I have a look at Ehrman’s new book on Jesus

May 9, 2012 • 6:10 am

As anyone who reads this site should know, Bart Ehrman has published a new book on the historicity of Jesus: Did Jesus Exist? The historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth.  You’ll also know that that the book doesn’t assert the divinity of Jesus, claiming, as Ehrman has consistently, that the man was a fully human apocalyptic preacher. It does, however, assert that there’s no doubt about a historical figure on which the Jesus myth is based.

The book has inspired a fracas, with several scholars—including Richard Carrier—claiming that Ehrman’s scholarship is dreadful, giving little evidence for his thesis (see Carrier’s website for many posts on this issue). Others, including the irascible R. Joseph Hoffmann, have defended Ehrman and attacked Carrier.

Disgusted with the book (you’ll know this if you’ve been reading this site), intrepid poster Ben Goren discarded it by sending it to me. Last night I looked through it, trying to see if I wanted to read it.  I don’t think I do, but I want to give a few reactions, based on a reading of some parts and a skimming of others.  Take these comments, then, with that in mind.

My look-through does support the assertion that the scholarship is thin.  The non-Biblical sources quoted by Ehrman often seem dubious, and he appears to rely largely on the Scriptures themselves, and on the supposedly “independent” sources of the Scriptures that we simply don’t have, like “Q” and “M” sources of the Gospels, whose existence is purely hypothetical.  The book has no index, an unforgivable omission, even in a popular book.  The notes at the end are not thorough, and very often refer only to Ehrman’s previous writings. Finally, much of the book comprises an attack on mythicists rather than a popular documentation of the proof for Jesus’s existence.  Perhaps Ehrman needed to do that, but the attack seems defensive and overly long. It is a peculiar book.

One thing that struck me toward the end is how often Ehrman presents as fact a seemingly fictional scenario drawn completely from the Gospels.  There is no doubt that these scenarios will be taken as established fact by naive or by some religious readers.  Take Jesus’s betrayal, trial and execution, for instance.  They are simply glosses on Scripture, with no independent documentation, and include a lot of speculation.  Have a look at these:

Judas’s betrayal (p. 328):

There are solid reasons for thinking that Jesus really was betrayed by one of his own followers, Judas Iscariot.  It is, of course, recorded in multiple independent traditions: Mark, M, John, and the book of Acts (Thus Mark 14:10-11; 43-50; Matthew 27:3-10; John 18:1-11; Acts I:15-20). Moreover the tradition seems to pass the criterion of dissimilarity, as it does not seem to be the sort of thing that a later Christian would make up. Jesus had no more authority over his closest followers than that?

We are completely handicapped in knowing why Judas would have done such a thing, though there have been a plethora of suggestions over the years [here Ehrman has a footnote referring to his previous work.

Now this evidence of betrayal by a man called Judas comes completely from within the Gospels; there are no independent sources for Judas’s existence beyond the “independent” ones Ehrman cites above.  Yet the betrayal is portrayed as a pretty solid fact. Note as well the “criterion of dissimilarity” used as evidence: it must be true because it doesn’t seem to be the thing that people would fabricate.

What’s more distressing is how Ehrman simply takes the Gospels as gospel when writing about the crucial issues Jesus’s trial and demise.  I reproduce the last few paragraphs of his treatment (pp. 330-331):

It makes sense that Jesus would have been arrested by the Jewish authorities, as they had control over all local civic affairs. Accounts of Jesus’s trial before the Sanhedrin appear in the Gospels, but little there can be trusted as historically reliable.  The onlly ones present there were the Jewish leaders and Jesus, none of his followers and no one taking notes.  It seems unlikely that the leaders themselves would tell later Christians what happened at the time (if they remembered). And Jesus himself could not have told, since he was jailed and then executed the next morning. What is clear is that the Jewish authorities did not try Jesus according to Jewish law but instead handed him over to Pilate.

We also do not know exactly what happened at the trial with Pilate. Again, there are no reliable sources.  What we do know, as I indicated, is that Jesus was charged with calling himself the king of the Jews. That was a political charge, and of course Pilate was interested only in the political issues.  He could not have cared less about disputes among the Jews about their own religious traditions.  Since this is the charge that lead to Jesus’s execution, it is not difficult to imagine what may have happened at the trial. Pilate had been informed that Jesus considered himself a king.  This was a treasonous offense. Only the Romans could appoint a king, and Jesus was certainly not chosen to rule over Israel. He was claiming an office that was not his to claim, and for him to assume the role of king he would first need to overthrow the Romans themselves.

Jesus, of course, did not understand his kingship in this way.  He was an apocalypticist who believed that God would soon intervene in the course of human affairs to destroy the Romans, and everyone else opposed to him, before setting up his kingdom on earth. And then Jesus would be the one awarded the throne.  Still, it may simply be that Pilate interrogated him briefly, asking him what he had to say to the charge. Jesus could hardly deny that he was king of the Jews. He thought he was. So he either refused to answer the charge or answered it in the affirmative.

In either case, that was all Pilate needed. He had other things on his hands and other demands on his time. As governor, he had the power of life and death—no need to appeal to Roman federal law, which for the most part did not exist. If there were troublemakers, the easiest thing to do was simply to dispose of them. And so he did.  He ordered Jesus to be crucified.  The whole trial may have lasted no more than a couple of minutes. And the order was carried out immediately.  The soldiers reportedly flogged Jesus and led him off to be executed, presumably outside the city walls. Before anyone knew it, the apocalyptic preacher was on a cross. According to our earliest account, he was dead within six hours.

Now this may all be true, but it’s all from Scripture, and clearly Ehrman is interpolating things that he doesn’t know for sure.  This bit, and some of the other stuff, has an air of not history but of historical fiction.  Granted, Ehrman is often clear about where he’s speculating, but really, what happened above is drawn entirely from the Gospels.

Now I don’t have a dog in this hunt, and think that it’s not logically impossible for a Jesus to have existed who was the basis of the Christian myths, and that perhaps he was crucified (though I have some doubts about the Judas part).  But the evidence for the stuff above is pretty thin (there are no independent sources cited).  Caveat again: I’m not trained in biblical scholarship, nor have read extensively about this issue, though I have read Carrier’s critiques.

I decry those atheists who issue a kneejerk denial of Jesus’s existence largely on the grounds that they don’t want Jesus to have existed.  But I also worry that the kind of thinly-supported speculation that I see in Ehrman’s book will give succor to Christians who automatically conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with that of a divine Jesus.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and since so many people’s beliefs are intimately connected with the existence of Jesus, it would pay scholars to be very careful on this issue.  Jesus is not simply an anonymous carpenter in the Middle East: his existence is the basis of millions of people’s faith and hopes.  The most careful and impeccable scholarship is needed here, even in a popular book.  I don’t see that in this one.

148 thoughts on “I have a look at Ehrman’s new book on Jesus

  1. “It is, of course, recorded in multiple independent traditions: Mark, M, John, and the book of Acts (Thus Mark 14:10-11; 43-50; Matthew 27:3-10; John 18:1-11; Acts I:15-20).”

    For Ehrman to claim that Mark, Matthew, John and Acts are all “independent” is simply not being honest, or he is not using the language the way everyone else does, and is thus being deliberately misleading.

    1. I might go as far as saying that there is some independence to John, there’s a reason why its so often dismissed in critical scholarship (pick any passage and compare it to the synoptics). There is no way that Mark, Matthew, Acts, Luke are in any way independent, its pretty obvious that the other two gospels are inspired by one of the others (likely Mark inspired Matthew and Luke), Acts is likely just the author of Luke’s continuation so there is no way that’s independent (if its a forgery then they had to have known about luke’s gospel).

      1. I think the point is that this verse from Matthew doesn’t seem to be lifted directly from Mark, like many others obviously are.

        1. Yet, if you’ve got a document that’s 80% plagiarism of another, why would it occur to you that the differences between them are somehow now more reliable? Especially when the original is pretty clearly a work of literature, what with all the zombie snuff pr0n and third-person omniscient voice and all.

          b&

          1. Mark was first, wasn’t it?

            Way less zombie snuff porn there.

            More like a First Century version of “Ghostbusters”.

            That guy Jesus could drive the demons out of anything!!

            1. I think it’s pretty clear that Mark wasn’t first, though it’s likely to be the oldest of the surviving Canonical gospels.

              While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that Mark describes events that happened in 70 CE when the Romans sacked Jerusalem, and that he describes them in a context that only makes sense if they’re a distant memory not particularly familiar to the reader and probably not even the author. To me, that makes it pretty clear that it’s a second century document, perhaps even a late second century document or even into the third century.

              We also know that Mark was heavily tampered with; the Ascension scene was definitely a later addition. Good luck figuring out what the “original” Mark “originally” said, let alone reconstructing from that what the sources that Mark drew on were like.

              Cheers,

              b&

    2. Yeah, in his previous work Ehrman’s been pretty clear on the the later gospels were derivative riffs on Mark. That’s why “Q” is important as an extropolated source for other common material seen in Luke and Matthew. Makes me wonder what’s going on with his thinking.

  2. Now I don’t have a dog in this hunt, and think that it’s not logically impossible for a Jesus to have existed who was the basis of the Christian myths, and that perhaps he was crucified (though I have some doubts about the Judas part).

    You’ll note that this is essentially the same discussion as yesterday’s about YHWH doing a bit of quantum gene fiddling.

    Is it enough to go with, “Well, it’s impossible to prove with absolute certainty that it didn’t happen”?

    Or does it make more sense to note that the evidence for Jesus is as ludicrous as the evidence for Paul Bunyan, and come to the obvious conclusion that it’s pretty obviously all make-believe?

    Jesus was the Voldemort / Freddie Kruger / Darth Vader of his day. Even if you can point to somebody who lived at the same time with the same name, that’s no different from James Bond.

    Cheers,

    b&

      1. > Yes, the similarity between mutations and Jesus did not escape my notice.

        But doesn’t this similarity diminish the argument about using “the supposedly “independent” sources of the Scriptures that we simply don’t have, like “Q” and “M” sources of the Gospels”?

        These sources are inferred in a very similar way to how common ancestors are inferred genetically. Sources that have the same “mutations” but different from other sources with different mutations can lead to inferences about commonality.

        Think of a game of “Chinese Whispers” where a story mutates as it goes from person to person, and imagine that it has multiple streams of “whispers”. If the story started with an elephant in it, and you find many current versions still have an elephant but a few have a giraffe instead, you can infer that the stories with the giraffe and no elephant all have a common ancestor story where the animal mutated. You don’t need a copy of that story in hand to reasonably infer it.

        This is partly how such biblical history is done, though obviously much more complex. I understand they even use software tools designed for genetic tracking to help.

        However, I too have no dog in this hunt. I’d just like to make clear that Ehrman’s work may not be as flimsy and one thinks.

        1. You can use those sorts of techniques to help give you a better picture of what the original source might have been like, but you’d be insane to make any conclusions beyond that. Especially if your concluded that the hypothesized original source was a trustworthy reporter of facts.

          Let’s pretend that Ehrman someday does the impossible and successfully and correctly reconstructs these contemporary Aramaic accounts he wants us to believe lie several generations behind the Gospels. So what? How do we know that it wasn’t just a zombie story some guy made up to shut up the kids one night?

          b&

        2. Yes, it’s obvious that common elements can imply a common origin, for example it’s obvious that Mark, Luke and Matthew all (at least in part) derive from a common source (which could be Mark).

          But that is not really the Ehrman argument. He’s saying that if there are elements that are *not* in common, then they must derive from *other*, otherwise unknown sources. Thus if there are any bits of Luke or Matthew that are not in Mark, then they *must* derive from a prior source (e.g. Q), or indeed *three* prior sources (one for the bits that Matthew and Luke share but Mark doesn’t = Q, one for the bits that Luke alone has = L, and one for the bits that Matthew alone has = M).

          By that argument we have now “proved” and now “have” 3 “independent” sources pre-dating the canonical gospels! Which is an utterly ridiculous argument that goes well beyond anything resembling evidence.

          For example, no-one has refuted the far more parimonious alternative that Luke and Matthew derived from Mark, and that the bits that differ are simply bits they invented, embellished, re-wrote, added on, or omitted.

          The insistence on Q, L and M is really only an insistence that all of the gospel stories *must* derive from true or nearly-true accounts from eye-witnesses or near eye-witnesses. One can understand why a believer would cling to that idea, but there is no non-apologetic basis for it.

          1. You’ve neglected to observe that while Luke and Matthew borrow much from Mark there are also bits that Luke and Matthew have in common which are not in Mark at all, and other areas where Luke and Matthew widely diverge. That is the origin of the Q-hypothesis

            1. Yes, I’m aware that that’s the origin of the Q hypothesis. However, it is also possible that Luke copied from Matthew as well as Mark, and that both
              Matthew and Luke just made stuff up. That is more parsimonious than postulating a prior written gospel (Q), let alone 3 of them (Q, L and M).

              The insistence on Q is really an apologetic refusal to take seriously the possibility that the gospel writers made stuff up, and an insistence that it must therefore derive from prior sources nearer to Jesus.

              1. The classic Q definition is what is shared by Matthew and Luke but not in Mark, which is some parables but without narrative. But some of the M source could be parts of Q that Luke didn’t use and parts of L could be parts of Q not used by Matthew. Q may have had narrative as well. The Gospel of Thomas shares some of the parables of Matthew, Luke, and Mark, some with all three, some with only one.

                But there is another reason to think that Mark also had some version of Q. From Mark 4(NIV):

                33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

                The “He did not say anything to them without using a parable” line suggests that Mark had a document where Jesus speaks in parables only. Robert M. Price says this shows that anywhere Mark has Jesus not speaking in parables was invented by Mark.

                Price also argues that a collection of sayings would have come from people using the quotes and that anybody who had a reason to use a quote had a reason to invent a quote and attribute it to Jesus. So, the existance of the Q doesn’t prove they are authentic Jesus sayings.

              2. “The “He did not say anything to them without using a parable” line suggests that Mark had a document where Jesus speaks in parables only.”

                If that is the sort of quality of the evidence for the existence of Q then I’m not impressed. In any other context people would burst out laughing if anyone suggested that such a phrase required the existence of a prior and written source.

    1. “Lies are so much more effective when they contain bits and pieces of truth.” Ben Goren Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    2. “…intrepid poster Ben Goren discarded it by sending it to me.”

      So, what did Jerry do to you that inspired this little spot of revenge? L

    3. What is interesting about all of this is the Muslim take. The Muslims believe that it was Judas Iscariot who was executed on Calvary, not Yeshua of Nazareth, and that the latter was ordered by Pontius Pilate to get out of Dodge and not to return. Some Muslim scholars have speculated that he went to Damascus and eventually died a natural death there.

      1. If Jesus is a mythical figure, this also punches a big hole in the reliability of the Quran since its author seems to have thought Jesus really existed — hence this author was not either inerrant or even particularly knowledgeable. Just another rumor peddler.

        Wikipedia summarizes: “The belief in Jesus (and all other messengers of God) is required in Islam, and a requirement of being a Muslim. The Quran mentions Jesus twenty-five times, more often, by name, than Muhammad.”

        Jesus mythicism: two birds, one stone.

  3. Everything I’ve read about the book (I haven’t and won’t read the actual book itself) leads me to believe that Ehrman turfed the job to a ghost writer.

    There’s simply no other credible answer to such sloppy scholarship, such careless writing, and such a vehement defense of the indefensible.

    Ehrman didn’t write the book. It was written for him. Probably on a tight deadline, so he couldn’t fact-check or tighten up the loose passages.

    Disprove that hypothesis.

    1. There is evidence that Ehrman DID write this book – it is similar to the poor way he wrote his last 2 books. Now correlation is not causation but the facts are there. 🙂

      1. How do you know that Ehrman actually exists? Is there any independent confirmation? Perhaps he’s just a myth.

  4. Keep in mind that none of these texts were “Scripture” in the time when they were written. It is one of the points Ehrman makes in the book, that the status they were given in later times by Christians should not be used to count against them. Historians have to consider what they were when they were written, not what later generations treated them as.

    1. “the status they were given in later times by Christians should not be used to count against them.”

      While that’s true, what we have amounts to one claim (all the later gospels depended on the first, they are not independent), and that’s one unverified and uncorroborated claim in a hagiographic work by a believer. There’s no way that that alone can produce any sort of certainty.

    2. What is the basis of this most astonishing claim of yours?

      I mean, every single one of these texts is devoted to evangelizing the supreme divinity of Jesus, and you can’t even turn the page without encountering yet another over-the-top supernatural stop on the magical mystery tour.

      Sure, they weren’t canonized for centuries later, but they were all pretty clearly intended as the Gospel Truth from day one.

      Hell, Luke is even addressed to Theophilus, literally “god lover.”

      b&

      1. McGrath is playing a semantic game.

        Of course they weren’t written “as” gospels. They “became” gospels by majority vote at the council of Nicea.

        This is portraying the facts as dishonestly as one can without overtly lying. Just a series of little tiny lies. Like being pecked to death by ducks.

      2. Ben, only the Gospel of John proclaims Jesus as God or divine. Jesus remains a very blessed human in the other three, perhaps “promoted” to divinity at resurrection. You are obviously not acquainted with modern biblical scholarship very much.

        1. Squeeze me?

          Just what is one to make of that whole scene, right there in the beginning, complete with direct proclamations by choirs of minor deities, where YHWH gets it on with Mary…but that Jesus is a divine demigod? Never mind that bit not much later with John the Baptist.

          Really, it don’t get any clearer or more emphatic than that.

          b&

            1. JonLynnHarvey objected that “only the Gospel of John proclaims Jesus as God or divine.” Yet both Nativity versions have Jesus being the divine offspring of the virgin mortal Mary and the divine head of the Jewish pantheon. It don’t get any more divine than that.

              And, to drive the point home, all the Gospels have YHWH making a cameo as a booming voice from the heavens at the Baptism declaring Jesus to be YHWH’s son, i.e., a demigod (half god).

              This notion that only in John is Jesus declared to be divine is so utterly bizarre that I simply can’t fathom where it came from — let alone why it’s so popular. I mean, that’s the whole frickin’ point of the Gospels — to spread the “Good News” of the corporeal visit of the ultimate deity and what that means for the future. And yet we’re somehow supposed to simultaneously think that there’s very little in the Gospels about Jesus being the human incarnation of YHWH? Even with the non-stop magic show and the necromancy and the zombie invasions and the rest?

              Please. Give me a break.

              b&

            2. it appears to be the case, in my limited reading, at least, that the existence of an historical jesus was not a subject of controversy during the 1st, 2d and 3rd centuries. even the fiercest critics of christianity seem to take the reality of the person as a given. are there early texts that take something akin to a mythicist position?

              1. There is some evidence that Porphyry believed that we can’t really know anything about the HJ. The last paragraph of the first chapter of Did Jesus Exist? by G. A. Wells reads:

                Porphyry seems to have been close to the standpoint of those modern writers who hold that, although Jesus existed, we can know nothing of him; from the contradictions between the gospel passion narratives he infers that the evangelists are in general unreliable, and he calls them `inventors, not narrators’ of events (309, pp 62, 69).

                […]

                309. Nestle, W., `Die Haupteinwände des antiken Denkens gegen das Christentum’, Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft, 37 (1941-2), 51-100.

                This is not a mythicist position but it shows that critical examination found the evidence for HJ very unreliable quite early.

              2. that’s a sensible position (keeping in mind the caveat that both the content and the interpretation of the porphory text are the subject of dispute). i mentioned early on in this series of discussions that ehrman’s book was less than convincing in places; trying to extrapolate too much detail from skimpy and in some respects plainly unreliable source material is too much of a stretch. i would have no problem with anything ehrman says if it were more plainly presented as reasonably well founded conjecture rather than inarguable fact. i think that the likelihood is that there was an historical jesus, some individual who served as the basis for for the stories and the phenomenon that subsequently developed. does it matter? sure, as a matter of historical curiosity, and of ‘truth’. the idea that casting doubt on the existence of that figure will somehow undermine christianity is wishful thinking…the light of day shining on the ‘golden tablets’ for nearly 200 years has done nothing to inhibit the growth of mormonism, and christianity has an 1800 year head start. i think insisting on the existence of an historical jesus is probably less important than resisting agenda-driven attempts to argue his existence away…especially when the arguments are ill-informed, dishonest, and not even arguments. anyway, thank you for the tip.

    3. Except that Ehrman himself argues that the synoptics are not independent accounts — they depend on Q and L as sources.

      Really. You can’t have it both ways.

      If Q and L exist — as Ehrman claims and I believe you also support — then the synoptics are not independent accounts. They’re drawn from the same well.

      How difficult is this for you to grasp? Does the phrase “having your cake and eat it too” mean anything to you?

      And by “independent accounts”, surely neither you nor Ehrman are claiming that these are independent eyewitness accounts written by people who were in Palestine at the time of the alleged events and preserved them for future generations.

      Where’s the evidence for that, especially since Luke himself declares this to not be true, and none of the scholarship supports that contention?

      “Independent” accounts means Harry Potter fan fiction as well, you know.

    4. But they were certainly religious documents written to advance particular theological points. I was rather under the impression that your field accepts that as trivially obvious.

      So what’s the point of noting that they weren’t “scripture?” What, precisely, do you mean by “scripture” in your post, and how is it relevant? I don’t get it.

    5. Historians have to consider what they were when they were written, not what later generations treated them as.

      You mean we have to treat them as propaganda, advertising, and fiction rather than news reports?

      We already knew that.

      The bible was written to advance people’s and group’s interests.

      1. That’s the other thing that gets me. Why is it that all the historicists automatically assume that Christians, whose beliefs focus on zombie worship and who were universally described as lunatic nutjobs by their contemporaries, were trustworthy reporters?

        Makes exactly as much sense as treating Battlefield Earth as a reliable historical document.

        b&

  5. Ben — “Even if you can point to somebody who lived at the same time with the same name, that’s no different from James Bond.”

    To the consternation of believers, they cannot. James has more objective reality. Thanks.

          1. Oh, I know! You mention him often enough! Although I did know in any case. (Wasn’t there an allusion to this in one of the 007 books/films?)

            Anyway, I’m sure your JB knew about the birds and the bees too…

            /@

          2. Yes, the ornithologist certainly existed, and the spy written about by Flemming is supported by the same strength of evidence as Jesus.

  6. Ehrman and others sees the attack on biblical scholarship as akin to the unscientific attacks on evolutionary science, which has prompted such excellent books as WEIT and TGSOE.

    I don’t know enough about bible studies to judge the comparison, although I would be surprised if they can draw on the same consilience of multiple independent scientific sources that support evolution by natural selection.

    Ehrman explains that he treats all the different books of the Bible as separate documentary evidence, and I think as an atheist I don’t see a problem with that – the bible is just a collection of documents. That doesn’t make them independent, of course, but biblical scholars understand that. Carrier’s query, and my ignorance, surrounds the rigour of biblical hermeutics; is it so reliable, akin to scientific method, that Ehrman is justified in his certitude on the historical Jesus?

    I mean, to take just one point, presumably biblical scholars have a number of methods to determine whether a narrative (extant or derived) is fictional or factual; if a number of independent, rigorous methods are in place and show the same conclusion, then we may be able to determine with some certainty a narrative’s fictional/factual status.

    Hopefully something will emerge from the current debate to answer my question. Hoffmann is launching the ‘Jesus Process’, a ‘short consortium on the historical Jesus’. Let’s hope for substance rather than hot air.

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/the-jesus-process/

    1. Of course, unless he invites Price, Carrier, Ayala, and others who would provide the non-historical perspective to the party, it would be a lot of hot air with no real substance behind it.

      It totally depends on who is on the invite list as to whether it’s going to be a credible project or a hatchet job.

      1. There would be point to inviting Price and Carrier, but none to inviting Acharya. She clearly has no credibility. (Ireneus a Gnostic?? Come on).

    2. Carrier’s query, and my ignorance, surrounds the rigour of biblical hermeutics; is it so reliable, akin to scientific method, that Ehrman is justified in his certitude on the historical Jesus?

      IMHO the methodology of biblical studies are nowhere close enough to the scientific method to guarantee certainty. It’s widely acknowledged, even within the field, that the methods employed are fundamentally flawed. I’ve found this aricle by Carrier explaining this and proposing a fix (Bayes’ theorem):

      http://www.bibleinterp.com/PDFs/Bayes.pdf

      It’s quite readable even though it contains no equations. From that paper:

      When everyone picks up the same method, applies it to the same facts, and gets a different result, we can be certain that that [sic] method is invalid and should be abandoned. Yet historians in Jesus studies don’t abandon the demonstrably failed methods they purport to employ.

      1. Haven’t read the paper, but that paragraph you quoted may be more general than Dr. Carrier intended.

        You can use the same facts and come up with different conclusions with Bayes by picking different priors.

        1. Carrier would agree, as he has said that Bayes’ Theorem is valuable not only in drawing conclusions, but also in that it exposes the assumptions behind the conclusions, so those can then be plainly seen and criticized.

        2. @Rob

          The paragraph refers to the methods used now in HJ studies, namely the use of several criteria to determine the “historical facts” underlying the NT stories. The different conclusions that people arrive using the same methods on the same “facts” refers to the radically different images of the historical Jesus that different scholars have presented over the years.

          Bayes’ theorem is used to determine probabilities, and will allways give the same answer if the original probabilities we assign are the same—obviously, it’s a formula. It’s utility in historical studies, Carrier argues, is that it makes precise the vague probabilistic terminology, things like “probably”, “plausibly” etc. It also exposes the underlying assumptions of historical arguments and makes easier to see the influence they have in the final conclusion.

  7. I’m not an expert in the methods of biblical scholarship, but what strikes me as strange is the tone of certainty in so much of this discussion (on both sides). I agree with the idea that careful analysis can give us a better idea of what really happened. But let’s face it. There isn’t good solid data. Reading between the lines and analysing subtle nuances to the nth degree can only get you so far.

    So where is the conditional language in all the assertions? I am used to hearing scientists and engineers who have much better data stating their results conditionally. When Ehrman is blasting the mythicists for doubting his conclusion that Jesus was a historical figure, I keep wondering what the error bars are for his study.

    1. You’ll have to forgive me but I just can’t see the parallel between the claim “Jesus absolutely existed” and the response “I don’t think you’ve demonstrated that”. Where is this “tone of certainty” you hear from Ehrman’s critics?

    2. Although inclined myself to the historicist position, I sometimes suspect moderately responsible mythicists are tarred by association with the weirdo ones. It’s obvious that Freke and Ghandy are crackpot mythicists. Better ones like Robert Price may get less attention as a result.

  8. The Judas story is sort of unbelievable and implausible. It looks like a fictional invention.

    Why did the Jewish authorities need someone to point out Jesus?

    Jesus was deliberately a public figure. He was a prophet or preacher speaking to the public. The first century version of a Televangelist. His mission depended on him beeing seen and heard.

    My best guess as an agnostic historicist is that jesus was an apocalyptic preacher who managed to get himself killed by the Romans. But I don’t really care. This is an unanswerable question since the relevant data is lost in the sands of time.

    1. Yeah, I find that the “criterion of dissimilarity” seems a little poorly thought out… you wouldn’t expect Jesus to turn water into wine either. Perhaps Ehrman should make use of a “criterion of bad soap opera”, namely that if something seems overly elaborate and dramatic, its probably something people put in to make the story better. Richard Carrier’s list of loser Messiah’s shows plenty of people, and they all spoke up and got killed in short order… it makes sense to assume any extant Jesusy type person would suffer a similar fate, rather than a “Passion”

    2. There’s actually lots of relevant data.

      Justin Martyr, the earliest surviving Christian apologist, writing in the second century, devoted much of his apologia to detailing all the ways in which Jesus and Christian practice and philosophy is nearly indistinguishable from its Pagan equivalents, except that Jesus really did all those things and evil time-travelling demons made up the Pagan stories in advance to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the Pagans.

      Others made the same points.

      Everything ancient about Jesus is fantastic (in the “fantasy” sense of the word), and no two sources can agree on the details. The majority of the surviving documents are actually radically heretical and paint a picture of Jesus that’s utterly bizarre even to Christians, let alone outsiders — the Ophites, for example, thought Jesus was a snake god.

      And the very extensive contemporary documentation contains no mention whatsoever of anything even vaguely remotely Jesus-ish (except, of course, for all the obviously not-Jesus demigods and religions and philosophies the original Christians stole from).

      You’re only assuming that there’s no evidence because you’re starting from the assumption that there was an historical Jesus and any evidence on the matter must support his existence. If you instead step back and consider the case that he’s as fictional as Osiris or Mithras, the evidence is overwhelming.

      Cheers,

      b&

    3. This excerpt really doesn’t make me think highly of Ehrman. (Nor has a lot of the him-Carrier blowup.) Judas is well-in-line with a purely fictional insertion, it agrees with themes in both Jewish and Greek mythology. I mean, the idea of the backstabbing traitor who brought low the noble hero before he could outright fix/take over the world is pretty universal. The whole thrust of the Old Testament is the Jews failing to secure the permanent blessings of God and dominion of the world because they aren’t righteous enough/don’t pay the priests enough/ don’t listen to the one annointed guy. That Jesus would have brought the kingdom right here and now if not for Judas, another insufficiently holy Jew, is a perfectly reasonable addition to the traditions of the time. And the Greek heroes routinely get betrayed or screwed over (albeit sometimes in karmic payment for offenses to the gods they themselves committed, but it’s easy to extend that to Jesus paying for someone else’s (the Jewish peoples) transgressions).

  9. To be honest, I was a little disappointed when I first learned about this book, and even more so after reading reviews/comments. His book ‘Misquoting Jesus’ was one of several that ultimately won me over from the Dark Side, so I’ve always held his scholarship in quite high regard.

  10. Possibility 1: There was a real Jesus. But the reports are greatly embelished, to the extent that they bear no more than a faint resemblance to the life of the real Jesus.
    Possibility 2: The story of Jesus is entirely fictional, something made out of whole cloth.

    The distinction between those seems so small, that I keep wondering why people expend so much energy on it.

    1. I think its actually a good discussion to have, especially with Christians, because a lot of them simply don’t know that possibility 1 and 2 are valid options to choose. I don’t think I found out M,M,L and J weren’t the real authors of their gospels until after I stopped believing in God, for instance. But most Christians are like the equivalent of Young Earth Creationists in Biblical Scholarship, and only because they’ve never looked outside their sources. In a way, these conversations are very good, because, though Jesus’s existence is disputed, its bringing a lot more awareness to just how little is known about him, and how tortured Biblical province is.

    2. I don’t find arguments for (1) persuasive, so I consider myself a mythicist.

      I don’t think (2) is accurate, either, so I consider myself a mythicist.

      The most likely possibility, it seems to me, is that the “Jesus” character is simply a variant of other, older, vigin-born, underworld-visiting, death-defying, wine-producing sun-gods. Not made of whole cloth. Which is why I think mythicism the most appropriate stance.

  11. I believe Ehrman defends the book as one intended for a popular audience, not for biblical scholars/classicists.
    I would think that Dr. Coyne, being neither a trained bibilical scholar nor classicist then, represents the intended audience, and even /he/ thinks it’s lacking in scholarship.
    Really, anyone buying a book like this is going to be looking for scholarship, they’re going to want to see the evidence, not just be told what some ‘authority’ thinks.

    My impression, especially from Carrier’s critique and Ehrman’s response, is that Ehrman often argues from authority; /he/ has studied this stuff and /he/ knows what the currents of knowledge and mainstream are on these matters, so /he/ can pronounce to the hoi polloi what’s ‘real’ scholarship and weird mythicist mumbo jumbo.

    And, really, no index? Why even publish a book like that if people aren’t supposed to make use of an index? Why not just put up a blog post (and notice that his website, absurdly, has a discussion section that you have to pay for, so he could still profit from doing this rather than publishing).

    What I take from this, and I do have a lay interest in the subject, and I’d definitely lean towards there being evidence for an historical jesus, rather than an assembly of other myths, is that I’m better off reading Carrier than Ehrman, by a long shot.

    1. “I would think that Dr. Coyne, being neither a trained bibilical scholar nor classicist then, represents the intended audience, and even /he/ thinks it’s lacking in scholarship.”

      But he is a scholar, so perhaps more demanding than the majority of readers…

      /@

  12. Why don’t Christians consider Judas a hero? If he hadn’t turned Jesus in, then Jesus wouldn’t have died for our sins. I’ll chalk it up to Christian “logic”.

      1. Eastern Orthodox people do… and Pontus Pilate too, I think.

        That’s not true, for either of them. Pilate’s wife is considered a saint though.

      1. I work for a school supported by a church. When they do communion, they say “…and on the night he was betrayed…”. If they conspired, how is it a betrayal?

      2. Why did Jesus need to conspire with Judas to die for our sins? Why didn’t he just march into pilate’s office, or whatever, and claim to be King of the Jews, a capital offense according to Ehrman.

          1. This is true, except in romance movies, where the elevator ride is so long, the passengers have enough time for sex. Every time that happens, I figure the building must be 1200 stories.

    1. Judas was just doing god’s work.

      If Jesus had gotten 10 years in prison with time off for good behavior, where would xianity be?

      I suppose they would have parallel iron bars on their walls instead of a cross.

  13. Honestly, as much as this book is probably going to be thrown at us by religious people, its probably not a good sign for Ehrman’s field as a whole that he has to resort to the sort of suppositions and interpretations that he does to make his point. Particularly when he seems to think that his field, and only his field can criticize Christian history…. which looks suspiciously like the sort of argument Ken Ham and AIG were trying to field against Libby Anne the other day. If credentials are all that give your opinions weight, rather than evidence, then you’re just not going to make a really convincing argument.

  14. Now this evidence of betrayal by a man called Judas comes completely from within the Gospels; there are no independent sources for Judas’s existence beyond the “independent” ones Ehrman cites above.

    Coyne is arguing that the Gospels are not independent sources. Certainly they are not impartial accounts, but I wonder about the extent to which they are independent of one another. If such works as Q and M exist, then they are not fully independent.

    I wonder how Ehrman and others make the case for independence.

    1. Ehrman never says the Synoptic Gospels are wholly independent. He says quite the opposite that they are deeply interdependent on each other and use sources some of which are independent.

  15. Robert M Price, in his brilliant book The Christ Myth Theory, convincingly demonstrates that each and every story about Jesus in the gospels–yes, he actually goes through the stories one-by-one, quoting first the OT story and then its NT derivative, in a 205 page chapter–is a retelling or a reworking of stories from the Old Testament, Egyptian mythology and even Homer. If you remove these OT-based stories, there is nothing left–no Jesus at all. And, there being no credible non-Christian contemporary mention of Jesus, why should anyone think Jesus ever walked the earth?

    1. Ehrman addresses this issue (though he won’t convince all) by arguing that the Old Testament affects the way the Gospel writers shaped or molded (or put spin on) a story, just as historical novelists who write fiction based on real characters direct their accounts along certain lines, but that this is insufficient to dismiss the root content of the stories.

      1. Oh, the old ‘if it walks lie a duck, talks like a duck, and looks like a duck, that is no proof it is not a chicken ‘ defense.

        Of course, being caught committing frauds and lies , like every other religion, is no proof Christianity was based on frauds and lies….

        See http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm for a list of problems Bart glosses over with the ‘I see no problem here’ defense.

  16. But I also worry that the kind of thinly-supported speculation that I see in Ehrman’s book will give succor to Christians who automatically conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with that of a divine Jesus.

    Bingo! That’s the problem here. Giving sustenance to the religious belief at the heart of belief in the historical Jesus is a real problem,and I suspect that Ehrman gives comfort to those who make extraordinary claims about Jesus. Of course, Christians themselves have made the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, but it’s not clear how far the distinction can be taken without undermining Christian belief — which is already amorphous enough. There are simply too many reasons to misread any evidence that there might be; it is impossible to see how the matter can be handled objectively while people still believe what they do about Jesus. And what troubles me about Ehrman’s book is that Ehrman himself must know this. But of course he has a reason, too, to see that Jesus studies remains an academic pursuit. The field is too confused to produce reliable results at this time and in this context. Given the number of conflicting accounts of who Jesus was and what he was like, it is hard to know who and what is being considered historical. Ehrman needs to address this problem a bit more forthrightly, but he begins by stating that scholars know that Jesus was an historical figure. That’s not a good starting point, and Ehrman’s book should not have begun there.

    1. Marx remarks somewhere something like history weighing like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And I think this is what is happening in the question of the historicity of Jesus. In relation to Eric’s problem with Ehrman’s “giving sustenance to the religious belief at the heart of belief in the historical Jesus”, I believe, given the special resilience of American Christianity, that U.S. rationalists are particularly sensitive, given Ehrman’s position in his latest book, to any succour he might give to Christians. One thinks of W.L. Craig’s volte-face in, broadly, welcoming BDE’s recent tome.

      I would guess that West Europeans, due to their lesser religiosity, would be far less concerned, or worried, whether the man Jesus existed or not; for me, and I suspect for most atheist Europeans, it is not so much a question to which the answer is determined by one’s theological standpoint, but rather, as Eric obviously wishes, one that can be approached more dispassionately than in the hothouse atmosphere of Stateside Christology. I don’t feel in myself, nor do I see in Europe, the anti-theist necessity to deny Jesus’ existence, a requirement I see in many posts here.

      I think, Eric, you’re being a little unfair on BDE in saying, “…scholars know that Jesus was an historical figure. That’s not a good starting point, and Ehrman’s book should not have begun there.” BDE has been studying the area for 30 years and over that time has come to that conclusion; you would not expect any scholar to start from a premise with which she did not agree. Mine is a minor point, in my opinion.

      What I do find odd about BDE’s ideas is this; given his belief that Jesus and the early “Christians” were apocalypticists, he does state passim that Jesus was a great moral teacher. For the purposes of my argument it is irrelevant whether any of them existed. I consider that a priori any moral prescriptions He and they propounded, in the light of the coming Revelation, are rendered irrelevant and can be ignored; any such code of morals which appears worthy, the Good, universal, would be entirely coincidental to the creation, survival and development of a decent, just society.

      1. Two points: Ehrman is and always has been a theologian teaching Biblical studies in seminaries. Check his CV if you don’t believe me. Eric’s point on Ehrman’s preconceptions is perfectly valid.

        Secondly, Jesus was most emphatically not a “great moral teacher.” He’s one of the most evil characters in all of literature, far worse than even Baron Scarpia and Iago. We’re talking not just Darth Vader evil, but Emperor Palpatine evil, and more.

        Never mind the “turn the other cheek” stuff that falls apart on even cursory examination of the actual text. Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword, to set families violently against each other, those who love anybody else more than Jesus are damned to eternal torment, men who look at pretty women and think lustful thoughts who fail to immediately gouge out their eyes and chop off their hands are damned to eternal torment, he demands all non-Christians be slaughtered at his altar as a blood sacrifice to himself, and on and on and on and on. And let’s not forget the virulent anti-Semitism that runs throughout and that inspired both Martin Luther and Hitler! Oh, and he’s due back any day now to literally bring on Armageddon and condemn all but a hundred thousand true believers to infinite torture.

        Jesus does not love you, and you don’t want him for your copilot. Not if is official biography is anything to judge by.

        Cheers,

        b&

        1. Never mind the “turn the other cheek” stuff that falls apart on even cursory examination of the actual text.

          Oh yeah, “turning the other cheek” is not as simple as it sounds. I particularly like how in its historical context it is a passive-aggressive win-win move against classism [link to Wikipedia] that might provoke violence from an upperclass person that they would normally only dish out to their peers in the class system, which is to say that it is a move where you win brief equality by making them “take their gloves off” to hit you, or you win by forcing them to refuse to hit you further so as to not sully their hands.

        2. Yes, Ben, it looks like you misspoke; BDE ,learned at seminaries, rather like I imagine Eric and Dan Dennett’s priests who lost their faith did; Ehrman spent his first teaching year at a seminary, since when he has taught at Rutgers, Duke and North Carolina – the first and third are public universities and Duke, though founded by Methodists and Quakers, claims independence in its decision-making.

          I know little about the structure of the U.S. university system, but I assume the 3 above are reputable institutions – and, yes, I do agree with Dawkins that Schools of Divinity (as exist over here in the U.K.) should have no place in publicly-funded Higher Education. I assume that the Departments to which BDE belonged were not the U.S. equivalent of the British Schools of Divinity.

          1. I suppose what I wrote could be misconstrued to read “…teachingexclusively in seminaries,” but such was not my intent. Sorry if I misled.

            I will note, however, that both his postgraduate degrees were from seminaries, his first / second (they overlap) gig was at the Princeton Seminary, and he’s been adjunct faculty at Duke for over a decade (where their department of religion is closely affiliated with the Duke Divinity School). I don’t at all think my characterization of his career is inaccurate (with the caveat of the confusion over exclusivity).

            Cheers,

            b&

          2. you have missed the point, which is that ben is right. If you don’t agree with ben, then you are wrong; egregiously, at best stupidly, at worst even fiendishly wrong. ben does not discuss; he issues declarations. he does not present arguments; he makes sweeping generalizations. if you ask him for evidence to back up his claims, you get blustering, denunciations, and gasbagging; if you persist, you get…crickets chirping.

            i’m still waiting for ben to produce citations to support his pronouncement that hitler employs “…extended in-context quotes from Jesus.” in mein kampf. There are no such quotes. there are something like two dozen ALLUSIONS to biblical quotes in mein kampf, roughly one every 25 pages or so, on average, and half of them reference old testament material. none of them support his assertion that “Hitler makes painfully clear his justification and authority for the Holocaust, and it’s thoroughly Biblical and Christian”. in the two indexed editions i’ve examined, jesus is not referenced at all.

            it is amusing that ben no longer enlists the support of lucian’s account of the death of peregrinus for his diatribes since it was pointed out to him that he had misread the text badly, if indeed he’d read it at all, and that his interpretation was untenable.

            ben’s toadies will object that asking him to substantiate his claims is foul play; that declining to countenance nonsense about christians or hitler means, much to one’s surprise, that one must needs be a christian, a nazi, or both.

            ben will shift the goal, erect strawmen, and resort to most any fallacy of logic one can name, but he is not wrong. he has, though, moved on to more important things.

        3. I definitely do NOT like Jesus’ attitudes about abandoning your family to follow him, but Ben, unless you are crediting to Jesus words spoken in the Book of Revelation, nowhere does he talk about non-Christians being slaughtered at his altar. Maybe it’s implied in the Gospel of John, but most historicists give little credit to that Gospel either (Ehrman does in fact regard the Gospel of John as mostly fictionalized). And the Gospels of Mark and Luke barely mention hell at all, while the Gospel of Matthew reserves most hellfire threats for religious hypocrites. You are most certainly reading the Bible through fundamentalist eyes.

          1. Luke 19:27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

            Really, before you go on about other people’s ignorance of the Bible, you should take a moment to actually read it for yourself.

            No, not the Reader’s Digest super-annotated version they preach from in Sunday School, but the actual vile nastiness itself.

            b&

            1. Yup. It’s a little shocking how many Christians (or just defenders of the Bible, the Gospels, and/or Jesus) simply ignore that one.

              To the extent they don’t ignore it, though, you know full well what the reflex defense of that passage is: it’s seven letters long, starts with “P,” and (almost) rhymes with “very bull.” …A phrase that synopsizes the cogency of the defense, as it happens.

  17. An historical Jesus means liberal Christianity is about something besides superstition (and, historically, bigotry.) The virulence of the reaction to a reasonable skepticism about Jesus’ existence (and speculations about where the myths came from,) are the same as the fury of accommodationists against atheists.

  18. I have had a sort of casual interest in the question of the historicity of Jesus, and at the point where I encountered the video of an Ehrman radio lecture to the Commonwealth Club of California, I knew of Ehrman’s plans to publish a book on the historicity of Jesus. At minute 38:35 in the question and answer portion of the lecture, Ehrman was asked “What do you consider the most convincing evidence for the historicity of Jesus?” The answer he provided there as his best argument employed the criterion of embarrassment–if you are going to make up a story about a messiah, you don’t have him being crucified because that is the most humiliating sort of result for Jews anticipating a messiah that would rescue them from domination by the Romans. I thought, well, if that dubious answer is the best you’ve got, what the heck is the rest of your book going to be about? As it turns out, he did cover the same argument on page 163 of the book, where he said:

    Who would make up the idea of a crucified messiah? No Jew that we know of. And who were Jesus’s followers in the years immediately after his death? Jews living in Palestine. It is no wonder that Paul [at first] found their views so offensive.

    I am presently reading an ebook that was published a couple of months before Ehrman’s book appeared; it was written by a German named Hermann Detering and translated into English by Darrel Doughty as The Fabricated Paul: Early Christianity In The Twilight. Detering wrote:

    With regard to the person of the apostle, in the search for non-Christian sources for Paul one finds oneself in a similar dilemma as in the attempt to document the historicity of Jesus with non-Christian source materials: the ancient sources are silent.

    Erhman’s citing of Paul in the above quote from Did Jesus Exist? is just one of the 162 times that Paul is cited in the book (queries of that sort are easy with the ebook version). If Detering is correct (he made the case quite convincingly) about the evidence for the historicity of apostle Paul being as ethereal as the evidence for the historicity of Jesus, what does that mean for arguments like the one Ehrman made on page 119 of the book, where he pointed out that Paul met Jesus’ brother James and that if Jesus hadn’t existed, Paul would surely have learned about it from James It is usually conceded that Paul existed and that the “brother of the Lord” was being used in a sense of “fellow believer.” Of course, if Paul is an entirely fictional character, as Detering thinks, the whole question is moot. In any case, using a person whose existence is unprovable to argue for the historicity of Jesus is an exercise in futility.

    1. I just finished that book, and I think he made a compelling case – at least, he brought up points that I have not heard, and heard addressed, before. It’s a good read. I keep hearing that Robert M Price is going to get his book on Paul (he agrees that Paul was Simon Magus, from what he has said) published sometime soon (hopefully). If this argument is correct, then that does topple Ehrman’s house of cards quite easily. Of course, Ehrman makes no mention of this subject (at least, I can’t remember any mention of this hypothesis).

  19. Despite its age, this sums up the truth as well as anything.

    Quote: “The Jesus Christ of the Gospels could not possibly have been a real person. He is a combination of impossible elements. There may have lived in Palestine, nineteen centuries ago, a man whose name was Jesus, who went about doing good, who was followed by admiring associates, and who in the end met a violent death. But of this possible person, not a line was written when he lived, and of his life and character the world of today knows absolutely nothing. This Jesus, if he lived, was a man; and, if he was a reformer, he was but one of many that have lived and died in every age of the world. When the world shall have learned that the Christ of the Gospels is a myth, that Christianity is untrue, it will turn its attention from the religious fictions of the past to the vital problems of today, and endeavor to solve them for the improvement of the well-being of the real men and women whom we know, and whom we ought to help and love.”

    From “Did Jesus Christ Really Live?” — by Marshall J. Gauvin (ca. 1922)

    I agree with most of what Ehrman has said previously, however I disagree with his attack on the myth argument, which, IMO, is well founded.

    Instead of reading the gospels I tried to look at them and decide what form of literature they were (since there’s no point in arguing the historical accuracy of a soap opera — or a space opera). After chewing it over I concluded that they were comic books — and very like the Superman comic books at that. (The lack of pictures is a function of the cost structure of books of that time and not significant).

    This shouldn’t be a surprise. This form of literature is very attractive – we see echoes of it in urban myths.

    Given that, they simply don’t reflect the actual life of an actual man. ‘Jesus’ is a hero figure and the incidents of his life are pretty standard fare for the time and place.

    I quote Gauvin because it makes the point that little progress has been made. Once you rip the gospels out of the NT (and assuming you ignore Revelation for obvious reasons) all you have left are the epistles. Not much to base a world wide religion on – let alone 2,000 years of torture and murder “to protect the faith”.

    BTW, I do accept that the authors of ‘Superman’ may have based their hero on Jesus, even if they were unconscious of it. However this doesn’t prove that the gospel authors didn’t base their works on even earlier works.

    Whatever the gospels are, they are not history nor biography in any sense that we would use the terms. There is no method of divination that can extract any ‘real’ incidents from them. Any input the authors got from early Christianity as to events is no more solid than the ‘fanfic’ which has grown up around TV shows of our times, such as “Star Trek”.

    Gauvin got it right.

    1. BTW, I do accept that the authors of ‘Superman’ may have based their hero on Jesus, even if they were unconscious of it. However this doesn’t prove that the gospel authors didn’t base their works on even earlier works.

      Read Justin Martyr, especially his First Apology (easily found in English translations on plenty of Web sites). Scan for the phrase, “Sons of Jupiter,” and you’ll get a quite thorough account of the earlier works the gospel authors based the Jesus story on.

      Cheers,

      b&

  20. I wonder how many godless people “don’t want Jesus to exist”? It’s the sort of malarkey I hear from the christians all the time – “you know god really exists, you just wish he didn’t”. I see absolutely no evidence for a biblical Jesus regardless of whether it was a god or not; it’s not that I don’t want the guy to exist – there’s just nothing beyond fables to even suggest that he existed.

    Now on the other hand – there was too an Easter Bunny – he doesn’t lay eggs of course, that’s just silly, but there really really was an Easter Bunny.

    1. Oh – Ehrman should take some advice from George Gershwin: “All those things that you’re liable to read in the bible – It ain’t necessarily so.”

  21. It’s William Lane Craig grade sophistry to claim that the Gospels are “independent” like Ehrman claims. If the police are interviewing people after an accident, you can’t claim “independence” if the people were allowed to know each other’s stories beforehand. Even if it’s not deliberate, their stories will influence each other and independence is lost.

    Matthew and Luke know Mark’s story. So they can’t possibly be independent. Ehrman gets around this by claiming that the material unique to Matt/Luke — “M” “L” — is a separate “tradition” as though Christians were the only authors in antiquity who had absolutely no creativity. I would also argue that John knows Mark’s story as well, since John uses towns and people that Mark invented (Bethany, Barabbas).

    Bethany means “house of mourning” where Jesus just so happens to be prepared for burial in Mark (Mk 14.3-9).

    Mark let’s people know that he invented the character “Barabbas” by dropping subtle hints in the form of redundancies (that other Gospel authors remove) in his narrative:

    Mk 10.46: Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, the son of Timaeus Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging.

    It looks like Mark just told us that “bar” means “son of”.

    Mk 14.36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

    Mark just told us that Abba means father (the other Gospel authors remove the redundancy).

    And then, in the very next chapter, we are introduced to a character named Barabbas: son of the father. Which then has a very uncharacteristically patient Pilate release a convicted criminal just because it was a Jewish holiday; a tradition that is wholly fabricated by Mark which the other three Gospel authors reproduce.

    So no, the Gospels are not independent. That is 100% bovine fecal matter.

    1. Was Timaeus referring to Plato? Wikipedia says Plato wrote about Timaeus having a discussion with Socrates and saying things like one “should not look for anything more than a likely story”. That would tend to corroborate your claim.

      Wyatt Earp had alot of stories written about him that sold well back east but they weren’t necessarily true. King Arthur has some entertaining stories but they may have been based on a real person. Hercules has some fantastic stories but if they were based on a real person, that person has been erased from the narratives. The Gospels seem to belong to this genre. The plausible bits are generic and trivial.

  22. “Accounts of Jesus’s trial before the Sanhedrin appear in the Gospels, but little there can be trusted as historically reliable.

    This means those bits were made up; fictionalized if not actually fiction. How much else in the gospels is similarly made up without our knowing it? The stories told of his trial stand out to us because they consist, helpfully, of events that couldn’t be from eyewitness accounts (this by Ehrman’s own account. (“The onlly ones present there were the Jewish leaders and Jesus, none of his followers and no one taking notes. It seems unlikely that the leaders themselves would tell later Christians what happened at the time (if they remembered). And Jesus himself could not have told, since he was jailed and then executed the next morning.”)

    For the rest of the gospels how does one distinguish between those parts that can and cannot be “trusted as historically accurate”? What other bits that aren’t as obviously fictional are there that are, nonetheless just as fictional?

  23. I’m very fond of the suggestion (by G A Wells, I think) that Matthew’s account of the Passion was written as a passion play – it’s such a detailed narrative with so much dialogue. I would like to see a computer analysis of its text compared with the rest.

    Yet oddly, every nativity play blends the accounts of the gospels that have them – none has ox and ass and shepherds (for the poor to identify with) AND star and kings and god and frankinsense and myrrh (for the rich).

    Are there any other parts of the gospel texts that betray their sources?

    1. Do not trust what media like Yahoo are reporting about Biblical archeology. They are obviously overstating the implications of the findings- the journalists more than the archeologists, IMO

  24. “Caveat again: I’m not trained in biblical scholarship, nor have read extensively about this issue, though I have read Carrier’s critiques.”

    I am not trained in biblical scholarship either, but I am trained in Historical scholarship, and the evidence for the historic Jesus is negligible. Historians generally rely on primary sources to establish facts. There is not a single primary source in this case.

    As a historian I would not rely on a book written decades after an event by an anonymous author as a reliable guide to an event, especially if that book contained other false assertions.

    It seems like Biblical scholars like Erhman have invented new rules of evidence like the “criterion of dissimilarity” because if they used actual standards of historical evidence they would be left with very little to say.

    1. But you don’t have PhD’s in the correct fields, so your “opinion” doesn’t mean anything . . . according to Ehrman’s latest rant.

    2. Is there a way to measure how many of those “biblical scholars” who shape the notorious allmighty consensus that Jesus existed actually are professing Christians and thus have a horse in this race other than purely scholarly curiosity?

      From a superficially interested observer’s point of view, the historicists usually get a gentleman-like benefit of doubt, but in the case of religion, there should be a strong suspicion of bias instead. Some of them, even if they dont profess Christian beliefs, like Ehrman, seem to be, again, from a superficially interested observer’s point of view, less like real scholars (as in neutral scientist sense), but more like lawyers determined to “protect” Jesus like their lives (or livelihoods) depended on him existing.

      When even an professing agnostic like Ehrman can come across like a lawyer for Jesus, what about the bible scholars who do not even hide the fact that they are believing Christians?

      How big is the religious influence on that grande consensus?

      1. To answer the question, the Jesus mythicist theory actually peaked in the late 19th century but got a sweeping debunking from Albert Schweitzer in the early 20th century. Schweitzer was also the first to propose the theory that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet expecting the imminent end of the world as the majority of secular Bible scholars (including Ehrman) believe today. Mythicist Robert Price has noted that Schweitzer is the first to propose a theory that served no vested interest, and Schweitzer got a lot of credibility as he reconstructed Jesus as a first century Jew rather than as a modern liberal Christian.

        1. To answer the question, the Jesus mythicist theory actually peaked in the late 19th century but got a sweeping debunking from Albert Schweitzer in the early 20th century.

          I keep hearing (or rather reading) that this or that scholar has thoroughly refuted mythicism, but I’ve never seen the actual arguments presented. Could you give a description of the basic arguments of Albert Schweitzer that sweepingly debunked mythicism? Or at least can you give a reference, in what work did he do that?

          BTW it’s not clear to me which question your post answers.

          1. I imagine JLH is referring to TheQuest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001) by Schweitzer who is mentioned twenty-five times in Ehrman’s latest (no index, but Kindle search is a life-saver!). BDE particularly points the reader to the second edition containing Schweitzer’s critique of mythicism.

            I haven’t read the German theologian’s work, so am not qualified to comment.

            1. Maybe you’re right. In footnote 3 of the first chapter of DJE we read:

              For fuller summaries of these early works, see Schweitzer, Quest, chaps. 22 and 23 (he added these chapters on mythicists only after the success of his first edition) and the brief but helpful overview of Archibald Robertson, Jesus: Myth or History? (London: Watts & Co., 1946). See also Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990), chap. 1.

              But this is saying that these chapters contain summaries of the works of mythisists up to his day, there is no hint of sweeping debunking. Schweitzer’s Quest is freely available online at a few places, but there are only twenty chapters, probably the translation is based on the first edition.

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