Post Author: Bill Pratt
Bart Ehrman, the agnostic New Testament scholar, who is no friend to Christianity, is back again with a new book called Did Jesus Exist? I have not read the book yet, but I came across an article written by Ehrman a couple months ago in the Huffington Post that is worth quoting at length.
Ehrman starts out the article by acknowledging that there is a small, but vocal group of skeptics who deny that Jesus ever existed.
That is the claim made by a small but growing cadre of (published ) writers, bloggers and Internet junkies who call themselves mythicists. This unusually vociferous group of nay-sayers maintains that Jesus is a myth invented for nefarious (or altruistic) purposes by the early Christians who modeled their savior along the lines of pagan divine men who, it is alleged, were also born of a virgin on Dec. 25, who also did miracles, who also died as an atonement for sin and were then raised from the dead.
There are several mythicists who have written comments on my blog in the past, so I am quite familiar with them. So what credence should we give the mythicists? Here is Ehrman’s take:
Few of these mythicists are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies or any cognate field, let alone in the ancient languages generally thought to matter for those who want to say something with any degree of authority about a Jewish teacher who (allegedly) lived in first-century Palestine. There are a couple of exceptions: of the hundreds — thousands? — of mythicists, two (to my knowledge) actually have Ph.D. credentials in relevant fields of study.
But even taking these into account, there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world. And it is no wonder why. These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.
Ehrman, who certainly doesn’t accept everything in the New Testament as historical, nevertheless argues that historical kernels about Jesus are there:
With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind. Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus’ life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus’ closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it.
Moreover, the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. The alleged parallels between Jesus and the “pagan” savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions).
Why bother quoting Ehrman about Jesus? Because, when you have someone who is clearly not a Christian, who has written several books attacking the reliability of the New Testament, standing up and agreeing with Christians about something, we should pay attention. I don’t agree with much that Ehrman writes, but I can at least agree with him on this: Jesus really existed and we can know about him from the New Testament documents.