Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Ben Witherington Makes Up Stuff about Historicity of Jesus

Posted by NT Wrong on January 4, 2009

witheringtonLeo takes apart Ben Witherington’s comments from an Australian Radio Show, ‘G’Day World’ (recorded in September 2008).

“During this very interview, he says a few things that are so untrue that it saddens me. It saddens me to hear them coming out of the mouth of someone who is seen as a respectable expert in his field by the many students under his tutelage, who naturally assume he is being honest… what bugs me is the outright falsehoods that he let slip out in his passionate rhetoric during this interview. Moreover, not only are they egregious falsehoods; they are stated so haughtily, so smugly author[it]atively that it makes them doubly shameful to my eyes.”

Leo provides a good discussion of unsupportable overstatements and assertions made by Ben Witherington, namely:

  • Witherington misquotes Greco-Roman authors as “claiming” to rely on Roman records, when they do not make such a claim (whether or not good arguments can be raised that they did rely on official records);
  • Witherington claims that Origen ‘certainly’ quoted from Josephus’ ‘Flavium Testamonium’ in the former’s commentary on John, without being able to provide support when challenged by the interviewer;
  • Witherington makes the old apologetic argument for the truth of the resurrection from the alleged behaviour of Jesus’ earliest disciples in preaching the Gospel — despite the absence of contemporary evidence, [and with recourse to the ‘the disciples must either be Liars or Truth-tellers’ false dichotomy, which depends on the omission of some far more probable further options].

While these half-truths and misrepresentations are common in popular apologetical works, Leo is correct to lament that it is a great shame a biblical scholar – widely known in conservative circles – would recite such unsupported claims to less discerning acolytes. Witherington’s comments were either misleading or plain false (although, I wouldn’t dispute his ‘honesty’, as Leo does) — and this in a field in which there is already a plethora of disinformation fed to the public.

Make sure you read Leo’s very good post, which contains transcriptions of Ben Witherington’s comments, together with Leo’s responses.

14 Responses to “Ben Witherington Makes Up Stuff about Historicity of Jesus”

  1. Jwilson said

    “As these conservative scholars tend to present papers to each other, and cite each other, some of the more apologetic theories often get repeated, eventually being taken as ‘facts’.”

    My thoughts exactly, but in regards to the Copenhagen School of Minimalism. Funny how opposing views can have the same beliefs against the other camp.

  2. steph said

    It’s blinking depressing crap. He’s a flipping liar. Wright, Craig and Blitherington are peas in a pod. Like you say, conservative scholars tend to present papers to each other, and cite each other and then some of the more apologetic theories often get repeated, eventually being taken as ‘facts’. I really wish I’d pursued post grad in music now and lived a life blissfully ignorant of Blithering and other peas. It’s a pathetic discipline.

  3. tommy said

    I, on the other hand, find it depressing to read a comment like that of Steph’s. It is very important to expose flawed scholarship, but let’s stick to arguments and facts, and not ad hominem remarks and nicknames.

  4. Thank you very much for featuring my post on your blog.
    I am honored.


  5. Anon. said

    “Steph” appears to be the “flipping liar”…

  6. Antonio Jerez said

    “It’s a pathetic discipline.”

    Well said Steph. Could add myself that it´s discipline filled with far too many pompous, selfassured, charlatans.

  7. Elton said

    Why is there a picture of Elton John accompanying this post?

  8. steph said

    Elton – that’s hilarious

    Tommy – it’s all based on facts and arguments in Quixie’s post.

    Anon – I lied? Have you got any evidence?

    Antonio – ain’t that the truth 🙂

  9. Quixie said

    My eyes are tearing . . . i laughed so hard at Elton’s comment.


  10. Geoff Hudson said

    [comment moved to hobbyhorse comments post]

  11. Geoff Hudson said

    [comment moved to hobbyhorse comments post]

  12. Geoff Hudson said

    [comment moved to hobbyhorse comments post]

  13. Hjalti said

    Ben responds at Leo’s page (see the comments at his blog):

    “”Hi Quixie: I have read your post. For the record I never said that Josephus or Pliny, or Tacitus had personally met Jesus.But that is irrelevant. The point is the Romans had clear records that Pilate had judged and executed him. So back up the balogna truck on your blog please. Secondly, Paul knew the eyewitnesses as 1 Cor. 15 makes so very clear, so the plausibility of denying Jesus existed is non-existence. Thirdly, you need to do your Origen scholarship a bit better. And the other church fathers as well, especially the second century ones, such as Papias. You’re not going to convince many of even the non-committed audience if you take a radical position like— Jesus didn’t exist.

    Blessings anyway,


  14. Jim Sarco said

    Your blog is excrement and steph’s writings are trash. i demand that your delete all of it
    good night and good luck!

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