After thoughts: Reading Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?”

Matthew Hanzel Avatar

Just a short time before I suffered a strange diarrhea (presumably due to consuming some bad meals), I spend a short three days to read a very interesting book by a renowned New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman. I just opened the book, out of nowhere, on my Kindle, of course, and take a look at this peculiarly-titled book: “Did Jesus Exist?”

If you read the title only for the first three words, you may find it rather strange, as if he believes that Jesus of Nazareth (as in Christ, as Christians believe) never exists, or at least he is in the doubters’ camp. But no. Read the sentence afterwards: “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth“. The historical argument for.

Two very important variables exist in the title. First, it is historical. This book is all about finding the so-called “Historical Jesus,” something that in fact has taken the academic world into some serious debacle. This Historical Jesus debate is done to answer whether the Jesus of the Bible (the Biblical Jesus) is in fact the Historical Jesus, somewhat different, totally different, or even worse, merely a creation and that there is no such thing as a Historical Jesus. Second, is the word for. At the beginning, I translated the word ‘for’ as in ‘for and against’, therefore basically Ehrman is in favor of the existence of the Historical Jesus. And Ehrman delivers precisely that point.

What Ehrman does in his book is basically debunking the claims of the group of deniers, who are in denial of the Historical Jesus, what Ehrman (aptly) calls ‘mythicists’ after their believe that Jesus is nothing more than mythical creature. Ehrman, of course, brings the arguments from the claimants first, then starts debunking them with various methods and evidences that he has, and boy do I like his method of reasoning!

Ehrman’s method of writing is that he tries to eliminate many academic details that most of us (novices, non-academics) would not even bother to consider. Yet indeed, there are things that are untranslatable to a rather simpler language (e.g. ‘multiple attestation’), only luckily Ehrman explains what it is briefly. [To note, I won’t divulge his detailed elaboration of various techniques, I’ll allow you to discover them yourself while reading the real book]

I make more than 60 highlights in this book, mostly on his way of reasoning. For instance, he mentions one of the mythicists’ arguments on how Jesus is very seldom mentioned in any sources outside of the Bible. Ehrman debunks it by saying that even though someone is not written a lot does not mean he/she does not exist. This is strongly true. Let’s say there is this guy with the initial S, which is my hairdresser. None is ever written about him, in books, newspapers, anything. Yet I know S exists, I still go once a month to get a haircut from him. Lack of writing does not justify his lack of existence. This is what I like, the method to reason with the mythicists’ claims. This shows the weaknesses of the claims and Ehrman makes it easy to debunk.

To many Christians, you may think this kind of book will affect your faith whatsoever. Even Ehrman does not try to purport that idea. He is a scientist, in this respect, and while he is not a practicing Christian (self-admitted), he never tries to shaken the faith of any Christian. What he is doing is he tries to prove that Jesus of Nazareth did exist historically, and there is no doubt about it. In fact, even through all the debacles in this field of study, most – if not all – scholars have reached a general consensus of who is Historical Jesus.

I personally think everyone needs to know what he/she is believing, without the necessity of losing it. By historical curiosity, you have all the right to read this book and know more, without the need of losing your belief. In fact, I’m still a believer after reading the book, and I believe many others do, so you may want to read it also.

At the end of the day, it was a rather quick read, three days to finish the entire book, and I feel satisfied. In other news, this is the seventh book I complete this year, so it’s pretty good.

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