Jesus Myth on

The Jesus myth vs. history debate just got covered on for Easter Sunday. The article, by John Blake, is “The Jesus Debate: Man vs. Myth.” Blake interviewed me and several others on both sides of the issue, and put together a sort of okay article reflecting common views on both sides, although it’s a bit of a rush job, since there is no back and forth (assertions on each side go unanswered by the other, even when they are ridiculous,  or clearly talk past the point supposedly being answered, as if rebutting a different argument entirely).

It’s sort of a “this is what the debate looks like to us reporters” account, balanced and neutral in perspective, but not in-depth enough to actually eliminate misconceptions on either side. As a result, I’m not sure it’s very informative. I had more questions by the end of it than understanding. The howlers from the defenders of historicity look a bit disturbing, for example (did Craig Evans actually argue that Jesus must have existed because the Gospels say he cried once? Or that only Jesus could invent parables? Either would be laughably absurd, but that is how he is quoted). And I and Price are mixed in with Freke as if we all agree or have the same credentials.

Had I known, for instance, that Freke cited to Blake the Orpheus Stone as evidence and claims it depicts Osiris (!), I could have informed Blake of all that’s wrong with this claim. First, it depicts “Orpheus the Bacchic” (i.e. not Osiris, nor even Bacchus, but Orpheus, who on the amulet is said to be a worshiper of Bacchus, i.e. an initiate in the Bacchic mysteries). Second, it’s authenticity has been questioned–although invalidly, in my opinion, nevertheless it bears mentioning (e.g. see James Hannam’s summary of the situation in The Jesus Mysteries Orpheus Amulet; note the case made for inauthenticity is refuted by the fact that there is no cross or crucifixion depicted: it’s a ship’s anchor, to which Orpheus is tied, imagery so bizarre I cannot imagine anyone thinking to forge it, and the inscription “Orpheus the Bacchic” is attested on several other objects, and it’s unlikely all of them are forgeries). But more importantly, as even Freke admits in Blake’s article, it’s dated to the third century. Although that date is largely conjectural, one cannot make much of an argument that Christianity borrowed the crucifixion idea from whatever story this amulet is depicting, not least because Jesus wasn’t tied to an anchor and drowned.

These kinds of complexities make it difficult for reporters to weigh in on this debate, I know. But we might get more thorough investigative reporting in the future.


  1. Korey says

    Nice. btw have you looked into this?? supposedly this guy Charles Lindter is an expert of sanskrit and other languages and thinks almost all the parables, divine births, miracles, disciple names, etc. derive from earlier Buddhist writings.

    However, it strikes me as “parallelomania” as you said and you’d think someone would’ve noticed by now

  2. Roo Bookaroo says

    Interesting article, and not that bad for something put together at the last minute. The journalist chose a nice panel to expose the opposite ideas: Timothy Freke, Bart D. Ehrman, Robert Price, John Dominic Crossan, Richard Carrier, Craig A. Evans.
    This is a pretty high-quality mix: three mythicists, one true historicist, and two apologists. each qualified to best represent his own viewpoint. Few college debates could gather such a panel together.
    But you’re right, there was no debate, and all the pre-conceptions and biases were simply stated, preserved and reinforced. On another hand, there is a potential and acrimonious debate between the platforms summarized in the article.

    This was not the place to go into refined scholarly points. On the whole the journalist managed to touch most essential points of that “debate” still to come.

    What is truly remarkable is that such an article presenting the opposite view of “Man vs Myth”, meaning “History vs Myth” was prepared for an Easter Sunday publication. This has momentous relevance.
    Let’s remember that the Christ Myth Theory — that Jesus Christ never existed, but was a concoction fabricated by Paul and the Gospel writers — started during the Enlightenment of the 18th century, more than 200 years ago.
    But it got a new wind after Darwin’s evolution theory attracted many new proselytes at the end of the 19th century. Then the period of 1900-1946 saw a vigorous blooming of the controversy between proponents of Jesus’s existence and deniers. Many books were published in that period along the lines of “Jesus – Myth or History” .
    Until Archibald Robertson’s book of the same title appeared in 1946. He was the one to introduce the labels of “mythicists” and “historicists”. Then the public “debate” died out, until it became revived towards the end of the 20th century.

    We have now reached a period when the theme has become so fashionable that all religion writers are bringing out books along the same lines as “Jesus: Myth or History”. The rush to produce such books by every established writer is astonishing. Nobody wants to be left out. And each book is being closely scrutinized and criticized by the competition.

    This recrudescence of interest is ensuring at the same time a revival of scholarly publications on the Christ Myth Theory, cleaning up the loose ends or fanciful speculations or outright flights of imagination, and a new popularity that can be only beneficial to the prospects of mythicism.
    As Carrier does not fail to underline, this is not a cause or a movement, with leaders and followers. There’s no need of association for the sake of resisting the ranks of apologists. This is a scholarly research that must respect the standards of exactitude and combat excesses of fantasy, which are too tempting to some.

    From an obscure, underground existence that lasted for more than two centuries, the marginal, often dismissed as “cuckoo”, Christ Myth theory is finally coming out in full light, obliging apologists and “historicists” to take it into account.
    Aging academic professors or Religious studies and Theology may still be spurning the subject and ignoring the lay scholars such as Carrier, Doherty and Price, but the new awareness evidenced by this CNN article on Easter Sunday is a reassuring sign that, far from dying, the Christ Myth theory is gaining new vigor, new recognition as a valid interpretation of the origins of Christianity.

    • says

      You’re thinking of Saint Clement, and only in medieval myths. Even later myths pinned the same fate on other saints, e.g. Philomena. But in each case I think the anchor is just tied to their necks. And these being only medieval legends, and not about Jesus, rules them out as relevant I think.

  3. Emma Zunz says

    It’s a good sign that the MSM is picking this up.

    Do you think mythicism will make it big in mainstream consciousness soon?

    • says

      It must be a cultural thing. Over here in the Old World, the idea of the non-historicity of Jesus is far more accepted.

      There was an interview in JyllandsPosten two days ago (not online). The journalist wanted to know why Jesus’ birthday is fixed (December 25th) when his death day depends on the moon.

      Bishop Kjeld Holm, Aarhus: As a matter of fact I don’t know how this situation arose. But the birth of Jesus has been placed where it was winter solstice and the days turned and the light returned. Very symbolic. After all, nobody has any idea where or when he was born, but the story is still just as good.

      [snip Jewish Easter]

      Journalist: But why two different time reckonings?

      Bishop: Well, when one has something inexplicable, one wants to fit it into some incomprehensible. We do that with everything in our existence.

      Kafka says that the only thing a parable can create understanding for is the fact that the inexplicable is inexplicable.

      Journalist: Well, well. But what do we really know?

      Bishop: Whether there’s is any factual basis for the story doesn’t interest me. The only thing one can do is to take the story, which is beautiful, and then one can use it.


      Journalist: But doesn’t it end with a lynch mood?

      Bishop: There is a day of Easter and crucifixion isn’t — to put it mildly — a humane way to be executed because it takes a long time. And then comes this here strange story, that he has risen from the grave. Some say that Roman soldiers have removed the body to prevent the place from becoming a place of worship, but the disciples are convinced that he has risen from the grave.

      From this springs the Easter-gospel, and it becomes what the church and Christianity are based on today.

      And one can say that it’s improbable today etc. but in the end we here have a story about life winning over death, love winning over hate. We can retain the hope in Easter-day. The tale is so forceful that it is without interest what time it was when this or that happened, or how we date Jesus’ birth or death.

      There’s a story about the famous theologian Paul Tillich: An excavation is made in Jerusalem; they find a skeleton; and after several examinations it is concluded that this can only be Jesus. So the Vatican panics because if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, the whole Christendom rests on a false foundation.

      The Pope calls the famous theologian, who has a reputation of being able to explain almost everything. “Oh my”, says Paul Tillich on the phone to the Pope, “did he live?”

      Journalist: Is this a true story?

      [my comment: I genuinely wonder whether he means the Paul Tillich story or the Jebus fable]

      Bishop: No, of course it isn’t, but that isn’t important either. The important thing is the point. The New Testament is not historical reportage. Tillich emphasized that Christianity should be interpreted very symbolically, and this is a tale about the most inner meaning of existence and the deepest layers of our existence.

      I thought it was refreshing to hear a Danish bishop state that “nobody has any idea where or when he was born” and to quote an anecdote about Jesus’ non-existence — while in the States Bart Ehrman, a supposedly ex-fundie scholar, compares Mythicists to Holocaust deniers.

    • says

      Funny. In America that Tillich joke is told using Bultmann in place of Tillich, who says (in the version I heard) “Ah! So he lived!” This is an amusing example of the variability of urban legends.

      Ehrman actually notes in his book what you point out: that in Europe, and especially Scandinavia, mythicism is more popular. I had not known that.

    • says

      Ehrman actually notes in his book what you point out: that in Europe, and especially Scandinavia, mythicism is more popular.

      Right. In Jesus, Interrupted pp. 140 he tells about receiving a number of emails from Sweden asking him whether Jesus had existed.

      These were triggered by Ehrman having expanded Lewis’ trilemma “liar lunatic or Lord” into “liar, lunatic, Lord or legend”.

      Ehrman writes “But in parts of Scandinavia the majority of people thinks that Jesus is a completely fabricated figure, that he never really existed but was invented by a group of people intent on starting a new religion.

      I found it a bit annoying that this didn’t give Ehrman pause for thought: In a number of countries where Christianity has prevailed twice as long as in the United States and where almost everybody are due-paying members of the National Church, the majority (according to Ehrman) have come to believe Jesus “is a completely fabricated figure”.

      Instead of reconsidering his own position, he proceeded straightway to explain to his readers why the Swedes had misunderstood what Ehrman meant by “legend”.

  4. Upright Ape says

    So will the creationists demanding to “teach the controversy” see this as an example of “balanced” journalism?
    I doubt it.

  5. RW Ahrens says

    But we might get more thorough investigative reporting in the future.

    Good luck with that!

  6. G.Shelley says

    It seems about as fair as such a short article can be. It lets Ehrman get away with likening Mythicists to Birthers or Holocaust deniers, but does actually let them present part of their case.

    One of the arguments struck me as revealing

    “Don’t you think if you were in Paul’s shoes, you would have quickly discovered that there was no Jesus?” Evans asks. “If there was no Jesus, then how did the movement start?”

    Which, if it accurately reflects what he says, suggests he has little if any familiarity with mythicists arguments. Obviously I haven’t read Richard Carrier’s book yet (indeed, I only got Proving History at the weekend), but I have read Doherty and Price’s and a major part of Doherty’s arguments is that Paul talked about a mythical Jesus.
    But this seems to often be the case – including Ehrmans’s latest from the reviews I have seen. Historicists start out with the assumption that Jesus was real, that it was all demonstrated conclusively and that all the myth arguments were refuted long ago. Many seem to think that merely saying this is sufficient to win the argument and they don’t need to address any modern arguments. And when they do actually argue against modern scholarship, they either look to the weakest arguments, or create strawman versions of what people are actually claiming, which Ehrman seems to have done with Doherty.

    • says

      I agree.

      That story’s isolated quotation of Evans is an example of there being no follow-up. However, the quotations of me in that article already expose the fallacy in his argument, for anyone attentive enough to notice. (Not that I was told what Evans’ said.)

      And you are right, even Ehrman straw mans or doesn’t understand the actual arguments he is supposed to be rebutting (I’m more than halfway through his book now, and I can confirm that that’s as true there as in his HuffPo article, although the book is, relatively speaking, a tad better).

    • says

      G.Shelley says:

      “[The article] lets Ehrman get away with likening Mythicists to Birthers or Holocaust deniers”

      I say, good! I say, let Ehrman continue to represent the consensus of New Testament scholarship in all its mean-spirited hubris! Let a broad public see the huge difference between scholars like Carrier and Price on the one hand, and Ehrman’s mischaracterizations of them on the other. Let a broad public begin to perceive the difference between consensus in Biblical studies and consensus in more reputable academic fields. Let Ehrman hasten the demise of his own inflated reputation and the demise of academia’s efforts to squelch inquiry into the Jesus question.

    • says


      You should be falling on your knees and thanking God for Bart Ehrman – oops, I forgot you don’t do that sort of thing here.

      Let me re-phrase: you should be rejoicing that Bart Ehrman wrote this book because it’s going to given Richard and other Jesus mythicists more visibility than they otherwise would have gained.

      What you do need to worry about, however, is whether Richard’s case is right.

  7. says

    While mythicists may rail against Bart Ehrman, he did them a great favor by writing “Did Jesus Exist?” It sustains the buzz of this current urban legend called “Jesus Mythicism.” Ehrman gives mythicism a certain level of respectability by writing a book about it. His book certainly gave CNN “cover” to do this story.

    No matter how “respectable” Jesus’ mythicism may become, however, it will never be the truth, for a lie can never be the truth.

  8. Jason Steele says

    I would be interested in hearing any specific replies that you might have to Dr. Ehrman’s position on the historicity of Jesus.
    I have read ‘The Empty Tomb’, but I’m curious how you would respond to some of Dr. Ehrman’s claims, especially his broad comparison (which seems to this layman as perhaps unjustifiably strong) of those who reject or question the historicity of Jesus with Holocaust deniers.

    • says

      He doesn’t exactly say they are comparable. But I can see how someone might get the impression that he did. He certainly can’t really mean to compare them because the evidence for the Holocaust is (literally) a billion times more extensive and superior to that for the historicity of Jesus. It’s not like anyone whose writings we have (much less anyone still alive) ever actually met someone who met Jesus; but I have met concentration camp survivors (and read eyewitness accounts published almost immediately after the event, and seen photographs allied troops took as they captured various camps, etc.). Just to touch the tip of that iceberg. Obviously if we had this kind of evidence for Jesus, there would be no Jesus mythicism (apart from rank lunatics).

      Ehrman is guilty of committing this fallacy of false comparison several times in his book, but he doesn’t explicitly do it using the Holocaust (he only alludes to that once, and doesn’t make an argument out of it). His explicit examples are instead the Hitler Diaries, Obama, Clinton, George Washington, etc.

  9. JamesM says

    ““There are people out there who don’t think the Holocaust happened, there wasn’t a lone JFK assassin and Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.,” Ehrman says. “Among them are people who don’t think Jesus existed.”

    There are people who think Big Foot is real, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that to get to heaven requires autocastration followed by suicide and a ride on a comet, and that the Jews had it coming. Among them are people who think Jesus was real. Am I doing this right?

    • says

      Yes, Ehrman is obliquely comparing mythicists to Holocaust deniers, although he avoids explicitly making the argument that they are comparable, a reader might assume he is. And you are spot on: anyone can play the “false analogy” game to get whatever result they want. That’s the useful thing about fallacies. Which is why usually only liars, propagandists, and the deluded ever resort to them.

    • says

      Yes, Ehrman is obliquely comparing mythicists to Holocaust deniers, although he avoids explicitly making the argument that they are comparable, a reader might assume he is. And you are spot on: anyone can play the “false analogy” game to get whatever result they want.

      It wouldn’t be the first time Ehrman has played the false analogy game.

      In Lost Christianities, chapter four is ostensibly about Secret Mark. Ehrman starts with recounting the story about the Hitler Diaries (yes!).

      He continues “One might think that in our day and age, no one would be so deceitful as to pawn off any firsthand accounts of Jesus as authentic. But nothing could be further from the truth.“.

      Then he goes on to the old joke about “there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth . . . and if some have no teeth, then teeth will be provided”. Ehrman attributes this joke, not to Dave Allen, but to “an article published in a highly respected scholarly journal in 1950“.

      The chapter itself is titled “The forgery of an ancient discovery?” mirroring the previous chapter titled “The discovery of an ancient forgery, the Coptic Gospel of Thomas” (apparently Ehrman still thinks Matthew and John are less “forged” than Thomas).

      At last, before Ehrman goes on to what was supposed to be the subject of this chapter, he writes “I have begun this chapter of modern forgery, not because I think that the text I want to discuss here is the same thing – a forgery by a modern scholar intent on deceiving the academic world – but because scholars in increasing number have begun to suspect that it is“.

      That’s the useful thing about fallacies. Which is why usually only liars, propagandists, and the deluded ever resort to them.

      Likening your opponents to Birthers or Holocaust deniers is also a useful technique if you want to hawk your newest book at any price. I write this, not because I think that the author we discuss here is doing the same thing – smearing his opponents in order to sell a few books – but because reviewers in increasing number have begun to suspect that it is so.

      Hey, this game is easy to play. :)

    • says

      (Just one slight correction: in Forged Ehrman distinguishes a forgery as a document written in someone else’s name, and he argues the canonical Gospels were written in no one’s name, their names were assigned later by people who didn’t write them, therefore they are not “forgeries”; that does not mean he doesn’t think there isn’t made up material in them, although he is very inconsistent when it comes to that in Did Jesus Exist?.)

    • says

      (Just one slight correction: in Forged Ehrman distinguishes a forgery as a document written in someone else’s name,

      Well, Forged is from 2011 and Lost Christianities is from 2003, so that actually strengthens my argument: Instead letting the title of chapter 4 “The Forgery of an Ancient Discovery?” mirror the previous chapter “The Discovery of an Ancient Forgery” and then wait eight years before explaining that by “forgery” is meant what everybody else calls “pseudepigraph”, it would have been better if Ehrman told his readers why he considers Secret Mark a forgery. :)

      and he argues the canonical Gospels were written in no one’s name, their names were assigned later by people who didn’t write them, therefore they are not “forgeries”;

      From Forged: “My definition of a forgery, then, is a writing that claims to be written by someone (a known figure) who did not in fact write it“.

      This only goes to show how Ehrman has painstakingly crafted a definition that would not label the canonical gospels as forgeries.

      The author of “the fourth gospel” doesn’t call himself John, but he does claim to be “the beloved disciple”. Ehrman is presumably aware that the author was not this disciple, which makes this gospel a pseudepigraph.

      On the other hand — according to his own definition — Secret Mark could never be a forgery, since the two fragments we know do not claim to be written by “a known figure” (whereas the letter by Clement that contains Secret Mark could fall into this category).

      that does not mean he doesn’t think there isn’t made up material in them, although he is very inconsistent when it comes to that in Did Jesus Exist?.)

      It is indeed a slippery slope. As I recall, he argues (in the older books) that James isn’t a pseudepigraph, because the author doesn’t claim to be James the Brother of the Lord or James the son of Zebedee. For all we know, Ehrman says, the author might really be someone named James.

      I’m not sure why “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” is classified as homonymous, while “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James” is pseudepigraphical.

      As Ehrman well knows, the only reason either of these books were let into the canon is that the authors created the illusion that they were apostles (or brothers of Jesus).

    • says

      For the record, I agree with Ehrman’s definition of “forgery” as a valid technical term. Anonymous writings cannot be “forged” even in principle. They can only be false or fabricated.

      And John does not claim to be written by the beloved disciple; that is a common misapprehension. The original Greek says that that disciple wrote something else which the authors (yes, plural) of John are claiming to have used as their source.

      Likewise, we don’t know which James or Jude wrote those letters. That they are the brothers of Jesus is very improbable (they don’t say they are; a forger, you’d expect, would not omit that, much less an actual heir of the messiah); and they never mention being the disciples, either. So they could well be Christians of those names (what later Christians passed them off as is irrelevant). But if they are not, then yes, Ehrman would classify them as forgeries. And in fact he does (e.g. Jude is a forgery: pp. 186-88; and likewise James: pp. 192-98; Ehrman considers the possibility that they were written by other persons of those names but concludes that more likely they were forged in the names given).

      So I don’t see any problem here. Ehrman’s views have changed on several things, as he acknowledges in Did Jesus Exist?; and there is nothing wrong with that. I change my views as I study an issue further, too.

    • says

      Well, Forged is from 2011 and Lost Christianities is from 2003, …

      Commenting on my own comment.

      I just made it through Forged, and something did indeed happen between 2003 and 2011.

      In Jesus Interrupted, James is the very example of a homonymous writing, “For example, the book of James was no doubt written by someone named James, but the author does not claim to be any particular James. It was an extraordinarily common name. Later church fathers accepted the book as part of Scripture because they claimed that this James was James the brother of Jesus. In the book itself there is no such claim” (page 113, my emphasis).

      In Forged, James is included among Forgeries in Conflicts with False Teachers (i.e. chapter 6), “There seems to be little doubt, then, that he is claiming to be the most famous James of all, Jesus’s brother” (my emphasis again).

      All in all, Forged is a good book (thanks for recommending it) with what seems to be a good deal of original research. It turns out, the reason Ehrman uses the word “forgery” instead of “pseudepigrapha” is precisely in order to call a spade a spade. A book written under a false name is a forgery whether or not it later made it into the Bible canon.

      Ehrman even goes as far as calling Acts of the Apostles a forgery because of the “we” passages but, rather illogically I think, doesn’t use the same high standard when it comes to “the beloved disciple” in John.

      The surprising part is that after going through endless examples of forged books, many of which made it into the Bible, and after reminding us that even the “unforged” books contain forgeries (e.g. Mark 16:9-20, John 8:1-12, 1 Corinthians 14:34–35), Ehrman is still adamant that Josephus wrote about Jesus (chapter 8, footnote 4).

      This is the part I find it hard to agree with: Ehrman readily acknowledges that some respectable scholars consider the Pastorals to be Pauline (e.g. Timothy Johnson), or 2 Timothy to be written by a different author than 1 Timothy (e.g. Michael Prior), and here we have entire books to analyze — but when it comes to the single chapter of the Testimonium Flavianum, it is apparently an easy task to determine for every word whether it was added or changed (and if changed: changed from what).

      In the end Ehrman touches briefly on the existence of a historical Jesus. You would think Ehrman might accept that some people disagree with him, just like he acknowledges scholars who hold a minority view on the pastorals. But alas. Scholars who disagree with Ehrman are simply incompetent, “He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence“.

    • says

      (And just to be clear, in this case I am not as persuaded as Ehrman that James is actually claiming to be by that James. I suspect it was not and was only passed off as such later. He now believes James is a forgery. I myself am not so sure.)

  10. snafu says

    Richard, can you answer a beginner’s question on this topic for me?

    I thought the “historicist” position was mainstream because the limited amount of eyewitness / primary material we have from the gospels/epistles *still* indicates that the most plausible explanation was that the man himself existed.

    Roughly: Paul makes first-person claims to have gone to Jerusalem and spoken to people who were disciples of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus (the man) probably existed, even if we can’t say much more about him.

    Disclaimer: go easy on me, I’m an atheist non-historian…not making any grand claims or wishing to enter into the main thrust of the debate. But genuinely interested in how these two sides are going to shape up. “Go buy my book” is a valid answer too (I may do so!).

    • says

      Yes, that is part of the argument historicity depends on. The full case amounts to this: (1) that Paul claims to have spoken to “disciples” of Jesus, knew his “brothers,” and mentions historical facts about him (like that he was born and died); (2) they also add a convoluted attempt to extract “reliable” information from the Gospels and Acts; (3) some also appeal to “extrabiblical” mentions as corroborating evidence; and finally (4) they claim no one would invent a crucified messiah, therefore Jesus must actually have been crucified (ergo, he actually existed).

      That’s basically their case in a nutshell. For some of the problems with it, see my recent article. But in a nutshell again: (1) Paul never once uses the word “disciple” and considers himself the equal of Peter et al. and repeatedly implies they were made apostles by having revelations of Jesus just like he did (never once does it ever appear to Paul they had any other contact with Jesus), what he means by “brothers of the Lord” is too ambiguous and problematic to make an argument of, and none of the “facts” Paul mentions about Jesus are unexpected on the myth theory (in which Jesus really is incarnated and dies…in outer space: see my review of Doherty); (2) the attempts to extract historical facts from the Gospels is not only fallacious, it is recognized as fallacious by every single expert who has examined and published studies on the methods used (I document this and detail the fallacies in Proving History); (3) all the extrabiblical evidence is either forged, obviously false, or not demonstrably independent of the Gospels; and (4) the claim that no one “would” invent a crucified messiah is false, and the claim that no one expected one is also false (see my article on the Dying Messiah).

  11. Sili says

    Thank you. I didn’t realise how young those traditions were.

    I’ll shut up now, and go listen to Dale Martin’s New Testament course on ItunesU. (Mark Goodacre suggested him. Any opinions?)

  12. says

    “The power of Jesus’ historical life challenges his followers by proving at least one human being could cooperate fully with God. And if one, why not others? If some, why not all?”

    I don’t mind Crossan’s reasoning. But surely, there are already many, many, many Christians who were and are cooperating fully with God? Do you need Jesus to be like him? Does a Buddhist need the Buddha to find enlightenment? No, all he needs is the wisdom. Buddha or not, people have been and will continue to be Buddha-like.

    “Everything we read about Jesus in the gospels conforms to the mythic hero,” Price says.

    Perhaps Price is referring to the Raglan scale. Here’s a thought: Bayes’ Theorem is the algorithm; the Raglan scale is the look-up table!

    The words of Jesus also offer proof that he actually existed, Evans says. A vivid personality practically bursts from the pages of the New Testament: He speaks in riddles, talks about camels squeezing through the eye of a needle, weeps openly and even loses his temper.

    If Jesus is indeed a non-historical person, it proves yet again that one can be moved and motivated by fiction. We are moved by poetry, nature, ideas… We don’t need concrete things to empower us. Am I wrong?

    • Mr. Moto says

      It seems obvious that Mr. Evans would find a lot to like in the focus of his research. That does not increase the probability that it is true. I can’t believe Mr. Evans would defend this logic if challenged.

  13. Emma Zunz says

    I am in the UK and Jesus-mythicism is really not known at all to the general public AFAIK. I do not recall ever seeing it in a newspaper or magazine or on TV. Intelligent people whom I mention it to know nothing about it.

    Sorry – I don’t know how to make this comment a reply in the thread above where it belongs.

    • says

      Sorry – I don’t know how to make this comment a reply in the thread above where it belongs.

      If you are referring to my remark about the Old World, I only wrote “far more accepted“, and in my post quoting Ehrman I made sure to write “the majority (according to Ehrman)“. My personal impression is that Ehrman has received a handful of letters from Sweden and have extrapolated them info the entire Kingdom of Scandinavia.

      If you take Ehrman’s statement literally, the pollsters would have had to ask something like “Do you agree that Jesus is a completely fabricated figure and that he was invented by a group of people intent on starting a new religion?“, in which case I would have answered “No”, since I believe the Jesus fable has evolved rather than being created by any particular group.

      There’s a page, which collects various statistics about the belief of Danes. According to this, “64% Danes regard Jesus as a great historic figure (28% no)“. Again the answers depend on what you ask. Did the 28% naysayers regard Jesus as a “not so great historic figure”? Or did they believe he never existed? To paraphrase Tom Lehrer: A survey is like a sewer; what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

      It also states that, “10% of the members of the National folk-church don’t believe that Jesus has existed“. Note: these 10% don’t include Infidels like me who left the Church as soon as I came of age, so you can’t compare the 28% with the 10%.

      The latter figure is sourced from Kristeligt Dagblad (The Christian Daily) and there is still, 12 years later, an article online about the joint Nordic poll (606 were polled in Denmark). The article confirms the figure “For instance one of out of ten members of the folk-church say that Jesus has never existed” and adds that “According to the survey, only 15 percent of the members of the folk-church express a faith in Jesus being God and human – There’s a lot of work to undertake for the church“.

  14. Elle says

    Dr. Carrier, just out of curiosity, are there other historians who think the currently used methodology in Jesus studies is inefficient? Who are they?

    • says

      Stanley Porter, Gerd Theissen, Dagmar Winter, Dale Allison, Hector Avalos, Morna Hooker, Mark Goodacre, Anthony Le Donne, Chris Keith, John Gager, Eugene Boring, H.W. Shin, and Rafael Rodriguez. That’s just the short list. I cite all the literature in Proving History.

  15. ORAXX says

    You cannot use the bible, or any other book, to prove itself. Take away the bible, and there is astonishingly little evidence Jesus ever existed. This begs the question, is this the way a divine being who willed the universe into existence would communicate? Only by extolling the virtue of faith can Christians attempt to compensate for the lack of evidence.

    • says

      But you can still use the bible as evidence for something, even things that contradict what the bible says. Just as we can use other hagiographies for other holy men (pagan and Christian). You just have to evaluate the evidence and see how probable it makes any conclusion, taking into account the nature of the material (e.g. that hagiographies tend to be among the least reliable of purportedly factual records). Yes, as evidence the bible is weak. But it’s a black-and-white fallacy to declare it 100% inaccurate simply because it is unreliable. There are other degrees of reliability besides 0% and 100%.

  16. Brian says

    Hi Richard, I’m reading Ehrman’s book at the moment and he seems to have a double standard. He states that no Jews expected a suffering Messiah before Christianity. How he knows this without written testimony of all Jews before that time is unknown, but he sees the error in this line of thinking in the next chapter when arguing against Salm’s claim that no Early Christian knew of or sought out Nazareth. Ehrman states ‘how would we know this about “every” early Christian, unless all of them left us writings and told us everything they knew and did?’ How does Ehrman know that there wasn’t a small group of Jews and Gentiles who did expect a suffering messiah and thus were receptive to the Jesus story? he dismisses your book, not the impossible faith. I have read te bit you wrote on Daniel, but I need to read it again, as I think Ehrman may have been selective in his presentation.
    But perhaps I’ve misunderstood the argument.

    He also seems to think there are seven sources in the Gospels that are independent. I don’t know how he can say that Q,L, M etc are independent, instead of a single document that was selectively quoted from or some other possibility. Seriously, I don’t know. I can’t read Koine or whatever it was written in, and don’t know the criteria for ejudicating such things. Yet he seems confident that these sources existed independently in author and geography.

    He places a lot of weight on the argument tat Paul converted a few years are the crucifiction and knew Peter and James, bro of JC, so knew JC was a real person.

    I don’t mind Ehrman’s book on the whole, and I think it does point out the errors in some mythicist arguments. And he’s certainly not writing an apology.

    I look forward to your review.

    • says

      There are many other inconsistencies in his use of rules of inference like that.

      I unfortunately might not be able to write my review until next week (so many other things intervening), but I have finished the book and am ready to write it up.

      I will likely make a blog or blog series out of it.

    • says

      If a suffering messiah was one of the expectations held by Jews in that time, why did authorities kill him when that would only have fueled speculation about his messianic status?

    • says

      First of all, they didn’t. (The execution of Jesus is probably mythical, and even if historical, was a Roman action, not a Jewish one. The depiction in the Gospels of Jewish complicity is highly dubious.)

      Secondly, even if they did (i.e. even if Jesus really existed and he really was executed at Jewish elite urging), we don’t know that they knew Jesus was marketing himself as that dying messiah. He was just one more pretender to the throne causing trouble (and in fact, assigning him to the role of the dying messiah may have been done by his followers after his death, to the surprise of the authorities); nor if they knew he was doing that, would they likely have known of every obscure sectarian view like this (as represented at Qumran), nor if they did would they likely believe his death would have any significant effect (since shutting him up could have mattered more than helping any obscure prophecy they didn’t believe in). And they would have been right about that. In the first century, Christianity failed in Judea. It only became successful outside of Judea, and only when it started changing its teachings and tactics, and even then it remained a tiny fringe cult of little interest to anyone for over a hundred years.

    • says

      Jewish complicity was a necessary ingredient for the Roman crucifixion because Jesus did not meet Roman criteria as an insurrectionist.

      There were many messianic pretenders during the hundred years before and after Christ. Authorities knew that the one sure way to stop their respective movements was to kill messianic candidate. That worked in all cases but one.

      What we call Christianity was quite successful in Judea during the 30’s and 40’s. Had it not been, it could not have been successful anywhere else. Judea is where all the witnesses were.

    • says

      Mike Gantt:

      Jewish complicity was a necessary ingredient for the Roman crucifixion because Jesus did not meet Roman criteria as an insurrectionist.

      (a) What were those criteria? And what ancient source are you getting those criteria from?

      (b) How do you know Jesus didn’t meet those criteria? Your only source is the Gospels…which aren’t likely going to tell you if there was any actual evidence of Jesus’ crimes.

      What we call Christianity was quite successful in Judea during the 30′s and 40′s. Had it not been, it could not have been successful anywhere else. Judea is where all the witnesses were.

      Neither is true. No success in Judea was needed for success outside Judea. And there is no real evidence of any significant success in Judea in the 30s and 40s. I document and discuss all the evidence and scholarship on this point in chapter 18 of Not the Impossible Faith (also relevant to the question are chapters 7 and 13).

    • says

      Richard, for you to be so dismissive of Judean success for the gospel you must be giving short shrift to the seven letters of Paul which are considered genuine by practically all of biblical scholarship. Those letters testify implicitly in multiple ways of the rooting of the gospel in Judea in the years roughly 30-50 CE.

      I may yet read your book but I am going to need more evidence from your blog that it is worth the time to do so.

      The other stumbling block for me is what you mentioned about your published books being arguments against the historicity of the resurrection and the current book you’re writing being against the historicity of Jesus altogether. It seems a moot point to engage an argument against the resurrection if Jesus never existed in the first place (i.e. if he never lived, he certainly could die and be raised). Life’s too short to spend time on moot points.

    • says

      Mike Gantt:

      Richard, for you to be so dismissive of Judean success for the gospel you must be giving short shrift to the seven letters of Paul which are considered genuine by practically all of biblical scholarship.

      None of those letters is written to anyone in Judea, and they all demonstrate that Christianity had far more success in the diaspora. As Acts likewise reports. That there were Christians in Judea is not the issue. Judea simply didn’t become Christian, nor did any churches there become significant players in the second century. Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome all became the power centers of the religion instead. And the original Judean church (of Peter and James) died out (that was the Torah observant church that recruited Jews). The only version of Christianity to experience significant numerical success was its Gentile mission, not its Jewish mission. The numbers bear this out. As I document in Not the Impossible Faith, chapter 18.

    • says

      Richard, you make a number of comments in your response that are true and relevant. Unfortunately, the points which are true are irrelevant, and the one that is relevant is not true.

      My point was that Paul’s “genuine” letters implicitly testify of Judean success with the gospel 30-50 CE (e.g. Aramaic expressions in Paul’s letters without explanation, references to Jerusalem in Gal 1-2, references to Judea in 1 Thess 2, etc.). What happened subsequently in Judea is irrelevant to that point.

    • says

      Hallquist has been taken in by some of Ehrman’s dubious claims and arguments. When/if he reads Proving History he might rethink his evaluation of Ehrman somewhat. But I will be pointing out some things more directly in my review next week.

  17. ABC says

    Dr. Carrier, have you heard the news? Apparently, Bart Ehrman farmed out the research for his Did Jesus Exist book to his graduate students. He had them read the various Jesus mythicist books and summarize them for him. He didn’t actually read the books himself.

    This would explain why his new book is such a “hack job”, in Robert Price’s words.

  18. John says

    In his April 16th “The Bible Geek” podcast, Robert M Price says it has come out that Bart Ehrman never even read through any of the mythicist books he talks about in “Did Jesus Exist.” Ehrman just had his graduate students read them and report to Bart about what sections he should look at.

    • says

      I don’t think that’s right. However, your blog software has stripped our most recent exchange from the string of which it was a part so I cannot easily look back and find the connection.

    • says

      I see. You lost track of what you were talking about and are too lazy to go back and find out. That pretty much concludes our conversation, don’t you think?

    • says

      I think concluding this conversation is a good idea, but not for the reason you suggest.

      By the way, I was able to trace the thread all the way back and find out that indeed you are wrong about my point being moot.

      It was the success of the Christ movement in Judea that caused Paul to persecute it. The torch of his faith, as exhibited in his letters, was lit from the torch that burned in Judea. Paul’s return to Jerusalem, described in Gal 2, is evidence of Judea’s continuing influence on Paul’s churches. And the collection for the saints, referred to in 2 Corinthians testifies to the ongoing relationship among these geographically-dispersed believers.

      You are trying to interpret Paul’s letters apart from their proper context.