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.



    • Thanks for your comment.

      Indeed I am aware that in existing copies of some works of Josephus there are a couple of mentions of our Jesus. When Ehrman gets to that bit I’ll write more about that.

      It’s not clear why it should be ‘ridiculous’ to consider whether there was a person ‘at the root’ of a religion – not many think there was a ‘historical Zeus’ about whom the Greeks were writing, or an ‘historical Gabriel’ who told Mohammed all about the Koran…

      Many scholars consider Adam, Abraham, and Moses to be ‘invented’ characters – yet Judaism is thought to be an important religion.

  1. So Mohamed was not a historical person? What about Sidhartha? Lao Tsu? Confucius? Like I said, the thought that Jesus is an invented person is ridiculous. Name 3 reputable scholars who will state on the record that they doubt the historicity of Abraham and Moses.
    “Judaism is thought to be an important religion”? You seem to be implying that it is not.

    I recommend that you jettison Ehrman. Or at least place his book in the fiction section.

    Zeus? Really?

    • We have to look at the individual cases for figures of literature to discover whether we can reliably conclude they were based on real persons. It’s not ridiculous to research the evidence – it’d be ridiculous not to do so.

      Thomas L Thompson, Philip Davies, and Niels Peter Lemche are on record doubting the historicity of Moses and the Exodus story.

      Yes, Judaism is thought to be an important religion, and many of the ‘founders’ like Abraham and Moses could easily be non-historical characters.

      Why don’t you like Ehrman – he is a reputable scholar isn’t he? Or are the only scholars who agree with your views ‘reputable’?

      • Never heard of Thompson, Davies, Niels or Lemche.

        They. like Ehrman, are clearly in the minority. I have nothing against minority voices or even fringe ideas. As long as those who hold such views realize that they are the fringe and the burden of proof is on them.

        What do I have against Ehrman? He is obviously only trying to make a name for himself by attempting to be controversial. In doing so he merely proves that those who do not listen to him are correct in doing so.

      • I see – so ‘reputable’ means you’ve heard of them. So if you name some scholar of whom I have never heard they’re not reputable?

        Sure some scholars will be in a minority – but that doesn’t say anything one way or the other whether their arguments are valuable. Perhaps if you troubled yourself to learn the views of these scholars you might learn whether they support heir contentions with evidence and thus meet this ‘burden of proof’ you seem to think is so important.

        Nice to know you have an inside track into ‘why’ Ehrman – a recognized scholar – has come to the conclusions he has. Why couldn’t anyone argue with equal justice that the ‘majority’ view is only scholars merely trying to jump on a profitable bandwagon?

  2. You never really answered my original question. Could a person who never existed actually be the root of a major religion? It doesn’t happen.(I named a few other historical personages who are also roots of major religions but you ignored them all.) Ergo the premise is doubtful at best and the scholarship is questionable to say the least. I do not call that reputable nor do I call the supposed scholars who would argue such reputable either. There are many scholars who I disagree with on some issues whom I deem reputable. That’s part of the joy of true scholarship; the give and take. My agreement is a nonissue.

    • I didn’t recognize your flat statement that ” the premise that no one is at the root of a major religion such as Christianity is ridiculous” was intended to be a question. We know there were a lot of different cults during this time period. Must we suppose there was an ‘historical Heracles’ or an ‘historical Mithras’ or an ‘historical Ashtarte’ or an ‘historical Baal’?

      Yes, you did mention a few names of figures associated with other cults. As I wrote – each case must be decided on its own merits. The evidence isn’t the same, and ‘proving’ one doesn’t establish the historicity of them all. I’m astonished anyone would make such a ridiculous suggestion.

      You flatly claim that ‘it doesn’t happen’ that figures worshiped by cults aren’t real historical beings. That’s an assertion in need of two things – an argument and some data. Anyone who really believed such a thing would have to accept that Zeus, Aphrodite, Ares and the rest are every bit as ‘real’ as Jesus.

      You are apparently unaware that some scholars do question the historical existence of Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Mohammed. Scholars who make such arguments do not become ‘disreputable’ merely because you are ignorant of them.

      You wrote that Ehrman (who says Jesus really did exist) should be filed under ‘fiction’ – I will examine some of his arguments and evidence when he gets done bad-mouthing mythicists.

      Stay tuned!

  3. Moroni must have been real because Mormonism wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t buried the Golden Plates and then shown Joseph Smith where to find them 1400 years later.

    • The notion that the divine figures from all religions ‘must have existed’ because someone wrote a story about them is I think unduly underestimating the creativity of human beings and the breadth and subtlety and sophistication of literature even a couple thousand years ago.

      It does seem that the Jesus of the epistles is a divine messenger who reveals like Mohammed’s Gabriel or Smith’s Moroni – we don’t need to postulate these beings existed even if we accept that Paul or Mohammed or Smith were real people.

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