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Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument For Jesus Of Nazareth Hardcover – Mar 12 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harperone; 1st (first) , 1st (first) edition (March 12 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062204602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062204608
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #170,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

“His newest book has turned some of his perennial critics into fans, at least temporarily. In Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman decimates the persistent arguments of those who not only deny the divinity of Jesus but insist that no such man ever even existed.” (Christian Science Monitor)

From the Back Cover

Large numbers of atheists, humanists, and conspiracy theorists are raising one of the most pressing questions in the history of religion: "Did Jesus exist at all?" Was he invented out of whole cloth for nefarious purposes by those seeking to control the masses? Or was Jesus such a shadowy figure—far removed from any credible historical evidence—that he bears no meaningful resemblance to the person described in the Bible?

In Did Jesus Exist? historian and Bible expert Bart Ehrman confronts these questions, vigorously defends the historicity of Jesus, and provides a compelling portrait of the man from Nazareth. The Jesus you discover here may not be the Jesus you had hoped to meet—but he did exist, whether we like it or not.


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Wycliffe Lofters on Nov. 17 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I believe Ehrman has laid out a strong case for the historicity of Jesus which will be difficult to rebut. Maybe because I also believe that Jesus was a historical figure, although not a god, is why I accepted his thesis. It will be interesting to read the rebuttal which I see is now available on Amazon.
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6 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Ken on April 4 2012
Format: Hardcover
The charges thrown at Ehrman in recent years from Christian conservatives - that he is a "sensationalist", a "misleading" popularizer, who "over-interprets" texts and is motivated by a "hatred of religion" - now, in his latest book, he hurls further down the food chain. It is not he but the mythicists who deserve these tags. In Ehrman's eyes the "colourful ensemble" of mythicists merge seamlessly with conspiracy theorists, holocaust deniers and internet junkies in a "global cottage industry" of dangerous pseudo-scholarship (it was a mythicist, don't you know, that influenced Lenin - that's how dangerous is mythicism).

Ehrman, peerless scholar of New Testament texts, has dragged himself away from more favoured concerns to draw a line in the sand on the question of Jesus. No, he is NOT a mythicist himself, the direction towards which all his books pointed and as many of his fans were beginning to think. "No, no - Jesus most certainly existed" - a mantra Ehrman repeats endlessly - and was, (Christians please note), "the most important figure in the history of Western civilisation" - a statement scarcely true if, as Ehrman argues, the "man" was a parochial and deluded doom merchant, hostile to the family and fond of prostitutes and drink who was summarily executed after a two-minute trial before Pilate. In this book the professor from North Carolina provides cold comfort for any of his Christian fans and his arrogant dismissal of the entire corpus of mythicist scholarship will cost him supporters elsewhere.

The positive side to all this is that Bart - an accredited scholar, as they say - has been compelled to acknowledge that the very existence of Jesus is "one of the most pressing questions in the history of religion" and deserving of investigation.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Frustrated Golfer on Nov. 24 2014
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Excellent
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful By shmujew on Oct. 21 2014
Format: Hardcover
What a piece of apologetic nonsense this book is , I cannot believe that Ehrman would sink to this depraved a level , then again given the history of christianity , why should I think he cant? The New Testament and Josephus are pure propoganda , to think that is has endured for so long as a worldwide religion speaks only to the pathologys of certain parts of the population.

I, by the way, believe in the true creator , not in fake dead god men from a contradictorally rife book like the NT and like Josephus. What filth. Seriously people , WAKE UP!
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538 of 662 people found the following review helpful
The incredible shrinking argument April 6 2012
By Roberto Perez-Franco - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
(Review for MIT's The Tech) - Back in November 2009, I reviewed a book by Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God nor Man, which discusses at length his theory about the origins of early Christianity without invoking a historical Jesus. After calling Doherty's theory marginally superior to the predominant view, the atheist philosopher Richard Carrier stated in his review of Doherty's work that "the tables have turned." A refutation to Doherty's theory, Carrier said, would require developing a single, coherent theory in favor of Jesus' historicity that can explain all the evidence at least as well as Doherty's. With funding from both atheists and believers, Carrier himself has taken on the question formally, and his work will soon be published in two volumes.

But he's not the only one who's been busy after the publication of Doherty's work. Bart D. Ehrman, a highly respected New Testament scholar, has taken on the challenge of defending the mainstream view on the historical Jesus from the seditious attacks from "mythicists," new and old. In his new book, Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman sets out to provide that single, coherent theory in favor of Jesus' historicity. Which he does, with less than spectacular results.

Ehrman opens his argument by claiming that the question of Jesus' historicity is all but settled from the start, since to his knowledge no serious scholar -- now or in the past -- has ever doubted the existence of the historical Jesus. By serious scholar, Ehrman means one holding a PhD (exit Doherty) and currently tenured in the field of New Testament studies (exit Carrier). The only bona fide exception Ehrman allows seems to be Robert Price (The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, 2003). Ehrman seems to have no problem with the possibility that holding a counter-mainstream view may affect a scholar's chances for obtaining tenure in the first place.

After calling the idea that Jesus did not exist "a modern myth" made up in the 18th century and with no ancient precedents, Ehrman provides an overview of the fauna of mythicism proponents, from the downright quack to the more scholarly. The quack varieties are ridiculed and quickly brushed aside in a few pages; the more scholarly versions are acknowledged somewhat more seriously, yet outlined only in wide brushstrokes, as preparation for a refutation that seemingly never quite delivers.

Confident of his position, Ehrman lists the evidence we do not have for a historical Jesus: "There is no hard, physical evidence for Jesus ... including no archaeological evidence of any kind" (did you hear that, James Tabor?), nor "any writings from Jesus" (not surprising, says Ehrman, since Jesus probably could not write), and no mentions of Jesus from any "Greek or Roman author from the first century." Ehrman has no problem with this lack of non-Christian references, since the historical Jesus he has in mind should have been invisible to these groups. Trying to "press the issue further," Ehrman makes what may be an unnecessary blunder: he likens the absence of evidence for Jesus with that for Pontius Pilate, a claim that Carrier has already called an "amateur mistake" in light of the extant evidence for Pilate.

Ehrman's defence of the historical Jesus boils down to two arguments. The first is that many "independent witnesses" provide support for the teachings and deeds of a historical Jesus. Unfortunately, what Ehrman calls witnesses are not really witnesses, but at best oral traditions -- different enough to be considered independent, yet similar enough to be understood as referring to the same man -- that served as foundation for the Gospel and other writers several decades later. The strength of this argument lies on the inference that the existence of a physical Jesus could explain why diverse groups of people held such beliefs near the end of the first century. Its weakness is that it explains little that is not explained equally well by Doherty without a historical Jesus.

Ehrman's second argument is based on Paul's claim to have met with Peter and James, whom Ehrman describes as Jesus' closest disciple and biological brother, respectively. Since this meeting happened, Ehrman reasons, it is impossible that a physical Jesus never existed, given that people who do not exist do not have brothers and disciples. But how do we know that the meeting happened? Because Paul says so. The argument is so weak as to be cute. "What I am writing to you, I tell you before God, I am not lying!" said Paul. "When Paul swears he is not lying, I generally believe him," replies Ehrman. Never mind that doubts have been cast upon Paul's account, on the light that such a meeting would bolster his own credentials as apostle of the Christ he never met.

As a self-proclaimed "agnostic with atheist leanings," who nevertheless regards Jesus as "the most important person in the history of the West" (move aside, Aristotle), Ehrman affirms his interest in defending the existence of Jesus stems only from his interest in history. Yet he seems reluctant to extend a similar license to other nonbelievers, as he issues a summary admonition: "Humanists, agnostics, atheists, mythicists, and anyone else who does not advocate belief in Jesus would be better served to stress that the Jesus of history is not the Jesus of modern Christianity than to insist -- wrongly and counterproductively -- that Jesus never existed." Putting aside the gross generalization that all varieties of hellbound minds -- like yours truly -- are out to get Jesus in order to advance some sort of hidden agenda, I agree with Ehrman in what he says next: "Jesus did exist. He simply was not the person that most believers today think he was."

The historical Jesus that emerges from Ehrman's mainstream defense is a purely human, miracle-free Jewish male with a very common name living in first century Palestine, who after an unremarkable youth went on to teach things that many others had taught before; one more apocalyptic preacher, among many others at the time, whose predictions were proven wrong within a generation; one more "troublemaker" crucified like countless others by the Romans after a drive-thru trial during the Pilate administration. Being such, the Jesus that can be reconstructed from history with any certainty is, for all practical purposes, as irrelevant as the mythical one, effectively shrinking the debate on his existence from a grandiose quest with theological implications to an inconsequential and endless exercise in academic hair-splitting.
245 of 305 people found the following review helpful
Another great contribution. March 20 2012
By Saganite - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Bart Ehrman would really rather be writing on a different topic, he tells us. But the popularity of Jesus "mythicism" among the agnostics and humanists with whom he generally makes common cause motivated him to speak up. Mythicism is the hypothesis of some that the New Testament material is strictly fictional with no core historical character around which (perhaps) legendary elements accrued. Jesus, in other words, was made up out of whole cloth, and any effort to find an historical Jesus is doomed because no such actual figure ever existed. As Ehrman shows, the "case" for this position, such as it is, generally consists of the negative (demonstrating that much of the New Testament was written anonymously or was even forged; pointing out historical absurdities; identifying contradictions in and between the texts; stating that little to no extra-biblical references to Jesus can be found until several decades after his death, etc.) and the positive case, which consists primarily of comparing elements of the Gospels and Apostolic traditions to elements from pagan mystery religions and other potential sources (e.g., a dying and rising savior god-man such as Osiris).

Ehrman largely agrees with the key points of the negative case. There really are things in the New Testament that are fatal to a modern-day conservative fundamentalist understanding of the New Testament as inerrant, for example, including a host of contradictions (Ehrman invites us to compare, for example, the nativity narratives and the crucifixion timelines and casts of characters for fairly obvious examples). But none of that, Ehrman says, acts to gainsay the existence of an actual historical person at the hearts of the stories, and the evidence FOR such a figure is overwhelming.

There are few things more vexing than someone speaking for "your side" getting things so terribly, embarrassingly wrong. Ehrman does secularism and reason alike a great service by powerfully presenting the case for an historical Jesus (who nevertheless looks little like the evangelical version). I happen to like and respect Robert Price, one of the mythicists Ehrman goes after....but Ehrman is almost surely correct that while Price raises intelligent issues, his denial of an historical Jesus goes too far. I had not been aware that another favorite scholar of mine, Richard Carrier, was counted among the mythicists, but expect to learn more about his position when reading his new book, Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus.

Ehrman notes that he was nervous about how his non-theist fans might receive a book defending the historicity of Jesus while casting doubt on the speculations of the more obviously atheistic mythicist authors and scholars. I do not think he needs to worry. Most of us just want to follow the evidence wherever it leads...and as he says, an historical Jesus says next to nothing about how likely a god might be.

I wish to add that throughout the book his conclusions seem to differ little from those of Christopher Hitchens, who also wondered why it would be necessary to make up ridiculous and unbelievable story elements for a purely fictional creation. I wish all atheist thinkers and speakers could bring that level of reason to discourses on Jesus. Augustine once admonished Christians not to talk nonsense about physical reality because it could bring scripture into ill repute when heard by non-believers who understand more about, say, stars and seasons than they do. I think the same could be said to some atheists: unless you actually are a Bible scholar--you're not a Bible scholar. There is more to that moniker than you probably understand, and Christians might laugh your simplistic notions to scorn if you talk the kind of nonsense about their holy book as they do about biology, cosmology, and philosophy.

As with virtually everything Ehrman has written, "Exist" is highly recommended. I would like to think it will go a distance toward ending the practice of some atheist luminaries of adding "if there even was one" when mentioning Jesus. That is no more academically respectable than calling evolution "only a theory" in the ignorant, pejorative sense is.
215 of 268 people found the following review helpful
Did Jesus Exist? March 28 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am not pretending to be an expert on this subject, but it does interest me and I do know something about it. I have an undergraduate degree in history and Latin and I read a a little Greek. I have also read numerous books on the subject of the historical Jesus. That includes both sides of the issue. After reading some of these reviews, I am astounded and how little the naysayers understand about historical method, not to mention how historians determine what really happened in the past. Jesus lived 2000 years ago, he was a peasant who was of little interest to anyone of importance at the time.He did not become famous until after his death. Yet people are so surprised that he did not write anything or that the historians of the time did not take notice of him. Come on, he was one of many apocalyptic teacher of the time and it is not surprising that he did not attract attention outside of the immediate area. In short, he was not the type of person that writers of the time cared about.Add to this that he and his followers were likely illiterate or semi literate and it is to be expected that they didn't write anything.

Dr. Ehrman explains this very well. He gives the sources which mention Jesus and there are many. He discusses the Josephus passages and gives both sides. He discussed the errors, misinterpretations and outright falsehoods of the mythicists and quite correctly says almost no one with degrees in relevant subjects doubts the existence of an historical Jesus. Of course experts can be wrong, but when it comes down to it would you rather listen to an historian who specializes in the ancient world on this subject or a geologist, a German professor or a self published author who can't even get basic myths straight? When virtually all of the experts agree, the issue is pretty much decided. This is the case in other fields. Why is history an exception?

Another point that I have noticed is that some posters seem to think that if Jesus existed, it is necessary to believe he was divine or whatever. That is ridiculous. Dr. Ehrman is an agnostic. So are many other scholars in the field and they do not believe in a divine Jesus. I would challenge the naysayers to actually read this book and then check out Dr. Ehrman's claims. Also check out the claims of the mythicists. Look up the so called dying and risng gods such as Osiris and Mithras and you will see that many of the claims made about them are false. Yes, I have actually taken mythology classes. I kind of doubt Achyra S has. If she did, she wasn't paying much attention. In short, check things out.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A secularized Plymouth Brother? April 15 2012
By Ashtar Command - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Did Jesus Exist?" is a book by Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar and out-spoken agnostic-atheist. Despite his private ideological leanings, Ehrman does believe that Jesus was a real historical person, and that the NT contains reliable traditions about him.

To simplify somewhat, Ehrman's Jesus is the Jesus of the Gospel of Matthew, but even more Jewish and without the miracles. Thus, Ehrman actually has a rather "conservative" view of Jesus. To psycho-analyze an author you've never met is a risky business, but personally I suspect that Ehrman (a former evangelical Christian) still feels some kind of psychological connection to the Bible in general and the Gospels in particular. But then, the position he is arguing against could be connected to an equally strong psychological aversion to the very same scriptures!

As the title makes obvious, Ehrman's book is a polemic against a group of authors he dubs "mythicists", who claim that Jesus never existed. While most Bible scholars hold that the Jesus of the Gospels is at least "freely based on a true story", the mythicists claim that everything is made up. The Gospels are purely mythological, and hence similar in character to pagan legends about Hercules, Dionysius, Osiris, etc. A popularized version of mythicism can be found in "The Jesus Mysteries" by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. More scholarly versions are argued by Robert Price, Richard Carrier and others. (Incidentally, Sweden has spawned a native mythicist in the persona of Alvar Ellegård. So yes, this debate feels strangely familiar!)

Personally, I consider Ehrman's book to be a very mixed bag. He constantly attacks the mythicists by using "the argument from authority", claiming that virtually all scholars in the relevant fields reject their positions. Maybe they do, but so what? The majority can be wrong. Personally, I'm convinced that Jesus really did exist, but it's not completely irrational to take the opposite position. From a naturalist viewpoint, the Gospels make little sense, often contradict each other, all non-Biblical sources for Jesus are rather late, etc. Nor is it difficult to pinpoint ideological reasons for why most scholars affirm Jesus' existence. Many NT scholars are Christian, and even non-Christian scholars want to claim Jesus as their own. Would Western scholars care if somebody denied the existence of Siddharta Gautama or Muhammad? Probably not. But deny Jesus, and you got it coming! Feminists want him to be a feminist, Jews want him to be a Pharisee, the Jesus Seminar want him to be a party animal, and more traditional Christians want him to be...well, the Son of God. Nobody wants him to be non-existent. If you risk being crucified by both the establishment and the opposition, the more prudent course is silence. And if you just can't shut up, your only outlet would be some small atheist press. So what's all this stuff about "every scholar in the field agrees"?

In the end, even Ehrman is forced to actually argue his case when confronted with Price, Carrier and some other scholarly (!) mythicists. He does a good job debunking the claim that Paul never mentions a historical Jesus, the idea that Matthew and Luke are solely based on Mark, or the claim that no authentic traditions about Jesus exist in the Gospels or Acts. A particularly strong argument is the observation that the New Testament contains allusions to earlier creeds, which the NT writers no longer believed in. Thus, there are "adoptionist" passages, suggesting that Jesus didn't become the Son of God until his baptism in the Jordan. There are also statements suggesting that Jesus didn't become the Son of God until the actual resurrection. Both are compatible with Jesus being a real person, a real person who was gradually exalted to divine status after his death. Of course, the mythicists could always retort that it could be an evolving myth, but if the point of the Jesus myth is to create a Jewish mystery religion, it would be more logical to cast Jesus as a god from the start.

Ehrman also points out that the New Testament contains information which could be considered embarrassing by later generations of Christians: Jesus had siblings, his family rejected him, he was baptized by John, some of his prophecies don't seem to ad up, etc. Thus, this information could very well be true. Why else make it up? Another point pressed by the author is the title "king of the Jews", never used by Christians but pinned on Jesus by his accusers (including Pilate). This suggests that the accusations against Jesus were a real historical event. Why make up a title nobody is using?

Ehrman is also somewhat frustrated by what he calls "the scholarship of convenience", which he believes Price and other mythicists indulge in ever so often. If some passage from Paul or the Gospels seems to indicate a real historical Jesus, just declare the passage to be a later interpolation and move ever on, victoriously! Thus, Price believes that Paul's famous list of Jesus' resurrection appearances is a later forgery. But what is the evidence for such a claim? Ehrman doesn't see any. By contrast, there's good evidence that Paul's attack on women preachers *is* a later interpolation - the passage isn't part of the main text in an early manuscript.

On other points, I believe Ehrman's arguments are much weaker. Thus, he writes that nobody denied that Jesus was a real historical character until the 18th century. But what about the Gnostics? Was the ethereal, mutable, docetic Christ of the Gnostics a "real historical character" in the same sense as the Jesus of the Church Fathers? What about the heavily allegorical interpretations of Origen, or the secret gospels of Clement of Alexandria, a Gnosticizing Church Father? The Gnostics didn't have to "deny the historicity of Jesus" in the modern mythicist sense, if their inner circle was interpreting the scriptures as a myth anyway! It's also curious that Ehrman brushes aside the Wisdom of Solomon, with is eerie, passion-like scenario about the Son of God being condemned to a shameful death. He writes that the Wisdom of Solomon never made it into the Jewish canon, but so what? Neither did the Book of Enoch, yet everyone agrees *that* scripture influenced early Christianity. Besides, the Wisdom of Solomon was included in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the "Old Testament". Since there were Greek-speaking Jews and pagans even in Palestine, I don't think the LXX would have been unknown in Jerusalem.

I agree that Jesus was crucified - if Jesus really said or did what's in the Gospels, it's amazing he didn't end up dead much sooner - but the cross is also an ancient pagan symbol. Plato talks about the Son of God being suspended cross-wise in the universe, a statement later appropriated by Justin Martyr to prove that Christianity was "perfected Platonism". And while crucifixion was indeed a shameful death, there were exceptions to the rule. Even Christian theologian Martin Hengel admits that the Roman hero Marcus Atilius Regulus was sometimes said to have been crucified by the vile and treacherous Carthaginians. Yet, he was revered as a kind of pagan saint! Ehrman also sidesteps the claim of the early Christian apologists themselves, that the mystery religions were in some ways similar to the rites of Christianity.

My (provisional) take on Jesus is that he really did exist, but that either his own message or the message of the earliest Church might have had some "Hellenistic", "Gnostic" or "pagan" traits. Somehow, I feel a bit left out of this debate! Incidentally, even if we assume that early Christianity was a strictly Jewish affair, Judaism itself had traits which any disinterested observer would suspect may have been pagan borrowings (or even pagan survivals, if we assume that Judaism was once polytheist). Why was Wisdom personified as a woman? Goddesses were popular in the ancient world. What about the angels acting as mediators between God and man? The angels are surely an outside borrowing, perhaps from Persia. And what about the Wisdom of Solomon? Middle Platonism, anyone?

I recommend "Did Jesus Exist?" to those interested in the thorny subject at hand. Both Christians and mythicists will be stung by Bart Ehrman, the secularized Plymouth Brother of Chapel Hill. Nothing wrong with that. We all need our boats rocked from time to time. However, I don't think this book "rocks" hard enough, so I'll just give it three stars. ;-)
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
If Jesus isn't divine, or at least well documented, does it matter? Oct. 21 2014
By Elizabeth A. Root - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A friend who knows that I am an atheist, as well as interested in historical controversies, sent me a citation for the book Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All by David Fitzgerald. It's not a scholarly book, and I imagine that Ehrman would give it short shrift, but it serves to lay out the Mythicist (as Ehrman calls it) position in an organized overview. I saw The God Who Wasn't There: A Film Beyond Belief (Examining Christian Believers and the Origins of Their Beliefs) by Richard Carrier, and, intrigued by the alleged similarities between Christianity and ancient mystery religions, read The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy recently. I decided in the interest of fairness to read a book asserting that Jesus did live, and Bart Ehrman seemed like a good choice. I've been an atheist for more than 35 years believing that Jesus existed, so I don't have a lot riding on this issue.

Ehrman writes well, and in this book he has made the effort to be particularly clear and lucid. The book seems to ramble slightly, but is generally well organized. He argues that the Gospels, or at least their earliest forms, and the Letters of Paul date to the 30s C.E., whereas I thought they dated to the 50s and later, and there are no extant copies until much later. He does not really address the issue that our earliest copies are much later than those dates, and, as he himself has pointed out in several earlier books, transmission has not always been perfect. In addition to arguing that Jesus existed, Ehrman presents his view of what Jesus was like, i.e., that his mission was to warn of an imminent apocalypse, not to die as a sacrifice or set up a long term religion. The book is flawed by the lack of an index.

It becomes clear reviewing the two books that one of the first things one has to decide in arguing this issue is whether to assume that the Christian scriptures should be taken literally or not. Fitzgerald assumes that they should, while Ehrman does not. This makes a difference because if they are literally true, than it is much harder to argue that Jesus would have escaped the notice of historians and other scholars at the time: if darkness had covered the earth for three hours and there had been two earthquakes associated with Jesus' death, those natural phenomena at least would probably have been noted. Ehrman doesn't think they occurred, so he argues that 99.99% of people in Palestine went unnoticed, so why would Jesus be noticed? This argument is a little weak, as Jesus was not a peasant who never left his home village, and he got enough notice to apparently irritate the at least the Roman authorities and get himself executed; Ehrman seems to basically accept that part of the gospels. The question is therefore how many people with similar histories went unnoticed? Ehrman also keeps emphasizing the point of view of Palestinian Jews - is this to avoid dealing with Hellenized Jews, who presumably must have gotten involved if the gospels have come down to us in Greek?

Ehrman also argues that there is a consensus among Biblical scholars the Jesus existed. This is not a clinching argument for me for several reasons. One is that I wonder how many of those scholars have a vested interest in Jesus having lived, either because they are religious, or because they don't like the idea of studying an imaginary person. Differing from the general consensus may get someone to be considered a genius, but it also may result in being considered a crank. Ehrman himself says in Chapter 7, (p.220 of the first edition): "At a reputable university of course, professors cannot teach simply anything. They need to be academically responsible and reflect the views of scholarship. That is probably why there are no mythicists - at least to my knowledge - teaching religious studies at accredited universities or colleges [...] It is that their views are not seen as academically responsible by members of the academy. That in itself does not make the mythicists wrong. It simply makes them marginal." [elisions added] That's not reassuring. By the way, there is no consensus, at least among non-literalists, about what Jesus was like, as shown in Jesus as a Figure in History, Second Edition: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell.

In one of the historical controversies that I read about, almost all the progress in the last century has been made under pressure from amateurs. They have forced the academics to back down from time-honored but questionable conclusions. In particular, they have forced them to back away from the illogical way that a certain document is viewed; I have read of the same problem in other fields. The document has parts that can be checked against other sources, and parts that are unique. It can be shown that some of the material that can be checked is false, but the scholars have traditionally insisted that anything that cannot checked must be true. They have garnered considerable ridicule from the lay writers for this. I don't say that lay people can always replace trained historians, but they can point out problems with their arguments.

Ehrman argues that the various Christian scriptures, canonical or not, agree that Jesus lived and was crucified that constitutes strong evidence that these two things are true. This is a point that Fitzgerald addresses inadequately. The weakness of Ehrman's argument, which he does not address, is that they also agree that Jesus rose from the dead, and performed miracles, things which a self-described agnostic leaning toward atheism like Ehrman is not likely to believe. If the miracles are imaginary, why can't the more mundane facts also be imaginary? Based on his earlier books, it is surprising to have Ehrman claiming such dependability for Christian scripture. Ehrman argues that Christian scripture should be treated as any other historical documents, but he never really analyzes them as such. The strongest evidence for Jesus' existence seems to be the claim that he was crucified, which Ehrman claims would be deeply problematic for Jews, and therefore cannot be made up; and the disputed passage in Josephus. [Added 12/17/2014: I am reminded by my recent reading that the embarrassment factor is one of the arguments used for claiming that the Pentateuch is inerrant. After all, the argument goes, the Jews would not want to admit, for example, that the patriarch Jacob/Israel would do something so disreputable as to trick his aging father Isaac into giving him the blessing meant for Esau, unless it was true.]

The crucifixion doesn't seem to me to be as great a difficulty if the Christians took features from the famous Mystery Religions, but Ehrman claims that these did not really exist, or that we know too little about them. I'm am quite surprised at this statement, since I can remember numerous myths that seem to support the idea of gods dying and rising or at least moving between the realms of the living and the dead, like Persephone. Granted, as Ehrman would argue, she is not technically dead, but it seems close enough a parallel. I had understood from reading early Christian history that Christians had had to defend themselves from the charge of imitating other religions, and even claimed that Satan, knowing what the Jesus Christ story would be, had created pagan precursors to confuse the issue. Freke and Gandy argued that Hellenized Jews created a Mystery Religion, but as monotheists, couldn't have a dying god and therefore had a dying messiah. Ehrman is completely dismissive of their book.

In sum, one of the first books taking the Mythicist arguments seriously enough to argue with them, made by someone who is not religious. I don't think that the Mythicists can prove the Jesus didn't exist -- it is very difficult to prove a negative, but they can do damage to the traditional images of Jesus. There is an atheistic book called Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?. I think of the title when I listen to scholars who argue that Jesus is not divine, but rather a poorly documented 1st century rabbi encrusted with an elaborate mythology. I wonder how much it matters in that case whether Jesus existed or not. True, Jesus, or our perception of him, is arguably the most important person in Western history in the past 2,000 years, but does it matter if he existed or just that the Christian churches existed? Raphael Lataster dedicated his book there was no Jesus, there is no God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism "to Laozi, Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus. / Great teachers, whether they existed or not." True, people like Ehrman and myself may have our religious convictions shaken by the poorly-documented-1st-century-rabbi argument, but does it ever work the other way?

There are two books directly critiquing Ehrman: Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman s Did Jesus Exist?, which is a collection of essays; and there was no Jesus, there is no God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism by Raphael Lataster, which also addresses other writers. I am actually reading the former book as I write this review, but am not bringing those arguments into this discussion.


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