Internet Sceptic Meets Real World: Reginald Finley and Bart Ehrman

atheism Theology / Biblical Studies

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Reginald Finley is an internet sceptic. There are many such sceptics, who see themselves as part of a thriving community of thought, which in actuality amounts to a (virtual) crowd of usernames at internet forums who perceive themselves at the cutting edge of the genuinely critical approach to biblical studies. They are strident non-believers, they know that Jesus never existed, and they know – they are absolutely certain – that this is what the evidence shows. People who disagree are simply ignoring the evidence or are unwilling to challenge tradition.

Bart Ehrman is a New Testament critic. By that I mean that he’s a qualified, professional scholar who has expertise in textual criticism. In the past I’ve criticised Ehrman over what I take to be his rather sensationalist work, especially in the podcast episode Sexing Up Early Church History. I say that lest anyone think that I’m a fan of his. I’m not. As I explain in that episode, I think some of his theories about the way the church suppressed alternative books of the Bible are more at home in The Da Vinci code than in the classroom. Perhaps banking on the fact that a fellow non believer, and someone with a few degrees to boot, would come to the aid of the “Christ myth” theory, the fringe view that Jesus never existed, Finley broached the subject with Ehrman. You can tell from Finley’s reaction that he was unprepared for the reply.

 

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{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Chris July 25, 2011, 4:15 pm

    Did you mean to write “internet skeptic” or “iterative” skeptic, because the latter is what I’ve gained from this interview.

  • Glenn July 25, 2011, 4:19 pm

    No, internet sceptic – but he’s iterative as well, I’ll give him that.

    I initially thought you were commenting on the spelling of the word sceptic!

  • Matthew July 25, 2011, 10:48 pm

    Thanks for your post Dr Glen. It was a thoroughly entertaining. I found it funny that Reginald keeps on going on with the conversation. Talk about digging yourself a hole.

    Bart said “You can systematically deny everything, but that is not how you do history.” Reginald seems never to have considered that. And maybe still hasn’t.

  • Peter July 25, 2011, 10:54 pm

    Reginald Finley: How do we know [Paul] did not lie about [Jesus]?
    Bart Ehrman: Why would he lie about? … and goes on about of the cuff comments.
    The second best argument ever (after the arguments of authority Ehrman used)

    Ehrman thinks that there was a historical Jesus and Gospels are different portraits of him. Ehrman is not a Christian and does not think that Jesus rose from death and is the saviour. Erhman thinks Jesus of the Gospels did not exist; God Jesus is a myth!

  • Glenn July 25, 2011, 11:19 pm

    Peter, on the contrary, as Ehrman very clearly stated – precisely to avoid that kind of misrepresentation of him – the Jesus of the Gospels did exist. As he stressed explicitly, there’s only one individual here, and he did exist. No historian denies this. What Ehrman denies is that the Gospels are correct in attributing supernatural power to him. But any effort to try to drag Ehrman in as a supporter of the “Jesus is a myth” hypothesis is manifestly dishonest.

  • Grant Dexter July 26, 2011, 12:36 am

    Arguing with a man who think Jesus never existed is like arguing with a man who says water is not wet. :chuckle:

  • Grant Dexter July 26, 2011, 12:38 am

    Oh, wait. Ehrman does think Jesus existed? Wow. :chuckle:

  • Peter July 26, 2011, 1:20 am

    Glenn, on the contrary. The central issue of Jesus is that he rose from death and is God. If you don’t believe Jesus’ supernatural side, then he is a myth (or fiction etc). It’s like arguing that Sherlock Holmes was a real person because he was based on a real person. If you are still not sure of what is a myth compare Jesus and Osiris. If one is a real person or myth, so is the other.

  • Peter July 26, 2011, 1:25 am

    Grant Dexter,
    “Arguing with a man who think Jesus never existed..”

    Well here lies the problem. Are you talking about Jesus who rose from the dead? Or are you talking about Jesus who did not perform any miracle and was not resurrected? Or are you talking about Jesus from Quran, or perhaps Marcion’s Jesus, or perhaps gnostics’ Jesus? Most of those never existed.

  • Mike Bianchi July 26, 2011, 2:33 am

    Sometimes I love Ehrman. Sometimes.

  • Grant Dexter July 26, 2011, 3:36 am

    Good point, Peter.

  • Grayson July 26, 2011, 4:18 am

    Peter, you said:

    “Glenn, on the contrary. The central issue of Jesus is that he rose from death and is God. If you don’t believe Jesus’ supernatural side, then he is a myth (or fiction etc). It’s like arguing that Sherlock Holmes was a real person because he was based on a real person. If you are still not sure of what is a myth compare Jesus and Osiris. If one is a real person or myth, so is the other.”

    I think the problem that you’re running into is attributing the level of historical certainty of a certain event related to a historical figure to that of the historical figure himself! This, I must say, is quite odd. Under the methodology you’re presenting, we could say “George Washington never existed!” because we might be skeptical of the story of chopping down the cherry tree. Historians simply just don’t use this all-or-nothing attitude.

    I am also failing to understand the relevance of your Sherlock Holmes analogy. But as for comparing Osiris and Jesus (although I, admittedly, have not done so myself), I would encourage you to check out Glenn’s podcast on this very matter (as well as others related to the “Christ Myth” theory it seems), labeled “Osiris and Jesus”.

  • Grayson July 26, 2011, 4:20 am

    Also, just to clarify, I do indeed “buy the resurrection story” (as Richard Carrier would put it).

  • Brandon July 26, 2011, 5:00 am

    Reginald: I think he’s even a professor…
    Ehrman: No he’s not.
    Reg: I think he has a teaching job…
    Ehrman: No he doesn’t.
    Reg: I think he did or does…
    Ehrman: No he doesn’t…
    Reg: Yeah, I think…
    Ehrman: Nope.
    I love it.

  • Haecceitas July 26, 2011, 8:38 am

    Price is or was a professor at some non-accredited seminary. So in the part that Brandon cites, both were sort of right.

  • Peter July 26, 2011, 10:16 am

    Brandon,

    According Robert Price’s The Bible Geek podcast Ehrman apologised to Price over his comments. Oh well… half truths, Youtube and Christian apologists…

  • Glenn July 26, 2011, 7:00 pm

    Peter, no, you’re certainly mistaken. When you say “you’re attributing different characteristics to that person than I would,” that’s fine, but to slip over the edge into “I deny that the person you are describing ever existed,” you’re simply being over the top and inaccurate. All historians recognise that there is a clear distinction between disagreements over whether a person did x or y, and over whether or not that person even existed.

  • Glenn July 26, 2011, 7:02 pm

    One more thing, Peter: In the interests of total honesty, can you please name the Christian apologist who, via YouTube, denied that Price was ever a professor? Because I have to say, the last time I checked Bart Ehrman wasn’t a Christian apologist. Just when you have time, let me know.

    Thanks!

  • Peter July 26, 2011, 10:50 pm

    Grayson,

    You are making a category mistake comparing god Jesus to George Washington. Supernatural resurrection was the central issues of the Supernatural entity Jesus. Being a president (not chopping down the natural cherry tree) was the central issue of the natural person George Washington. So, no apples and oranges please.

    Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person. Sherlock Holmes is a fiction character. Resurrected Jesus was based on Ehrman’s historical Jesus. Resurrected Jesus is a fictional character to Ehrman.

    I listened the “Osiris and Jesus” podcast. The podcast was to refute that Christians copied from Osiris and others. So that did not address my argument about the historicity of Osiris. Budge was mentioned briefly in the podcast but not his writings about the historical person Osiris. Budge wrote about that in couple of his books and his analysis was based on Diodorus Siculus writing among others. So could you please address my argument about Jesus’ historicity and Osiris’ historicity?

  • Glenn July 26, 2011, 11:51 pm

    Peter your argument about Osiris and Jesus was just one claim: If one is a myth then so is the other.

    Care to elaborate? I hope you will at very least appreciate that this off the cuff comment is not an “argument,” as you call it. For one, there is very little biographical information on the historical figure, if there is one, lurking behind Osiris. What is more, if you are right (and your comment suggests you’re confident and have done a decent amount of checking yourself, and didn’t just read a comment on a message board somewhere), then Osiris did indeed exist. And what is the point of saying this? All we would then say is that yes, there may have been an Osiris, and there are also many myths told about him – similar to what you would say about Jesus.

    It’s a very modest statement, however, to say that there’a an incredible order of magnitude of difference in the actual historical data we have on Jesus, of course, but that’s another matter. The point is – so what if there really was an Osiris? Do you think Christians lose something by granting that?

  • Peter July 27, 2011, 12:40 am

    Glenn,

    I don’t “deny that the person you are describing ever existed”. The historical evidence of supernatural Jesus is just so weak that the he is way more likely to be a myth than real.

    Your comment “All historians recognise that there is a clear distinction between disagreements over whether a person did x or why, and over whether or not that person even existed” is true but irrelevant and confuses categories. Historians don’t have method to evaluate supernatural event any better than anyone else.

    In the interests of total honesty, I never claimed that “any Christian apologist, via YouTube, denied that Price was never a professor”. What I see is that Apologists posting YouTube clips and sound bites with little context, and their readers like Brandon get’s an ignorant laugh. I’m pretty sure your readers haven’t bothered to research what happened after that clip and what Ehrman’s and Price’s current relation is. Oh well… I’ll just wait for your next fair and balanced Youtube clip. Perhaps it will be better than your recent Dawkins’ clip.

  • Paul Baird July 27, 2011, 2:44 am

    Streisand effect 🙂

  • Grayson July 27, 2011, 4:04 am

    Peter

    I never compared Jesus to George Washington. I was simply saying that we cannot use the sort of methodology you were suggesting when conducting historical investigation (as Glenn has pointed out), using George Washington and the “cherry tree” story as an example.

    However, it seems that you have cleared up a few things (I hope I wasn’t the only one that was confused). I was very much under the impression that you were claiming that since the resurrection didn’t occur (you believe), Jesus did not exist, at all. But, you’ve rephrased by saying that you don’t believe the supernatural Jesus existed. That’s a fair claim worthy of debate and not one that I myself feel qualified to be involved in (although personally, I feel that it all comes down to one’s view on miracles). But quite a few people here do seem to be qualified to speak on that topic, so I’ll leave it to them. So, I apologize for any misunderstandings.

    Cheers.

  • Glenn July 27, 2011, 5:36 pm

    Peter, no, the comment was not irrelevant. You were saying that the supernatural Jesus didn’t exist, as though we were discussing a bunch of different people.

    I was just pointing out that the issue is not over whether a person existed, but over whether the Gospel describes him correctly. Therefore it was quite relevant.

    As for “context” and blaming Christians – you’re being unreasonable. Even if the entire interview had been played from start to finish, it still would not have included the other podcast you were referring to. There was nothing dishonest about this clip. Nobody forced Ehrman to say anything, and the point was simple: Finley ignorantly assumed that the far out Jesus myth view would be acceptable to a relevantly educated person just because the person was an atheist/agnostic. The tables were turned and Finley found out that this was completely false.

    It’s simple, and this was clearly the point here. Peter, if you’re now going to pretend that a Christian put this on Youtube in an underhanded way to spread the rumour that Price has or had no teaching job, then it is you who is quite plainly misrepresenting things.

  • Patrick August 1, 2011, 1:44 pm

    Love the interaction.

    I think he did or does have a teaching job
    No he doesn’t…..

    I think he did or does…
    He doesn’t have a teaching job

    I think he did have a teaching job
    No he doesn’t

  • Reginald Finley February 14, 2013, 11:30 am

    The authors and many of the respondents here are all incorrect. When you assume that this was a debate, you see it this way. This wasn’t a debate. I was bring him on to discuss some challenges that some people many have with Jesus existing as a real person. I was giving him the seat. He mistakenly thought that I was trying to debate him and that’s why it sounds the way it does. Bart Ehrman has since apologized and stated that he was unaware of who I was and that’s why it came out the way it did. Listen again. That’s why I was pausing and was trying to push the conversation because I wanted more detail. He just kept saying, “Read the literature etc..” Umm.. then why are you on the show? You all have it very wrong. Sometimes, there’s a totally different side to the story.

  • Glenn February 14, 2013, 11:21 pm

    Hi Reginald – not sure why you think I’m mistaken for thinking that this was a debate between the two of you (I am the author). I certainly never thought that (or said it), and I can’t see any commentors here suggesting that either. The only point here is that you assumed that, because he’s something of a sceptic, he would have agreed with you on the existence of Jesus. In fact, as you found, he simply didn’t. And this was a juncture in the discussion, not a debate – not that this changes anything.

    Glad you stopped by. 🙂

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