Vridar

2013/05/13

Bart Ehrman and another unprofessional blow at mythicism

Filed under: Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Neil Godfrey @ 9:43 pm
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historical view of Heidelberg

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while ago I addressed key points in Bart Ehrman’s eagerly awaited response to Christ Mythicism, Did Jesus Exist? and was honoured that Earl Doherty accepted an invitation to post his initial responses to the book here, too. I had much more to say at the time about Ehrman’s efforts but let it all drop since so many others were busy doing the same thing.

I have gradually been getting to know a little more of Frank Zindler’s work since then, and comparing it with what Ehrman himself wrote about it. That, in part, led me to write a defence of Frank’s right to write a chapter about his personal correspondence with Bart Ehrman. A couple of readers disagreed with me on that point, but we will have to agree to disagree. I am still deciding if I will write a post on that chapter about the Zindler-Ehrman correspondence and what it quite fairly tells us.

This evening I revisited the following passage written by Bart Ehrman, but by now I have learned more about Frank’s own arguments. It’s hard to know how to say how I felt without sounding trite. I think it is a good thing not to forget the outrageously unprofessional and scurrilous ways in which Bart Ehrman treated the arguments of mythicists. Those mythicists have every right to reply and defend themselves. That’s not stooping to the level of Ehrman’s unprofessionalism. It’s the right thing to do. If the result is not a stand-alone compendium of mythicist arguments, that’s a loss, but at least we will hear the defence of those Ehrman has so blatantly misrepresented. (Richard Carrier calls Ehrman a liar, a probable liar, or a suspected liar, at least seven times in his chapter.)

Here is what Bart Ehrman wrote about one of Frank Zindler’s points. I will follow this with the quotation from Frank’s own book which Ehrman claimed to be reading and citing.

The [Mithras] cult was centered, Zindler claims, in Tarsus (the hometown of the apostle Paul). But then the astrologers involved with the cult came to realize that the zodiacal age of Mithra was drawing to a close since the equinox was moving into Pisces. And so they “left their cult centers in Phrygia and Cilicia . . . to go to Palestine to see if they could locate not just the King of the Jews but the new Time Lord” (that is, they invented Jesus.* Zindler says this in all sincerity, and so far as I can tell, he really believes it. What evidence does he give for his claim that the Mithraists moved their religion to Palestine to help them find the king of the Jews? None at all. . . . This is made up. (p. 212, DJE?, my highlighting)

The asterisk marks where Ehrman leaves his endnote marker: Zindler, “How Jesus Got A Life”, p. 66

Note that Ehrman distinctly leads his audience to understand that he, Ehrman, is reading Zindler’s argument as published. He implies he knows the context. He is not relying on a couple of decontextualized extracts. He gives the impression that he has read in Zindler’s original words exactly what he has outlined — that the Mithras cult astrologers left their cult centres and moved to Palestine and invented Jesus. Ehrman believes Zindler is arguing that the Mithraic cult moved to Palestine and invented Jesus.

Here is what Frank Zindler actually wrote on page 66. (more…)

2013/05/06

Richard Carrier’s Review of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus

Richard Carrier, PhD, has essentially endorsed Tom Verenna’s “scathing review” of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus with one caveat: his complaints “may be a little excessive.” (I discussed earlier the blatant “wrongness” of Verenna’s review.) But we must stress that Verenna had only praise for the contribution from Dr Richard Carrier.

Carelessness with people’s reputations

Carrier (with a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University) reinforces Verenna’s ethical discomfort that Frank Zindler chose to publish email correspondence between himself and Ehrman:

Verenna raises some valid concerns worth mulling, such as about Zindler’s use and publication of his correspondence with Ehrman.

Thus even Dr Carrier demonstrates that he is not as thorough in the reading of what he is reviewing as he should be. He, like Verenna, quite overlooked Zindler’s own note at the point of introducing this email exchange:

I thank Professor Ehrman for graciously having granted me permission to reprint here his messages, provided only that I “acknowledge that they were emails, not written intended for publication.”

Because of their careless oversights (accompanied, one must presume, with a lack of interest in seriously checking to see if their grounds for darkening Zindler’s character were real) both have recklessly cast slanderous aspersions upon the integrity of Frank Zindler.

[The nature of the emails and how Frank used them are outlined in a comment below.]

Academic professionalism or strictly business?

One might wonder about the professionalism of a scholar who publishes a scathing review of a book to which he has contributed and advises his readers they are better off not bothering with it. (Professionalism, in my view, extends to treatment of one’s colleagues as much as it does to how one approaches one’s job.) But Dr Carrier clears the air on this point at the outset of his review. His relationship with the other contributors of this volume, and in particular with its editors, is entirely a business one. He stresses that he sold the rights to his article to them so they could make use of it: (more…)

2013/05/04

Book Review: Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth — Reviewing the review

Edited with a few additional remarks 4 hours after first posting.

BartEhrmanQuestHistoricalJesusThis post is a response to Book Review: Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth. I read this review before I received my own (Kindle) copy of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth, so I was dismayed when I began to read the book to find that I had been completely misled as to its character and content. Fear that that same review may influence many negatively towards the contributors of the book is what is compelling me to write this response now. (Apologists like McG are quite eager to lap it up uncritically.)

The review levels five charges against Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth:

  1. “resorting to a personal attack . . . nearly 600 pages of venom and rhetoric . . . full of venom and disgust”
  2. “The title of this volume bespeaks the purpose: it is a series of essays with the intent to character assassinate.”
  3. “And Price’s attempts to link the contributors of the volume, in all, and those who support the so-called ‘Christ Myth Theory’ with minimalism is a void one.”
  4. “Price also gives D.M. Murdock too much credit. He is guilty of inflating her credentials in many respects and, while they are friends, it is distracting. He writes, for example, that ‘her chief sin in Ehrman’s eyes would appear to be her lack of diplomas on the wall’, but that is an oversimplification of what Ehrman argues.”
  5. “Also there is a surprising amount of personal correspondence. Frank produces some 75 pages for his first contribution and more than half of it consists of various email exchanges between Ehrman and himself. This troubles me as I am not so sure that such a move is ethical. . . . In my humble opinion, it is wholly unwelcome that Zindler dedicated so much space to these emails and also formulated a polemical argument around them; it is quite unfortunate that this appears in this volume.”

I’ll address these in reverse order.

5. Unethical email disclosures?

I was shocked to read this and feared that Frank Zindler may have overstepped the mark when I read this accusation. So I was particularly keen to read carefully how Frank does introduce these email exchanges with Bart Ehrman. I was greatly relieved to learn that Tom Verenna’s aspersions were entirely misplaced. Here’s what I found. Frank attaches the following note at the point of publishing the first email response from Bart Ehrman:

I thank Professor Ehrman for graciously having granted me permission to reprint here his messages, provided only that I “acknowledge that they were emails, not written intended for publication.”

I do wonder, however, about the ethics of publishing an image of a personal message from Frank to the reviewer. Did T.V. seek F.Z’s permission for this?

4. Giving D. M. Murdock too much credit?

Robert M. Price, we are told, “inflates” the credentials of D.M. Murdock/Acharya S. (more…)

2012/11/08

Now an eBook: Doherty’s Rebuttal of Ehrman’s Case for the Existence of Jesus

The End of an Illusion:

How Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?” Has Laid the Case for an Historical Jesus to Rest

[Kindle Edition]

This book-length rebuttal by Earl Doherty to Bart Ehrman’s much anticipated and unexpectedly disappointing case for an historical Jesus (“Did Jesus Exist?”, published March 2012) first appeared in installments from March to August 2012 on the Vridar blog (under copyright), and is now being offered in e-book form, with extensive minor revisions.

It addresses virtually every claim and argument put forward by Ehrman in his book, and demonstrates not only the faultiness and inadequacy of those arguments, but the degree to which the author has been guilty of a range of fallacy, special pleading, and clear a priori bias against the very concept of mythicism and those who promote it.

In “Did Jesus Exist?” historicism has demonstrated the bankruptcy of its case for an historical Jesus, (more…)

2012/08/17

32. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 32 (Jesus an Apocalyptic Prophet?)

Filed under: Earl Doherty,Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Earl Doherty @ 1:00 am
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Ehrman’s Case for Jesus as an Apocalyptic Prophet

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Ehrman’s criteria for Jesus as apocalyptic prophet
  • Jesus as the Son of Man
  • Did Q identify its Jesus with the Son of Man?
  • “L” and “M” not apocalyptic
  • No apocalypticism in Q1 and the Gospel of Thomas
  • No apocalypticist in the epistles
  • Does Q’s John the Baptist know a human Jesus?
  • Between the Alpha and Omega lies an apocalyptic Jesus

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Evidence for Jesus as an Apocalypticist

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 297-304)

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The issue of multiple attestation

Bart Ehrman now presents his evidence that

Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who predicted that the end of this evil age is soon to come and that within his generation God would send a cosmic judge of the earth, the Son of Man, to destroy the forces of evil and everyone who has sided with them and to bring in his good kingdom here on earth. (DJE? p. 298)

Referring to his criterion of “contextual credibility,” Ehrman points out that apocalyptic expectation of this sort was widespread in Jesus’ day; and he promises to show that the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus also fit the criterion of dissimilarity.

But to begin with, he stresses that

. . . the apocalyptic proclamation of Jesus is found widely throughout our earliest sources. In other words, it is multiply attested, all over the map, precisely in the sources that we would normally give the greatest weight to, those that are our oldest. (DJE? p. 299)

I think the reader by now can detect what is going to happen here. After the sweeping declaration that Jesus as apocalyptic proclaimer is found “throughout our earliest sources . . . all over the map” (we have already seen that this is not the case), Ehrman reduces that map to the narrow world of the Gospels and Acts, and his claim that these or their underlying sources constitute “our oldest”—i.e., “Mark, Q, M and L.” (more…)

2012/08/10

30. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism — Part 30 (Did Mark Invent Jesus of Nazareth?)

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Did Mark Invent Jesus of Nazareth?

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • How much did Mark invent in his Gospel?
  • John’s dependency on the Synoptics
    • John’s changes and innovations
    • Lazarus and the Signs Source
  • How independent of Mark are Matthew and Luke?
    • Robert Price on no “M” and “L” sources
  • Trusting Luke’s Prologue again
    • Ehrman’s fantasy world of “many Gospels” before Mark
  • Rehashing arguments which render an historical Jesus “fact”
  • Postscript

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Did Mark, Our First Gospel, Invent the Idea of a Historical Person, Jesus?

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 259-263)

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Mark building on Q traditions

Mantegna's St. Mark.

Mantegna’s St. Mark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the final section of his critique of individual mythicists, Bart Ehrman addresses the question of whether Mark invented his Gospel character. Insofar as he has my specific position in mind, he doesn’t quite get it right, as usual.

It is widely thought among those who hold such [mythicist] views that the Jesus of the Gospel tradition—the Jewish teacher and prophet of Galilee who did miracles and then was crucified by the Romans—is an invention of our first Gospel, Mark. . . . This view is suggested in several places by Wells and is stated quite definitively by Doherty: “All the Gospels derive their basic story of Jesus of Nazareth from one source: the Gospel of Mark, the first one composed. Subsequent evangelists reworked Mark in their own interests and added new material.” (DJE? p. 259)

I do not say that “the Jewish teacher and prophet of Galilee who did miracles” is the invention of Mark, but rather of the Q community which preceded him, although that invention was not in the form of any narrative life story, but simply as the alleged originator of a bare collection of the community’s sayings and a few anecdotes, with no biography, let alone a personality, in view. (more…)

2012/07/25

Richard Carrier Recaps the Bart Ehrman-Historicity of Jesus Exhanges

Filed under: Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist?,James F. McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 2:16 pm
Tags: ,

Richard Carrier has compiled a “summary of the current state of the debate after the mini blog war between [himself] and Bart Ehrman over his latest book, Did Jesus Exist?, which attempted to argue against various scholars . . . who have concluded, or at least suspect, that Jesus never really existed, but was an invention in myth, like Moses or King Arthur or Ned Ludd. . . .  I will give a state-of-play for everything.”

Carrier is keen to distance himself from those he labels “crank mythicists” and I sometimes think he is committing some of the same hasty misrepresentations of some of these that other scholars do. I’d feel much more comfortable with Carrier if he demonstrated more patience and ability to share his skills with others who lack his specialist training in the field. He only covers his own exchanges of course. Others have dabbled with general comments, most recently Larry Hurtado who seems to indicate that his entire knowledge of mythicism has been filtered to him through a 1938 Student Christian Movement publication mainly addressing the views of J. M. Robertson.

Carrier links to his past responses (March to April this year) to Bart Ehrman and James McGrath and then provides a point by point synopsis of the arguments he made and the responses to each from Ehrman and McGrath.

It’s the sort of outline I sometimes had a mind to do after my own exchanges with McGrath and a few others. What is humorous is the classic responses of both Ehrman and McGrath to the various points made as the exchange unfolded. It’s reassuring to see that the responses from McGrath in particular is no different from what they have been with me. So Carrier dots his epitome with: (more…)

2012/07/23

28. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 28 (G. A. Wells)

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1. Did Jewish Personified Wisdom generate Paul’s Christ Jesus?

2. Was Jesus an Unknown Jew Who Lived a Century Before Paul?

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • The (partial) mythicism of G. A. Wells
    • The problems in Wells’ interpretation of Paul
  • Jewish personified Wisdom as inspiration for Paul’s Christ
    • Hellenistic Judaism and the Wisdom of Solomon
    • Is Jesus the incarnation of personified Wisdom?
    • Colossians and the christological hymns
  • Did Paul see Christ as living in the time of Alexander Janneus?
  • The chronology of Jesus’ death and rising and the appearances of 1 Cor. 15.
  • Would Paul trouble to mention something everyone knew?
  • Paul’s “firstfruits” harvested from scripture
  • Taking apart Ehrman’s summation against Wells
  • Related Posts

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1. Was Jesus Invented as a Personification of Jewish Wisdom?

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 241-246)

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George Albert Wells

G.A. Wells

The mythicist views of G. A. Wells

In turning once more to the views of G. A. Wells, Ehrman demonstrates that mythicism is not monolithic, for Wells’ views on what earliest Christians like Paul believed in shows that the opinions of mythicists can be almost as varied as those of New Testament scholars who have sought to uncover the ‘genuine’ historical Jesus. (Of course, only the former are condemned for that diversity.)

Wells and two originating strands of Christianity:

Wells, like myself, sees a Christian movement which originated in two essentially separate expressions that only came together in the Gospel of Mark. Since I did not consciously take this from Wells, this illustrates the principle of different individuals or groups coming up with similar ideas based on available evidence or ‘in the air’ concepts but not dependent one on another. (Unless Wells took it from me! ;-) )

Strand one: Q, Galilee and a founding figure:

Wells accepts the existence of Q as representing one of those expressions: a sectarian movement in Galilee preaching the coming of the kingdom of God; but he came to believe (sometime around 1990) that an historical sage, à la the Jesus Seminar, lies at its root, whereas I see the evidence in Q pointing to a later development for such a founding figure during the evolution of the sect, and that no such founder existed.

Strand two: Paul, Wisdom and the reign of Alexander Janneus:

On the other hand, Wells sees Paul as deriving a non-existent Son/Christ figure from philosophical and scriptural sources, influenced especially by the “personified Wisdom” tradition of the Hebrew bible. But rather than locating him and his acts in a supernatural time and place, Wells interprets Paul as concluding that Christ had been born, lived and died on earth at an unknown time in the past, though he opts for Paul locating this during the reign of Alexander Janneus (103-76 BCE), known to have crucified hundreds of his rabbinic opponents.

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Problems with Wells’ theory

There are several problems with Wells’ theory. (more…)

2012/07/20

27. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 27

Slightly edited 3 hours after original posting.

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Did the earliest Christians regard Jesus as God?

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Did the earliest Christians see Jesus as God?
    • God vs. an emanation of God
    • Concepts of the Son and Logos; Paul and Philo
    • Epistolary descriptions of the Son
  • The Synoptic Jesus: Man or God?
    • Why Mark’s divinity for Jesus is subdued
  • The figure in the Philippians hymn: human or divine?
    • “Nature” vs. “image” in the Philippians hymn
    • Yet another “likeness” motif
    • What is the “name above every name”? “Jesus” vs. “Lord”
    • Another smoking gun

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Jesus as God

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 231-240)

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Was Jesus God?
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But what precisely is meant by the phrase ‘Jesus was God’? Much of the problem lies in Ehrman’s semantic woolliness.

Bart Ehrman now embarks on what is probably the thorniest problem in New Testament research. How was Jesus regarded, not only by his followers, but by the earliest Christians who spread the faith? Ehrman declares:

the earliest Christians did not consider Jesus God. . . . scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles. (DJE? p. 231)

But what precisely is meant by the phrase ‘Jesus was God’? Much of the problem lies in Ehrman’s semantic woolliness. Later Church Councils declared Jesus fully a co-equal with God the Father, of the same substance, two ‘persons’ within the Trinity. I am aware of no scholarship, let alone any mythicist, who suggests that this was the view of any segment of earliest Christianity.

But to say that Jesus was an “emanation” of God is something else. The difference between Paul’s Son of God and Philo’s Logos as an emanation of God is largely a matter of personhood. Philo does not personalize his Logos; he calls it God’s “first-born,” but it is not a distinct ‘person’; rather, it is a kind of radiant force which has certain effects on the world. Paul’s Son has been carried one step further (though a large one), in that he is a full hypostasis, a distinct divine personage with an awareness of self and roles of his own—and capable of being worshiped on his own.

But an “emanation” is not God per se. That is why Philo can describe him as “begotten” of God. He can be styled a part of the Godhead, but he is a subordinate part. (I have no desire to sound like a theologian, but to try to explain as I see it the concepts that lie in the minds of Christian writers, past and present. They are attempting to describe what they see as a spiritual reality; I regard it as bearing no relation to any reality at all.) Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:28 speaks of the Son’s fate once God’s enemies are vanquished, a passage which exercises theologians because it looks incompatible with the Trinity. For here Paul says that the Son “will be subjected” to God, in the apparent sense of being ‘subsumed’ back into God, who will then become One again—“so that God will be all in all.” There will only be one ‘person.’

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The “intermediary Son” concept
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Thus the “Son” which we find described throughout the epistles is viewed in the sense of an emanation of God, not God himself.

c. 1165 Sophia - Wisdom (Wikipedia)

There can be little question that the idea of the Son, Paul’s “Christ” and spiritual Messiah, arose from the philosophical thinking of the era, which created for the highest Deity intermediary spiritual forces and subordinate divine entities to fill certain roles and to be revelatory channels between God and humanity. In Judaism, this was the role of personified Wisdom, though her divinity was relatively innocuous and her ‘person’ perhaps as much poetic as real. (She may have been a later scribal compromise when an earlier goddess consort of Yahweh was abandoned). In Greek thinking, the intermediary force was the Logos, though in varied versions (the Platonic Logos and Stoic Logos were quite different), and with an independence and personification less developed than Paul’s.

Thus the “Son” which we find described throughout the epistles is viewed in the sense of an emanation of God, not God himself. He has a personification of his own, and he fills certain roles.

Consider three passages: (more…)

2012/07/14

A Profession of Faith — The Historical Jesus Creed

Dr. Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

Presumably as a lead-up to the publishing of Is This Not the Carpenter? Thomas L. Thompson (as we mentioned earlier on Vridar) has published a rebuttal to Ehrman’s misleading statements in Did Jesus Exist? You’ve probably already read Thompson’s piece, “Is This Not the Carpenter’s Son? — A Response to Bart Ehrman,” but you may have missed the hilarious follow-up dialog that appeared later on.

A challenger appears

Our favorite anti-mythicist crusader, the Battling Bantam from Butler, James F. McGrath writes:

In referring to the existence of a historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth as an “assumption” rather than a historical conclusion, Thompson is either siding with the mythicists, or trying to have his cake and eat it too, or ignoring what Ehrman wrote, or some combination of the above

Thompson, says McGrath, can’t have it both ways. He’s either fer us or he’s agin’ us.

N.B.: Any discussion of the historical Jesus must be presented as a historical conclusion. You have been warned.

McGrath continues:

In writing about this topic, Thompson had a wonderful opportunity to clarify his own position and distance himself from those internet crackpots sometimes referred to as “mythicist” [sic] who comment on matters of history about which they are inadequately informed, engage in extremes of parallelomania which seem like a parody of the worst examples of scholarship from a bygone era, and in other ways do something that would be helpful in relation to this subject. That opportunity seems to me to have been squandered.

For Dr. Jimmy the thought of missing the chance to slam mythicists is a tragedy, a waste, a squandered opportunity.

Thompson replies:

(more…)

2012/07/13

26. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 26

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Mythicist Inventions: Part One – Creating the Mythical Christ from the Pagan Mystery Cults

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Jesus as a dying and rising god
  • Common creations of the religious mind
  • The demise of James Frazer’s The Golden Bough
  • The case for borrowing lies in syncretism
  • Jewish and Greek forms of resurrection
  • Paul on Jesus’ resurrection as “firstfruits”
  • Jonathan Z. Smith’s case against dying and rising gods
  • The resurrection of Adonis: did the mysteries copy Christianity?
  • Gunter Wagner on discrediting the mysteries
  • The appeal of the mysteries
  • The lack of evidence on the mysteries
  • Historicist methodology and a Jewish camouflage

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Mythicist Inventions: Creating the Mythical Christ

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 219-230)

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If there has been one paramount apologetic concern in the long combat against Jesus mythicism, it has been the need to discredit any thought of Christian dependence on the Hellenistic savior god traditions. This has led historicism to adopt a ‘scorched earth’ strategy. Not only must any dependence on the mystery cults be refuted on Christianity’s own turf, the war has been carried further afield in an attempt to eliminate even the alleged sources. Thus, the armies of Christian independence are dispatched to the enemy’s home territory, there to destroy its own precepts.

No longer do the mysteries believe in dying and rising gods; no longer are they based on the cycle of agricultural death and rebirth; no longer do they practice rites which could have resembled and influenced the Christian one; no longer do they even worship such deities.

And no longer do ancient Christians contemporary with the mysteries genuinely know anything about them.

But the mysteries knew about Christianity, and they liked what they saw so much that they recast their own ancient beliefs in imitation of the Jesus story.

 

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“Did the Earliest Christians Invent Jesus as a Dying-Rising God, Based on Pagan Myths?”

Having asked that question, Ehrman presents the situation this way:

ONE OF THE MOST widely asserted claims found in the mythicist literature is that Jesus was an invention of the early Christians who had been deeply influenced by the prevalent notion of a dying-rising god, as found throughout the pagan religions of antiquity. The theory behind this claim is that people in many ancient religions worshipped gods who died and rose again: Osiris, Attis, Adonis, Tammuz, Heracles, Melqart, Eshmun, Baal, and so on. Originally, the theory goes, these gods were connected with vegetation and were worshipped in fertility cults. Just as every year the crops die in winter but then come back to life in the spring, so too with the gods who are associated with the crops. They die (when the crops do) and go to the underworld, but then they revive (with the crops) and reappear on earth, raised from the dead. They are worshipped then as dying-rising deities. (DJE?, p. 221)

According to Ehrman, the view of almost all mythicists is that Jesus is an artificial Jewish version of a dying and rising deity of the above type; the significant parallels between the mysteries and the Jesus story prove this claim.

But this is something of a straw man. It envisions that some founder of the movement, or some Jewish study group (a scriptural book review club perhaps?), consciously sat down and ‘invented’ a new version of an old religion by emulating the latter’s features. Occasionally this sort of thing may happen (Ptolemy I deliberately syncretizing two gods into one to create a national-unity religion, or Joseph Smith inventing the whole gold plates business). But more often than not it is ‘in the air’ concepts and expressions that throw up a new set of ideas and interpretations within a break-away group or a particular cultural or sectarian entity.

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Common inventions of the human mind
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There is much in early Christianity which owes its presence to the Jewish culture . . . But there is also no question that fundamental aspects of the early Christian faith do not have a Jewish character but a Hellenistic one.

Almost every sect that looks back to a divine event or interaction with a deity develops a sacred meal as a commemorative thanksgiving or ritual reflection. (What is more fitting, or available, to give to a god than food and drink, or more traditionally associated with a god’s own nature and bounty?)

If the most fundamental religious impulse is to find a way to believe in a life after death, this is almost inevitably going to take the form of creating a deity who will bestow such a thing; and given our mystical predilections it should not be surprising that a process many would tend to come up with is the principle of the god undergoing the desired goal himself. It would indeed take a god to conquer death, but if we could just find a way to ride through that formidable barrier on his divine coattails. . . .

This is one mythicist who does not overplay the ‘deliberate borrowing’ principle to explain the origins of Christianity. (more…)

2012/07/09

25. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism — Part 25

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Is Jesus Based on Pagan Precedents?

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • A cult of parallels
  • Comparing Apollonius of Tyana
  • Kersey Graves as punching bag
    • Compare John Remsburg
  • Evaluating a range of different parallels
    • Birth of Mithras
    • Water into wine by Dionysos
    • Horus the shepherd-king
    • Isis and Horus, Mother and Child
  • Do Christian fathers give accurate knowledge of the mysteries?
    • Justin, Tertullian
    • Celsus via Origen
  • Cultural differences
    • Divine copulation or virgin birth
    • Variant forms of resurrection
    • Dying for sin
  • The pre-Gospel record contains no biographical parallels
  • Paul’s soteriology dependent on pagan concepts
  • The “cult of parallels” only arises with the Gospel story
  • Robert Price’s “mythic hero” archetype
  • Leaving a mark on history
    • Homer, Confucius, Lao-Tze, Buddha, William Tell, Aeneas, Romulus, Remus . . .

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Claim 4: The Nonhistorical “Jesus” Is Based on Stories About Pagan Divine Men

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 207-218)

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Bart Ehrman now addresses what is undoubtedly the most controversial aspect of mythicism, or at least of some expressions of it. It forms very little of my own case for a mythical Jesus and I admit that this whole area must be approached with caution and qualification. One might call it “a cult of parallels.”

As Ehrman puts it,

. . . now rather than arguing that Jesus was made up based on persons and prophecies from the Jewish Bible, it is claimed that he was invented in light of what pagans were saying about the gods or about other “divine men,” superhuman creatures thought to have been half mortal, half immortal. (DJE? p. 207)

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Apollonius Tyanaeus

Apollonius Tyanaeus (Photo credit: Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara)

Comparing Apollonius of Tyana

He gives as an example the career of Apollonius of Tyana, an ancient sage who was reputed to have had a miraculous birth, gathered disciples, taught a spiritual ethic, healed the sick, was in part divine, and after death at the hands of authorities came back to appear to his followers.

Apollonius is perhaps not the best analogy to offer in these circumstances, since he was a figure who apparently lived not prior to or even contemporaneous with the reputed Jesus, but a little after him (he is supposed to have died 98 CE). So there can be no question that early Christians modelled their Jesus on Apollonius. But he does represent a class of ‘divine man’ (the theios anēr) in the ancient world, including much older figures of dubious existence like Heracles, some of whose characteristics the story of Jesus shared.

Ehrman claims quite legitimately that such comparisons with someone like Apollonius of Tyana have little if anything to do with the question of Jesus’ existence. Since Apollonius himself is almost certainly an historical figure (we have a little better attestation to his existence than we do for Jesus), this shows that historical persons can acquire extensive legendary characteristics. But what of those figures who are generally not judged to be historical, more god than man, incarnated to earth in an undefined or primordial past?

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Trotting out Kersey Graves

image of Kersey Graves

image of Kersey Graves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here Ehrman latches onto the very worst and most notorious expression of parallel-hunting in the history of mythicism: Kersey Graves’ 1875 The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors. Poor Kersey has become the favorite punching bag of historicists, much of it due to his own fault. Ehrman styles his work as “an exaggerated set of mythicist claims” with some justification, but his own remark that

Graves provides not a single piece of documentation for any of them. They are all asserted, on his own authority. (DJE? p. 211)

is itself an exaggeration. Graves’ references are anything but exact or even useful, but he is not quite appealing to his own authority when he says things like: “Their holy bibles (the Vedas and Gita) prophesy of [Chrishna] thus,” and goes on to quote several sentences from those bibles (1960 reprint, p.297). Graves hardly made up these passages himself. (more…)

2012/07/06

Thomas L. Thompson responds to Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?

It’s good to see Professor Thomas L. Thompson come out and respond to Bart Ehrman’s crude dismissal of his scholarly contribution to the origin of the Christ myth.

Here is what Ehrman had written of Thomas L. Thompson’s work:

A different sort of support for a mythicist position comes in the work of Thomas L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots o f Jesus and David, Thompson is trained in biblical studies, but he does not have degrees in New Testament or early Christianity. He is, instead, a Hebrew Bible scholar who teaches at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. In his own field of expertise he is convinced that figures from the Hebrew Bible such as Abraham, Moses, and David never existed. He transfers these views to the New Testament and argues that Jesus too did not exist but was invented by Christians who wanted to create a savior figure out of stories found in the Jewish scriptures.

and again (more…)

24. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 24

Filed under: Earl Doherty,Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist?,Midrash — Earl Doherty @ 1:00 am
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Mythicist Claim Three: The Gospels Are Interpretive Paraphrases of the OT

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • The Gospels constructed out of scriptural midrash
  • Jesus’ passion modelled on a traditional Jewish story
  • The Gospel of the Old Testament according to Robert Price
  • The Gospel Jesus as a new Moses
  • A Jesus miracle modelled on Elijah
  • What does the midrashic Gospel Jesus symbolize?
  • Fictional episodes vs. the genuine article?
  • Thomas L. Thompson and intertextual dependency
  • What did Paul mean by “receiving” and “passing on”?
  • Putting our trust in Luke and John

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Claim 3: The Gospels Are Interpretive Paraphrases of the Old Testament

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 197-207)

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. . . . scholars began to realize that the events of the Synoptic Gospels were wholesale reworkings of elements and stories in Hebrew scripture.

Bart Ehrman now tackles perhaps the most momentous development in the entire history of New Testament scholarship, and it is a fairly recent one. While there were murmurs and insights in this direction beforehand, it was only around 1980 that scholars began to realize that the events of the Synoptic Gospels were wholesale reworkings of elements and stories in Hebrew scripture. A seminal work in this area was an article published in the Harvard Theological Review No. 73 (1980) by George Nickelsburg, entitled “The Genre and Function of the Markan Passion Narrative.

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The Gospels under a microscope

Nickelsburg first of all clinched the case that the entire Markan passion story is made up of building blocks extracted from the prophets and the Psalms, in some cases literally ‘chipped out’ of their scriptural settings and set into place in a new composition like a bricks-and-mortar construction.

Cleansing of the Temple

Thus, Hosea 9:15, “Because of their evil deeds I will drive them from my house,” and Zechariah 14:21, “No trader shall be seen in the house of the Lord,” became the literal building blocks of the Cleansing of the Temple scene.

Agony in Gethsemane

Psalm 42:5, “How deep I am cast in misery, groaning in my distress,” supplied Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

Beatings of Jesus

Isaiah 50:6-7, “I offered my back to the lash. . . I did not hide my face from spitting and insult,” was inserted literally and graphically into the picture of the ordeals which Jesus underwent.

Gambling for Jesus’ clothes

At the foot of the cross the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ garments because Psalm 22:18 said: “They divided my garments among them and for my raiments they cast lots.”

And so on.

There is scarcely a thread in the entire fabric of the passion story which has not been extracted from the scriptural tapestry. (In The Jesus Puzzle and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man I trace in detail the course of Mark’s passion story through its scriptural and literary sources.)

But it was not only at the nitty-gritty level that Mark used scripture to craft his story. Nickelsburg revealed that the overall shape of it followed a common generic model found in centuries of Jewish writing: (more…)

2012/06/29

23. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 23

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Part II: The Mythicists’ Claims – One: A Problematic Record

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.COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Admitting to problematic Gospels
  • Gospel authors unknown
  • Fallacious analogies:
    • Obama’s birth certificate
    • The Hitler diaries
    • Clinton’s presidency
    • George Washington
  • Discrepancies and contradictions in the Gospels
  • Radically different pictures of Jesus
  • How much of the Gospels is fictional?
  • Form criticism and the argument of Robert Price
  • The criterion of dissimilarity: is it applicable in the Gospels?
  • Doubly strong claims? — multiple attestation and dissimilarity:
    • crucifixion
    • brothers
    • Nazareth
  • P.S. Claim 2: Nazareth Did Not Exist


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Chapter Six: The Mythicist Case: Weak and Irrelevant Claims

Claim 1: The Gospels Are Highly Problematic as Historical Sources

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 177-190)

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The present chapter will look at the typical arguments used by mythicists that are, in my judgment, weak and/or irrelevant to the question. (DJE? p. 177)

With that, Ehrman embarks on a direct attempt to discredit some of the arguments on which mythicists like myself base their contention that Jesus did not exist.

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Problematic Gospels as Historical Sources

After allowing that the great number of manuscripts of the New Testament documents we possess, as compared to copies of other ancient writings, has nothing to do with whether they are reliable or not, Ehrman makes a pretty heavy set of admissions:

  • we do not have the original texts of the Gospels, and there are places where we do not know what the authors originally said;
  • the Gospels are not authored by the persons named in their titles (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) but were written by people who were not followers of Jesus but lived forty to sixty years later in different parts of the world;
  • the Gospels are full of discrepancies and contradictions;
  • the Gospels report historical events that can be shown not to have happened.

Moreover,

. . . even though the Gospels are among the best attested books from the ancient world, we are regrettably hindered in knowing what the authors of these books originally wrote. The problem is not that we are lacking manuscripts. We have thousands of manuscripts. The problem is that none of these manuscripts is the original copy produced by the author (this is true for all four Gospels—in fact, for every book of the New Testament). Moreover, most of these manuscripts were made over a thousand years after the original copies, none of them is close to the time of the originals—within, say, ten or twenty years—and all of them contain certifiable mistakes.

But in Ehrman’s view,

 . . . for the question of whether or not Jesus existed, these problems are mostly irrelevant. (DJE? p. 180)

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Inconsistent and contradictory Gospels
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If writers in the early days could play so fast and loose with ‘history’ and sources, with no word or deed of that central character spared revision, what does that say about the stability and reliability, the basic roots, of any supposed traditions these stories are supposedly based upon?

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Well, let’s see. The Gospels do not agree in their wording, or in the inclusion of certain passages in all the extant copies? “So what?” Ehrman asks. It doesn’t matter, for example, if some copies of John are missing the pericope of the woman taken in adultery, this hardly has any bearing on whether Jesus existed or not.

(more…)

2012/06/26

The New Apologists: R. Joseph Hoffmann and friends on a rescue mission for the “Jesus of history”

Filed under: The Jesus Process — Neil Godfrey @ 10:32 am
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Ken Humphreys has posted his response to The Jesus Process (C) trio: The New Apologists: R. Joseph Hoffmann and friends on a rescue mission for the “Jesus of History”. . . .

A trio of Jesus myth denouncers from the world of academe have rushed into the breach opened up by the failure of Bart Ehrman’s final solution to the problem of Jesus’ existence (Listen, he was a small-time deluded doom merchant who thought he was king, so there). Professors Hoffmann and Casey, and a young academic who worked for Casey, Stephanie Louise Fisher, have come to Ehrman’s support with a few dubious arguments in favour of a historical Jesus and a visceral attack on Jesus mythicists as a thoroughly bad crew. . . . .

2012/06/25

22. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 22

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A Crucified Messiah

COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Jesus and David Koresh
  • Was a crucified criminal believed to be the messiah?
  • Ehrman’s “story” of a resurrection
  • A story missing in Q and the epistles
  • The actual picture in the epistles
  • Did Jews invent a crucified messiah?
  • Did Jews anticipate a suffering messiah?
  • The sources and nature of Paul’s new messiah
  • Ehrman’s summary of his evidence with summary responses

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The Crucified Messiah

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 164-174)

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Jesus as an ancient David Koresh

At the end of our last instalment, Bart Ehrman told of putting a question to his university students:

What if I told you that David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, attacked and killed some years ago in Texas by the FBI as a dangerous rebel, was really God’s Chosen one, the Lord of all? (DJE? p. 163)

He was making the point that for the followers of Jesus to declare that a man who had just been executed as a rebel was really God’s prophesied messiah would indeed have been equivalent to survivors of the Branch Davidians making a similar declaration of David Koresh today.

Ehrman is now faced with a major challenge. He must answer the question: How could any Jew judge a man who fulfilled none of the expectations the nation held about the messiah, a man whom society would have regarded as a “crucified criminal,” ignominiously despatched by the very overlords he was supposed to overthrow, to be the fulfillment of all those prophecies in scripture about God’s agent for Israel’s salvation?

The traditional Christian answer and Ehrman’s “story” substitute

Ask that question of an evangelical Christian today and you will get a stock answer: the actual resurrection of Jesus convinced his followers that he was God’s Son and Messiah. I suppose if I had been around at that time and saw a dead man walk, I too would have let that override whatever negative reaction I had to seeing him die on the cross. But Ehrman hasn’t allowed himself that option. And yet, he appeals to much the same thing, just a weaker version of it.

If it is hard to imagine Jews inventing the idea of a crucified messiah, where did the idea come from? It came from historical realities. There really was a man Jesus. Some of the things he said and possibly did made some of his followers wonder if he could be the messiah. Eventually they became convinced: he must be the messiah. But then he ran afoul of the authorities, who had him arrested, put on trial, and condemned to execution. He was crucified. This, of course, radically disconfirmed everything his followers had thought and hoped since he obviously was the furthest thing from the messiah. But then something else happened. Some of them began to say that God had intervened and brought him back from the dead. The story caught on, and some (or all—we don’t know) of his closest followers came to think that in fact he had been raised. This reconfirmed in a big way the hopes that had been so severely dashed by his crucifixion. For his reinspirited followers, Jesus truly is the one favored by God. So he is the messiah. But he is a different kind of messiah than anyone expected. God had a different plan from the beginning. He planned to save Israel not by a powerful royal messiah but by a crucified messiah. (DJE? p. 164)

So now instead of an actual resurrection, with followers seeing Jesus again in the flesh and placing their hands upon him to confirm that he was indeed alive, Ehrman posits a “story” of a resurrection which “caught on.” I’m not so sure that I myself, back then, would have been convinced by a ‘story.’ It hasn’t got quite the same force as actually seeing the dead live, right in front of you. Maybe getting a sworn assurance from someone else who actually did see the dead man alive again might have substituted. But a ‘story’? And what did that story say? That he had actually been seen in the flesh? Or that he had been taken up to heaven immediately, leaving no witnesses behind? Was it a resurrection in flesh, or one in spirit? Did the story offer any proof? Ehrman does not say. (more…)

2012/06/23

21. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 21

Filed under: Earl Doherty,Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Earl Doherty @ 1:00 am
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“Key Data” in Proving Jesus’ Historicity – The Crucified Messiah

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • The conflict between messianic expectation and result
  • Assumptions based on the Gospels and Acts
  • Why did Paul persecute the early church?
  • Paul’s gospel vs. Ehrman’s view of early church beliefs
  • Christ as “curse” for being “hanged on a tree”
  • Paul switching horses in mid-stream
  • A new view of Christian origins
  • The traditional Jewish Messiah
  • Jesus as lower class Galilean peasant
  • Who would make up a crucified Messiah?

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The Crucified Messiah

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 156-174)

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A conflict between expectation and history

To introduce his second piece of “Key Data” which confer a “high degree of certainty that (Jesus) was an historical figure,” (p. 144) Bart Ehrman offers this:

These early Christians from day one believed that Jesus was the messiah. But they knew that he had been crucified. (p. 156)

This is a good example of what happens when one’s thinking is stuck firmly inside the box. The point Ehrman is making is that the concept of the “messiah,” the expectation of what he would be and what he would do, conflicted with the fact that Jesus had been crucified. In other words, historical expectations were at odds with (alleged) historical events. But if that is indeed one’s starting assumption, and if it is wrong, then it will lead us down all sorts of problematic garden paths and into conclusions which are not only erroneous but unnecessary.

The first part of this assumption, entirely based on the Gospels and Acts, is that certain people made judgments about a certain historical man. If that were the case, then an anomaly would certainly exist between traditional ideas about the messiah and what the life of that man actually entailed. Why, then, the question arises, did those people come to such a judgment when it conflicted so much with standard messianic expectation?

But all we have to do is ask: what if no judgment was initially made about any historical man? Everything that follows would then be entirely different, and perhaps more amenable to understanding how Christianity began and showing a conformity to what some of the texts themselves are telling us.

Paul’s persecution of the church

For reasons that may not seem self-evident at first, claiming that Jesus was crucified is a powerful argument that Jesus actually lived. (p. 156)

Ehrman’s route to supporting this statement is a complicated one. He first calls attention to Paul’s persecution of the church in Judea prior to his conversion. He notes that Paul says nothing specific about what the beliefs of that early church were, or on what particular grounds it was subjected to persecution by the authorities, with himself acting as their agent. Nothing daunted, Ehrman steps into that breach. But because he has made the initial assumption that an historical man was interpreted as the messiah, he embarks on a chain of speculation which not only contains problems, but also looks to be completely off the path of reality. (more…)

2012/06/18

Did they really think like this?

Filed under: Nativity — Neil Godfrey @ 10:54 am
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Reading ancient texts quite often brings little eyebrow-raising surprises and curiosities — like this passage from Philo’s On the Life of Moses, II. He explains that the unique beauty of the sabbath resulted from it having “no female” element in it whatsoever:

XXXIX. (209) Moreover, in accordance with the honour due to the Creator of the universe, the prophet hallowed the sacred seventh day, beholding with eyes of more acute sight than those of mortals its pre-eminent beauty, which had already been deeply impressed on the heaven and the whole universal world, and had been borne about as an image by nature itself in her own bosom;

(210) for first of all Moses found that day destitute of any mother, and devoid of all participation in the female generation, being born of the Father alone without any propagation by means of seed, and being born without any conception on the part of any mother. And then he beheld not only this, that it was very beautiful and destitute of any mother, neither being born of corruption nor liable to corruption; . . . .

So one born of a mother is inferior because it is produced by means of “seed”?

It’s enough to make one wonder why the Christians didn’t concoct a myth of Jesus springing forth from the Father himself. Come to think of it, some Christians did believe this. Moreover, I supposed the virgin birth was beautiful because it was not the semen of a pagan god that initiated the process, but the Spirit of God himself. So even the virgin birth is entirely in keeping with this Platonic philosophy.

When Bart Ehrman tries to have us believe that the Christian nativity scene is without any counterpart in the world of pagan myths because there is no “seed” from a god involved in the process, he is surely falling behind the times. By the time of Christianity the learned ones had discovered, with the help of Platonic philosophy, a far higher and purer state of being and generation than was ever possible with anthropomorphic deities. But it’s still the same story, the same motif. Only moved up to a “higher” philosophical plane.

2012/06/11

19. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 19

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The Pauline Epistles – Part Two

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • “Words of the Lord”: from earth or heaven?
  • Why doesn’t Paul quote Jesus more extensively?
  • The epistles exclude an historical Jesus
  • Paul’s conversion chronology
    • Paul’s crash course on Jesus from Cephas and James
  • How much interpolation in Paul?
  • Surveying the counterarguments
  • Ehrman answering G. A. Wells
  • Why did Paul not use Jesus’ miracles to prove the imminence of the kingdom?

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The Witness of Paul

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 125-140)

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The Teachings of Jesus in Paul

In this category, Bart Ehrman has precious little to work with. (He has actually referred to the two parts of Jesus’ Eucharistic pronouncement at The Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 as “two sayings,” an attempt at ‘padding’ I’ve never seen before!) Now his focus is on the two little “words of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 7:10 and 9:14. Not only are these precious little, they are of paltry substance compared to the great ethical teachings of the Gospels, on which Paul and every other epistle writer has not a word to say.

The first is given by Ehrman as:

But to those who are married I give this charge—not I, but the Lord—a woman is not to be separated from her husband (but if she is separated, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and a man should not divorce his wife.

Ehrman refers to this as a paraphrase of

. . . a saying of Jesus [as in Mark 10:11-12] in urging believers to remain married; that this is a saying tradition going back to Jesus is shown by the fact that at this point Paul stresses that it is not he who is giving this instruction but that it was already given by the Lord himself. (DJE? p. 125)

Ehrman would do well on the staffs of New Testament publications like the NEB who regularly wear Gospel-colored glasses when doing their translations. His “it was already given by the Lord himself” nicely conveys a saying delivered by Jesus in the past, which Paul knows through oral tradition. But if those glasses are set aside, one gets a very different impression. And one that fits what the text actually says:

To the married, I enjoin—not I, but the Lord . . .

The words are saying that the Lord enjoins you now: ‘It is not I who enjoins you this way, but the Lord who enjoins you this way.’ In the present, not the past. How is the Lord doing this in the present? Through Paul as his spokesperson.

From earth or from heaven?

Ehrman makes only a cursory reference to a prominent thread in mainstream scholarship over the last several decades which sees Paul and other Christian apostles/prophets proclaiming words which they believe they have received directly from the Lord in heaven. Werner Kelber (The Oral and the Written Gospel, p.206) says: (more…)

2012/06/08

18. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.18

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The Pauline Epistles – Part One

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Born of woman, born under the Law: authentic to Paul?
  • Jesus ministering to the Jews
  • a “missing equation”: Paul’s Christ = the Gospel Jesus
  • Romans 1:3 – “of David’s seed kata sarka
  • “brother(s) of the Lord”: a preliminary look
  • “the twelve”
  • Paul’s “Lord’s Supper” a revelation
  • “betrayed” or “handed over” by God?
  • “at night”
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: “the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus”

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The Witness of Paul

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 117-125)

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I would like to think that Bart Ehrman could at least have provided a few new insights, some new arguments to explain the silence in Paul on an historical Jesus (and by extension in all the other epistle writers). But once again he disappoints the hungry historicist. This is the same old stale table fare, and it provides no nourishment for those starved of healthy evidence that Paul knew an historical Jesus.

By way of introduction to his ‘evidence,’ Ehrman appeals to the old bugaboo that mythicists are nothing more than interpolation experts, throwing out inconvenient passages right and left. Not only is this a vast exaggeration (certainly where I myself am concerned), he fails to grapple with mythicist arguments in favor of interpolation when they do occur.

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Born of Woman?

The first Pauline passage Ehrman spotlights is one of those cases. Galatians 4:4 allegedly contained the phrase “born of woman, born under the Law.” While it is possible to interpret this in a mythicist context (see below and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, chapter 15, which discusses both the authentic and inauthentic options), I now believe interpolation to be the preferable choice. Ironically, Ehrman himself has given us some grounds to consider this.

In his (far superior) book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, he points out that in the manuscript record this phrase was a favorite for doctoring by later scribes, who changed the operative participle to supposedly better reflect a fully human Jesus in opposition to Gnostics who were claiming that Christ was docetic.

Taken with the fact that Tertullian seems to indicate that the phrase was lacking in Marcion’s version of Galatians, we are justified in suggesting that the phrase could earlier have been inserted in its entirety for the same purpose. It can also be demonstrated that the idea in the phrase itself serves no practical purpose in the passage. And it has been asked why Paul would have needed to make the obvious statement that an historical Jesus had been “born of woman.”

Ginomai” vs. “Gennaō”

On the authenticity side of the coin, for the word translated as “born” in regard to Jesus (including in Romans 1:3) Paul uses a different verb (ginomai) than that used for every other reference to anyone being born in the New Testament, including by Paul himself only a few paragraphs later, and for Jesus’ birth in the Gospels (gennaō and occasionally tiktō). What distinction requiring a different verb (one generally meaning “come/become” or “arise”) would Paul have had in mind for Jesus? Possibly a mythical ‘birth’ such as we see in Revelation 12, where the Messiah is born in the heavens to a woman “clothed with the sun”?

It is certainly true that he never tells us the name of this “woman.” Was he simply giving voice to the ‘prophecy’ in Isaiah 7:14 about a young woman about to bear a son, just as he seems to have done in calling Jesus “of David’s seed” on the basis of predictions in the prophets (Romans 1:2-3)? Did he have to understand any of it on a rational basis as long as it was to be found in scripture?

Either way, there is much reason to doubt the reliability of this phrase in Galatians 4:4 as a reference to an historical Jesus, and it hardly deserves to be characterized as simple mythicist interpolation mania. (more…)

2012/06/04

17. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.17

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Jesus Tradition in the Acts of the Apostles

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Ehrman accepts Acts as reliable history
  • Acts as a second century product
  • Judas treated as an historical figure
  • More Aramaic tradition?
  • Quoting Paul quoting Jesus
  • The speeches in Acts
  • Adoptionism: Jesus becomes God’s son
  • Tracing the sequence of ideas about Jesus
  • Syncretizing two separate movements

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Canonical Sources Outside the Gospels and Paul

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 106-113)

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In the midst of addressing the testimony to an historical Jesus in epistles both canonical and outside the New Testament, Bart Ehrman devotes several pages to the “Jesus Tradition in Acts.” In introducing Acts he fails to enlighten his readers that there is great uncertainty within mainstream scholarship over the historical reliability of the content of this document. Furthermore, he accepts without question that the author of Luke was the author of Acts, and thus what was known to the former was known to the latter.

Is Acts reliable history?

Ehrman fails to question any aspect of this ‘history’ of the spread of the faith. He treats everything from Acts as though it were part of known Christian tradition, and as reliable as anything else. . . .

— No matter that the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is nowhere mentioned in the epistles (despite their focus on inspiration and revelation).

— No matter that the figure and martyrdom of Stephen is nowhere attested to outside Acts.

— No matter that in Acts the settling of the issue of requirements for gentile converts is presented in an Apostolic Council which the authentic Pauline letters seem to know nothing about.

— Nor is the dramatic shipwreck episode at the end of Acts mentioned by early writers who talk about Paul, inviting us to see it as sheer fiction, emulating a popular element in second century Hellenistic romances. (The so-called “we” passages, often alleged to be from a Lukan journal, have also been identified as a common literary feature in recounting travel by sea, such as is found in earlier parts of Acts surrounding such travels.)

When and why was Acts written?

There is also no discussion about the dating of this document.

Ehrman places it in the most traditional position, some time in the 80s of the first century, shortly after the most traditional dating of the Gospel of Luke, c.80 CE. No mention is made that much critical scholarship has moved toward a date at least a couple of decades, sometimes more, into the second century (Townsend, Mack, O’Neill, Tyson, Pervo). And, of course, no mention that the first attestation to Acts comes around 175 in Irenaeus, with possibly an allusion to it a decade or so earlier in Justin. That such a ‘history’ could have lain unnoticed for so long if it had been written a century earlier (or more, for those who maintain it was written before Paul’s death), is not considered worthy of note.

As long ago as 1942, John Knox (Marcion and the New Testament) presented a compelling case that Acts was not written until the 140s or 150s, an ecclesiastical product to counter Marcion’s appropriation of Paul in which he used the letters to demonstrate that Paul operated independently of the Jerusalem apostles and with a very different view of Jesus.

Thus, Acts was written and designed to show the opposite, that Paul immediately upon his conversion subordinated himself to the pillars and subscribed to their teachings, lock, stock and circumcision. Which is why the speeches in Acts, clearly composed by the author, show the identical content between those of Peter and those of Paul. (Neither does Ehrman discuss the considerable discrepancies between Acts and the Pauline epistles.)

Independent witnesses to Judas’ death

Ehrman hardly covers himself in glory with his treatment of the figure of Judas in Acts. According to him,

the author of Acts has access to traditions that are not based on his Gospel account so that we have yet another independent witness. (DJE? p. 107)

Independent from whom? Was Luke the author of the Gospel “independent” of Luke the author of Acts? It seems that for Ehrman every saying or anecdote which can be found nowhere else, or fails to agree with some other version of that saying or anecdote, constitutes an “independent witness” to the historical Jesus. (more…)

2012/06/01

16. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 16

Filed under: Earl Doherty,Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Earl Doherty @ 1:00 am
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Epistle to the Hebrews (Part Two)

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Telling us that Jesus was never on earth
    • First smoking gun: Hebrews 8:4 – a denial that Jesus had been on earth
    • Platonic parallels between heaven and earth
    • Christ could not be a priest in the same sphere as the earthly priests
    • no sense to a present sense
  • The Coming One
    • Second smoking gun: 10:37 – “the coming one” has not yet been to earth
    • 9:27-8 – a “second coming” or a sequence of events?
  • Jesus “suffered outside the gate”
    • Jesus “passing through the heavens”
  • The inauthenticity of the epistle’s postscript

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* * * * *

Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 116-117)

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1 — Telling us that Jesus was never on earth

In addition to a smoking gun, I have called Hebrews 8:4 a “time bomb.” The first half of the verse can be translated in either of two ways:

In a present sense: “If he were on earth [i.e., now], he would not be a priest…” [NIV]

In a past sense: “Now if he had been on earth [i.e., in the past], he would not even have been a priest…” [NEB]

Which “time” does the writer mean?

(more…)

2012/05/28

15. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 15

Filed under: Earl Doherty,Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Earl Doherty @ 1:00 am
Tags: , ,

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The Epistle to the Hebrews (Part One)

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  • God speaking through a Son in a new reading of scripture
  • Hebrews’ Son a heavenly entity like the Logos
  • Hebrews 101: a sacrifice in a heavenly sanctuary
  • an event of revelation at the start of the sect
  • no words of Jesus on earth to be found
  • another motif of “likeness” to humans
  • “In the days of his flesh”: not Gethsemane
  • Christ “out of Judah”
  • Hebrews’ sacrifice in heaven
  • taking on a “body” in the scriptural world

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* * * * *

Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 116-117)

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Reading an historical Jesus into scripture

Those who have become familiar with my writings over the years will know that I have a soft spot for the epistle to the Hebrews. In many ways it is the most revealing of the New Testament documents.

  • It gives us a Son who is entirely known from scripture.
  • It presents a heavenly event that could only have been imagined out of a Platonic application of scripture: a sacrifice by the Son, performed in a spiritual sanctuary, in which he offers his own “blood” to God — a blood which can hardly be regarded as being human, hauled up from Calvary.

Indeed, anomalies like this have increasingly forced modern scholars to take refuge in interpreting Christ’s sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary as intended by the author to be merely a metaphor for the earthly Calvary event — an interpretation for which there is no justification in the epistle. Most significantly, Hebrews contains two verses which make it clear that its Jesus had never been on earth, two smoking guns that would do any mythicist gunslinger proud.

Ehrman, true to form, simply seizes on any and all words and phrases in the epistle which he thinks could have an earthly or human application and declares them as such. He admits that this epistle, too, shows no knowledge of the Gospels — which he ought to have extended to no knowledge of the Gospel story, whether written or oral — but nevertheless “it contains numerous references to the life of the historical Jesus.

Ehrman itemizes some twenty of them (pp. 116-117, DJE?):

  • Jesus appeared in ‘these last days’ (1:2).
  • God spoke through him (that is, in his proclamation; 1:2). (more…)

2012/05/25

14. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.14

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Non-Pauline Epistles – Part One

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  • Apostles with no connection to an historical Jesus
  • Pilate in the 2nd century epistle 1 Timothy
  • 1 Peter knows a suffering Christ through Isaiah 53
  • Christ “hung on a tree”
  • The “flesh” and “body” of Christ and his “likeness” to men
  • The epiphany of Jesus in 2 Peter
  • Reading an historical Jesus into the epistles of John
  • No historical Jesus in Revelation

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* * * * *

Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 113-117)

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Is Ehrman being naïve or deliberately misleading?

There is an astonishing naivete to much of Bart Ehrman’s case for historicism. Perhaps it is aimed at a naïve readership, but it must leave such readers wondering if mythicists do indeed suffer from mental retardation or a simple inability to read texts. After all, the way Ehrman presents things, there can be no question that each and every writer in the early record clearly refers to an historical Jesus. Consider this statement:

But even in a letter as short as Jude, we find the apostles of Jesus mentioned (verse 17), which presupposes, of course, that Jesus lived and had followers. (p. 106, DJE?)

Well, it presupposes no such thing. The epistles contain many references to “apostles” who are not in any way represented as followers of a Jesus on earth. The epistle of Jude is only one of several referring to “apostles” that makes no such identification.

Independent Apostles

Paul himself, even in the orthodox view, was such an apostle. His apostleship was the result of a ‘call’ from God (e.g., Romans 1:1) and from ‘seeing’ the Lord Jesus in a vision (1 Cor. 9:1 and 15:8). In 2 Corinthians 11:4-5, in the midst of a diatribe against rival “apostles” who preach a ‘different Jesus’ from his own, he refers to both himself and his rivals as having received their respective kerygmas through the “spirit” (only his own, of course, was the valid one).

No connection here to an historical Jesus.

When he goes on in 11:12-15 to condemn those rivals for “masquerading as apostles of Christ” and being virtually agents of Satan, many scholars (such as C. K. Barrett) recognize that this kind of absolute condemnation is not being directed at the Jerusalem group, but other unspecified “ministers of Christ” (12:23) who proselytize independently, and certainly were not followers of a Jesus on earth.

Ehrman also conveniently ignores that in the entire body of epistles, not a single statement is made indicating that any apostles of the Christ were followers of a Jesus on earth, or traced any authority or correct preaching back to him.

It is impossible to believe that Ehrman could be ignorant of this wider application of the term “apostles” in the epistles, and only a little less difficult to believe that he is ignorant of mythicism’s arguments in this regard. He is either deliberately misleading his readers, taking advantage of their ignorance, or his own naïve reading of the texts is nothing short of an embarrassment. (more…)

2012/05/18

13. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.13

Three Voices on the Historical Jesus – No. 3: 1 Clement (with Addendum on the Epistle of Barnabas)

San Barnaba

San Barnaba (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Issue of authenticity of 1 Clement
  • Does 1 Clement know any Gospels?
  • Christ speaking out of scripture
  • Clement knows of the Passion through Isaiah 53
  • Christ’s sacrificial ‘blood’ and ‘flesh’ belong in the mythical dimension
  • Prophecy in scripture not fulfilled in history
  • Epistle of Barnabas: still lacking a written Gospel
  • Barnabas points to scripture as his source
  • New Testament math: 0 + 0 = ?
  • A progression from mythical to historical

Is 1 Clement in any way authentic?

Despite doubts going back to the Dutch Radicals of the late 19th century, Ehrman accepts the non-canonical epistle 1 Clement as authentic in regard to its ostensible purpose (a letter from the Christian community in Rome urging the settling of a dispute going on in the community in Corinth) and its traditional dating (the last decade of the first century), though its attribution to a Clement reputed to be the fourth bishop of Rome remains highly dubious.

With all of that I would agree, and have defended this degree of authenticity against a continuing radical view that the work is a much later forgery designed to encourage other Christian communities to acknowledge the hegemony of the Church of Rome. This issue need not be addressed here, except to say that I find the arguments for such a view quite unconvincing and unnecessary. (See the reasons given in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, note 169.) However, I will hereafter refer to the author as “Clement.”

Does 1 Clement know any written Gospels?

Some of those reasons will be evident in the present discussion. Ehrman makes the following admissions for 1 Clement:

The letter quotes extensively from the Greek Old Testament, and its author explicitly refers to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. But he does not mention the Gospels of the New Testament, and even though he quotes some of the sayings of Jesus, he does not indicate that they come from written texts. In fact, his quotations do not line up in their wording with any of the sayings of Jesus found in our surviving Gospels. (p. 104, DJE?)

If we agree on a reasonable dating of the 90s of the first century, or even the first decade of the second, we find here a similar situation to that of the Ignatian letters. At this period, even in Rome, there is no sign of actual written Gospels available in major Christian communities. When we see the same situation existing for Papias even later, we know that there is something wrong with the traditional view of the Gospels as historical documents all written before the first century was completed.

What does Clement know about a life of Jesus on earth? 

Despite this situation, Ehrman argues that “the author of 1 Clement, like Ignatius and then Papias, not only assumes that Jesus lived but that much of his life was well known.” The latter two writers may indeed have made such an assumption, but there is little sign that either one of them knew very much about their assumed Jesus’ life or teachings. As for 1 Clement, both of Ehrman’s claims are suspect. Here is what he offers as evidence that the author is speaking “about the historical Jesus” (I’ve altered Ehrman’s order for better efficiency in addressing them):

(1) Christ spoke words to be heeded (1 Clement 2.1).

This is first of all a misleading translation. Literally, it is “you paid attention to his words,” which eliminates the image of Christ standing before one and speaking. In any event, considering that spiritual figures such as Wisdom and the Holy Spirit are often presented as conferring advice and guidance, this statement in any form could easily apply to a spiritual figure. (more…)

12. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 12. Three Voices . . . Ignatius

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 12

Three Voices on the Historical Jesus – No. 2: Ignatius of Antioch

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch

    Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Are the Ignatian letters forgeries?

  • What does “truly” mean for Ignatius:
    • anti-docetism?
    • historical fact?
  • Ignatius knows no Gospels, even in 110 CE or later
    • implications of this
    • rumours of an allegorical tale interpreted as history
    • no teachings of Jesus, no miracles,
    • no apostolic tradition
  • Why did docetism arise in Ignatius’ time?
    • two reactions to the historical Jesus
  • A Christ myth in Ignatius’ Ephesians

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* * * * *

Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 101-104)

Ignatius of Antioch

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Did Ignatius write the Ignatian Letters?

Bart Ehrman seems to assume the authenticity of the story that Ignatius was caught up in a persecution of Christians at Antioch around 107-110 CE, was condemned to death and sent to Rome under military escort to die in the arena. Along the way, he wrote letters to six churches in Asia Minor and one to bishop Polycarp of Smyrna.

Many doubt the feasibility of such an enterprise, including the likelihood that the authorities would have undertaken to send him all the way to Rome for execution. But that is the story told in later tradition, and it is to be found within the letters themselves.

I will not go into the arguments for and against authenticity here, but if they are later forgeries (that is, the versions known as the “Shorter Recensions” which have traditionally been considered the originals, with the Longer Recensions coming much later in the century and filled with obvious insertions based on the Gospels), such forgeries cannot have been made much later than a decade or two after Ignatius’ death. (I myself might opt for forgery, but I will continue to refer to the writer as “Ignatius.”)

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Arguing for a “true” life on earth

One of the principal purposes of these letters is to attack fellow Christians who espouse doctrines and practices Ignatius cannot countenance. Ignatius makes a set of claims about Jesus which he declares to be true, in opposition to those who deny them. The fullest statement of these claims is found in the epistle to the Smyrneans (as translated by Ehrman):

For you are fully convinced about our Lord, that he was truly from the family of David according to the flesh, Son of God according to the will and power of God, truly born from a virgin, and baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him. In the time of Pontius Pilate and the tetrarch Herod, he was truly nailed for us in the flesh. . . [Smyrneans 1-2]

How does Ehrman (and scholarship traditionally) interpret a passage like this? What is Ignatius arguing for and what is the position of those he criticizes? According to Ehrman, the latter are

. . . Christians who insisted that Jesus was not a real flesh-and-blood human. These opponents of Ignatius were not ancient equivalents of our modern-day mythicists. They certainly did not believe that Jesus had been made up or invented based on the dying and rising gods supposedly worshipped by pagans. For them, Jesus had a real, historical existence. He lived in this world and delivered inspired teachings. But he was God on earth, not made of the same flesh as the rest of us. (p. 102)

In other words, Ehrman sees Ignatius’ opponents as docetists (from the verb dokein, to seem), holding the doctrine that Jesus only seemed to be human, only seemed to possess a body of human flesh. In reality, this was only an illusion; he was and remained in spiritual form, so that he did not partake of human nature and did not suffer on the cross.

But is this the meaning that can reasonably be taken from some of Ignatius’ statements? (more…)

2012/05/14

Ehrman Confesses: Scholars Never Have Tried to Prove Jesus Existed

Thomas L. Thompson, Professor of Theology, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow and editor of biblical studies journals, wrote in 2005 that historical Jesus scholars have always just assumed that Jesus existed:

Twentieth-century scholarship, with its faith in history, assumed a historical Jesus as its starting point. It shared Schweitzer’s personal dilemma: a choice between a Jesus who fits modern visions of Christianity and Mark’s failed prophet. But they always assumed there was a historical Jesus to describe. (p. 7, The Messiah Myth (2005) by Thomas L. Thompson)

Now Professor Bart Ehrman has said the same thing. He even says he believes he is the first scholar ever to set out a sustained argument to prove Jesus existed!

I realized when doing my research for the book that since New Testament scholars have never taken mythicists seriously, they have never seen a need to argue against their views, which means that even though experts in the study of the historical Jesus (and Christian origins, and classics, and ancient history, etc etc.) have known in the back of their minds all sorts of powerful reasons for simply assuming that Jesus existed, no one had ever tried to prove it. Odd as it may seem, no scholar of the New Testament has ever thought to put together a sustained argument that Jesus must have lived. To my knowledge, I was the first to try it, and it was a very interesting intellectual exercise. How do you prove that someone from 2000 years ago actually lived? I have to say, it was terrifically enlightening, engaging, and fun to think through all the issues and come up with all the arguments. I think really almost any New Testament scholar could have done it. But it ended up being lucky me. (Did Jesus Exist as Part One, accessed 14th May, 2012, my bolding and italics)

Can you imagine a biologist or paleontologist posting on a blog “no-one has ever tried to prove evolution”? Or a physicist saying “no-one has ever tried to prove the laws of physics”?

And note, further, the way Ehrman implies he went about this novel exercise of actually, for the first time in his life, trying to set out “a sustained argument” that Jesus existed. No references are made to historical methodologies. He simply sat down and thought it all up off the top of his erudite head. That he had never thought this through before, his neglect of historical methodology, even elementary logic, shows through when he writes some excruciatingly embarrassing pages in chapter two of his book Did Jesus Exist? (more…)

11. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Three Voices . . . Papias

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 11

Three Voices on the Historical Jesus – No. 1: Papias

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COVERED IN THIS POST:papias3

  • Papias’ Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord as revealed by Eusebius
  • Papias’ uncertain chain of oral transmission
  • Had Papias read any Gospels?
  • Papias’ “Mark” and “Matthew”: not the canonical Gospels, and not read by Papias
  • Papias quotes nothing from any version of our Gospels
  • The bizarre things Papias does give us as sayings of the Lord
  • By c.125, no written Gospels have reached the bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor

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* * * * *

Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 98-101)

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PAPIAS

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Ehrman now turns to three Christian writers of the late first and early second centuries who “convey information about the historical Jesus and certainly attest to his existence” in alleged ways which are “independent” of the Gospels. The first is Papias, a Christian bishop in Asia Minor writing around 120-130 CE, for whom we rely on Eusebius two centuries later, since Papias’ one known work is lost.

Despite Eusebius’ judgment that Papias was “a man of very small intelligence,” what is quoted from his Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord is supposed to represent good evidence of an historical Jesus. Ehrman quotes from Eusebius’ quote of Papias introductory words (History of the Church, III, 39.3-4), in which we learn:

that Papias will give an orderly account “of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders. . . . Whenever someone arrived who had been a companion of one of the elders, I would carefully inquire after their words, what Andrew or Peter had said . . .

Juggling Elders, Companions and Disciples

Of key interest here is the question of what Papias meant by these “elders”. Scholars will admit to an ambiguity, that “elders” may not refer to the disciple followers of Jesus subsequently named (as some older scholars have preferred to read it), but only to earlier Christians who themselves had known those disciples of Jesus. (That is, “inquire after their words” refers back to the preceding “elders,” but not to the men he goes on to name, which are two different groups and layers of tradition.) This would give us a chain of:

disciples → elders → companions of elders → Papias

And indeed, such a chain would make better sense given the amount of time between the disciples’ activity supposedly following Jesus’ death and Papias himself.

that Papias enquired of anything said by “Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew” or “any of the other disciples of the Lord.” But then he goes on to refer to things said by “Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord.”

This is exquisitely confusing. (more…)

2012/05/12

Ehrman: “It is simplest to assume”? How the Gospel of John IS Dependent Upon Gospel of Mark

Bart Ehrman claims that the Gospel of John is testimony to the existence of traditions or sources about the life of Jesus that were independent of anything that was known to the other Gospels. Therefore, so it is implied, the Gospel of John is a witness to Jesus that stands independently of the other Gospels.

When they do tell the same stories (for example, the cleansing of the Temple, the betrayal of Judas, the trial before Pilate, the crucifixion and resurrection narratives) they do so in different language (without verbatim overlaps) and with radically different conceptions. It is simplest to assume that John had his own sources for his accounts. (Did Jesus Exist? p. 259)

Bart Ehrman is a scholar so he does not make this claim lightly. He footnotes it to a source, a scholarly source no less:

Robert Kysar, John the Maverick Gospel, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) (this links to an online preview)

And that’s it. A book is cited. Authority. Learning. No argument. If Ehrman had given a slight nod to the fact that scholars are in fact divided over the question of John’s dependence upon the Synoptics, he makes it clear that the “reality” is that there is really no question that the fourth gospel is truly an independent source. (Presumably Ehrman thinks scholars are divided over the nature of the reality about the Gospels.)

To begin with, there are solid reasons for doubting that the Gospel of John is based on Mark or on either of the other two earlier Gospels, even though the matter is debated among scholars. But the reality is that most of the stories told about Jesus in the synoptic Gospels are missing from John, just as most of John’s stories, including his accounts of Jesus’s teachings, are missing from the synoptics.

Can you imagine the response of a scholar like Ehrman toward a mythicist who cited a single work that expressed but one side of a contentious scholarly issue in order to make their argument look authoritative? “Quote mining!” would surely be the criminal charge.

But let’s examine one of the examples of the way John’s version of a Synoptic anecdote is so “radically different” and thus presumably derived from a non-Synoptic source.

Simplest to assume . . . ignorance

Bart Ehrman says the differences between the Gospel of John and a synoptic gospel are so radical that “it is simplest to assume” that they drew upon quite different sources.

Don’t biblical scholars talk to each other? Why did Ehrman not refer to the abundantly published studies by his peers that address the way writers of the era imitated and re-wrote their literary sources?

The question is critical. Studies in recent years have demonstrated decisively that ancient authors imitated or re-adapted literary source material in ways that made it look quite different from the original. Indeed, more often than not, the art of imitation that was most valued was one that shunned verbal and thematic similarities.

Ehrman has apparently never heard of any of this scholarship, or if he has, has declared that it is “simplest to assume” ignorance of it and pronounce, instead, that the primary author of the Gospel of John drew upon an otherwise unattested oral tradition that knew nothing of the synoptic Gospels.

Let’s examine that assumption with a case study of the “cleansing of the Temple”.

The Cleansing of the Temple in Mark and John

Why is the Gospel of John so very much alike the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) yet so completely unlike them? It’s a bit like asking why Virgil’s epic poem of the founding of the Roman race by Aeneas of Troy is so alike yet so completely unlike Homer’s epics, the Iliad and Odyssey. (more…)

2012/05/11

10. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Listening to the Sounds of Silence

Filed under: Earl Doherty,Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Earl Doherty @ 1:00 am
Tags: , ,

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 10

Listening to the Sounds of Silence

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Silence: Why did no-one until modern times deny the existence of Jesus?
    • – Does anyone on the early Christian scene deny the existence of the Gospel Jesus?
    • – Ignatius’ letters the first to show support for the Gospel story
  • Sounds in silence: Or were they?
    • – Does 1 John reveal the first dispute over an historical Jesus?
    • – Should we expect Celsus to be a New Testament exegete?
    • – Trypho’s “groundless report”
    • – Sound of Silence: Ehrman fails to hear
  • Golden silence of the Rabbis
    • – Silent rabbis on Jesus’ non-existence
  • The silence of Irenaeus, Tertullian and their heretics
    • – Why do 2nd century apologists not attack the Christ cult of Paul as a heresy?
  • The sound of transition: From Paul to Orthodoxy
    • – The process of transition from a heavenly to earthly Christ
  • The sound of diversity: A Logos religion

    • – The Logos religion of the 2nd century apologists
  • Silence complete: Revisiting Josephus and Tacitus
    • – Ehrman’s unsupportable assumptions

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Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 94-97)

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Later Sources from Outside the New Testament

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Silence: Why did no-one until modern times deny the existence of Jesus?

Ehrman spends a few pages at the beginning of his Chapter Four on the old canard which too many historicists seem to think is a knockout blow against the mythicist theory: that no one in all the documents we possess from the earliest period right up to the 18th century ever suggests, or deals with an accusation, that Jesus never existed. A moment’s reflection ought to reveal why this might be the case. (There are in fact a handful of notable exceptions to this silence that I will go into shortly, which puts the lie to Ehrman’s sweeping statement.)

First of all, if an earthly Jesus did not exist for Christians of the Pauline variety of faith in a sacrificed Savior through almost the first hundred years of the movement, how would we expect to find a denial that he had? No one would have been claiming it.

We also have to ask, who would have been in a position to know that Christians were claiming something that was false?

When do we first see that claim surfacing? One can’t point to the Gospels themselves because the very issue in question is whether there is any support for their presentation of a supposedly historical figure and set of events; and their traditional dating is dubious.

The first direct reference by a Christian to an historical man who was crucified by Pilate is found in the letters of Ignatius, which if authentic can be dated no earlier than 107 CE, or if forgeries, some time after that. Is anyone going to be around in Antioch in 107 or later who had been alive in Galilee or Jerusalem three-quarters of a century earlier—with the upheaval and destruction of the Jewish War occurring in the interim—someone who knew everything that happened there in the 10-year period of Pilate’s governorship and was thus in a position to verify that such a figure never existed? A preposterous idea. Christians themselves show no sign of being familiar with the Gospel story, let alone that it had any circulation outside their circles, before the time of Ignatius. (more…)

2012/05/07

9. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Form Criticism and the Sources of the Gospels

Filed under: Earl Doherty,Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Earl Doherty @ 1:00 am
Tags: , ,

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.9

Form Criticism and the Sources of the Gospels

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Form Criticism and Oral Traditions About Jesus
    • The Fallacy of Form Criticism
    • The Written Evidence of Common Patterns Versus the Oral Hypothesis
    • Literary Construction out of Scripture, not Oral Traditions
    • Traditions in Thomas and Q — not independent
    • The Path to Jesus is Paved with Good Assumptions
    • How Ehrman Dates the Sources to the Day After Jesus
    • From Contradiction and Confusion to Total Chaos
  • The Aramaic Origins of (Some) Oral Traditions
    • Aramaic originals?
    • An Aramaic Son of Man?
  • Conclusion

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The Oral Traditions About Jesus

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 83-93)

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Form Criticism and Oral Traditions About Jesus

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In a section entitled “Form Criticism and Oral Traditions About Jesus,” Ehrman encapsulates the traditional scholarly approach to analysing the content of the Gospels, and sets these beside the current views he is espousing. But there are inherent contradictions in his scenario.

The Fallacy of Form Criticism

The “form-critical” approach, or “form criticism,” has sought to understand how the various stories about Jesus took shape as they were being “transmitted orally.” Scholarship has long observed something curious, says Ehrman:

Why is it that so many miracle stories seem to follow the same basic pattern? A person comes up to Jesus, his or her problem (or illness) is described, there is a brief interchange with Jesus, Jesus agrees to heal the person, he does so by a word or by a touch, and all the crowds marvel. Every miracle story seems to have the same elements.

Or take the controversy stories. Jesus or his disciples do something that offends the Jewish leaders; the leaders protest; Jesus has a conversation with them; and the story ends with Jesus delivering a withering one-liner that shows that he gets the better of them. Time after time, same form. (p. 84, emphasis added)

As Ehrman puts it, form criticism has asked: How did the various kinds of stories assume their various forms?

The stories about Jesus came to be shaped in the process of telling and retelling, as they assumed their characteristic forms. This means that the stories were changed, sometimes radically, when they were retold, and thus formed over the years. (p. 84)

Something doesn’t compute here. Ehrman has just told us that all the healing miracle stories, for example, are found in the Gospels in a more or less identical form. But oral transmission over a wide area, within an uncoordinated movement, is not likely to produce conformity. Quite the opposite. (more…)

2012/04/30

7. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Telling the Gospels Like It Is

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.7

Telling the Gospels Like It Is

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Should “faith documents” be treated as legitimate historical sources?
  • Are the Gospels independently based on oral tradition?
  • Matthew and Luke’s story is Mark’s story
  • Hearing about Nazareth and Jesus
  • Should we trust accounts of George Washington but not Jesus?
  • Equating Luke and Plutarch, or Luke and Philostratus
  • Mark as sole source for a life of an earthly Jesus
  • Luke and Matthew’s “special material” (“L” and “M”)
  • John’s dependence on the Synoptics
  • Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Egerton as “independent accounts”

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In his Chapter 3, Bart Ehrman says that he will present “common knowledge” about the Gospels which mainstream New Testament scholars “have known for a long time.” He asks how anyone can complain about making the public more knowledgeable on these matters. Mythicists would heartily endorse that thought.

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Gospels as Historical Sources?

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 69-78)

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Ehrman’s Preliminary Comment

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Ehrman claims that

. . . once one understands more fully what the Gospels are and where they came from, they provide powerful evidence indeed that there really was a historical Jesus who lived in Roman Palestine and who was crucified under Pontius Pilate. (p. 70, DJE?)

In a “Preliminary Comment on the Gospels as Historical Sources,” Ehrman acknowledges that the Gospels “are filled with non-historical material, accounts of events that could not have happened,” that they have “many discrepancies in matters both great and small” and “contradictions all over the map.” On the other hand, there is “historical information in the Gospels,” but “it needs to be teased out by careful, critical analysis.

To support his contention that the Gospels “can and must be considered historical sources of information,” whether by conservative congregations or by atheists/agnostics who dismiss them as faith documents with no value as history, Ehrman urges that they be recognized as literature, written by human beings in response to the human times they lived in. Such authors had no intention of producing sacred scripture. They “were simply writing down episodes that they had heard from the life of Jesus,” some of which may have been historically accurate, others not. “They had heard reports about Jesus; they had probably read earlier accounts of his life; and they decided to write their own versions.

Ehrman inserts another reference to the intentions voiced in the Prologue of the Gospel of Luke, a topic I’ve dealt with earlier, pointing out why those statements cannot be taken at face value. Luke and the other evangelists, admits Ehrman, were not disinterested and unbiased, but

they were historical persons giving reports of things they had heard. The fact that their books later became documents of faith has no bearing on the question of whether the books can still be used for historical purposes. (p. 73, DJE?)

No bearing? Hardly. Being documents of faith — and on what grounds is Ehrman claiming they did not begin as such? — may not justify ruling them out as totally valueless, but it is a warning to use extreme care in evaluating whether anything in them is reliable history.

Does Ehrman regard the Passion in Mark’s Gospel as containing anything ‘historical’ when virtually every part of it, even at the level of individual phrases, can be shown to be dependent on — often a verbal borrowing from — a scriptural passage? (That has been recognized since around 1980.) If there is no “history remembered” (and no external corroboration not dependent on those Gospels), how do we securely perceive an actual historical event behind it? Because “Pilate” and “Caiaphas” are involved? Any fictional story can contain historical elements and characters.

Ehrman’s constant emphasis on “hearing” about what Jesus said and did as the basic channel through which the Gospel content passed is not only curious, it’s quite misleading, especially regarding the later evangelists. The old view that the Gospels are basically a recording of oral traditions circulating in Christian communities is no longer in vogue — indeed, it’s untenable. A compromise might have been that Mark was dependent largely on oral tradition, but that the later evangelists essentially redacted Mark (with the exception of John’s ministry), with Matthew and Luke inserting the contents of a written collection of sayings into that redaction. (more…)

2012/04/29

Bart Ehrman bans this comment from his Public Forum

Questions I had posted to Bart Ehrman’s Public Forum have disappeared more than once into thin air. So I decided to keep copies of whatever I posted to his Public Forum.

But first, let’s be charitable and be clear about the comments of mine he has allowed to appear on his site.

I posted the following comment to his Forum but it sat there in his “moderation queue” for some days before it finally appeared. So that when it did finally appear there were many more subsequent post already on the page and mine was lost way back in the middle of a long chain somewhere. Who would ever notice it? But here it is:

Neil Godfrey  April 26, 2012

It looks like Earl Doherty is damned if he doesn’t engage with the scholarship and now he is damned if he does. I find it curious that the one example Bart refers to that supposedly makes him look dishonest or somehow implying that Morna Hooker is supporting his interpretation of a celestial crucifixion is identical to the one example advanced by James McGrath — and which was answered by Doherty himself as follows:

She stated a principle (Barrett once stated a possible meaning in regard to a Greek phrase which I was able to make use of, though in a manner he did not). It is completely legitimate for me to appeal to such observations when they can be applied to a mythicist interpretation, even if the scholar himself or herself does not choose to make the same application of their observations. Hooker pointed out the principle involved in counterpart guarantees: “Christ becomes what we are (likeness of flesh, suffering and death), so enabling us to become what he is (exalted to the heights).” That principle stands, it works in both cases, whether it is applied to a Christ perceived to be acting on earth, or a Christ perceived to be acting in the heavens. I am well aware that Hooker applies it to the former; she understands it in that context. That doesn’t necessitate her being right. I can take the same principle and understand it in the context of a heavenly death and rising. Because I don’t conform to Hooker’s context does not necessitate me being wrong. This is simple logic . . . .

I submit that it is simply absurd to suggest that Doherty at any point misleads anyone to think the scholars he engages with support his mythicist view. Of course they don’t, and Doherty at no point hides that fact. Right from the opening page he makes it clear what is already clear to everyone — that is argument is “radical” and obviously contrary to the mainstream view. And as I point out in my post, Doherty regularly acknowledges and addresses the fact that scholars do not draw the same conclusions as he does.

Doherty has handled the scholarship in a scholarly manner, and has never pretended to be a professional scholar himself — he explains why he writes in the style he does, and for whom, and what his educational background is — so it is quite unfair to fault Doherty for appearing to be a scholar among scholars.

Is it wrong for an amateur to seriously engage with the professional scholarship and draw different conclusions through that serious engagement?

Well, at least it finally appeared. Bart is not afraid to have dissident voices heard after all, at least as long as they can only faintly be heard from the middle of a large room.

But at the same time I had posted another comment, so understand how doubly excited I was to see that it, too, had appeared there at long last in the middle of a long chain, most of which consisted of more recent comments: (more…)

2012/04/28

How could Ehrman possibly have read the books he cites?

This is an extract from my previous post. Since that post is very long there is a significant section there that I fear could easily be overlooked. Bart Ehrman has indignantly declared he read all of the books he discusses in his book Did Jesus Exist?

How, then, could he possibly have confused the mythicist argument of Wells with that of Doherty. The two are opposed to each other. But Ehrman appears to have picked up a garbled account and attributed half of Doherty’s argument to Wells!

Here is the relevant section from my previous post. There are many more shoddy and false statements by Ehrman about what Wells writes that I address in that post, but I have singled out here just this one point. (more…)

The Facts of the Matter: Carrier 9, Ehrman 1 (my review, part 2)

Let’s sit down and look at the score sheet. Richard Carrier kicked 11 “errors of fact” at the net of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist?

Carrier says he could have kicked many more but that it was getting dark and the referee told him he had limited time.

Since beginning to write this post I have learned Richard Carrier has posted his own reply to Ehrman. But I have avoided reading his response so as to continue with my own thoughts for my own “review” of Ehrman’s book.

Here are the “errors of fact” Carrier kicked at Ehrman’s book, in order:

  1. The Priapus Bronze
  2. The Doherty Slander
  3. The Pliny Confusion
  4. The Pilate Error
  5. The “No Records” Debacle
  6. The Tacitus Question
  7. The “Other Jesus” Conundrum
  8. That Dying-and-Rising God Thing
  9. The Baptism Blunder
  10. The Dying Messiah Question
  11. The Matter of Qualifications

Here are the “errors of fact” Ehrman attempted to defend, in order:

  1. The Priapus Bronze, or Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”) (in a separate post)
  2. The Matter of Qualifications
  3. The Pilate Error
  4. The Tacitus Question
  5. The Dying and Rising God
  6. The “Other Jesus” Conundrum
  7. “No Roman Records”
  8. The Doherty “Slander”
  9. The Pliny Confusion

That means goalie Ehrman stood there texting on his mobile while two went through uncontested:

  1. The Baptism Blunder
  2. The Dying Messiah Question

Keep in mind that these “Errors of Fact” in Carrier’s critique of Ehrman’s book are not the only, nor even necessarily the most, serious faults in Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? But I cannot cover everything in one post so I deal with these before moving on in a future post to the even more significant errors and fallacies of Ehrman’s work. (more…)

2012/04/27

6. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Jewish Sources

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.6

What Did Jews Have to Say?

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Philo of Alexandria
  • Josephus
    • the Testimonium: entirely interpolation or an authentic residue?
    • is an authentic residue “neutral”?
    • is the Testimonium intrusive or a digression?
    • silence of Christian commentators on Testimonium before Eusebius
    • how could Josephus have felt ‘positive’ or even neutral toward Jesus?
    • is the Testimonium’s language the language of Eusebius?
    • changes to the Testimonium and its location
    • the case of Antiquities 20
  • The Jewish Talmud
    • why are there no traditions about Jesus going back to the 1st century?

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Non-Christian References to Jesus

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 56-68, Jewish Sources)

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Philo of Alexandria

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Deutsch: Philo(n) von Alexandria English: Phil...Bart Ehrman, in his survey of the non-Christian witness to Jesus, turns next to the Jewish category. He first dismisses the silence about Jesus in the writings of the philosopher Philo of Alexandria as something unsurprising, since by his death (probably by 50 CE), Christianity had not yet penetrated to Egypt. That may be the case, but this does not mean that a philosopher living in Egypt, just around the Mediterranean corner from Palestine, especially one whose philosophy about God and the mediator Logos was a close antecedent to that of Paul, was completely isolated from news of Judean events, or from new ideas being bandied about in the very field of thought Philo was engaged in.

What we do know from Philo’s writings

Moreover, we know from his writing that Philo was familiar with Pilate and his objectionable activities in Judea. He would not, of course, know about every rebel or criminal executed by the governor, but considering the developments which supposedly followed this particular execution, and considering his interest in the sect known as the Therapeutae to which the early Christian community in Judea would supposedly have borne a strong resemblance, it would not be infeasible for him to have noticed the latter and especially what was presumably being made out of its human founder.

We have writings of Philo up to the year 41 CE, but it could be argued (Ehrman does not) that, even had he taken notice, commenting on that notice was something he simply didn’t get around to doing. The silence in Philo is therefore not overly significant, it’s just another void to add to the overall picture.

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Josephus

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The romanticized woodcut engraving of Flavius ...

The romanticized woodcut engraving of Flavius Josephus appearing in William Whiston’s translation of his works. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the most important Jewish historian of the era is another matter. Josephus has been a battleground in the ‘clash of titans’ and understandably so. The last half-century of scholarship has focused mainly on whether the passage known as the Testimonium Flavianum in Antiquities of the Jews, Bk.18 contains an authentic original by Josephus which Christians later only made additions to. This is a bandwagon which virtually every New Testament scholar these days has hopped onto, as though the maintenance of an authentic original is seen as crucial to Jesus’ existence.

What scholars used to say

It should be noted, however, that prior to the Second World War, many scholars were quite willing to postulate that Josephus made no reference to Jesus at all. See, for example, Maurice Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History?, p.35 (that both passages can be “suspected of interpolation”); or Charles Guignebert, Jesus, p.18 (“It seems probable that Josephus did not name Jesus anywhere”). The latter, in regarding the Testimonium as a complete forgery, suggested: “It may be admitted that the style of Josephus has been cleverly imitated, a not very difficult matter” (Ibid., p.17).

Who proofread this book? I

Curiously, Ehrman says he will deal with Josephus’ two references to Jesus “in reverse order,” gives us a brief description of the Antiquities 20 passage, then “before dealing with” the mythicist claim that it’s an interpolation, he switches over to the Testimonium in Antiquities 18, calling it the “second passage.” One gets an impression more than once in this book that Ehrman simply went with his first draft, and without benefit of editor.

The suspicious passages

Though most of the present readers will know this passage like the back of their hands, I’ll give Ehrman’s rendition of it according to “the best manuscripts”:

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out. (Antiquities 18.3.3) [DJE?, p. 59]

The problem parts of this passage, as Ehrman recounts them, are well known: (more…)

2012/04/25

Fight Club! Historical Jesus Scholars Take On the Christ Mythicists!

25-934902-twb030211brophy02_t325Here they come. The advance warning was R. Joseph Hoffmann‘s Mythtic Pizza and Cold-cocked Scholars. He promises that within a week (apocalypse coming!) we will see on his blog “three essay-length responses to Richard C. Carrier’s ideas: The first by [R. Joseph Hoffmann], the second by Professor Maurice Casey of the University of Nottingham, and the third by Stephanie Fisher as specialist in Q-studies.” I haven’t been this excited since I was a little kid in side-show alley at our city’s annual exhibition. Recall the tremors as I came to the tent-boxing pavilion. You knew you were approaching it when you heard the war-like beating of a bass drum. On a raised platform iron-faced and red and gold robed boxers stood in a row beside the drummer yelling out the challenge for anyone to dare enter the ring.

Hoffmann whets our blood-craving appetite by announcing the intellectual weapons to be pitted against each other. Those championing the historical Jesus have “the complex evidence of textual and linguistic studies” and “hermeneutics”. (By “hermeneutics” I think he might mean in particular the full spanner-set of criteriology: the criteria of embarrassment, double dissimilarity, multiple attestation, coherence, etc.) Against these we have the mythicists using scientific method:

these same folk who hold up the scientific method to religionists want to walk past the complex evidence of textual and linguistic studies as though it weren’t there. ”Hermeneutics” for them is just a word theologians like to throw around to impress seminarians . . .

Textual and linguistic studies as weapons for historicity? I think that must include those incisive analyses that identify Aramaic words in the Gospels or lying behind the current Greek words. I wonder how the scientific method will compete against that slam-dunk evidence that the Gospels really were quoting the Aramaic words of an Aramaic speaking historical Jesus? It’s going to be a tough fight. (more…)

2012/04/20

4. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Chapter 2 continued

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 4

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In this post Doherty covers Ehrman’s arguments dealing with:

  • Probability in history and the burden of proof
  • Ideal evidence historians want against what they actually have
  • Ehrman downplays the problems with the (lack of) evidence
    • Unsuccessful comparison with Pontius Pilate
  • Absence of eyewitness accounts
    • Late date of the gospels
    • Ehrman overlooks problems with Luke’s Prolog
    • Ehrman overlooks scholarship on origin of the Gospel of Luke
    • Ehrman fudges reference to the backbone of New Testament scholarship (Markan priority)
      .

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Preliminary Remarks

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 37-39 of Chapter 2)

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In yet another preface to his discussion of the non-Christian witness to Jesus, Ehrman examines some of the principles involved in historical research. No, it is not like science which can repeat experiments and get observable results.

Technically, we cannot prove a single thing historically. All we can do is give enough evidence (of kinds I will mention in a moment) to convince enough people (hopefully nearly everyone) about a certain historical claim . . . . (p. 38, DJE?)

Burden of Proof

True, all we can really establish is “probabilities” based on judgments about the evidence. And yes, I agree with Ehrman and against Price and some other mythicists that the burden of proof does not lie entirely on the historicist side. As Ehrman quotes E. P. Sanders: “The burden of proof lies with whoever is making a claim.” The problem is, historicists have a habit of maintaining that no burden lies on their side, or else (too often) that adequate ‘proof’ is to be garnered simply through majority opinion, the authoritative consensus which scholars past and present have adopted that an historical Jesus existed. When asked to actually present an adequate case for the existence of the Gospel Jesus, the demand is too often brushed aside as ‘already proven’ or by simple dismissal as an axiomatic non-starter, dissented to only by those driven by an “agenda.”

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The Kind of Evidence Historians Want

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 39-42 of Chapter 2)

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Ehrman asks what kind of evidence historicists look for, and rely upon, to establish the existence of a given person in the past. He enumerates a “wish list.” Hard, physical evidence, such as photographs. Obviously, none of the latter are available for Jesus, but Ehrman goes further and admits that there is no physical evidence of any kind. No archaeological evidence; again, probably not surprising. No contemporary inscriptions, no coins. Fine. No writings: perhaps a little less natural, but perhaps he was illiterate; or if he could read, he could not write, although Ehrman fails to note that there was nothing stopping him from dictating (it wasn’t a far-fetched idea to Eusebius some centuries later who quotes clearly fabricated correspondence between Jesus and an Edessan king).

Ehrman focuses on the most common form of written witness: documents about a person. The more the better, and best that they be independent and corroborative. At this point, he once again fails to make it clear that the four Gospels are anything but independent and corroborative. They are all dependent on Mark, with one reasonably perceivable lost source, the Q document extractable from Matthew and Luke. John, too, is dependent on Mark for his passion story, and where he is not dependent on a Synoptic source, namely in his portrayal of Jesus’ ministry and the content of his teaching, he is not corroborative. For he gives us a drastically different set of teachings by Jesus, thereby casting doubt on the authenticity of any of the teachings of Jesus, for how could John take the liberty of going off on such an alien tangent from the others, totally ignoring them, if the others were real and reliable?

Another preferred feature of written records is proximity in time, the closer the better. Leaving aside efforts by conservative scholars, the standard dating of the Gospels, all of them following soon after the Jewish War, is not close proximity, especially given the disruptive effects of that war on all of Palestine. A considerable number of mythicists prefer to date all the Gospels well into the second century, but even if a compromise is adopted (I and others like G. A. Wells, with demonstrable reasons, would date Mark to around 90, with the rest following over the next two to three decades; see Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.400f), we have nothing resembling proximity. And another wish-list preference, disinterest on the part of the writers about their subject, is as far from the actuality of the Gospels as one can get.

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The Sources for Jesus: What We Do Not Have

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 42-50 of Chapter 2)

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No Witness to Jesus in the First Century

Ehrman attempts to address this lack head-on. But he makes observations which are patently a down-playing of the real situation. No Greek or Roman author in the first century makes mention of Jesus? No matter, (more…)

2012/04/19

Review: Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?” – Apologetics Lite (by Ken Humphreys)

Ken Humphreys posted what I think is a brilliant review of Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? on the Freethought and Rationalism Discussion Board, or FRDB, on 5 April. (Or was it first posted on Ken’s own website, JesusNeverExisted?) Steven Carr’s comments alerted me to it on FRDB, and when I read it I was envious. I wanted it posted here, too. So with permission here it is:

The charges thrown at Ehrman in recent years from Christian conservatives – that he is a “sensationalist”, a “misleading” popularizer, who “over-interprets” texts and is motivated by a “hatred of religion” – now, in his latest book, he hurls further down the food chain. It is not he but the mythicists who deserve these tags. In Ehrman’s eyes the “colourful ensemble” of mythicists merge seamlessly with conspiracy theorists, holocaust deniers and internet junkies in a “global cottage industry” of dangerous pseudo-scholarship (it was a mythicist, don’t you know, that influenced Lenin – that’s how dangerous is mythicism).

Ehrman, peerless scholar of New Testament texts, has dragged himself away from more favoured concerns to draw a line in the sand on the question of Jesus. No, he is NOT a mythicist himself, the direction towards which all his books pointed and as many of his fans were beginning to think. “No, no – Jesus most certainly existed” – a mantra Ehrman repeats endlessly – and was, (Christians please note), “the most important figure in the history of Western civilisation” – a statement scarcely true if, as Ehrman argues, the “man” was a parochial and deluded doom merchant, hostile to the family and fond of prostitutes and drink who was summarily executed after a two-minute trial before Pilate. In this book the professor from North Carolina provides cold comfort for any of his Christian fans and his arrogant dismissal of the entire corpus of mythicist scholarship will cost him supporters elsewhere.

The positive side to all this is that Bart – an accredited scholar, as they say – has been compelled to acknowledge that the very existence of Jesus is “one of the most pressing questions in the history of religion” and deserving of investigation. Mythicism, warns Ehrman darkly, is “seeping into the popular consciousness at an alarming rate.”

Ehrman’s case for a historical Jesus could have been presented much more succinctly than in a 368-page book. In fact, that case has been presented much more succinctly – in endless publications from Christian apologists. Ehrman, no longer the believer that he once was, rewrites that apologetics material, minus the supernatural elements. At its heart is the “chronological side-step” (in a debate I once had with Gary Habermas he actually performed the dance): Our extant sources (the canonical gospels) belong here (70s – 90s of the first century); the written sources on which they draw belong here (50s – 60s); the oral traditions which informed the earliest written sources belong here (30s AD!!!) Glory be, “first-hand evidence” from the time of Jesus himself!

Now here’s a weak point (one of many) in Bart’s secularised Jesus world. Having drilled down to the 30s AD, apologists argue that the resurrection is what transformed the frightened disciples into bold evangelists. But having discounted the miraculous as non-historical what can Bart say? Well this: (more…)

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