The Real Jesus Challenge, Bart Erhman, and Nazareth

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by Neil Godfrey

The Real Jesus Challenge
“I think it is historically virtually certain that Jesus existed.”—Bart D. Ehrman

See René Salm’s Reply to Bart Erhman on Nazareth and The Real Jesus Challenge Award. This is an excerpt from the American Freethought podcast with Bart Ehrman, hosted by John C. Snider. Professor Ehrman’s remarks have led to the institution of the Real Jesus Challenge (also known as the 2011 Historicist Prize) sponsored by the Mythicists’ Forum.

On the same page I found these interesting remarks on René Salm’s book on the archaeology of Nazareth — The Myth of Nazareth:

Prof. Thomas Thompson…

…René Salm’s The Myth of Nazareth has been waiting to be written for twenty years now and I am glad to see that someone has finally taken up the challenge.…—Thomas L. Thompson PhD, University of Copenhagen (Emeritus). Author, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel; The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David, etc.

Robert M. Price…

…René Salm has shown that we have an utter void of archaeological vestiges of the Galilean home town of Jesus. At least there was no such town in the early part of the first century… Salm examines every bit of known evidence from the Nazareth Plateau. What a disparity between his results (none of them methodologically dubious, none controversial except in result) and the blithe generalizations of certain well-known Bible encyclopedias and Bible archaeology handbooks[!]…

Salm’s archaeological outcome does fit quite well with other literary considerations, namely the entire silence of both Josephus and the Mishnah when it comes to Nazareth…

One fears René Salm will prove as welcome amid the conventional “Nazareth” apologists as Jesus was among the Nazarene synagogue congregation in the gospels. But for others, it must now become apparent that we must bracket the gospel stories till we can independently reconstruct an account of Christian origins from the evidence on the ground—or the lack of it. New Testament minimalism: full speed ahead!—Robert M. Price, PhD, ThD. Author, The Pre-Nicene New Testament, Jesus is Dead, etc.

(For Dr. Price’s full review, please click here)

Robert Eisenman…

“I have been looking over your ‘Nazareth’ volume which you sent me and it is, of course, very thorough in your usual manner. But as I told you early on, you don’t have to convince me. I am a believer. I know there was no ‘Nazareth’… at least not where they were talking about it, from the first days I read Josephus who virtually catalogued all the important locations in Galilee and of course, no Nazareth!”—Prof. Robert Eisenman, PhD. Author, James the Brother of Jesus, etc.

H. P. Kuhnen…
(on the critical post-50 CE dating of the Nazareth tombs)

“I have studied your work relating to the archaeology of Nazareth and find your position very interesting. Concerning the [post-50 CE] dating of the known tombs, you are certainly correct.”—Prof. Hans-Peter Kuhnen, PhD. Author, Pälastina in Griechisch-Römischer Zeit, the world’s foremost authority on Roman tombs in the Galilee.

James Randi…
YouTube video (11 min.)

James Randi, Atheist, former magician, and archapostle of skepticism, vigorously supports the growing case against “Christian archaeology,” as this video shows. “The amazing Randi” highlights my book and states, among other things: “The facts are that no demonstrable evidence dating either to the time of Jesus or to earlier Hellenistic times has been found at Nazareth. It is a late Roman-Byzantine village, not a mythical settlement at the turn of the era. As author Salm says: that question has already been answered, and answered convincingly… Of course, the religious faction has reacted furiously to the book.”

Page updated: August 14, 2010

en:Image:RANDI.jpg (Original text : James Randi)
Image via Wikipedia


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Neil Godfrey

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5 thoughts on “The Real Jesus Challenge, Bart Erhman, and Nazareth”

  1. I am guessing their challenge is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Like James Randi offering however so much for the first psychic who can divine the number of his bank account or whatever.

    Given my profession, I’m more incensed that they cannot figure out a way to accept online submissions but demand hard paper copy!

  2. Randi would be very displeased to hear you describe his challenge as tongue-in-cheek!

    The JREF Million Dollar Challenge is actually very different. All parties agree on the conditions in advance, so the claimant knows exactly what he must do (perform x, y and z under conditions a, b and c) to get the prize. The test is carried out according to established scientific principles and assessed by independent judges. Though failed claimants like to say after the event that the odds were stacked against them (well, they were, but not in the way they mean), the system is scientifically more than fair.

  3. I don’t understand why anyone would want to pay to have their essay judged by a panel who already disagree with their conclusions. Jesus’ non-existence is the foundation of the group they represent; demonstrating that Jesus existed is demonstrating that they are wrong.

    It seems no one got more than an honourable mention last year, so apparently it’s difficult to convince them to award prizes for essays that *support* their views.

  4. No doubt. I don’t know what the thinking is behind the publicized challenge. It is surely obvious they don’t expect any respondants — it is, to my mind at least, clearly not a serious challenge. That’s why I think the point is in the publicity and response from historicists to the notice. One interesting theme seems to be emerging — the historicist responses seem to be all sneers and mocking. One would think that if the existence of Jesus was so evidentially grounded that the historicists would respond with: Hey, look — this is so silly, just look — we have witness A and witness B and this and that — there is simply no doubt of his existence — we might as well deny Julius Caesar if we doubt Jesus!

    That, I would have expected, would be the response from anyone who has arguments of certainty.

    Imagine Creationists putting up such a challenge to Evolutionists. No evolutionist would bother to respond with the $50 fee, but there would no doubt be a flurry of sites popping up, and tracts published in response, taking advantage of the publicity to prove the fact of evolution.

    On James McGrath’s blog there was the usual list of mocking comments, and when Steven Carr, out of character I thought, waxed prolix and cited many details of evidence that supported the claims they were mocking, James, rather than explaining why the evidence cited does not in his view persuade him differently, responds with this insult:

    Steven, what would it take to get you to have an actual conversation of the sort other human beings engage in? Is this what you are like in real life?!

    Presumably the sort of conversation he wants Steven to engage in is the same smug mockery without any reference to discussing actual evidence or argument as the rest of his commenters indulge in.

    On another post someone alerted me to, James actually uses this mythicist challenge to “prove” that the individuals behind it are running nothing more than a “money-making scam”!

    Again, James is not very strong on logical argument, or else he has a very dim view of many of his colleagues or fellow believers — presumably he thinks some really will contribute $50 to submit essays??

    Or maybe this is just one more illustration of James’ contempt for the motives and intelligence of mythicists — he is quite prepared to interpret them in the worst possible light, without any sense of irony (I know, this is often said to be a typical American fault, so hope it’s not being offensive), and with the assumption they have never engaged with the literature or have any idea what they are doing or arguing about.

    I also thought it interesting that he used as evidence that the competition for the mythicist prize was “not scholarly” his belief that one of the entries that did not win (but was highly mentioned) contained some mistakes about Mandean use of some term/s — about which he is to give an SBL paper soon. So there you have it. In James’ view, apparently, anyone who makes a mistake like that is by definition “not scholarly”. Does the word “smug” come to mind?

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