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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. Avatar
    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?

  2. Avatar
    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.

  3. Avatar
    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.

      • Avatar
        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.

  4. Avatar
    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.

  5. Avatar
    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.

  6. Avatar
    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!

        • Avatar
          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.

          • Avatar
            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…

  7. Avatar
    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.

  8. 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?

  9. Avatar
    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.

  10. Avatar
    rburos  October 25, 2016

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

  11. Avatar
    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

  12. Avatar
    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.

  13. Avatar
    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.

  14. Avatar
    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.

  15. Avatar
    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!

  16. Avatar
    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.

  17. Avatar
    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.

  18. Avatar
    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.

  19. 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?

  20. Avatar
    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.

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