Jesus Mythicism: Ehrman and Price

I hate being salt in the wound, but one of the more funny things to do, as someone with a background in biblical studies, is watching the flailing and blind waffling of Jesus mythicists.

Mythicism is what happens when untrained, undereducated (in the particular subject being discussed), ideologically naive people gather into walled off groups and discuss the fanciful while pretending they are circumventing the ideology of the academy at large (assuming NT studies is corrupted by Christian practitioners).

Because of the bizarre nature of such debates, I decided I had to stay up until midnight (London Time) on October 20th to watch a nearly three hour event, a debate between Bart Ehrman and Robert Price. At times I was intrigued, but mostly I knew perturbation. That feeling probably peaked when Price had the gall to suggest that Paul didn’t write Galatians. What?!

I, obviously, had a side. I’m a Pauline scholar with a background working on, particularly, Paul and his reception and possible uses in political philosophy and critical theory. Because of this, I do often find myself in a strange spot where I rely on biblical studies and defend it, while still occupying a marginal space on the boundaries of the discipline.

But, I am also aware of the limitations in method for the work on the historical Jesus. These have been pointed out by plenty, including Ehrman, Crossley, R. Myles, D. Kirkman,  and scores of reasonably skeptical scholars (who note problems with, for instance, criteria like “embarrassment” or dissimilarity)

Because of this, I actually was looking forward to some interesting pushback, either through Price’s grappling with Ehrman, or through the audience Q & A. Instead, I found myself messaging a friend, lamenting that I had stayed up so late (he felt mutual). I also paid £6. I could have gotten 3 beers from Tesco and had enough change leftover for candy. Probably would have resulted in a more fun night.

Every point brought up by Price was easily countered by Ehrman (though he did make some mistakes, and acted a bit authoritative on points that aren’t quite concrete, like the ethnicity of Mark). The audience questions, likewise, were just silly. The type that could easily have been cleared up by reading a few surveys instead of getting one’s feet wet in the subject by  picking up mythicist literature.

Here, then, we can come to the crux of the issue. This is purely ideological, through and through. It isn’t really about scholarship, or finding Truth, or some other romanticized notion. It’s about forming scholarship that finds its guiding touchpoints through the broader cultural form of certain types of atheism.

There was, however, an enjoyable breakdown of the evening with scholars on an online podcast, consisting of James McGrath and James G. Crossley. This was the highlight of the night as they were given chance to discuss the some of the details of the debate. Several minutes in a mythicist joined the ranks, so at times it felt like a second mini-event. This was, perhaps, the saving grace of the evening. 

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