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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



  1. Avatar
    rburos  October 20, 2016

    Oh snap!

  2. Avatar
    Joseph  October 20, 2016

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

  3. Avatar
    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.

  4. Avatar
    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.

  5. Avatar
    Judi  October 21, 2016

    Good Luck, it`s rigged.

  6. Avatar
    Antsy  October 21, 2016

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

  7. Avatar
    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.

  8. Avatar
    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.

      • Avatar
        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.

          • Avatar
            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!

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 21, 2016

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

  10. Avatar
    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

  11. Avatar
    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!

  12. Avatar
    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

    • Avatar
      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.


  13. Avatar
    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.

  14. Avatar
    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.

  15. Avatar
    cmccleary  October 21, 2016

    Kick some ass tonight, Bart \m/

  16. Avatar
    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.

  17. 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.

  18. Avatar
    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.

  19. Avatar
    ComputersHateAndrewLivingston  October 21, 2016

    Congratulations on your debate victory, Doc.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016


      • Avatar
        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.

  20. Avatar
    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.

    • Avatar
      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

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