A short response to B. Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?

By René Salm

Some people have asked me why I have not offered a response to Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? My reply—a full (and probably long) chapter—will appear in the forthcoming book (edited by Frank Zindler) from American Atheist Press. In the deluge of responses to Ehrman (here), I felt it unnecessary to add a prompt rejoinder as so much of value has been supplied virtually on a daily basis. The following several paragraphs will perhaps suffice for now.

To my knowledge, no one has specifically countered Ehrman regarding his pages 191–97, which deal with the existence of Nazareth at the turn of the era. I can say here that Ehrman is evasive, tendentious, and entirely wrong. He is evasive by casually ignoring vital elements of my case (e.g., he doesn’t even mention oil lamps, all of which date to the common era at Nazareth). He is tendentious by stressing extra-evidentiary elements (such as my lack of credentials—p. 194), by focussing on irrelevancies (kokh tombs were expensive and not used by “poor people”), and by grossly mischaracterizing actual evidence. The boondoggle regarding Yardena Alexandre’s 165 coins (p. 195) is a case in point and is getting entirely out of hand. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) report Alexandre sent me in May, 2006 regarding her Mary’s Well excavation makes no mention of coins other than “many 14th–15th century small denomination coins.” It is inconceivable to me that coins dating “to the Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and early Roman period, that is, the days of Jesus” (DJE 195) would have been omitted from Alexandre’s report to the IAA. Furthermore, such a coin profile conflicts with the remaining evidence from Nazareth.

Nevertheless, such coins have subsequently been claimed, beginning with the entirely flawed Nazareth Village Farm report (BAIAS 2007, p.40) authored by Stephen Pfann and others. There, Pfann writes that a report on these early coins from Alexandre is “forthcoming” but, to my knowledge, no such report has appeared (now fifteen years on from the original excavation!). In their Reply to Salm in BAIAS 2008:106, Pfann and Rapuano write that Alexandre has provided a written statement to them attesting to such early coins in her 1997–98 excavation. Evidently, Pfann and the tradition are running with this. Ehrman is the most recent to have jumped on this bandwagon: “Alexandre has verbally confirmed that in fact it is the case: there were coins in the collection that date to the time prior to the Jewish uprising” (196).

So, the plot thickens. We have ‘evidence’ that is not published but is being passed from one scholar to another and must be taken on faith. Of course, had I admitted unverifiable evidence into my Nazareth book ten years ago—presuming it correct simply because one or another scholar alleged it—that book would never have been written, for there would have been no evidence to defend.

Finally, Ehrman is simply wrong in his conclusions regarding Nazareth. He thinks that not having excavated the Nazareth valley floor immediately obviates my argument—for that is where I maintain the settlement existed. But—and I personally emailed this to Ehrman in July 2011—“What has been excavated at Nazareth is more than ample to infer a dating for the people who lived on the valley floor, for they of course are the ones who built the tombs and agricultural installations on the hillsides.” He ignores this in his book. Ehrman closes by making a big deal of the ‘Nazareth house of the time of Jesus’ excavation (Alexandre again) which news broke in the press in Dec. 2009. Once again, we have no written report, only press releases.

Do you smell a rat? Maybe half a dozen rats?

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