Book Plunge: Did Jesus Exist?

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I’ve had this one sitting for awhile meaning to read it but some of you may know how it is. You find one more book that you want to order at the library and you do so and that becomes another and then another and then another and those books you have at home that you’re meaning to read never seem to get there. Encouragement from others on this book finally got me to sit down and go through it and I do agree, it is a good book.

A great advantage that we have in this book is that this is someone that normally the atheist community respects, although there has been quite a backlash against Ehrman since he wrote it. It is quite amazing that atheists who often say Christians go against all of scholarship in being against evolution can often themselves do the same in going against all of scholarship in being Christ-mythers and yet they think that this is a respectable position. It is not. It never has been. It never will be.

Not only this, Ehrman gives plenty of evidences that the Christian can use in dating the evidences. For instance, Ehrman says within a couple of decades of Jesus’s death, we have numerous accounts of his life in a wide geographical area. He notes that there are at least eleven sources. (82-83) He makes it clear that there are possibly more. On page 108 we read “The Other is that the Acts account gives clear evidence of being very early and Palestinian in origin.”

Also, Ehrman does not hold back when he speaks about people like Acharya S. and Freke and Gandy in “The Jesus Mysteries.” He repeats a number of statements that he refers to as howlers that can be found in them. He will also throughout the book deal with other Mythicists like Richard Carrier, G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty, and Robert Price. I do know Price has recently responded to Ehrman’s appearance on Unbelievable? talking about this and Carrier was quite vehement in his reply to Ehrman.

Ehrman also includes a basic historiography and tells us about how we can establish someone’s existence in the ancient world. He lays myth to the idea that the Romans kept excessive records and points out that there is hardly mention of many people whose existence we do not doubt in the ancient sources. Josephus is not mentioned for instance. Ehrman also thinks it’s implausible to point out that Caesar is mentioned, as if the person who rules the Roman Empire could be compared with any person living in the Empire. (Nevertheless, Jesus does get an impressive number of mentions)

I do think his responses to why Jesus isn’t mentioned in other sources are weak. I would answer that the reason Jesus isn’t mentioned is the same as it would be today. Suppose you hear about someone halfway around the world who is working miracles. Are you really going to investigate it? Even if you get on your computer, you’ll find one site that explains it away and that can be enough. Most of us don’t take that claim seriously, even if we believe in miracles!

Now transplant that to the Roman Empire. Suppose you’re in Rome. You hear about this Jewish rabbi in the backwater area of Palestine who is doing miracles. What are you going to say? Simple. “What a bunch of ignorant superstitious people.” You’re not going to bother because you’re predisposed to be against miracles, especially if you hear about a resurrection. After all, who wants to come back to life anyway? Finally, if you hear he has been crucified, well that clinches it. No great ruler would be crucified.

In fact, this is something Ehrman states repeatedly with regards to crucifixion. Jesus’s crucifixion is not something the early Christians would have made up. They would have done anything to avoid it, but the reason that they preached it is that they could not avoid it. It was an undeniable fact and they not only had to share it, but they even saw the basis for it in the Scriptures. If this was the wisdom of God, they were to find it.

Also, Ehrman does a number on the position that because something is in the Bible, we should not accept it as evidence. Ehrman believes the atheist is as wrong as the fundamentalist Christian. It is neither fair nor scholarly. Something does not fall outside the realm of historical inquiry just because the word “Scripture” is given to it. He also says there is no God-given hermeneutic for reading them and they are human and historical. Christians can agree by and large. While we think there is a divine origin, it is also through human authors.

In looking at a response to Mythicist themselves, Ehrman repeatedly points out that the whole of scholarship is in disagreement. The book gives an impression of one Ehrman is disappointed he has to write. The idea is that this theory is so absurd that it does not even, as he says, get a toe-hold in the academy. This also includes even the claim that Nazareth didn’t exist of Rene Salm and Ehrman frequently quotes scholars on the subject, seeing as archaeology is not his area, who make it clear how shoddy they think Salm’s approach is.

He also goes after Kersey Graves, who is a regular source for mythicists, and says that not one of his claims is footnoted with any scholarly evidence. Where does Graves get his information from? We don’t know. We do know that numerous mythicists online are still quick to point to his material about 16 crucified saviors. It is always important to ask people who make the claims about Jesus being a copycat Messiah to back their claims with primary sources.

When it comes to those pagan beliefs, Ehrman says that they did not have a foothold in Palestine and that while there are similiarities, there is no basis to say copying was going on. This brings up a point some readers might wonder about. What do I think about this book in comparison with J.P. Holding’s “Shattering the Christ-Myth.” After all, Holding spends much more time on the matter of copycats then Ehrman.

Overall, I do think Holding’s work is more thorough and better at dealing with the copycat theory and every other aspect. This could also be because Holding’s material is written by a group of individuals. One wonders how long one could write individually on the Christ-myth before one thinks they were repeating themselves. One can find much more in Holding’s book on Mithras, the Testimonium Flavianum, and Remsberg’s list. (I don’t think Remsberg is even mentioned in Ehrman’s.)

Many Christians find disappointment with Ehrman’s book at the end when he describes Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet. Coming from a Preterist perspective, I did not find this section disappointing but rather confirming. After all, I see Ehrman as reading the predictions of Jesus with the same fundamentalist thinking he condemns elsewhere. I can easily look at the text and say “Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet and He was right!”

While I do think Holding’s material is superior for the reasons given, I still think this is an important one as the skeptic is more prone to listen to someone like Ehrman. I will still be including links to both resources.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Shattering the Christ Myth can be found [url=http://www.amazon.com/Shattering-Christ-James-Patrick-Holding/dp/1606472712/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347303077&sr=1-1&keywords=shattering+the+christ+myth]here[/url]

Did Jesus Exist? can be found [url=http://www.amazon.com/Did-Jesus-Exist-Historical-Argument/dp/0062204602/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347303116&sr=1-1&keywords=did+jesus+exist]here[/url]

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