Ehrman’s go to place to find real historical evidence that a Jesus of Nazareth really lived is going to be the writings of christians – that seems to be the trend. As we’ve seen, he’s admitted there’s no archaeology, no first person accounts, no mentions by disinterested third parties to make a firm basis for belief in this matter.
Ehrman discounts Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Josephus though many who argue Jesus is real do depend on these sources. There’s one more ‘source’ Ehrman dismisses which comes up from time to time which I think deserves mention:
In order to complete my tally of early references to Jesus, I need to say a few words about the Jewish Talmud. This is not because it is relevant, but because when talking about historical references to Jesus, many people assume it is relevant. The Talmud is a collection of disparate materials from early Judaism: legal disputes, anecdotes, folklore, customs, and sayings. Most of the material relates directly to teachings of and stories about the early rabbis, that is, Jewish teachers. The collection was put together long after the days of Jesus.
Given Ehrman’s description of the Talmud, it would seem very relevant if indeed as many claim Jesus was an early Jewish teacher. If we are going to speculate that some oral history of a Jewish teacher reached the ears of Josephus, Roman governors, and pagan historians then who better to have recorded something authentic about this Jewish teacher than the Jewish people who would presumably have been his audience? That would be the first place I’d look.
Jesus is never mentioned in the oldest part of the Talmud, the Mishnah, but appears only in the later commentaries of the Gemara. One of the problems even with these very late references is that Jesus is not actually called by name even though it is reasonably clear that he is the one being referred to.
Well, that doesn’t look good. Apparently everybody all over the Empire is talking about Jesus the Jewish teacher except Jewish people in the places where he supposedly made a spectacle of himself. It’s like finding references to Queen Elizabeth I everywhere in the world except England and in every language but English.
Ehrman mentions passages alleged to be about ‘our’ Jesus: one naming him ‘Ben Panthera’ and another mentioning ‘Yeshu had five disciples’ and being executed (in a perhaps biased account, according to Ehrman) around the Passover festival. Ehrman does not quote extensively from these accounts, but I find them very interesting.
If indeed these accounts preserve any authentic information they seem to point to a Yeshu (that’s Jesus to you and me) having had his career about 100 years before the christian tales place him. This does not look good at all for Ehrman’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ as this Jesus of the Talmud is also styled ‘the Notzri’ which is a term from the Hebrew Bible and not a place name at all. So perhaps there was an ‘historic Jesus’ after all, but he’s just not the one you thought he was going to be.
Sure, it could be a coincidence. A pretty big coincidence.