Price-Ehrman Debate Wish

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by Neil Godfrey

No doubt there will be to-and-fro on “the brother of the Lord” passage in Galatians 1:19. I would love to see any such discussion go beyond the face-value interpretation of the words and to explore both the provenance and nature of the source containing that line. That is, some serious discussion of the historical evidence itself:


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6 thoughts on “Price-Ehrman Debate Wish”

  1. I’ll be quite surprised if this ‘debate’ is anything other than a disappointment. Price seems determined to take an almost pastoral approach to Ehrman. Just the other day, for example, I wrote a rather pointed comment about Ehrman under Price’s blog, a comment similar to one I made here some time back and touching on issues with Ehrman that have been raised here recently and not so recently. Price didn’t let the comment appear on the page. (Naturally it wasn’t for reasons of profanity, etc.)

    I just find it a problem with intellectual integrity when you appeal endlessly to consensus and to authority, you do hairsplitting over academic credentials to see who has the right to speak about a subject, when you make statements as Ehrman did on ‘HuffPo’ like: ‘Well, we have Q…’ along with the points made here recently in posts and in comments, and so on. It really just doesn’t pass muster in this day and age.

    Also, and as a by the way, isn’t New Testament Studies just a study of texts? This is to say, as a ‘field’, it is devoted to the study of a set of texts. History is involved only to the extent that it helps explain those texts. The question of whether historically there was a Jesus at the origin of Christianity is a question for historians, not New Testament scholars. Thus, only a consensus among professional historians devoted to the study of, say, 1st century Roman Empire or the Near East, etc., should count.

    The only thing about a historical Jesus that a New Testament scholar has a ‘right’ to say – if we were to be strict about it – is that the Jesus hypothesis (Jesus-as-founder of Christianity) best explains the production of the texts as they come to us today. … The whole field of New Testament studies, it seems to me, is just devoted to secular apologetics.

  2. So who won the debate between Price and Ehrman? Does anybody have a video on Youtube?

    “Writing Did Jesus Exist was an interesting task. For one thing, before writing the book, like most New Testament scholars, I knew almost nothing about the mythicist movement.”

    – Dr. Bart Ehrman

    “Bart Ehrman also confesses on page two in his book, “Did Jesus Exist?,” that for 30 years he never even thought to consider to question the existence of Jesus as real historical character because it was a question that he “did not take seriously.” Bart goes on to say, “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 … I was almost completely unaware – as are most of my colleagues in the field – of this body of skeptical literature.”

    “Thank you, Bart Ehrman, for admitting that you knew nothing about mythicism before you started writing your book, ‘Did Jesus Exist?’; having read DJE I can confirm that you STILL know nothing about it. So, he’s admitting that he was ignorant, as are most of his colleagues, of what is an “entire body of literature” in his field.”

    “… there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world.”
    – Bart D. Ehrman

    “Ehrman raises a straw man here because he knows there is no such course teaching the case for mythicism and mythicists are not typically going to be hired, in fact, if anybody comes out of the mythicist closet they’re more likely to be fired – for example: “Fired for Saying Adam and Eve Mythical? A news report about a professor at a community college in Iowa who claimed he was fired for stating in class that the biblical Adam and Eve were mythical.”

    “The Mythicist case has been rebutted? Really? When did that happen? The arguments of the Mythicist camp have never been refuted – they have only been steadfastly ignored.” “…As for this tiresome business about there being “no scholar” or “no serious scholar” who advocates the Christ Myth theory: Isn’t it obvious that scholarly communities are defined by certain axioms in which grad students are trained, and that they will lose standing in those communities if they depart from those axioms? The existence of an historical Jesus is currently one of those. That should surprise no one, especially with the rightward lurch of the Society for Biblical Literature in recent years. It simply does not matter how many scholars hold a certain opinion…. ”

    – Dr. Robert Price, Biblical Scholar with two Ph.D’s


    ; )

    1. It was not really a debate. It was mostly a waste of time, frankly. Ehrman merely repeated his arguments for historicity from his book DJE (even repeating and stressing the howlers like there being multiple independent early sources for Jesus even going back to the Aramaic etc! He explicitly said he would not address the mythicist arguments and when asked about earlier responses to his arguments in DJE he dismissively said he disagreed with everything said so would not reply to the criticisms!

      1. That’s a terrible shame, but not a surprise. I listened to the recording linked above (before the daily limit was evidently reached). A couple of stray observations:

        1. Ehrman will appear to have won the debate to people who don’t know any better. His was the more confident presentation; he was more assertive. Price, if anything, seemed under the weather. At the same time, I found much of Ehrman’s argumentation and his overall presentation disingenuous. For example:

        2. When it came to the 10-minute back-and-forth sessions, Ehrman submitted Price to what felt like an interrogation. But Ehrman would only give Price enough time to start an answer before cutting him off citing lack of time and moving on to his next ‘question’. This, I thought, was a sh*tty tactic. Price, for his part, was much more accommodating in his questioning of Ehrman, trying to draw him out on one or two very open-ended questions.

        3. Ehrman on Celsus. I just read R. Joseph Hoffmann’s reconstruction of ‘On the True Doctrine’ a couple weeks back, and this made me groan. Ehrman in the debate claims that Celsus believes in a historical Jesus. Here in nuce is the problem with Ehrman if you ask me: whatever his reputation because of books like ‘Forged’, he’s not that close a reader of texts. Celsus doesn’t affirm the existence of a historical Jesus in the way that Ehrman seems to want to pretend, i.e. that it was common knowledge, and that therefore Celsus is indirectly attesting to a contemporary knowledge of the historical Jesus in antiquity. In fact, and rather to the contrary, Celsus simply doesn’t pursue the point as to a historical Jesus because of the sort of paradigm in place at the time that if there was a ‘religion’ (if we can even call it that given the period), there had to be a religious founder. Moreover, according to Celsus, the historical Jesus was a magician/charlatan who preyed upon the gullible. Now, if Ehrman for example does not think the historical Jesus was a magician/charlatan, then he cannot simultaneously say that Celsus had knowledge of the historical Jesus. It’s pretty obvious from the text that Celsus *surmises* that Jesus was a magician/charlatan based on what he was seeing of Christianity of his own time. The sheer fact that Celsus offers this up as a surmise, as an accusation, suggests that Celsus did not know there was a historical Jesus in the same way that we might know the American Revolution took place in 1776. Celsus *assumes* there was a historical Jesus and *asserts* that he was almost certainly a huckster and a fraud. Yet Ehrman somehow nonetheless cites Celsus as evidence for a historical Jesus.

        4. On Price’s comic book analogy: it seems to me that there’s a basic form-critical point (if I may be so bold) to be made here and that this is what Ehrman is missing. If Superman comic books were discovered 500 years from now, but the latter-day culture had lost all touch with the strange inspirations, wish-fulfillments, and artistic side-traditions that gave rise to this cultural form, they could well assume – because they could not do otherwise – that these illustrations were in one way or another efforts at rendering real events. That is, barring direct access to the cultural configuration that gives rise to a particular artistic form, it can only appear as alien and by default one has to assume that qua communication they are efforts to refer, to depict, and so on. Of course, we are embedded in a culture in which we can still see and understand what comic books do even if none of us can precisely say what they are: each critic will have a different definition of what a comic book is. It seems to me from Ehrman’s presentation is that this is his basic problem. Unlike mythicists who see a convergence of purposes giving rise to the artistic creations that are the Gospels, the letters of Paul, etc., including midrash and so on, Ehrman sees them as sort of singularities. The canonical gospels do not appear to be for him just four of many, but a priori somehow separate and apart. Mythicists, if anything, have been putting in more effort, it seems to me, at understanding what cultural configuration in antiquity could have given rise to these strange multi-layered fictive tales than mainstream scholars who never seem able to leave behind the notion that these creations have some sort of basic communicative function in depicting real things or events. (Witness Ehrman in the debate declaring with confidence that we know about Paul’s life because he have details in the Book of Acts.)

        I hope there will be some postings on the debate here, and look forward to reading them.

        1. Good points. I will link to them in a future post. When opportunity permits (right now juggling work, rest with flu virus, this debate and preparing next post on Gmirkin’s book) I will post my own take on the debate.

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