In one of my earlier posts, I said I’m no stranger to Gary Wills. Well, I’m no stranger to Bart Ehrman either. I’ve been a huge fan of his ever since I read his 2003 book Lost Christianities: The Battle For Scripture and Faith We Never Knew. Just like me, he’s a former evangelical Christian. But of course unlike me he’s done more than probably anyone to make modern Biblical scholarship accessible and interesting to non-academics. So when I stumbled upon his latest book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth during one of my weekend library visits quite understandably I immediately grabbed it. After ripping through it like a hot knife through soft butter I’m very happy I decided to read it. Ehrman’s book is very good.
Much like his 2008 book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer, this is a slight departure from Ehrman’s traditional fare of modern Biblical studies and early Church history. While his book does encompass that kind of material, the sole purpose of Did Jesus Exist? is to provide an intelligent, scholarly but readable response to a small but influential group of writers who claim the historical figure of Jesus never existed. Thanks to his superb scholarship and his methodical but readable presentation of the evidence, Ehrman leaves little doubt that Jesus existed. His careful examination of both the historical record and the Biblical text, combined with his thoroughly analysis of the flawed arguments of his opponents should show with an incredibly high degree of certainty that an intelligent person, regardless of his or her own personal religious beliefs, should have no problem believing there was in fact a real Jesus of Nazareth.
The irony is Ehrman freely admits that he is an agnostic and probably leans atheist. Therefore, he can defend the historicity of Jesus based solely on the rigors of modern scholarship and not the tenants of religious belief. While he specifically states that the miracle-working, Son of God Jesus of the New Testament was in all likelihood a creation of the early Church, nonetheless based on the historical record there was a real person of Jesus.
Based on the strength of Ehrman’s scholarship and intellectual honesty, this is one of those rare books I’m tempted to recommend to both traditionalists and modernists alike. Did Jesus Exist? and Borg’s Reading the Bible Again For the First Time are the two best religion books I’ve read so far this year. I highly recommend this book.