There is an interesting discussion shaping up on the atheosphere, among other places. It started with the publication of Did Jesus Exist? by Bart Ehrman. Actually, it was just a bit prior to that. There was an article in the Huffington Post written by Ehrman that provoked a shocked response from Richard Carrier. He then followed up with a full scale review of the book.
Ehrman’s book (which I have not read yet) apparently concludes that Jesus was not a myth, but actually existed. Carrier is a mythicist, concluding that there is little evidence for an historical Jesus. So it’s not surprising that he might disagree with Ehrman. His conclusion, though, is not very dispassionate. In fact it’s downright harsh, to say the least, at times devolving into the personal.
It is for all the reasons documented in this article (which are again just a sample of many other errors of like kind, from false claims, to illogical arguments, to self-contradictions, to misrepresentations of his opponents, to errors of omission), especially this book’s complete failure to interact with even a single complete theory of mythicism (which alone renders the book useless, even were it free of error), that I have no choice but to condemn this thing as being nothing more than a sad murder of electrons and trees.
Others have weighed in. PZ Myers claims that Carrier “cold-cocked’ Ehrmans’ thesis. Jerry Coyne has posted on it. R. Joseph Hoffman, a professor of Classical Studies (I think) at the New England Conservatory in Boston has too, promising that he and two other scholars will issue substantive scholarly responses, chastising the criticism over at the “Freethought Blog Ghetto”. There are others.
And Bart Ehrman himself has issued one comment about one aspect of the Carrier review, and promises another, more detailed one on the public portion of his blog (he has a members only, subscription-only-for-charity section of his blog). It might be up by the time I post this. [EDIT: Here it is.].
I must admit that I’m a great admirer of Bart Ehrman. I’ve read a number of his books, all both scholarly and entertaining, and reviewed a few of them here. I was looking forward to Did Jesus Exist?, and was hoping he’d conclude that he didn’t, but if he in fact did, that’s OK too. I will read the book with highly piqued interest, after reading all of this commentary, and will look forward to some of the promised responses, so that I can arrive at my own conclusion.
Now, I’ve read Carriers critiques, and Hoffman’s call to arms, but I have not read the book in question. However, when I read Carrier’s review, I could see an argument shaping up in the first bit of contention that Carrier raised, about the cock-nosed statute in the Vatican. Ehrman says
“there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up” (p. 24).
Carrier says there is, and there are pictures of it.
At the very least I would expect Ehrman to have called the Vatican museum about this, and to have checked the literature on it, before arrogantly declaring no such object existed and implying Murdock made this up. I do not assume Murdock’s interpretation of the object is correct (there is no clear evidence it has anything to do with Christianity, much less Peter). But its existence appears to be beyond dispute.
When I read that, I though, “well, all Ehrman has to do to refute this is claim that there might be a cock-nosed statue in the Vatican, but it’s not a “penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock”, i.e. it does not relate to Peter at all. In fact, that’s exactly what Ehrman claims, and I think validly so. In other words, Carrier seems to make much ado about nothing. He’s criticizing him for making a “massive error” by failing to acknowledge that there is a statue in the Vatican that has nothing to do with Peter. If the statue has nothing to do with Peter, then Ehrman is correct. There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock there. So the answer does not, as Carrier seems to imply, revolve around the existence of the statue itself, but whether it is a representation of Peter. I figured that out from reading Carrier’s review alone, so why couldn’t Carrier?
I don’t know what the final conclusion of this small portion of the argument will be, but if does sound like it will be fascinating to watch. I’m getting the popcorn out.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really make a difference whether Jesus the person actually existed, though it might tend to help the atheist side of the debate (on the larger issue of God’s existence) if he didn’t. The real question that needs to be argued is whether, if he did exist, whether he was divine.
Clearly, if there is no God, there cannot be a Son of God.