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Meditation 1134
Did he exist? Or didn't he?

by: John Tyrrell

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I recently picked up Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist” at my local bookstore – the hardcover edition remaindered for the bargain price of $6.99. I have not had time to read it yet, but I expect it to be quite informative like Ehrman’s other books. If you are interested in this type of book, it’s worthwhile looking for. (And less expensive than the current paperback and e-book editions)

But it’s pretty well known (and if you don’t already know, then SPOILER ALERT,) Ehrman comes to the conclusion that Jesus did exist. Again, I have not had time to read the book, but I understand he comes to this conclusion based on the gospels, Paul’s letters, and early – but not contemporary – non-Christian writers. He does not come up with any new evidence (there still isn’t any) from within Jesus’s own lifetime to support Jesus’s existence. And the challenge in Meditation 38 still stands.

Now, as an opposing view to Bart Ehrman’s conclusion, this week Richard Dawkins, through his Facebook page, promoted an audiobook which purports to prove Jesus did not exist. Dawkins quoted what is apparently that author’s (David Fitzgerald) own blurb for his book:

Why would anyone think Jesus never existed? Isn’t it perfectly reasonable to accept that he was a real first century figure? As it turns out, no. NAILED sheds light on ten beloved Christian myths, and, with evidence gathered from historians across the theological spectrum, shows how they point to a Jesus Christ created solely through allegorical alchemy of hope and imagination; a messiah transformed from a purely literary, theological construct into the familiar figure of Jesus – in short, a purely mythic Christ.

Now I have not bought this – and don’t intend to. I’m highly dubious about most atheist claims to have proven anything theological. And when the proof involves “ten beloved Christian myths” I tend to think that the author may have assumed his conclusions. Of course, I could be wrong myself and have leapt to an unwarranted conclusion based solely on the blurb. I invite anyone who chooses to buy this audiobook to review it here and comment on how well David Fitzgerald has established his case.

We have two opposing views here from two non-believers. The agnostic Bart Ehrman concluding the Jesus did exist; and the atheist David Fitzgerald concluding that he did not.

They can’t both be right. Or could they both be? What if they are writing about different Jesus’s?

Now Ehrman writes (p143 – which good luck caused me to open the book at) “What I think is that the Jesus who really existed was not the person most Christians today believe in.”

Now I suspect that the Jesus that Fitzgerald disproves is the person/deity most Christians believe in.

If we go to the Apostles Creed, which for most Christians is a statement of the fundamentals of Christianity, it states, in part:

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: 
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried:
He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

The only overlap between the Jesus described here – which I assume is the one Fitzgerald is writing about – and the one Ehrman writes about is “Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried”.

I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to prove the simple Jewish teacher Jesus – to whose teachings a lot of extra material has been added – did not exist. And I think that Ehrman is probably right in concluding he did exist.

But when we talk about Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten son, then logic leads me to give a lower probability to this Jesus’s existence than I would give to the existence of a god. After all, gods with exactly one begotten son are a subset of all possible gods.

And this may be why I look forward to reading Ehrman’s book and have no need to listen to Fitzgerald’s. Ehrman deals with the real possibility of a living human being, whereas Fitzgerald is dealing with a theological entity which depends on the already unlikely possibility of a deity. It’s something not worth disproving unless the existence of a god is first demonstrated. 

If you are going to get into a discussion or argument about whether Jesus existed or not, know which one you are talking about.


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