Did Jesus really exist?

Memory research has cast doubt on the few things we knew about Jesus, raising an even bigger question.


(Photo illustration by Levi Nicholson and Richard Reddit)

“Do this in memory of me,” said Jesus at the Last Supper, according to the Gospel of Luke. But memories of Jesus the man have proved stubbornly elusive for historians who are convinced the truth of the son of God lies beneath the surface of Gospel accounts written decades after his death. Now, for the first time, one of America’s most prominent New Testament scholars has gone outside of his narrow field, driven as much by frustration as curiosity, to examine what the science of memory might offer to separate the historical wheat from the theological chaff in the Gospels. In so doing, University of North Carolina religious studies professor Bart Ehrman may have opened a new front in the currently quiescent Jesus wars, a quarter-century of devout and secular scholars battling over what, exactly, is the gospel truth.

Ehrman’s aim was to illuminate the role of memory in crafting the stories of Jesus that would appear in the Bible, and to see how well the assumed role of eyewitnesses in supporting miraculous events stood up. There’s a twist in the tale, though, and frailty of human memory turned out to be more profound than Ehrman suspected or, perhaps, welcomed. His eye-opening Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior may prove most useful for those who hold to a position Ehrman finds more wrong-headed than insistence on the Bible’s literal truth. The reason Biblical historians cannot find even the outline of a historical Jesus, argues an increasingly persuasive chorus of challengers, is that there is nothing to find: Jesus Christ never lived at all.

“For the past two years I’ve been reading what I can about memory,” says Ehrman in an interview, “and learning that what we were taught in grad school—what’s still taught in grad school—is untrue.” Changes in oral memory, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists have found, are actually more radical than in literary transmission, because the literary tends to fix, unchanged, the received text. But every act of oral transmission, Ehrman cites one memory expert as declaring, “is also an act of creation.” That means one of the few pieces of common ground between believers and skeptics—that the oral transmission of stories about Jesus in the time between his death and the composition of the Gospels could be (more or less) trusted—is turning to quicksand.

The crucial gap in written records, lasting four decades or more, between the death of Jesus (which is established today at no later than 36 CE) and the earliest gospel, that of Mark (in scholars’ near-universal view, some time after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE), was never a serious issue in New Testament studies. The faithful have always coped with it by assuming that however long it lasted—and they do tend to shorten it—the inerrant Word of God was still passed on in oral form subject to correction by Apostles or other eyewitnesses. Secular historians, without much questioning their own assumptions, accepted the entrenched academic idea that oral cultures were significantly better than literary cultures in preserving accurate memory.

The passage of years explained, in a way acceptable to historians, why there were different accounts of the same event. Ehrman recalls how, as a young professor, he asked an older expert—a proponent of sturdy oral transmission—how he dealt with the fact the gospels give two accounts of Jesus’s visit to the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus: one in which the girl is dying, another in which she is already dead. The answer, that there must have been two visits to the (unlucky) child, was essentially impossible for anyone not committed to gospel truth. Yet at the same time, and of greater importance, historians’ trust in overall oral truth meant small detail changes did not trouble their assumptions about accurate “gist” memories lying at the heart of stories in Mark and the other Gospels.

Jesus crucified along with other convicted criminals in Columbia Pictures' RISEN, in theaters nationwide, Feb. 19, 2016. (Columbia Pictures)

Jesus crucified along with other convicted criminals in Columbia Pictures’ RISEN. (Columbia Pictures)

No more. Memory studies and experiments cited by Ehrman show it would have been impossible to control the contents of stories about Jesus. One experiment a decade ago took 33 university students to a morgue, the sort of experience they would be bound to talk about. Follow-up by the researchers showed that within three days news of the visit had spread in garbled form, via intermediaries, to 881 people. The more often a story is repeated—and a growing new religious community will repeat its stories very often—the more it changes. Repeat one 10 times, as in a game of telephone, and the most salient details—who exactly said what or did what to whom—will change the most. What are the chances, 50 years after the fact, that the author of the Gospel of Matthew remembered hearing the Sermon on the Mount—a polished and nuanced discourse—exactly as it was said?

As for eyewitness corroboration, far from controlling accuracy, eyewitnesses tend to offer the least trustworthy accounts, particularly when recalling something spectacular or fast-moving, like Jesus walking on water. Or thinking that they recall it: 10 months after a cargo plane crashed into an Amsterdam apartment building in 1992, killing 43 people, researchers asked Dutch university students and faculty if they recalled the TV footage of the moment of impact. More than three-quarters said they did, even though there was no such footage. (Not unlike Donald Trump’s crowds of Muslims dancing for joy on New Jersey rooftops on 9/11.) And there’s no reason to believe memories of the more mundane details of Jesus’s life would be any more reliable.

Related: Jesus, son of God. And a husband?

False memories are easily implanted. Just imagining being at an unusual event—seeing Lazarus rise from the dead, say—can cause a hearer to “remember” being personally present. A group of students in one test Ehrman cites were led, one by one, to a Pepsi machine; half were asked to get down on one knee and propose to it, the other half to imagine doing so. Two weeks later, half of the second cohort remembered actually making the marital offer. Early Christians seemed well aware of the treachery of memory. St. Paul offered assurances to his readers in the Epistle to the Galatians that the teachings he offered had not come to him by an untrustworthy path: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

Group memory was often the worst, according to anthropologists who watched it distort before their eyes when they recorded several witnesses at once. If a dominant member of the group interjected his version or a new (and potentially suspect) detail, the others would often let it slide unchallenged, incorporating it into the new collective memory. The most important fact about memory, adds Ehrman, is that it’s social as well as individual, “and social memory is all about what matters now.”

That’s why the image of celebrating Muslims on 9/11 comes to the fore in the heat of a xenophobic election campaign, and why the Gospels are full of “recalled” stories that offered guidance on urgent matters at the time they were written down, “arguments with orthodox Jews about keeping Sabbath laws, claims that Jesus had given his disciples powers of healing.” Tales grow in the telling too, while the sort of detail that convinces hearers that “this really happened”—Christ wrote in the dust with his finger before he answered the question about the woman caught in adultery—is precisely what is added to stories, because nothing recommends a tale better than a claim of actuality.

Small wonder then that Ehrman sees the Gospels as rife with “distorted” (that is, false) memories. What is surprising, though, is how much of the Gospels he still thinks he can accept as reasonably accurate “gist” memories, how lightly he applies his new criterion, which he primarily uses as justification for rejecting Gospel stories he long ago dismissed on other historical grounds. Ehrman’s memory book, in effect, is more an appeal to the faithful to accept historians’ approach than a new way of evaluating evidence. His list of what historians, including himself, think they can attest to hardly differs from a list he would have made a decade ago: Jesus was a Jew, an apocalyptic preacher like the man who baptized him, John the Baptist; his teaching, rooted in Torah, was delivered in parables and aphorisms; Jesus had followers who claimed his message was validated by the miracles he wrought; in the last week of his life, Jesus went to Jerusalem, where he caused a disturbance in the Temple that, some hours later, led to his arrest; Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor found him guilty of sedition and had him crucified.

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However appealing and reasonable such a list is to modern skeptics, it is still drawn almost entirely from within the faith tradition, with buttressing by the slimmest of outside supports—brief references from Roman observers. Consider one item on Ehrman’s list, perhaps the most accepted and certainly the one with the largest claim to historical accuracy embedded within it: Pontius Pilate executed Jesus. Scholars are almost universally on-side, as are most Christian churches. Pilate is the sole figure from Jesus’s trial for whom we have undoubted archaeological evidence, and he’s also, perhaps coincidentally, the only one to become part of the Nicene Creed, the most widely embraced capsule statement of Christian faith: “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”

But that wasn’t what all early Christians thought. The apocryphal Gospel of Peter says King Herod signed the death warrant. Others who thought Jesus was nearly 50 when he died believed that happened in the 40s of the first century, long after Pilate had been recalled to Rome. The Nazorians, an intriguing sect of Torah-observant early Christians discussed by a fourth-century scholar, believed Jesus died a century before the canonical Gospels, around 70 BCE. (And, since they were descended directly from the first followers of Christ, called Nazarenes before they became known as Christians, the Nazorians cannot be easily dismissed. The Babylonian Talmud, composed by the fifth century, notes the same.)

Yet Pilate is in Mark as the agent of Jesus’s crucifixion, from which he spread to the other Gospels, and also in the annals of the Roman historian Tacitus and writings by his Jewish counterpart, Josephus. Those objective, non-Christian references make Pilate as sure a thing as ancient historical evidence has to offer, unless—as has been persuasively argued by numerous scholars, including historian Richard Carrier in his recent On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason For Doubt—both brief passages are interpolations, later forgeries made by zealous Christians.

Papyrus fragment of St John's Gospel, Chapter 18, verses 31-33, in which Christ appears before Pilate. It was discovered in Upper Egypt, possibly at Oxyrhynchus. It is part of a codex, and is the earliest known fragment of the New Testament in any language. It was acquired by The John Rylands Library in 1920. (The John Rylands Library)

Papyrus fragment of St John’s Gospel, Chapter 18, verses 31-33, in which Christ appears before Pilate. It is the earliest known fragment of the New Testament in any language. It was acquired by The John Rylands Library in 1920. (The John Rylands Library)

Snap that slender reed and the scaffolding that supports the Jesus of history—the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount and is an inspiration to millions who do not accept the divine Christ—is wobbling badly. What’s left are the Gospels and the other 23 books of the New Testament, and the so-called apocrypha, Christian books that were not allowed into the Bible when it was finally hammered out in the fourth and fifth centuries. The Gospels are forthright in their agendas to serve theological and not historical needs. Mark may have pinned Jesus’s death on Pilate because he knew or believed it to be true, says Carrier, or he may have been practising “apocalyptic math.”

All over first-century Israel, in an atmosphere of political and religious ferment, Carrier points out, all kinds of groups were doing just that: mining the numerology of the apocalyptic Book of Daniel to determine just when Israel’s liberating Messiah would arrive. Mark’s understanding of Old Testament prophecy may have driven his dating too.

The Gospels show an understandable historical trajectory in themselves. From oldest to newest (John), Pilate becomes steadily less guilty of killing Jesus and “the Jews” more so, reflecting Christian Jews’ growing alienation from other Jews, while the individual Gospels’ messages move from stressing an imminent Second Coming to personal salvation. But their other straight-line development is more in line with what Ehrman’s readings on memory science would predict. Miracles are secret in Mark, known only to the disciples who are forbidden to proclaim them publicly; by John’s time, “signs,” up to raising Lazarus from the dead, are the key to the Lord’s message: only the blind can fail to see he is the Messiah. Jesus’s deeds grow ever more fabulous.

That the Gospels provide only debatable evidence for historians has long obscured the fact that the bulk of the New Testament, its epistles, provide none at all. The seven genuine letters of St. Paul, older than the oldest Gospel and written by the single most important missionary in Christian history, add up to about 20,000 words. The letters mention Jesus, by name or title, over 300 times, but none of them say anything about his life; nothing about his ministry, his trial, his miracles, his sufferings. Paul never uses an example from Jesus’s sayings or deeds to illustrate a point or add gravitas to his advice—and the epistles are all about how to establish, govern and adjudicate disputes within Christianity’s nascent churches. And, despite knowing the apostles Peter, James and John, he never settles a dispute by saying, “Peter, who was there at the time, told me Jesus said this . . . ” Nor, by the evidence of his correspondence, did any faraway Christian ever ask Paul about Jesus’s life. Everything the Apostle claims to know about Jesus comes from his reading of the hidden messages in Old Testament passages and by direct revelation, the latter being the very thing that proves its worth, as he told the Galatians.

Carrier’s book on the case for Christ as a mythical construct rather than an actual human being is something of a breakthrough on the mythicist front. He gives credit to earlier writers, especially Canadian Earl Doherty, but Carrier’s rigorously argued discussion—made all the more compelling for the way it bends over backwards to give the historicist case an even chance—is the first peer-reviewed historical work on mythicism. He’s relatively restrained in his summation of the absences in Paul’s letters. “That’s all simply bizarre. And bizarre means unexpected, which means infrequent, which means improbable.” Historicists have no real response to it. Ehrman simply says, “It’s hard to know what to make of Paul’s non-interest; perhaps he just doesn’t care about Jesus before his resurrection.” Other historians extend that lack-of-curiosity explanation to early Christians in general, which is not only contrary to the usual pattern of human nature, but seems to condemn the Gospels as fiction: if Christians couldn’t have cared less about the details of Jesus’s life and ministry, they wouldn’t have preserved them, and the evangelists would have been forced to make up everything.

Paul is a puzzle for historicists because they are committed to the reality of Jesus, a commitment that’s a result of their own social memories, as far as Carrier is concerned. “If this was Osiris we were talking about,” he says in reference to the Egyptian god who displays close parallels to Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, “most historians would have moved to the mythicist position long ago.” But Jesus Christ is sunk deep in the Western world’s psychic and cultural DNA; viewing the Gospel as a mix of fact and metaphor is perfectly acceptable in a post-religious world, but outright rejection isn’t, not least for those whose careers depend upon the former. Modern Christians can smile at the extra-Biblical accounts of Jesus’s wonder-working, like his taming of two dragons in the Protoevangelium of James, and know it as myth, says Ehrman, but they scarcely notice the contradictions between the Gospels. And they find the recasting of those Gospels as complete myth deeply troubling.

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Ehrman flicks at that reality when he expresses his regret that some people have responded to his pruning of ahistorical elements from the Gospels with a “Well, if that’s not true, I guess none of it is, and none of it matters.” “I don’t know why people feel that way,” he says. “For me Gospel stories are hugely important, whether they’re factual or not.” And so they are, to the history of Christianity and Western culture in general, but not to the history of Jesus, as Ehrman’s own foray into memory study demonstrates: Biographical details, the assurance of physical actuality, are the greatest missionary tools.

Attitudes like Ehrman’s are what stop most historians from really weighing the implications of what evidence there is, says Carrier, and, even more so, the evidence that should be there but isn’t. For a century there are no other Christian witnesses; perhaps more inexplicably, no pagan witnesses (whose references to Jesus would have been mentioned by later Christians, either to celebrate or refute); the new faith’s most prominent Apostle seems only to know a cosmic Christ, about whom he has learned by vision and close reading of the prophets; the first adherents can’t agree, within a century, when their founder died or who killed him. It is much easier, Carrier sardonically points out, to have those kinds of disagreements about a non-existent person, for whom there are no relatives or friends to gainsay the results.

The mythicist answer to all this is far more logical, according to Carrier, a solution that requires no special pleading. His take on Christianity’s origins begins in the religiously roiling Israel of the 30s, when the restive population was starting to rebel against the Temple elite. The cultic practices, mostly involving animal sacrifice, on the Temple Mount were central to national existence, “the Jewish people’s conduit to God and eventual salvation,” Carrier says. “That meant money flowed into the Temple and power flowed out, and all kinds of fringe Tea Party-type groups reacted to that, coming to believe defilers ruled over them. Some groups we know of, like the Zealots, were violent but in a hopeless position against the Roman legions, so there was bound to be a spiritual response too.” Through visions, apocalyptic math and study of the Scriptures, one group—headed, according to the evidence of Paul, by Peter—came up with a celestial being made human flesh, killed by the forces of evil in a sacrifice that combined and eclipsed both Yom Kippur and Passover, who rose from the dead and will very soon come again to save the faithful.

Soon enough, as the tendencies of human memory predict, the cosmic Christ, like central figures in other contemporary mystery cults, was “factualized” to better attract adherents. Again, given the way social memory is really all about the problems of now, the Gospels display their interest in issues liable to confront any missionary: prophets without honour in their own lands (that is, treated skeptically in their villages, where people remember them); faith healings that don’t always work out (it’s the fault of those who lack faith); why your allegiance should be to your faith family, not your biological kin (Jesus pushed away his own siblings).

Carrier’s account, logical as it is, sounds as bizarre as Paul’s disinterest in a real Jesus. The author realizes that, and he makes no claim to having proved it or disproving the Gospels—merely that his scenario fits the facts without distortion and the Gospels’ history is awfully hard to prove. Ehrman is aware of that, and aware too that he has not helped historians’ cause with his memory work. He’s reluctant to talk much about the mythicists, much less debate with them, although he does have one such event coming up in the fall. But he acknowledges, “they’re making headway now, among atheists and agnostics.” And if their case started to be ascendant among Christians, “it would be a blow.”


Did Jesus really exist?

  1. Of course Jesus is real. Carpenter, if I am not mistaken. Lived down the street from me. Went back to his native Mexico after he found the winter here to cold. Nice guy.

  2. This is a very one-sided argument, and if you are going to base your article on Bart Ehrman then you should also hold it in tension with Dr. Craig Evans, the leading New Testament scholar. He Craig Evans and Bart Ehrman have several debates on youtube.

    Craig Evans is extremely scholarly (publishing over 70 books and over 170 peer-reviewed articles on the NT), thus, I think it is also important to hear what he says in response to Ehrman.

    • Its unfortunate that all those in Canada are not treated equally. McLeans really needs to do more articles on Is Mohamed real & about how Islam came about so that we are all informed. That will never happen because its unCanadian/un-American to question the Koran or their faith. You can’t take Mohammed’s name in vain or question the Koran. Its really unfortunate that that McLean’s participates in this reverse discrimination (why – fear? )

      • not treated equally? UnCanadian? Islam is a newly arrived cult in Canada. It is forced upon its followers and I hope it never survives.

  3. Well this week has Maundy Thursday…In which we celebrate the washing of feet.

    And cannibalism.

    Plus of course Macleans runs this item every Easter.

  4. I can’t wait for the Maclean’s Ramadan issue: “Was Mohammed Real?”

      • Bye Bye
        Move into the Vatican with the Poppa!

    • Was Mohammed Real? Interesting question … have you ever seen a picture of him?

  5. Happy Easter from MACLEAN’S, Canada’s National Magazine.

    It was sad to see the front page of Maclean’s March 28, Special Easter Double Issue:

    “Did Jesus really exist?”
    A growing number of experts think he didn’t exist at all.
    A jigsaw puzzle of Jesus’ face, with missing pieces.
    On page 38, a statue of Jesus, holding a telephone.

    Uncivilized and wrong timing Maclean’s.
    The majority of this country’s population is Christian, preparing for the Easter Holiday.
    They got a slap in the face from Maclean’s.

    Are you also contemplating publishing future articles questioning the existence of Allah, Moses, Buddha, or Hindu Deities ?

    • McLeans & others will never publish articles – questioning other religions especially Islam and Mohamed -which is a no-no everywhere.

    • Yes, the majority of Canadians are of some Christian background, and have a range of attitudes to the faith. Many are sincere and active Christians regardless of the extent to which history can back up their faith, but are interested all the same in this question. So what Macleans or other news outlets may do to address this legitimate curiosity is scarcely a “slap in the face”.

      • But the fact that they haul this same stale “news” – really unbalanced scholarship – out almost every year at this time of year indicates that they intend it to be a slap in the face. It’s really juvenile of Macleans.

  6. Bart Ehrman won’t you double check your assertions on the capabilities of the human memory ?
    Go inform you about the narratives given by the bushmen in Australia, and see the fine details which
    they relate when explaining in full the scenes of life dating back over 50 years. Get deep into that and then adapt your say about Jesus’ existence ! Thanks for your effort to cope with a reality that you do NOT thoroughly control.

  7. Mathew 19:24 – And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
    I believe Jesus existed but his followers greatly exaggerated his actions/effect on nature to make him seem greater than he actually was, which is unfortunate. Jesus should have been moral philosopher like Confucius or Buddha. Building church couple hundred years after Jesus died to control local populace was problematic.

  8. ” …. Another US study that asked respondents to imagine their children marrying people from different social groups found that participants were most disapproving of the idea of their child marrying an atheist. …… Building on these kinds of past results, most of which stem from the US, a new British study published in The International Journal for The Psychology of Religion, has found that many people’s distrust of atheists seems to be deeply held, and what’s more, even many atheists seem to have an instinctual distrust of other atheists.”


  9. This is a very one sided article. The scholars used are atheistic and are assuming either Jesus did not exist or that he was definitely not deity or that the gospels are reliable before hand. If you really want to do good research you would interview on both sides. William Lane Craig, Craig Blomberg, Ben Witherington III, or N. T. Wright are experts on the historicity of Jesus as well and I am disappointed that you do not give the topic a fair chance. Each and every one of the points laid out in this article are refutable by an amateur.

  10. What about inter-generational oral history from groups indigenous to the lands Jesus allegedly walked? That’s good enough for the Canadian justice system.

  11. I waited for it and you didn’t disappoint. Once again we are apprised with another of Maclean’s pre-Easter covers featuring a liberal religious skeptic (Bart Ehrman) who challenges everything yet explains very little. Is there some reason Maclean’s prefers writers who are into higher criticism, regardless of the absurdity of their claims and challengers? Why do you seem so blissfully unaware of the writings of conservatively oriented internationally recognized Canadian scholars like Don Carson or J.I. Packer, or any others who might be referred to when agenda driven claims are made by people like Bart Ehrman. Or do you have an agenda as well?

  12. This is a rather misleading article. It’s unfair to Ehrman and the rest of the scholarly community that you cherry-pick his arguments in order to establish a conclusion that Ehrman specifically argues against.

    And Ehrman is not the only one who has done work on social memory theory and the issue of oral tradition. There are a number of other scholars who have published work on this issue and come to different conclusions from Ehrman. I haven’t read Ehrman’s book yet, but I can’t imagine that modern psychological studies and experimentation on Western college students can effectively be applied to a first-century Middle Eastern community of Jews and Gentiles. Plus, does Ehrman take into consideration the influential work of Dr. Kenneth Bailey and his decades long observation of a Middle Eastern community and its oral tradition? He actually establishes the opposite of Ehrman’s conclusion; namely that oral culture is actually better at preserving tradition than one would think. Perhaps Bailey is flawed on this point, but couldn’t Ehrman be equally flawed by appealing to modern experiments in memory theory? It would seem as if memory theory is best understood in sociological and historical contexts rather than in psychological contexts. But again, perhaps I am misunderstanding Ehrman’s argument.

    The author also seems to think that Ehrman doesn’t have any reason for believing that the gospels have a historical core. Yet, Ehrman has written in numerous places why he thinks this is. The point of the book on memory and tradition is to establish grounds for us having more skepticism about the pericopes found in the Synoptic gospels. Not that they can’t be historical. Just that we have reason for being wary about using them in understanding who the historical Jesus was. That’s a very different argument from the one you make.

    All in all, there are still numerous arguments in favor of the historical Jesus hypothesis that this article fails to contend with. For instance, we really have no reason to believe that a community of Jews and Gentiles would invent stories of a crucified Jew in the first-century with no evidence of a community who did not believe in a historical person of Jesus prior to these groups. It would seem utterly unlikely that a group would invent such a narrative in the first place, as crucifixion already possessed an enormous social stigma in the ancient world, let alone how utterly scandalous a crucified Jewish Messiah would be. The early Christian communities would have no reason to invent such a thing. They would simply have remained as one of the many Jewish sects that were already in existence and who already possess various etiological tales and narratives explaining their existence. Even with just this argument, it shows that the Jesus-myth hypothesis is really based on spurious skepticism, rather than real historical thought. Carrier will argue other wise of course, but I find his arguments incredibly unconvincing. Adding unnecessarily complicated probability theory into the mix doesn’t help his position either.

  13. Atheists are over 20% of the population in Canada, and there are over a billion of us in the world.

    It amazes me that there are any adults left who believe in a bronze age fairy tale.

    • You were proclaiming JT changed water into wine and waiting for him to change fishes into loaves….and you call yourself and atheist? Hah!

    • Your numbers are unsupported. I have no idea where you get 1 billion people being “atheists” in the world, as all surveys show the correct figure is far less. This is because many who declare as “non-religious”, “agnostic”, “deist” and “spiritual” are often lumped into the “atheist” category in most research polls. These are not true or actual atheists, and many even follow folk religions.

      In any case, there are at least 6 BILLION believers in God: 2.5 billion Christians, 1.7 billion Muslims, about 100 million Druze, Mandaeans, Zoroastrians, Jews, Bahais and Sikhs, over 1 billion Hindus and Jains, and at least a billion others who believe in God from a spirtualist, folk religion perspective or who are non-religious theists/deists.

    • Also, only the first writings are from events in the Bronze Age. Most events are from the Iron Age and the Greco-Roman (Classical) period.

      None of it is “fairy tales”. It is a composition of laws, beliefs and moral teachings of the Hebrews and early Christians, based on historical events, or re-interpretations of historical events. Prophecies (many which occurred), songs and psalms are also included.

      • More excuses and fantasies

        Christianity like all other religions is disappearing.

        there is no proof for any of it.

        how can you be this ignorant?

        there is no God… by any name.

  14. This article fails to interact with any mainstream Jesus scholarship. Where are the references to N.T. Wright, James D.G. Dunn, Craig Evans, Craig Keener, E.P. Sanders, Martin Hengel, John Meier, Michael Bird? This list could go on, but the point is not simply to name scholars. It is that the evidence for the reliability of the New Test. records is good. It’s just as good as the evidence for other lives or events from the ancient world, and that is all that is required, unless one wants to be skeptical about all events from antiquity.

    And in case one thinks that Jesus scholars are somehow biased (though a good number of them are not evangelical or even Christian), we can quote secular classical scholars like Michael Grant who wrote in <>
    : ““If we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.”(p.199)

    Or A.N. Sherwin-White in <>
    ”The confirmation of historicity [of Acts] is overwhelming…Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”(p.189)

    The skepticism of memory in the case of oral cultures is unwarranted. Modern memory experiments are not well suited to the ancient Mediterranean world which was an orally dominant, community centered context. The material in the gospels would have been commonly known, heard continuously, day after day in a communal setting where the speaker of the material would have been under the active, custodial supervision of the ever present and actively listening audience. Recent oral history studies have shown that the human memory is quite resilient and accurate. Anthropologists have gone into the field with modern equipment and recorded hours of oral performances. These researchers have actually been in the field and seen reliable transmission of information done first hand.
    Skepticism about memory will bring all memory claims under skeptical scrutiny, as well as all scientific findings, including those findings that suggest that human memory is unreliable.

    The book to read is <> by Richard Bauckham. In addition, Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd’s book <> puts a dagger in the heart of the Christ myth theory.

    • That would be jesus and the eyewitnesses and the jesus legend. the first one by bauckham and the second by eddy and boyd.

  15. The Supreme Court of Canada is making judgements based only on the memories of indigenous people, on oral tradition.

    Can you imagine the fuss that would be caused when the science of memory begins to makes its appearance to challenge some of these court decisions relying on “memory” passed from generation to generation?

    Jesus is mostly irrelevant in decision-making in our society. However, our Supreme Court and most of our government are making critical decisions based on the oral transmission of memory.

  16. This is tedious. We’re all waiting for your Ramadan and Prophet Mohammed edition.

    • I wouldn’t hold my breath on Maclean’s having the guts to do that, Paul.

  17. I read this article sometime last week with increasing marvel at the wisdom and tenacity of Mr. Bethune on the truth of the claims of the historicity of the Gospel accounts in a secular current affairs magazine, without ever elaborating anymore than referring to “inside the faith tradition.” Thank you for bringing to life the current state of affairs of the “Jesus wars.” Through this article I saw with greater clarity that there is a Truth in this faith such that the historicity of these documents were somehow preserved against such surmounting odds. I have already read all your pieces on 1916 this week and am looking forward to the rest of the year!

  18. This is profoundly idiotic article which fails to provide balance of any kind as to the historicity of Jesus, completely misunderstands the way Jewish oral tradition passed on religious teachings, and makes absurd suppositions about Jesus and already debunked comparisons to myths in order to justify any essentially anti-Christian bias.

    It would be nice if Maclean’s bothered to get people who actually know something about Christianity to write these kinds or articles rather than just anyone who has dug up some academic hack with the latest stupid conspiracy theories about Jesus.

    As it is, this seems like nothing more than the journalistic equivalent of trolling. Maclean’s has put out an article designed to annoy Christians into responding with absolutely no regard for truth in reporting.

    This article is an embarrassment to journalism.

  19. I must add, this may be journalism and apologetics at its best. I really have to go out and get a physical copy of this issue. You have staked out the perspectives from which atheists and agnostics with such focus on the only question that really matters: did Jesus really exist? It is clear that the pseudo-historicists don’t completely understand what the apostle Paul meant by “Christ IN you” in many of his letters. And from that misunderstanding, it really is the pseudo-historicists who are birthing the mythicists. And on the flip side of that is that Christ in you, a mere human being, can only be possible if Jesus was human to demonstrate he is the Christ, Christ in Him.

    This article is a great service to Christians, and if people are really looking for the truth, they would see the gem that is this article. And if the Muslims get it, they might also clamor for one just like this one that the Christians are getting– but then I guess they would have to first deal with the claims about Jesus in the Christians first before their own in the Islamic Scriptures?

  20. It’s nice to see a biblical scholar using some of the latest findings from neuroscience to enrich the debate on faith (relationship with God) and religion (social structures to help us better understand our relationship with God), but now that Bart Erhrman has opened this particular can of worms, he has no idea what he’s in for.

    In a discussion about the historical Jesus, it’s not okay to cherry-pick one small aspect of neuroscience (memory) and use it to try to prove — or disprove — the historicity of specific events. Once you jump into this very deep pool of research and insight, you have to start looking at everything that goes on inside the biological brain. You have to start asking difficult and complicated questions about the brain’s capacity for empathy, intuition, creativity, faith, love, timing, healing, learning, changing, and forgiveness, which drags in multiple different regions of the brain plus the entire system of connecting networks and glial cells and the newly acknowledged immune system of the brain and the role of the cerebellum in helping us refine our emotions and actions and the different factors that can cause the brain to work in less than holistic and balanced ways and the ways in which major mental illness has created complications for us as we struggle to understand what faith is and what religion is (or could be). And that’s just the opening statement!

    I don’t disagree with Bart Ehrman about the multiple contradictions and inconsistencies in the canonical books of Christian orthodoxy or the many non-canonical writings that exist. But all these books sprang from specific human brains, and it’s only when one is willing to start reading each of these texts against specific patterns of human thinking that the writings themselves start to reveal to us how each author understood himself (and occasionally herself) in relationship to God.

    What’s absolutely fascinating about the historical Jesus from a neuroscientific viewpoint is his unshakeable faith in God and his adamant refusal to accept the authority of Nomos (anybody’s Nomos, whether Greek, Jewish, Roman, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Indian) in his experience of faith. What made this man’s biological brain different from that of his peers? What gave him the ability to stand up for what his heart and soul told him were the truth about God? Why were his concerns (love, forgiveness, healing, inclusiveness, acceptance of the Divine Feminine) different from those of most of his contemporaries? Why wasn’t he a recluse? Why wasn’t he an ascetic? Why did he use parables instead of short, pithy wisdom sayings? Why didn’t he want the “power and glory” that usually comes with Messianic claims (per the Gospel of Mark)? Most important, what we can learn from his journey of faith that can help us today with our own struggles and questions?

    None of the questions mentioned in the above paragraph even make sense until you look at the personal motives of Paul (who clearly wanted to turn Jesus into a mythical symbol) and compare Paul’s motives to the motives ascribed to Jesus in the Q Source, the Letter of James, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Mark.

    It’s become clear to me that the Gospel of Mark was written as a direct rebuttal of Paul’s communications in First Corinthians because “Mark” disagreed so vehemently with Paul’s undermining of Jesus’ intent and teachings about God.

    Would it hurt Christianity for Christians to accept that Paul didn’t really like what Jesus taught and said and did? I don’t think so. I would argue that Christianity could only become stronger and of greater help to people’s journey of faith and insight if they started to ask what the historical Jesus actually knew about the brain-soul nexus and how the neuroscientific potential of this classical-quantum interface is equally available to all human beings, regardless of race, gender, religion, socio-economic status, etc..

    Jesus wasn’t just a “nice guy” who liked to talk about love. He was clearly a brilliant scholar and physician and cataphatic mystic who was trying to teach others what he himself had learned about the daily practices and beliefs that help shape the brain in ways that allow us to experience faith (not religious fideism), common sense (not scientific fideism), and the transformative power of love (per the teachings of 20th century scholar and physician Viktor Frankl).

    There’s still a lot to be learned about the human condition by looking at ancient religious texts in their proper neuroscientific context.

    • I have nothing to add, other than to say it is a real pleasure to read a balanced and thoughtful comment on this subject. Thank you for for adding some new insights into my learning on the subject of faith and religion. I particularly appreciate your definitions of these two words.

  21. Of course, all of this false-memory stuff is meaningless if one follows the quoted epistle of St. Paul: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

    As a kid at a Catholic School in Nova Scotia back in the 1950’s, I received this same message from the nuns: the scribes were simply channelling the divine word of god, so there was no doubt about the accuracy of the gospel stories.

    A neat a-priori argument, and one that trumps any efforts by scholars such as Ehrman – at least in the eyes of the believers: “My mind’s made up so don’t confuse me with facts!”

  22. This article is great – but why now on the cover of a National Magazine? Other than they must feel the depraved electorate will accept this. Historically we had no real way 2050 years ago to record any Infallable Truths? Why not agree we don’t need evidence to believe in RELIGION. If you do over time it appears you will believe yours is the ONLY WAY. Then you will believe other religions need to be DESTROYED. Why are we stuck in needing to prove LITERALLY before we just believe. USA is finding out the hard way – they now have a depraved electorate about to vote in someone who they have evidence is not the MESSIAH. But it appears Canadians are way ahead of the USA.

  23. I apologize in advance for not being able to provide the details of the documentary video that I watched a few years ago, but the gist of its related content has not been mentioned within any of these posts.

    It was stated as quite probable that during the period of ‘Jesus’ there would have been a number of philosophical preachers of which ‘Jesus’ was just one. This would account for the excessive number of miracles by one man. Additionally, Israeli archaeologists, in the previously mentioned video, showed evidence related to the mathematical errors of memory, that there was more than one ‘Jesus’.

  24. Brian, I dare you to do a hit piece on the Koran; which by the way refers to Jesus. Matter of fact, I double dare you. But, let me guess, the color of your liver is bright yellow.

  25. Why all the contumely, folks? Maclean’s trots out this sort of garbage pretty much every Eastertime. This year is no exception.

  26. The brave journalist who did this amazing piece of journalism is preparing an article about the myth of muhammad, the prophet that never existed. Coming soon this ramadan.
    RIGHT??? RIGHT???
    Otherwise the author is just an opportunist and a scoundrel.

  27. This is an incredibly biased and deceptive article, which also misrepresents Bart Ehrman’s views and findings in his newest book “Jesus Before the Gospels”. Furthermore, the timing of this article and cover for MacLean’s on Easter is despicable. I wonder if the magazine will have a cover about Muhammad being a violent warlord during Ramadan.

    Ehrman’s study on the capacity of memory is NOT valid support to claim there wasn’t any historical Jesus at all, merely that the historical Jesus and his life may have been very different from what is written in the Gospels. I notice how this article makes zero mention of the contemporary, non-Biblical historical references from Josephus in the 1st century (40 – 80 AD) about not only Jesus, but also John the Baptist.

    The historicity of Jesus, and John the Baptist, is widely accepted by nearly all historians and other academics in this area. The remaining issue is only of what the historical Jesus was like in comparison to what is in the Gospels.

  28. One more the thing, the comments made about Paul’s letters is also deeply flawed. Paul’s letters were done to specific early Christian communities, dealing with specific issues affecting each community. In the context of the letters’, the teachings and deeds of Christ ARE mentioned in his discussions as the basis for his moral and theological arguments. Practically everything stated in the polemics in Paul’s epistles has a parallel with what is written in the Gospels. These early Christian churches would already have been taught the basic tenets of Christ’s teachings and the early faith, and thus his letters were not needed to restate these core teachings, but merely reinforce and properly interpret them, from Paul’s view, for his specific audiences and their unique challenges.

  29. The existence of the person of Jesus is not what is the issue to 99% of scholars in this area (the remaining 1% including unhinged radicals like Carrier), merely just how historical the memories and accounts in the Gospels are of the actual, historical person of Jesus.

    This is what is at the core of Ehrman’s book, and Maclean’s has taken this completely out of context, deliberately, to push its own pernicious bias against the validity of the Christian faith during the most important week in the Christian calendar.

  30. There is absolutely nothing new about this. Ehrman is a heretic who doesn’t believe that Jesus was the son of God, and Carrier is just another atheist (who doesn’t believe that Jesus existed at all) with an ideological ax to grind. Both men have had their ideas taken repeatedly apart to the point that I am surprised that this subject is even worthy of MacLean’s attention at all.

    Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany’s first professor of Islamic theology, has spent years studying Islamic scripture. and recently announced that the Prophet Muhammad probably never even existed. Why is this not worthy of greater media attention along with the Jesus deniers?

    • Its all a fantasy, same as Zeus, Osiris, and Odin

      find something useful to do with your life.

      • There’s no parallel between Jesus of Nazareth any any of those polytheistic deities.

        • Christians have four Gods.

          Don’t blame me for your dumb beliefs.

          • Now that is one very scholarly and elucidating comment… Maybe you should just put your crayons away and go outside to play…

          • Christians have one God, expressed three ways, like water. Water has three forms – solid, liquid and gas – but all three are still just water.

          • There is the Father, The Son, The Ghost Guy, and Mary…The only person in history to have an immaculate conception

            Comparing a your deity to water is bizarre.

          • Comparing it to water is a sufficient comparison, but apparently you fail to understand how ice, water and vapour are still all H2O, while being in three different phases. Similarly, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirt are all still God, but in three different phases.

            Mary is not a god or divine in Christian theology, but merely a saint ranked above other saints in some Catholic traditions. Mariology is not present in Orthodoxy (the oldest churches) or in Protestantism.

          • Another elaborate fairy tale to confuse the peasants

            Does all this never strike you as silly?

          • I’m not sure why it’s necessary to continue the use of the term Trinity. It’s like using Latinized scientific terms when common usage words would do just fine. Except for some very serious debates about the historicity of Jesus in… Was it the Middle Ages? Word is that it was a bit of a crisis moment.

            If we go back to the Teacher (chapter 14 of the gospel of John):
            (1) Who is God? He is above all. Hence, the Father.
            (2) How can God be known if He is above all? One must be able to receive all that He is directly. Hence, the Son.
            (3) How can God be known since none of us are the Son? Through the Holy “Pneuma” the Greek word for “wind, breath, spirit” which will reveal what will be received by those who believe God sent his Son so that God made be known.

            I could imagine the H2O metaphor being workable, but H2O is too fascinating in chemical behaviour that I fear going off track.

      • *may, not made, be known

  31. Bart misses the mark on a few counts. 1) there is corroborating, secular evidence of a man named Jesus who did miraculous things. Josephus mentions him in the “written” history of Rome.
    2) comparing the oral shared memories of modern university students that use screens, and video for everything to the memories of those who used oral memory to ensure their very survival is ludicrous. Furthermore, the article mentions “one study”. How many studies did Bart complete? Did he bother to study physicians who are trained to communicate accurate descriptions of medical issues? No, he studied a few University Students who, even ten years ago, were still fighting with the new English language as we turned to texting and brief emails.
    The Jewish culture, which was infinitely more important than Canadian culture is to Canadians, was reliant on accurate portrayal of history, largely through the spoken word.
    Finally, Bethune shines the wrong light on eyewitness accounts. He suggests that the eyewitness accounts are slightly different so must all be made up. Ummm … How amazing is it that decades later, they remembered so many of the same details??

  32. Bart Ehrman’s book is an interesting take, but he places too much emphasis on the capabilities of memory for the 30-year gap between when Jesus died (36 – 38 AD) and when the first gospels were compiled (65-75 AD).

    He also ignores the importance of collective memories and oral traditions of the first apostles and their followers who lived at the time of the gospels being written, which allowed memories to be validated or invalidated within the community.

    Most scholars agree there was likely a pre-existing document or set of documents, sometimes labelled the “Q document”, which existed before the first complete gospels were written, and which contained some or many of the teachings and sayings of Jesus. In this case, the number of things needed to be directly remembered during the gospel writing was far less than what Ehrman proposes.

  33. Just another FYI for readers, Richard Carrier is admitted to being polyamorous, and his assertions are widely discredited within the academic community.

  34. According to this ridiculous hypothesis, everything prior to photography is myth. Even at that, Lincoln’s life and death are not remembered exactly the same way by all witnesses. In fact, nobody is, whether dead or alive. Recently, obviously not known by the clowns cited in this article, they’ve discovered a text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel known to exist — a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that was written during the first century, before the year 90, was found in a papyrus burial mask in Egypt.

    Regardless, MacLeans has become a cowardly publication. Case in point, as some have already mentioned, let’s see you publish the same about the non-existence of Mohammad at Ramadan. Without too much digging you’ll find proof that Mecca did not exist until a couple of hundred years after his death. In fact, you’ll find Mohammad did not exist. But fat chance of that, right?

  35. “Erhmann’s memory book, in effect, is more an appeal to the faithful to accept historians’ approach than a new way of evaluating evidence.”

    There, found it, the crux of the article woven through and through from beginning to end. Things that the historicists could re-evaluate before they cherry-pick “historical facts”:

    1. Perhaps all four gospels were not orally transmitted but written down very early on? (And even foregoing a ‘Q’ source.) Think about it, people would tell each other stories, which according to Erhmann would get garbled up soon — would not the immediate demand be for a written source?

    2. Did zealous Christians edit Tacitus and Josephus, or was the co-option of the Christian religion by Rome the reason why the two took Mark as its source? Josephus has always seemed suspicious in his references to the Book of Revelations.

    3. On Jairus’s daughter and the transference of blame from Pilate more and more to the Jews, the difference had always seemed to be a process of humbling themselves and confessing their weakness — all the more so if the gospels were written in Jerusalem (largely Jewish rather than non-Jewish) before the persecutions started when Saul came along before he became Paul. Even the secrecy of the miracles, towards being “signs”, is a progression from exclusivity to inclusivity. And if there are discrepancies, what if they actually agreed to disagree?

    4. What does Paul’s “direct revelation” really refer to? I think this is what fuels the mythicists, which is unfortunate. He’s referring to the Spirit. Rather than talking about Trinity or not, Paul cannot be understood correctly without the corresponding passage in John 14. And if the four gospels were already present with the believers whom Paul had persecuted, would not that be the plausible way through which Paul received direct revelation? By reading those accounts of Jesus?

    5. That council (in the fourth century?) when they excluded various apocrypha/writings, and only what we have now is what made the cut? Why is that? Maybe the four gospels were circulated early on, and not only that, together with all the letters. Because in those letters, there was the specific instruction to share the letter with all the other churches.

    Anyway, that’s most of what seemed to me the massive subtext in this article and why I found this article a real tour de force.

    • It certainly created an interesting discussion.
      I guess that we should thank MacLean’s somewhat for that. :(

      • You are interesting. :)

    • It’s only argued that some parts of Josephus may have been corrupted. On Josephus’ references to Jesus, and those of John the Baptist, they are almost universally accepted as authentic.

      Josephus’s histories are also widely accepted to have been written prior to the first compilation (from earlier fragments) of Mark in AD 70.

      • Yes, by accusing Josephus of being suspicious, I’m referring to the events he depicted in the fall of Jerusalem.

        Re: the co-option of Rome comes another question — is the co-option even earlier than what is claimed today? And the number of believers — is it more staggering at that time than what is claimed today? Hence, those John Hagee-type readings of Revelations that go along with empire-minded-corrupted opportunists of Rome? All of this is really further begging the question of whether the Christians scriptures were set down much earlier than has been claimed (proven?) today.

        • P.S. Legitimate scholarship does date the Book of Revelations after the fall of Jerusalem, and earlier dating dates it to prior to 70 AD. Like all historical dates, I take them with their grains of salt (respecting the salt of legitimate scholarship). Just because there is circumstancial evidence for a late date does not preclude an earlier date.

          The light that this article sheds is the curious hold that these dates have upon scholarship, legitimate or otherwise. While there has always been the belief that Jesus is historical, which rightly motivates historical research, the working hypotheses that are what those dates really are, have somehow become non-negotiable items. Ehrmann’s research as presented in this article has an integrity about it and really takes those working hypotheses like the proverbial piece of marble and chips away at it to reveal the statue within. But then, it’s as if Carrier sees the statue and worships it, and Erhmann being the workman is puzzled at how his art is being interpreted.

          The Christian faith does not preclude those who are unbelievers; people are not chosen from birth to believe, but those who believe are chosen, in the sense of chosen to receive the things promised in Christ. “Direct revelation” is available through the telling/reading of the Good News (gospels).

          What I’m babbling about is that Erhmann’s work is scholarly, in the sense of a school of thought which is current in our society today, a sample of which is Carrier. Being one who professes the faith, I find nothing more fitting than examining what stumbling blocks that are not of Christ that are preventing my fellow interesting humans from subscribing to it, especially during Easter commemorations. In the view of those who don’t profess the faith, the presentation of their objections in complete internally logical form from scholars is a very respectful way for them to invite them to be engaged in the dialogue, if they so choose to delve into it from a scholarly approach.

          Had a headache all day on the above which I knew I missed — why I found the author wise in his choice of approach. Thanks.

          • *chosen in the sense that they receive the promises in Christ whom they believe

          • *chosen, in the sense of chosen to receive the promises in Christ whom they believe.

  36. For someone who writes about religion, Bethune demonstrates an embarrassingly poor understanding of Christianity, the Bible, and legislate scholarship surrounding it. His article reveals incredibly weak research, relying primarily on sources discredited by scholars worldwide, Christian and otherwise. Even the author he begins with (Ehrman) has total disdain for the far-from accepted views of the author he transitions to (Carrier). To suggest those views are widely accepted or gaining scholarly respect is plainly untrue. There are real, respected professors, linguists, scientists, philosophers, etc. out there who have verifiable and worthwhile insights to share – would that this article writer would draw upon their knowledge and spare Canadians his misguided and misleading speculations.

  37. Speaking of scholarly research, why is no reference to Bill O’Reill’s “Killing Jesus” which was on the New York Times non-fiction best seller list for more than a year?

    As an atheist I have no trouble accepting the historic reality of Jesus. The evidence lies mainly in the uggernaut of Christianity.

  38. First, the timing of this article reminds me of the mindset behind the treatment of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion. Such enduring tendency to debase, mock and inflict pain. Second, efforts to find proof of what others have faith in reminds me of the mindless gnawing action of animals like rats and raccoons. The gnawing achieves the purpose of completely breaking down the substance of the object being gnawed away at, but to no useful end. Not one bit of that gnawing builds up or breaks open the good – the purpose served, the value provided, or the contribution made. A sad combination of forces, but not something that would surprise Jesus.

  39. How do we know about a historical person, who supposedly lived in the past?

    There are two ways:
    1) by what he says about himself,
    2) by what others say about him.

    Why are these two methods less credible in the case of Jesus, than for other famous figures in the past? If we accept that the Buddha lived (long before Christ), Plato lived, Archimedes lived, and the list can go on, then today’s ‘experts’ should give Jesus the benefit of the same doubt, that they give to others.

    By the way, in the case of the Buddha, both his birth and his death are estimated within a hundred years of uncertainty, as no exact records exist.

  40. Hmmm … you don’t say
    guess there’s only one way to find out…. choose wisely now lol ………………

  41. Wow–what feeble-minded twaddle ! A few undergrads have a strange encounter with a Pepsi machine and that undermines the existence of perhaps the best-documented figure in ancient history, certainly more than Julius Caesar or Socrates.

    And ten of the twelves apostles went to gruesome martyr’s deaths over a false memory.

    I love it–keep the magical thinking coming, guys ! Your anti-Christian hatred shines right through. Let’s see your article about the bloodthirsty founding of Islam.

    • Fred, there is no proof whatever that Jesus ever existed

      You must be smoking something funny

  42. This article presumes there is no such thing as a modern Christian. Is it necessary to a modern Christian for Jesus to have existed or is this taken on faith?

    Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: ” The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function” “The Crack-Up”, 1936).

    Is it possible for a modern Christian to hold the idea of Jesus and that he might not have existed? This is called paradoxical religious faith and has been explored by theologians and philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard (see his work on “irony”). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an evangelical Lutheran minister, also posed this very question about Dietrich Bonhoeffer about a “world come of age” and “religionless Christianity”.
    Bonhoeffer wrote: “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol”.

    It is not essential for Christians to have certainty because they live by faith. And all men and women live by faith in something. So what? I can affirm that “He is risen” and at the same time doubt that he existed because if there is no afterlife, or transcendence by having children, then life is likely meaningless.

    One has to live with the paradox of life and that includes the paradox of Jesus and Christianity. One cannot obtain maturity, especially spiritual maturity, until one can hold two opposing ideas, or an opposing fact and an opposing faith, at the same time.

  43. Somebody told me about this story and I already forgot what the f it was about….!

  44. What got me here is a twitter feed of letters written to Brian Bethune. I found that what intrigued me the most about this article was reading the sentence regarding the comparison of the life Egyptian God Osiris to that of Jesus Christ. That I was not aware. The issue with memory, that is old news. I been part of that little experiment on how a story is turn around among a group of people when I was in high school. That is sure more plausible than the virgin birth. After all if a young woman has never had sex and gets pregnant the night of her wedding, is that not a virgin birth? Specially if her husband happens to leave her right after that one night of copulation for some months because of work. I find that to be a more plausible story than God doing the deed.

  45. This is snarky, poorly-informed and fringy from the get-go. In response to such general claims, I have tested my students’ memories, and found it far better than these simplistic claims here suggest. As I will be showing in an upcoming book, when analyzed in a serious not ad hoc way, none of the parallels to the gospels that either Ehrman or Carrier suggest actually do resemble them in the slightest. There are DOZENS of internal markers within the gospels that point to their general historicity, not present in control texts.

    Citing the “Gospel” of Peter and other late texts is irrelevant and silly.

    Carrier’s book isn’t “rigorously argued.” It’s shoddy and on the far fringe of NT studies, and seems to have had no impact on them. Nor is it likely to, for the reasons I give in my Amazon review, among others. It’s rather amazing to see it treated so respectfully here.

    Here’s just one little tidbit that blows Ehrman’s skepticism to pieces, by itself. Ehrman thinks the gospels were produced through a long chain of whispers, from husband to wife, across multiple cultures, maybe dozens of links before the gospels were written down, say in Rome. But if that were so, how likely is it that the gospels would get personal names, male and female, typical of Jewish culture in Palestine in the 1st Century, exactly right? Exponentially remote. Yet Richard Bauckham shows that archeology has demonstrated that is exactly the case. Frequency of personal names are in almost the exact order in the NT, and level, as they show up in tombs, etc, from the time. If they even got those little details right, yeah, I think they would have remembered meeting their teacher after his death just fine. (No big deal — even today, I can ask people I know about their World War II experiences 71 years ago, and get coherent and apparently accurate responses — as historians often find, checking such details up from people who experienced them. See the forward to Band of Brothers or the afterward to Undefeated.)

  46. There is a lot of emphasis on Paul, and the writer makes the mistake of dating Paul from the an artificial timeline drawn from disparate narratives. The letters of Paul do not even appear until an entire codex of 10 of them was delivered by Marcion in the early 2d century. Yes, the same Marcion eventually condemned as a heretic for his extreme Gnostic views. They are still among the earliest of the documents of the New Testament, but keep in mind the second century church, with the occasional exception of Mark, incorporated none of today’s canon (est. 4th C.) in theirs. None.

    Literary forensics makes the birth of the church much more interesting….and mysterious.

  47. Hi, I’m a Canadian pastor, writer, husband and dad. I’ve had a burden on my soul to reply to this article since Easter, when Maclean’s published a piece with strange claims during Easter, the biggest Christian holiday of the year. My full response is here: https://matthewruttan.com/2016/12/14/did-jesus-really-exist-my-response-to-the-strange-claims-of-macleans-magazine/
    I hope it’s read. I wonder if something like could be the Maclean’s Easter piece in 2017?

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