Bart Ehrman was again asked what evidence there is that Jesus existed this February 18, 2016, at Fresno City College. See the video here (he begins his answer at timestamp 23:18). First he says this:
I don’t think there is any doubt that Jesus existed. There are a couple of scholars who’ve argued he didn’t exist. There are a lot of voices out there saying that he didn’t exist. But they’re not by scholars who are actually trained in any historical disciplines. There are voices on the internet. But there are voices on the internet for all sorts of things. Scholars who study this stuff really, there isn’t any, it’s not a question that’s debated among my colleagues. It is not debated. Because the evidence is so overwhelming.
This is not a very truthful statement.
- There are seven fully qualified scholars on the record who doubt the historicity of Jesus. Not “a couple.”
- We are not “internet voices.” I have a peer reviewed academic monograph from a mainstream biblical studies press on this question.
- Ehrman even appears to be saying that we are not “scholars who are actually trained in any historical disciplines.” Because he leaves out any mention of the fact that this isn’t just “internet voices” but also published scholarship by his expert peers and recognized by his expert peers.
- He fails to make clear that there are “scholars who are actually trained in any historical disciplines” who have expressed their doubts. Again so far, seven of us.
- And contrary to his last sentence, we are “scholars who study this stuff.” We are his colleagues (fully his peers in respect to credentials—some of us even better trained and more qualified in the subject of history than he is; so this looks a lot like he is lying about our credentials again).
- And this question is debated by his colleagues. Not only by the seven of us so far who doubt historicity, but a lot of his colleagues have debated me. Including Zeba Crook, Trent Horn, Kenneth Waters, and (now) Craig Evans. One of those debates was even sponsored by the Society of Biblical Literature. So the claim that it is “not debated” among his colleagues is false.
The evidence is not, of course, overwhelming. It’s not even whelming. But you can see that for yourself. IMO, the fact that this is what he thinks, discredits his opinion. Because there is no way in the universe any historian in any other field would call the evidence for the historicity of Jesus “overwhelming.” Maybe Ehrman just doesn’t know what overwhelming evidence looks like. But since he can’t even be honest about how many fully qualified colleagues of his doubt the historicity of Jesus, he can’t even honestly tell an audience that a mainstream peer reviewed academic monograph exists questioning historicity, and he can’t even honestly tell an audience that it is being debated by many of his colleagues, we shouldn’t expect him to honestly use the word “overwhelming” either.
Just watch the Carrier-Crook debate for the best defense of historicity you can expect to hear (the only debate on record so far with a professor of New Testament studies who doesn’t devolve into Christian apologetics). And ask yourself if the evidence presented there looks “overwhelming” by any credible definition of the word. Then watch the Carrier-Evans debate (which I’ll blog a commentary on as soon as I find the time) and ask yourself if anything he argued was even logical, much less weighty. This is historicity dying before your eyes. They have garbage for arguments, yet are manically certain it’s overwhelming. That’s why Evans leaned repeatedly on the fallacy of Argument from Authority: the authorities have no arguments; so their agreement is all the argument he can muster. His second crutch, which he also leaned on repeatedly, was his illogical claim that the authors of the Gospels knew Judean geography and customs, therefore Jesus existed. Wrap your head around that non sequitur. This is what they think is “overwhelming.” Which calls their judgment in this matter deeply into question.
Ehrman gives us yet another example of the unreliability of his judgment in his Fresno rant…
Getting the Thesis Wrong. And Hosing Logic and Facts.
Ehrman went on to say this (before turning to why he thinks his apocalyptic prophet hypothesis is the most likely theory of Jesus, which I agree is most likely true if the core Doherty thesis is false, so I see no need to critique him on that):
The specific evidence is a little bit hard to explain in two minutes. … [but] I’ll give you one argument. … [which], you have to understand, is not the only argument …
You can read all his arguments in DJE. Compare them with the arguments in OHJ. This is the best they’ve got. And apparently Ehrman agrees that’s enough for you to judge for yourself. So I recommend you compare them. And state what you think. Anyway, he goes on…
The people who are called mythicists argue that Jesus was invented, that he’s a myth, that was made up, that there never was an actual man Jesus.
Not quite. We argue that the Gospel Jesus was made up. A conclusion even Bart Ehrman largely agrees with. He seems to be confused as to what the mythicist thesis actually is (as will become evident below). The peer reviewed mythicist thesis is that the first Christians genuinely believed there was an archangel named Jesus who underwent a cosmic ordeal to fix the universe using standard Jewish atonement magic (OHJ Chapters 3 and 4). They “met” this Jesus in visions and “discovered” what he said and what happened to him by finding hidden messages in the Old Testament (this is not conjecture; we know it for a fact: OHJ, Chapter 12.3-4).
So they didn’t make him up, in the sense Ehrman means (they might have, but it’s not necessary to assume they did: see OHJ, Chapter 4, Element 15). What a later generation of Christians did (not the first Christians, nor anyone who ever met any of the first Christians so far as we can tell) is make up the version of Jesus that had him tromping around earth interacting with historical figures. The distinction is crucial. Yet Ehrman conflates the two. And with this conflation he proceeds…
Here’s one reason for thinking that’s wrong. The early Christians—whether or not Jesus existed—the early Christians said that Jesus was the messiah, and they said he was crucified. That would be a nonsensical statement for people in antiquity, that the messiah got crucified. The messiah was not supposed to suffer and die.
This is false. The Talmudic Jews preached that the messiah would suffer and die. So it clearly was not nonsensical. Even the Old Testament said the messiah would die. More on that in a moment. But the Talmud is clear on the matter (OHJ, pp. 73-75). There is in fact no evidence of any Jew ever finding this notion nonsensical. Many found it not to their preference. But it still made sense (as Hebrews 9 makes clear; see also OHJ, Chapter 4, Element 18, and Chapter 5, Elements 31 and 43). Especially since he wasn’t defeated in this account, but gained the power from it that he would use upon his return. Thus, a dying messiah is also a militarily victorious messiah. He just has to get resurrected.
Now Christians today typically say … that you have a prediction of a suffering messiah in the Old Testament. If you actually read the Old Testament, there is no passage in the Old Testament that talks about the messiah, that says anything about the messiah suffering. There are passages in the Old Testament that talk about somebody suffering, but they are never talking about the messiah. There are other passages that talk about the messiah, and they don’t talk about the messiah suffering. These were two incommensurate categories.
This is false. Daniel 9 says the messiah will die. Explicitly. And Isaiah 53 says so as well—using the word “Chosen One,” which Ehrman has otherwise agreed is a term used in the OT for the messiah (How Jesus Became God, p. 66). And Talmudic Rabbis agreed this was about the messiah. Even Psalms 89:32-52 says the messiah will be abandoned by God and suffer at his enemies’ hands (before being redeemed). And that is explicit that this is what will happen to the messiah. So Ehrman remains very truth challenged. Compare the evidence in OHJ, Chapter 4, Element 5.
So for Ehrman to keep repeating this claim, as if none of the above evidence existed, is simply dishonest.
Because the messiah was supposed to be the great king of Israel who overthrew the enemy, and set up God’s kingdom in Jerusalem. He was to be the great political, military leader of the Jews, who destroyed the enemy. That’s what the messiah was expected to be.
Not by everyone (Dan. 9; Is. 53; Ps. 89; the Talmud). Everyone expected that ultimately that would happen (as even the Christians still preached it would). But many did imagine there would be some suffering and possibly a brief death on the way. Moreover, Ehrman agrees we can’t claim to know what all Jews expected, so we can’t argue from what no Jews would have expected. Ehrman himself has said this explicitly: “saying what Jews thought is itself highly problematic, since lots of different Jews thought lots of different things. It would be like asking what Christians think today” (HJBG, p. 50) and “how would we know [what] ‘every’ early Christian [thought], unless all of them left us writings and told us everything they knew and did?” (DJE, p. 193), which is even more true of the Jews, who were even more divided into varying sects than the early Christians were, and about whom we know even less. So once again he is not telling his audience the truth. (He has lied about all of this before).
Ehrman then wraps up with a series of non sequiturs…
So, if you’re going to invent a Jesus who’s the messiah in fulfillment of expectation, what would that person be like? He’d be the king of Jerusalem! But they didn’t invent that Jesus. They invented—allegedly—they invented a Jesus who got crucified, a Christ that got crucified, but nobody expected a Christ to be crucified. So if you’re inventing somebody in order to meet some kind of public demand for a messiah figure, instead of a messiah who is a great military leader—you invent somebody who is squashed by the enemy, who’s tortured to death—that it was such a problematic category that most Jews absolutely rejected it as a ludicrous idea. So why would you invent a ludicrous idea, if you wanted to convince people? Wouldn’t you invent an idea that made sense to people? Why didn’t they invent the idea that Jesus was a messiah who was a king of Jerusalem? Because everybody knew he wasn’t the king of Jerusalem! There’s no Jesus who was the king of Jerusalem! Why did they invent the idea that the messiah got crucified? Because they knew that Jesus got crucified! They thought he was the messiah; and the big task for them is going ‘How can he be the messiah!?’ if he got crucified. And so, they had to explain that, and Paul, the Apostle Paul, our first author, says it’s the major stumbling block for the Jews. That Jesus got crucified.
That’s not an argument. That’s a hypothesis. A common logical error he and many historians make is to say “My theory explains the evidence, therefore my theory is true!” They forget to ask if an alternative explanation also explains the same evidence just as well (or even better). See OHJ, pp. 512-14. And here, Ehrman isn’t even testing the mythicist thesis. He doesn’t even seem to know what the mythicist explanation of this fact is. And someone who is wholly ignorant of the thesis they are rejecting, is not qualified to have an opinion on that thesis.
Ehrman also is betraying his incompetence as a historian by falsely thinking religions never make up scandalous, ludicrous, difficult-to-believe ideas. In fact, religions routinely do that. Why would Attis cult invent a castrated savior? Why would Romans invent and revere a mythical founder who murdered his own brother? Why would the Nicene council back the wildly illogical Trinitarian creed? How are the seer stone and golden plates of Joseph Smith anything but ludicrous? And why would Mormons advocate polygamy even though it brought severe and constant persecution upon them? Ehrman is a lousy historian if he doesn’t even know that the ludicrous is what religions specialize in. See OHJ, pp. 613-16 (and PH, pp. 124-69).
And yet it wasn’t even all that ludicrous. Human sacrifice as heroic and potent was revered, not laughed at (OHJ, Chapter 5, Element 43; Chapter 4, Element 18). Dying-then-triumphant heroes were ubiquitous among the very savior cults of the time that Christianity most resembled (OHJ, Chapter 4, Elements 13 and 14, and Chapter 5, Element 31). And the scriptures already said there would be a murdered messiah. And the Talmudic Jews agreed the scriptures already said there would be a murdered messiah. So evidently, it wasn’t ludicrous to even Rabbinical Jews, much less to a counter-cultural anti-Rabbinical fringe sect such as Christianity. What was ludicrous was that Christians could claim to know that a celestial archangel had performed this sacrifice (Hebrews 9), when there hadn’t been the public signs expected (OHJ, pp. 613-15). Paul does not say the crucifixion was turning the Jews off. He explicitly said it was the lack of signs confirming it that was turning the Jews off (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). Quoting verses out of context is what Christian apologists do; not what a secular scholar like Bart Ehrman should be doing. That’s pseudo-scholarship.
And on top of that, apart from being hopelessly fact-challenged, Ehrman’s entire point is illogical. As I’ve pointed out before, his question, “Why would you invent” anything other than a victorious king “if you wanted to convince people?” answers itself. Obviously you can’t invent a military victor when no such person exists! So the only messiah anyone could invent was one whose victory was invisible (to all but the revelators announcing it). Thus, Ehrman’s claim that “if” someone invented a messiah, they would have invented a “king of Jerusalem” is false. And it is not merely false; it is false because it is logically impossible. So his argument makes zero sense.
A better question is “Why did they invent the idea that the messiah got crucified?” Because they needed one, is the mythicist answer. It accomplished what they needed: the elimination of dependence on the Jewish temple cult and its Jewish leadership. It also created a plausible Jewish variant of a massively popular fashion among salvation cults at the time. Yet Ehrman does not show any sign of knowing what the mythicist answer to that question is. Because he provides no rebuttal to it. Yet he cannot argue for “a crucified messiah was more likely to be real than a revelation” without rebutting why it made sense as a revelation (OHJ, Chapter 4, Elements 16-18, and Chapter 5, Elements 23-31).
So Ehrman has no logically coherent argument here. And no facts to rest it on. This is not evidence for a historical Jesus. At all. Much less “overwhelmingly.” It’s just as likely that a radical sect like Christianity would invent a celestial sacrificial deity as that they would try selling an actual man as having been one. The odds of either are the same. The odds of either succeeding are the same. This makes the evidential weight of the fact zero.
Because Ehrman continues to ignore, and never honestly conveys (much less ever rebuts), what peer reviewed mythicism actually says, he has no valid opinion in this debate. He is stalwartly avoiding telling the truth about what our thesis is, and what are arguments for it are. Just as he continues to lie about our qualifications, our numbers, and our work having been formally peer reviewed and formally debated by his colleagues. And just as he continues to lie about what the Bible and Talmudic Jews actually say.
It now seems clear. Historicity can only be defended with lies.