The “Did Jesus Exist” Controversy and Its Precedents
Well, the internet is buzzing nowadays with positive and negative responses to Bart Ehrman’s recent book: Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, written in response to the recent mini-wave of people denying that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure. I haven’t read Ehrman’s book, but to judge from the range of comments on the Amazon listing, it’s generating some heat.
I was emailed last week by someone asking why scholars don’t engage the “mythicists” (as they are called) on the issue. Were we afraid that we’d be out-gunned in an argument? Did we secretly know that the denyers had it all? Were we being elitist?
For me, it’s a matter of having a good many prior commitments to produce positive contributions to the study of early Christianity (e.g., right now, I’m trying to get on with an essay on “Who Read Early Christian Apocrypha?” for a multi-author volume). But another reason for feeling it less than necessary to spend a lot of time on the matter is that all the skeptical arguments have been made and effectively engaged many decades ago. Before posting this, I spent a bit of time perusing my copy of H. G. Wood, Did Christ Really Live?, which was published in 1938. In it, Wood cites various figures of the early 20th century who had claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was a fiction, and patiently and cordially engages the specifics of evidence and argument, showing that the attacks fail.
So in one sense I think I’m not alone in feeling that to show the ill-informed and illogical nature of the current wave of “mythicist” proponents is a bit like having to demonstrate that the earth isn’t flat, or that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, or that the moon-landings weren’t done on a movie lot. It’s a bit wearying to contemplate! And now, I really must get back to that essay.