I have now read five books by Bart D. Ehrman about Jesus and The New Testament. This is rather strange considering I’m an atheist. The books were
- Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2005)
- Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them) (2009)
- Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011)
- Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (2012)
- How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (2014)
The reason why I’m so fond of Ehrman’s books is he’s a historian writing about how Christianity came about and does not digress into theology. I study the origins of Christianity in the same way my friend Mike studies ancient Greek literature and philosophy. Ehrman works very hard to walk the razor’s edge seeking the academic truth of things, but in doing so, often offends the faithful.
Most people in America who consider themselves Christians aren’t interested in the historical details of their faith—they believe because that is what they were taught growing up and never took the time to study The New Testament. If they did, they’d find it to be a black hole of endless scholarship. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and he says his classes are very popular with all kinds of people, and points out that his conclusions of historical scholarship are middle of the road, and most of what he teaches has been common knowledge for a long time in seminary schools. Readers are often shocked by what they read in Ehrman’s books but that’s because the ideas are new to the readers, and not to historians of Biblical scholarship.
If what you know about Christianity and The New Testament is was what you learned in Sunday School you might find Ehrman’s books both fascinating and a challenge to your beliefs. Ehrman started out as a Evangelical himself, but after years of Bible study has become an agnostic. His books do not attack beliefs or believers. Ehrman is the kind of truth seeker that learned the ancient languages of The Bible so he could do his own translating, and got a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary. Ehrman moved from believing in The Bible to becoming obsessed with how The New Testament came about. He has written over twenty-five books on the subject, some for the general reader and others for academic scholars.
We know very little about the actual man Jesus, but through the detective work of textual analysis, anthropology and historical studies of the times in which Jesus lived, Ehrman pieces out one view of Jesus that he claims is a pretty common view among Bible historians. This is best seen in Did Jesus Exist? Then Ehrman explains how the followers of Jesus made him into the God we know today in the book How Jesus Became God. Then his books Misquoting Jesus, Jesus, Interrupted and Forged explores how The New Testament and Christianity evolved in the first four hundred years after Jesus’ death. If you read these five books you’ll have a pretty good overview of the current historical studies on Jesus and The New Testament. Ehrman also has a number of entertaining courses at The Great Courses site.
I read these five books in the order they were written and published, but I’d recommend reading them in a different order if you are new to Ehrman. They all cover the same big territory, but they each focus on threads of finer detail.
Did Jesus Exist?
I’d start with Did Jesus Exist? because Jesus is how everything got started in the first place. Ehrman finds the most objection to his books by fundamentalists who believe in the literal truth of The Bible, and strangely for this book, by atheists and agnostics who wish to disprove the existence of Jesus. There is a growing population of humanists who wish to turn Jesus into a myth, and Ehrman’s historical work undermines their beliefs too. Basically, Ehrman walks a middle ground between the fervor of belief and disbelief.
I wish the conclusion to this book was available online so I could link to it. Ehrman explains how he attended a meeting of the American Humanists Association to receive their Religious Liberty Award and was surprised to find the non-believers spending so much time talking about religion. He was also shocked that many of these scientific minded people have thoroughly embraced books by writers who claim Jesus is a myth. It disturbs Ehrman because he knows the pseudo-scholarship approach to proving Jesus is a myth has as much academic validity as Creationism and Intelligent Design and these proclaimed embracers of science don’t seem to know that.
Ehrman in his book Did Jesus Exist? has to attack ideas many of his most popular fans cherish. Ehrman’s books clearly disproves the fundamentalist view of the literal interpretation of The Bible, which agnostics and atheists love, but his scholarship also finds consistent evidence that a man named Jesus did exist. So, in one book Ehrman undermines the faithful and the unbelievers. Ehrman shows the same kind of airy philosophy that goes into convincing people that Jesus was a God is the very same kind of philosophical slight-of-hand that goes into making Jesus a myth.
Whether you’re a believer or disbeliever, don’t you want to know the truth? I’m not saying the Ehrman knows the absolute truth, but I am saying his middle of the road, conservative academic approach is more scientific and reliable than just taking other people’s word for things. What we all need to do is learn to demand the evidence for anything claiming to be true. And we need to learn the difference between bullshit evidence and research consensus evidence.
Ehrman embraces the study of history as if it was a science, demanding evidence. The mythicists, as Ehrman calls the Jesus as myth people, promote their beliefs without real academic vigor. Some only offer wild speculation, but others, some even with PhDs, do attempt to make their points with evidence, but Ehrman makes a good case their evidence is poor, and their logic weak. It’s a fascinating book that sets the stage for his next book.
How Jesus Became God
Ehrman works to prove that Jesus did not see himself as God, or even divine, but that his followers after his death did deify him. Ehrman carefully and academically explains the historical existence of Jesus and how Christians transformed a flesh and blood man into divine being to serve their purposes. This is a great book for The New Testament Bible study because Ehrman spends most of his time exploring the writings of Paul, the four Gospels, Acts and other references in The New Testament to show how Jesus changed over time. The textual analysis Ehrman makes should be obvious to anyone who just reads The Bible. So, why haven’t most Christians noticed what Ehrman points out?
Most people who read The Bible, read it in pieces, jumping around as it’s presented in a Sunday School lesson or sermon each Sunday. Ehrman suggests reading it by comparing all the stories from different books about the same event. This any reader can do. What Ehrman brings to the table that most average Bible readers don’t have is the scholarship that explains when various parts of The Bible was written and by who. When you plot what was said when, you’ll begin to notice that The New Testament is full of contradictions but they make sense if you look at them on a timeline. It’s quite obvious that theology developed over time, and the theology was constantly changing. Even within The New Testament its possible to see that Jesus went from a man to a God. However, to fully understand this transformation requires further study of Christian theologians and their writing for the next three hundred years. How Jesus went from human being to The Trinity took three hundred years to hammer out, and there were a lot of strange side trips along the way, especially by Christians now called heretics and Gnostics today.
How Jesus Became God sets things up nicely for the first Ehrman book I read.
Have you ever wondered how The New Testament was written, edited and published? Especially since it was put together over a thousand years before the printing press. Have you ever wondered who wrote The New Testament? Many people think it’s the absolute word of God, as if God dictated The Bible to someone. Have you never noticed that Bible stories have many different points of view, writing styles and often contradict each other? Have you never wondered how something that was written almost two thousand years ago could be published consistently without errors and changes? Have you ever tried to copy a passage in a book by handwriting? How well did you do?
Once you learn that who Jesus was is determined by who was writing about him, then it’s easy to understand how The New Testament was put together and why. Actually, The New Testament is very poorly edited because its far from consistent. It leaves in evidence of earlier thinking that was supplanted by later theology. And it becomes all too obvious that your favorite Jesus quote depends on when that portion of The New Testament was written, and what his orthodox followers believed at that time.
And as manuscripts were passed around the Roman world, copied by scribes in different locals, with different beliefs, often they were altered to reflect a particular view of Jesus. We don’t have the original drafts of The New Testament books, but we do have hundreds and hundreds of copies that showed up hundreds of years later. We can trace changes that were made as they circulated from community to community. And scholars have also detected forgeries.
Have you ever heard that some of the books in The New Testament were forgeries? For example, for over a hundred years now, some scholars believe some of the books claimed to be written by Paul were obviously not. How did they learn that? Plagiarism and forgery did not exist like it does today, so Bart D. Ehrman has to explain how the various books were written and how their authorship got attributed. Back in the early days of Christianity, in the first four hundred years after Jesus died, being a famous author was not like it is today. If you wrote something you wanted people to believe, you often said it was written by someone else, someone people would believe.
Using contextual study, and even computers to analyze style and content, it’s possible to determine if the same person wrote or did not write two different essays. But even without the skills of a historian or a computer, it’s pretty easy to see that certain lessons from different books in The New Testament teach radically opposing ideas. Reading Forged will show the common Bible study student how to read scripture far more closely. This leads us to the last book I’m recommending to read.
Knowing what Jesus really said is very difficult. Most religious people assume everything printed in red in The New Testament is something Jesus actual said. Well, historians like Ehrman would beg to disagree. What’s so fascinating about this book is Ehrman gets to write a bestselling book pointing out contradictions in The New Testament that any careful reader should have already noticed for themselves. I have a feeling that most believers attending church were like me as a kid. I listened to the preacher quote a passage of The Bible and then tie in some personal experiences from his own life or people in the church, and then turn scripture and contemporary life problems into a sermon. As a kid I never read The Bible from start to finish. If we did, we might remember while reading The Gospel of John things said that might contradiction what we head already read in The Gospel of Mark. Most readers don’t cross-compare, but just work to decipher scriptures one line at a time.
Ehrman teaches readers the trick of parallel reading. Pick specific incidents in the life of Jesus, and then read about the same incident in different places throughout The New Testament. It becomes all to obvious that the various writers had different stories to tell, and different theology to preach. The contrast between the stories in Mark and John are startling. Why haven’t the average Bible reader notice that? I’m sure many have, but I think most haven’t.
If you go searching for reviews of these books at Google you can find lots of reviewers who attack what Ehrman has to say. Now there are different kinds of attacks. Sometimes, other scholars call Ehrman out on his scholarship. It seems to me that in Ehrman’s newer books he spends far more writing time explaining how he made his conclusions in comparison to other scholars, in a preemptive attack on this kind of criticism. This makes for good writing and better reading. The other common kind of attack on Ehrman’s work is by Christian apologists who seek to defend their specific theological view. The quality and validity of these kinds of criticism vary greatly.
Ehrman constantly reminds his reader that he is a historian and that metaphysics lies outside the scope of historical studies. The trouble is the true believer, especially the fundamentalist, believe that their theology is the true view of history. They assume the metaphysical is part of history. This is what makes Ehrman’s books controversial with certain readers.
I am an atheist. I don’t believe the metaphysical exists. To me, Ehrman’s books are excellent explanations on how Christianity got started in a historical context. His books also explain to me at least, when and how some Christians acquired their theological and metaphysical ideas. True believers don’t seem to understand that all concepts, all memes, have a history. Someone thought them up. Where we differ is I see them as ideas and they see them as God’s word.
These five books by Bart D. Ehrman go a long way to explaining the history of certain ideas that are programmed deeply into Western culture. No historian, philosopher or scientist will ever be able to prove or disprove the cherished metaphysical desires of believers. However, most believers embrace their beliefs without much analysis. Reading these five books could dissolve such beliefs because they raise logical questions that are corrosive to simple thinking. However, there are many believers who develop very complex thought systems to maintain their beliefs. These people will have to read Ehrman and come up with rationalizations that counter his assertions.
JWH – 7/21/14
9 thoughts on “Jesus, The New Testament and Bart D. Ehrman”
Bart D. Ehrman is great, Jim. I’ve certainly enjoyed his books, and he’s always convincing. But just because he’s convincing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s right.
IMHO, he’s best at making you realize how difficult it is to figure out what really did happen 2,000 years ago. But when he comes to a conclusion himself, I’d be very wary of just accepting it – especially without hearing other opinions from scholars who disagree.
I’m talking specifically about the Jesus myth people. Now, I have no opinion on whether Jesus actually existed or not, and the question doesn’t really matter to me, except as a historical puzzle. Even if some kind of historical Jesus did exist, that wouldn’t get us any closer to demonstrating that he was a god. After all, lots of people did exist, historically.
Thus, I must disagree with your comment that “There is a growing population of humanists who wish to turn Jesus into a myth.” Is there? Why? It’s true that Christians need Jesus to be historical, or at least based on a historical figure, but the reverse isn’t true. Not at all.
Now, I’ve always assumed that there was some historical basis to the stories, but I had – and have – no real reason to think so. As I said, it doesn’t really matter to me. But I wouldn’t just accept Ehrman’s own views of the Jesus myth people without at least reading what they have to say for themselves.
I’ve mentioned Dr. Robert M. Price before, because I listen to his podcasts. He has a doctorate in theology and another in New Testament, and he’s very entertaining. (He’s also very right-wing politically, so I definitely don’t agree with him about everything.)
He, for one, has become convinced that there was no historical Jesus. It is, to be sure, a minority opinion among scholars, but he points out that there’s no consensus on what Jesus actually was, even among the people who do think he existed historically.
I don’t know, myself. I have no idea. But I wouldn’t accept Bart D. Ehrman’s position without reading what Robert M. Price – or someone else who disagrees – has to say about it. At the very least, you should hear their side of things, don’t you think? (In fact, there are multiple views on both sides. Scholars are all over the place in what they do believe, since the evidence is so very thin and fragmentary.)
At the end, I wouldn’t believe either one of them. Unless there’s a consensus among historians – especially those without a religious axe to grind – about what Jesus was and wasn’t, why would I believe anything at all? Why wouldn’t I just accept it as an interesting historical question, one which might – or might not – be settled someday?
As much as I like Bart D. Ehrman, I’m not going to accept his conclusions just because he’s entertaining and he sounds plausible. Robert M. Price is also entertaining, and he also sounds plausible. But those things aren’t sufficient reason to believe that either of them are right.
There are some things we have good reason to believe. The forgeries in the Bible are a good example of that. And we have good evidence of changes in the documents, because we have so many copies which differ. (As Ehrman says, there are more differences in existing documents than there are words in the New Testament.)
But I’m doubtful that we can come to any firm conclusion about whether there was or was not a historical Jesus (and if there was, then what he was, exactly). Both Ehrman and Price have been most valuable to me in showing how many different opinions there really are among people who are experts in the field.
Being no expert myself, I’m going to reserve judgment.
Bill, I don’t feel I take anyone at their word. And I’m certainly not even close to being an expert where I could judge what Ehrman is saying academically. I just try to review what I read. You should read Did Jesus Exist? to see what Ehrman says about the mythicists. I know this is just one book, but I got a book’s worth of quotes to consider. I knew such people existed, but didn’t know they spent so much effort working on their case. In the concluding chapter Ehrman attended an American Humanist Association meeting where they are giving him an award. He was surprised that so many of the people he met there were interested in the mythicist writers. I was sort of surprised at this too. I’m sort of amazed by the irony of things. Some humanists are trying to prove the real Jesus didn’t exist by calling him a myth, and the Christians erased the real Jesus by making him into a myth. No one seems to want the real Jesus. My approach is to get rid of all the myths and only deal with what we can know. The more I study the historical Jesus, which I’m about 99% sure he was real, the more I realized he was a very marginal person not worthy of any remembrance at all. It’s the people who fight over the various myths of Jesus that keep his mythic memories alive. I think it’s time to just walk away from the story.
In Did Jesus Exist? Ehrman quotes enough from the mythicists for me to judge them enough to know I don’t want to read more. Their arguments sound just like writers for creationism and intelligent design – bogus scholarship. Their writing also sounds just like the kind of logic Christian apologists use. It’s all logic and rhetoric and little or no evidence.
More and more I’m realizing that what people think they know comes from three sources – belief, logic and evidence. Logic is very deceptively appealing. FoxNews conservatives believe debating skills equal the truth, but that’s false. Rhetoric and logic proves nothing without evidence. And evidence doesn’t always prove anything either. It takes a statistical momentum of evidence to really make a good case.
Ehrman gives a series of historical statements as evidence to show how people turned a few memories of Jesus into a belief system where they think Jesus is God. I find his case reasonably convincing. The actual statements are ancient Christians using their own weird logic into convincing themselves and others that Jesus was God. I don’t buy their logic at all. Ever since, 99.99% of Christians just accepted the results of this logic as truth. They neither use logic or evidence, just believe what they are told – which is the lowest level of rationality.
“Some humanists are trying to prove the real Jesus didn’t exist by calling him a myth,… … The more I study the historical Jesus, which I’m about 99% sure he was real…”
Jim, my point is that you’re getting all of this from a guy who disagrees with them. That would be like forming your opinion of liberal Democrats from watching Fox ‘News.’
OK, I’m slandering Bart Ehrman, no doubt. But there are serious scholars who don’t believe there ever was a historical Jesus. Are they wrong? Maybe. I have no idea. (Note that they’re not monolithic, either. No one really knows.)
I don’t doubt that Ehrman makes a good case for his position. But why would you accept it without hearing what anyone who disagrees with him says? Sure, he quotes the mythicists,… just like Fox ‘News’ quotes liberals, right? 🙂
I felt Jesus had been an actual historical person even before I read Ehrman’s book. And I would be against the mythicists in any context I heard about them. I hate conspiracy theories. The Jesus as myth smacks too much like all those people trying to prove Shakespeare wasn’t the guy wrote all the Shakespearean plays. I will always be prejudice against any conspiracy theory. To me, it’s much easier to believe that Jesus was a real guy that people invented a whole bunch of lies about, than to believe that someone made up an imaginary guy that billions of people believe in. I think 99.99999999% of everything people believe about Jesus is imaginary anyway, but I can’t help but believe it all got started by memories of some real guy. Gossip starts with real people.
And I’ll even admit that inventing Jesus could have happened, the trouble is guessing how it could have happened will be just like counting how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. It’s all agonizing theory. There is no evidence. At least with the Jesus was real camp, they have a some evidence, even though it’s slight. However, my best evidence is The New Testament. Reading it makes it all too obvious that it’s about a guy that people made up stories about. Human nature is such that we always get the story wrong. We always alter the story in the retelling. We always argue over the facts, that the story always get distorted.
I find it hard to believe that anyone who reads The New Testament would believe it’s the word of God. It’s all too human. If The New Testament had been a consistent, precise tome of logical slickness I would automatically assume it was all made up. The more I study early Christianity the more it becomes a mundane story of how people made up a religion. There’s no reason to have invented Jesus.
I have as much trouble believing Jesus the man was invented as believing he was divine.
It’s not that I shouldn’t trust Ehrman’s take on the mythicists – which is a valid point you make, it’s just that Ehrman makes an all to obvious case that Jesus existed that fits in with what I already know from other books and writers.
What makes you think of it as a conspiracy, Jim? No one has ever suggested that the New Testament was a single story made up by one guy or even a conspiracy of people. You’re arguing entirely against straw men, I’m afraid.
Admittedly, I haven’t read the books on either side here. But then, I’m not taking a position at all. I admit that I don’t know. You are taking a position – and while reading only the scholars on one side of the dispute, at that.
Note that the Greeks did write fiction back then. Fictional stories (more frequently related by storytellers, since few people could read) were certainly popular. Without a news media, a publishing industry, or even widespread literacy, it wouldn’t be unexpected that people would start to believe that a story they heard had actually happened. How do you think all the other myths in the world got started?
There is some evidence that the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament – were written far, far later than they pretend to be, merely as a way to preserve Jewish culture and to reconcile differences between tribes. You don’t think that Moses was a real person, do you?
You might call that a conspiracy, but the vast majority of people who have believed it over the centuries actually did believe it was true. Well, how would they know otherwise?
And really, is there much difference between a historical Jesus and a fictional Jesus when almost everything in the New Testament is likely fictional embellishment in either case? All we’re really talking about is the tiny seed at the center of a very large fruit.
If it were actually seedless, how much difference would that really make? Not much, from what I can tell.
Few people could read back then, and even fewer could afford manuscripts. People heard stories and passed them on, embellishing them as they did so. After awhile, you’d hear different versions of the same story from different storytellers. Would that make them more likely to be based on true history? Not at all.
Back then, how would you know if the story you heard from distant lands actually happened? How would the storytellers who retold the story know? Would they even care? (In fiction even today, it’s frequently claimed that a story is true. That’s because audiences are more interested in such stories.)
And we don’t even have copies of these stories that aren’t centuries old – copes of copies of copies. Two thousand years from now, after civilization has crashed and rebuilt itself, people might write tales of Harry Potter, based on manuscripts written by people who’d heard stories around the campfire when they were young.
Millions of people might end up believing that Harry Potter really existed. But that wouldn’t be a conspiracy. They’d just be wrong.
No Bill, I was saying the Jesus as myth people feel like a conspiracy theory, or at least their writings do. Not the New Testament. From the quotes in Ehrman’s book, and looking at some of their web pages, I felt the mythicist writing sounds much like the writing on conspiracy theorists. Of course, I define conspiracy theory rather broadly, to be anything that a group of people passionately want others to be true but 99.9999% of evidence is against it.
Oh, I know how powerful stories can be. For most of history eye witness accounts were the gold standard of validity. Even though liars were common. Even now people are very gullible. If you told friends you saw a ghost and described it in a reasonable fashion, many people will believe you. If you’re a good enough liar, you can convince people of all sorts of crap. Just tell people you had a near death experience. Many people will gobble that up.
I’d say it would be nearly impossible to conclusively prove that a man named Jesus actually existed. But I am saying my intuition goes with he did. What I’ve read of the Jesus as myth theories just sound too strained for me. Their evidence and logic is too wanting. They are trying to prove something more fantastic, and the weight of proof is on them and it fails in my mind. Let’s program some giant AI machines to study it. I find it easier to believe Jesus existed but people made up a bunch of crap about him.
I’ve heard the Moses theory many times. I’m less doubtful about him anyway. When you read The Bible he sounds like a made-up character. Also, can anyone believe a story where people walk around in a small desert for 40 years? And they lived off manna from heaven? Although having your emissary from God have a speech impediment and need his brother to do his PR has a nice ring of reality to it. If someone made that up they were a great writer.
Oh, I’m not disagreeing with you that made up characters could one day become real in history, I’m only saying my gut reaction is Jesus was a real dude, and the Jesus as myth writers are grasping at straws. Bill, please read Did Jesus Exist? I think Ehrman tries to be as fair as possible with these guys, but they still come across as kooks. Do you know of a better academic overview of their work?
Also, think about motive. The Jesus as myth writers are trying to undermine Christianity by proving Jesus didn’t exist. I’d say what Ehrman is doing undermines the foundation of Christianity far more effectively. Bart Ehrman shows how a few people created a mythology out of the life of an ordinary man that now has a billion believers. In the five books I’ve read of the twenty-five books Ehrman has written I’d say he’s making a very solid evidence based case. Ehrman is building by one careful brick at a time very believable proof that Christianity was invented by a series of people who never met Jesus. It’s like a million piece puzzle that’s slowly coming together.
“No Bill, I was saying the Jesus as myth people feel like a conspiracy theory, or at least their writings do.”
But you haven’t read any of their writings, have you? You’re just going by quotes picked out by someone who is arguing against their position. That was my point, Jim.
Note that there are all sorts of different ‘Jesus myth’ ideas, too. Scholars who don’t believe in a historical Jesus aren’t at all in agreement with what they do believe. In this interview, Robert M. Price notes one of them he thinks is nuts, himself.
“But I am saying my intuition goes with he did.”
I don’t think that intuition is a good way to decide the matter, Jim. I don’t think we know enough about Jesus to decide the matter, myself, and I see no reason why we need to make any decisions about it, anyway.
So I simply have no opinion about whether there was a historical Jesus or not.
“Although having your emissary from God have a speech impediment and need his brother to do his PR has a nice ring of reality to it. If someone made that up they were a great writer.”
Jim, you seem to think that someone wrote the whole story of Moses and that was that. From what I hear, nothing could be further from the truth (and that goes for the New Testament, too).
I’ve heard that Aaron was likely added to the story much later, as a way to justify the authority of the priests (who were all supposed to be the descendents of Aaron).
In a way, it’s similar to that “bloody husband” business, where God tries to kill Moses, which was apparently inserted to justify child circumcision, instead of the older custom of circumcising men when they got married (which seems like a horribly inane practice, doesn’t it?).
On the one hand, you had people adding bits and pieces to an existing story, in order to push whatever parochial interest they had at the time. On the other, you had scribes desperate to try to smooth out the result, to plug the holes in logic and try to make some kind of narrative sense out of it. The whole thing was likely a long process.
That’s the case with the Jesus story, too, whatever you think of the Christ myth ideas. Whether there was a historical Jesus or not, stories were added and modified regularly. Who knows what started the whole thing?
“The Jesus as myth writers are trying to undermine Christianity by proving Jesus didn’t exist.”
No, I disagree. Some might be doing that, perhaps. But you simply don’t need to think of Jesus as a myth to undermine Christianity. You’re not a Christian, yet you seem to be sure that Jesus really existed. I’ve always assumed there was a historical Jesus, too, but that didn’t stop me from being an atheist, either.
One of the Jesus myth people is – or was, at least – a Catholic priest. And he still considered himself to be a Catholic after his researches convinced him that there’d been no historical Jesus. (Nice trick that, huh? But he still believed in God and apparently thought that the idea of Jesus had come from his deity. I doubt if his bosses at the Vatican thought highly of this, though.)
As I say, I have no opinion, myself. But the original ending of the Gospel of Mark really makes me wonder. Before later Christians changed the ending, Mark apparently ended with the women who discovered the empty tomb leaving and never telling anyone what they had seen.
In other words, it read like fiction, with an omniscient narrator. If you were writing fiction, that would be a perfectly appropriate ending. But if you thought you were writing history, you’d never end a story like that. If the women never told anyone, how did ‘Mark’ know it happened?
Later Christians saw the problem and simply changed the ending of the Gospel. And the other three Gospels have different stories entirely about the empty tomb. (Four Gospels; four different versions of what happened.)
Given that the Gospel of Mark seems to have been the earliest one written (still long after the events it describes), you really have to wonder, don’t you?