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How Bart Ehrman thinks atheists make themselves look foolish

January 7, 2016

I saw this video by Bart Ehrman speaking at an atheist convention responding to the question, “I can’t see any evidence in archaeology or history for an historical Jesus”:

It is devastating critique of the Jesus mythicist position.

Ehrman says,

“There is so much evidence that….this is not even an issue for scholars of antiquity”

“There is no scholar in any college or university in the western world who teaches Classics, Ancient History, New Testament, early Christianity, any related field who doubts that Jesus existed”

Ehrman recocognises that “that is not evidence…but if you want to know about the theory of evolution vs the theory of creationism and every scholar in every reputable institution in the world believes in evolution. It may not be evidence, but if you have a different opinion you’d better have a pretty good piece of evidence yourself.”

This is very similar to the position Matt Dillahunty takes – which I’ve outlined here.

The key piece of evidence for Jesus’ existence?

“The reason for thinking Jesus existed is because he is abundantly attested in early sources”

“Early and independent sources certainly indicate that Jesus existed”

“One author we know about knew Jesus’ brother”

“I’m sorry, I respect your disbelief, but if you want to go where the evidence goes…I think that atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism, because frankly, it makes you look foolish to the outside world”

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From → Bible, History, Jesus

20 Comments
  1. Well said by Ehrman.

    I’ve often thought to myself that this fact- that so many self proclaimed atheists subscribe to Jesus mythisicm- is actually very telling. It shows us that atheists often aren’t the rationalists they claim to be.

  2. I’ve often thought to myself that this fact- that so many of the loud, self proclaimed atheists subscribe to Jesus mythicism- is very telling. It tells us that these atheists aren’t the rationalists they claim to be.

  3. As an atheist, I and my atheistic friends are not atheists because of evidence for or against the existence of a historical Jesus. We are atheists solely because we have no belief in the existence of a god or gods.

    • Sure, but if the historical Jesus claimed to be God (or was raised from the dead) wouldn’t that be a challenge to your atheism?

      • Friendly Atheist permalink

        Er… no… It’s a dominant scholarly view that the historical Jesus did not claim to be God. But even if he did, I don’t see how that would be a problem. Believing in someone’s existence and believing in someone’s message are two completely different, unrelated things. For instance, Julius Caesar was also deified after his assassination. I don’t think it challenges anyone’s atheism.

      • Hi there Friendly Atheist. Thanks for the comment. I agree that it’s not a dominant view that the historical Jesus claimed to be God – but this isn’t the issue in dispute here. Ehrman is responding to atheist Jesus mythicists who claim that an historical Jesus never existed at all! This is the specific matter of contention.

        There is a lot of robust (and healthy) debate about who Jesus really was and what he said – as you point out. But his existence shouldn’t be a matter for serious debate as Ehrman shows.

        Although, to respond to the issue you raise in this post, I think there are serious methodological problems in accepting an historical Jesus but rejecting primae facie what is written about him – e.g. his claims to divinity, which I think is precisely the reason many atheists attempt to claim he never existed in the first place.

        Thanks for the comment and I hope that’s helpful.

        Kind regards,
        Robert (also hoping to be friendly)

  4. Unfortunately for Ehrman, there are no source outside the Gospels attesting Jesus’ existence. The “testimonium flavianum” can be shown to be an interpolation and Tacitus (if true) is too late (116) and from Rome, most likely from Christian sources who might started to believe in a historical founder.
    And there are many reasons to believe that ‘brother of the lord’ by Paul means “brethren” as everywhere else in the Epistles, which makes the Epistles ignorant of the man they are supposed to preach.
    http://vridar.org/2011/04/25/brother-of-the-lord-doherty-versus-mcgrath/

    • This comment perfectly outlines why the internet atheist is a mythicist and the world renowned historian Bart Ehrman … isn’t.

      There are sources for Jesus outside the Gospels, such as, for example, the rest of the New Testament. And of course, the Gospels can’t be dismissed because “they’re Gospels”, that’s just begging the question. Josephus mentions Jesus twice, in Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.3.3 (testimonium) and XX.9.1. Even if the testimonium flavium is a forgery in its entirety, contrary to the dominant view of historians, than XX.9.1 is still indisputably authentic. Tacitus, also being authentic, received his information from Roman sources.

      Paul no doubt means a flesh-and-blood Jesus in his letters, this is also not up for debate in the circles of Pauline scholarship, referring to Jesus being crucified, buried, born of a mother, etc. Carrier’s alternatives have been refuted.

  5. Don Flood permalink

    I am an agnostic atheist and there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Jesus of Nazareth existed as an historical figure. All that the Jesus-myth mysticism within atheism proves is that atheism can be infected by memes, just as innumerable religions can. But, as Professor Ehrman points out, this is a meme which needs to be expunged from the atheist consciousness.

  6. updated video for the post:

  7. Philip Wraight permalink

    As an Atheist I accept that Jesus existed, but was he the son of a god?, in my humble opinion NO!!. I also believe the pope exists, but is he anything more than a Homo sapien? NO. All these religious figures are just (in my opinion) con men/women. The resurrection never happened or he wasn’t actually dead!, nothing magical, mystical has ever occurred in the 4.7 billion years of planet Earths existence, and nothing other than actual proof can convince me otherwise!!!.

    • Philip. Thanks for the comment. Just wondering how you can be certain that nothing mystical (as you define it) has ever occurred? What kind of proof would convince you? Thanks

      • Philip Wraight permalink

        Something mystical!!.

      • Philip Wraight permalink

        a : having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence the mystical food of the sacrament
        b : involving or having the nature of an individual’s direct subjective communion with God or ultimate reality the mystical experience of the Inner Light.

      • Great. Thanks for responding. There are many people who claim these things have happened, how can you be so sure that these types of things have never happened?

      • Philip Wraight permalink

        Your now going to say that many people have had mystical experiences!, but we’ve only their word on that, and I’m afraid that I am just not able to believe them!. Mainly because theists in the main would/will say anything to get none believers or even believers to think they’ve had contact with their god/s no matter what the religion!!!. Just my opinion you understand!!.

      • Philip Wraight permalink

        Look the human mind is quite a powerful thing right?. If you want something that bad, I believe your mind will/could convince you of seeing/hearing whatever that thing is!. Whether it be imaginary entities, ghosts, angels,mothers of entities ETC!!. I don’t believe in any of these and have never seen or ever will see them!!. Once again just my opinion!!.

  8. Philip Wraight permalink

    Sorry 4.543 billion years!!.

  9. Philip Wraight permalink

    HOW I THINK THEISTS MAKE THEMSELVES LOOK FOOLISH!!.
    Six thousand year old Earth+/-!, talking snakes!, feeding thousands with very little!, woman from mans rib!, virgin birth!, and that’s just part of the utter tripe in Christianity!. The other religions have comparative tripe too, some are even more violent in their expression of their imaginary entities powers, possible punishments!. Why OH Why would anybody want to follow/devote their life to such utter drivel??. BEATS ME!!.

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