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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, whether we like it or not.”

I should say that one of the things that struck me, quite forcefully, in the aftermath of the publication of the book, was just how virulent, mean-spirited, and militant some atheists can be. The hate-mail and hate-response that I received for this book from the far left was absolutely as vehement as the hate-mail and hate-response that I have received for other books from the far right. It’s not easy being a historian, wanting simply to know what happened in the past, when so many have so many vested interests in having things their own way. Many of the mythicists are simply fundamentalists of a different stripe. Or so I’ve experienced! Anyway, here’s the book reading:

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  1. Avatar
    fishician  March 6, 2014

    Do you have any book signings set up for your new book yet? Will you announce such events on this blog?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 8, 2014

      Just in and around Durham right now, except for the all-day seminar at the Smithsonian on April 12.

  2. Avatar
    toejam  March 6, 2014

    Carrier’s book ‘On the Historicity of Jesus’ is scheduelled for release in April (although it’s been delayed so many times already, it could be longer). And on the other side, Maurice Casey has a book coming out defending the historicity of Jesus. Do you have any plans on reviewing either of these, as you did with Reza Aslan’s book?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 8, 2014

      Probably not. I’m not interested in providing Carrier with publicity; I will consider saying a few things about Casey’s book though.

  3. Avatar
    SJB  March 7, 2014

    Prof Ehrman

    I keep hearing the idea put forward that Nazareth didn’t exist at the time of Jesus. I seem to vaguely remember a report several years ago that an Israeli group was excavating ruins in the area that dated from the first century. Can you shed some light on this or at least point me in the right direction to clarify this?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 8, 2014

      Yes, Nazareth definitely existed in Jesus’ day. Archaeologists have dug parts of it up!! I give some of the evidence in my book Did Jesus Exist, at length.

      • Avatar
        FrankofBoulder  March 8, 2014

        No, archaeologists haven’t dug up parts of Nazareth. No one knows where the original Nazareth was located. Yes, the ruins of an ancient house were found in 2009 in present-day Nazareth, but you assume that present day Nazareth goes all the way back to ancient Nazareth 2,000 years ago. But present day Nazareth was founded centuries after Jesus, when Christians went to that area to build churches where they thought that ancient Nazareth had been located. But they couldn’t be sure of the location.

        In 2009, as you mention in your recent book, an ancient dwelling was dug up in the present-day city of Nazareth. But there’s no way to locate that dwelling in ancient Nazareth because no one even knows where ancient Nazareth was. There are no ancient maps or ancient references that give a location for ancient Nazareth. It’s all guesswork.

        There are no ruins of Nazareth. Merely finding an ancient house in present-day Nazareth doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a part of ancient Nazareth. There is nothing in that house or any other ruins that say Nazareth. Please give us some source that can tell us where ancient Nazareth was located. There’s no such source.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  March 9, 2014

          If you systematically doubt everything, you will absolutely be able to deny everything! (E.g. you could doubt that the present day NYC is where NYC was in 1790; or that Julius Caesar wrote the Gallic Wars; or anything else) I’d suggest you read the archaeological scholarship on Nazareth. Of course it’s theoretically possible that the first century farm and house and coins found there are actually evidence of the presence of Jerusalem in that spot, but one does history (and archaeology) on the basis of arguments and probabilities, not systematic refusal to believe anything.

          • Avatar
            fultonmn  March 10, 2014

            Let’s suppose that the early Christians looking for ancient Nazareth booted it, and put their Nazareth on top of the wrong village. That wouldn’t mean that there wasn’t an ancient Nazareth. Besides, Jesus’ having come from Nazareth doesn’t seem like the sort of thing they would have made up. In fact, they seem to be keen to explain it away. They would have made up Bethlemem, or Jerusalem, or something they didn’t then have to explain away. That’s it. I’m quitting my day job!

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  March 11, 2014

            Yup, and they could have made up Caesar Augustus! But, well, they probably didn’t. 🙂

          • Avatar
            FrankofBoulder  March 10, 2014

            You think I’m too doubtful? Really? You know very well that the gospels are full of contradictions and improbable and/or impossible happenings. And yet you still cling to these tall tales for shreds of valid information. The gospels lack credibility. They are absurd hokum from beginning to end.

            Jesus is unknowable because he has no consistent personality in the gospels. He is portrayed as a contradictory character, e.g., he condemned whole cities for not listening to his unsolicited sermons and he told his followers to hate their own families — and yet he allegedly preached forgiveness even for those who crucified him. WTF? This mishmash of nonsense is incomprehensible. So, as for doing history….

            You can’t do much history with fantastical stories written long afterwards by non-eyewitnesses who spun wild yarns about a walking-on-water demigod who wanted to be crucified. In the meantime, he cast out demons, heard voices from the sky, predicted the future, instantly healed people, turned water into wine, rose from the dead and then floated away up into the sky. That kind of farcical story cannot be trusted as a credible source of information. This is mythology, not history.

  4. Avatar
    Arlyn  March 7, 2014

    Do not consider myself a mythicists, but do confess to being perplexed that Paul never offers an anecdote about Jesus life given his visits with Peter and James for fifteen days. It just seems incredible that there weren’t any stories passed to hm that found there way into Paul’s writings. It is a mystery, whether significant to others, I don’t know. It has perplexed me for many years.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 8, 2014

      He does say *some* things about Jesus’ life. It’s just surprising that he doesn’t say more (not that he doesn’t say anything).

      • Avatar
        rbrtbaumgardner  March 8, 2014

        Could it be Paul doesn’t doesn’t want to give too much detail concerning Jesus’ life because it would show a dependence on the Jerusalem apostles with whom Paul is at odds?

      • TracyCramer
        TracyCramer  March 9, 2014

        Are there any references from antiquity to any of Paul’s letters that did not survive? If so, would you say that it is possible that in fact he may have written about the historical Jesus?

        Also, regarding the mythicists, at least in this country, would you say that they are simply a tiny but articulate and vocal minority? (Indeed, even after enjoying reading your book, I wondered why you as a busy a scholar were addressing what seemed to me to be a marginal topic. But I don’t know…)

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  March 9, 2014

          Paul himself mentions other letters that we don’t have (see 1 Cor. 5:9); my guess is that he wrote *tons* of letters. Why we don’t have them is a real mystery and anyone’s guess. So too with what he wrote *in* them….

          • TracyCramer
            TracyCramer  March 10, 2014

            Thank you. Do you have any thoughts addressing this other question:
            “regarding the mythicists, at least in this country, would you say that they are simply a tiny but articulate and vocal minority? (Indeed, even after enjoying reading your book, I wondered why you as a busy a scholar were addressing what seemed to me to be a marginal topic. But I don’t know…)”

            thank you.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  March 11, 2014

            Yes, tiny and very vocal indeed. Sometimes I’m not sure myself why I bothered….

  5. Avatar
    timber84  March 7, 2014

    I see your new book How Jesus Became God is being released on March 25 and you will be in Washington DC on April 12 to discuss your book. The April 12th date is the last speaking engagement listed on your website. Do you have any other appearances or debates scheduled after April 12?

    It has been two years since you wrote Did Jesus Exist, are you still receiving nasty e-mails from some people about it?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 8, 2014

      My book readings so far are scheduled in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Yes, I occasionally get the nasty emails….

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 7, 2014

    Having great appreciation and respect for your “Barnes and Noble” type books, I have found the attacks on your books from both right and left to be quite discouraging and quite widespread on the Internet. These attacks must be even more discouraging for you. Nevertheless, keep plugging along if you can. Your persistence has been quite helpful to many of us. After studying this for decades, a world coming from nothing makes absolutely no sense to me, but the description of the Biblical God with all of the Biblical legends and stories and all of the divine and divine ordered killing and all of the contradictions in the Gospels does not make sense to me either. So, I really don’t see how either side can be certain enough to attack those, like you, who are trying to sort out some history.

  7. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 7, 2014

    Very enjoyable!

    I remember that I used to speculate, in a casual way, that the “Jesus” of Christianity might have been based on two or more different men – because the name is a form of “Joshua,” and I thought it might have been an obvious choice for a spiritual name or a *nom de guerre*. The first video course of yours that I bought convinced me he was one man.

    But about names… As I understand it, the early Christians cared most at the outset about Jesus’s death and “resurrection,” and it took them a while to become interested in his birth. So I’ve speculated at times that they took two names from the end of the story, Mary (Magdalene) and Joseph (of Arimathea), and bestowed them on characters for the beginning of the story (Jesus’s parents). Do you think that’s possible?

  8. Avatar
    Steefen  March 7, 2014

    Did Jesus’ movement exist–a pacifist Messianic movement out of Galilee? Is that historical?

    • Avatar
      Steefen  March 7, 2014

      It’s going to be really interesting to see how one goes from Judas the Galilean to Jesus in less than 30 years. Could Jesus really develop a following with the Galileans?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 8, 2014

      Possibly. It’s hard to know.

  9. Avatar
    Hank_Z  March 7, 2014

    Bart, did any die-hard mythicists show up to argue that Jesus never existed?

    I enjoyed the video. Thanks for posting.

  10. Avatar
    FrankofBoulder  March 8, 2014

    I watched the video, and I read your book “Did Jesus Exist”? Your book is a solid work. I don’t dispute your arguments. Yes, someone named Jesus probably existed — but not the person as described in the New Testament. Those tales are fables about a mythical character who walked on water, cast out demons, saw the future, turned water into wine, rose from the dead and finally floated away up into the sky. That character never existed. He couldn’t have existed. So actually, Jesus IS a mythical character, even if there was a man named Jesus that was the original starting point of the myth.

    The Jesus of the New Testament is farcical It’s not just the miracles and other far-fetched supernatural events that are preposterous. Even the non-supernatural aspects aren’t credible. The workings of the Sanhedrin are distorted in the gospels. Pontius PIlate is falsely depicted as a benign fair man. The release of Barabbas is non-historical. Joseph Arimathea isn’t credible. And so on. The gospels recount things that don’t make sense and that no one could possibly know, such as how Jesus prayed when he was alone.

    Since we can’t believe these fairy tales, how can we trust anything at all in the gospels? Just because a story is “multiply attested” (i.e., a thrice-told myth) or “dissimilar,” that doesn’t mean that it’s true. There is little or no reality to the fantastical character of Jesus that’s depicted in the New Testament. If a Jesus existed, then only a shadow of the man is left after all the nonsense is subtracted from the stories. New Testament scholars aren’t doing much history. Mostly, they are just tending to an ancient myth. The myth needs to be exploded, not given credence.

    Prof. Ehrman, there’s virtually nothing credible or historical about Jesus. How can we believe that Jesus predicted his own death, came from an unknown place called “Nazareth,” heard voices from the sky, cursed a fig tree and told people about “love” while also telling people to hate their own families? If you don’t accept such nonsense, then why don’t you admit that Jesus is, in effect, a big fat myth?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 8, 2014

      I explain why in my books.

      • Avatar
        FrankofBoulder  March 8, 2014

        The more I learn and the more I think about the gospels, the less of it makes any sense and the less of it has any historical credibility. Almost all the stories in the gospels are contrary to common sense and/or contrary to history. The gospels aren’t unreliable sources of information.

        The life of Jesus cannot be discovered from these fables known as the gospels. And yet, I still see scholars quoting Jesus, as if these books — which were written 40 to 70 years after his death by authors who never met him — could possibly contain authentic quotes. How ridiculous.

      • Avatar
        RecoveringCalvinist  March 9, 2014

        You’ll be please to know that your book “Did Jesus Exist” has caught the attention of the absurd “Conservapedia” website. You made them happy. The simplistic entry they’ve written about you is an eye-roller.

  11. Robertus
    Robertus  March 8, 2014

    So true that some of these ‘mythicists’ (some prefer ‘nonhistoricists’) are rather fundamentalist, extremist in their skepticism, and generally bombastic, unpleasant and ad hominem in their argumentativeness.

  12. Avatar
    Joshua Gordon  March 8, 2014

    You may have done this in a previous posts, so if you did please refer me, but if not could you provide the chronological order you think the documents of the New Testament were written in? You know, 1st Thessalonians, etc. and noting the forgeries in that context also. I think all of us would enjoy the benefit of being able to historically read the development of early Christian thought in that manner. Thanks.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 9, 2014

      Interesting idea. I’ve never tried coming up with a chronological sequence like that, partly because it’s very hard to know when, say, the Pastorals were written in relationship to John, etc. But I’ll think about it….

      • Avatar
        Adam  March 10, 2014

        I would be interested in seeing this as well. Thanks!

  13. Avatar
    Eric Rodvan  March 11, 2014

    I’ve heard from both sides that Casey’s book was awful. Richard Carrier has already refuted it. I honestly have had a bit of shift in my view of the historical Jesus myself. I don’t think Paul gives any *good* evidence of a historical Jesus. However, I have a hard time believing the Gospels are complete myths and that all of the early church fathers got it all wrong so I think it’s way more plausible. I have emailed Dr. Goodacre and he says he’s tempted to attempt to give mythicists a thorough answer. It’ll be interested to find out what he has to say if he does.

  14. Avatar
    Eric Rodvan  March 12, 2014

    Sorry, I meant to say that it’s way more plausible that Jesus existed.

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