Well, no Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? doesn’t include the exclamation point, but why the heck not? The back cover does have in all caps “THE TRUTH BEHIND THE JESUS MYTH” as if this were a shocking expose. I really had no idea the thing was being marketed by such sensationalism and taking advantage of public interest in the possibility that there never was a Jesus in the first place.
I know the author probably didn’t write that blurb, but it really does I think inform the tone of the book. I’m just going to read through the book and pick out any bits that seem to me particularly remarkable.
Today I brought it home from the library and have been reading away, starting with the introduction.
Here Ehrman spends a few pages outlining the why of this book – why write a book defending the notion of an historical man named Jesus who is behind the stories of Jesus the Christ? Whether you consider him Lord, liar, or lunatic we all agree there’s a Jesus, right?
Apparently in his whole career it never occurred to Ehrman that the subject of his studies might never have lived, even though scholars have questioned the real existence of Jesus for a couple centuries now. It was a trickle of emails asking about whether this ‘historical Jesus’ existed at all which put Ehrman on the trail and
I discovered, to my surprise, an entire body of literature devoted to the question of whether or not there ever was a real man, Jesus.
…I am trained as a scholar of the New Testament and Early Christianity, and for thirty years I have written extensively on the historical Jesus, the Gospels, the early Christian movement, and the history of the church’s first three hundred years… I have read thousands of books and articles in English and other European languages on Jesus, the New Testament, and early Christianity. But I was completely unaware – as are most of my colleagues in the field – of this body of skeptical literature.
I don’t doubt Ehrman’s sincerity – very likely he has labored decade after decade in the field without ever coming across a dissenting voice. In a way this comes across to me as a rather dismal view of the field. The Bible is becoming widely recognized as being full of not-real characters, beginning with Adam, running up through Methusaleh, Noah, Moses, Job, Jonah, and right into the New Testament with Zaccheus, Judas Iscariot, Lazarus, and Barabbas.
Apparently no one in the field for decades has wondered out loud ‘Is Jesus one of these, too?’ Not Ehrman, not his colleagues, not his teachers. Why should that be? Is it not an important question whether or not there ever was a real Jesus?
You’d imagine any student who tremulously asked ‘Did Jesus even exist?’ would be rewarded with a hearty ‘That’s a very good question – your first assignment. class, is to frame an argument as to whether or not Jesus really did exist. Due by Thanksgiving break.’
But apparently the question is never asked, and thus never answered.
Let that suffice for now.