Who is addressing the issue of whether Jesus existed?

Moving slowly through Ehrman’s book DJE? (still evaluating his introduction for goodness sake!) I have been trying to elucidate Ehrman’s point of view going into the book proper.

1) The question of whether Jesus existed is not an issue among the scholars in Ehrman’s field – despite the large interest in trying to figure out who this Jesus was: teacher, rebel, folk healer, cynic, peasant philosopher, etc.

2) Ehrman discovers there is a body of literature discussing this profound question.

…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).

So if the professional scholar class isn’t discussing this problem, who is? Obviously it has been undertaken by those beyond the pale of academia.

Their books may not be known to most of the general public interested in questions related to Jesus, the Gospels, or the early Christian church, but they do occupy a noteworthy niche as a (very) small but (often) loud minority voice. Once you tune in to this voice, you quickly learn just how persistent and vociferous it can be.

Apparently these people are ‘loud’ and ‘vociferous’ – yet no one seems to notice them. It would seem they aren’t loud and vociferous enough to be heard above those who insist that there really was a man called Jesus.

The authors of this skeptical literature understand themselves to be “mythicists” – that is, those who believe Jesus is a myth… When mythicists use the term they often seem to mean simply a story that has no historical basis, a history-like narrative that in fact did not happen.

This would appear to be a fair description of how myth is being used by those authors I am familiar with who question the existence of Jesus outside of literature. Similarly one could argue that Noah is mythical – a world-wide flood did not in fact occur, nor did someone build a boat in anticipation and fill it full of animals. Likewise one might say Moses is mythical – despite the stories concerning his life and deeds it is becoming apparent the Exodus did not in fact happen.

There is nothing particularly shocking in learning that characters can be created, biographies crafted, speeches written about people and events which are not historical. Yet once the scholarly consensus was that these, too, were people who certainly existed. I have read accounts where scholars have attempted to ‘explain’ Moses’s speech impediment, naturalistic ‘explanations’ of the Ten Plagues, even Freud tried to psychoanalyze Moses.

We learn, therefore, that the scholars can be wrong – dead wrong – about the real existence of Biblical heroes. Why should Jesus be any different?

…the view that Jesus existed is held by virtually every expert on the planet. That in itself is not proof, of course. Expert opinion is, at the end of the day, still opinion. But why would you not want to know what the experts have to say?

It’s not clear who this rhetorical question is aimed at – has anyone said they don’t want to know what the experts have to say? There’s no end of ‘historical Jesus‘ theories to be read, with new versions released from every quarter. Hippy Jesus, Orthodox Jew Jesus, feminist Jesus, apocalyptic Jesus, Jesus the business guru, Jesus the life coach, etc. If anyone takes any interest in Jesus they can’t escape the onslaught of the plethora of ‘real Jesuses’ some scholars have just now discovered in Scripture.

So Ehrman can hardly complain that the ‘experts’ aren’t being heard. Indeed the experts are everywhere hawking their wares. So why pretend that they aren’t?


As a side note Ehrman complains of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code and Monty Python – little noting the irony that the novel posits an historical Jesus (not a mythical one) and that Monty Python’s Life of Brian also features an historical Jesus.


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