Bart Ehrman

My Review of "Did Jesus Exist?"

Part Two

Last time, we saw how Ehrman started off his book with five chapters of ignoring mythicists, or what Ehrman calls "mounting the positive argument." This consisted mostly of citing canonical books and hypothetical sources as independent witnesses for the historicity of Jesus as if mythicists were unaware of these things called gospels, and of alternatively labeling the Testimonium Flavian both "neutral" and "negative," not that Ehrman says there was anything Josephus would necessarily be critical of Jesus about. From here, Ehrman moves on to actual mythicist arguments. "I will not try to refute every single point made by every single author," warns Ehrman, since that would require "an enormous book, and trust me, it would not be a pleasant read." Instead, Ehrman devotes a whole two chapters to "The Mythicists' Claims" in his book on mythicists:

“Cephas was, of course, Simon Peter (see John 1:42), Jesus’s closest disciple. James, Paul tells us, was the Lord’s brother. These are two good people to know if you want to know anything about the historical Jesus. I wish I knew them.” (144)

Ehrman would hardly be alone in wishing to know the disciple or brother of the Son of God, yet Galatians calls them “those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality).”

“But it defies belief that Paul would have spent over two weeks with Jesus’s closest companion and not learned something about him—for example, that he lived… And so in the letter to the Galatians Paul states as clearly as possible that he knew Jesus’s brother. Can we get any closer to an eyewitness report than this? The fact that Paul knew Jesus’s closest disciple and his own brother throws a real monkey wrench into the mythicist view that Jesus never lived.” (145-146)

Then why doesn’t Paul ever mention the fact that they knew Jesus? Why doesn’t Paul call Cephas a “disciple” instead of “apostle”?

“Throughout our traditions Cephas and James are portrayed as being completely aligned with each other…. If there was a group called “the brothers of the Lord,” made up of zealous Jewish missionaries in Jerusalem, Cephas himself would certainly be a member” (150-151)

Actually, Galatians accused Cephas of living like a Gentile, but after men from James arrived, he started compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews so that even Barnabas was “led astray.” So according to Galatians, James is a strict follower of the Law and Cephas and Barnabas are religious centrists who fluctuate their attitude according to whether Judaic Christians are around. The author of Luke-Acts also paints Peter as the bridge between Paul and James, although a vision attributed to Peter in Acts 11:9 makes him proclaim that all food had been made clean, clearly bringing him more over to Paul’s side. In contrast to Peter, Luke-Acts seems to insinuate that James was a zealot. Shortly before Paul gets attacked by Jewish zealots in Jerusalem, James warns him that “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.” James tells Paul to make an offering to prove he believes in the Law, which his epistles clearly say he didn’t, and he gets attacked by zealots anyway. So both Biblical traditions portray Peter and James as having different alignments.

“We have several traditions that Jesus actually had brothers (it is independently affirmed in Mark, John, Paul, and Josephus).” (151)

Despite Josephus’ writings being inundated with Jewish Messianic contenders, this passage and the Testimonium are the only two instances in which the word “Christ” appears, and the first one is an accepted forgery. Josephus was a prolific writer and it is extremely doubtful that he would add such an epithet without a proper explanation. In fact, Josephus relates how the high priest Ananus the Younger assembled a Sanhedrin and had this James and others stoned to death, which so angered the good standing people that they were able to petition the procurator to have Herod Antipas remove him from office, replacing him with Jesus son of Damneus. If this James was a Galilean peasant whose brother had been killed by the Romans, why would his death have caused such an uproar? (The crowds of Jeruaslem seem very fickle: first they welcome Jesus in the Triumphal Entry, then they call on Pilate to have him crucified, then they riot when Jesus’ brother is killed.) Why would Herod Antipas, who according to Luke had both Jesus and James the brother of John killed, remove the high priest for doing the same thing to Jesus’ brother? Wouldn’t the same people who became angered over James’ death be even more angry of Jesus’ death? Why does Josephus write far more material on the brother of “the one called Christ” than on Jesus himself? Was James more historically important than Jesus? If Agrippa deposed the high priest in order to appease the crowd, then wouldn’t it make sense to replace him with someone the crowd supported? In fact, if we assume James was originally said to have been the brother to the Jesus “son of Damneus” rather than Jesus “who is called Christ,” then that is exactly what he did: replaced the dead James with his brother. Wells and others have pointed out that Origen referenced “James, the brother of Jesus” three times as proof of how “wonderous” it was that even though Josephus did not accept Jesus as Christ he still reported how the “justice of James was not at all small.” So had the Testimonium been extent in Origen’s version of Antiquities, he certainly would have cited a far-more important reference to Jesus at least once.

“So too Paul speaks of James as his Lord’s brother. Surely the most obvious, straightforward, and compelling interpretation is the one held by every scholar of Galatians that, so far as I know, walks the planet. Paul is referring to Jesus’s own brother.” (151)

From John Dominic Crossan:

“Josephus’ phrase 'inhabitants…who were strict in observance of the law' probably means Pharisees. Was James a Pharisee? And, more important, how long had he been in Jerusalem? We know for sure, as seen earlier, that he was there by about 38 C.E., when Paul first met him. Did he come there only after the execution of Jesus, or had he been there long before it? I realize how tentative all this is, but much more explanation for James’s presence and standing in Jerusalem needs be given than is usually offered. Did he leave Nazareth long before and become both literate and involved within scribal circles in Jerusalem? Could his earlier presence there and Jesus’ (single?) visit to Jerusalem be somehow connected with this unit in John 7:3-5?… “If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”… All of that is terribly hypothetical, and I am quite well aware that it is. But we need to think much more about James and how he reached such status among Jewish circles that, on the one hand, he had to be executed by a Sadducee and that, on the other, his death could cause a High Priest to be deposed after only three months in office.” (Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography, 135)

Ehrman continues:

“And why is he Jesus’s twin? For Price it is because Thomas, better than any of the other disciples, has a true understanding of who Jesus is… The reality is that there was a tradition in some parts of the early church that Thomas really was the twin of Jesus. The Aramaic word Thomas, itself, means twin.” (151-152)

If this twinship is not something symbolic that later became reinterpreted as something literal, then how did something so weird become a tradition in the early church? If Thomas means “twin” proves the meaning is literal, then why doesn’t Mark say anything about it? Why doesn’t Mark list Thomas among Jesus’ brothers? Why does Thomas have no role whatsoever in the Synoptics? Was he originally supposed to be someone else's twin? Is it just a coincidence that Thomas’ first name Judas matches the name of Jesus’ betrayer, who plays the symbolic role of the “evil twin”? In fact, the Gospel of Judas portrays “the thirteenth disciple” as the only follower of Jesus who had a “true understanding of who Jesus is” and that his role as “betrayer” was necessary to the grand scheme of things, very similar to plot of The Last Temptation of Jesus. Cainite and Sethite Gnostics did the same thing to the stories in Genesis, showing how the “villains” of the Bible were actually the ones who had the true knowledge. If the twelve disciples were meant to symbolize different Jesus sects, then it would be easy to understand why Judas Thomas would represent a sect like the Cainites or Sethites and why Judas Iscariot would represent the Sicarii. After the mythological split, they were considered two different people.

“That Jesus and Thomas were identical twins plays a role in the Acts of Thomas… they think it’s Thomas since he does, after all, look exactly like… Thomas…. Jesus, more powerfully persuasive of course than his twin, wins the hearts of the newlyweds, who spend the night in conversation instead of conjugal embrace. This tale is predicated on the view that Thomas and Jesus really were twins in a physical, not symbolic or spiritual, sense.” (153)

Ehrman reads these things too literally. The couple sees Jesus as Thomas because it is the physical Thomas who has brought them towards the spiritual Jesus. If Thomas is Jesus’ literal twin, why does Jesus say, “I, Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter, acknowledge that I have sold my slave, Judas by name,” and why does Thomas say about Jesus: “he was called the son of Mary the virgin,” not “we are called the sons of Mary the virgin”? The connection is only between Jesus and Thomas. If Jesus and Thomas were literal twins, that would mean Thomas was also the Son of God.

“One wonders how the Christians who told such stories could possibly imagine that Jesus had a twin brother. Wasn’t his mother a virgin? Then where did the twin come from?” (153)

Yes, one does wonder how Christians would have this interpretation that is supposedly better than Price’s.

“We have several myths about divine men who were born of the union of a god and a mortal. In some of those stories the mortal woman is also impregnated by her husband, leading to the birth of twins (it is hard to know how they could be identical twins, but anatomy was not the strong suit of most ancient storytellers).” (153)

So Ehrman is citing a literal reading of Greek myth as proof for a literal reading of a Gnostic gospel? Well, I guess the only thing that all those “literalist” storytellers like the authors of the Acts of Thomas and the Greek myths have in common with all those mythicist interpreters of myth like Price is that neither of them are as smart as Bart Ehrman.

“…Price appeals to the nineteenth-century revolutionary leader in China, the so-called Taiping messiah named Hong Xiuquan, who called himself “the Little Brother of Jesus.”… Now we are really grasping at straws. A nineteenth-century man from China is evidence of what someone living in the 30s CE in Palestine thought about himself?… To use this case to clinch the argument is an enormous stretch, even by Price’s standards.” (154)

So Ehrman believes that Jesus’ brother, a Galilean peasant, moved to Jerusalem, became literate, taught a strict interpretation of Torah different than his brother’s, took the same role of a different James alongside Peter and John as one of the three main pillars of the church, became the leader of the Jerusalem church over Peter, and became so beloved in Pharisee–controlled Jerusalem that his death caused a riot, but an example of how religious leaders often claim spiritual titles of brotherhood is “grasping at straws.”

“This final view is not worked out as clearly as the other two. Sometimes, Price points out, a person named in the Bible embodies the characteristics of a larger group. And so in the book of Genesis the patriarch Jacob is renamed Israel, and in fact he becomes the father of the tribes of Israel; Ishmael is the father of the Ishmaellites; Benjamin represents the southern tribe of Israel, called Benjamin, and so forth. For Price, these are all fictional characters, and he claims that it could be similar with James.” (154)

So Ehrman thinks the twelve sons of Jacob were all historical also? Each of the twelve sons became the head of a new tribe? Does that mean he also thinks that Noah’s three sons traveled to different parts of the world and fathered the three main races?

“There are compelling reasons for thinking that the Dead Sea Scroll community had no direct ties to later Christian groups and for thinking that the historical James had no connections with the Dead Sea Scroll community, let alone that he was a high priest. What ancient sources ever say any such thing? None at all.” (155)

Is it a coincidence that both the Essenes and the author of Hebrews saw their Messiah as a reincarnation of Melchizedek, one of the most obscure characters in the Bible? Or that both Essenes and early Christians were heavily indebted to Enochian literature? There are plenty of non-mythicist scholars who connect John the Baptist to the Essenes.

“Paul quotes a passage of scripture… “Everyone who hangs on a tree is cursed.”... Centuries later, when Romans were executing the most heinous criminals and lowlifes by crucifying them, this verse was taken to be equally applicable. Obviously anyone who was killed in this way stood under God’s curse... But for the pre-Christian Paul it was quite clear: Jesus was not anything like God’s chosen one, the one selected to do his will on earth. Jesus did not enjoy God’s blessing: Just the opposite: he was under God’s curse. Evidence? He was hung on a tree.” (158)

That’s the age-old assumption inherent in the chronological bias of our Biblical canon: we assume that because the Gospels come first that the Gospels are being historical when they say Jesus was nailed to a cross and the Epistles are being metaphorical when they say Jesus was hung on a tree. But what if it was the other way around? What if the Talmud and the Toledot were correct and Yeshu being hung on a tree was historical and Jesus being nailed to a cross was metaphoric?

“That Jesus died by crucifixion is almost universally attested in our sources, early and late.” (163)

...if you leave out the Jewish tradition of Jesus being stoned to death.

“Who would make up the idea of a crucified messiah? No Jew that we know of.” (163)

As Richard Carrier told Ehrman in discussions on mythicism prior to the release of his book, the concept of a crucified messiah can be found in Daniel, which was referencing the death of Honi III, and the Melchizedek scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls shows an ancient interpretation that it is talking about the Messiah. So while it may be no Jew Ehrman “knows of,” there has definitely been one he has read of.

“Since no one would have made up the idea of a crucified messiah, Jesus must have really existed, must really have raised messianic expectations, and must have really been crucified. No Jew would have invented him.” (164).

I always find it amusing when theologians try and use the criterion of embarrassment on the central pillar of the religion that they have devoted their career to studying and have typically spent at least part of their life belonging to. “Only a crazy person would want to believe in a crucified Messiah!” said the Princeton Theology seminarian. It reminds me of the bishops in The Messenger who tell Joan of Arc that God must be crazy to have sent an illiterate peasant to deliver his message when that is exactly what Jesus would have been. The idea of a crucified Son of God was not new to the Jewish religion. Given that it is well accepted that the gospels have been heavily influenced by the lost wars against the Romans, the ancient religious symbolic trope of death and resurrection might not be as much of an anathema to all the Jews regardless of what the “stumbling block” verse may generalize about.

“As Hartman has argued—along with many, many other Hebrew Bible scholars—the reference to “an” (not “the”) anointed one in 9:26 “almost certainly” refers to another figure known from Jewish history, the high priest Onias III, who was deposed from being the high priest and murdered in 171 BCE…” (169)

And like Jesus, Onias III was a moderate beloved by both Jews and Greeks and was betrayed in a garden sanctuary. He is thought to have lived during the time of the Essene Teacher of Righteousness. His son escaped to Egypt and another Onias, Honi the Circle Drawer, a “righteous man” who lived during the time of Yeshu, commanded the weather, died a very Stoic death on Passover, and was raised from a “deep sleep” from beneath a tree after 70 years.

“This is the opposite of what Jews thought the messiah would be. Then where did the idea of a crucified messiah come from? It was not made up out of thin air… It is almost impossible to explain this claim—coming at this place, at this time, among this people—if there had not in fact been a Jesus who was crucified” (170)

Ehrman believes that anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him a great and powerful ruler over all Israel. But as Carrier points out: “the only kind of messiah figure you could invent would be one who wasn’t like that. Otherwise, everyone would notice no divine being had militarily liberated Israel and resurrected all the world’s dead… This means that if “someone made up a messiah” we can be absolutely certain he would look essentially just like Jesus Christ. A being no one noticed, who didn’t do anything publicly observable, yet still accomplished the messianic task, only spiritually (precisely the one way no one could produce any evidence against). In other words, a messiah whose accomplishments one could only “feel in one’s heart” (or see by revelation, as the Corinthian creed declares; or discover in scripture, as that same creed again declares, as well as Romans 16:25-26.”

“The reality is that every single author who mentions Jesus—pagan, Christian, or Jewish—was fully convinced that he at least lived... It is also the view of Q and M and L and John and of all of John’s sources.” (171-172)

Taking hypothetical sources, especially saying sources, as witnesses to Jesus living is rather weak.

“And nowhere in any of these stories is there any hint that the author or his community has advanced its own interests in indicating Nazareth as Jesus’s hometown. In fact, just the opposite: the early Christians had to explain away the fact that Jesus came from Nazreth, as seen, for example, in John 1:45-46 and in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, which independently of one another try to show that even though Jesus came from Nazreth, he was born in Bethlehem.” (189)

Matthew and Luke are not trying to explain away Nazareth but rather conflate two contradicting traditions. With there being Nazarene sects, Christian connections to Nazarites, scriptural prophecies involving the Hebrew word netzer (“branch”), and the alternate gospel spellings of “Nazara,” it is easy to see how something like “Jesus the Nazarene” could be reinterpreted as “Jesus of Nazareth.”

“[Zindler] claims that Mark’s Gospel never states that Jesus came from Nazareth. This flies in the face, of course, of Mark I:9… but Zindler maintains that that verse was not originally part of Mark; it was inserted by a later scribe. Here again we see history being done according to convenience. If a text says precisely what you think it could not have said, then all you need to do is claim that originally it must have said something else.” (191).

Zindler actually says “It is of more than a little interest to learn that scholars suspect this verse to be a later addition just like the last twelve verses of the gospel.” Scholars who believe in a historical Jesus, not just mythicists like Zindler, think this because Matthew uses the same verse but with “Galilee” instead of “Nazareth” (Luke doesn’t have the verse at all). Also Mark 2:1 identifies Capernaum as Jesus’ home, and Matthew rectifies the contradiction by saying that Jesus moved his home from Nazareth to Capernaum. And it’s not like Ehrman is new to the world of hypothetical interpolations.

“Salm emphasizes what scholars have long known: Nazareth is never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, in the writings of Josephus, or in the Talmud.” (193)

Jack Finegan says: “In the Old Testament Jos. 19:10-15 gives a list of the towns of the tribe of Zebulon… but does not mention Nazareth. Josephus, who was responsible for military operations in this area in the Jewish War… gives the names of forty-five towns in Galilee, but does not say anything about Nazareth. The Talmud also, although it refers to sixty-three Galilean towns, does not mention Nazareth.” As Crossan says, “From Jewish literary texts, then, across almost one thousand five hundred years, nothing.” (Historical Jesus 15)

“Pottery shards connected to the house range from roughly 100 BCE to 100 CE (that is, the days of Jesus)…. Even though it existed, this is not the place someone would make up as the hometown of the messiah.” (197)

As opposed to all the other legendary places associated with the gospels for the purposes of pilgrimage?

“Again, I reiterate the main point of my chapter: even if Jesus did not come from Nazareth, so what? The historicity of Jesus does not depend on whether Nazareth existed. In fact, it is not even related to the question. The existence (or rather, nonexistence) of Nazareth is another mythicist irrelevancy. (197)

It is relevant to the question of the historical Jesus because historical evidence is largely based on a person’s relationship to other people and to places. In The Historical Jesus: Five Views, Price had problems arguing the mythicist perspective because he eschewed debating the Testimonium Flavian and focused mostly on proving the miracle stories were based on scripture. Of course most Biblical scholars don’t believe those are historical anyway, but a large number of them do believe Jesus came from Nazareth and that sets up a reason to believe in his historicity. It’s the seemingly arbitrary connections to people and places that best hold the evidence for whether someone is historical or mythical. If Bethlehem is based on theology and Nazareth is based on a misspelling, then maybe a historical Jesus just came from Capernaum, but it sets a pattern. The more explanations for seemingly arbitrary relationships such as living in one town or another, the more you strip away what can possibly be known about Jesus, and that in turn increases the chances that all information about him is mythical.

“The fact that a story about a person has been shaped according to the mold of older stories and tradition does not prove that the core of the story is unhistorical. It simply shows how the story came to take its shape. Take as an example the way the story of Jesus is told in the early chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. It has long been recognized that Matthew wants to portray Jesus as a “new Moses,” and so it is no surprise to find that the things that happen to Jesus in Matthew closely parallel the Old Testament traditions about Moses. Just as the ruler of the land, the Egyptian pharaoh, sought to destroy Moses as an infant (Exodus I), so too the ruler of the land, the Jewish king Herod, sought to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2). Jesus and his family escape by going to Egypt, the land of Moses… But the fact that Matthew shaped the story in this way has nothing to do with the question of whether or not Jesus existed.” (198-199)

This may be a rare instance in which I believe a gospel's story element could be historical and Ehrman doesn't. The Talmud and the Toledot says that Ben Perachiah escaped to Egypt with Yeshu during a purge of the Pharisees either by John Hyrcanus or Alexander Jannaeus. It is also known that Alexander Jannaeus switched allegiance from the Pharisees to the Saduccees during this time, so there actually could be an original story behind the “Escape to Egypt” from the first century B.C. It would be hard to understand why such a sparse detail would be lifted from Matthew, changed so drastically, and then retrojected into the past. It makes far more sense to me that Matthew took the legend of Yeshu and shaped it into a story symbolizing how many Jews fled Herod to Egypt in a “reverse Exodus” of first century A.D. It’s hardly proof that the story was not invented, but the first century B.C. is the best fit for the historical context.

“For instance, as in the story of the widow of Zarephath in I Kings 17, Price indicates that the story in which Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31) is drawn from I Kings 17:8-16, where Elijah provides miraculous quantities of food for the widow and her son in the time of famine. Unlike the earlier account I mentioned, however, here there are so many difference between the two episodes and so few similarities that it is hard to see how one was drawn from the other.” (200-201).

It is true some of the parallels that Price draws are too vague to confirm a literary connection.

“Is this explanation really at the same level of historical probability as the explanation of the triumphal entry? Zoroastrianism? Vohu Mana? Ahura Mazda? These were the influences that determined how the story of Jesus’ baptism were told?” (203)

Price is hardly the first to suggest a Zoroastrian influence on Judaism and Chistianity, starting with the original “savior messiah” Cyrus. Concepts such as Judgment Day and an ongoing spiritual struggle between angels and demons are basically Zoroastrian. The magi in Matthew are possibly Zoroastrian priests.

“Even if later storytellers chose to talk about Jesus’s baptism in light of something that once happened to Zoroaster—which seems highly unlikely, but if they actually did—this has no bearing on the question of whether Jesus existed and, in this case, very little bearing on the question of whether he really was baptized by John the Baptist.” (204)

New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson once wrote something to the effect that people should separate the “real Jesus” of Christian faith from the ethereal Jesus of “grown up history” such that among the very few things he could confidently assert is historical is his baptism under John and his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. It is one of the few events, backed by the criterion of embarrassment, that most Biblical scholars regardless of persuasion believe is historical. Identifying a likely literary trope that precedes it is of course entirely relevant to the question of whether it is possible Jesus’ baptism was invented to symbolize an influential figure in the church’s history and in turn whether a first century Jesus lived at all. If throwing doubt on one of the most historical-sounding elements of the gospel narrative isn’t relevant, then what does Ehrman believe are the legitimate boundaries for historical analysis?

“An analogy may yet again be useful. Today the historical novel is a widely accepted genre of literature. Over the past few years I have read Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay, based on events in France during the Holocaust; A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, about the French Revolution; and Romola, by George Eliot, about Savonarola in fifteenth-century Florence... No one would claim that the French Revolution never happened because it is discussed in a work of fiction created by Charles Dickens or that the Holocaust was made up because there is a novel about it.” (207)

Ehrman’s subconscious must be in revolt to have come up with such a comparison. Mythicists are not trying to claim that the wars between the Romans and the Jews are fictional or that the first century A.D. never happened. They are trying to claim that the gospel Jesus is fictional, the functional equivalent of arguing that Sarah Starzynski, Charles Darnay, and Tito Melema from those books are fictional characters, which they are. So Ehrman has actually come up with a perfect analogy for mythcism but mistook it for the opposite.

“Unfortunately, we do not have Mithraic texts that explain it all to us, let alone texts that indicate that Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25 and that he died to atone for sins only to be raised on a Sunday.” (213)

While there are no Western inscriptions, a Seleucid temple in western Iran was dedicated around 200 B.C. to “Anahita, as the Immaculate Virgin Mother of the Lord Mithra.” And although the ceremonies of Mithraism were a secret, it is established that Mithras was equated with Sol Invictus, so it can probably be assumed that they celebrated on the general Roman holiday of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, “the birthday of the unconquered sun” on December 25th, not that they were the only ones celebrating the nearly universal holiday of the winter solstice.

“As I pointed out earlier, the reason a religion like Mithraism is called a mystery cult by scholars is that the followers of the religion were bound by a vow of secrecy and so never revealed the mysteries of their religion, either their practices or their beliefs. It is true that later writers sometimes indicated what, in their opinion, took place in the religion. But these later writers were not involved personally in the cult, and historians are highly reluctant to take them at their words as if they had real sources of information.” (213)

Just because a mystery cult tried to keep its rituals secret does not mean that information about it never got out.

“These later authors, such as the church father Tertullian, started making such claims for very specific reasons. It was not that they had done research and interviewed followers of those religions. It was because they wanted pagans to realize that Christianity was not all that different from what other pagans said and did in their religions so that there would be no grounds for singling out Christians and persecuting them.” (213-214)

So Tertullian was trying to compare his religion to “idolatry,” which was what he considered “The principal crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment…”, and he did this so that he could stop the Roman persecution of Christians even though he believed that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”?

“The Christian sources that claim to know something about these mysteries, in other words, had a vested interest in making others think that the pagan religions were in many ways like Christianity. For that reason—plus the fact that they would not have had reliable sources of information—they generally cannot be trusted.” (214)

Justin Martyr’s excuse for why Christianity looked so much like paganism was that the devils of paganism were so conniving that they copied the legendary elements of Jesus before Jesus was born. It's pretty clear that Justin wishes those parallel elements weren't there. Mythicists have long considered Justin's excuse to be one of the great epitomes of apologetic irrationality in the service of belittling the mystery religions. But I think Ehrman one-ups Justin in irrational apologetics by accusing that the Christian philosopher of inventing a story about devils stealing Christianity's copyright in order to make his religion look more like Satanism.

Continue to Part 3 of the review