Robert M. Price posted on his FB wall a few weeks ago that he was considering starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to debate Ehrman. Looks like things might be going ahead? Ehrman said on ‘The Skeptic Fence’ podcast a few months back that he’d be OK with debating Price. Reading between the lines, it looks like that they may made some sort of verbal agreement? Dr. Ehrman, are you aware of this challenge??
Ha! No, I’m afraid we haven’t made any kind of arrangement – Bob hasn’t said anything to me about this. But before pursuing the matter, I should probably provide a little bit of background and context.
For those of you who don’t know, Robert Price is a mythicist, one of those small minority of human beings who does not think Jesus actually existed. In their opinion it is not simply that there are lots of myths and legends told about Jesus that are not historical; it is instead that the man himself never lived. This is a tiny but remarkably vocal group of people, and the vast majority of them are not scholars. Bob is an exception. He is the only full-bore mythicist that I’m aware of who actually has a PhD in the relevant field, New Testament studies.
Like me, Bob started out in evangelical Christian circles. He did two PhDs at Drew university, one in Systematic Theology, and then a second in New Testament. But he became disenchanted with the Christian faith and then left it altogether.
Bob is intelligent and is massively published in a range of fields. Probably his best known work in terms of NT scholarship is called The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.
Anyway, Bob is a good guy, and although we’ve never had a serious face-to-face (I’m not sure we’ve actually ever met personally) we have talked and communicated. And even though we heartily disagree on the matter of whether Jesus existed (with 99.9% of the human race, I think he did…), we respect each other’s work and, well, demeanor.
As some of you know, I do not respect the demeanor of other mythicists (some of whom are atheist fundamentalists, as unpleasant as many Christian or Jewish or Muslim fundamentalists – or worst than most in their self-righteous vitriol). I simply will not share a stage with some of them. But I wouldn’t mind sharing a stage with Bob.
Now, you may be wondering why he has to raise money in order to have a debate with me. There’s a very simply reason. I charge a lot for this kind of thing.
Before skipping the rest of this post in disgust, let me explain why. In fact, I’ll even give the details, in all their gory reality. I typically charge $5000 or $6000 (or more – depending on the situation) for a speaking engagement, whether that is a lecture or a debate or whatever (more than one lecture costs a bit more: $1000 more per lecture, plus all of my expenses of course). I do this for two reasons, the first of which some people do not find satisfying, the second of which, hopefully, everyone will. So keep reading.
The first is rather pragmatic: I can get this much. I’ve had agents tell me that I can actually get a lot more, but this is pretty much what my going rate is. People who get a bit miffed at me charging this much really seem not to think about it much. I’ve never met anyone yet who tells their employer to pay them only 10% of what they are worth, or what the job is worth, or what the market demands. For some reason people think it should be different for a scholar of early Christianity, that I should simply do so for less because, well, because I *should*…..
From my point of view, though, I don’t do it for less because if I did so, I would be on the road every week giving talks everywhere, and would never be home. In fact, I limit myself to five speaking gigs a semester, and accept only the ones that can pay my fee.
But here’s the second reason I charge this much. I give every dime of my speaking fees to charity. To charge less would be to raise less money for charity. That can’t be good. So as a rule I don’t do it.
In case you’re wondering, here’s the deal. I’ll basically accept most (not all) invitations for that fee. Most of the time that involves giving a lecture for a university, or a church, or some other organization, or doing a debate sponsored by one organization or another. But sometimes it is something altogether different. Sometimes I simply get invited by someone who wants to spend an evening with me, or who wants me to talk to a group of their friends and / or neighbors, and are willing to pay $5000 to make it happen. So long as they pay my speaking fee, I do it (if my schedule allows).
So, well, if you want me to spend an evening with you or you and your friends, you should feel free to ask! I’ll even do the dishes. The money all goes to the same charities that I support on the blog, dealing with issues related to hunger and homelessness.
In answer, then, to the question: if Bob wants to raise funds to get me to debate him, I’m happy to do that, just as I’m happy to give a lecture in a church, or to hang out with a bunch of people in someone’s living room. I actually would not *enjoy* having a debate on whether Jesus existed – there are lots of other things that I’m personally far more interested in. But if this is simply a (VERY) occasional thing, that would be fine. As would most things at this price.