I recently came this post on Ben Stanhope’s Remythologized blog: “Bart Ehrman Spanks Acharya S’ Christ Conspiracy.” It really does reflect the attitude of mainstream scholars toward the über skepticism of the Jesus-myther school (the wacky Zeitgeist conspiratorial hermeneutic). Ehrman of course describes himself as an near-atheist agnostic, so he’s no friend of conservative thinking about Jesus. But he knows nonsense when he reads it.
I’ve had the personal experience of being at academic conferences and dropping specific names of PaleoBabblers that multitudes out there on the internet presume know what they’re talking about only to have scholars laugh (literally). Real scholars are aware of the nonsense out on the web about Jesus being an amalgam of pagan gods, ancient astronauts, and [fill in the blank with some other point of nonsense]. They think it hilarious, not threatening. They don’t write about it because they consider it beneath them or a waste of the time they want to devote to publishing.
New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, well known to non-specialist readers as a critic of evangelical views of Jesus (Ehrman is an atheist1) recently published a book entitled Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. Ehrman’s answer is that he did. His book therefore provides a succinct overview of the evidence for a historical Jesus. It also serves as a succinct critique to the “Jesus Mythicists” (think Freke and Gandy here2), folks who, in the spirit of the Zeitgeist movie (is that a tautology?), deny Jesus ever existed. Needless to say, they aren’t happy that a scholar of Ehrman’s stature would dare affirm the historicity of Jesus, even if (perhaps “especially since”) he has no faith in what the New Testament writers say theologically about Jesus’ divinity or Savior status. The same can be said for the way Jesus Mythicists have turned apoplectic over the Jesus Family Tomb controversy (if it is the tomb of Jesus, they’re wrong — he existed).
Ehrman’s book was recently reviewed by a scholar named Richard Carrier. Carrier’s review is exceptionally nasty and, frankly, not befitting intelligent discourse. (One would have thought the review was by Don Rickles — dating myself there, I know — or Bill Maher). At any rate, Ehrman has responded at length to Carrier. I recommend his response (and it is indeed very long) to PaleoBabble readers. It’s clear and unpretentious.
(Hat tip to Tim for this item).
This is my estimation. Ehrman actually isn’t clear on whether he’s atheist or agnostic — but he’ll answer that if you pay him. I’m not paying for the answer. I’m not sure what bit of sophistry would allow one to deny the existence of God and yet not be an atheist. Even if one opts for some sort of “consciousness” position as God, that is a naturalistic view and results in a non-personal non-deity. That isn’t “God” in the understanding of anyone who’d ask the question. But I’m guessing since I’m not forking over any money for clarity. ↩
In case you like late-night talk radio, you might want to tune in. The C2C site has a list of affiliates by state to catch the show.
I’ve been on C2C many times. The host for this one will be Ian Punnett. Ian is a seminary grad (went to both Univ of Chicago Div school and Columbia in SC). He will make the material interesting. I’ve emailed him with some resources to (hopefully) present a balanced interview. But then there’s Bart. Bart is a very capable scholar, but he doesn’t have much time for things like logic and even-handedness in analyzing data. That’s unfortunate, since the result is that he often commits paleobabble-ological sins (hey, a new word!).
In case some of you have not bothered to keep up with Bart Ehrman’s less-than-charitable view of the text fo the NT, here are some resources:
In case you thought otherwise, Bart Ehrman’s idea have not gone un-protested in the field of textual criticism. You just never hear that in the popular media.
Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina and Peter J Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge recently appeared on the radio programme “Unbelievable?” hosted by Justin Brierly on Premier Christian radio.
They discussed Bart’s best-selling book “Misquoting Jesus” and whether the textual variation and transmission of the New Testament Documents is as bad as the book makes out. They also discussed what impact this has for a Christan view of the Bible’s authority.
You can listen back to it online in the programme archive. Alternatively you can click the “download the podcast” option to get the MP3 or subscribe in itunes.
At first glance, you might wonder why this is PaleoBabble fodder. Having just returned from the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (this year in Boston), I was reminded again how even scholars have an insular perspective. This is especially true of New Testament (NT) scholars like Bart Ehrman, who seems amazingly unaware or indifferent to the scholarship both within and outside his field for how early the idea of a godhead came along. For example, there is a spate of recent books dealing with early veneration of Jesus as God, well before the New Testament text was “fiddled with” (Ehrman supposes that textual alteration of the NT books is where that idea comes from). Here are some representative academic titles:
On the pre-New Testament side of things, the above titles by Gathercole and Lee include a good bit of Jewish material from the “intertestamental” period. My own work has focused on the idea of a godhead in the sacred Scriptures of Judaism, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). I just delivered a paper on that subject at one of the conferences I just attended. The paper is entitled, “The Concept of a Godhead in Israelite Religion,” and is written in a somewhat conversational style (I didn’t do much in the way of footnotes; I’ll be adding that sort of thing as I revise for publication). It is also geared a bit to a Christian audience (hence the few references early to a Trinity). I plan to create two scholarly articles from this: one for a Christian academic audience, the other for a broader audience, but I offer it here for those interested.