Sometimes it seems important to others who are hostile towards anyone who even offers a platform for a presentation of mythicist arguments to label them as extremists or weirdos, the evidence being that some of them once belonged to “an unusually weird religious background“.
For what it’s worth, in my own case, my formative religious years were in a relatively liberal (we were allowed to play cards and dance) Methodist church. I did opt to spend too many years in a religious cult but was eventually renounced by that cult. My sin was that I was always seeking to understand and question a little more deeply — no problem with that so long as it is kept private — and that this eventually led me to compile a bibliography that I posted (snail mail) to multiple scores of fellow cult members. That bibliography was a list of sources that members could turn to in order to learn “the other side of the story” about our cult.
You see, members are protected from information that helps them understand the full story of what they are a part of. I made it possible for many to locate that information if they so wished.
For my efforts I am proud to say that I was publicly denounced from pulpits throughout Australia as being “in the bond of Satan”. I am told that members were instructed to burn any letters from me or hand them in to the ministry unopened.
Having concluded that Jesus not only existed but was an apocalyptic prophet, Ehrman now embarks on a lengthy discussion of what we can assign to Jesus from the Gospels on the basis of that conclusion. It is characterized by a high degree of naivete as to what can be depended on in the evangelists’ or Q’s presentations, with contradictions proceeding from that naïve dependence largely ignored.
Preaching repentance and the imminence of the Kingdom
Much of what Ehrman ascribes to Jesus can reasonably be seen as the message of the kingdom-preaching community itself. Mark’s opening words for Jesus (1:15),
The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.
are mundane enough to be placed in any prophetic mouth of the first century. Q2, in fact, attributes similar sentiments to John the Baptist as the originator of such preaching, in a context of no inclusion of Jesus. In fact, note Q’s description of the beginning of the movement:
Until John, it was the law and the prophets; since then, there is the good news of the Kingdom of God, and everyone forces his way in. [Lk./Q 16:16]
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and violent men are seizing it. [Mt. 11:12]
. . . When the saying first originated, we can safely regard it as the community looking back over its history; the implied time scale is too great for it to be claimed as an authentic saying of Jesus, or one accorded to him, commenting on the brief span of his own ministry to date. This is Q’s picture of the past, a past of years, perhaps decades. Placing it in Jesus’ mouth has proven problematic. [We might note here that such things indicate the later introduction of a Jesus figure, at which placing the community’s own sayings into his mouth has created some anomalies.]
According to the saying, before the preaching of John the Baptist—now looked upon as a forerunner or mentor to the community’s own—the study of scripture formed the prevailing activity and source of inspiration. Now a new movement is perceived to have arisen at the time of John: the preaching of the coming kingdom of God, and it had inaugurated an era of contention. But why would Jesus himself not have been seen in this role? Surely the Q community would have regarded his ministry as the turning point from the old to the new. The saying would almost certainly have formed around him. At the very least, Jesus would have been linked with John as representing the time of change.
Yet another indicator of the later invention of a founder Jesus. These anomalies, if recognized at all, were not perceived as troublesome by later Q redactors and were left standing; they simply had new understandings read into them.