Bart D. Ehrman’s New Book ‘Did Jesus Exist?’



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March 16, 2012  |  history, videos


  1. I wonder if Ehrman will ever admit he is wrong – that Jesus didn’t exist?

    That’s the only reasonable conclusion we can come to based on the bible itself.

    • Like any honest academic, Ehrman would happily to admit he is wrong if evidence is uncovered which makes that position more likely. But be warned, it would be a very hard case to make.
      The New Testament, and other early Christian texts are evidence. We know the various texts existed in some form at various points in history, and we know approximately when they existed in the form we know them today. We know a lot about the history, language and culture of the time in which Jesus supposedly existed. This is also evidence.
      The claim that the gospels are a 100% accurate account of Jesus’ life and deeds (the fundamentalist position, more or less) is a claim about all of the evidence. Proving that claim requires making the case that every single part of the gospels are more likely to be accurate than inaccurate. This carries a high burden of proof.
      The claim that Jesus didn’t exist, that he was made up by his followers (the mythicist position), is also a claim about all of the evidence. Non-existent people don’t say things and do things, so this claim requires proving that every saying or deed attributed to Jesus is inaccurate. This also carries a high burden of proof.
      The claim that Jesus did exist, but reports of his sayings and deeds were exaggerated (deliberately in some cases, unintentionally in others; the mainstream historian position) is a claim about some of the evidence. It’s saying that some of the evidence is reliable and some is not. This carries a relatively low burden of proof.
      Mainstream secular historians of the Ancient Near East are unanimous: It’s far more likely that Jesus existed than that he didn’t exist. They hold this position because multiple converging lines of evidence point to this conclusion, and no other theory has provided an even remotely plausible alternative which is consistent with all of the known evidence.
      Mythicists are the young-earth creationists of the humanities.

  2. If one tries to take at face value the four gospels, which happen to contradict each other in several ways, and try to do a timeline relative to people who were KNOWN to live (i.e. Pontius Pilate, some of whose writings and decisions were recorded in places other than the bible, or Herod, similarly), it becomes pretty clear that either a) the writers of the gospels (earliest one a few generations after the supposed life of the central character) were not good at math or b) made up stuff.

    Since the church itself seems to have been founded a couple hundred years later, after a time of bickering and arguing over just what their new religion was going to be, and since there is little, if any, extra-scriptural reference to the central character of the gospels (despite that there is a fair amount regarding Pilate and Herod), it seems reasonable to ignore the supposed historicity of Jesus.

    • Sorry but there is next to NOTHING on Pontius Pilate. Nothing recorded of his decisions. Indeed I’m agnostic & old enough to remember when a number of skeptical historians doubted Pilate existed. A few still do today but the tide was turned in 1961 when the Pilate Stone was found in Israel. The PS is a carving that must have been over an archway that is dedicated to Pilate. The gospels, non-canonical Christian writings from antiquity, Josephus, Tacitus & Philo are about all that exists. And historian Philo’s writings were preserved by Christians which to some atheist make them tainted. Well Josephus was preserved by Christians also & three top Josephus experts tell me that Josephus’ famous passage about Jesus being executed by Pilate was tampered with by some Christian scribe later. That the original reads more like the Arab version Pines translated & quotes from Jerome’s copy. But NO copy extant copy of Josephus dates before the 10 century. The older ones have rotted away. Dr. Goldberg at argues that Josephus didn’t interview anyone who had seen or heard Jesus as he did with others and used the same source document for the famous “TF” which now is lost & long ago rotted away that the author of Luke used for a portion of his gospel.

      The big guns to me that Jesus existed is the gospels themselves contain historical persons in their stories, contain embarrassing material that should have been left out if Jesus was completely invented, Paul meeting Peter & James, Jesus’ brother & admitting he didn’t get along with them & not mentioning the virgin birth & the letters of Polycarp & letters from those who heard Polycarp say he studied under John the Apostle who knew Jesus personally & he also met other old men who remembered Jesus.

  3. I’ll be fair and give it a look. I have not yet been convinced that he did, but I did find some subtle flaws in Freke and Gandy’s arguments (though very convincing!) in The Jesus Mysteries. Taking away the scriptural stuff, I haven’t seen much on the for side, and interested to see if Ehrman has something new instead of the same old, “he had to have, cause…” The best “I got nothing” argument I heard lately from a good friend was, “he is is too compelling a character to have been made up.”

    BTW, I love this blog and thank you for continuing to post! :-)

  4. I find it interesting that @Jim and @Tom both think this will be just about the Bible proving the historicity of Jesus and not other evidence outside of that collection of writings. Ehrman’s other works clearly show that the authorship of many of the books in the NT are questionable at best. As a historian and New Testament scholar, he’d know better than most. I recommend his other books to better grasp where he’s coming from. However, I’m also curious as to what evidence he will look at besides the very few pieces I’ve heard about.

  5. Should be an interesting read. Unfortunately, because of the absence of external corroboration and the existence of various “historical” events which are contradicted by other sources, NT scholarship has a nasty habit of coming down to finding evidence which could support one’s pre-existing assumptions.

  6. I’ve read Bart’s other books and found his arguments to be very compelling. Obviously, atheism doesn’t hinge on whether the character of Jesus existed or not, but it’s still an important question to consider from a religious perspective.

    I’ll definitely give this one a read.

  7. How do we know that Marc Anthony existed? He won two Grammys, three Latin Grammys, sold 12 million albums, and married Jennifer Lopez. You could buy tickets to his concert and see him yourself, if he still tours.

    And of course Jesus was a real person and we can know some things about him. We can know that he worked as a gardener in Austin, TX. We can also know that, due to lack of documentation, Dick Perry had Jesus deported, but only after Perry decided he didn’t like the way Jesus shaped the shrubs outside his mansion.

    Now for a little existential horror: what if we got all that stuff about the kingdom of heaven wrong? What if God actually did set up a utopia on earth and we live in it? What if we live in the best possible world—it doesn’t get better?

  8. I too am interested to see what Dr. Ehrman has to say. I have read a couple of his other books, and in at least one he rejects out of hand the idea that there was no historical Jesus. I think he may have even called that an absurd claim. However, it is also clear that his views of the divine, etc. have been in a state of change for some time (decades?) so it’s probably up for continued examination.

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