When I began reading Bart Ehrman’s new book on the historicity of Jesus, I expected that it would reflect the kinds of scholarly controls that I am familiar with in his other books. However, all one has to do is to turn the next page in his Jesus book to be confronted by another example of bias. I’m not really interested in the historicity of Jesus. To me the question is largely irrelevant. The sources are too tainted, and should be acknowledged to be so, to qualify as sources of reliable historical data. The idea that there was a man who was actually, as Christians have claimed for two thousand years less a decade or two, a representative of a god, is about as implausible as Santa Claus making his once yearly journey to the homes of all the boys and girls in the world. So, whether there was an historical person at the centre of the myth — and that needs to be stressed — at the centre of the myth – of the Son of God, is completely irrelevant to anything that should concern you or me. If there was such a person, he lived a long time ago, and is only loosely connected with the mythology that Christians built up around him. If there wasn’t such a person, the myths remain roughly the same, and have the same import. The mythical Jesus of miracles and profound teachings (most of them, as it happens, borrowed), and his questionable morals, is forever beyond the reach of history. If there was a man, he would not recognise the mythology that grew up around his single human life. The birth and the passion stories are almost entirely prophecy historicised. The rest of the story is composed of sayings and deeds which can only with difficulty be ascribed to a human being. The importance of Jesus is the importance of the mythology that grew up around the name of a man who may or may not have lived in first century Judaea. Trying to pin it on a man is a hopeless gesture of faith or faction. I see no point in it.
However, as I was saying, all that it took is the turn of a page, and one is faced immediately with a problem. I have already pointed out in an earlier post what I consider to be a lapse in judgement on Ehrman’s part. But this one is, if anything, more serious; for it shows much more clearly than the last the biased mind at work. Now, mind you, I understand that Ehrman speaks as a unbeliever. He doesn’t believe, any more than do I, that there was a man in first century Palestine who was the veritable Son of God, and who was crucified for the sake of humankind, to free them from sin and death. All you have to do is to watch someone you love suffer for years and die to disabuse yourself of any such fiction. But it does rather rub salt into the wounds to have someone who claims not to believe going a long way out of his way to suggest, beyond all reason, that there was a human being at the centre of that particularly repulsive mythology.
So, when I read this, only a page or so later from the point that I had reached before my last outburst against Ehrman’s book, I literally had to say to myself, “Someone is trying much too hard to make his case.” Here’s the passage. He’s speaking about the gospels:
The fact that their books later became documents of faith has no bearing on the question of whether the books can still be used for historical purposes. [73, Kindle]
And then, on the next page, he refers to things written about George Washington by his friends:
We don’t dismiss early American accounts of the Revolutionary War simply because they were written by Americans. 
No, of course we don’t. But Ehrman is playing a trick on his readers, and he, as a scholar, should not do that in a book aimed at a lay audience. The difference is this. The books (the gospels) he is referring to did not later become documents of faith. They were documents of faith the moment they were written, and Ehrman knows that. It may be that some of the things written about Washington were biased, too, by the role that he played in the War of Independence, but there is an important difference. No one was attributing to Washington superhuman powers, or felial relationship to a deity. But that attribution is made of Jesus, and it was made with the intention that the words written about him should guide people in their religious faith. It is simply dishonest to suggest otherwise.
Now, that’s all I’m going to write on this occasion. I had started to read the book again, and this is the first thing that confronted me, and I found it extremely troubling. Why, I wondered, would a scholar of Ehrman’s reputation, make such an elementary mistake? And then I wondered whether it was, after all, a mistake at all. He is setting out to make a case. Before he comes to Washington, he says this:
But the reality is that Luke inherited oral traditions about Jesus and his connection with Nazareth, and he recorded what he heard.
How does Ehrman know this? Does he really know there was an oral tradition that connected Jesus with Nazareth? How could he know that? Where would the evidence of this oral tradition be found? As an historian, is he confident that he has represented the truth as he knows it to be? Oral traditions, unless they are written down by some eager anthropologist, usually undergo transformation and loss. There is certainly no such oral tradition still extant. So, this is a supposition on his part. Does he know that it is an oral tradition that “Luke” (whoever wrote the gospel so named) depended upon when he took such pains to get Jesus to Bethlehem? Remember that Matthew had the equal and opposite problem — getting Jesus from Bethlehem to Nazareth. Or did both Matthew and Luke depend independently upon a tradition of the interpretation of prophecy, that Jesus was a “Nazirite“? Whichever way it happened, there is no way that Ehrman can know that there was an oral tradition upon which Luke relied. Nor should he suggest that the gospel that Luke wrote (whoever he was) subsequently became a religious text, instead of simply an historical record of the time. The gospels are religious texts all the way down from the very start. The suggestion that they are historical in the sense that the notes of someone recording some deed or saying of Washington’s is completely out of order in this context.