Did Jesus Exist by Bart D. Ehrman


Did Jesus Christ exist as a historical, flesh and blood person? That's a question I've been interested in for a long time and the...

Did Jesus Christ exist as a historical, flesh and blood person? That's a question I've been interested in for a long time and the answer is not as obvious as you might think. The question, unbelievable as it might seem, is still open. There is a growing community of armature scholars and professional scholars who can assemble some very persuasive and reasonable doubts about the existence of a historical Jesus.

Bart D. Ehrman would not agree. Ehrman is not a Christian, but he is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. And I might add he is a very interesting writer who has published many books on the New Testament. He probably knows the Bible, especially the New Testament, better than most seminary graduated ministers. All that, and he strongly believes that Jesus did exist as a real human being.

I've read a number of his books, I have listened to a number of his lectures, and I highly recommend them and him if you are looking for a secular understanding of Christianity. However, I do disagree with his conclusion in his book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. It's not so much Ehrman belief that Jesus was historical that I object to--there is a possibility that Jesus was historical--what I disagree with is the certainty he seems to have in the historicity of Jesus.

Most people now and for the past two thousand years have assumed that Jesus was historical. They are the historicist and they make up the majority. They believe Jesus was a very real person, although they may or may not believe that the Gospels contain much about him this is historical (this, I think, is Ehrman's position). Then there is the second camp, very much in the minority, who are usually called mythicist because they believe Jesus never existed as a real person and all the stories about him are myths.

I consider myself a mythicist. This does not mean I'm absolutely certain he was not historical. I am not. Maybe there was a real person named Jesus who started the Jesus movement. But, and this is the important point, you do not need a real human Jesus to produce the Christian movement. But I've already written an article on why I believe Jesus is mythical, which you can read here if you like. In this article I just want to say a few specific things about Ehrman's book, "Did Jesus Exist?"

Ehrman is a really smart guy. He uses textual criticism to come to all kinds of conclusions about the NT. Basically, he is reading between the lines of the books in the NT by asking some very smart questions, questions I would never think to ask. He also comes to conclusions about what a document is saying by knowing a lot about the historical time period in question and what people were doing during that period. Most of his conclusions I have no problem with. I do not know if those conclusions are right, but I would not be surprised if they were. He certainly provides material to think about. But to have the absolute confidence in his conclusions which he claims, especially his supposed certainty of a living Jesus, goes way beyond what is capable from his textual criticism. If all he has is the New Testament to base his conclusions on, then he cannot be as certain as he says, or he should not be.

Because Paul says nothing about the Historical Jesus, then the only documents about the person Jesus were written decades after his death. And those documents have lots of elements that were drawn from the pagan myths and Jewish myths in circulation at that time. (I would say they are probably 100% drawn from those myths.) So the question becomes if you believe in a historical Jesus, what parts of the Gospels can you trust as being about the real Jesus? Ehrman uses his textual criticism to milk more information out of the Gospels than most of us would ever think possible. He obviously has a great deal of confidence in this technique. Which is fine, that is what he does. But without independent verification, of some type, how can we be certain about the accuracy of his technique?

But my basic problem with this book is not his technique, even though I think his technique does have a wide margin for error; I do think many good theories can be developed and insights can be learned by using it. And when studying the Bible it is often the only technique that can be used. My biggest disagreement is with the certainty he has in his central conclusion.

Using almost nothing but his textual criticism, he concludes that between the Gospels in the New Testament and Gospels that did not make the New Testament, there are seven independent or partially independent sources, all pointing to a historical Jesus. Even if he is correct about the number of independent sources, those sources might not be inspired a central historical Jesus. They could just as easily be inspired by a central myth about a mythical Jesus, not a real person. For example, suppose a myth about a savior named Jesus was started around the year zero, this would be the central myth, then that myth could have inspired other separate communities, and those communities would eventually developed their own independent variation of that central myth which was then incorporated into their Gospels, which gave their spin to the myth of Jesus. Eventually, what was actually a myth about a non-historical man, created perhaps for spiritual teaching purposes, and might become to be seen as the history of a real man.

I don't know if Jesus existed or not, at least with any certainty. I'm certain enough for my own needs that a historical person was not necessary for Christianity to have developed just as it did. The mystery religion of Isis, for example, developed before first centuries without a historical Isis at the center of it. So a historical person was not needed.

Ehrman on Historicity Recap

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Consider This:

No fathers or mothers think their own children ugly; and this self-deceit is yet stronger with respect to the offspring of the mind. -Miguel de Cervantes, novelist (1547-1616)



The Evolving Monkey : Did Jesus Exist by Bart D. Ehrman
Did Jesus Exist by Bart D. Ehrman
The Evolving Monkey
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