"In Jesus' day there were lots of people who allegedly performed miracles. There were Jewish holy men such as Hanina ben Dosa and Honi the circle drawer. There were pagan holy men such as Apollonius of Tyana, a philosopher who could allegedly heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. He was allegedly supernaturally born and at the end of his life he allegedly ascended to heaven.....Anyone who is willing to believe in the miracles of Jesus needs to conceded the possibility of other people performing miracles, in Jesus' day and in all eras down to the present day...."
"But for now I want to focus on the miracles of Jesus. His resurrection wasn't the only miracle. According to the Gospels, Jesus' entire life was filled with miracles. He was born of a woman who had never had sex. As an adult he performed one miracle after the other - healing the blind, the lame, the deaf, the paralyzed, casting out demons, restoring life to those who had previously died. And at the end of his life came the biggest miracle of all; he was raised from the dead, never to die again."
"Despite the prominence of miracles in the Gospel traditions, I don't think historians can show that any of them, including the resurrection, ever happened..... And I am not saying that we cannot demonstrate that miracles happened merely because our sources of information are not completely trustworthy. To be sure, that, too, is true. Our first records of any of Jesus' public miracles were written thirty-five to sixty-five years after the fact, by people who had not seen any of those things happen.....And these records are absolutely filled with discrepancies, especially the resurrection narratives themselves....."
"But that is not why historians cannot show that miracles, including the resurrection, happened. The reason instead has to do with the limits of historical knowledge. There cannot be historical evidence for a miracle."
"To understand why, we need to consider how historians engage in their craft. Historians work differently from the way natural scientists work. Scientists do repeated experimentation to demonstrate how things happen, changing one variable at a time. If the same experiment produces the same result time after time, you can establish a level of predictive probability: the same result will occur the next time you do the experiment...."
"Historians work differently. Historians are not trying to show what does or will happen, but what has happened. And with history, the experiment can never be repeated. Once something has happened, it is over and done with....."
"Did Lincoln write the Gettysburg address on an envelope? Did Jefferson have a long-term love affair with one of his slaves? .....Make up your own questions: there are billions.. There is nothing inherently improbable about any of these events; the question is whether they happened or not. Some are more probable than others. Historians more or less rank past events on the basis of the relative probability that they occurred. All that historians can do is show what probably happened in the past."
"That is the problem inherent in miracles. Miracles, by our very definition of the term, are virtually impossible events.....by their very nature, (they) are always the least probable explanation for what happened. This is true whether you are a believer or not. Of the six billion people in the world, not of one of them can walk on top of lukewarm water filling a swimming pool. What would be the chances of any one person being able to do that? Less than one in six billion. Much less."
"....historians cannot establish that miracles have ever happened. This is true of the miracles of Mohammed, Hanina ben Dosa, Apollonius of Tyana - and Jesus."
"But what about the resurrection? I'm not saying that it didn't happen. Some people believe it did, some believe it didn't. But if you do believe it, it is not as a historian, even if you happen to be a professional historian, but as a believer.
There can be no historical evidence for the resurrection because of the nature of historical evidence."
Update from 5-16-09 Here's a CNN article on Ehrman.
The goofiest part is from Bishop William Willimon, who claims "He keeps presenting this stuff as if this is wonderful new knowledge that has been kept from you backward lay people and this is the stuff your preachers don't have the guts to tell, and I have," Willimon says. "There's a touch of arrogance in it."
If anything, Ehrman doesn't present his theses as being new at all. He repeatedly says that all this info has been out there for a long, long time. THEN Ehrmann marvels that it's the stuff your preachers don't have the guts to tell.