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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent review and rebuttal
Professor Ehrman is, above all else, a fair scholar. Yes, evidence requires some amount of interpretation. There are competing theories and sometimes one theory does a better job in accounting for the available facts than others. There are conclusions drawn from evidence over which reasonable people can disagree. The vital contribution Ehrman makes in this book, written...
Published on 2 May 2012 by K. Winters

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56 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A secularized Plymouth Brother?
"Did Jesus Exist?" is a book by Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar and out-spoken agnostic-atheist. Despite his private ideological leanings, Ehrman does believe that Jesus was a real historical person, and that the NT contains reliable traditions about him.

To simplify somewhat, Ehrman's Jesus is the Jesus of the Gospel of Matthew, but even more Jewish and...
Published on 22 April 2012 by Ashtar Command


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56 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A secularized Plymouth Brother?, 22 April 2012
"Did Jesus Exist?" is a book by Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar and out-spoken agnostic-atheist. Despite his private ideological leanings, Ehrman does believe that Jesus was a real historical person, and that the NT contains reliable traditions about him.

To simplify somewhat, Ehrman's Jesus is the Jesus of the Gospel of Matthew, but even more Jewish and without the miracles. Thus, Ehrman actually has a rather "conservative" view of Jesus. To psycho-analyze an author you've never met is a risky business, but personally I suspect that Ehrman (a former evangelical Christian) still feels some kind of psychological connection to the Bible in general and the Gospels in particular. But then, the position he is arguing against could be connected to an equally strong psychological aversion to the very same scriptures!

As the title makes obvious, Ehrman's book is a polemic against a group of authors he dubs "mythicists", who claim that Jesus never existed. While most Bible scholars hold that the Jesus of the Gospels is at least "freely based on a true story", the mythicists claim that everything is made up. The Gospels are purely mythological, and hence similar in character to pagan legends about Hercules, Dionysius, Osiris, etc. A popularized version of mythicism can be found in "The Jesus Mysteries" by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. More scholarly versions are argued by Robert Price, Richard Carrier and others. (Incidentally, Sweden has spawned a native mythicist in the persona of Alvar Ellegård. So yes, this debate feels strangely familiar!)

Personally, I consider Ehrman's book to be a very mixed bag. He constantly attacks the mythicists by using "the argument from authority", claiming that virtually all scholars in the relevant fields reject their positions. Maybe they do, but so what? The majority can be wrong. Personally, I'm convinced that Jesus really did exist, but it's not completely irrational to take the opposite position. From a naturalist viewpoint, the Gospels make little sense, often contradict each other, all non-Biblical sources for Jesus are rather late, etc. Nor is it difficult to pinpoint ideological reasons for why most scholars affirm Jesus' existence. Many NT scholars are Christian, and even non-Christian scholars want to claim Jesus as their own. Would Western scholars care if somebody denied the existence of Siddharta Gautama or Muhammad? Probably not. But deny Jesus, and you got it coming! Feminists want him to be a feminist, Jews want him to be a Pharisee, the Jesus Seminar want him to be a party animal, and more traditional Christians want him to be...well, the Son of God. Nobody wants him to be non-existent. If you risk being crucified by both the establishment and the opposition, the more prudent course is silence. And if you just can't shut up, your only outlet would be some small atheist press. So what's all this stuff about "every scholar in the field agrees"?

In the end, even Ehrman is forced to actually argue his case when confronted with Price, Carrier and some other scholarly (!) mythicists. He does a good job debunking the claim that Paul never mentions a historical Jesus, the idea that Matthew and Luke are solely based on Mark, or the claim that no authentic traditions about Jesus exist in the Gospels or Acts. A particularly strong argument is the observation that the New Testament contains allusions to earlier creeds, which the NT writers no longer believed in. Thus, there are "adoptionist" passages, suggesting that Jesus didn't become the Son of God until his baptism in the Jordan. There are also statements suggesting that Jesus didn't become the Son of God until the actual resurrection. Both are compatible with Jesus being a real person, a real person who was gradually exalted to divine status after his death. Of course, the mythicists could always retort that it could be an evolving myth, but if the point of the Jesus myth is to create a Jewish mystery religion, it would be more logical to cast Jesus as a god from the start.

Ehrman also points out that the New Testament contains information which could be considered embarrassing by later generations of Christians: Jesus had siblings, his family rejected him, he was baptized by John, some of his prophecies don't seem to ad up, etc. Thus, this information could very well be true. Why else make it up? Another point pressed by the author is the title "king of the Jews", never used by Christians but pinned on Jesus by his accusers (including Pilate). This suggests that the accusations against Jesus were a real historical event. Why make up a title nobody is using?

Ehrman is also somewhat frustrated by what he calls "the scholarship of convenience", which he believes Price and other mythicists indulge in ever so often. If some passage from Paul or the Gospels seems to indicate a real historical Jesus, just declare the passage to be a later interpolation and move ever on, victoriously! Thus, Price believes that Paul's famous list of Jesus' resurrection appearances is a later forgery. But what is the evidence for such a claim? Ehrman doesn't see any. By contrast, there's good evidence that Paul's attack on women preachers *is* a later interpolation - the passage isn't part of the main text in an early manuscript.

On other points, I believe Ehrman's arguments are much weaker. Thus, he writes that nobody denied that Jesus was a real historical character until the 18th century. But what about the Gnostics? Was the ethereal, mutable, docetic Christ of the Gnostics a "real historical character" in the same sense as the Jesus of the Church Fathers? What about the heavily allegorical interpretations of Origen, or the secret gospels of Clement of Alexandria, a Gnosticizing Church Father? The Gnostics didn't have to "deny the historicity of Jesus" in the modern mythicist sense, if their inner circle was interpreting the scriptures as a myth anyway! It's also curious that Ehrman brushes aside the Wisdom of Solomon, with is eerie, passion-like scenario about the Son of God being condemned to a shameful death. He writes that the Wisdom of Solomon never made it into the Jewish canon, but so what? Neither did the Book of Enoch, yet everyone agrees *that* scripture influenced early Christianity. Besides, the Wisdom of Solomon was included in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the "Old Testament". Since there were Greek-speaking Jews and pagans even in Palestine, I don't think the LXX would have been unknown in Jerusalem.

I agree that Jesus was crucified - if Jesus really said or did what's in the Gospels, it's amazing he didn't end up dead much sooner - but the cross is also an ancient pagan symbol. Plato talks about the Son of God being suspended cross-wise in the universe, a statement later appropriated by Justin Martyr to prove that Christianity was "perfected Platonism". And while crucifixion was indeed a shameful death, there were exceptions to the rule. Even Christian theologian Martin Hengel admits that the Roman hero Marcus Atilius Regulus was sometimes said to have been crucified by the vile and treacherous Carthaginians. Yet, he was revered as a kind of pagan saint! Ehrman also sidesteps the claim of the early Christian apologists themselves, that the mystery religions were in some ways similar to the rites of Christianity.

My (provisional) take on Jesus is that he really did exist, but that either his own message or the message of the earliest Church might have had some "Hellenistic", "Gnostic" or "pagan" traits. Somehow, I feel a bit left out of this debate! Incidentally, even if we assume that early Christianity was a strictly Jewish affair, Judaism itself had traits which any disinterested observer would suspect may have been pagan borrowings (or even pagan survivals, if we assume that Judaism was once polytheist). Why was Wisdom personified as a woman? Goddesses were popular in the ancient world. What about the angels acting as mediators between God and man? The angels are surely an outside borrowing, perhaps from Persia. And what about the Wisdom of Solomon? Middle Platonism, anyone?

I recommend "Did Jesus Exist?" to those interested in the thorny subject at hand. Both Christians and mythicists will be stung by Bart Ehrman, the secularized Plymouth Brother of Chapel Hill. Nothing wrong with that. We all need our boats rocked from time to time. However, I don't think this book "rocks" hard enough, so I'll just give it three stars. ;-)
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent review and rebuttal, 2 May 2012
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K. Winters (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Professor Ehrman is, above all else, a fair scholar. Yes, evidence requires some amount of interpretation. There are competing theories and sometimes one theory does a better job in accounting for the available facts than others. There are conclusions drawn from evidence over which reasonable people can disagree. The vital contribution Ehrman makes in this book, written for a popular audience, is to demonstrate that there is a complete lack of evidence to support the speculation there was never an historical Jesus.

By first reviewing the mythicist literature and noting the tendencies of some authors to make completely unsupported assertions, to a serious critique of writers such as Robert Price, Ehrman demonstrates mythicists lack of evidence to conclude that Jesus was never an historical person and was, instead, a complete myth. He then uses patient precision to review the extensive evidence for an historical person named Jesus, what the evidence states and what we can know about him.

For anyone who has wondered if there is any substance behind a purely mythical Jesus, I recommend this book. Special attention should be paid to how we come to know something about a person in history. After completing it readers should feel better prepared to ask mythicist proponents for their evidence. Not merely to point to the lack of evidence for the details of the life of Jesus, but rather evidence that supports he was purely constructed. They should also feel more confident citing the evidence in favor of an historical Jesus and why that evidence can considered a valid basis for drawing conclusion.

What must first lead our theories is the evidence. Once we have gathered evidence we can attempt to interpret it. Ehrman does this in his usual deliberate and yet engaging writing manner in defense of an historical Jesus.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview of the issue., 20 Oct 2012
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Bart Ehrman is one of the worlds leading New Testament Scholars. His journey from Conservative Evangelical Christianity to being a liberal Agnostic is well documented and he has debated a number of leading Christian thinkers on issues related to the NT and Jesus. As with the rest of his work this book is very enjoyable to read as Bart is a gifted communicator.

The content of this book is what has drawn a lot of flack from people who don't normally attack Ehrman. Instead of Conservative Christian folk it's the atheists and Jesus "Mythicists". He hasn't converted to Christianity but rather argues for the view that Jesus existed. He engages with the work of those who deny his existence and shows very clearly why they are mistaken. It's an excellent popular level book and the case is very well built. He builds a positive case for the existence of Christ (the highlight being the chapter "Two Key Data for the Historicity of Christ") as well as showing why those that deny Jesus' existence are wrong. The last part of the book explores what we can know with relation to the historical Jesus.

Some of the criticisms are unfair on the book. With regards to him using an "appeal to authority" in saying that almost all people qualified in this topic would say Jesus did exist I think this is a fair comment. If someone isn't knowledgeable in this subject they be unaware of just how radical a view it is to deny Jesus' existence. If you meet someone who is a young earth creationist most people at the beginning would point out that all scholars in western universities deny young earth creationism. They then go on to show why. This is what Bart does, he points out the unanimous opinion of those teaching in academia and then shows why they have that opinion.

From a conservative side the criticism would be that the book does not say why the Jews changed their views on a crucified messiah. Given the work that NT Wright etc have done on this as evidence for the resurrection it does seem like a big oversight however this is to be covered in a latter book so I'll let this slide.

Overall it's an excellent book for those that want to know about this topic and have little to no background knowledge of the subject. For those that are interested in the NT and Jesus most of this stuff won't be new and in fact this topic won't be one that serious scholars will even think to look into. However I still think it's worth having as there are a lot of people out there that hold radical views and this is a good tool to use in showing them why it isn't so.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Superficial, Critical Excursion Into the Myth Hypothesis, 18 Mar 2014
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Bart Ehrman must be unusual in holding a senior academic post in an American "Bible Belt" university though he is open about being an agnostic bordering on atheism. The author of numerous popular works that have in several instances given rise to considerable criticism from conservative and evangelical theologians. However, this work is a critique of the works of a handful of academic supporters of the hypothesis that Jesus Christ never existed.

However, apart from numerous factual errors that suggest hurried preparation, Professor Ehrman appears to have only a superficial knowledge of the extensive range of works on the myth hypothesis, and his bibliography is notable not for what it contains but what it fails to list. He could have done better.

However, it is well worth reading the book, but when I had finished it after reading it twice and making numerous notes - it lacks an index, had I been a supporter of the myth hypothesis I would have had my belief strengthened not weakened.
MITHRA
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another masterpiece by the well known demolisher of myths., 16 Nov 2014
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This review is from: Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Paperback)
Excellent book. Ehrman disposes of the doubters case with ease and a completely rational approach. I recommend the book, as a picture of Jesus emerges which is completely at variance with the accepted one, and it is a picture which stands up to logic.
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28 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Apologetics Lite, 4 April 2012
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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:

"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." (page 164).

And this:

"For some reason, however, the followers of Jesus (or at least some of them) came to think he had been raised from the dead." (page 233).

Did you get that? For "some (unknown) reason" they "just began to say" the guy had been resurrected and "the story caught on." So how dare mythicists suggest any contamination from polytheism! And Ehrman has the audacity to dismiss mythicists for weak and unconvincing arguments.

In fact, only a few pages earlier Ehrman has conceded:

"I think there is a good deal to be said for the idea that Christians did indeed shape their stories about Jesus in light of other figures who were similar to him. But I also think that this scarcely relevant to the question of whether or not he existed." (page 208).

So Christians could "shape" a story but not copy it? Really? Ehrman admits that "for thirty years" he has had to think about the hymn in Philippians ("an early, pre-Pauline source"), which just happens to describe Christ Jesus as a dying/rising god. Amazingly, to rescue himself, Ehrman abandons the "chronological side-step" at this point because it doesn't produce the right result:

"Even if it predates Paul it does not represent the earliest Christian understanding of Christ." (page 238).

And Ehrman has the gall to accuse mythicists of discounting material that doesn't fit their pet theories!

In a not dissimilar vein Ehrman rejects any fabrication based upon typologies drawn from Jewish scripture, such as the Elijah - Elisha cycle or the fable of Moses:

"The things that happen to Jesus in Matthew closely parallel the Old Testament traditions about Moses ... But the fact that Matthew shaped the story in this way has nothing to do with the question of whether or not Jesus existed." (page 199).

And again:

"The Gospels ... do indeed contain non-historical materials, many of which are based on traditions found in the Hebrew Bible ... But that has little bearing on the question whether or not Jesus actually existed." (page 207).

Quite so. Yet if the "historical Jesus" required so much "shaping" we are looking at a figure whose own life was so inconsequential that it becomes very curious indeed how or why anyone kept alive any memory of him at all and did so for decades. And perhaps an even more pertinent consideration: if a "real" Jesus influenced the story in any way at all, how can we be so certain that only one such figure had that sort of nebulous and very tangential influence? Mythicists have long argued the case for syncretism and several of the Jesuses found within the pages of Josephus seem to cast their shadow on the gospel Jesus. Ehrman has difficulty digesting this thought. Here's how he phrases a straw-man question:

"Where would the solitary source that "invented" Jesus be?" (page 82).

Solitary source? He obviously has difficulties with the whole notion of syncretism.

Having confessed on page two that in thirty years of study of the New Testament he had no idea that a complete literature of mythicism even existed, in his opening chapter he pronounces summary judgement on this two-hundred-year-old school of radical thought - he's obviously been reading up of it in the last few months! He returns to slice up the corpse later in the book. With little ado - and as a preamble to making his own case for a Jesus of history - Ehrman dismisses each and every proponent of the mythic Jesus, their every argument either wrong or simply irrelevant. He maligns several along the way (Acharya did not fabricate the priapic cockerel, said to mock St Peter. Whether it exists or not, it had a history long before Ms Murdock's time). But Ehrman knows all about forgery and fraud in the Christian story, he wrote a book about it. And mythicists were saying Christianity was built on falsehoods long before Ehrman turned that disclosure into a nice little earner.

Even in this book Ehrman strikes out several yarns beloved by make-believers. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem (a pastiche taken from Zechariah); Jesus's nighttime chat with Nicodemus (dependent on a Greek pun that doesn't work in Aramaic); the epistle of James "might not" support the historical Jesus. In short, "some stories were made up" (page 85), and again, "some of the stories were legends through and through with no historical core" (page 190).

But Ehrman is determined to make his point: even if it should transpire that everything Jesus did and everything that he said were fabrication and myth, that would not in itself prove that Jesus never existed. Logically true, but as Ehrman acknowledges, history is about probabilities. If wholesale fabrication were the case, what precisely would the entirely unknown minor entity, the "historical Jesus", have contributed? If the myth had no dependence on "the man" and "the man" gave nothing to the myth, is not the real irrelevance not the arguments for the mythic Jesus but the claims made for a "historical Jesus"? There is no doubt that there were thousands of Jesuses, named for the Jewish hero of the conquest of Canaan, Joshua; and since, with the gospels, we are in the realm of story-telling, the idea of a dead messiah works just as well as an actual but unknown dead messiah. Indeed, the latter resolves into the former.

Ehrman's own response is that the "historical Jesus" contributed a primary layer of belief, stories about a small time apocalyptic prophet who (secretly, to his close associates) claimed to be the messiah and king of the Jews, though not, in fact, the Son of God. These aspects pass the tests for historical probability that can be found on just about every apologetics website, tests for dissimilarity (what you might call inconvenient truths that force themselves into the record because they are so widely known), and multiple independent attestation (a pretty obvious and logical plus-point for any type of witness). And what are the sources that give the Ehrman and "all" his colleagues such confidence? Well, as it happens, they are nearly all hypothetical sources.

We have before us centuries of Christian fraud, accessible in any respectable history of the church - and Ehrman himself has mapped out the early period - but, says our author, at the very beginning we should assume honesty.

"Papias may pass on some legendary traditions about Jesus, but he is quite specific - and there is no reason to think he is telling a bald-faced lie." (page 101).

"There is no reason to suspect Luke is lying here." (page 79).

By assuming honesty, we can take the next step, to maintain that the gospel writers were merely the collectors of texts and the compilers of traditions; faithfully recording their "reports" without lies, fabrications and politically motivated embellishments - in fact, behaving precisely unlike every subsequent generation of Christian scribes.

Although Matthew and Luke are discounted by their dependence on Mark they are returned to the witness stand by their "unique material", draw in common from "Q" and found separately in "M" and "L" (where each of these "may be one or many documents"!) To these are added John, Thomas (and of course their respective "earlier sources") and sundry fragments like Papias and the speeches in Acts. Ehrman further argues that some gospel passages in Greek "only make sense" when translated back into Aramaic, which for him is a proof of an earlier, Aramaic source. But even if true - and it very much depends on the opinion of the translator and his notion of what makes sense - that does not move us any closer to a "Jesus of history": it's just as easy to fabricate a story in Aramaic as it is in Greek - the Old Testament should be evidence in abundance for that!

Because in the conjectured primordial Christian world nobody lies, copies or invents material, there is no possibility that Luke copied from Matthew as well as Mark and supplemented his handiwork from Josephus, pagan literature and his own imagination. No, no - the compelling case is that a sub-strata of "oral and written traditions" has been accurately preserved from "the beginning", even if there is not a shred of tangible evidence for this transmission.

"Luke inherited oral traditions about Jesus ... and he recorded what he had heard." (page 73).

"The gospels ... were based on earlier written sources that no longer survive. But they obviously did exist at one time ..." (page 78).

"Scholars have long offered good reasons for thinking Luke didn't just make everything else all up." (page 81).

The two utterly irreconcilable deaths of Judas (Matthew; Acts)? For Ehrman they stand not as two examples of palpable fraud but as evidence for "an early historical tradition." (page 108). Would he tolerate this sort of self-serving nonsense from mythicists?

One genuine early source - earlier than the gospels, that is - and one that has the advantage of actually surviving (as a copy of a copy of a copy, of course!) is the collection of material known as the Pauline epistles. But notoriously, and as mythicists tirelessly point out, Paul's letters ("authentic" or otherwise!) are a source which gives scant support to the gospel story.

Now here Ehrman makes an "interesting" contribution. Paul's connection with Damascus and Aretas, the king of the Nabateans, has always been problematic. But it's a vital peg for dating Paul and hence the entire New Testament. Part of the riddle has been the supposed Nabatean control of a city within the heart of Roman Syria. Another aspect of the riddle is why the Arab king was out to get Paul. Ehrman provides us with an answer:

" ... in 2 Corinthians 11.32 Paul indicates that King Aretas of the Nabateans was determined to prosecute Paul for being a Christian." (page 131).

So that's why! Though it's difficult to imagine why Aretas would give a shekel what newfangled idea an unknown Jew might have, the king of the Nabateans, an Arab polytheist, was apparently in a fury because he had one more Christian in Damascus! No, I just don't find anything compelling here. Ehrman is indulging in the kind of speculation of which he accuses the mythicists.

And there's more of this ilk. Paul in his early guise as "Saul the persecutor" also throws up tremendous problems of credibility. Here Ehrman's argument lacks any underpinning beyond the kind of irritating "logic" that fills books of apologetics:

"How else could someone like Paul have known to persecute the Christians, if the Christians didn't exist? And how could they exist if they didn't know anything about Jesus?" (page 85).

A more "compelling" explanation would be that Paul never persecuted the Christians and this supposed very early persecution never happened. If the faith wasn't spreading like wildfire (and Ehrman agrees that the Christians wildly exaggerated the impact of their Jesus and the growth of their movement) why would anyone want to persecute a handful of rustics with a cranky idea?

Ehrman devotes one chapter (the pivotal chapter of the whole book) to what he believes are the two killer blows to mythicism: the phrase found in Galatians 1.19, "brother of the Lord"; and the "certainty" that Jesus was crucified. The reference to brother of the Lord in particular has to do some pretty heavy lifting.

"And other of the apostles I did not see, except James, the brother of the Lord."

Consider, first, some of the ways in which Paul refers to other apostles. Use of the term adephos (brother) abound. Depending on the translation "brother(s)" is used up to 130 times in the Pauline epistles.

"Quartus the brother" (Romans 16:23); "Sosthenes the brother" (1 Corinthians 1:1); "Apollos our brother" (1 Corinthians 16:12); "Timotheus the brother" (2 Corinthians 1:1); "Titus my brother" (2 Corinthians 2:13); etc.

But Paul is also fond of more colourful phrases:

"Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful ministrant in the Lord" (Ephesians 6:21)
"Epaphroditus my brother, and fellow-workman, and fellow-soldier, and your apostle and servant to my need" (Philippians 2:25)
"Tychicus the beloved brother, and faithful ministrant, and fellow-servant in the Lord" (Colossians 4:7)
"Onesimus the faithful and beloved brother" (Colossians 4:9)
"Timotheus our brother, and a ministrant of God, and our fellow-workman in the good news of the Christ (1 Thessalonians 3:2)

In this context, does Galatians 1:19 "James, the brother of the Lord" really suggest a profoundly different association, that, in fact, what we have here is a reference to the kin of a flesh-and-blood figure called Jesus? If we were unaware of the gospel tales we would never make such a literal interpretation. Ironically, nor do many of today's Christians, blissfully unaware that Jesus supposedly had brothers (Mark 6.3 and copied by Matthew 13.55). And they can be forgiven for that ignorance: the authors of John, Luke and Acts never mention Jesus having a brother called James. Yet "blood brother" is the substance of Ehrman's case (and of the apologetics industry). Who really was this James? When Paul refers to James a second time in Galatians he is described as a "pillar", along with John and Cephas, yet Paul's stress in Galatians is upon how little he learnt from other men. What, not even from the guy who knew Jesus all his life? Could Paul really have referred to "the brother who grew up with Jesus" so cursorily and have been so little concerned to learn more about the "man" to whom he has dedicated his life? "It is not clear how important the details of Jesus's life were to Paul", Ehrman suggests weakly (page 139).

Incidentally, in this section, where Ehrman is discussing "Paul's associates", the great scholar himself makes a scribal error, confusing Zeus with Heracles (page 153). Well, we are all human!

Killer blow number two is the crucifixion which for Ehrman (and a billion others of course!) is a multiply attested fact, indeed, "almost universally attested in our sources" (page 163) and a "multiply attested tradition" (page 188). After all, says Ehrman, "Who would make up the idea of a crucified Messish? ... It came from historical realities." Once more an old nag is taken from the stable of Christian apologetics. Ehrman thinks the idea was so crazy that it solves the riddle of why Paul persecuted the first Christians. But what is so ironic is that a "crucified messiah" is precisely what was made up, Ehrman's argument is simply that a man who secretly claimed to be the messiah had died and his followers were reluctant to give up on him:

"They were forced to come up with the idea of the crucified messiah because there really was a man Jesus who was crucified, yet they wanted to maintain that he was the messiah" (page 240).

And again:

"Those who believed he was the messiah therefore concluded that the messiah had been crucified. And as a result they redefined what it meant to be the messiah. It meant one who had suffered for the sins of others." (page 246).

So it seems that Jews were capable of making up the idea of a crucified messiah, they just needed a dead body to get them going! Well there surely were plenty of dead messiahs to chose from in the turbulent history of the Jews.

It is interesting how in this book Ehrman minimises his own Christian past. Even when, in denouncing Robert Price, he describes Bob as "a one-time conservative evangelical" (as if to imply some unstable mindset) but fails to mention that he himself also had worn that mantle.

It's clear that Ehrman hasn't entirely left his once deeply held faith. Ehrman existed. He has always known. He knew when he was a fundamentalist and experienced the Lord's living presence. He knew when he was a liberal Christian and was touched by the very scriptures that began to look decidedly not the words of God. Now that the "problem of evil" has - more or less - deleted God from Ehrman's belief system, Ehrman still knows that Jesus existed. His current Jesus does not amount to much but, hey, the guy is still evolving. And in the real world he wants to keep his job and go on selling books.

Ken Humphreys Jesus Never Existed
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An easily answered question, 6 Oct 2012
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(Since posting this review I've come across Richard Carrier's well-informed blog at freethoughtblogs.com / carrier / archives / 1026 /, in which he argues that the book is "filled with factual errors, logical fallacies, and badly worded arguments" - so not quite five stars! I've changed my opinion but my original review, which should be read bearing in mind the criticisms of the far more qualified Dr Carrier.)

The religious are so fond of questions that it often seems they would rather leave them unanswered. The question in the title of this tremendous book, however, is not one of those imponderables, and any self-respecting Christian would reply on page one with a resounding, Yes! Bart Ehrman is no longer a Christian, and so it takes him until page two to confirm what he thinks everyone already knows: "Of course Jesus existed." Thankfully, Ehrman does not stop there. He goes on to explain why most historians who study the ancient world accept the historicity of Jesus; he explores and convincingly refutes the mythicist position, which doubts Jesus's existence; finally, he moves on to the question of who Jesus really was. The first part of Ehrman's conclusion, that Jesus certainly existed, will be scant compensation for the Christian confronted with the second part, which is that Jesus "simply was not the person that most modern believers today think he was."

Part I of the book lays out the evidence for the historical Jesus, Part II critically examines the mythicists' claims, and Part III asks: Who was the historical Jesus? This final question takes us directly to the historical method, and the "criteria for detecting historically authentic tradition, even within such problematic sources as those we have that discuss the life of the historical Jesus." Don't expect absolute certainty, but "some things are more certain than others." Ehrman's goal in Part III is to explain why the majority of scholars "have concluded that the Jesus who existed is not the Jesus of the stained-glass window or the second-grade Sunday school class", but "is best understood as a Jewish apocalyptic preacher who anticipated that God was soon to intervene in history to overthrow the powers of evil now controlling this world in order to bring in a new order, a new kingdom here on earth, the kingdom of God."

Having enjoyed all of Ehrman's books I've read (including Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, which is relevant to many of the arguments here), I was looking forward to this one, and also a little uncomfortable. Although never a fully signed up doubter, the idea that Jesus may not have existed held a certain appeal. As Ehrman points out, however, whether or not Jesus existed "is completely irrelevant to the question of whether God exists". Why some atheists should "be so invested in showing that Jesus did not exist" is interesting "as part of a wider skepticism that has infiltrated parts of the thinking world" but is a separate issue from the main concern of the historian, which is to "establish what probably happened in the past".

We discover "what probably happened" by a disinterested examination of the evidence and by rational argument, and by avoiding wishful or fallacious thinking. Ehrman is very good at describing in lay terms the problems the Gospels pose for scholars ("the fact we do not have the original texts, that we do not know their actual authors, that they are full of discrepancies, that they contain nonhistorical, legendary materials"). The census, for example, that is supposed to have occurred around the time of the birth of Jesus "almost certainly didn't happen" and as for the stories of miracle healings and so on, such legendary material would be unhistorical during any period. Ehrman is adamant that these deficiencies "are not all that significant for the particular question we are posing, whether or not Jesus existed." His key point is that "the shaping of a story is not the same thing as the inventing of a story." (For more on how the Gospels were shaped, see Gospel Fictions.)

To qualify as history, one test a story must pass is the criterion of dissimilarity. In Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them), Ehrman explains that any tradition of Jesus "that is dissimilar to what the early Christians would have likely wanted to say about him is more likely authentic." For example, who would make up a story that he came from Nazareth, "a little one-horse town"? Another test is whether or not the tradition is multiply attested (corroboration without collaboration). Taken together, these are powerful historical tools, and with them scholars conclude that Jesus probably had brothers, one of whom was named James, and that Jesus was crucified. Indeed, the crucifixion of Jesus "is the core of Paul's message" and Paul could scarcely have thought Jesus died if he hadn't lived.

The idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion, made up in the eighteenth century. It's probably still got legs for a few diehard mythicists, but Bart Ehrman believes that better arguments will win out. Radical sceptics wedded to the idea of Jesus's non-existence, however, are far outnumbered by Christians whose whole lives are invested in going way beyond what history tells us about Jesus. Their beliefs are largely grounded in faith, and are therefore much less amenable to revision in light of evidence and argument (see, for example, Victor Stenger's God and the Folly of Faith). Most such true believers will not be impressed by the scholarly consensus, or by this book. The message that Jesus really existed is hardly news to them, and Ehrman's conclusion that Jesus wasn't the person most Christians today believe in is, at the very least, an uncomfortable one. The challenge facing Christians is to explain why their faith is no longer supported by scholarship, and why their church prefers to keep them in the dark.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Did Jesus Exist?, 31 Dec 2012
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I liked the book but as a historian I could question this thesis but Ehrman makes his point well on this topic. There are several books in print that would challenge his point of view but overall it makes a good read and makes one think. I recommend this book to those who are interested in this area of study.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A very weak book, full of falsehoods, fatuous reasoning and nonsensical "logic"., 1 Aug 2014
This review is from: Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Paperback)
Very effectively dispatched and rubutted by Earl Doherty in "The End of an Illusion: How Bart Ehrman's "Did Jesus Exist?" Has Laid the Case for an Historical Jesus to Rest". The blurb of which I will include below. No further explanation ought be needed.

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, while in "The End of an Illusion" Earl Doherty has both exposed the failings of Bart Ehrman's book and further developed the case for the non-existence of any traditional founder of Christianity.
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20 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars weak scholarship pandering to an audience expectation, 20 Mar 2012
From what I knew of the author and having recently read The Greatest Lie Ever Told, I had expected something that would add to this knowledge. Immediately Ehrman disappointed, where Uffington had delighted: Ehrman tells us that experts are experts because of their years of study and because they agree with one another. So if all the 'experts' agree that Jesus existed, he does. There is no list of 'experts' who agree with one another that Jesus didn't exist at all! Spoiled by Uffington, I suppose I expected logical argument: it wasn't there.

Ehrman's weak scholarship peaks around page 221. He can do no better than come up with an idea that the pagan mystery religions were about fertility deities. At least that explained his earlier obsession with 'mythicists'. What really irritated was the fact that he missed out the philosophy that underpinned the Mystery Religions and there was no mention of their spirituality at all. Though I wasn't surprised if he saw Jesus as either 'real' or 'myth' and never as a 'spiritual concept'. Mind you, if you are familiar with Christianity, you may not realise that spirituality was supposed to be part of a religious system and that is was a crucial component of the Mystery Religions.

I found it hard to believe that Ehrman had not got a clue about how Jesus fitted into the Dying/Resurrecting-Godman local heroes of the Mystery Religions, common from the time of Pythagoras until the 4th century CE (a period of almost a thousand years). If I have read Philo of Alexandria's works, surely Ehrman had! He fails to look at the civilisation at the time, at the Egyptian history of the Old Testament; he thus has no understanding of what Jesus was supposed to be about. Ehrman may know about the religious figure of Jesus within exoteric Christianity, but he shows no understanding of the religious history, or the esoteric Christianity of the time. I found the book high in opinion but low in logic and low in fact.
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Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth
Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart D. Ehrman (Paperback - 1 Mar 2013)
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