The Dark Side of the Bart Ehrman-Robert Price Debate

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by Neil Godfrey

I was in the audience and I was irritated with Ehrman repeatedly interrupting Price during the latter parts of the debate. He also laughed at Price and dismissed him for not accepting Pauline authorship of Galatians. — Adam G Vigansky

I am sure Adam Vigansky was not alone. I have read several similar comments. I was also somewhat saddened with Ehrman’s repeated interruptions of Price’s responses to his questions. I thought, “Well, it’s a debate, and debates are adversarial, and this is Bart Ehrman’s ten minutes to use as he wants. But it’s hardly a genuine scholarly exchange of views and I would prefer a respectful hearing of each side prior to challenges being raised.”

I have also read many comments expressing disappointment that Bob Price did not challenge Bart Ehrman more. I felt the same way at the time but in hindsight I have become more philosophical about that. Ehrman was cutting Price off, interrupting him. Why bother trying to engage such a person in a rational discussion? The other party has demonstrated that they are not truly listening but rather are on the look-out for opportunities to jump in and object. We have all had experience with people like that.

That Ehrman chose to turn away in mocking laughter at Price’s views on Paul also told us we were not witnessing a scholarly exchange. It also told us a lot about the limitations of current biblical studies and how even awareness of the history of the debates and controversies in their field have apparently been largely lost and forgotten (as distinct from having been answered and rebutted).

I did the very best I could to communicate some rather difficult ideas in simple terms that were compelling and persuasive. As it turns out, only about half the audience (I asked at the outset) came into the debate convinced that there never was a historical Jesus. The reality is that I will never convince someone like that in a thousand years. . . . .

I also thought that Bob was a little more technical in his 30 minute talk, and that a lot of people may not have understood the nuance and impact of all of his arguments. I’m just guessing about that. I thought he made some interesting points that were absolutely worth discussing. Bart Ehrman

With these words Bart Ehrman reveals his condescension towards mythicists and his distaste for even wanting to hear out the arguments. He is very out of touch with his audience. He fails to realize that many of us are totally frustrated with his “simple terms” of argument because we really do understand and know far more about the arguments of the academy than he can bring himself to admit. Has he really read an Earl Doherty book? Or Rene Salm’s? Or Thomas Brodie? His response to Frank Zindler’s question also testified to the arrogance of his refusal to engage with the arguments that mythicists make, his disdain towards the thought of even acknowledging that those arguments do indeed grapple with the “rather difficult ideas” that he assumes are beyond the ken of his audience.

Bart further demonstrates just how far out of touch he is when he guesses that Bob Price’s talk would have been beyond the comprehension of the audience. He seems to be indicating that he has no idea why Robert Price is so popular and such a draw-card for the audience. He seems to be assuming that Price’s arguments are so complicated that no-one could really appreciate them — but hey, he already says mythicists are a pretty dumb and ignorant lot. And now he is saying that he is quite prepared to believe they follow Price without having any idea what he is talking about!

Then again, given that Bart himself finds it laughable that any scholar could doubt Paul wrote Galatians . . . one does have to ask who it is who has no idea what he is engaging with.

I think Bob Price is right. These guys need to be answered, but as for any attempt at exchange of ideas or real debate? Why bother!


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Neil Godfrey

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8 thoughts on “The Dark Side of the Bart Ehrman-Robert Price Debate”

  1. Richard Carrier has written a lengthy blog-post commentary http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/11435

    Early in his opening comments, Carrier says “To be fair to Robert Price, he is in failing health. And he’s a sweet guy.”

    When he gets into the debate proper, he opens with this –

    Ehrman’s Opening

    “Ehrman essentially defined and framed the debate with his opening statement. So it warrants the fullest treatment. He began by burning a lot of clock on unnecessary rigmarole and bad humor… When he finally got to anything pertinent, we got an ad hominem, right out of the gate:

    Argument 1: Fallacy of Poisoning the Well. Under a dubious pretense of trying to lighten the mood, Ehrman made a bad joke at Price’s expense exposing to the audience that Price was a Donald Trump supporter. This is extremely bad form in a debate. This is a variant of argument ad hominem: an attempt to turn the audience against your opponent on irrelevant emotional grounds.

    Argument 2: Fallacy of Appeal to Consequences. Ehrman (promoting his forthcoming book) claims nothing has effected such changes in the West like Christianity has. Implies it would be odd for that to be the case if Jesus didn’t exist. A variant of non sequitur …”

    Just before his conclusion, Carrier writes this –

    Ehrman’s Argument from Prestige

    “I won’t address the Q&A after cross. It got nothing useful out of either Price or Ehrman. But Ehrman’s answer to one question was disturbing: when asked what evidence it would take to change his mind, Ehrman responded by not mentioning any arguments or any evidence. He responded essentially by saying that when someone prestigious enough, who has a fancy enough university appointment, tells him it’s plausible, then he’ll change his mind. When pressed after the debate on this, he doubled down. He would never state any evidence, any reasoning, that would ever change his mind. Only the prestige of whose opinion it is would ever persuade him.”


    1. Thank you. Comments like these (I have not acknowledged all of them, I know) are a much needed complement to my posts. I listened to the debate over a week ago and have forgotten much of the detail that I know disturbed me at the time (I could not write down everything as I listened) and I am glad reminders like yours are placed here for the record.

      (It appears my own post giving notice of Carrier’s discussion was being prepared when you posted here.)

    2. The polling of the audience by Ehrman as to whether they plan to vote for Clinton or Trump does not “expose” Price. The question was not directed at him. He chose to raise his hand anyway.
      Calling Ehrman’s question a Poisoning the Well Fallacy is a thumb on the scale of reason. One need not stick around for the grocer to ring up the rest of the order.

  2. Could we each regarding the mythicist question, better come to terms with it if we listed reasons for the YES and for the NO. I don’t think even Richard Carrier, Robert Price or Bart Ehrman are 100% settled. We do admit we have biases, vested interests, personality traits etc. etc. that influence our conclusion. Neil how about you lead the way by giving us your 5 main arguments FOR and the 5 main AGAINST the historicity of the man Jesus Christ.

    1. To be frank I can’t think of any sound arguments “for” but at the same time I have never formally presented an argument against historicity. 🙂 Perhaps I should start.

      But you give me an idea, along with some other comments that have turned up lately. The best that any historian can really do is try to explain the evidence — canonical and noncanonical gospels, letters of Paul and others, the references in Pliny, etc. I have to date been convinced that we have amply supported explanations for all of this evidence without any need to hypothesize a historical person Jesus. I am quite happy to discuss those explanations, but in fact the same explanations can be found in the mainstream scholarly literature. That sounds bizarre?

      Scholars already can and do explain the Jesus narratives without resort to the historical Jesus. But within their guild the logical conclusion from these explanations is not addressed. Historicity of Jesus is simply not touched upon and remains an assumption in the background.

      In other words, even according to respected scholars within mainstream biblical scholarship there is no need to call upon a historical Jesus to explain the evidence. My view is that best practice is to side with the simplest explanation and not try to complicate it by adding unnecessary hypotheses.

      1. Neil I agree with your logic. Do you think that the problem we face is exacerbated when we feel that someone has purposely destroyed critical historical information ? Although I’m a former Christian, like RMP who has deep empathy for Christians generally and often individually, it raises my ire when I think that the Roman church has falsified or manipulated the record. I’m inclined to say my view on the myth vs history is 99% probability of myth, because if JC was based on a man, the whole plot of the NT becomes alive with history, and that does not gel with the way I have learned from Carrier, Price, MacDonald, Truth Surge and Evid3nc3 that the NT has been constructed to give hope, not to record history. So I am afraid of my own bias ! Hence the call for each of us to list the arguments on both sides. Thinking back to when I was a born again evangelical Christian, what might have then reached me to seriously review my faith and conclusions would have been
        1. To think I was demon possessed or beyond salvation and that my Christian experience was delusional
        2. A sense of deep love from another person that was even greater than the love of God who sent his son to die for me
        3. The discredit of the role models (one in particular) who taught and exemplified the Christian life to me
        4. This one worked – the very slow realisation that I had to develop my own personality, working through guilt and anxiety with professional help, learning to think for myself and concede that after all the Christian message depended on the assumption that the Bible was the perfect, infallible, inspired word of God and that this assumption should be carefully reconsidered; and I found it to be flawed, to say the least.

        So I might have more historical truth than Christians, but if they have more love, then whose team would I rather be on.

  3. It’s important for people like Ehrman to believe that they’re part of some special elite that can comprehend the subject in ways that laymen like us cannot. It’s a comfortable, secure niche, a secular priesthood. Academics in other fields regularly question the legitimacy of the sources and how they should be interpreted. But the New Testament has a cultural force-field protecting it that precludes too searching or doubting an investigation. You can question a lot, granted, but not the basic integrity of the New Testament writers — they were good honest men who just got carried away with a few too many legends, but their intentions were pure. Such a child-like approach to the world helps keep one comfortable and secure. You allow yourself to doubt, but not too much.

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