Bart Ehrman speaks to sold-out crowd on Jesus's existence

UNC religious studies professor and historian Bart Ehrman has never been afraid to wreak havoc within the religious studies world.

Just ask Ehrman about the time he listed contradictions in the Bible on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”

Ehrman, a New York Times best-selling author, embraced his controversial spotlight once again Saturday, speaking for the first time since the publication of his book “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.”

Although currently on leave while working on other publications in his field, Ehrman spoke in front of a sold-out crowd at the UNC Center for School Leadership Development.

Ehrman, a self-professed cynic of the New Testament, said he doesn’t normally dispel the beliefs of atheists. But a growing group of mythicists, people who publicly deny the existence of Jesus, has caught his attention, he said.

“Mythicists are quite angry at what I’ve said and are attacking me mercilessly on the Internet,” he said. “They think I’m a terrible scholar and have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Ehrman aimed much of his lecture at the sector of atheists and agnostics who argue that there is no archeological evidence of Jesus and no written pagan sources from the first century that even document Jesus’ existence.

“It’s not that useful of an argument because we don’t really have archeological evidence for anyone who’s ever existed,” Ehrman said.

“It’s true Jesus isn’t mentioned, but nobody else important was mentioned as well.”

Saturday’s event was the first installment of a two-part speaking series that was put on as part of the Adventures in Ideas program by UNC’s Program in the Humanities.

The program explores and sparks discussions regarding the notable works of local faculty.

“I think what is really surprising to a lot of people who attend this talk is that he really argues that Jesus was a historical figure who was very important and remains important,” said Eve Duffy, director of UNC Program in the Humanities.

The event was co-sponsored by the General Alumni Association and the Cotton Moehrke Group.

Norris Cotton, vice president of the Cotton Moehrke Group, said he enjoyed the event.

“It is a very entertaining lecture that is thought-provoking,” Cotton said.

“I think there is a positive response from the audience.”

But Ehrman did not forget to address his critics, some of whom condemned his book as being illogical.

“Mythicists’ arguments sound good on the surface, but when you dig deeper they are not very compelling,” Ehrman said.

While Ehrman is not currently teaching, he did have a message for UNC students.

“I want (students) to see that there are some things in history that are difficult to prove and that you have to have rigorous historical method if you want to establish what happened in the past — even if it involved Jesus in the New Testament.”

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