I periodically get asked to have a public debate with a mythicist on the question of their real concern: Did Jesus Exist? I have regularly declined these offers, for a variety of reasons:
The question is not really a matter of dispute among experts, even though mythicists as a rule would like it to be and sometimes even insist it is. But the reality is this: if you were to look at the program of the annual meeting of (the many thousands of English-speaking) professors of Biblical Studies, the Society of Biblical Literature meeting (this year in Atlanta), you will not find a session (out of thousands) devoted to arguing both sides of this issue. That’s because there is no debate.
There is debate generated by the mythicists themselves, of course, and in recent years there have been two bona fide scholars in relevant fields (out of the tens of thousands of scholars in relevant fields) who have become outspoken in support of a mythicist view. But like it or not (most mythicists don’t) (quite vociferously don’t!) no one except their own followers is much paying attention.
I often liken this to another question, whether Shakespeare wrote his plays. This is not debated at the Shakespeare Association of America meetings. I am told it is a completely non-issue, even though it is the one thing non-scholars are most interested in and want to know about. But most Shakespeare scholars just roll their eyes. The *difference* between this and the mythicists is that the question of whether Jesus existed is NOT really a burning question among most non-scholars, whereas the Shakespeare question appears to be.
Still, the mythicists have become loud, and thanks to the Internet they’ve attracted more attention, even if the vast majority of scholars look on the matter with some amusement (apologies to mythicists out there who don’t think it’s amusing. I’m not saying scholars *should* view it with amusement; I’m simply saying that they *do*)
- Relatedly, since I don’t think this is an issue of debate among scholars, I’m really not all that eager to *make* it an issue of debate. And holding a public debate on the matter, it seems to me, would provide air time for a view and lend it a kind of credibility that it otherwise doesn’t have. (That’s probably an argument against my writing a book about the question, but so it goes….)
- On a more personal level, there are some mythicists (I won’t name names) that I simply don’t want to share a stage with, because they are mean-spirited, antagonistic, vitriolic, spiteful, and, well, generally lacking in generosity. Some of them need to learn that mockery is not a legitimate form of intellectual engagement.
- Moreover, a number of mythicists (again not naming names) simply don’t know what they’re talking about half the time.
ON THE OTHER HAND, there are some mythicists who really are good people and nice human beings: generous, well-meaning, smart, and interesting. And there are a couple who actually are scholars (even if they are nowhere near the mainstream) who know a lot about antiquity, or about the New Testament.
All of this is a preface to say that I have been asked to debate Robert Price on whether Jesus existed. Bob is someone I would not mind sharing a stage with. He has a PhD in New Testament and has written scholarly books and articles. He is the only mythicist that I know of with those qualifications. And he’s a good guy, generous and interesting.
My stipulation for doing the debate is that the sponsors pay a substantial speaking fee. It is no mystery what that fee is. It is $5000. The reason I would do the debate, and receive the fee, is not to line my own pockets. I would give the entire amount to charity (one or more of the charities that the blog supports). And so even though I am generally disinclined to do this kind of debate, I would do it in this instance as a way of raising money for a good cause.
The person trying to organize the debate is working to raise money for it (it’s expensive: my fee, Bob’s fee, travelling expenses, renting a place to hold it), and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to make it happen. If you are interested in it happening and would like to contribute to it, here is the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1202932161/did-jesus-exist-bart-ehrman-and-robert-price-debat
Check it out. If the funds can be raised, we’ll do it.
If you have any questions about the Kickstarter or the debate (the logistics, the place, the time, whether it will be streamed or otherwise made available, or anything at all), please contact the organizer Ben Holman at [email protected]