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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. 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.

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    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.

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    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.

  4. 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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

      • Avatar
        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.

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    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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