I have read quite a few books by Bart Ehrman and (quite obviously) disagree with much of what he says. And yet recently I decided to read his book Did Jesus Exist? If you are looking for a book that provides a fair analysis of the evidence for the existence of the historical Jesus, and offers an informed and insightful critique of mythicism, then this book should be at the top of your list.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
What is the scholarly consensus about the historical Jesus?
“Despite the enormous range of opinion, there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree. Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea” (p. 12).
How seriously is mythicism taken in the academy?
“It is fair to say that mythicists as a group, and as individuals, are not taken seriously by the vast majority of scholars in the field of New Testament, early Christianity, ancient history, and theology” (20).
"The idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion. It has no ancient precedents. It was made up in the eighteenth century. One might as well call it a modern myth, the myth of the mythical Jesus" (96).
Why don’t Greek and Roman authors mention Jesus in the first century?
“It is also true…that no Greek or Roman author from the first century mentions Jesus. It would be very convenient for us if they did, but alas, they do not. At the same time, the fact is again a bit irrelevant since these same sources do not mention many millions of people who actually did live. Jesus stands here with the vast majority of living, breathing, human beings of earlier ages” (43).
“If an important Roman aristocratic ruler of a major province [Pontius Pilate] is not mentioned any more than that in the Greek and Roman writings, what are the chances that a lower-class Jewish teacher (which Jesus must have been, as everyone who thinks he lived agrees) would be mentioned in them? Almost none” (45).
“[F]rom Roman Palestine of the entire first century we have precisely one, and only one, author of literary texts whose works have survived… That one author is Josephus” [And according to Ehrman, Josephus testifies to important facts surrounding the life and death of Jesus, 49, 57-66].
Why doesn’t Philo of Alexandria mention Jesus?
“We do have the writings of the important Jewish philosopher Philo from the early to mid-first century. He never mentions Jesus, but we would not expect him to do so, as Christianity had probably not reached his native Alexandria by the time of his death in 50 CE (57).
How important is the historical Jesus?
“One could argue as well that Jesus is the most important person in the history of the West, looked at from a historical, social, or cultural perspective, quite apart from his religious significance” (95).