as allegedly referring to siblings of Jesus.

Plain meanings

In the singular, I have been able to locate in the epistles and Revelation only two usages of the word “brother” having the clear meaning of “sibling”: a reference in 1 John to Cain as the murderer of his brother Abel, and the ascription heading the epistle of Jude: “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” In the plural there is technically one, in 1 Timothy 5:2. As far as the world of the epistle writers is concerned, a “plain meaning” of “brother” equals the sense of “brethren” in a religious group; it is at least as natural as the sense of sibling. We in the 21st century rarely employ that sense, so to impose our idea of ‘plain meaning’ on theirs is an unjustified anachronism.

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But the apologist objects: “Your examples don’t refer to any of these ‘brothers’ in relation to Jesus!” read more »