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  1. Avatar
    Claude  April 21, 2012

    Prof. Ehrman:

    Based on this response to but one of Richard Carrier’s accusations, I’m wondering about the logistics of your plan to address both Carrier’s HuffPo histrionics and his review, which is almost as long as Does Jesus Exist?.

    I should have bought the 12-month subscription.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 22, 2012

      Yes, that’s the problem that I have with a *lot* of the mythicists. To explain the problems with their views takes *so* long (time and space). To give a full reply to Richard’s many points would require a book. Frankly, I don’t *want* to write another book on mythicism! One is more than enough. But I will try to deal with his bigger points and show why they are so problematic. They may sound convincing at first glance, but they are riddled with problems. I’ll show that at least with respect to some of his biggest points. On the other hand, yes, you should have bought the 12-month subscription! 🙂

      • Avatar
        hardindr  April 22, 2012

        Dr. Ehrman:

        I can guarantee that Mythicists will offer many Bible-sized critiques of your book, and then complain loudly when you don’t offer detailed refutations of their arguments. That is the danger of engaging them in a debate, such as their is one around this issue. This is similar to the issues around the debate of Creationism, where Creationists complain loudly when biologists refuse to take their absurd claims seriously. In general, I would take care not to end up like Alfred Russel Wallace and his wager with a flat-earther http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Russel_Wallace#Flat_Earth_wager . (Note: I am not suggesting that Mythicists would threaten violence, only that engaging them can be a serious strain on your time, and potentially, your pocketbook.)

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

          Yeah, I’m starting to think that too! Thanks!

  2. Avatar
    Jfjoyner3  April 21, 2012

    Mythicists have a bizarre way of making and evaluating arguments, it seems to me. Here is one example.

    Rene Salm has written a detailed examination of Nazareth (The Nazareth Myth) and concludes it was settled no sooner than the last half of the first century (CE). You know his book because it is mentioned in your book. Because he is a retired piano teacher (and an atheist whose editor is famous atheist Frank Zindler), he has no expertise in archaeology, ceramics, numismatics, etc. and must rely on the expert work of others. One such expert is Mordechai Aviam, an expert in Galilean archaeology. Salm quotes Motti favorably and authoritatively. I gave Motti a copy of the book and went through it with him.

    Then I coordinated an email correspondence between Salm, Zindler and Aviam. Motti tried to address Salm’s criticisms of archaeological knowledge about 1st century Nazareth, especially the Nazareth residence discovered in 2009. Salm’s web site quotes some unnamed archaeologist that the residence was not first century, but the archaeologist gives no verifiable details so this was a hot topic at the time of this exchange. Motti offered to Salm to go to the site, meet with the IAA excavator, review the finds and report back. Motti did what he promised, noted the fragments of Hellenistic and ER pottery, including fragments of small stone vessels. He came back and said there was no doubt about the early date of the residence. They questioned Motti’s comments with some strained arguments, and Motti responded (paraphrase): your conclusion is influenced by your atheistic beliefs … we don’t do science that way! This is where the discussion ended.

    So what does Salm do now, I wonder? He has quoted Aviam favorably, and authoritatively. An important expert on whom he relies condemns his conclusions.

    Since I was involved in this series of events, I decided to post my reflections in an amazon.com review. The comments from mythicists were very strong. Several faulted me for the fault of reliance on authority. How ironic! I have been to Nazareth multiple times, and saw the early residence. I have read Salm’s book, and gave it to Dr. Motti Aviam, someone we both agree is an expert on Galilean archaeology. I have read as much as I can find on the archaeology of Nazareth. Salm is not an expert, has never been to Nazareth, is not trained in Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, and etc.; he is a retired piano teacher. Yet, mythicists were very strong in condemning my appeal to (Aviam’s) authority … as if Salm did not?

    Mythicists insist they do not have a worldview that colors their thinking. I find that to be impossible to reconcile to their positions. I am persuaded about the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, which they find impossible to believe and accuse me being influenced by my beliefs.

    1
    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 22, 2012

      Yes, I too had a back-and-forth with Salm about his book that was, well, rather amazing. In it he claims that the spot where Nazareth *would* have been in the days of Jesus, had it existed, has never been excavated by archaeologists. So I asked him the question that seemed to me to be most sensible: if that spot has never been excavated, how does he know there is no town there? In his reply he assured me, vigorously, that unlike others, he deals objectively with the facts. Which wasn’t exactly what I was asking….
      So you and I are on the same side on this one!

      • Avatar
        Jim Joyner  April 23, 2012

        On Salm …

        Yes, and I forgot about his insistence that a 1st century village would be located only in the basin amongst hills, not on a slope. When I pointed out how much of Yodefat was built on a slope (and other nearby ancient villages too), Salm could only dodge and go back to (mis-)quoting pottery experts. And, he says, Jews could not use wet caves, but here too archaeology contradicts his claims. And on and on … I’m glad to know you gave him the opportunity to speak on his own behalf. Despite their success in identifying certain errors or weaknesses in the work of (early) archaeologists, Salm and his editor, Frank Zindler, are neither accurate nor honest in their overall use of the Nazareth data.

  3. Avatar
    Jfjoyner3  April 21, 2012

    On Thomas Thompson …

    Against many competent archaeologists and scholars, he finds there is no 10th century BCE David. In contrast to you, yourself a competent historian and textual scholar in the relevant field, he concludes there is no Jesus.

    Even if he is an expert in the history and texts relevant to a 10th century David, perhaps he is biased in both conclusions?

    If yes, then what does Bart Ehrman do when he discovers experts on whom he relies might be biased in their conclusions?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 22, 2012

      Good question. My sense is that *everyone* has biases, so long as they are still warm-blooded, breathing human beings. The goal is to get behind the biases to the historical facts insofar as that is possible, based on our evidence. I deal with his book in Did Jesus Exist. I found it disappointing; it ended up being more about David than Jesus, and his arguments against Jesus did not strike me as very strong, as I point out in the book.

  4. Avatar
    hardindr  April 21, 2012

    In a further blog post, Carrier has claimed that an Arthur Droge, professor of early Christianity at UCSD, is a Mythicist. He claims that at the one of the Jesus Project seminars Droge gave a talk where he stated that he was an agnostic about Jesus of Nazareth’s existence, and might be leaning toward the Mythicist position. In his talk, he compared Jesus of Nazareth to the legendary figure Ned Ludd. Carrier links to a summary he produced of the seminar’s proceedings.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1026
    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2009/01/amherst-conference.html

    Let me state that I think Mythicism is nonsense, and a waste of time. However, I would be interested to hear if Dr. Ehrman has heard of Droge and what he thinks of his ideas (I do not remember if he was mentioned in “Did Jesus Exist?”).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 22, 2012

      Very interesting. Droge no longer teaches at San Diego State (did Carrier indicate that he did? I seem to recall Carrier maligning me for not looking up his own c.v. before writing Did Jesus Exist) but in Toronto. I frankly don’t know if he calls himself a New Tesatment scholar. His first book was on the early Christian apologists (2nd and 3rd centuries); his second was co-authored with James Tabor on suicide in the ancient world; and I understand that recently he has produced a translation of the Quran. I don’t know what articles he has written over the years — whether they deal with the New Testmanet and Jesus or not. But I can look into it. And I’ll find out if he does indeed consider himself a mythicist! At most I can say is that if he does lean that way, he hasn’t — so far as I can tell — written anything about it. (Or published at all on the topics of particular relevance to mythicists: the NT and first-century Christianity)

      • Avatar
        hardindr  April 22, 2012

        In the blog post linked above, Carrier states the following:

        I also notice that Ehrman ignores a larger category of historians: historicity agnostics. He insists no historians of Christianity with professorships in the history of Christianity exist who doubt the historicity of Jesus, but I happen to know of at least one: Arthur Droge, professor of early Christianity at UCSD. At the Amherst conference in 2008 Droge said publicly that he had no idea whether there was a real Jesus, and gave a presentation using Ned Ludd as an example of a quickly historicized fictional person, around whom a whole movement grew, which Droge argued demonstrated that we could not be confident the same thing hadn’t happened to Jesus. Here we have someone who meets all of Ehrman’s hyper-specific requirements, yet who does not share Ehrman’s certitude about the historicity of Jesus. I suspect there are many more like him. Droge simply hasn’t published on this. How many other scholars are there out there, who likewise have not published an opinion in the matter, but nevertheless are far more skeptical than Ehrman?

        http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1026

        Carrier indicates that he believes Droge is still at UCSD.

  5. Avatar
    Don M. Burrows  April 21, 2012

    Can I just say that I love that Iamblichus gets a shoutout here? Awesome.

  6. Avatar
    john76  April 22, 2012

    Dear Dr. Ehrman:

    This is all really silly

    Look at this interview Richard Carrier gave: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CQ8BVYLX5s

    He’s actually claiming an argument can be made that all of the gospel of Mark is invented literary fiction with no historical content.

    The early church valued the Gospel of Mark for its preservation of the apostolic voice and gospel narrative of Peter. Moreover, an abundance of comment has been discovered to be embedded and interleaved amidst the textual archives of patristic homilies, apologies, letters, commentaries, theological treatises and hymnic verses. Ancient commentaries on Mark, such as the the insights of Augustine of Hippo and Clement of Alexandria, Ephrem the Syrian and Cyril of Jerusalem join in a polyphony of interpretive voices of the Eastern and Western church from the second century to the seventh.

    Our oldest texts that comment on Mark treat it as historical happenings. For those commentators, one would assume that is how Mark was understood in the tradition before them.

    On the other hand, one could ‘posit’ that Mark started off as a fictional made-up narrative, and then “magical event X” happened where everyone forgot it was just a fictional made up narrative, and then “magical event Y” happened and everybody suddenly understood Mark to be historical happenings, and our first commentators on Mark therefore never knew about the original nature of the fictional Mark. But the only problem with this hypothetical reconstruction is that you would have to be as insane as Richard Carrier to argue that the most plausible historical scenario is that Mark started off as complete fiction, everyone forgot, and then everyone suddenly started to understand it as historical happenings.

    Can we please drop this Jesus mythicism nonsense so you can focus on your new book about how Jesus became God

    This is ridiculous to the point of tragedy.

    John Andrew MacDonald

    • Avatar
      john76  April 22, 2012

      Keep in mind you would have to posit a break in continuity in the early church, going from the mythical Jesus to the historical Jesus, whereas we know, by historical analogy, Early Christians preserved a continuity of worship from the Old Covenant to the New, employing elements from the Jewish Temple liturgy, the synagogue liturgy
      and the rituals of the Jewish home. Old Testament worship is not only continued but also fulfilled in the Orthodox liturgy.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I really really really wish we could get on to something else. I’ll to my very best (trust me!) not to drag this on too long. I really have other things I want to talk about. But if someone is impugning my scholarly reputation, I feel that I simply have to respond.

  7. Avatar
    hardindr  April 22, 2012

    Also, another thought: I think it would be a good idea to have a written statement for a comment policy, i.e. what people can say, and how they can say it. The internet can be an unpleasant place, so regrettably this is necessary .

  8. Avatar
    Claude  April 22, 2012

    I’m having a hard time reconciling the engaging Carrier of that video John linked to with the vain (“my book is superior on all these measures”!) and badly behaved pedant who penned a diatribe against Bart Ehrman and Did Jesus Exist?. (Don’t expect the New York Review of Books to be ringing up Carrier any time soon.) It was interesting to hear him explain his inexplicable attraction to Earl Doherty as the compiler of a mythical alternative to the historical Jesus “consistent with the facts.” I’m in no position to judge these things, which is why I read Bart Ehrman, but Doherty’s book is kind of bad, and it bothers me that a luminary like Richard Carrier would support it. While I have no investment in an historical Jesus, the mythicist arguments are sometimes even more fantastic than the story of a charismatic itinerant prophet who sparked a movement that transformed history.

    However, in the video, anyway, it doesn’t seem like Carrier is foreclosing the possibility of historical elements in Mark despite his conviction that Mark himself was conscious of writing not history but a “symbolic message.” Although Carrier’s study of Mark did raise his estimation of Doherty’s position.

  9. Avatar
    Don M. Burrows  April 22, 2012

    Carrier’s most amusing claim in the first critique (of the HuffPo piece) was, in my opinion, his implication that Semele was a virgin. He bases this on a very minor Orphic version of her myth found in Hyginus, in which Liber’s heart is put in a potion and given to Semele, from which she gets pregnant (there is no mention of her being a virgin, however, and she is a well-known consort of Zeus, who as anyone knows does not have chaste relationships with women). The more common Orphic myth involves Zeus swallowing the heart of the torn-up Dionysus (then called Zagreus) and impregnating Semele the old-fashioned way. But of course, the most well-known version simply has her impregnated by Zeus and then incinerated when Hera tricks Semele into asking Zeus to make love to her in the same way Hera does. There is some fairly obvious symbolism at work here regarding Zeus’ phallic thunderbolt. All this is to say that Semele is far from a virgin in almost all imaginings of her in classical myth. Quite the opposite: she’s the one mortal who has experienced true, divine penetration, which is (unfortunately for her) unbearable for mortals (hence her incineration).
    He likewise suggests there’s a virgin birth regarding Romulus, but offers no citations. If there is, it would have to be very minor as well, not making it into the Oxford Classical Dictionary or the main secondary source, Bremmer’s Roman Myth and Mythography. In virtually all the accounts, Mars rapes the mother of Romulus and Remus. Bremmer even argues that the paternity of Mars is embedded in the earliest versions of the myth itself.
    It’s this sort of abuse of myth in the pursuit of turning Jesus into a dying/rising mystery deity that makes their claims and methodology suspect. That they’ve decided to get personal is all the more unfortunate.

  10. Avatar
    hardindr  April 22, 2012

    Robert M. Price has another “Bible Geek” Podcast up where he talks about Ehrman’s new book and Mythicism, the fun starts at 24:40. Also, more fun at 41:45 and 50:45!!

    http://recordings.talkshoe.com/TC-20430/TS-617489.mp3

  11. Avatar
    MatthewG  April 22, 2012

    Bart,

    I decided to join your blog so I could dialogue with you and other fans of your work and also give to charity. I am wondering something: after your next book on how people came to believe that Jesus was God, would you be interested in possibly debating Richard Carrier in book form? I would love for there to be a debate book between, say, you and Carrier. It would also be great to have one historicist and one mythicist comment on the debate, say, Maurice Casey commenting in defense of your position and Robert Price commenting in defense of Carrier’s position. Or, instead, if there was a debate between Carrier and Casey, would you be interested in commenting on the debate? A debate book like this would really help a nonexpert like myself out. In this way, you would only present your main arguments for an historical Jesus and tackle Carrier’s arguments in his forthcoming book *On the Historicity of Jesus Christ*. In a book format, we could do away with time constraints so that everyone has time to put forth their best arguments and counterarguments in as much detail as they would like to.

    Matthew

    • Avatar
      Jim Joyner  April 23, 2012

      Just in case anyone else plans to do the same thing … I purchased Carrier’s new book. I have breezed through it, and it reads like I would imagine a bizarre story: “(Thomas) Bayes meets (Robert) Price.” The Princeton Symposium on Tombs (the short name), held in Jerusalem during January 2008 (J Charlesworth’s answer to Simcha’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”) included statisticians, Rene Feuerverger and Camil Fuchs. The idea of applying Bayesian probability analysis to ancient phenomena is fascinating. It will be interesting to see if the rogue classic (Carrier) can successfully and appropriately introduce Bayes to Josephus and his pals. Who will be the first to review Carrier’s new book … from the tone of things I’m thinking it will not be Dr. Ehrman!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      It’s an interesting idea. Right now I’m feeling like I’ve had more of Richard Carrier than I really need. And that’s even *before* I’ve dealt with his harsh accusations. But I’m always open to options. The problem is that I have so many other books I’m planning on first. Right now I’m writing a textbook for one-semester college level courses on the Bible (Genesis to Revelation; in one semester!) Then I have How Jesus Became God. Then I have a long overdue Hermeneia (series) commentary on the early Gospel fragments, including the Gospel of Peter. I need more hours in the day!

  12. Avatar
    Erlend  April 23, 2012

    Carrier has actually outlined his understanding of where Ehrman’s position fits in with the scholarly community. In an interview with Debunking Christianity a few months ago (I presume once Carrier found out Ehrman was writing his “Did Jesus Exist” Carrier characterizes Ehrman’s views as being a “hold out” against the consensus; that Ehrman is in the minority in thinking we know anything about Jesus

    he states:

    “since the next most probable hypothesis [after the theory that he didn’t exist] is that Jesus existed but we know essentially nothing about him. Which, incidentally, a lot of experts in the field are starting to agree with. It’s slowly becoming the consensus position. There are still hold outs, like Bart Ehrman, but I don’t think their position is going to survive in the long run. There are just too many cats out of the bag at this point. But what will be the fate of the next-step position, that there wasn’t even a Jesus at all? Time will tell. But someone needs to present the case properly before it can be conclusively accepted or refuted. No one has done that yet.”

    Quite frankly I think Carrier is either delusion or is intentionally being deceptive. Either that or I am completely out of step with N.T. studies and Ehrman is being deceptive too. I think its clear Carrier doesn’t like being out of the periphery of scholarship, nor will this sit well with online atheists activists and their desire to appear educated and depending on the results of academic study against the uninformed, pseudo-scholarship driven Christian apologists.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      No, you’re not out of step with NT studies. Quite the contrary! My views are pretty mainstream about the NT and the historical Jesus (even if they might seem “radical” to a reading audience; *that* is the charge I more normally get….).

  13. Avatar
    JPatton  April 25, 2012

    Dr Ehrman, I think responding to Carriers allegations, while time consuming and probably very annoying, is very important. For some reason this particular triade has garnished a lot of attention, and to the non historian (99% of us) your credibility as a historian may come into question. While it is a well known fact that your work is always carefully researched and throughoutly top grade amongst historians and academics and those that really follow your work, its the casual obserers and lay audiance that need to hear this, as we have to rely on those doing the serious historical work for our information (we cant ALL be historians!) and there are many, like myself, that look to your work something we can surely count on to be right. We know you cant spend all your time fighting with mythicists, but a big knockout punch to Carrier should do the trick 😉
    I paid for a one month subscription but will surely be upgrading to the 12 month after this expires. Thanks Bart!

  14. Avatar
    J. J. Ramsey  April 28, 2012

    FYI, Carrier has pointed out that you did misquote him when you quote this from his blog post “Ehrman Trasktalks Mythicism”: “mythicist Thomas Thompson meets every one of Ehrman’s criteria” when he actually says, “mythicist Thomas Thompson meets every one of Ehrman’s criteria–excepting only one thing, he is an expert in Judaism rather than Christianity specifically.” To be fair, though, with the way Carrier goes on, it’s as if he himself forgot that he wrote the bit that you left out, especially when he subsequently writes, “So did he just ‘forget’ when he says he knows of no one who meets his criteria?” after already admitting that Thompson doesn’t fit the criteria. Still, it was a mistake on your part.

  15. Avatar
    Cephas  November 14, 2012

    I’m a bit surprised that Richard attacked a summary of your book. That smacks of a genuine misreading.

    But if those arguments were essentially the same as those he used against your book (which is the only published book of yours I haven’t read yet), then I guess he’s out standing in his field!

    I have to confess, I have great difficulty understanding these rather slippery arguments from authority, when the authority being argued from has little or no bearing on the subject! He might as well be a John West fisherman and make the same claims!

    I also don’t understand the weight given to the one, lone dissenting authority, when they’re effectively the voice in the wilderness compared with the thousands and thousands of their colleagues. What is it with the “lone ranger” argument? Arthur Droge may very well be fighting the good fight, masked and caped, but if he’s wrong, he’s wrong, and he should put away the mask and cape.

    This seems to highlight the problem with academic willingness to admit that (whichever Lone Ranger it happens to be) could just possibly have a point, since we don’t have all the data yet. Less disciplined thinkers take that to mean “Well, he probably could be right, so don’t write him off just yet!” and the question never goes away.

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