Across pages 12 and 13 of Did Jesus Exist? Bart Ehrman quotes the following passage from Albert Schweitzer and claims it is sometimes quoted by mythicists to suggest (falsely) that Schweitzer himself did not accept the historicity of Jesus. I have never read any mythicist work claiming Schweitzer did not believe in Jesus’ historicity, and none that I recall quoting these words from Schweitzer. If anyone does know of any likely source for Ehrman’s claim I’d be interested to hear it.
Here are the words he says mythicists “sometimes quote”:
There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence. This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which come to the surface one after the other.
Does anyone have any idea of any mythicist publication that even hints Schweitzer did not believe in a historical Jesus?
Looks like those theologian bible scholars are paving the way with their astonishingly progressive research tools and now even the scientific community owes them a debt in new advances in historical methodology. They have shown how historical research into biblical characters can even open up the way to diagnosing Moses’ speech difficulties and little tricks he used — by means of staff and song — to control them.
(I wonder if Dr McGrath will be embarrassed or proud.)
This is the third post in my series addressing Bart Ehrman’s rhetorical back-flips on his past writings and those of his scholarly peers in order to attack mythicism.
I quoted Ehrman in my earlier post, Ehrman explains: Doherty Could Be Right After All, insisting that Paul “was not principally dependent upon Plato”. No decent person would want to think that Ehrman was playing word games or simply being disingenuous here by specifying the name “Plato” and adding the qualifier “principally”. The context of his following sentence makes it abundantly clear that he is directing his readers to think that Paul was dependent upon Jewish traditions and scriptures in contradistinction to pagan philosophies.
Not even Paul was philosophically trained. To be sure, as a literate person he was far better educated than most Christians of his day. But he was no Plutarch. His worldview was not principally dependent on Plato. It was dependent on the Jewish traditions, as these were mediated through the Hebrew scriptures. (p. 255, Did Jesus Exist?)
But Ehrman is a well-read scholar so he knows very well that there is an abundant scholarly literature discussing the influence of ancient philosophy on the thinking of Paul. Is he turning his back on all this scholarship solely to attempt a punch at Doherty? Some of the literature addressing this that I have discussed in posts here:
The pity is that Bart Ehrman did not know (or perhaps he did!) the argument he was thus evaluating — his own, in fact — just happened also to be the same one Earl Doherty covered in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. For some reason psychologists no doubt can explain, when Ehrman read the same points he himself had written being elaborated upon by Doherty he saw red and declared everything to be false, not true, rubbish. But take a peak at what Ehrman himself wrote about the mystery religions and see if you can spot the difference from Doherty’s argument. How are we to explain Ehrman’s contradictory evaluations?
In his attack on the very idea that Jesus may not have been an historical person Ehrman blasted away at any suggestion by “mythicists” that the pagan mystery cults had any influence at all upon the emergence of the Christian religion:
One thing that we do know about them [i.e. the mystery cults], however, is where they were located and thus, to some extent, where they exerted significant influence. We know this from the archaeological record they have left behind. Among all our archaeological findings, there is none that suggests that pagan mystery cults exerted any influence on Aramaic-speaking rural Palestinian Judaism in the 20s and 30s of the first century. And this is the milieu out of which faith in Jesus the crucified messiah, as persecuted and then embraced by Paul, emerged. . . . (p. 256, Did Jesus Exist?, my emphasis)
The question-begging core of this assertion is even comical. Ehrman is supposedly attacking an argument that posits mystery religions in the wider Greek-speaking world influenced the shape of emerging Christianity, particularly as taught by Paul, so he protests that the mystery religions did not influence the teachings of Jesus wandering around in Galilee!
In a recent post I pointed out that Ehrman fully agreed with Doherty’s portrayal of the ancient mystery cults as most likely having a quite different understanding of traditional myths from the way the philosophers interpreted them. (The only pity is that Ehrman did not read Doherty’s book in order to know that he and Doherty are on the same page.) Doherty points out, and Ehrman completely agrees, that the everyday person in the towns and villages was not at all interested in finding ways to interpret the myths allegorically in order to explain grander cosmic processes. That sort of thing was, as both Doherty and Ehrman explain in unison, the preserve of esoteric philosophers like Plutarch. Similarly, Ehrman heartily agrees with Doherty’s account that there many different views of the universe and a wide range of different philosophies — e.g. Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, Neo-Platonism — in the days of early Christianity.
Someone who read that post has since alerted me to further confluences of agreement between Ehrman and Doherty. Gosh, I wonder if Ehrman is a closet mythicist. You know, like the way gay-haters are sometimes thought to be suppressing their own homosexual urges. (I speak tongue in cheek. Of course Ehrman is not a mythicist. My point is to highlight the hypocritical (or worse) nature of Ehrman’s attempts to discredit Doherty.)
Readers of both Doherty’s books (1999 and 2009) and Ehrman’s publications (2000 and 2004) will be struck at how very similar they are at so many critical points. It is as if Ehrman and Doherty had attended the same classes and had come to think quite alike. Could that be one factor in Ehrman’s outrageous efforts to disinform readers about what Doherty really writes? Continue reading “Ehrman’s and Doherty’s Arguments: Spot the Difference”
Bart Ehrman has expressed outrage at Earl Doherty’s suggestion that ancient philosophers had any influence at all upon the way ancient myths came to be understood in the wider culture of the day. Doherty discusses the way philosophers came to reinterpret certain types of traditional myths so as to lift them out of the primordial past and to place them into a spiritual dimension, even an upper world, and to allegorize them to represent larger cosmic forces and generic human impulses. At the same time he makes it clear that he thinks myths such as those of Heracles or of Olympian gods interacting with humans on earth were not affected, but that other myths such as those of Isis and Osiris were evidently lifted into that “spiritual dimension”. How were these myths interpreted in the mystery cults? Do we have a right to suggest that elitist philosophical thinking had any influence at all upon the wider culture of the day? Doherty’s writes:
And if that transplanting [of myths from a primordial past to a supernatural dimension] is the trend to be seen in the surviving [philosophical] writings on the subject, it is very likely that a similar process took place to some degree in the broader world of the devotee and officiant of the mysteries; it cannot be dismissed simply as an isolated elitist phenomenon. In fact, that very cosmological shift of setting can be seen in many of the Jewish intertestamental writings . . . . [Other hints and deductions which can be derived from archeological remains, such as the Mithraic monuments, can also be informative.]. . . . .
[N]or would everyone, from philosopher to devotee-in-the-street, shift to understanding and talking about their myths in such a revised setting. The changeover in the mind of the average person may well have been imperfect, just as modern science has effected a rethinking of past literal and naïve views toward elements of the bible in the direction of the spiritual and symbolic, but in an incomplete and varied fashion across our religious culture as a whole. [p. 100,Jesus: Neither God Nor Man]
Ehrman retaliates vociferously:
Why should we assume that the mystery cults were influenced by just one of these philosophies? Or for that matter by any of them? . . . .
I hardly need to emphasize again that the early followers of Jesus[Christians] were not elite philosophers. They were by and large common people. Not even Paul was philosophically trained. To be sure, as a literate person he was far better educated than most Christians of his day. But he was no Plutarch. His worldview was not principally dependent on Plato. It was dependent on the Jewish traditions, as these were mediated through the Hebrew scriptures. (pp. 254 – 255, Did Jesus Exist?)
I have substituted Ehrman’s ambiguous yet question-begging “followers of Jesus” for “Christians” in the above quote so it can be reasonably dealt with in a logical manner. Here Ehrman can scarcely be any more dogmatic. There can be no doubt that here he is leading his readers into thinking that ancient philosophy had no impact on Paul nor even on any of the ordinary folk who became the earliest Christian converts. Paul’s world view was Jewish, so he is stressing. His theology was informed by the Jewish tradition and his meditations on the Jewish scriptures alone. Ehrman is laying out his point in stark contrast to anything else he leads the readers to think Doherty is arguing: Paul and the early Christians were dependent upon the Jewish religion and scriptures and NOT pagan philosophies or mystery cults.
Ehrman answers his own rhetorical question
Before Ehrman wrote this book attacking mythicism he wrote other stuff that sounds for all the world as if he was agreeing with the very possibility Doherty was suggesting — that the philosophical ideas of the elite probably did indeed trickle down in whatever bastardized form to the wider community! Continue reading “Ehrman explains: Doherty could be right after all”
Several years ago, I was listening to the Thom Hartmann Program, a liberal talk radio show that runs in the United States. Naturally, I was listening to a podcast, since here in the Midwest only conservative talk radio is permitted on the public airwaves. At any rate, it was before the last presidential election, and Thom was musing about candidates and their public image. He said Democrats needed to be careful not to do something silly like Clinton did — namely, getting a haircut on the tarmac aboard Air Force One, delaying air traffic around the country until he was ready to go.
Hartmann’s heart was in the right place. Dee Dee Myers recalls that the high-priced haircut that stopped traffic was a blow to Clinton’s image. The story, which dominated the news cycle for at least three days, “became a metaphor for a populist president who had gotten drunk with the perks of his own power and was sort of not sensitive to what people wanted.”
Except the story isn’t true. Oh, he did get a haircut on Air Force One, but it didn’t stop traffic. Somebody had to call Thom over the commercial break and remind him. Of course, Thom remembered then that the story was false, but here’s the power of perception in a post-truth world: Reality has become nothing but a shared media experience, and whoever controls that media creates reality.
Media Truth: Bart Ehrman has disproved mythicism
Here in the U.S., there’s a cottage industry that employs a handful authors dedicated to debunking the lies, half-truths, and misrepresentations spewed out by hate radio hosts and right-wing media pundits. In the vacant space created by a delinquent press (sometimes indifferent, often complicit), these authors plug away and dutifully point out each error in an effort to set the record straight.
But it doesn’t do any good. By that I mean the conventional narrative doesn’t change. The record never gets set straight. Whoever tells the story first and loudest gets first dibs on constructing reality. It helps, of course, if the new bit of information confirms peoples’ biases. It’s even better if the details are titillating and salacious.
This is why so many people, even educated people who should know better, think that climate change is a hoax, that Gore said he “invented the Internet,” or that Obama is an atheist-Muslim-Marxist. They’re plugged into media outlets that tell them what they want to hear, and even if they should accidentally flip the channel, mainstream media is too busy telling stories about murders, mayhem, and missing persons to do its job.
Similarly, Dr. Richard Carrier, Acharya S, Earl Doherty, and my buddy Neil have been diligently cataloging the errors in Bart’s Myth-bashing opus. I’m glad. We need to try to set the record straight. However, I don’t expect it to do much good — at least in the popular media — and certainly not within the guild. We won’t be able to change the media narrative that Dr. Ehrman has “dispelled the myth of mythicism.” Continue reading “The Ehrman Debacle and Our “Post-Truth” World”
In my previous posts on Bart Ehrman’s assertions about the argument of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, I think I have uncovered enough evidence to demonstrate that Ehrman at best only very patchily skimmed a few pages of the book. Was he perhaps merely attempting to grasp directions from some of Doherty’s critics rather than reading the book for himself? He has made a complete fool of himself, or worse, by building a recurring criticism upon a blatant misquotation from the book and accusing Doherty of arguing the very opposite of what he in fact writes.
I return here to Ehrman’s opening words about Doherty’s book. It looks like Ehrman never even bothered to read its cover!
[Doherty’s] now-classic statement is The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? This has recently been expanded in a second edition, published not as a revision (which it is) but rather as its own book, Jesus: Neither God nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Christ.
This is only a tiny thing, but it is a curiosity.
The cover of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man twice says it IS indeed published as a revision of The Jesus Puzzle.
The front cover says:
NEW – REVISED – EXPANDED
and on the same cover beneath those words we read:
First Published As THE JESUS PUZZLE
Turn now to the verso of the title page where one normally reads the publication data:
A revised and expanded version of The Jesus Puzzle
The cataloguing in publication information says the book is published as a
New edition, Revised and Expanded, of The Jesus Puzzle.
It tells us a third time:
Originally publ. under the title: The Jesus puzzle.
So why does our good doctor and reviewer say of the book that it was not published as a revision of The Jesus Puzzle even though the cover and title page verso inform us five times that it is such a revision?
Bart Ehrman’s attempt to deal with Earl Doherty’s book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, is “filled with so many unguarded and undocumented statements and claims, and so many misstatements of fact, that it would take a [book three times the size] to deal with all the problems.”
I have quoted Ehrman’s own words to describe Doherty’s book and turned them against Ehrman himself. In the paragraph following that description Ehrman flagrantly misquotes Doherty to falsely accuse him of claiming that there was only a single world-view among the ancients. I addressed this in detail in my first post of this series.
From this point on Ehrman continues to demonstrate that he has simply failed to read much of the book he claims to be reviewing. As part of his effort to dismiss Doherty’s argument that Paul’s Christ had no earthly context, Ehrman accuses Doherty of asserting, without any evidence, that the mystery religions at the time of early Christianity “were at heart Platonic”:
What evidence does Doherty cite to show that mystery religions were at heart Platonic? Precisely none. (p. 192, Did Jesus Exist?)
But he [Doherty] then asserts that they [the mystery cults] thought like the later Platonist Plutarch. . . .
Quite oblivious to everything Doherty wrote on the matter, Ehrman attempts to refute what he (wrongly) says is Doherty’s argument by explaining the very things Doherty himself points out in his book. That is, Doherty has argued that the beliefs of the mystery cults were for most part very probably unlike the philosophical views of the day and then offers the reasons for this judgement. Ehrman bizarrely says Doherty argues the very opposite of what he does, that the mystery cults thought like the philosophers of the day. He then proceeds to explain how it really was, and then presents Doherty’s argument as if it were his own and as if he is explaining what Doherty should have written! But what he thinks is his own argument against Doherty is exactly what Doherty did write! This is most bizarre!
Here are Ehrman’s “corrective” statements he obviously thinks (wrongly) that Doherty “should” have understood:
And it is highly unlikely that adherents of the mystery cults (even if we could lump them all together) thought like one of the greatest intellectuals of their day (Plutarch). Very rarely do common people think about the world the way upper-class, highly educated, elite philosophers do. . . .
In the case of someone like Plutarch there is, in fact, convincing counterevidence. Philosophers like Plutarch commonly took on the task of explaining away popular beliefs by allegorizing them, to show that despite what average people naively believed, for example, about the gods and the myths told about them, these tales held deeper philosophical truths. The entire enterprise of philosophical reflection on ancient mythology was rooted precisely in the widely accepted fact that common people did not look at the world, or its myths, in the same way the philosophers did. Elite philosophers tried to show that the myths accepted by others were emblematic of deeper spiritual truths. (p. 192)
I am not as confident as he is that democracies per se are responsible for a reduction of violence. John Keane’s book, Democracy and Violence, has left me wondering if popular correlations are more illusory than real. Further, wonder if the deaths from state sanctions, sanctions against other states and recriminations by states against portions of their subject populations, count as violent deaths. Technically they might be attributed strictly to starvation, disease, natural causes despite the state violence that enforces these conditions.
Gwynne Dyer’s War: The Lethal Custom has likewise argued that the ratio of deaths from war has declined significantly over recent generations.
Don’t know. It’s a reassuring thought I suppose for those of us relaxing with a beer in front of the TV behind locked doors. But then again I know we are lucky to be able to travel so widely and live so much longer without the same fears and insecurities that haunted past generations.