If you do not know of Bart Ehrman, he is a popular author of many texts concerning New Testament theology--I even used one in my classes. However, one of his recent works has me doubting as to his so-called proclaimed "agnosticism." I also have doubts about his authority as a NT scholar.
Why you may ask? Well, first he writes a text called "Forged"--claiming parts of the NT is forged (calling into question its reliability) and that the documents that became the Bible are of "scandalous origin."
I certainly do not have a problem with that, but I do with one of the books he recently had published titled, "Did Jesus Exist" where he "vigorously defends the historicity of Jesus."
So--what is it? If the documents that we know of as the Bible are of "scandalous origin" and therefore unreliable, how does one come to "vigorously defend the historicity of Jesus??
Me thinks Ehrman has conflicting emotions, and still can't bring himself to the point of denying his "savior." I perused the book yesterday in the book store and was appalled at his lack of scholarship--considering he is supposed to be one of the authorities on the subject. I say--shame on you Bart. Now, go take a logic class.
Dr. Ehrman is not conflicted on the issue. He's simply arguing that while someone may have existed, that person is not necessarily a god, and the religious texts written about him may have been forged and embellished. The question of whether a Jewish carpenter existed in the first century is different than whether said carpenter is the Jewish god. Likewise, texts used to tell this individual's tale may be embellished (and contradictory) while still centered on a historical figure.
Dr. Ehrman argues that Jesus, in fact, existed, but that many of the claims and books written about him are not necessarily accurate.
I just love watching a mythicist (one who insists there was no living, breathing, ape carpenter-cum-itinerant preacher named Jesus that all this shit is based on) present to an atheist audience his arguments--and 3/4 of it is arguments against the miracles and divinity of Jesus. In front of atheists. Well DUH. So basically 3/4 of their material, trying to convince atheists there was no Jesus at all, argues against strawmen.
But then serious scholars (as opposed to uninformed people on the internet) don't argue along those lines. Nevertheless, surely you are right that that nonsense is to be found on the internet with people saying that because the myths and aggrandizements are clearly false, there definitely was no such person as Jesus.
I have seen videos of people speaking to skeptic conferences with this sort of content. Now they don't go so far as to say "the miracles are bullshit, therefore Jesus is too" but they spend most of their time debunking the stuff the audience already thinks is bogus. Then towards the end they present very quickly some actually relevant arguments--mostly glossed over in fact.
It would certainly be nice if they spent more time--as in almost the whole hour--on arguments that actually might address the audience's concerns. Doing what they do instead makes me wonder just how much "meat" is there.
I believe that Jesus may or may not have existed--but not as a god. In fact, I have recently completed a materialist analysis of him based on logic, philosophy, psychology and cultural relativism which paints him in a light most would not recognize him in.
He is as "historical" however, as much as unicorns and leprechauns are historical, and Ehrman leads his readers on by continually referring to Jesus as the "historical Jesus." i.e., saying the "historical Jesus" 1000 in a book does not mean that said Jesus meets the conditions for historicity.
I've recently encountered some Atheists who feel that lack of belief in gods requires that one conclude Jesus never existed - and I find that view rather incongruent. Whether or not there is a man behind the myth has zero bearing on whether or not the myth is myth. To that end, I find Ehrman's use of the word 'forged' a little sensationalist - great for book sales but I'm not sure if it truly describes the evolutionary process of the biblical texts that he describes.
For a theory of a non-existent Jesus to be convincing it must ascribe the origins of the myth to some author or group of authors/co-conspirators. I've read about one such theory (it suggested the Romans created Jesus to undermine Judaism) and can really only say that I found it only slightly more entertaining than laughable.
By comparison, one could consider the historical as well as the mythological Davy Crockett. Few people realize that he was a real man, and a U.S. congressional representative at that. Just because there are stories about him riding lightening bolts and killing wild beasts with his piercing stare doesn't mean that he never existed.
It's a bit like determining there really was a Clark Kent but no such thing as Superman. Who would think of Clark Kent as being important in his own right? It's only the Superman aspect that makes him any kind of an interesting figure.
Consequently, Jesus as just a bloke with an urge to spread kindness and goodwill, isn't worth looking at, as a historical figure. Trying to prove he did exist, but was not supernatural in any way, is absurd and pointless - in the same way that selling a film of Clark Kent's life without any Superman overlay, would be an impossible task.
True - the historical Jesus is rather irrelevant in the big picture, although I do find the concept of an historical Jesus to be rather intriguing; just like the historical Davy Crockett. What is it about some people that causes them to become legends in their own time - and what is it about those legends that causes them to continue to grow long after that person is dead and gone. This is all more about geeky interest in history than it is about religion but just happens to take on strong religious connotations when the person in question happens to be viewed by so many as the 'son of Gawd'.
I like your superman analogy. It is very fitting.....:)
So, what's the point? I have friends who are Christians. Humans are the only animals (please spare me a speech about whales) intelligent enough to think, "Hey, I exist. I am conscious of my existence. Some day I will die. How can something as wonderful and miraculous as I am, cease to exist?"
Although there have always been empiricists in human society, the real study of empiricism and scientific thinking dates to around the 1700s, and it doesn't really console people (well, a lot of people) as much as religious nonsense does. Religion developed for no longer relevant reasons (explaining with myths where we came from ) and for semi-relevant reasons (organizing society as it progressed from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies and turning our evolutionary instincts to be fairly good into rules of "morality"). For a lot of people belief in an imaginary afterlife and an imaginary judge who "balances the books" of the unfairness of mundane (non-supernatural) life, provides a lot of consolation and inspiration.
Jesus may or may not have existed as a person. Paul probably "invented" Christianity. Ehrman was indoctrinated from childhood in Christian nonsense. I give him a lot of credit from "raising himself by his bootstraps" from superstition. I don't really care if he is not as "pure" an atheist as you or I may be. (I am kind of a gloomy "Calvinist" atheist myself.)
As Keynes said, "In the long run we're all dead." I'm getting closer. "The worms crawl in and the worms crawl out."
I've read all of his books except, Did Jesus Exist," and therefore cannot comment. I have found his previous works quite informative and well-researched.
I do know that he is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, which are some rather impressive credentials.