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Kickstarting a Debate

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 ben.holman48@yahoo.com


Guest Post – Brent Nongbri on Manuscript Discoveries
The Dead Sea Scrolls

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Comments

  1. RonaldTaska  June 26, 2015

    The “good, bad, and ugly” of debate opponents could also apply to many of your past “Christian” debate opponents.

  2. RonaldTaska  June 26, 2015

    Actually, I have spent a lot of time reading Dr. Price’s website in the past and have always found it to be helpful, educational, and thought provoking. I can understand Dr.Price arguing that the Gospel authors, writing four or more decades after the death of Jesus, compiled legendary material that had been orally transmitted for decades. What, however, is he going to say about Paul, writing much earlier than the Gospel authors, contending that he had met with James, the brother of Jesus, and Peter, the main disciple of Jesus????? To have had a brother and a main disciple don’t you have to have existed?

    • dostonj  June 29, 2015

      1. Paul never refers to anyone as disciples of Jesus, including Peter. He simply refers to Peter as an apostle (like himself) and also as a church pillar. But apostles, specifically, were those who saw “appearances” of the post-resurrected Jesus and were commissioned to evangelize. That was the criteria of an apostle, which is why Paul also considered himself to be equal with “the twelve,” as he met that same criteria. But what’s most important to note in relation to your post is that Paul never once mentions that the Peter or any other apostle had a pre-crucifixion relationship with Jesus. He only speaks of the apostles in terms of them having seen or had visions of the post-resurrected Christ. The term “disciple” is not found ever in Paul’s epistles. And the term apostle is solely a post-resurrection designation.

      2. An interesting argument has been made by Dr. Price, Richard Carrier, and others that Paul’s reference to James as “brother of the Lord” does not actually signify that he was a biological brother to Jesus. Rather, the phrase “brother of the Lord” was a euphemism for a baptized but non-apostolic Christian. Paul repeatedly refers to Christians as being the adopted siblings of Christ and the adopted sons of God. There is also some evidence that “brother of the Lord” was how early Christians referred to other initiated believers. Thus, the argument goes that Paul was referring to James as the “brother of the Lord” to distinguish him as a regular Christian as opposed to an esteemed apostle. The terminology in the context of the passage is purely spiritual in connotation, not biological per se.

  3. Wilusa  June 26, 2015

    Just curious: Do you know what Robert Price’s fee is, whether he also donates it to charity, and whether he actually *wants* this debate, because your agreeing to share a stage with him will in itself make his view seem more “respectable”?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2015

      For this debate he would get the same amount I do, as would only be fair. What he does with it — that’s completely up to him! And yes, I believe he does want to have the debate.

  4. dostonj  June 26, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman,

    First let me say that I thoroughly enjoy your work, and I appreciate your charity. But I am a little perplexed by your line of reasoning for being so averse to debating Jesus “mythicists”. Two of your stated reasons are that it would “lend [mythicism] a kind of credibility that it otherwise doesn’t have, and that the historicity of Jesus is basically a non-issue among scholars in mainstream academia. Yet, you debated William Lane Craig, Mike Licona, and Craig Evans – each of whom hold the position that Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, was bodily resurrected from the dead, and ascended to heaven in public view. To be sure, such a rendering of Jesus is laughable among mainstream academics, and is unquantifiably less likely to be true than the notion that this highly mythologized figure is a-historical. Nonetheless, you have debated several literalists.

    And setting aside the ad hominems from either side of the aisle, have you had the opportunity to read Dr. Carrier’s book On the Historicity of Jesus? If so, even if you are principally opposed to engaging him personally in a debate, are you at least open to engaging his scholarship and thesis? We all know that he rubbed you wrong, and if you are principally opposed to jousting with him in a public forum, then I completely understand and respect your decision. Still, his book is very thoughtful, well researched, well argued, and presents a perspective that requires some attention from someone as well qualified as yourself.

    Lastly, you seemed to suggest that having a PhD in the New Testament makes someone uniquely qualified to address the topic of historicity. I think that’s a sufficient qualification, but not the only relevant one. Carrier has a PhD in Ancient History…and after all, the issue here is whether the Jesus of the NT was historical. Seems legit.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2015

      Yes, he has a bona fide degree. That is why I always say that only two mythicists (Carrier and Price) have degrees in relevant fields. I do think that Carrier would do well to learn more about the academic field of biblical studies though.

    • Epicurus13
      Epicurus13  June 28, 2015

      Good points there dostonj, I also agree with your view on the literalists vs mythicists debating logic. William Lane Craig seems pretty nutty to me and his honesty has been put to question more then once.

      • Bart
        Bart  June 29, 2015

        Could you say something more about questions regarding his honesty?

        • Epicurus13
          Epicurus13  June 30, 2015

          https://richarddawkins.net/2013/08/unbelieving-wlc-william-lane-craig-exposed-by-lawrence-krauss/

          Here is one of the examples of William Lane Craig’s honesty Dr Ehrman. I’m trying to find the other examples but its been a while. And for my honesty its all of course second hand since I have never met Craig. I do respect Lawrence Krauss though and he has had a few honesty issues debating him. I’ll try to find the others.

        • Lawyerskeptic  July 5, 2015

          In a popular book for the masses, Craig claims, “The Gospels were written soon after the events and in the same place where the events happened. Thus it would have been almost impossible for them to be lies.” WILLIAM LANE CRAIG, THE SON RISES 26-27 (Wipf and Stock Publishers 2000). In an academic book for Greek-reading scholars, Craig explains in a 5-page footnote that he does not really know when and where the Gospels were written, but that Mark probably had a “first edition in Rome in 45.” WILLIAM LANE CRAIG, ASSESSING THE NEW TESTAMENT EVIDENCE FOR THE HISTORICITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS 418-19 (Edwin Mellen 1989).

          Hanlon’s Razor says: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Dr. Craig is not stupid, but the same principle applies to tunnel vision or whatever doublethink allows a man of Dr. Craig’s great learning to believe in the literal truth of everything in the Bible. Insulting a man’s integrity should be the last option, something Kyle Butt should have remembered after his debate with you. Even so, I find it hard to accept as an honest mistake the claim that the Gospels were written in the same place where the events happened. I do not read Greek, but I have visited both Jerusalem and Rome. They are not the same place.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 6, 2015

            Wow. Thanks.

          • Epicurus13
            Epicurus13  July 23, 2015

            Thanks also. Glad I came back and checked this thread.

    • Steefen  June 28, 2015

      I agree, the virgin birth is a myth. I agree, Jesus was not raised from the dead past the usual time for Near Death Experiences and Lazarus Syndrome accounts. Did Jesus fall into a coma and awoke from a coma, a medical condition that would get him past the time limits of a NDE or a Lazarus Syndrome account? No, because I do not know of people who come out of a coma and then are walking between cities, cannot be recognized by people who know the person, and who disappears.

      Dr. Ehrman, you cannot see these accounts of Jesus are not historically accurate?

      Dontonj, Dr. Carrier throws tantrums when he loses points in an argument. Rather than help audiences for their edification, he chooses to stop trains of thought. So, if you want to end in a place short of your intellectual pursuits, stick with Dr. Carrier.

      (In my latest video (youtube search WBFbySteefen and see the latest upload) and my upcoming new version of that video on Josephus, the Composite Jesus, and Communion in Light of Leviticus17:10, I fault Dr. Carrier for things he has omitted in his writings and points he has lost in discussions.)

      • Bart
        Bart  June 29, 2015

        Why would you think that I believe these accounts are historically accurate???

        • Steefen  June 30, 2015

          You and your community of scholars poo-poo the subject of myth as it relate to Jesus, it seems you all threw the baby out with the bath water. I couldn’t wait to get back and mention my satisfaction with The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell. 100% mythicists would be smart to include information from the reputable scholar Joseph Campbell.

          (This morning, I wished I could add that not only was Jesus not raised from the dead (with qualifications given), Lazarus was not raised from the dead either (same qualifications).

          Second, by your saying they are not historically accurate, are you calling them anything other than myth? Sure, we can say literary devices within the repertoire of Jewish writing, but to deny them as mythologizing agents does not seem correct.

          Sure, Joseph Campbell was not out to prove Jesus did not exist.

          You gave us the impression or you may be explicitly stating that no one at SBL is continuing the work of Joseph Campbell or the author, Dennis R. MacDonald, who found parallels between the Gospel of Mark and the Homeric Epics.

          Given that you agree that some of the items I cited as historically inaccurate and given what you have written as being historically inaccurate (Jesus and the woman caught in adultery–and you probably still are of the opinion that dogs and birds got to Jesus’ body), the unweighted percent of verses that are inaccurate vs. accurate is more than 5%, minimum. Yes, all of the inaccuracies do not fall under the header of mythologizing. But weighting for significance, we’re over 50% because the weight of Jesus’ resurrection for some Christians is the main reason for belief.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 30, 2015

            To say that events ascribed to the life of Jesus never really happened is not to say that Jesus himself is a “myth” (in the sense that he never existed.)

  5. living42day  June 26, 2015

    Bart, may I have your permission to share today’s post with a couple of atheist groups I hang out with? I’ve often responded to their postings when they’ve put up links to what amounts to “junk history.” The sort of thing that you lampooned in the Introduction to DJE? (i.e., Acharya, Freke & Gandy, etc.). I wouldn’t mind seeing the debate, but since I’ve read what you’ve published as well as Wells, Price, etc., such a debate would provide few surprises.

  6. toejam  June 26, 2015

    I really hope this goes ahead. Two of my favourite scholars.

  7. novotnycurse  June 27, 2015

    I’m surprised that at the annual meeting (which you refer to) there are no debates about this issue.
    This might reflect on the apparent complacency of the professors who attend.

    The most intriguing debate would be between yourself and Richard Carrier. He’s thrown down the gauntlet with his publication of On the Historicity of Jesus. I’d like to see more detailed counter-arguments to his theories.

    By definition, opponents in debates tend to be antagonistic. Surely, that’s the purpose behind such encounters?

    A skilled moderator should be able to protect a participant from gratuitous insults. Any case, an overly aggressive approach from one side would be counter-productive to their cause.

    My impression is that Richard Carrier vents his frustrations in several of his blogs, but remains civilised and courteous in formal debates before an audience.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2015

      It’s not just complacency. It’s a deep familiarity with the issues and the overwhelming evidence. Biblical scholars doubt all sorts of things, most things having to do with the Bible! This just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

  8. JBSeth1  June 27, 2015

    Hi Bart,

    From what I’ve been able to determine, it seems to me that the main proof that Jesus actually existed comes from Paul and Josephus.

    Paul claims to have met both James, the brother of Jesus, and Peter.

    Josephus, talks about James, the brother of Jesus, and tells us that the Jewish leaders or the Jewish people tossed James from the top of the Jewish temple and soon afterward James died.

    The main point here is this, if Paul knew James, the brother of Jesus, and if Josephus knew about the death of James, the brother of Jesus, then surely, James, the brother of Jesus, must have lived.

    Furthermore, if James the brother of Jesus, did I fact actually live, then Jesus himself, must also have lived.

    This evidence seems pretty convincing to me. Are there other sources that are even more validating than this?

    John

  9. Matilda
    Matilda  June 27, 2015

    I am currently reading Richard Carrier ( I hope he is not one of the nasty debaters you are talking about) and he seems to do a really good job with his argument. I have also read your book as well Bart. I am in the horns of a dilemma about what I think. I suppose it doesn’t really matter if Jesus was real or not since the myth that built up around him is not real. Perhaps Jesus, if there was a Jesus, would be amazed or mortified by what has happened to his reputation. Anyway, as far as the mysticists go, what is your main objection to their argument? Your opinion means a lot and as I am on the fence, so to speak I’d like to know.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2015

      I lay out my main objections in the book! Among many other things, I just don’t think they can get around the facts that Paul personally knew Jesus’ brother and that no one at the time would have invented the notion of a crucified messiah.

  10. mrdavidkeller  June 27, 2015

    Sadly we live in a time when the cache of science, literature and history itself is considered peerless at least in the media and political arena, climate denial is treated as science when it clearly is not, Bill Nye the science guy was criticized for debating a creationist not that long ago, yet I think we ought to encourage apologetics in all disciplines. By debating individuals who hope to gain traction for absurd notions we demonstrate they lack standing to begin with, of course there is a danger in encountering someone who uses words well, still everything being equal the scholars eventually score more points as the loons must eventually fall back to circular symantic in the face of emperical argument.

  11. dragonfly  June 27, 2015

    Some of the mythicists arguments might help explain why the stories about Jesus evolved the way they did. But I haven’t heard one argument that suggests Jesus didn’t exist. I seriously doubt the Moses story, but there’s no way I can say it wasn’t based on a real person. It’s got me wondering, what sort of evidence would actually suggest that Jesus (or anyone else) didn’t exist?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2015

      It’s really what they consider to be the lack of evidence rather than the evidence.

    • Steefen  June 28, 2015

      I’m the author of a book of personal essays on the historical accuracy of the Bible. That book, “Insights on the Exodus, King David, and Jesus” won an honorable mention in the North Texas Book Festival. It was later published under the title “The Greatest Bible Study in Historical Accuracy” for marketing purposes. (Publishers have to test market titles.) The Hebrew Bible section of the book does not change as I have grown in my field since 2010-2011. The New Testament section of the book does change.

      In the Hebrew Bible study in historical accuracy, I explain the non-mythologized portions of the Moses story are historically accurate.

      Unfortunately, the biblical Jesus did not exist. I explain why in a 2 hr 45 min. video available on youtube–just youtube search WBFbySteefen and see the latest video. If I were a screenwriter of a biopic and composed that character by combining multiple people and then including fictional accounts, that character would not be historical, that character would be “based on a true story.” The biblical Jesus is less than 50% one historical Jesus.

      Finally, in the book, James the Brother of Jesus by Eisenmann, the author states, there is more evidence for the existence of James than for the existence of Jesus.

      • RGM-ills  July 2, 2015

        I was going to ask how a composite person with characteristics of the sun could be classified as actually historic. If I can ride like the wind, shine like the sun, grab tornado tails, and have a blue ox, then I, as portrayed, really don’t exist. And yet, somebody just typed this sentence.

  12. gavm  June 27, 2015

    Prof im sorry but im getting a bit sick of you say ing”nobody in the field thinks did jesus’s existence is a decent question so NT scholars shouldnt give it time”
    i work in health. let me make this clear. Nobody, and i mean nobody believe in the profession thinks that vaccinations cause autism (and i damm well mean Nobody) but this is an issue for the general public and many layman do believe there could be a prob. do we just pretend we dont need to educate? no. we deal with it. we make an effot to let it be known that vaccinations save lives not take them. you cant just expect the general public to just “know” things that scholars do.
    to be honest jesus not existing does make a lot of sense if yr not an expert in the field. we got magical story’s about a guy written years after he lived, with a bias, in a diff lang in a diff country. there are no eye witnesses and the gospels are in many ways pretty unreliable. its not that silly that people would doubt if he lived. this will only change when scholars put the effort in to set things straight.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2015

      Don’t you think that it is worth noting loudly and publicly that no one in the profession thinks that vaccinations cause autism? Or should professionals not make that point? It seems to me that that is a point I, as a non-professional, need to know.

      • gavm  June 29, 2015

        definetly it should be pointed out, loudly and repeatedly, but that’s the easy bit and it doesn’t really change peoples minds that much. the leg work is explaining specifically why X is right and Y is wrong. explaining what does cause autism. explaining how vaccinations work. really teaching people and selling the case. youve done a grt job at that but pretty much nobody else has.
        think of it like politics, those who actually sell there case, no matter how dumb it is are gonna have influence. those that sit on there hands, no matter how obviously correct they are will influence nothing. i say its a no brianer. you get to make money (and do with it/give it away however you want, get to show the world why we should think the historical jesus existed and you will set an example for others. there really is no reason not to.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 29, 2015

          Yes, that’s why I wrote an entire book on the matter!!

    • cestmarrant  June 29, 2015

      thank you for this comment. i think that when scholars/scientists don’t debate subjects like creationism or mythicism, they are abandoning the public to those claims. surely these debates are not for scholars or scientists, they are to inform the public.

  13. gavm  June 27, 2015

    by the way, did Bob ever explain why he made those comments about yr grad students doing yr research for you? i agree with you not to share a stage with Carrier. the guy is nuts. nothing short of it. hes a headache you should avoid

  14. nmk  June 28, 2015

    Hi Dr. Ehrman, this comment is not related to this post, but, does the New Testament oppose same-sex relations? What is the view of modern biblical scholarship on this matter?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2015

      Many authors thought same-sex sexual acts between adult, free, men were “unnatural” because it meant that one of these persons was being submissive to the other. The one who was enforcing submission (by penetrating the other) was not thought to have behaved unnaturally. Adult free men were *supposed* to dominate others. (So, for many ancients, a man’s sex with a boy was not a problem; or sex with a male slave; or with anyone else he was supposed to dominate)

  15. hgb55  June 30, 2015

    Bart, as you know, Bayesian analysis is used by mythicists Richard Carrier, Frank Zindler and Raphael Lataster to argue that Jesus never existed. Interestingly, some of the people who claim that William Shakespeare never wrote anything, or may not have existed, also use Bayesian analysis and Bayesian reasoning to support their claims.

    For example, physicist Peter Sturrock notes that we have ten important items missing from historical records and accounts about William Shakespeare, items that should be present if Shakespeare had been a writer or a real person. These items include records about his education, correspondence, payments, wages, original manuscripts, receipts, death notice as a writer, and so on. Even his name is spelled in numerous suspicious ways like Shackspeare, Shagspere and Shaxpere. [Sturrock, “Shakespeare: The Authorship Question, A Bayesian Approach,” J. of Scientific Exploration, 22(4), 2008] . Sturrock calculates that the chance probability that all ten of these items are missing from our historical records about Shakespeare if he were a real author is 1 in 100,000.

    Notice that the Jesus mythicists often use similar arguments and methods. Jesus never existed because his name is suspicious, we have no records of his death, people never wrote about Jesus when he was alive, Nazareth never existed, and so on. Arguments about the absence of evidence and Bayesian probability analysis have clear limitations and should be used with extreme caution and skepticism in assessing human history.

    Another article from Newsweek magazine in December, 2014 has an interesting article titled, “The Campaign to Prove that Shakespeare Didn’t Exist.”

    http://www.newsweek.com/2014/12/26/campaign-prove-shakespeare-didnt-exist-293243.html

    Hobart G. Baker

  16. john76  July 1, 2015

    I tend to think there was an historical Jesus. The gospels teach that Jesus’s ethical message was one of loving your enemy, and loving your neighbor as yourself. But in practice, Jesus had a scathing approach to the Pharisees and the money changers, and often had a hurtful approach to his disciples, accusing them of lack of faith. I don’t think the writers of the gospels would have written about Jesus as having his ethical message in conflict with his everyday behavior if he was just a myth. Probably the historical Jesus had lofty ideals, but in practise was somewhat like the fiery, “holier than thou” old testament prophets:

    1. Jesus taught, but didn’t practice, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone (John 8:7, also Matthew 7:1 and Romans 2:1).” Instead, Jesus saw what he believed to be the sin of the money changers and self-righteously threw over their tables. 2. Jesus taught but didn’t practice “Love Your Enemy (Romans 12:14, Matthew 5:38-42; Luke 6:27-31),” because he repeatedly name-called and insulted the Pharisees: (Matthew 12:34), “blind guides” (Matthew 23:16, 24), “blind fools” (Matthew 23:17, 19, 26) and “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27). Numerous times he called them “hypocrites” to their faces (Matthew 15:7;23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). 3. Jesus taught but didn’t practice “Love Thy Neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 6:31),” when he repeatedly degraded and demeaned his disciples for not having enough faith: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26); “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?” (Matthew 16:8); “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (Matthew 17:17).

    I think Jesus was partially to be understood in the light of the fiery prophets of the Old Testament. I think the character Jesus often conveyed a “holier than thou” attitude, just like the old prophets did. But equally a part of the character of Jesus was a philosophy of loving your enemy and loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus had these two sides to his person. And because of this duality, Jesus had two fates: (1) Jesus’ fiery, “holier than thou” side insulted the Pharisees, money changers, etc., and got Jesus arrested and crucified. It was well known to the gospel writers that a “holier than thou” attitude could land a prophet in a lot of trouble. For example, according to the Synoptic Gospels, Herod, who was tetrarch, or sub-king, of Galilee under the Roman Empire, had imprisoned John the Baptist because he reproved Herod for divorcing his wife (Phasaelis) and unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. (2) On the other hand, Jesus’ selfless, sanctity of the “Other” side taught people to love their neighbors and enemies, and got him resurrected. The moral the gospel writers seemed to be presenting with Jesus having this duality is that you can’t change the world by finding fault and chastising people, but rather by loving the sinner you encounter so they can begin to see their change and growth must come from themselves. I can’t change you, but I can be a positive influence to assist you in becoming strong enough to begin to change yourself.

    The gospel of Matthew foreshadows that in that gospel there is going to be something very wrong about Jesus (a “holier than thou” self-righteous side). The Davidic Genealogy or royal bloodline of Jesus given in Matthew has two shocking peculiarities about it. First, Jesus’ reported Davidic bloodline itself, unlike that in Luke, was cursed by the prophet Jeremiah. Second, there are four women included in the genealogy, each having well known scandalous sexual histories in the Old Testament. The women’s presence in the bloodline in itself deserves further thought, since, as Tabor says, even the inclusion of women is not proper to a royal Jewish bloodline.

  17. novotnycurse  July 1, 2015

    I’ve been reading a new book Sex: Antiquity and its Legacy by Daniel Orrells (2014).
    And it backs up what Bart has just said.

  18. shakespeare66  July 2, 2015

    Thank you for validating my authorship, Professor Ehrman. ( haha) I took the name of Shakespeare as my screen name for a variety of reasons, the main being that I just love the wisdom and genius of the man. However, throughout my entire 37 year career of teaching, the idea that this man from a small village could write like that became a bit of a stretch to believe. I kind of had an “Ah ha” moment when delving into the details of stories within the story of Hamlet. I then began teaching the “controversy” of Shakespeare because my other favorite author, Mark Twain, was not of the mind that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. That intrigued me. I though Twain to be a brilliant man about the affairs of the world and human nature and surely he knew about writers. So he gave credibility to the argument. Anyway, I taught that Edward de Vere was a likely candidate to have written the plays. After retirement, I looked at this situation and drew the conclusion that he IS the writer of the plays, and that he was just an enormously gifted soul. But he had to have been a great reader ( especially of the Geneva Bible as there are a myriad of references made to it in his works). Now, aside from rereading the Bible, which I have done already, I am in the midst of reading all of his plays. Had I been a scholar ( and I would have worked to that end had I known what I know now), I would have either been a Shakespeare or Twain scholar. Either one would have provided endless fascination. Finally, it was a few years ago when I wrote you an email about my reading of your books ( I have read 14 of them), and you indicated that your wife, Sara, was a Shakespearean scholar, and that the Shakespeare controversy was a non-issue. I have, however, a friend who thinks that DeVere is the writer, and was also the writer of the King James Bible. I know. Obviously, he is not a scholar. Yet, knowing what I know about religion and the beliefs of people, it does not surprise me what people believe. Your book, Did Jesus Exist, is throughly convincing of the reality of one name Jesus. Thanks so much, as always, for your great work.

  19. dragonfly  July 3, 2015

    Let’s clear something up. How much evidence would we expect to find that an uneducated preacher from rural Galilee existed in the first century? None. So a lack of evidence about Jesus would just confirm that. Even the mythicists know that. So what are they claiming? Correct me if I’m wrong, the general theory is some people made up some sort of fictious divine being called Jesus, which later people mistakenly thought was a real person. I need to see some credible evidence that this actually happened before I will even entertain the idea. A lack of evidence that Jesus was a real person does not suggest he was a mythological invention.

  20. Dan  July 4, 2015

    Dr Ehrman,

    Could you estimate what percent of biblical material about Jesus is mythical? I suspect it is rather high, and if that is the case then this kind of debate seems rather unnecessary. If Dr Price says it is all a myth, and you say it is 80% or more myths about a person that did exist then does it really matter or is there enough of a difference of opinion for a debate? It would seem like the term mythicist applies in both situations.

    Dan Mangum
    Tigard, Oregon

    • Bart
      Bart  July 6, 2015

      My view is that there is a stark difference between saying that stories about Jesus in the NT are non-historical and saying that Jesus himself is a myth. Much of what people think today about Socrates, or, say, the emperor Caligula, is non-historical, but they certainly were real, living human beings.

      • Dan  July 7, 2015

        Thank you and I agree, but I am still curious about your best estimate on what percent of the stories about Jesus you believe are mythical. Also, are you using the term non-historical as the same as not true and hence mythical?

        Dan Mangum

        • Bart
          Bart  July 7, 2015

          I’ve never tried to calculate a percentage, and don’t know how one would go about it. No, I don’t think non-historical means “not true” (a non-historical story can be “true” in some sense other than history) and I don’t think either means “mythical”

      • Robert Wahler  November 5, 2015

        Dr. Ehrman,

        But they have support from real historians. Where does Jesus have such support? Surely you are familiar with arguments Doherty and Carrier make about Josephus and Tacitus being interpolated and third hand. Anonymously authored Gospels are not history. Paul wrote about a Heavenly Redeemer, not a human (if Paul himself was real). Btw, it is “brother of THE LORD”, not “brother of JESUS”. They were not the same! Not in Paul’s mind, or in ‘Jesus’ mind either (“only begotten Son” is not the man, but the Holy Spirit, John 3:16 for example — check the past tense for this and John 3:19).

        Or is this what you mean by “the difference between” stories and the person being mythical?:
        “So this is not an “eyewitness” account (or, rather, not an “earwitness” account) – it is an account that we get from Papias who got it from others who got it from John who got it from Jesus. At least that’s what he claims. As a result, we’re getting it fourth-hand. But still, that’s pretty good: probably for most sayings of Jesus we are at a further remove than that.”

        Further removed than blowing up as big as a cart and oozing worms?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 5, 2015

          I don’t think I would classify Doherty as a “real historian”!

  21. Lawyerskeptic  July 5, 2015

    Please feel no obligation to share this comment with the rest of the membership. I’m certain you will read it, and no answer will be an answer.

    The Kickstarter campaign has raised $4,700 out of $13,019 with 11 days to go. It seems doomed to failure. Is this debate something you really want to happen?

    I did not know until today that those who contribute over $500 are invited to dinner with you and Dr. Price. If 16 members contributed $520, would we all be invited to the dinner? That might be doable if you rallied the troops to your support. I couldn’t care less about the mythicist argument. Nonetheless, I would sign up just for the evening of good fellowship and stimulating conversation.

    In the alternative, members would probably enjoy contributing a similar or even greater amount to make happen an event that you really cared about. If you were to do a Kickstarter a campaign of your own, what would it be?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 6, 2015

      I’m not particularly eager for it to happen. I’m working on such different things now, that it would be a bit of an abrupt shift for me to have to go back and to all the re-reading necessary for the debate. I think my book pretty well stands on its own merits. But if people want me to do it, I will.

  22. Luke9733  July 9, 2015

    If this debate happens, you should ask Dr. Price if he thinks John the Baptist, Gamaliel the Elder, Pythagoras, or Apollonius of Tyana really existed. To my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong), we have either earlier sources or more sources (or, in some cases, both) for Jesus than what we have for all of those figures (and miracle stories certainly aren’t unique to Jesus – we have some colorful ones for both Apollonius and Pythagoras). The same is true for Queen Boudica as well (as far as I know our only written sources for hundreds of years for her are Tacitus and Cassius Dio – and she led a pretty large rebellion!).

    Any idea of any of the Mythicists have ever tried comparing Jesus to other similar figures (*actually* similar figures and not just very important Emperors)? Or do they usually avoid comparisons because it would require hem to say lots of other figures were mythical too?

    • Luke9733  July 9, 2015

      *them (I didn’t mean hem)

    • Bart
      Bart  July 9, 2015

      Good question! I know Price does suspect that Paul was not a historical being either. I don’t know about the others.

    • hgb55  July 13, 2015

      In reference to comments by Luke9733:

      Jesus mythicist and historian Richard Carrier recently posted on his blog why he concludes Paul was a real historical person and why Jesus was not. The evidence for the two are compared. Carrier writes that Jesus was mythical because the themes and motifs in Jesus’ biographical narratives are of the mythological hero-type, much like the narratives about mythical figures such as Heracles and Zeus. In contrast, Carrier says the biographical narratives about Paul do not contain any significant hero-type themes and motifs.

      Jesus mythicist Frank Zindler writes in recent books and articles that he believes that Buddha, Muhammad, John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph of Arimathea and all of Jesus’ diciples were fictional or mythical persons. He also suspects that Paul was a mythical person. Zindler also believes it extremely likely that Socrates never existed, having been invented by Plato as a literary character (personal communication).

      Jesus mythicist D.M. Murdock (Acharya S) writes that both Jesus and John the Baptist were fictional persons fashioned as sun gods. Zindler also believes the same according to his book, “Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth.” The reason Jesus’ birthday is near the winter solstice is because the sun god called Jesus is rising, replacing the previous sun god called John the Baptist, who is setting (the winter solstice is six month safter the birthday of John the Baptist, says Zindler, and hence that sun god is long dead when the new sun god Jesus begins to rise).

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