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Why Historians Can Talk “About” the Resurrection

In this final post (for now) on the historian and miracles, I want to emphasize one point that I raise of my own volition, and answer one question that has been asked by a reader. First, a point to emphasize (I borrow this from my forthcoming book on How Jesus Became God), on whether my stand on miracles just means that I’m a crazy secularist…. The reason that historians cannot prove or disprove whether God has performed a miracle in the past – such as by raising Jesus from the dead – is not because historians are required to be secular humanists with an anti-supernaturalist bias.   I want to stress this point because conservative Christian apologists, in order to score debating points, often claim that this is the case.  In their view, if historians did not have anti-supernaturalist biases or assumptions, they would be able to affirm the historical “evidence” that Jesus was raised from the dead.   I should point out that these Christian apologists almost never consider the “evidence” for other miracles from the [...]

2020-04-03T17:43:52-04:00November 15th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Historians and the Problem of Miracle

Yesterday I started to talk about why historians cannot demonstrate that a miracle such as the resurrection happened because doing so requires a set of presuppositions that are not generally shared by historians doing their work. Over the years I’ve thought a lot about this question, and have tried to explain on several occasions why a “miracle” can never be shown, on historical grounds, to have happened -- even if it did. Here is a slightly different way of approaching the matter, as I expressed it in an earlier publication on the historical Jesus: ******************************************************** People today typically think of miracles as supernatural violations of natural law, divine interventions into the natural course of events. I should emphasize that this popular understanding does not fit particularly well into modern scientific understandings of "nature," in that scientists today are less confident in the entire category of natural "law" than they were, say, in the nineteenth century. For this reason, it is probably better not to speak of supernatural violations of "laws," but to think of miracles [...]

2020-04-03T17:44:00-04:00November 15th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

History is Not the Past

Yesterday I started to answer a question from a reader who pointed out that just as the existence of Jesus is multiply attested, so too is Jesus’ resurrection. And so if *one* is established as historical, doesn’t the other one *also* have to be seen as historical? And if one is considered non-historical, doesn’t that show that the other is probably also non-historical? These are great questions, but I think the answer to both of them is “no.” Yesterday I showed why multiple attestation strongly supports the existence of Jesus. Some readers objected to that, but I should reiterate – this is simply a common sense principle that all of us use every day to decide if something happened (say, what happened at lunch yesterday). Today I want to show why multiple attestation can *not* be used to support the resurrection of Jesus. I begin by pointing out something that hasn’t occurred to a lot of people, but is nonetheless a fundamental point. History is not the past. This may come as a surprise, but [...]

2020-04-03T17:44:10-04:00November 13th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Multiple Attestation for Jesus

I had an interesting email from a reader the other day, in which he pointed out that the “multiple attestation” for the existence of Jesus is virtually matched by the “multiple attestation” for the resurrection of Jesus. At first I thought his point was the Christian apologetic one, that therefore since the resurrection is just as well (not quite, but still pretty well) attested as the very existence of Jesus, doesn’t that show that Jesus was probably raised from the dead? When I responded to that question, it turned out that he was actually saying the opposite: since we (meaning he and I) don’t believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, but *that’s* well attested, doesn’t that call into question the very existence of Jesus, which has comparable attestation. Multiple attestation can’t “show” it, in this view. As I think about it now, my response to *both* points (the Christian apologetic and the non-christian mythicist) is probably the same, that when dealing with the two phenomena – 1. the existence of Jesus and 2. [...]

2020-04-03T17:44:18-04:00November 12th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Who Can Still Be A Christian?

QUESTION: If historical Jesus scholars believes that Jesus' main message was the imminent apocalypse, and that didn't happen, how can anyone who believe that remain a Christian, given that Jesus was wrong on the main focus of his life? RESPONSE: This is a great question, and one I get asked a lot. Let me say at the outset that I think it is exactly right in its evaluation of who Jesus was. As I’ve explained in a lot of places, for over the past century – since Albert Schweitzer’s classic, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), the majority of NT scholars in Europe and the United States have been convinced that Jesus was indeed an apocalyptic preacher, like others of his day. Apocalypticism appears to have been widespread throughout Palestinian Judaism at the time. In rough form (with lots of variations) it was held by the Pharisees (who believed in the “resurrection” at the end of the age, an apocalyptic idea; they therefore probably held to other apocalyptic notions), by the Essenes who produced [...]

2017-09-16T23:05:00-04:00November 10th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Questions on Jesus’ Language and on the Crucifixion

QUESTIONS: If Jesus could not speak Latin, he must have communicated with the Romans in Aramaic. Was it common for Romans, at least of a certain class, to speak Aramaic? If not, how could Jesus have communicated with, for example, Pontius Pilate? Perhaps through a translator? Also, are there any sources I can consult regarding my question on the crucifixion? Wikipedia does not address this issue and you yourself have stated that you believe it was a small public ceremony which coincides with what I was taught. So I would appreciate any assistance you can render in this respect.   RESPONSE: OK, two quick questions, and two quick answers. You’re right, Jesus could certainly not speak Latin -- unless you base your views of Jesus on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ; the entire movie is filmed in Aramaic, until we get to the trial before Pilate, where Jesus shifts into completely fluent Latin. What a scream. In any event, it’s clear why the Gospel according to Mel wants Jesus to be able to [...]

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 4

CONTINUATION!   Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, has asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist, especially in light of criticism I have received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!).   His blog is widely read by conservative evangelicals, and he has agreed to post the questions and my answers without editing, to give his readers a sense of why I wrote the book, what I hoped to accomplish by it, and what I would like them to know about it.  He has graciously agreed to allow me to post my responses here on my blog, which, if I’m not mistaken, has a very different readership (although there is undoubtedly some overlap).   It’s a rather long set of questions and answers – over 10,000 words.   So I will post them in bits and pieces so as not to overwhelm anyone.  The Q’s are obviously his, the A’s mine. Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem with [...]

Did Jesus Exist as Part One

Writing Did Jesus Exist was an interesting task. For one thing, before writing the book, like most New Testament scholars, I knew almost nothing about the mythicist movement. I think mythicists themselves find this very frustrating, that their work is not taken seriously – in fact is not really even known – by precisely the scholars they would most like to convince. But that’s just the way it is. Many scholars have heard of G. A. Wells, who for years has propounded a mythicist view (of sorts: he actually thinks there was a man Jesus, but he is essentially unrelated to the Christ of Christian tradition). And Robert Price has a PhD in the field and wrote a bona fide scholarly book The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. But scholars who know about the mythicists – e.g. by reading the second edition of Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus, where he effectively disposes of the mythicists of his day – whether for good reason or not, simply do not take them seriously. And many scholars [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:57-04:00May 5th, 2012|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

A Recent Interview

Here, for anyone interested, is a link to a recent interview I did (2012).  It is relatively short (Q&A via email), but it covers a range of topics, with some really terrific questions, I thought. Post Update 10/2014: The original post resided on now an expired blog "The Porpoise Diving Life: Reality for the Rest of Us or Picking Up Where Purpose-Driven Peters Out" moderated by Bill Dahl, who interviewed me after the printed release of "DID JESUS EXIST?". The following interview was fully restored from the Internet Archive Way Back Machine by my blog support. ______________________________________________________________________________ First, allow me to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Bart D. Ehrman of UNC - Chapel Hill for agreeing to this interview. Thanks also to Julie Burton, Publicity Director at HarperOne in San Francisco. His most recent book is "Did Jesus Exist?" (HarperOne 2012). First, my review of the book: This, I believe, is one of the MOST IMPORTANT books the vast majority of purported Christians will never read. Why? Because most have a self-confessed understanding of Jesus wrapped up in a tidy [...]

Response to Carrier

A lot of people have been asking me when I will be replying to Richard Carrier's full-frontal assault (!) on my book. I've started to reply in a couple of posts (maybe some haven't noticed....), but I hope to have a fuller set of comments soon, on his charges of "Errors of Fact." I know what I want to say, but am simply overwhelmed right now with other things to do. Long story, I won't bore you with it. But I *hope* to have a fairly sizeable posting on the topic by Wednesday (I'm saying this here so I don't need to reply individually to everyone who has asked). I have decided that I will post it on the Public Forum, since I really do take his charges of scholarly incompetence seriously and feel that I need to address them. In the meantime, someone forwarded to me the following post on R. Joseph Hoffmann's blog. I think it's pretty good and amusing and worth reading. I don't think I've ever met Hoffmann, but I've known [...]

Acharya S, Richard Carrier, and a Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”)

As I indicated in my earlier posting, I will make an exception in this case and post these comments on the Public Forum, although normally I reserve my Responses to Critics to the Members Only section of the blog. As many readers know, Richard Carrier has written a hard-hitting, one might even say vicious, response to Did Jesus Exist.  I said nothing nasty about Carrier in my book – just the contrary, I indicated that he was a smart fellow with whom I disagree on fundamental issues, including some for which he really does not seem to know what he is talking about.  But I never attacked him personally.  He on the other hand, appears to be showing his true colors. Still, the one thing this bit of nastiness has shown me is that even though I seem to stir up controversy everywhere I go and with everything I write, I really don’t like conflict.  I would much prefer that we all simply get along and search for truth together.   But alas, the world does [...]

2020-05-27T16:00:39-04:00April 22nd, 2012|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Richard Carrier on The Huffington Post Article (1)

I began to write replies to Richard Carrier’s rather heated response to my Huffington Post article before his now more extensive review of my book appeared on his blog.  I will first reply in a series of posts to the first response, and then deal with the more extensive and, well, overly heated (!) later response. This was my first response: Richard Carrier has written a rather intemperate reaction to my piece in the Huffington Post in which I summarize, in about a thousand words, some of the major points I make in my new book Did Jesus Exist (361 pages!  It is not easy to condense that much material in three pages!).   One thing he objects to most vehemently to is my claim that there are no scholars trained in the relevant fields of academic inquiry (e.g., New Testament; early Christianity) and teaching at a recognized institution of higher learning who takes the position that he and his fellow mythicists take, that Jesus never existed. I can understand why Carrier is so upset.  He [...]

2020-05-27T16:01:15-04:00April 21st, 2012|Bart's Critics, Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Do My Research Assistants Do All My Work For Me?

I was surprised, shocked, dismayed, incredulous, and well, OK, pretty ticked off and aggravated when some of the mythicists that I deal with in my book, Did Jesus Exist, went on the attack and made it personal.   Let me make a confession: before getting ready to do this Blog, and getting into Facebook as a preparation for it, I had no idea how grimy the Internet can be.   It is one messy place.  I know, I know – welcome to the 21st century! One of the charges against me that is being made is not just atrociously wrong but insulting to my integrity, something I take very seriously.  It’s one thing to have a disagreement about how to interpret historical data; it’s another thing to charge a scholar with dishonesty.   The first instance I know of the charge was suggested by Achyra S on her blog, and most forcefully by Robert Price on his podcast.  The charge is that I did not actually do any of the research for Did Jesus Exist myself, but that [...]

2020-04-03T19:47:18-04:00April 20th, 2012|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Q & A – Historical Events in Jesus Tradition

[h3] EMAIL QUESTION [/h3] Sir, I have inquiries regarding your view on two supposed historical events found in Jesus Tradition: (1) the burial by Joseph of Arimathea; (2) the discovery of the empty tomb by some of Jesus' women followers. It appears that when you gave a lecture for The Teaching Company (published in 2003) you regarded these two event claims to be "historical facts." You stated that "the earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying that Jesus was in fact buried by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it's relatively reliable that that's what happened. We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later." Source: "From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity," Lecture 4: "Oral and Written Traditions about  Jesus" (The Teaching Company, 2003). However, in your debate with W. L. Craig in 2006, you stated, "The payoff is this: We don't know if Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. What we have are Gospel stories written decades later by people who [...]

2020-04-03T19:48:11-04:00April 5th, 2012|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Latest HarperOne Book: Did Jesus Exist?

[h4] Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth [/h4] Book Publication Date: March 20, 2012 Large numbers of atheists, humanists, and conspiracy theorists are raising one of the most pressing questions in the history of religion: "Did Jesus exist at all?" Was he invented out of whole cloth for nefarious purposes by those seeking to control the masses? Or was Jesus such a shadowy figure—far removed from any credible historical evidence—that he bears no meaningful resemblance to the person described in the Bible? In Did Jesus Exist? historian and Bible expert Bart Ehrman confronts these questions, vigorously defends the historicity of Jesus, and provides a compelling portrait of the man from Nazareth. The Jesus you discover here may not be the Jesus you had hoped to meet—but he did exist, whether we like it or not. Publisher Reviews “Ehrman’s clarity is something to emulate.” —Newsweek “Ehrman] is a lucid expositor.” —The New Yorker “[God’s Problem is a] serious inquiry. . . . Ehrman pursues it with an energy and goodwill that invite [...]

2020-04-03T19:47:05-04:00April 4th, 2012|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|
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