Ehrman’s Dubious Replies (Round Two)

As promised Friday, here I shall reply to Ehrman’s longest reply to me to date (in Fuller Reply to Richard Carrier, mostly responding to my critique of his book). I won’t rehash the points I already addressed in my previous response (see Round One). Here I’ll just cut to the chase:

Was Pilate a Procurator?

Ehrman finally does what he should have done originally (take note of this trend: it confirms the entire point of my original critique), and asks an expert. But what he didn’t do was read the scholarship I pointed him to (my article, which references the most definitive literature on the point: in fact it is rather important to this whole debate and my subsequent remarks here that we read my paper’s section on what a procurator was in the time of Jesus).

The view that Claudius changed the title of Judaean governors from prefect to procurator has long since been refuted (most conclusively by the work of Fergus Millar; contrary to what Ehrman’s quotation might seem to suggest, the PIR his colleague translates the Latin of on this point is a modern source, not an ancient one, and thus represents an outdated scholarly assumption and not what anyone in antiquity actually said). For example, Herod the Great was appointed procurator of Syria, before Claudius was even born, and even Cicero attests the practice of prefects being simultaneously appointed procurators. The surviving evidence extensively confirms no province or district was ever governed by a procurator who was not also a prefect, at least to the end of the second century (as Millar and others document).

In the paper I linked to above I extensively document all of this, including the sources and scholarship establishing that (a) many prefects were simultaneously also procurators, well before Claudius, and that this was especially the case for major provincial prefects (as we know most conclusively for the prefect of Egypt, neighboring Judea, and I also list evidence the same was true of Pilate), and that (b) this has been known to modern specialists in Roman imperial administration for at least forty years.

In fact, procurator is not a government office, but a private one (it means business agent), and prefects were often simultaneously appointed imperial procurators so they could handle the private affairs of the emperor using the legal apparatus of state power (precisely through holding the prefecture). I discuss this at length, and reference the scholarship on it, in the article that I summarize on my blog (and link to above), to which I directed readers in my critical review of Ehrman. I would ask that Ehrman have his informant read that piece (the specific link I provide above; he only need read the relevant section of the academic article, which that link will take him to directly), and then relay what they say in reply. Notice what happens.


Did Ehrman Overlook Tacitus Scholarship?

When discussing his failure to mention that the mythicists had some scholarly support for their questioning of the passage on Christ in Tacitus, Ehrman misrepresents my argument in various ways. For example, he says:

Carrier says this is “crap,” “sloppy work,” and “irresponsible,” and indicates that if I had simply checked into the matter, I would see that I’m completely wrong.

First, I did not say he was completely wrong. In fact I said very much the opposite. Here is what I actually wrote (emphasis now added):

That the overall consensus of scholarship, myself included, sides with Ehrman on the conclusion is true (I am sure the passage is authentic and has not been relevantly altered), but that does not change the fact that readers are being seriously misled by Ehrman’s characterization of the matter. For him to claim that mythicists “just made this up” because it was convenient for them is false. But more alarming to me is the fact that this demonstrates that he didn’t even check. And again, if he didn’t check this, what else didn’t he check? This kind of sloppy work, the failure to check his facts, to do any basic research we should expect of a scholar, and consequently to misrepresent his opponents and their position, and misinform the public about the debate, is the same kind of crap we get from the bad mythicists.

Notice. I did not say he was completely wrong, but that he was mostly right, and was only misleading readers by giving the impression that mythicists were on their own here. I also did not mean that this particular incident makes the book crap. To the contrary, if it were only a few cases like this I would barely make an issue of it. Rather, as you can see from the quote above I was saying this kind of thing, repeated throughout the book, is the same crap Ehrman himself calls out mythicists for. In other words, I am saying it is the number of cases like this that made his work sloppy. Not just this instance. Because just one instance wouldn’t (nor even two).

I ended every section of my review with similar remarks, explaining why I was presenting each example as one instance of a pervading trend. In fact earlier on I said:

[O]ne or two mistakes like this would be excusable. We all make them. And we can’t all know everything. But my point is that this is an example of a pervasive number of similar errors throughout the book…

Ehrman now makes it seem like I was saying just this one Tacitus oversight makes his work “sloppy” and the same “crap” he convicts the bad mythicists of (and yet he, too, made his point about them by just selecting a few examples, just as I did). That was not my point at all. My point was the same as his: we find so many things like this, that we must dismiss their work as unreliable. Ehrman mischaracterizes my argument in order to avoid it, turning it instead into just a few nitpicks, which if that were an acceptable defense, he would have to accept it from the mythicists he dismisses, too.

On the charge of irresponsibility, this is what I actually said (emphases now added):

This is important, because part of Ehrman’s argument is that mythicists are defying all established scholarship in suggesting this is an interpolation, so the fact that there is a lot of established scholarship supporting them undermines Ehrman’s argument and makes him look irresponsible.

In other words, his argument depends on there being no scholarly basis for the mythicists’ doubt of the passage. This is why his new defense doesn’t address my point. Ehrman says now, “my point is that I was not trying to make a statement about the history of Tacitus scholarship; I was stating what scholars today think.” This I would credit as a fair statement (assuming, again, that he checked), but it’s not what he says in the book (nor does he now mention whether Benario’s subsequent surveys document anyone rebutting the scholarship he summarized on this passage before; just because the topic didn’t come up in later years doesn’t mean it has been universally rejected, or even rebutted, a fallacious kind of inference that typifies Ehrman’s continual shortcomings in logic). In fact, if all Ehrman meant were that no current Tacitus expert doubts the passage, then his book’s argument doesn’t hold up. He would have to change that argument to make this new premise work.

It must also be noted that Ehrman still doesn’t admit that he tars the competence of mythicists when he tells his readers (and regardless of what he meant, what his readers will take him to mean is the issue: because it is that that I have to constantly correct and therefore makes the book bad) that no competent expert would ever agree with them and that they are the only ones coming up with these ideas. But if serious qualified experts had the same notions, that seriously alters the entire impression of the matter. It’s not a crazy idea coming out of left field anymore. It’s just wrong. And the difference is huge. This should be particularly clear to someone who acts like such criticisms are personal attacks and unfair. Ehrman made his opponents look crazier and less competent than they are. That is much more of an unfair personal attack than what Ehrman is putting up with from me (since unlike him, I am accurately representing what he said). That he doesn’t even see this plank in his own eye while complaining about the splinter in ours is ironic coming from an expert on Jesus.

But more importantly, this change in the point (from “no scholar says” to “no scholar today says”) also significantly changes how Ehrman must argue: now he can’t say the mythicists are making this up and have no scholarly support, but he must argue instead that though there are published scholarly arguments for their conclusion, they have been rejected, which requires him to show that they have been (that no one has since published on it, pro or con, does not mean the issue is dead or that no living scholar is at least agnostic on the issue), or else that they have been because of x, y, and z (whatever the arguments are that lead scholars not to be convinced by the previous work challenging the passage; which would require Ehrman to actually find out what those are–in other words, it would require him to do his job).

It is for these reasons that this book sucks. Ehrman has to make excuses for repeatedly saying misleading things, and for not having checked to confirm the things he claims. I am not convinced Ehrman even knows why most scholars are convinced the Tacitus passage is authentic. But I wouldn’t care about that. All he had to say was that few scholars accept the notion that the passage is inauthentic in any way. That would be a fair enough point. Instead he gave the impression that no expert would ever think that, that only mythicists came up with it. And again, do not mistake this for a one-off goof. This is typical of how Ehrman treats the mythicists; I only gave representative examples of each kind of error. And that was my review’s central point.

Of course, a thorough investigation would require more, such as actually examining the reasons for and against accepting the passage and arriving at a conclusion therefrom. Ehrman might have legitimately avoided that labor by saying what I would say (and do say), that I welcome anyone making that case in a new peer reviewed article, but until then I have to side with the broadest contemporary consensus of experts where I myself see no good reason to reject it. This would at least be honest. Instead he made it look like mythicists have no support from published scholarship and are the only ones thinking these things. And it’s that that is the problem.


Are There Dying and Rising Gods?

Ehrman argues:

It is true that Osiris “comes back” to earth to work with his son Horus … Literally, he came “from Hades.” But this is not a resurrection of his body. His body is still dead. He himself is down in Hades, and can come back up to make an appearance on earth on occasion. This is not like Jesus coming back from the dead, in his body; it is like Samuel in the story of the Witch of Endor, where King Saul brings his shade back to the world of the living temporarily (1 Samuel 28). How do we know Osiris is not raised physically? His body is still a corpse, in a tomb.

Of course the same is most likely true of Jesus (as I and several scholars have argued: see my Empty Tomb FAQ; even conservative scholar N.T. Wright has suggested the possibility), and obviously this is in fact how Jesus was originally believed to have appeared (in visions, not a walking reanimated corpse), so there is no clear difference from the Osiris case even as Ehrman describes it.

But even granting the difference, this is precisely the kind of distinction that isn’t relevant to the point: Osiris is a dead god who still “lives again” and visits and converses with the living. Like all the gods that do this, they do it in their divine resurrection bodies, which have replaced their flesh and blood corpses. This is explicitly stated in the sources for many gods, such as Hercules (see Empty Tomb, p. 137); and many Jews believed the same thing about their own resurrection (and Paul appears to say exactly that in 1 Cor. 15:35-49, declaring that the body that dies is not the body that rises; Josephus describes a similar body-exchange theory as apparently a common view of resurrection among Jews, and we have many examples of both Jews and Christians advocating it: see Empty Tomb, pp. 109-13, 136-37). This is not like the “witch of endor,” precisely because these are gods, and gods have divine bodies. That’s what makes them gods (and not just impotent spirits). The Jewish view of resurrection was essentially the same view, only extended to humans, who would all become like gods. (A view that actually came from the Zoroastrians, and thus is not uniquely Jewish: see Not the Impossible Faith, chapter 3.)

Insofar as even the first Christians, or certainly later ones, believed Jesus rose from the dead in the same body that died, that would be an element of syncretism with the Jewish belief in corpse reanimation (held by many but not all Jews), or even an adaptation of other pagan views of gods that experience the same kind of resurrection (most clearly, Zalmoxis and Inanna, and perhaps Inanna’s consort Tammuz, i.e. Adonis, since as her consort in the same myth, his celebrated resurrection is not likely to have substantially differed from hers, we just don’t have the portion of the text that describes it, only external references to it being part of the same cult’s myth). Even if the later Christian idea did not come from these pagan same-body resurrection myths, a pagan body-exchange resurrection (returning to earth after their deaths in an immortal glorious resurrection body, as Romulus does, for example) combined with a literalist Jewish resurrection still gets you the version of dying-and-rising god that we meet with, for example, in the Gospel of John. But that’s still just a variant of the same mytheme: a god who dies and is then celebrated as having risen again, in a more glorious body than they once had. That’s why Osiris is said to have returned to life and been recreated, the exact terms for resurrection, as even Ehrman admits Plutarch freely uses to describe what happened to him.

On all of this take note: Ehrman says his views are the standard in the field, but in defense of the claim he still only names one advocate (Smith). In the link above, in support of my view, I name eight. And in my chapter on resurrection bodies in The Empty Tomb I cite more, including abundant primary evidence. So you decide who to follow on this point.


Did Ehrman Fail to Mention that Some Sources Attest a Christian Belief That Jesus Died a Century Before Pilate?

Yes, he did. Ehrman doesn’t deny this. He simply claims that when he said “the view of all of our sources that deal with the matter at all” (on p. 251) he didn’t mean all of our sources that deal with the matter at all. (See a trend here?) Even if we believe Ehrman “knew” that all those sources existed and date Jesus as they do, and he just chose not to mention them (even though they are directly pertinent to the hypothesis Wells was arguing), because he was “only” referring to the sources he had previously enumerated (even though the Talmudic passages were one of those sources–see pp. 66-68–so his excuse doesn’t even hold up on his own internal logic), even granting all that (which I find hard to do), he still mislead his readers into thinking no such sources exist, and that Wells was just pulling this idea right out of nowhere. Which kind of thing happens repeatedly throughout his book. And that still makes his book an unreliable failure.

Ehrman also (again) deploys an argument in his reply that should have been in the book: that he discounts those sources on this point because they are late; which is in itself a fallacy, since late sources can preserve early tradition, and therefore you have to make an argument for why this is not occurring in this case. Indeed, that this was the belief of what appears to be (a) a pre-Pauline sect of Christianity (the Nazoreans still being Torah observant and having a name similar to what Christians were sometimes called in Paul’s time, if we are to trust Acts 24:5) and (b) the only sect of Christianity apparently known to the Babylonian Jews, argues against this being some recent novelty. Even the late existence of such a tradition is hard to explain on Ehrman’s theory of Jesus’ historicity (how could such a tradition have arisen?), and thus requires explanation, it can’t just be ignored. Ehrman would prefer to ignore it. Possibly he would even prefer you not to know of it.


Did Ehrman Tell Everyone the Romans Kept No Records That Would Have Been Relevant to Studying Jesus?

Yes. Once again, he even attempts to stand by this one, although contradicting himself…at one point saying he meant only that we shouldn’t expect such records to survive (precisely what I said he should have said in the book, but didn’t), and at another point saying that he does indeed deny “any indication that there ever were Roman records of anything” in Palestine. But his arguments here are an embarrassment of fallacies.

Ehrman now says that (at least in Egypt) such records existed and were kept (something he definitely does not tell his readers in his book), but “most of these are not in fact records of Roman officials, but made by indigenous Egyptian writers / scribes.” This is twice fallacious (even setting aside his strange assumption that “indigenous Egyptians” could not be Roman officials or in their employ): first, “most” is not “all” (so his point is moot…formally, we call this a non sequitur); second, what he doesn’t tell you is that even the private records are frequently the personal copies of government records (e.g. the tax receipts I once translated would be a private citizen’s copy of the very same receipt that would enter the government archives). Thus, the fact that we have only the copies, albeit made under official circumstances, often at the same time as the originals, is again moot to the point as to whether the government kept such records. Indeed, that private citizens sought and kept copies of state records precisely proves my point that Christians could have done this, too…had they wanted to, which requires explaining why they didn’t.

Ehrman then says he only meant that Romans kept no such records in Palestine. He doesn’t actually provide any evidence to back this claim, of course, and it’s obviously absurd, the kind of implausible armchair assertion I expect from Christian apologists. Obviously Romans kept the same records in every province that they kept in any.

There might not have been a record of Jesus’ birth at the time of his birth (that would depend on where he was really born and whether, instead, any state or local Jewish administration kept such records, e.g. Josephus implies having records of his own ancestry), but if he or his family ever paid Roman taxes, there would be records of that, and if his family was ever the subject of any Roman census at any time while Jesus was alive, there would be a record of that, and along with it a record of his birth, age, and family relations (Tertullian claimed such records existed, although he is unlikely to have really checked). And certainly, there would have been a record of Jesus’ trial, of Pilate’s ruling, of the execution, and any recorded witness affidavits. There would also be ancillary records, e.g., other trial records or official correspondence (akin to the letter of Claudius Lysias) discussing Christians and their tussles with the Jews or attempts to get them prosecuted in Roman courts, which would certainly have to mention the historical Jesus and information about him.

All we can say is what I myself said, that (as Ehrman correctly phrases it now, but not in his book) we have no reason to expect such records to survive. Although that requires admitting that no early Christians ever had any interest in preserving or using them.

In short, everything I said originally remains the case. Ehrman has no actual rebuttal.


Did Ehrman Libel Doherty?

Yes. Ehrman tries to completely reinterpret what he said on this point, but in this case the direct quotation of Ehrman I provided in my review conclusively rules out his entire attempt to claim to have said something else, so no further reply is needed from me. Just compare my quotation of Ehrman, with what Ehrman now wants you to think that meant, and no reasonable person will conclude with Ehrman on this one: Ehrman wrote “he fails to point out that not a single one of these scholars agrees with his overarching thesis” and now claims that that sentence meant “I am not denying that Doherty sometimes acknowledges that scholars disagree with him.” You do the math on that.

Ehrman’s comment about Doherty’s use of Morna Hooker in particular has already been rebutted by Godfrey  and Doherty, and I would add that reading what Doherty actually wrote in context, it’s obvious he in no way implied Hooker said Jesus became flesh in outer space; he quotes her on a different point altogether (that Jesus became what we are so that we may share in what he now is; a statement, by the way, I doubt Ehrman has any disagreement with). But even despite that, picking isolated quotations like this is moot anyway, because Ehrman stated a blanket generalization that Doherty never says something that in fact he frequently says–even explicitly about the whole issue of whether any scholar he cites agrees with his overall thesis (his introduction is quite clear about this, and covers all cases). Ehrman simply lies about this–or, again, is such a godawful writer he accidentally said the exact opposite of what he meant to say, and thus completely misrepresents Doherty and misinforms the reader.


Did Ehrman Screw Up His Citation of Pliny?

Here Ehrman agrees with everything I said and insists it was just a typo and he knew everything I said already (that he was referring to two completely separate letters, and he should in each case have said “a” letter in “book” 10 that contains all of Pliny’s Trajan correspondence and not have called both letters “letter” 10, and that neither letter connects the two contexts, only modern scholars do). But he still failed to say any of this to his readers (thus even his excuse does not rescue the book from the charge of misinforming the public and therefore being unreliable).

More importantly, I do not believe he’s telling the truth here. Because the wording in the book does not look even remotely like he knew that two different letters were being discussed, or that their connection was a scholarly inference and not something directly revealed in the context of “the letter” he twice references. I’ll just quote the relevant section in full [skipping only incidental material] and leave this one for you to decide (emphasis added):

…Pliny is best known for a series of letters that he wrote later in life to the Roman emperor, Trajan, seeking advice for governing his province. In particular, letter number 10 from the year 112 CE is important, as it is the one place in which Pliny appears to mention the existence of Jesus. The letter is not about Jesus himself; it is dealing with a political problem. In Pliny’s province a law had been passed making it illegal for people to gather together in social groups… The law applied to every social group, including fire brigades….and so villages were burning.

In his letter 10 to the emperor Pliny discusses the fire problem, and in that context he mentions another group that was illegally gathering together. As it turns out, it was the local community of Christians.

So you tell me. Is Ehrman now lying about what he actually thought when writing the above?



In the end Ehrman ducks behind the “it was just a pop book, you shouldn’t expect it to be all accurate and the like” defense. This requires no reply. The reader can judge for themselves whether that excuse only makes the whole matter worse. (Can you imagine him accepting that excuse from any of the mythicists he attacks?) He also tries to play the victim card and claim I violated my own principle of interpretive charity. But in fact I did not. I gave him the benefit of a doubt everywhere an innocent explanation was conceivable, exactly as my principle requires (for example, I assumed that when he wrote “Justin of Tiberius” for Justus of Tiberias on p. 50 that that was a mere typo). But my principle also states (exactly as he himself quotes it) that when no such interpretation is plausible, we ought to point that out, so the author can correct their error. Which is exactly what I did.

Thus, his attempt to twist a rule of interpretive charity into a monstrous absurdity doesn’t cut it, and only exposes how poor a grasp he has of logical reasoning. Authors don’t get to say the exact opposite of what they meant and then claim it is our responsibility to telepathically know that that is what happened. Authors don’t get to say things that clearly indicate they badly mishandled their sources, and then claim we are always to assume they never do that. Authors don’t get to say things that clearly indicate they didn’t check their facts, and then claim we are always to assume they nevertheless did. Indeed, as his own quote of me says, if you cannot reconcile a contradiction or error in my work, you should call me on it so I can correct myself. Well, I called him on it.


  1. G.Shelley says

    Good reply, I think that covers it all. Having read some of the other replies, it seems both Murdock and Doherty are annoyed at the way he misrepresented them (in their opinion), on points you barely even mentioned (if at all).
    There’s a pretty interesting article on you vs Ehrman at Vridar, where Neil godfrey looks at your criticisms and whether Ehrman defended them. He scores it 9-1 to you, giving Ehrman one on the qualifications issue because he feels a bit sorry for him
    One point I haven’t seen (or if I have, that I forgot), is how often Ehrman complains that you actually agree with his conclusion, so he doesn’t see why you are making such a big deal out of errors in how he got there. to me, this is suggestive of his entire attitude to the Historical Jesus issue. The conclusion, that there was one, is the most important thing. How it is reached, is less significant.

    • says

      On Doherty etc. finding other things wrong that I didn’t mention: I left out a ton of things that were wrong with his book, and I’m sure there are a great many more I didn’t catch simply because I’m not as intimately familiar with everyone else’s every page of work (hence as I note in the above post, I don’t trust he has accurately represented what even Murdock says, and it shouldn’t be my job to check–he should have gotten it right to begin with, so I could be confident he is representing his opponents accurately).

      On his dismissive attitude about the how vs. the what, I quite agree. This is exactly what is wrong with his whole book, and apparently the whole field of Jesus studies in its treatment of the matter. They start with a conclusion and then look for ways to defend it. Instead of looking for methods that work, and then applying them to facts they carefully establish, to see what they end up with. He is just demonstrating that “appeals to consensus” in his own field are logically invalid. Because they aren’t even concerned whether their conclusions logically follow from their premises, and often aren’t even all that concerned whether their premises are true (or rather, they insist they are, but are unconcerned with knowing whether in fact they are). “I have to be right. So I don’t need to check.” That’s the sum of it.

    • R. Johnston says

      On his dismissive attitude about the how vs. the what, I quite agree. This is exactly what is wrong with his whole book, and apparently the whole field of Jesus studies in its treatment of the matter. They start with a conclusion and then look for ways to defend it.

      I can’t claim much familiarity with “scholarly” Jesus studies, but from what I’ve seen here and from what I’ve seen of more popular works, this is giving too much credit. People claiming historicity don’t even try to defend the claim; usually they’re simply confused about what qualifies as evidence and at best they try only to show that historicity isn’t in conflict with the evidence. Of course when there’s so little evidence and your terms are so poorly defined to begin with–the degree to which defenders of historicity equivocate over and otherwise obfuscate the meaning of “historical Jesus” (“wandering rabbi who said a few things that partially inspired one of the variants of the Jesus story” or “apocalyptic preacher who threw the moneychangers out of the temple, was known throughout the Roman world, was crucified by the Romans after being betrayed by his disciple, and whose tomb was empty a few days after he was buried?” Something in the middle? Who knows? The definition changes as convenient to people “arguing” for historicity) is astounding and sufficient on its own to render their arguments entirely unserious–that best case scenario doesn’t particularly amount to a defense of claims of historicity.

      Of all the possible claims of historical events that might have occurred 2000 years ago, give or take, that aren’t in conflict with the evidence, the overwhelmingly vast majority didn’t actually happen. Our capacity to imagine things that happened is infinite, and the evidence available to determine what happened 2000 years ago is limited and not particularly subject to growth in the future.

      I can claim that 2000 years ago today my then living matrilineal ancestors all ate lamb for dinner and that’s a claim that is perfectly consistent with the historical evidence. To the extent that a historical Jesus, however defined, would have been expected to leave behind some actual positive evidence of existence–an extent that surely, depending on precisely how such a Jesus is defined, ranges from minimally likely up to as likely as almost anyone of the time frame–it’s even a stronger claim than the claim of historicity for Jesus.

  2. says

    I don’t understand this at all.

    Your both good public debaters. Why all this?…… Set a date.



    • sawells says

      Debates measure persuasiveness, not truth or evidence or even reason, making them utterly useless for determining matters of fact.

    • cozmot says

      Richard’s response to you is, “Debates are lame.” Yet, on his blog he advertises:

      “Later this month I will be debating the existence of God with Lenny Esposito of Come Reason Ministries, on Wednesday May 23rd, 7-9pm (2012), at UC Riverside, in University Lecture Hall [UNLH 1000] on 900 University Ave. in Riverside (California 92521).”

      Hmm. Looks like someone lacks confidence. He’ll take on a lightweight evangelical, but not get in the ring with a heavyweight scholar. Much safer to hide behind blog postings, rather than go face-to-face, right?

      I’m just beginning to learn more about Richard, based on what I’ve seen in the blogosphere, and I am not impressed.

    • says

      Nice job ignoring everything I’ve said about debates and how they cannot accomplish what is being asked here. See my latest comment on this. I have no problem debating (I do it all the time). I do have a problem with people who think it resolves anything.

  3. neandros says

    So when Gandalf the Grey returns as Gandalf the White, is this freshly laundered garment an example of a resurrection body? It’s just that it resembles jesus’ transfiguration suit. I doubt Osiris would have worn white (what with his green complection).

  4. says

    Quick question, Richard: in your long quotation of Ehrman in the section under “Did Ehrman Screw Up His Citation of Pliny?” there are a couple of ellipses at the end of the first paragraph in the blockquote – are they in the original? You did say “I’ll just quote the relevant section in full” and I don’t have a copy of DJE? to check, but this is where “in full” conflicts with the “relevant” part of the quote. :-)

    This is the bit with the ellipses I mean:

    In Pliny’s province a law had been passed making it illegal for people to gather together in social groups… The law applied to every social group, including fire brigades….and so villages were burning.

    • says

      Yes, you’re right. The elided material is superfluous (things not relevant to either of our points) which I left out to shorten how much you have to read. I should avoid any ambiguity about that. I’ll emend the text to say so.

  5. Brian says

    I enjoy your posts Richard. Keep up the good work.

    El Barto has left the field, claiming to be above it all. Reminded me a bit of the accommodationist-anti shootout on the blogosphere. Ehrmann et al. Being similar to accomodationists in that they’re quite happy to side with believers for browny points at the expense of the numerically smaller and maligned other. But perhaps that analogy is to strained or weak.

    I look forward to your next post, and appreciate both the work required to edit them, and that you’ve also got a busy life. Cheers!

  6. says

    One oddity about Ehrman’s blog post making the reply is that he neglected to actually link to the original review he was replying to. And when I added a comment with such a link, it was rejected (all comments are moderated before posting, similarly to this blog).

    I’ve now attempted to post it again, along with a link to this reply. We’ll see if it goes through.

    Here’s a screenshot as proof that I did submit the comment:

    • says

      AFter JT Eberhard posted about my difficulty getting the links to show up, my comment was accepted. Strange, that.

  7. Bundy says

    If Errman’s work is this unreliable, his attacks on the New Testament in his other books are now questionable.

    Thats a criticism I am seeing more and more on Christian blogs now, and it needs to be dealt with.

    • says

      Such an argument would be fallacious, of course. That he hosed this book doesn’t mean he hosed the others. In fact, he very conspicuously didn’t. You cannot find anywhere near the number, scale, or degree of errors and fallacies in them that you can find in this book. That alone demonstrates this is some sort of special animal.

    • R. Johnston says

      Ehrman didn’t just hose this book. In this book he rejected the concept of history as a field of empirical study. He rejected the concept of logical argumentation. Perhaps it can be taken on your authority that his previous work was well researched and argued, but it can’t be taken on Ehrman’s authority because he’s shown pretty conclusively that he doesn’t know what good research and argument are.

    • timothyguy says

      not really surprised. I could insert about 100 “eye rolls” here. you think its errors in “this book” because it disagrees with you… but in all his “other books” that backs up your views against the bible he is “spot on”!.

      bottom line it is you guys who are full of hot air and misrepresenting the facts to suit your own agendas. that is pretty obvious. and it doesn’t matter if there is a “Dr” in front of your name or not.

      you cling onto any even remotely associated or twist-able tiny shred of information and make a mountain of it. then claw anyone to pieces who would dare to question your amazing findings and conclusions when any 12 year old could see how ridiculous they are.

  8. says

    “The view that Claudius changed the title of Judaean governors from prefect to procurator has long since been refuted (most conclusively by the work of Fergus Millar”

    I assume you are referring to these articles:

    Millar, Fergus. 1964. “Some Evidence on the Meaning of Tacitus ‘Annals XII’. 60,” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 13.2: 180–187.

    Millar, Fergus. 1965. “The Development of Jurisdiction by Imperial Procurators; Further Evidence,” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 14.3: 362–367.

    But in Millar 1964, he says plainly on p. 181:

    “It is clear that such procurators [sc. governing small provinces], originally called praefecti, exercised a criminal and civil jurisdiction in their areas, which was equivalent to that of senatorial governors, except in that it was only in special cases that they possessed the ius gladii

    He is clear that prefects who were governors of minor provinces were originally called prefects, and Millar (1964: 181, n. 9) cites A. H. M. Jones’s Studies in Roman Government and Law (Oxford, 1960) to support this, and does not engage in any refutation of this idea. The rest of the article is an interpretation of Tacitus, Annales 12.60, and Millar argues that it refers to Claudius’s granting of increased jurisdictional power to those procurators who managed imperial properties, a different type of procurator from the type who governed small provinces.

    In addition, Millar (1965) simply adds more evidence to the case that Tacitus, Annales 12.60 refers to the authority of procurators of imperial properties: there is no refutation of the view that Claudius changed the official titles of the minor equestrian or freedmen provincial governors from prefect to procurator.

    More analysis here:

    • says

      Millar 1965, pp. 364-65: “The legal evidence shows clearly that procurators never had a recognised right to exercise criminal jurisdiction.”

      See also P. A. Brunt, “Procuratorial Jurisdiction,” Latomus 25.3 (July-September 1966): 461-89, with my analysis in Herod, pp. 34-35 (and in context, pp. 29-36.

  9. The Goldstein Squad says

    Its apparent that Errman can not be trusted.

    Perhaps he never could be.

    • says

      As I announced in Busy Bee I’m traveling like mad this month and won’t be able to get to comments for many days at a time. That’s not usual. It’s just a weird thing about this late April and May, where I have been booked across the country every weekend. I apologize for the delay this causes.

  10. says

    Thanks for this whole series of entries Richard. It’s just the kind of academic rigor and reasoned critique I’ve come to expect from you. I think most people would have been far less charitable than you in this situation.

    It’s truly disappointing to see Ehrman so vehemently mashing the self-destruct button on his own credibility when I’ve heard him consistently claimed to be the paragon of historicity. I have yet to read any material on the subject, and I’m beginning to wonder if I should start looking elsewhere for a good defense of the position.

  11. Alex Dalton says

    Thom Stark smacked you down pretty hard, Richard. Surely you’re going to respond to him…..

    • says

      I’ll get it it when I’m back home and have time in June. Again, most of his points have already been refuted in comment threads here at my blog. I just have to cull them together. In the meantime you can check out the threads for all my Ehrman blogs to find them. See the index down the right margin of my blog, under Bart.

  12. Steve says

    Here’s what I’d like to know – when is your book on the Jesus Historicity question coming out, and will it incorporate these arguments with Ehrman? (I mean the follow-up to “Proving History” – which is excellent, BTW)

    • says

      Next year. And probably not much, because they actually have little to do with the argument for myth, which is one of the criticisms I made of Ehrman’s book: it doesn’t actually engage with any complete (much less non-straw-man) theory, and most of what he discusses isn’t even relevant to historicity (although that he sometimes even concedes; e.g. Tacitus is not corroborative because he cannot be shown to have his information from any source not deriving it ultimately from the Gospels). As to methods, Proving History already addresses that.

  13. says

    Yes, thanks Richard for your work on these posts. Even before you published your review, I felt ripped off having bought DJE? I paid for a book by a professional precisely because of his work in the past and I couldn’t believe what I got. I don’t have the background to have caught many of the mistakes, but the logically fallacious arguments were quite frustrating. At least your analysis gave me the satisfaction I was expecting from the book.

  14. says

    As always, your intellectual rigor have made a significant contribution to academia. The ethical quality of Dr. Ehrman -and not only his logical fallacies- are now more than clear. Thank you very much.

  15. Danny Mason Keener says

    although the presence of errors in Ehrmans latest book does not necessarily mean all his methods are flawed, it does mean that we need to take a closer look at this approach in his other works.

    That is what some of his opponents have done, and although I previously dismissed their work I am now giving it a second look.

  16. says

    Being an agnostic on this question and one of of bart’s readers i cant help but conclude he’s playing tennis without anet here. You have correctly imo called him on the illogical presupposition of historicity. I also believe, (I could be wrong) that’s the only way he can play the game, given his background in biblical inarrency. I know thats exactly what his supphosed “epiphany” involved, but it isnt what made him agnostic. Imo an apt analogy would be the different mindsets of democrats and republicans in this country. They speak the same language,but appear to come from different planets. Dr. carrier care to comment?

  17. says

    In an exchange with Steven Carr and myself in the comments on one of him blog posts, Ehrman initially claimed that Acts confirms that James was the biological brother of Jesus, but then conceded that it doesn’t. This struck both of us as very odd. If you are going to claim that Galatians 1:19 supports confidence in Jesus’ existence “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt,” how can you not have reflected on the fact that our next earliest source to discuss the James in question declines to identify him as Jesus’ brother and drops Mark’s reference to Jesus having a brother named James? When I pointed out that a natural reading of Acts would make James the son of Alphaeus, Ehrman fell back on the “everybody knew it” defense to explain why Acts doesn’t identify him as the brother of Jesus.

    You suggested in your review that Ehrman hadn’t read certain Roman sources (or at least hadn’t adequately read them), but I don’t think that there can be any doubt but that Erhman has read Acts many times and gone over it with a fine tooth comb. Perhaps he simply never read it with its mythicist implications in mind and perhaps never realized it had any. I’m guessing that when he wrote Did Jesus Exist?, he simply relied on his memory of his previous reading of the sources rather than reading them again with the idea of looking at how they might fit in a mythicist argument.

    • says

      That’s plausible. But still irresponsible if you are writing a book directly addressing the matter. That’s when you go back and check everything and make sure you read it right the first time. In an online conversation or a blog I can accept a slip like assuming Acts says James was a brother of Jesus, because you never noticed that before. But if you are going to make an argument in a book based on the existence of James as a brother of Jesus, you really ought to check carefully what evidence you have on hand and what opponents of the idea have said about it. But he didn’t, evidently. And it is this dismissive carelessness that bothers me.

    • says

      That’s plausible. But still irresponsible if you are writing a book directly addressing the matter.

      No argument there.

      I notice a similar dynamic at work where Ehrman claims that Paul said he met Jesus’ closest disciple, Peter. In fact, Paul never describes any one as being a “disciple.” If he had, that might indicate that Paul understood the earthly Jesus to have had some sort of teaching ministry. All the epistles speak in terms of “apostles,” a title which Paul says he obtained by virtue of an encounter with the risen Christ.

      It is hard for me to believe that Ehrman didn’t come across some mythicist argument somewhere that cited the distinction between an apostle and a disciple, but it doesn’t seem to have registered. Whenever he runs across “apostle” or “the Twelve” in one of the epistles, he seems to read into it the concept “disciple of the historical Jesus.”

  18. Abelard Dunkin Smith says


    This is all really interesting stuff. It all makes me curious how the job hunt is going since you’ve received your diploma. Any community collages jumping to hire you? I mean if not that there is always high school positions available and maybe even some fantasy novel publishers may be eager to publish your work (as we all know self publishing can be quite expensive).



    • says

      Positions are rarely available where I am (Bay Area, California), due to the recession and cuts to humanities departments and community colleges. And when positions do come up, they get swarmed by much more established applicants who have held professorships before. So I’m not optimistic about getting a position until the economy substantially improves. If I even want one. The politics and backstabbing in academia is a huge turnoff. And I have much more academic freedom working for myself. Not to mention time.

  19. says

    I finally managed to read DJE? all the way to the end. Oy, that was painful. I’m keeping in mind your insistence that this book is far from Ehrman’s best work and far from the strongest possible case for historicism.

    It’s been only about 6 weeks since I first encountered the term “mythicist.” I have the impression that the term is sometimes applied imprecisely, to anyone who is not a strict historicist in Ehrman’s it’s-certain, move-along-folks, nothing-to-see-here sense. Is it true that who belongs in the historicist camp, or the mythicist camp, or neither, is not always agreed upon, and that the categories are sometimes fuzzily defined?

    • says

      Not usually. But you might be on to something. I think Wells’ latest view complicates the narrative for historicists, since they want mythicists to be deniers of existence and not agnostics, but really most serious mythicists are at least somewhat agnostic about there being any actual person named Jesus at the heart of it all. We none of us claim to be certain. But once we allow Wells to be a mythicist, it’s true the number of established scholars in the field who might categorize as mythicists might be substantially higher than Ehrman thinks. Droge, for example, would then qualify.

  20. Abelard Dunkin Smith says

    To clarify my early point. Seriously dude, do you think that any other REAL academic takes you seriously? A self proclaimed ‘world renowned philosopher’? Really?! All I can find is that you have two-published papers in journals that don’t even make the Leiter top 20 (though I’m guessing your ‘rebut’ for that would be to tell me that he’s an idiot). I bet you don’t have the balls to post these comments, you hack.



    • says

      My published work in philosophy is read and known and used in Poland, Hong Kong, Australia, the Philippines, Brazil, Pakistan, India, and of course the U.K., Canada and the U.S. Among other nations. That’s what it means to be “world renowned.”

      The rest of your comment is childish.

    • Grog says

      Seriously, RC, nobody would think less of you if you didn’t approve this A.D. Smith nonsense. He’s apparently a very troubled person to post this troll shit on your site. AD would probably cry about on his site, maybe even post the unpublished comment. Who cares? He’s become irrelevant.

  21. says

    I’ve just read Doherty’s part8 response on Vridar. He say’s the “invention” is a conjunction of the Q communities’ kingdom preaching evangelists and Paul’s christ basically. Isnt this just a different way of articulating Ehrman’s position, but with more than one person as the basis. I believe both positions are pretty close to Crossan’s. Please correct me if Im wrong but it seems that way to me. Again im only an amateur. Could Bayes be used to assess the probability of an apocalyptic kingdom preaching community similar to the conjectured Q in the first half of the century?

    • says

      I find all of that conjecturing about Q and layers of Q to be speculative and not strong ground to stand any theory on, whether mythicism or historicity. I’ve leveled this criticism at Doherty before. By contrast, I find Goodacre’s case against Q more compelling, as it is based in evidence we actually have, using reasonably sound logical arguments.

      MacDonald is about to come out with a book that might change my mind about that, but then his book is going to challenge everyone’s preconceptions about Q. It will certainly be a must read, whether we agree with him in the end or not.

  22. Terry Carter says


    I’m one of Ehrman’s fans, particularly because he educated me in textual criticism through his books, something I thought I understood, but really didn’t. But in reading his new book in question, I began to sense something different, that it wasn’t quite up to snuff with his other books. It began with his discussion of Josephus, where I found the reasoning illogical, hopeful rather than factual, and of the variety for which he later attacks certain mythicists, hence contradictory.

    I do believe that he mounts some convincing arguments in the core of the book for a historical Jesus. But the way he goes after some mythicists, who are not of the crackpot variety, surprised me with his personal tone. This is particularly evident in hs concluding chapter, where he maligns mythicists in general, and ascribes motives to their viewpoints, such as, “They are not doing history; they are doing theology.” I believe that this assessment is not only unfair, but that it’s gratuitous.

    One of my big takeaways, however, was an introduction to mythicists such as you and Doherty. He actually piqued my interest your work because of some weak argumentation and the underlying personal attacks.

    And then the blog wars began.

    I frankly don’t quite know what to make of all this. You’re both gotten personal on a level that bespeaks current American politics. You, in particular, remind me of the Republican side when using terms like “sucks” and “crap,” words that simply do not belong in a scholarly lexicon. As I’ve pointed out, Ehrman sinks into this too, but with a little more eloquence. But you’re both down in the mud.

    Like you and other readers of the book, I feel like Ehrman’s book was rushed, but so are your responses. I haven’t read any of your books yet, but if your writing style in them is like your responses here to Ehrman, I’m not sure that I could endure any of them. It was very difficult following your arguments and criticisms with paragraph-long sentences, interpolated with paragraph-long parenthetical sentences, many poorly punctuated.

    If your books are better written, let me know (if you even care

    • says

      I write differently in different venues. Not the Impossible Faith is more colloquial, to be entertaining. But Proving History, though still aiming at plain language, is more serious.

      However, I actually believe scholars should use emotional and colloquial language. The idea that it is inappropriate belongs to a bygone age of elitism and false facades of absolute objectivity. We must strive to be honest and objective, but that actually includes expressing your honest thoughts, feelings, presumptions, and biases, and showing how you deal with them. For example, if I use the word “crap” I back it up with evidence and indicate what I mean (in this case, for example, my point is that Ehrman also thinks what mythicists sometimes do is crap, so when he does the same things, he really ought to self-reflect).

  23. Grayhame says

    Richard, I must say after reading all your posts regarding the problems with Ehrman’s book and the mature and thoughtful way you’ve addressed them is very heartening. I’m disappointed in Ehrman’s responses to your critique, but I’m grateful that you have taken the time to respond to him so thoroughly. I have just purchased your books and look forward to reading them. Well done!

  24. John says

    Reports are out that first century fragments of the Gospel of Mark have been found. Let’s assume that they can be shown to be first century/and the fragments mention Jesus, in your mind, would this put the mythicist argument to rest once and for all?

    I really appreciate how responsive you have been to our comments.

    Thanks very much Richard!

  25. Gage says

    Wonderful rebuttal, I look forward to buying your upcoming book. I just have a quick question, and forgive me if I’m not phrasing this correctly. When you argue against the existence of Jesus, are you arguing that the stories of the New Testament were crafted and assembled without any sort of original, existing main character, or that they were based of some guy named Jesus who could’ve been a preacher, but the way he is present is incorrect?

    For example, is it that many crazed preachers were around about that time, some of which happened to be called “Jesus”, one of which may have been the basis for the main character in the NT? Or that “Jesus” preachers were around, but the stories themselves were a collection of myths, prophesies and stories from Jewish and other sects that were altered over time, and the fact that the guy in the book is called “Jesus” and “Jesus” happens to be someone’s name is irrelevant?

    Thanks again for your work

    • says

      I think the most likely theory is that he was a hallucinated celestial being about whom earthly stories were crafted as allegory. But the second most likely theory is the one you suggest, that he was an inspirational preacher of some kind about whom largely bogus myths and legends arose.

    • Pierce R. Butler says

      … the most likely theory is that he was a hallucinated celestial being … the second most likely theory is … that he was an inspirational preacher…

      What’s your take on Robert M. Price’s imputation (The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?, pg 314) that the Gospel Jesus is based on the madman/preacher Jeshua bar Ananias who (sort of) prophesied the fall of Jerusalem circa the peaceful year of 66 (per Josephus), and was duly punished for same?

    • says

      If I recall correctly, Price does not argue that the whole Gospel Jesus is based on Jesus bar Ananias, only that that story may have been among many that influenced it. That’s two qualifications: “may” and not “did”; and “part” and not “whole.”

      If that is what we take to be the proposal, then I would allow it as a plausible speculation that we cannot prove to be probable. Arguing against it is the same principle Price applies elsewhere: if we can account for the entire contents of the Gospel without that (and we can), then Occham’s Razor eliminates it. That does not amount to proving no connection exists. It just demonstrates we have no reason as of yet to believe it does. But it could. It’s not an outrageous proposal. It’s just only a proposal.

      That theory, BTW, is compatible with both historicity and mythicism (since on both we all agree legendary accretion has occurred, and this could be one of those, akin to how the legend of King Arthur appears to have grown by accreting elements from many actual and mythical persons over time).

    • Pierce R. Butler says

      Price gives about half a page at most to this idea, but he hangs an awful lot of story from it:

      … the trial before Pilate, with the Jewish rulers standing by, filled as it is with fatal implausibilities, must be a fiction, and its origin is, again, not far to seek. Mark borrowed it from Josephus’s story of another Jesus, Jesus ben-Ananias.

      An incident more alarming still had occurred four years before the war at a time of exceptional peace and prosperity for the City. One Jeshua, son of Ananias, a very ordinary yokel, came to the feast at which every Jew is supposed to set up a tabernacle for God. As he stood in the temple he suddenly began to shout: “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Sanctuary, a voice against bridegrooms and brides, a voice against the whole people.” Day and night he uttered this cry as he went through all the streets. Some of the more prominent citizens, very annoyed at these ominous words, laid hold of the fellow and beat him savagely. Without saying a word in his own defence or for the private information of his persecutors, he persisted in shouting the same warning as before. The Jewish authorities, rightly concluding that some supernatural force was responsible for the man’s behaviour, took him before the Roman procurator. There, though scourged till his flesh hung in ribbons, he neither begged for mercy nor shed a tear, but lowering his voice to the most mournful of tones answered every blow with “Woe to Jerusalem!” When Albinus – for that was the procurator’s name – demanded to know who he was, where he came from and why he uttered such cries, he made no reply whatever to the questions but endlessly repeated his lament over the City, till Albinus decided he was a madman and released him (The Jewish War VI 302). Four years later, his prophecy was fulfilled by the Roman siege, during which Jesus ben-Ananias was killed. … Jesus comes to Jerusalem for one of the great festivals and creates a prophetic disturbance in the temple. He preaches soon-coming judgment, the destruction of the temple, and he says it will spell the end of ordinary life, for example, weddings (Matt. 24:38). The elders of the people haul him before the Roman procurator, who interrogates him but gets only silence for an answer. Puzzled, the procurator asks him where he is from (John 19:9) He decides to have him flogged and let him go (Luke 23:22b). Which Jesus are we talking about here? Both. Yet again, Mark has retrojected the events of the subsequent generation into the time of Jesus.

  26. Bulhur says

    “I am not convinced Ehrman even knows why most scholars are convinced the Tacitus passage is authentic.”
    So why are they?

    • says

      In short, it’s good Tacitean style, which is hard to fake; it’s an integral component not only of his narrative of the fire but his narrative of the entire reign of Nero; there is no plausible point where an interpolation would begin or end (since he foreshadows and follows up); and it contains nothing only a Christian would say or even that a Christian would likely say. Possibly there have been other points raised that aren’t coming to me now as I sit here in the Oregon forrest writing this off the top if my head. But that’s the gist of what convinces me, for example.

  27. says

    Richard, just in case you haven’t seen it yet, Stark has actually written a part two now (where he responds directly, and at great length, to your contention that his points have been refuted in the comments thread).

    Here’s the direct link, to that latest article,

    It’s perfectly understandable, if you can’t respond right away (given how busy you are this month), but wanted to be sure you were at least aware of this second piece.

  28. Refvn says

    “Between 41 and 44, Judaea was ruled by a king, Herod Agrippa. When he died, Judaea became a province again; the governor was no longer a prefect, but a procurator. The main difference is that a prefect was a soldier and a procurator was a civilian. Another difference is that the procurators were also responsible for Galilee and the territories on the east bank of the Jordan. A third difference was that the prefects had had a considerable influence on the appointment of the high priest; under the procurators, the high priest was appointed by a Jewish prince named Marcus Julius Agrippa.” –

    Is this also “outdated” since the 1960s?
    Why aren’t any scholars following your conclusions about the titles not being shifted? Do you have any evidence at all for any prefects after 44?

  29. says

    I bounced over to bart’s FB and lo and behold he says he writes books for three different types of audiences. My goodness this proves that the gnostic model of Freke and Gandy lives! So the pneuma & psyche primates are receiving different teachings. He hides the rest of his explanation behind a paywall and I refuse to join no matter how altruistic it is. The IRONY!!! Richard tell me it aint so joe.

  30. says

    I look at this question the same way I look at who was buried in tomb KV 55. Akhenaton or Smenkhare? Are they the only candidates? As an ancient historion (yes I have your credentials right contra ehrman), do you think that that there was a person involved? There are eminent ancient historians that dont believe there was a Smenkhare. Again this seems to me a battle between an historian and an ecclesiast. History matters to me, espescially 1st century med. Is there ever going to be any kind of language convergence between real history and ecclisiast history?

  31. Bulhur says

    So you mean that the text will suffer from omitting “auctor nominis eius christus per proculatorem pontium pilatum supplicio adfecit erat”? The repressa in the next sentence could as well be refering to Nero’s persecutions, and not to the execution of Christ. Can one really determine the Tacitean style of this single sentence?

    • says

      Nero was supposed to find culprits, guilty persons, which necessitates Tacitus explaining who and how and (per Tacitean style) explore the possibility that they were or weren’t guilty (which the whole passage does superbly well, in brilliant Tacitean humor). If you delete all of that, you end up with a barely intelligible passage where Nero finds culprits and punishes them and we never hear who or why or how. Whereas, if he only mentioned Christians in that capacity, then we have to ask who they were, why they were named that, and why the people hated them. The sentence you mention fills that in. Its absence would make the passage unintelligible to most readers (contrary to what Christian apologists say, Christians were virtually unknown in Tacitus’s day, even to the most informed legal experts and statesmen; see my discussion of Pliny as an example in chapter 18 of Not the Impossible Faith).

  32. JB says

    Perhaps even Hillar: ”This religion was also discovered by Jesus himself (regardless whether he was a historical figure or only a literary fiction)” – Marian Hillar (From Logos to Trinity, 2012, s 2)

  33. Matt says

    I just finished Ehrman’s book. Your review and the responses are fascinating. I thought the strongest case for a historical Jesus came from the early dates ascribed to the gospels, but I didn’t see much to substantiate the dates, or the claim of multiple sources within a few years of Jesus’ death. The quoting of Q, M, and L as actual pre-Markan sources just seemed silly.

  34. Michael Schroen says

    What are the sources that attest a Christian belief that Jesus died a century before Pilate? I assume one of them is the Toledoth Jeschu.

    • says

      Epiphanius, Panarion 29.3 (if I recall the passage number correctly; I’m writing from a mountainside in Oregon at present) and the babylonian Talmud (all the passages that place him in history place him in the time of Jannaeus). But yes, the TJ does as well.

  35. Krisko says

    Just went to Ehrman’s site to read some more of his stuff. I can’t even believe that he has the gall to charge people a membership fee to read his blog.

  36. Shelley says

    Hi — I’m almost done reading Ehrman’s book, find your critique interesting and compelling, and have a question. Do I understand correctly that the supposed gospel sources called “L,” “M,” and “Q” are all hypothetical and not actually proven to have existed? That some (most?) scholars have posited or hypothesized that there were these earlier oral or written sources, sources they’ve named with those three letters, upon which they believe Mark, Luke, Matthew gospels must have been largely based? That they’ve thus hypothesized simply because it seems to them the best explanation for certain common or conflicting passages in the various gospels, but not in any way because there’s either proof that these Ls or Ms or Qs existed or even any actual specific reference to them in any other source? Have I misunderstood this whole thing or is that correct?

    If that is correct, I’m finding it increasingly bizarre as I move through Ehrman’s book that he repeatedly “proves” one or another argument by reference to “L” and/or “M” and/or “Q” as a corroboratory source among others. Am I getting this right? He’s backing up his arguments by referring to non-existent, purely hypothetical, documents? Thanks for clarifying if you’re willing. I have no religion or education in religion but do find this fascinating stuff.

  37. Bulhur says

    I don’t see how the Christus-sentence answers “[1.] who they were, [2.] why they were named that, and [3.] why the people hated them”, as you say Dr. Carrier, and how its absence could make the passage “barely intelligible”. This is why I do not agree:

    Even Christian scholars have acknowlegded that “repressaque in præsens” could refer to the Neronian persecution and not the execution of Christus.

    “The passage is the following: ‘repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio, rursus erumpebat’ &c. The meaning has been supposed to be, that Christianity was checked by the persecutions of the Roman Emperors, but afterwards reappeared and spread itseld with greater rapidity.” (“Cook’s General Evidence of the Resurrection”, The Eclectic Review, vol. IV, part I, London 1808, p. 496)

    Bishop Lightfoot said: “the words ‘repressa in praesens’ will breed some dispute; as doubtful, whether they mean, that the Christian religion was suppressed by Nero at that time,-when he inflicted those tortures upon them, pretending them guilty for firing the city,-which was in his tenth year, but it brake out again after, for all that suppression;-or that they mean, that the religion had been suppressed in former time, but now, by that tenth year of Nero, was broken out again, and he falls upon it anew.” (The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot, vol. 3, 1822, p. 302)

    If “repressaque in praesens” refers to the fact that Nero “subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit, quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Chrestianos appellabat”, then the Christus sentence is not needed.

    1. WHO: The text does already inform the readers that the superstitio originated in Iudaea (“Iudaeam, originem eius mali”), and has (since the Neronian persecution) been spreading in Iudaea and Rome, repeated times (“rursum erumpebat”). There is no need for any scolastic sentence about Christus being executed by Pilate here.

    2. WHY THE NAME: I don’t see why Tacitus would have needed to inform the readers why the group was named Chrestiani. If in fact this lectio difficilior (known from Tertullian in Ad Nationes 1:3) is the original reading – which several prominent scholars like Franz Römer believe, and the oldest extant manuscript confirms – it is an oddity in itself to present the “auctor nominis” of the ChrEstiani as ChrIstus. Even if the original reading was Christiani, I don’t see why Tacitus had to explain the origin of the name. Suetonius doesn’t (Nero 16.2).

    3. WHY THEY WERE HATED: This objection does not make any sense to me. They weren’t hated because Christus was executed by Pilate, were they? Tacitus clearly states that they were “per flagitia [connected to “pudenda” in the next sentence?] invisos”, and that they were convicted because of “odio humani generis”, and of course because of the “crimine incendii”! Shameful acts (connected to genitalia), hatred against mankind and THE FIRE OF ROME, was of course enough to hate this group. No need for any executed founder here.

    The only reason left to view the sentence (which indeed looks like a scribal addition) as Tacitean, would be the pun supplicio – superstitio, but this is not definitive in any way.

    I thus maintain that the sentence “auctor nominis eius christus … erat” could be removed from the Tacitean text without the readers being left with an “barely intelligible” passage.

  38. Refvn says

    “Pilatus war Präfekt, nicht Prokurator von Judäa” – Gerd Theißen,Annette Merz, Der Historische Jesus: Ein Lehrbuch, 4 ed., 2011, p. 89

    So all these renowned scholars use outdated sources, you mean
    Just because other prefects in Cicero’s days (he only mentions a few) were also procurators, and Herod was, why would Pontius Pilate have been one? Josephus and Philo wrote in Greek, appearently not writing procurator.

    • says

      The reason Pilate would have been a procurator is the same reason the Egyptian prefect was and Herod was (of Syria) and so on, all explained in detail in my referenced article. And yes, Theissen is unaware of the literature and evidence I cite. This is typical of Jesus scholars defending historicity.

  39. says

    Dr. Carrier. From time to time I’ve been following the questions and discussions concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Of course ALL critical scholars find Jesus Christ to be a myth. It’s just a question of degree. Those such as the majority (Ehrman, Mack, Edwards, Tabor, Miller, Crosson and many others) hold that Jesus did exist and usually they hold that we know a few of his words. I think the Jesus Seminar puts it at about 14 percent of his gospel quotes were probably said by Jesus. But their Jesus is NOT the Jesus of the NT and the Roman Catholic Church & my friend who is a Priest. There is the odd position of Tabor that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier who impregnated his mother while she was promised to another (Joseph?). I assume Tabor takes his cue from the late second century attacks on Christianity which also make the claim and over a century later, Origen took exception.

    As to Tacitus. I’ve wondered about that passage for well over a decade. I’ve read authors such a Ken Humphreys of jesus never exited dot com (to me an embarrassing website) which insist the Tacitus passage about Christ being executed by Pilate is a blatant forgery and Ken & a few others point to the “procurator” mistake as strong proof! Another author (this one a scholar) wrote that the passage is genuine and Tacitus simply used the term for the office which his readers in 110 CE would know best. And I’ve seen a couple scholars… several years ago… which hold your position that Pilate actually had three titles: Procurator, Perfect & Governor and Tacitus was not mistaken.

    Now I’ve noticed on the web some authors and scholars coming to Ehrman defense and offering rebuttal to your position on Tacitus and mentioning your name that indeed Tacitus was mistaken & your read of the scholarly work of Tacitus is flawed. I found the original “two” links on this comments page

    To me the point is; where did Tacitus get the information? From the gospels, Paul’s letter to Timothy, from some Christians, from his education, was it info he always seen to know from childhood, from his memory of seeing it in Roman records, did he consult Roman records and if he did, did it read “perfect” & Tacitus changed it to “procurator” or did Tacitus naturally know Pilate had three titles?

    To me, we will never know the answer with absolute certainty just as we will never know with absolute certainty if Jesus really existed and if he did which version is correct? Will we ever know with certainty if Eusebius forged the “TF” or if Dr. Feldman, Dr. Whealey & Dr. Goldberg (Goldberg I found out is not an academic historian– his PhD is in Physics) and many others are correct and the “TF” contains core parts that include mention of Jesus’ execution by Pilate that were written by Josephus himself? Goldberg actually holds that Josephus simply copied much of the TF from a document now lost that the author of Luke also used for part of his gospel.

    My take is Jesus likely existed and was an endtime/end of the world prophet & teacher who likely taught a bit in parables & was executed by orders of Pilate. When this happened, his original followers which were probably Peter, John & James were stunned & had to adjust their story. Paul fell in to the deal and Paul and the Jerusalem boys clashed & what we have today is mostly Paul’s version.

    Beyond that, who knows? Look forward to your new book as it may move me along or somewhat in a different direction.

    Question. Recently read the late Jewish scholar Hyram Maccoby’s take on Paul. The good doctor thinks it’s likely that Paul lied about being a Jew! Liars is one of the type of people Paul said shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. If he wasn’t completely crazy or a liar among liars, I doubt Paul lied about being a Jew. Your take if you care to say.

    Wish you much success and good health!

    Oh I almost forgot. Are you certain that is a statue of some figure that some claim is St. Peter with a 20 inch cock ready to ejaculate all over the room in the Vatican museum? I can’t find a thing on the internet to date except a source that Acharya S gives, it’s a lady I think, who has seen it or knows of it’s existence. But the picture Acharya offers on the web of this ancient version of porn star Peter North is a drawing and NOT A REAL PICTURE!!. I’m beginning to be skeptical that the Vatican has such a thing. Of course other versions of it exist from antiquity in various parts of the world I’m told. But not on my person damn it!!

    • says

      Tacitus most likely got his information from Christians (most likely through the intermediary of his good friend Pliny the Younger). But he was a Roman statesman well familiar with the administration of the empire. He knew that a procurator was a civilian job and not a state office, that anyone executing justice in Judea would have been, in his own day as in days past, a prefect. But he also would have known that prefects were also often hired as imperial procurators (particularly in such provinces), and he did not like this fact and found it particularly galling that this made mere lowly business managers into executioners and executors of state justice. It was therefore more embarrassing that Christ was executed “by a lowly business manager” than that he was executed by a prefect, so in Tacitus’ usual polemical style he emphasizes the one and avoids mentioning the other. Because he would have had this motive, we cannot even say that “procurator” is what Pliny or his Christian source called Pilate. They might have just said Pontius Pilate. Tacitus then filled in the other datum from his own knowledge and rhetorical interests.

      Against his consulting records, (a) there are unlikely to have been any at Rome (not only is it unlikely such minute records were duplicated at Rome, but also because the bulk of the Roman archives would have burned in 64 A.D. and possibly again under Domitian), and he wasn’t going to sail to Caesarea to do a trivial fact check; (b) he wouldn’t even waste his time rifling through Roman archives for so trivial a point anyway (he would have applied the fallacious principle even Ehrman falls victim to: the claim is already so embarrassing, it surely has to be true, therefore doesn’t have to be checked); and (c) Tacitus says nothing that would indicate a record was his source (e.g. no full name of the executed person, no specific date, or anything else that would be found in a record but not typically come from a Christian) but just repeats part of the standard Christian creed at the time (as revealed in the letters of Ignatius).

      On Josephus, my views (and their basis) are explained in my article in this coming winter’s issue of the Journal of Early Christian Studies.

      As to the statue, I have no idea. There is some evidence it may have been moved to another museum. Where it is located doesn’t matter. But it definitely did exist (there are actual photographs of it, and it is discussed in modern peer reviewed scholarly literature). Whether it’s a forgery, for example, or what the statue represents, are matters of debate. Odds are it’s just a statue of Priapus recovered from Pompeii or Herculaneum. It has nothing to do with Christianity.

  40. says

    the hjers cannot in their minds get their heads around the actual situation concerning the situation in 1st cn med. imo. i am not saying i am omniscient about it but Stark as quoted by you i think comes pretty close. but then again i like crossan’s template. this was something that did not matter to them. and tacitus’s dismissal is entirely in his vocabulary. nobody cared. ehrman is grasping at straws because he’s mixing theology with history. i know their not mutually exclusive, but i’ll be damned if their the same methodology. dr. carrier, i dont care if theres a priapus in the vatican or anywhere else, wont these people at least argue logically? im being rhetorical i know, but i’d just like to know your thoughts on the difference between ancient history(real) and whatever it is their trying to sell.

    • says

      I finally read them. They mostly either don’t talk about what I myself have argued (and thus I don’t care) or they do but ignore or misreport what I actually said. All one need do is read my book Proving History to see that they have misrepresented its arguments, claimed it didn’t discuss things that it did, or that it said things it didn’t. There is also a lot of shameless, indiscriminate competence-bashing of established scholars (e.g. Stanley Porter is apparently an incompetent hack who can never be right about anything and I’m a fool for ever citing him–even though when I do, I back up what I cite him for by citing other scholars who concur with him, but hey, never mind that, interferes with the narrative I guess; I even occasionally argue Porter is wrong and cite scholars saying so, e.g. on his “Jesus spoke Greek” claim, but pointing that out would screw up the narrative, too, and Lesson 1 in polemics is, you never mess with a good story).

  41. wholething says

    I’ve been a fan of Bart Ehrman for a few years. I’ve read 10 or 12 of his books. I thought there was probably some preacher who had been exaggerated. After reading Did Jesus Exist, I decided to read The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty. Doherty’s argumentation seemed to be tighter than Ehrman’s. About 3 chapters in, I was persuaded that the whole religion was not based on a real person. Then I went back to read Ehrmans’ criticism of Doherty.

    BDE had said that ED quoted authors but did not mention that they held opinions that differed from Doherty’s and you mentioned that, so I tried to pay attention to that issue in my reading. As far as I could see, ED either mentioned something to the effect immediately before or immediately after the quote unless it was clear from the quote that the author held a different view. For example, in one quote uses to support his position, ED includes “it is perplexing…” to show that the original author didn’t go where ED did with it.

    But what really bothered me is from page 253 of DJE where BDE accuses ED of crying “Interpolation” whenever there’s an inconvenient verse (pages 14-15 of TJP). ED cites just two passages – 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and 1 Timothy 6:13 – as being interpolations. ED discusses both in Appendix 1 where he says, “It is admittedly in my own interest to regard the reference to Pntius Pilate in 1 Timothy 6:13 as an interpolation, but there are clearly good reasons for doing so.” At the end of the section on the 1 Thess passage, he lists seven scholars “who have pronounced the passage as interpolation.” BDE adds G. A. Wells to the list. (A quick Google found a website that rejects the passage from verse 13 as interpolation while they refuse to toss the last 12 verses of Mark because it would call into question the Divine inspiration of the Bible.)

    1 Thessalonians 2:15 says the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. BDE uses 1 Thess 2:14-15 on page 188 of Misquoting Jesus to support this idea as being Paul’s opinion. He appears to be unaware of the anachronism in verse 16 that “The wrath of God has come upon them at last.” What wrath would have been evident to the Thessalonians that happened between Paul’s conversion and his first letter? The only question is where the interpolation begins. Besides, ED cites Romans 11 where Paul writes 2 “God did not reject his people…”

    Both BDE and ED cite Ignatius and Clement to make points about what 2nd century ideas were and they seem to conflict. I’m less familiar with that material so I haven’t been able to form an opinion on that. I’m putting the three books mentioned above back on the shelf and taking down Proving History.

  42. Bradley Steeg says

    If I understand correctly, Bart Ehrman wrote __Did Jesus Exist?__ for the layperson (me). Yet “Erhman’s Dubious Replies (Round Two)” seems to take Ehrman’s book to task for not being a thoroughly researched work of scholarship. In my mind, the question of a historical Jesus is a matter of best explanation. Therefore, even if Bart Ehrman was a scallawag who tried to wiggle out of making a mistake on the existence of, for example, a cock statue, who cares? In terms of the thesis of Ehrman’s book, the existence of the cock statue doesn’t matter because it is entirely irrelevant to the question of a historical Jesus. My suspicion is that Ehrman wasn’t thoroughly careful with the cock statue because he knew it was a non-issue, but funny enough to include for a book directed toward a popular audience. Your criticism, Richard, if followed by Bart, would make his popular books boring as hell. I know your Jesus is a Myth thesis is important to you, but grow a sense of humor for god’s sake. Now, even though I am a layperson, I can still smell bullshit even though I can’t tell you the molecular composition of said bullshit. And pointing to turds in the bathwater to subtly hint we should throw out the baby is bullshit. Especially since everyone knows Ehrman has a proven track record. So let me say this, if you hope to convince the uneducated folk that the baby Jesus was a work of fiction, show us why your better explanation is best. Because in terms of overall explanatory power, Ehrman’s __Did Jesus Exist?__ lays out an easily digestible and convincing argument for the wee people (scholarly minutia, notwithstanding).

    • says

      There is a difference between making an argument intelligible to laymen, and making an argument only for laymen. The latter can only properly be done after the argument has already been formally made and published–so that that scholarship can then be summarized in lay terms. But no such step has occurred. There are no recent formal treatments of Jesus mythicism, especially of the arguments Ehrman purports to take on in his book. He is therefore breaking new ground. That requires him to meet all the requisite standards of any other original argument in his field. He can choose to do so in colloquial terms, but he still must argue responsibly and competently. He chose not to.

      Even when he summarizes existing scholarship to laymen, he has an obligation to do so accurately and without being grossly misleading. Yet he frequently fails even at that minimal standard. Thus he failed even insofar as this book is a summary of existing scholarship (which only half of it is, the rest is completely new scholarship of his own). This is uncharacteristic of his past work. He just didn’t act responsibly when writing this one book for some reason.

      And your claim that writing an accurate sentence about the cock statue would be boring as hell is so false I don’t even know where to begin. Oh, I know. Refutation by example: “The statue she refers to is not a statue of Peter, but a statue of the pagan god Priapus, one of many like it. That it ever represented Peter is simply a product of her imagination, with no basis in evidence.” No less boring than the sentence he wrote. Yet twice as honest and ten times as accurate.

      And to reiterate my entire point: one such gaffe is not a problem. A book littered cover to cover with such gaffes is a travesty, a total abandonment of academic responsibility. That’s the problem. Not any one isolated failure. But the shear number of them.

    • Bradley Steeg says

      Richard, I see you think someone should have made a formal treatment of recent Jesus mythicism. Maybe you were hoping Ehrman would have been the one to deliver the goods, I don’t know. But he did provide an overview of what recent Jesus mythicism might argue.

      In __Did Jesus Exist?__ Ehrman says the case for Jesus mythicism is composed of a negative argument, that we have no reliable witness that even mentions a historical Jesus, and a positive argument, that the story of Jesus appears to be modeled on the accounts told about other divinities, therefore, it is simplest to believe he never existed and was invented as another supernatural being. (page 34 in my Kindle).

      In response, Ehrman argues that we do have reliable witnesses who mention a historical Jesus and that the story of Jesus is unique. For one, we have Paul rephrasing Jewish eschatology (or, theology, if you prefer) rooted in Jesus’ resurrection and stating that he met with Peter and James, brother of Jesus. Because resurrection requires the existence of a dead body (a dead righteous Jew), Paul’s theological construct relies on a Jesus that can have a brother and a disciple. Paul was running around telling all his fellow diaspora Jews the resurrection was coming (and everything thing else that went along with that) because he thought Jesus was the first fruits that affirmed Paul’s eschatological expectation.

      In addition, Ehrman also mentions Paul’s talk of the dying messiah who was foolishness to the Jews because they expected a messiah who was going to kick ass, not get hung on a cross (or stick, or T). Not that the Jews expected their messiah to be a god, according to Ehrman’s reference to EP Sanders; he was just the human king that would make Israel the ultimate superpower.

      Consequently, according to Ehrman, we have both a reliable witness in Paul’s letters for a living breathing Jesus as well as Paul’s resulting mythology uniquely rooted in Judaism rather than paganism that necessarily required a living breathing, dying and living again Jewish Messiah.

      In my mind, if your book is going to make as strong a case for Jesus mythicism as you say it will then you’re facing a massive reconstruction of 1st century 2nd temple Palestinian Judaism on the level of EP Sanders (if I accurately understand Ehrman’s explanation of that Jewish time period and place by Sanders) in order to unwind the eschatology in Paul’s letters from a historical Jesus.

      Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I think you’re facing to show that the better explanation of Jesus mythicism is best. Anyway, Happy 4th of July.

    • says

      But he did provide an overview of what recent Jesus mythicism might argue.

      Actually he did a very poor job of that. Nowhere in his book does he describe a single complete theory of the origins of Christianity from any mythicist scholar. And he frequently misrepresents their arguments as well.

      Your “summary” of what Ehrman says mythicism consists of illustrates exactly this failure: that is not an accurate summary of any mythicist theory (not even the bad ones, but especially the best ones). That you have been taken in by his false depiction is exactly why this book sucks.

      Likewise, your summary of Ehrman’s case for historicity leaves out all its boner logical mistakes (some of which I documented originally), and its failure to properly shore up key points (like actually taking on mythicist arguments regarding the “brother of the Lord” in full, rather than short shrifting and straw manning them) and its reliance on assumptions that are not widely accepted even in the mainstream (such as that there is no interpolation in 1 Thessalonians). These facts make his book one of the worst cases for historicity published. A far better case could be made. Thus it’s not even useful as an example of the strongest case to overcome.

  43. Andrew says

    The core of the problem is that Christians are fed the lie that “pagan myths” and “Christianity” were like oil and water, and could not have possibly overlapped in any way. This lie is implanted so deeply that even when people like Ehrman supposedly become “ex-Christians,” they continue to think in those terms. He simply cannot understand that myths form the core of all ancient religions.

  44. meh says

    This whole thing is ridiculous IMO. Richard, I am not sure if you were bored, or had something biting at your ass. Your both great scholars. This whole thing smells of trolling. It brought up interesting information, but I feel it could have been handled in a better manner. But hey, I am not you.

  45. Florian Blaschke says

    After following your link to Acharya’s forum, I went on to read the discussion a little further and discovered that she actually *denies* having ever claimed that the statue she depicts in her book had anything to do with Peter. I find that credible, as, while she admits that the phrasing is somewhat ambiguous and prone to misunderstanding, she points out that there is a line break in the original that she thought was enough to make clear that she meant that the *cock* (rooster) – and not the *statue*! – is a symbol of Peter, which was what her original point was all about:

    Disappointing that this was never even mentioned here; the commenters indulge in knee-jerk Acharya-bashing without ever giving her a chance to air her own view on the matter, and misrepresent her, while at least in this case it appears that she has actually researched the matter better than Ehrman and Burke, who were desperately trying to distract from their own mistakes. It is vital to correct the present bias against her.

    • says

      That would at least be an excusable error on Ehrman’s part. But that doesn’t justify what he actually said in turn. He was way off base in every other respect. And she’s right about that.

      But let’s not play into any persecution complex here. He didn’t bash Acharya because she’s Acharya…it’s doubtful he knew anything about her or had any significant experience with her reputation…or because she’s a woman…I doubt Ehrman cared about that at all. He bashed her because he was bashing all mythers and, I suspect, just sloppily skimmed what she wrote, and formed opinions solely from her lack of academic rigor rather than from actually fact-checking and vetting her arguments. Remember, he even attacked me for being unqualified, and I have a Ph.D. in ancient history! Imagine the prior bias he would have had against an amateur. That’s what you are reading between the lines of his treatment of her.

    • Florian Blaschke says

      I’ve never said *Ehrman* was targetting her in particular (certainly not because of her being a woman; not sure where you’re getting that idea from). I’ve just found a *general* bias against her around here. I’m not saying it’s entirely undeserved; my impression is that accusations of incompetence and sloppiness and a cult of personality having formed around her are justified to some extent (I have not delved into her writings or forum enough to form a solidly supported opinion of her in general, though). Still, even if she is something of a crank, that does not mean that she is *always* wrong or sloppy, and that “serious” scholars *never* are (which should be obvious, but unfortunately is not obvious to everyone). In this case, the roles do appear inverted. Take-home lesson: Never rely on assumptions blindly. Every case should be judged on its own merits. Prejudice is *really* just bad.

    • says

      I’ve never said *Ehrman* was targetting her in particular (certainly not because of her being a woman; not sure where you’re getting that idea from).

      I was responding to your remark that “the commenters indulge in knee-jerk Acharya-bashing” (in response to which, I happen to know, many Acharya fans have claimed sexism or other forms of conspiratorial persecution; hence my aim was to head off that train of thought here before it starts up again).

      That said, I also agree with your most recent remarks.

  46. stu says

    Richard—I have learned a lot from both yourself and Bart over the years. It is , in fact, wonderful to see 2 scholars vigorously debate a question. Christopher Hitchens ( I am also a great admirer of his) would, no doubt, be impressed. My opinion is that you have a stronger argument and have demonstrated superior knowledge on this issue. I find your “mythicist” argument compelling.No doubt, many mythicists are not compelling ( as Erhman points out). Your theory, however, is plausible and well argued. Continue the good work. Reason needs you!

  47. Psychopomp Gecko says

    I don’t even see why the debate needs to go too much in depth toward other mythologies and gods to justify why they made him up. The debate needs to focus on them providing some sort of contemporary evidence for Jesus that can prove existence. I don’t feel we can trust the Bible because he wants to argue the existence of Jesus with a book that claims he walked on water, brought the death back to life, caused a zombie apocalypse, and cursed a fig tree for not bearing figs out of season. You can’t rest a claim on reality on a book that has all that fantasy and considers it all to be just as true as the rest. What is his basis for picking and choosing?

    And on top of that, contemporary sources are lacking. They had documents all over the place back then, and yet none were devoted to a figure who was either performing miracles or just being a great rabbi with a rising fanbase. Not even with his supposed trial, which probably would have left some record. The best they can do are people who were born thirty years after they suppose all this happened, which means they cite people who wrote about hearsay.

    If Jesus was just a regular person, I can see why they’d say it was safe to assume he existed. The only reason his existence is a big deal, though, is because he was so important a figure that he had a religion founded about him, with some people claiming he was a god. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. They don’t even have ordinary evidence.

  48. Luke Meyer says

    I have a sincere question about your overall theory. When you make the case that Mark “euhemerized” a celestial being, do you allow for the possibility that Mark relied on some oral traditions when writing his Gospel, or was *everything* that involved Jesus being on Earth in his Gospel euphemism on Mark’s part, with absolutely no oral traditions or sources for him to go on?

    If you think that latter (that Mark had no sources/oral traditions about Jesus on Earth), then what do you make of the two “Feeding of the Multitudes” stories that are in his Gospel (the feeding of the 4,000 and the feeding of the 5,000)?

    My personal belief is that these stories are so similar, they probably originated as just one, single story (probably originating in Palestine). Over time, the story spread to numerous people and some details were changed (creating multiple different versions of the same story). Mark, then, heard these two different versions of the story (probably from different people). He didn’t know that they were actually the same story, and so he recorded them both (probably thinking that each event had really happened).

    But that wouldn’t mesh with the theory that Mark just euhemerized everything about Jesus being on Earth. So now I’m wondering how you would explain these two stories if that is the case (euhemerism) and why would your explanation be a better explanation than the one that I’ve described above?

    • says

      The feeding stories are mythic derivations from Homer, Moses, and Elisha, and are deliberately duplicated, not accidental. I demonstrate this in OHJ, pp. 413-18. (The Homeric basis is treated in MacDonald.)

      But there certainly could have been previous oral (or even written) allegories about Jesus that Mark used. Just as Mark is previous to Matthew. The euhemerization needn’t have been started by Mark. We just can’t know for sure, even if such earlier efforts existed, much less what they said or how they framed or interpreted it. So we have to judge by the evidence we have. Not what’s possible, but what’s actual.