The Ehrman-Price Debate: Ehrman’s Opening Address

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by Neil Godfrey

The following is a write up from notes I took at the time of my first listening to the debate. I have not been able to access the online debate since to check the details of the following.

I think most listeners on the mythicist side would have been disappointed because this was an opportunity for BE to address the extensive published rebuttals (Zindler, Doherty, Carrier) to his book, Did Jesus Exist?

Bart Ehrman (BE) opened by saying that he would not address the mythicist argument (“after all, no mythicist arguments have been presented yet”) but instead present the strongest case he knew for the historical existence of Jesus.

But first, he digressed, he would mention just two of the mythicist arguments.

Mythicist argument #1, Nazareth

Do any mythicists argue that the non-existence of Nazareth disproves the historicity of Jesus? BE did not cite any. It is also apparent that he has not read any of Salm’s work on the archaeological work on Nazareth.

One mythicist argument that he said was commonly found among mythicists was that since there was no Nazareth at the time of Jesus it followed that Jesus of Nazareth could not have existed. But on the contrary, BE assured his audience, archaeologists have discovered the site of Nazareth; its existence is not a debated point because they have found there a house, pottery, a farm, coins dated to the days of Jesus.

“Anyone who says otherwise simply does not know the archaeological record,” BE concluded, adding that whether Jesus existed is not dependent on his being born in Nazareth anyway.

Mythicist argument #2, Tale types

Again I think most on the mythicist side would have been disappointed that BE missed the opportunity to address their replies to this old chestnut. The point is not that legendary embellishment means nonhistoricity, but that mythical tropes in the absence of historical evidence points to fabrication.

The second arguments mythicists come up with, he asserted, related to the Jesus in the Gospels being portrayed according to patterns of other figures in the Old Testament and other gods. Such a portrayal was not an argument against historicity for the simple reason that most historical figures — Washington, Julius Caesar, Baal Shem Tov — the have legendary portraits made of them. Octavian (Augustus) was said to be the son of god and performed miracles and ascended to heaven. The lives of famous people are told in stereotypes, such as the divine saviour or the rags to riches stories.

That a person’s life is told according to a type does not mean that person did not exist.

The Case for Jesus Being Historical: One of the Best Sourced Figures of First Century

Jesus is one of the best attested Palestinian Jews of the entire first century.

Gospels and their sources

Again I believe most on the mythicist side would have been disappointed that BE failed to address the many criticisms that they have published about these claims, claims that even a good number of BE’s scholarly appears would reject.

We have more evidence of Jesus that we do about Josephus. We have four gospels about Jesus and zero narrative accounts of Josephus. For Caiaphas (and Pilate?) we likewise have no narrative accounts.

The gospel accounts are problematic, yes, but they are four narratives about a person in history and they do give us information. All are based on different literary and oral sources.

Mark is absolutely based on oral sources that he heard. John didn’t use Matthew, Mark or Luke but used other sources.

There are so many sources for Jesus and they are independent of each other; they are not copying each other.

They contain information based on sources going back to the Aramaic stories in Palestine years before the gospels were written.

Writings of Paul

Before the four gospels we have the writings of Paul. Paul makes off-the-cuff biographical comments that give us a chronology of his life. We know he began as a persecutor of Christians within two years of the death of Jesus.

Paul talks about a real historical figure crucified by earthly opponents. Paul firmly believes Jesus lived in Palestine as a man even though he had been divine.

BE repeats his arguments from Did Jesus Exist? without any acknowledgement of the reasons and arguments that mythicists have made to the contrary. It appears the actual mythicist debate is being sidestepped.

BE compared the letters of his very devout Christian mother. Her letters do not talk about Jesus’ baptism, etc. So don’t expect all details in Paul’s letters. Yet Paul does tell us that Jesus

  • was born physically
  • had a woman as a mother
  • had brothers, including James
  • preached to other Jews
  • had disciples (sic), including Peter

Two points of what Paul says need to be noted:

#1 — Galatians 1:19 says Jesus had a brother and “brother” means what it means. Paul is contrasting James with Cephas — that is, Cephas is not the brother of the Lord — only James is the brother of the Lord.

#2 — Jesus is the crucified messiah, that is, he suffered a Roman crucifixion as a criminal.

The Case for Jesus Being Historical: Messiah a Crucified Criminal

If Christians invented Jesus as the Christ they would not have invented the idea that he got crucified.

They also said he was buried.

As posted here, on other blogs, and above all in the scholarly literature, there is abundant evidence presented in the professional channels that argues against BE’s assertions about Jewish messianic concepts of the first century. The same applies to his interpretation of it was about the preaching of Christ crucified that Paul’s Jews found to be a stumbling block.

I suspect many mythicists would have liked BE to have addressed the logical fallacy underlying his “they would not make it up” claim given that they have repeatedly pointed it out in publications and responses to his DJE?

It is important to understand what was meant by the term Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew). The Christ was the King of Israel; he, the king, was the “anointed one”. Jews believed that the Messiah would be a great warrior figure like David and would rule over his enemies. Some Jews also thought he would be a cosmic figure who would destroy his enemies on earth. But ALL expected a great, powerful figure who would destroy his enemies and set up God’s Kingdom.

But Christians said Jesus was a crucified criminal. That’s the opposite of what a Messiah would be.

So we can’t explain a crucified messiah as something that was made up. Christians believed he was a Messiah who then got crucified as a criminal. That’s why Paul said that for Jews a crucified messiah was a stumbling block. It’s why they all rejected Jesus as a Messiah — because he was crucified.

Sum Up

There is historical data for Jesus. It’s in the gospels but we need to find it. Hope you don’t decide to believe only what is convenient!


Next — Price’s opening address



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Neil Godfrey

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49 thoughts on “The Ehrman-Price Debate: Ehrman’s Opening Address”

  1. Bart Ehrman is proving himself to be a dishonest and disingenuous scholar. He repeatedly insists that the earliest christian perception of Jesus was as the sandal clad desert wandering peasant / teacher. Yet the very earliest surviving evidence, Paul & the epistles do not support this claim. That he side steps this evidence is proof that he is not engaging with the arguments at any level. His claim that, “I think evidence matters.” is laughable.

    1. Bart Ehrman’s visibly hostile dismissal of Frank Zindler in the question time at the end said it all. BE began by saying he had no intention of addressing mythicist arguments and concluded by saying with some force that he had no attention of bothering to respond to objections to his arguments in DJE?. In the post debate discussion James McGrath complained that he was caught in a bind: if he ignored mythicist arguments he was accused of, well, ignoring them, but if he engaged with them he would be promoting mythicism. Hence his regular interrupting and talking over David — just as BE interrupted and talked over Robert Price later in the debate. This is what some scholars seem to call “engaging with mythicism”.

      1. Ehrman gleefully bashes low-hanging pinatas (Nazareth?! Tale types?!) while scrupulously avoiding tougher arguments from the likes of Detering, Eisenman, Brodie, Price, Spong even, Einhorn, Vinzent, et al. He acts as if the Dutch Radicals never existed.

        1. In the post debate discussion I was surprised to hear one Professor of New Testament (James Crossley) express some incredulity that anyone could possibly doubt Paul’s historicity. As a lay outsider I was a bit surprised because I had been under the (obvious) misunderstanding that professors of a field knew or were at least aware of the scholarship and history of scholarship within their field.

          But then I should have been forewarned by Bart Ehrman’s assertion that he had never even heard of anyone questioning Jesus’ historicity until relatively recently.

          It appears the entire episode of the Dutch Radicals has been obliterated from all historical consciousness within the field.

          1. I’d argue that rejecting as pseudographic 46% of the epistles originally passed off as Paul’s, qualifies as questioning Paul’s historicity — at least, questioning Paul’s redaction-muddled mind-set presented therein. Further, as Acts and the epistles contradict on many points, one must perforce doubt the historicity of one or the other on each of these points.

            One does not need to believe that Paul is an entirely fictional character created out of whole cloth to doubt his orthodox ‘historical’ story. Some of the most compelling ‘mythicist’ arguments postulate that Paul was Simon Magus, &/or an Herodian agent, etc. — IOW, a real-life, historical person. Nor does one need for Paul to be mythical to conclude that all of the epistles are pseudographic.

            Much of Jesus mythicism runs along similar lines. Here again, Ehrman is disingenuous to present the false dichotomy of gospels-as-historical vs. Jesus-as-purely-mythical.

        2. Matt:

          I agree Ehrman should probably have stuck to a positive case in his opening remarks, but the “tale types” are actually the cornerstone of Carriers case for mythicism: Carriers case is predicated on Jesus being as a-priori likely to be historical as Zeus because of characteristics that Carrier believes Zeus and Jesus share. Furthermore, these shared characteristics takes precedence over any other background information we have about Jesus and Zeus such as the timing of the Gospels relative to when Jesus was supposed to have lived — I think this is a claim Ehrman would disagree with as evident by the second question session.

  2. “If Christians invented Jesus as the Christ they would not have invented the idea that he got crucified.” Isaiah 53 and other passages clearly predicts a suffering servant Messiah.

    1. “If Christians invented Jesus as the Christ they would not have invented the idea that he got crucified.” Isaiah 53 and other passages clearly predicts a suffering servant Messiah.

      There is a series of three You Tube lectures Ehrman gave based on his book ‘How Jesus became God’.
      He emphatically repeats his assertion that “all” Jews expected such and such a messiah then at one point (it might have been in one of the Q+A sessions) he let slip that some also expected a suffering messiah. He can’t have it both ways.
      Something’s preying on his mind me thinks.

  3. I came away from listening to this debate infuriated; not only did Ehrman ignore the position of scholars (including the writings of non-mythicists) on many key issues, but Price rarely seemed to call him out on a lot of this stuff and even waved away the second half of his question time when there was so much to call Ehrman out on.

    I wasn’t too keen on Price’s own presentation; he acknowledges Ehrman and others admitting that the secular references (Josephus, Tacitus, etc) are of limited help because of where they’re getting their information from, but then proceeds to waste at least the next five minutes tearing into the first Josephus reference, and for me not even offering the best evidence against it (surely G.J Goldberg’s ‘The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus’ is damning all on it’s own).

  4. They took much time in covering the basics and esp poor performance by Price who looks to me was not much involved or prepared for this debate, he answered some questions very carelessly and he didn’t even quiz Ehrman in Cross-questioning round and wasted too much time in giving pop culture references.

    And Ehrman too sometime run a string of misleading statements like, he said that we don’t have any narratives on life of Josephus, forgetting he had written a autobiography(Life of Flavius Josephus or Life) and then he said that we don’t have extra-biblical information about Pilate in first century and don’t know why he even quite foolishly compared Pauline epistles to Letters from his own mother.

    Overall a disappointing debate. But anyways the arguments put forward by Ehrman does straighten my Mythicism viewpoint. I mean his main argument was that the two events in HJ’s life are Historical and we have more then enough evidence for it. I mean what Extra-biblical evidence we have that the HJ was baptized by JtB, no source make such a connection. Josephus mentioned JtB but he make no connection of him with Jesus or Christianity nor does any sparse alleged references of Jesus we find in Talmud give impression that Jesus was a ‘student/follower’ of JtB.

    And Ehrman believes in that ‘Apocalyptic Preacher’ archetype then how such a stoic ascetic inerrant preacher with no apocalyptic doctrine become a mentor of Jesus? heck Paul not even once mentioned the Baptist’s name, he’s not mentioned in that alleged ‘Q’ document. And last there’s a high chance that JtB was slain after the Crucifixion of Historical Jesus(If he existed), if we go by Josephus’ Chronology.

  5. BTW here’s the full audio of the debate —>

    >Link – http://ge.tt/8P9cClf2)

    >Torrent – magnet:?xt=urn:btih:120c4b7e890c29d507eeb4b18ee0ba512c3da5ca&dn=Did+Jesus+Exist%2C+Price-Ehrman+Debate-Mythinformation+Conference+&tr=udp%3A%2F%2Ftracker.leechers-paradise.org%3A6969&tr=udp%3A%2F

    And now Jesus is the ‘Best attested Palestinian Jew of first Century’, Really what next Best attested Jew of Galilee? or Best attested Jew of Nazareth lol, Price was right its a modern Euhemerization.

    BTW if possible add the disqus plugin in your blog it’ll greatly help in discussion, and will help to increase the traffic.

    1. After 12+ hours, the download from that magnet link has stalled. So I took the audio off of the ge.tt site and did the following:

      1) boosted the volume slightly
      2) edited out the 10 minute pause

      I’m now attempting to host the newly edited recording for those who may want it. I don’t have a lot of experience hosting torrent/magnet files, so I hope this works. Please let me know.

      A new link:


  6. ‘They contain information based on sources going back to the Aramaic stories in Palestine years before the gospels were written.’

    Sometimes as much as two years before the gospels were written.

    Has Ehrman inherited Maurice Casey’s psychic powers? He can now detect where unprovenanced stories originate.

  7. ‘That’s why Paul said that for Jews a crucified messiah was a stumbling block. It’s why they all rejected Jesus as a Messiah — because he was crucified.’

    Again we have this stupidity.

    Nobody could have believed a crucified person was a Messiah.

    So the Christians believed a crucified person was a Messiah, although a crucified person can not be a Messiah.

    It is perfectly obvious that some people could have thought of a Messiah as being crucified, as some people did do just that.

    And equally obviously , it must have been invented because Jesus really wasn’t a Messiah.

    If something is not true, then somebody invented it. This is obvious.

    1. The argument contradicts itself. It posits that an ordinary person who offered nothing more than cryptic prophecies and without any conflict with Romans or means of taking them on in battle could be believed to be the messiah. As soon as that person proved he was not the messiah by getting himself crucified it is inconceivable that they continued to believe him the messiah — except that some “Easter miracle” occurred and convinced them he was a messiah anyway. This is the scenario that is taken to be the plausible origin of Christianity. Yet anyone who argues that Jews invented a crucified messiah is cast into outer darkness as a twisted idiot.

    2. And it misses the key point — that the Messiah was crucified by “the Jews.” The Christian theologians like Paul and his ilk conceived of the Jews as the Sacred Executioner of the Son of God, as Hyam Maccoby explains in his book of the same name. Isaiah 53 is the “prophecy” that forecasts this event. An actual event did not have to happen to fulfill this non-prophecy, just as an actual virgin birth did not have to occur for Christians to cite Isaiah 7:14 as a prophecy.

    3. “That’s why Paul said that for Jews a crucified messiah was a stumbling block…”

      if memory is correct then didn’t paul say that “the jews ask for signs”?

      1. many signs were taking place on crucifixion day according to the gospels

      2. paul does not know of any of these signs

  8. It would appear the way forward for the establishment scholars is to just stonewall until such time as this whole skeptical phase passes and we can all go back to the good old pre-Enlightenment days when no one dared question authority.

  9. ‘Paul makes off-the-cuff biographical comments that give us a chronology of his life.’

    Really? Even Luke couldn’t find a single event in the life of Jesus that he could put a definite date to.

    The only date he gives is for John the Baptist.

  10. “had disciples (sic), including Peter”

    It’s funny how Ehrman, McGrath, et al., want to lecture people on not reading the texts carefully enough, yet continually make the “disciples = apostles” error. It’s embarrassing to have to point out to these experts that Paul never uses the word “disciple.”

    1. A good number of them really are just coasting. They don’t check the sources for what they have learned to parrot or take for granted since their undergrad days. They speak glibly of past scholarship without having actually read the works but only comments about the works. They rely upon book reviews as substitutes for reading instead of as guides to reading. And some of them even lie when challenged about these shoddy habits.

      Added later….

      And they don’t bother to read the arguments they object to and think they understand, sometimes responding to just a few extraneous facets of those arguments as if they have tackled their core; and sometimes they attack a complete straw man instead.

  11. Did Christians invent the idea of a crucified Messiah?

    Of course they did.

    Did some Jews invent the idea that Simon bar Kokhba was the Messiah?

    Of course they did, unless Ehrman wants to claim he really was the Messiah.

    ‘Messiah’ is a theological concept. Every claim about any aspect of ‘Messiah’ is invented.

  12. I was present for the debate. I agree with most of the comments above. Ehrman did not want to be there. He explicitly stated as much. His dismissal of Frank Zindler was the height of arrogance. I was disappointed with the level of engagement that Dr. Price had with him – very little and very light. I asked the question about the ideas that acknowledged Jewish writers had already put forth in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo’s logos, the Wisdom of Solomon, etc., representing an acceptance of a christ-character within Judaism such that it is no longer surprising to find that character to be created out of a Jewish sect. His answer boiled down to the point made above about the Jews never accepting a crucified criminal as a messiah. I went on to pursue this matter further in the after party and, while we went round and round a little more, he fell back on the same argument as his defeater for the proposition. He allows no room for doubt.

    As you probably know, Richard Carrier was present in the audience. He told me that he would not be engaging with Ehrman, even by posing a question in the Q&A. Neither did he attempt to have any conversation with him in the informal after party. I wish there would have been such an exchange.

    Most everyone I spoke to agreed that Ehrman “won” the debate. Matt Dillahunty commented that he tended to agree with Ehrman’s position before the debate and was convinced more so afterwards.

    I hope that a more in depth and rigorous debate of this nature can be put together to fill in at least some of the holes that were left after this.

    1. I thought your question was a good one. Ehrman’s answers often come off as pat – like the kind of tiny, carved out position a defense attorney will take. You could almost say that instead of missing the forest for the trees, Errorman will stress the existence of one misshapen tree to deny the existence of a whole forest. When Price made the point about Zoroastrian ideas in Judaism and Errorman reacted as if it were some weird, outre suggestion and digression from a path of sanity, you sort of see that blinders-on mentality in action. When it came to your question, I got the sense that Errorman’s vision of the Judaism of the period was the sort of flat, simplistic one you’d expect with no Qumran, no fringe sectarianisms, no cross-pollenization with Hellenic traditions, etc. – But, hey, he’s got the collarless shirt and suit jacket, so we have to listen to him.

      As for Dillahunty, I wasn’t terribly impressed. A couple of times when someone was pretty clearly briefly laying the basis for their question, he’d butt in like a d*ck and say ‘Do you have a question?’ when another ten words of patience would have gotten everybody there.

      I agree with many that Carrier would have been a better attack dog and far less likely to let Ehrman get away with anything. But the more I sort of reflect on Price’s performance, I almost think that in the long run, he’ll come off looking infinitely better. When public opinion, and then academic opinion, shifts away from the itinerant sandal-wearing Jesus as the only thinkable origin for Christianity, someone listening to this ‘debate’ will find Price infinitely gracious by comparison. Ehrman will come off, like the field he today represents, as basically just doing secular apologetics.

      1. Thank you. I completely agree with your comments; especially the one about Zoroastrianism. I cannot fathom that someone with Ehrman’s background could/would question the fact that the nature of Judaism changed under the influence of the Babylonian exile and the exposure to its concepts of dualism. He almost seems to regard Judaism as a monolithic entity. The lack of challenge from Dr. Price on this issue surprised and disappointed me.

        I was going to ask Dr. Ehrman what he considered to be the best case in the mythicist argument, but, not being able to follow up, I decided against it. I really wish Dr. Price had engaged him in that line of conversation instead of largely foregoing any questioning of him in the 10 minute back-and-forth sessions they had.

        I think that what needs to happen to this subject in academia (and this is not an original idea of mine, but one that I have seen espoused recently) is that it needs to be made a separate field of study, i.e. Christian Origins – one that encompasses both ancient history and biblical analysis. This would constitute a new and (hopefully) level playing field in which experts and scholars would approach this more narrowly focused issue. The entrants would not then be subject to excommunication by the current members of the largely theistic population of existing biblical scholars as they are now.

        By the way, Dr. Ehrman was also asked about the example of the change in the “establishment” view of the lack of historicity of the OT patriarchs. His reply that there is a fundamental distinction between that issue and the emerging case against Jesus’s historicity because of a mere passage of time is, to me, patently wrong, and is, as you describe, another instance of apologetics, rather than objective inquiry and analysis. And as for Matt Dillahunty, I agree that his presence was more for promotional effect than any necessity – and he felt that way himself.

  13. ‘Before the four gospels we have the writings of Paul. Paul makes off-the-cuff biographical comments that give us a chronology of his life. We know he began as a persecutor of Christians within two years of the death of Jesus.’

    Where did Ehrman get this from?

    Circular dating?

        1. I’m not sure what Ehrman’s thinking is. But it would seem the only information anyone can have for Paul is from the Pauline epistles and Acts.

          So if a lot of the information we have about Paul is from Acts, which is based on the Pauline texts, which is our only source for Paul (there are some other new narrated assertions in Acts), we only have circularity, as you alluded to.

  14. I never tire of pointing out (and here I’m delivering what I also received from Parvus, 5 Simonian Origin) that Galatians does not say that Jesus has a brother. It mentions a brother of the lord. Who the lord in question is, the lord of what, is not specified.

    1. Ehrman argues like a lay undergraduate. The book critiquing his DJE? that he said he had read twice takes him to task for such carelessness with terminology and misreading of the texts many times. Maybe that was one of the things he was thinking of when he said he disagreed with everything in that book — that a scholar should be attentive to detail and careful with the facts.

  15. Ehrman has to lie to make his case. His case built on lies sounds very compelling. Paul never says that James was the brother of Jesus, but Ehrman puts that in his mouth. There are at least two narrative accounts about Pilate (neither of which mentions Jesus) from Philo and from Josephus, but Ehrman has to lie and say that there are none. It’s easy to win at tennis when you don’t have a net.

  16. The term brothers of the Lord seems to have originated within the early church, but could have been generated from Genesis 27: 29. “Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.” In the Jerusalem church James was the chief claimant who gave himself the title of brother of the Lord. (Galatians 1:19) Paul mentions other “brothers of the Lord” in a list of church leaders. (1 Corinthians 9:5) James, in the tradition related by Paul also saw the risen Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:7)

    Kinship with the family of Jesus, improved the prospects of a career in every church, as Hegesippus reports, in the reign of Domitian.

    The same historian mentions others also, of the family of one of the reputed brothers of the Saviour, named Judas, as having survived until this same reign, after the testimony they bore for the faith of Christ in the time of Domitian, as already recorded. He writes as follows: They came, then, and took the presidency of every church, as witnesses for Christ, and as being of the kindred of the Lord.

    By the time Mark was written in about 90(?), the practice of claiming divine descent (see the Sunni-Shia controversy) was frowned upon, and Mark has Jesus firmly reject his family in favour of non-familial recruits.
    And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

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