I’ve been staying clear of the arguments around Bart Ehrman’s new book, Did Jesus Exist. For those arguments, you can go visit Thom Stark or our neighbor James McGrath for the historical Jesus side. For the mythical side, see Richard Carrier. For helpful diagrams, and your own Jesus pie, go see Sabio at Triangulations.
That said, a book review at MIT’s The Tech caught my eye, particularly the closing paragraph:
The historical Jesus that emerges from Ehrman’s mainstream defense is a purely human, miracle-free Jewish male with a very common name living in first century Palestine, who after an unremarkable youth went on to teach things that many others had taught before; one more apocalyptic preacher, among many others at the time, whose predictions were proven wrong within a generation; one more “troublemaker” crucified like countless others by the Romans after a drive-thru trial during the Pilate administration. Being such, the Jesus that can be reconstructed from history with any certainty is, for all practical purposes, as irrelevant as the mythical one, effectively shrinking the debate on his existence from a grandiose quest with theological implications to an inconsequential and endless exercise in academic hair-splitting.
I find his apocalyptic Jesus really depressing. That Jesus is hard to preach. I am not sure if we have to have Jesus resemble Harold Camping to be a real guy. We might be skeptical of a Jesus we admire, but we might also be skeptical of a Jesus we despise. It may be equally hard to accept that Jesus is an onion. Peel off each layer of fiction until you get to…nothing? Give this country preacher a break! I have to encourage the folks, you know?
Shuck also has a worthwhile review of Robert M. Price’s The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems. He catches Price in one of his agnostic moods and quotes him:
There may once have been an historical Jesus, but for us there is one no longer. If he existed, he is forever lost behind the stained glass curtain of holy myth.
In a way, this isn’t all that far from Ehrman’s position. Ehrman would argue that Jesus probably existed and probably was an apocalyptic preacher. However, beyond that there’s little we can say, because all the details are mired in the religious belief of Jesus’ followers.