So the trend continues in his latest book Did Jesus Exist? (DJE?). Ehrman defends the view that Jesus was just an apocalyptic prophet from Palestine. If you read Jesus, Interrupted, this book serves as an updated and expanded version of the chapter that discusses the historical Jesus, same exegetical mistakes included, Jesus preached that the end was near and so forth. What about Preterism, Dr. Ehrman? But that's really a minor nit with what is otherwise a solid book.
Ehrman opens his discussion with a polite but pointed reminder that the Christ-myth is rejected by just about every biblical scholar in the world. Though this isn't evidence in and of itself, it should give the mythicists pause before crafting elaborate conspiracies about Jesus. Like many apologists and the few scholars who have bothered to address the Christ-myth, Ehrman explains that he and many other experts have no ideological desire to defend a historical Jesus. "I am an agnostic with atheist leanings, and my life and views of the world would be approximately the same whether or not Jesus existed." (p 5) So much for Neil Godfrey's idea that even skeptical scholars have a soft spot for Jesus in their hearts.
The fact that Christ-mythers also tend to be evolution thumpers didn't escape Ehrman's attention either. He compares the mythicist crowd to the politicians who "painfully" remind us that evolution is just a theory. (p 5) But like evolution, historians believe Jesus existed because of the overwhelming evidence in support. It's hilarious because the amount of special pleading required to accept evolution but reject that Christianity was founded by the guy it's named for is monumental.
Non-Christian references to Jesus
After a brief overview of the history of mythicism and its currents proponents (of which only two are trained scholars, Price and Carrier), Ehrman begins the bulk of his case with a defense of the non-Christian sources for the life of Jesus. I found this chapter lacking in a lot of ways. It provides a brief overview of all the standard references (Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Tacitus and Josephus), but Ehrman could have done better. There's no defense of Tacitus' abilities as a historian (which were impressive), for example, or the significance of the references. From Tacitus alone we can establish that Christianity came out of Judea, which creates trouble for advocates of the pagan copycat thesis, who say Christianity was crafted by combining elements from pagan religions.
Ehrman argues that these extra-biblical references are relatively unimportant in this debate; they don't provide any information we can't get from earlier sources. (p 97) While true, that argument ignores the fact that the Christ-myth crowd easily and often dismisses any Christian source for the life of Jesus as biased. So the more references we have from different writers, the better.
I have to applaud Ehrman for his treatment of the Gospels as historical sources. Obviously, I take a higher view of them being a Christian, but Ehrman rightly bashes the skeptics (e.g. David Fitzgerald) who would discount the four biographies because they contain errors and inconsistencies. "The fact that [the gospel writers'] books later became documents of faith has no bearing on...whether the books can still be used for historical purposes. To dismiss the Gospels from the historical record is neither fair nor scholary." (p 73)
Whatever your view of the Gospels, Ehrman says, they "...are either completely independent of one another or independent in a large number of their traditions," and attest to some basic facts about the life of Jesus. He existed, was a Jewish teacher and crucified by the Romans, to name a few examples. (p 92)
Evidence outside the Gospels
Ehrman also does serious damage to the argument that other Christians sources, many of which contain material that predates the Gospels, teach a mythical Jesus. For one, he points out that much of the information about Jesus presented in the Gospels is corroborated by sources like Acts, Paul's letters and 1 and 2 Peter. Ehrman also asks a salient question on this point: with so many early and independent sources (multiple Gospel accounts, epistles etc.) very clearly identifying Jesus as a historical figure, which document served as the source of the Christ-myth? (p 82)
Of course, the mythicists don't accept these as references to a historical person, but Ehrman carefully untangles their flawed logic on every point, giving special attention to G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty and Robert Price. After spending several chapters building his case, Ehrman goes after these major proponents rather forcefully.
Overall, DJE? is a decent refutation of the Christ-myth. It won't deter the hardcore proponents of the hypothesis, but perhaps some readers will be spared acceptance of such a moronic point of view because of Ehrman's book. I think JP Holding's Shattering the Christ Myth is a far better title in this very limited genre. Holding and his co-authors explored the subject in much greater depth and more accurately in certain instances. Still, Ehrman's effort is a welcomed addition to the small but growing body of literature on the Christ-myth.