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Author Topic:   Bart Ehrman on the existence of Christ
taylor_31
Member (Idle past 4028 days)
Posts: 86
From: Oklahoma!
Joined: 05-14-2007


Message 1 of 63 (430639)
10-26-2007 2:05 PM


My university has lately been attracting some provocative lecturers.

After the Dembski debacle last month, Bart Ehrman, reknowned biblical scholar and the author of Misquoting Jesus, came to give a lecture and to sign some autographs. During the Q&A session - which, by the way, was far more civil than the Dembski session - a student asked Ehrman for his thoughts on the existence of Christ. I'm sorry that I can't offer a source, but I'll try to give my most accurate memory.

Ehrman said that he thought the historical evidence of Christ was quite strong. He acknowledged the existence of the Josephus sources and some other documentation, but he said that those sources were "not great evidence". Rather, he proposed that the letters of Paul provided stronger evidence; not because they referenced Christ, but because they passingly referenced Christ's brother, James. These matter-of-fact, easy-to-forget passages are, in Ehrman's words, "exactly what the historian looks for in these things".

In addition, Ehrman suggests that if Christ were a fictional legend, then certainly the early Christians wouldn't have made him die on a cross. This aspect, more than any other, drove away Jews from Christianity. Before Christ, there was not a single Jew who thought that the Messiah would be crucified; so when Christians tried to convert Jews, they initially, right out of the gate, faced an uphill theological battle. Ehrman made a provocative analogy: Imagine if someone came up to you and proclaimed that David Koresh, the crazy Waco terrorist, is the Supreme Lord and Savior of the Universe. My initial reaction would be, of course, a gut reaction: "What the f---?" That is exactly how the Jews felt when Christians told them about Jesus. Why would Christians have put themselves in that predicament?

Ehrman said that he might write a book on this subject, and I hope that he does. He is a funny guy and a brilliant scholar, and he also has an amazing life story (from Moody and fundamentalist to Princeton and agnostic - quite a change, in more ways than one). I've never really thought about the existence of Christ that much, but he gave me some great ideas to mull over. Any of his books I would definitely recommend.


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AdminPhat
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Message 2 of 63 (430781)
10-27-2007 12:18 PM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.
    
Chiroptera
Member
Posts: 6531
From: Oklahoma
Joined: 09-28-2003


Message 3 of 63 (430789)
10-27-2007 2:33 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by taylor_31
10-26-2007 2:05 PM


Before Christ, there was not a single Jew who thought that the Messiah would be crucified; so when Christians tried to convert Jews, they initially, right out of the gate, faced an uphill theological battle.

Well, no one is claiming that the early Christians consciously made up Christianity with an eye on deliberately fooling people into believing it. Traditions and myths probably accreted to it in the same way traditions and myths accrete to any developing system of faith. I mean, look at the WTO conspiracy theories. It would be pretty easy to make that at least some what plausible -- for example, make the hijackers secret agents of the Bush administration. Instead, the WTO conspiracy theorists ended up making up a lot of junk about people secretly planting explosives in the buildings, and then having planes coincidentally crash into them. If myths and legends were concocted so as to be believable and plausible, then we skeptics wouldn't have any material to laugh at, would we?

Anyway, although Christianity probably started out as a Jewish cult, the first Christians were probably exemplified by Paul: a throroughly Hellenized Jewish community in Syria with rather tenuous links to the orthodoxy centered at the temple in Jerusalem. It isn't as much of a stretch to imagine these people incorporating pagan customs into the heterdox Jewish beliefs to construct what we now know as Christianity.

In fact, if Christianity was constructed with a mind to attract converts, it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that it was the Gentiles at whom the new faith was aimed, anyway. Look at Paul's emphasis on converting Gentiles.

Edited to add:

As another example, look at Mormonism, especially comparing the prophet Mormon with Jesus and Joseph Smith to Paul. Now there is a religion that seems designed to be unappealing to early 19th century Christians among whom it developed. Yet, it managed to get made up and eventually becoming a world-wide religion.

Edited by Chiroptera, : No reason given.

Edited by Chiroptera, : typos


Computers have cut-and-paste functions. So does right-wing historical memory. -- Rick Perlstein
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AnswersInGenitals
Member
Posts: 509
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 4 of 63 (430793)
10-27-2007 3:18 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by taylor_31
10-26-2007 2:05 PM


Will the real Yeshua please stand up.
So, Ehrman says that in the first century, C. E., there was a guy whose name was Yeshua and that he proclaimed that he was the messiah and the son of god and that he preached and had a few followers who believed him. Not sure that is worth writing a book about. Yeshua was a very common (Aramaic) name at that time. It seems that every Tom, Dick, and Harry was named Jeshua in those days. Also, prophesying was pretty much the MTV of that time. (Hey Marty, what do you feel like doing tonight? I don't know. Why don't we go downtown, grab a pizza, and listen to some prophets. Might meet some cool chicks that way.)

There is much evidence from the bible itself that the biblical Jesus is a composite of at least two and probably several such self proclaimed profits of that time. The (minimal) two prophets would have come from Nazareth and Bethlehem. The birth story doesn't, by itself, make any sense. The only reason the Romans would have called for a census is for the purpose of taxation. The taxes they imposed were a hearth tax and taxes on crops and businesses. They would only be interested in where people lived and worked, not where they were born. The journey of Mary and Joseph and the nativity scene is obviously a literary device to conjoin two distinct preachers (possibly both named Yeshua) into one savior. The mythologizing process often borrows (or creates) good stories from other heroes to aggrandize the subject of the myth. This practice is still prevalent today.

Particularly specious is Ehrman's contention that a crucified Jesus would be unpalatable to potential converts. The existence today of over one billion christians proves that false. And religions, myths, and epic biographies are replete with gods and heros torn apart, cut to pieces, or otherwise spindled, stapled, or mutilated. That seems to be more a standard requirement for godhood than an exception. Besides, the crucifixion is essential for the main selling point of the story: the salvation and redemption in the end. Shit happens, but then god will wash you off (if you believe and support the church.)

There is one thing that I have always been curious about. Depictions of the crucifixion always show Jesus nailed to the cross, but the two thieves tide to their crosses. Crucifixion, which goes back at least to the sixth century BCE Persians, is really a form of slow strangulation, similar to garroting, and where ever it is described (other than the bible) the victim is tied to the cross. Would the Romans have used nails? Remember that at that time nails were hand wrought by a blacksmith using a hot coked fire and were considered very expensive commodities. Are there any other examples of nails being used by the Romans for crucifixion? Just curious about this. It has no bearing on the thread.


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Jon
Inactive Member


Message 5 of 63 (430797)
10-27-2007 4:15 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by AnswersInGenitals
10-27-2007 3:18 PM


There is much evidence from the bible itself that the biblical Jesus is a composite of at least two and probably several such self proclaimed profits of that time. The (minimal) two prophets would have come from Nazareth and Bethlehem. The birth story doesn't, by itself, make any sense. The only reason the Romans would have called for a census is for the purpose of taxation. The taxes they imposed were a hearth tax and taxes on crops and businesses. They would only be interested in where people lived and worked, not where they were born. The journey of Mary and Joseph and the nativity scene is obviously a literary device to conjoin two distinct preachers (possibly both named Yeshua) into one savior. The mythologizing process often borrows (or creates) good stories from other heroes to aggrandize the subject of the myth. This practice is still prevalent today.

There are two [different] nativity stories in the Bible. They serve two distinct purposes.

Particularly specious is Ehrman's contention that a crucified Jesus would be unpalatable to potential converts. The existence today of over one billion christians proves that false.

:laugh: The messiah was supposed to be a king. The messiah was supposed to fight a battle to free the Jews from their oppressors. The messiah was supposed to usher in the kingdom of God. Jesus was just a teacher and a rebel who was executed as a political criminal of the Empire. So, can you imagine how some Jews might take offence when you run around proclaiming that he was the messiah?

The existence today of over one billion christians proves that false.

Mostly non-Jews, who had no idea what a messiah was supposed to be.

And religions, myths, and epic biographies are replete with gods and heros torn apart, cut to pieces, or otherwise spindled, stapled, or mutilated.

Again, he was supposed to be the messiah; Jews following him around at the time believed he was the great king descendant of David. If they were going to make up anything, the last thing they would make up would be his execution by the one force that he was ultimately supposed to destroy.

Besides, the crucifixion is essential for the main selling point of the story: the salvation and redemption in the end. Shit happens, but then god will wash you off (if you believe and support the church.)

:laugh: That was all made up after, by people who could not accept that the man they had followed as king was not much of a king afterall. There was nothing that would have made Jews expect Jesus (if he were the messiah) to be executed. When he was executed, some folks said "nope, just another in a long line of false claimants"; others said "there must be an explanation". The earliest Christian writings show that they had not made it up before hand; they say nothing about dying for sins.

Are there any other examples of nails being used by the Romans for crucifixion?

Yes. Click here. Note:

quote:
Crucified Man:

An ossuary bearing the name "Yehochanan" contained the full skeleton of a man crucified in the first century and buried with a bent crucifixion nail through his heel bone. It is the only physical evidence of crucifixion ever discovered.


Jon


In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist... might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. - Charles Darwin On the Origin of Species
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

En el mundo hay multitud de idiomas, y cada uno tiene su propio significado. - I Corintios 14:10
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

A devout people with its back to the wall can be pushed deeper and deeper into hardening religious nativism, in the end even preferring national suicide to religious compromise. - Colin Wells Sailing from Byzantium


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Jon
Inactive Member


Message 6 of 63 (430799)
10-27-2007 4:21 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Chiroptera
10-27-2007 2:33 PM


In fact, if Christianity was constructed with a mind to attract converts, it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that it was the Gentiles at whom the new faith was aimed, anyway. Look at Paul's emphasis on converting Gentiles.

Yep. It would be easier to convince people who had no idea what a messiah was than to convince people who knew damn-well that the messiah was not supposed to be executed by the enemy.

Anyway, although Christianity probably started out as a Jewish cult, the first Christians were probably exemplified by Paul: a throroughly Hellenized Jewish community in Syria with rather tenuous links to the orthodoxy centered at the temple in Jerusalem.

:confused:

Edited by Jon, : added the yes


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Legend
Member (Idle past 3110 days)
Posts: 1226
From: Wales, UK
Joined: 05-07-2004


Message 7 of 63 (430811)
10-27-2007 6:24 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by taylor_31
10-26-2007 2:05 PM


the real Jesus
I think the simplest and most convincing argument for the existence of Jesus is the old saying of 'there's no smoke without fire'. The vast majority of myths and legends are based on historical events and persons; there's no reason to believe the myth of Jesus is any different.

I don't think there's strong historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, like Ehrman says, but I agree with him that Josephus et al are very weak evidence ( the Josephus passage is so obviously a fake) and that Paul's references count towards the existence of a historical Jesus, although Paul appears to be unaware of the actual life and works of Jesus himself.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the historical Yeshua ben Nazareth bears any similarities to Jesus of the gospels, though I believe that you can catch glimpses of the real Jesus in the synoptics if you discard any theological bias.

quote:
In addition, Ehrman suggests that if Christ were a fictional legend, then certainly the early Christians wouldn't have made him die on a cross.

This argument doesn't hold any water. The founder of Christianity, Paul, was targeting Gentiles and particularly, Hellenized gentiles.

Not only the average citizen of Asia Minor and Greece- where Paul mostly preached- wouldn't feel alienated by the crucifixion, they would feel comfortably reminded of the Prometheus myth (semi-divine benefactor crucified to cliff-face as punishment for his generosity towards mankind)

Edited by Legend, : to add last paragraph


"In life, you have to face that some days you'll be the bug and some days you'll be the windscreen."
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Jon
Inactive Member


Message 8 of 63 (430814)
10-27-2007 7:10 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by Legend
10-27-2007 6:24 PM


Re: the real Jesus
quote:
In addition, Ehrman suggests that if Christ were a fictional legend, then certainly the early Christians wouldn't have made him die on a cross.
This argument doesn't hold any water.

Read Message 5

Not only the average citizen of Asia Minor and Greece- where Paul mostly preached- wouldn't feel alienated by the crucifixion, they would feel comfortably reminded of the Prometheus myth (semi-divine benefactor crucified to cliff-face as punishment for his generosity towards mankind)

The earliest Christian writings make no mention of Jesus being executed for the sake of all mankind. The theology only crops up as Paul tries, tirelessly, to explain away the questions and problems of the various Christian communities to which he is writing.

Paul appears to be unaware of the actual life and works of Jesus himself.

And?

Jon


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Chiroptera
Member
Posts: 6531
From: Oklahoma
Joined: 09-28-2003


Message 9 of 63 (430821)
10-27-2007 8:01 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Jon
10-27-2007 7:10 PM


Re: the real Jesus
The earliest Christian writings make no mention of Jesus being executed for the sake of all mankind. The theology only crops up as Paul tries, tirelessly, to explain away the questions and problems of the various Christian communities to which he is writing.

I believe that the Pauline epistles are the earliest known Christian writings -- predating the Gospels by a few years, or even decades.

Unless you count the hypothetical Q as Christian and as a writing.


Computers have cut-and-paste functions. So does right-wing historical memory. -- Rick Perlstein
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Jon
Inactive Member


Message 10 of 63 (430826)
10-27-2007 8:27 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by Chiroptera
10-27-2007 8:01 PM


Re: the real Jesus
I believe that the Pauline epistles are the earliest known Christian writings -- predating the Gospels by a few years, or even decades.

Yep. And?


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Legend
Member (Idle past 3110 days)
Posts: 1226
From: Wales, UK
Joined: 05-07-2004


Message 11 of 63 (430890)
10-28-2007 4:25 AM
Reply to: Message 8 by Jon
10-27-2007 7:10 PM


Re: the real Jesus
quote:
The earliest Christian writings make no mention of Jesus being executed for the sake of all mankind.

Like Chiroptera pointed out, the earliest Christian writings are pretty much Paul's letters. I think you may mean that the concept of Jesus as an atonement sacrifice, the way Paul presents it, is alien to Jewish theology and also doesn't really feature in the only canonical account we have of Jesus's life, i.e. the synoptic gospels.

With which I agree, BTW.

quote:
The theology only crops up as Paul tries, tirelessly, to explain away the questions and problems of the various Christian communities to which he is writing.

Yes, Paul introduces the concept of Jesus as atonement for our sins. I don't think he made it up as he went along, like you imply, but rather that this was his interpretation/reaction to the death of the alleged messiah. When the messiah had so obviously failed in his physical role, Paul assigned him a a new, spiritual role in which he could succeed.

Legend writes:

Paul appears to be unaware of the actual life and works of Jesus himself.

Jon writes:

And?

Just thought I'd mention this incidentally. It's just some evidence that Paul -though aware of the existence and main life-events of Jesus- mythified and spiritualised him. The real Jesus would probably laugh his head off if he'd known how he'd come to be portrayed.


"In life, you have to face that some days you'll be the bug and some days you'll be the windscreen."
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Jon
Inactive Member


Message 12 of 63 (430897)
10-28-2007 6:07 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by Legend
10-28-2007 4:25 AM


Re: the real Jesus
I don't think he made it up as he went along, like you imply, but rather that this was his interpretation/reaction to the death of the alleged messiah.

But Paul didn't become a Christian till well after Jesus was executed. Not all Paul's letters present the same notion of Jesus.

When the messiah had so obviously failed in his physical role, Paul assigned him a a new, spiritual role in which he could succeed.

But Paul didn't become a Christian till well after Jesus was executed. Tell me, which of Paul's first writings do you see as being evidence that Jesus' death was believed to be an "atonement sacrifice"?

I think you may mean that the concept of Jesus as an atonement sacrifice, the way Paul presents it, is alien to Jewish theology and also doesn't really feature in the only canonical account we have of Jesus's life, i.e. the synoptic gospels.

Not really what I am trying to say at all, no. By the way, when did John get dropped from the canon? :confused:

It's just some evidence that Paul -though aware of the existence and main life-events of Jesus- mythified and spiritualised him.

There's not much to suggest that, in Paul's original theology, he cared much at all about the life of Jesus. I'm not sure what point you're trying to prove though—still. What exactly is this evidence supposed to show?

I think you'll have to start providing some references in support of all your claims.

Jon


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Legend
Member (Idle past 3110 days)
Posts: 1226
From: Wales, UK
Joined: 05-07-2004


Message 13 of 63 (430924)
10-28-2007 11:04 AM
Reply to: Message 12 by Jon
10-28-2007 6:07 AM


Re: the real Jesus
quote:
I don't think he made it up as he went along, like you imply, but rather that this was his interpretation/reaction to the death of the alleged messiah.

Jon writes:

But Paul didn't become a Christian till well after Jesus was executed. Not all Paul's letters present the same notion of Jesus.


Paul's ideas about the atonement sacrifice and the need for faith in Jesus's redemptive sacrifice are pretty consistent throughout his letter, IMO.

The fact that he didn't accept Jesus until after Jesus's death is neither here nor there. I can now mull over JFK's career and, in my own mind, make justifications for his actions and declare myself a follower. Paul obviously had a need to regard Jesus as something special and when he couldn't justify this need on the traditional, Jewish messianic view of Jesus he evolved it, spiritualized it and mythified it.

Jon writes:

Tell me, which of Paul's first writings do you see as being evidence that Jesus' death was believed to be an "atonement sacrifice"?


Is this a trick question? Start with Rom 4:25, 5:8-10, Eph 5:2, 2 Cor 5:21, 1 Cor. 5:7, and we'll take it from there.

Jon writes:

By the way, when did John get dropped from the canon?


Oops, should have phrased my sentence as "the most extensive canonical account we have of Jesus's life, i.e. the synoptic gospels."

Jon writes:

There's not much to suggest that, in Paul's original theology, he cared much at all about the life of Jesus. I'm not sure what point you're trying to prove though—still. What exactly is this evidence supposed to show?


I'm actually agreeing with you: Ehrman's contention that a crucified Jesus would be unpalatable to potential converts is ludicrous. I think we're just disagreeing on the why it's ludicrous, maybe not even that, come to think of it.


"In life, you have to face that some days you'll be the bug and some days you'll be the windscreen."
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 Message 24 by Jon, posted 10-28-2007 6:37 PM Legend has responded

  
Chiroptera
Member
Posts: 6531
From: Oklahoma
Joined: 09-28-2003


Message 14 of 63 (430925)
10-28-2007 11:11 AM
Reply to: Message 13 by Legend
10-28-2007 11:04 AM


Re: the real Jesus
Ehrman's contention that a crucified Jesus would be unpalatable to potential converts is ludicrous.

And my point is that Ehrman's contention really isn't relevant to whether or not Jesus was an actual historical figure.

His contention would be relevant to a discussion whether Christianity was consciously invented by hoaxters in an attempt to attract Jewish converts, but I don't think anyone is making this claim.

Edited by Chiroptera, : oops


Computers have cut-and-paste functions. So does right-wing historical memory. -- Rick Perlstein
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taylor_31
Member (Idle past 4028 days)
Posts: 86
From: Oklahoma!
Joined: 05-14-2007


Message 15 of 63 (430964)
10-28-2007 3:36 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by Legend
10-28-2007 11:04 AM


Re: the real Jesus
Legend writes:

Ehrman's contention that a crucified Jesus would be unpalatable to potential converts is ludicrous.

I'm not following you.

I was under the impression that Christianity started as a Jewish cult. If that's true, then I don't see why Ehrman's point is refuted: a crucified Messiah was preposterous to every single Jew before the time of Christ. So I don't understand how a group of Jews got that idea without it being based around a real event and person. Maybe I'm misunderstanding something here.


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