When it comes to the historical Jesus—the question, did Jesus exist?—I’ve always been a skeptic. Although historians almost universally agree that he did exist, I’m a little more cautious about this question because there’s zero extra biblical evidence contemporary to the time that Jesus allegedly lived. This in no way implies that I claim there was no historical Jesus whose teachings paved the way for Christianity; it merely takes the position of I don’t know. And therefore I’ve always entertained this question by ignoring it.
But one of my favorite authors—an agnostic New Testament scholar—wrote a book on this topic a few years ago. I haven’t gotten around to reading Prof. Bart D. Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, mainly because he’s such a prolific writer that I don’t have time to read all of his books. But the other day I watched a video of Ehrman reading excerpts from his book at (presumably) a book signing. In this video he slams “mythicists” who reject the historicity of Jesus as nothing more than nut job conspiracy theorists, akin to those who believe the moon landing was staged. Then he makes a very compelling logical argument, which I paraphrase below. Here’s the video I’m referring to:
Ehrman makes a lot of points in this video, and I’m sure the book expands on these and others. But there’s one that is really quite brilliant.
Essentially it goes like this (it begins around the 18:30 mark): There’s no archeological evidence of Jesus or early first century writings that mention him outside the bible, but there’s also essentially zero extra biblical evidence that Pontius Pilate existed either (the only evidence of Pontius Pilate are some coins and an early first century brick bearing his name). Pilate was the Prefect of Judea (essentially the Governor), and Jesus was a Jewish peasant (I’m not using that word pejoratively; I’m using it to reflect reality). If none of the Roman or Greek authors of that time bothered to write about the Governor of Judea, why would they write about a lowly Jewish peasant? The fact that the evidence is either scant or non-existent should not lead us to believe Jesus never existed; it should merely lead us to assume he wasn’t important enough to write about.
I think this is a very good argument. It doesn’t lead us to conclude that Jesus did, in fact, exist, but it’s a very good way to nullify the mythicist view. I, myself, am still a skeptic, but that’s ok. I don’t claim the historical Jesus is a myth, and whether or not the historical Jesus existed has no bearing on my beliefs, my work, or my happiness. Personally, I don’t care if he existed or not and am more than happy to assume the position that he did exist for conversational purposes.
Now that I’ve watched this video, I’m very likely to purchase his book. I want to know the full argument for why I should believe that Jesus was a real person.