Book Review of “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth” by Bart D. Ehrman

My review of Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth can be found on the book’s Amazon page…and also below:

Ehrman Leaves Mythicists in the Lurch

Bart Ehrman is normally writing with polemical intent against his erstwhile evangelical Christian brethren. In this book, however, he argues against those who sit on his side of the theological spectrum – but even farther toward the edge than he does. That is, he’s writing against “Jesus Mythicists” – those who believe that a historical Jesus of Nazareth never existed. (They may be so far to the left as to actually have fallen off the spectrum.)

In the book’s introduction, Ehrman describes himself as “an agnostic with atheist leanings.” This is no surprise to anyone who knows him. Neither therefore should it surprise anyone who knows him when he explains his purpose in writing this book which he gives in its conclusion:

“In my view humanists, agnostics, atheists, mythicists, and anyone else who does not advocate belief in Jesus would be better served to stress that the Jesus of history is not the Jesus of modern Christianity than to insist–wrongly and counterproductively–that Jesus never existed. Jesus did exist. He simply was not the person that most modern believers today think he was.”

Thus, Ehrman’s target is not actually the mythicists. Rather, it’s still the believers among whose ranks he once marched. Ehrman believes the mythicists have the right goal (destruction of faith in Jesus), but the wrong tactic (“Jesus is a myth and not history”). (I used the term “destruction” advisedly because Ehrman and the mythicists don’t just reject faith in Jesus for themselves; they want to spread the word that it’s not a good idea for anyone else to have faith in Him either.)

Nevertheless, Ehrman inadvertently does faith a service by demonstrating the folly of denying the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. In part this is because he dismantles Jesus’ mythicism not with the arguments of conservative Christianity but with the arguments of liberal scholarship. The irony in this is rich because the mythicists in many cases have simply followed to their logical conclusion paths originally cut by liberal scholars. The mythicists must therefore surely feel betrayed by Ehrman. They were probably much less offended when conservative Christian J. P. Holding wrote his much more substantial refutation of their position – at least they expected as much from someone like Holding. (See Shattering the Christ Myth.)

It surely cannot be fun to be a Jesus Mythicist. It must be even less so now that they’ve been left in the lurch by someone they thought they could count on.