Nine years ago, Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist, especially in light of criticism I have received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!). I am reposting the interview, since it’s on such an important topic.
Ben’s blog is widely read by conservative evangelicals, and he has agreed to post the questions and my answers without editing, to give his readers a sense of why I wrote the book, what I hoped to accomplish by it, and what I would like them to know about it. He has graciously agreed to allow me to post my responses here on my blog, which, if I’m not mistaken, has a very different readership (although there is undoubtedly some overlap). It’s a rather long set of questions and answers – over 10,000 words. So I will post them in bits and pieces so as not to overwhelm anyone. The Q’s are obviously his, the A’s mine.
Q. It seems that mythicists place a lot of weight on arguments from silence (e.g. no public records that Jesus existed), but as you point out 99% of all ancients do not show up in records or the literature of the first century, and this tells us nothing about whether they existed or not. Why do you think it is that they refuse to accept the old dictum that absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence? This especially puzzles me about someone like Robert Price who should know better.
A. My sense is that some mythicists think that everyone who believes in Jesus’ historical existence accepts a “believing Christian” view of Jesus, namely, that if Jesus existed he really was the miracle-working son of God who really did feed the multitudes with a few loaves, who really did cast out demons, and heal the sick, and raise the dead, and that if there really were a person like that who lived in the first century, somebody from his own day would have mentioned him. On one level, that’s a good point – you would indeed expect such a God-on-earth to be mentioned by someone living at the time. But the fact is that we don’t have a single reference to Jesus from someone living at his time – friend or enemy. We have only documents written by people living later, and almost always by people who believe in him
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