Here, for anyone interested, is a link to a recent interview I did (2012). It is relatively short (Q&A via email), but it covers a range of topics, with some really terrific questions, I thought.
Post Update 10/2014: The original post resided on now an expired blog “The Porpoise Diving Life: Reality for the Rest of Us or Picking Up Where Purpose-Driven Peters Out” moderated by Bill Dahl, who interviewed me after the printed release of “DID JESUS EXIST?”. The following interview was fully restored from the Internet Archive Way Back Machine by my blog support.
First, allow me to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Bart D. Ehrman of UNC – Chapel Hill for agreeing to this interview. Thanks also to Julie Burton, Publicity Director at HarperOne in San Francisco. His most recent book is “Did Jesus Exist?” (HarperOne 2012).
First, my review of the book:
This, I believe, is one of the MOST IMPORTANT books the vast majority of purported Christians will never read. Why? Because most have a self-confessed understanding of Jesus wrapped up in a tidy little box that they can comfortably carry around – or discard when it becomes inconvenient.
Try this: The next time you’re in conversation with someone who claims to “know Jesus” – ask them to provide you with the historical evidence derived by reputable historical scholars – who are NOT Christian! Trust me – They’ll be flabbergasted. You might be too.
As author Jim Palmer has recently written in his new book, Being Jesus in Nashville:
“Through religion people have absorbed a bunch of ideas and beliefs about themselves, God, others and life that govern their identity, relationships and way of being in the world. It’s as if we’re trapped inside a story that is rigged to never lead to the freedom, fulfillment and abundance that people want and Jesus promised.
Enter Bart D. Ehrman – Distinguished author, scholar and historian – the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Ehrman is a self-professed agnostic. In this book, he takes on what are commonly referred to as the “Mythicists” – those who claim (in a rather passionate and voluminous set of writings (and ranting’s) that the existence of Jesus was a myth.”
Here’s a HarperOne YouTube video about the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=SB6EZzJ7m1c
This book is a journey with Ehrman to:
- Illuminate the historical evidence that unequivocally demonstrates that Jesus did in fact, exist.
- A refutation of the major mythicist arguments to the contrary of #1 above.
- An insightful examination of the question, “Who was Jesus?”
Sure, Ehrman jumps off the bus at the resurrection and the central Christian belief that Jesus is God (as any self-professed agnostic would). Yet, the treatment that Ehrman provides for #’s 1, 2 & 3 above are absolutely mesmerizing. Of course, in terms of the question, “Who was Jesus? Ehrman’s conclusions differ tangibly from the Christian tribe.
I learned a tremendous amount about Jesus, the Gospels, first century Judea and the like — I had never learned in church, Sunday school, Bible studies, lectures, literature or otherwise by reading this book.
Again, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book. No matter what you think you might know about Jesus, the history of the Christian faith, The Gospels, the Bible, and who Jesus thought he was…Bart Ehrman provides the historians evidence that will distinctly fill in the holes your understanding was filled with. Finally, his treatment of the mythicist arguments is comprehensive and convincing.
Jesus Did Exist! – From the skilled historians perspective. Read this book – you need to appreciate what Bart D. Ehrman reveals in this profoundly important work. It’s an incredible feat!!!
Here’s the interview:
Question (1) What does being awarded the 2011 Religious Liberty Award by the American Humanist Association mean to you?
Ehrman – It meant a lot to me. I did not know about the organization until it honored me with this award. It is a terrific group of people who are sincerely, honestly, and openly searching for (and finding!) real meaning in life apart from belief in God or the acceptance of religion. I found the people at the meeting to be interesting, intelligent, and caring. To be recognized by a group like this for my work in scholarship – most interestingly, biblical scholarship means that I am making a difference in ways that I think really matter. I should also say, though, that the humanists who make up this organization are not my only, or even my principal, audience for my writing. I do not see my work as embracing, necessarily, an atheist or agnostic agenda. Far from it. Many Christians (and Jews, and Muslims, etc.) find my work valuable as well – and I think that’s as it should be. If I am opposed to anything, it is fundamentalism in its various guises. Among everyone else, my views may seem challenging, but they should not seem threatening.
Question (2) Why, in your opinion, has it taken a few millennium to arrive at the conclusions so eloquently laid out in this book?
Ehrman – I don’t think it has taken millennia for scholars to come to believe Jesus existed. ON the contrary, they have simply assumed he existed – since he existed! But to my knowledge, I am the first scholar of the Bible ever to attempt to prove that he existed. The reason no one else has ever tried to do so in a systematic and coherent fashion is that there really has been very little need, since almost everyone thinks he did exist. But with the emergence of the mythicists and their wide-ranging influence, I thought it was necessary for someone – a bona fide, qualified scholar – to take up the challenge and show why the evidence of Jesus is so overwhelming and convincing to everyone else on the planet that has ever looked into the matter.
Question (3) How do you see Christians in the U.S. today “trying to reform” the historical Jesus? (Your point on p.336).
Ehrman – Many Christians today think of Jesus as a 21st century American with good solid middle-class American values. He believes in the free market and the principles of capitalism; he believes in working hard to become successful in life; he subscribes to traditional family values; and so on. One of the points I make in my book, once I show that Jesus existed, is that to understand who Jesus really was you cannot simply assume that he was like us. He was not, in fact, a 21st century American with 21st century American values, beliefs, perspectives, and concerns. He was a first-century Palestinian Jew, and all of his views were deeply rooted in his own historical and cultural context, just as ours are rooted in ours. Jesus was not a capitalist who subscribed to our family values. He was a Jewish apocalyptic prophet who believed this world and all its institutions were soon to come to a cataclysmic end when God intervened in history to overthrow the forces of evil (including, and especially, the government) and set up a perfect utopian kingdom on earth, that would happen within his own generation, before the disciples died off. As I stress in my book, the mythicists have in fact gotten the matter precisely wrong. It is not that Jesus is a non-historical being. He is not unhistorical. He is far too historical. He, like all of us, is rooted in his own time. And if you try to transplant him from his own time and place into ours, you radically alter his overarching message into something other than it originally was.
Question (4) Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has written: “I regret that we have fostered a political culture that rewards the extremes, a culture in which dogmatic belief is deemed a virtue and open-mindedness a weakness, and sarcasm and slanderous attacks frequently drown out intelligent discussion. Haven’t we had enough of this? We need a dose of unity.”  On page 332, you allude to a similar concern (humanist camp). Can you illuminate any current efforts for intentional, collaboration between theists and humanists whereby they are engaged in accomplishing the objective of acting on a belief “in the power of humanity to make society and individual lives happy, fulfilling, successful, and meaningful?” (Your words – p. 332).
Ehrman – I think people from a range of perspectives represented in modern American society can agree – for admittedly different reasons – on certain social agenda. We *all* should be overwhelmingly concerned to help people who are poor, hungry, homeless, oppressed, and generally suffering. For Christians: this is what Jesus demanded. For humanists: this is what our shared humanity demands. We may have wide ranging differences about things that really matter to us, but on this fundamental attitude toward life and our fellow humans, we can all, surely, agree.
Question (5) My sense is you would be a tremendous author of fiction (a sincere compliment). Do you have a novel within you that you are trying to find the time to write?
Ehrman – I wish I could! I could use a vacation home on the beach….
Question (6) Clearly, as you state in the book, there were other humans, before and after Jesus, who claimed to be the messiah. How is the growth and development of the Christian faith explained after the death of Jesus, which is NOT represented in the adherents to other purported messianic figures who either preceded or followed Jesus?
Ehrman – The followers of Jesus said one thing about him that was said about no other messianic figure of the first century – or of any century. They said that he was raised from the dead. That changed everything. It changed what it meant for someone to be the messiah. It changed what it meant to worship the God of Israel. It changed what it meant to be right with God. It brought in an entirely new understanding of the divine realm, of God’s involvement with people, of the Jewish Law, of salvation, of the people of God. It created Christianity. No other religious movement had this kind of beginning. The key to understanding the character of early Christianity, its view of Jesus as the messiah, and the reasons for its ultimate success is firmly rooted in the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Finally, a note of authentic thanks…from Bill Dahl…As you state in the book on page 267:
“To most of the students almost everything in the course is a complete revelation. Even though most of them were raised in the church and attended Sunday school for a good portion of their lives, they have never heard anything like what they learn in this class. That is because rather than teaching about the Bible from a theological, confessional, or devotional perspective, I teach the class – as is only appropriate in a state-supported, secular, research university – from a historical point of view.”
My hope is that this interview may serve to motivate other “theists” to buy the book and enjoy it as much as I have.
Thank you Dr. Ehrman.
(1) Albright, Madeleine the Mighty and the Almighty – Reflections on America, God and World Affairs, Harper Collins Publishers New York, NY Copyright © 2006 by Madeleine Albright, pp. 89-90.