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Did Jesus Exist? The Birth of a Divine Man

As most of the readers of this blog know by now, in my new book, Did Jesus Exist, I take on the claims made by that vociferous group of nay-sayers who call themselves “mythicists.” For those still not familiar with this rare breed, it comprises a growing cadre of writers – many of whom have published books (Acharya S [a.k.a D. M. Murdoch], Earl Doherty, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, Tom Harpur, Robert Price, Thomas Thompson, and many others), and many more of whom are a loud presence on the Internet (as you can see for yourself; just do a couple of obvious Google searches) – who all claim that Jesus of Nazareth did not actually exist, but that he was invented by the early Christians out of whole cloth to be a savior, comparable to the divine men “known” in pagan religions.

In my book I show why this view is completely wrong. Whether we like it or not (some of us do, some of us don’t) Jesus certainly existed. What he was like is another story.

One of the most common claims of the mythicists is that there were numerous other divine men in Jesus’ day who were very similar – in fact, in almost every respect – to Jesus.

A terrific example of an exaggerated set of mythicist claims comes in a classic in the field, the 1875 book of Kersey Graves, The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors: Christianity Before Christ, which has been reprinted for wide circulation here in recent years. A number of untrained mythicists (i.e., those who have not actually done graduate work in the fields of New Testament, early Christianity, classics,and so on) simply take Graves’s word for it when he claims that Jesus was just like all the other invented figures of his day.

Early on his “study” Graves states his overarching thesis:

Researches into oriental history reveal the remarkable fact that stories of incarnate Gods answering to and resembling the miraculous character of Jesus Christ have been prevalent in most if not all principal religious heathen nations of antiquity; and the accounts and narrations of some of these deific incarnations bear such a striking resemblance to that of the Christian Savior – not only in their general features but in some cases in the most minute details, from the legend of the immaculate conception to that of the crucifixion, and subsequent ascension into heaven – that one might almost be mistaken for the other. (p. 29)

Grave goes on to list thirty five such divine figures, naming them as Chrisna of Hindostan, Budha Sakia of India; Baal of Phenicia; Thammuz of Syria; Mithra of Persia, Cadmus of Greece; Mohamud of Arabia; and so on. Already the modern, informed reader sees that there are going to be problems. Buddha, Cadmus, and Mohammed? These had lives that were remarkably like Jesus’, down to the details? But as Graves goes on to contend:

These have all received divine honors, have nearly all been worshiped as Gods, or sons of Gods; were mostly incarnated as Christs, Saviors, Messiahs, or Mediators; not a few of them were reputedly born of virgins; some of them filling a character almost identical with that ascribed by the Christian’s Bible to Jesus Christ; many of them, like him, are reported to have been crucified; and all of them, taken together, furnish a prototype and parallel for nearly every important incident and wonder-inciting miracle, doctrine, and precept recorded in the New Testament, of the Christian’s savior.” (pp. 30-31)

Virtually everything Graves says is wrong.

Take the idea that divine men in the ancient pagan world were thought to be born of virigins. It’s not true. What is true is that remarkable men – demigods, emperors, powerful figures of all kinds – were often thought to have been miraculously born. But it was not because their mothers did not have sex—which is what the early Christians said about Jesus and his mother. On the contrary, the mothers of these pagan divine men certainly did have sex. In fact, they had sex with a god to conceive their miraculous children. One might say they had divine sex.

If you would like to see a couple of examples, I go into greater detail in the longer version on my membership section–Join now or log in to read the complete content.

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Why Did Jesus Go To Jerusalem?
Did Jesus Exist as Part One



  1. Avatar
    RyanBrown  May 11, 2012

    The anthropomorphic Greek gods make me think of Genesis 32:22-32, where Jacob actually wrestles with God. I suppose that by the time the Matthew and Luke were written, the writers chose to go with the more ethereal Holy Spirit. I wonder what compelled the change, as God had made a physical appearance on Earth before and had contact with a human?

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    zakiechan  May 11, 2012

    A lot of this sort of stuff reminds me of things like the JFK-Lincoln “similarities.” If you take two people and look at certain aspects of their lives from a distance, with one eye closed and the other squinted, you can see these “crazy similarities.”


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    nichael  May 11, 2012

    I think it likely that you already know this…

    But (setting aside the issue of in vitro fertilization) while human “virgin birth” is unknown, parthenogenesis (i.e birth from a solo parent –literally a “virgin birth”) is not all that uncommon in plants, invertebrate animals and some species of lizards, reptiles, fish and even birds.

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    robertb  May 12, 2012

    Maybe Perseus. Justin Martyr seems to have noted a version of this myth in relation to the virgin birth of Jesus. Diabolical mimicry, I think Justin called it.

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    SteveLig  May 12, 2012

    Thanks for the information on this in your book. It had always lingered in the back of my mind after reading “The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors: Christianity Before Christ” some years ago. I think you’re right about no evidence being presented, at least as far as I recall. (It went into the recycle bin with my last cleansing.) But somehow I indiscriminately read it and brought it up in conversation on occasion. I’m happy to be rethinking my position on it along with a lot of others I held without much thought.

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      lordchesterfield  November 27, 2012

      Another good reason to own a Kindle….this book is free on Amazon for Kindle…..Thanks for bringing it to my attention…looking forward to reading. Jim

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    Jacobus  May 12, 2012

    I personally don’t know of any other examples where a “divinised human” was born from a woman untouched by a deity dating before Matthew. I need to check, but if I remember correctly, the Qur’an describes Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit in more sexual/ literal imagery than is the case in the Bible. This might be due to Muhammad not being able to picture the virgin birth as described in Matthew or because of something else. Referring to Alexander the Great, do dr. think that the cult of rulers or the Imperial cult could have been instrumental to a mindset in which Jesus could become God? If so and taking into account that most Christians of the early centuries were from the lower sphere of society, as Jesus himself was – it is still remarkable that Jesus became God over and against the emperors that became gods because of their service or benevolence towards the Empire.

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      hwl  July 15, 2012

      For anyone who knows anything about Islam and the Quran, any notion of God having sexual relations is absolutely abhorrent. In the Quran, Allah is strictly monotheistic, not trinitarian, so does not feature the Holy Spirit. The Quran does affirm Jesus was born of Mary when she was a virgin by a miracle of God. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_in_Islam

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    Dennis_Steenbergen  May 14, 2012

    Bart taught me that the virgin birth story in Matthew was inspired by a mistranslation (and subsequent Luke story) of the Hebrew word “Alma” a young woman (and not necessarily a sexual virgin) into Greek (Jesus Interrupted, Page 74). This was done in order to extrapolate Isaiah 7:14 to help make the pieces fit of what this growing God figure meant to the early Christians. Almost a willful or purposeful mistranslation because they were trying to convey how important this figure was to their society. Its amazing the extra little details we get such as 1 Matt 19-21 based on this excitement. I think it should be no surprise that Luke keeps building on that traditional foundation with new stories like “The Birth of John the Baptist”, “Mary’s Song” and “Mary Visiting Elizabeth” to provide flowery detail surrounding the birth of Jesus. Surely this writing style will be behind Bart’s next book “How Jesus Became God”. Am I anticipating this incorrectly? Because there seems to be a pattern among the synoptic gospels that I may be just catching onto.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 15, 2012

      You’re onto something here, and close. The deal is that hte Septuagint (Greek OT) translated the Hebrew word “young woman” with the Greek word “virgin” and it was this version that Matthew (writing in Greek, obvoiulsy) used, taking it to mean that it would be a woman who never had sex. So he did not make a willful mistranslation himself. But the tradition went from there….

      • Avatar
        Emmett  February 16, 2013

        It seems to me that no mention of the virgin birth should go unaccompanied by a mention of the essential mistranslation.

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        SHameed01  October 13, 2013

        Does the greek word for virgin also mean “young woman” or does is strictly mean “virgin”?

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    timber84  May 16, 2012

    When did Christians start celebrating Christmas on December 25? I thought I read many other dates were considered as well.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 17, 2012

      I believe it was in the fourth century, starting with Constantine, to coincide with the pagan festival of Saturnalia. But I’d welcome any more definitive answers! (I’m at the beach just now for a couple of weeks, away from my books, thank the gods)

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    awkwardmomentsbible  May 18, 2012

    As always, great read, Bart. And – great discussions!

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    DMiller5842  May 28, 2012

    Virgin births-huh? To me – if a woman is impregnated –she is not a virgin. To me the claim that it was accomplished by a snake, a swan, a thunderbolt, a spirit (some form of a god) is just beyond reason.
    But if we have to go there… what about claims by other ancient religions of virgin births. Aren’t these other virgin birth myths evidence that the myth of Jesus “virgin birth ” was copied or at least inspired by them?

    King Amunothph III — myth from about 1800 BCE

    Everyting past here copied and pasted from http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/emec/emec03.htm:

    “The Birth of King Amunothph III.

    This opinion of the miraculous birth of the kings is well explained in a series of sculptures on the wall of the temple of Luxor (see Fig. 28). First, the god Thoth, with the head of an ibis, and with his ink and pen-case in his left hand, as the messenger of the gods, like the Mercury of the Greeks, tells the maiden queen Mautmes that she is to give birth to a son, who is to be king Amunothph III. Secondly, the god Kneph, the spirit, with a ram’s head, and the goddess Athor, with the sun and cow’s horns upon her head, both take hold of the queen by her hands, and put into her mouth the character for

    p. 19

    life, which is to be the life of the coming child. Thirdly, the queen, when the child is to be born, is seated on the midwife’s stool, as described in Exodus i. 16; two of the attending nurses rub her hands to ease the pains of childbirth, while another of the nurses holds up the baby, over which is written the name of king Amunothph III. He holds his finger to his mouth to mark his infancy; he has not yet learned to speak. Lastly, the several gods or priests attend in adoration upon their knees to present their gifts to this wonderful child, who is seated in the midst of them, and is receiving their homage. In this picture we have the Annunciation, the Conception, the Birth, and the Adoration, as described in the First and Second Chapters of Luke’s Gospel; and as we have historical assurance that the chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, which contain the Miraculous Birth of Jesus, are an after addition not in the earliest manuscripts, it seems probable that these two poetical chapters in Luke may also be unhistorical, and be borrowed from the Egyptian accounts of the miraculous birth of their kings.”

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    jasha  May 31, 2012

    Dr Ehrman,

    This discussion about the birth of Jesus and comparing it to other myths got me thinking about the story vis-a-vie first century Judaism. The story about a virgin giving birth isn’t merely miraculous, its also more than slightly sex-negative (and I know I’m not the first person to notice this), or at least it comes to take a very sex-negative form when saying that this allowed Jesus to be born untouched by sin. This to me is very weird because it makes sin sound like a venereal disease transmitted between couples through sex, and then to children through birthing.

    Modern Judaism (at least the varieties I’ve been exposed to, which is extensive) doesn’t regard in-wedlock sex as sinful at all; on the contrary abstaining from it is considered unnatural and suspicious. What was the outlook of first century Judaism? And if the early Christian sex-negative outlook didn’t come from Judaism, where did it come from?

    Sorry, I know that this is probably a complicated issue and is only slightly on topic for your post, but I thought I’d ask anyway.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 1, 2012

      Yup, a complicated question. Short story: sex within marriage was “good” for most Jews and groups within Judaism of the first century as well. but there was a clear ascetic strain among some groups, who thought that pleasure in this world should be avoided in preference to commitment to God and the world to come. Jesus may have had this view, and Paul after him. It because a standard view in some parts of Christianity, eventuating (I am way over simplifying this!) in some forms of monasticism/preference for celibacy.

      • Avatar
        jasha  June 5, 2012

        That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of the connection with apocalypticism/asceticism. So this story is the sort of thing that an apocalyptic preacher might well say of himself (or whose followers might say that of him) and so it might go all the way back to Jesus. Of course then there is the issue of his sibling James…I guess we’ll never really know, but its an intriguing thought. Thanks.

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    Sabio  June 30, 2012

    Hello Dr. Ehrman! (new here)

    If I am understanding correctly, you are implying that:

    Since the god-conceived story of Jesus has none of the fantasy elements of other god-conceived stories/myths, then we have some added weight to the argument that Jesus was not a total myth.

    Is that a fair summary? If so, my questions are:

    (1) Do we find in antiquity that the fantastic nature of tales (the accepted literary styles) changed over time or between cultures?

    (2) When did the Greek myths you describe originate? Probably much earlier than Matthew’s story, correct?

    So I would think we should look for similar virgin-birth stories from a similar time period as Matthew. Maybe fantastic myths had less credence around Matthew’s time — though with Scientology and Mormon myths, it seems fantasy-gullibility is not time-period dependent. 🙂

    It seems to me that the important question is the “son of a god” question — was it unique? After establishing that the son-of-a-god myth is not unique, we need to wonder if making a non-fantastic Jesus story in that genre would just have been more marketable in the Roman at those times.

    (3) Matthew’s limited knowledge of the Hebrew versions and reliance on the Greek version (Septuagint) of Jewish scriptures led to the “virgin” story. But, if I am understanding correctly, a miraculous-virgin-birth is not really an accepted cross-Gospel them and thus its evaluation is not central to the question of Jesus existing. Am I mistaken?

    Sorry, that is not too well organized but maybe you can maybe help me make sense of my question.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 30, 2012

      No, that’s not exactly my argument. I’m not arguing that since Jesus’ birth, as recorded in the Gospels, was different from all other miraculous births, he therefore existed. For one thing, I don’t think the reports of his birth are historically accurate — so that certainly is not what I’m arguing! My point instead is to counter the claims of mythicists that SINCE Jesus’ birth simply replicates those of other divine men, THEREFORE he is made up. I’m showing that that logic does not work, precisely because his birth as described in the Gospels is UNLIKE those of otehr divine men. In other words I am not making a positive argument for Jesus’ existence based on the birth narratives; I am undercutting a fundamental claim of the other side. See the difference?

      • Avatar
        donmax  August 3, 2012

        Sorry to enter this conversation late, but here goes anyway.

        When you say “Jesus’ birth is UNLIKE those of other divine men” I would suggest that it was not that much different. All virgin-birth “myths” are just that, though they differ in the details. When we read in Matthew, for example, that Mary “was found with child of the Holy Ghost,” it’s like watching a strategic fade-out in an old black and white movie. The fade away leaves everything sexual to the darkness of our imaginations. And when Luke says “the Holy Spirit will come upon you,” the only thing missing is a description of what “come upon you” means!

      • Avatar
        jhague  May 10, 2016

        It is almost universally accepted by the vast majority of scholars that Jesus was a Galilean Jew, baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. It is obvious that years after his life ended, words were written onto Jesus’ lips and that events & miraculous deeds were written into his life.

        Why do mystics dwell on the added words and events written years after Jesus died to claim that there was no historical Jesus? Why don’t they accept that there was a historical Jesus who had non-historical things written about him?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 10, 2016

          I think you mean mythicists? I deal with all that in my book Did Jesus Exist?

          • Avatar
            jhague  May 10, 2016

            Yes. Sorry. I meant mythicists. I have your book so I will look up what you say there. Thanks

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    hwl  July 15, 2012

    To modern readers, the accounts of Zeus turning into a snake, swan or other animals to engage with sexual relations with women, sound like the stuff of legends, literally. Did Plutarch and other otherwise serious Roman historians report these stories as if history, or did their tone of report make it clear they are reporting folklore?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 16, 2012

      Well, they usually reported them as “stories” that were told. There is a big question of whether most Greeks, and Romans, actually “believed their myths,” the way conservative Christians today “believe” the book of Genesis. Even liberal Christians who don’t think we can take Genesis literally as giving an account of what really happened (which by the way, we cannot!) can still talk about Genesis as a meaningful book. so too the educated Greeks and Romans.

      • Avatar
        hwl  July 16, 2012

        The polytheistic Greco-Roman religion has a lot of similarities with the polytheism of Hinduism and Chinese folk religion. Hinduism has a lot of fantastic stories of gods and demigods, which to Western ears sound like the stuff of legends. Intellectual Hindu thinkers today tend to view a lot of the stories as metaphors and allegories, while the less well educated tend to take many of the stories at face value. Perhaps it was like that in the Greco-Roman world.
        Do you think the Palestinian Jews of the 1st century took all of the stories in the Hebrew Bible as literally as fundamentalist Christians today do?
        Do you think the original audience of the gospels believed in all the accounts pretty literally?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 18, 2012

          Yes, my sense is that readers of the Bible in antiquity — however else they may have interpreted the stories — believed that these things happened.

  14. Avatar
    theology64  August 24, 2012

    Virgin, means hand maiden. Four words compared to a few thousand. Bloody nora…….

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    glucab86  August 28, 2012

    Hi Bart. Do you think that the virgin birth is an invention of the gospel writers (mixing their hellenistic culture and knowledge of ancient biographies and supernatural births with their view of a totally asexual divinity), or a tradition from the early christians? And how old? Paul and Mark doesn’t even touch the argument. There’s some evidence that helps us? Is it conceivable that Luke and Matthew have invented the same detail without knowing each other? And what about Matthew, knowing Luke, trying to bring back this legendary account in the Jewish culture of Jesus with the fulfillment of dubious OT prophecies?

    Thanks for your time and sorry for my bad English.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 28, 2012

      I have some posts on the virgin birth. Search for them, and if you still have questions, let me know.

    • Avatar
      DominickG  October 3, 2012


      I’m not a scholar and my contribution will not be as authoritative as Mr. Ehrman’s but ofr what it is worth this is it.

      We know that the Jewish zealots from the time of Greek occupation looked for a Messiah figure, a “son of David”, to free themselves from foreign rule. So much of people’s sense of identity in those times, as it is today, was based on the family, tribe and nation that people were born into, in particular who their father was. If you look in Wikipedia at the list of High Priests in 1st century Jerusalem, they are mostly have a name formatted X ben Y (i.e. X son of Y).

      Identity is good (it gives us a sense of belonging) but it is also exclusive.

      A dominant characteristic of the Eastern Mediterranean (Judaea, Syria and Alexandria) at this time was conflict – especially between Jews and Greeks.

      The significance of the followers of Jesus is that they discarded the cultural preconceptions and prejudices that they held of other peoples. They discarded the archaic and meaningless rules and rituals that cluttered their faith and set them apart from others. And in its place they forged a new identity – one that Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, used to describe himself.
      Not the “Son of Joseph” – the identification with a family; not the “Son of David” – the identification with a tribe; not the “Son of Israel” – the identification with a religion; not the son of any single man at all but the “Son of Man” (as in the son of mankind) – the identification with all humanity.

      The reason behind the idea of the idea of the “Son of Man” is one and the same as idea behind the story of the “virgin birth”.



  16. Avatar
    Cephas  November 17, 2012

    I feel compelled to (very respectfully) take issue with your representation of the mis-translation of the Hebrew word almah being translated to παρθένον. It wasn’t, to my mind, a “least worst” option, it was a deliberate and calculated edit.

    After all, the whole point of the Septuagint myth was to establish unimpeachable authority for the translation (at least according to my untutored understanding of the situation!). “No, this is divinely inspired textual translation, after all, seventy scholars can’t be wrong!”. Quite apart from the mistaken appeal to authority and popularity, it seems there was every intention of defending what would have been a terrible (though perhaps understandable in some specific circumstances) ‘newbie’ mistake for a poorly-trained translator to make, as the “only possible” translation by the world’s most skilled translators.

    That’s not disingenuous or accidental. It’s a falsehood.

    Pardon my awful argumentation skills, I know most people reading this could put it better. Does anyone have any advice as to how I could state this point of view more clearly and concisely?

  17. Avatar
    JohnBradbury  January 6, 2013

    I wonder about the scholarship of the film but according to Part 1 of Zeitgeist The Movie: The Greatest Story Ever Told, there are many myths of virgin births, and also on December 25! Horus, Attis, Krishna, Dionysus and Mithra

    Other claims are made, for example:
    The star in the east is Sirius and together with three stars of Orion’s belt, called the 3 kings, point to the sunrise on December 25.
    The birth of God’s son is really the birth of God’s sun (it doesn’t explain how this homophony works in other languages).
    The disciples are really the 12 constellations of the zodiac
    The Christian cross is the cross of the zodiac

    I like the film as Peter Joseph is almost as engaging as Bart Ehrman, and its claims seem possible and convincing , but I have my doubts about its validity. I wonder if Bart has already seen it and debunked it as he has the Da Vinci Code?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 6, 2013

      I think Zeitgeist is about as reliable on ancient religion as Monty Python and the Holy Grail is on the Middle Ages…. 🙂

      • Avatar
        JohnBradbury  January 7, 2013

        I thoght that would probably be the case and your reply has destroyed another of my sources of historical reference!

      • Avatar
        JohnBradbury  January 13, 2013

        Since my initial post I have been reading The Believing Brain by Dr Michael Shermer. The hypothesis of the book is that brains can be “hard-wired” to believe in supernatural agents such as gods, angels and demons and that this characteristic can be inherited. Chapter 8 discusses belief in god and in it he mentions virgin birth myths listing Dionysus, Perseus, Buddha, Attis, Krishna, Horus, Mercury, Romulus and, of course, Jesus. He also mentions the resurrection myth of Osiris as well as another messiah shortly after Jesus, Apollonius of Asia Minor, for whom it was claimed he was the son of god, could walk through closed doors, heal the sick, cast out demons and he raised a dead girl back to life. After he died his followers claimed he appeared to them and then ascended to heaven. I know Dr. Shermer is not an ancient historian or a scholar of mythology but he is a scholar so perhaps Peter Joseph was not that far off the mark. I can imagine a scenario in which a minority Jewish sect embellished the facts to match the Old Testament prophecies and then converted pagans who embellished the stories further to match pagan myths.

        • Avatar
          Liberalinlove  May 13, 2013

          Quantum Physics-Thoughts are Things?
          Can anyone here explain this http://www.artakiane.com/
          Akiane, Child Prodigy
          http://heavenisforreal.net/ 4 year old Colton’s Story
          They both share the same “visions” of Jesus
          Where do the Rainbow children come from?
          I am no scholar, just lots of questions!
          Does society give birth to religion from a collective consciousness?

  18. Avatar
    Ron  February 17, 2013

    I’ve read the entire thread, Dr. Erhman, and I amazed that not only you but the entire group of those who’ve replied are unable, probably because none of you have actually read the Greek myth that you’re talking about, neglect to correct the story of who actually gave birth to Heracles. It was not Alcestis as you say here, it was Alcmene. You got the mother of Heracles correct in your book DID JESUS EXIST …, (p. 153) despite the blunder that you say she bore Zeus instead of Heracles, so how is it now Alcestis?

    Greek mythology is apparently not appreciated here, and to throw stones at the Gospel writers, whoever they might be, for misconstruing or incorrectly telling a story about a man that you, Dr. Erhman, have said is “the most important person in the history of the West” (p. 95), is an uncanny revelation!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 18, 2013

      Did I say Alcestis?!? Wow. OK, sorry ’bout that. I type these things kinda fast. But if you think I don’t approve of and appreciate mythology, you haven’t read my books!

  19. Avatar
    srubarth  May 29, 2013

    Regarding a parallel to Jesus conception story, several people have mentioned Perseus and I thought I’d try to run with that a bit. I just joined your blog this week so if this has already been discussed I apologize in advance.

    In Matthew Mary is simply said to be found to be with child by the Holy spirit [εὑρέθη έν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου.]. A bit vague.

    Luke is a bit more informative. Here it says that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary [πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σε] (1:35) and the result will be a conception in the womb [συλλήμψη ἐν γαστρὶ] (1:31)

    A few observations before I contrast Perseus’ birth: Pneuma in Hellenistic philosophy, science, medicine, and daily discourse is a physical entity, a breath or wind. Pneuma is also closely connected to sexual reproduction in philosophical and medical texts (esp. Aristotle and the pneumatic school of medicine). Likewise in Stoicism pneuma is essentially generative or creative, hence the divine principle (identified as a pneuma) is even call spermatikos logos. Also note that this is a conception [συλλήμψη] which also suggests a physical joining of two material substances — not a miraculous generation in the womb. So in Luke’s account Mary seems to be physically impregnated by God in the non-anthropomorphic form of pneuma (if not physical, why did the holy pneuma have to “come upon her” [ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ] (no joke intended)). Anyway, I think that this is how a Greek reader in the first century would take this passage given the language and historical context.

    Now Danaë in the Perseus myth was also a virgin and was locked away in order to thwart a prophecy. According the to a version reported in Apollodorus’ Library, Zeus transfigured himself into liquid god and poured through the roof and entered her.

    ὡς δὲ ἔνιοί φασι, Ζεὺς μεταμορφωθεὶς εἰς χρυσὸν καὶ διὰ τῆς ὀροφῆς εἰς τοὺς Δανάης εἰσρυεὶς κόλπους συνῆλθεν. (B 4,1)

    I see these as being similar. A virgin is physically impregnated by the divine in an non-anthropomorphic form in order to fulfill a prophecy. There is no phallic sexual intercourse in either case and yet a divine/human conception resulted and in both cases the god claims paternity.


    • Avatar
      srubarth  May 29, 2013

      Typo above. Should read “liquid gold” not “liquid god”. Oops.

  20. Avatar
    SHameed01  August 7, 2013

    Can we use the Testimonium Flavianum from Josephus’ works be used as a genuine source of evidence for Jesus’ historical existence?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 7, 2013

      It’s tricky. I talk about it in my book Did Jesus Exist?

      • Avatar
        SHameed01  August 7, 2013

        I plan on buying that book quite soon. Thanks! However, quick question, does Josephus show a tendency of going off-topic on more than one occasion in his written work/s? Since one of the main arguments against it is that since the Testimonium Flavianum appears totally out of context so therefore it can’t be taken seriously. Anyways thanks for your time.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 9, 2013

          Yes, that’s one of the standard issues raised by scholars. He does go off on occasion, as it turns out.

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