Which is a shame because I like Ehrman generally and think his work is generally good (though occasionally dated). Because of Richard’s response I see no need to write a Part 2 to my response to Ehrman, since I don’t think I can say much more. Though I will add a few things. But first, go check out Carrier’s response (which is both lucid and appropriate). Here is a snippet:
I am puzzled especially because this HuffPo article as written makes several glaring errors and rhetorical howlers that I cannot believe any competent scholar would have written. Surely he is more careful and qualified in the book? I really hope so. Because I was expecting it to be the best case for historicism in print. But if it’s going to be like this article, it’s going to be the worst piece of scholarship ever written. So stay tuned for my future review of his book. For now, I will address this brief article, not knowing how his book might yet rescue him from an epic fail.
Attacking Academic Freedom
I won’t address his appeal to the genetic fallacy (mythicists are all critics of religion, therefore their criticisms of a religion as myth can be dismissed) or his sniping at credentials (where he gets insanely and invalidly hyper-specific about what qualifies a person to speak on this subject), except to note that it’s false: mythicist Thomas Thompson meets every one of Ehrman’s criteria–excepting only one thing, he is an expert in Judaism rather than Christianity specifically. And I know Ehrman knows of him. So did he just “forget” when he says he knows of no one who meets his criteria? Or is he being hyper-hyper specific and not allowing even professors of Jewish studies to have a respectable opinion in this matter? As Thompson’s book The Messiah Myth introduces the subject, “the assumptions that the gospels are about a Jesus of history…are not justified.” He says (my emphasis) that “a historical Jesus might be essential to the origins of Christianity,” but is not essential to the construction of “the gospels” (p. 8), not even the sayings in them come from a historical Jesus (pp. 11-26).
Thompson allows the possibility of a historical Jesus, but concludes that the “Jesus” of the New Testament is mythical, and calls for renewed study of the question of historicity generally. In his introduction to a recent anthology on the topic, which includes works by mythicists alongside historicists, Thompson (as co-author) concludes that “an unquestioning acceptance of the New Testament figures of Jesus, Paul and the disciples as historical can at times be shown to ignore and misunderstand the implicit functions of our texts” (p. 8 of Is This Not the Carpenter? The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus) and the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist “needs to be considered more comprehensively” than the dismissive attitude of historicists (like, as it happens, Ehrman) has allowed (p. 10). Currently all we have, Thompson concludes, is “a historical Jesus” who “is a hypothetical derivative of scholarship,” which “is no more a fact than is an equally hypothetical historical Moses or David.”
That’s a prestigious professor of biblical studies. Is Ehrman really pooh-poohing his qualifications? Because if he is, this article becomes a massive case of foot-in-mouth.
Back from reading his response yet? Oh, good.
That may be a lot of quoting, but trust me when I say there is more where that came from. Carrier easily dissects the arguments Ehrman makes and calls him out on several glaringly obvious factual errors (even I made note of Ehrman’s rather obnoxiously odd statement: “With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels [and the writings of Paul] — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life [before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves]. ” Seriously, he wrote that and, frankly, that is downright goofy). I cannot recommend Carrier’s response enough.
I am grateful also for Carrier’s gracious citation of Thompson’s and my forthcoming collection of essays (featuring chapters by James Crossley, Jim West, Emanuel Pfoh, Mogens Muller, NP Lemche, and many more top notch scholars!) and the fact that he felt our words in the (pre-galley) introduction to the book merited being quoted.
As for Ehrman’s use of Paul as a source, I’d like to make note that my contribution in that same collection of essays addresses Paul as a source for the historical Jesus and I even confront some of Ehrman’s arguments directly.
Filed under: Belief, Defining Mythicism, Is This Not the Carpenter?, Jesus, Life, Reviews, Scholarship Tagged: | Bart Ehrman, historical jesus, Huffington Post, Jesus historicity, mythicism, Richard Carrier