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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
    ML03  October 25, 2016

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

    • Avatar
      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.

  2. Avatar
    asjsdpjk  October 25, 2016

    Is there anywhere I can watch the debate? Anyone?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      You need to google Mythicist Milwaukee.

    • Avatar
      topkela  October 28, 2016

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

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    Phantoboy  October 25, 2016

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

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    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.

  5. Avatar
    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.

    • Avatar
      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.

  6. Avatar
    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.

  7. Avatar
    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!

    • Avatar
      hmltonius  October 26, 2016


      • Avatar
        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.

  8. Avatar
    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…”

  9. Avatar
    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?

  10. Avatar
    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?

  11. Avatar
    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.

    • Avatar
      rburos  October 28, 2016

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

  12. 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.

  13. Avatar
    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?

  14. Avatar
    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

  15. Avatar
    joelkeats  October 26, 2016

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

  16. Avatar
    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?

  17. Avatar
    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.

  18. Avatar
    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.

  19. Avatar
    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!

  20. Avatar
    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.

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