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Did Jesus Exist?

The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Bart D. Ehrman



Title Page


Part I Evidence for the Historical Jesus

Chapter 1 An Introduction to the Mythical View of Jesus

Chapter 2 Non-Christian Sources for the Life of Jesus

Chapter 3 The Gospels as Historical Sources

Chapter 4 Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

Chapter 5 Two Key Data for the Historicity of Jesus

Part II The Mythicists’ Claims

Chapter 6 The Mythicist Case: Weak and Irrelevant Claims

Chapter 7 Mythicist Inventions: Creating the Mythical Christ

Part III Who Was the Historical Jesus?

Chapter 8 Finding the Jesus of History

Chapter 9 Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

Conclusion Jesus and the Mythicists




About the Author



About the Publisher


FOR THE PAST SEVERAL years I have been planning to write a book about how Jesus became God. How is it that a scarcely known, itinerant preacher from the rural backwaters of a remote part of the empire, a Jewish prophet who predicted that the end of the world as we know it was soon to come, who angered the powerful religious and civic leaders of Judea and as a result was crucified for sedition against the state—how is it that within a century of his death, people were calling this little-known Jewish peasant God? Saying in fact that he was a divine being who existed before the world began, that he had created the universe, and that he was equal with God Almighty himself? How did Jesus come to be deified, worshipped as the Lord and Creator of all?

I have to admit that I am eager to write the book, as these are among the most pressing questions in the entire history of religion. But I have continually been forced to put the book off as other writing projects have taken precedence. It will, however, be my next book. In the meantime, something more pressing has come up, a prior question that I have to address first. This book deals with that prior question.

Every week I receive two or three e-mails asking me whether Jesus existed as a human being. When I started getting these e-mails, some years ago now, I thought the question was rather peculiar and I did not take it seriously. Of course Jesus existed. Everyone knows he existed. Don’t they?

But the questions kept coming, and soon I began to wonder: Why are so many people asking? My wonder only increased when I learned that I myself was being quoted in some circles—misquoted rather—as saying that Jesus never existed. I decided to look into the matter. I discovered, to my surprise, an entire body of literature devoted to the question of whether or not there ever was a real man, Jesus.

I was surprised because I am trained as a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity, and for thirty years I have written extensively on the historical Jesus, the Gospels, the early Christian movement, and the history of the church’s first three hundred years. Like all New Testament scholars, I have read thousands of books and articles in English and other European languages on Jesus, the New Testament, and early Christianity. But I was almost completely unaware—as are most of my colleagues in the field—of this body of skeptical literature.

I should say at the outset that none of this literature is written by scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world). Of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity who do teach at such schools, none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubts that Jesus existed. But a whole body of literature out there, some of it highly intelligent and well informed, makes this case.

These sundry books and articles (not to mention websites) are of varying quality. Some of them rival The Da Vinci Code in their passion for conspiracy and the shallowness of their historical knowledge, not just of the New Testament and early Christianity, but of ancient religions generally and, even more broadly, the ancient world. But a couple of bona fide scholars—not professors teaching religious studies in universities but scholars nonetheless, and at least one of them with a Ph.D. in the field of New Testament—have taken this position and written about it. Their books may not be known to most of the general public interested in questions related to Jesus, the Gospels, or the early Christian church, but they do occupy a noteworthy niche as a (very) small but (often) loud minority voice. Once you tune in to this voice, you quickly learn just how persistent and vociferous it can be.

And the voice is being heard loud and clear in some places. Even a quick Internet search reveals how influential such radical skepticism has been in the past and how rapidly it is spreading even now. For decades it was the dominant view in countries such as the Soviet Union. Yet more striking, it appears to be the majority view in some regions of the West today, including some parts of Scandinavia.

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 real scholars of religion as both unfortunate and highly problematic, since in technical scholarship the term has come to mean many things over the years. When mythicists use the term they often seem to mean simply a story that has no historical basis, a history-like narrative that in fact did not happen. In this sense Jesus is a myth because even though there are plenty of ancient stories told about him, they are not historical. His life and teachings were invented by early storytellers. He never really lived.

Those who do not think Jesus existed are frequently militant in their views

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