Monday 26 March 2012

Biff Baff Bart

It's great entertainment.

Bart Ehrman has waded in on the mythicism debate, and trying to keep up with the responses is likely to give you whiplash.

I'm halfway through the book in question, Did Jesus Exist?  While I'm a fan of Ehrman, I wouldn't count this as his best work.  It's a cursory treatment, with a whiff of sniffing disdain.  Maybe it improves in the second half.  I hope so.  Regardless, it doesn't seem an adequate response to Earl Doherty, Bob Price or even George Wells. 

So did Jesus exist?  Uh, which Jesus?  The Jesus of the Jesus Seminar?  The Jesus of bleeding heart Catholic iconography?  The Jesus of Joel Osteen?  The plaster Jesus that hung above the altar at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in my childhood?

No, no, no, no.

The Jesus of the gospel stories, understood - as most folk do - literally?

Get outa here!

The real Jesus, the bloke obscured behind the layered myth?  Is he, if he lies hidden at the heart of these many legends, recoverable.  If he is, then I side with Ehrman.  He must have been an apocalyptic prophet who only faintly resembled the many projections that Christians have invented in his stead.  If he isn't recoverable, the whole question becomes moot.  The stranger of Galilee remains an utter stranger, and his putative existence doesn't make much difference.

Meantime the battle (should that be bartle?) lines have formed, and the generals are huffing and puffing, talking past each other, clarifying, explaining, re-explaining, reclarifying, taking pot shots.

If you're into this sort of thing it's probably the best show in town.


  1. I love most of Bart's writing and I'll probably pick up this one too at some point. However, I tend to find the Jesus Seminar argument that Jesus' apocalyptic sayings were added by later redactors to be more convincing.

    I think there was a lot of interesting stuff going on between 100 BC and 200 AD behind the emergence of Christianity that is going to be ignored if the tradition version of early church history gets the benefit of the doubt.

    I think NT studies needs some sort of minimalism to make people view the evidence with fresh eyes, even if some of these mythicist theories turn out to be incorrect.

  2. Bart is forced to support an historical Jesus because of "Misquoting Jesus". After all, you have to have a real Jesus in order to misquote him, right?

    As I suspected, Bart does the same thing as all HJers - quotes Paul as an authority. He considers Paul a true believer and not a conman.

    "Parsimonious". We must remember that word because it is more parsimonious to believe Jesus was historical. Why? Well, because we don't really know how else Christianity came to be. And, we never will either as long as we presume we already know how it came to be to start with.

    Of course, any argument to the contrary is shouted down as being ridiculous. And, as long as Paul is thought to be a true believer and not a conman, he has to be quoted as if he's not a liar making up a story.

    It never occurs to the historicist that the writings are intentionally vague/ambiguous to keep people confused and therefore dependent upon the leaders of the movement to guide them.

    No, that couldn't happen, could it? (herbert w. armstrong - joseph smith).

    It couldn't be that Paul taught Jesus and the resurrection to people who already believed that the Jewish scriptures had authority and fooled them into thinking that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 really referred to a man who was recently crucified by the authorities. Oh no, because Jesus was the ONLY Messianic claimant who was crucified by the Romans in Judea at that time?

    Which messianic claimant was it? Why it was the one known only by Paul in a vision - Jesus. And, of course Paul persecuted the church before it ever was a church - somehow...And, the church had leaders in Jerusalem who witnessed the resurrection (1 Cor.15) and Paul knew they did because they didn't tell him about it (Gal. 2:6).

  3. Professor Ehrman in his new book makes an astonishing statement in his fourth chapter under the section regarding the witness of Paul. After quoting Galatians 1:18-19 he states:

    "When Paul swears he is not lying, I generally believe him."

    This is a staggering admission. Here we have a supposedly skeptical historian who is working with a source who clearly has personal issues with the leaders of the Jerusalem church (within the context of the letter itself, regardless of its actual veracity). He makes a point of declaring his truthfulness, which would generally cause a skeptic to call into question that very thing, and Ehrman cites it as reason to wholly believe it.

    Paul said it, Ehrman believes it, and that settles it.

    One would hope that rational skeptics would demand more. In a letter, I would imagine that having to swear you are not lying is actually a bit of a marker for a lie. A clear statement of fact that you don't anticipate contradiction on from someone or some group would make nonsensical the disclaimer. The disclaimer here seems to be prophylaxis against possible contradiction by others involved in the statement. I am curious what arguments could be brought forward to support the idea that if an epistle writer swears something is true, we should generally believe him.

  4. "If you're into this sort of thing it's probably the best show in town."

    Absolutely! Been a fan of this war since 2000

    Mythicism has boomed with the www but was previously "underground"--only accessible by scholars. As a layperson conditioned by Western culture, I would have thought this to be outrageous back in the 20th century.

    We will need new textual and or archeological discoveries to fully solve the Jesus puzzle, possibly this century.

    Impressions of 2nd half of this latest book should be interesting.