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The Historical Jesus

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 5

Q. Various mythicists have tried to argue that in fact there is only one source, namely Mark, that provides evidence that Jesus existed and presumably he made up the idea? Why is this not a fair representation of the evidence, and why do you think it is that various of them hardly even deal with the evidence from Paul? A. Most mythicists claim that Paul never mentions the historical Jesus or says anything about him, but that he only speaks of a “mythical Christ” who was not a real human being. That is completely wrong. Paul tells us that Jesus was born of a woman, that he was born Jewish, that he had brothers, one of whom was named James (whom Paul personally knew), that he had twelve disciples, that he ministered to Jews, that he taught that it was wrong to get a divorce and that you should pay your preacher, that he had the last supper (Paul indicates what Jesus said at the time), and that he was crucified. Anyone who says that [...]

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 4

CONTINUATION!   Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, has 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!).   His 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. Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem with [...]

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 3

CONTINUATION!   Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, has 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!).   His 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. - Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem [...]

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 2

CONTINUATION!   Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, has 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!).   His 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. Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem with [...]

2020-12-17T23:41:39-05:00June 8th, 2012|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Was Jesus an Essene?

QUESTION: I was wondering how big of an influence you think the Essenes had on Jesus and his teachings, and if there's any evidence that he and John The Baptist were students of that philosophy. Jesus' apocalyptic teachings seem to align with them a lot. RESPONSE: Great question!  When the Dead Sea Scrolls (= DSS) were discovered in 1947, it was quickly realized that this was a library of documents produced by the Jewish group known from other ancient authors (such as Josephus and Pliny the Elder) as the Essenes (this identification is debated among some scholars; but the solid majority of scholars agree today that the “Essene” hypothesis is right).   The Essenes were known from antiquity for being a rigorously ascetic group.  The DSS themselves were an entire library of writings.  Some of them were copies of biblical books (Hebrew Bible) – significant because they were about a thousand years older than the oldest copy otherwise available.   Others were previously unknown works: commentaries on biblical books, apocalyptic treatises, instructions for how the community was [...]

Q&A With Ben Witherington: Part 1

Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, has 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!).   His 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. Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem with [...]

Religion in the News: Dating Jesus’ Death by the Earthquake

Geologists claim now that they have established the date of Jesus’ death. It was April 3, 33 CE. Thus: Jesus 'died on Friday, April 3, 33AD', claim researchers, who tie earthquake data with the gospels to find the date http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2149750/Jesus-died-Friday-April-3-33AD-claim-researchers-tie-earthquake-data-gospels-date.html For those who don’t know, the date of Jesus’ death has long been in dispute. The reality is, we are not sure when Jesus was executed (i.e., what year). It almost certainly happened during a Passover feast during the reign of Pontius Pilate as the Prefect of Judea. His rule lasted between 26-36 CE. All of our early Gospel accounts agree that the crucifixion happened on a Friday. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this Friday was the day after the Passover meal was eaten (and so, technically, it was still “Passover Day; see Mark 14:12). According to John the Friday was the day before it was eaten – on the day of Preparation for the Passover (John 19:14). But which year was it? FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in and access the membership [...]

Question: Would I Be Personally Devastated if the Mythicists Were Right?

QUESTION: Was also wondering - and maybe you addressed this in your book ... would you feel an emotionally traumatic disappointment if it was conclusively proved that Jesus was indeed a mythical figure? In all honesty how would you feel if it were true beyond a doubt that all the arguments the 'mythicists' have presented were found to be correct (or mostly correct) regarding his assumed existence? This question is not meant to be offensive or unnecessarily provoking - I'm just curious. RESPONSE: I don’t address this in the book, and I think it is a terrific question! The reason I do is this. I think every historian of religion who makes a case for one thing or another needs to be queried: what is at stake for you in the matter? For example, I have participated a number of public debates with conservative evangelical Christian scholars who have wanted to insist that they can PROVE, historically, that Jesus was raised from the dead. Now I should state with vigor and emphasis – the only [...]

2020-04-03T19:41:56-04:00May 28th, 2012|Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Reader’s Questions|

Undergraduate Courses (2): Introduction to the New Testament (Part 2)

Once students have come to see what the contents, characteristics, and emphases of each of the Gospels are, and have recognized that the Gospels cannot be taken as historically reliable accounts of what “really” happened in the life of Jesus, both because of their many discrepancies and because of historical implausibilities (as just two examples: Luke’s “census” that gets Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem; or the Triumphal Entry, where Jesus is publicly acclaimed messiah by the massive crowds and the authorities do nothing about it) – once students have recognized this, they are in a position to consider the criteria that scholars use to ferret out from sources such as these bona fide historical information. I stress with my students that the literary questions one brings to the Gospels are different from historical questions.  The literary questions are the ones we ask about the Gospels as works of literature: what they want to teach and what message they want to convey.  The historical questions are ones we ask about the Gospels as sources: what they [...]

2017-12-25T12:23:10-05:00May 22nd, 2012|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Why Did Jesus Go To Jerusalem?

QUESTION Just what did the historical Jesus think he was doing that last week in Jerusalem? It looks to me like he was working as hard as he could to get himself killed. If that's what he was doing, then why was he doing it?   RESPONSE Interesting question!  There have been scholars, of course, who have argued that this is precisely what Jesus was doing, that he went to Jerusalem in order to be crucified. It is interesting that those who take that view cover as wide a range of ideology and theology as you could possibly imagine.   Conservative Christian thinkers (from protestant fundamentalists to Roman Catholic theologians to … well, take your pick) have long thought that the point of the Jerusalem trip was in fact the crucifixion, since this was all part of God’s plan.   Jesus’ mission on earth was to be crucified; he went to Jerusalem to make it happen.   This is what I myself thought for many, many years. On the other side of the theological spectrum is someone like [...]

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 [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:30-04:00May 11th, 2012|Historical Jesus|

Did Jesus Exist as Part One

Writing Did Jesus Exist was an interesting task. For one thing, before writing the book, like most New Testament scholars, I knew almost nothing about the mythicist movement. I think mythicists themselves find this very frustrating, that their work is not taken seriously – in fact is not really even known – by precisely the scholars they would most like to convince. But that’s just the way it is. Many scholars have heard of G. A. Wells, who for years has propounded a mythicist view (of sorts: he actually thinks there was a man Jesus, but he is essentially unrelated to the Christ of Christian tradition). And Robert Price has a PhD in the field and wrote a bona fide scholarly book The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. But scholars who know about the mythicists – e.g. by reading the second edition of Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus, where he effectively disposes of the mythicists of his day – whether for good reason or not, simply do not take them seriously. And many scholars [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:57-04:00May 5th, 2012|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

A Recent Interview

Here, for anyone interested, is a link to a recent interview I did (2012).  It is relatively short (Q&A via email), but it covers a range of topics, with some really terrific questions, I thought. http://www.theporpoisedivinglife.com/porpoise-diving-life.asp?pageID=657 Post Update 10/2014: The original post resided on now an expired blog "The Porpoise Diving Life: Reality for the Rest of Us or Picking Up Where Purpose-Driven Peters Out" moderated by Bill Dahl, who interviewed me after the printed release of "DID JESUS EXIST?". The following interview was fully restored from the Internet Archive Way Back Machine by my blog support. ______________________________________________________________________________ First, allow me to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Bart D. Ehrman of UNC - Chapel Hill for agreeing to this interview. Thanks also to Julie Burton, Publicity Director at HarperOne in San Francisco. His most recent book is "Did Jesus Exist?" (HarperOne 2012). First, my review of the book: This, I believe, is one of the MOST IMPORTANT books the vast majority of purported Christians will never read. Why? Because most have a self-confessed understanding of Jesus wrapped up in a tidy [...]

Response to Carrier

A lot of people have been asking me when I will be replying to Richard Carrier's full-frontal assault (!) on my book. I've started to reply in a couple of posts (maybe some haven't noticed....), but I hope to have a fuller set of comments soon, on his charges of "Errors of Fact." I know what I want to say, but am simply overwhelmed right now with other things to do. Long story, I won't bore you with it. But I *hope* to have a fairly sizeable posting on the topic by Wednesday (I'm saying this here so I don't need to reply individually to everyone who has asked). I have decided that I will post it on the Public Forum, since I really do take his charges of scholarly incompetence seriously and feel that I need to address them. In the meantime, someone forwarded to me the following post on R. Joseph Hoffmann's blog. I think it's pretty good and amusing and worth reading. I don't think I've ever met Hoffmann, but I've known [...]

Acharya S, Richard Carrier, and a Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”)

As I indicated in my earlier posting, I will make an exception in this case and post these comments on the Public Forum, although normally I reserve my Responses to Critics to the Members Only section of the blog. As many readers know, Richard Carrier has written a hard-hitting, one might even say vicious, response to Did Jesus Exist.  I said nothing nasty about Carrier in my book – just the contrary, I indicated that he was a smart fellow with whom I disagree on fundamental issues, including some for which he really does not seem to know what he is talking about.  But I never attacked him personally.  He on the other hand, appears to be showing his true colors. Still, the one thing this bit of nastiness has shown me is that even though I seem to stir up controversy everywhere I go and with everything I write, I really don’t like conflict.  I would much prefer that we all simply get along and search for truth together.   But alas, the world does [...]

2020-05-27T16:00:39-04:00April 22nd, 2012|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Richard Carrier on The Huffington Post Article (1)

I began to write replies to Richard Carrier’s rather heated response to my Huffington Post article before his now more extensive review of my book appeared on his blog.  I will first reply in a series of posts to the first response, and then deal with the more extensive and, well, overly heated (!) later response. This was my first response: Richard Carrier has written a rather intemperate reaction to my piece in the Huffington Post in which I summarize, in about a thousand words, some of the major points I make in my new book Did Jesus Exist (361 pages!  It is not easy to condense that much material in three pages!).   One thing he objects to most vehemently to is my claim that there are no scholars trained in the relevant fields of academic inquiry (e.g., New Testament; early Christianity) and teaching at a recognized institution of higher learning who takes the position that he and his fellow mythicists take, that Jesus never existed. I can understand why Carrier is so upset.  He [...]

2020-05-27T16:01:15-04:00April 21st, 2012|Bart's Critics, Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Do My Research Assistants Do All My Work For Me?

I was surprised, shocked, dismayed, incredulous, and well, OK, pretty ticked off and aggravated when some of the mythicists that I deal with in my book, Did Jesus Exist, went on the attack and made it personal.   Let me make a confession: before getting ready to do this Blog, and getting into Facebook as a preparation for it, I had no idea how grimy the Internet can be.   It is one messy place.  I know, I know – welcome to the 21st century! One of the charges against me that is being made is not just atrociously wrong but insulting to my integrity, something I take very seriously.  It’s one thing to have a disagreement about how to interpret historical data; it’s another thing to charge a scholar with dishonesty.   The first instance I know of the charge was suggested by Achyra S on her blog, and most forcefully by Robert Price on his podcast.  The charge is that I did not actually do any of the research for Did Jesus Exist myself, but that [...]

2020-04-03T19:47:18-04:00April 20th, 2012|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Q & A – Historical Events in Jesus Tradition

[h3] EMAIL QUESTION [/h3] Sir, I have inquiries regarding your view on two supposed historical events found in Jesus Tradition: (1) the burial by Joseph of Arimathea; (2) the discovery of the empty tomb by some of Jesus' women followers. It appears that when you gave a lecture for The Teaching Company (published in 2003) you regarded these two event claims to be "historical facts." You stated that "the earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying that Jesus was in fact buried by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it's relatively reliable that that's what happened. We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later." Source: "From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity," Lecture 4: "Oral and Written Traditions about  Jesus" (The Teaching Company, 2003). However, in your debate with W. L. Craig in 2006, you stated, "The payoff is this: We don't know if Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. What we have are Gospel stories written decades later by people who [...]

2020-04-03T19:48:11-04:00April 5th, 2012|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Latest HarperOne Book: Did Jesus Exist?

[h4] Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth [/h4] Book Publication Date: March 20, 2012 Large numbers of atheists, humanists, and conspiracy theorists are raising one of the most pressing questions in the history of religion: "Did Jesus exist at all?" Was he invented out of whole cloth for nefarious purposes by those seeking to control the masses? Or was Jesus such a shadowy figure—far removed from any credible historical evidence—that he bears no meaningful resemblance to the person described in the Bible? In Did Jesus Exist? historian and Bible expert Bart Ehrman confronts these questions, vigorously defends the historicity of Jesus, and provides a compelling portrait of the man from Nazareth. The Jesus you discover here may not be the Jesus you had hoped to meet—but he did exist, whether we like it or not. Publisher Reviews “Ehrman’s clarity is something to emulate.” —Newsweek “Ehrman] is a lucid expositor.” —The New Yorker “[God’s Problem is a] serious inquiry. . . . Ehrman pursues it with an energy and goodwill that invite [...]

2020-04-03T19:47:05-04:00April 4th, 2012|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|
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