Bart Ehrman's Triumph of Christianity, Part 3

I took last week off so that I could meet Mrs H for lunch and allow her to listen to Billy Graham's funeral on the radio. She was a great admirer of Graham, and she was grateful for the chance to listen in.

Now, what of Ehrman's latest? I made my way up through page 139, and Ehrman has yet to drop any kind of footwear that would disturb universal harmony. He acknowledges how intolerant the Romans were of religious movements they considered deviant [89] and that Christianity was exclusivist [125]. He also admits that Christians were "widely considered strange." [104] Chapter 4 has the promising title, "Reasons for Christian Success" [105] and it begins with an admission that Christian growth rates were "absolutely extraordinary." However, Ehrman initially takes some time to putter around with the point that Christian monolatry at least would not have been considered extraordinary [115]. I don't think the contrary is argued by anyone whose leading form of communication isn't a personal YouTube channel. He also takes some time to inform us that Christianity was a missionary religion [116], which is a revelation on the order of being told that sliced bread is for sale at our local supermarket.

A bit more like what might be news to some people is that early mission efforts were generally by word of mouth [119]. That much would be true regardless in an age when the literacy rate barely topped 10% at best. In the end, Chapter 3 should not have been titled, "Reasons for Christian Success" because it doesn't actually give any reasons WHY Christianity succeeded. If anything, Ehrman has named two leading reasons why Christianity would NOT have succeeded (Roman intolerance for superstition; Christianity exclusivity) and told us some ways that Christians would have used to spread their offensive message around.

Chapter 5 is about "miraculous incentives" for conversion and it is here where we have the first actual detail-explanations emerging for that "why" Ehrman has done his best to avoid for almost half the book now. For good measure, Ehrman begins with an observation that most people who became Christians were ignorant and uneducated [133], though how this helps him is hard to say since that also described the majority of all living people at the time, and continues to do so today, albeit often in more tailored and narrow fashions. Ehrman then rejects the thesis of Hector Avalos that one reason for Christian success was that they offered "superior health care". As Ehrman points out, since Christian health advocacy also meant more Christians were infected with and died from the diseases of the people they treated, it could hardly have been a cause for any significant growth. 

I'll be picking up again next time where Ehrman starts discussing miracles again (at least it looks like it), but I would close with one charge, not against Ehrman but against Robert Price, the fringe-loony scholar who hasn't found a Christ-myth argument has hasn't been willing to heartily endorse. Price recently hosted Ehrman on his "Bible Geek" show, and he briefly made note of my "impossible faith" argument for the Resurrection. However, Price badly mischaracterized my argument as being that Christianity was so offensive that no one would have believed it unless the "Holy Spirit" had been convicting people of its truth -- a notion Ehrman rejected scornfully. I make no such argument at all anywhere. My core argument was rather than no one would have believed it unless there was good evidence that Jesus actually rose from the dead. 

Will Ehrman address that argument? We'll find out.


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