Continuing my review of Bart Ehrman’s latest book:
“What I want to show is that because of the very nature of the historical disciplines, historians cannot show whether or not miracles every happened. Anyone who disagrees with me–who thinks historians can demonstrate that miracles happen–needs to be even-handed about it, across the board. IN Jesus’ day there were lots of people who allegedly performed miracles. There were Jewish holy men such as Hanina ben Dosa and Honi the circle drawer. There were pagan holy men such as Apollonius of Tyana, a philosopher who could allegedly heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. He was allegedly supernaturally born and at the end of his life he allegedly ascended to heaven. Sound familiar? There were pagan demigods, such as Hercules, who could also bring back the dead. Anyone willing to believe in the miracles of Jesus needs to concede the possibility of other people performing miracles, in Jesus’ day and in all eras down to the present day and in other religions such as Islam and indigenous religions of Africa and Asia,” Jesus Interrupted (HarperOne 2009), 172.
The most impressive feature about this argument is the fact that Ehrman seems to be impressed by this argument. Why he thinks this is supposed to be a compelling argument is a complete mystery to me.
i) What’s problematic about the notion that 1C Jews might be able to perform miracles? Other Jews could perform miracles. Moses, Elijah, Elisha, as well as Peter and Paul–to name a few.
ii) What’s problematic about the notion that pagans could perform miracles? Jannes and Jambres could apparently perform miracles (Exod 7-8). A medium could conjure up the shade of Samuel (1 Sam 28). A demonic could predict the future (Acts 16:16). Witches could strike people dead (Ezk 13:17-23).
iii) What’s problematic about the idea that miracles might occur at present as well as the past? Don’t foreign missionaries report this sort of thing?
iv) Must I be prepared to believe that Hercules can do a miracle? Not unless I believe that Hercules actually exists.
v) Yes, the feats attributed to Apollonius sound familiar. Why is that? Let’s see. Maybe, just maybe, because his biography was written long after the time of Jesus? If you think the parallels are genuine, that’s because a 3C AD biography is aping the life of Christ.
Ehrman knows that. But he’s banking on the ignorance of his gullible readers.
vi) Why does Ehrman think his argument has any teeth? Perhaps this is the unspoken assumption: miracles attest the messenger. Therefore, the miracles of one religion cancel out the miracles of another.
What about that assumption?
vii) Even in Scripture, attestation is not the only function of a miracle. A miracle may be performed as an act of mercy.
viii) Suppose, moreover, that a miracle does attest the messenger. So what? We need to draw an elementary distinction between what is what is right and what is true.
What does witchcraft attest? The reality of the dark side. The fact that demonic or diabolical spirits have paranormal powers. The fact that if you’re in league with the devil, you may acquire black magical powers.
But the fact that something is true doesn’t make it right. Suppose demonic possession confers paranormal powers on the human host? That doesn’t mean we should become devil-worshipers, does it? If Satanism works, that may mean it’s true, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. It’s still pure evil.
ix) The existence of sorcery does nothing to falsify Christian doctrine. To the contrary, this is corroborative evidence.
x) Why does Ehrman deploy such an atrocious argument? Two interpretations present themselves:
a) He’s a demagogue. He doesn’t even attempt to present good arguments for his position. He’s merely working the crowd.
b) An alternative interpretation is that Ehrman is actually dumb enough to be taken in by his own argument. That would explain his apostasy. Defective theology is so often the royal road to apostasy.