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Mythicists: Did Nazareth Exist?

I am interrupting my thread on the relationship of Jesus to the Jewish law (I haven’t gotten very far: I’m still on Marcion!) because of what is most pressing on my mind right now, the debate I’m having this evening with Robert Price.  It is here in Milwaukee sponsored by a group called the Milwaukee Mythicists.  It’s a small group of people committed to, or (for some of them) at least attracted by, the idea that Jesus was not a real human being but is a myth invented by his later followers.  I suppose roughly speaking, most Mythicists are a subgroup of people who are atheist.

Originally, for most of these people, Jesus was understood to be a divine being who lived in the heavenly realm (“outer space,” as some of them put it) who was crucified by demonic powers.  Later followers of Jesus historicized him and made him, in their myths, into a human being.  And then the stories emerged about him that we now have in our Gospels.  They are based principally on characters and events in the Old Testament, told in a new way now about a man that the story-tellers invented out of whole-cloth. The apostle Paul doesn’t know any of these stories.  That’s why Paul almost certainly, they claim, did not know anything about a historical Jesus.

My talk is only going to be thirty minutes, followed by Bob’s talk of thirty minutes.  These then are to be followed by an hour of questions back and forth, followed by an hour of questions from the audience.  So it’s a three hour event.  (!)  But I am allowed to lay out my case only in thirty minutes.  That’s a bit tricky.

I have decided to focus on the positive arguments that there almost certainly was a historical man Jesus about whom we can say some important things.  I will only be addressing the Mythicists’ own arguments briefly, in order to show why I don’t find them at all persuasive.  To do so I have chosen just two arguments that are commonly made.

The first is that there could never have been a Jesus of Nazareth because there was no such place as Nazareth.  Mythicists often argue …

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The Best Manuscripts and Social Justice: Readers’ Mailbag October 23, 2016
Did Jesus Exist? My Debate with Robert Price

89

Comments

  1. AoSS
    AoSS  October 21, 2016

    Personally, I think there are too many anti-theistic Mythicists who gain popularity. This makes it so that those with the more compelling arguments (for example, philosopher Dr. Stephen Law with the contamination principal) get ignored.

    Yes, these better arguments are not usually enough to doubt the existence of Jesus, but they are arguments that should be addressed more than some of the more fringe Mythicists.

    • Tim  October 21, 2016

      What “better arguments” does Law make? The only ones I’ve seen from him on the subject were far weaker than anything I’ve seen from people like Price and Carrier and display a remarkable lack of knowledge of the relevant source material or its context. His claim, for example, that miracles and supernatural elements somehow “contaminate” the accounts of Jesus and allow us to reject not just those elements but *all* of the accounts is ridiculous. If, as he acknowledges, such elements could attach themselves to famous ancient figures for whom we have substantial evidence, like Augustus and Alexander, surely this means they could also do so with more obscure and less famous figures like Jesus. Therefore the presence of these elements in the Jesus stories does not mean we can dismiss the historical existence of Jesus. Perhaps Law should stick to philosophy. Though given the illogic of his forays into history, perhaps even that is beyond him.

  2. godspell  October 21, 2016

    In many ways, they are far more frustrating than traditional theists to argue with.

    Because at least a theist will admit that he or she believes certain things for reasons of faith, not reason and fact.

    I believe most atheists are rational people, no better or worse than anyone else (we are all irrational sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with that–too much rationality can be as bad as too little, though I must say, the latter is a more commonly encountered problem).

    The atheists who have chosen to deny the historical Jesus persist in propagating an irrational belief, but they do so while saying they are the epitome of rationality, that they are in fact the only fully rational beings, that everyone who doesn’t accept their pronouncements is, by definition, a religious fanatic who believes every word in the Bible–and they will say this about people who fully accept and proclaim that Jesus was not God, and never believed he was. There are only two sides–their side, and the wrong side. This is, of course, the same basic mindset as a religious fundamentalist. If you don’t believe in their version of God, you don’t believe in God at all. Classic dualism.

    Personality is an underrated factor in human history. We put a lot of emphasis on political, philosophical, and religious beliefs, but we underestimate just how much individual personalities can warp and change those beliefs. Two different people read Darwin–one says “This means all of life is one great inter-connected web, and this should fill us with a sense of humility and wonder,” while the other says “This means I am part of a master race/class/whatever that all of existence has been striving to create!” and start coming up with justifications for keeping supposedly lesser beings down, or getting rid of them entirely.

    And I’m sure Robert Price is a nice enough fellow, and I’m not too worried about him inheriting the earth or anything, but it is annoying when people defend irrational beliefs in the name of reason.

  3. rivercrowman  October 21, 2016

    Bart, did your 1999 book “Jesus — Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium” cause any pushbacks from mythicists, or were they all asleep at the wheel?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      My sense it they basically ignored (ignore) it because it takes such a different line from theirs.

  4. puzzles  October 21, 2016

    Why should we think that the town identified as Nazareth was actually Nazareth? The Holy Sepulcher is probably not the tomb of Jesus, but they needed a location to build their church. Maybe the same thing happened with Nazareth? Pilgrims wanted to visit Nazareth, but nobody knew where it was, so a nameless village became Nazareth?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      There has been a constant habitation at the site since the time before Jesus, and it has always been called Nazareth. So unless there is some reason to think it’s not Nazareth, it seems safest to assume it is. I can’t think of a reason to suspect the texts are referring to some place other than the one known as Nazareth.

      • godspell  October 24, 2016

        If they could have said Jesus was born/raised somewhere other than an obscure hamlet in Galilee, they would have.

        Of course they tried to say he was born in Bethlehem of Judea, and I’ve read there is some doubt that was an inhabited town at the time Jesus was born. But his connection to Nazareth was too well known to just do away with entirely.

  5. ncarmstrong  October 21, 2016

    Christians like me, and there are lots of us, consider Jesus a myth who was also probably an historical figure. Even so, since it is the stories about Jesus that define him, his historicity is of little importance.

    • HawksJ  October 25, 2016

      ncarmstrong, Do you actually (consciously) worship something you acknowledge to be a myth?

      • fcp  November 1, 2016

        That question presupposes the incorrect definition of myth wielded by many modern rationalists. We are all defined by which myths we accept and reject. Certainly, if we know Gods, we know them through one mythos or another, and if we reject them, it’s because we have internalised the myth of the Purely Rational Human (or perhaps transhuman).

        • HawksJ  November 3, 2016

          Interesting point, fcp. How would you define ‘myth’?

  6. Benjamin
    Benjamin  October 21, 2016

    Wow, I have waited so long to see these two divine beings clash. It would so much fun to be there physically, but I will be watching online from the East Coast. May Gods favor the best, and maybe both of them shall win! That is, there was Jesuses and there were not. Amen.

    Cheers for our Bart Ehrman of God! Defender of the faith, etc etc.

  7. TWood
    TWood  October 21, 2016

    It seems like it’s similar to arguing with a young earth creationist… almost not worth your time… but I’ve heard you say no mythicist could get a teaching job in the department of religion at a major university in the past… but then I think you said there’s one exception to this (I assume that’s Robert Price). Is there now more than one exception, and if so, do you see this as a troubling trend in your profession, or is it still largely limited to a very tiny and rightfully marginalized minority?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      He doesn’t have a position at a major university. I don’t think there is a prejudice against mythicists per se. But the only people to get teaching positions at major universities are ones who are judged to be the best candidates for the job based, for example, on the extent and quality of their scholarly research and their teaching records. It’s very, very, very difficult to land one of these jobs!

      • TWood
        TWood  October 24, 2016

        I have no doubt that it is. So is it true that you know of zero mythicists who have a teaching job at a major university (in a relevant department like a religious or history dept.)?

        Follow up. Do you ever worry that your agreeing to debate a mythicist validates their views too much?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 24, 2016

          1. I don’t know of any in the fields of NT/Early Christianity/Classics/Ancient History/Early Judaism. 2. Yup.

  8. Michael Fischer  October 21, 2016

    Did you listen to any of Robert prices previous debates to learn his talking points? Such as the one he had with James White

  9. clipper9422@yahoo.com  October 21, 2016

    My sense is that many mythicists are strongly attached to that position because it greatly simplifies their rejection of Christianity. They need not do the more difficult work of, eg, examining the arguments for God’s existence, how Jesus could be both and God and man, how God could be one being in three persons, whether the New Testament supports these last two beliefs, whether there can ever be convincing documentary evidence of Jesus’s miracles, and teasing out what is historically probable using the four gospels. If Jesus didn’t exist they need not worry about the more complicated issue of whether Christianity is true.

  10. Jim  October 21, 2016

    Very useful debate, at least imo. To me, Bob seemed to be a reasonable debate partner because he asked “honest” questions. The Christian apologists that you have debated in the recent past never seemed to listen/comprehend much of anything you said, but seemed to be like those old Barbie dolls from a past era, the ones where you pull the string and they yap out a pre-recorded (apologetic) line. I totally appreciated your presentation because you clearly presented the consensus on the historical Jesus in a way that few have/could have done.

    Re the archeon/eon stuff in the second round of cross examination, my difficulty with a crucifixion in space is that …. if you were a Roman soldier assigned to sub-lunar crucifixions, how would you keep the nails from floating away on you when you tried to nail someone to a cross at zero gravity. (said with a warped evil grin)

    Very valuable debate (in my convoluted opinion), and thanks to all involved (you, Bob, Matt and Mythicist Milwaukee) for an “earthly” discussion … and hope the after party beers (and bar Q&A discussions) were good.

    • Jim  October 22, 2016

      Also, while everyone at the conferences was out for the after party beers, there was a post game summary of the debate on Spreaker that included the Spreaker hosts, James McGrath, James Crossley, Daniel Gullotta, David Fitzgerald.

      For anyone interested, the link to this discussion is at Prof McGrath’s EOM site:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2016/10/discussing-the-ehrman-price-debate.html

      The discussion is in two parts; part one is short and mainly a trailer and part two contains the bulk of the discussion.

  11. Ibn.Fawda  October 21, 2016

    If the intent was to historicism a myth, then why would anyone invent Nazareth? It always seemed to me that if Jesus was a fulfillment of scripture, then they would have had him born in Bethlehem. Why have all of the birth narrative silliness if a myth when you could have ignored Nazareth? What value did Nazareth add anyway? I am an atheist but that is why I am inclined to believe there was an historical Jesus … Nazareth was a inconvenient fact act later devotees had to deal with it through inconsistent birth narratives.

  12. talmoore
    talmoore  October 22, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, the strange things is, I actually do think the historical Jesus, the flesh and blood man, existed. I’m certainly not a mythicist. But I also don’t think he came from a village called “Nazareth”. I’ve explained elsewhere on the blog in detail why I think this, so I’ll simply say that I think the place of Jesus’ birth wasn’t really known by his first disciples, because it didn’t much concern them until he was already dead. The only people who may have had some knowledge as to where Jesus was born would have been his mother and his (purported) brother James. But, here’s the thing. It’s not like back in those days detailed records were kept of where and when a peasant was born. If you asked someone when they were born, they’d probably say during such and such year of a certain Emperor’s reign or such and such year of a Governor’s rule, and so forth, possibly during the wheat harvest or in between Passover and Pentecost, and so forth. In other words, it was very rare that someone knew exactly when they were born. Moreover, the only way they knew where, exactly, they were born would have been by asking their mother. But, again, why would the disciples be asking Mary the mother of Jesus when and where Jesus was born *while Jesus was still alive*? I can’t imagine such a bit of mundane information would have concerned them right at the moment they were expecting all hell to break loose on earth (so-to-speak). They only would have sought to find out such details long after Jesus was dead, and they suddenly had all this time to start delving into this Messiah’s background. “So, this Jesus guy who we think is so important, where and when was he born anyway?”

    So what I think happened is that Jesus was called a “Nazorene” while he was alive (as, probably, John the Baptist and others were called, because there was a “Nazorene” movement [I explain where I think the term “Nazorene” came from in previous comments]), and then later Christians started asking, hey, where and when was this Jesus the Messiah born anyway? And that’s when they keyed in on the epithet “Nazorene”. That’s because back then a person with a common name was often distinguished from others by saying where they came from. For instance, Mary Magdalene was called magdalene because she probably came from the Galilean town of Magdala, and the “-ene” suffix was a common way of saying where a person came from (in Aramaic, the “-een” suffix was commonly used in the creation of demonyms; e.g. Chashdeen — כשדין — would be the Aramaic demonym for Chaldeans, etc.)

    Anyway, it was probably assumed by later Christians that since Jesus was called a Nazorene he must have come from some place called Nazor or Nazora or something like it. They may have known of a village called Nazareth in the upper Galilee and simply assumed that must be the place. There’s only one major problem. The Aramaic demonym for a person who comes from Nazareth isn’t “Nazorene”. It’s Nazreetheen. (Not to get too technical, but in Aramaic the second consonant in a declined root gets a shwa.) In other words, if Jesus was from a place called “Nazareth” (נזרית in Hebrew/Aramaic), then he wouldn’t be called a “Nazorene”. Ergo, he wasn’t actually from Nazareth. Jesus was from somewhere that no one remembered, because no one bothered to remember, because it didn’t seem like an important bit of information for anyone to know until this Jesus fellow, who just died when, instead, the escathon was supposed to happen, suddenly seemed like an important person of whom to know his place and time of birth. And that need to know where he came from forced early Christians to grasp at straws and figure, well, if he was called a Nazorene, then maybe he was from Nazareth!

    • talmoore
      talmoore  October 23, 2016

      I found the post where I break down in detail where I think the epithet “Nazorene” came from: https://ehrmanblog.org/more-on-the-name-nazareth/

      • dragonfly  October 24, 2016

        You don’t think Jesus ever mentioned his home town to this gang who spent all their time with him as they travelled around together?

        • talmoore
          talmoore  October 24, 2016

          Nope. If Jesus wanted to impress people into thinking he was a big time messianic figure, if not the Messiah himself, then what would he gain by telling them he came from an obscure village? I’ve been coming to Dr. Ehrman’s blog on almost a daily basis for over a year now, and if you were to ask me where Bart grew up, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. We don’t know as much about the influential figures around us as we assume we do.

    • HawksJ  October 25, 2016

      talmoore: “In other words, if Jesus was from a place called “Nazareth” (נזרית in Hebrew/Aramaic), then he wouldn’t be called a “Nazorene”. Ergo, he wasn’t actually from Nazareth.”

      Bart, I think this idea of talmoore’s is worthy of a comment (or two or three!) by you.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  October 27, 2016

        I believe Dr. Ehrman has, at some point, expressed that his skill in Hebrew and Aramaic isn’t strong enough to judge my speculations one way or another, which is de rigueur for a highly respected academic. In academia it’s considered unbecoming to speak authoritatively about topics outside of your particular expertise, hence why Dr. Ehrman may be choosing not to weigh in on my fringe ideas outside of, specifically, the Greek New Testament. Since I’m not in academia, however, I have no such compunctions, and I’m free to propose any manner of kooky hypotheses without fear of looking unseemly. Anyway, that’s my experience from talking with academics.

  13. dragonfly  October 22, 2016

    For me it all boils down to this… Do we have evidence Jesus existed? Of course. It’s not perfect, it’s not ideal, but it is evidence, and some of it is pretty hard to refute. How much evidence do we have that Jesus was made up? None. Zilch. Zero. If Jesus existed, there’s nothing that can’t be accounted for. If he didn’t exist, there’s a whole lot of evidence that just doesn’t fit. If you want to answer this question with evidence, you don’t really have a choice. If you want to answer to fit your own theological beliefs, well it’s completely up to you.

  14. RonaldTaska  October 22, 2016

    How did the debate go? You have so much more energy than I do.

  15. puzzles  October 22, 2016

    Bart, my question is only loosely connected to the question of Nazareth. The Mandaeans apparently consider Jesus and Christians to be heretics that split from their own faith. Isn’t it strange that the symbol of the Mandaeans looks so much like a cross draped with a cloth? Why would the Mandaeans use a symbol that connects them with Christians when they despised Christians? … My wild idea is that the Mandaean cross-like symbol existed before Christianity, and it was meant to represent a robe hanging on a rack while a person is purifying himself in the weekly or daily baptism. The similarity between the crucifixion cross and the Mandaean robe-rack cross may have inspired Christians to change the meaning of the disgraceful crucifixion of Jesus into a purification of Jesus where the robe of his physical body was draped on the cross while his purified spirit was resurrected. … I suspect Nazarene may have been the name for the religious sect of the early Mandaeans as opposed to the hometown of Jesus. I read your post from a year ago about Nazareth, and I saw that the reference in Mark to the town of Nazareth appears to be original. … I hope it doesn’t annoy you for me to post weird hypotheses like these.

  16. Dipsao  October 22, 2016

    What I say next may sound disparaging, but that’s not my intend. I notice that Dr. Price has received degrees from reputable theological schools and yet teaches at Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary. Coleman, an Afro-American educator, advocated “New Thought Christianity,” which, from my reading on the matter, appears to be a blend of Christianity and the “New Age movement”. The school has a M.Div program where the New Thought courses can be take as electives, so that in theory at least, you can graduate without being influenced by NTC. Or can you? Is it me, or do others find this disconcerting?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      I’m afraid I don’t know anything about the school — I’m not sure if it is an accredited institution or not.

      • Dipsao  October 23, 2016

        On the school’s website it says it “is an accredited member of the Accrediting Commission International. ACI, the world’s largest non-government related accrediting association, is not connected with any State Department of Higher Education or the U.S. Department of Education. All credits are transferable to the other 316 members of ACI.” I don’t see any mention of ATS accreditation.

  17. Dhul_Qarnayn  October 22, 2016

    Its wondeful that this debate comes exactly when i’m just going over Dr Ehrman’s book “Did Jesus Exist”, Dr Ehrman you basically destroy their arguments that the original disciples based his life on a dying and rising god, one of the reasons being the original disciples didn’t believe that he was God, however would you say that much later christians based his life on something pagan and if so can you give just an example, of course with the exception of the christmas tree and the 25th December.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      Yes, December 25 is based on a pagan tradition.

      • Wilusa  October 24, 2016

        But I learned at some point in a Catholic education that the dates of feast days for Jesus and for John the Baptist were related, associated with the two solstices. To settle on exact dates, each of them was assigned a date one week before the first of the next month. That made them Dec. 25 and June 24, since December has 31 days and June only 30.

  18. Tempo1936  October 22, 2016

    was the purpose of animal sacrifices in the Jewish religion made as a peace offering to God not for forgiveness of personal sins?
    For example in Numbers 10:10
    “you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the Lord your God.”

    So where did the idea of a sacrifice of a lamb for personal sins originate?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      Biblical scholars have never been able to come up with a definitive answer about how the sacrifices were supposed to work or accomplish, or what their theological meaning was. It’s a much debated field of scholarship.

      • drussell60  October 24, 2016

        This subject still causes me to scratch my head in disbelief that an infinite being, with an alleged multiplicity of attributes, needs animal blood spilled to appease his/ her/its contempt for human sin. Couldn’t the alleged one true God do better than requiring what other ancient cultures practiced? At least this God didn’t require people to toss virgins into volcanoes, or off cliffs LOL!

  19. Jana  October 22, 2016

    The Mythicists argument does seem to beg the question. And I agree wholeheartedly with your last paragraph. Whether Nazareth existed or did not exist (it seems places might be changed by later writers in order to reflect the Old Testament prophecies) seems irrelevant to the pertinent question. What do they say about Josephus???

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      I think he referred to Jesus. But it’s a debated point.

      • Jana  October 23, 2016

        Mythicists don’t trust Josephus’s account? Or interpret it differently?

        • Jana  October 24, 2016

          Is there a video of the debate? (I asked hopefully)

        • Bart
          Bart  October 24, 2016

          They tend to think Josephus didn’t write it, but that it was added by a later Christian scribe.

          • Jana  October 25, 2016

            Thank you Dr. Ehrman. What proof do they have that it was written by a later scribe? I was thinking late last night and I hope this isn’t a redundant question … why didn’t contemporaries of Jesus including his disciples write? Leave records?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 26, 2016

            The Christian portions of it cannot have been something a non-Christian Jew would have written. On Jesus’ contemporaries: they couldn’t write! They were illiterate.

          • Newbhero  October 29, 2016

            It always boggled my mind when a christian leader/teacher would bkatantly lie to “enhance” belief. Examples include when preachers would blatantly make up fantastic tales about encountering demon possesed people on the street that they would then “rebuke” and the drunken homeless demon possesed guy would “fly away” etc. Or in the case of “christian scribes” inserting lines into josephus or other texts. As a christian (former) it didnt make any sense. Were these people mentally ill or did they not even actually believe in “christianity” but rather only make careers out of promoting it at any cost?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 30, 2016

            I think there might be other options!! Often they were changing the texts to “clarify” their meaning, for example.

  20. Philoso_crab  October 22, 2016

    Dear Professor Ehrman,
    I understand that the majority of scholarship in this area seems to find it frustrating to have this argument with mythicists. But as an outsider (i.e. not a scholar in the relevant area), I would think that if this is a misconception then more needs to be done to refute it than professional scholarship has so far been done.

    From the outside, it appears that apart from his having been born and dying (probably crucified) in a particular period of time there is hardly a single detail about him that competent scholarship has not disputed and the battle lines seem to be firmly drawn with everyone employing the rhetoric of certainty against their opponents. Apocalyptic prohet? Rabbi? Wandering cynic? Something else? Do the sayings attributed to him really go back to him? Even the ones in Q1 (if the two source or similar hypothesis is even correct)?

    Other than:
    1) He existed
    2)He was born
    3)He was crucified at the time of Pilate
    4)He said/did “something” related to religion while he was alive

    what other facts would competent scholarship have a total consensus on?

    because to non-scholars the jump between “A man called Jesus who did some unspecified religious things and was crucified for some reason at the time of Pilate, after which immense amounts of myth and legend developed about him” and “There is a legend of a man called Jesus who…” is not that great.

    I assume that him being resurrected might also reach something close to the assent of the majority of the scholars in this area.

    If the argument that scholarship actually wants to make to non-scholars is that this issue is far too complicated for any non-scholar to understand and that we should simply accept what the academy is saying then it needs to be put front and center. The climatologists make a similar argument for climate change for the general public but in their case it is easy to understand why their mathematical models are hard to understand. Is history a similar field? Because to outsiders, at least some of mythicists otherwise seem to be very well informed amateurs. Otherwise, mythicists argue that this is simply an example of the academy closing ranks around a cherished but rarely argued for assumption–in a discipline where confessional interests have historically played a strong role and the consensus of one generation has been discarded and pilloried by the following generation.

    Anyhow, as someone with no particular axe to grind on this particular issue, I think more needs to be done here since the issue receives its heaviest advocacy via the internet and is taken seriously by some of the most prominent voices in the skeptic/free-thought movement. This means it will continue to get much more projection. The attempt to dismiss it as a nuisance which will just go away may work, but that is what scholarship has been trying to do for nearly century. It seems to have grown stronger instead.

  21. Pattylt  October 22, 2016

    Did synagogues exist in Nazareth before the destruction of the Temple? That is the Nazareth argument I usually hear.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      There was probalby not a synagogue building, no. But that was true for most places. A “synagogue” was a gathering of Jews, not a building.

  22. unique  October 22, 2016

    i just want to know if jesus do not exist what have i been preaching all these year where did my message
    come from how do that work in side of me

  23. VincitOmniaVeritas  October 23, 2016

    Thank you Bart for pointing this out about Nazareth. This assertion about Nazareth “not existing” or being “uninhabited” in Jesus’ time is even more fringe than the “mythicist theory “in general, and not accepted by any archaeologist or historian in this area that I have come across. Even many of the “mythicists” themselves have realized this and rejected the notion I think. As you said above, there is evidence of the area being inhabited near to Jesus’ time. Jack Finnegan, in his “Archaeology of the New Testament”, states that Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period (pp.44-46).

    Even from a logical standpoint, the claim is even more ridiculous considering there is even more archaeological evidence for habitation of communities extremely close to Nazareth in the Hellenistic and Roman periods (including Jesus’s time), such as Daburiyya (biblical Daberath) and the area around Mount Tabor, which is only about 2 km from Nazareth.

  24. Wilusa  October 23, 2016

    I’m eager to learn about your debate experience, and hopefully, be able to see it! But right now, I have an OT question.

    Do you agree with something another poster said recently – that Jesus *must have* been a compelling preacher?

    I don’t think that was necessary. Here’s why. You’ve explained the importance of this: at least a few of his closest disciples believed, before he was crucified, that he was the Messiah. After his death – when he was obviously no longer around to preach – they became convinced, through dreams or visions, that he’d been resurrected. *They* took it from there – convincing themselves, and others, that the resurrection “fulfilled a prophecy” about the Messiah.

    I don’t think his appeal to those disciples had necessarily depended on his being a good preacher! When he told them his apocalyptic theories, they might have been hearing them for the first time – and they bought into the message, revering him as the one who’d delivered it. As I see it, we have no way of knowing whether his “preaching” really attracted crowds in Galilee; whether it did or didn’t was ultimately irrelevant.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2016

      I think he must have been compelling for his small group of followers; but I don’t think he was necessarily compelling for lots of others.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  October 23, 2016

      “When he told them his apocalyptic theories, they might have been hearing them for the first time”
      Yeah, so I think I should be more clear as to why I think Jesus was a compelling preacher. And this is one of the reasons. I find it very difficult to believe that Peter, John, James, et al. were hearing all of Jesus’ apocalyptic talk for the first time. The sense I get from reading the primary documents — in particular Josephus and the Dead Sea Scrolls — is that much of the Levant was already rife with eschatological fervor. In fact, in 4CE, upon the deposition of the Tetrarch Archelaus in Judea, a group of proto-Zealots in Galilee, led by the so-called Judas the Galilean and Zadok the Pharisee, rebelled against Roman hegemony, but was put down by the Romans. And this rebellion seems to have had apocalyptic and eschatological overtones. Furthermore, this all happened with the living memory of Jesus and his followers (or at least within the living memories of those only one generation older than them). So there was already a precedent for such apocalyptic scuttlebutt and expection long before Jesus started his whole thing. My sense is that when Jesus approached Peter et al. to join his movement, they were already steeped in the apocalyptic, eschatological Zeitgeist of their time and place.

      Anyway, this is my long-winded explanation for why it probably wasn’t so much the content of what Jesus said that impressed people as much as the way he said it. When George Whitefield went preaching across America, fomenting the First Great Awakening, it’s not like he was preaching anything radically new. The only thing that was radically new was *how* he preached it.

      • Wilusa  October 25, 2016

        You certainly may be right – you obviously know way more about that era than I do!

        Since I’m not constrained by any religious beliefs, I tend to have speculations that are all over the map.

        At times I speculate that Jesus may have decided to start a ministry of his own *before* he trekked to Judea to observe what John the Baptist was doing – he wanted to get “tips”!

        But at other times I speculate that he’d known nothing about apocalyptic ideas – he’d trekked to Judea for what he’d thought might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience of a Passover Week in Jerusalem, and that was where he *heard of* John. (I don’t know whether John’s activities in that area would actually have coincided with any Passover Week.)

        • talmoore
          talmoore  October 27, 2016

          Being as staunch an atheist as you’ll probably ever meet, I’m completely unconstrained by any religious beliefs as well. In fact, I’m a social scientist, and as a social scientist I usually approach historical questions with an eye to thinking about how average, normal, run-of-the-mill human beings would behave without knowing anything that we, living in 2016, would know about the intervening history.

          For example, when I imagine John the Baptist going out to the Jordan River, proclaiming that Jews must immerse themselves in its waters *right now, without any hesitation what-so-ever!* I must remember that I know something that John didn’t know: namely, I know that his dire sense of urgency — while reasonably warranted within John’s limited knowledge of the future — looks like utter paranoid lunacy to me, because of my knowledge of the 2,000 intervening years that separates us. In other words, I have one important advantage over John the Baptist in that I have access to an integral bit of information that he did not. I know that there was no need to rush, because after 2,000 years the Eschaton has yet to happen.

          What does that tell me? It tells me that John the Baptist made a prediction of future events based on his limited knowledge of his past and present, and, as it turns out, he was wrong. It’s not John’s fault. John didn’t know any better, because the future, for John, hadn’t happened yet. But for us, however, John’s future HAS happened, and we can see that he was wrong! Once we can see that we have this advantage over men like John the Baptist, then their seemingly irrational behaviors may begin to look more reasonable to us.

          A perfect example of this is the relationship between Jesus and his followers. We have the advantage of knowing that Jesus was going to be arrested and executed. They didn’t, because they didn’t know the future. But we know their future! So to us it may seem irrational to follow a guy that we know was just going to be arrested and killed. But they didn’t know that. For them the future was wide open. They were free to speculate about any manner of future possibilities. So in hindsight, we can see how Jesus was probably just a typical cult leader and religious huckster who died an ignominious death, but for Jesus’ followers, they had to go through two stages: First stage, they saw Jesus as a powerful, influential figure with a grand future ahead of him; second stage, he was arrested and crucified like a common miscreant. How does someone who goes through those stages reconcile such opposing experiences? Well, we’ve seen how they reconciled them. They created Christianity!

          • Wilusa  October 28, 2016

            I can agree with all of this.

            But I still think it’s possible that either no one in *Nazareth and the similarly small hamlets near it* had heard of the apocalyptic theory before they heard it from Jesus, *or* that they’d concluded nothing was going to happen in the near future, and Jesus convinced them otherwise. Perhaps by repeating John’s claim that “the ax was already at the tree” – whether or not he attributed it to John. They may have believed either John or Jesus had received a direct revelation from God, whether or not either of them ever claimed that.

            So I’m still not convinced that Jesus had to be an especially compelling preacher. Not sure he *wasn’t*, but I don’t think it was necessary. They might have become enthusiastic about the *idea*, and revered him because he was the *messenger*.

  25. Rogers  October 23, 2016

    So Miguel posted on Facebook a picture of Bart and he standing together. I took the occasion to post some good spirited affirmations for Bart – “Go Bart go! Take the Mythicist down!”.

    Bob Price was the only one to click the like button on my posting. 🙂

    On the argumentation side of things: The chronological progression of the canonical gosepels, and then the evolution of proto-orthodoxy Christianity in ensuing years, indicates a beginnings from a fairly tractable preacher secenario, and given multi-attestation of the sayings of this teacher, a seeming probable historical origin. And then things get more fantastic, embellished, and elevated (in respect to divine matters), as time progresses.

    This doesn’t seem to jive with a Mythicist position that the origins of Jesus began with a mythical divine figure that was then historicised. The actual chronological progression of the surviving writings tend to indicate a reverse process (historical roots and then mythological embellishment).

  26. hgb55  October 24, 2016

    Bart, hard-core Mythicist Frank Zindler, who edited and published the books written by Nazareth skeptic (or denier) Rene Salm, told me on several occasions that the current city now known as Nazareth was misnamed by Helena on her famous trip to Palestine from 326-328 CE. According to what Zindler told me in person on two occasions, a local resident or tour guide in Palestine knew that Helena was looking for Nazareth so he fooled her into believing that the current site is Nazareth. So according to this claim there had to have been a village at the current site of Nazareth in 326 CE but it was not actually called Nazareth. It’s original name is unknown. The city now known as Nazareth was misnamed by Helena after she fell for the fraud or joke.

    In the forward to the book “NazarethGate: Quack Archeology, Holy Hoaxes and the Invented Town of Jesus,” Zindler wrote:

    “Like many other holy places of the New Testament, Nazareth seems to have been “discovered” by Constantine’s mother, with the aid of willing-to-please tour guides.”

    Strangely, Zindler does not seem aware how this damages the claims made by Rene Salm since the Nazareth where Jesus may have lived could still have existed. It just isn’t where the current Nazareth is located.

    So you see Bart, the claim that Nazareth never existed can’t be falsified. Every excuse and speculation that can be invented is thrown out there by the Mythicists to keep disbelieving. It’s called motivated skepticism and it’s a classic technique used by people who advocate pseudoscience and pseudohistory.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2016

      Ha! And what is his evidence that Helena tried to locate Nazareth but found the wrong place???

  27. mwbaugh  October 25, 2016

    I wonder sometimes why there isn’t more skepticism among the mythicists. I suspect their methods could be used to “disprove” the existence of Peter, James, Paul, or anyone mentioned in the New Testament. Even Pilate has very little evidence to verify his existence.

    And why stop there? Can we prove that Papias existed? Igantius? Polycarp? I suspect that a dedicated enough person could come up with a set of arguments that almost any Christian figure pre-Constantine was a myth. (It might actually be a fun exercise.)

  28. rburos  October 25, 2016

    (I try to find a fitting thread to post my ill-timed questions in order to not come from left field. Being as this is a ‘Did X exist?’ question please forgive me for inserting here.)

    Watching Teaching Company lectures by Amy Jill-Levine and she said that she (among others) didn’t think King David actually existed. Is this a significant issue for OT scholars? If so, how do you fall on it?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      I think there may have been some king that the David stories are based on at least. But I’m not deeply committed to the view. The sources are so much later…

      • Wilusa  October 29, 2016

        Wasn’t there a significant archaeological discovery a few years ago, that supposedly proved the existence of a royal “House of David,” or something like that? Not substantiating any of the stories told about him, just the fact that a king by that name had existed?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 30, 2016

          Yes, it is the Tel Dan Stele: you can google it to see what it tells us.

  29. roycecil  October 25, 2016

    Mythicists can claim their lineage from St. Thomas 🙂 ! He said unless he sees his wounds and puts his finger in the wounds he wont believe that Jesus resurrected. So it would have to have some evidence to convince St. Thomas. Do mythicists for eg. believe other historical figures? For eg. Do they believe Socrates existed ? Could it not be possible that he is a myth after all ? Plato could have made it all up ? The oldest manuscript of Plato we have is from 895 AD . So there is more chance that they made it all up. Is that the same criterion that mythicist apply to Jesus that they apply to other historical figures?

    If we apply the same rigor that Mythicist want to apply to Christ to other historical figures, do you know who else among the prominent historical people of antiquity we have to consider as myth ?

    Another question I have is , assuming Jesus is a myth are there any earlier references of the Jesus myth before AD 50 ? Why not ? What makes AD 0-30 the perfect time for the creation of Jesus myth. And who in their opinion created this myth ?

    Will you be posting the video to the debate in the blog Dr. Ehrman ?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      I’m not sure what they’d say about Socrates. On a lack of written records, I suppose they’d say most people couldn’t write.

      • hgb55  October 27, 2016

        Bart, regarding Socrates, mythicist Frank Zindler, the former president of the American Atheists organization after Madalyn Murray O’Hair was murdered, told me several times that Socrates never existed. He cited all the reasons … Plato invented him, no writings from Socrates, no good eyewitnesses, etc.

        In a chapter titled “Cognitive Dissonance: The Ehrman-ZIndler Correspondence,” (2013) Zindler wrote: “It is this very fact of the absence of proof-facts that puts the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth into a disputable position. It puts him into the same boat as Socrates, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Zoroaster, and now, apparently even Mohammed.”

        Of interest to you, just two weeks ago Zindler told his coworkers in Columbus that he has just gotten a new preliminary book manuscript from Robert Price. Price apparently analyzes all your published writings about Jesus and refutes them and exposes your contradictions from what was told. Zindler is editing the book and will publish it probably sometime in the next 18 months. Zindler is editor and publisher for the American Atheist organization and has published several of Robert Prices’s books.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 28, 2016

          Yes, Frank was at the conference. I like him very much. But we don’t agree at *all*!!

  30. AlanGoldman  October 28, 2016

    As a trained student of history and the historical method, I think that the mythicists make the fundamental error of “overplaying their hand” by committing a logical fallacy: from their fundamental desire to show that the nature of Jesus’ personality and role was inflated and “conflated” by syncretist and cross-cultural religious traditions about archetypes of, e.g., other “dying and resurrected gods,” etc., the mythicists overstep their argument to assert that the historical existence of Jesus himself was a fabrication woven out of whole cloth. For instance, while it is likely true that some references to Jesus found in Josephus’ writing may in fact be subsequently interpolated Christian passages inflating Josephus’ supposed comments about Jesus’ extraordinary or divine nature, this does not discredit the basic statements about Jesus that Josephus DID make. Indeed, just the opposite would logically seem to be the case, for “the greater includes the lesser”. Thus it seems to me that in trying to “prove” more than an at least arguably colorable contention that the nature of the significance of Jesus that has been passed down through the Gospels is an ahistorical distortion or exaggeration, mythicists thus impair their credibility to their own detriment.

    Do you concur in this sort of logical disambiguation of the mythicist position?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2016

      Yes, that’s pretty much my view too.

      • AlanGoldman  October 28, 2016

        The mythicists, then, shouldn’t take such heated exception to your (and my) position about their arguments; we’re NOT denigrating as being unworthy of debate the underlying, fundamental contention that a distorted form of Jesus’ persona has been transmitted through the Gospels, etc.; we’re just adhering to fundamental principles of the historical method in rejecting their extravagant, and unprofessional, claims.

  31. jlhaxton  October 28, 2016

    Being a new atheist I am trying to figure all of this out. So is the non-mytisicts stance that Jesus of the bible did exist and did all the bible or gospels said he did? Or there was a guy names Jesus that lived at the time and was a preacher of sorts. If so what did he do? To what extent did he do or not do what the bible says? Dr. Ehrman is there a book of yours that would kinda wrap your thoughts on this? I am sorry but it is very confusing to me. I am trying to see it as a black and white thing. Either Jesus of the bible existed or he didn’t. Any direct would be MORE than appreciated. Thanks JL

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2016

      Yes, this is what I discuss in my book Did Jesus Exist.

  32. SidDhartha1953  October 30, 2016

    I used to entertain the notion that Jesus of Nazareth was a composite of several “pseudo-messiahs” of the period. Your arguments for the existence of Jesus have convinced me that such an explanation is not necessary, but I wonder — is there a school of mythicists who argue that point of view?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2016

      Not that I’m aware of in quite that form, though many do think he was an amalgam of sundry figures

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