The Great “Did Jesus Exist” Challenge
As of Tuesday, two historians (well, one historian, one Jesus scholar) are releasing books on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth (i.e., though he probably wasn’t a magic man or son of god, was there some dude named “Joshua” walking around Galilee whose followers gave rise to the Christian religon).
Bart Erhman says there was: Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth
Richard Carrier says “not likely”, but you’ll never prove it with modern historical methods cause they’re fallacious: Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus
Oh, the fun I’ll have. I have both in from of me, and I intend to read them both through. I’ll start with Bart’s book since it’s a bit shorter (and also available as an e-book (Carrier’s will be released in electronic form at a later date)).
On a glance.
|Did Jesus Exist?||Proving History|
|Purpose:||Prove existence of Jesus as a man, though still deny everything any Christian cares about.||Examine the methods used in Historical Jesus studies, and suggest a new statistical one (Bayes’s Theorem)|
|Methodology:||Bart doesn’t seem to actually discuss method. Appears to be a lot of “scholars agree”.||The book is one long discussion on method, and proposeses a new statistical one to replace illogical ones.|
|Evidence:||Bible passages||Evidence for standing will be given in follow up book|
I’ll have to lay down Stephen Pinkers 1,000 page tome on violence for a bit to get through these. Should be fun.
One first glance, Carrier’s book looks far more interesting, simply because mere assertions, in and of themselves, tell us nothing. Even if they are right. We need to know the reasoning behind the assertion to determine it’s merit. This isn’t a knock on Bart. His books are pretty damn good, I own quite a few, and he’s probably the best interpreter of Jesus studies for the general public that doesn’t get religious or venture out into crazy unsupported assertion territory.
This will probably be my last foray into any sort of Biblical studies cause, well, it gets old. And I probably wouldn’t even be interested in either book except for Carrier’s examination of historical methodology, which I have always felt were wanting since I looked into History as a possible major in college.
I’m pretty angnostic on the Jesus: Man or Myth issue, since I’m not a super-naturalist. Knowing there was an historical L. Ron Hubbard doesn’t make Scientology appealing, after all. Jesus is more ancient, though, which give the question a more mystical appeal, rightly or not. And the Jesus myth theory that holds the most weight (that of Earl Doherty) touches on some real neat ancient mythology, which makes it fun.
Before reading the books, my intuitive feeling is that there probably was a historical Jesus. Not because of any actual evidence presented to me, all of which have seemed pretty weak. But, because new religious movements, as we currently understand them, are, for the most part, started and lead by a single charismatic individual: L Ron Hubbard, David Koresh, Joseph Smith, etc. Once begun, the actual survival of these groups then rely upon the 2nd generation. A leader that can take the reins and continue the movement once the original leader passes: a David Miscavige, Brigham Young, etc. Which, I suppose, is where Paul comes in for Christianity. So, yeah, a historical Jesus just fits the model I think most likely, even if there turns out to be no evidence for him.
Well, Bart isn’t writing to convince mythacists; he’s a bit demeaning and will probably drive them even more strongly to their position. He’s rightfully abusive to Acharia S and Freke and Gandy’s The Jesus Mysteries, both of which are full of errors (which he summarizes and bullet points) and based on conspiracy theories and supposition.Explore posts in the same categories: Critical Thinking, Modern Myths, Myths and Legends