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Did Jesus Exist? My Debate with Robert Price

Right now, as we speak, I am en route to Milwaukee for my debate with Robert Price, one of the best known Mythicists on the planet (for those of you who don’t know, a Mythicist claims that Jesus was a myth made up by early Christians; there never was a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth).   Of the many thousands of scholars in the world that have a PhD in New Testament or Early Christian studies he is the one, so far as I know, who takes this position.

The fact that almost everyone thinks he is wrong does mean that he *is* wrong of course.  For a long time the vast majority of the world’s population thought that the earth was the center of the universe and that sun and stars revolved around it.  The fact they thought so had no bearing on whether it was true or not.

For that reason, Mythicists have often gotten upset with me for pointing out that almost no one with any qualifications in the requisite fields of scholarship agrees with them.  I can see why that would be upsetting.  My sense is that some of them think that I’ve been rubbing their noses in it.  But that isn’t really my intent.  My intent is to point out to anyone who is interested – for example, someone who just doesn’t know what to think – that those who are qualified to speak knowledgeably on such subjects are virtually unified on one view (there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth) and opposed to the other (he is a complete myth).

That isn’t quite the same as …

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Mythicists: Did Nazareth Exist?
Marcion as Alive and Well Among Us

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Comments

  1. Matt2h  October 20, 2016

    LOL. Bart is the best.

  2. jhague  October 20, 2016

    I think Robert Price wrote that there may have been a man named Jesus from Nazareth, but that the writings that we have available to us are so far removed from the time Jesus was on the earth and the writings have been altered over time so much, that we can never know anything real about Jesus. Am I remembering correctly?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2016

      He *leans* toward the view that the historical Jesus was invented.

    • VincitOmniaVeritas  October 23, 2016

      The problem with the view by Price is that two of the main pieces of historical information on the historical Jesus, Paul and his Epistles, and Josephus and his three major works, were not “distant” from Jesus’ time at all and extremely close to both the place and the time period of the historical Jesus when he was living in Judaea (Galilea and Peraea) .

      Paul’s earliest epistles have been dated anywhere between 46 and 56 AD, including those with specific descriptions of Jesus and some of his words, like 1 Corinthians, Galatians and Philippians. Thus, Paul, while not knowing Jesus, knew and had met some of those who followed him, like Simon Peter, John and James.

      As per “The Jewish War”, “Antiquities of the Jews” and “The Life of Flavius Josephus”, Josephus was born and lived in Judaea between 37 and 70 AD. He specifically lived in Jerusalem, while also spending years in Peraea, including in the desert with a a religious figure named Banus around 52 AD, and in Galilea roughly between 62 – 68 AD. Those regions are specifically where Jesus lived and taught (roughly 33- 37 AD), according to the Gospels, and where both Christians and non-Christians who had witnessed Jesus would have also dwelt. The religious circles in those areas are also the specific ones who would know of apocalyptic/radical prophets, sages, zealots, preachers, etc., which is why Josephus had so much information on several of them, including Jesus and his apostles.

      • novotnycurse  October 24, 2016

        There are no authentic references to Jesus of Nazareth in Josephus.
        The key passage is clearly an interpolation and is out of context to Josephus’ main narrative.

        It may well be based on marginalia that become embedded in the script.
        That’s a polite way of explaining how forged sections develop.

  3. jc.johanning  October 20, 2016

    Excellent! Looking forward for the debate! Both of you are my favorite NT scholars (along with Dale Martin). Good luck Dr. Ehrman! Greetings from Costa Rica.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  October 20, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, I’ve expressed my opinion about Mythicism and Mythicists on many occasions here and via other means. And I wouldn’t be so abrasive in my criticism of them if it weren’t for the fact that they have essentially taken over the secular movement and turned Mythicism into a litmus test for “true” atheists. As a secular humanist myself I feel like how I imagine George Will must be feeling about the Trump wingnuts taking over the Republican party right now. My “tribe” has been taken over by a bunch of crazy people. If you, Dr. Ehrman, can at least manage to talk some sense into a few of them, then believe me when I say you’ll be doing a great service.

    By the way, I know that Matt Dillahunty will be moderating the debate. Matt is one of the most reasonable people you’ll ever meet, and he’s still on the fence about this issue. He’s the kind of person who you should be hoping to persuade. The crazy conspiracy theorists, however, may be beyond hope.

    Good luck! And, remember, stay focused. Don’t let Dr. Price define who the historical Jesus was! You must define who you think the “historical Jesus” was, and only agrue for that Jesus. If you do that, you’ll win hands down. But if you let Dr. Price define who the historical Jesus was, and you argue against the Jesus of the Mythicists, you’ll lose the debate.

  5. ronaldus67
    ronaldus67  October 20, 2016

    Good luck!

  6. JeremeK  October 20, 2016

    Good luck! Many have looked forward for this! It’s going to be great. Can’t wait to watch it.

  7. KathleenM  October 20, 2016

    This should be fun for you! The key to being an “expert” on anything is to still just have fun with it, even more than most folks. I’m no expert, but we used to say that if there is some pretty good “evidence” from 4 or more sources that something or someone existed historically, or even mythically maybe, it’s likely to have a “real” source – such as the life of a real man/Man. Personally I think there was a real Adam and Eve – altho over the generations the stories have changed and taken on new and also potent meanings. A new generation every 30 years means religious stories have been changed over time — at least up until 650 BC with the common alphabets and writing on parchments, etc. Maybe the names were changed or created to protect the innocent, as we do today, using initials, etc. in case histories. I think there was a real Noah, a real Jesus (Yeshua) and certainly St. Peter and St. Paul. I doubt the apostles “lied” and “made up” a Yeshua, or the other early writers — I think the early Chirstians might have been few, but they met in Jerusalem in 50 AD or so, talked, agreed on their policies and procedures just like we do today, kept some ideas sacred from Hebrew tradition went out and spread their good news. But it seems to have started from the life of a man/Man, some details still disputed, etc. , today….hence your meeting…who would have made up He/Yeshua went over to Alexandria from Judea or Galilee, then returned back to the Holy Land? Too many odd details to be “just a myth.”

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  October 21, 2016

      You “doubt the apostles ‘lied’ and ‘made up’ a Yeshua” but, according to Bart and many other NT scholars, the Apostles didn’t write the Gospels. The earliest manuscripts of the Gospels were anonymous. And Paul never knew the man.

  8. godspell  October 20, 2016

    Good luck, Bart. Not that you are dependent on luck here.

    It’s been some time since “Did Jesus Exist?” came out. Do you perceive any strengthening or corresponding weakening of the mythicist position out there? I’ve been seeing less of it, generally speaking, and of course in the general population, Jesus’ existence continues to be taken as a given (and television is showing more and more documentaries about the historical Jesus–they may not necessarily be first-rate scholarship, but they do illustrate, I think, a growing interest in Jesus the Man.)

    There are no really prominent active defenders for Jesus as Myth anymore (not that Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc, were ever committed to the position–they more or less flirted with it, partly because it was so popular among a subset of atheists they were trying to appeal to). So my perception is that while he’s clearly going to the grave insisting there was no Jesus, Price and his cohorts are increasingly isolated, while conceding absolutely nothing. What do you think?

    I think a debate on the existence of a historical Cthulhu would be more appropriate for the season, but what do I know? 😉

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2016

      My sense is that it’s still a very lively presence and is growing — but I may be wrong.

      • godspell  October 21, 2016

        It’s not really something that pollsters look into very often, if at all.

        I wonder sometimes if even the people saying Jesus wasn’t real actually believe it. I think it’s more of an article of faith than an opinion of fact. They want to deny his humanity, the same way others want to affirm his godhood (which is, when you think about it, just a different way of denying his humanity).

        Two sides. Same coin.

  9. TWood
    TWood  October 20, 2016

    Just a comment. Your historical expertise on the historicity of Jesus is even stronger than physicists’ expertise on heliocentrism. In practical terms, geocentrism is nonsense. But when General Relativity is taken into account, in a certain context, it’s not wrong to say the sun goes around the earth. I think this gives history experts like you even more confidence because the evidence is what it is (there’s less mystery about the Testimonium Flavianum than there is about Quantum Entanglement).

    Sean Carrol (Physics professor at Caltech) explains:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2005/10/03/does-the-earth-move-around-the-sun/#.WAkLbpMrJE4

    • godspell  October 21, 2016

      Fascinating, but some theorists in your field would say that our own present-day existence is questionable. So it wouldn’t be wrong to say “Jesus did not exist” if you think reality itself is an illusion, or at least something that only exists when you are beholding it.

      When asked how he would refute the empiricists of his day, their belief that causality was an illusion, Samuel Johnson reportedly said “I refute it thus!” and kicked a stone.

      The earth goes around the sun, and Jesus existed.

      • TWood
        TWood  October 21, 2016

        Yes, I agree the earth goes around the sun and that Jesus existed—strongly on both accounts. I think my point was that science is fundamentally so much more complex and mysterious than history, that there’s no possible argument that could undermine Jesus’ existence *even in theory* (no matter how hard the mythicists try). The only thing that could undermine Jesus’ existence is something like the two dimensional holographic string theory you mentioned. But that would question the existence of literally *everything*.

        • godspell  October 25, 2016

          I hope I didn’t imply I thought you were denying either heliocentrism or a historical Jesus. It’s just that once you get into the realm of pure theory, almost anything is possible (not sure a qualifier is needed there). It’s a different type of discussion, and it’s important to keep the realm of theory and established fact distinct from each other.

          Evolution, for example, is an established fact–how exactly we explain and describe it is theory. Our understanding of it will continue to change and grow (or evolve, if you like), but we know it has happened, and will go on happening, for as long as biological life forms exist. And you might say evolution is the history of life–and that same sense of a growing and changing understanding of even well-established historical facts is part of studying records of our civilizations and beliefs.

          • TWood
            TWood  October 26, 2016

            Got it. Yes, I agree.

      • Rogers  October 22, 2016

        then is just a matter of framing the question as, did Jesus have existence comparable to my own conception and perceived experience of personal existence?

  10. moose  October 20, 2016

    Best wishes in the upcoming debate. And please don’t waste your time talking politics with mr. Price. There he seems pretty lost 🙂

    Although I do agree that we should all listen to experts, there is also this possibility that we are facing a Paradigm shift. If so, there will always be an overwhelming majority supporting the old paradigm, in the beginning.

    A debate between experts in a complex field like early Christianity is only suitable for sheding brighter light on the topic, not to create winners or losers as if it was some kind of competition.

  11. JonH  October 20, 2016

    A question about the historical Jesus, perhaps for the Mailbag.

    You have written that “Jesus’ followers must have considered him to be the messiah in some sense before his death…” I understand the logic of your argument here — that “nothing about his death or resurrection would have made them come up with the idea afterwards” — but I’ve never been able to come up with a satisfactory understanding of how people during Jesus life could have seen a rural Jewish teacher with few followers, no power and a non-violent “peace and love” message as “a figure of grandeur and power who would overthrow God’s enemies and set up a new kingdom on earth.” (your previous description of how Jews understood the messiah)

    Jesus had neither a message of insurrection, nor the means to conquer the Romans. I know you’ve argued that Jesus must have said that he would be the ruler, not the “Son of Man” conquerer, but how does this square with the Jewish perception of the messiah as a conquering ruler?

    It makes sense that a preexisting belief that Jesus was the messiah could have led Jesus followers to believe as they did after his death. I just can’t work out how they could have arrived at the initial messianic belief. It seems every bit as incompatible with Jewish thought and Jesus’ circumstances as a post-resurrection invention of the messianic identity. Can you help me understand how Jesus’ followers would have believed such claims during his lifetime?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2016

      People often believe outlandish things about the leaders they are attracted to, evidence not withstanding. Think of the various cult leaders over the years, in both Jewish and Christian circles (in modern times)

      • JonH  October 21, 2016

        This is true, but it seems like that weakens the argument that Jesus followers *must* have believed he was the messiah before his death. If we accept that this group was able to invent a very unorthodox, implausible belief about Jesus before his death, then they would have been equally capable of doing so after his death.

        One possible explanation for this (I’m just thinking out loud here) might be that the “peace and love” portrayal of Jesus’ message was an after-the-fact invention – a way to pacify Roman authorities (“look, we’re harmless!”), to make Jesus look like more of a martyr, and to make the message palatable to the non-revolutionary communities where it was being spread. If Jesus was actually less of a peace-and-love preacher and more of a naive, rural insurrectionist (“overthrow the elites and bring on the end times!”) who didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he went to Jerusalem, that would make their belief in some sort of eventual political power more understandable. Their belief in the path to power might be naive, but at least there would be some path. This would also put Jesus more in the tradition of other insurrectionist messianic claimants.

    • JSTMaria  October 21, 2016

      Hi Jon,

      I can’t help but think of a biblical parallel related to your question of a preexisting belief in Jesus as the messiah. The parallel for me here is that perhaps Jesus was the modern version of Joseph from Genesis. When the 12 sons of Jacob are introduced, you have Joseph dreaming about ruling over his brothers. It was something they all knew as siblings, while others did not. Even Jacob “kept it in his heart,” or words to that effect. It seems like the “type” for somewhat of a secret notion among only the twelve. Judah sells Jacob out and then later Judas betrays Jesus. It almost fits too nicely with the idea that what Judas actually betrayed was the messianic secret itself– that Jesus could have conveyed only to his closest disciples when it got closer to the time he was turned over to the authorities. Similar to the Genesis story. ??? Food for thought!

      • JonH  October 24, 2016

        Interesting point! I suppose it would be impossible to determine whether it was Jesus or later writers who intended the parallel. That is, did Jesus see the Joseph story as the pattern for his rise, or did later writers invent the similar details as a typological literary device?

  12. mathieu  October 20, 2016

    While I agree with you completely, I think the Mythicists are so widely listened to is because it is such a good story. When I first heard it I was almost convinced, then I read your book and ended in your camp. But I still think they have a good story and some of their facts ring true.

    And pardon my correcting you, but I think you have a typo in the first sentence of the second paragraph. You left out the “not.” Have a good time with Dr. Price. He’s a sharp cookie, worthy of your time and talents.

  13. Pattylt  October 20, 2016

    While I am not a convinced mythicist, neither am I convinced of historicity. One of the reasons I don’t take biblical historians as the absolute final word is due to the resistance of SOME of them to set aside their religious biases. I realize we all have them but historical biblical studies has been dominated until recently with Christians. That is changing and I am hopeful for better theories and consensus down the road. There are some mythicist claims that I think have not been adequately addressed and some myth claims that are just ludicrous.
    One area that I think historicists do not adequately explain is the absence of an earthly Jesus in the epistles. Yes, there are a few that can be read either way (James the brother of the Lord) but as these were written much closer in time to Jesus’ earthly existence, why is no gospel material mentioned? Everyone is supposedly telling stories about Jesus but none of the epistle writers knew any of them? Every time Jesus “talks” it is scripture or revelations from the Lord. The answers of “they weren’t interested in his earthly life” is completely unrealistic and weak. If there are good reasons for explaining the epistles, perhaps that would help but it can’t just be hand waving. Is there any possibility that there was an historical Galilean Jesus AND an intermediary heavenly Jesus that got merged in Mark? I’m not the one that needs to take this question seriously. Biblical scholars do. It may be an absurd question but I hear it getting asked with no creditable answers.
    Bart, I am so glad you are having this debate and I can’t wait to see it. I respect both of you so much and I think this debate will be amazing. I look forward to the arguments both of you will put forward! And, maybe historical scholars will see the types of questions that need to be better answered instead of just answering the kooky myther ideas.

  14. Steefen  October 20, 2016

    Dear Dr. Ehrman, did you have any problems with Matthew 21: 28-32, the parable about which son obeyed his father? I do not remember you writing about this in Jesus Interrupted; but, I have found an article by Daniel B. Wallace who is pointing out a textual problem, https://bible.org/article/which-son-obeyed-his-father-textual-problem-matthew-2129-31 .

    There are three versions of this story in early manuscripts of Matthew? Have you covered this in one of your many trade or academic/scholarly books, including textbooks? Personally, I’m thinking this is not a problem in Bible versions found in the U.S. but maybe Eastern Christianity vs Western Christianity. Is that the case?

    Thank you.

    Matthew 21:29-31 involves a rather complex textual problem. The variants cluster into three different groups:

    (1) The first son says “no” and later has a change of heart, and the second son says “yes” but does not go. The second son is called the one who does his father’s will! This reading is found in the Western manuscripts. But the reading is so hard as to be next to impossible. One can only suspect some tampering with the text (e.g., that the Pharisees would indeed give lip-service to obedience and would betray themselves in their very response) or extreme carelessness on the part of the scribe. (Either option, of course, is not improbable with this particular texttype, and with codex D in particular.) The other two major variants are more difficult to assess. Essentially, the responses are sensical (the son who does his father’s will is the one who changes his mind after saying “no”:

    (2) The first son says “no” and later has a change of heart, and the second son says “yes” but does does not go. But here, the first son is called the one who does his father’s will (unlike the Western reading). This is the reading found in א C* L W Δ Byz and many itala and Syriac witnesses.

    (3) The first son says “yes” but does not go, and the second son says “no” but later has a change of heart. This is the reading found in B Θ f13 700 and several versional witnesses.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2016

      Yes, it’s a confusing textual situation! And no, I’ve never written about it!

  15. Gonzalo  October 20, 2016

    Hi Bart, I’ve been a member since the very beginning, and I love this blog. Great work!

    My question is about your appeal to authority when it comes to Jesus’ existence, or in this case, the many experts that believe that Jesus did in fact exist. But it seems to me the analogies you brought up (astronomy, tax plans, military policy) are different in one very important way: the vast majority of experts in the New Testament are Christians and god-believers to one extent or another. I would say that’s a lot of “skin in the game”.

    I understand all experts in all fields are a little biased towards their lifetime studies and beliefs, but it just seems in this case (NT experts), there’s an emotional attachment that is blinding to some extent.

    I also realize you are not a Christian (anymore), but you did start out that way.

    Looking forward to your response.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2016

      Yes, that would be a problem if the only people who believe in Jesus’ existence were Christian scholars. But it’s the view of Jewish scholars, classical scholars, scholars of Roman antiquity, and so on as well…. But yes, it’s different because history has a different way of establishing its claims than, say, chemistry.

  16. Bruce  October 20, 2016

    LMAO. It’s always rigged right? Good Luck Ole Buddy and I agree that it seems odd debating a topic if Jesus existed. I think if a person doesn’t think Jesus existed then there is a hell of a lot that we should think existed either. Safe travels and have a beer on me.

  17. Boltonian  October 20, 2016

    ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,’ so I shall be interested to hear Mr Price’s views. So far, your debating opponents have not been ‘Foe men worthy of your steel,’ in my opinion. He will need to be on his best form to counter the arguments you put forward in ‘Did Jesus Exist?’
    In defence of those in my country to whom you were referring, economic forecasts, supported by almost all mainstream economists here in the UK have been wrong about every major event in my lifetime, going back to the Wilson years in the 1960s (up to and including the dire predictions following the vote to leave the EU). In this discipline at least the minority has been more right more often than the majority in almost every case, so I think people are right to be wary of the self-proclaimed expert opinion of economists. At least in your field history has already happened and the evidence, such as it is, is there to be dissected.

  18. Saemund  October 20, 2016

    I do hope the video recording will be available! I won’t be present at the debate, but I would love to see it on, for instance, Youtube. I was waiting for this debate for quite a few months.

    “And remember, if I lose the debate, it’s because it was rigged.” Almost made me laugh. But regardless, I doubt any Mythicist will change his/her mind, so you will probably lose the debate… unless someone undecided will be in the audience.

  19. smackemyackem  October 20, 2016

    There’s a lot of rigging going on these days. So I have heard.

  20. prairieian  October 20, 2016

    Interesting comments on the issue of ‘experts’ in this troubled day and age…I think this is a huge problem for society at large. Your ongoing presidential campaign is illustrative of the malignancy on the body politic of relying on feelings and ‘it sounds right’ and other absurdities in lieu of evidence and fact. It is difficult to know how to respond in this environment.

  21. rburos  October 20, 2016

    Oh snap!

  22. Joseph  October 20, 2016

    I think you meant to say ”does NOT mean that he is wrong”

  23. Hume  October 20, 2016

    Haha, a nice little Trump joke plug.

    I have to disagree with you on the argument from authority in the social studies and humanities. These fields while needing to be trained in research methodology, among others, are more subject to bias than the hard sciences. Examples of dentists, home builders, and the physics of flying are not subject to much interpretation. How many ways are there to fly a plane or take out a tooth, not many!

    You recently wrote a post on Marcion. How many ways have you explained how people interpret Jesus or his teachings? Let alone the Testaments, or Christianity. There are hundreds if not thousands of denominations of Christianity. There is no liberal interpretation of tooth-pulling, no Canadian pilot physics, and no one builds houses conservatively, they just build houses.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2016

      Yes, the problem is that historians establish their claims in different ways from, say, scientists. But that does not make expertise less necessary. Quite the contrary! All you need to do is hear people make ignorant comments about the past (whether the ancient world or the modern) to realize that knowledge really does matter.

  24. herculodge  October 21, 2016

    Perhaps the democratization of the Internet and social media have emboldened people into believing that the “experts” are by the virtue of the very title “expert” suspect and that the “common man” has a more authentic, common sense approach to what is going on this world. The “expert” becomes code for elitist with an agenda. But like you said, when you need your teeth tended to, go to an expert.

  25. Judi  October 21, 2016

    Good Luck, it`s rigged.

  26. Antsy  October 21, 2016

    Haha! Thanks for that last little jab. Hope the debate is fun after all.

  27. VaulDogWarrior
    VaulDogWarrior  October 21, 2016

    Maybe your next article (or book!) could be on how to do historical study for an amateur.

    Maybe the reason so many Christians don’t trust the experts is because their own “experts” in theology and history so often have radically opposing views to one another based ideology, not facts.

    I have struggled with this idea of history. Part of my own deconversion had to do with the fact that my reading of history did not seem to support the popular Christian versions of history. I saw things differently.

    I tried to be critical and honest and open minded and it just seemed that most Christians only wanted to prove their own position, and strain at and ignore facts as necessary.

    Yet this gives me less confidence in the scientific process of historical studies as a result. Because after all the facts have been assembled we still need to interpret them. Yes, some people will say anything and twist everything in order to keep their “truth” afloat, but just like the NT, we are dealing with ancient writings and artifacts that cannot answer back. They just are what they are. And we are usually separated by long ages, language, culture, etc. Many honest people come to sometimes radically different views based on the same evidence, yet both views are sometimes as well attested as the others and an impasse is reached. This is partly due to the fact that history, unlike biology, is not repeatable.

  28. VaulDogWarrior
    VaulDogWarrior  October 21, 2016

    Sorry Bart, I know I’ve already made a comment here. But I just remembered something and had to ask.

    I have heard Evangelicals say that your position is the minority one. That most Biblical scholars are actually believers and therefore believe that the Christianity represented by the Fathers is the original Apostolic one handed down by Jesus. Is this true? Is your position a minority one? If so, why is that different to Robert Price?

    Similarly I was in contact with a philosopher who specialised in God’s existence. I forget what they call themselves now. He told me that as a non-expert I should submit to the overwhelming consensus, based on these expert opinions, that God exists. I asked how many of these guys were believers. If I remember he said over 90%. He thought this was great evidence. Among philosophers in general I think it was 50/50, but the weight of evidence in the arguments for God’s existence was so strong that experts in the field had to believe!

    I was given the impression these people were unbiased critical thinkers with no agenda to prove and that by the sheer weight of evidence they came to such conclusions.

    The other option was that they were believers beforehand who needed support for their views and found them in this branch of philosophy. I tend to think it was the latter and thus I have less than absolute confidence in their assertions.

    Yet believers will say the same about you. You came to your conclusions because you wanted to. Because you wanted an excuse not to believe.

    So where does that leave Joe Public who doesn’t have the time, resources or expertise to soft through all the evidence himself?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2016

      Yes, you can’t shift through the evidence for everything. It’s just not possible. And that’s why we do rely on experts. But there are experts and there are experts. If there are more fundamentalists New Testament scholars than critical NT scholars, then you are hearing the “majority” opinion of fundamentalists. That’s not the same. That’s why I always talk about the majority of “critical” scholars — those who do not allow their theological beliefs determine the conclusions they reach.

      • VaulDogWarrior
        VaulDogWarrior  October 22, 2016

        As Abraham said to God: “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak”. I hope my many question are not irritating… 😉

        I heard many times and accepted that both sides have faith positions. Presuppositions. Starting points that are not based on evidence. Is this true? Are critical historians starting from presuppositions in the same way the religious believers are?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 23, 2016

          My view is that no one can approach any task whatsoever without presuppositions. The real question is whether the presuppositions are appropriate to the task.

          • VaulDogWarrior
            VaulDogWarrior  October 23, 2016

            Would you mind expanding on that either in an article or in the readers mail bag. What are presuppositions? Why we all have them. And how do we make sure we have the right ones, or at least good ones. Having come out of Fundamentalist circles I heard so much about “presuppositions”, “worldviews”, “presuppositional apologetics” and so on.

            Seems the argument goes “Well, we all have presuppositions. No one is free of them. Therefore it is just as valid to come to historical and scientific issues with the presupposition that the claims are all true. Just as unbelievers come to the evidence with the presuppositions that there are no such things as miracles.”

            Of course these believers only take this approach with their own particular beliefs. Any other competing beliefs are treated with just as much scorn and disbelief as “unbelievers” have towards their dogmas.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 24, 2016

            Maybe I’ll add this one to the mailbag. It’s a big issue!

  29. RonaldTaska  October 21, 2016

    Good luck! Three hours will take a lot of stamina. Maybe, you need a nap before it starts.

  30. Alex4865  October 21, 2016

    //The fact that almost everyone thinks he is wrong does mean that he *is* wrong of course.//

    Given the context I’m assuming you meant DOESN’T rather than DOES

  31. dragonfly  October 21, 2016

    An ex is a has-been, and a spurt is a drip under pressure. Good luck to both of you ex-spurts!

  32. Samuel Riad  October 21, 2016

    Good Luck Dr Ehrman, I can’t wait to watch it. I wish I was living in Milwaukee (specially now that Dahmer is dead).
    This whole debate has sparked my interest in the subject and provoked me to write a short article (The Mythological Argument for the Historicity of Jesus or How to worship a loser.) In this article I will be drawing parallels between the life of Jesus and one very obscure mythology to (oddly) suggest that Jesus did exist!
    I think Carrier will be there. Might be a good opportunity for him to watch how two scholars of repute can discuss the issue he has been dabbling with for some time now.
    By the way I think you forgot to add “not” to this phrase: The fact that almost everyone thinks he is wrong does (not?) mean that he *is* wrong of course

    • VaulDogWarrior
      VaulDogWarrior  October 25, 2016

      Did you know that Dahmer claimed to have gotten saved? His dad found faith after what happened and got into Kent Hovind’s stuff. He gave it to his son to watch and he also became convinced that evolution is a big lie of Satan. He was convinced that that big lie was a part of his spiral down into becoming one of the worst serial killers of recorded history. I think Hovind is dead wrong, but this was interesting twist to the whole Dahmer saga. He admitted somewhere (maybe this video) that he wasn’t 100% sure he would never kill again if he got out. He basically said he should be locked up forever.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ux3fhxrRgYQ

  33. Cristian  October 21, 2016

    An off-topic… What are the best universities (top 5) in the USA for one to take a MA in Early Christianity and/or New Testament? Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2016

      Well, there aren’t too many out there. Most of the masters programs are in divinity schools, and so are not MAs but MDivs (big difference; some of the top programs would be Harvard, Chicago, Duke). One of the best that *does* offer an MA out of a div school is Yale. Other places (like UNC, where I teach) offer an MA, but only to students who are actually admitted to a PhD program. We don’t have a program for students wanting only the MA.

  34. GreggL10  October 21, 2016

    Thank you, Bart, for responding to Mythicists arguments. I know many make the claim–which is analogous to the argument against debating creationists–that such debates only legitimize these outlandish ideas, but I for one appreciate it.

    Mythicists usually respond that the experts in the relevant fields here are almost all Christian. This is obviously false, but I was wondering if you had a sense about the demographics of the experts you cite relative their world views. For instance, I understand most Josephus scholars are Jewish and so have no dog in the fight with regard to the historical Jesus.

    I have also seen Christian scholars adopt a critical attitude in their work; they seem to be able to separate (at least partially) statements of faith from statements of scholarship. I was wondering if this anecdote was representative at least of certain scholars or an aberration.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2016

      I would say that the study of ancient Judaism is indeed important for knowing about Jesus; there are a lot of Christian scholars of Judaism. And some Jewish scholars of Christianity. But yes, one should always note the bias, especially if someone from a particular faith tradition treats his/her own tradition differently from all others.

  35. cmccleary  October 21, 2016

    Kick some ass tonight, Bart \m/

  36. wrengles  October 21, 2016

    Hi Bart – Really look forward to reading your posts every day. Thanks!

    One quick question about today’s. You mentioned that as far as you know, Price is the only scholar with “a PhD in New Testament or Early Christian studies” that is a mythicist. If the question is one of historicity, why is it that we should look only to NT or early Christian scholars rather than to historians, or at least ANE historians, more generally? Why should they need to be NT or Christian scholars?

    Related to that, the other mythicist whose name I hear mentioned a lot is Richard Carrier, who has a PhD in ancient history. What are your views about his credentials to opine on the subject?

    Thanks again, and good luck in the debate!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      Ah, yes, we should indeed look to others! The only person in America with a PhD in a relevant field who takes this view is Richard Carrier, to my knowledge. He, however, is not trained in early Christian literature and history.

  37. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  October 21, 2016

    You said that the debate will be live-streamed. Do you have the URL or link for us to use?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      Sorry — too late. They were selling access to the live-stream, and I think are selling access ot the recorded version now. I’m not sure of the address: just write the Milwaukee Mythicists to ask.

  38. Jana  October 21, 2016

    Wishing you inspiration as well as luck!! Look forward to the video. There will be a video no??? Sorry to nitpick and I think there is a typo here: “The fact that almost everyone thinks he is wrong does mean that he *is* wrong of course.”

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      I’m afraid they won’t let me post a video — you have to pay for it! You should contact the Milwaukee Mythicists for information.

  39. ComputersHateAndrewLivingston  October 21, 2016

    Congratulations on your debate victory, Doc.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      Thanks!

      • DAMMIT69  October 24, 2016

        I just joined your blog site a couple of days ago, and this is my first post, so…watched the debate yesterday (actually found a link that let me watch it for free), Dr. Ehrman, in one word, “Magnificent”!
        Congratulations on the victory sir, and allowing me to clean up on the bets I made on Facebook.

  40. clipper9422@yahoo.com  October 21, 2016

    I readily admit that a great deal (maybe most?) of what I believe is based on what I understand to be expert knowledge. I wonder what the expert knowledge is about the existence of God or which religion, if any, is true or closest to the truth. I think I would be willing to follow expert knowledge in these areas if there is a strong consensus that has been around long enough to be stable and not changing much over time.

    Who would be the experts in these areas? Philosophers? Theologians? Physicists? PhD’s in comparative religion? Experts (psychologists?) who study people’s alleged religious experiences? poets? mystics? “saintly” people (in the best sense of the term) and others who are deeply committed to their faiths? people with high levels of mental health? the Pope?

    I mean this seriously (well, maybe not the Pope even though I like him) and am not trying to deride reliance on expert knowledge.

    If there is no consensus that goes this far, perhaps there are at least some on some of the basic issues connected to these larger questions that could eventually lead to a consensus on them. Jesus’s apocalypticism might be an example of a basic issue on which there is a strong consensus.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      I think there are *some* quesitons about which expertise is irrelevant. But they tend to be huge metaphysical questions (“What is ‘good’?) not scientific or historical questions.

    • Rogers  October 23, 2016

      If we could all get to a place of tolerance for one another, then that would be a superb start of a consensus of some sort

  41. talmoore
    talmoore  October 21, 2016

    Speaking of bias, I often ask Mythicists why they are so die-hard in questioning the existence of an historical Jesus, but not so dogmatic about, say, the historical Buddha, or the historical Confucius, or the historical Zoroaster, or Lao Tzu, or Pythagoras, or any number of semi-legendary historical figures. And after a bit of hand-wringing and obfuscation, they will inevitably admit that none of those legendary figures ever hurt their feelings. In other words, they actively deny the existence of an historical Jesus simply because they have an ax to grind against Christians and Christianity in general, and so they’re obdurateness emerges more out of spite than a genuine concern for establishing historical facts.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  October 23, 2016

      “[their] obdurateness emerges more out of spite than a genuine concern for establishing historical facts.” Coming to this conclusion or observation has also been my experience.

  42. Rogers  October 22, 2016

    The thing your discussion on expertise left out is that experts can be subject to human foilbles in that they can lend their expertise to postions that are favored by power, money, politics. That is, experts can sometimes be hired guns – or they can be heavily ideological to where that taints their expertise. That is where a lot of contemporary skepticism and cynicism toward experts is stemming from. Your portrait of experts is kind of the idealist conception we would all like to believe exist, but a lifetime of observed reality has disabused us of.

  43. JB  October 22, 2016

    Dr Ehrman,
    As it happens I learned about your work from listening to an interview Dr Price did many years ago, and now I’m a subscriber and have read three of your books! I don’t have much interest in christ mythicism any more but I expect to enjoy watching the debate.

  44. Rick
    Rick  October 23, 2016

    A frequent hinge point I see supporting mythecism is the lack of a known contemporaneous historical recording of Jesus. Josephus, Tacitus, Paul, etc, all miss being written in his lifetime so there is no evidence for him – QED. It seems reasonable that historians expectation of cooborative writings be tempered with things such as the number of nearby literate people? What historian’s rule would govern here?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      It’s important to put this point in broader context. How much contemporaneous historical record do we have of the most important religious figure of Jesus’ day, Caiaphus? Or of the most famous Jew of the first century, Josephus? (Answer, for both of them: none!)

    • talmoore
      talmoore  October 23, 2016

      The earliest sources we have for the existence of Pythagoras are at least a couple hundred years after he purportedly lived. And yet you don’t find a lot of people tying themselves into knots trying to prove that Pythagoras didn’t exist. That’s because when it comes to the historical Jesus, many resentful atheists (and I’m saying this as an atheist myself) are attracted to the notion that Jesus may have not even existed, let alone was the son of God. This is, of course, a very foolish fixation on their part, and, if anything, a flesh and blood man would probably undermine the alleged divinity of Jesus more than a conspiracy theory about how his existence was manufactured by a 1st century Illuminati. You can’t answer one absurdity with another absurdity.

  45. Jimmy  October 23, 2016

    Hi Bart, I watched your debate with Robert Price online. I thought you did a fine job defending the historicity of Jesus especially in the back and forth segment. During the back and forth the subject of Paul’s writings came up. Robert Price stated he thinks that Paul did not write any of them ! You looked stunned for a second, then asked ” So you think that Paul did not write Galatians ? “. You said that you will have to talk about that over a beer with him. Did you ever have that beer with him ?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2016

      Nope! It would have to be a very big beer!

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  October 25, 2016

        Maybe what was said about the controversy over whether Shakespeare authored Shakespeare’s works applies here: if it was not him, it must have been someone else named Shakespeare.

  46. rblouch  October 24, 2016

    I’m coming a little late to the party having read this several days ago before the debate occurred. A few thoughts on experts offered with great respect for your own expertise:

    1. From 1977 through 2002 I carefully followed the best science I could find as a method to master my increasingly problematic weight. By late 2001 I was 100 pounds overweight and not too far from having a complete physical health breakdown. In January of 2002 I started following the dietary advice of a maverick, did the opposite of the guidance of the experts, lost 100 pounds, and restored my health. I remain fit and healthy today still eating nearly the opposite foods any orthodox academic nutritionist and most physicians would recommend.

    2. For as long as I could remember I was unhappy, unpleasant, and low-functioning. I was smart but that didn’t help much. I followed all the traditional psychological advice on change and healing I could find to no avail and no improvement. In 2002, before it was cool and accepted, I followed the instructions of a maverick meditation teacher and changed everything about myself in four years.

    3. For most of my active life I followed the best science I could find regarding exercise and muscle building. I ended up either fat and unhealthy or scrawny, burned out, and nearly emaciated. In 2014 I began following the advice of a 1960’s radical, non academic weight lifter and within a year put on 25 lbs of muscle by lifting weights three times a week and eating healthy food. No exogenous hormones or drugs.

    4. On the system that creates PhDs: The least likely place you will find a truly dissenting voice regarding the existence of Christ is among experts with PhDs. That’s a product of the system that forms PhDs, not the validity of the position PhDs take.

    Think about it. The entire PhD production system is designed to exclude mythicists.

    All of our current PhDs currently “know” that Christ existed. What prospective student who finds that argument flawed could get through ten years of college and maintain the mythicist position? Which academic advisors would tolerate a serious exploration of that position by any of their students?

    Further, the selection bias in the group of people who become PhDs in divinity must be extraordinary! What kind of person would pursue a PhD specializing in the teachings of Christ who does not believe he exists? Anyone who has the guts, rigor, and dedication to get through that very difficult process is likely to need their Christ to be real, not a myth. I realize that is the least provable of my assertions in this comment but I think it’s accurate and certainly worth considering given your position that the monolithic belief block of “all of the experts” is somehow a valid point in assessing whether or not Christ existed.

    The mythicist position as it relates to today’s academic environment will almost have to be held outside of the realm of the experts.

    If it proves to be correct it will eventually happen when the preponderance of evidence becomes too great to ignore. The sources for that evidence are not likely to be our orthodox academic experts.

    Consider Einstein. It took a maverick to see what the experts of his day could not see. These things happen all the time.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2016

      But PhD’s disagree on all sorts of things all the time. Biblical scholars have *massive* disagreements on fundamental issues. Not on this one, however. That should probably tell you something.

  47. rich-ilm  October 24, 2016

    I watched the debate on live stream and have to say I was a little myth-tified. : ) I’ve not read any of the mythicist works but try not to dismiss a point of view without giving it a chance to speak for itself, so was keeping an open mind that if the conversation was compelling, that maybe I should. I’m not sure at the end that this really qualified as a debate. He basically ceded his questioning time to you, and when you guffawed a bit at something he said, it seemed like he wanted to go home. I found myself arguing with the TV when he kept trying to press the point about how nobody would write about Clark Kent. It seemed like he thought that should have been an instant checkmate, so when you kept responding, “But Bob, I don’t think the historical Jesus did all those things” he couldn’t get out of the loop he was in. (I was saying most of the same things to my TV that you were saying to him, but not as calmly!)
    I really did like the point you made at the end about being a humanist, and that if we are going to try to talk productively with the religious moderates and effect positive change in the world, that it doesn’t help to have the opening salvo in the conversation be that Jesus not only didn’t rise from the dead, but that he didn’t even exist.
    I see why arguing with mythicists could be frustrating for you. Congratulations for pulling it off in good cheer and with aplomb.

  48. SidDhartha1953  October 29, 2016

    I’ve found a link to the debate for rent @$4.99. Some have complained about having to pay and I’ve offered to host a debate-watch party in my city (Columbia, SC) for anyone who can’t or won’t afford the cost. Maybe others can do the same elsewhere. I’m looking forward to watching! If anyone knows where I can purchase the video outright, please advise.

  49. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  November 19, 2016

    I am curious to know a couple of things: Why did you begin the debate by asking the audience who they were going to vote for? And who decided the format for the debate?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 20, 2016

      Very simple answer. I wanted to know if I could tell a Trump joke or not. Format: the organizers suggested it, and we approved.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  November 20, 2016

        Figured as much. A certain someone suggested you were attempting to poison the well right off the bat by evoking a visceral response from the audience. How dramatic! I guess this person isn’t aware that you start your lectures out with a joke too….

        The organizers suggested the format. Also good to know.

  50. Adam0685  March 24, 2017

    Your debate with Price has now been posted free of charge at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIxxDfkaXVY

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