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Searching for the real Black Beard and the real Jesus

By D.G. Martin Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:59 pm

What does North Carolina coastal historian Kevin Dufuss have in common with New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman?

If you asked them, each  might tell you he is a truth seeker about a man whose life is shrouded in myth.

In his book, “The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate,” Dufuss challenges some fundamental beliefs about the pirate who was killed in the waters off Ocracoke Island on November 22, 1718.

Meanwhile, in a series of bestselling books, Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, has challenged the fundamental beliefs of many Christians about Jesus of Nazareth.

Dufuss, originally looking to find out more about the pirate whose exploits and life and death are an important part of North Carolina lore, found that much of which we “know” about Black Beard has factual basis. At the end of his book, he writes, “The Black Beard I have come to know through my research turned out to be entirely unlike the historical figure so familiar to the world. My newly perceived image of the authentic pirate captain is nothing like the man celebrated by amusement parks, marinas, restaurants, taverns and inns and nothing like the bearded pirate captains portrayed in cinema and cable TV docudramas. He was not the bloodthirsty murderer, despicable slitter of throats or strangler of women as he has been so often described. He was certainly not one of the most ‘grotesquely conspicuous villains in the annals of crime.’ And he was far from the richest, boldest, most ruthless corsair of all the marooning freebooters in the history of piratedom. In fact, the pirate Black Beard, manufactured by a procession of authors, historians, and folklorists never really existed. The Edward ‘Teach’ of popular culture, revered today by pirate enthusiasts, is an imposter, a historical hoax.”

Dufuss says there is no record of Black Beard even killing another person until the 1718 naval battle when Black Beard himself perished. And, the story about Black Beard’s headless body swimming around the victor’s ship is a myth.

Whatever his name, wherever he came from, and whatever happened to his treasure, if there was any, Dufuss asserts that the real Black Beard is a historical figure whose life has much to teach us about the early times of our state.

Ehrman is a former evangelical Christian whose study of the scriptures and religious history convinced him that Jesus was not divine. But unlike some other former believers, Ehrman is sure that Jesus existed. His new book answers those who assert that Jesus was not a real historical figure, that he was simply a myth. In the introduction to his new book, Ehrman writes that he wants to show “how we know that Jesus did exist.”

Ehrman says he has no vested interest in the matter since, he writes, “I am not a Christian, and I have no interest in promoting a Christian cause or a Christian agenda.”

Ehrman continues, “[F]or anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist. He may not have been the Jesus that your mother believes in or the Jesus of the stained-glass window or the Jesus of your least favorite televangelist or the Jesus proclaimed by the Vatican, the Southern Baptist Convention, the local megachurch, or the California Gnostic. But he did exist, and we can say a few things, with relative certainty about him.”

Ehrman describes a Jesus who was a persuasive preacher of an apocalyptic gospel of repentance and preparation for a coming kingdom of God.

Dufuss and Ehrman may make us uncomfortable with our beliefs about important matters. While their challenges might make us uncomfortable they can also lead us to a richer understanding of what we believe.

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