uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Classical, Biblical Scholars Come to Ehrman's Defense Amid Attacks

Sometimes, watching those rare occasions when your academic discipline is thrust into the public light can be quite fun, even if frustrating at the same time. The last time I remember the community of scholars from antiquity speaking in such a unified voice was after the release of Mel Gibson's awful "Passion of the Christ" in 2003. We all knew it was awful, all knew it contained some glaring historical problems (like having those in the Greek east speak Latin), and we all pointed this out, ad nauseam, in newspaper letters, in blog posts, in radio and television interviews, and to our no doubt less-than-thrilled students, friends, and spouses.

Fans of the film (mostly conservative Christians) responded with typical narratives about how academics were all liberals who just couldn't stand a "positive movie about Jesus."

A similar phenomenon, albeit not quite as widespread, has occurred with the publication of Bart Ehrman's latest book last week, "Did Jesus Exist?" I wrote a short blog post about the book's launch and drew the ire of at least one of these "mythicists," those who, outside of the scholarly community, insist that Jesus was a myth invented by early Christians and thus never existed as a human being.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ehrman Finally Dispatching With Jesus-Didn't-Exist Skeptics

Bart Ehrman's latest book takes on one of my biggest pet peeves: the skeptical "cottage industry," as he calls it, that suggests Jesus was a fictional character (Ehrman, like virtually every other scholar of antiquity on the planet, calls this nonsense).

I haven't read Ehrman's book yet (it's being released tomorrow), but his introduction is available at the link above. What I look forward to most is Ehrman setting out for a popular audience a thorough understanding of the term μῦθος, most often translated as "myth" today. In just his introduction, he takes aim at the so-called "mythicists" who claim Jesus was only a myth and not a historical person:

"The authors of this skeptical literature understand themselves to be 'mythicists' -- that is, those who believe that Jesus is a myth. Rarely do mythicists define what they mean by the term myth, a failure that strikes scholars of religion as both unfortunate and highly problematic, since in technical scholarship the term has come to mean many things over the years."