Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman supports the historic existence of Jesus
Once a fundamentalist Christian, agnostic Ehrman lays the case in his new book for Jesus as an authentic historic figure.
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Most accept Jesus because they have a personal relationship with him, so of course he exists. I approach it as a historian, looking at how a historian would go about establishing that he exists. Just by doing work as a historian, we can show that Jesus existed.Skip to next paragraph
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Q: What about historical evidence of his miracles and his divinity?
A: History only deals with matters that cannot invoke supernatural causality. That’s simply the nature of historic evidence.
Q: Many biblical scholars believe that the canonical Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – weren't written by anyone who personally knew Jesus. Does that make it difficult to rely on them as historical narratives of what really happened?
A: Scholars have worked on this problem for a very long time, starting in the 1770s. We're talking about a discipline that’s hundreds of years old.
And the majority of scholars have believed that Jesus is best understood as a Jewish apocalypticist. Jesus believed there were forces of evil that were in charge of this world, and that's why there's so much pain and suffering, but God would soon intervene to overthrow the forces of evil. Jesus probably expected this to happen within his own lifetime or his disciples' lifetimes.
Q: What’s your next book about?
A: My next popular book is about how Jesus became God. How do we get within a hundred years from this apocalyptic prophet who was preaching his message in Galilee to someone who's considered the second member of the Trinity?
Q: I'm curious about your status as an agnostic. I wonder if it's similar to being a political moderate who gets accused by both conservatives and liberals of really being on the other side.
A: For many years, I was a conservative evangelical Christian. At the time, I thought agnostics and atheists were basically the same thing.
It wasn't until I became an agnostic that I realized that atheists basically think agnostics are wimpy atheists, that they don't have the guts to go all the way. And agnostics think that atheists are arrogant.
Q: What do religious people think of agnostics?
A: There's hope because they don't know the answer, and Christians are happy to tell them so they can learn the truth.
Q: Why not become an atheist yourself?
A: I don't know whether there's a superior being. I prefer to call myself an agnostic because it simply acknowledges what I don't know.
Also, I think that given the vastness and awe-inspiring nature of the universe, it does deserve a little bit of humility.
(For more about biblical scholarship, check my recent Christian Science Monitor interview with Elaine Pagels, author of the new book "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.")
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor correspondent.