Did Jesus Exist? An All Out War Is Going On

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman in his book Did Jesus Exist? weighed in by arguing along with me that Jesus existed, although I have not had the time to read his book yet. Actually, my argument is a bit more nuanced than that, as seen in chapter 12 of my anthology The Christian Delusion, that "at best Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet." Well, my friend Richard Carrier rips Ehrman a new one, and I mean he rips into him in a fashion that is unbecoming of the cool headed detached scholar that he is. Then PZ Myers, a scientist with no specialty in biblical studies, endorsed what Carrier had written. Jerry Coyne, another scientist, one who recognizes he's no expert in the matter also weighed in, saying something I think is important:
I have been a bit baffled about why this matter evokes such strong feelings, especially among atheists. Since we all admit that there’s no evidence that Jesus was the son of God, did miracles, was resurrected or born of a virgin, and died for our sins, does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person? Why does this evoke such strong feelings, and such acrimonious arguments, from atheists?

Perhaps some of our concern comes from this: if we can show that there’s no historical Jesus, then the myth of Christianity tumbles down. That is, it’s no so much about convincing ourselves about the non-historicity of Jesus as convincing Christians. And it is the Christians who have the hard work ahead of them, for even if Jesus was demonstrated to be a historical person, they still must adduce independent evidence for all his divinity attested in scripture. And that’s why Ehrman is so important to the faithful—and perhaps why he seems to have gone soft on them)—for they think that showing there was a historical person somehow justifies all the mythology of Christianity. It doesn’t, and we know that.

But Christians don’t.

In other words, Ehrman’s book is important to Americans only insofar as it can be taken to support the tenets of Christianity. Since it doesn’t, even by Ehrman’s admission, I’m a bit baffled at the attention it gets. I conclude that all the kerfuffle rests on this: Christians conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with the existence of a divine Jesus.

And, of course, there are important questions about how one adjudicates ancient history.
But this war is far from over. Historian of religion Joseph Hoffman with his own axe to grind, wrote an admitted rant against Carrier. He tells us, "For those of you not paying attention, the New Atheism has a new postulate: Not only does God not exist but Jesus didn’t exist either." And like me, he's against having atheist postulates. Hoffman tells us that he will write a rebuttal to Carrier, as will professor Maurice Casey of the University of Nottingham, and Stephanie Fisher a specialist in Q-studies. "We will attempt to show an impetuous amateur not only where he goes wrong, but why he should buy a map before starting his journey. Other replies will follow in course, and we invite Carrier, his fans, and anyone else interested in this discussion to respond to it at any stage along the way."

Let me put this bluntly. I have no dog in this race. For me it's a non-issue. It's not even an interesting question to me. What we know, what we can prove, what is beyond doubt, is that the Jesus we read in the New Testament did not exist. There was no incarnate God born from a virgin who healed the lame, atoned for our "sins," arose from the dead, ascended into the sky and will come again.

I know enough to know that sometimes we use words as weapons. When we don't like someone we lash out at him or her. That's just who we are as human beings. So when we see a lot of emotional rhetoric, coming first from Ehrman (who compares mythicists to Holocaust-deniers), then Carrier and later by Joshua Hoffman, we can be assured that this is what's going on, at least partially. I mean really, read what they wrote. Is there any doubt that something else is going on? I'll tell you what I think. Some atheists who are fighting over it are doing so largely because of turf and territory, that is to say, fighting over who speaks for atheism. I'm against anyone speaking for me. You know what else? If they even pay attention to me they may deny this is what's going on, and ask me for evidence. The evidence is that their emotional slips are showing. I doubt very much that cooler heads will prevail, but I intend to be one of them, that is, unless I have to be a card carrying credentialed mythicist in order to be an atheist. Then you'll hear from me again on the matter.

In my revised and expanded book Why I Became an Atheist I wrote:
Before proceeding I need to say from the outset that I think there was probably a historical founder of the Jesus cult represented in the four canonical Gospels. That skeptics disagree on this question merely means we disagree. From personal correspondence and from their writings, this is what a few prominent skeptics think:

1. Skeptics who think there was probably a historical founder of the Jesus cult: Bart Ehrman, Tim Callahan, Paul Kurtz, Gerd L├╝demann, Paul Tobin, and G. A. Wells, who had been the leading defender of Jesus mythicism in our generation but later “repudiated” his former view.

2. A skeptic who is agnostic about this question: Hector Avalos.

3. Skeptics who think the Jesus story is probably a myth: Earl Doherty, Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Thomas L. Thompson, Dan Barker, and Frank Zindler.

To demand conformity on this issue reminds me of church all over again, something I left for good.