Friday, February 19, 2016

My evening with Bart Ehrman.

Bart Ehrman gave a talk at Fresno City College on his book "How Jesus became God." He comes across in person, as he does in his debates and books, as personable, self-effacing, knowledgeable and winsome. His talk is a bit cliche for anyone who has seem him previously. ( I was able to predict when he would do the "I went to Moody Bible Institute where "Bible"is our middle name" gag.)

In the course of his talk he asserted his position as a historian is that the Resurrection appearances probably did not happen since (a) grieving, emotional people have hallucinations of dead loved ones ("1 in 8 of us will have that experience.") and (b) Jesus's appearances to groups of people was another well-known phenomenon of mass hallucination. On the latter, Bart said that he debates "conservative Evangelicals" and he points out that Protestants are not going to accept the evidence of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, QED, if those apparitions are hallucinations. then how can his opponents argue that the the appearances of Jesus to groups of people were NOT hallucinations as well.

Knowing Chuckle from the audience. Case proved.

In Q&A, I asked the following:

"Returning to the issue of mass appearances, in your first debate you said that you had studies concerning mass shared hallucinations. In your second debate, you made the argument that since Protestants don't believe in apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the same skepticism can be applied to the mass appearances of Jesus to the disciples. My questions are: (1) do you have studies of mass appearances and (2) what is your argument if you are not arguing with a Protestant."

The gist of Bart's response was stunned and stunning. Basically, he said " I've debated against anyone who was not a conservative Evangelical. You're right....that argument wouldn't work against a Catholic because they would say that we believe in apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I haven't thought about it. I guess I wold have to come up with some other example."

At which point, someone yelled out "The angel Moroni" as if an alleged appearance of the angel Moroni to three people in a forest - two of whom may or may not have recanted later and then recanted their recantation - is the same kind of phenomenon as 50,000 people seeing the same thing on a clear day.

Bart also said that he had studies and that they were in his book.

The Q&A moved on at that point, but here are my observations.

First, the only thing about "mass hallucinations" in his book is a reference to a book done by a Catholic scholar who concludes that the apparitions are real. Apparently, the fact that this is a Catholic phenomenon is enough in Bart's mind to be self-disproving.

So, Bart is left - still - with no evidence to support the claim he made to Mike Licona years ago that mass hallucinations are a well studied phenomenon.

Second, he trots out the same argument that "the appearances of Jesus to the disciples must be false because no one believes that the apparitions of Mary really happen in his book."

Seriously, he wrote a book without considering that some of his readers might be Catholic and might not simply waive off apparitions of Mary as obvious nonsense...and this despite the rigorous investigation that the Catholic Church does before accepting some apparitions as veridical and saying that others are not....or come from somewhere other than God, to put it mildly.
Bart was a fundamentalist Protestant. He still seems to be a literalist...or he plays one for effect. He teaches in the Bible Belt. It is astounding that such a well-read man with such an audience can't step outside of his cultural boundaries.
Nonetheless, let me reiterate that he came across as a gracious, congenial, knowledgeable and patient man. His final pitch was to get people to sign up for membership on his blog, where he raised $117,000 for charity for the poor last year. That is an admirable achievement no matter how much I question his logic and rhetorical problems.
Here is my review of Ehrman's "Did Jesus Exist?"

1 comment:

mrez said...

Thanks for sharing Peter. Very Interesting.

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