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Thread: Skeptical response to Bart Ehrman's book in the historical Jesus

  1. #11
    tWebber NormATive's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Shaver View Post
    The answer to that question is really complicated. I cannot, within a post of reasonable length, present a decent summary of my reasons for thinking that Jesus of Nazareth probably never existed. I can, however, attempt to summarize the summary as follows.

    1. I'd like to emphasize for starters that I do not regard the issue as settled. I do not regard it as unreasonable for anyone to believe that Jesus did exist. I regard the evidence both for and against his existence as inconclusive -- and I do believe that there is evidence both ways.

    2. The evidence for his existence is not nearly as close to being conclusive as the conventional thinking imagines it to be. Every document attesting to his existence is susceptible to reasonable doubt as to its historical reliability.

    3. In particular, I think it reasonable to believe that the canonical gospels, which are the nearest thing we have to primary evidence, were not intended by their authors to be works of history or biography, but rather as works of fiction. I further believe that, regardless of their authors' intentions, they were probably not written, or at least did not exist in their present form, earlier than the second century.

    4. I do accept a first-century origin for that portion of the Pauline corpus that is generally regarded as authentic, but I also think it has been more substantially redacted than is generally believed. Even so, taken as a whole, it seems inconsistent to me with what would have been written by someone who believed that (a) Jesus had recently lived in Palestine, (b) his preaching was the foundation upon which the author's religion was built, (c) he was unjustly executed by Roman officials at the urging of Jewish priests, and (d) certain men whom the author names had been among Jesus' disciples. I see the same inconsistency in the canonical non-Pauline epistles and in all noncanonical Christian literature that seems likely to have been written before the later part of the second century.

    5. There is no cogent argument for the authenticity of any Josephan reference to Jesus of Nazareth. All other early non-Christian references to Jesus are void of any information that the writers would not have obtained just by hearing what second-century Christians had to say about the origins of their religion. They are therefore not evidence about Jesus but about the beliefs of some second-century Christians.


    I was in my late teens the first time I heard that some people questioned Jesus' historical existence. (I'm 68 now.) I was still a Christian at the time and so naturally I regarded it as a laughable notion. I became an atheist in my mid-20s, but the only way my thinking about Jesus changed was that I stopped believing he was the son of God. For the next 30-plus years I remained convinced that only crackpots could doubt his historical existence. I changed my mind in late 1999 after somebody suggested I have a look at Earl Doherty's website. I did not agree then with everything Doherty wrote, and I still don't, but I found enough of his argument to be cogent that our points of disagreement were irrelevant.


    There are several reasons, but I think the primary one is that, to put it in Kuhnian terms, the acceptance of Jesus' nonexistence involves a colossal paradigm shift, even for scholars with no religious commitments. There is no way that lots of people are going to change their minds about this anytime soon.

    This is very interesting, Doug.

    I do think that a Jesus existed, but I am certain it is not the same person Christians worship today.

    There was a time when I thought as you did - that there simply wasn't a person in history known as Jesus of Nazareth. However, the Gospels came from somewhere. To say that there is NO evidence for Jesus' existence is to totally ignore the entire Christian Testament.

    I understand why you would think that Jesus was a product of fiction. But, if this is the case, it is a very poor fiction. We have NO stories of Jesus between his "increasingly" miraculous birth and the beginning of his public ministry. What writer would do that?

    No, I think the real story is that there probably was a teacher / philosopher who was a student of Hillel who said and did some pretty radical things that got him in trouble with the Roman overlords. Was this person named Jesus? Maybe. Maybe not. But, the name Jesus has meaning that helps tell the religious story of the Christian version of Messiah.

    I think that there were several stories floating around those first few years after this reformer was dispatched to a tree. I don't think there was a burial, I think they did to Jesus what they did to every criminal condemned to death - his body was left to wild animals to scavenge. Again, as a work of fiction, it makes no sense that the entire reason for crucifixion would be subverted by taking away the public humiliation and religious persecution of leaving the body to rot on the cross would attain by allowing some mysterious, rich dude bury him in his family tomb. I think that was a later addition Christians added as they developed the resurrection story. The resurrection story makes Jesus unique among the messiahs who preached during this time period. The resurrection story is what enabled the final separation from Judaism that the Hellenizers (Paul among them) were desperate to accomplish. This separation from Judaism is what made this new religion attractive to upper classes of Roman citizens.

    At any rate, there is just too much information - and yet; an incomplete picture - about Jesus for him to be entirely a fictitious creation.

    The story of Jesus, I think, is an elaborate game of Password that has evolved into its current incarnation over a very long period of time.

    NORM
    When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

  2. #12
    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by NormATive View Post
    However, the Gospels came from somewhere.
    Obviously.

    Quote Originally Posted by NormATive View Post
    To say that there is NO evidence for Jesus' existence is to totally ignore the entire Christian Testament.
    Of course. That is why I have never said there is no evidence, and have occasionally rebutted skeptics who say there is none.

    Quote Originally Posted by NormATive View Post
    I understand why you would think that Jesus was a product of fiction. But, if this is the case, it is a very poor fiction. We have NO stories of Jesus between his "increasingly" miraculous birth and the beginning of his public ministry. What writer would do that?
    A writer like Khalil Gibran. Have you ever read a book he wrote called The Prophet?

    Quote Originally Posted by NormATive View Post
    At any rate, there is just too much information - and yet; an incomplete picture - about Jesus for him to be entirely a fictitious creation.
    Much of the information that you have extracted from the documentary evidence depends on a presupposition of his existence.

  3. #13
    tWebber NormATive's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Shaver View Post
    A writer like Khalil Gibran. Have you ever read a book he wrote called The Prophet?
    Yes, I have. It's wonderful poetry. I am most certainly on the same page as Gibran in terms of religion (minus the mysticism). I meant, what writer of fiction would go to the trouble of creating a character like Jesus and give us virtually no biographical information?

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Shaver View Post
    Much of the information that you have extracted from the documentary evidence depends on a presupposition of his existence.
    True. I think that Jesus of Nazareth is a real character in the minds of those who tell his tales. What does it matter if he existed in reality or not? The philosophy that bears his name is just as real.

    NORM
    When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

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    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Shaver View Post
    1. I'd like to emphasize for starters that I do not regard the issue as settled. I do not regard it as unreasonable for anyone to believe that Jesus did exist. I regard the evidence both for and against his existence as inconclusive -- and I do believe that there is evidence both ways.
    I would agree that the evidence for Jesus' existence is not strong, but I would also suggest that it is better than the case for the invention of an entirely mythical Christ, and furthermore, the plausibility of the existence of Jesus is entirely unremarkable.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Shaver View Post
    2. The evidence for his existence is not nearly as close to being conclusive as the conventional thinking imagines it to be. Every document attesting to his existence is susceptible to reasonable doubt as to its historical reliability.
    Agreed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Shaver View Post
    3. In particular, I think it reasonable to believe that the canonical gospels, which are the nearest thing we have to primary evidence, were not intended by their authors to be works of history or biography, but rather as works of fiction. I further believe that, regardless of their authors' intentions, they were probably not written, or at least did not exist in their present form, earlier than the second century.
    I disagree. The gospels cannot be divorced from their broader literary context, and by way of comparison to contemporary Greek literature there is no precedent from which to conclude that they were intended as anything but "historical." I will agree that the type of history these texts convey is not close to any modern conventional understanding of "history", but it strains credulity to imagine that they were intended as works of fiction. Furthermore, there are enough semiticisms throughout the gospels to indicate that these were written by Jews; there is enough literary and generic overlap with Second Temple Jewish literature to confirm that these were produced within a Palestinian Jewish context. The "Jewishness" of much of the gospels also severely undermines the idea that these were intended as fiction, since Jewish "fiction" produced in the Second Temple period tended to be received as products of a sort of apocalyptically informed history.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Shaver View Post
    4. I do accept a first-century origin for that portion of the Pauline corpus that is generally regarded as authentic, but I also think it has been more substantially redacted than is generally believed. Even so, taken as a whole, it seems inconsistent to me with what would have been written by someone who believed that (a) Jesus had recently lived in Palestine, (b) his preaching was the foundation upon which the author's religion was built, (c) he was unjustly executed by Roman officials at the urging of Jewish priests, and (d) certain men whom the author names had been among Jesus' disciples. I see the same inconsistency in the canonical non-Pauline epistles and in all noncanonical Christian literature that seems likely to have been written before the later part of the second century.
    I understand the scepticism, but my problem is with establishing a good model for the manufacture of a mythical Christ within the right historical and religious context. As mentioned in another post, Richard Carrier is currently leading the mythicist charge, and his argument was very thoroughly debunked by Thom Stark here, here, and here.

    The common presentation in Carrier's and Doherty's view—as I understand it—holds to the idea of a dying, rising cosmic figure who was naturalised in the gospels, and Carrier depends upon one of the Dead Sea Scrolls texts, 11Q13, in an attempt to illustrate this concept from within a Second Temple Jewish milieu. It should be noted that this is a text he is unable to read; it is highly fragmentary; scholars disagree with regards to its contents and meaning; and his interpretation of it stands in a complete vacuum of scholarly support.

    To that end, the problem with the questions raised regarding the existence of Jesus has little to do with interference from religious or historical biases, and actually much more to do with the incredulity that accompanies counter claims. Put most simply, it is most plausible to assert the existence of an ordinary man who spear headed an apocalyptic movement in the first cent. CE, who was executed, and around whom an elaborate legendary matrix developed. This is much more historically and socially palatable than the idea of a fictional figure at the heart of some quasi-Jewish mystery religion erupting from within Palestine.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Shaver View Post
    5. There is no cogent argument for the authenticity of any Josephan reference to Jesus of Nazareth. All other early non-Christian references to Jesus are void of any information that the writers would not have obtained just by hearing what second-century Christians had to say about the origins of their religion. They are therefore not evidence about Jesus but about the beliefs of some second-century Christians.
    Agreed.

  5. #15
    tWebber shunyadragon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LaplacesDemon View Post
    So I was surprised to find Bart Ehrman has actually written a book refuting the Jesus mythers.
    I decided to check what responses to it the internet skeptics had to it , since they often dismiss scholars who disagree with their claims as "lying for Jesus". They can't do that with Ehrman.
    I won't link any of the critcisms here, but I've pretty much lost hope for the internet skeptics.
    The fallacious reasoning and unreasonableness of these guys make my head hurt.
    Actually if you read more of Max's books you will find he does consider the NT and Christian Jesus Christ is to some extent a created Hellenized and Romanized 'myth' post destruction of the Temple. Like most historians, he supports that there was most likely a Jewish rebel Rabbi who preached in the time of the 1st century.It is generally accepted that a Jew called Jesus of Nazareth lived and preached in Jerusalem that he claimed to be the promised messiah and King of Jews. He was arrested and crucified under Roman Law for rebellion against Rome and claiming to be the 'King of Jews.' It is possible Jesus was a composite of a number of rebel Jews claiming messiahship as recorded by Josephus. The NT as well as the OT is considered a literary religious compilation set in history, and not a historical record in and of itself. This view would be the same as the scripture of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Zoroastrian religions. As far as accuracy, ALL writings in that period of time are subject to healthy historical criticism. A good example is the writings of Josephus. There are numerous problems and historical discrepancies in his works. Academic historians rely on multiple sources, and archeological results to come up a history of the time.

    The miraculous events and beliefs of religions are not considered true nor false. They are simple put in context of the history of religions. It would not be realistic to expect academic historians to accept the miraculous claims of religions in their scripture as factual.
    Last edited by shunyadragon; 06-03-2014 at 04:17 AM.
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    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by shunyadragon View Post
    ...It is possible Jesus was a composite of a number of rebel Jews claiming messiahship as recorded by Josephus.
    I don't see how.

    Which messianic Jewish figure or figures do you have in mind here, and can you provide a convincing literary explanation from the gospel texts and traditions for the creation of a composite, fictional character?

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    tWebber robrecht's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shunyadragon View Post
    Actually if you read more of Max's books ...
    Max? Who are you referring to here?
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    ἄρτι γινώσκω ἐκ μέρους, τότε δὲ ἐπιγνώσομαι καθὼς καὶ ἐπεγνώσθην.

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    tWebber Carrikature's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NormATive View Post
    I meant, what writer of fiction would go to the trouble of creating a character like Jesus and give us virtually no biographical information?
    One who wrote within a different set of cultural expectations. One whose intent and scope is much more limited, or whose characters are meant to convey a message rather than be related to as people. There are limits to how much of modern fiction's traits can be expected in earlier works, but even modern fiction contains the necessary possibilities.
    I'm not here anymore.

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    Professor Cerebrum123's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NormATive View Post
    Yes, I have. It's wonderful poetry. I am most certainly on the same page as Gibran in terms of religion (minus the mysticism). I meant, what writer of fiction would go to the trouble of creating a character like Jesus and give us virtually no biographical information?



    True. I think that Jesus of Nazareth is a real character in the minds of those who tell his tales. What does it matter if he existed in reality or not? The philosophy that bears his name is just as real.

    NORM
    You can't really be that stupid can you?

    1 Corinthians 15:13-15
    New International Version (NIV)
    13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

    If Jesus was not real, and did not really rise from the dead then Christianity is completely in vain, and useless.

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    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cerebrum123 View Post
    You can't really be that stupid can you?

    1 Corinthians 15:13-15
    New International Version (NIV)
    13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

    If Jesus was not real, and did not really rise from the dead then Christianity is completely in vain, and useless.
    I can't speak for NormATive, but I fail to see how his position is "stupid". Especially since in the end, he may not be all that off the mark: IF Jesus was not raised from the dead, and hence IF the conventional understanding of Christianity is found to be in vain, this does not necessarily invalidate the whole religious movement. If there is one thing that Christianity has done fairly well throughout history, it is adapt.

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