Bart Ehrman’s New Book: Did Steven Carr’s Prophecies Come True?

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by Neil Godfrey

Until I can get time to do my own reading and comments on Bart Ehrman’s “new book”© I invite anyone who has not yet checked it out to visit the Freeratio discussion board and enjoy the discussion there. Bart Ehrman himself has made an appearance, though a none too auspicious one. He apparently attempted to declare Steven Carr something of a false prophet because he (Ehrman) really had discussed Doherty quite a bit in his “new book”. Unfortunately, the prophecy Carr made was that Ehrman would avoid addressing Doherty’s “top 20 silences” in Paul. Steven Carr’s prophecy came true. Ehrman did not address them if the results of my machine word-search are reliable. Ehrman also attempted to declare Carr a false prophet for predicting that the “new book” would make much of Galatians 1 where James is said to be “the brother of the Lord”. Half a point on that one. Ehrman certainly did make much of that very point in his Huffington Post article.

Earl Doherty also addresses the forum. One comment:

At this stage, one can only comment on the material that has been made available. And it isn’t looking good. The two weakest and most disreputable apologetic rejoinders seem to be offered front and center by Ehrman: the appeal to authority and the demonization of mythicists as horned antagonists with an agenda against Christianity, supported by that pivotal argument that “brother of the Lord” has to mean sibling, case closed. Those of us who tentatively anticipate from this that the book as a whole will not offer much better, and even be something of a joke and a nail in the coffin of historicism, are perhaps to be forgiven.

What actually gives me pause to be that dismissive is my natural reluctance to think that a reputable scholar like Ehrman *would* give us nothing better than that, and that all the investment by historicists in claims that mythicism has nothing to stand on and that the case for historicism is overwhelming should result in a long-awaited annihilation of mythicism which shows every sign of being a head-shaking disappointment.

I guess time will shortly tell.

Earl Doherty

That’s my assessment so far, too.

And having recently posted a series on Couchoud — who speaks with fulsome praise of Christianity as a religion and for all its contributions to our civilization — I was disappointed to see Bart Ehrman apparently knows nothing of Couchoud’s existence. This is despite the fact that he was addressed quite frequently, and in scholarly works, by the likes of such prominent lights as Loisy and Guignebert. But Ehrman indicates in his work that he only knows the history of mythicism from Albert Schweitzer’s book which, of course, predated Couchoud. So that period of which Ehrman is ignorant he calls “a relative hiatus” in mythicism. The reason this is a pity is that Couchoud is the strongest testimony I know to mythicism being anything but an anti-Christian vendetta or driven by some hostile anti-religious agenda, yet Ehrman repeatedly asserts mythicism is driven by an anti-Christian agenda and for this reason its advocates are not open to evidence to the contrary.

I fear it is going to be tiresome when I do get the time to address Ehrman’s “new book”. So far — I do hope I’m in for some pleasant surprises — it appears to contain nothing of substance that is new at all.

Anyway, there’s some enjoyable discussion of FRDB at the moment. I look forward to catching up with it myself as soon as work pressures ease up a bit: http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?t=312749

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Neil Godfrey

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34 thoughts on “Bart Ehrman’s New Book: Did Steven Carr’s Prophecies Come True?”

  1. “But Ehrman indicates in his work that he only knows the history of mythicism from Albert Schweitzer’s book which, of course, predated Couchoud. So that period of which Ehrman is ignorant he calls “a relative hiatus” in mythicism.”

    Any chance to retrieve the spot where Ehrman makes such a statement about this “relative hiatus”? Is it in this new book, or an old one? Please inform.

    This jibes with a remark I heard in one of his long videos, where he was discoursing solo (about “Forged”? maybe). He has a good resonant voice, much more sonorous than Kate Middleton’s, and he can be fun to listen to while cleaning up the mess in the kitchen.
    A member of the audience wanted to make a comparison with a book by Robert Price, and he asked Ehrman if he knew about Price and his book. Ehrman responded, as I remember, “No, never heard of him (or it). Why should I?” I found this extremely disingenuous and phony.This put in question Ehrman’s integrity. I am willing to bet the house that he, not only had heard of Robert Price, but also knew pretty well what Price had written about.

    So it’d be interesting to verify where this comment about the “relative hiatus” was made of his having ignored mythicists who came after Schweitzer’s book (“The Quest” I presume).

    And then, he turns around, and deplores in the HuffPost article, or the video in the Freethought discussion
    ” the claim [that Jesus never even existed] made by a small but growing cadre of (published ) writers, bloggers and Internet junkies who call themselves mythicists. This unusually vociferous group of nay-sayers maintains that Jesus is a myth invented for nefarious (or altruistic) purposes by the early Christians who modeled their savior along the lines of pagan divine men who…etc…”
    We can be sure that Ehrman has followed very carefully the progress made by various mythicists in print, on TV, or the Internet. He wants to have it both ways: pretending total ignorance (that nobody can believe) when facing questions, and then perfect awareness of the clamor made by the best known mythicists when he is playing the pundit.
    He even reveals that he knows their academic backgrounds, and that only two have PhDs (Carrier, and Price I guess; but what about Thomas Thompson, didn’t he also get a PhD? Or perhaps Carrier’s does not count, with his PhD only in history, not theology). Such a flip-flop is disquieting, to say the least.

    1. “relative hiatus” is at the beginning of the seventh paragraph under the heading “Brief History of Mythicism” in chapter one.

      Erhman also writes of Schweitzer as having made a “devastating critique” of mythicism of his day and indicates it is a modern issue that has somehow resurfaced since then. In his Huffington Post article he links it with new modern sociological phenomena as if it has no history at all. He gives the impression as if he is relying on what some of his friends and contacts are telling him they know rather than of having done any serious research himself in this area.

      When I get time I’ll post a few more detailed remarks.

  2. If Ehrman has ccnfirmed the existence of a historical Jesus from the writings of the NT, fine. However, I see no evidence that he has taken account of present historical methods and knowledge in NT studies with its conclusiions: “We now know that none of the writings of the New Testament is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early church itself understood apostolicity. The sufficient evidence for this point is that all of them (the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings) have been shown to depend on sources, or.al or written, earlier than themselves, and hence not to be the original and originating witness that tne early church mistook them to be in judging them to be apostolic. The witness of the apostoles is still rightly taken to be the real Christian norm, even if we today have to locate this witness not in the writings of the New Testament but in the earliest stratum of Christian witness accessible to us, given our own methods of analysis and reconstruction.”

    1. Erhman is most certainly aware of present historical methods and knowledge in NT studies.

      In fact Ehrman does argue for the existence of Jesus in exactly the way your quotation says one must: “not in the writings of the NT but in the earliest stratum of Christian witness accessible to us, given our own methods of analysis and reconstruction.”

      That’s probably the method of most critical historical Jesus scholars. And it is those reconstructions and the methods of analysis that point to those earliest strata that are under debate.

      1. Neil, I fail to see where Ehrman recognizes an alternative Scriptural source to the writings of the NT, hence whatever argument he makes is necesssarily outside of the present understanding of the guild to which I make reference.

        1. Ed, your often repeated quotation does not speak of “alternative Scriptural sources”. It speaks of sources, oral and written, that are earlier than the Gospels and Paul’s letters as we have them. The vast majority of critical scholars I know of who study the historical Jesus and early Christianity profess to work with these sources that they believe — with their “methods of analysis and reconstruction” — pre-date the Gospels and Paul’s writings.

          Ehrman in particular makes much of these “earlier” — pre-Gospel — sources.

          1. Neil, It woulf be helpful if you would identify any written Scriptural source or sources of which you are aware which pre-dates the Gospels, or which you understand Ehrman may have accessed, which are relevant to Jesus traditions.

            1. Ehrman lists his pre-Gospel sources as:

              The Sayings Gospel of Q (approximating the Sermon on the Mount?)
              Special material used by Matthew — M
              Special material used by Luke — L
              Traditions known to the author of John’s gospel
              The very early traditions that were later included in the Gospel of Thomas — sayings argued to go back prior to 50 CE
              Another very early tradition that found its way into the Gospel of Peter
              Another tradition that found its way into the Egerton 2 papyrus
              A pre-Markan Passion Narrative
              The Signs Source used by John’s Gospel
              Aramaic sources pre-dating and used by the Gospel of Mark

              1. Wow, that’s a lot of sources.

                Factor in all the oral tradition that was also floating around, and you can see why it took decades for the Gospels to be written. They had so much material that collecting it, sorting it out and editing it down to manageable book form must have taken years.

              2. But wait! There’s More!

                Ehrman adds:

                These sources, I should stress, are all independent of one another; some of them go back to Palestinian traditions that can readily be dated to 31 or 32 CE, just a year or so after the traditional date of Jesus’s death.

                And again:

                Since no one would have made up the idea of a crucified messiah, Jesus must really have existed, must really have raised messianic expectations, and must really have been crucified. No Jew would have invented him. And it is important to remember that Jews were saying that Jesus was the crucified messiah in the early 30s. We can date their claims to at least 32 CE, when Paul began persecuting these Jews. In fact, their claims must have originated even earlier. Paul knew Jesus’s right-hand man, Peter, and Jesus’s brother James. They are evidence that this belief in the crucified messiah goes all the way back to a short tim e after Jesus’s death.

                Ehrman has made a bigger discovery than Maurice Casey who could only date the earliest written sources to around 34 or 35 CE.

              3. Staggering.

                And it must all be true, because nobody would make up a story of a crucified Messiah, so when Jews saw that Jesus had been crucified, they at once proclaimed him to be the Messiah, because he totally did not fit their picture of what a Messiah should be like.

              4. I have said that HJ scholars are in the business of manufacturing, by means of criteriology, raw facts with which to construct their Jesus.

                If they can manufacture facts it is a far simpler thing to manufacture multiple independent and datable sources, both written and oral, by means of which those “facts” are “preserved”.

                Do we have a Jonathan Swift or a Gilbert and Sullivan team to do all of this justice?

              5. Ehrman’s invisible documents tell him he is right. Casey can read Aramaic wax tablets better than people who he claims actually saw them.

                And mainstream Biblical scholars know so much about all the beliefs of the Jews in the first century that they can tell what scriptural intepretations they would or would not invent.

                How can you compete with people with such superhuman powers?

              6. I don’t understand why New Testament “historians” keep all of these methodologies to themselves. Classicists would kill to have access to multiple independent contemporary sources of Alexander the Great. Surely Homer can be studied to yield sources contemporary with Achilles, Agamemnon and Priam. There must be something in Herodotus that dates back to Pharaoh Cheops.

  3. It’s a bit odd that a book which was originally to be published as an ebook is now a hardback book that is not yet available as an ebook. Seems like a simultaneous publishing should have been pretty easy to accomplish with an additional 5 months lead time from the original publishing date. Oh well, I guess I can continue to wait.

      1. Ah, I see it is available as an epub … just not for kindle. I used to love the epub format but lately the kindle apps are blowing it away. We’ll see what happens.

        1. I prefer not being tied down to one vendor, so most of the time I read on my Xoom, where I can view Nook epubs, Google books, and Kindle books. Of course it’s getting to the point where your choice is which vendor you want to be chained to, but for the moment at least on Android I don’t feel “stuck.”

    1. “Almost borderline,” because he crossed over it?

      Bart says he faced the task of writing this book with “fear and trepidation” (p.10). He says everyone needs to face the evidence with a “dispassionate eye” (p. 120).

      But then he compares mythicists to Holocaust-deniers, birthers, moon-landing-hoaxers, six-day-creation believers, and JFK nuts (p. 8, and HuffPo article).

      Gee, I’d hate to see what he’s like when he isn’t afraid and he’s discussing a topic he’s passionate about.

      On a tangential note, here’s a fun drinking game. Each time Bart uses the word “moreover,” take a shot of your favorite liquor.

    2. Isn’t it insulting to call a scholar’s work “delusional”? I thought Tom was keen to lift the tone of the debate. (So keen, in fact, that when I posted the evidence that I have made a serious effort to avoid insulting language and personal attacks on McGrath, contrary to his ill-informed accusations, he refused to allow them to appear on his blog because, he explained to me, they were “spam”.)

  4. Richard Carrier just posted a mammoth 7,000 words rebuttal to Bart Ehrman’s article in Huffpost. It’s called “Ehrman Trashtalks Mythicism”, and it can be found at http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/667 .
    It is a powerful critique of Bart’s claims, underlining four major “mistakes”. It is long and insightful. Carrier has a strong logical and mathematical brain that leads him to lengthy, tightly constructed analyses. In summary, he concludes that Ehrman’s article is disappointingly weak for somebody of Ehrman’s caliber and demonstrated expertise. 7,000 words to answer Ehrman’s short article is a record. And worth reading.
    Carrier has ordered the book and is promising a full review of the book as soon as he gets it. I cannot imagine that his full book review can be longer than this monumental article review.
    Not to be missed.

    1. I originally posted this before Roo sent in his correction.

      This is the link to Carrier’s rebuttal: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/667

      It looks like there are so many Ehrman rebuttals about to swamp the internet I will be saved any need to do one myself and concentrate on more enjoyable posts — like my the scholarly work done on the relevance of literature like the Life of Aesop to the Gospels and Van Seter’s work on ancient historiography. From what I have seen of Ehrman’s book so far, and his Huffpo article, it looks like he has nothing major to say that has not already been addressed many times in the world of “internet junkies”, as he depicts the mythicist scene.

  5. Roo reports above that Ehrman denied knowledge of Robert Price. I heard an Ehrman interview on the Infidelguy in which he again denied knowledge of Price. Later in the interview he admitted that he did know of him. It was at that point that I lost a lot of respect for Ehrman. Why would he openly and deliberately lie like that?

    I await to hear him deny Price thrice.

  6. I am grateful to Ophelia Benson for her kindly pointing out the huge leaps of faith in Bart’s scholarship.


    ‘….that our surviving accounts, which began to be written some forty years after the traditional date of Jesus’s death, were based on earlier written sources that no longer survive. But they obviously did exist at one time, and they just as obviously had to predate the Gospels that we now have.’

    Where is Ehrman’s evidence that Mark’s Gospel was based on earlier written sources?

    In many ways, he is correct, as Mark’s Gospel is often based on the Old Testament. These predate the Gospels….

    How does Bart get to wave invisible documents at mythicists, claiming ‘Eat these!’ and then say that real, existing texts with the word ‘Messiah’ in them could never be taken by anybody as referring to the Messiah?

    You don’t like invisible documents as evidence? No problem.

    Bart also has oral tradition for you to suck up.

    ‘Instead, they are based on oral traditions. These oral traditions had been in circulation for a very long time before they came to be written down. This is not pure speculation. Aspects of the surviving stories of Jesus found in the written Gospels, themselves based on earlier written accounts, show clearly both that they were based on oral traditions (as Luke himself indicates) and that these traditions had been around for a very long time……’

    And where is the evidence for this oral tradition? (It is not PURE SPECULATION, wow. That makes it pretty solid in anybody’s book)

    It was written down in the invisible documents that were also the basis for the Gospels.

    Choke on that, mythicist suckers….

    With these Gospels being based on earlier reports and being independently corroborated and the sort of works historians dream of, it is a little surprising that they contain stories of demons, Satans, Moses returning from the dead, and resurrected saints appearing from their graves and wandering through Jerusalem.

    Sure , they might contain a myth or two,perhaps three or four, but they are still based on solid oral traditions and reports written long before the Gospels were written. Honest. You can trust me. I’m a scholar.

      1. Amazingly, after Ehrman waves around invisible early sources as representing stuff going back to just after Jesus died, he then claims on page 238, that even if Phillipians 2 predates Paul, ‘it does not represent the earliest Christian understanding of Christ.’

        Because Ehrman has to deny that Jesus was thought of a as a god, he denies that anything which predates Paul must represent early Christian thought, if the picture of Jesus it presents is not one he is selling, while he has simultaneously has to invent oral and written sources for the Gospels which go back to early Christianity and predate Paul.

    ‘But even if we leave Paul out of the equation, there is still more than ample reason for thinking that stories about Jesus circulated widely throughout the major urban areas of the Mediterranean from a very early time. Otherwise it is impossible to explain all the written sources that emerged in the middle and end of the first century.’

    Gosh , all those written and oral sources, and not one of them had enough historical detail to help Luke date a single event in the life of Jesus – not even a birth year or death year.

    What are the odds of all those sources being free from anything enabling somebody like Luke to put a date to something?

    These sources, I should stress, are all independent of one another; some of them go back to Palestinian traditions that can readily be dated to 31 or 32 CE, just a year or so after the traditional date of Jesus’s death.

    You have to admire New Testament scholars who can date documents they have never seen so precisely, while Luke was putting the birth of Jesus in the census of Quirinius, and not even attempting to find a date for his death.

    Surely one of those written or oral traditions must have had something that could have led Luke to be able to put a date to something in the life of Jesus.

    After all, these invisible documents Ehrman uses as evidence were all based in recent history. Not one marker of a date anywhere, not one chance remark that Jesus was crucified 3 years before Pilate left office, or similar?

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