Vridar

2012/11/07

Thomas Brodie’s Review of Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?

Filed under: Brodie: Beyond Quest,Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Neil Godfrey @ 10:02 pm
Tags: , ,

Thomas L. Brodie has an epilogue in his latest book, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus, in which he responds to Bart Ehrman’s purported attempt to address the arguments of mythicists, Did Jesus Exist? (I say “purported” because although Ehrman has vehemently denied the charge, he has never, to my knowledge, addressed the actual evidence that he did not himself even read the books by Doherty and Wells that he critiqued. But Brodie is a kinder reviewer than I am.)

Brodie summarizes the three parts to Ehrman’s book and then responds. A summary of his summaries follows. It dwells mostly on Ehrman’s argument about oral traditions since Brodie (as I have posted recently) is particularly critical of the way biblical scholars “uncritically” rely upon oral tradition to make their reconstructions of Christian origins work.

Part 1: The Evidence for Jesus’ Historical Existence

Ehrman’s argument is that all Gospels, canonical and noncanonical, all testify to an historical Jesus, and they are all so varied, each with its own unique material (despite some undoubted borrowing from Mark), that they have to be considered to be relaying to readers independent witnesses of this historical Jesus.

Examination of the Gospels further “indicates that they all used many diverse written sources, sources now lost to us. . . .” — known as Q, M, L, a Signs Source, a Discourse Source, a core version of Thomas, etc. All of these “sources” also speak of Jesus as an historical person. It is also clear that they are independent of one another, so they can all be considered independent witnesses. It is thus inconceivable that they all derive from a single source. They must all ultimately derive from various witnesses to the historical Jesus.

Further, some scholars date Q to the 50s, 20 years after Jesus’ death. And others have “mounted strenuous arguments that” — and one recent study “makes a strong . . . literary . . . argument that” — sources underlying Peter and Thomas date even earlier than 50 CE.

And behind all of these very early (now lost) written sources were oral traditions that dated much earlier. Evidence of oral traditions:

  • revised form criticism that assumes oral traditions were the core of written sources
  • we have no way of explaining the written sources unless we assume oral tradition was behind them
  • Aramaic traces in the Gospels indicates that their sources were originally Aramaic oral sayings

These oral traditions were old. For example, we “know” Paul persecuted the Christians before his conversion. How could he have persecuted Christians if they did not exist? And how could they exist unless they knew orally transmitted reports about Jesus? (Brodie is a kind reviewer. He does not embarrass Ehrman by pointing out the raw logical fallacies in these arguments.)

Brodie notes Ehrman’s insistence upon the importance of oral tradition in the case for Jesus’ historicity:

The role of oral tradition as a basis for all our written sources about Jesus is not something minor; it ‘has significant implications for our quest to determine if Jesus actually lived’ (p. 85 of Did Jesus Exist?, p. 227 of Brodie’s Beyond the Quest)

Other NT sources, the letters of Paul and others, as well as the writings of Ignatius, 1 Clement, Papias — all, according to Ehrman — speak of Jesus as historical and they are all either independent of one another or demonstrably independent of the Gospels, so we can only conclude they acquired their knowledge of Jesus from oral tradition.

Besides — a key point —

the message of a crucified messiah is so countercultural for a Jew that it can only be explained by a historical event, in this case the crucifixion of someone the disciples had thought was the messiah. (p. 227)

Brodie aptly sums up Bart Ehrman’s case:

Overall then, the evidence shows a long line of sources, all independent — all with independent access to the oldest traditions — and all agreeing in diverse ways, that Jesus was historical. Such evidence is decisive. (p. 228) (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

Carrier versus Ehrman: Reflections

Filed under: Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Neil Godfrey @ 10:00 am
Tags: , , ,

I have decided to do my own review, or series of reflections, on Bart Ehrman’s book. I think it could be worthwhile writing about it through the context of both Richard Carrier’s response to it and Bart Ehrman’s replies to Carrier. It is interesting, perhaps instructive, to see the way Bart Ehrman’s tone has changed in his most recent posts. The context of that change is equally interesting. But let’s start at the beginning — in this case Carrier’s initial reaction.

Richard Carrier expressed the disappointment of many when Bart Ehrman’s book finally appeared:

I was certain this would be a great book, the very best in its category. And I said this, publicly, many times in anticipation of it. It’s actually the worst. . . . I was eagerly hoping for a book I could recommend as the best case for historicity (but alas, that title stays with the inadequate but nevertheless competent, if not always correct, treatment in Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament and Theissen & Merz’s The Historical Jesus). I was also expecting it to be a good go-to rebuttal to the plethora of bad mythicism out there . . . .

No doubt many who have favourably considered mythicism agree. We were looking for a serious challenge. But one thing Bart Ehrman made clear in his Introduction was what he thought of mythicism and mythicists. Mythicism is on a par with Holocaust and moon-landing denial (p. 5). Mythicists are driven by anti-Christian agenda and are not interested in historical inquiry for its own sake. They will not be convinced by anything he writes so the rest of the book is not even an attempt to engage with them. It is to inform “genuine seekers who really want to know how we know that Jesus did exist” and the answers will come from scholars who, supposedly unlike mythicists, have no vested interest in the question.

That is the tone Ehrman sets in the opening pages of his book. He is essentially telling mythicists to step outside, or at least to the back of the room, while he talks to those who (unlike mythicists) think evidence matters. This is not the book that mythicists and those who are curious but undecided were waiting for. (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…)

Scholarly Fallacy of the Week: Bart Ehrman’s False Dichotomy

The hermeneutic of charity is what some New Testament scholars (e.g. Richard Bauckham) have termed the goodness, the rightness, of believing a testimony by default — unless and until we are given a reason to doubt it.

It is usually opposed rhetorically to the idea of the hermeneutic of suspicion.

Charity and suspicion. The words clearly resonate with the ideals of the highest teachings of biblical love: “charity” being the best of gifts and “suspicion” being antithetical to that Christian virtue according to 1 Corinthians 13.

In fundamental logic, however, we might align these concepts with something more neutral and objective for analysis: the false dichotomy.

Bart Ehrman may shun the term “hermeneutic of charity” (I don’t know but I’m assuming he does) but he falls right into that same soft bed of roses no matter what their name. He does this many times, and so many New Testament scholars do, too, but we have a right to expect the highest standards from the highest paid professions.

In Did Jesus Exist? Ehrman falls within the wake of so many of his peers by setting up the so-called evidence of Papias as

  1. either reliable enough to be used as “an important source for establishing the historical existence of Jesus”
  2. or it is nothing but a bald-faced lie

This is a most unscholarly view of things. It has nothing to recommend it. It breaks all the fundamental rules of how historians are expected to analyse the value of their sources. It is nothing but a logical and methodological fallacy. But it is so commonly encountered in the writings of New Testament scholars that one would be excused for thinking it is a simple truism.

Here is how Ehrman presents his case based on the supposed evidence of Papias: (more…)

2012/04/16

3. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Chapters 1-2

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 3

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

  • the argument from silence and the positive case for mythicism
  • why is Paul so silent on the historical Jesus?
    • Paul’s “words of the Lord”
  • Problematic Gospels and their basis in scripture
  • Dependence on Mark / no variety in Passion story
  • The question of parallels with pagan salvation myths
  • Uncertainty surrounding Jesus’ teachings

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Before embarking on “the positive evidence that convinces everyone except the mythicists that Jesus existed,” Bart Ehrman provides “a rough idea about why some of the smarter and better informed writers have said he did not exist.”

The Basic Mythicist Position

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 30-34 of Chapter 1)

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Positives, negatives and Ehrman’s silence

Ehrman divides the mythicist arguments into negative and positive, claiming the former are “far more” numerous. This I would dispute, and certainly in my own case. Too much stress is laid by historicists on the supposed reliance by mythicists on the argument from silence. Yes, on my website I have a feature titled “The Sound of Silence: 200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles.” It is meant to highlight and deal individually with the extensive occurrences of that silence and the perplexity—indeed, the impossibility—of such a situation if an historical Jesus had existed, especially in the face of historicism’s blithe dismissal of it as inconsequential or as ‘explained’ by the weakest and most unworkable excuses.

But in my books and website I spend far more space on presenting the positive aspects of the mythicist case than the argument from silence, laying out the actual picture of the early Christ cult movement which the epistles provide, demonstrating that it not only needs no historical Jesus, it actually excludes one. And in dealing with the Q side of things, I demonstrate that the Q record itself shows that no historical Jesus founder was present at the root of the Kingdom preaching sect, but was only developed and inserted into the Q record as the sect and its document evolved, a common sectarian feature.

But that will come later. Ehrman provides a telling description of the fact that no mention of Jesus can be found in any Greek or Roman source for at least 80 years after his death. He also acknowledges the mythicist claim that the two famous references to Jesus in the Jewish historian Josephus are very likely interpolations, without putting up a fuss about it (“If they are right…”)—at least at that moment. He goes on to further acknowledge that mythicists are right to point out that

the apostle Paul says hardly anything about the historical Jesus or that he says nothing at all. This may come as a shock to most readers of the New Testament, but a careful reading of Paul’s letters shows the problems. (pp. 31-32, DJE?)

What he doesn’t add here is that this situation is far from peculiar to Paul. It exists across virtually the entire range of the non-Gospel record from almost the first hundred years of Christianity. One writer’s silence (and peculiar language we will look at) could perhaps be an idiosyncrasy though still curious; the entire flock of them outside the Gospels showing the same curiosities would be so unlikely as to be rejected out of hand. (Ehrman will later try to get around this by declaring that those other silent authors, such as of 1 Peter, Revelation and Hebrews, nevertheless “clearly indicate that Jesus existed.” I will be demonstrating that he is mistaken—and not by claiming interpolation!) (more…)

2012/04/13

2. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Chapter 1

This second post addresses the opening pages of Ehrman’s first chapter. It continues from the last words of the first installment.

Here Doherty examines

  • Ehrman’s appeal to Schweitzer and the problems faced by both Schweitzer and Ehrman
  • The logical improbability of Ehrman’s reconstruction of an historical Jesus
  • Ehrman’s appeal to pre-Gospel sources and his failure to notice the problems that will have for his own reconstruction
  • Ehrman’s treatment of the history of mythicism and the contradiction his observations present for common claims about mythicism among mainstream scholars

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“But as a historian I think evidence matters,” says Ehrman. Let’s see how he handles evidence, and those who interpret that evidence in a different way.

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Chapter 1: An Introduction to the Mythical View of Jesus

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Ehrman begins by quoting the great Albert Schweitzer. On the one hand, says Schweitzer:

There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence.

On the other hand, says Ehrman,

toward the end of his book he [Schweitzer] showed who Jesus really was, in his own considered judgment. For Schweitzer, Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who anticipated the imminent end of history as we know it.

This of course is a “judgment” dear to Ehrman’s heart, because he himself subscribes to it and has written a book advocating such a picture of Jesus. It is a mantra in New Testament scholarship these days, in agreement with Schweitzer a century ago, that immense difficulties abound in the effort to unearth the real historical man from beneath the Christ of faith. And yet scholar after scholar, from Schweitzer and before him to Ehrman and no doubt after him, can claim that they have done so, and have usually disagreed with each other on what the result is. Both Ehrman and Schweitzer can acknowledge the difficulty of getting beyond the faith literature—Ehrman and more modern scholarship have benefited from the realization that there is no “history remembered” in the Gospels, and that virtually all of it is midrashic construction out of scripture—and yet both declare certainty in their knowledge that the Jesus character (whatever he was) did indeed exist. (more…)

2012/04/08

Ehrman sacrifices Paul to launch his attack on mythicism

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (Photo credit: Wikipedia): Necessary for the gods to allow the Greeks to attack Troy

This is the third post in my series addressing Bart Ehrman’s rhetorical back-flips on his past writings and those of his scholarly peers in order to attack mythicism.

I quoted Ehrman in my earlier post, Ehrman explains: Doherty Could Be Right After All, insisting that Paul “was not principally dependent upon Plato”. No decent person would want to think that Ehrman was playing word games or simply being disingenuous here by specifying the name “Plato” and adding the qualifier “principally”. The context of his following sentence makes it abundantly clear that he is directing his readers to think that Paul was dependent upon Jewish traditions and scriptures in contradistinction to pagan philosophies.

Not even Paul was philosophically trained. To be sure, as a literate person he was far better educated than most Christians of his day. But he was no Plutarch. His worldview was not principally dependent on Plato. It was dependent on the Jewish traditions, as these were mediated through the Hebrew scriptures. (p. 255, Did Jesus Exist?)

But Ehrman is a well-read scholar so he knows very well that there is an abundant scholarly literature discussing the influence of ancient philosophy on the thinking of Paul. Is he turning his back on all this scholarship solely to attempt a punch at Doherty? Some of the literature addressing this that I have discussed in posts here:

Troels Engberg-Pedersen: Paul and the Stoics

Th. D. Niko Huttunen: Paul and Epictetus on Law

Abraham J. Malherbe: Paul and the Popular Philosophers (more…)

2012/04/07

Ehrman says Doherty’s argument is “intriguing and worthy of reflection”

My own photo in British Museum of Mithraic "mystery cult" sculpture

The pity is that Bart Ehrman did not know (or perhaps he did!) the argument he was thus evaluating — his own, in fact — just happened also to be the same one Earl Doherty covered in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. For some reason psychologists no doubt can explain, when Ehrman read the same points he himself had written being elaborated upon by Doherty he saw red and declared everything to be false, not true, rubbish. But take a peak at what Ehrman himself wrote about the mystery religions and see if you can spot the difference from Doherty’s argument. How are we to explain Ehrman’s contradictory evaluations?

In his attack on the very idea that Jesus may not have been an historical person Ehrman blasted away at any suggestion by “mythicists” that the pagan mystery cults had any influence at all upon the emergence of the Christian religion:

One thing that we do know about them [i.e. the mystery cults], however, is where they were located and thus, to some extent, where they exerted significant influence. We know this from the archaeological record they have left behind. Among all our archaeological findings, there is none that suggests that pagan mystery cults exerted any influence on Aramaic-speaking rural Palestinian Judaism in the 20s and 30s of the first century. And this is the milieu out of which faith in Jesus the crucified messiah, as persecuted and then embraced by Paul, emerged. . . . (p. 256, Did Jesus Exist?, my emphasis)

The question-begging core of this assertion is even comical. Ehrman is supposedly attacking an argument that posits mystery religions in the wider Greek-speaking world influenced the shape of emerging Christianity, particularly as taught by Paul, so he protests that the mystery religions did not influence the teachings of Jesus wandering around in Galilee!

But then Ehrman becomes even less logically relevant as his desperation grows: (more…)

2012/04/03

Did Bart Ehrman Not Even Read the Cover of Earl Doherty’s Book?

In my previous posts on Bart Ehrman’s assertions about the argument of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, I think I have uncovered enough evidence to demonstrate that Ehrman at best only very patchily skimmed a few pages of the book. Was he perhaps merely attempting to grasp directions from some of Doherty’s critics rather than reading the book for himself? He has made a complete fool of himself, or worse, by building a recurring criticism upon a blatant misquotation from the book and accusing Doherty of arguing the very opposite of what he in fact writes.

I return here to Ehrman’s opening words about Doherty’s book. It looks like Ehrman never even bothered to read its cover!

He writes:

[Doherty’s] now-classic statement is The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? This has recently been expanded in a second edition, published not as a revision (which it is) but rather as its own book, Jesus: Neither God nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Christ.

This is only a tiny thing, but it is a curiosity.

The cover of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man twice says it IS indeed published as a revision of The Jesus Puzzle.

The front cover says:

NEW – REVISED – EXPANDED

and on the same cover beneath those words we read:

First Published As THE JESUS PUZZLE

Turn now to the verso of the title page where one normally reads the publication data:

A revised and expanded version of The Jesus Puzzle

The cataloguing in publication information says the book is published as a

New edition, Revised and Expanded, of The Jesus Puzzle.

It tells us a third time:

Originally publ. under the title: The Jesus puzzle.

So why does our good doctor and reviewer say of the book that it was not published as a revision of The Jesus Puzzle even though the cover and title page verso inform us five times that it is such a revision?

Why did he even think to make such a point that is clearly wrong? (more…)

2012/04/02

Ehrman’s Most Bizarre Criticism Of All Against Doherty

Bart Ehrman’s attempt to deal with Earl Doherty’s book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, is “filled with so many unguarded and undocumented statements and claims, and so many misstatements of fact, that it would take a [book three times the size] to deal with all the problems.”

I have quoted Ehrman’s own words to describe Doherty’s book and turned them against Ehrman himself. In the paragraph following that description Ehrman flagrantly misquotes Doherty to falsely accuse him of claiming that there was only a single world-view among the ancients. I addressed this in detail in my first post of this series.

From this point on Ehrman continues to demonstrate that he has simply failed to read much of the book he claims to be reviewing. As part of his effort to dismiss Doherty’s argument that Paul’s Christ had no earthly context, Ehrman accuses Doherty of asserting, without any evidence, that the mystery religions at the time of early Christianity “were at heart Platonic”:

What evidence does Doherty cite to show that mystery religions were at heart Platonic? Precisely none. (p. 192, Did Jesus Exist?)

But he [Doherty] then asserts that they [the mystery cults] thought like the later Platonist Plutarch. . . . 

Quite oblivious to everything Doherty wrote on the matter, Ehrman attempts to refute what he (wrongly) says is Doherty’s argument by explaining the very things Doherty himself points out in his book. That is, Doherty has argued that the beliefs of the mystery cults were for most part very probably unlike the philosophical views of the day and then offers the reasons for this judgement. Ehrman bizarrely says Doherty argues the very opposite of what he does, that the mystery cults thought like the philosophers of the day. He then proceeds to explain how it really was, and then presents Doherty’s argument as if it were his own and as if he is explaining what Doherty should have written! But what he thinks is his own argument against Doherty is exactly what Doherty did write! This is most bizarre!

Here are Ehrman’s “corrective” statements he obviously thinks (wrongly) that Doherty “should” have understood:

And it is highly unlikely that adherents of the mystery cults (even if we could lump them all together) thought like one of the greatest intellectuals of their day (Plutarch). Very rarely do common people think about the world the way upper-class, highly educated, elite philosophers do. . . .

In the case of someone like Plutarch there is, in fact, convincing counterevidence. Philosophers like Plutarch commonly took on the task of explaining away popular beliefs by allegorizing them, to show that despite what average people naively believed, for example, about the gods and the myths told about them, these tales held deeper philosophical truths. The entire enterprise of philosophical reflection on ancient mythology was rooted precisely in the widely accepted fact that common people did not look at the world, or its myths, in the same way the philosophers did. Elite philosophers tried to show that the myths accepted by others were emblematic of deeper spiritual truths. (p. 192)

One can only read this and shake one’s head in dismay. Doherty himself has written just that! Where was Ehrman’s mind when he was turning the pages that contained the following paragraphs? (more…)

2012/03/31

Devious Doherty or Erring Ehrman?

One of the staunchest defenders of a mythicist view of Christ, Earl Doherty, maintains that the apostle Paul thinks that Jesus was crucified, not here on earth by the Romans, but in the spiritual realm by demonic powers. In advancing this thesis, Doherty places him self in an ironic position that characterizes many of his mythicist colleagues. He quotes professional scholars at length when their views prove useful for developing aspects of his argument, but he fails to point out that not a single one of these scholars agrees with his overarching thesis. (Bart Ehrman in Did Jesus Exist? my emphasis)

Can Earl Doherty ever have stooped so low! Quoting scholars when it suits but not informing his readers that they were not mythicists? What deviousness! This has to be outright deceit, of course, since if he really believed they were mythicist he would have shouted that out in bold caps.

Given the track record I have addressed in my previous posts I am sure we know just how much evidence we can dig up against Doherty to support Ehrman’s accusation. Ehrman also implies that Doherty only refers to scholars when “their views prove useful” to developing his argument. How sneaky!

Let’s try to trace just how dishonest this man is. Let’s begin with the Preface to his book, Jesus, Neither God Nor Man.

He fails to point out?

On the very opening page of his book, in his Preface, Earl Doherty refers to the Christ Myth as “such a radical idea” that when it was referenced on a popular TV show he believes very few in audiences would have even recognized what was expressed. He refers to it on that same page as “a fringe idea”. On that page, the first page of his book, he sets his thesis in opposition to “traditional academia” and “mainstream critical scholarship”. The bulk of those who currently embrace the idea for now are “amateurs” whom he defines as “those who undertake private study outside an official educational setting.”

The same theme dominates right through to the last page of that Preface where Doherty acknowledges his debt to traditional New Testament scholarship. He describes his debt to this as “immense” even though he is obviously presenting a thesis at radical odds with the assumptions and beliefs of that scholarship. This theme of his view being in stark opposition to traditional mainstream scholarship is sustained throughout the book. Would anyone who picks up JNGM really suspect for a moment that Doherty is supported by a significant number of mainstream New Testament scholars?

But let’s get to the nitty gritty. Does Doherty at any point mislead his readers into thinking that mainstream scholars he quotes might somehow support his mythicist argument? (more…)

2012/03/30

Ehrman suppresses the facts while falsely accusing Doherty: Part 2

This post continues directly on from Ehrman Hides the Facts About Doherty’s Argument, Part 1. Here I show that Ehrman has suppressed the facts about what his own peers think in order to falsely accuse Doherty of arguing without scholarly merit.

First, the passage in question, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.

14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans,

15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men,

16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost. [NKJV]

Ehrman’s argument: “simply not true”

I concluded my last post with this paragraph:

But it gets worse. For Ehrman to sustain his accusation that mythicists such as Doherty and Wells are “driven by convenience” and “simply claim” these verses to be un-Pauline, he must hide from his readership what his own scholarly peers do in fact say about the authenticity of these same verses. He will therefore inform the readers only of his own idiosyncratic (I would be surprised if his argument as presented in Did Jesus Exist? has ever passed peer-review) reasons for believing the passages to be authentic.

Ehrman begins his case against interpolation by singling out the last words of verse 16:

It is this last sentence [i.e. “wrath has come upon them to the uttermost”] that has caused interpreters problems. What could Paul mean that the wrath of God has finally come upon the Jews (or Judeans)? That would seem to make sense if Paul were writing in the years after the destruction of the city of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans, that is, after 70 CE. But it seems to make less sense when this letter was actually written, around 49 CE. For that reason a number of scholars have argued that this entire passage has been inserted into 1 Thessalonians and that Paul therefore did not write it. In this view some Christian scribe, copying the letter after the destruction of Jerusalem, added it. (my emphasis)

But Ehrman is sweeping the scholarly discussion under the carpet when he indicates to his readers that it is only “this last sentence” that has “caused interpreters problems”. That is, again to use Ehrman’s own words, “simply not true.” (more…)

Ehrman hides the facts about Doherty’s argument: Part 1

Bart Ehrman accuses Earl Doherty of being “driven by convenience” and “simply claiming” that a Bible verse that contradicts his thesis “was not actually written by [Paul]”.

At the same time Ehrman admits that the particular verse is disputed by many scholars, but then in his ensuing discussion he hides (sic!) from his lay readers the reasons they dispute it.  Ehrman even conveys the false impression that all of the scholarly dispute is merely over a few words tagged on at the end of the verse; but surely knows that this is (to use his own damning words from another context) “simply not true”. I find it impossible to imagine that his simplistic and misleading discussion of this text would ever pass peer review were it submitted to a scholarly journal. No matter. He obviously thinks it is all his lay readers need to know; and that information that is only partial, or that is suppressed entirely, will serve more effectively to undermine Doherty’s credibility.

Ehrman’s accusation

Doherty refuses to allow that 1 Thessalonians — which explicitly says that the Jews (or the Judeans) were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus — can be used as evidence of Paul’s view: it is, he insists, an insertion into Paul’s writings, not from the apostle himself. (Here we find, again, textual studies driven by convenience: if a passage contradicts your views, simply claim that it was not actually written by the author.)  (p.  my emphasis)

Notice Ehrman is unambiguously “informing” his readers that it is entirely Doherty’s own self-serving opinion that “refuses” to allow a particular verse to be considered original to Paul. The only reason we are led to believe, and this is on the authority of the highly reputable popular author Bart Ehrman, that Doherty rejects the originality of this verse is “simply” because it “inconveniently” refutes his argument. Doherty “simply claims” a verse is a forgery because, Ehrman assures us, he finds it contradicts his argument.

This is not an isolated accusation. Earlier in his book Ehrman similarly claimed:

One way that some mythicists have gotten around the problem that this, our earliest Christian source, refers to the historical Jesus in several places is by claiming that these references to Jesus were not originally in Paul’s writings but were inserted by later Christian scribes who wanted Paul’s readers to think that he referred to the historical Jesus. This approach to Paul can be thought of as historical reconstruction based on the principle of convenience. If historical evidence proves inconvenient to one’s views, then simply claim that the evidence does not exist, and suddenly you’re right.

This is a mischievous falsehood. Earl Doherty and G. A. Wells are NOT the ones who claim that certain verses are interpolations in order to “get around” contradictory evidence to establish their case. The arguments for the two verses they cite (I don’t know that there are any more than two) being interpolations are long-standing and well established by Ehrman’s own scholarly peers.

First I will quote what Doherty himself says with respect to his reasons for rejecting the authenticity of this verse in 1 Thessalonians.

In my next post I will return to Bart Ehrman’s own attempt to argue for this verse’s genuineness and demonstrate how Ehrman misleads his less well-informed readers about the real reasons many of his own scholarly peers believe the verse was indeed an interpolation. (more…)

2012/03/29

Earl Doherty’s comments on my posts about Ehrman’s treatment of his book

I am posting here Earl Doherty’s comment — originally made on FRDB — about my recent posts on Bart Ehrman’s treatment of his book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man.

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I hope that all of you are following the postings on Vridar by Neil Godfrey relating to Bart Ehrman’s presentation of statements and arguments in my book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. . . . What Neil has focused on in this posting (“Bart Ehrman’s false or careless assertions and quotations concerning Earl Doherty“), the first of several he plans on the same problem in Did Jesus Exist [I now notice he has just posted a second instalment], is Ehrman’s handling of my discussion of the ancients’ views of the universe and how one in particular influenced early Christian cosmology and their placement of their Christ Jesus’ sacrifice in the heavenly world. Here, as quoted on Vridar, is what Ehrman says:

Ehrman continues to repeat and underscore this aspersion — that Doherty is so simplistic as to speak of a single view of the world among ancients:

To begin with, how can he claim to have uncovered “the” view of the world held by “the” ancients, a view that involved an upper world where the true reality resides and this lower world, which is a mere reflection of it? How, in fact, can we talk about “the” view of the world in antiquity? Ancient views of the world were extremely complex and varied

Neil points out that this is a direct misrepresentation of what I say in my book. Ehrman is discussing my page 97, which actually says (the square-bracket insertions are mine just made):

To understand that setting, we need to look at the ancients’ views [VIEWS, plural] of the universe and the various [i.e., MULTIPLE] concepts of myth among both Jews and pagans, including the features of the Hellenistic salvation cults known as “mysteries.”

But Ehrman has not simply ‘misread’ one word, the surrounding context, and in many other places in my book, contains further material like this:

From the documentary record both Jewish and pagan (and there is more to survey), it is clear that much variation existed in the concept of the layered heavens and what went on in them, just as there were many variations in the nature of the savior and how he conferred salvation.

Neil and some commenters on his posting point out that Ehrman’s language (see above) also implies that this particular “view” of the universe (the Platonic one) I present is somehow my own laughable invention, whereas any undergraduate student of ancient thinking knows full well that this was a widespread (and even pre-Plato) type of cosmology about the nature of the universe. Unfortunately, much of Ehrman’s readership will not even be undergrads.

In the same posting Neil quotes this blatant non-sequitur on Ehrman’s part:

This view of things was especially true, Doherty avers, in the mystery cults, which Doherty claims provided “the predominant form of popular religion in this period.” (This latter claim, by the way, is simply not true. Most religious pagans were not devotees of mystery cults.)

Something that is a “predominant form” is not necessarily indulged in by the majority. Ehrman’s criticism here is based on this fallacy. I have not said that a majority of pagans were initiates into the cults. Besides, the presence of the word “popular” gives a different cast to things. If I say that the predominant form of popular music over the last half-century has been “rock and roll” that does not say that a majority of the population of all ages and ethnic groups around the world have been enthusiastic about rock and roll. Ehrman exhibits serious logical deficiencies here.

On the “view”/”views” matter, Neil suggests that Ehrman may have been “more careless than dishonest,” while one commenter puts it “we must first assume carelessness and not malice”. (Dishonorable or incompetent, take your pick.) But I think this is bending over backwards unjustifiably. It is admittedly hard to believe that Ehrman could have deliberately misrepresented my words, consciously falsifying my arguments in order to put me in the worst possible light. But what is the alternative “carelessness” due to? (more…)

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