Bart Ehrman's "Triumph of Christianity" Conclusion

If T. S. Eliot were writing about Ehrman's The Triumph of Christianity, he would probably say it this way:

This is the way the book ends
This is the way the book ends
This is the way the  book ends
Not with a bang but a thud.

No, Ehrman never really explained "WHY" Christianity triumphed, beyond pedantic obvious-isms like, "People told other people about it, and they believed it." The closest he ever came to giving a "WHY" was when he suggested miracles might have something to do with it. And although he stayed non-committal about whether there were any real miracles happening, he cut off any attempt to make that a distinguishing factor by admitting that people of that time worshiped gods because of the benefits they provided [140]. He also admits that other gods were believed to have superhuman powers to provide things. What that means in the end is that either a) they were all just as able to do miracles, thus cutting off any reason to believe Christianity on that basis, or b) Christians trumped the pagans by having the real thing available. 

Ehrman also does not help himself, therefore, when he suggests people believed Christian miracles happened based on second-handed testimony [143]. Not once does he ever explained how Christianity overcame the high level of offense its beliefs would have caused within that social context. If anything, he makes that all the harder to explain the more he claims that people believed based on such thin evidence as, "I heard that Jeffrus Moosus over in Naples had his bunions healed by Jesus." If he thinks "conviction" is enough to explain conversions on this basis, Ehrman is an even bigger salesman than Elmer Gantry.

Did I mention Gantry? Even more incredibly, Ehrman suggests that the "tortures of hell" were a motive force for conversions [154]. Say what? It is ridiculous to project the Chick Tract era into the ancient world, but is is precisely what we might expect of Ehrman as a former fundamentalist. Never mind as well that the idea of hell as torture is not in fact what the New Testament teaches; it teaches that hell is shame, and you could get that on any street corner in the Roman Empire.

And from there, the book thuds into irrelevancy. Ehrman waxes to exceptional lengths about the growth rate of the church, persecutions in the post-New Testament era, the later emperors like Constantine -- all interesting, but not much use to the book's titular mission after Ehrman admitted early on that figures like Constantine were not why Christianity triumphed. I waited months for this book, thinking that if anyone had the desire to nerve to make this happen on a scholarly level, Ehrman might be it. Instead, this book is a major disappointment, though naturally we may expect the popular atheist crowd to nevertheless place it on a gold pedestal the same way they place anything else that flashes a little Skeptical leg. 

I'm moving on to something deeper -- like maybe a video game.

Comments

yoshua said…
Is Ehrman's book really that boring? I haven't ordered it yet. But the thing behind that boringness is probably that he's a non-specialist in historical studies.
Joe Hinman said…
First JP did you quote Elliot from memory? every version I've seen all my life it says "Not a bang but a whimper."That's in English.

Ehrman is not impressive to me, He beat the fu out of Carrier it their debate but not saying much.
J. P Holding said…
yoshua: Yes, he's usually more interesting, this one meandered.

Joe: I looked it up, but I changed "world" to "book" and "whimper" to
thud" to suit the situation. I couldn't call such a lousy product a whimper.

I debated Carrier too, of course. It was only 2 rounds so it didn't get too far with anything, but the way he ignored some incriminating comments of his I quoted suggests how it might have gone further.
Joe Hinman said…
same here. He bailed out when he started loosing.

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