Friday, January 04, 2019

Bart D. Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? Useful Quotes for Christians, part 1 of 4

Professor Bart D. Ehrman is one of the most famous non-Christian scholars in the United States.  He is overly skeptical of the New Testament and the view of the New Testament as reliable, as, indeed, the Word of God, contains far better historical support then does his agnostic-with-atheist-leanings skepticism (see, e. g., my work on Archaeological Evidence for the New Testament.)  However, because Dr. Ehrman is a genuine scholar, even if an anti-Christian and very skeptical one, he makes quite a number of statements in his book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) that are very useful for the Christian who is dealing with non-scholarly non-Christians who believe fantastic nonsense such as that the record of Jesus Christ was copied from pagan religions or that He did not exist (both positions advocated by men such as Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation; see how his argument that the Old Testament is copied from pagan myths fared in my two debates with him "The Old Testament is Mainly Fiction, not Fact" and "Archaeology and Prophecy Validate the Bible as the Word of God." and the review of the two Dan Barker - Thomas Ross debates and of Old Testament mythicism here, as well as how Mr. Barker fared arguing against the existence of Jesus Christ in his "Was Jesus a Myth?" debate with James White here.)  Note the following quotations from Dr. Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? so you can be aware of what all serious scholars, whether Christians or agnostic/atheist, need to acknowledge about the historical Jesus:

On the universal evidence for Jesus’ existence:

I should emphatically state the obvious.  Every single source that mentions Jesus up until the eighteenth century assumed that he actually existed.  That is true no matter what period you choose to examine:  the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, Late Antiquity, and before.  It is true of every source from our earliest periods, the fourth century, the third century, the second century, and the first century.  It is true of every author of every kind, Christian, Jewish, or pagan.  Most striking, it is true not just of those who came to believe in Jesus but also of nonbelievers in general and of the opponents of Christianity in particular. . . . Not even the Jewish and pagan antagonists who attacked Christianity and Jesus himself entertained the thought that he never existed.  This is quite clear from reading the writings of the Christian apologists, starting with such authors as the . . . writer of the Letter to Diognetus and the more famous writers Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen (all from the second and early third centuries), all of whom defend Jesus against a number of charges, many of them scandalous.  But they do not drop one hint that anyone claimed he did not exist.  The same is clear from the fragments of writings that still survive from the opponents of the Christians, such as the Jew Trypho, discussed by Justin, or the pagan philosopher Celsus, cited extensively by Origen.  The idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion.  It has no ancient precedents.  It was made up in the eighteenth century.  One might well call it a modern myth, the myth of the mythical Jesus.[1]

On the unscholarly nature of Jesus mythicism:

[Concerning] skeptical literature . . . [denying or questioning] whether Jesus existed as a human being . . . none of this literature is written by scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world).  Of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity who do teach at such schools, none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubts that Jesus existed. . . . The reality is that whatever else you may think about Jesus, he certainly did exist. . . . [T]he view that Jesus existed is held by virtually every expert on the planet. . . . [E]very relevant ancient source . . . assumes that there was such a man . . . It is striking that virtually everyone who has spent all the years needed to attain [scholarly] qualifications is convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure. . . . Many of these scholars have no vested interest in the matter.  As it turns out, I myself do not either.  I am not a Christian, and I have no interest in promoting a Christian cause or a Christian  agenda.  I am an agnostic with atheist leanings . . . I am an agnostic who does not believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. . . . Jesus existed, and those vocal persons who deny it do so not because they have considered the evidence with the dispassionate eye of the historian, but because they have some other agenda that this denial serves.  From a dispassionate point of view, there was a Jesus of Nazareth.[2]

It is fair to say that mythicists as a group, and as individuals. . . . Arthur Drews . . . Earl Doherty . . . Robert Price . . . Thomas L. Thompson . . . Richard Carrier . . . George A Wells . . . D. M. Murdock[,] . . . nom de plume Acharya S . . . are not taken seriously by the vast majority of scholars in the fields of New Testament, early Christianity, ancient history, and theology.  This is widely recognized, to their chagrin, by mythicists themselves.[3]

At a reputable university, of course, professors cannot teach simply anything.  They need to be academically responsible and reflect the views of scholarship.  That is probably why there are no mythicists—at least to my knowledge—teaching religious studies at accredited universities or colleges in North America and Europe . . . their views are not widely seen as academically respectable by members of the academy. . . . [M]ythicists . . . [are] marginal. . . . [T]he mythicist view does not have a foothold, or even a toehold, among modern critical scholars of the Bible.[4]

On the failure of Jesus mythicists to define myth:

Rarely do mythicists define what they mean by the term myth, a failure that strikes real scholars of religion as both unfortunate and highly problematic[.][5]

On the areas where Jesus mythicism is widespread:

For decades [Jesus mythicism] was the dominant view in countries such as the Soviet Union. . . . Vladimir Ilyich Lenin . . . [was] convinced that Jesus was not a real historical figure.  This, in large measure, led to the popularity of the myth theory in the emerging Soviet Union.[6]

Jesus mythicism driven by religious bias:

Humanists, agnostics, atheists, mythicists . . . wrongly and counterproductively . . . insist . . . that Jesus never existed. Jesus did exist. . . . It is no accident that virtually all mythicists (in fact, all of them, to my knowledge) are either atheists or agnostics.  The ones I know anything about are quite virulently, even militantly, atheist. . . . [M]ythicists all live in a Christian world for which Christianity is the religion of choice for the vast bulk of the population. . . . And mythicists are avidly antireligious. . . . What this means is that, ironically, just as the secular humanists spend so much time at their annual meetings talking about religion, so too the mythicists who are so intent on showing that the historical Jesus never existed are not being driven by a historical concern.  Their agenda is religious, and they are complicit in a religious ideology.  They are not doing history; they are doing theology.
            To be sure, they are doing their theology in order to oppose traditional religion.  But the opposition is driven not by historical concerns but by religious ones. . . . [A]s a historian[,] when I try to reconstruct what actually happened in the past[,] I refuse to sacrifice the past in order to promote the worthy cause of my own social and political agendas.  No one else should, either.  Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not.[7]

On the burden of proof in Jesus mythicism:

[S]ince every relevant ancient source . . . assumes that there was such a man, and since no scholar who has ever written on it, except the handful of mythicists, has ever had any serious doubts, surely the burden of proof does not fall on those who take the almost universally accepted position.[8]

Ehrman on Dorothy Murdock and her The Christ Conspiracy:

Acharya S[.] [or] D. M. Murdock published the breathless conspirator’s dream:  The Christ Conspiracy:  The Greatest Story Ever Sold. . . . This book [argues] . . . that Christianity is rooted in a myth about the sun-god Jesus, who was [allegedly] invented by a group of Jews in the second century CE.
            Mythicists of this ilk should not be surprised that their views are not taken seriously by real scholars, that their books are not reviewed in scholarly journals, mentioned by experts in the field, or even read by them.  The book is filled with so many factual errors and outlandish assertions that it is hard to believe that the author is serious.  If she is serious, it is hard to believe that she has ever encountered anything resembling historical scholarship.  Her “research” appears to have involved reading a number of nonscholarly books that say the same thing she is about to say and then quoting them.  One looks in vain for the citation of a primary ancient source, and quotations from real experts (Elaine Pagels, chiefly) are ripped from their context and misconstrued. . . . One cannot help wondering if this is all a spoof[.] . . . [A]ll of Acharya’s major points are in fact wrong.  Jesus was not invented [as she claims] in Alexandria, Egypt, in the middle of the second Christian century.  He was known already in the 30s of the first century, in Jewish circles in Palestine.  He was not originally a sun-god (as if that equals Son-God!) . . . [but] a Jewish prophet and messiah.  There are no astrological phenomena associated with Jesus in any of our earliest traditions.  These traditions are attested in multiple sources that originated at least a century before Acharya’s alleged astrological creation at the hands of people who lived in a different part of the world from the historical Jesus[.] . . . In short, if there is any conspiracy here, it is not on the part of the ancient Christians who [allegedly] made up Jesus but on the part of modern authors who make up stories about the ancient Christians and what they believed about Jesus.[9]

On the idea that Jesus was made up from pagan myths:

[Mythicists] Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy [in] The Jesus Mysteries:  Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? . . . [argue that] Jesus was a creation based on the widespread mythologies of dying and rising gods known throughout the pagan world. . . .
            Real historians of antiquity are scandalized by such assertions—or they would be if they bothered to read Freke and Gandy’s book.  The authors provide no evidence for their claims concerning the standard mythology of the godmen.  They cite no sources from the ancient world that can be checked.  It is not that they have provided an alternative interpretation of the available evidence.  They have not even cited the available evidence.  And for good reason. No such evidence [for pagan godmen] exists.
            What, for example, is the proof that Osiris was born on December 25 before three shepherds?  Or that he was crucified?  And that his death brought atonement for sin?  Or that he returned to life on earth by being raised from the dead?  In fact, no ancient source says any such thing about Osiris (or about the other gods). . . . Freke and Gandy . . . “prove” it by quoting other writers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who said so.  But these writers too do not cite any historical evidence.  This is all based on assertion, believed by Freke and Gandy simply because they read it somewhere.  This is not serious historical scholarship. It is sensationalist writing driven by a desire to sell books. . . . [W]hat we know about Jesus—the historical Jesus—does not come from Egypt toward the end of the first century, in circles heavily influenced by pagan mystery religions, but from Palestine, among Jews committed to their decidedly antipagan Jewish religion, from the 30s. . . . [Their] book [is] . .  . filled with patently false information and inconsistencies. . . . The views they assert . . . no scholars hold to them today.[10]

We don’t have a single description in any source of any kind of baptism in the mystery religions. . . . [T]he Greek name Jesus . . . is the Greek name for the Aramaic Yeshua, Hebrew Joshua.  It is found in the Greek Old Testament, for example, long before the Gospel writers lived and is a common name in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. . . . [In relation to the mythicist contention that the] [“]Romans were renowned for keeping careful records of all their activities, especially their legal proceedings,” making it surprising that “there is no record of Jesus being tried by Pontius Pilate or executed” . . . If Romans were careful record keepers, it is passing strange that we have no records, not only of Jesus, but of nearly anyone who lived in the first century.  We simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other standard kinds of records that one has today. [Mythicists who make this argument], of course, do not cite a single example of anyone else’s death warrant from the first century.[11]

[1]           Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 96.
[2]           Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 2, 4-7, 37, 71
[3]           Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 17-21.
[4]           Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 220, 268.
[5]           Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 3.
[6]           Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 3, 17.
[7]           Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 336-339.
[8]           Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 38-39.
[9]           Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 21-25.  Dr. Ehrman continues:
Just to give a sense of the level of scholarship in this sensationalist tome, I list a few of the howlers one encounters[.] . . . Acharya claims that:
·     The second-century church father Justin never quotes or mentions any of the Gospels (25). [This simply isn’t true:  he mentions the Gospels on numerous occasions . . . and quotes from them, especially from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.]
·     The Gospels were forged hundreds of years after the events they narrate. (26) [In fact, the Gospels were written [in] the first century . . . and we have physical proof . . . [in a] Gospel manuscript [that] dates to the early second century.  How could it have been forged centuries after that?
·     We have no manuscript of the New Testament that dates prior to the fourth century (26).  [This is just plain wrong:  We have numerous fragmentary manuscripts that date from the second and third centuries.] . . .
·     Paul never quotes a saying of Jesus (33).  [Acharya has evidently never read the writings of Paul . . . he does quote sayings of Jesus.]
·     The Acts of Pilate, a legendary account of Jesus’s trial and execution, was once considered canonical. (44).  [None of our sparse references to the Acts of Pilate indicates, or even suggests, any such thing.]
·     The “true meaning of the word gospel is ‘God’s Spell,’ as in magic, hypnosis and delusion” (45). [No, the word gospel comes to us from the Old English term god spel, which means “good news”—a fairly precise translation of the Greek word euaggelion.  It has nothing to do with magic.
·     The church father “Irenaeus was a Gnostic” (60).  [In fact, he was one of the most virulent opponents of Gnostics in the early church.]
Dr. Ehrman lists numbers of other examples of Ms. Murdock’s utter lack of even a rudimentary understanding of the topic on which she writes.
[10]          Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 25-27.
[11]          Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 2012) 28-29.



Anonymous said...

Religions evolve, not drop from the sky.
Longevity of a mistaken belief is not support, take flat earth.
Burden of proof lies with claimants who lack evidence
Misunderstanding of the purpose of writing leads to missing the point.
Read Kings 1 ch 16 on and then read Mark.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Anonymous,

I'm not sure where you are coming from, but certainly if one presupposes, without evidence, that atheism is true, then God would not have revealed any religion, but they would have evolved. If God revealed the Bible, then your statement is false, and there is a lot of evidence that God did this, see, e. g.,

Whatever you are driving at with the other comments is not very clear. I've read 1 Kings and Mark many times, if by "Kings 1 ch 16" you mean 1 Kings. By the way, the Bible actually teaches that the earth is spherical/round not a flat rectangle, Is 40:22, see Bible Study #1 at for more on that topic. I'm not sure who is arguing that the fact that a belief has existed for a long time proves that it is true; Psalm 14:1, the fool says in his heart there is no God, so atheism has been around for a long time, but it is not true.