Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 3
In this post Doherty covers Ehrman’s arguments dealing with:
- the argument from silence and the positive case for mythicism
- why is Paul so silent on the historical Jesus?
- Paul’s “words of the Lord”
- Problematic Gospels and their basis in scripture
- Dependence on Mark / no variety in Passion story
- The question of parallels with pagan salvation myths
- Uncertainty surrounding Jesus’ teachings
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Before embarking on “the positive evidence that convinces everyone except the mythicists that Jesus existed,” Bart Ehrman provides “a rough idea about why some of the smarter and better informed writers have said he did not exist.”
The Basic Mythicist Position
(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 30-34 of Chapter 1)
Positives, negatives and Ehrman’s silence
Ehrman divides the mythicist arguments into negative and positive, claiming the former are “far more” numerous. This I would dispute, and certainly in my own case. Too much stress is laid by historicists on the supposed reliance by mythicists on the argument from silence. Yes, on my website I have a feature titled “The Sound of Silence: 200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles.” It is meant to highlight and deal individually with the extensive occurrences of that silence and the perplexity—indeed, the impossibility—of such a situation if an historical Jesus had existed, especially in the face of historicism’s blithe dismissal of it as inconsequential or as ‘explained’ by the weakest and most unworkable excuses.
But in my books and website I spend far more space on presenting the positive aspects of the mythicist case than the argument from silence, laying out the actual picture of the early Christ cult movement which the epistles provide, demonstrating that it not only needs no historical Jesus, it actually excludes one. And in dealing with the Q side of things, I demonstrate that the Q record itself shows that no historical Jesus founder was present at the root of the Kingdom preaching sect, but was only developed and inserted into the Q record as the sect and its document evolved, a common sectarian feature.
But that will come later. Ehrman provides a telling description of the fact that no mention of Jesus can be found in any Greek or Roman source for at least 80 years after his death. He also acknowledges the mythicist claim that the two famous references to Jesus in the Jewish historian Josephus are very likely interpolations, without putting up a fuss about it (“If they are right…”)—at least at that moment. He goes on to further acknowledge that mythicists are right to point out that
the apostle Paul says hardly anything about the historical Jesus or that he says nothing at all. This may come as a shock to most readers of the New Testament, but a careful reading of Paul’s letters shows the problems. (pp. 31-32, DJE?)
What he doesn’t add here is that this situation is far from peculiar to Paul. It exists across virtually the entire range of the non-Gospel record from almost the first hundred years of Christianity. One writer’s silence (and peculiar language we will look at) could perhaps be an idiosyncrasy though still curious; the entire flock of them outside the Gospels showing the same curiosities would be so unlikely as to be rejected out of hand. (Ehrman will later try to get around this by declaring that those other silent authors, such as of 1 Peter, Revelation and Hebrews, nevertheless “clearly indicate that Jesus existed.” I will be demonstrating that he is mistaken—and not by claiming interpolation!) (more…)