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George A. Wells on Bart Ehman's new book:
Did Jesus exist?  The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazaret. 

 

Ehrman on the Historicity of Jesus and on Early Christian Thinking


Quotations from:
 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 about him.'
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 his existence."

On Papias

"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."

On Paul

"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 this name…"

"… 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 pre-crucifixion Jesus."

 

'Christ-mythers' and their 'dislike of religion'

"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 with it."