Outline and Review of
Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart Ehrman

"....And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not...." (John 8:45)


Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperOne, 2012) by Bart Ehrman

Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart D. EhrmanSee also The Evidence for the Historical Jesus

"...I can officially say it is filled with factual errors, logical fallacies, and badly worded arguments....it completely fails....to effectively critique the arguments for Jesus being a mythical person. Lousy with errors and failing even at the one useful thing it could have done, this is not a book I can recommend....I cannot recommend books that are so full of errors that they will badly mislead and miseducate the reader, and that commit so many mistakes that I have to substantially and extensively correct them. Did Jesus Exist? ultimately misinforms more than it informs, and that actually makes it worse than bad...now I have to fix everything he screwed up....it will only fill your head with nonsense that I will have to work harder to correct. Ehrman's book ironically does much the same thing. Therefore, it officially sucks....It is for all the reasons documented in this article (which are again just a sample of many other errors of like kind, from false claims, to illogical arguments, to self-contradictions, to misrepresentations of his opponents, to errors of omission), especially this book's complete failure to interact with even a single complete theory of mythicism (which alone renders the book useless, even were it free of error), that I have no choice but to condemn this thing as being nothing more than a sad murder of electrons and trees." -- Richard Carrier from Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic

"I have not dealt with all the myriad of things that Carrier has to say -- most of them unpleasant -- about my book. But I have tried to say enough, at least, to counter his charges that I am an incompetent pseudo-scholar. I try to approach my work with honesty and scholarly integrity, and would like to be accorded treatment earned by someone who has devoted his entire life to advancing scholarship and to making scholarship more widely available to the reading public.... I wish Carrier had followed his own advice and contacted me, in fact, rather than publish such a negative and uncharitable review. But I do hope, at least, that fair minded readers will be open to the arguments that I make and the evidence that I adduce in Did Jesus Exist, and realize that they are the views, in popular form, of serious scholarship. They are not only serious scholarly views, they are the views held by virtually every serious scholar in the field of early Christian studies." -- Bart Ehrman from Fuller Reply to Richard Carrier


Part I. Evidence for the Historical Jesus

Chapter 1: An Introduction to the Mythical View of Jesus

Various scholars of the New Testament maintain that Jesus was:

  • a political revolutionary or...
  • an ancient Cynic philosopher or...
  • a proto-Marxist or...
  • a proto-feminist or...
  • a Pharisee or...
  • an Essene or...
  • he was married with children or...
  • he was celibate or 'gay' etc...

Despite this enormous range of opinion, virtually all scholars of antiquity do agree that Jesus was:

  • a Jewish man;
  • a preacher and teacher;
  • who was crucified by the Romans in Jerusalem;
  • during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius;
  • when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea (i.e. 1st century AD).

Those called "mythicists" don't hold to any of this. Jesus "mythicism" can be defined as

"....the theory that no historical Jesus worthy of the name existed, that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical figure, that the Gospels are essentially allegory and fiction, and that no single identifiable person lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition" (Doherty) or simply "the historical Jesus did not exist."

Ehrman agrees with Schweitzer (The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1906) and virtually all scholars in the field since his day that

  • Jesus existed;
  • he was ineluctably Jewish;
  • there is historical information about him in the Gospels;
  • we can therefore know some things about what he said and did.

Ehrman also agrees with Schweitzer's overall view that

  • Jesus is best understood as a Jewish prophet;
  • who anticipated a cataclysmic break in history;
  • in the very near future;
  • when God would destroy the forces of evil;
  • and bring in his own kingdom here on earth.

The most foundational point is that while some views of Jesus could loosely be labeled 'myths' -- Jesus himself was not a myth. He really existed.

A Brief History of Mythicism

Some of the more important representatives of 'mythicism' past and present are

  • Constantin Francois Volney (Frenchman, essay Ruins of Empire, 1791) said the savior Jesus was a 'sun-god' like Krishna;
  • Charles-Francois Dupuis (Frenchman, book Origins of All Religions, 1795) said Jesus was another 'sun-god' like Osiris, Adonis (Tammuz), Bacchus, Attis, Mithra;
  • Bruno Bauer, a German theologian and first Bible scholar to hold this (books Criticism of the Gospel History of John, 1840; and Origin of Christianity from Graeco-Roman Civilization, 1877), highly idiosyncratic;
  • J.M. Robertson, British rationalist (Christianity and Mythology, 1900), said Jesus was like the pagan gods of fertility;
  • Arthur Drews (The Christ Myth, 1909), German scholar, most influential mythicist book, convinced the Russian Lenin that Jesus was not historical;
  • Earl Doherty (The Jesus Puzzle and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man), modern leading representative, an 'amateur' who has undergraduate degree in classics;
  • Robert M. Price (Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and The Christ-Myth Theory and its Problems), former evangelical Christian, has Ph.D. from Drew in theology and NT studies;
  • Frank Zindler (4-volume Through Atheist Eyes), scientist trained in biology and geology, supported Madalyn Murray O'Hair;
  • Thomas L. Thompson (The Messiah Myth), trained in Hebrew biblical studies, but no degrees in NT or early Christianity; also says Abraham, Moses, and David never existed;
  • Richard Carrier (Not the Impossible Faith and On the Historicity of Jesus), Ph.D. from Columbia in 'ancient history' (not "classics");
  • Tom Harpur (The Pagan Christ), a Canadian religious journalist, did teach New Testament studies at Toronto;
  • Archibald Robinson (mid-20th century), who thought there may have been a Jesus but "we know next to nothing about" him;
  • G.A. Wells (1970s to present, several books like Did Jesus Exist?, 1975), more 'well known' mythicist, expert in modern German intellectual history, speaks the lingo and has read deeply in NT scholarship but most NT scholars do not consider his work convincing or well argued.

On Taking Mythicists Seriously

Mythicists as a group or as individuals, are not taken seriously by the vast majority of scholars in the fields of New Testament, early Christianity, ancient history, and theology. This is widely recognized by mythicists themselves (e.g. Archibald Robertson) and not much has changed in the years since. The Catholic historical Jesus scholar John P. Meier (author of the large 4-volume A Marginal Jew) dismissed G.A. Wells in a single sentence, while British NT scholar I. Howard Marshall (I Believe in the Historical Jesus) mentions Wells' work in a paragraph, and says no scholar in the field finds his views persuasive.

Erhman says G.A. Wells and Robert M. Price and several other 'mythicists' do deserve to be taken seriously, even if their claims are dismissed. However, a number of other 'mythicists' do not offer anything resembling scholarship, and present rather sensationalist claims that are so extravagant, wrongheaded, and poorly substantiated that no scholar takes them seriously.

Two examples are mentioned, Acharya S or D.M. Murdock (The Christ Conspiracy, 1999, and other books), and Timothy Freke / Peter Gandy (The Jesus Mysteries, 1999).

Acharya / Murdock's book is filled with so many factual errors and outlandish assertions that it is hard to believe that the author is serious. All of Acharya's major points are in fact wrong:

  • Jesus was not invented in Alexandria, Egypt, in the middle of the 2nd Christian century (he was already known in the 30s of the first century);
  • He was not originally a sun-god (i.e. 'sun of god' equals 'Son of God');
  • there are no astrological phenomena associated with Jesus in any of our earliest traditions;

The Christ Conspiracy (The Greatest Story Ever Sold)

A couple of 'howlers' found in this sensationalist tome are:

  • the 2nd century Church Father St. Justin (Martyr) never quotes or mentions any of the Gospels (wrong: he indeed quotes as 'Memoirs of the Apostles' from Mt, Mk, Lk, etc);
  • the Gospels were forged 'hundreds of years' after the events they narrate (in fact, the canonical Gospels were all most probably written in the 1st century, from 35 to 65 years after Jesus' death);
  • we have no manuscripts of the NT that date prior to the 4th century (wrong: we have numerous fragments that date from the 2nd and 3rd centuries);
  • the autographs 'were destroyed after the Council of Nicaea' (in fact, we don't know what happened to the original copies, they probably simply wore out, and well before Nicaea);
  • it took 'well over a thousand years' to canonize the NT and 'many councils' were needed (actually: St. Athanasius is the first to list our canon in 367; the local Councils of Hippo and Carthage -- not 'many councils' -- at the end of the 4th century also give us our present 27-book NT canon);
  • Paul never quotes a saying of Jesus (wrong: he does quote Jesus, several times, see below);
  • the "Acts of Pilate" a legendary account of Jesus' trial and execution, was once considered canonical (no references to the Acts of Pilate suggests this);
  • the word gospel means "God's Spell" as in 'magic, hypnosis and delusion' (No, the word gospel comes from Old English god spel, which means 'good news' or the Greek euaggelion, nothing to do with magic);
  • the Church Father St. "Irenaeus was a Gnostic" (wrong: he was the most virulent opponent of Gnosticism in the 2nd century);
  • St. Augustine was "originally a Mandaean, i.e. a Gnostic, until after the Council of Nicaea" (wrong: St. Augustine was not even born until 19 years after the Council; and he wasn't a Gnostic);
  • Peter was not only 'the rock' but 'the cock' and a penis-nose sculpture symbolizing him is 'hidden in the Vatican treasure' -- see the full discussion at Bart Ehrman's blog for this one;

The Jesus Mysteries (Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God?)

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The Basic Mythicist Position

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Chapter 2: Non-Christian Sources for the Life of Jesus

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Chapter 3: The Gospels as Historical Sources

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Chapter 4: Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

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Chapter 5: Two Key Data for the Historicity of Jesus

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Part II. The Mythicists' Claims

Chapter 6: The Mythicist Case: Weak and Irrelevant Claims

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Chapter 7: Mythicist Inventions: Creating the Mythical Christ

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Part III. Who Was the Historical Jesus?

Chapter 8: Finding the Jesus of History

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Chapter 9: Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

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Conclusion: Jesus and the Mythicists

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The Historical Jesus: Five ViewsOther books on the subject worth consideration:

  • Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977)
  • The Evidence for Jesus by R.T. France (Intervarsity Press, 1986)
  • A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (volume 1) by John P. Meier (Anchor / Doubleday, 1991)
  • The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant by John Dominic Crossan (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991)
  • The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders (The Penguin Press, 1993)
  • Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus edited by Wilkins / Moreland (Zondervan, 1995)
  • The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels by L.T. Johnson (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
  • Jesus and the Victory of God by N. T. Wright (Fortress, 1996)
  • The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ by Gary Habermas (College Press, 1996)
  • Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? : A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan (Baker Academic, 1998)
  • Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford Univ Press, 1999) and How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee by Bart Ehrman (HarperOne, 2014)
  • The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? by Earl Doherty (Age of Reason, 1999, 2005)
  • Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence by Robert van Voorst (Eerdmans, 2000)
  • Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods by Darrell L. Bock (Baker Academic, 2002)
  • The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition? by Robert M. Price (Prometheus, 2003)
  • What Have They Done With Jesus? by Ben Witherington III (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006)
  • Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels by Craig Evans (Intervarsity, 2006)
  • The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition by Eddy / Boyd (Baker Academic, 2007)
  • Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI (Doubleday, 2007)
  • Shattering the Christ Myth: Did Jesus Not Exist? edited by James Patrick Holding (Xulon Press, 2008)
  • The Historical Jesus: Five Views by R.M. Price, J.D. Crossan, L.T. Johnson, J.D.G. Dunn, D.L. Bock (Intervarsity, 2009)
  • The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig Keener (Eerdmans, 2009)
  • Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Have Reason for Doubt by Richard Carrier (2012, 2014)
  • How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature -- A Response to Bart D. Ehrman edited by Bird, Evans, Gathercole, et al (Zondervan, 2014)

AUDIO by Bart Ehrman

See also The Evidence for the Historical Jesus

by P -- completed Christmas 2015


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