Ever since I started publishing books for non-scholars, I’ve been attacked by evangelical Christians for my views of the Bible. Then, somewhat ironically, about nine years ago I came under attack by the nemeses of evangelical Christians, the “mythicists,” who claim that Jesus never existed. And why did they attack me? For my views of the Bible. Isn’t life marvelous?
In 2012 published a book arguing that whatever else you say about him, Jesus certainly existed. It drove some of the mythicists to distraction. What was I thinking? I didn’t agree with them! Traitor!
Oh boy I didn’t agree with them. And on this point, at least, some evangelicals came to love me. One of the leading New Testament scholars in the evangelical community is Ben Witherington, with whom I’ve been on friendly terms for a very long time. Ben also has a blog, quite different from mine. Soon after the book was published, Ben asked if he could do a multi-part series with me on the book that both of us could post on our blogs. We did it. Now, nine years later, it seems like it might be interesting to repost it. Here’s the first set of questions.
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.
Q. What prompted you to not merely write Did Jesus Exist? but prioritize it?
A. I had wanted to write the book for some time, for a simple reason. A few years ago I started getting emails from people asking me whether or not I thought Jesus existed. Some of these people indicated that they had heard that I thought Jesus did not exist, and they wanted to know if it was true. In fact, it was nowhere close to being true: I had already written a book showing what I thought we could say with reasonable certainly about the things Jesus said and did (Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium). And my idea has always been that for Jesus to say and do these things, he had to exist!
In any event, it struck me as important that there was no book-length treatment of the question of Jesus’ existence by someone who was trained in NT and early Christianity, since we NT scholars tend simply to assume that he existed, without feeling any real compulsion to “prove” it. But as I looked into it, I found there was a lot of literature on the other side of the question, mythicists arguing, with an increasing following (especially on the Internet), that Jesus did not in fact exist. And so I wanted to write a book that showed that whatever else one might want to say about Jesus, he certainly existed.
As to why I prioritized it…well, I try
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