Episode 130: How Jesus Became God with guest Bart D. Ehrman


643How did Jesus, an apocalyptic prophet from Galilee, come to be regarded as a God by his followers? Bart D. Ehrman (Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) joins us on the show to discuss his new book How Jesus Became God, which traces the historical evolution of early Christian thought about the nature and identity of Jesus.

If you enjoyed this interview please consider donating to Reasonable Doubts to help cover our costs. Also be sure to check out Bart Ehrman’s excellent blog on New Testament studies.

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Comments

  1. Kurt Lewis Helf says

    What do you know? My exhortation regarding getting another ‘cast done worked! So, thanks for this one and get to work on the next one!

  2. Jeff Beauchamp says

    Although I think that Bart Ehrman has done some good scholarly work on the bible there are a few things about him that really makes me face palm sometimes. First and foremost is Ehrman’s constant referral to Jesus as a historical figure as if there is any evidence to make such a claim. . In my opinion Dr. Robert M. Price (who should have been a guest on this show already) makes an airtight case for the Christ Myth Theory (“The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems”; American Atheist Press; 2011) as does Earl Doherty (“Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, The Case for a Mythical Jesus”; Age Of Reason Publications; 2009). Ehrman, in his own book and elsewhere (e.g.: The Infidel Guy podcast) disparages Price and Doherty, not by a refutation of the points mades in their books but by an offhanded dismissal by way of appeals to consensus and authority. (“No serious scholar accepts that! [the Christ Myth Theory]!”. What i find amazing is that few, if any, podcast interviewers let him get away with that. (Another recent example is the American Freethought podcast #200.) Before you can talk about a historical Jesus you first have to establish that there was one and as of yet there is no extra-biblical evidence that the Jesus of the Bible existed. Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence but still, no evidence is no evidence. The best anyone can do is be agnostic and say that we don’t know.

  3. skepticismfirst says

    Jeff Beauchamp said:

    First and foremost is Ehrman’s constant referral to Jesus as a historical figure as if there is any evidence to make such a claim.

    Well, let’s see here. Since the vast majority of scholars with the relevant expertise agree with Ehrman, such a referral is more than warranted. Scholars don’t really need to lay out all the evidence for widely accepted theories in their fields every time they mention them.

    In my opinion Dr. Robert M. Price (who should have been a guest on this show already) makes an airtight case for the Christ Myth Theory (“The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems”; American Atheist Press; 2011) as does Earl Doherty (“Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, The Case for a Mythical Jesus”; Age Of Reason Publications; 2009).

    If these cases are not just strong, not just convincing, but *airtight*, why isn’t mythicism the consensus view? (Don’t bother mentioning the notion that most of these scholars are biased by prior religious commitments – it’s even the consensus among non-Christians; that needs explaining).

    Ehrman, in his own book and elsewhere (e.g.: The Infidel Guy podcast) disparages Price and Doherty, not by a refutation of the points mades in their books but by an offhanded dismissal by way of appeals to consensus and authority. (“No serious scholar accepts that! [the Christ Myth Theory]!”.

    This isn’t a dismissal, and it’s definitely not disparaging – it’s an argument, and a strong one at that. Appeals to authority are not fallacious when the authority in question is a relevant expert on the subject matter, and the vast majority of other experts agree (note that this sort of argument is exactly why layman fans of science accept many consensus scientific views, given that no one has time to personally examine the evidence for everything. They’re justified in doing so.)

    Before you can talk about a historical Jesus you first have to establish that there was one and as of yet there is no extra-biblical evidence that the Jesus of the Bible existed.

    It has been established, and the majority of scholars have been convinced. It’s actually mythicists who have the job of arguing against the well-established consensus. Majority views are the default for laymen. If you don’t agree with consensus, you need a very good reason.

    As for ‘extra-biblical evidence’, this seems to be a common mistake that many mythicists make – it doesn’t need to be extra-biblical. Like it or not, the Bible *is* a historical source, insofar as it’s an ancient text written in the first century, and it gives us some insight into the culture and history of the time. You can’t just knock such a text off the table by fiat because many people also take it to be a religious text.

  4. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @skepticismfirst:

    it’s even the consensus among non-Christians

    Carrier has argued that secular biblical scholars sometimes take the interpretation, or even existence, of certain passages for granted – an artifact of past dogma-influenced consensus. He’s had to remind other scholars to look for a verse they were citing, when it did not exist in the texts.
     

    If you don’t agree with consensus, you need a very good reason.

    Carrier’s book “Proving History” is specifically about faults in historians’ traditional criteria for historicity, and how their methodology can be improved.
     

    why isn’t mythicism the consensus view?

    There have been lousy mythicist theories, which were rightly panned. Any new mythicist theories need to overcome the stigma of past crackpots to be examined and taken seriously. Carrier has spoken with a few other scholars who are privately sympathetic to the position, but are weary of being tarred by their peers.
     

    It has been established, and the majority of scholars have been convinced. It’s actually mythicists who have the job of arguing

    Yes.
    Actually there are two separate but related arguments: that the consensus case for historicity is untenable, and defending a some specific proposal for mythical origins.
     

    Since the vast majority of scholars with the relevant expertise agree with Ehrman, such a referral is more than warranted. Scholars don’t really need to lay out all the evidence for widely accepted theories in their fields every time they mention them.

    See the links below.
     
    Article: Richard Carrier – Ehrman on Historicity Recap

    This is a summary of the current state of the debate after the mini blog war between myself and Bart Ehrman over his latest book, Did Jesus Exist?, which attempted to argue against various scholars (both legitimate and crank) who have concluded, or at least suspect, that Jesus never really existed, but was an invention in myth, like Moses or King Arthur or Ned Ludd.

    Article: Richard Carrier – On Bart Ehrman Being Pot Committed

  5. says

    @4. skepticismfirst

    As for ‘extra-biblical evidence’, this seems to be a common mistake that many mythicists make – it doesn’t need to be extra-biblical. Like it or not, the Bible *is* a historical source, insofar as it’s an ancient text written in the first century, and it gives us some insight into the culture and history of the time. You can’t just knock such a text off the table by fiat because many people also take it to be a religious text.

    If the Bible is being used to establish an external claim… sure… but if the Bible itself is what’s making the claim, it can’t be used as it’s own evidence. That’d be circular.

    Even within this interview, the claims in the Bible were vetted against external knowledge about how the Romans did things.

    That’s what the skeptics are asking for – external independent corroboration of the claims the Bible makes.

  6. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Carrier wrote a comment specifically about the consensus.

    When you hear references to consensus […] you are seeing either bullshit (e.g. William Lane Craig will sometimes say a consensus exists when none does) or cognitive error (one interprets “the books/scholars I’ve read lately” with “the whole scholarly community”) or a reflection of intuitive polling of personal background knowledge from extensive literature surveys, which are how one normally researches and learns things at the postdoctoral level.
     
    Only that last is reliable.
    […]
    when I did my literature survey on the criteria-based methodology of Jesus studies, I consistently found dissent, not affirmation. The only scholars who affirm and use the methods are those who never examine their merits; whereas all the literature dedicated specifically to examining their merits concluded in the negative. So here we have a consensus (“most scholars think the methods are valid”) that is itself invalidated by the actual expert consensus (a uniform agreement among all method-testing specialists who have studied the validity of those methods).

  7. Dana Zikas says

    I have been convinced of the mythicist position. I know that Ehrman continues to be a favorite of the secular/atheist conferences, but I’m not sure why. He has been exposed by Carrier, Price, Zindler, Doherty, et al for his sloppy scholarship in recent work. As well as dissembling and some outright lies in correspondence with Carrier and Zindler. These exchanges have been made available online and I encourage you to check out the controversies.
    Ehrman, in my view, has been exposed as dishonest and unreliable.

  8. Jeff Beauchamp says

    I don’t care if the vast majority of scholars with the relevant expertise agree with Ehrman or not. The majority consensus may be a good starting point when considering the validity of a proposition but that consideration shouldn’t end there. The same goes for authority. Propositions need to stand or fall on their own merits. Simply because there is a consensus and someone in authority accepts that view is no validation of any claim. The majority consensus of scholars with relevant expertise and who spoke with authority once held that the Sun revolved around the Earth and I’ll bet that the majority of non-religious scholars of the time held that view too; religiously biased or not they were both wrong. Appeals to consensus and authority are virtually irrelevant.

    Why isn’t the Christ Myth Theory (CMT) the consensus view? The implication of the question seems to be that the theory is invalid therefore it is the minority view. That may be so but the opposite could also be true and still the Theory might not gain standing as the majority consensus. (Heliocentrism took a while to be accepted too.) There could be a lot of reasons why the CMT is not the majority view. Despite condescending admonitions not to “bother mentioning the notion that most of these scholars are biased by prior religious commitments – it’s even the consensus among non-Christians” I will nevertheless suggest that just one reason among many possible reasons might be that one does not have to be a card carrying Christian to toe the party line for reasons of self-interest, especially in academia. (see: “The End Of Biblical Studies”; Hector Avalos; Prometheus Books; 2007)

    And while on the subject I would really like to know how anybody knows what the consensus view is. Did somebody take a poll or a survey or are these claims to know what the consensus is just conjecture? I suspect the latter.

    How, I wonder, could anybody say that Ehrman’s appearance on Reggie Findlay’s Infidel Guy Show was merely argumentative? Ehrman clearly says: “I don’t think there’s any serious historian who doubts the existence of Jesus. There are a lot of people who want to write sensational books and make a lot of money who will say that Jesus didn’t exist but I don’t know any serious scholar who doubts the existence of Jesus.” Really? I wonder if scholars like Earl Doherty, Robert Price and Richard Carrier would describe their work as being anything other than serious. I wonder if they would say that Ehrman was being dismissive and disparaging or would they say that he was just being strongly argumentative? Especially as Ehrman says nothing at all about their actual work in the podcast or mischaracterizes it like he did in his book. The idea that Ehrman is being anything but dishonest and dismissive is enough to make a cat laugh. Later, when Ehrman puts forth that the existence of Jesus is attested to by the Apostle Paul, Reggie counters that there are some scholars who doubt that Paul actually wrote the epistles attributed to him and some doubt a historical Paul. Ehrman counters with the statement that he “doesn’t know any serious historian who doubts that Paul wrote Galatians”. There we go again, if you don’t agree with Ehrman you’re not a serious scholar. He continues: “….you know, I’ve spent 30 years looking at – this is what I do for a living so this isn’t just some kind of off the cuff comment. I’ve been examining this for 30 years, reading this stuff in the original languages so it’s not like some crazy person who just wants to make money on a book…..” and “Everybody who looks at this thing seriously…. There’s nobody who doubts this.” Ah, so now not only are people who disagree with him not serious but they’re crazy too and just looking to get rich I guess. Ehrman then challenges Reggie to name one New Testament scholar that doesn’t think Paul wrote Galatians. Reggie asks Ehrman what he thinks of Dr. Bob Price. Ehrman says he doesn’t know him but then asks if he’s “the guy who denies Jesus existed” like Price is the only one. Reggie says that’s pretty much the case and then Ehrman asks why he should know him. What books has he published? Reggie with the help of the chatroom rattles off the names of some of Price’s books and then Ehrman seems to know who Price is. Reggie mentions that Price has a double doctorate [one in New Testament and one in Systematic Theology] so there are some people who have been researching longer than Ehrman has and that he (Reggie) thinks that Price is a professor at – and then suddenly the Ehrman that had to be reminded of who Price is now forcefully cuts Reggie off to state emphatically that Price doesn’t have a teaching job – three times. I think this is very telling. I guess for Ehrman, it doesn’t matter what your arguments are, your scholarship is suspect if you don’t have a teaching job. Nice. So there you have it, for Ehrman its okay to appeal to authority as long as that authority agrees with him and then everyone else is just a loony who just wants to make a lot of money selling books full of nonsense.

    And this goes to my greater point about how most interviewers (Mr. Findlay being an admirable exception) seem to give Ehrman a kind of deferential treatment that he doesn’t deserve. Putting aside whether one agrees or disagrees on the historicity debate, just the fact that Ehrman goes unchallenged most of the time, especially on his blatant appeals to authority and consensus should be worrisome to those who seek to reap the benefits of an honest and accurate discussion of the issues.
    The argument that it’s proper to use the bible as evidence for a historical Jesus is plainly circular. That is why extra-biblical evidence is required. No one is knocking biblical evidence off the table by fiat because some people take it as a religious text. To suggest that diligent scholars are not accepting biblical evidence for that reason betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the historical method and also patronizingly ascribes motives to people that they don’t actually have.

    Thanks to Sky Captain for the links to the Richard Carrier stuff. It has prompted me to become more familiar with his work.

    I agree with Dana Zikas that Ehrman has been exposed as dishonest and unreliable.

    I think Robert Price nailed it when he said that Ehrman seems to be an apologist for a faith he claims he no longer holds.

  9. Ed Atkinson says

    Concerning the material Bart did cover, I was impressed. The part I would want to hear more on was the 20 year period for the change in understanding on who Jesus was. It seems a very short time for the Messianic preacher to ‘become’ divine. Does anyone have thoughts on this?

  10. BluePrint says

    I am very surprised to hear that god became man even in the Hebrew bible.
    I would love to know how Ehrman squers this with (or dismisses) previous verses, where god (the Hebrew word is a plural) creates man in his/their image. Which I understand to mean that god(s) was/were a humanoid to begin with. Especially when only later books refer to him/them as incorporial, but in the early books only as hidden/unwatchable in his/their ”true form”, and not specifically incorporial.

  11. weatherwax says

    #2 Jeff Beauchamp: “my opinion Dr. Robert M. Price (who should have been a guest on this show already) makes an airtight case for the Christ Myth Theory”

    Dr Price has been on the show, way back in episode 53, The Disunity of the Bible part2, and yes that’s much too long ago and he needs to be on again.

    Though I think he’d quibble about your statement on “an airtight case for the Christ Myth Theory”. He’s too humble for that.

  12. kaled says

    @BluePrint #11

    I am very surprised to hear that god became man even in the Hebrew bible.

    The thing is that God never become a man nor something in his image. Actually what had happened when Jesus Christ was allegedly and supposedly crucified was that he was never been crucified nor been killed, the lost truth at that time was that he was actually been lifted up in to the heavens and he is now materially in the heavens, but there were noway to now if the one who has been crucified was Jesus Christ or not because the victim was exactly the copy of Jesus Christ.

    That being said, Christians were blameless of wrongly conceiving that Jesus Christ has been crucified and murdered, but after the revelation of the last version of God’s word (What i would call the third and the last testament) they are fully blameworthy its almost 80% to 90% conformation of both the old testament and the original new testament and the knew that but they are stubbornly sticking with the bible which they manipulated so many times and the maid the whole holly book worth a piece of trash.

    where god (the Hebrew word is a plural) creates man in his/their image. Which I understand to mean that god(s) was/were a humanoid to begin with. Especially when only later books refer to him/them as incorporial, but in the early books only as hidden/unwatchable in his/their ”true form”, and not specifically incorporial.

    This is much more ridiculous then any imaginable myth, Nope he isn’t/wasn’t and never will be a human image creature nor he was never been like human or even close to the human design, he never had a son nor a wife neither something like that, he always existed and now exists and for ever he will exists infinitely, he use to stay in somewhere above the throne which he haves something like a chair to stay upon it, the whole universes and everything that exists is under his throne and chair, the throne is incredibly and unimaginably gigantic, he creates everything, he created the universe through the big bag phenomenon and he said in the Quran in the 7th century that:

    “…..We have constructed the universe with might and Verily, we its We who are expanding it.”(Quran 51:47)

    It was only in the 20th century when astronomers found empirically that the universe is actually accelerating in its expanding speed and why? no one knows why the universe is expanding up to now.!

  13. kaled says

    @BluePrint #11

    I am very surprised to hear that god became man even in the Hebrew bible.

    The thing is that God never become a man nor something in his image. Actually what had happened when Jesus Christ was allegedly and supposedly crucified was that he was never been crucified nor been killed, the lost truth at that time was that he was actually been lifted up in to the heavens and he is now materially in the heavens, but there were noway to know if the one who has been crucified was Jesus Christ or not because the victim was exactly the copy of Jesus Christ.

    That being said, Christians were blameless of wrongly conceiving that Jesus Christ has been crucified and murdered, but after the revelation of the last version of God’s word (What i would call the third and the last testament) they are fully blameworthy its almost 80% to 90% conformation of both the old testament and the original new testament and the knew that but they are stubbornly sticking with the bible which they manipulated so many times and the maid the whole holly book worth a piece of trash.

    where god (the Hebrew word is a plural) creates man in his/their image. Which I understand to mean that god(s) was/were a humanoid to begin with. Especially when only later books refer to him/them as incorporial, but in the early books only as hidden/unwatchable in his/their ”true form”, and not specifically incorporial.

    This is much more ridiculous then any imaginable myth, Nope he isn’t/wasn’t and never will be a human image creature nor he was never been like human or even close to the human design, he never had a son nor a wife neither something like that, he always existed and now exists and for ever he will exists infinitely, he use to stay in somewhere above the throne which he haves something like a chair to stay upon it, the whole universes and everything that exists is under his throne and chair, the throne is incredibly and unimaginably gigantic, he creates everything, he created the universe through the big bag phenomenon and he said in the Quran in the 7th century that:

    “…..We have constructed the universe with might and Verily, we its We who are expanding it.”(Quran 51:47)

    It was only in the 20th century when astronomers found empirically that the universe is actually accelerating in its expanding speed and why? no one knows why the universe is expanding up to now.!

  14. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @kaled:

    It was only in the 20th century when astronomers found empirically that the universe is actually accelerating

    Article: RationalWiki – Quranic scientific foreknowledge

  15. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Ed Atkinson:

    The part I would want to hear more on was the 20 year period for the change in understanding on who Jesus was. It seems a very short time for the Messianic preacher to ‘become’ divine. Does anyone have thoughts on this?

    You may find this interesting.
     
    Article: Wikipedia – Chabad messianism, Comparisons with early Christianity

    Lubavitchers held that the Rebbe [(their leader, buried in 1994)] was more powerful in the spiritual realm without the hindrance of a physical body. However some have now claimed that he never died. Several even state that the Rebbe is God.

     
    Article: Simon Dein – What Really Happens When Prophecy Fails: The Case of Lubavitch
    (link is a pdf, with a bit of highlighting)

  16. Ed Atkinson says

    Thanks Sky Captain. This is new to me and fascinating. It certainly helps in my question.

    Has Bart ever refered to this material? Or have you heard it used in a debate where the obvious parallels with Jesus can be made and perhaps challenged ?

  17. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Ed Atkinson:

    Has Bart ever referred to this material? Or have you heard it used in a debate where the obvious parallels with Jesus can be made and perhaps challenged?

    I only stumbled across Lubavitch while looking up reactions to dissonance, like what believers do the day after doomsday.
     
    I think only Christian apologists would argue that there wasn’t enough time for tales of an itinerant rabbi to accumulate super powers and become tales of a god incarnate. Christians respond to similarities in other cults of personality with feeble hand-waving.
     
     
    The telephone game quickly adds embellishments and can give stories a life of their own
     
    Article: Wikipedia – Kuchisake-onna

    “Slit-Mouthed Woman” is a figure appearing in Japanese urban legends. She is a woman who was mutilated by her husband, and returns as a malicious spirit. When rumors of alleged sightings began spreading in 1979 around the Nagasaki Prefecture, it spread throughout Japan and caused panic in many towns. There are even reports of schools allowing children to go home only in groups escorted by teachers for safety, and of police increasing their patrols.
     
    According to the legend, children walking alone at night may encounter a woman wearing a surgical mask […] The woman will stop the child and ask, “Am I pretty?” [dun dun dunnn]

  18. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Ed Atkinson:
    Here’s a little more on mythologizing and cultural memory…
     
    Audio: BackStory Podcast – Columbus in American Memory (52:02)

  19. says

    Jeff (2nd post) makes a good point. Religion is a con, and we continue to fall into the traps set. For 25 years I considered Jesus to be an insignificant healer/preacher who the Romans used as the basis for a religion. Only in the last 2 years have I accepted that no person fitting the description of the bloke later called Jesus ever existed. This despite all the evidence I have come across over the years. Why did it take me so long ? I’m not that good a historian !! It’s hard to believe there was no Jesus but we seem to just accept that there was. Why? So many people like Bart Ehrman do so much to question religion and specifically Christianity. Yet even these erudite souls seem to accept the historicity of Jesus and events in his life. What evidence is there that the Jesus figure was a real person ? None, but don’t take my word for it just start looking at it from a different angle and safe yourself years of pointless discussions about a fictitious person and his fictitious family.

  20. BlairT says

    Re: skepticismfirst:”It has been established, and the majority of scholars have been convinced. It’s actually mythicists who have the job of arguing against the well-established consensus. Majority views are the default for laymen. If you don’t agree with consensus, you need a very good reason.”

    In general, this is a good heuristic. The problem in this case is that the consensus is not “well-established.” It is obviously weak. It is also unlikely that the majority of scholars who hold the historicity position have actually thought closely about it or even questioned it. You need to rely on expert consensus where the quality and quantity of evidence requires a depth of knowledge and experience. In the case of Jesus, there are zero contemporary sources – not a single person who may have seen him wrote anything down about him, and there are no writings attributed to him and there is no physical evidence that he existed. It is certainly possible that the stories about Jesus actually are inspired by a person who really lived, but there the evidence for this is weak. If a scholar denies this point, then they are undermining their credibility.

  21. Ed Atkinson says

    Dear Sky Captain, (posts 19 & 20) I’ve now listened to the BackStory Podcast. This is all fascinating stuff and you seem to have done some work. If you’d like an outlet where you can be interviewed for an atheist podcast to expand on your research, then I can try to put you together with the hosts. I’m a fan of their show as well as being a fan of Reasonable Doubts and they have been kind enough to interview me. Cheers, Ed

  22. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Ed Atkinson:
    I’ve dreaded the day someone might offer an extemporaneous dialogue. I can’t imagine what I’d be interviewed about. In someone’s blog, I can nucleate on the topic at hand, sift through a broad but shallow familiarity with [sciences, history, mythology, philosophy, crankery, etc], and post edifying links to where I got that familiarity. Most of my comments at FtB are like that.
     
    I’m just a software engineer who’s adept at harvesting information from the net and listens to lots of podcasts. Then again maybe it’s imposter syndrome. : P

  23. busterggi says

    Whole lot of presuppositionalizing going on with Ehrman. I like most of his stuff but he seems to be slowly reconverting.

  24. darth mollusk says

    I realize this is off topic – but I require a little help from someone with a better memory than mine. On a previous episode there was a book recommended – Greek mythology focusing on strong female characters. If you can remember the title (or even the episode it was mentioned) it would be appreciated.

    Cheers

  25. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @darth mollusk:

    On a previous episode there was a book recommended – Greek mythology focusing on strong female characters. If you can remember the title (or even the episode it was mentioned) it would be appreciated.

     
    “From Girl to Goddess: the Heroine’s Journey Through Myth and Legend”
    by Valerie Estelle Frankel
     
    Audio: ReasonableDoubts – 129 Find a New Hobby, Lobby (mentioned at 1:10:18)

    “It takes myths and legends from all over the world, gives succinct and compelling retellings of them, and offers an analysis of what those myths meant: both to their cultures of origin and what they mean to us.”

  26. gshelley says

    I haven’t listened yet. Previously, I have enjoyed a lot of his books, but his book about the historical Jesus was terrible. Richard Carrier here listed some of the flaws, but pretty much everyone he criticised has their own response, generally pointing out he either totally misinterpreted them, or just claimed they said things they did not. Throughout it, he seemed to be assuming that there was a Historical Jesus and all his arguments were informed by this (such as the argument that we can trace the gospels back to oral traditions that originated around the time of Jesus. Of course, we can only do this if there was a Jesus, and in his book, he not only failed to show that the oral traditions originated then, he didn’t even make much of an effort to show there were any earlier traditions, other than to say that although he accepted much of Mark was composed based off earlier Old Testament stories, there were plenty of elements where he found the parallels unconvincing, so those must have been evidence of a historical Jesus).
    If this book is better, it could still be worth reading, but I am wary

  27. says

    Hello fellow Doubters:

    This debate over the historicity of Jesus is fascinating, and a lot of food for thought. Not to pooh-pooh the whole argument, but in the end, we’re so far removed from first century Palestine and its spotty records that we’ll never really know if there really was a Jesus. For the sake of argument, let’s say Jesus did exist. The most plausible scenario is that he was some wandering Jewish preacher, probably of some apocalyptic sect such as the Essenes. But even if we found solid archaeological evidence of this preacher, his story has been so embellished and theologized that the debate of whether this Jesus fella existed or not is practically besides the point. Yes, I understand Christianity is totally founded upon Jesus’s historical existence, but unless someone invents a time machine, we’ll never know for certain. And so what? If we did build a time machine and located Jesus, we’ll just find an ordinary man that conforms to the laws of physics and biology like the rest of us. I, Baron Groznik, certainly exist, but if a hundred years from now people are telling stories about how I walked on water and rose from the dead, I might as well be a fictional character.

    What I find far more instructive is HOW Christianity came about; that is, Christology and all its origins. By coincidence (or Divine Intervention? nyuk nyuk), right before this podcast was uploaded, I watched an outstanding documentary that totally dovetails with this topic. It’s PBS Frontline: From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. It’s a fascinating historical tour of who Jesus may have been, but more importantly, how the early Christian sects came about, and how the Bible was compiled. The part that blew me away (and a point I never gave much thought to before) is how the early Christians gradually divorced themselves of their Jewish identity, and even became hostile to the Jews. Indeed, the Bible is sprinkled with subtle bits of what could be construed as Anti-semitism, or at least outright hostility to other Jewish sects. (the most famous one being Jesus’s tirade against Scribes and Pharisees, but there are many others).

    Here’s my final point…or rather my final muse and speculation. You simply aren’t going to convince a Christian that Jesus didn’t exist, no matter how much evidence you throw at him. However, giving a person a tour of the early Church and the evolution of Christology, I think, would given even the most hardcore fundamentalist pause to scratch their chin. I think we should focus on how the devil this whole Church business came about rather than if Jesus existed or not. Because I think we’re all in agreement that water-walking, resurrected Jesus is a fictional character, regardless if Jesus the human preacher existed or not.

  28. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Baron Groznik:

    You simply aren’t going to convince a Christian that Jesus didn’t exist, no matter how much evidence you throw at him.

    This back and forth among scholars is not meant for fundies. Even the uncontroversial stuff would be blasphemy in their ears.
     

    I think we should focus on how the devil this whole Church business came about rather than if Jesus existed or not.

    Ehh. The church is a better target than the preacher, but think of the other end of the chart: all the competing branches in modern times, and their heavily-documented histories of theological dispute and forking. It all gets lumped together into “generic-Christians with minor quibbles” or “corrupt cult of misguided heretics”. Try even getting them to acknowledge that competing sects have legitimate disagreements today.

  29. says

    Hi Sky Captain:

    You make several fair points. I agree with your point say that this “back and forth among scholars” would make a fundy fume from the blasphemy, but whether it’s “meant” for them or not is for the fundy to determine, not us. This is an apologetics podcast and topic, so it should be open to anyone who stumbles in here. Yes, pearls before swine, but let the swine figure out if they want to remain swine.

    To clarify, when I say “this whole church business”, I meant the early Christian church at its very inception. That’s what fascinates me more than if Jesus existed or not. Don’t get me wrong–Jesus’s existence is a very important consideration, but I would submit that the birth and evolution of the early Church is more relevant to us, and to apologetics in general. To take the other side of the argument, let’s say Mark or Q or whoever made up Jesus whole cloth out their imagination and cobbled-together mythos from other traditions. That still doesn’t explain how Christianity, from its extremely humble beginnings, became such a powerful, pervasive force in the world. What I want to know is how this virus mutated and spread. I think if we fully understand that…the political, sociological and psychological forces that led to Christianity to become such a dominant frame of reference in the world, then we can fully understand this darn thing, far more than if we prove conclusively if Jesus existed or not. What I’m saying is that I want to find Christian Patient Zero, which I know is as elusive and impossible as finding the Historical Jesus. More realistically, I’m intrigued by the different versions of Jesus as envisioned by the early Christians. Heck, like you did for Darth Mollusk, feel free to throw me any titles that would address this shadowy part of history, before Good Emperor Constantine created the Consensus Reality we now all endure.

  30. OldEd says

    “Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence but still, no evidence is no evidence. The best anyone can do is be agnostic and say that we don’t know.”
    .
    Of course, that statement is nonsense. For example:
    I am told by a stranger that up until a day ago he “had a dozen circus elephants pastured in your 10 acre pasture – the one behind his barn. They were there for two weeks.”
    .
    I ask to see the pasture. The person agrees to direct me there. When we arrive – after a half-hour trip in my car – I see a ten-acre pasture, behind a barn, which the person insists is the pasture in question.
    .
    What I see is a pasture with tall grass: untrammeled, uneaten, in pristine shape. I see a small brook running through it with the banks also pristine: no footprints, no wallows, not a single disturbance of the gravel bottom. I see some old apple trees bearing fruit: again, no sign of any disturbance: fallen apples on the ground, yes, but no footprints other than the ones you and I make as we wander around your pasturage.
    .
    Strangely enough I also don’t see piles of elephant dung: heaps of round or roundish balls of dung, suitable for a pair of dung beetles to roll off to serve as an incubator for their eggs.
    .
    Yet the person insists that just yesterday there were 10 full size female Indian elephants grazing there, and they had been there for two weeks in the middle of the hottest August on record.
    .
    Am I justified in saying I am being lied to? Or at least the person is suffering from a delusion?
    .
    I believe that you would say that I was so justified.
    .
    The reason why? It’s very simple: if things were as claimed, that 10 elephants had been grazing there for two weeks, I would expect to see the grass eaten, the banks of the stream broken down, one or more mud wallows created by the elephants, the apples eaten, both the ones on the ground and the ones on the trees, and quite possibly the trees themselves damaged by the elephants rubbing against them, which would certainly cause the fruit to be dislodged by the vibration of the tree, limbs broken off, and possibly one or more trees pushed over.
    .
    Furthermore there would be footprints all over the place, especially in damp soil.
    .
    In other words, THE COMPLETE ABSENCE EVIDENCE WHICH SHOULD BE THERE IF WHAT IS CLAIMED IS TRUE, is more than sufficient to completely reject the claim.
    .
    I don’t need to do more than a cursory examination of the field: the evidence of elephants should be visible at a considerable distance from the fence, in the case of the damage to the trees, and the lack of mud wallows and stream damage. The lack of any trace of large herbivores browsing on the grass is also a dead giveaway.
    .
    I most particularly don’t need to do a square centimeter by square centimeter examination of the field. It is obvious that I am being lied to and I need no other proof.
    .
    It is the same way with the “evidence” for Jesus being an historical figure who was crucified by the Romans for what amounts to a religious difference between the Jewish Establishment and an upstart rabbi.
    .
    Under Roman rule, crucifixion was limited to crimes against the state: revolution, in other words. A local governor who rebelled against the rule of Rome would be crucified, if he should survive his capture. The Romans regarded religious differences as only to be expected, and would intervene only in the case of the “debate” causing a public disturbance, and then only to suppress the rioters, such as happened when the Jews of Alexandria caused an uproar over the Greeks lack of observance of Jewish holidays.
    .
    Yes, the Jews did cause trouble for the Romans: they refused to allow a statue of a Roman emperor-turned-god in their temples. Bothersome, but the Romans could live with that. So what? far from the local governor washing his hands of the matter, it wouldn’t have gotten past the desk sergeant (or equivalent) of the local precinct.
    .
    If it had the desk sergeant would have gotten a good reaming by his superiors.
    .
    This is only one of the “little problems” with the argument(s) for the historicity of Jesus.
    His supposed birth occurs at a time which never happened – the required overlap just didn’t occur. One man was dead before the other assumed office…
    .
    That makes it rather tough to be born in the overlap.
    .
    The supposed census not only never occurred, but the conditions make absolutely no sense whatsoever, for any conceivable purpose.
    .
    The supposed betrayer – Judas – is said to have died in two, mutually exclusive, ways.
    .
    The “burial and resurrection” story is full of holes, yet adherents read the various tales – containing the contradictions – out loud and stroll right past them without comment.
    .
    If one does comment about the differences – as I did, in Sunday School at the age of seven or so – one is hushed up: “the Bible says thus it must be true”. If one persists one is literally expelled from Sunday School and is made fun of to one’s peers.
    .
    The supposed arguments for “the historicity of Jesus” are not serious arguments – they are simply bald-faced examples of the lack of any real critical thinking ability on the part of those who advocate them.
    .
    As far as the rest of the nonsense goes, ask the Israeli archeological community. Far from finding the “title deeds to Israel”, the evidence on the ground reveals that the Exodus never occurred. One doesn’t have to do anything more than add up the number of people supposedly led out of Egypt by Moses. It is more than the carrying capacity of Egyptian agriculture, for one thing, it demands an unheard of rate of reproduction on the part of Jewish women, it is so large that they would have greatly outnumbered the Egyptian population, which we know from both agricultural computations (carrying capacity and crop productivity estimates) and from the census data which has come down to us (by accident: papyrus doesn’t rot that easily in a dump buried in dry sand.
    .
    And millions of people living in the desert for 40 years ought to leave a very definite signature in the form of a large ring of soil enriched by the fecal matter of those in the camp… Likewise the uneaten “manna from heaven” should have left an unmistakeable trace.
    .
    Nothing of the sort is found, and archeologists, using modern techniques and instruments, can tell that a sheep herder or two spent a night or two in a camp with only the bits of charred wood or dried fecal matter left from their camp fire, or their food scraps, etc.
    .
    The Exodus is another pile of bull.
    .
    Brazen vessels (or “molten seas”, as some translations have it – translations made by people completely ignorant of metallurgy) that are “ten cubits across and thirty cubits around and a palm in thickness” aside from being mathematically incorrect: pi is not equal to three, as can be simply demonstrated to all but the most ignorant and/or close-minded, would require tons of metal and a good-sized forest to supply the wood to melt for casting, and the result would be unmanageably heavy.
    .
    More bull-shit,
    .
    Toss in the little matter of several religions in the area having Gods with approximately the same characteristics as the supposed Jesus: born of a virgin, died and resurrected, blah blah blah, and you have an obvious source for the myth: the efforts of a small group of “priests” attempting to gather worshipers by incorporating bits and pieces of the gods of various religions in order to have something which would appeal to as large a group as possible. You must remember that the Romans gathered slaves from all over the empire, and didn’t bother with their observance of their own religions, as long as it didn’t unduly disturb the peace.
    .
    I definitely don’t need to engage in a point-by-point debate as to the supposed “evidence” for any “historical” Jesus, whether or not this supposed person was, as claimed, a preacher who roamed the area for several months making outlandish claims and performing legerdemain (multiplying loaves and fishes) before large audiences. Subsistence farmers don’t particularly follow any old spouter of tall tales, Joseph Smith not to the contrary – not when there is a stable government and a well-run economy. With a weak government and a depression it’s another story. And no matter what you may say about the Romans, they did run an orderly operation with a good bureaucracy, monthly reports to Rome, two lines of communication and control: the military, headed by a commander who was a Roman Citizen, as well as a civil government, the head of which was very likely to be “native” in the sense that he was of the local population, although thoroughly romanized. And these two lines of command reported on each other, thus tending to keep each other honest.
    .
    And since the Roman Catholic Church inherited the governing mantle when the government finally collapsed, any such reports, of large gatherings of people following a person who worked miracles, would have, of necessity, been sent to Rome. This is especially true when you consider that far less significant details were routinely reported. It is doubly true when the era and the area was lousy with (people at least with pretensions of being) historians.
    .
    I find it inconceivable that not one contemporaneous independent report exists amongst all the stuff left behind from the Empire.
    .
    Surely if such evidence exists – and priests squirrel away just about everything – then it should have been brought to the light of day long ago. To the contrary, the Church is well known for perpetuating frauds. The supposed Shroud of Turin is an obvious fake. For one thing the height of the individual differs by two inches between the front view and the back view. This is rather difficult to achieve… Secondly, the face portrayed is not that of a human. The eyes are very closely in the center of the face, when seen dead on either frontally or in a side view; that is: (as described by Vitruvius, and portrayed by Leonardo da Vinci, they eyes are midway between the top of the head and the bottom of the chin. Likewise, the ears, nose, lips, etc, all fall in the equivalent places depending only on head size. In the face portrayed, the distance from the eyes to the chin far exceeds the distance from the top of the head to the eyes. This in spite of the fact that if the item in question were an actual shroud, the cloth covering the distance from the eyes to the top of the head FOLLOWING THE CURVE OF THE SKULL should be not only greater than the vertical distance between the eyes and the top of the head, but the distance from the eyes to the chin!.
    .
    Take a piece of cloth and a magic marker and see for yourself, with the cooperation of another person.
    .
    Yet the Church continues to allow this fraud to exist: it brings in money. Of course, they don’t claim it to be “real” – that would open them up to massive public ridicule.
    .
    Likewise, this amalgam of bits and pieces of various religions brought in the yokels, who gave the priests a good living for doing little.
    .
    What more could a good conman want?

  31. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Baron Groznik:

    Christianity, from its extremely humble beginnings, became such a powerful, pervasive force in the world. What I want to know is how this virus mutated and spread. I think if we fully understand that… the political, sociological and psychological forces that led to Christianity to become such a dominant frame of reference in the world, then we can fully understand this darn thing

    The Epiphenom blog talks about psych/sociological research.
     
    An academic umbrella term for all that would be “Religious Studies”. When combined with a survey of pseudoscience, I like to call it a teratology of ideas.
     
    “The worse your logic, the more interesting the consequences to which it gives rise.” -Bertrand Russell
     
     
    Accidents of history play a major role, however. To illustrate this, I really wish I had a link for “Connections S01E7 – The Long Chain”. It disappeared from youtube; track down the first series, or buy it, if you can!
    Article: Wikipedia – Connections (TV Series)
     
    Another part is the way each generation recycles the previous one’s mythology for contemporary sockpuppeting. *cough* apostolic succession *cough* prima scriptura *cough*
     
    Video: PBS – God in America (56:00 x7), exploring the tumultuous 400-year history of the intersection of religion and public life
     
    The Columbus link above is especially relevant.

  32. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Baron Groznik:
    I wrote a second comment on Jewish sects at the time, but it got caught in moderation. : /
     
    Probably for having three links.
    Hopefully an admin will notice.

  33. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Re: Moderation
    Nevermind, I’ll rewrite it.
     
    @Baron Groznik:

    I want to find Christian Patient Zero […] feel free to throw me any titles that would address this shadowy part of history, before Good Emperor Constantine created the Consensus Reality we now all endure.

    Article: Wikipedia – Second Temple Judaism, Jewish Sects
     
    The Essenes seem a cantankerous bunch, from the way they complained about the others’ theology.
     
    In a lecture series by Gary A. Rendsburg on the Dead Sea Scrolls (sadly not freely available), I remember the Qumran community (considered Essenes) had their own messiah thing goin’ on. Outlooks were different enough that it’s reaching to say the proto-Christians were a fork off them, but they each emphasized some similar OT passages.
     
    To return to your metaphor: the virus was airborne already.
     
    Google: Wikipedia – Teacher of Righteousness
    Article: Wikipedia – Jewish Messianism, Ancient Israel

  34. says

    @kaled

    “…..We have constructed the universe with might and Verily, we its We who are expanding it.”(Quran 51:47)

    It was only in the 20th century when astronomers found empirically that the universe is actually accelerating in its expanding speed and why? no one knows why the universe is expanding up to now.!

    Interesting. At Pharyngula, you quoted this same verse as:

    And it is We Who have constructed the heaven with might, and verily, it is We Who are steadily expanding it. (Qur’an, 51:47)

    Steadily expanding. That’s not quite the same as an accelerating expansion, is it? For those who don’t know, kaled* does this sort of thing routinely. The translations seems to change according to whatever fits the argument at the time and he deliberately ignores alternate translations, even when directly pointed out.

    *Or kalid. He appears to have multiple accounts and tried changing his name, probably in an attempt to circumvent the ban he received after two threads of nonsense and consistent refusal to engage with counter-arguments.

  35. says

    Thanks, Sky Captain! I’ll look further into your suggestions. I’m just really intrigued by how the Christianity mythos won the sweepstakes and became the dominant mythology over some many other competing mythologies in the first century. If nothing else, the early Christians were perhaps excellent at target marketing and “viral advertising” (to belabor my metaphor even further), leading to the chain of events that convinced Constantine to finally say, “Okay, we’re going with this mythos.”

  36. Muz says

    I have little of worth to add to all this great stuff. But there’s one story I was reading about that I found quite fascinating in terms of the historicity of Jesus.
    When you see the subject brought up in less than scholarly circles (or sometimes scholarly ones too) the common reaction is often one of disbelief. “How could this be possible”, they say ” for all this to have been written and done about someone who wasn’t, on some level, a real person?” And I have to admit it is a little hard to imagine, that even back then a few decades after he was supposed to have lived all these stories start springing up.

    Well there’s a figure of worship in Mexico called Jesus Malverde. He’s what they call a Narco Saint. Worshiped by cartels and criminals, shrines to him spring up all over the place. He’s supposed to have been a bandit and freedom fighter about 100 years ago who fought the law and did grand deeds and couldn’t be killed.

    Now, there’s a heck of lot of complex stuff in the interesting mixture of traditional native religion and Catholicism in Mexico that goes into all this sort of stuff. The central point for me that gets my attention is that Jesus Malverde, in all likelihood, didn’t exist. There’s no real evidence for him or anyone like him in the times he’s supposed to have lived. There’s a few people who have elements of (some version of) his story. But no one has been able to find one single consistent narrative or evidence of an individual by that name or resembling the stories associated with him. This hasn’t really slowed his popularity as an enshrined figure at all.

    I’m not making any bones about old timey Jesus being a real person one way or the other right now. But for the argument that a mythical and possibly entirely imaginary figure can’t possibly be so persuasive and grow to such reverence in a few decades, even in the first century, so therefore Jesus must have been real. To that I point to the Malverde following. Here it is apparently happening in the 20th/21st century, where a mythical figure is being elevated to real and worshiped. It definitely could happen.

  37. says

    I would really like to see an experiment done where someone applies this same methodology to 3 accounts of the holocaust.

  38. weatherwax says

    #39 Muz:, In addition, as Robert Price points, there were varying beliefs about Jesus that lost out. When he lived, who put him to death and how, etc. Just as you’d expect if people were trying to place the life of a mythical person.

  39. Ed says

    I’m undecided on the issue of whether the Jesus stories were at least loosely based on a real person or not. It seems possible that a charismatic religious leader could attract a small following, then die an early violent death. His followers, deprived of him as a visible leader decide that his death had great cosmic significance.

    They spread the modified version which is, as a meme, more viable. It promises a salvation that will occur after death or at the end of time. Thus, no suffering or failure on this earth is evidence against their claims. It offers a guaranteed blissful afterlife and a god who loves them personally as well as a close knit supportive community. No other religion easily available to the masses offers a similar set of appealing ideas.

    The mythicist view has the same basic story of such a savior cult gradualy spreading across the Empire, except that instead of a recently executed man taken to be the Christ, they originally believed that their Christ was a purely spiritual being or an obscure man who lived long ago and had no following before his death, deification and mystical revelation of his true identity and significance.

    Either type of origin seems possible. If there was a real Jesus, his followers could have added any number of commonplace mythical and folkloric tropes to his official biographies. If there was no Jesus, the early Christians may have become disillusioned with the highly abstract nature of the original Christ idea, and stories of him taking human form in recent times could have develloped–again with story components shared by earlier gods and heroes. Eventually four versions of the accepted story become canonical, despite some discrepancies within them.

    I understand the value of generally accepting the consensus of experts in a field, but this is one of the cases where there are factors which could easily distort the expert’s views. Namely, that there is a great deal of emotional and cultural attachment among Western gentiles to the idea and image of Jesus. Whether one believes every story and claim about him, is a Christian or a believer at all, the idea that there was this good man who rebelled against the establishment and preached a benevolent message and was killed for it is appealing to many.

    I find some aspects of the Jesus story appealing, too, but honestly don’t care on an emotional level whether he was a completely mythical character or an exaggerated account of a real man. But New Testement scholarship, even the very liberal version, is likely to attract a disproportionate number of people with a bias toward his historical reality.

    The absence of direct historical evidence doesn’t mean he didn’t exist, as most people would have left no enduring evidence of their existence even if they influenced highly influential figures. But this only leaves us in a state of not knowing. The mythicists have strong empirical and logical arguments against supposed proofs like the Josephus text. We’re left in a position of the two most reasonable options being “no” and “maybe.”

    As for the Bible being used to prove itself, the Bible is many books by different authors. The gospels cannot corroborate each other because they are obviously all examples of devotional material by people who already accept the story as true. I would be very impressed if major biographical elements within the gospels were alluded to in the epistles or Revelation–works which are older than the gospels. But as far as I know, they aren’t. No mention of a mother named Mary, Bethlehem, Nazareth, the parables, specific deeds, etc.

  40. James (brother of nobody really) says

    This has been the best discussion I have ever had the pleasure of reading in this blog.

  41. says

    Schism in Atheism !!
    One thing that I worry about with this discussion, the ‘Did Jesus exist’ question, is that it seems some Atheists are happy to accept certain events/characters as true historical events or figures while others do not. This results in me getting annoyed when I hear a discussion between Atheists say on the Nativity story without any reference to the ‘fact’ that the events portrayed in one of the Gospels never took place !
    In the podcast in question the figure of Joseph of Arimathea was discussed without any reference to the likelihood of him being a fictitious person. Fitzgerald in his book ‘Nailed’ suggested and backed it up that he was in fact a fictitious addition. Why can we not address these issues openly and recognise that not everyone who lectures, publishes, and takes part in pod casts knows everything. We need to challenge and question more – I feel we treat some leading Atheists with too much reverence.
    People can make a living out of ‘religion’, no matter what ‘side’ they are on, but just because they have a level of knowledge on the subject more than most of us they still need to keep an open mind and accept that maybe they don’t know it all.
    People like Ehrman point out the errors, faults, contradictions etc in the religion why can’t they go the extra mile and address the ‘did Jesus exist’ question, if he is a fictitious figure there is little point in discussing whether he wore brown or black sandals endlessly year after year

  42. says

    I think there should be room for some disagreement concerning the historicity of Jesus. It’s not as if the evidence is clear-cut. Frankly, we’ll never know for sure.

    There are certain things that are, beyond any doubt, complete bunk. The nativity stories, for example, are complete fabrications. That’s not even controversial, seeing as how they don’t even exist in the earliest sources. Sometimes I feel like we get side-tracked discussing the historicity of the character of Jesus and neglect to point out the indisputable evidence for the non-historicity of most of the gospel narratives.

    We can debate the existence of a Jesus, but the Christian Jesus never existed and that’s beyond dispute. I think we should beat that drum a bit louder.

  43. Ed says

    And we need to keep in mind that there are similar debates about other figures who are sort of quasi- historical. I’ve had to explain this to Christian friends who feel singled out by skepticism about the existence of Jesus. Look up King Arthur to give one example.

    If there is an absence of information from the time period in which the person supposedly lived and the only sources of their story are devotional literature or romanticized, heroic tales, there is good reason to consider the possibility that they did not exist no matter how long people have been referring to them as real.

    This is especially true if the only sources contain a great many improbable or impossible elements. But we also must keep in mind that the biographies of real people were also “spiced up” with miracles, omens and such. Often, there is no final black and white answer.

    Much of the logic used to prop up Jesus however, would be laughable in other discussions. For example, there are many witnesses of the existence and deeds of King Arthur. Merlin and the knights all interacted with him regularly. And if he didn’t pull the sword from the stone, who did?

    Got you there, didn’t I? If Arthur didn’t pull the sword from the stone then why haven’t they discovered a stone with a sword sticking out of it (or an anvil on a stone with the sword in that as some versions say)?

    A-Arthurists cannot answer the question of the missing sword! They are confounded by it!
    Please buy my book–If There Was No Arthur Then Where the F@@k is the F@@king Stone or Anvil With Excalibur Sticking Out of it You Stupid Unbeliever?!!?
    I swear that it adheres to the highest standards off scholarship and logic.

  44. Ayisrev says

    I think everyone with an interest should take a look at the links in this FAQ page from r/AskHistorians to try and get the best and balanced view. I was a mythicist up until about a week ago. But considering history is not done like (hard) science, I feel now that it is more likely that a Historical Jesus existed, was executed, and died failing all Messianic prophesy.

    But his disillusioned followers couldn’t accept this and thus the embellishments and telephone-game began to give us the Bibilical Jesus, which of course did not exist. Another point that seems easier to reconcile with a HJ is the birthplaces and travels between Nazareth and Bethlehem. If they were just making him up from whole-cloth, why the convolutions to match what the gospel writers thought was the story for the messiah? Hitchens had pointed this out in some video/debate and I guess I didn’t think of it until recently.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/wiki/faq/religion#wiki_did_jesus_exist.3F

    You do not need contemporary sources to verify the existence of historical figures. We’d have to throw out a whole lot of the ancient world if this was the case, after all. It’s likely that there was an eccentric rabbi around, but we can’t really say a whole lot more than that.

  45. says

    Another point that seems easier to reconcile with a HJ is the birthplaces and travels between Nazareth and Bethlehem. If they were just making him up from whole-cloth, why the convolutions to match what the gospel writers thought was the story for the messiah?

    Because the Jesus traditions weren’t made up as a single unit, by one group of people at one point in time. Each iteration of myth-making is constrained by the past versions. The more you change your version, compared to the previous stories, the less likely people are to accept it.

    So, once people are familiar with the idea that Jesus was from Nazareth (whether a historical fact or not), you may not be able to remove that part of the story anymore. Even if a certain gospel doesn’t include it, people will still remember it. So, if you suddenly tell a story about how Jesus was born in Bethlehem, people will automatically start wondering how he got from one place to the other.

    Ever notice how Christians never seem to have the slightest problem with all the glaring contradictions on the gospels? Notice how they happily invent one strained explanation after another to harmonize them? If they simply threw out some of the stories, they’d instantly have a perfect harmony. So why don’t they? It would certainly be easier than trying to harmonize the differences.

    I propose that this is exactly the same thing as was going on back then. People were reluctant to simply throw away traditions and instead preferred to harmonize them. One tradition says Nazareth, another Bethlehem: Let’s say it was both! Problem solved.

  46. Ed says

    Thanks for the link. Yes, the birth narrative is strange. If it was made up why not just have him come from Bethlehem instead of his parents making a special trip there while his mother is pregnant to fulfil the prophesy?

    I’m not rigidly committed to either view. I just think that there is a strong mythical element in his story as told in the gospels whether he existed or not. Even the early Church Fathers were disturbed by the similarities between the gospel stories and existing myths.

    Later Christian apologists like Lewis saw the myths as a kind of prophecy given to the pagans through intuition as scriptural prophesies were given to the Jews. Denial of a connection is silly when it has been discussed throughout Christian history.

    Contemporary sources aren’t necessary to consider a person real, but if evidence is extremely scant for generations after they would have died and then the only sources are highly dependent on supernaturalism glorify the person as superhuman and follow plot patterns more common in myths and legends than reality, it can seem suspicious.

    Historians have erred both ways ranging from denying the existence of the city of Troy, the Hittite civilization and Muhammad (extreme skepticism) to a once common idea that every myth must have a core of concrete historical fact (e.g. Zeus was s real king remembered as a god).

    It would be interesting to see what controversies come up in the future! :) Maybe scholars thousands of years from now will be confused about the status of our actual prominent people and common fictional characters.

  47. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Ed:

    Even the early Church Fathers were disturbed by the similarities between the gospel stories and existing myths.

     
    Source: EarlyChristianWritings – Justin Martyr’s First Apology

    [Heathen myths] have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvellous tales, like the things which were said by the poets. […] but that in hearing what was said by the prophets they did not accurately understand it, but imitated what was said of our Christ
    […]
    the evil spirits were not satisfied with saying, before Christ’s appearance, that those who were said to be sons of Jupiter were born of him […] they again, as was said above, put forward other men, the Samaritans Simon and Menander, who did many mighty works by magic, and deceived many, and still keep them deceived.
    […]
    Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done.

  48. says

    Something short here. Credit to Justin and Jeremy for first of all scoring an interview with Ehrman and secondly, presenting a series of well thought-out questions for the author. Would be great if CFI could recruit him for a Grand Rapids visit but know that might be beyond the budget unless they could partner with a wealthy denomination for a debate. (For example, I suggest the conservative DeVos family pony-up the dough for a Calvin College debate and have them recruit home grown talent Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame. Are you listening Betsy?)

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