Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Introduction

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Earl Doherty

This is the first installment in a comprehensive response by Earl Doherty to Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? We plan on publishing one or two installments per week. Upon completion, the full series will be converted to an e-book and made available on Amazon Kindle.

Earl Doherty’s response (title yet to be finalized) will essentially follow Ehrman’s book section by section. In this opening post he covers:

  • Anticipation of Ehrman’s book and initial reaction to it
  • Procedure in this rebuttal
  • Ehrman’s Introduction:
    • How did a humble non-divine preacher become God?
    • Problems with Ehrman’s answer
    • His recent discovery of mythicism and an appeal to authority
    • Examining the term “myth” and a “mythical Jesus” in the record
    • Calling on experts
    • Demonizing agendas

* * * * *


A Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism


Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? has been long-awaited.

First, this particular book was announced over a year before its publication and became much anticipated. As he says in his Introduction, Ehrman had increasingly found himself subjected to queries and challenges concerning the growing idea that there had never been an historical Jesus, and that the Christian story of such a figure was entirely fiction, allegory, or mythology based on other mythological precedents; that earliest Christ belief related only to a heavenly entity who had never been on earth. And so Ehrman decided to devote himself to making a definitive case for the historical Jesus and lay so-called “Jesus mythicism” to rest.

Second, it has been almost a century since any mainstream New Testament scholar devoted an entire and substantial book to refuting the theory that Jesus never existed, a theory that is now some two centuries old, championed over that time by often reputable scholars outside the mainstream. Occasionally, shorter attempts at refutation have appeared within other books by various mainstream academics. But a new and comprehensive case against mythicism was not to be had, despite a resurgence of the no-Jesus theory in the last two decades due to renewed attention generated on the Internet and a general broadening of the ‘critical’ element in traditional scholarship since the Jesus Seminar. Bart Ehrman’s book, it was anticipated, would fill that bill and hopefully move toward settling the question once and for all.

The unanticipated

What no one would have anticipated, however, was the extent of the furor and negative review of the book within the days and weeks after its publication. The quality and legitimacy of Ehrman’s case has been questioned and condemned by many on blogs and discussion boards across the Internet, by amateurs and professionals alike. The latter, thus far, do not include established scholars from mainstream academia, whether conservative or liberal; they have so far kept quiet. But many from outside the establishment who possess qualifications and knowledge more than sufficient to judge Ehrman’s case (and that includes many of those technically referred to as “amateurs”) have roundly reproached the failings of Ehrman’s case and his less-than-objective treatment of mythicism and mythicists.

The procedure of this rebuttal

The procedure I have adopted in this rebuttal will be one of moving along with Ehrman’s text, making a section by section commentary. I will at times quote him, at times paraphrase. I think it is best to dig down in this way to uncover and address not only the nitty-gritty arguments (when such have been provided), but to uncover something about the assumptions and thought processes behind the arguments to evaluate their legitimacy. Ehrman has produced a book addressing the HJ/MJ debate which, more than any other perhaps, reveals it to be not just an academic one, but a highly-charged emotional and personal one, something that has become clear to me over my years of participation on discussion boards, encountering strong viewpoints on both sides. Rules and methodology, treatment of counter-opinions, principles of objectivity in evaluating evidence and drawing conclusions, everything in this discipline places it in its own category from any other in the field of historical research, let alone of scientific investigation generally. To ignore or pretend that such a dimension does not exist, or that today’s religious culture is not facing a ‘clash of titans’ between the two stances on the origin of Christianity, would be extremely short-sighted. Ehrman entered this ring confident that his opponent would be a pushover, the match a knockout in one or two rounds (and that low blows were permissible), but he did so having neglected sufficient training or investigation of his opponent’s abilities and techniques. He also failed to anticipate how a crowd can easily turn at the first sign of weakness.

In many cases, I will include at given points definite arguments (in varying degree of detail) to back up my observations and criticisms of Ehrman, though in other cases those will be left until later points in the book when the same topic comes up in more specific fashion. In some cases, I will regard certain pertinent counter-arguments as fairly well-known to the reader already and needing perhaps only an allusion to. But to include all possible argumentation in favor of mythicism and against Ehrman’s positions would be to rewrite my previous books.





The major perplexity: How did a humble non-divine preacher become God?

Ehrman begins his book with this traditional question that has exercised modern New Testament scholarship from its beginnings:

For the past several years I have been planning to write a book about how Jesus became God. How is it that a scarcely known, itinerant preacher from the rural backwaters of a remote part of the empire, a Jewish prophet who predicted that the end of the world as we know it was soon to come, who angered the powerful religious and civic leaders of Judea and as a result was crucified for sedition against the state—how is it that within a century of his death, people were calling this little-known Jewish peasant God? Saying in fact that he was a divine being who existed before the world began, that he had created the universe, and that he was equal with God Almighty himself? How did Jesus come to be deified, worshipped as the Lord and Creator of all? (p. 1, DJE?)

Stated this way, Ehrman has revealed that historicism is not a slam-dunk. It involves at its heart a major perplexity that is not easily resolved, a fact which calls into question the wisdom of such cavalier and haughty dismissal as that which the mainstream bestows upon mythicism. One of the major failings of historicism has been its inability to provide a coherent answer to the above question. Unapologetic apologists fall back on the claim that this is only explainable by an actual event: the historical resurrection of the crucified Jesus from his tomb. Ehrman and many of today’s critical scholars do not allow themselves such an explanation. But there are problems with Ehrman’s question and the answers which scholars like himself think to provide for it.

One is that it was far sooner than “within a century of his death” that an alleged Jewish peasant was called God. In fact, it was virtually immediately. In the epistles widely considered authentic to Paul, as well as in liturgical passages (“Christological hymns”) identified within them as pre-Pauline, Jesus is clearly identified as a part/emanation of God, as possessing divine roles and attributes, as deserving of titles such as “Lord” previously reserved for God alone. The same situation is found in epistles written not too long after Paul’s passing, as well as in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which undoubtedly precedes the Jewish War of 66-70 and might even be earlier (except for an added ending) than Paul himself.

Ehrman downplays and misdirects the problem

Ehrman has also softened the problem by not specifically referring to the “people” who came to call Jesus God as “Jews.” This would have pointed up the problem even more sharply, postulating that Jews who traditionally had a horror of identifying anything human with God or even portraying him in any human way, were nevertheless converted in significant numbers to such an identification of Jesus of Nazareth. The early record in the epistles makes it quite clear that such a blasphemy would have been embraced by Jews, not just by gentiles—if in fact the object of their identification and worship was a man who had lived on earth.

Happily, Ehrman does not subscribe to a common ploy in some critical scholarship which maintains that the earliest followers of Jesus did not consider him divine, and would have used the title “son of God” only in the biblical sense of one who had a special relationship with God and was highly regarded and rewarded by him, somewhat as Moses’ relationship with God would have been seen. This reduced status for Jesus is not supported by the epistles, except by doing great violence to the texts and their interpretation.

On the other hand, Ehrman’s description of Jesus in his opening paragraph above is entirely based on the Gospels (and to some extent on a source for them, in Q), and has no basis in Paul or any other epistle writer. They never identify their Christ Jesus as “an itinerant preacher from the rural backwaters of a remote part of the empire, a Jewish prophet who predicted that the end of the world as we know it was soon to come, who angered the powerful religious and civic leaders of Judea and as a result was crucified for sedition against the state.” Nothing remotely like it. (I might note here that for this reason alone, though there are others, it becomes dubious to try to identify all the Paulines as second-century forgeries, essentially following the Gospels and in some part dependent on them.)

Ehrman’s surprise

Ehrman then goes on to discuss his own introduction to the whole phenomenon of mythicism and makes this admission:

I discovered, to my surprise, an entire body of literature devoted to the question of whether or not there ever was a real man, Jesus. (p. 2, DJE?)

It comes as some surprise that a scholar with the high profile of a Bart Ehrman could have been virtually ignorant until very recently of this minority position in the history of scholarly study of the New Testament. In his own lifetime, the books of G. A. Wells alone gained a lot of attention in the 1970s and 1980s (certainly fellow scholars like Graham Stanton, R. G. France, Robert Van Voorst devoted some space in books to refuting Wells), and since the late 1990s a spate of books has steadily appeared promoting or related to the question, from Robert Price to Alvar Ellegård to several like myself who, despite being deemed unworthy to put pen to paper, nevertheless gained much exposure on the internet scene, and even among some mainstream scholars who were curious or courageous enough to poke their heads out of the insulated hothouse of hallowed academia. Nor, apparently, did Ehrman ever investigate the historical phenomenon of the early 20th century History of Religions School, elements of which created a fair amount of buzz in its day over the question of Jesus’ existence.

Ehrman’s bluster

My point here is that, even in the face of this ignorance, when met by this flood of interest in a subject and body of literature about which he admits he knew virtually nothing, Ehrman immediately considered himself a prime candidate to address and rebut it, and promptly announced a forthcoming book. It was not on the basis of being familiar with the field and knowing already that he had a body of rebuttal available as a reliable counter to it, not even on the basis of being familiar with prior rebuttals by scholars past and present from whom he could have drawn. Nor did he wait to actually read up on the work of various mythicists before deciding that he could tackle the task. Not knowing the depth or temperature of the waters, he seems to have simply pinched his nose and jumped in. We get a picture of a frantic reading (skimming?) of various examples of the literature, including my 800-page Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, and finding that he either had to sink or swim. To judge by early comment and dissection of Did Jesus Exist? by competent and knowledgeable investigators of Christian origins, even if largely outside academia’s hallowed halls, Bart Ehrman has struck an iceberg.

Ehrman’s thinly disguised appeal to authority

Ehrman brings up the fact that none of the writers of mythicist literature are “scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world).” This is a thinly-disguised appeal to authority, with those authorities defined within a context which would have the least likelihood of ever coming to agree with an outside body of literature so at odds with their own work (often involving confessional interests), let alone of ever choosing to objectively investigate the question themselves. On the other hand, Ehrman does bring himself to acknowledge that some of that body of literature is “highly intelligent and well-informed.” We will see what that amounts to in his actual treatment of the mythicist case.

What is myth?

Ehrman complains in passing about the use and potential ambiguity or wooliness of the term “myth” as in “Jesus was a myth.” I partly sympathize and do not recall that I have ever used that phrase. At the least, it ought to be “Jesus was originally a mythical figure”; we can speak of the “mythical Jesus.” In the context of ancient religious thinking and cosmology, the use of the term in this way ought not to be woolly or misleading, and quite understandable. A “mythical” entity refers to a figure who exists in popular or philosophical thought and religious belief, who is accorded reality within a spiritual or supernatural dimension (or in some cases, in a primordial distant past). The Son of Man expected as an End-time judge is such a “mythical figure,” or the Gnostic redeemer in documents like The Paraphrase of Shem or the Apocalypse of Adam. It is in such a fashion that we can interpret Paul’s Christ Jesus or the Son in the Ascension of Isaiah who descended through the layers of heaven and was hung on a tree by the evil spirits of the firmament. The one who shared God’s nature yet took on the likeness of a human to undergo death and exaltation was celebrated in the hymn of Philippians 2:6-11, as he was in 1 Timothy 3:16, or praised as God’s very image and sustainer of the universe in Hebrews 1:2-3 and Colossians 1:15-20, all with no identification with any incarnated historical human.

I would also agree with Ehrman not to style the Gospel story as a “myth.” That story did not arise out of the same processes as the myths of Attis or Osiris, though elements introduced into them may have been inspired by common mythemes in the traditions of the times attached to savior gods or famous historical figures. “Allegory” or “symbolism” are perhaps the closest terms we could use to style the Gospels, some of it representing sectarian faith and practice in the earthly world, some of it meant to convey new spiritual truths envisioned by the sect, including the processes of salvation taking place in the mythical world.

Calling on experts: What would your dentist say about all this?

After admitting that a near-unanimous opinion about something by every expert in the field does not automatically bestow truth on that opinion (after all, didn’t every expert astronomer in the ancient world, with the odd notable dissenter, judge that the universe was earth-centered, and didn’t most expert physicians up to a couple of centuries ago in the western world have a practice of bleeding sick patients to rid them of harmful humors?), Ehrman then offers us invalid analogies to urge us to accept the work of past experts in New Testament interpretation:

When you make a dental appointment, do you want your dentist to be an expert or not? If you build a house, do you want a professional architect or your next-door neighbor to draw up the plans? (p. 4, DJE?)

Well, it is one thing to want to use the services of an expert craftsman or surgeon, it is another to be expected to automatically trust the judgment and conclusions of a student of a given belief system or historical process, especially if confessional interests have traditionally been involved. Ehrman does recognize a difference, but then counters it by suggesting that experts in the field of historical research, and in this case of Christian origins, have been properly trained to acquire and use that expertise: the study of ancient languages, the ins and outs of ancient texts and manuscripts, a grounding in the background cultures and philosophies of the time. Of course these are relevant, they are in great part indispensable. An adequate preparation for mythicist writers needs to be a working knowledge of Greek and Latin. Coptic, on the other hand, to study the question of Jesus’ existence, is probably dispensable. Hebrew and Syriac are certainly helpful, though in some cases the careful researcher who cannot work with languages like these can refer to scholars who do. (Sometimes self-training can help solve a deficiency. I myself studied the basics of Hebrew and Syriac on my own, the latter to get as much as I could out of the Odes of Solomon.)

We know there is something amiss

More importantly, it is not simply training in certain expertises which determines who can be trusted to come up with reliable conclusions, especially in a field like this. If that were so, then New Testament scholarship as a body would long since have solved the taxing problem of separating out the genuine “historical Jesus” from the Jesus of faith. Scholars are no closer to a solution there, let alone anything resembling unanimity, than ever. Criteria for making judgments about a text and its veracity come and go. Those sworn by in one generation to arrive at a picture of what a real Jesus said and did are exposed as fallacious and rejected by the next. And when one particular type of interpretive theory with legs enough to last for two centuries and counting is vilified and rejected out of hand in clearly subjective and biased fashion, we know that there is something amiss in the self-lauded scholarship of its detractors. Ehrman’s application of the phrase “conspiracy theorists” to mythicists in general, and his equation of mythicism to Holocaust and moon-landing denial and those who believe in a ‘second shooter’ bear witness to everything I’ve just said. (Nor do I believe that Dick Cheney orchestrated 9/11.)


No scholarship worth its name demonizes those who disagree with it. Ehrman, in a Huffington Post article promoting his new book, openly accused mythicists of having a personal “agenda” to destroy Christianity, rendering them devious, dishonest and some kind of devil’s spawn. He repeats the same sentiment, somewhat more muted, at the close of his Introduction:

Jesus existed, and those vocal persons who deny it do so not because they have considered the evidence with the dispassionate eye of the historian, but because they have some other agenda that this denial serves.

When one has recourse to this sort of rejoinder—and it’s a common one—to deal with an opposing viewpoint, one only demonstrates that the cupboard is bare and the integrity bankrupt. One wonders, if Ehrman had lived in the 17th century, would he have accused Galileo of having an “agenda” against the Christian Church for maintaining that we live in a sun-centered universe, thereby demonstrating the falsity of the Bible and the folly of the Church for presenting an earth-centered one.


“But as a historian I think evidence matters,” says Ehrman. Let’s see how he handles evidence, and those who interpret that evidence in a different way.

To be continued . . . .

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

44 thoughts on “Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Introduction”

  1. Good on you, Earl! I’m sure, as you say, that Bart will be very surprised to find the issue is no pushover and I’m sure you will give him a good run for his money. Just for your interest my own brief response to his promotional article is broadly congruent with yours as under:

    In an article promoting his new book, “Did Jesus Exist?” noted theologian Bart Ehrman first positions his audience by thoroughly ridiculing the mythicists who, he says, mostly have no academic authority to dispute “the real experts” (like?) and are merely “denouncers of religion”. (He seems not to allow that some may pursue the question in a spirit of honest academic enquiry). Against such unworthy opponents we feel he’ll have no trouble proving Jesus’ existence! However, his own credentials immediately fall under suspicion when he makes the elementary error of claiming we have no evidence for Pilate! Our confidence is further shaken when he then admits “our best sources about Jesus, the gospels, are riddled with problems”! When he then cites Paul as a witness to Jesus’ existence we are forced to wonder if he really understands the problem at all because nothing whatever in Paul (or any other pre-gospel Christian writings) shows the slightest awareness of Jesus’ gospel adventures and Ehrman himself has (elsewhere) posed the question, “Did Paul and the gospel writers even share the same religion?”! The answer appears to be a definite NO and if the very first Christians like Paul knew nothing of the Jesus we conceive from the gospels we surely can have little confidence he ever really existed.

  2. Earl,

    Can you clarify what you mean here? “The early record in the epistles makes it quite clear that such a blasphemy would have been embraced by Jews, not just by gentiles—if in fact the object of their identification and worship was a man who had lived on earth.”

    I don’t understand why they would be more likely to embrace this blasphemy so long as it was in regards to a man on earth. Thanks!

  3. Ive only read the first few chapters of Barts new book which amounts to about %15 on my kindle.

    Most of the text so far seems to be very low on quotes or citations and mostly his own opinions and rants. He has many times stated that most scholars believe Jesus existed, which is fine when providing an summary but repetition dozens of times, really should be backed by proofs. He also seems preoccupted by dismissing mythists by simply critizing their education background. I am all fine as using this as an explanation, but its only fair to also state what proofs they present as wrong and addressing them. He seems to spend pages bad mouthing DM Murdoch and very little actually focusing on the parallels between egyptian hero myths and Jesus. This is another area i have found what appear to be mistakes. Why does he keep saying Osirus and never mentions Horus ? I hope i am wrong, but i was under the perception that Horus was the supposed Egyptian savior God prototype and not Osirus who was the “father” aspect of the Egyptian trinity. If Murdoch is wrong and her lack of education is part of the problem that by all means highlight it but concentrate on showing her facts to be wrong first. It seems childish to simply say she must be wrong because of her lack of degrees and completely ignoring the message.

      1. Well i was stunned that he mentioned Osiris when talking about godmen and completely forgets Horus. Perhaps i need to read more to find “Horus” but anyway if we consider the first few chapters as generalizations to me this seems like a real mistake. I would have thought Horus would have come before Osiris, oh well.

        1. mP,


          Origin mythology

          Horus was born to the goddess Isis after she retrieved all the dismembered body parts of her murdered husband Osiris, except his penis which was thrown into the Nile and eaten by a catfish,[6][7] and used her magic powers to resurrect Osiris and fashion a gold phallus[8] to conceive her son. Once Isis knew she was pregnant with Horus, she fled to the Nile Delta marshlands to hide from her brother Set who jealously killed Osiris and who she knew would want to kill their son.[9] There Isis bore a divine son, Horus.

          Hmmm… Moses? I think there was even mention of a “basket” in this myth.

  4. Thanks for taking this on, Earl Doherty. I look forward to your e-book.

    I’m reminded of a couple points that I think are very significant in my humble opinion:

    1. Scholarly Opinion by Earl Doherty

    2. As pointed out in the Mythicist Position video here

    New Testament scholars are not required to study the case for mythicism in order to receive their Ph.D.. So, why would we trust NT scholars on the subject of mythicism when they know so little about it?

    We need our own Department of Mythicism and Astrotheology. It would complement the Department of Archaeoastronomy recently created in the mid 1990’s.

    1. Gena:

      This “department” already exists. It is an “Institute of Comparative History of Mythology and Religions”. It already has established a long and exciting reading list for its 101 program, including the major works of the following famous names:

      Godfrey Higgins, Constantin F. Volney, Charles F. Dupuis, Kersey Graves, Helena Blavastsky, Gerald Massey, James Frazer, G.R.S. Mead, John MacKinnon Robertson, Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Earl Doherty, Tom Harpur, Freke & Gandy, Barbara G. Walker.

      All these basic texts have to be diligently read and thoroughly digested as they provide all the material needed for any further studies inside the “Institute”. All aspects of theosophy and astrotheology are carefully covered in detail in this reading list.

      Once 101 is mastered, then it becomes possible to pursue more advanced study in the field.
      If you honestly think that your work is bringing valuable improvement to the established scholarship or is presenting some new discoveries, you can envisage presenting your work in articles for peer review, and for a master or PhD evaluation to the Department of History at Columbia University. They are reputed as tending to look favorably on any serious scholar dedicated to advancing research in this exciting field.

      1. Shame on me. Who has not spotted that the basic 101 reading list was missing three critical names: Robert Taylor, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell? Now the list looks more complete.
        Earl Doherty is in there only for the top of the class, those who want to be challenged and get a taste of what comes later in more advanced classes. His writings are a test of the brightest students at the Institute.
        All the students of the Institute who have mastered this reading list are guaranteed graduation and access to an MA program at Columbia U.

  5. “But as a historian I think evidence matters,” says Ehrman.

    Mr Doherty, you may also want to point out Ehrman’s annoying tendency to refer to himself as a “historian” rather than what he actually is, a New Testament Historian. These are not at all the same thing. An historian’s primary sources are not theological and kerygmatic. Ehrman himself admits that the gospels and letters were written by evangelists, not historians, yet he then proceeds to talk as if they *were* historians. A great deal of apologetics rests on this fallacious idea. We are often told what a great Greco-Roman historian/biographer Luke was, for example.

    Evidence does indeed matter. The evidence we have for Christianity is narrative theology. This is not history.

    1. We are often told what a great Greco-Roman historian/biographer Luke was, for example.

      In Not the Impossible Faith Richard Carrier assessed the value of Luke as history, and Luke didn’t fare very well. But Carrier says that none of the writers of Gospels other than Luke even intended to write anything historical. One would never get such an impression from reading DJE.

  6. In 2008, we found out that economists knew a lot less than they thought they did. Part of the problem was that we only have testable data for a tiny fraction of the world’s economic history. Unfortunately, we had lots and lots of experts combing over that data and extrapolating models and predictions. This created an echo chamber and a false sense of security.

    In New Testament studies we are also hampered by the fact that we only have a few pieces of the puzzle. I think that no matter how many scholars examine those piece, the inherent uncertainty created by the missing pieces cannot be overcome. Ehrman seems to think that if enough scholars write enought papers on the few pieces they can reconstruct the ones we don’t have.

  7. “More importantly, it is not simply training in certain expertises which determines who can be trusted to come up with reliable conclusions, especially in a field like this. If that were so, then New Testament scholarship as a body would long since have solved the taxing problem of separating out the genuine “historical Jesus” from the Jesus of faith. Scholars are no closer to a solution there, let alone anything resembling unanimity, than ever.”

    I don’t think any solution will ever come from Academia. Look what happened to the Scrolls. And now look at the Gospel of Judas. I was reading Van Voorst, “Jesus Outside the NT”, and he has this leap, typical of apologists: Page 84: “The present passage [short one in Josephus on Jesus] makes AUTHENTIC MENTION of Jesus, made all the more certain by its brief, matter-of-fact character.” Well that’s fascinating. Just how does one know THAT? It could have been something someone said that he merely heard. Or is Josephus above that? He wasn’t above being a traitor to his own people. Why care about who this Jesus was?

    1. This is unfair, even absurd. Josephus was not a “traitor”. He capitulated and surrendered when the Jewish forces were annihilated and the fighting had come to an end. It’s a stretch to call this treason. When the Japanese foreign affairs minister surrendered in 1945, nobody would call him a traitor.
      Josephus had a certain class, and was not a vulgar turncoat. Otherwise he would never have found favor with Vespasian, and we probably now wouldn’t be all writing on this blog.

      1. From wiki,
        In the wake of the suppression of the Jewish revolt, Josephus would have witnessed the marches of Titus’s triumphant legions leading their Jewish captives, and carrying treasures from the despoiled Temple in Jerusalem. He would have experienced the popular presentation of the Jews as a bellicose and xenophobic people.[citation needed]

        It was against this background that Josephus wrote his War, and although this work has often been dismissed as pro-Roman propaganda (hardly a surprising view, given the source of his patronage), he claims to be writing to counter anti-Judean accounts. He disputes the claim[citation needed] that the Jews served a defeated God, and were naturally hostile to Roman civilization. Rather, he blames the Jewish War on what he calls “unrepresentative and over-zealous fanatics” among the Jews, who led the masses away from their traditional aristocratic leaders (like himself), with disastrous results. Josephus also blames some of the Roman governors of Judea, but these he represents as atypical: corrupt and incompetent administrators. Thus, according to Josephus, the traditional Jew was, should be, and can be, a loyal and peace-loving citizen. Jews can, and historically have, accepted Rome’s hegemony precisely because their faith declares that God himself gives empires their power.


        Sounds kinda like PAUL, what with divine power to the gov’t.

  8. Earl, thank you for taking on this work to rebut Ehrman. I am sure the truth will out and the myth of Christ will be exposed as the greatest deceit in history.

    Ehrman’s emotional tirade against Acharya S is disturbing in terms of the impression it gives that his approach is unbalanced and superficial. His ignorant swipe regarding Osiris – as it has been reported – is unbelievable unless he deliberately wants his apologetic argument to look clownish. It is more similar to a vile ancient polemic like Against Heresies by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon than a piece of scholarly argument. There are clearly some strange subconscious ‘agendas’ inspiring Ehrman, to use his own term which you rightly question. It looks like a psychological projection on his part.

    I was surprised by your statement that “An adequate preparation for mythicist writers needs to be a working knowledge of Greek and Latin.” Surely the evidence for and against the historical existence of Jesus Christ can be understood in English translation? Certainly, the debate needs to draw on scholarship in ancient languages, but those with this expertise can readily share their findings with others, as you have done.

    The Christ Myth Theory is a multidisciplinary problem, touching on philosophy, psychology, politics and theology, even cosmology, as much as New Testament history or language. No one can possibly be an expert in all the required subjects, but it is possible for a broad interdisciplinary approach to draw from relevant experts. A trained historian faces risks of allowing narrow assumptions to distort their perspective, especially when they allow credentialism to become a form of bigotry that closes off dialogue with other relevant subject areas.

    I have found my own academic study, including an MA Honours philosophy degree in existential ontology and ethics, extremely helpful to enable me to assess the debates, especially in looking for presuppositions in arguments, seeing how people take a wholistic or narrow specialised approach, and comparing this whole debate to the structure of scientific revolutions described by TS Kuhn in his paradigm theory. Ontology is not well understood or recognised, although I would argue it is indispensable to engage with Christology in any meaningful way.

    These are big questions. Confining them to an absurd small-minded polemic as Ehrman has done is a sign of a desperate collapsing paradigm. Asking about the meaning of being seems useless, except that it establishes sound methodology regarding the status of evidence for existence.

    Robert Tulip

    1. Does anybody understand this comment? What about Neil Godfrey? Or Earl Doherty?

      There are bits of clear English language when it comes to describing Bart Ehrman, all of them disparaging or deprecating adjectives: ““emotional, disturbing, unbalanced, superficial, ignorant, clownish, vile, strange subconscious, absurd, small-minded, desperate, collapsing.”

      Then there’s a barely veiled attack on Richard Carrier: ” A trained historian” “narrow assumptions”. “distort [his] perspective”, “credentialism”, “a form of bigotry”, “closes off dialogue” “relevant subject areas,” including… “even cosmology”.

      In plain English a history PhD such as Carrier’s is handicapped by his credentials, and a lack of a degree in a complementary “subject” such as… astrotheology.
      However, we are all rescued by “ontology… indispensable to engage with Christology in any meaningful way”, whatever that means.

      Does you head spin? Are we still in the paradigm shift of normality?This comment seems to be just another plug to defend the books of “High Reverend” priestess Dorothy M.Murdock/Acharya S.

      Richard Dawkins somewhere explained that he is not willing to waste his time debating theology with any cleric who is not at least a bishop or a cardinal. There is wisdom in this kind of “bigotry” and “credentialism”. Carrier has said something to the same effect.

      1. Hello Roo, I have seen some of your comments before, and your empty polemic here is no surprise. Yes ontology is essential. Ontology asks what exists. The discussion is about whether Jesus existed. It is not primarily a question for history, but one for philosophy, given that Christians assert that someone existed for whom they have no evidence. At base, the christological question of the relation between the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history is an ontological question, because it turns on existential views about the meaning of being as a whole, and cannot be answered just as a historical question.

        Ehrman and Carrier’s defamation of Murdock is indefensible, and illustrates their failure to engage with philosophical dialogue, as does your astounding advocacy of bigotry. But thank you for being honest.


        Robert Tulip

        1. “The discussion is about whether Jesus existed. It is not primarily a question for history…” Are we dreaming or what?

          Poor Neil Godfrey who has spent all his energy over so many years to refine the principles and rules of history methodology (no ontology for him, thank you) to examine the documents related to the existence of Jesus Christ, and still believes that he will succeed in cornering apologists into conceding defeat for lack of evidence, thanks to the help of Doherty’s colossal erudition.

            1. Correct. I overwrote, should have said, more clearly, “refine for Vridar’s readers our understanding of the principles…”
              It can be clear in our mind, and confusing to a reader. This is what Robert Graves felt we all needed “The Reader Over Your Shoulder” (1943), the best book of its kind, bar none.
              It was a strange time to publish a masterpiece of English style, at a time when London was bombed by German V2s.

          1. Roo, the “question for history” is showing with growing clarity that there is no evidence for a historical Jesus and much evidence for his invention. In that context, raking over the historical evidence again is of less value than asking some of the big philosophical and psychological questions, such as:
            1. How could so many people be deluded for so long about the person of Jesus Christ?
            2. What is it about the Christ Myth that has made it so seductive and powerful?
            3. Why do apologists get away with such transparently incompetent argument?

            Regarding ontology, I wrote my master of arts honours thesis on The Place of Ethics in Heidegger’s Ontology. As part of this, I attended lectures by Professor John Macintyre on Christology, examining how the hypostatic union describes the relation between time and eternity.

            These are not just questions for dogma, but can also be explored scientifically, against the framework of cosmology. I understand this material is regarded as obscure by some, but it touched on questions of the identity of Jesus Christ as a cosmic symbol, a theme that Earl opens up, which Acharya S has investigated in some detail, and which has been the topic of my own research over some years.

            The paradigm shift we are seeing about the historical Jesus engages with these deep philosophical and cosmological questions. To say that those themes do not matter is to fail to engage in key agendas regarding the identity of Christ.

      2. Reminds me of the amusing ditt in Jesus-Christ Superstar:

        “Have got no ontology, yea,
        Can’t even engage with Christology!”

        It sure was worth the 55 bucks ticket.

    2. Robert, I’m not saying that those without a working knowledge of Greek or Latin can contribute nothing to the debate on Jesus’ existence. Far from it. But certain issues surrounding given passages do benefit from, or even require, a knowledge of Greek. The trouble with relying on translations is that those produced by traditional scholarship can be slanted due to preconception (or they can even differ). I have found many of those even in a Lexicon like Bauer’s. And if it’s translations by mythicists like myself, you often encounter the accusation that *we* have slanted or misread–or even deliberately misrepresented–the Greek original. The only way you can respond to that, or resolve it for yourself, is to be able to make one’s own judgments based on one’s own knowledge of the language. Nor does it require an extreme fluency. My own is certainly surpassed by, let’s say, Richard Carrier’s, and I often rely on Lexicons and Grammar books (who doesn’t, I suppose, in the face of dispute–I’ll bet that paragon of knowledge and proficiency, Jeffrey Gibson, wishes he’d consulted one when he swore up and down on IIDB that the plural of ARCHON was ARCHONTAI!). But a certain degree of familiarity with Greek would be helpful and I would encourage anyone in this field of interest to acquire it.

      1. And I guess I should add that my thought really was that anyone who would think to publish a book on mythicism, in which texts were analyzed, cannot rely on translations, they must have a working knowledge of the original language.

    1. Yes, they will. Check under RSS feeds near the top of the right hand column of this blog to subscribe to the posts. You will be notified of each new post and will see when Earl Doherty has posted his next.

      #2 is already posted: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/dohertys-response-to-ehrman-2-chapter-1/

      I am also keeping an index of links of all of these posts in a dedicated “Page” — see under “Pages” in the same column.

  9. Well speaking of Acharya S, Earl Doherty just tested her position that Paul never existed & ALL his letters are forgeries by saying that is NOT possible. Richard Carrier also told me via his blog that the Acharya S position on Paul & his letters is MOST UNLIKELY.

    The REAL problem here is the Jesus Myth supporters have NOTHING that convinces me & most people that Jesus never even lived as a man. NOTHING!! I mean not a damn thing is a knock out punch for me & collectively it still falls flat. To me it is likely that Josephus DID write most of the “TF” but I agree with Gary Goldberg at wwwdotjosephusdotorg that Josephus used a written source as he often did for his information, the same written source that Luke used for part of his gospel & later a Christian scribe was offended at Josephus being negative about Jesus being the Messiah while discussing his execution by Pilate & rubbed out “was believed/thought to be” & made a few other minor changes. That Tacitus clearly wrote his passage about Jesus & as Richard Carrier & many others have pointed out, the is not a damn thing wrong with Tacitus calling Pilate a “procurator” as he was governor, perfect AND procurator.

    On the other side, the majority of scholars of whom Ehrman belongs, actually win the argument with the small amount of evidence they have but again THEY HAVE NO KNOCK OUT PUNCH EITHER!! So to me, we are left with a situation where it is LIKELY that Jesus of Nazareth either existed as a man or he was actually who the gospels say he was which is difficult for me as I’m agnostic about matters of faith.

    Maybe we should just throw out Josephus, Tacitus and Philo!! Afterall. All three come down to us via Christian scribes!

    And what happened to Ehrman? In all his other books & in the several lectures & debates I’ve seen on YouTube with him, Ehrman always says a historian dealing with events hundreds & thousands of years ago can ONLY tell us what is LIKELY or UNLIKELY to have happened. Then, to me, one needs to use several historians on a particular subject to see how they agree on the details. In this book Ehrman says JESUS DID EXIST!! Not likely existed. LIKELY IS THE CORRECT POSITION!!! In a latter interview I saw today, Ehrman was back to “Jesus likely existed” Amen to that!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oh and Nazareth existed at the time of Jesus too! Richard Carrier has agreed that it did & found the proof. The fact Josephus doesn’t mention Nazareth means nothing. We know next to nothing about Josephus anyway. Where was he buried? When did he die? And he even wrote about Hercules as if he was historical. You can trust people writing in the first century really now can you? But the damn guy did copy a Christian document about Jesus being executed by Pilate. See wwwDOTjosephusDOTorg & Gary Goldberg for the inside scoop!!!

    1. What you are saying about Josephus, if i understand you correctly, is that:

      1. Josephus had a written account of Jesus before him that he used to portray a negative view of Jesus.
      2. Luke had the same written account of Jesus which he used to portray a positive view of Jesus.
      3. A later scribe changed the words of Jesus to make them into a positive account like Luke’s.
      4. And the hypothesis that there was this written account used by both Josephus and Luke is enough evidence to make it pretty sure that Jesus existed.

      Is that correct? If so, do you think there might be a plausible explanation that does not rest on so many imaginative constructs?

      I think there is evidence (not just speculation) that Luke used a narrative in Genesis as the model for the Emmaus road scene in his Gospel (the passage related to Golberg’s suggestion: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2007/11/17/the-logic-and-meaning-of-the-emmaus-road-narrative-in-luke/

      I do recall some scholars have responded to Goldberg’s thesis with the criticism that the words he uses to identify the source are really rather insubstantial in their view.

      Does it not seem odd that if Josephus used this written source that he understood Jesus to have attracted many gentile followers as well as many Jews? (Luke seemed to think he only had 120 Jewish followers.)

      You might also like to consider some of the points in favour of the passage in Josephus being a complete forgery: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/6-earl-dohertys-response-to-bart-ehrmans-case-against-mythicism-jewish-sources/ That used to be the scholarly “consensus” before the Second World War. I think it is useful to know that no evidence changed, but the interpretation of the evidence towards all things Jewish and that promoted greater harmony between Christians and Jews changed after the Holocaust. Maybe scholarly interpretations have followed political correctness more than sound method. Just a thought.

  10. Neil. I find the idea that the TF is an entire forgery flat. To me Goldberg’s thesis is likely correct. I’ve Emailed him several times & he is very convinced & quick to defend his views with a ton of material to ponder which I really don’t have time to do so I’ve taken his word about what it says. Also it is noteworthy that Louis Feldman, Ph.D who is the expert of experts on Josephus holds that Josephus did write something at the point of the TF about Jesus that was later altered & the view by Alice Whealey, Ph.D who was suggested to me by Feldman in a private Email to me, that the original wording used by Josephus most likely read “was thought to be” or “was believed to be the Christ/Messiah” which agrees with the negative Josephus position of Jesus being the Messiah in the Arab copy & Jerome’s copy. But Richard Carrier pointed out to me that the weakness in Whealey’s view is that both Pines translation of the Arabic copy & Jerome’s copy can be traced back to Eusebius. But there is NO concrete proof the Eusebius FORGED the damn thing!! I’ve encountered a couple of historians lately who hold that the TF was forged but done BEFORE the time of Eusebius. How do they know that? Well they DON’T know that. It is all a case of detective work AND THERE WILL NEVER BE A COMPLETE RESOLUTION of whether Jesus existed or the TF was a forgery!!

    Bob Price recently said “we won’t know with certainty unless we find his (Jesus’) skeleton.” Well that would destroy conservative Christianity which hold that Jesus rose from the dead IN HIS BODY, that he was not just a spirit after his resurrection. And that is the position of the gospels which is why conservative Christians hold it. Scripture ALONE!! you know.

    Also I find the view Nazareth didn’t exist during the time of Jesus unconvincing!! Richard Carrier holds that Nazareth existed! That an inscription on a first century Jewish temple ruins lists Nazareth among many villages. Also it is not convincing that Tacitus only wrote hearsay and had no independent material about Christ being executed by Pilate. As Dr. Richard Carrier pointed out to me recently, the fact Tacitus wrote that Pilate was a “procurator” rather than “perfect” means NOTHING. Carrier was quick to show is Ph.D in ancient history and was mad at Ehrman for listing it as in “classics” but Carrier did point out that Pilate held THREE titles: Governor of Judea, Perfect and Procurator. So Tacitus just used the one that was best understood by he 110 CE reader. This coming from Carrier who doubts Jesus existed is interesting to me.

    Also Carrier rejects Acharya S’s contention that Paul is myth, a composite character and all his letters were forged in the 2nd century.

    I disagree with Carrier at the moment and agree with Ehrman and almost all critical New Testament scholars that when Paul mentioned in Galatians that he met Peter and also met James the Lord’s brother, that Paul was talking about a BLOOD brother. Not a brother in the faith.

    When one considers that Josephus, Tacitus, the gosples (they include Pilate and most historians hold his existed), Paul, Polycarp etc all indicate that Jesus did live and was crucified by Pontius Pilate, to me, those who hold Jesus DID exist as a human being have the BEST argument. The Jesus myth authors, while interesting, have the weak argument.

    Also note that Gary Goldberg turns out to be a amateur Josephus scholar. His Ph.D is in PHYSICS! But Earl Doherty has NO Ph.D so I assume the fact Goldberg is an amateur Josephus scholar shouldn’t matter to you if you like Earl Doherty who is an amateur Jesus scholar. (no dig at you or Doherty here!)

    If I may go back to Paul meeting Peter, John and James who “is the Lord’s brother”. If Paul existed and actually told the truth here, do you, like me, find it odd that Paul NEVER mentions the virgin birth in any of his genuine letters? Did Peter, John and James (the Lord’s brother) fail to tell Paul of such a fantastic birth OR did Paul think such a fantastic birth NOT worth mentioning in his letters? I know that 2,000 years ago, the average person may not have found a virgin birth that unusual but….Well maybe the virgin birth doctrine had not be formulated until after Paul’s time:-)

    1. In this context it is worth re-reading Richard Carrier’s utterly thorough and exhaustive discussion in his article “The Problem of the Virgin Birth Prophecy (2003)”, which he has systematically brought up-to-date with any new scholarly publication on the issue.

      It seems clear that the doctrine of the virgin birth appeared only in Matthew and Luke, and no anterior document. And was based on their reading of the famous passage of Isaiah 7:14 and the use of the translation of “almah” (young woman, implying virginity) in the Hebrew text by “parthenos” (“virgin”) in the Greek text of the Septuagint. One aspect of the argument rests on the existence of the Hebrew “bethulah” to explicitly mean “virgin.”

      The doctrine of the Virgin Birth must have been unknown of Paul and all the Jerusalem people mentioned in his letter, and not found written anywhere before the two Gospel writers. How could Peter, John, James and Paul have ever known that this had been a virgin birth, unless from some source among the parties involved (Mary and/or the Holy Spirit). But Paul always maintained that he learnt all his information only from his Lord.
      The first documents where the doctrine appears are still the two Gospels. And the two Gospel writers give no indication of how they came to know about such a pretty intimate miracle. Which supports the contention that the story of the Virgin Birth was invented by both.

      The doctrine was not even mentioned in the original Nicaean creed of 325, but became part of the profession of faith in the Constantinople creed of 381, “καὶ σαρκωθέντα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου,” (“and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary”) which was a revised and enlarged version of the original Nicaean statement. It is this Constantinople creed that became later labeled as the Nicene creed.

      As a matter of historical curiosity, it is also interesting having a look at how the virgin birth is presented by the theologians of the Church in the “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia” (1915) at http://www.bible-history.com/isbe/V/VIRGIN+BIRTH/

    2. Re: Josephus TF: Don’t you agree the before and after passages seem to be cut into? They are negative in tone and seemingly connected. The TF is decidedly positive.

  11. I have a couple of old books by skeptics Roo which hold that Paul either was struck by lightening on the road to Damascus or suffered from a brain disorder which is the cause of his visionary experience with Jesus. Or Paul really did encounter the risen Lord which they found too incredible to accept in the 1970’s. And a third option is that Paul invented the story so he could pull rank on the Jerusalem crowd who had seen & known Jesus including his brothers James and Jude. The gospels indicate Jesus’ own family thought he was mad and out of his mind when Jesus began to preach that he was the Messiah. Burton Mack, author of “Who Wrote the New Testament, The Making of the Christian Myth” is a scholar & “Q” expert who holds that the original Jesus movement understood Jesus’ teachings that he would be given power by God to be the Messiah and to rid the area of the Romans. Never did they or Jesus understand that Jesus was virgin born, the son of god, would die as a payment for our sins, rise from the dead so we may have eternal life though him etc. Mack even holds that Jesus and his original followers were not expecting Jesus to end up crucified and it almost ended the movement had it not been for Paul. Mack’s re-construction of “Q” & the original teaching of Jesus was limited to preaching the kingdom of god is at hand, is on earth, turn the other cheek, meekness, the sermon on the mount, lord’s prayer etc without any indication Jesus was divine and possessed supernatural power. And indeed we read in Paul’s letters that he challenged the Jerusalem leaders and confronted Peter to his face in opposition to their doctrine which was deeply rooted in Judaism. Dr. Maccoby, a Jewish expert, doubts Paul was really a Jew.

    But it seems clear that the virgin birth, Sunday Sabbath observance, December 25th, etc all came AFTER Paul’s lifetime. Christianity evolved slowly and actually splintered when Catholics such as Luther and Calvin couldn’t find New Testament support for Mary not having any other children and that James and Jude were actually Jesus’ cousins as the New Testament and Paul clearly indicate they were BROTHERS of Jesus and other doctrines that developed within the early confines of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox church. The Roman Catholics claim they are the body that actually selected which books (gospels, epistles etc) that passed the test of being scripture so they should know best about how many children Mary had which was ONE! But there is old Paul in Galatians stating that he met Peter and also met James who is the Lord’s brother. Richard Carrier holds that Paul was discussing people who were “brothers” in the faith but as often as I DO agree with Richard, this position is the MINORITY position even with skeptical scholars.

    Sahandal. I think you are discussing the passages in Josephus about Pontius Pilate before and after the “TF” and the claim that the “TF” breaks the narrative and the “before and after” flows better with the “TF” gone. That is something to ponder but the Josephus experts I’ve contacted (Louis Feldman, Ph.D, Alice Whealey, Ph.D & Gary Goldberg, Ph.D — Goldberg is a 30 year veteran of working Josephus but he is actually an amateur as his Ph.D is in PHYSICS) tell me that complaint means nothing much!! That Josephus does the same in other portions of his writings so one can’t use that as proof the TF is a forgery. And to these experts, the TF originally was negative about Jesus being the Messiah. Some Christian scribe (copyist) was apparently offended and tampered with the passage. That what Origen read was like the Arabic version Dr. Pines translated and Jerome’s copy and read “was believed/thought to be the Messiah” by his followers rather than “was the Messiah”. So it is likely Origen’s reading of the TF is why Origen said “Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Christ/Messiah”. Dr. Carrier informed me the problem there is that the Arabic copy and Jerome’s can be traced by to Eusebius who is thought to be the one who forged the TF by a number of Jesus myth supporters. But as Dr. Whealey told me on the phone, there is NO proof Eusebius forged it. That is just a guess and hearsay. Even the claim that Eusebius thought it to be fine for a christian to LIE if he/she were promoting the faith came from an author AFTER Eusebius lifetime and is hearsay. And to make matters even more murky, Origen may not have even had a copy of Josephus. Josephus was under Pagan Roman control during Origen’s lifetime as the Jews would not (it is claimed) preserve his writings as Josephus was thought of as a traitor. It could be Origen was using a book by another author who QUOTED Josephus as Origen also quotes Josephus incorrectly in his work. One of Origen’s quotes attributed to Josephus was actually from another author/historian. Did Origen make that mistake or if he WAS using another’s book then did they make the mistake and Origen thougth it was actually from Josephus? Origen does quote the “James brother of Jesus called Christ” passage but was he using a copy of Josephus or another’s book who was quoting Josephus?

    To me unless something is dug up that will shine better light on all these questions, both sides have NO knock out punch and just on the Tacitus passage alone one must conclude Jesus did exist as a man who was crucified by Pilate. Did he say anything that is quoted in the gospels? Dr. Mack and the Jesus Seminar think it is about 13%. The Roman Catholic church says it 100%. Richard Carrier and Earl Doherty say it is ZERO!! But I must say that Dr. Carrier allows a small chance that Jesus did exist as a man but most likely is total myth. Doherty, I could be wrong, holds that there is NO chance that Jesus existed. But we are all fluid. For example G. A. Wells, the modern father of the Jesus was myth movement, now has moved beyond Carrier and thinks a historical Jesus probably did exist after all but we can’t and will never know much about him.

  12. Is this the same Dr. Bart Ehrman of “Misquoting Jesus”? It’s like someone got to him and told him that if really wanted to keep that big professorship in Billy Graham Land then he better start demonstrating a little faith.

    1. That is a very good point Vince. It would certainly explain why he put neither his heart nor his mind into the effort and why he spent most of the book with ad hominem attacks on those that the denizens of Billy Graham land most abhor.

  13. I think the main concern that should herein been addressed is not whether Earl Doherty holds this or that academic credential, but if his opponents are being paid by institutions which otherwise would dismiss those who support Dotherty-like theses. It is highly dubious that such “scholars” want to pursue the truth by supporting the ideology of their payers. In my opinion, it is primarily necessary , though not sufficient, regardless the field of research, that before any further discussion, the financial sources of the contenders should be known.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.