The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth
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An Introduction to the Mythical View of Jesus
modern scholars of the New Testament are famous—or infamous—for making claims about Jesus that contradict what most people, especially Christians, believe about him. Some scholars have maintained that Jesus was a political revolutionary who wanted to incite the masses in Israel to a violent uprising against their Roman overlords. Others have claimed that he was like an ancient Cynic philosopher who had no real interest in Israel as the people of God or even in the Hebrew Bible (the Jewish scriptures) but was concerned to teach people how to live simply apart from the material trappings of this life. Others have insisted that Jesus was principally interested in the economic plight of his oppressed people and urged socioeconomic reform, as a kind of proto-Marxist. Yet others have asserted that he was chiefly concerned about the oppression of women and was a proto-feminist. Some have said that he was mainly interested in religious issues but that he was a Pharisee, others that he was a member of the Dead Sea Scrolls community, an Essene. Some have said that he taught a completely bourgeois ethic and that he was married with children. Yet others have suggested that he was gay. And these are only some of the more serious proposals.
Despite this enormous range of opinion, there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree. Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea. Even though this is the view of nearly every trained scholar on the planet, it is not the view of a group of writers who are usually labeled, and often label themselves, mythicists.
In a recent exhaustive elaboration of the position, one of the leading proponents of Jesus mythicism, Earl Doherty, defines the view as follows: it is “the theory that no historical Jesus worthy of the name existed, that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical figure, that the Gospels are essentially allegory and fiction, and that no single identifiable person lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition.”1 In simpler terms, the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity.
To lend some scholarly cachet to their view, mythicists sometimes quote a passage from one of the greatest works devoted to the study of the historical Jesus in modern times, the justly famous Quest of the Historical Jesus, written by New Testament scholar, theologian, philosopher, concert organist, physician, humanitarian, and Nobel Peace Prize–winning Albert Schweitzer: There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence. This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which come to the surface one after the other.
Taken out of context, these words may seem to indicate that the great Schweitzer himself did not subscribe to the existence of the historical Jesus. But nothing could be further from the truth. The myth for Schweitzer was the liberal view of Jesus so prominent in his own day, as represented in the sundry books that he incisively summarized and wittily discredited in The Quest. Schweitzer himself knew full well that Jesus actually existed; in his second edition he wrote a devastating critique of the mythicists of his own time, and toward the end of his book he showed who Jesus really was, in his own considered judgment. For Schweitzer, Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who anticipated the imminent end of history as we know it. Jesus thought that he himself would play a key role in the future act of God, in which the forces of evil in control of this world would be overthrown and a new kingdom would appear. For Schweitzer, Jesus was very much mistaken in this understanding of himself and the future course of events. The end, after all, never did come, and Jesus was crucified for his efforts. But he was very much a real person, a Jewish preacher about whom a good deal could be known through a careful examination of the Gospels.
From the book DID JESUS EXIST?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart D. Ehrman. Copyright C 2012 by Bart D. Ehrman. Reprinted by permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
His teachings have endured for 2,000 years and earned billions of believers. His divinity is the cornerstone of one of the world's great faiths. Yet many atheists, humanists, and conspiracy buffs claim Jesus never existed at all—a fictional character whose doctrines are used to control the masses, or simply an unknown figure, barely noted in records of the time and embellished into unrecognizability by the Bible.
Did Jesus exist? In this persuasive book, Bible expert and historian Bart Ehrman answers this controversial question with a resounding "yes"—although the Jesus he uncovers may be very different from the one you know. Ehrman's rigorous research paints a compelling portrait of the real, historical Jesus of Nazareth.
Hardcover Book : 368 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers LLLC ( March 20, 2012 )
Item #: 13-600821
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 inches
Product Weight: 19.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)