Author: Bart D. Ehrman
Did Jesus Exist?
The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth
Part I: Evidence for the Historical Jesus (p.11-174)
Part II: The Mythicists’ Claims (p.177-264)
Chapters 6 & 7
Part III: Who Was the Historical Jesus? (p.267-339)
Chapters 8 & 9, plus a Conclusion
I will focus in on Part I: Evidence for the Historical Jesus (p.11-174). Bart’s positive case is actually presented in the Chapters 3,4, and 5 (p. 69-174). Each of these three key chapters has a conclusion that summarizes his argument in that chapter. And the conclusion to Chapter 5 gives a summary of his whole positive case for the historicity of Jesus (p.171-174). So you can get a good feel for Ehrman’s positive case by reading just a little over three pages, at the end of Chapter 5.
Bart Ehrman is a somewhat skeptical NT scholar who acknowledges that there are significant issues with the Gospels in terms of their historical accuracy and reliability. He is clearly NOT an apologist for Evangelical Christianity, and describes his own views on religion this way:
I am not a Christian, and I have no interest in promoting a Christian cause or Christian agenda. I am an agnostic with atheist leanings, and my life and views of the world would be approximately the same whether or not Jesus existed. My beliefs would vary little.
I am of a similar mindset, except that I am an atheist with agnostic leanings, and I have an interest in promoting doubt and skepticism about Christianity and about belief in God.
Because Ehrman is a somewhat skeptical NT scholar, he makes a number of concessions towards the skepticism of the mythicists, before he gets into presenting his positive case in Chapter 3. So, let’s take note of some of the skeptical points that Ehrman concedes early on in the book:
The Bible is filled with a multitude of voices, and these voices are often at odds with one another, contradicting one another in minute details and in major issues involving such basic views as what God is like, who the people of God are, who Jesus is, how one can be in a right relationship with God, why there is suffering in the world, how we are to behave, and so on.
…there are inumerable historical problems in the New Testament…
To begin with, there is no hard, physical evidence for Jesus…including no archeological evidence of any kind.
We do not have any writings from Jesus.
…no Greek or Roman author from the first century mentions Jesus.
…we do not have a single reference to Jesus by anyone–pagan, Jew, or Christian–who was a contemporary eyewitness, who recorded things he said and did.
But what about the Gospels of the New Testament? Aren’t they eyewitness reports? Even though that was once widely believed about two of our Gospels, Matthew and John, it is not the view of the vast majority of critical historians today, and for good reason.
The authors of these books [the Gospels] were not the original followers of Jesus or probably even followers of the twelve earlthy disciples of Jesus. They were later Christians who had heard stories about Jesus as they circulated by word of mouth year after year and decade after decade and finally decided to write them down.
…the Gospels of the New Testament are not eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus. Neither are the Gospels outside the New Testament, of which we have over forty, either in whole or in fragments. In fact, we do not have any eyewitness report of any kind about Jesus, written in his own day.
In Chapter 2, Ehrman considers some non-Christian sources for the life of Jesus, and he comes up basically empty-handed.
He considers three Roman authors and draws a negative conclusion:
These three references are the only ones that survive from pagan sources within a hundred years of the traditional date of Jesus’s death (around the year 30 CE). At the end of the day, I think we can discount Suetonius as too ambiguous to be of much use. Pliny is slightly more useful in showing us that Christians by the early second century knew of Christ and worshipped him as divine. Tacitus is most useful of all, for his reference shows that high-ranking Roman officials of the early second century knew that Jesus had lived and had been executed by the governor of Judea.
It might sound like Ehrman thinks that Tacitus provides some significant evidence for the existence of Jesus, but this is not so, based on his comments in a previous paragraph:
…the information [from Tacitus] is not particularly helpful in establishing that there really lived a man named Jesus. How would Tacitus know what he knew? It is pretty obvious that he had heard of Jesus, but he was writing some eighty-five years after Jesus would have died, and by that time Christians were certainly telling stories of Jesus (the Gospels had been written already, for example), whether the mythicists are wrong or right. It should be clear in any event that Tacitus is basing his comment about Jesus on hearsay rather than, say, detailed historical research.
At the end of Chapter 2, Ehrman examines Jewish sources about Jesus, and also draws a negative conclusion. First he considers the Jewish historian Josephus:
…though both the mythicists and their opponents like to fight long and hard over the Testimonium of Josephus, in fact it is only marginally relevant to the question of whether Jesus existed.
Then Ehrman considers and rejects Rabbinic sources about Jesus:
These Talmudic references to Jesus were written hundreds of years after he would have lived and so are really of very little use for us in our quest. …If we want evidence to support the claim that he did in fact once exist, we therefore have to turn to other sources.
So, the non-Christian sources fail to provide any significant evidence for the existence of an historical flesh-and-blood Jesus.
If Jesus did not EXIST, then Jesus did not EXIT this life by dying on a cross. If Jesus did not die on a cross on Good Friday, then Jesus did not rise from the dead on Easter Sunday. No historical Jesus: no historical resurrection of Jesus.
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