The Price-Ehrman debate—Pt. 4


Links:     YouTube     Post-debate discussion (audio)     Vridar

In the debate, Ehrman trumpeted numerous positions that are completely indefensible from an evidentiary standpoint. It is astonishing to me that these fractured positions (below)—like broken vertebrae on a decomposing skeleton—comprise what many New Testament professors still consider the backbone of ‘mainstream’ thought. It is as if mythicist scholarship over the last two centuries—from Bauer to Brodie—simply doesn’t exist. And indeed it doesn’t exist, for no lecture hall in Christendom today admits the works of Jesus mythicists.

The contemporary situation in biblical studies resembles that of the evolution-creationism debate. Since the time of Darwin science has proven that God did not create the universe in six days. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, however, over 40% of Americans still believe the creationist view of human origins, and high schools in the Bible Belt fight to teach creationism in their classrooms.

Belief in the historical Jesus of Nazareth is the new creationism—a view unfit for this new millennium. Like evolution, Jesus mythicism also rests on provable science. And like creationism, Jesus historicity rests on scripture alone.

Ehrman’s pitfalls

In the debate, Bart Ehrman uttered many traditional theses as if they are quite beyond reasonable doubt, obvious, or even certain (see his words “absolute certainty”, “best attested Jew”, and “multiple independent sources” below). This is the red meat of the debate, and I list the bleeding scraps here with minimal comment:

1.   Paul became a Christian within a couple of years of Jesus’ death
2.   the Gospel of Mark dates ca. 70 CE [James Crossley even dates GMk to the 40s CE!—RS]
3.   the canonical gospels come from the very next generation after Jesus
4.   absolute certainty there was “an oral tradition that the canonical author had heard”
5.   Jesus is “the best attested Jew from the first century”
6.   we have multiple independent sources for the life of Jesus [See also post-debate 45’45”]
7.   some of the sources go back to Aramaic writings from Palestine datable to the 30s CE
8.   the historicity of John the Baptist, Paul, and James the ‘brother of Jesus’ is evidence for the historicity of Jesus
9.   seven of Paul’s epistles are authentic
10. Paul wrote those seven epistles in the 50s CE
11. we can establish a rough chronology of Paul’s life
12. Gnosticism did not predate the second century CE [Ehrman’s two cross-examination segments]
13. the docetists did not think there was a historical Jesus. [In fact, the “docetists” knew a prophet indwelled by the spirit Jesus. See NazarethGate 417–18. —RS]
14. Jesus didn’t say anything special

In addition, I found Ehrman’s reading of Philippians 2:6–11 to be tendentious.

Price scores points

Bob often noted the work of Margaret Barker, an author no doubt unfamiliar to Ehrman. Price also ventured far afield, e.g. in bringing in Zoroastrianism and noting that “Pharisee” may equate with “Parsee.” One can wonder with James Crossley (see below) if there was indeed any common ground for dialog. But at least one voice noted that both Price and Ehrman agree on the two-source hypothesis and the existence of Q. [Post-debate 48’]

Some of Price’s positions:

1.    The tradition presupposes the gospel narrative which is, however, itself at issue.
2.    The entire early Christian chronology (including Paul) depends on the gospel narratives. Without Jesus the timeline fails. [Vridar]
3.    The whole ‘quest’ presupposes the historical Jesus. It is circumscribed and essentially equivalent to wondering “whether the historical Superman had superhuman powers.”
4.    The ‘quest’ works by stripping away the superhuman to find the historic. But after the scalpel is used, Price asks: “Could Christianity really have started with such tepid events, with such an ordinary figure?”
5.    Oral tradition is hearsay.
6.    “Why would Josephus present a scaled-down version [of Jesus]?” The Testimonium Flavianum occurs first in Eusebius.
7.    To appeal to such a “worthless” source [as Papias] only underlines the paucity of the evidence.
8.    Paul represents a pre-historicized version of gnostic Christian belief.
9.    I Cor 15:3–11 is an interpolation.
10.  The synoptic Jesus was unknown to Paul.

These points illustrate the great gulf between Price and Ehrman. In the post-debate discussion, [minute 49] James Crossley said: “My major concern for this debate was ‘how are these two even going to have a dialog?’” Crossley added: “Price doesn’t even think Paul wrote anything.” Indeed, Ehrman was astonished to hear Price’s contention that Paul did not write Galatians (a view held also by H. Detering and by the Dutch Radical School).

In the next post we’ll look more closely at some of Price and Ehrman’s contrasting views.

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About René Salm

René Salm is the author of two books on New Testament archeology and manages the companion website

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