Agnostic Scholar Bart Ehrman on ‘Who Wrote the Bible and Why It Matters’

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Leading New Testament scholar and bestselling author Dr. Bart D. Ehrman's dated article, titled "Who Wrote The Bible and Why It Matters," has been eliciting fresh responses from online readers due to his assertion that most scholars, "apart from the most rabid fundamentalists," admit that the Bible is "full of lies."

 


Ehrman shared with The Christian Post on Monday that he has been also receiving new emails about the controversial 2011 Huffington Post article, which deals with pseudepigraphal authorship of some of the letters in the New Testament.

Ehrman, 57, is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he has served as the director of graduate studies and chair of the Department of Religious Studies. He has authored and edited more than two dozen books and is no stranger to criticism of his work, which focuses extensively on textual criticism of the New Testament and the historical Jesus.

The Princeton Theological Seminary alumni has sparred with fellow New Testament textual critic Daniel B. Wallace over authorship and reliability of the Bible, and was mentioned by name in a comment from evangelical Christian minister John Piper in a video clip titled "unbiblical biblical scholarship."

"Who Wrote The Bible and Why It Matters," in circulation again over the weekend, attracted thousands of comments and raised many questions when it was first published, and one Christian theologian reading the article for the first time suggested over the weekend that Ehrman "is progressively trading in his respect for some sort of crusade against Christianity" … and "is a far cry from his mentor Bruce Metzger," under whom Ehrman studied while at seminary.

Written By: Nicola Menzie
continue to source article at christianpost.com

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  1. Ehrman is a very conflicted fellow. He knows this book, which is the only evidence for Jesus’ existence, is full of lies, yet he uses the bible to conclusively prove Jesus really existed in his latest work. He just can’t quite make the full break

    • Jesus did exist!
      What source do you have for the man named Jesus of Nazareth not having lived as a human being?

      In reply to #2 by rjohn19:

      Ehrman is a very conflicted fellow. He knows this book, which is the only evidence for Jesus’ existence, is full of lies, yet he uses the bible to conclusively prove Jesus really existed in his latest work. He just can’t quite make the full break

      • In reply to #4 by Leif:

        Jesus did exist!
        What source do you have for the man named Jesus of Nazareth not having lived as a human being?

        In reply to #2 by rjohn19:

        What evidence do you have that there is not a chocolate teapot orbiting the sun (google the chocolate teapot debate)
        A better and more interesting question is what evidence outside the bible do you have that he ever existed?

      • In reply to #4 by Leif:

        Jesus did exist!
        What source do you have for the man named Jesus of Nazareth not having lived as a human being?

        In reply to #2 by rjohn19:

        Ehrman is a very conflicted fellow. He knows this book, which is the only evidence for Jesus’ existence, is full of lies, yet he uses the bible to conclusivel…

        The fact that Nazareth didn’t exist in the day sort of tips the scales don’t you think?

      • In reply to #4 by Leif:

        Jesus did exist!
        What source do you have for the man named Jesus of Nazareth not having lived as a human being?

        What contemporary eye-witness or archaeological sources do you have that such a person, as an individual human being (as described) did exist! (We know that it was a common name at the time, and that the area was over-run with numerous Jewish sects and wandering preachers.) All those supposed miraculous spectacular events – and no mention in the extensive and detailed Roman records?

        The bible stories quoted by Xtians, are mythology – just like the stories of the Greek heroes and gods.

        • In reply to #8 by Alan4discussion:

          In reply to #4 by Leif:

          Jesus did exist!
          What source do you have for the man named Jesus of Nazareth not having lived as a human being?

          What contemporary eye-witness or archaeological sources do you have that such a person, as an individual human being (as described) did exist! All those supposed miraculous spectacular events – and no mention in the extensive and detailed Roman records?…

          Ah, but those were suppressed, you see, by the Romans. They couldn’t very well allow the leader of the folk they were persecuting (feeding to the lions etc.) be seen as godly now could they.

      • In reply to #4 by Leif:

        Jesus did exist!

        There might have been a carpenter named Jesus, but that is of no import. What you are talking about is a Jesus who raised the dead, and make everyone in all the graveyards run around like zombies. If that happened, it would surely have been remembered and recorded also in the secular record. It was not.

        The other evidence for his non-existence is his genesis. He started out a “the sayings of Jesus”. Various other stories were added later. This is the way fictitious characters are gradually fleshed out. There are so many inconsistencies in the story of his life that suggest much of it was written long after he lived, e.g. that he was raised in Nazarath, a town that did not exist when he was allegedly growing up.

    • In reply to #2 by rjohn19:

      Ehrman is a very conflicted fellow. He knows this book, which is the only evidence for Jesus’ existence, is full of lies, yet he uses the bible to conclusively prove Jesus really existed in his latest work. He just can’t quite make the full break

      I’ve read most of his books (which ones have you read?) and I don’t find him to be conflicted at all. On the contrary he seems to me to be the epitome of good scholarship. He strives to be objective and to go where the evidence takes him. He is very clear that there is no evidence for a Jesus who performed miracles, and that the New Testament is obviously full of contradictions and was written (contrary to what most Christians believe) by people who never new Jesus in person and who were essentially lying about who they were and were writing lies because they were trying to convert people. One of the most interesting things I learned from Ehrman is not just that the bible is filled with contradictions (I knew that already) but why many of those contradictions probably exist.

      The people who are conflicted are the atheists who can’t separate their anti-Christian hatred from principles of good research and scholarship. I’ve read several books about the early Christians by Ehrman and other respected scholars in the field (e.g. Elaine Pagels from Princeton). There is a good consensus in the field around Ehrman’s view, that there was (by the standards of ancient scholarship) good evidence that a historical person named Jesus was a Jewish teacher who was put to death by Rome. Yes, there are some people who have an alternative view but most of them are fringe theorists, not much different then 9/11 Truthers or Climate Change Deniers. They have a pre-decided conclusion and they search for evidence of it. I think its really a sad mark on the Atheist community that so many of you can’t see the difference and that you essentially end up adopting the same tactics as Creationists to defend a position that is contradicted by most of the experts in the field.

      • Yes, there are some people who have an alternative view but most of them are fringe theorists, not much different then 9/11 Truthers or Climate Change Deniers. They have a pre-decided conclusion and they search for evidence of it.

        It’s true that the Christ Myth Theory is currently regarded as a fringe theory by mainstream scholars, but I would think that atheists would know as well as anyone that the majority of people can believe something that isn’t true. It was once regarded as a wild fringe theory to suggest that Old Testament figures such as Moses and Abraham might be wholly fictional, but today that’s taken for granted by most scholars. Scholarship surrounding the historicity of Jesus is wildly distorted by the fact that most Bible scholars literally worship Jesus. Among atheists and skeptics, the Christ Myth Theory is taken very seriously by many somber and well-informed people. It’s flatly untrue that these people all started out with a predetermined atheistic agenda. Many of these people started out not as atheists but as Christians. Robert M. Price, Richard Carrier, Dan Barker, and Hector Avalos would be just a few examples of that. Richard Carrier initially set out to disprove the Christ Myth Theory, but was ultimately convinced by the evidence to change his mind. Bertrand Russell and Thomas Paine both doubted the existence of Jesus. Richard Dawkins himself has said that, while he personally thinks there likely was a Jesus, the theory is worth looking into. To dismiss all these people as the equivalent of 9/11 Truthers is unfair.

      • In reply to #12 by Red Dog:

        There is a good consensus in the field around Ehrman’s view, that there was (by the standards of ancient scholarship) good evidence that a historical person named Jesus was a Jewish teacher who was put to death by Rome.

        That would hardly be surprising, given that it was a common name at the time, and the Romans crucified thousands of dissidents and “trouble-makers”. There could well have been several preaching Jesuses! – Any connection to the biblical myths is another matter.

        There are droves of them in Mexico and the southern USA, even today! Jose Luis de Jesus Mirandahttp://www.staticbrain.com/archive/miami-preacher-claims-he-is-jesus/

      • On the contrary he seems to me to be the epitome of good scholarship. He strives to be objective and to go where the evidence takes him.

        Incidentally you should look up Richard Carrier’s blog post “Ehrman on Historicity Recap,” in which he links to various pieces relating to his online debate with Ehrman over Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? It doesn’t seem to me that Ehrman comes out of that exchange looking at all like the epitome of good scholarship, but people can judge for themselves.

  2. Sounds like this guy is actually an atheist, not an agnostic. Certainly he no longer buys into the fairy tale god that most Christians worship. It’s nice to know someone like him actually holds a position at a teacher of religion. Well done, Mr. Ehrman!

    • In reply to #3 by justinesaracen:

      Sounds like this guy is actually an atheist, not an agnostic. Certainly he no longer buys into the fairy tale god that most Christians worship. It’s nice to know someone like him actually holds a position at a teacher of religion. Well done, Mr. Ehrman!

      Yeah . . . I went to one of his local lectures and it was quite good. I’ve never been as intrigued before as the time I went to his ’09 lecture, in the spring. Go EHRMAN! Go!

  3. Well, I have read every popular book written by Mr. Ehrman (and even tried a couple of his scholarly ones) and must say I really like him. I think he is a functional atheist, even though he prefers to consider himself agnostic. Not all his books are equally good, but he does a very fine job of conveying the flavor of textual criticism (and why it matters) to the lay public.
    In his book about whether Jesus existed, if I remember correctly, he says that it is one thing to admit that someone called Jesus existed, was a charismatic religious figure with some cult following, and quite another to accept that he actually was the messiah, performing miracles, etc. He argues for the real existence of a man, Jesus, not for the reality of any of his (later) attributed deeds and resurrection.
    Hitchens himself did not seem to have a problem with this view.

  4. Nazerene is a misunderstood term, it does not necessarily equate to ‘of / from Nazareth’, though this is usually what is taught.

    Nasorean however is an easy transcription to make in later years thinking it refers to a place, when it actually refers to an ideology, a separate theology from the early christian church which was much more gnostic in it’s approach, and can be likened to the Mandeans.

    Proper reading of Jesus’ parables with the hypothesis of it being Gnostic teaching suddenly make the miracles make more sense, especially those concerning numbers and apparently confused apostles: they were in fact misunderstood parables in which hidden teachings were revealed to those inducted into the secrets.

    Another thing to remember is that the Jews in the areas in which ‘Jesus’ was said to have preached were thoroughly Hellenized, and were aware and conversant with their pagan rites, rituals and teachings. People tend to forget the Septuagint is Greek text, which would have informed, shaped and guided thought in that tradition, whilst the Canon which sets the texts of the New Testament centuries later is Roman, with a different theology, translation errors or misunderstandings and language idioms.

    Whilst it may seem that I have clutched at straws, or made bold assertions without merit, I would like you to reflect on the theme of ‘fish’ found within the gospels.
    Luke 5:1-11 – a miraculous haul of fish which leads to the recruitment of some of the apostles – and most notably making them ‘fishers of men’
    There is a second miraculous catch of fish, numbered to 153.(John 21:1-14) Numbers were incredibly important in Greek philosophy, and was widely used in secret traditions; we teach Pythagoras’ theorem as a matter of routine, but its roots are in Sacred Geometry.
    Fish is instrumental in the stories of the feeding of multitudes: and bread with the fish is yet another symbolic motif used outside of the Bible, as well as within.

    To stray from the point briefly, lets consider the Essene movement which is confirmed in teaching and historicity with the finding and the translations of the Nag Hammadi Scrolls…. a Mystery movement which identified themselves as the ‘Children of Light’. Taking their book, the Essene Book of Moses, there is a tradition where there are two sets of rules given out on Mt Sinai. The first set of rules Moses receives are not welcomed, being sent as too strict, severe and rigid: Moses goes up a second time and receives the 10 Commandments.

    I highlight this only to show that having one set of rules for those who have limited understanding or induction into teachings and a deeper, hidden meaning for others is far older than most people credit. There is ample evidence in the Hellenic and Roman pagan Mysteries and conversely, there is proof of a Gnostic church rivaling the supposed ‘early Christian Church’, and there is a tradition of Hebrew esoteric and exoteric teachings.

    What have the Essenes got in common with fish? Firstly, a word which when written in the English alphabet is ‘Netzor’ which is mainly a phonetic transliteration from a common middle eastern word in use. Following this is ‘Netzorian’ or fisherman. There is a parallel. Then take the ‘fish’ symbol, which predates Christianity and in Koine the word (for fish) is the acronym people give for the first ‘Christian Creed’.
    There are multiple parallels between fish, fishermen, Nasoreans (which is most likely a contraction of Northern Essenes, based at Mt Carmel) and the ‘fish’ symbol.

  5. The idea that Nazareth didn’t exist in the time of Jesus is based on the work of Rene Salm. This point is debatable. Richard Carrier, for example, rejects this interpretation. At any rate, it doesn’t seem to be the best argument against a historical Jesus. (Obviously there were people named Jesus in the region at the time. The question is whether the legend of Jesus of Nazareth started independently of any of them.) Some of the better arguments against a historical Jesus are that Philo of Alexandria describes a pre-Christian Jewish belief in a celestial being named Jesus who was a high priest of God in heaven, that the Pauline epistles don’t contain any unambiguous references to an earthly Jesus, that all the historical events described in the Gospels either lack supporting evidence, are demonstrably false, or are wildly improbable or anachronistic, that Roman authorities seem to have had no knowledge of Jesus, either in contemporary correspondence or based on their actions as described in the book of Acts, and that different Christian sects had different theories for when Jesus had supposedly been crucified that differed by as much as a century. Richard Carrier seems to me to make the best case against a historical Jesus. Watch some of his YouTube videos such as “Did Jesus Exist: Skepticon 2 Redux,” “Why the Gospels are Myth,” and “Why I Think Jesus Didn’t Exist.” You could also check out Robert M. Price’s excellent podcast The Bible Geek.

  6. @Jesus made a mistake, @Ulven, @old-toy-boy, @Alan4discussion

    My answer brings me to a very important point, before we start talking we need to come to an agreed definition of words, when I speak of ..lets say

    evidence, you might think of something you see, and someone else might have another definition for evidence and so on..

    So unless we first come to a common definition we cannot go on speaking about words like sources, authority, evidence, real, etc etc

    Some of us might thing that Bart Ehrman is an authority, some others might think another scholar is a better authority and so on. Some of us might

    think that the testimony of the biblical Paul is authority and some might not. So definitions of words are important.

    How to deal with the problem of Faith. We have to change our words, the words we use,

    Faith used to be defined as “belief with no evidence” but now we have a better definition, the word faith in other contexts can also mean Hope or Trust
    so careful when you read something, it might not be used in the Religious sense. Most Scientist define faith as merely a belief in an idea, so for our class today we will concentrate on the Religious meaning.

    When people use the word faith in a religious sense they are Making a Knowledge claim, ask a Jainism religion if they think that sixty-three illustrious beings called Salakapurusas have appeared on earth? and they will probably answer yes. Probe them for an answer and they will probably say “I know they did” as them again do you think they did or you know they did? They will probably state that they Know.

    When you ask most religious people “Why do you believe” the answer could be “because I have faith” so really their answer is Because I am pretending to know things you don’t know.

    Don’t be to harsh here be humble and be ready to accept any ideas that they might have. Truly be open to the possibility that these people might teach you something!
    You can start with other examples or other religions, remember the goal is for them to realize that the word faith really mean Pretending to know things you don’t know..Give them examples of how other religious people make faith claims and all they are doing is Pretending to know things they don’t know. I suggest you don’t start with their religion since this will put them in the defensive, start with examples of other religions.

    I will start with my definition of Faith witch I humbly suggest we all use from now on. Faith is Pretending to know things you don’t know.
    I didn’t come up with this common definition but I wish I did :)

    On a personal note, the word faith is very personal to me as it was always the answer from the priest when I was doing my catechism in Spain.
    I would ask…but why were Adam and Eve naked? The answer was “You gotta have Faith”
    Now I know the answer meant, You have got to pretend to know things you don’t know !

    Try it out for yourselves, for today or the next week replace the word faith with “Pretending to know things You don’t know”
    I wish there was a computer program that would replace the word faith in some of the things written on the internet so you can see what I mean..

    I will try a few famous quotes here:
    You might think that I am doing some kind of word game but I am just replacing the word “faith” with “Pretending to know things you don’t know”

    “Pretending to know things you don’t know consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”
    ~Voltaire~

    Pretending to know things you don’t know is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this Pretending to know things you don’t know is to see what

    you believe.
    ~Saint Augustine~

    Pretending to know things you don’t know: not wanting to know what is true.
    ~Friedrich Nietzsche~

    Joel Olsteen has a video on YouTube called “Putting Action Behind Your Pretending to know things you don’t know”

    Pretending to know things you don’t know and prayer are the vitamins of the soul; man cannot live in health without them.
    ~Mahalia Jackson~

    This link will lead you to a site with some Faith quotes where you can mentally do your own word substituting.

    my sources for Faith word topic:
    Peter Boghossian

    my sources for Jesus topic:
    Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart D. Ehrman
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus

    Thanks

    • In reply to #15 by Leif:

      My answer brings me to a very important point, before we start talking we need to come to an agreed definition of words, when I speak of ..lets say

      evidence, you might think of something you see, and someone else might have another definition for evidence and so on..

      So unless we first come to a common definition we cannot go on speaking about words like sources, authority, evidence, real, etc etc

      In science “evidence” is confirmable by repeat testing and confirmed by multiple tests carried out by competent and reputable scientists. Historians often use science to date or make other confirmations about documents or artefacts. Claims are refuted when these do not match.

      Some of us might thing that Bart Ehrman is an authority, some others might think another scholar is a better authority and so on. Some of us might think that the testimony of the biblical Paul is authority and some might not. So definitions of words are important.

      To rational historians and scientists, “authorities” are those who can back up their claims with supporting independently checkable evidence. Personal biases and opinions “picked out of the air” do not count. That is the difference between “expert scientific opinion”, common “personal opinion”, and “posturing fake authority”.

      How to deal with the problem of Faith. We have to change our words, the words we use,

      Faith used to be defined as “belief with no evidence”

      That is the correct definition in terms of establishing facts.

      but now we have a better definition, the word faith in other contexts can also mean Hope or Trust so careful when you read something, it might not be used in the Religious sense.

      Hardly “better”, less accurate perhaps! Hope without supporting evidence is just wishful thinking. Trust is a matter of estimating the honesty and competence of individuals (in basing views on evidence rather than wishful thinking, if we are looking for reliable information, rather than misplaced “trust”. ).

      Most Scientist define faith as merely a belief in an idea, so for our class today we will concentrate on the Religious meaning.

      Both meanings are the same ! “Faith” is a belief in an idea without supporting evidence. Facts can’t be established by shifting the meanings of words!

      When people use the word faith in a religious sense they are Making a Knowledge claim, .. . .. . .. They will probably state that they Know.

      It is a claim without evidence – merely a psychological preference based on cultural trust in childhood stories.

      When you ask most religious people “Why do you believe” the answer could be “because I have faith” so really their answer is Because I am pretending to know things you don’t know.

      That is so. They are also pretending to “know” things they can’t or don’t know!

      Don’t be to harsh here be humble and be ready to accept any ideas that they might have.

      Why? The world is full of unevidenced time-wasting fantasies, which are a distraction from time spent on building up real knowledge. There is a great difference between “listening with understanding”, and “accepting”, mistaken nonsense.

      Truly be open to the possibility that these people might teach you something!

      Many of them have taught me much – about human psychology:. – But nothing about the realities of the universe. You need science for that.

      You can start with other examples or other religions, remember the goal is for them to realize that the word faith really means Pretending to know things you don’t know..Give them examples of how other religious people make faith claims and all they are doing is Pretending to know things they don’t know.

      Looking at the many religions of the world (List of deities ) often illustrates the old saying, that the religious are atheistic about one less religion than atheists. – or conversely – atheists are atheistic about one more religion than most of the religious.

      I suggest you don’t start with their religion since this will put them in the defensive, start with examples of other religions.

      Richard Dawkins book The Magic of Reality Does this well.

      I will start with my definition of Faith witch I humbly suggest we all use from now on. Faith is Pretending to know things you don’t know. I didn’t come up with this common definition but I wish I did :)

      This is fair enough, but you need the contrast with the scientific method and peer-review process, to show what we CAN confidently know to a high level of probability. – Otherwise the theists will lapse into the old postmodernist fallacy, “Nobody can be CERTAIN of anything: – Therefore all opinions are equal”!

      On a personal note, the word faith is very personal to me as it was always the answer from the priest when I was doing my catechism in Spain. I would ask…but why were Adam and Eve naked? The answer was “You gotta have Faith” Now I know the answer meant, You have got to pretend to know things you don’t know !

      Try it out for yourselves, for today or the next week replace the word faith with “Pretending to know things You don’t know” I wish there was a computer program that would replace the word faith in some of the things written on the internet so you can see what I mean..

      It would certainly clarify the vague shuffling of words, behind which many theistic arguments hide.

      I will try a few famous quotes here: You might think that I am doing some kind of word game but I am just replacing the word “faith” with “Pretending to know things you don’t know”

      “Pretending to know things you don’t know consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” ~Voltaire~

      Pretending to know things you don’t know is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this Pretending to know things you don’t know is to see what you believe. ~Saint Augustine~

    • In reply to #15 by Leif:

      @Jesus made a mistake, @Ulven, @old-toy-boy, @Alan4discussion

      My answer brings me to a very important point, before we start talking we need to come to an agreed definition of words, when I speak of ..lets say

      evidence, you might think of something you see, and someone else might have another defi…

      There might be good reasons to neuter our language so that it doesn’t represent either religious or scientific reason.

      Years ago, I used the search/replace function to “tidy” my report, but got into trouble for replacing “cohorts” with “accompaniments.” Cognitivists, no fun, but there is importance in “consistency.”

      So yes, to think that common definitions are “common” is a distraction and an unrealistic expectation.

  7. It’s already abundantly clear that the Bible is totally fictional, but it’s probably worth reading Ehrman’s book to pin down specific bits of woo to be armed with in any exchange one might find oneself engaged in, in order to be Socratic and draw out explanations from an opponent.

    The Exodus for example, was supposed to have occurred a mere two thousand years ago so you’d expect to find bags of artefacts and other traces of it, but in fact there is not a scintilla of evidence that it took place; how’s that explained?

    Yeah, I know, god works in mysterious ways!

  8. To Red Dog-

    Here is the conflict- You cannot on the one hand point out inconsistencies in the gospels to show they are not historically accurate, not written by the publicly assumed authors and clearly not divinely inspired (in other words not worth the papyrus they were written on) and then in your latest book proclaim that two conflicting accounts of the same incident are proof he existed because one is the story and the other is an independent corroborating account. It fails as proof to me.

    It tells me an oral tradition was changed by teller after teller and only one original source is necessary given the time lapse from event to the written forms of the tale. I just think it’s difficult for Ehrman to accept he has been studying nothing all his life.

    And to agree with Kirtley’s post (I think) the notion that only the tiniest minority of biblical scholars believe Jesus was a myth- who but a staunch brainwashed believer would dedicate his life to biblical study? It kind of skews the statistic. Ehrman was one of those and he is weaning off it but just not quite there. He started with the premise Jesus existed and that led to his conclusion. And I am otherwise a fan of his.

    As Hitchens pointed out, the only reason to believe a weird holy man of his description existed were the lies told in the gospels to get him to the place the OT prophesies said he ought to be. So, no Red Dog, I wouldn’t say I am conflicted at all. I simply don’t know. But Ehrman’s claiming to know based on the Bible he has devoted so much time debunking just doesn’t pass the smell test.

    It’s a hangover from his heady days as a believer.

    • In reply to #22 by rjohn19:

      Here is the conflict- You cannot on the one hand point out inconsistencies in the gospels to show they are not historically accurate, not written by the publicly assumed authors and clearly not divinely inspired (in other words not worth the papyrus they were written on) and then in your latest book proclaim that two conflicting accounts of the same incident are proof he existed because one is the story and the other is an independent corroborating account. It fails as proof to me.

      I don’t agree. One of the reason I like Ehrman’s work is because it shows how anything can be done scientifically even something as seemingly unscientific as ancient scholarship. In his book Did Jesus Exist? There is an excellent discussion of scholarship and the guidelines scholars of ancient texts go through to verify authenticity. Determining if an ancient text is truthful is not a binary question. By your standards we would have to throw out just about every ancient historical text. They all lied, exaggerated, and had an agenda. What scholars do is tease apart the details. What was this authors most likely agenda? Where is he likely to be truthful and where lying? How does his work compare to what we know about archeological data and other ancient texts? Now of course this is very inexact and you can never say anything beyond “the most probable explanation is…” But within those boundaries you can look at the writing and come up with reasonable interpretations.

      One criterion is “does it support the author’s case?” For example some of the Gospel authors wanted to convert Jews to be Christians. Their agenda was to show that Jesus fulfilled Jewish prophesies for the messiah. So when a Gospel author says Jesus was born in Bethleham as prophesised for the messiah that is probably a lie. When on the other hand a Gospel author says that Jesus was from Nazareth — a podunk one mule village no one had ever heard of and the last place you would expect a messiah to be born — that is probably true. Its more complex then that of course but that is the basic idea. Its far too simplistic to try and classify ancient writings as either true or false.

      • When on the other hand a Gospel author says that Jesus was from Nazareth — a podunk one mule village no one had ever heard of and the last place you would expect a messiah to be born — that is probably true.

        This is the so-called Criterion of Embarrassment — the idea that material in the Gospels that would have been uncomfortable for Christians is more likely to be true. Unfortunately this whole line of reasoning is fallacious. There are many other explanations for uncomfortable material other than “it probably happened.” That’s just way too credulous. A mildly embarrassing story, such as Jesus being from Nazareth, might simply be the result of later Christians misunderstanding an earlier, established story that was originally non-embarrassing. For example, some accounts referred to Jesus as a Nazorean, i.e. belonging to a particular sect. But later Christians apparently misunderstood this as meaning that he must be from the town of Nazareth. Other examples of supposedly embarrassing story elements also have plausible explanations that are at least as likely as a simple “it probably happened.” That’s why the methods of Jesus studies, such as the Criterion of Embarrassment, haven’t migrated to the study of other areas of history — because scholars outside of Jesus studies rightly recognize the methods as valueless.

        • In reply to #24 by DavidBarrKirtley:

          There are many other explanations for uncomfortable material other than “it probably happened.”

          I don’t think you understood my argument. I was talking about the degree of certainty we could have in this discussion. My point was that given the quality of data we have its impossible to say anything with the certainty we could have in math or a science like biology. At best anything we can conclude will be the most probable explanation but still far from certain. That is nothing like saying the rationale for an argument is just “it probably happened”. That wasn’t my argument at all. And also just putting a label on a rationale such as “so-called Criterion of Embarrassment” doesn’t demonstrate its fallacious.

          • That is nothing like saying the rationale for an argument is just “it probably happened”. That wasn’t my argument at all.

            You wrote that when a Gospel author says that Jesus was from Nazareth “that is probably true.” “Probably true” expresses a degree of confidence that just isn’t warranted by the evidence. And the Criterion of Embarrassment, which is an accurate label to attach to the argument you presented, is fallacious, for pretty obvious reasons. For example, ancient Romans worshiped Zeus. There are many legends about Zeus that cast him in a less than flattering light and don’t immediately strike one as the sort of thing that Zeus worshipers would have just invented. Is it therefore reasonable to assume that there was probably a historical Zeus and that any unflattering aspects of the character are more likely to be historically accurate? Of course not.

          • In reply to #30 by DavidBarrKirtley:

            That is nothing like saying the rationale for an argument is just “it probably happened”. That wasn’t my argument at all.

            You wrote that when a Gospel author says that Jesus was from Nazareth “that is probably true.” “Probably true” expresses a degree of confidence that just isn’t warranted by the evidence.

            I wasn’t presenting all the evidence in a comment. I was giving an example of the kind of reasoning that Ehrman (and any competent ancient scholar) does. The actual evidence uses many different arguments and sources. Its why he needed to write a book. Speaking of which, have you read his book? I doubt you have and if you haven’t you really can’t honestly evaluate his evidence can you?

            And the Criterion of Embarrassment, which is an accurate label to attach to the argument you presented, is fallacious, for pretty obvious reasons.

            Its fallacious for “obvious reason” if you misrepresent it the way you have done. You present it as if my rationale is “any unflattering thing said about anyone is automatically true” I would agree that is a fallacious argument. But that’s not at all what Ehrman or I am saying. And to be honest I’m amazed you could read my previous comment and think that that was my argument.

            The actual argument makes a lot of sense and I think its actually a good argument for anyone who wants to really practice critical thinking. Not just looking at ancient writings but any writing. Look at the agenda of your author. If what they are saying supports their agenda its more suspect. (I.e. that is one data point among many to give it less credibility) If what they are saying is neutral or actually goes against their agenda then that is evidence that its more likely to be true. Of course its not definitive! What a ridiculous idea to even think that I was implying it was. Its just one example of the kind of work you have to do to evaluate an ancient (or in this case I would even argue modern) document.

          • I wasn’t presenting all the evidence in a comment. I was giving an example of the kind of reasoning that Ehrman (and any competent ancient scholar) does.

            Of course you can’t list all the evidence in one blog post, but the one example you did give is a poor argument, the Criterion of Embarrassment. It’s inaccurate to say that any competent ancient scholar would rely on the Criterion of Embarrassment. Most historians outside Jesus Studies recognize the method as fallacious.

            Speaking of which, have you read his book? I doubt you have and if you haven’t you really can’t honestly evaluate his evidence can you?

            I haven’t read his book, but I’ve listened to a number of lectures he’s given, and I feel I have a fair idea of his line of argumentation, and I’m not impressed. Maybe he has better arguments that you have to really delve deeply into his work to discover, but if that’s the case then I have to wonder why he doesn’t just lead with the actual good arguments, rather than trotting out really poor arguments like the Criterion of Embarrassment. Anyway, I’m not claiming to be an expert in his work and to have comprehensively weighed and refuted all of it. I’m simply pointing out that the one example of his thinking that you’ve mentioned, the Criterion of Embarrassment, is unpersuasive.

            Speaking of which, did you watch all of Richard Carrier’s YouTube videos I mentioned? Did you read through the blog post on his debate with Ehrman? I think you should before dismissing him as a 9/11 Truther sort of character.

            You present it as if my rationale is “any unflattering thing said about anyone is automatically true”

            No, I presented your argument, accurately, as “an unflattering thing said about a god by his worshipers is more likely to be true.” As my Zeus example should make plain, you can’t draw any meaningful conclusions about historical accuracy from whether or not a claim worshipers make is flattering or not. The entire method is fallacious.

  9. Red Dog- You concluded- It’s far too simplistic to conclude ancient docs are true or false. Well, you can conclude that parts of ancient writings are false. When you have mutually exclusive contradictory statements, like who was in the tomb etc., you can clearly conclude one of those statements is false. You cannot, however, logically conclude the other must therefore be true. That’s not how logic works.

    It takes, to me anyway, a very credulous mind to devote your life to this enterprise in the first place and there must be a part of that kind of mind unwilling to totally discard it. Biblical scholars have devoted their lives to one book and to throw it out without getting some return would be painful I’m sure. Ehrman fell victim to this in his latest work.

    Paul, the inventor of Jesus, did not know of him as a man. Later scribes put flesh to him and whether or not they based this persona on a real teacher or not is moot. We shall never know but as he was clearly not devine, it really doesn’t matter. To write a book stating you positively know he was real and using the reasoning he used was just not up to Ehrman’s earlier standards.

    • In reply to #25 by rjohn19:

      you can conclude that parts of ancient writings are false.

      Yes. Right. Re-read my comment I said that.

      When you have mutually exclusive contradictory statements, like who was in the tomb etc., you can clearly conclude one of those statements is false. You cannot, however, logically conclude the other must therefore be true.

      You are saying that my argument is that “When you have mutually exclusive contradictory statements” that if one is false the other must be true? If that was my argument I would have to be extremely stupid. Please quote the part of my comment where I implied that. My argument was that just because you detect that there is some falsehood in a historical document you can’t automatically exclude the rest of the document.

      I’m guessing you think my argument is as follows: Since the Bible said Jesus is from Bethlehem and Nazareth and he can’t be from both if he’s not from Bethlehem he must have been from Nazareth. That wasn’t my argument at all. My argument is that just because we have strong evidence to think Jesus was not from Bethlehem does not imply that the evidence we have about him being from Nazareth is automatically false. I mean if we threw out historical documents because they contained a lie forget about ancient texts we would have to throw out just about everything.

  10. DavidBarrKirtley: #13.

    I find your comments very interesting, especially those about the Roman records; and thanks for the references.

    S G

    My old boot of a machine isn’t connecting with the “Reply” button again.

  11. He’s not talking about the veracity of the Bible but about the identity of the authors and when they wrote it.

    Actually, he’s giving his book a puff!

    As to whether god needs to exist in order for people to be inspired by god is a silly question. We’re all capable of making up gods at will, the trick is to be and remain aware of the fact in order to resist doing so.

  12. My argument was that just because you detect that there is some falsehood in a historical document you can’t automatically exclude the rest of the document.

    But the converse is also true, and at some point it’s reasonable to call the entire document into question. Say you have a witness to a crime, and you can prove that half their statements are lies, and the other half you’re not sure of. You wouldn’t just say, “Well, let’s just exclude everything that we know for sure are lies and accept everything else as evidence.” That’s not how legal proceedings work, obviously, for good reason. If someone can be shown to be lying about some things, how can you trust anything they say?

    If we threw out historical documents because they contained a lie forget about ancient texts we would have to throw out just about everything

    Well, you could always compare different sources that were honestly independent of each other (unlike the Gospels) and use them to corroborate each other. Or you could refer to the source while being frank about its dubious veracity. It’s also reasonable to attach a higher probability to mundane stories than to stories that are full of miracles. And it simply isn’t the case that all ancient documents are equally suspect. If they were, then — lamentably — we really would have to throw out all of them. It’s no argument at all to say “Well, all our sources are full of lies, so I guess we have no choice but to believe them all.”

  13. The sad part is despite having scholars like Ehrman conclude the lack of veracity of the authorship of the text, having no evidence for any of the events, having any attempts at archaeological research not corroborate any of the stories or having no more reason to observe this faith more than any other (or indeed at all) those that need to accept the facts are the ones least likely to do so. The literal believers and fundamentalist are not using reason or academia to make their judgments sadly.

    It is refreshing to see people use reason to make their own decisions about things like religion, and actually ask important questions like Ehrman did. His statements in Misquoting Jesus about how among other things the lack of reliable replication of texts and how despite efforts to simply rewrite texts by some people of the time it is very easy to make simple to sometimes wide errors in rewriting paints a very vivid picture of just how easy it is to get so many mistakes in this ‘inerrant’ text. To say nothing of the general stories and claims themselves.

    I would go so far to say that not only who wrote the Bible, but why is vital to understanding the book, as their are many authors and over the centuries countless changes coming from personal view, political agenda and misconceived notions about other books in the Bible itself.

    Sad that such a clearly errant text has so many in its thrall…

    • In reply to #32 by achromat666:

      The sad part is despite having scholars like Ehrman conclude the lack of veracity of the authorship of the text, having no evidence for any of the events, having any attempts at archaeological research not corroborate any of the stories or having no more reason to observe this faith more than any other (or indeed at all) those that need to accept the facts are the ones least likely to do so. The literal believers and fundamentalist are not using reason or academia to make their judgments sadly.

      I don’t think that’s the sad part because I would completely expect that to happen. Theists have strong emotional attachment to their irrational beliefs. It is possible to change those beliefs with reason but its not common. The common thing is that when those kinds of beliefs are challenged that people respond just as you described.

      What I think is really sad is that many atheists aren’t much better. They want to believe that Jesus never even existed because that fits their narrative better. So they end up arguing the same way as creationists or climate change deniers. They ignore the opinions of leading scholars and they find their own fringe experts who have little or no actual reputation among the actual experts. They invent made up conspiratorial reasons that the actual experts can’t be trusted. Here is an example of that from this thread:

      It takes, to me anyway, a very credulous mind to devote your life to this enterprise in the first place and there must be a part of that kind of mind unwilling to totally discard it. Biblical scholars have devoted their lives to one book and to throw it out without getting some return would be painful I’m sure.

      And when challenged with rational arguments they respond with the same kind of nonsensical arguments that are barely even rational let alone well supported. Just like a Creationist. So in this case its also many atheists who “are not using reason or academia to make their judgments sadly.”

  14. As my Zeus example should make plain, you can’t draw any meaningful conclusions about historical accuracy from whether or not a claim worshipers make is flattering or not.

    I’ll elaborate a bit in case this isn’t clear. For example, here are two claims made about Zeus by his followers: 1) His wife’s name was Hera, 2) He had sex with a swan. According to the Criterion of Embarrassment, we would have to conclude that it’s more likely that Zeus had sex with a swan than that his wife’s name was Hera, because that fact is odd and unflattering and doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that Zeus worshipers would be inclined to invent. But in point of fact we can’t draw any such conclusion at all. Most likely both claims are complete fiction.

    So why would Zeus worshipers invent such an embarrassing story? Who knows? Maybe they were weirdos. Maybe they just thought it was funny. Maybe it was originally a translation error. (Future historians may mistranslate “Brad Pitt gets all the chicks” as “Brad Pitt romances all the young fowls.”) Maybe it originally had some symbolic or satiric meaning that’s lost on us. Or maybe there was a real guy named Zeus who really did have sex with a swan. We have no way of knowing. But it’s pure fantasy to imagine that you can look at a story that’s been embellished over decades or centuries and reliably separate fact from fiction, especially when you’re speculating about the motives and agendas of anonymous authors who lived thousands of years ago.

    • 2) He had sex with a swan.

      Oh whoops, I’m misremembering the Zeus myth. Substitute “liked to be a swan during sex” for “liked to have sex with a swan.” Still pretty odd.

  15. I was thinking about this a bit more and it occurred to me there is an interesting parallel between 9/11 Truthers and Mythers (people who believe fringe theories that Jesus not only was not divine but didn’t even exist) In both cases they actually do some damage to their own case.

    In the case of Truthers they so managed to discredit the idea of asking questions about 9/11 that almost no one in the main stream was willing to do that after a while. And it was a shame because while the conspiracy theories were mostly unproven and in some cases laughable there were some really hard unanswered questions about 9/11. It was clear that the Bush administration had made incredible errors both leading up to that day and on the day itself. And then they had lied about what they did. On the evidence that everyone had it was obvious that for sheer incompetence the Bush administration was liable to an amazing extent for the attack. Yet that almost never got said in the US main stream press because people were so afraid to be labelled as Truthers. If I was a conspiracy minded person I would go so far as to say that maybe the whole 9/11 conspiracy movement was created by the government to discredit anyone who actually did want to ask questions abou the attack. (I don’t believe that just pointing out it makes as least as much sense as many conspiracy theories).

    Now to the Mythers. They hate Ehrman so they discredit and mock him. But in the world of actual biblical scholars he is one of the best critics of conventional scholarship. Before I read Ehrman I had read other scholars like Elaine Pagels. Her view of “who authored the Gospels” and that of all other scholars I read before Ehrman was that while the Gospels were not written by the people that they pretend to be (all serious scholars agree on that) it wasn’t forgery but just a literary device that people did in ancient times. Ehrman’s view (which changed my mind I think he was right) is documented in a book with the rather long title: Forged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible’s Authors are not who we think they are. He puts forth very compelling arguments that rather than just a literary device the bible authors were forgers. They really were pretending that they had known Jesus even though they didn’t and doing so for their own selfish reasons.

    • You don’t mention having watched those Richard Carrier videos or read the blog post I mentioned, so I assume you still haven’t done that. I think you should, especially before making such harsh judgments about him. You might well change your mind the same way you did when you read Ehrman.

      The reason the Truther analogy fails to me is that there’s lots of incontrovertible evidence about who destroyed the Twin Towers and how. Ask any forensic expert for evidence to support their views and they’ll give you tons. Nothing like that is the case when it comes to the historical Jesus. Experts don’t say anything like, “Sure, here are a dozen letters dating from the first century written by non-Christian authors who saw or heard about Jesus.” If there was anything like that the debate would be over. Instead all they seem to have are a handful of vague references that are either hearsay, forged, or both, or they resort to incredibly lame arguments like, “Well, the Jesus story just doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing that first century Jews would have made up.” The fact that arguments like this even get made shows how scant the evidence is. There’s simply no reasonable comparison to be made between the amount of evidence for a historical Jesus and the amount of evidence for 9/11 or climate change.

  16. I understood that no-one actually wrote the Bible. The essential text we all either ridicule or enjoy nowadays is derived from a highly edited and multiply translated version of accounts made by the men who were supposed to be the four main disciples of Jesus. It was heavily edited by a certain Roman Emperor – who hated any mention of reincarnation, lol – and it has been edited and translated many times since.

    The bible needs to be seen this way at all times.

    • It was heavily edited by a certain Roman Emperor

      I believe you’re thinking of the Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. It’s a common meme these days (popularized by the novel The Da Vinci Code) that he played a major role in editing the Bible or defining the canon, but my understanding is that this is just an urban legend. I believe the canon had been informally assembled long before he came along and wasn’t formalized until long after his death. Constantine did call the Council of Nicea, but this dealt with abstruse matters of church doctrine, not defining the canon.

      • In reply to #41 by DavidBarrKirtley:

        It was heavily edited by a certain Roman Emperor

        I believe you’re thinking of the Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. It’s a common meme these days (popularized by the novel The Da Vinci Code) that he played a major role in editing the Bible or definin…

        Yes, thank you – he is indeed the man to whom I was referring. Orthodox history puts it that at that point the varied texts were co-ordinated into a coherent text, which has subsequently been translated – not always well – many times.

      • In reply to #41 by DavidBarrKirtley:

        It was heavily edited by a certain Roman Emperor

        I believe you’re thinking of the Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. It’s a common meme these days (popularized by the novel The Da Vinci Code) that he played a major role in editing the Bible or definin…

        Constatine did not establish Christianity as the state religion of Rome. Even though he personally converted on October 28, 312 CE, he remained tolerant of other religions in accordance with the lessons of his mentor, Lanctantius. He remained head of the Sun God cult until the day he died. You are correct that Nicaea did not formalize the canon, but it had never been formalized before. The first Bible was not put together until 331 CE, primarily by Eusebius of Cesarea. As far as we can tell, Constantine played no role in choosing among the texts to be included.

      • In reply to #41 by DavidBarrKirtley:

        I believe you’re thinking of the Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.

        I believe you’re thinking of the Emperor Theodosius I, who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.

    • In reply to #40 by TanyaK:

      I understood that no-one actually wrote the Bible. The essential text we all either ridicule or enjoy nowadays is derived from a highly edited and multiply translated version of accounts made by the men who were supposed to be the four main disciples of Jesus. It was heavily edited by a certain Roman Emperor – who hated any mention of reincarnation, lol – and it has been edited and translated many times since.

      The bible needs to be seen this way at all times.

      Hi Tanya!
      “The NT Bible” was was certainly mainly written by anonymous authors using disciples names to add authority, but the cherry-picking and editing in AD 325 was not done by the emperor. He only called the meeting to try to get some harmony in his empire. It was the bishops who conducted the business and selected their chosen 4 gospels from the numerous gospels of other sects.

      First Council of Nicaea

      Historically significant as the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom,[5] the Council was the first occasion where the technical aspects of Christology were discussed.[5] Through it a precedent was set for subsequent general councils to adopt creeds and canons. This council is generally considered the beginning of the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils in the History of Christianity.

      I make some comments on Biblical origins here which may interest you: http://www.richarddawkins.net/discussions/2013/5/29/-not-my-god-the-argument-atheists-consistently-fail-to-address# at comments 130 and 133.

      This other discussion also covers some of these issues: http://www.richarddawkins.net/discussions/2013/4/28/historical-fact-vs-faith-reasoning#

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