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Bart Ehrman & Robert Price Debate – Did Jesus Exist?

As many of you know, this past October I had a public debate with Robert Price on the question of whether Jesus actually existed.  To my knowledge Robert is the only “mythicist” (one who thinks Jesus is a complete myth) who actually has a PhD in the relevant field of New Testament studies.   For years I’ve been asked by people to debate a mythicist; I’ve always resisted, in part because I’ve thought that by doing so I would lend credibility to their view, which, in my judgment, is not credible.   But Robert is a nice guy and I finally yielded and said OK.  This is the debate.  It was lively in places and — to my surprise — ended up being a nice experience.

The event was part of the “Mythinformation Conference” Buzzed Belief Debate Series presented by Mythicist Milwaukee at Turner Hall in Milwaukee, WI on Friday October 21st 2016.  Mythicist Milwaukee focuses on educating the freethought/skeptic/atheist community about what the organization considers to be the mythological origins of religion.  The people at the meeting were amazingly welcoming of me (even though I take a position they disagree with) and I had a very good time.

Matt Dillahunty was the debate mediator.  He currently serves as the president of the Atheist Community of Austin and hosts the internet radio show “Non-Prophets Radio” and the Austin television cable access show “The Atheist Experience”.

– Preview video of debate by Mythicist Milwaukee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPJh94tA14I
– Pre-debate discussed on Bart Ehrman’s Foundation Blog: https://ehrmanblog.org/did-jesus-exist-my-debate-with-robert-price/
– Discussion of debate by Matt Dillahunty, Dr. Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald and Kristyn Whitaker Hood join hosts Sean Fracek and Jason Lawson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGBouQbYpqM
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  1. Avatar
    moose  March 26, 2017

    I’m glad to hear that the debate ended up being a nice experience.

  2. Avatar
    Todd  March 26, 2017

    This question is not directly related to the Mythicist issue, but let us suppose that Jesus did exist, then my question relates to the languages they spoke at that time.

    I am most interested here to the variety of languages spoken and what languages the participants spoke to each other and how do we know what those languages were.

    Two examples:

    1. Jesus spoke with Pilate privately in the “What is truth” exchange at his trial. Since there were no witnesses to their conversation how did they communicate and also how do we even know what they said? If Pilate spoke Latin and Jesus spoke Aramaic, how could they talk with each other? If there were no witnesses, how do we know what was said even if we knew what languages were spoken?

    2. Paul spoke to the Athenians at the Ahora about the “unknown” god. If he spoke to Greeks he must have used a form of common Greek, yet he had conversations with ranking members of the Jerusalem church, including Peter, according to Acts. If Aramaic was the language of the disciples, then Paul must have spoken that language also, as well as Latin when he stayed in Rome, and so on.

    The question of what languages were used by the participants in the Jesus movement keeps popping up in my mind whenever I study this.

    Since your field is the history of the NT and the textual study of the documents you must have some thoughts on this.

    What are your thoughts on the languages the participants in the NT drama used to communicate to such diverse groups of people?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 29, 2017

      Jesus’ language would have been Aramaic. Pilate almost certainly did not speak Aramaic. So if they talked, it would have had to be with a translator. Paul was a Greek-speaking Jew. There is no clear indication he could have spoken Aramaic, so yes, apart from having a translator it’s hard ot know how he would have communicated with the Aramaic-speaking apostles.

      • Avatar
        Todd  March 29, 2017

        Thank you for taking the time to clarify this. It would seem much in the text is simply invented.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  April 2, 2017

        There may be no explicit statement that Paul spoke Aramaic, but it seems to me there are implicit ones, such as Paul’s meetings with the Jerusalem church. I would expect the text to comment on the language used only if it was not obvious, so the absence of any mention of a translator is to me an implication that one was not needed.

        In Gal. 1:14, to take another example, Paul says that he was extremely zealous for the traditions of the fathers. Traditional Judaism then (and now) does not like translations very much, though it was more accepting of Aramaic (such as the Onkelos) than of Greek (ie, the LXX). I read in this the implication that Paul studied in the language of the tradition – Aramaic, and perhaps Hebrew (or perhaps not).

        So while I agree that there is no explicit statement that Paul knew Aramaic, I do think there are implicit ones.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2017

          He could be zealous for ancestral traditions and still speak Greek! If he does know Aramaic, he gives no clear indication of it. (There were lots of Jews who visited Jerusalem — for example, every year at Passover — who didn’t know a lick of Aramaic)

      • antoinelamond
        antoinelamond  July 6, 2017

        I’ve always wondered about that. So do we know if any of that story is historical or is it also legend?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 6, 2017

          I don’t think we know what would have happened at Jesus’ trial before Pilate.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  March 26, 2017

    I noticed Price shut down after you mocked his belief that Paul didn’t write Galatians. Were things still cordial between you after the debate?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 29, 2017

      Yes, I apologized later for laughing when he said he thought Paul didn’t write Galatians. I didn’t mean to make fun of him, it was just an immediate reaction… But we got along fine afterward.

      • Avatar
        vallancemjv@gmail.com  November 27, 2019

        The debate was a really great experience to watch.
        I have massive respect for Robert Price. I do believe that Bart won tge contest though.
        I have watched many hours of his interviews and am quite surprised that he never really fully discounts Jesus’ existence. He us perfectly willing to admit he could be wrong – I greatly admire this.
        He has moved even further to the possibility of Jesus existence after reading “ Creating Christ” a recent book by James S Valiant and Fahey which takes Joseph Atwells position that The Flavian emporers wallpapered over the rebel Christian Jews and made Jesus a Roman law abider.
        Bart, have you read “Creating Christ” if so what are your views?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 29, 2019

          No, haven’t read it. Atwell, I’m afraid, is completely ignorant about Roman history.

  4. Avatar
    Robby  March 26, 2017

    If I may stray off topic a bit… I’m reading “How Jesus Became God” and looking at the creed in Romans 1:3-4, you use the words “appointed Son of God…by his resurrection” in verse 4 and when I look at the NIV, NASB, KJV and the NKJV, they translate the words as “declared Son of God…by his resurrection”. Don’t these two English words imply different meanings in our usage? “Appointed” implying he was designated by his resurrection while “declared” could imply designated earlier but then simply “declared” at his resurrection? Which word is actually better? Maybe I’m overthinking this word.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2017

      It’s a complicated word. It can mean both things, or possibly better “designated.” Even if you say “declared,” though, I think you’re saying that he was not declared/called this *before* that event.

  5. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  March 26, 2017

    I finally watched the debate this morning. I kept meaning to pay fhe $5 but it’s free now.
    Question: you use Romans 13:1ff. to establish Paul’s usage of archon independent of the passage about Christ having been crucified by the rulers (archons) of this age. But isn’t Romans 13:1-7 widely thought to be a later interpolation? Are there any non-disputed passages in Paul’s 7 letters that use archon in a way that cannot be taken to mean heavenly principalities?
    Question 2: Dr. Price mentioned two places (one in Revelation, I forget where the other comes from – Hebrews, maybe?) that refer to Christ having been crucified (I think Revelation says the lamb slain before, etc.) before the foundation of the world. Do you think there were Christian proto-mythicists in the 1st century who believed whatever the apostles witnessed 6 or 7 decades earlier was some sort of reenactment of events that had taken place in eternity past? If not, what could those two references have meant with respect to a flesh and blood Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2017

      1. No I don’t believe Romans 13 is widely considered an interpolation. At least I don’t think any of the Pauline scholars I know (I know a lot) think it is. 2. No, I think that is a misunderstanding of the verse.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  March 28, 2017

        What do you think is the correct understanding of the verse?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 29, 2017

          Sorry — I think I misunderstood the question. Which verse were you referring to?

          • Avatar
            SidDhartha1953  March 30, 2017

            Revelation 13:8; comparing translations and reading the annotation in the Jewish Annotated NT (Levine et al) I see it is ambiguous whether the Lamb was slaughtered from the creation of the world or the elect were elected from creation. Which do you think it means?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 30, 2017

            Yes, the Greek is ambiguous. The big problem is that the author of Revelation wrote in terrible Greek, and you can’t even trust regular rules of Greek grammar to figure out what he’s doing.

      • Avatar
        ValRusu  April 26, 2017

        Glad to join here. Dr. Ehrman, in The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, D. Campbell is showing after a very complex process that Rom 13 is actually not a paulin thought at all like Rom 1:18 to 4:1. What you are thinking about? Thanks

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 26, 2017

    I am glad that it turned out to be a good experience for you. I recently had an experience with several atheists which, to my surprise, made me realize that some atheists have the same narrow, closed mindedness and dogmatic certainty that I have spent decades trying to escape in Fundamentalists. I was rather stunned to learn this.

  7. Avatar
    godspell  March 26, 2017

    Price would have made a pretty good lawyer, though he’s not what you’d call a spellbinding orator. He keeps honing in on small niggling points and might-have-beens, trying as best as he can to distract people from the fact that his client is guilty–of being a really bad argument based on little more than wishful thinking.

    Bart, do you ever bring up Jungian Archetypes and the ‘monomyth’ in these discussions? We know that very similar stories have been told by widely separated people who had no contact with each other at all. The fact is, humans tend to shape and sort their real-life experiences into mythical templates (we do this today; we just mainly don’t know we’re doing it). That’s why you can find any number of stories around the world that resemble the gospel story in one way or another. Not because the authors of the gospels were copying off somebody else’s paper.

    So even if somebody could come up with a reasonable argument that a gospel story was influenced by some earlier religious myth, that wouldn’t prove there isn’t also a basis in real-life events.

    Price could never answer the question “Why would Jews preserve the story (which the non-Jewish Mark then reported more or less faithfully) that the divine Son of God, conceived without sin, needed to be baptized by John–who baptized for the forgiveness of sin?”

    Answer–he wouldn’t have needed or sought baptism–unless he never had any such idea of himself. He saw himself as a sinful mortal man, conceived in the usual way, who badly needed such forgiveness, and then had a private vision, in which he was called to start his own ministry. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God.” And the Prices over on the other side explain this away as well. The weird thing is, Price is really on the side of fundamentalist theists–he, like they, rejects the human Jesus. Same mentality, different ends.

    And the subsequent accounts of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew, Luke, and John all indicate a growing desire to either explain this event away, or ignore it. Which would not be necessary either, if Jesus was simply a myth borrowed from Zoroatrianism or some other pagan faith.

    Stylistic flourishes could, I suppose, have some from some other tradition. But not the underlying fact. Jesus went to John to be baptized because he wanted his sins to be forgiven. And there is nothing in the Zoroastrian story that resembles the gospel narrative in any but the most superficial symbolic way. And the same could be said for stories told all over the world, because when you get right down to it, we’re all telling the same stories. The differences in the stories come from the fact that we’ve had different experiences, different cultures. But down inside, we’re all the same flawed fallible frightened creatures, seeking transcendence over our tiny limited lives.

    Price is seeking it his own way, I suppose.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2017

      No, I”ve never applied a Jungian analysis to the early Christian traditions.

      • Avatar
        godspell  March 28, 2017

        Me neither. But you’d think someone would have. Maybe someone has. Jung’s ideas are taken more seriously in psychology than in some other areas of study, mainly because they can’t really be proven. But the fact is, we do see the same stories told in many cultures, and the similarities can’t all be based on cross-cultural pollination. Some of it seems to be innate to all humans. That’s why we can enjoy each other’s stories, and learn from them. We’re all looking for the same truths in fiction.

  8. Avatar
    davitako  March 26, 2017

    “For years I’ve been asked by people to debate a mythicist; I’ve always resisted, in part because I’ve thought that by doing so I would lend credibility to their view, which, in my judgment, is not credible”

    Bart, do you think Mythicist view is less credible than frankly (sometimes) insane views put forward by fundamentalists whom you’ve debated multiple times?

    There is a lot of junk in both what some mythicists say and what some believing Christians say about history of Christianity. This doesn’t mean though that all of it must be disregarded. There is a peer reviewed Mythicist literature: “On the Historicity of Jesus”. The the thesis of the book might be completely wrong, but it at least makes sense of the evidence and having watched (or read) every single debates between Carrier and many historians of Christianity, absolutely none of them won arguments with him. Even Mark Goodacre and Craig Evans couldn’t do that; especially Evans who performed terribly at the debate.

    Like I said here the moment I watched your debate with Price back then, you performed fantastically well and you won the debate on virtually every point that was brought up. But Bart, if Mythicism is not credible and it is so obviously wrong, why is it that even great scholars of Christianity can’t demonstrate its falsehood? It should be very easy.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2017

      I think they are somewhat less credible, yes, since fundamentalists usually disagree principally on the meanings of texts, rather than on fundamental historical questions such as whether there was a man Jesus.

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 28, 2017

      Carrier is himself a fundamentalist, far as I’m concerned. He decides what he wants to believe, then he ignores everything that undermines that belief. That isn’t good scholarship, and how has he ‘won’ his arguments? His argument is not with theism–nobody can ‘win’ the argument over whether or not there’s a God. The argument is whether or not Jesus existed, and the overwhelming consensus in Carrier’s field of study is that Jesus did exist. There’s still a lot of other questions to answer about him, but Carrier, having decided there was no Jesus, never addresses any of these. He’s just trying to destroy the very field of study he makes his living in. Crazy.

      Nobody has ‘proven’ climate change deniers are wrong. Nobody has ‘proven’ all life on earth is the result of evolution as described by Darwin. You can go to conservative websites and see people saying this or that denier of evolution or global warming totally confuted and defeated the mainstream scholars he debated with at this or that event. Because our understanding of reality is always imperfect, always changing, always subject to questions, you can always poke holes in somebody else’s argument. But ‘winning’ would be coming up with a better explanation, and Carrier can’t do that, and neither can Price.

      All they’re doing is distracting people from the more important job of better understanding our past. They don’t want an improved understanding. They just want to be seen by posterity as having picked the winning side. They want Jesus to not have existed. Problem. Jesus existed. So did Muhammad. So did Confucius. So did Buddha. So did Zoroaster. But they’re only trying to disprove Jesus. Who is probably better documented than most religious leaders in ancient history.

      Scholarship that only admits to one possible answer isn’t scholarship. Yes, people who study Jesus with the express intent of proving he’s God are missing the point, but many scholars who are personally religious don’t do that, they ask real questions, genuinely contribute to their fields, expand the boundaries of our knowledge. Carrier and Price have contributed absolutely nothing.

      • Avatar
        dragonfly  March 29, 2017

        Carrier is a mythicist apologist.

      • Avatar
        novotnycurse  May 5, 2017

        “His argument is not with theism–nobody can ‘win’ the argument over whether or not there’s a God.”

        Actually Carrier has developed interesting arguments against theism.
        One day, perhaps, he will write a major book on this subject.
        In the meantime, he offers an excellent online course , based partly on Malcom Murray’s book The Atheist’s Primer.

        “Jesus. Who is probably better documented than most religious leaders in ancient history.”

        That, unfortunately, is not the case.

        There is minimal evidence of Jesus outside the Gospels.

  9. Avatar
    screwtape  March 26, 2017

    I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Price’s books “The Reason Driven Life” and “Killing History” but after watching this debate I have to ask if you ever felt embarrassed for him? He’s a horrible debater.

  10. Avatar
    roycecil  March 26, 2017

    Thanks for posting Dr. Bart. At some stage in the debate you ask Dr. Price if he thought that Galatians was not written by Paul. Why particularly Galatians ? How do historians know that it is written by paul outside of the fact that it was claimed to be written by Apostle Paul ?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2017

      It was because of what he was saying about Galatians. The reasons for thinking the seven letters widely accepted as Pauline are Pauline are a bit complicated, but they have to do with the widespread unity of thought and expression and coherence with a plausible historical situation in the 50s CE

      • Avatar
        roycecil  April 2, 2017

        Is there a book that goes into details of this argument.?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2017

          I’m not sure where to send you. Maybe Calvin Roetzel, The Letters of Paul?

  11. Avatar
    Tony  March 26, 2017

    Thank you for returning to my favorite subject.

    There is no doubt that you came out the winner in last October’s debate. But, and this may sound like sour grapes, it had a lot to do with the performance of your opponent.

    I appreciate having had an opportunity to articulate some mythicist viewpoints on your blog over the last few months, and also to exchange opinions with you on some of its interpretations. I don’t for a moment expect to have changed your mind on historicity. However, it is important that, while coming to entirely different conclusions, we understand the basis for each others narratives.

    Of course, I believe you are mistaken. The answer you provided in yesterday’s Post on the physical interactions with the risen Jesus is a good example. You stated:

    “Moreover, they did claim that they knew he rose precisely because some of them saw him alive again afterward. No one can doubt that. It is the tradition found in Matthew, Mark, and John and it is the tradition given us by an actual eyewitness, Paul.”

    Where does Paul write that he, or anyone else, saw Jesus, “alive again afterward”? The only Jesus Christ that Paul knows is the one he’d seen in visions and somehow read about in scripture – as did everyone else who Paul writes about. Paul emphasizes that Jesus’ appearance was spiritual and not physical because: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God”.

    Enter the later Gospels whose writers decided to interpret Paul’s celestial resurrected Christ as being a man, who used to be dead and three days later was brought back to life. The writers made a point of proving Jesus was flesh and blood by making him eat fish. In other words, using Hollywood vernacular, the Gospel Jesus was a zombie.

    Paul, Cephas, James and the others would have been astounded to learn what had happened to their celestial Jesus a generation later.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2017

      1 Cor 15:8.

      • Avatar
        Tony  March 27, 2017

        1 Cor 15:8 does not say that Paul saw Jesus “alive”, “again”, nor “afterward”.

        Maybe I should debate you next.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 29, 2017

          Well, he explicitly says Jesus first died and “then” he appeared. So unless he appeared as a dead corpse, then I should think he means that he appeared alive, again, afterward.

          • Avatar
            Tony  March 29, 2017

            You are referencing other verses within 1 Cor 15.

            1 Cor 15 is a gold mine for the mythicist interpretation. It lays out the mythical beliefs Paul proclaimed clearly.

            Vs 3: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:…”

            Received from who? Christ himself! Paul uses the “received” phrase in reference to a Christ vision. Paul received instructions or information from Christ through visions from Christ. Remember, he received his Gospel from no man, but only from Christ himself. So, what follows is Christ talking…about Christ.

            Vs 3,4: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures….”

            Paul does not say where or when this Christ died, buried or raised. No mention of a Jesus of Nazareth, or an earlier earthly residency anywhere. Paul wrote about the event of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, only disclosed to him by a vision from the heavenly Christ.

            Next, Paul goes into the chronology of Christ visions translated as “appearances”. The visions where neither of a dead corps nor an alive person who was seen “again” or “afterward”. Christ is never referred to as a person who lived on earth. Christ was always in heaven with God. Paul’s myth had the heavenly Christ sacrificially killed by the “rulers of this age”; Satan and his demons in the firmament. The heavenly Christ was expected to come soon and clean house as in 1 Cor 15:20-28 and other places.

            That’s it in a nutshell. This myth is the basis of Christianity. The really interesting part is that someone took Paul’s myth and made it into a story about an actual person.

      • Avatar
        jimviv2@gmail.com  March 28, 2017

        Great simple answer –
        Evidence to the contrary (1 Cor 15:8)

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 28, 2017

      Paul said he met Jesus’ brother James, a man who has been independently attested as being Jesus’ brother by blood.

      He himself never claimed to have seen Jesus in the flesh, but he claimed Jesus had spoken to him, asked why he was persecuting Jesus’ followers–followers of what? A living man who had been crucified, something nobody ever even attempted to deny until the 18th century. Paul made it as clear as anyone possibly could that he knew Jesus had been a living breathing human being. What he thought Jesus was before and after his mortal life is another matter. But he’d be downright flabbergasted to know people like you are trying to twist his words to mean Jesus was just some kind of thought experiment he dreamed up. 🙂

      When are you going to let this go? How many years do you want to spend defending a silly pointless idea that most fundamentalist Christians never give a solitary waking thought?

      They don’t want to think of Jesus as a man either. You are on the same side as them.

      • Avatar
        Tony  March 29, 2017

        -James was no biological brother of Jesus. The followers of the Lord were deemed to be adopted by God and as such “brothers of the Lord”. Rom 8:14, 8:23 and 8:29.
        -You seem to quote Acts. Most modern scholars deem Acts to be non-historical. Paul himself never claims Jesus to be an historical person.
        -2 Peter 1:16 states that there were some who claimed Jesus to be a myth. Apparently they got this from Paul’s letters… A lot sooner then the 18th century.
        -Where does Paul make it clear that Jesus was a living breathing human?
        -Yes, Paul would be downright flabbergasted to know people had twisted his words into an historical Jesus of Nazareth.
        -I’ll never let go because the evidence is so obvious. I will agree that it is mostly pointless because the silly idea of an historical Jesus is firmly entrenched and the basis of the largest world religion.

        • Avatar
          jimviv2@gmail.com  March 30, 2017

          “James was no biological brother of Jesus” sounds very dogmatic, almost close-minded.
          Galatians 1:18-19 sounds very clear where Paul says he met with Cephas (Peter) and no other apostle except James, the brother of the Lord. Paul didn’t say he met with brothers Peter and James, but distinguished James as the brother of jesus.
          Of course “brother” has a double meaning, depending on context, literally or figuratively, today and 2000 years ago.
          I appreciate your thoughts, but even the myth of Santa Claus has a historical kernel.

          • Avatar
            Tony  March 31, 2017

            Yes, I do sound dogmatic, but no more than those who’ll claim that Jesus – absolutely – had a brother.

            Paul’s religion included a promise that all of his followers, upon the imminent arrival of Jesus and their resurrection, would be adopted as sons of God. God already had a son (Jesus), so that Paul and his church followers would become “brothers of the Lord”. Rom 8:14, 8:23 and 8:29. If this sounds weird and different – you’re right! Christians have no idea how weird and different Paul’s mythical beliefs really were.

            James, described as a church pillar, but apparently not an apostle, is mentioned four times in Paul’s letters. But, only in Gal 1:19 is he a “brother of the Lord”. in Gal 2:9, 2:12 and 1 Cor 15:7 he is just James. That is strange, because being the biological brother of Jesus would obviously have carried high status and a be a worthy designation. In 1 Cor 9:5 Paul identifies some rank and file members as “brothers of the Lord” to differentiate them from apostles, just like he does in Gal 1:19.

            Believers/proponents of an historical Jesus need the Jesus’ “brother” argument. In their view it is their major trump card against Mythicism. Take that trump card away and their historical Jesus house of cards argument pretty well crumbles.

            I did not know Santa Claus has an historical kernel.

          • Avatar
            dragonfly  April 3, 2017

            Actually it’s the mythicists that need the brother argument. If Paul meant it somehow figuratively, that doesn’t affect the historical argument. If he meant biological brother, the entire mythicist argument can be buried right there (or in the firmament if that’s more convenient).

  12. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 27, 2017

    Drat! I watched some of this yesterday, “paused” it, and hoped I could pick it up at the point I’d reached when I had time to watch more. No such luck. And I couldn’t possibly put up with Dr. Price’s…explanation of his views?…a second time. I hadn’t realized mythicism was so boring!

  13. Avatar
    living42day  March 27, 2017

    Bart, thank you for sharing this. As always, the bottom line involves the 3 “p’s”–possibility, plausibility, and probability. Price loves to imagine various possibilities; at times, he can make a plausible case for reading the evidence in a way different from mainstream scholars. Unfortunately, he cannot make a compelling case that mythicism is probable.

    While most fair-minded individuals would have to admit that your case for the historicity of Jesus is far more compelling than Price’s (or anyone else’) case for mythicism, it still seems to me that most historicists (including you) still have a strong tendency to blur the distinction between what is plausible and what is probable.

    An example, in your case, would be your change of mind about the burial of Jesus, something Price mentioned during the debate. In your book J:APNM, you write, “[I]t seems improbable that Jesus’ corpse was simply left hanging on the cross” (225). In HJBG, you concede that “what normally happened to a criminal’s body is that it was left to decompose and serve as food for scavenging animals” (157). You also state, “My view now is that we do not know, and cannot know, what actually happened to Jesus’ body” (157).

    You are correct, of course, to say, “We do not know, and cannot know.” Nonetheless, it seems fair to say, based on the ancient sources you reference, that it’s not only plausible that Jesus’ body was left on the cross but also that it’s probable that’s what happened. Thus, what’s improbable is that Jesus’ body was buried in the way that the gospels suggest.

    So, here’s my question, why in your 1999 book did you say that “it seems improbable that Jesus’ corpse was simply left hanging on the cross” when (as you acknowledge in your 2014 book) you hadn’t done “any real research on the matter” (157)? Did you assume Crossan (whose view you reference in both books) hadn’t done his homework?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2017

      At the time it seemed improbable. Later, after doing the research, I realized it really was improbable.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  March 29, 2017

        I think that in your reply, you’re getting parts of sentences mixed up. I’m sure you don’t mean to say you’ve realized it really was improbable that Jesus’s body “was simply left hanging on the cross”!

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 28, 2017

      Given how unusual Jesus’ life had been, it’s possible what happened to his body after his crucifixion was also unconventional (though not supernatural), and that this helped create the legends that came to surround his passing.

      It’s not likely, and I tend to think Crossan was right. But we can’t be sure, and we shouldn’t pretend to be sure. Unexpected things do happen in real life. You can, if you want, imagine a scenario in which Jesus was given some kind of decent burial. Maybe Pilate actually did have a guilty conscience after speaking to Jesus, and sending a man he knew to be harmless to the cross. Maybe some new follower of Jesus offered a tomb, and maybe a lot of other things. It’s not likely, but my take on the gospel stories is that most of them are embellishments of what really happened, not outright fabrications. But some unquestionably are fabrications. And we can’t know.

      Crossan and others expanded the list of options for what we have to think about in this area. But there’s an awful lot we don’t know about how the Roman system operated. The total collapse of a civilization makes it hard to know, in subsequent ages, how that civilization conducted itself. Not always in a very civilized fashion, that we can say for sure. But judge not lest ye be judged.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  April 2, 2017

        Pilate never showed a shred of conscience for anything else he did, so why should he do so in this case?

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    Stephen  March 27, 2017

    Very enjoyable. Much more collegial than the knife fight some people would have apparently preferred. You’ll never convert the diehards but I thought you made the case for historicity succintly and well. I especially appreciated your responses to the questions about Bayes theorem and the historicity of Paul.

    One question though – the name of Margaret Barker came up several times. I am not familiar with her work but looking on Amazon her writings seems to concern Second Temple Judaism and builds on Alan Segal’s “Two Powers” idea. In general what do you think of her work?


    • Bart
      Bart  March 29, 2017

      I’ve just read one book of hers (The great angel book), and don’t remember it well enough offhand to give a sustained critique.

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    Colin P  March 27, 2017

    Thanks for sharing this debate Bart. Don”t suppose there is any chance of your debating Earl Doherty next is there? I would love that.

    By the way, are you aware of a book being published shortly by Robert Knapp on the origins of Christianity? The book is called the “Dawn of Christianity”. Looks like it will cover some of the same ground as your new book. Do you know the author? Any concerns that his book is coming out just before yours?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 29, 2017

      No, I”ve never been asked to debate him. And I’m kind-a thinking that I’ve already debated one mythicist, and probably that’s enough. And no, don’t know the book yet! I don’t think I know him. He appears to be an ultra-conservative evangelical, so somehow I don’t think our books will be competing on the same market.

      • Avatar
        dragonfly  March 30, 2017

        Should an astronomer spend their time studying and collecting data on stars, planets and comets, or debating people who think the moon is made of cheese?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 30, 2017

          Ha! Good point!

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            Nendsal  May 13, 2017

            Doesn’t it depend on how many people believe the idea? If thousands of people are saying they believe such and getting others to believe as they do then its an obligation to refute by those with the knowledge and ability. Saying historians shouldn’t debate holocaust deniers just lets the belief grow when they get someone gifted in rhetoric to espouse such beliefs.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 14, 2017

            Yes, it’s a balancing act.

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    sksinks  March 27, 2017

    couldnt half understand what Price was saying, sound poor and he mumbled a lot. Got bored with it because i could not get all of what he was saying. might have been interesting, but I still believe in the existence of Christ.

    • antoinelamond
      antoinelamond  July 6, 2017

      No he doesn’t mumble he just (as Dr. Ehrman said) never repeats himself. If you have listened to a podcast by him, or seen another debate, or read one of his book you would see this. My favorite book by him was The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. He actually made a good argument for that position, but I still disagree with it.

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  July 10, 2017

        Yeah, Price speaks more slowly in a rather monotone voice, so it’s more about listening carefully to his point.

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    dragonfly  March 29, 2017

    Well I watched this in the hope of hearing some evidence for the mythicist view. I guess I must have missed it.

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    Pattycake1974  April 3, 2017

    I find the mythicist argument to be irritating and annoying, like a fly that won’t go away. What really bothers me are those who know Jesus was a real person but promote the mythicist view anyway. They choose very clever counterpoints that superficially appear *correct* and do so under the guise of scholarship. Someone who practices the art of deception makes it difficult for the average person to distinguish between the truth and a lie.

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  April 4, 2017

      What makes you think some of them don’t believe what they’re saying?

    • antoinelamond
      antoinelamond  July 6, 2017

      From my understanding Dr. Price suggests that if Jesus was a real person who he was is so wrapped up in the myth and the legend surrounding him that who he was has been lost. While I disagree with that position it does seem like it could possibly make sense in some way if you follow that logic.

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  July 10, 2017

        I’m just now seeing the reply to my comment. I think my assessment of Price was too harsh before; although, I believe he was a bit pouty. He didn’t seem to understand Bart’s position when making the Clark Kent analogy.

        One of the sticking points for the case of histrocity vs. mythicism is the resurrection. Were the visions a result of someone physically dying or because of a revelation? If one takes the mythicist viewpoint, then where did those Aramaic sayings come from? Still, some
        of them are problematic. For example, Mark 5:41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). I really don’t think he said that. As for the other side of the argument, Apostle Paul is a conundrum.

        I read one of Price’s books who seems to think there was a political conspiracy involved with Paul’s writings. I thought that was over the top until I read about an even bigger conspiracy theorist than him–Robert Eisenman. He seems like a nice person but whoa! I can’t even begin to explain his reasoning. It made me think that Price may have got some of his ideas from him.

        Anyway, I’ve been wondering if some of the sayings of Jesus were misattributed to him. How do we know it wasn’t John the Baptist who said all those things?

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    john76  May 2, 2017

    The relationship Paul identifies in Galatians 3:13 between Christ’s crucifixion and Deuteronomy 21:22-23 is interesting because it is the one place in the typology argument where a mythicist might argue the New Testament crucifixion act itself is typology. That doesn’t help answering whether Paul started with memory of the historical Jesus being crucified and then shaped it according to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 in Galatians 3:13, or if Paul is indicating in Galatians 3:13 that he discovered that the celestial Jesus was crucified by an allegorical reading of Deuteronomy 21:22-23?

    Strauss said: “when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently sketched after the pattern of these prophecies and prototypes, we cannot but suspect that they are rather mythical than historical. (Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, p. 89)”

    I’m not a mythicist, but I think there are more and less intelligent ways to argue mythicism. Some issues are central, while others are barely peripheral.

  20. Avatar
    SHameed01  September 24, 2018

    Hello Professor,

    I recently finished watching this couple of years old debate between you and Dr. Price. However I do have one question, Dr. Price stated that Galatians 1:18-19 was never quoted by the church fathers therefore this was a later addition. Is there any weight to his argument, if not why not?

    Shaikh Hameed

    • Bart
      Bart  September 25, 2018

      I doubt if that’s true, actually. But even if it were, you don’t establish whether a text is original based on quotations of church fathers; they simply quoted whatever was relevant to what they were talking about. It has no bearing on whether verses were in their manuscripts.

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