George A. Wells on
Bart Ehman's new book:
Did Jesus exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of
Ehrman on the Historicity
of Jesus and on Early Christian Thinking
Free Inquiry June / July 2012
Volume 32, Number 4
On Tacitus and Josephus:
"Ehrman acknowledges that pagan and Jewish testimony is too
late to establish that Jesus lived: Tacitus based his
statement that 'Christ was executed by sentence of Pilate'
on 'hearsay' (56); even if the single paragraph in
Josephus's Antiquities (trimmed of obvious Christian
insertions) is genuine, its date (ca. 93 CE) means that it
simply repeats what by then many Christians were already
saying. But Ehrman seems a little reluctant to surrender
these two witnesses altogether, for he reverts to them (97),
saying that 'Tacitus and (possibly) Josephus... indirectly
provide independent attestation to Jesus's existence from
outside the gospels,' for they 'heard information' about him
from informants who 'themselves had heard stories about him'
from Christians who may in turn 'have simply heard stories
Of course there were umpteen stories about him current by
the late first and early second centuries; but what they
attest to is not Jesus's existence but rather to belief in
"In this connection, Ehrman adduces the second-century
bishop Papias as 'an important source for establishing the
historical existence of Jesus' (98). He refers to his
discussion of Papias in his 2009 book Jesus Interrupted. But
what he claims there (108,110) is merely that 'in reading
Papias we have access to third- or fourth-hand information'
and that Papias 'passes on stories that he had heard, and he
attributes them to people who knew other people who said so.
But when he can be checked he appears to be wrong.' It is
conservative Christian apologists who continue to make an
enormous amount of Papias's remarks, which many scholars
regard as one and all historically worthless."
G.A. Wells as “mythicist”
"Ehrman is well aware that I have come to modify my
originally mythicist position, and he states correctly that
I now think that there really was a man Jesus but that we
can know very little about him (19, 241). In fact I agree
with his view that 'Jesus really existed' but 'was not the
person most Christians today believe in' (143). That he
nevertheless continues to label me a mythicst is confusing."
"Paul's silence about Jesus's miracles-even though he
believed that miracles were not unimportant in missionary
work—is explained by Ehrman as due, like his other silences,
to there being no need to appeal to them to convince people
who were already committed to the cause (136). But Paul's
silence here is surely better attributable to his conviction
that Jesus had lived his earthly life in weakness and
suffering, incompatible with miraculous displays. Coming to
Earth, he 'emptied' himself of supernatural powers (Phil.
2:6-7). He was 'crucified in weakness,' and it was such
weakness that manifested his true power (2 Cor. 12:9; 13:4).
This 'empty¬ing' can only mean that he surrendered all in
him that was divine so as to become human, The doctrine of
later Christian orthodoxy that, while on Earth, Jesus
combined divine and human nature in his one person was quite
unknown to Paul. Only when his christology of suffering came
to be replaced by what is called a 'christology of glory'
were Jesus and his followers credited at every turn with
miracles; from the second century, there is barely any limit
to the powers ascribed to them.
The differences between the supernatural and briefly human
Jesus of Paul and the Galilean preacher of Q and the first
three Gospels are so great that I cannot believe it
reasonable even to identify the two as one and the same
person. Here we seem to have two quite independent streams
of tradition, first brought to¬gether (and then only to some
extent) in the Gospel of Mark."
James, brother of the Lord
"Ehrman acknowledges that Paul does not call James the
brother of Jesus but the brother of the Lord; 'the Lord' in
this context could well mean the risen Christ, the church's
lord. Recall Paul's some half-dozen 'words of the Lord.'
Although he uses the name 'Jesus' nearly 150 times, he never
presents a saying as a saying of Jesus … In the early church,
'brother' meant 'fellow missionary'; 'brethren of the Lord'
(1 Cor. 9: 5) may refer to a missionary brotherhood, and
'James the brother of the Lord' might simply have meant to
identify James as one of these itinerant evangelists. In
Acts, the James who led the Jerusalem Christians—obviously
the same person as Paul's 'brother of the Lord'—is called
neither this nor the brother of Jesus; neither in his Gospel
nor in Acts does Luke suggest that Jesus had a brother of
"… Altogether, Paul never speaks of Jesus's 'disciples' but
of those who like himself were apostles; and he does not
suggest that they, any more that he, had known the
'Christ-mythers' and their 'dislike
"Ehrman begins and ends his book by
saying that many mythicists seem motivated not by a concern to
ascertain historical truth but by a thorough dislike of religion.
Unfortunately, religious controversy has almost always been lacking
in sweetness and light. Within the New Testament itself there is
evidence of malice towards those who think differently. Matthew
outdoes the polemic of Q and seems to take grim satisfaction at the
wailing and gnashing of teeth of dissidents cast into outer darkness.
And for most of its history, Christianity has not been a tolerant
religion. However, strong emotion, whether hostile or positive
towards one's material, will not necessarily warp the reasoning
process. It may make the mind work all the harderto produce results
that stand up to scrutiny. The very considerable industry required
of a scholar cannot be long sustained without an underlying drive of
some kind. Often the best scholarship is that which is driven by the
conviction that the best way to help mankind is to ascertain the
truth. This has certainly characterized much New Testament
scholarship both within and outside Christianity, and is what over
the years has drawn me to it as I became increasingly acquainted