Review: Bart D. Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?”

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, by Bart D. Ehrman’ve been a fan of Ehrman’s for some time now; I have all his books, and some I have bought extra copies to give as gifts. I even recommended him highly to an online forum I participate in which gets about 3 million page views per month. Shortly after this glowing recommendation of Ehrman, his book Did Jesus Exist arrived and I began to read. Imagine my shock – turning into horror – as I read a respected New Testament scholar writing polemic like a middle school brat.

My image of Ehrman was forever shattered. I thought he really was that guy who was just after the truth, the guy who was so hurt by the unfairness of life on earth that he just couldn’t stick with a god who didn’t handle things better; the guy who questioned his own good luck being able to eat barbecued steak and drink fancy wines, and collect his nice paycheck which paid for his lovely lifestyle, his trips to conferences and seminars underwritten by generous academic funding (I know the life, I’m married to an academic, now professor emeritus), while so many people on the planet go to bed hungry or go to sleep on the floor because they have no bed; anyway, yeah, that guy who demonstrated such refined and elevated sensibilities with a lot of this sort of discourse sprinkled in amongst his previous books. The first thing that popped into my mind as I was reading, aghast, was that this guy was definitely showing so serious a lack of class I finally understood why he repeatedly and lovingly describes his engagement with steaks and wine and living the elegant life of an academic: that’s the only thing that matters to him.

The Truth obviously doesn’t matter to Ehrman either. After I moved past that embarrassing concentrated polemic against some very fine researchers (I love Robert Price, Richard Carrier and Earl Doherty), things only got worse. I suppose that if Ehrman had anything intelligent or erudite to say, it might have salvaged the book even though I would never again view him as a nice – or even ethical – individual. But that didn’t happen. The errors, fallacies, failure of logic, and outright WRONG statements just piled higher and higher. I admit, I ALMOST threw the book in the trash when I read that astonishing claim that the Romans didn’t keep records, but I stayed my hand so that I could keep marking up the copy with references to clear refutations of the nonsense he was spouting.

I’m serious: there were HUNDREDS of errors! What was so shocking to me was to realize that this man had no classical training, or what is known as erudition, AT ALL! There I was, recovering from a broken hip, lying on the chaise longue with the tea tray on one side and five stacks of books on the other, most of which I had read during my convalescence. Some of these books I was re-reading, like Thucydides, Tacitus, Sallust, the Plinys, Cato the Elder, Cicero, Dio Cassius, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Josephus, Philo, etc. It just seemed like a broken hip was a good reason to do that. But additionally, I had also just completed Syme’s magisterial two volume commentary on Tacitus, following on his seminal The Roman Revolution and Burkert’s excellent survey of Orphism. The point is, I know a bit about classical Greece and Rome and when I read the astonishingly twisted or downright false claims Ehrman made in respect of historical facts OUTSIDE of Christianity, my heart fell into my stomach and I realized that I would have to re-think everything I had ever thought about Ehrman and his vaunted “expert status.”

This book, Did Jesus Exist, is so bad, so misleading, so “not even wrong”, as Pauli would have said, that I have to sadly say that its only usefulness is as an example of, as Richard Carrier says, “How Not to Defend the Historicity of Jesus”; barring that, if an ice age comes, I’ll use it to start fires.

Speaking of Carrier et al, I highly recommend the book Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth which addresses in detail (with proper scholarly references and citations), many of the horrifying failures of logic and erudition exhibited by Ehrman. A few other excellent books that anyone interested in these topics should have in the stack beside their chaise longue would be Price’s The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, The Amazing Colossal Apostle, F. C. Baur’s two volume Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, books by Richard Carrier and Earl Doherty, and another great find my husband made for me while searching for books to feed my voracious convalescent appetite for reading: James Tabor’s Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity. The list could go on, but you can check bibliographies and footnotes for further reading.

Finally, coming back to my amazement at the incredible shrinking brain of Bart D. Ehrman, I would like to think that the nice guy I saw through his works actually exists and that what we are seeing here is some other problem, perhaps neurological. My neighbor started talking this same way some years back and within two years, she was dead. The doctor who did the autopsy said that her brain had literally melted in her skull. The reason I mention this is because maybe what is revealed here is something like early onset Alzheimer’s? Maybe Bart didn’t lie deliberately. Maybe he isn’t acting like a complete nincompoop on purpose? Maybe he is ill and doesn’t yet know it? After all, scientific studies have been done that show that the incompetent lack the insight to perceive their own incompetence; it’s called the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”. Maybe we are looking at something like that? Bart’s mental competence has deteriorated and part of that deterioration includes an inability to even realize how bad his thinking actually is? If anyone who knows him reads this, I urge you to encourage Bart to make an appointment with a good neurologist.

Well, it’s either that or the career path he has followed, that of a glorified copy-editor of a narrow selection of ancient texts, has so limited his intellectual horizons that he is suffering from a hardening of the categories. It’s sad, but people like this should not be in a position of influence, and most definitely should not be teaching young people anything; he’s a bad example as an academic and a human being as far as I can see from his Did Jesus Exist. Cataclysmic awfulness all the way around.

Was Julius Caesar the REAL “Jesus Christ”?

Recently, I visited Croatia and a lunch we had with Croatian members of our forum and FOTCM. At that meeting, I discussed some ideas I’d been having that I intended to include in the next volume of Secret History, to wit, the growing conviction I felt that Julius Caesar was the figure around whom the Jesus legend was wrapped. I had come to this idea simply by reading numerous perspectives on the history of Caesar.  I didn’t start out thinking it, it just emerged of its own by the assembling of the data.  I was naturally a bit nonplussed by this because it does sound sort of crazy, right? Well, I’ve discovered that I am not the only one who has come to this idea.  In a way, that’s a bit of a disappointment because I was going to assemble the proofs and make the case.  In another way, it is reassuring that I’m not the only one who has seen the parallels.  So, you don’t have to wait for my book to explore this idea.  Have a look:

Julius Caesar, son of Venus and founder of the Roman Empire, was elevated to status of Imperial God, Divus Julius, after his violent death. The cult that surrounded him dissolved as Christianity surfaced. The cult surrounding Jesus Christ, son of God and originator of Christianity, appeared during the second century. Early historians, however, never mentioned Jesus and even now there is no actual proof of his existence. On the one hand, an actual historical figure missing his cult; on the other, a cult missing its actual historical figure. Jesus Was Caesar examines these intriguing mirror images. Is Jesus Christ really the historical manifestation of Divus Julius? Are the Gospels built on the life of Caesar, just as the first Christian churches were built on the foundations of antique temples? Corruptions in the copying of texts, misinterpretations in translations and the transformation of iconography from Roman to Christian have been traced to their origins. Are the Gospels a ‘mis-telling’ of the life of Caesar – from the Rubicon to his assassination – mutated into the narrative of Jesus – from the Jordan to his crucifixion?

From a reviewer:

In the course of history, successful stories have always undergone cultural transformations and adaptations, and poignant historical events have always had far reaching consequences. In the 1950s the German theologian Ethelbert Staufer discovered that the Christian Easter liturgy isn’t based on genuine Christian sources, but on the funeral ceremony and passion of Caius Iulius Caesar, the founder of modern civilization. This ceremony is one of the most important events in the history of mankind, for it decided not only on the fate of the Roman Empire, but the fate of Christianity, Europe and the whole world. An improvised funeral service, driven by a wide range of deep emotions from sorrow to love, from remorse to fury, turned into uproar and insurrection, shaped Rome for all times and sealed Caesar’s apotheosis to the highest god of the state, Divus Iulius. A few generations later Caesar’s stories, among them Asinius Pollio’s “Historiae”, were still being told, the god Iulius still being worshipped, especially in the Eastern colonies, where many of his veterans had settled after the Civil War. There, in a different cultural context, the story was altered, adapted, incorrectly translated, misinterpretated, supplemented with appropriate passages from the Biblia Iudaica, but nonetheless understood: its core and ethics were preserved, and after the Jewish War Christianity suddenly surfaced and swept into western Rome. Soon afterwards the Julian religion was extinct and forgotten.In the book “Jesus was Caesar” by linguist and philosopher Francesco Carotta, Ethelbert Staufer’s findings are anything but a coincidence, rather a logical result from a historical momentum and from cultural-dynamical phenomena, which Carotta reveals in a scientific tour-de-force rollercoaster ride. “Jesus was Caesar” is a praiseworthy and highly learned work of daring excellence. This is not some borderline esoteric pap, but a gritty and witty report that never loses its scientific seriousness. The reader will embark on a journey into the Roman womb of Christendom, where astounding parallels between the lives of Jesus Christ and Iulius Caesar are revealed. Strange enough, although Carotta finally presents to us the historical Jesus in overwhelming grandezza, orthodox scientists, believers and even atheists hate (and fear) this work, which has been available in other languages since 1999, because it is not a theory at all, but a huge cluster of historical, archeological, numismatic, cultural, theological and linguistic facts and accords. Moreover, “Jesus was Caesar” is the ever first, truly integral design on the origin of Christianity and the roots of the Christ, far beyond the mere myth that is being preached in our churches. As Jesus/Iulius did, this book will eventually change the world…

This part is important because it was what affected me: “a huge cluster of historical, archeological, numismatic, cultural, theological and linguistic facts and accords…”

About two thousand years ago, a great man who was renowned for forgiveness and magnanimity was betrayed and slain by his compatriots who feared he would become their King. To the chagrin of his murderers, he was soon hailed as a God and the momentous events that ensued paved the way for the birth of Christianity.The venue for this drama, however, was not Jerusalem as might be supposed, but rather the eternal city of Rome. It is a description of the founder of the Roman Empire. In a work stranger than fiction, Gary Courtney propounds that the Jesus of Nazareth that graces the pages of the New Testament is an entirely mythological personage, and presents a step by step explanation of how the beloved Saviour of the Christian religion entered the world from the wings of a stage.

From a reviewer who more or less states some of the ideas I’ve had about this over the past months:

The betrayal and murder of Caesar bears uncanny parallels to the drama of JC. A religious play – a fabula praetexta – quite probably commemorated the death and apotheosis of the man who would be king. The Caesar cult surely did breath new life into ancient cults of dying/resurrecting godmen. Quite plausibly the Jewish fans of Caesar assimilated the sacrificed ‘saviour of mankind’ into the ‘Suffering Servant’ of Isaiah, and rolled the melodrama of the Ides of March into the Passion of the Passover. The gospels, with their curious rhetorical elements, ‘comings and goings’, and theatrical flourishes, most assuredly read like a play and not history. There’s more than coincidence here and we long for these insights to be developed fully.

He then goes on to partly dismiss it suggesting there is way more to wade through. He’s right, of course, and I’ve been doing that with the result that the conviction is only getting stronger. At least now, I’ll be able to cite others in support of the idea.

I will add one note: after doing a ton of reading, I think that it is safe to say that Julius Caesar was THE most extraordinary man in our whole, known history, bar none.