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Did Jesus Exist? Interview by Guy Raz

On April 1, 2012, I had an interview with Guy Raz, previous weekend host of NPR News’ signature afternoon news magazine “All Things Considered” and now host of TED Radio Hour. The topic was my book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.

As readers of this blog probably know, there is a large contingent of people claiming that Jesus never did exist. These people are also known as mythicists.  As I say int he interview, “It was a surprise to me to see how influential these mythicists are.  Historically, they’ve been significant and in the Soviet Union, in fact, the mythicist view was the dominant view, and even today, in some parts of the West – in parts of Scandinavia — it is a dominant view that Jesus never existed.  In my book, I marshal all of the evidence showing that contrary to this mythicist view, Jesus certainly did exist.

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Did Nazareth Exist?
The Virgin Birth and Jesus’ Brothers

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    countybaseball  January 5, 2015

    Good short interview.

  2. Goat
    Goat  January 5, 2015

    In your interview you state that Paul’s conversion took place within a year or two after Jesus’ death. How strong is the evidence for the timing of Paul’s conversion? Would this topic lend itself to a short explanation?
    Thanks,

    • Bart
      Bart  January 5, 2015

      I tend to date it to two or three years after now, instead of one or two. I think it’s pretty well conceded that it must have been something like that, based on the chronological comments Paul makes in a few places (three years later I did this…then after seventeen years… etc.)

  3. Avatar
    toejam  January 5, 2015

    More off-topic questions:

    I’m aware you see Luke 1-2 as a later addition to the gospel. I’ve also just been reminded that Irenaeus said something similar about the Ebionite version of the Gospel of Matthew – that it also didn’t have a nativity scene (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebionites#Jesus).

    I think the nativity narratives are probably the last pieces to be put into place and that proto-Marcionites and Ebionites had split from the proto-orthodox prior to their inclusion. My question is what is the earliest and latest these nativity narratives could have been added? I know you normally date Matthew and Luke to c.80-85CE. Would you say this includes the nativity narratives? I am starting to think the nativity narratives may have been added even later, perhaps early 2nd century. If there any reason this couldn’t be so?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 5, 2015

      My sense is that Matthew had its first two chapters, but that Luke did not. When I date Luke to 80-85, I mean the first edition, without these chapters. If the chapters were added, it could have been any time after that, but probably not *too* many decades afterwards, since then it would be hard to explain why all the surviving manuscripts have these chapters (starting with the fourth century — but still….)

  4. Avatar
    moose  January 5, 2015

    Why is this ‘brother of the Lord’ statement from Paul so significant?

    Do you realize that Jesus was not only the son of Joseph, but also the son of God?

    Could it be that God had more sons?
    Matthew: “From Egypt I called my son.” Well, the son of God in this prophecy referred originally to Israel / Jacob, and not to Jesus.

    Exodus 4:22: Then say two Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son’

    James, the Lord’s brother, is Israel. Peter is none other than Moses.

    Who then is Paul? Well, then I will have to write much more extensive. I have no time for that now.

  5. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 5, 2015

    Very enjoyable!

    I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, because I wonder whether there may be *many* people like my somewhat younger self.

    I was an agnostic. And in a casual way, I speculated that the “Jesus” so many people worshipped might be based on an amalgam of events in the lives of a number of different men. Because the name Yeshua was common in itself, and because it might have been used as a spiritual name or nom de guerre (honoring the earlier “Joshua”). I never shared those ideas with anyone…but I did hold them.

    After I viewed some of your Great Courses lectures, I realized you and scholars like you had done an enormous amount of research in the field, and “Jesus” definitely isn’t a composite.

    • Avatar
      Matilda  January 6, 2015

      Wilusa
      I’m just the opposite. I used to be Catholic. The more I read the more I am drifting away from the existence of Jesus. I love Bart’s work but my faith has been eroded ( not that it was ever really that strong). At this point in time, I’m so disillusioned that I just don’t give a hoot. Whether Jesus is/was a myth or actual historical person doesn’t change the fact that the story around him is a giant myth. Honestly, I wish Jesus would just go away along with Mohammad and the rest of the crazy bunch. That’s the mood I’m in about religion.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  January 6, 2015

        Matilda,

        I can understand and empathize with where you’re coming from! I think theistic religions will die out within a few hundred more years…and the world will be much better without them.

        But I know that while it’s hard for me to understand, Catholicism really does enrich many people’s lives. And most of those people aren’t causing harm to anyone.

        Unfortunately, Catholicism also blights many people’s lives. It did mine, when I was young. I was miserable. And in my twenties, the only things I wanted to do that were contrary to Catholic teachings were to stop going to church, stop receiving sacraments, and stop pretending to believe things I didn’t believe. I didn’t make the break for years, because I didn’t want to hurt my mother. But in the end, she understood perfectly, and our relationship didn’t suffer at all.

        I don’t know what the percentages are: how many lives are enriched by Catholicism, how many blighted. But because it’s really good for some people, I consider myself non-Catholic rather than anti-Catholic. (Also, agnostic and non-theist, rather than “atheist.”)

        I must admit a priest unintentionally helped me. In my senior year in a Catholic high school, he taught the class how (as he intended) to come to a belief in Catholicism by offering “proofs” of first, the existence of God; then, Christianity’s being the true form of theism; and finally, Catholicism’s being the true form of Christianity. At age 16, I accepted it all, despite not liking the result. But a few years later, I no longer accepted it. So I thought it through for myself…using that same start-from-the-beginning approach. And I concluded that the existence of a “Creator” was not the only, or even the most likely, explanation for the existence of the Cosmos.

        • Avatar
          Matilda  January 8, 2015

          It’s so nice to talk with you Wilusa. I hope Bart doesn’t mind. I’ll make it short just incase. I think all Catholics, especially ones raised in the 1950s, have many stories to tell which shaped their “recovery” as adults. We should all collaborate on a book! Metaphorically there are many things I like about Catholicism but the negatives just outweigh the positives- and no I wasn’t molested as a child as people always think when one is no longer Catholic.
          I’ve reached the point where science has replaced religion. Who needs myth and fiction when you have the Hubble and Kepler telescopes and that wonderful little Mars rover to marvel over?!!! So much to tell, but for now I’ll stop. See you on the next post.

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  January 10, 2015

            Hi again Matilda!

            Oh yes, I agree with you. I was never molested either, but both I and my parents before me had other kinds of bad experiences with priests and nuns.

            I remember your saying you were disillusioned at some point – I never was. I found everything about Catholicism unpleasant from the start. So for me, it was all about whether the doctrines were true. At first, I assumed they were; then I began questioning, and when I was still very young, that priest’s arguments convinced me. I forget the specifics, but he was probably begging the question, treating claims made in the Bible as undisputed fact. I didn’t stay convinced for long. But I’m thankful that he led me to a methodology that “works for me”: start by assuming nothing (rather than assuming God’s existence and asking whether there are reasons to doubt it).

            I have a very short essay posted online, spelling out my current hypotheses. I wonder if it will be okay to post a link to it? I’m not trying to influence anyone – I just think you, Matilda, will get a kick out of it! Though I certainly don’t object to anyone else’s reading it…

            https://www.fictionpress.com/s/3191602/1/Where-I-Stand

  6. Avatar
    tripp  January 5, 2015

    I’m just about finished reading this book. Got it for Xmas and I’ve really enjoyed it. Looking forward to the last chapter today. The interview is a very nice synopsis, but there’s loads of good stuff in the book so I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the subject.

  7. Avatar
    Esko  January 5, 2015

    Hi Bart,
    This time you are sounding like a redneck American (hope it has the same meaning there as it has here).
    Anyhow, in Scandinavia, evangelical-Lutheran churches used to be the state churches and still are in most of the Scandinavian countries. Before the freedom of religion was granted some 100 years ago, practically every citizen belonged to this Christian denomination. The number of adherents has been falling ever since the freedom of religion was granted. However, evangelical-Lutheran is still the dominant fate here in Scandinavia.
    The percentage of citizens belonging to the “state” churches is currently roughly the following in Scandinavia countries:
    Sweden 65%
    Denmark 80%
    Norway 75%
    Finland 75%
    Plus there are all the other Christian denominations on top of these figures.
    Hence, I would claim that it is nonsense that “in parts of Scandinavia — it is a dominant view that Jesus never existed”.
    I would rather say that it is things like Zeitgeist: The Movie etc. (that are actually quite entertaining) that promotes such a worldviews. These ideas are distributed through US companies like Netflix. Do not get me wrong as I have nothing against them doing so but a few buys such ideas here in Scandinavia.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 5, 2015

      Interesting. Of course, belonging to a church and having certain beliefs is not the same thing. (Think of all those Brits who identify as Anglican!) I got the informatoin from a poll that had been done, but I’m not sure I saved the specifics. And of course the poll could have been completely wrong!

  8. Avatar
    Steefen  January 6, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman (at about 4 minutes): “If you’re going to make up a messiah, you’d make up a super hero. You wouldn’t make up someone who was humiliated, tortured, and killed by the enemy.”

    Steefen: If you’re going to make up a messiah during the Flavian Empire (Emperor Vespasian, former general in the First Jewish-Roman War; Emperor Titus, former general in the First Jewish-Roman War), the Jewish Messiah must lose, historically reflecting the outcome of the First Jewish-Roman War.

    Point of fact: Vespasian did kill a Jesus of Galilee. Did Jesus really miss the elephant in the room, Rome, and not call it evil; or, again, we have gospels written during the reign of those who defeated the Jewish Revolt who would not consider their rule of Israel evil?

    Second, with Paul running expressing his desire to be tried by Nero rather than Jews, one would suspect his “Jesus crucified” would keep him out of trouble in Rome. Just as Pilate could care less if Jesus’ kingdom was in Heaven, Nero could care less if Jesus was coming again, lifting live and dead people into mid air.

    At about 5 minutes, you say Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. I do not think you give Jesus credit for foretelling the destruction of the Temple (gospels are dated after the destruction of the Temple because scholars do not acknowledge Jesus foresaw the armies in Jerusalem and foresaw the Temple’s destruction). Take away the Tribulation the biblical Jesus foresaw (people frightened by the armies surrounding cities, the destruction of the Temple and the city), where is the apocalypse in the apocalyptic prophet?

  9. Avatar
    curious  January 6, 2015

    Dear Bart,

    I agree completely with your attachment to the ethical teachings of Jesus. I have always been moved by the Sermon on the Mount and the other Jesus sayings in Matthew and Luke regarding human compassion and justice. I also agree that speaker of those sayings, whom I take to be the historical Jesus, would not recognize himself in the religion of Christianity that resulted from his life and death. The way I understand Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew is of a person passionately concerned not only with promoting social justice and egalitarian values, but with challenging individuals to love and respect one another even when those values are unreciprocated. It is a sad irony to me that the religion that sprang from his name is so preoccupied with what people believe rather than what they do. I am not a Christian but I do try to be a follower of Jesus’ teachings to the best of my ability. I would like you to know that I admire and appreciate your work.

  10. Avatar
    curious  January 7, 2015

    Dear Bart

    I think, as I believe you and other historians have pointed out, that the apologetic gospel accounts of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist– that seem to suggest that he was one of John’s disciples at one point– and Matthew and Luke’s awkward and discrepant explanations of how Jesus lived and taught in Galilee but was born in Bethlehem, in order to meet the traditional requirement that the Messiah be born in that place, also speaks to historicity of Jesus. At any rate some historical personage is responsible for the ethical teachings so eloquently expressed in Matthew and Luke, so it might as well have been Jesus of Nazareth.

  11. Avatar
    jrhislb  January 8, 2015

    As a bona fide Scandinavian I would say that most people do not spend a lot of time thinking about Jesus and probably have no settled view on his existence or non-existence.

  12. Avatar
    Jana  January 12, 2015

    Fascinating Dr. Erhman … so personally you separate out the ethical teachings of Jesus from the often (can I use this word?) fraudulent historical setting? Am I right in interpreting then that in your eyes Jesus was a wise man but not necessarily acting on behalf of a (non existing) Deity or was in fact was that Deity?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2015

      I see Jesus as a wise, apocalyptic prophet predicting the end of the age and the need to repent in preparation for it. As an agnostic I don’t believe in God, or obviously that Jesus was the son of God.

      • Avatar
        Jana  January 21, 2015

        Thank you. I need to reread your book Jesus: The Apocalyptic Prophet, in light of what I’ve gleaned from your blogs. It remains a steep learning curve.

  13. Avatar
    gavm  March 12, 2015

    You know I don’t think NT scholars do enough to promote the idea that Jesus existed. Your the only one prof. I know you guys think it’s just so obvious he did but that’s easy for people with PhDs and yrs of mastering the study of history. Look at it from the eyes of average joe. Your whole life yr told jesus was magical and did these amazing things and the bible is 100% accurate. Then you get older and find out the nt was written so much latter, by biased non witnesses, in a diff Lang, after yrs of Chinese whispers. And we don’t even have the org manuscritps! When people find out so much of it is BS it’s only logical to go one step further and think the guys is prob yet another fictional character like Adam and eve. Nt scholars need to understand this and make an effort to say “yes much of the nt isn’t reliable but Jesus did exist”.
    Your doing yr part but your friends arnt

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2015

      It’s because it’s not a big issue among NT scholars. It’s not even a little issue!

      • Avatar
        gavm  March 14, 2015

        Prof I understand this, but it’s not the point. It is a big issue to a lot of the skeptical public so it does matter. I work in medical imaging. A lot of people are very scared of radiation, even though the doses we use can’t uss hurt anyone. We make a big effort to educate people about radiation and why it’s safe. All the experts know there is no need to be scared of a simple X-ray or ct but we can’t expect the general public to know that. The same goes for Jesus and nt scholars. As I said your doing yr part but your friends arnt.

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