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Would I Be Personally Devastated if the Mythicists Were Right? A Blast From the Past

For my mailbag this week I dug into one from the past -- almost exactly five years ago.  I would probably answer it the same today.  My thoughts here on how we go about knowing what actually happened in the past strike me as having very broad application (not just to the question I was asked), and (especially toward the end of my answer) to have even greater relevance now than they did then, given our current historical moment.   QUESTION: Was also wondering - and maybe you addressed this in your book ... would you feel an emotionally traumatic disappointment if it was conclusively proved that Jesus was indeed a mythical figure? In all honesty how would you feel if it were true beyond a doubt that all the arguments the 'mythicists' have presented were found to be correct (or mostly correct) regarding his assumed existence? This question is not meant to be offensive or unnecessarily provoking - I'm just curious. RESPONSE: I don’t address this in the book, and I think it is a terrific [...]

Bart Ehrman & Robert Price Debate – Did Jesus Exist?

As many of you know, this past October I had a public debate with Robert Price on the question of whether Jesus actually existed.  To my knowledge Robert is the only "mythicist" (one who thinks Jesus is a complete myth) who actually has a PhD in the relevant field of New Testament studies.   For years I've been asked by people to debate a mythicist; I've always resisted, in part because I've thought that by doing so I would lend credibility to their view, which, in my judgment, is not credible.   But Robert is a nice guy and I finally yielded and said OK.  This is the debate.  It was lively in places and -- to my surprise -- ended up being a nice experience. The event was part of the "Mythinformation Conference" Buzzed Belief Debate Series presented by Mythicist Milwaukee at Turner Hall in Milwaukee, WI on Friday October 21st 2016.  Mythicist Milwaukee focuses on educating the freethought/skeptic/atheist community about what the organization considers to be the mythological origins of religion.  The people [...]

Can Biblical Scholars Be Historians?

Two interesting questions on this week's Readers Mailbag.  If you have a question, just ask away!   QUESTION: I just had a debate with a Mythicist who had no idea that any biblical scholar could be a historian.  I have to admit, I was just as ignorant of this fact until a little less than two years ago. How mainstream is it that biblical scholars are also known as historians? Maybe people think of biblical scholar–historian as two entirely separate entities.   RESPONSE It’s a good question!  I would say that most biblical scholars in fact are not historians.  But some are.  It depends on what their interests and expertise are. In most PhD programs in biblical studies – for example, those provided in seminaries and divinity schools – the training is focused principally on the texts of the Bible and their meaning.  The emphasis, in those circles, is on “exegesis,” that is, the interpretation of the Bible.  People trained like that are often adept at literary criticism of various kinds (or often of just [...]

The Invention of a Crucified Messiah

This is a follow-up to my recent post in which I argued, against the mythicists who maintain that Jesus was not a real person but was invented by his earliest followers who had learned of a cosmic Christ who was crucified by demons in outer space, that it does not make sense, in my judgment, that first century Jews would make up the idea of a human messiah who got crucified.   I received a number of responses to that post, most of which were very positive.  But every now and then I got a response that said something like this:  “I would say inventing a God/man who was crucified *does* make sense in a 1st century context.” It’s an important objection and I want to take it very seriously.  First, recall my argument, the precise nature of which is important.  I am not arguing in a vague way that no one would make up someone who was crucified, or that no one would make up an important person who was crucified, or that no one [...]

2020-04-03T02:54:47-04:00November 16th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Mythicists and the Crucified Messiah

In my previous post I explained what ancient Jews who were expecting the messiah were expecting.  I do not want to give the impression (one widely held today) that most Jews *were* expecting a messiah.  My sense is that most ancient Jews didn’t spend much time thinking about the matter, any more than most Jews today do.  But for those who did expect a messiah, there were certain expectations.   In this post I want to explain why those expectations relate to the question about whether Jesus existed. Recall: whatever the specifics of what this, that, or the other Jewish group thought, everyone thought the messiah would be a figure of grandeur and power, one who would be a mighty figure who would rule Israel, the people of God, as a sovereign people under no foreign oppression.  The most popular view was that he would be a mighty military leader and political ruler who would overpower the enemy and set up a kingdom for Israel like that of his ancestor David of old.  Another popular view [...]

Mythicists, Jesus, and the Messiah

I am now able to finish off this thread dealing with my debate with Robert Price on whether Jesus existed.  I have already laid out most of the arguments that I gave during my 30-minute presentation at the debate.  As I did in that talk, I now would like to set forth the argument that seems to me to be one of the most convincing of all. Mythicists say that the early Christians invented historical man Jesus, that there never was such a real person.  I think that view runs smack up against a brick wall.  The early Christians claimed Jesus was the messiah.  It was arguably the main thing they said about him – they said it so much that “Messiah” – or “Christ” – became Jesus’ last name.  They also claimed, incessantly, that he got crucified.  Why would Jews invent a messiah who got crucified? To explain the problem I have to provide a bit of background.  That will be this post.  Once that is done, in the post to follow, I’ll explain [...]

What If the Mythicists Were Right: Mailbag November 6, 2016

QUESTION: It must be difficult going into these types of debates knowing that if Robert Price is actually right, your entire career would be pointless and irrelevant. I certainly don’t believe this, but it must have crossed your mind before?   RESPONSE: This question arose from the debate I had a couple of weeks ago with Robert Price, on whether Jesus existed.  Price argued, as you know, that there never was a historical man Jesus, but that the earliest “Christians” believed in a cosmic Christ, a mythical figure who lived above in the heavenly realm who was crucified by demons in outer space.  This is the Christ attested, for example, he claimed, in Paul.  But later Christians invented a historical figure Jesus out of this Christ, and the Gospels portray this fictitious figure that was simply made up.  Jesus of Nazareth never existed. And so this question is whether I really can’t entertain this view as an option since, if it were true, I wouldn’t have a career.  My career is based on the history [...]

Carrier and James the Brother of Jesus

I hope I am not beating a dead horse by going at some length into this discussion of James, the brother of Jesus, in response to the Mythicists, who have a very real stake indeed in saying that he wasn’t really Jesus’ brother, since that would mean Jesus existed.  I’m pursuing the matter in part because it is such a key issue and as well to show that it would be possible to argue to all eternity with Mythicists on point after point after point.  Some of them are truly inexhaustible.  If I wanted to spend my entire life and career doing nothing but answering Mythicists rejoinders to my replies to their responses to my comments on their claims – it could occupy my next twenty years! I am giving a taste of what it involves here.  The short story: The historical man Jesus from Nazareth had a brother named James.  Paul actually knew him.  That is pretty darn good evidence that Jesus existed.  If he did not exist he would not have had a [...]

James the Brother of the Lord

In my previous post explaining why I think the Mythicist position – that there never was a man Jesus – is simply untenable, I pointed out that among the things Paul says, none is more specifically relevant than the fact that he indicates that he was personally acquainted with Jesus’ own brother James (along with Jesus’ disciples Peter and John). When Paul mentions knowing and spending time with James, it is decidedly not in order to prove that he knew him.  The comments he makes are completely incidental, explaining to people who already know about James how it is that he, Paul, met with him on a couple of important occasions.   One of these occasions was just three years after Paul converted – so in about 36 CE. At that time Paul paid a visit to Jerusalem to meet with Cephas and James, the leaders of the church there.   Paul is reluctant to mention that he had gone there, since the entire point he is making is that he did not learn anything of relevance [...]

Paul’s Acquaintances: Jesus’ Disciples and Brother

I have pointed out that the information provided us by Paul shows that he, at least, understood Jesus to have been a real flesh-and-blood human being (even while acknowledging that he was also a divine being).  He really was born, was a Jew, had brothers, and so on.   The reason all this matters is that many Mythicists claim that Paul thought no such thing, that for him Christ was a cosmic being, not a human being, and that he had been crucified in outer space by demonic powers.   I don’t think a careful reading of Paul could lead to those conclusions. There are two things in particular that Paul says that make it virtually impossible for me to ascribe to a Mythicist view.  The first (I’ll deal with the second in later posts) is the fact that Paul actually knew at least a couple of Jesus’ earthly disciples, Peter and John the son of Zebedee, and even more impressive, his brother James. There can be no doubt about that.  Paul himself describes two meeting he [...]

2020-04-03T02:56:12-04:00November 2nd, 2016|Bart's Debates, Mythicism, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Paul and the Historical Jesus

In this thread I have been talking about what I discussed in my thirty-minute presentation at the Mythicist Milwaukee conference, in my debate with Robert Price.  After pointing out a couple of problems with typical Mythicist arguments I devoted the bulk of my time to laying out the positive evidence for my view that whatever else you might want to say about him, Jesus of Nazareth certainly existed as a real human being.  In my last post I stressed the value of the Gospels, and their written and oral sources of information.  There were lots and lots of sources, from the early days of the Christian movement, some of them coming straight out of Aramaic-speaking Palestine.  It is almost impossible to explain how you could have so many independent sources saying similar things about the man Jesus unless he really was a historical figure. But there is much more.  Next in my talk I moved to the apostle Paul, obviously a key figure in the debate.  There are thirteen letters written in Paul’s name in [...]

The Gospels and the Existence of Jesus

If you have only thirty minutes to build a case that Jesus of Nazareth really existed, how do you do it?  That was the problem I was confronted with this past Friday at the Mythicist Milwaukee conference, in my debate with Robert Price.  Rather than mount a lot of arguments and say very little about each one of them (what we used to call “the shotgun approach” when I was in high school), I thought it would be better just to make a few points and pack them up with evidence and reasoning. The first and most obvious point, to me, is this.  Jesus is one of the two best attested Jews living in Palestine in the entire first century.   There were hundreds of thousands of Jews in some way connected with Palestine at the time  Only one is better attested than Jesus (with a proviso, which I’ll explain).  That one is the Jewish historian Josephus.  The reason he is better known than Jesus is because he has left us a large number of writings [...]

Mythicists and the Stories Told of Jesus

Back to my debate with Robert Price this past Friday.  I started this thread by indicating that the majority of my 30-minute talk was devoted to explaining the positive evidence that I think shows beyond reasonable doubt that there was indeed a man Jesus of Nazareth.  I’ll be discussing that evidence later in the thread.  I began my talk, however, by pointing out that Mythicists often adduce arguments that simply are not very convincing.  At least to me.  The first was the topic of my last post, the idea that there was no Nazareth at the time of Jesus, which is both wrong (archaeologists have dug it) and irrelevant (if you wrongly think I was born in Topeka that doesn’t mean I don’t exist). The second is argued with particular vim and vigor by Bob Price himself in several of his publications.  This is that virtually all the stories about Jesus (Bob would say all of the stories, I think) can be seen as modeled on stories known to early Christians, especially in the Old [...]

2020-04-03T02:57:06-04:00October 26th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

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, [...]

2020-04-03T02:57:20-04:00October 24th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Mythicism, Public Forum|

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 [...]

2020-04-03T03:00:47-04:00October 21st, 2016|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Did Jesus Exist? My Debate with Robert Price

Right now, as we speak, I am en route to Milwaukee for my debate with Robert Price, one of the best known Mythicists on the planet (for those of you who don’t know, a Mythicist claims that Jesus was a myth made up by early Christians; there never was a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth).   Of the many thousands of scholars in the world that have a PhD in New Testament or Early Christian studies he is the one, so far as I know, who takes this position. The fact that almost everyone thinks he is wrong does mean that he *is* wrong of course.  For a long time the vast majority of the world’s population thought that the earth was the center of the universe and that sun and stars revolved around it.  The fact they thought so had no bearing on whether it was true or not. For that reason, Mythicists have often gotten upset with me for pointing out that almost no one with any qualifications in the requisite fields of scholarship [...]

2020-04-03T03:00:58-04:00October 20th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Debate with a Mythicist! And the Book of Revelation. Readers’ Mailbag September 25, 2016

In this week’s Mailbag I’ll be addressing two questions, one about me personally – my preparations for the upcoming debate with Robert Price on the question of whether Jesus even existed as a human being – and the other about the book of Revelation.  If you have a question you would like me to address on the Mailbag, simply ask it in a comment on this post or any other.   ************************************************************************ QUESTION It seems the debate between yourself and Robert Price will be going ahead next month, right? I follow Price on Facebook and he has evidently been re-reading all your books in preparation. How much of his books do you intend on reading prior to the debate? How will you prepare for the debate? I’m really looking forward to it! RESPONSE Right!  Yes indeed!  On October 21 I will be having a three-hour debate in Milwaukee with Robert Price, who has two PhDs from Drew University, one in New Testament Studies and the other in Theology, and who is an atheist who supports [...]

Debates For A Price

QUESTION: Robert M. Price posted on his FB wall a few weeks ago that he was considering starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to debate Ehrman. Looks like things might be going ahead? Ehrman said on 'The Skeptic Fence' podcast a few months back that he'd be OK with debating Price. Reading between the lines, it looks like that they may made some sort of verbal agreement? Dr. Ehrman, are you aware of this challenge??   RESPONSE: Ha!  No, I’m afraid we haven’t made any kind of arrangement – Bob hasn’t said anything to me about this.  But before pursuing the matter, I should probably provide a little bit of background and context. For those of you who don’t know, Robert Price is a mythicist, one of those small minority of human beings who does not think Jesus actually existed.   In their opinion it is not simply that there are lots of myths and legends told about Jesus that are not historical; it is instead that the man himself never lived.  This is a [...]

2017-12-09T11:06:17-05:00February 14th, 2015|Mythicism, Public Forum|

Attacks from the Other Side: An Ill-Tempered Richard Carrier

Sometimes I think that if I’m “getting it from all sides,” I may be doing something right. The religious conservatives seems to be up in arms about my book How Jesus Became God – both conservative evangelical Protestants and conservative Roman Catholics like the Very Reverend Robert Barron. In fact, as I’ve said, I do not think anything in the book is inimical to Christian faith, unless it is completely committed to a view of the infallibility of the Bible and its full, historical accuracy. The Christianity I admire is not like that. But I get it from the non-religious left as well. Yesterday a member of the blog sent me the following critique – delivered in terms of mocking incredulity – by Richard Carrier, the mythicist (i.e., one who does not believe that Jesus existed) who has shown more vitriol, hatred, and mean-spiritedness toward me than almost any of the fundamentalists who attack me from the other side. The following is in reference to my point that we do not have any references to [...]

2020-05-27T15:59:57-04:00April 21st, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Did Jesus Exist? Video Presentation

I was invited to read from my book, "Did Jesus Exist: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth" at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Bulls Head Bookshop on Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 at 3:30 p.m. Here is a video of the event. To give you an idea of the topic, the back cover of the book reads, "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, [...]

2017-12-25T12:32:53-05:00March 6th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum, Video Media|
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