Ehrman on Historicity Recap »« Proving History in San Francisco

Three New Videos

The three best new videos of me of late are: (1) my talk at the Madison Freethought Festival: So…if Jesus Didn’t Exist, Where Did He Come from Then? (you can also view a PDF of the slideshow, lacking the animations); (2) my talk the year before for Wichita Rapture Day: You’re All Gonna Die!! How the Jews Kept Failing to Predict Doomsday and Caused Christianity Instead (you can also view a PDF of the slideshow, lacking the animations); and (3) my interview for (on how I came to naturalism and what it means for moral theory and the scientific advancement of moral knowledge). That latter site has several other interesting new resources, including interviews with several others and an extensive online catalog of debates.

My Madison talk is essentially a brief précis of what I believe to be the most defensible Jesus myth theory and why it probably better explains the origins of Christianity than traditional theories do. Obviously it’s not a proof against all objections, just a quick first glance at what it is and how a defense of it would most likely proceed. My Rapture Day talk, by contrast, operates on the assumption of historicity (sticking to my methodological position that we should assume historicity until a significant segment of the expert community is on board with any alternative, while treating the Jesus myth theory as only a hypothesis, still in need of proper review). However, its analysis would apply equally to a Jesus myth model (with suitable adaptation). I just don’t discuss that there.


  1. gothicemperor says

    On the stuff about Paul in the first video, you mention that all his sources are Scripture and Revelation. I’m interested to know what you mean by Scripture here. Obviously, this was pre-Gospel, so do you mean Jewish ‘prophecy’, or maybe Hellenistic tradition?

    • says

      What constituted “scripture” in Paul’s day depended on sect: what each sect regarded as the inspired word of God. That body of texts was larger than what became the OT, but usually included the whole of the OT (or most of it). Among the texts the Epistles show were also regarded as sacred scripture are Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Possibly others as well that we don’t even know about.

  2. says

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for this. I thoroughly enjoyed the videos. The pdf link for the first speech doesn’t work though. Would it be possible to fix it?


    Richard Martin

    • says

      Thanks for pointing that out.

      If you looked at the URL you probably could have fixed it by hand. It’s a problem with the WordPress system, it sometimes deletes the http in a URL in the editor, and when that happens it inserts the WordPress URL in place of it, which creates a freakish hybrid URL. But then it doesn’t happen for a while so I start forgetting to check. In any case, I fixed it, so it works now.

  3. DrVanNostrand says

    I nominate “You’re All Gonna Die!! How the Jews Kept Failing to Predict Doomsday and Caused Christianity Instead” as one of my favorite titles ever.

  4. F says

    Thanks. This is the sort of video content I actually will bother to watch. (Admission: This is a trait of mine, and not necessarily a reflection of my opinion on the quality of unseen video.)

  5. David Hillman says

    It is interesting that the ideas, such as monotheism, the need for personal salvation, and others such as pacifism, cynic like sayings, the idea that one has a soul separate from your body which can not be got at, would all be related to the ideological needs of empire interplaying with ideas from below:the feeling of loss of power by intellectuals and minor aristocrats and their need to retain some sense of authentic life when faced with overwhelming power and a cosmopolitan world which makes their own nexi seem small. The details would differ from place to place and decade to decade, I think.

    • says

      In the PDF of the slideshow (link fixed) it directs you to my discussion of the evidence in Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 250-51. But in short, Philo says the Jesus discussed in Zechariah 6 (there was no difference between the names Jesus and Joshua; that is entirely a modern invention) was the logos, the firstborn son of god, supreme archangel and celestial high priest, through whom god created and governs the universe.

      See Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues 62-63, consulting the bible passage he is talking about (Zechariah 6:11-12), and then linking that to his discussions of the same figure elsewhere, esp. Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues 146 and On Dreams 1.215. Yonge’s The Works of Philo is a handy way to access everything we have from Philo (it’s a huge tome, but well priced).

    • Emma Zunz says

      I see. That is suggestive!

      (I checked it out – I assume Philo was using the LXX where the word translated as “branch” in modern Bibles is given as something like “the East”, which Philo uses in his reference.)

      Cheers for explaining.


  6. Dave Empey says

    Fascinating talks, but (no doubt unavoidably) you left out some things I’d have liked to hear more about. (For instance, Muhammed’s hallucinations. Why do you think they were scare-quote “hallucinations”, and not actual hallucinations?) Guess I’ll have to buy your books.

    One think puzzled me in your “You’re all gonna die!” talk. You said something about Joshua/Jesus going to Mt. Gerizim (iirc) before crossing the Jordan, but Mt. Gerizim seems to be west of the Jordan on the map I looked at. Wouldn’t the Hebrews have had to cross the Jordan before getting to Mr. Gerizim? Did the Bible writers get their geography wrong, or is the present Mt. Gerizim different from the Biblical one, or am I confused, or what?

    • says

      Regarding “hallucination”: I regard questions like that to be unresolvable on present evidence. There is no discernible difference between an actual hallucination and a pretended one–absent medical examination of the percipient, which we don’t have. See Not the Impossible Faith, chapter 10, for why pretending to hallucinate would be a popular tactic then.

      Regarding “Girizim”: You’re right, it was the other way around. I’ve fixed the slide. It’s the first place they assembled as a nation after they crossed the Jordan and felled Jericho and Ai (the Jews having invaded Palestine from its eastern border, after crossing beneath it along the Sinai), fulfilling the commandment of Moses that they do so there.

  7. Mike says

    Really liked The Historicity of Jesus. Those parallels between the other ancient gods are the kinds of things that would’ve made my heart drop like a rock had I heard them while I was still a strong Christian (and I say this knowing that the case for parallels with other pagan religions has often been significantly overstated, as you alluded to).

    I’ve got a question: around 20:30 you said, “Note that in 1 Cor 15 that Jesus is not said to have appeared before his death.” But Gal 3:1 says, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” Would you argue that, since the audience was a group of believers that clearly wasn’t present at the crucifixion, that this can’t possibly be talking about an actual event in history?

    • says

      Ah, yes, that’s a good one. That’s a nice example of English translators messing with reality, and thus misleading everyone. The text, in Greek, actually says:

      “Oh foolish Galatians! Who bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was forewritten [proegraphê] crucified?”
      (Gal. 3:1)

      The word prographô means written down (graphô) before (pro), i.e. foretold in scripture. Paul is referring to his having personally shown them the passages in the Bible that say Christ was crucified (“you saw those passages with your own eyes!”). He is chastising the Galatians for forgetting that Jesus was crucified and that this canceled the old Torah law (2:20-21), only it’s a bit of a rhetorical trick since the notion that his crucifixion did that Paul only learned by revelation (Gal. 1) not scripture, whereas scripture only confirmed that he was crucified. But Paul’s on a roll so he skips over that quickly to continue his point with other arguments.

      In a sense, though, this passage supports mythicism a little bit more than historicity, because it confirms that Paul’s only source of evidence for Jesus having been crucified is scripture. Note that he doesn’t say “there were eyewitnesses to his death, some are still alive today, so why would you doubt it?” or “everyone knows, by report told far and wide, that Pilate crucified Jesus and confirmed he had died on the cross” or “the Roman and Jewish authorities both verify they crucified Christ and took him down from the cross dead” or any of countless other things like that. No, the only evidence Paul has to offer the Galatians is that scripture said Christ was crucified (“well, it must be true then!”).

    • Mike says

      Thanks for the clear explanation! But, dang. Now I’m beginning to see why you say that “James, the brother of the Lord” is the best argument for historicity.

      I’ve got one more question — maybe it’s too involved or betrays too many false assumptions, but I’ll try anyway. You’re probably familiar with the line about the terms in 1 Cor 15:3, “delivered” and “received”, being rabbinical terms. NT Wright writes, “paredoka and parelabon… are technical terms for the receiving and handing on of tradition” (Resurrection of the Son of God, footnote 1029). Wright notes that Paul’s relaying of *this particular formulation* of the message from the community is perfectly compatible with the direct nature of the revelation Paul talks about in Gal 1.

      But around 19:40 you say that Paul is actually referring to the way he “received” the teaching directly from Jesus. If that’s the case, does Paul not necessarily expect those mentioned in v3-7 to corroborate his story? This is one of the few places in Paul’s writing that claims to touch actual history.

      (The purported early dating of 1 Cor 15:3-7 that rests on the creed hypothesis is the thing that gave me the most trouble right up to the time of my deconversion)

    • says

      Wright (and everyone who uses that argument) is committing a fallacy of affirming the consequent:

      P1. If something is just like a rabbinical tradition, the words “paredoka and parelabon” would be the technical terms used.

      P2. In 1 Cor. 15 the words “paredoka and parelabon” are the technical terms used.

      C1. Therefore, 1 Cor. 15 is just like a rabbinical tradition.

      That is a fallacy (for the same reason as the dog-and-homework I example I give in the article above).

      In fact, those terms can mean the handing on of a tradition received by direct revelation, as Galatians 1 proves (where the exact same words are used, very adamantly not in reference to a human tradition). Paul uses not just the exact same words, but almost the exact same phrases in both places (as my quotes show), in reference to the same exact thing (his gospel). They therefore refer to the same thing: the revelation he received. Hence Romans 16:25-26 never mentions human traditions as the source of the Gospel: the gospel and kerygma come only from revelation and scripture.

      We can therefore be effectively certain that in 1 Cor. 15 Paul is not talking about a human tradition passed on to him. To the contrary, in Gal. 1 he makes it clear no one trusted human tradition, so much so that Paul had to deny up and down that his gospel was ever based on it. Only direct revelation (making one an apostle) was trusted as an authority; that, and scripture (Gal. 3:1).

  8. Sheridan says

    I was wondering what you mean exactly when you explain the incarnation, death, and burial as taking place in “outer space”? Under what sort of cosmology did they imagine this happening? If I remember and understood correctly, Babinski’s chapter in “The Christian Delusion” explains that the cosmology you get from a correct historically informed reading of the old testament is a flat earth with a hard (metal?) dome but I’m not sure if that belief persisted into the 1st century A.D.

    • says

      You’re right, it did not. The sphericity of the earth was scientifically proved by the time of Aristotle, and that knowledge had diffused (along with a geocentrist model of the solar system of increasing accuracy and sophistication) to all literate regions of the Roman Empire by the first century B.C. or earlier. There were some flat earthers still (and there remained many; like young earth creationists today), but most educated persons knew the universe consisted of multiple spheres (orbits) of vast distance between them.

      For example, the distance of the moon was known to be hundreds of thousands of miles. It was believed the breathable atmosphere extended to the moon, and above it was a different kind of atmosphere made of ether. The various subsequent spheres (counting the moon and sun, seven in all, plus the stars beyond) were known to be vast distances from each other (in the millions of miles). Thus, when Paul (?) visits “the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2-4) that’s the third sphere, the location of Venus (the Morning Star) in most schemes (or the expanse between Venus and the Sun, depending on how the model was conceived). The “firmament” (which Babinski discusses) was the sub-heavens, the atmosphere below the moon (or the ceiling of that, but generally it meant the whole expanse–the atmosphere being the base upon which the rest of the heavens rested).

      Thus, as Plutarch tells us, Osiris was (in the higher mysteries) said to descend below the sphere of the moon (below the first heaven, and thus into the firmament), become incarnate in a mortal body, which then is killed, and then Osiris rises back to life in an immortal divine body and ascends back to go live in the heavens above. In the lower mysteries (the public myths) this incarnation, death and resurrection takes place on earth (one time in the past, at an identifiable point in history); but in the higher mysteries, it all takes place in outer space, just below the moon, every year.

  9. says


    interesting videos.

    As I’m currently in a discussion on the historicity of Jesus on another site, and am currently reading up more books – including yours (though it’s a pity your forthcoming book on Jesus isn’t available yet!) – on top of those I’ve already read, I’d like to take the opportunity to ask a question, which I haven’t seen addressed.

    My own take is that there’s an historical figure behind the biblical Jesus – more a legend (like that of Robin Hood: there’s a core tradition, with other stories added to it, which are of the “Robin Hood was here!” type).

    My problem is that, if one takes the “standard model”:
    John the Baptist > Jesus > James/Peter and the various sects of Jewish Christianity (Zadokites, Essenes, Ebionites, Rechabites, Elchasites, Sabeans, Mandaeans etc.) and then remove Jesus, how can one explain these sects?

    Bearing in mind that, at least one (Ebionites), saw Jesus as a purely human figure, with no divine nature.

    I say this because of your mention, in the first video and in your reply to Emma Zunz (#8), of the story of Philo’s “celestial Jesus”.

    In my view, although this may explain the Gnostic – particularly Docetic – take on Jesus, and may also be how Paul viewed Jesus (apart from his “conversion”), it does not explain the Ebionites’ and other Jewish Christians (including those led by James/Peter) down-to-earth perception of Jesus.

    Without a historical Jesus, these sects appear to be orphaned and cannot be explained.

    What is your view of this, Dr. Carrier?

    Kindest regards,


    • says

      First, we rarely to never hear what those sects actually believed from the sects themselves. We just have what their opponents claimed they believe, which many scholars point out we often have good reasons to distrust.

      Second, we can trace none of those sects reliably to the first century. They might therefore all be descendants of the earliest historicizing sect of the late first century.

      Third, we have the Nazoreans who have more claim to being descendants of the first Christian sect (prior even to Paul, as they were still Torah observant and did not adopt the new fangled name “Christian” for themselves), and they believed Jesus lived and died under King Alexander Jannaeus circa 70 BC. That is hard to explain if there was a historical Jesus–easier to explain if there wasn’t, and two separate historicizing myths then developed independently.

      Fourth, we have hints of Christian sects who denied the historicity of Jesus (in the early layer of The Ascension of Isaiah and by rebuttal in 2 Peter 1:16-2:1), we just don’t know which sects those were.

      Fifth, the Essenes were not a Christian sect. In fact, many so-called “sects” of Christianity may in fact have just been separate messianic Jewish sects, who worshipped or preached some Christ or other, who was not the same guy “the Christians” were talking about. The Essenes, for example, at least the Qumran subsect, appear to have believed the Christ (the final victory-producing “messiah”) was the celestial Melchizedek soon to return to earth (Melchizedek having visited earth before, to bless and feed Abraham). Could their discourse have been confused as Christian-sounding to later heresy-hunting Christians? Possibly. We don’t know.

      And finally, the original Paulines might even have been the ones who invented the myth (in some form) as an exoteric teaching tool, and only initiates were told the real meaning, which would be (for us) the esoteric myth. This is exactly the case in Osiris cult, where the public myths placed Osiris in history and on earth, but higher ranking members were taught the true story, that he only dies and rises in outer space–this is explained in Plutarch’s On Isis and Osiris. It would therefore be difficult to tell the difference between a true historicizing sect, and one that only appeared to be. And without their own internal documents, we often can’t tell.

      This is the main problem with Christian history: even though hundreds of letters and books would have been written in the first century by many different sects, we have almost none of it. We get only a tiny selection (not even a complete selection of Paul’s letters, by the way; for example, his actual first letter to the Corinthians, which he refers to in 1 Corinthians, was not preserved…why?), and that selection being the documents the victorious church approved. We don’t even get these Christians’ polemical writings against their opponents in the first century, so we don’t even get to hear second hand what their opponents were arguing.

      The first documents we get in which the victorious church’s advocates argue against opponents appear in the mid-to-late second century, a hundred years after the Pauline churches were thriving (a possible exception are the Ignatian letters, which at least are anti-Docetist, but there are serious problems with the claim that those letters actually date to the early second century). We simply do not know what happened to those churches in the interim; nor do we know what they were saying, even if they still knew the truth of the matter. How, after all, would they? Eventually no one would be left alive to vouch for their gospel being actually the original rather than a “Satanic corruption” of it.

      In the battle to win the hearts and minds of the various churches, the historicists would always have the more attractive and persuasive argument, regardless of the evidence, simply because a “historical” Jesus makes for a more defensible authority figure, whereas an a-historicist would have no evidence the historicist was wrong (there not having been any historical Jesus before that, there will not be any documents “saying” he did not exist, or anything else by which to prove their case). This and other points along these lines are precisely what is argued by K.L. Knoll in Is This Not the Carpenter?

  10. says


    I translated the Madison Freethought Festival presentation into Italian and published it here:

    This Italian version is being linked by the following post, which gives full credit to Dr. Carrier:

    However, since I do not claim any right on the presentation (nor on its translation) I will immediately delete it if requested.

    I hope this is fine with Dr. Carrier.

    • says

      Thank you.

      I fully approve. I can’t vouch for translations done of my work, of course. But I don’t mind them being done when it’s of anything already available for free online (like that video), and is being provided to the public for free (or at no more than cost).

      When it’s my books, the issue is more complicated, and prospective translators should contact me directly to work out a foreign language license.

  11. says


    I apologise for the long delay in replying – life and all that!

    In reply to Dr. Carrier’s response at 12-1:

    Third, we have the Nazoreans who have more claim to being descendants of the first Christian sect (prior even to Paul, as they were still Torah observant and did not adopt the new fangled name “Christian” for themselves), and they believed Jesus lived and died under King Alexander Jannaeus circa 70 BC. That is hard to explain if there was a historical Jesus–easier to explain if there wasn’t, and two separate historicizing myths then developed independently.

    That’s an interesting point, Dr. Carrier, in that – if Christian sects existed prior to Paul, then that would disprove the claim by some mythicists that Paul “invented” Christianity: that there were no “Christians” which Paul persecuted.

    Secondly, if the Jesus of King Alexander Jannaeus is the “true” one, then it could be argued that there *is* an historical Jesus, even if it’s not the one Christianity considers to be him.

    Fourth, we have hints of Christian sects who denied the historicity of Jesus (in the early layer of The Ascension of Isaiah and by rebuttal in 2 Peter 1:16-2:1), we just don’t know which sects those were.

    It would certainly be interesting to know if these were the followers of the earlier “Jesus” or, perhaps, those who dismissed the Jesus of Peter as the celestial one mentioned by Philo. Or, even more of a stretch, a gnostic version – perhaps the earliest reference to Docetism?

    I take your points in the rest of your argument: it may well be impossible to identify an historical Jesus due to all the changes that have been made to texts, etc.

    I just feel – yes, appeal to emotion(!) – that it would be easier to “hang” a myth on a real person than to create one from scratch.

    Kindest regards,


    • says

      That early Christians believed in a Jannaean Christ does not entail that that belief even existed in Paul’s day, much less preceded it. If Jesus was mythical, historical contexts could have been invented for him at any time decades after the religion started, allowing Eastern Christians to place him under Jannaeus, and Western Christians to place him under Pilate, independently of each other.

      Paul has no idea of a Jannaean Christ either, so that is just as fake as the Pilate-executed Christ. To the contrary, Paul seems to believe, as we can tell from 1 Corinthians and Galatians (and elsewhere) that the religion only recently began. Thus he clearly does not know of any Jannaean Christ gospel. So that likely post-dates Paul, just as a Pilate-executed Jesus appears to.

      That Jesus was placed in two completely different historical times and given two completely different biographies around them proves your last point false: clearly creating whole new myths from scratch was very easily done (we have many more examples in the Christian tradition, from the Infancy Gospels to the Acts of Paul), and we know this is how most myths get created (Romulus: created from scratch, borrowing materials and elements from prior Greek myths; Hercules, from scratch; Osiris, from scratch; Attis, from scratch; and so on).

      It’s actually more likely that a mythical person would get two myths placing him in two different historical periods. A historical person would be extremely hard to suddenly and inexplicably “relocate” to a different historical period, as if everything about Jesus interacting with Herod and Caiaphas and Pilate and Antipas was being preached for years and then someone decided “hey, that’s all bullshit, I say he was executed a hundred years before those guys even lived!” (or vice versa). It’s a lot harder to pull that off, than for a celestial deity to be “historicized” differently in two different geographical regions.

      That’s why the Jannaean Jesus is evidence for a mythical Jesus (not a proof, but it weighs in that direction, not the other).

    • maryhelena says

      Richard: “That’s why the Jannaean Jesus is evidence for a mythical Jesus (not a proof, but it weighs in that direction, not the other).”

      Indeed, the Yeshu story, born in the time of Alexander Jannaeus, is evidence that indicates a mythical JC, a composite or symbolic JC figure, i.e. not a historical JC figure. But perhaps much more as well…

      What the Toledot Yeshu story does do is widen the field of research for the roots of early christian history. Yes, that story is easily ridiculed or denied relevance. But, surely, if we are wanting to dig deep for the roots of early christian history, we should not be so quick to rule the Toledot Yeshu out of our field of focus.

      I’ve just put up a thread on FRDB related to the Queen Helene of the Toledot Yeshu. For anyone interested, here is the link.

      Who is the Queen Helene of the Toledot Yeshu?

    • says

      The Toledot Yeshu is, of course, late polemical fiction. But it does strangely assume the Babylonian-Nazorean storyline and shows no knowledge of the Roman-Pilate narrative. Other than that, I suspect its uses are probably limited. At the very least, proceed with caution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>