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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



  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?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

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

  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.

  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 !

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

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

      • 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.

  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.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

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

  5. barrios160679  October 24, 2016

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

  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.

  7. dfogarty1  October 24, 2016

    Any idea of how I can access the video?

  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! 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

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

  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.

  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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 27, 2016

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

  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.

  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.

  13. Jana  October 24, 2016

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

  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!

  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.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

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

  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.

  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.

  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.

  19. gavriel  October 25, 2016

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

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

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

  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.

  21. Newbhero  October 25, 2016

    I think the fact that Paul’s teachings have virtually zero to do with what Jesus taught in the synoptics, is an evidence for a hustorical person. If Paul invented Jesus, why does Jesus contradict Paul?

  22. MaryVogwell  October 25, 2016

    Did Robert mention anything about a mythical Paul or the sons of Damneus?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      Not directly, until the Q & A, where he indicated that he thought all the Pauline epistles were written by other people.

  23. J.J.  October 25, 2016

    I’m not that familiar with Robert Price’s mythicist views, other than he denies Jesus of Nazareth ever existed. So what is his alternate theory to explain the rise of Christianity?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      A mythical Christ figure who was crucified in outer space was later invented as a historical figure.

      • J.J.  October 27, 2016

        Like Carrier in that regard. Does he appeal to Ascension of Isaiah like Carrier? I always thought that was kind of odd.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 28, 2016

          Price does have a long discussion of the text in his Mythical Christ book.

  24. Dhul_Qarnayn  October 25, 2016

    Bart is so humble in his debates, well done Dr Ehrman, do you know when the recording will get released I’ve been waiting a while for this debate.

  25. RonaldTaska  October 25, 2016

    I am glad you got back in one piece.

    Probably the hardest thing I have had to learn this political season, and I have really fought against learning this, is that when it comes to religion and politics, there are a lot of “ill-informed and yet so massively opinionated” people who don’t really know that they know “virtually nothing.” This has been really hard for me to accept. And I am not talking about graduate school knowledge, but beginning “course 101” knowledge. I have even met a surprising number of people who have theological graduate degrees who seem to lack this beginning Biblical knowledge. Hopefully, your blog is making a small dent in that problem. It’s not so much that people interpret knowledge differently; it’s more that there is a widespread lack of very basic knowledge, probably a the level of difficulty of learning multiplication tables.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  October 26, 2016

      And lack of know-how in critical thinking.

  26. Hank_Z  October 25, 2016

    “A lot of people I met knew virtually nothing. And somewhat sadly, they didn’t realize they knew virtually nothing. But they did indeed know they were opposed to it all. Often the ignorance involved simply factual information they thought was right but was not even in the ball park.”

    Bart, what are some examples of factual information about which they were uninformed? I hope you include this in the thread.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      Too many to list. Almost complete ignorance of what was in the New Testament, about Judaism at the time of the New Testament, about religions at the time of the NT… and on and on.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  October 26, 2016

        From what I’ve read from Richard Carrier, who actually has a PhD in ancient history, I was absolutely astonished to see how ignorant Carrier was of ancient Judaism. One would think that a scholar who is intent on proving there was no historical Jesus (using Bayesian statistics, no less!) would have at the very least familiarized himself with the Judaism of the purported time of Jesus. One of many reasons why I think Carrier is a hack.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 27, 2016

          Yes, he’s not much better on Hebrew Bible!

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  October 27, 2016

          Exactly. I’ve also noticed there are a lot of young adults involved with the mythicist movement, and I’m wondering if it’s due to Carrier’s influence. He seems to attract a younger audience. I’ve watched some of his lectures, and without a foundational knowledge of the historical Jesus, it would be difficult to see how the mythicist view is incorrect.
          Another thing that I see as silly, is that mythicists are quick to point out logical fallacies, and they don’t even understand the nature of the fallacy they’re pointing out, or they see a fallacy in anything and everything that’s said or presented as evidence. Fallacy hunting. My favorite is when they say everything we have have for evidence of a real man Jesus is based on heresay, and if we were in a court of law, the evidence would be thrown out. Okay, well a modern day judicial system doesn’t apply to understanding and evaluating evidence for ancient history. Duh!

          But the biggest, most important thing that keeps a mythicist from seeing that Jesus truly existed is their lack of common sense. Period.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  October 27, 2016

            Maybe saying lack of common sense is a bit harsh (for some anyway…not all). I did just read some nasty comments on a different blog about the debate. 🙁
            A knee-jerk reaction I guess…

  27. twiskus  October 25, 2016

    Sorry if this is asked; I was unable to attend and VERY MUCH wanted to…but is the debate available (even for purchase)? It would be great if you could make it available through purchase with the proceeds going towards the blog charities.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      They themselves are selling access to it. Just google it.

  28. rememberwhite
    rememberwhite  October 25, 2016

    I would be interested in how friendly the debate was. Did Bart and Robert gel as two people independent of the subject matter? Was it a friendly, good natured debate?

  29. rivercrowman  October 25, 2016

    I found a “recap” of the debate by a couple of mythicists on the web who had paid the $20 pay-to-view fee. They conceded that you had won the debate and that Price got a bit technical and didn’t use all of his allotted time. … One guy mentioned in retrospect that he wished the debate had been between you and Richard Carrier.

  30. rburos  October 25, 2016

    Any idea as to how many people came to watch Dr Price vs. how many came to watch Dr Ehrman?

  31. uziteaches  October 25, 2016


    To my mind, the real question for people is never ‘Does God exist?’ or ‘Did Jesus exist?’ Those questions, by themselves, concern nobody. Who cares if God and Jesus exist or not?

    What concerns people are the claims religions make concerning God and Jesus. If Jesus existed, AND if he was God, AND if Paul is correct about what Jesus ( = God) demands of them, then unless they deny their sexuality, for example, they are doomed. Unless they become meek caricatures of what they imagine it is to be human, they are doomed. If they cuss, they are doomed.

    I believe THAT is the real issue, and what animates people to become mythicists and atheists. And it is why people who might know nothing about the facts are so adamantly opposed to God and Jesus.

    Uzi Weingarten

  32. sureluck  October 25, 2016

    Hey there Bart!

    I was eagerly looking forward to the debate. Having gone to Moody and becoming agnostic/atheist for nearly identical reasons to you, I have had massive respect for your position on things.

    Yes, you won the debate in my opinion. I was actually leaning more toward mythicism lately due to Carrier and Price’s arguments – some of which can be found online. I’m reading Carrier’s works now, as well.

    However, I think the passage where Paul references James the brother of the Lord is a deal-breaker for me regardless of any Bayes Theorem interpretation one could propose. It has me really curious if there are other, equally solid arguments.

    Well done, and your efforts were not wasted in the least as I – and Matt Dillahunty – are now more firmly on the side of historicity than before.

  33. ML03  October 25, 2016

    Thank you for participating in this debate! It was really enjoyable to watch the civil exchange of thoughts between yourself and Dr. Price.

  34. flshrP  October 25, 2016

    I know you’ve said numerous times that Christianity is a religion ABOUT Jesus; it’s not THE religion OF Jesus. In other words, it was the NT authors and the church theologians (Church Fathers) in the 2nd thru 5th centuries CE who invented both Jesus (Son of God, crucified Savior, 2nd person of the Trinity, etc.) and the Christianity we now have. So the Jesus we have today is essentially a literary character that may or may not be based on the words and exploits of any known human who lived in the 1st century CE. In other words, this Jesus character is a small step away from being entirely mythological. Perhaps, then these Brew Town mythicists just take this literary Jesus one step farther and say that this particular character is completely mythical. It’s like the old saw that Christians are atheists in relation to the gods of all the other religions and that atheists agree with the Christians on this point and just take it one god further.

    Regarding the meager testimony of non-Christian writers from the 1st century CE, it’s not too far fetched to believe that these individuals are just repeating the Jesus myth that they heard from the Christians whom they encountered.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      No, that’s not actually my view. My view is that htere is a *difference* between the religion of Jesus and the religion about him.

  35. Wilusa  October 25, 2016

    “I thought he made some interesting points that were absolutely worth discussing.”

    I can’t wait for the followup! Especially to learn what those “interesting points” were.

    As I know I’ve said before, I used to engage in casual speculation that no one “important” Yeshua might have existed. I thought that with the name being common, incidents involving various “Yeshuas” might have been conflated into a story about one man. (But I never would have bought into the mythicists’ notions, about the story being based on pagan gods.)

    I still think many of the sayings and deeds attributed to Yeshua – those that were real at all – may not have been said or done by him. But Bart’s pointing out that Paul had known his brother, and that it can be shown that some of his disciples had believed he was the Messiah before he was crucified, easily convinced me that the Christian faith is based on a specific man.

    I think, however, that I’d been familiar with some of Bart’s thoughts – and come to trust him – before I gave much consideration to that. So I might have been more easily convinced that those people in Milwaukee!

  36. wrengles  October 25, 2016

    Hi Bart – You mentioned you were surprised at the ignorance of many people there. Can you give us some examples of what they believed that was not true? Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      Many had no clue what was in the New Tesatment, or what Judaism was like in the days of Jesus, or what other religions were like, and so on.

  37. drussell60  October 25, 2016

    Your description of some of the mythicists at that cocktail party sounds like you encountered alcohol consuming fundamentalists (any good craft brews at the party, BTW?)). Curious to know how often you encounter a changed mind after a debate.

  38. XanderKastan  October 25, 2016

    I’ve come across this sort of ignorance (related to Jesus’ existence) promoted by many other atheists who claim to champion science and reason. It’s ironic, because the way they talk about the issue reminds me of the way fundamentalists talk about their skepticism of evolution (which I’m guessing is a skeptical view that few if any of these mythicists would even have sympathy for).

    You put it very well Bart about the value of expert opinion. I am an atheist myself, since age 15 or so. Completely independently of that, I feel very fortunate to have gotten from you a lot of what one would learn in a mainline seminary, but for laypeople — I first started to realize this was possible after reading your book Misquoting Jesus and hearing you say that your claims were not all that radical. I ended up with a renewed interest in studying some of the New Testament — so far have focused mostly on the gospels, and of those mostly on Mark. It’s so much more interesting to read with the guidance of your textbook on the New Testament, among other books of yours.

    I’m interested to know what Robert Price’s arguments were and your response to them. Will probably buy the video when it comes out.

    Keep up the good work with your trade books, teaching courses, this blog, etc.

  39. Greg Matthews
    Greg Matthews  October 25, 2016

    Since there was a live stream (which I didn’t know about beforehand) will there ever be video to watch?

  40. Tempo1936  October 25, 2016

    Since death , disease, and discomfort was a way of life at the time Jesus was living; I think his teachings of social justice and mercy are amazing .

    Don’t you agree that no one would make up these teachings and this lends support to the existence of a historical Jesus.

  41. ML03  October 25, 2016

    Here it is on YT. https://youtu.be/NF6Ua-G5Htw

    • fcp  October 26, 2016

      For a mere $4.99. I might pay for an Ehrman vs. a heavyweight debate, but it sounds like this was not that. Someone else posted a 51-minute recap of the debate, of unknown quality.

  42. asjsdpjk  October 25, 2016

    Is there anywhere I can watch the debate? Anyone?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      You need to google Mythicist Milwaukee.

    • topkela  October 28, 2016

      Sure. Mythicistmilwaukee.com should have it archived by now.

  43. Phantoboy  October 25, 2016

    How on earth do they dismiss the “Incident at Antioch?” Deny Paul met anyone there who knew Jesus?

  44. FrankLoomer  October 25, 2016

    Love to see your blog unfold on this. Near the very end in the dialogue, you seemed startled when Robert Price asserted that none of the gospels or other NT writings such as Paul’s epistles were written before the 2nd century. then i think he said something like “it’s all speculation anyway”. Where did he get such an idea? I have a suspicion it may have something to do with Marcion’s accusation that the orthodox had hijacked and corrupted his True Gosptel, a trancated version of Luke. In any case, how do you deal with such a discrepancy in continuing a dialogue on this issue with a man like Price? Just how well established is the authorship timeline of the NT books?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      My sense is that since Paul is such an important witness for Jesus, it’s important to say he didn’t really write his letters. But I may be worng.

      • AoSS
        AoSS  October 26, 2016

        When it comes to his view for a 2nd century dating of the Gospels:

        The view for gMark and gMatthew is similar to what Dr. Detering argues, that the Synoptic Apocalypse actually better fits as a reference to the Bar Kochba Revolt than the Jewish War.
        This is his paper:

        Though, other arguments do exist (like that of Dr. Vinzent in “Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels”).

        When it comes to the Gospel of Luke, he takes a view similar to what Dr. Tyson argues in “Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle”, where Luke actually comes after the Gospel of the Lord instead of the other way around (this builds somewhat off of the latest work from the Acts Seminar).

        When it comes to the Pauline Epistles, if I am remembering correctly (it has been a while since I read his book “The Amazing Colossal Apostle”) he thinks that they were created either by Marcion or Marcionites, though I would have to reread the book to be sure that this is his position.

  45. GHack  October 25, 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..”

    Belligerent ignorance (as I’ve come to call it) is the status symbol for 21st century, apparently, and sadly.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  October 26, 2016

      Socrates (or Plato) called it what’s been translated as “conceit of knowledge.” Socrates went around showing people that they didn’t know what they thought they knew–a lesson few seem to want to learn.

    • J--B  October 26, 2016

      I believe Goethe said, “The more I know, the more I know that I know nothing.”
      Perhaps he could have added, “The less one knows, the less one knows that one knows nothing.”
      A “little” knowledge is truly a dangerous thing.

  46. plparker  October 25, 2016

    Here’s one comment on the debate that seems reasonably favorable to you, Professor Ehrman.


    I didn’t see it myself so I can’t comment.

  47. Hume  October 25, 2016

    Bob is a nice guy, however he has an indirect way of speaking. It’s nuanced and sometimes hard to follow. I say this with respect, he is not very aggressive. I do not mean aggressive as in rude. When academics are challenged you get the truth, instead of problems being intellectualized or obfuscated by “word salads”.

    The time you absolutely did this well Bart: You vs James White. I think you kept getting to the bottom of what manuscript meant and he continued to obfuscate, until he took off his glasses, looked to be sweating and just said “yes sir”.

    As much as I am on Team Bart, I’d like my prize Stallion to be broken, to see his full potential!

    • hmltonius  October 26, 2016


      • Hume  October 27, 2016

        Breaking a stallion is a phrase used by jockeys. Colloquially, it means to have someone recognize their full potential. I’m saying I’d like someone to challenge Bart more, put the screws to him in a debate, to see what information, ideas, and truth we can get out of him. Robert Price is not the guy for this, he’s too nice.

  48. Jason  October 25, 2016

    Apparently the “Boy, I really creamed the other guy” phenomenon isn’t specific to the ivory tower of academia, because we all heard people on both sides of the crumbling sewer of politics make the same claim for their candidate after all three debates. “As above, so below…”

  49. Forrest  October 25, 2016

    I have a colleague who I respect a lot but don’t always agree with him. He feels that if a person accepts the reality of Jesus historically that is similar to accepting fairies, Santa Claus and even unicorns. Hey I don’t mess with the idea of Santa Claus just in case he is real. Especially this time of year. I frankly don’t understand the connection. Just because one might believe in Jesus as being real history, that doesn’t lead to accepting the rest of the baggage, ie, divinity, everything written in Gospels attributed to Jesus as authentic, etc. Your thoughts. Am I missing something here in the logic of my colleague’s thinking?

  50. Epikouros  October 25, 2016

    I once had an online encounter with a mythicist (an otherwise very intelligent and educated guy) who couldn’t seem to distinguish between Jesus the Man and Jesus the Legend. He kept saying, “But if this miracle worker really existed and rose from the dead, wouldn’t everybody at the time know about it?” People tried to explain to him that Jesus the Man was just an ordinary human (albeit a very charismatic one, probably), and that the miraculous stories about him arose decades later, long after he died. I don’t think these explanations ever really got through to the mythicist. Did you encounter anyone making these kinds of arguments at the debate?

  51. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  October 25, 2016

    The lady sitting beside me was undecided after the 30 minute presentations, but once the questioning was over, she wasn’t convinced of Price’s argument. I had a hard time following his reasoning at times. I didn’t get the The Clark Kent/Superman analogy. I think I may have missed something he said about it. He did bring up a few interesting points about interpolations, but really, I was expecting a much more compelling argument from him.

    Another person thought that you (don’t shoot the messenger) came across as angry and not very collegial. I didn’t see it that way. I thought Price began his 30 minutes by being somewhat confrontational and you were just following the tone that he set. After your round of questioning, I know there was an expectation with some of us that Price was going to amp up his game, but he seemed either flustered or nervous, or maybe he felt misunderstood. I don’t know! But I do think his refusal to participate with the questioning brought a bit of disappointment from both sides.

    You made some good common sense points that I hope gave them food for thought. There were a few Christians there…like 4. lol. No way you were trounced. Not even close.

    • rburos  October 28, 2016

      Thanks for the inside report. I watched on Youtube, and wondered the feelings on the floor.

  52. Tuxedo
    Tuxedo  October 26, 2016

    As an attendee I found the Mythologists platform plausible and in theory best guess for anyone not in the camp of “THIS BIBLE IS GOD’S WORD!” probably what happened. Bart many of the normal debates you have brought glaring focus to if it was important to be gods word why not keep the original? SO, if the answer is somewhere in between I’d say the mythist point of view has merit in the general Paul Bunyanized way the Bible came about. Even tho the argument of Clark Kent makes sense I didn’t buy it personally. If I have one current day comparable then Warren Jeffs is it, he currently has 15,000+ followers that wholeheartedly think he’s the returned messiah being persecuted by the modern day equivalent Roman Empire. Those loyal tho I think misguided or brainwashed, their story will outlive us and Paul Bunyanize for a few generations after I’m gone. Tell me 350-2000yrs from now those 15,000ish turn into 2billion. I’ll think your nuts but tell your average every day Roman in 30CE the same of that guy that just suffered capital punishment will be followed by 2bil in 2000yrs and see how believable it was then.

  53. JR  October 26, 2016

    It seems like a big jump to go from ‘elements of the new testament are myth /legend’ to ‘jesus never existed’.
    The internal problems and discrepancies in the new testament are hard to explain if you take the view it was all made up. Why did writers have John the Baptist baptise jesus? Why not have jesus’ of Bethlehem? Why doesn’t paul reference any of Jesus parables? Why is John’s gospel so different?

  54. puzzles  October 26, 2016

    Bart, my interest in early Christianity is motivated by my desire for closure on the question of God, Jesus, etc. How much certainty do historians have on these questions? Taking mythicism as an example, 99.9% of historians might disagree with mythicism, but if those same historians might assign a probability of 70% false vs. 30% true. In other words, historians might actually be more open to the possibility of mythicism – even though they almost universally think it is more likely to be false.

    If we had a time machine, how much would you be willing to bet that you are correct on various details of early Christianity?

    Also, people say that history is different from science, because there is no way to test a hypothesis. However, when a new manuscript or inscription is discovered, it can invalidate a previous historical hypothesis. I wonder how the consensus beliefs of historians from 100 years ago compare with today?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      I’m confident on some details and not at all on others. But my sense is that 70/30 is far too generous toward the views of mythicism

  55. joelkeats  October 26, 2016

    “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge…” – Charles Darwin

  56. JB  October 26, 2016

    Dr Price,
    I’m reasonably familiar with the mythicist position but its not very widely known, at lease in any level of detail. The live audience was what it was, but I imagine of the people who will watch the recording on youtube, many of them will be only vaguely familiar with the position and will be wondering if a plausible case could be made that Jesus never existed. Do you think Dr. Price gave them that (I know you don’t agree, but maybe Price gave a case that sounded like a possibility), and if so does that concern you?

  57. bbcamerican  October 26, 2016

    Speaking to your comments regarding the ill-informed, I realized that my religious life was living on borrowed time when I started to ask folks I respected in the church simple questions, and not only could they not answer the questions, they couldn’t understand the questions in the first place. Needless to say (or maybe not needless), the further I took my questions up the church hierarchy, the less satisfying the answers became. If the guy in the pew next to me doesn’t have a convincing answer, all and well. But if the guy up front on the stage doesn’t give one, that’s a problem. Beyond that, if the instruction manual (i.e. the Bible) gives several contradictory answers, that’s an even bigger problem.

    Not surprisingly, it seems like there are plenty of folks in the anti-theist camp who suffer from the same malady: ignorance.

  58. moose  October 26, 2016

    I haven’t yet seen the debate, but I would guess you did a good performance, as you usually do in debates. After all, you are a reputed and admired scholar on this subject, even among mythicists.

  59. JR  October 26, 2016

    Perhaps you should start a group promoting the theory that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. May I suggest the name Appalachian apocalypticists!

  60. Jerry  October 26, 2016

    I streamed the debate and thought your arguments were presented clearly. Your side of the debate was easy for me to follow. I invited a friend to join and he had an interesting comment which I will get to in a moment.

    It is interesting, you mention that “he made some interesting [technical] points that were absolutely worth discussing.” I felt there was a lot of name dropping going on. Given your comment, I’m open to consider that it might not all have been Appeals to Authority but perhaps he was alluding to things that I am not well informed about and which you could appreciate. I’d be interested in knowing more about those things. I was expecting to gain a better understanding of the Mythicist point of view than I got.

    When I mentioned Appeals to Authority to my friend afterwards, he said, “yes and a lot of it felt as if the names were dropped to make others feel uninformed or stupid.”

    From the perspective of Mythologists (not mythicists), whether Jesus existed or not, I can see that the Christian stories that resulted from decades of story telling do contain elements of myths, and follow certain story lines that are mythic in nature. And I can understand why some people would find that idea appealing (in a “Joseph Campbell” kind of way).

    If the claim was that Jesus absolutely did not exist, I was imagining that a stronger case would have been built for it.

  61. Judi  October 27, 2016

    I believe in the mystical and still believe Jesus existed . A good many so called god kings actually existed, so Dr Ehram, heres Crispy Creams to you.

  62. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  October 27, 2016

    Bart, on the Milwaukee Mythicist website there is a survey of debate attendees called “Did Jesus Exist?.” It’s presented as a chart with “No Way” on the left, “Unsure” in the middle, and “100% Yes” on the right. It indicates that 46% were a bit more than halfway sure he existed before the debate toward “100% Yes.” After the debate, 51% were a few points closer to “100% Yes.”

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2016

      Well, I suppose convincing 10% is good. Wish it were more!

  63. Hume  October 27, 2016

    You’ve mentioned you think Gilgamesh influenced the flood story and enuma elish the creation story. When the Jews were captive in Babylon and heard these tales how could they have understood them in much detail? Weren’t the two populations speaking different languages? Or is there evidence they shared a ‘business’ language?

  64. rburos  October 27, 2016

    Hab’ heute Nacht diese Debatte geschaut, und bin der Meinung das Ganze war fast eine Zeitverschwendung fuer Sie. Ab und zu erwartete ich Giorgio A. Tsoukalos auftauchen wuerde. Aber Go Pack Go–und etwas unhoefliches ueber the Bears! (dachte es waere ein Bisschen mehr hoeflich wenn nicht auf Englisch)

    P.S. Sie sehen ja viel gesuender aus!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2016

      I actually didn’t think it was a waste of time — although in anticipation I thought it *might* be…. Tsoukalos: ha!!

      • rburos  October 28, 2016

        Not to imply your work would in any way be Verschwendung–your Misquoting Jesus led me to your blog, which led me to your textbook, which led me to Sanders, Levine, Baumgarten, Metzger, Armstrong, Cohen, Crossan, Frederiksen, Gamble, Grabbe, Martin, Brown, etc. I can never repay such a debt; I can only out of gratitude keep reading. Therein lies your contribution to me, and to us.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  October 28, 2016

      Google can translate anything you know. ? The debate was great.

      • rburos  October 30, 2016

        Yeah. Just didn’t want to advertise a thought except to the trained or to the (in your case) the truly intellectually curious. I just think our esteemed Doc simply got another debate that probably helped a couple people feel safe to accept the opinions of true experts, while Dr Price gets to brag he debated the famous Dr Ehrman. Not a fair trade, though I was grateful for the show.

  65. Jondee209  October 28, 2016

    So the “infidel guy” finally got his wish….hehe

  66. topkela  October 28, 2016

    Dear Mr. Ehrman:

    Let me start by saying I’ve read two of your books (JESUS INTERRUPTED and DID JESUS EXIST?), both of which I enjoyed greatly. I also read three of Robert Price’s books and greatly enjoyed the recent debate in Milwaukee. Moreover, you come across as eminently rational, open-minded, and plain old likable—just the kind of scholar with whom one would love to sit down and have a few beers. I also think it’s admirable and incredibly generous of you to donate the money for events like these to charity.

    I could not make the trip to Milwaukee and had to watch via the Internet and so could not ask a question. I actually have two, which I “pray” you’ll have time for. One needs a bit of a preamble … let’s assume Jesus was a real person and his followers claimed that 1. he rose from the dead and 2. he had a tomb. If that’s true, they must have done so very shortly after his death. This seems clear. Also clear: someone lied about these things (we all agree there was no resurrection). But to bring off this lie, wouldn’t the followers have needed an empty tomb to show off? Part of the mythicist case seems to be that a non-historical Christ doesn’t require a shred of physical evidence. A Christ who died and was resurrected in the same realm that Osiris was murdered, dismembered, reassembled and resurrected would be much easier to later historicize when most or all of the witnesses were dead—depending on when Mark was actually written—and collective memory was somewhat hazy. Indeed, Mark is always dated to after the fall of the Second Temple, when undoubtedly much possible evidence was destroyed, and it would have been easy to claim nonexistent evidence *had been* destroyed. Certainly Paul may have believed or known Jesus to be a real man, but since he mentions no family other than possibly/probably/ certainly James (my other question is on James) and no town, there’s no house in Nazareth or site in Bethlehem to which to make a pilgrimage, no family members to talk to (except possibly James), no “Mother of God” to whom to bring gifts or pay homage. Perhaps most significantly, there is no tomb to turn into a shrine. Obviously this was a huge issue in the ancient world; Sulla has Caius Marius’s tomb violated and the bones dumped in the Tiber—to give his followers nothing to venerate. And many others followed his example (the US did it with Osama Bin Laden).
    My question is … how could the tale of the resurrection of a historical Jesus have been taken to be true so soon after his death if, as you yourself suggest, Jesus had no tomb and had been left to decompose on the cross, and his remains were eventually dumped in an open, mass ossuary of sorts? There would have been numerous witnesses to attest that his body decomposed on the cross. And how would early Christians get away with this in Roman-administrated Palestine? If the Romans took the trouble to crucify Jesus, wouldn’t Pilate or his successor have been quick to point out there is no tomb and Jesus’ remains went into the equivalent of a human rubbish heap?

    My other question is about James. I’m willing to believe Jesus was a real person and that his brother James is being referenced by Paul, but in Paul’s time, around 40 AD, James was already a pillar of the church—why is there no mention of James as such a leader (to my knowledge) in any of the Gospels? I can understand Jesus is the hero of the gospels, but surely it doesn’t diminish Jesus’ stature to have a brother who is a devout follower? Indeed, it’s a bit odd that James, along with Jesus’ other brothers, seems not even to have been a convert to the new religion, let alone a pillar.

    I know the mythicist debate seems rather worthless to you, but if nothing else, perhaps we can learn something about the mechanism by which myths are created and transmitted.

    Thank you (and Mr. Price) for a fascinating debate.

    Vince Czyz

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2016

      Your first long question deserves a long answer. I give it in my book How Jesus Became God. Question 2: The Gospels don’t mention the leaders of the church after Jesus resurrrection because they don’t talk about the church after Jesus resurrectoin — they end there.

      • topkela  October 28, 2016

        Clearly I have another book to buy–and I’m happy to.

        That mostly makes sense about James. Apparently he wasn’t convinced till after the Crucifixion (he doesn’t seem even to be a follower in the Gospels).

        Thanks for getting back to me so quickly!

        Vince Czyz

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  October 28, 2016

      In the beginning, they weren’t converts to a “new religion” but Jews who probably believed Jesus was still the messiah even if he had died, he still lived. But, also, probably, the salvation they believed in did not involve believing that belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior would cleanse the them of all sins to help them attain eternal life in Heaven (that’s a later development) but would save them so that they could be a member of the Kingdom of God which would arrive soon. I gleaned this distinction between these meanings of salvation from some question-and-answers here with Bart.

  67. topkela  October 29, 2016

    ‘In the beginning, they weren’t converts to a “new religion” but Jews who probably believed Jesus was still the messiah even if he had died, he still lived. But, also, probably, the salvation they believed in did not involve believing that belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior would cleanse the them of all sins to help them attain eternal life in Heaven (that’s a later development) but would save them so that they could be a member of the Kingdom of God which would arrive soon. I gleaned this distinction between these meanings of salvation from some question-and-answers here with Bart.’

    Yes, certainly they were Jews, as were the Essenes, but, like the Essenes, they knew they were going off the reservation; that is, they knew they were breaking with orthodoxy. As for the salvation part … I don’t know what you mean by a “later development.” Paul was preaching Jesus as Lord and savior and bringer of eternal life by about 38 AD, probably within a decade of Jesus’ death.

  68. MattYoung  October 29, 2016

    For those who have asked where they can see the debate, you can find it at the YouTube link below (it will only cost $5 for access, and is well worth the price in my opinion):

    I thoroughly enjoyed watching the debate, especially Bart’s initial presentation and his questioning of Dr. Price. Thanks for participating in this, Bart, and for representing the historian’s approach to this topic.


  69. fabiogaucho  October 31, 2016

    I am glad you say it was enjoyable. But I bet you cannot say the same about reading Richard Carrier’s recap on his blog!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2016

      It’s a perfect example of what I said in response to the first question at the debate. If I replied to everything a mythicist said about everything I said then I wouldn’t have time to talk about anything else!

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