In the book trailer for the new book “Did Jesus Exist”, Bart Ehrman says “as a historian, I can assure you, that no matter what anybody else says about him, Jesus most certainly existed. There is as much evidence for Jesus, Ehrman continues, as the evidence for dozens of other historical figures. So lack of evidence should not lead us to doubt the historical Jesus.
This much is true – but lack of evidence isn’t the problem with the historical Jesus, it’s his similarity to other dying and resurrecting pagan saviors. Ehrman neatly sideswipes this entire issue (although he claims he will address it directly in his book) with his ultimate conclusion: Jesus existed but he was completely different from the Jesus everybody thinks they know. Jesus was basically a Jewish prophet who believed the world would pass away in his lifetime and God would come and establish a kingdom – which was obviously a failed prophecy. So, according to Ehrman, his followers developed all of the other more amazing and supernatural claims to cover this embarrassment.
Here’s the problem with the argument.
A) Jesus existed
B) Supernatural claims were made, borrowing heavily from pagan sources, to build up the myth and legend, which gave rise to Christianity, until very little of the real Jesus could be seen anymore.
C) SO – all of those pagan similarities don’t matter, because that’s not who Jesus really was, so they can’t prove he wasn’t historical.
However in proving the historical Jesus, Ehrman conservatively propagates (or allows Christians to propagate) their beliefs without making absolutely clear that
A) it is HISTORICALLY IMPOSSIBLE for Jesus to have been who he is recorded to have said he was, to have done the things ascribed to him, or to have taught most of what he taught, and hence
B) 99% of Christianity as it is practiced today didn’t come from Jesus, and 99% of the things Christians believe about Jesus never happened in history.
I find it rather strange that Ehrman is arguing so vehemently for Jesus’ existence; it appears that he and I are absolutely at odds, over irreconcilable differences. (Jesus either existed or not, right? One of us is wrong?) But instead Bart and I, based on the evidence, both believe that the historical Jesus, if he existed, could not have been the Jesus of the gospels.
When I say “Jesus didn’t exist as a historical person”, I’m talking about the Jesus that Christians proclaim, the biblical Jesus, who traveled around healing the sick, was crucified, and (may have been) raised from the dead, etc. I think Bart and all other biblical scholars will agree – THIS JESUS is a literary fiction, an amalgam of very traceable sources. This Jesus did not exist.
When Bart says that “Jesus existed” – he’s talking about his own Jesus, that is hidden behind veils upon veils of tradition, a Jesus for which there is very little, if any evidence, a Jesus that I cannot prove wasn’t there (although I can probably prove convincingly that his name wasn’t Jesus and that he didn’t do or say any of the things in the Bible – and if I disagree with Bart’s CENTRAL CLAIM that Jesus called himself Jesus, that it was his real name, are we even talking about the same person? I don’t doubt that there was an influential hellenized rebel zealot Jew who planned to overthrow Rome and combined pagan philosophy with Greek tradition to come up with a new spiritual system – Bart can have him. Of course there were people like that.
Anyway, I’m ranting, but my point is this: BART EHRMAN’S Jesus that existed is NOT your run-of-the-mill Jesus worshiped in any Christian churches, and if Bart’s Jesus existed (and he claims he absolutely, most certainly did, on his honor as a historian) than your Christian Jesus, son of God, Savior, just as certainly cannot have ever existed.