Did Jesus Exist?

Bart Ehrman has published yet another book on Jesus: Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.

Ehrman is a New Testament scholar who has published many books on Jesus and the New Testament that are aimed at a general audience.  He started out as a fundamentalist, attending Moody Bible Institute, but then moved on to Evangelical Christianity and graduated from Wheaton College in 1978. He received his PhD and M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. After being a liberal Christian for more than a decade, he left the Christian faith, and now considers himself an “agnostic with atheist leanings” (Did Jesus Exist?, p.5)

Ehrman defends the historicity of Jesus, but does so from a fairly skeptical viewpoint about the historical reliability of the Gospels.  Ehrman, for example, concedes that there are no eyewitness accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus (p.46-47), and thus that none of the Gospels was written by a disciple of Jesus or an eyewitness of the life and ministry of Jesus.

The books seems interesting and somewhat unique based on a couple of observations Ehrman makes:

1. NT scholars do not take mythicists (those who argue that Jesus never existed) seriously. (p.20)
2. Some mythicists (e.g. G.A. Wells, Robert Price, Earl Doherty, and Richard Carrier) deserve to be taken seriously.(p.21 and 30).

Ehrman is right on both accounts, so he is attempting to fill this gap, and to present an intelligent and critical defense of the historicity of Jesus, and to do so while taking seriously the arguments and objections of the intelligent defenders of the mythicist view.

I have just started reading Ehrman’s book, so I don’t know how well he does filling the gap that he is attempting to fill, but I suspect he will do better than anyone has up until now.

About Stephen Law
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16360897119962486447 Andyman409

    I've been waiting for this book forever. It's a shame I live in a Catholic household, and that its Easter :(

    Will have to wait a few weeks before its safe to get it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Chris- Thanks for pointing to the discussions of Ehrman's new book on other blogs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Andyman409 – Since Ehrman defends the historicity of Jesus, you could pretend to be preparing to do the same. But there is plenty of skeptical info and perspective on Jesus by Ehrman, even in this book.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05460780063452698997 John W. Loftus

    Corrections: G.A. Wells was the leading mythicist of our generation who has "repudiated" his former views. See his book "Cutting Jesus Down to Size."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06983324684371796490 Excelentrik

    Trying to approach the historical Jesus is a very complicated subject. There is nothing, apart from a very short mention in Josephus, a historian that lived some 70 years later.
    Gospels are not history but a synthesis of oral traditions written a hundred years after Jesus died.
    I don't doubt Jesus' existence but the truth about his real person will forever be under a thick blanket of superstitious elaborated, false, deceiful myth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Excelentrik said…
    Gospels are not history but a synthesis of oral traditions written a hundred years after Jesus died.
    The Gospel of Mark is usually dated about 70 CE, so that Gospel was written only about 40 years after Jesus was crucified, not 100 years.

    Also, most NT scholars agree that Matthew and Luke drew upon not only the earlier Gospel of Mark, but also on a collection of sayings of Jesus now known as 'Q'.
    This collection of sayings probably dates to about 50-60 CE, so Q was written only two or three decades after the crucifixion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02487990587362445908 Ash

    Dr. Carrier provides a rather exhaustive review of the book, pointing out its apparently significant flaws.


    Dr. Carrier has repeatedly referred to other of Ehrman's books as being essential reading, so this isn't personal or even about taking sides in an argument. He makes a very strong case that this book is simply bad.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Ash – Thank you for the reference to the review by Carrier.

    After reading the first few pages, I'm becoming a bit depressed. It makes me wonder how many other NT scholars are as careless with the facts as it appears Ehrman has been in this book.

    I feel a bit like Descartes at the beginning of Meditations. Do I have to start all over and begin building the foundation? Do I really have to investigate every historical claim about Jesus and the NT for myself?

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