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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. Avatar
    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.

  2. 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!

  3. Avatar
    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?

  4. Avatar
    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!!

      • Avatar
        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.

      • Avatar
        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.

  5. Avatar
    Jondee209  October 28, 2016

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

  6. Avatar
    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.

      • Avatar
        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.

  7. Avatar
    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.

  8. Avatar
    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):
    https://youtu.be/NF6Ua-G5Htw

    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.

    Best,
    Matt

  9. Avatar
    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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