Now that Ehrman has broached the topic of being an ‘expert’ I think we should try and grasp what he thinks that means.
Let’s see what he compares expertise in New Testament studies to:
Dentists, Architects, Biologists, Historians…
Now the thing about some of these comparisons is that we know teeth exist and know what good dentistry is thereby, we know buildings exist and can judge good architecture from the performance of their designs, and we know living things exist and thus there is something real by which we can judge the accomplishments of a biologist entails. Success is measurable. There are real consequences which are perceptible to all of us.
Moreover no one needs to have a dentist who teaches dentistry, or an architect who teaches architecture, or a biologist who teaches biology to consider them able to do their job. So all the breast-beating about ‘anyone not holding a teaching position can’t have expertise’ rather loses its luster after a few moment’s reflection.
Now is someone who studies Jesus in the same ballpark with any of these? I think it’s comparing horses and unicorns. The base of knowledge for these other disciplines is cumulative, obtaining better results over the generations because discoveries here are palpable and solid.
But look at the record of the various ‘quests’ for an historical Jesus. Time after time they come up empty, or with conflicting results. Never securing anything lasting, because the next consensus can easily overturn the previous ‘certainty’ – the only thing they seem to agree on was that there was a man called Jesus: everything else is up for grabs. And if Ehrman is correct that ‘there was a man called Jesus’ is never questioned, discussed, or demonstrated by any of these ‘experts’ then the only thing they agree on is an uncritically accepted assumption.
For the other ‘experts’ Ehrman compares himself to, the proof is in their results.
You may notice I haven’t discussed his comparison of Jesus scholars to historians.
Indeed he claims to be an historian. Now what does he compare the ‘certainty’ of Jesus’s existence to in the field of history?
The Holocaust, the moon landing, the assassination of Presidents, Obama’s birthplace.
Well, at this point Ehrman is going to have to pony up some pretty new and startling evidence to demonstrate that the existence of Jesus is anywhere near as sure as any of these facts. We’ve got physical evidence, eyewitness testimony, photographs, films, and all kinds of original documents pertaining to the historical events he lists. Has Ehrman like evidence for Jesus?
So I’m just about ready to jump into the first chapter of his book where Ehrman will try to make good on this promise: that the existence of Jesus is as undeniable as the Holocaust (to which we have living witnesses to this very day, reams of original documents, physical remains, photographs and films, eyewitness accounts, and confessions of some of the evil-doers).
If Ehrman can equal the literally tons of evidence for the reality of the Holocaust, he will have accomplished something no human in history can boast of.
But I do have at least one thing to add before we leave behind Ehrman’s introduction, and I will post on that next time.