Bart Ehrman, author of four New York Times bestsellers and a distinguished professor of religious studies at UNC, has recently published a new book — “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.”
The work provides historical evidence for Jesus’ existence, counterarguments against mythicists who deny his existence and the outline of Jesus’ actions as a historical figure.
Daily Tar Heel: What was your goal in writing “Did Jesus Exist?”
Bart Ehrman: Every week or so I got two or three emails from people asking me whether I thought Jesus existed, which I’ve always thought was a strange thing because I thought everybody knew Jesus existed. But the more I got these emails, I started looking into it and I realized there’s a group of people … arguing that Jesus is a myth, that he’s completely made up by the early Christians.
I thought it would be worthwhile for a historian to take home that question to show what evidence there is that Jesus certainly did exist.
DTH: Did you write about any evidence based on faith?
BE: No. I wasn’t interested in dealing with the question of whether he was the son of God or whether he pre-existed or anything like that. My question really was, “Was there a human being Jesus?”
DTH: How do you feel about the claim in The Washington Post that this work is more sympathetic (to Christians) than your previous works?
BE: I don’t intend my work either to be in opposition to religion or in favor of religion because I’m not trying to advance a religious agenda. I’m trying to advance a historical agenda.
Some Christians have found some of my earlier work to be threatening and dangerous, but I’ve never seen myself as attacking Christianity.
One reason for that is that I learned most of the stuff that I write in these books while studying at a Christian theological seminary… This is information that is taught to seminarians, to people becoming preachers.
DTH: Why did you feel the need to prove Jesus’ existence?
BE: When people rewrite history, it can lead to dangerous things.
Just as an example for Christianity: in the early Christian church, women were heavily involved with the ministry of Jesus and in the earliest Christian communities. In the churches that the apostle Paul set up, women were deacons and they ran the churches in some places … Eventually, women’s voices came to be silenced in early Christianity and some Christian authors argued that women should have no authority over men. That point of view ended up winning out so that today there are still churches where women are told that they can’t be preachers or they can’t even teach Sunday school, or, you know, we don’t have women priests in the Roman Catholic Church, and it’s all because they’ve rewritten the history of early Christianity.
It’s important to know what really happened in the past if we want to make sense of the present. If people want to argue that Jesus didn’t exist, they’re probably going to base something on that argument that is non-historical and therefore dangerous.
DTH: Do you get criticism from mythicists or others?
BE: Most of my critics before now have been fundamentalists and very conservative evangelical Christians, but now that I’ve argued that Jesus existed, I’m getting very harsh criticism from the mythicists … they feel like I’ve betrayed the cause.
DTH: How do you respond?
BE: I’m starting a blog that’s going to be up in about a week.
Over the years I have basically not answered criticism because… human beings are reasonably intelligent and they can look at what I say and they can look at what a critic of mine says and they can decide who’s right and so I don’t need to argue for my point of view — they can see whether I’m right or not.. But I have decided recently to answer what critics have been saying about my work, both fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals and now mythicists.
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