This post is the third in a series of useful quotations for Christians from Dr. Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012). If you interact with skeptics who deny that Jesus Christ existed, or who believe in mythicism (the idea that Christ is copied from pagan myths rather than being a historical figure), the quotations below should be very useful to you, in light of Dr. Ehrman's well-known opposition to Biblical Christianity.
Paul received his information about Jesus Christ very early:
Paul indicates that the traditions about Jesus are ones that he himself inherited from those who came before him. This is clearly implied when he says that he “handed over” what he had earlier “received,” technical language in antiquity for passing on traditions and teachings among Jewish rabbis. . . . Paul . . . [obtained] this received tradition . . . in the 30s CE. When scholars crunch all the numbers that Paul mentions, it appears that he must have converted early in the 30s, say, the year 32 or 33, just two or three years after the death of Jesus. This means that if Paul went to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and James three years after his conversion [Galatians 1:18], he would have seen them, and received the traditions that he later gives in his letters, around the middle of the decade, say the year 35 or 36. The traditions he inherited, of course, were older than that and so must date to just a couple of years or so after Jesus’s death. All this makes it clear as day that Jesus was known to have lived and died almost immediately after the traditional date of his death.
All scholars of Paul believe Jesus existed:
[S]cholars . . . have devoted their lives to studying the life and letters of Paul. I personally know scores of scholars who have spent twenty, thirty, forty, or more years of their lives working to understand Paul. Some of these are fundamentalists, some are theologically moderate Christians, some are extremely liberal Christians, and some are agnostics or atheists. Not one of them, to my knowledge, thinks that Paul did not believe there was a historical Jesus. The evidence is simply too obvious and straightforward.
Affirmations about Jesus as a historical Person are not interpolations in Paul’s writings:
[T]he Pauline scholars who have devoted many years of their lives to studying Romans and Galatians and 1 Corinthians are not the ones who argue that Paul never mentioned the details of Jesus’s life—that he was born of a woman, as a Jew, and a descendant of David; that he ministered to Jews, had a last meal at night, and delivered several important teachings [all of which are clearly affirmed in Romans and Galatians and 1 Corinthians]. It is only the mythicists, who have a vested interest in claiming that Paul did not know of a historical Jesus, who insist that these passages were not originally in Paul’s writings. . . . Apart from the mythicist desire not to find such passages in Paul, there is no textual evidence that these passages were not originally in Paul (they appear in every single manuscript that we have) and no solid literary grounds for thinking they were not in Paul.
Mythicists failure to provide a substantive positive case:
The case that most mythicists make against the historical existence of Jesus involves both negative and positive arguments, with far more of the former.
On the mythicist argument that Jesus Christ Himself did not write anything (so He allegedly did not exist) and an absence of archaeological evidence for Him:
[T]here is no archaeological evidence for anyone else living in Palestine in Jesus’s day except for the very upper-crust elite aristocrats, who are occasionally mentioned in inscriptions (we have no other archaeological evidence even for any of these). In fact, we don’t have archaeological remains for any nonaristocratic Jew of the 20s CE, when Jesus would have been an adult. And absolutely no one thinks that Jesus was an upper-class aristocrat. So why would we have archaeological evidence of his existence?
We also do not have any writings from Jesus . . . [T]here is nothing strange about having nothing in writing from him. I should point out that we have nothing in writing from over 99.99 percent of people who lived in antiquity. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they didn’t live.
[I]t really is not fair to use Caesar Augustus as the criterion by which we evaluate whether one of the other sixty million people of his day actually existed. If I wanted to prove that my former colleague Jim Sanford really existed, I would not do so by comparing his press coverage to that of Ronald Reagan.
On the mythicist contention that we should have non-Christian sources from the 1st century for Christ:
It is also true, as the mythicists have been quick to point out, that no Greek or Roman author from the first century mentions Jesus. . . . At the same time, the fact is again a bit irrelevant since these same sources do not mention many millions of people who actually did live. Jesus stands here with the vast majority of living, breathing human beings of earlier ages. . . . it is no surprise that these same sources never mention any of his uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, or nephews—or in fact nearly any other Jew of his day.
In that connection, I should reiterate that it is a complete “myth” (in the mythicist sense) that Romans kept detailed records of everything and that as a result we are inordinately well informed about the world of Roman Palestine and should expect then to hear about Jesus if he really lived. If Romans kept such records, where are they? We certainly don’t have any. Think of everything we do not know about the reign of Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea. We know from the Jewish historian Josephus that Pilate ruled for ten years, between 26 and 36 CE. It would be easy to argue that he was the single most important figure of Roman Palestine for the entire length of his rule. And what records from that decade do we have from his reign—what Roman records of his major accomplishments, his daily itinerary, the decrees he passed, the laws he issued, the prisoners he put on trial, the death warrants he signed, his scandals, his interviews, his judicial proceedings? We have none. Nothing at all. . . . What archaeological evidence do we have about Pilate’s rule in Palestine? We have some coins that were issued during his reign (One would not expect coins about Jesus since he didn’t issue any), and one—only one—fragmentary inscription discovered in Caesarea Maritima in 1961 that indicates that he was the Roman prefect. Nothing else. And what writings do we have from him? Not a single word. Does that mean he didn’t exist? No, he is mentioned in several passages in Josephus and in the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo and in the Gospels. He certainly existed even though, like Jesus, we have no records from his day or writings from his hand. And what is striking is that we have far more information about Pilate than about any other governor of Judea in Roman times. And so it is a modern “myth” to say that we would have extensive Roman records from antiquity that surely would have mentioned someone like Jesus had he existed.
It is also worth pointing out that Pilate is mentioned only in passing in the writing of the one Roman historian, Tacitus, who does name him. Moreover, that happens to be in a passage that also refers to Jesus (Annals 15). If an important Roman aristocratic ruler of a major province is not mentioned any more than that in the Greek and Roman writings, what are the chances that a lower-class Jewish teacher (which Jesus must have been, as everyone who thinks he lived agrees) would be mentioned in them? Almost none.
I might add that the principal source of knowledge about Jewish Palestine in the days of Jesus comes from the historian Josephus, a prominent aristocratic Jew who was extremely influential in the social and political affairs of his day. And how often is Josephus mentioned in Greek and Roman sources of his own day, the first century CE? Never.
Tacitus’s reference to Jesus Christ, and mythicists’ rejection of it:
Tacitus . [who] wrote his famous Annals of Imperial Rome in 115 CE as a history of the empire from 14 to 68 CE . . . explains that “Nero falsely accused those whom . . . the populace called Christians. The author of this name, Christ, was put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate, while Tiberius was emperor; but the dangerous superstition, though suppressed for the moment, broke out again not only in Judea, but even in the city [of Rome].” . . . Some mythicists argue that this reference in Tacitus was not actually written by him . . . but were inserted into his writings (interpolated) by Christians who copied them, producing the manuscripts of Tacitus we have today. . . . I don’t know of any trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome who think this, and it seems highly unlikely. . . . [S]urely the best way to deal with evidence is not simply to dismiss it when it happens to be inconvenient. Tacitus evidently did know some things about Jesus.
Other early non-Christian references to Jesus Christ:
Tacitus . . . Pliny . . . Suetonius . . . [are] three references . . . that survive from pagan sources within a hundred years of the traditional date of Jesus death. . . . Josephus . . . from within Palestine, the only surviving author of the time . . . refer[s] to Jesus twice.
The Jewish Talmud’s view of Jesus Christ:
For a long time scholars treated the Talmud as if it presented historically accurate information about Jewish life, law, and custom . . . back to the first century. . . . Jesus . . . appears . . . [under the name] “Ben [son of] Panthera.” . . . Scholars have long recognized that this tradition appears to represent a subtle attack on the Christian view of Jesus’ birth as the “son of a virgin.” In Greek, the word for virgin is parthenos, close in spelling to Panthera. In other references in the Talmud we learn that Jesus was a sorcerer who acquired his black magic in Egypt. Recall the Gospel accounts of how Jesus fled with his family to Egypt soon after his birth and his abilities later in life to perform miracles. He is said in the Talmud to have gathered . . . disciples . . . and to have been hanged on the eve of the Passover[.] . . . Here again we may have a biased version of the Gospel accounts, where Jesus is killed during the Passover[.]
Ehrman on the Gospels as sources of historical value:
Luke and the other Gospel writers . . . were historical persons giving reports of things they had heard, using historically situated modes of rhetoric and persuasion. The fact that their books . . . became documents of faith has no bearing on the question of whether the books can be used for historical purposes. To dismiss the Gospels from the historical record is neither fair nor scholarly. . . . [T]he Gospels . . . [w]hatever one thinks of them as inspired scripture, . . . can be seen and used as significant historical sources.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 131.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 132.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 133.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 30.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 42-43.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 217.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 43-45.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 54-55.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 55-57.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 67-68.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012) 73-74.