To continue with Ehrman’s book –
In the last episode you may recall it seems to me Bart Ehrman was positioning himself (and the whole weight of New Testament academia) as the ignored and disdained underdogs in a debate about the existence of a real Jesus in history. Slight miscasting I’m inclined to point out.
But like any Hero, Ehrman must be opposed by a Villain – or better yet a big Gang of Super-Villains. It’d be nice if the had an Evil Plan up their sleeves…
In this story the role of the villain is to be filled by the ‘mythicists’ – those who doubt there ever was a real man named Jesus who served as the catalyst for the creation of christianity and that this figure is a mythical character of literature.
Sometimes Ehrman is (sometimes) inclined to be generous to (some of) them.
[While] 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 in the world)… a whole body of literature, some of it highly intelligent and well informed, makes this case.
But a couple of bona fide scholars – not professors teaching religious studies in universities but scholars nonetheless, and at least one of them a PhD in the field of the New testament – have taken this position and written about it.
…and the smart ones among them need to be taken seriously…
For the introduction this is as far as Ehrman is willing to go in giving (some) mythicists any credit – there are some who (though woefully lacking in proper credentials and the right sort of training and not even professors!) are intelligent and well informed.
But of mythicists in general he paints a less sanguine portrait.
Some of them [mythicist books and articles] rival The Da Vinci Code [the historical Jesus novel] in their passion for conspiracy and the shallowness of their historical knowledge…
..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.
a quick Internet search reveals how influential such radical skepticism has been in the past and how rapidly it is spreading even now. For decades it was the dominant view in countries such as the Soviet Union.
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…
Those who do not think Jesus existed are frequently militant in their views and remarkably adept at countering evidence that to the rest of the civilized world seems compelling and even unanswerable.
…there are several loud voices out there, whether you tune in to them or not, who are declaring Jesus is a myth. This mythicist position is interesting historically and phenomenologically, as part of a wider skepticism that has infiltrated parts of the thinking world…
…these claims are seeping into the popular consciousness at an alarming rate. 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.
You see, Ehrman has quite a bit more to say, in much stronger terms, about mythicists as a group than the few backhanded compliments he reserves for a few exceptional cases.
This last bit is interesting, as he accuses mythicists of having a ‘passion for conspiracy theories’ yet he boldly proclaims that mythicists have a secret agenda!
But I think I observe in the great deal he does say about mythicists as a class the outlines of a familiar story: a vociferous and militant minority, radical skeptics, have set themselves against the views of the rest of the civilized world: alarmingly, they are infiltrating the thinking world from strongholds such as the Soviet Union to fulfill a mysterious hidden agenda.
Has Hollywood been notified? Red Dawn has got nothing on this.
I have left a couple of passages out of Ehrman’s litany on the diabolical nature of the mythicist menace because I think they deserve a little more discussion than his broad-brush depictions listed above.
Another cliff-hanger to keep you on the edge of your seats!