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My Milwaukee Mythicist Debate

I have had several people ask me about how the debate went with Robert Price this past Friday evening.   For those of you who haven’t kept up with the blog or who don’t remember (no reason you should!): I was in Milwaukee to have a debate on the question Did Jesus Exist?  The event was sponsored by the Milwaukee Mythicists, a rather unusual group of local folk who are committed to the idea that there never was a man Jesus, but that he was completely made up by early Christians, a myth.  Hence their name.  Robert Price agrees with that view.

The Milwaukee Mythicists are not a chapter of a larger nation-wide organization.  They are the only group like that that I know of (if there are others, I’m sure members of the blog will let me know).  They are a small group, but vibrant, committed, and, apparently, growing.   My view, of course, is that their very raison d’être is problematic, since Jesus, in my view, almost certainly existed.  Hence the debate.

Despite our differences, I have to say that I was given an exceedingly warm and generous welcome by members of the group.  My sense is that as a whole they thought we are more closely aligned than different, that, apart from that little Jesus question, we have a lot in common.  Almost needless to say, the group (almost?) entirely comprises agnostics and atheists, and they are interested in promoting an atheist agenda.

There were several …

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Mythicists and the Stories Told of Jesus
The Best Manuscripts and Social Justice: Readers’ Mailbag October 23, 2016

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Comments

  1. asahagian  October 24, 2016

    I love how realistic you are about how the debate went. LOL! But then you have a way with being realistic. Would have liked to have heard the debate. Will there be a video of it available?




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    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      It is available, but you have to pay a small fee. You can just google the organization.




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  2. dragonfly  October 24, 2016

    I’ll be interested in his arguments. Not so much how a story about Jesus was similar to a story about some other legend in history, but what evidence that someone actually made up the whole idea of Jesus.




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  3. Epicurus13
    Epicurus13  October 24, 2016

    Kind of an unimportant question but I saw in one of the pictures from their Facebook profile that Richard Carrier was in attendance. Any interesting conversations or did the two of you avoid each other ? Very cool the event wasn’t all suffering. Can’t wait to see the debate. Thanks as always !




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    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      We met each other for the first time, and it was cordial.




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      • novotnycurse  October 27, 2016

        That’s good.
        I sometimes think a shared book, chapter by chapter, would be interesting.
        Carrier could start a chapter, then you would respond. Then he would respond to your response. And yours to his. End of chapter.
        You would then start a completely new chapter and the process would repeat itself.
        This would follow the classic concept of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis.
        We might then be surprised at the common ground you share. And we might also become more aware of the critical points where you strongly disagree.




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  4. gabilaranjeira  October 24, 2016

    The debate was great because you were there. I wasn’t expecting much from the mythicists, but I certainly expected that they had clear arguments based on solid knowledge to corroborate their claim. But it was like you were talking about scholarship, evidence and the work of a historian in establishing what probably happened in the past and Price was being a capricious defender of his perceptions and speculations. The fact that he ran out of things to ask you seemd very symptomatic to me. And when he finally said that the apostle Paul never existed either I almost had an anaphylactic reaction.

    But, anyway, you were great as always and I was very glad I went.




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    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      If *I* had an anaphylactic reaction, I wouldn’t be able to spell it, let alone diagnose it….




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  5. barrios160679  October 24, 2016

    Sounds that even if the video would be uploaded, the Milwaukee Mythicists will charge for watching! 🙂




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  6. clipper9422@yahoo.com  October 24, 2016

    Anecdote about a(n assumed) Milwaukee Mythicist: I’m from the Milwaukee area. I would have loved to come to the debate but was out of town (probably would have skipped the $100 cocktail party though). I’m in a philosophy discussion group open to whomever is interested. Someone who certainly sounded like a very strong mythicist came to a meeting where I proposed we do a comparison between Jesus and Socrates as portrayed in the Gospels and Plato, respectively. This person immediately launched into a very strong criticism of the notion that Jesus had even existed. One reasonable and even-tempered member of the group (an ex-minister) found what this person was saying to be so obnoxious he chose to leave. The assumed mythicist later tried to make amends online but never returned to the group – though not returning is not unusual.




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  7. dfogarty1  October 24, 2016

    Any idea of how I can access the video?




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  8. jackflove  October 24, 2016

    Well, I logged in and read through this thinking I would actually get some sense of what the debate was really about. How do you “prove” something happened? How much contemporary evidence exists? Do the controversial Josephus fragments still matter, and how have the arguments about their historicity changed (whole or in part) in recent years.

    On the side arguing for the events being fictional, do we not take into account the fact that there do seem to be a lot of accurate accounts of matters reflective of the times. There really was a Pontius Pilate, and almost as well demonstrated, high priests and Pharisees that match the NT accounts. Why would anyone make up this whole elaborate story as opposed to embellishing a core of truthful account.

    But I learned nothing of any such thing–Bart, you owe us a better story! 🙂




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    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      I’m not sure what you’re asking! Maybe you didn’t hear my talk?




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  9. brandon284  October 24, 2016

    It was great to meet you after the debate Dr. Ehrman! You were very gracious towards all of us who wanted a picture/book signed and a little bit of conversation. I hope you will come back to WI at some point. The debate was a blast but not very close in regards to content. Dr. Price really seemed to be grasping at straws at points during the back-and-forth segment. I don’t think that he was ill-prepared, but was surprised that he had few questions for you. He seemed to be on his heels the whole time and I was absolutely incredulous about his views on Paul. There were times that it almost seemed that even he knew his position was on very shaky ground. Overall, it was a fantastic evening and I only wish I could attend such events every weekend.




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  10. rbrtbaumgardner  October 24, 2016

    Bart, did writing Jesus Before the Gospels change how you look at the Mythicist claims or suggest lines of argument different from Did Jesus Exist?? I ask because you did a close examination about how the Jesus story evolved and didn’t conclude he was a myth.




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    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      No, my findings in doing my research for the book only helped confirm what I already thought about the historical Jesus.




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      • Wilusa  October 26, 2016

        But you did change your mind on whether Jesus had been thought of as a miracle worker while he was still alive, didn’t you?

        I’ve been quickly rereading your book “Did Jesus Exist?” I haven’t reached the last chapter yet. But I did read a passage that indicated you believed he had that reputation while he was alive. And since then, you’ve said you believe he didn’t.




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        • Bart
          Bart  October 27, 2016

          Yes, I’m ambivalent about that point how. I’d say it’s very hard to say!




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  11. adoser93  October 24, 2016

    Just in response to the above post (I don’t actually want to reply directly because I’m about to get way off topic to the original question): he actually has a suprising level of nuance to his argument of how a non-historical Jesus can be created. He makes a nice comparison to evolution, with the idea that it’s hard to point out some singular moment of speciation, but rather that, like DNA, ideas can gradually transform over time, so visions of a heavenly deity-figure can be interpreted by some and later named and mythicized and eventually historicized, and it can be hard to pinpoint where and by whom each moment or dividing line occurred. He’s not a Joseph Atwill “it was all a big Roman conspiracy” type of loon. The amount of nuance and scholarship he brings to the table has made me always appreciate his work and has given him a bit of credibility in my view.

    With that said, Dr. Ehrman sorta wiped the table with him in this debate. I enjoy Dr. Price dearly and am a regular listener to his Bible Geek podcast. But he really struggled to answer some fundamental questions, which was surprising to me, because the man really seems to have a near-eidetic memory on a wide range of topics. It’s not that Price plays loose with facts; it just becomes very clear after some pressing by Dr. Ehrman that Price is perhaps a bit more imaginative with his interpretations of source materials than what the ordinary individual would be. That’s nothing against him. I’ve listened to him long enough to know that he has no agenda. He just sees it how he sees it. And, man, I really hate to bash his politics, because I know he gets a lot of that and doesn’t deserve 99% of what’s thrown at him, but when I see how uncritically he accepts Clinton conspiracies and global warming denialism and other fringe-right ideas, I start to become a little less confident in his interpretive eye. As just an amateur fan of Christian history, I don’t know all the primary source evidence, and so at the end of the day, I have really no stake in this race or any right to claim an opinion here. I’ll just say that I enjoyed the debate, am really glad it happened, and thought that Dr. Ehrman did the job he needed to do. Cheers.




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  12. talmoore
    talmoore  October 24, 2016

    “It made me wonder why they (some of them) were so upset to have such strong opinions about things they really didn’t know much about.” Welcome to the world of conspiracy theorists!

    It’s good to hear that you at least got through to some of them, although, as I wrote to you before, the Mythicist sphere is still as hard-headed as always. In fact, I read one blog post where the writer basically admitted that you swayed him to be a bit less certain of his Mythicism…but not enough to totally sway him. (Funny enough, the bit of your argument that appears to have started to sway him was the very bare-bones Jesus argument that was trying to convince you was a silverbullet against the Mythicists, but I’m not here to tell you I told you so or anything…maybe a little…anyway, you can read the aforementioned blog here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasoner/2016/10/24/the-big-debate-is-past/ )

    Since I’m too cheap to pay for the video, I have yet to actually see the debate, so I probably shouldn’t even be commenting on it, to be honest.




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  13. Jana  October 24, 2016

    HI Dr. Ehrman. Is there a video that we blog members can watch?




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  14. Don  October 24, 2016

    Dr, Ehrman, I was one of the non-mythicists in the audience and my opinion is that your presentation was much more coherent than that of Dr. Price. As a member of this blog and a longtime fan, I may be bias, but there was really no contest. I have read a few mythicist books and this debate only strengthened my opinion that the mythicist position requires ignoring anything inconvenient from existing scholarship and replacing it with superfluous assumptions. Even Dr. Price repeated that it was all speculation.

    I found the Q&A a bit frustrating that the most strident mythicists seemed to rush the line and they all seemed to have a convoluted theory they wanted you to refute. Ultimately, you made your position very clear and I hope took a bit of wind out of their sails.

    Thank you for coming up to Wisconsin. It was a great event and you were certainly the highlight for me. Well done!




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  15. mwbaugh  October 24, 2016

    The Christ-myth movement is something that baffles me too, especially when so many of its proponents purport to be rationalist. The arguments for it that I’ve seen feel like the kind of reasoning seen in conspiracy theories to me.

    Still, there are intelligent and honest people who believe it. From what I’ve read, Mr. Price seems to be one of those. I’ve heard another name recently, Richard Carrier, who has a PhD in ancient history from Columbia and lectures on the idea. I’d be curious of your assessment of his ideas.




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    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      I don’t find his views any more convincing than any of the other mythicists.




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  16. teg51  October 24, 2016

    I saw the live stream and I must say, the part that was funny was when you were astounded that Bob thought Paul didn’t write Galatians. Another thing that surprised me was how Bob thought the gospels were written in 2nd century, LOL. Ultimately, it seemed to me that Bob rejects Jesus as historical because he somehow doesn’t believe there could have been any plausible reason why a poor peasant from Palestine would be remembered, especially considering that he rejects all the supernatural elements embedded.




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  17. bdawg2390  October 25, 2016

    “As it turns out, only about half the audience (I asked at the outset) came into the debate convinced that there never was a historical Jesus. The reality is that I will never convince someone like that in a thousand years. Someone in that camp is going to think I got trounced no MATTER what happened in the debate itself. And they’ll say so with assurance. I’m sure they are saying so.”

    You nailed it, Bart. The atheist sensationalists will never listen to reason, no matter how good of an argument you make. Basically anything short of physical evidence and they will squirm and ignore your arguments, just like religious fundamentalists. For whatever reason, a lot of people refuse to listen to what others have to say. I think R Joseph Hoffman summed it nicely in an article he wrote after your 2012 book. Many mythicists are extremely intelligent, but very narrow-minded as well. They WANT to believe Jesus never lived, just like fundamentalists will WANT to believe one thing or another about their religion and anyone that disagrees with them is automatically a jerk in their eyes.

    his can be seen by the hatred spewed at liberal Christians, Jews and even atheists or agnostics who have strong opinions that there was a historical Jesus. Some of the internet hatred toward guys like Hoffman, McGrath and yourself was very disheartening. But, hey, if someone is that close-minded about a subject, there’s no point in wasting time.




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  18. bdawg2390  October 25, 2016

    I believe it is highly likely Jesus existed as a historical person and I find arguments from people such as yourself, McGrath, Hoffman, Casey and Gullota to be a lot more convincing than any mythicist arguments I have heard. Even the deniers who are very intelligent and well-read aren’t half as convincing as scholars such as yourself. I do appreciate that Dr. Price appears to be a good man who can discuss the subject is a mature fashion.

    Is it 100% certain he existed? No, but I think the odds are high. Thanks for your contribution to the subject, Dr. Ehrman. No reasonable person can argue you are pushing any agenda when you aren’t religious and you make such strong arguments.




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  19. gavriel  October 25, 2016

    What would you say is the strongest mythicist argument (or the least weak) ?




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    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      Umm… I need to think about that. I’m not coming up with anything….




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  20. Colin P  October 25, 2016

    Hi Bart. You have said you find mythicist ideas uninteresting a number of times – so uninteresting that you wrote a book on them! It is strange because it touches on what for me is one of the most interesting and exciting of questions – what happened back then at the start of the first century? This is the question that brought me to your books, all of which I have devoured, at least all but your most scholarly books. I guess it must be frustrating with your learning to read stuff that is obviously wrong. However I can’t help thinking that things are more confused or complicated. Myth making is inherent in religion. I rather suspect that if we could jump in a time machine and travel back to 30 C.E. we would be rather surprised.




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