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Christ myth theory

The Christ myth theory (also known as the Jesus myth theory, Jesus mythicism, or Jesus ahistoricity theory)[1] is the view that "the story of Jesus is a piece of mythology," possessing no "substantial claims to historical fact."[2] Alternatively, in terms given by Bart Ehrman paraphrasing Earl Doherty, "the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity."[q 1]

Christ myth theory
TheResurrectionOfChrist.jpg
The Resurrection of Christ by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1875)—some mythicists see this as a case of a Dying-and-rising deity
DescriptionThe story of Jesus of Nazareth is basically a myth. He never existed as an historical person, or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and the accounts in the gospels
Early proponentsThomas Paine (1737–1809)
Charles-François Dupuis (1742–1809)
Constantin-François Volney (1757–1820)
Richard Carlile (1790–1843)
Bruno Bauer (1809–1882)
Edwin Johnson (1842–1901)
Dutch Radical School (1880–1950)
Albert Kalthoff (1850–1906)
William Benjamin Smith (1850–1934)
John Mackinnon Robertson (1856–1933)
Thomas Whittaker (1856–1935)
Arthur Drews (1865–1935)
Paul-Louis Couchoud (1879–1959)
Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880–1963)
Modern proponentsGeorge Albert Wells, Tom Harpur, Michael Martin, Thomas L. Thompson, Thomas L. Brodie, Robert M. Price, Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, Michel Onfray
SubjectsHistorical Jesus, Historical reliability of the Gospels, Historicity of Jesus, History of early Christianity

Regarding the history of Jesus, and the origins of Christianity, three stances can be found among mythicists. According to Wells, among others, there may have been an historical Jesus, who may have lived in a dimly remembered past, and was fused with the mythological Christ of Paul. According to Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier, among others, there never was an historical Jesus, only a mythological character, who was historicised in the Gospels. According to Robert Price, among others, we cannot conclude if there was a historical Jesus. And if there was a historical Jesus, close to nothing can be known about him.

Most Christ mythicists follow a threefold argument:[3] they question the reliability of the Pauline epistles and the Gospels regarding the historicity of Jesus; they note the lack of information on Jesus in non-Christian sources from the first and early second century; and they argue that early Christianity was syncretistic and mythological from the beginning, as reflected in both the Pauline epistles and the gospels. Therefore, Christianity was not founded on the shared memories of a man, but rather a shared mytheme.

The Christ myth theory is a fringe theory, supported by few tenured or emeritus specialists in biblical criticism or cognate disciplines.[4][5][6][q 2] It deviates from the mainstream historical view, which is that while the gospels include many legendary elements, these are religious elaborations added to the accounts of a historical Jesus who was crucified in the 1st-century Roman province of Judea.[7][8]

Contents

Jesus and the origins of ChristianityEdit

The origins and rapid rise of Christianity, as well as the historical Jesus and the historicity of Jesus, are a matter of longstanding debate in theological and historical research. While Christianity may have started with an early nucleus of followers of Jesus,[9] within a few years after the presumed death of Jesus in c. AD 33, at the time Paul started preaching, a number of "Jesus-movements" seem to have been in existence, which propagated divergent interpretations of Jesus' teachings.[10][11] A central question is how these communities developed and what their original convictions were,[10][12] as a wide range of beliefs and ideas can be found in early Christianity, including adoptionism and docetism,[web 1] and also Gnostic traditions which used Christian imagery,[13][14] which were all deemed heretical by proto-orthodox Christianity.[15][16]

Mainstream scholarship views Jesus as a real person who was subsequently deified,[7][8] whereas traditional Christian theology and dogmas view Jesus as the incarnation of God/Christ on earth. Mythicists take yet another approach, presuming a widespread set of Jewish ideas on personified aspects of God, which were subsequently historicised when proto-Christianity spread among non-Jewish converts.

Mainstream historical viewEdit

Jesus is being studied by a number of scholarly disciplines, using a variety of textual critical methods. These critical methods, and the quest for the historical Jesus, have led to a demythologization of Jesus, and the mainstream historical view is that while the gospels include mythical or legendary elements, these are religious interpretations of the life and death of a historical Jesus who did live in 1st-century Roman Palestine.[7][17][8] While scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts of Jesus,[18] the baptism and the crucifixion are two events in the life of Jesus which are subject to "almost universal assent".[note 1] According to historian Alanna Nobbs,

While historical and theological debates remain about the actions and significance of this figure, his fame as a teacher, and his crucifixion under the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, may be described as historically certain.[19]

New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman states that Jesus "certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees,"[20][21] and also states that the existence of Jesus and his crucifixion by the Romans is attested to by a wide range of sources including Josephus and Tacitus.[20]

While there is widespread scholarly agreement on the existence of Jesus as a historical figure, the portraits of Jesus have often differed from each other and from the image portrayed in the gospel accounts.[21][22][23][note 2]

Traditional and modern Christian viewsEdit

Traditional Christian theology and dogmas view Jesus as the incarnation of God/Christ on earth and as the Messiah, whose death was a sacrifice that procured atonement for all who believe Jesus to be the Christ. According to Christian traditions, the Gospels and the Pauline epistles are inspired writings,[25] which tell us in a reliable way about the birth and the life of Jesus, his ministry and sayings, and his crucifixion and resurrection, according to God's plan.

Christ myth theoristsEdit

Most mythicists, like mainstream scholarship, note that Christianity developed within Hellenistic Judaism, which was influenced by Hellenism. Early Christianity, and the accounts of Jesus are to be understood in this context. Departing from mainstream scholarship, mythicists argue that the accounts of Jesus are mostly, or completely, of a mythical nature, questioning the mainstream paradigm of a historical Jesus in the beginning of the 1st century who was deified.

Some moderate authors, most notably Wells, have argued that there may have been a historical Jesus, but that this historical Jesus was fused with another Jesus-tradition, namely the mythological Christ of Paul.[26][27][q 3] Others, most notably the early Wells and Alvar Ellegård, have argued that Paul's Jesus may have lived far earlier, in a dimly remembered remote past.[28][29][30]

The most radical mythicists hold, in terms given by Price, the "Jesus atheism" viewpoint, that is, there never was a historical Jesus, only a mythological character, and the mytheme of his incarnation, death, and exaltation. This character developed out of a syncretistic fusion of Jewish, Hellenistic and Middle Eastern religious thought; was put forward by Paul; and historicised in the Gospels, which are also syncretistic. Notable "atheists" are Paul-Louis Couchoud, Earl Doherty,[q 1] Thomas L. Brodie, and Richard Carrier.[q 4][q 5]

Some other authors argue for the Jesus agnosticism viewpoint. That is, we cannot conclude if there was a historical Jesus. And if there was a historical Jesus, close to nothing can be known about him.[31] Notable "agnosticists" are Robert Price and Thomas L. Thompson.

ArgumentsEdit

Overview of main argumentsEdit

According to New Testament scholar Robert Van Voorst, most Christ mythicists follow a threefold argument: they question the reliability of the Pauline epistles and the Gospels regarding the historicity of Jesus; they note the lack of information on Jesus in non-Christian sources from the first and early second century; and they argue that early Christianity was syncretistic and mythological from the beginning.[3] More specifically,

  • Paul's Jesus is a celestial being, not a historical person, or may have lived in a dimly remembered past – some myhthicists have argued that the Pauline Epistles are from a alter date than usually assumed, and therefore not a reliable source on the life of Jesus. Most mythicists argue that the Pauline epistles are older than the gospels but, aside from a few passages which may have been interpolations, there is a complete absence of any detailed biographical information such as might be expected if Jesus had been a contemporary of Paul,[32] nor do they cite any sayings from Jesus, the so-called argument from silence.[33][34][35][q 6] Instead, Paul refers to Jesus as an exalted being. Therefore, Paul is probably writing about either a mythical[34] or supernatural entity,[q 3] a celestial deity,[q 7] "a savior figure patterned after similar figures within ancient mystery religions"[q 8][q 9] named Jesus;[36][37][38][web 2] or a historical person who may have lived in a dim past, long before the beginnings of the Common Era.[28][29][30]
  • The Gospels are not historical records – mythicists argue that although the Gospels seem to present an historical framework, they are not historical records, but theological writings,[39][40] myth or legendary fiction resembling the Hero archetype.[41][42] They are based on a variety of sources and influences, including Old Testament writings,[43][44][45] Greek Stoic philosophy and the exegetical methods of Philo,[46] and impose "a fictitious historical narrative" on a "mythical cosmic savior figure,"[47][34] weaving together various pseudo-historical Jesus traditions,[48][49] though there may have been a real historical person, of whom close to nothing can be known.[50]
  • No independent eyewitness accounts – No independent eyewitness accounts survive, in spite of the fact that many authors were writing at that time.[51][47] Early second-century Roman accounts contain very little evidence[52][53] and may depend on Christian sources.[54][55][39][56]
  • Diversity in early Christianity, and parallels with other religions – early Christianity was widely diverse and syncretistic, sharing common philosophical and religious ideas with other religions of the time.[57] Its origins cannot be traced to a single founding group, but must have been rooted in a wider religious movement. It arose in the Greco-Roman world of the first and second century AD, synthesizing Greek and Jewish philosophy of the Second Temple period.[52][57] Parallels with other religions include the ideas of personified aspects of God, proto-Gnostic ideas,[58][59] and salvation figures featured in mystery religions,[60] which were often (but not always) a dying-and-rising god.[2][61][62]

Pauline epistlesEdit

Most scholars view the Pauline letters as essential elements in the study of the historical Jesus,[63][64][65][66] and the development of early Christianity.[10] Yet, scholars have also argued that Paul was a "mythmaker,"[67] who gave his own divergent interpretation of the meaning of Jesus,[10] building a bridge between the Jewish and Hellenistic world,[10] thereby creating the faith that became Christianity.[67]

Myhticists agree on the importance of the Pasuline epistles, but argue that those letters actually point into the direction of a celestial or mythical being, or contain no definitive information on an historical Jesus.

DatingEdit

The mainstream view is that the seven undisputed Pauline epistles considered by scholarly consensus to be genuine epistles are generally dated to AD 50–60 and are the earliest surviving Christian texts that include information about Jesus.[63][q 10]

Most mythicists agree with this early dating, taking the Pauline Epistles as their point of departure from mainstream scholarship.[34] Some mythicists, though, have questioned the early dating of the epistles, raising the possibility that they represent a later, more developed strand of early Christian thought.

Theologian Willem Christiaan van Manen of the Dutch school of radical criticism noted various anachronisms in the Pauline Epistles. Van Manen claimed that they could not have been written in their final form earlier than the 2nd century. He also noted that the Marcionite school was the first to publish the epistles, and that Marcion (c. 85c. 160) used them as justification for his gnostic and docetic views that Jesus' incarnation was not in a physical body. Van Manen also studied Marcion's version of Galatians in contrast to the canonical version, and argued that the canonical version was a later revision which de-emphasized the Gnostic aspects.[68]

Price also argues for a later dating of the epistles, and sees them as a compilation of fragments (possibly with a Gnostic core),[69] contending that Marcion was responsible for much of the Pauline corpus or even wrote the letters himself. Prive criticizes his fellow Christ myth theorists for holding the mid-first-century dating of the epistles for their own apologetical reasons.[70][71][note 3]

Lack of biographical informationEdit

According to Eddy and Boyd, modern biblical scholarship notes that "Paul has relatively little to say on the biographical information of Jesus," viewing Jesus as "a recent contemporary."[73][74] Yet, according to Christopher Tuckett, "[e]ven if we had no other sources, we could still infer some things about Jesus from Paul’s letters."[75][note 1]

Wells, a 'minimal mythicist', criticized the infrequency of the reference to Jesus in the Pauline letters and has said there is no information in them about Jesus' parents, place of birth, teachings, trial nor crucifixion.[76] Robert Price says that Paul does not refer to Jesus' earthly life, also not when that life might have provided convenient examples and justifications for Paul's teachings. Instead, revelation seems to have been a prominent source for Paul's knowledge about Jesus.[77]

Wells says that the Pauline epistles do not make reference to Jesus' sayings, or only in a vague and general sense. According to Wells, as referred to by Price in his own words, the writers of the New Testament "must surely have cited them when the same subjects came up in the situations they addressed."[78]

Celestial beingEdit

 
A 3rd-century fragment of Paul's letter to the Romans
Mainstream viewEdit

The Pauline letters incorporate creeds, or confessions of faith, that predate Paul, and give essential information on the faith of the early Jerusalem community around James, 'the brother of Jesus'.[79][80][81][10] New Testament scholar James Dunn states that in 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul "recites the foundational belief," namely "that Christ died." According to Dunn, "Paul was told about a Jesus who had died two years earlier or so."[82] 1 Corinthians 15:11 also refers to others before Paul who preached the creed.[81]

The Pauline epistles contain elements of a Christ myth and its cultus,[83] such as the Christ hymn of Philippians 2:6–11,[note 4] which portray Jesus as an incarnated and subsequently exalted heavenly being.[37] These pre-Pauline creeds date to within a few years of Jesus' death and developed within the Christian community in Jerusalem.[84] Scholars view these as indications that the incarnation and exaltation of Jesus was part of Christian tradition a few years after his death and over a decade before the writing of the Pauline epistles.[17][85][note 5]

Mainstream scholars have noted the extent and significance of Jewish belief in a chief angel acting as a heavenly mediator during the Second Temple period,[89][90][web 3] as well as the similarities between Jesus and this chief celestial angel.[91] Ehrman has even gone so far as to argue that Paul regarded Jesus to be an angel, who was incarnated on earth.[17][note 6]

Mythicist viewsEdit

Christ myth theorists generally reject the idea that Paul's epistles refer to a real person.[note 7][76] According to Doherty, the Jesus of Paul was a divine Son of God, existing in a spiritual realm[34] where he was crucified and resurrected.[92] This mythological Jesus was based on exegesis of the Old Testament and mystical visions of a risen Jesus.[92][q 11]

According to Carrier, the genuine Pauline epistles show that the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul believed in a visionary or dream Jesus, based on a pesher of Septuagint verses Zechariah 6 and 3, Daniel 9 and Isaiah 52–53.[93] Carrier notes that there is little if any concrete information about Christ's earthly life in the Pauline epistles, even though Jesus is mentioned over three hundred times.[94] According to Carrier, originally "Jesus was the name of a celestial being, subordinate to God,"[95] arguing that "[t]his 'Jesus' would most likely have been the same archangel identified by Philo of Alexandria as already extant in Jewish theology,"[96] which Philo knew by all of the attributes Paul also knew Jesus by.[note 8] According to Carrier, Philo says this being was identified as the figure named Jesus in the Book of Zechariah, implying that "already before Christianity there were Jews aware of a celestial being named Jesus who had all of the attributes the earliest Christians were associating with their celestial being named Jesus."[web 2]

Jesus lived in a dimly remembered pastEdit

Mythicists viewsEdit

The early Wells, and Alvar Ellegård, have argued that Paul's Jesus may have lived far earlier, in a dimly remembered remote past.[28][29][30]

Wells argues that Paul and the other epistle writers—the earliest Christian writers—do not provide any support for the idea that Jesus lived early in the 1st century and that—for Paul—Jesus may have existed many decades, if not centuries, before.[76][97] According to Wells, the earliest strata of the New Testament literature presented Jesus as "a basically supernatural personage only obscurely on Earth as a man at some unspecified period in the past".[98]

According to Price, the Toledot Yeshu places Jesus "about 100 BCE," while Epiphanius of Salamis and the Talmud make references to "Jewish and Jewish-Christian belief" that Jesus lived about a centruy earlier than usually assumed. According to Price, this implies that "perhaps the Jesus figure was at first an ahistorical myth and various attempts were made to place him in a plausible historical context, just as Herodotus and others tried to figure out when Hercules 'must have' lived."[99]

According to Epiphanius in his Panarion,[note 9] the 4th century Jewish-Christian Nazarenes (Ναζωραιοι) were originally Jewish converts of the Apostles.[100] Richard Carrier contends that "Epiphanius, in Panarion 29, says there was a sect of still-Torah-observant Christians who taught that Jesus lived and died in the time of Jannaeus, and all the Jewish sources on Christianity that we have (from the Talmud to the Toledot Yeshu) report no other view than that Jesus lived during the time of Jannaeus".[101][102]

Mainstream criticismEdit

Theologian Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Bethel University,[103] criticise the idea that "Paul viewed Jesus as a cosmic savior who lived in the past," referring to various passages in the Pauline epistles which seem to contradict this idea. In Galatians 1:19, Paul says he met with James, the "Lord's brother"; 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 refers to people to whom Jesus' had appeared, and who were Paul's contemporaries; and in 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16 Paul refers to the Jews "who both killed the Lord Jesus" and "drove out us" as the same people, indicating that the death of Jesus was within the same time frame as the persecution of Paul.[104] Boyd and Eddy doubt that Paul viewed Jesus similar to the savior deities found in ancient mystery religions.[105]

The Gospels are not historical recordsEdit

GenreEdit

Among contemporary scholars, there is consensus that the gospels are a type of ancient biography,[106][107][108][109][110] Michael Vines notes that the gospel of Mark may have aspects similar to a Jewish novel,[111] while some scholars have argued that the Gospels are symbolical representations of the Torah, which were written in response to the Roman occupation and the suppression of Jewish religiosity.[112][113]

According to Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd, mythicists argue that in the gospels "a fictitious historical narrative" was imposed on the "mythical cosmic savior figure" created by Paul.[47] According to Robert Price, the Gospels "smack of fictional composition,"[web 4] arguing that the Gospels are a type of legendary fiction[41] and that the story of Jesus portrayed in the Gospels fits the mythic hero archetype.[42] Some myth proponents suggest that some parts of the New Testament were meant to appeal to Gentiles as familiar allegories rather than history.[114] According to Earl Doherty, the gospels are "essentially allegory and fiction".[115]

Hebrew Bible parallelsEdit

Some myth proponents note that some stories in the New Testament seem to try to reinforce Old Testament prophecies[114] and repeat stories about figures like Elijah, Elisha,[116] Moses and Joshua in order to appeal to Jewish converts.[117] Price notes that almost all the Gospel-stories have parallels in Old Testamentical and other traditions, concluding that the Gospels are no independent sources for a historical Jesus, but "legend and myth, fiction and redaction".[118]

Greek influencesEdit

In Christ and the Caesars (1877), philosopher Bruno Bauer suggested that Christianity was a synthesis of the Stoicism of Seneca the Younger, Greek Neoplatonism, and the Jewish theology of Philo as developed by pro-Roman Jews such as Josephus. This new religion was in need of a founder and created its Christ.[119][52] In a review of Bauer's work, Robert Price notes that Bauer's basic stance regarding the Stoic tone and the fictional nature of the Gospels are still repeated in contemporary scholarship.[web 4]

Weaving together various traditionsEdit

According to Wells, a minimally historical Jesus existed, whose teachings were preserved in the Q document.[120] According to Wells, the Gospels weave together two Jesus narratives, namely this Galilean preacher of the Q document, and Paul's mythical Jesus.[120] Doherty disagrees with Wells regarding this teacher of the Q-document, arguing that he was an allegoral character who personified Wisdom and came to be regarded as the founder of the Q-community.[48][121] According to Doherty, Q's Jesus and Paul's Christ were combined in the Gospel of Mark by a predominantly Gentile community.[48]

No independent eyewitness accountsEdit

Lack of surviving historic recordsEdit

Myth proponents claim there is significance in the lack of surviving historic records about Jesus of Nazareth from any non-Jewish author until the second century,[122][123][q 12] adding that Jesus left no writings or other archaeological evidence.[124] Using the argument from silence, they note that Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria did not mention Jesus when he wrote about the cruelty of Pontius Pilate around 40 AD.[125]

Mainstream biblical scholars point out that much of the writings of antiquity have been lost[126] and that there was little written about any Jew or Christian in this period.[127][128] Ehrman points out that we do not have archaeological or textual evidence for the existence of most people in the ancient world, even famous people like Pontius Pilate, whom the myth theorists agree to have existed.[127] Robert Hutchinson notes that this is also true of Josephus, despite the fact that he was "a personal favorite of the Roman Emperor Vespasian".[129] Hutchinson quotes Ehrman, who notes that Josephus is never mentioned in 1st century Greek and Roman sources, despite being "a personal friend of the emperor".[129] According to Classical historian and popular author Michael Grant, if the same criterion is applied to others: "We can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned".[130]

Josephus and TacitusEdit

There are three non-Christian sources which are typically used to study and establish the historicity of Jesus, namely two mentions in Josephus, and one mention in the Roman source Tacitus.[131][132][133][134][135]

Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, written around 93–94 AD, includes two references to the biblical Jesus in Books 18 and 20. The general scholarly view is that while the longer passage in book 18, known as the Testimonium Flavianum, is most likely not authentic in its entirety, it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus, which was then subject to Christian interpolation or forgery.[136][137][138] According to Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldman, "few have doubted the genuineness" of Josephus' reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20, 9, 1 ("the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James") and it is only disputed by a small number of scholars.[139][140][141][142]

Myth proponents argue that the Testimonium Flavianum may have been a partial interpolation or forgery by Christian apologist Eusebius in the 4th century or by others.[143][144][note 10] Richard Carrier further argues that the original text of Antiquities 20 referred to a brother of the high priest Jesus son of Damneus, named James, and not to Jesus Christ.[149] Carrier further argues that the words "the one called Christ" likely resulted from the accidental insertion of a marginal note added by some unknown reader.[149]

Roman historian Tacitus referred to "Christus" and his execution by Pontius Pilate in his Annals (written c. AD 116), book 15, chapter 44[150][note 11] The very negative tone of Tacitus' comments on Christians make most experts believe that the passage is extremely unlikely to have been forged by a Christian scribe.[134] The Tacitus reference is now widely accepted as an independent confirmation of Christ's crucifixion,[152] although some scholars question the historical value of the passage on various grounds.[134][153][154][155][156][157][158][159]

Christ myth theory supporters such as G. A. Wells and Carrier contend that sources such as Tacitus and others, which were written decades after the supposed events, include no independent traditions that relate to Jesus, and hence can provide no confirmation of historical facts about him.[54][55][39][56]

Other sourcesEdit

In Jesus Outside the New Testament (2000), mainstream scholar Van Voorst considers references to Jesus in classical writings, Jewish writings, hypothetical sources of the canonical Gospels, and extant Christian writings outside the New Testament. Van Voorst concludes that non-Christian sources provide "a small but certain corroboration of certain New Testament historical traditions on the family background, time of life, ministry, and death of Jesus", as well as "evidence of the content of Christian preaching that is independent of the New Testament", while extra-biblical Christian sources give access to "some important information about the earliest traditions on Jesus". However, New Testament sources remain central for "both the main lines and the details about Jesus' life and teaching".[160]

Diversity and parallelsEdit

Early Christian diversity points to multiple rootsEdit

Early Christianity was wildly diverse, with proto-orthodoxy and "heretical" views like gnosticism alongside each other.[161][15] According to Mack, various "Jesus movements" existed, whose ideas converged in an early proto-orthodoxy.[10]

According to Doherty, the rapid growth of early Christian communities and the great variety of ideas cannot be explained by a single missionary effort, but points to parallel developments, which arose at various places and competed for support. Paul's arguments against rival apostles also point to this diversity.[57] Doherty further notes that Yeshua (Jesus) is a generic name, meaning "Yahweh saves" and refers to the concept of divine salvation, which could apply to any kind of saving entity or Wisdom.[57]

Robert Price notes that Christianity started among Hellenized Jews, who mixed allegorical interpretations of Jewish traditions with Jewish Gnostic, Zoroastrian, and Mystery Cults elements.[162][59][q 13]

Parallels with other religionsEdit

Doherty notes that, with the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Greek culture and language spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean world, influencing the already existing cultures there.[57] The Roman conquest of this area added to the cultural diversity, but also to a sense of alienation and pessimism.[57] A rich diversity of religious and philosophical ideas was available and Judaism was held in high regard by non-Jews for its monotheistic ideas and its high moral standards.[57] Yet monotheism was also offered by Greek philosophy, especially Platonism, with its high God and the intermediary Logos.[57] According to Doherty, "Out of this rich soil of ideas arose Christianity, a product of both Jewish and Greek philosophy",[57] echoing Bruno Bauer, who argued that Christianity was a synthesis of Stoicism, Greek Neoplatonism and Jewish thought.[52]

According to Wells, Doherty, and Carrier, the mythical Jesus was derived from Wisdom traditions, the personification of an eternal aspect of God, who came to visit human beings.[163][164][web 5][web 6] Doherty notes that the concept of a spiritual Christ was the result of common philosophical and religious ideas of the first and second century AD, in which the idea of an intermediary force between God and the world were common.[34]

According to Doherty, the Christ of Paul shares similarities with the Greco-Roman mystery cults.[34] Authors Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy explicitly argue that Jesus was a deity, akin to the mystery cults,[165] while Dorothy Murdock argues that the Christ myth draws heavily on the Egyptian story of Osiris and Horus.[166] According to Robert Price, the story of Jesus portrayed in the Gospels is akin to the mythic hero archetype.[41][42] The mythic hero archetype is present in many cultures who often have miraculous conceptions or virgin births heralded by wise men and marked by a star, are tempted by or fight evil forces, die on a hill, appear after death and then ascend to heaven.[167] According to Carrier, early Christianity was but one of several mystery cults which developed out of Hellenistic influences on local cults and religions.[95]

Mainstream scholarship disagrees with these interpretations. Many mainstream biblical scholars respond that most of these parallels are either coincidences or without historical basis and/or that these parallels do not prove that a Jesus figure did not live.[168][note 12] Christian theologians have cited the mythic hero archetype as a defense of Christian teaching while completely affirming a historical Jesus.[173][174] Secular academics Kendrick and McFarland have also pointed out that the teachings of Jesus marked "a radical departure from all the conventions by which heroes had been defined".[175]

18th- and 19th-century proponents and influencesEdit

 
French historian Constantin-François Volney, one of the earliest myth theorists

According to Van Voorst, "The argument that Jesus never existed, but was invented by the Christian movement around the year 100, goes back to Enlightenment times, when the historical-critical study of the past was born," and may have originated with Lord Bolingbroke, an English deist.[176]

According to Weaver and Schneider, the beginnings of the formal denial of the existence of Jesus can be traced to late 18th-century France with the works of Constantin François Chassebœuf de Volney and Charles-François Dupuis.[177][178] Volney and Dupuis argued that Christianity was an amalgamation of various ancient mythologies and that Jesus was a totally mythical character.[177][179] Dupuis argued that ancient rituals in Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India had influenced the Christian story which was allegorized as the histories of solar deities, such as Sol Invictus.[180] Dupuis also said that the resurrection of Jesus was an allegory for the growth of the sun's strength in the sign of Aries at the spring equinox.[180] Volney argued that Abraham and Sarah were derived from Brahma and his wife Saraswati, whereas Christ was related to Krishna.[181][182] Volney made use of a draft version of Dupuis' work and at times differed from him, e.g. in arguing that the gospel stories were not intentionally created, but were compiled organically.[180] Volney's perspective became associated with the ideas of the French Revolution, which hindered the acceptance of these views in England.[183] Despite this, his work gathered significant following among British and American radical thinkers during the 19th century.[183]

 
German Professor David Strauss

In 1835, German theologian David Friedrich Strauss published his extremely controversial The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (Das Leben Jesu). While not denying that Jesus existed, he did argue that the miracles in the New Testament were mythical additions with little basis in actual fact.[184][185][186] According to Strauss, the early church developed these stories in order to present Jesus as the Messiah of the Jewish prophecies. This perspective was in opposition to the prevailing views of Strauss' time: rationalism, which explained the miracles as misinterpretations of non-supernatural events, and the supernaturalist view that the biblical accounts were entirely accurate. Strauss's third way, in which the miracles are explained as myths developed by early Christians to support their evolving conception of Jesus, heralded a new epoch in the textual and historical treatment of the rise of Christianity.[184][185][186]

 
German Professor Bruno Bauer

German Bruno Bauer, who taught at the University of Bonn, took Strauss' arguments further and became the first author to systematically argue that Jesus did not exist.[187][188] Beginning in 1841 with his Criticism of the Gospel History of the Synoptics, Bauer argued that Jesus was primarily a literary figure, but left open the question of whether a historical Jesus existed at all. Then in his Criticism of the Pauline Epistles (1850–1852) and in A Critique of the Gospels and a History of their Origin (1850–1851), Bauer argued that Jesus had not existed.[189] Bauer's work was heavily criticized at the time, as in 1839 he was removed from his position at the University of Bonn and his work did not have much impact on future myth theorists.[187][190]

In his two-volume, 867-page book Anacalypsis (1836), English gentleman Godfrey Higgins said that "the mythos of the Hindus, the mythos of the Jews and the mythos of the Greeks are all at bottom the same; and are contrivances under the appearance of histories to perpetuate doctrines"[191] and that Christian editors “either from roguery or folly, corrupted them all”.[192] In his 1875 book The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors, American Kersey Graves said that many demigods from different countries shared similar stories, traits or quotes as Jesus and he used Higgins as the main source for his arguments. The validity of the claims in the book have been greatly criticized by Christ myth proponents like Richard Carrier and largely dismissed by biblical scholars.[193]

Starting in the 1870s, English poet and author Gerald Massey became interested in Egyptology and reportedly taught himself Egyptian hieroglyphics at the British Museum.[194] In 1883, Massey published The Natural Genesis where he asserted parallels between Jesus and the Egyptian god Horus. His other major work, Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World, was published shortly before his death in 1907. His assertions have influenced various later writers such as Alvin Boyd Kuhn and Tom Harpur.[195]

In the 1870s and 1880s, a group of scholars associated with the University of Amsterdam, known in German scholarship as the Radical Dutch school, rejected the authenticity of the Pauline epistles and took a generally negative view of the Bible's historical value.[196] Abraham Dirk Loman argued in 1881 that all New Testament writings belonged to the 2nd century and doubted that Jesus was a historical figure, but later said the core of the gospels was genuine.[197]

Additional early Christ myth proponents included Swiss skeptic Rudolf Steck,[198] English historian Edwin Johnson,[199] English radical Reverend Robert Taylor and his associate Richard Carlile.[200][201]

Early-20th-century proponentsEdit

During the early 20th century, several writers published arguments against Jesus' historicity, often drawing on the work of liberal theologians, who tended to deny any value to sources for Jesus outside the New Testament and limited their attention to Mark and the hypothetical Q source.[197] They also made use of the growing field of religious history which found sources for Christian ideas in Greek and Oriental mystery cults, rather than Judaism.[202][note 13]

The work of social anthropologist Sir James George Frazer has had an influence on various myth theorists, although Frazer himself believed that Jesus existed.[204] In 1890, Frazer published the first edition of The Golden Bough which attempted to define the shared elements of religious belief. This work became the basis of many later authors who argued that the story of Jesus was a fiction created by Christians. After a number of people claimed that he was a myth theorist, in the 1913 expanded edition of The Golden Bough he expressly stated that his theory assumed a historical Jesus.[205]

In 1900, Scottish Member of Parliament John Mackinnon Robertson argued that Jesus never existed, but was an invention by a first-century messianic cult of Joshua, whom he identifies as a solar deity.[206][207].[206][207] The English school master George Robert Stowe Mead argued in 1903 that Jesus had existed, but that he had lived in 100 BC.[208][209] Mead based his argument on the Talmud, which pointed to Jesus being crucified c. 100 BC. In Mead's view, this would mean that the Christian gospels are mythical.[210]

In 1909, school teacher John Eleazer Remsburg published The Christ, which made a distinction between a possible historical Jesus (Jesus of Nazareth) and the Jesus of the Gospels (Jesus of Bethlehem). Remsburg thought that there was good reason to believe that the historical Jesus existed, but that the "Christ of Christianity" was a mythological creation.[211] Remsburg compiled a list of 42 names of "writers who lived and wrote during the time, or within a century after the time" who Remsburg felt should have written about Jesus if the Gospels account was reasonably accurate, but who did not.[212]

 
German Professor Arthur Drews

Also in 1909, German philosophy Professor Christian Heinrich Arthur Drews wrote The Christ Myth to argue that Christianity had been a Jewish Gnostic cult that spread by appropriating aspects of Greek philosophy and life-death-rebirth deities.[213] In his later books The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus (1912) and The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus in Past and Present (1926), Drews reviewed the biblical scholarship of his time as well as the work of other myth theorists, attempting to show that everything reported about the historical Jesus had a mythical character.[214][note 14]

In 1927, British philosopher Bertrand Russell stated in his lecture Why I Am Not a Christian that "historically it is quite doubtful that Jesus existed, and if he did we do not know anything about him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one", though Russell did nothing to further develop the idea.[219]

Modern proponentsEdit

Paul-Louis CouchoudEdit

The French philosopher Paul-Louis Couchoud,[220] published in the 1920s and 1930s, but was a predecessor for contemporary mythicists.[q 11] According to Couchoud, Christianity started not with a biography of Jesus but "a collective mystical experience, sustaining a divine history mystically revealed."[221] Couchaud's Jesus is not a "myth", but a "religious conception".[222]

Robert Price mentions Couchoud's comment on the Christ Hymn, one of the relics of the Christ cults to which Paul converted. Couchoud noted that in this hymn the name Jesus was given to the Christ after his torturous death, implying that there cannot have been a ministry by a teacher called Jesus.

George Albert WellsEdit

George Albert Wells (1926–2017), a professor of German, revived the interest in the Christ myth theory. In his early work,[223] including Did Jesus Exist? (1975), Wells argued that because the Gospels were written decades after Jesus's death by Christians who were theologically motivated but had no personal knowledge of him, a rational person should believe the gospels only if they are independently confirmed.[224] In The Jesus Myth (1999) and later works, Wells argues that two Jesus narratives fused into one, namely Paul's mythical Jesus, and a minimally historical Jesus from a Galilean preaching tradition, whose teachings were preserved in the Q document, a hypothetical common source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.[120][225] According to Wells, both figures owe much of their substance to ideas from the Jewish wisdom literature.[226]

In 2000 Van Voorst gave an overview of proponents of the "Nonexistence Hypothesis" and their arguments, presenting eight arguments against this hypothesis as put forward by Wells and his predecessors.[227][228][note 15] According to Maurice Casey, Wells' work repeated the main points of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, which are deemed outdated by mainstream scholarship. His works were not discussed by New Testament scholars, because it was "not considered to be original, and all his main points were thought to have been refuted long time ago, for reasons which were very well known."[229]

Earl DohertyEdit

Canadian writer Earl Doherty (born 1941) was introduced to the Christ myth theme by a lecture by Wells in the 1970s.[34] Doherty follows the lead of Wells, but disagrees on the historicity of Jesus, arguing that "everything in Paul points to a belief in an entirely divine Son who "lived" and acted in the spiritual realm, in the same mythical setting in which all the other savior deities of the day were seen to operate".[34][note 16] According to Doherty, Paul's Christ originated as a myth derived from middle Platonism with some influence from Jewish mysticism and belief in a historical Jesus emerged only among Christian communities in the 2nd century.[115] Doherty agrees with Bauckham that the earliest Christology was already a "high Christology," that is, Jesus was an incarnation of the pre-existent Christ, but deems it "hardly credible" that such a belief could develop in such a short time among Jews.[232][note 5] Therefore, Doherty concludes that Christianity started with the myth of this incarnated Christ, who was subsequently historicised. According to Doherty, the nucleus of this historicised Jesus of the Gospels can be found in the Jesus-movement which wrote the Q source.[48] Eventually, Q's Jesus and Paul's Christ were combined in the Gospel of Mark by a predominantly gentile community.[48] In time, the gospel-narrative of this embodiment of Wisdom became interpreted as the literal history of the life of Jesus.[121]

In a book criticizing the Christ myth theory, New Testament scholar Maurice Casey describes Doherty as "perhaps the most influential of all the mythicists",[233] but one who is unable to understand the ancient texts he uses in his arguments.[234]

Robert M. PriceEdit

 
American New Testament scholar Robert M. Price

American New Testament scholar and former Baptist pastor Robert M. Price (born 1954) has questioned the historicity of Jesus in a series of books, including Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man (2003), Jesus Is Dead (2007) and The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems (2011). In Deconstructing Jesus, Price claims that "the Jesus Christ of the New Testament is a composite figure", out of which a broad variety of historical Jesuses can be reconstructed, any one of which may have been the real Jesus, but not all of them together.[235] According to Price, various Jesus images flowed together at the origin of Christianity, some of them possibly based on myth, some of them possibly based on "a historical Jesus the Nazorean".[49] Price admits uncertainty in this regard, writing in conclusion: "There may have been a real figure there, but there is simply no longer any way of being sure".[236] In contributions to The Historical Jesus: Five Views (2009), he acknowledges that he stands against the majority view of scholars, but cautions against attempting to settle the issue by appeal to the majority.[237] Price notes that "consensus is no criterion" for the historicity of Jesus.[238]

Thomas L. ThompsonEdit

Thomas L. Thompson (born 1939), Professor emeritus of theology at the University of Copenhagen, is a leading biblical minimalist of the Old Testament, and regarded as a myrhicist by several authors.[q 14][q 15] In his 2007 book The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David,[239] Thompson argues that "the quest for the historical Jesus is besides the point, since the Jesus of the Gospels never existed."[240] According to Thompson, the biblical accounts of both King David and Jesus of Nazareth are not historical accounts, but are mythical in nature and based on Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Babylonian and Greek and Roman literature.[241][note 17] Thompson does not draw a final conclusion on the historicity or ahistoricity of Jesus, but notes that New Testament scholars hold that an historical Jesus would be very different from the Christ (or Messiah) with whom Jesus is identified in the Gospel of Mark.[40]

Thompson coedited the contributions from a diverse range of scholars in the 2012 book Is This Not the Carpenter?: The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus.[27][242] Writing in the introduction, "The essays collected in this volume have a modest purpose. Neither establishing the historicity of a historical Jesus nor possessing an adequate warrant for dismissing it, our purpose is to clarify our engagement with critical historical and exegetical methods."[243]

Ehrman has criticised Thompson, questioning his qualifications and expertise regarding New Testament research.[q 14] In a 2012 online article, Thompson defended his qualifications to address New Testament issues. According to Thompson, Jesus is not to be regarded as "the notoriously stereotypical figure of [...] (mistaken) eschatological prophet," as Ehrman does, but is modelled on "the royal figure of a conquering messiah," derived from Jewish writings.[45] Thompson rejected the label of "mythicist," and reiterated his position that the issue of Jesus' existence cannot be determined one way or the other. Thompson disagrees with "the present state of New Testament scholarship [which] is such that an established scholar should present his Life of Jesus, without considering whether this figure, in fact, lived as a historical person." According to Thompson, such assumptions "reflect a serious problem regarding the historical quality of scholarship in biblical studies".[45]

Thomas L. BrodieEdit

In 2012, the Irish Dominican priest and theologian Thomas L. Brodie (born 1943), holding a PhD from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome and a co-founder and former director of the Dominican Biblical Institute in Limerick, published Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery. In this book, Brodie, who previously had published academic works on the Hebrew prophets, argued that the Gospels are essentially a rewriting of the stories of Elijah and Elisha when viewed as a unified account in the Books of Kings. This view lead Brodie to the conclusion that Jesus is mythical.[116] Brodie's argument builds on his previous work, in which he stated that rather than being separate and fragmented, the stories of Elijah and Elisha are united and that 1 Kings 16:29–2 Kings 13:25 is a natural extension of 1 Kings 17–2 Kings 8 which have a coherence not generally observed by other biblical scholars.[244] Brodie then views the Elijah–Elisha story as the underlying model for the gospel narratives.[244]

In response to Brodie's publication of his view that Jesus was mythical, the Dominican order banned him from writing and lecturing, although he was allowed to stay on as a brother of the Irish Province, which continued to care for him.[245] "There is an unjustifiable jump between methodology and conclusion" in Brodie's book—according to Gerard Norton—and "are not soundly based on scholarship". According to Norton, they are "a memoir of a series of significant moments or events" in Brodie's life that reinforced "his core conviction" that neither Jesus nor Paul of Tarsus were historical.[246]

Richard CarrierEdit

American independent scholar[247] Richard Carrier (born 1969) reviewed Doherty's work on the origination of Jesus[248] and eventually concluded that the evidence favored the core of Doherty's thesis.[249] According to Carrier, following Couchoud and Doherty, Christianity started with the belief in a new deity called Jesus,[q 4] "a spiritual, mythical figure."[q 5] According to Carrier, this new deity was fleshed out in the Gospels, which added a narrative framework and Cynic-like teachings, and eventually came to be perceived as a historical biography.[q 4] Carrier argues in his book On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt that the Jesus figure was probably originally known only through private revelations and hidden messages in scripture which were then crafted into a historical figure to communicate the claims of the gospels allegorically. These allegories then started to be believed as fact during the struggle for control of the Christian churches of the first century.[250]

Other modern proponentsEdit

 
British academic John M. Allegro

In his books The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970) and The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth (1979), the British archaeologist and philologist John M. Allegro advanced the theory that stories of early Christianity originated in a shamanistic Essene clandestine cult centered around the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.[251][252][253][254] He also argued that the story of Jesus was based on the crucifixion of the Teacher of Righteousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[255][256] Allegro's theory was criticised sharply by Welsh historian Philip Jenkins, who wrote that Allegro relied on texts that did not exist in quite the form he was citing them.[257] Based on this and many other negative reactions to the book, Allegro's publisher later apologized for issuing the book and Allegro was forced to resign his academic post.[253][258]

Alvar Ellegård, in The Myth of Jesus (1992), and Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ. A Study in Creative Mythology (1999), argued that Jesus lived 100 years before the accepted dates, and was a teacher of the Essenes. According to Ellegård, Paul was connected with the Essenes, and had a vision of this Jesus.

Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, in their 1999 publication The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? propose that Jesus did not literally exist as an historically identifiable individual, but was instead a syncretic re-interpretation of the fundamental pagan "godman" by the Gnostics, who were the original sect of Christianity. The book has been negatively received by scholars, and also by Christ mythicists.[259][259][260][261]

 
Canadian author Tom Harpur (photo by Hugh Wesley)

Influenced by Massey and Higgins, Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880–1963) argued an Egyptian etymology to the Bible that the gospels were symbolic rather than historic and that church leaders started to misinterpret the New Testament in the third century.[262] Building on Kuhn's work, author and ordained priest Tom Harpur in his 2004 book The Pagan Christ listed similarities among the stories of Jesus, Horus, Mithras, Buddha and others. According to Harpur, in the second or third centuries the early church created the fictional impression of a literal and historic Jesus and then used forgery and violence to cover up the evidence.[194][note 18]

In his 2017 book Décadence, French writer and philosopher Michel Onfray argued for the Christ myth theory and based his hypothesis on the fact that—other than in the New Testament—Jesus is barely mentioned in accounts of the period.[266]

The Christ myth theory enjoyed brief popularity in the Soviet Union, where it was supported by Sergey Kovalev, Alexander Kazhdan, Abram Ranovich, Nikolai Rumyantsev and Robert Vipper.[267] However, several scholars, including Kazhdan, later retracted their views about mythical Jesus and by the end of the 1980s Iosif Kryvelev remained as virtually the only proponent of Christ myth theory in Soviet academia.[268]

ReceptionEdit

Popular receptionEdit

In a 2015 poll conducted by the Church of England, 40% of respondents indicated that they did not believe Jesus was a real person.[269]

Ehrman notes that "the mythicists have become loud, and thanks to the Internet they've attracted more attention".[270] Within a few years of the inception of the World Wide Web (c. 1990), mythicists such as Earl Doherty began to present their argument to a larger public via the internet.[q 16] Doherty created the website The Jesus Puzzle in 1996,[271] while the organization Internet Infidels has featured the works of mythicists on their website[272] and mythicism has been mentioned on several popular news sites.[273]

According to Derek Murphy, the documentaries The God Who Wasn't There (2005) and Zeitgeist (2007) raised interest for the Christ myth theory with a larger audience and gave the topic a large coverage on the Internet.[274] Daniel Gullotta notes the relationship between the organization "Atheists United" and Carrier's work related to Mythicism, which has increased "the attention of the public".[q 17]

According to Ehrman, mythicism has a growing appeal "because these deniers of Jesus are at the same time denouncers of religion".[275][q 18] According to Casey, mythicism has a growing appeal because of an aversion toward Christian fundamentalism among American atheists.[229]

Scholarly receptionEdit

In modern scholarship, the Christ myth theory is a fringe theory and finds virtually no support from scholars.[4][276][5][6][q 19]

Lack of support for mythicsmEdit

According to New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman, most people who study the historical period of Jesus believe that he did exist and do not write in support of the Christ myth theory.[277] Maurice Casey, theologian and scholar of New Testament and early Christianity, stated that the belief among professors that Jesus existed is generally completely certain. According to Casey, the view that Jesus did not exist is "the view of extremists", "demonstrably false" and "professional scholars generally regard it as having been settled in serious scholarship long ago".[278] In his 1977 book Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, classical historian and popular author Michael Grant concluded that "modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory".[279] In support of this, Grant quoted Roderic Dunkerley's 1957 opinion that the Christ myth theory has "again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars".[280] At the same time, he also quoted Otto Betz's 1968 opinion that in recent years "no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus—or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary".[281] In the same book, he also wrote:

If we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.[282]

Graeme Clarke, Emeritus Professor of Classical Ancient History and Archaeology at Australian National University[283] has stated: "Frankly, I know of no ancient historian or biblical historian who would have a twinge of doubt about the existence of a Jesus Christ—the documentary evidence is simply overwhelming".[284] R. Joseph Hoffmann, who had created the Jesus Project, which included both mythicists and historicists to investigate the historicity of Jesus, wrote that an adherent to the Christ myth theory asked to set up a separate section of the project for those committed to the theory. Hoffmann felt that to be committed to mythicism signaled a lack of necessary skepticism and he noted that most members of the project did not reach the mythicist conclusion.[285]

Questioning the competence of proponentsEdit

Critics of the Christ myth theory question the competence of its supporters.[q 15] According to Ehrman:

Few of these mythicists are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies or any cognate field, let alone in the ancient languages generally thought to matter for those who want to say something with any degree of authority about a Jewish teacher who (allegedly) lived in first-century Palestine.[275]

Maurice Casey has criticized the mythicists, pointing out their complete ignorance of how modern critical scholarship actually works. He also criticizes mythicists for their frequent assumption that all modern scholars of religion are Protestant fundamentalists of the American variety, insisting that this assumption is not only totally inaccurate, but also exemplary of the mythicists' misconceptions about the ideas and attitudes of mainstream scholars.[286]

Questioning the mainstream view appears to have consequences for one's job perspectives.[287] According to Casey, Thompson's early work, which "successfully refuted the attempts of Albright and others to defend the historicity of the most ancient parts of biblical literature history", has "negatively affected his future job prospects".[q 15] Ehrman also notes that mythicist views would prevent one from getting employment in a religious studies department:

These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land one in a bona fide department of biology.[275]

Other criticismsEdit

Few scholars have bothered to criticise Christ myth theories. Robert Van Voorst has written "Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed (Christ myth) arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely... The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question."[288] Paul L. Maier, former Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University and current professor emeritus in the Department of History there has stated "Anyone who uses the argument that Jesus never existed is simply flaunting his ignorance."[289] Among notable scholars who have directly addressed the Christ myth are Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey and Philip Jenkins.

In his book Did Jesus Exist?, Bart Ehrman surveys the arguments "mythicists" have made against the existence of Jesus since the idea was first mooted at the end of the 18th century. As for the lack of contemporaneous records for Jesus, Ehrman notes no comparable Jewish figure is mentioned in contemporary records either and there are mentions of Christ in several Roman works of history from only decades after the death of Jesus.[290] The author states that the authentic letters of the apostle Paul in the New Testament were likely written within a few years of Jesus' death and that Paul likely personally knew James, the brother of Jesus. Although the gospel accounts of Jesus' life may be biased and unreliable in many respects, Ehrman writes, they and the sources behind them which scholars have discerned still contain some accurate historical information.[290] So many independent attestations of Jesus' existence, Ehrman says, are actually "astounding for an ancient figure of any kind".[275] Ehrman dismisses the idea that the story of Jesus is an invention based on pagan myths of dying-and-rising gods, maintaining that the early Christians were primarily influenced by Jewish ideas, not Greek or Roman ones,[290][275] and repeatedly insisting that the idea that there was never such a person as Jesus is not seriously considered by historians or experts in the field at all.[290]

Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, has written "What you can’t do, though, without venturing into the far swamps of extreme crankery, is to argue that Jesus never existed. The “Christ-Myth Hypothesis” is not scholarship, and is not taken seriously in respectable academic debate. The grounds advanced for the “hypothesis” are worthless. The authors proposing such opinions might be competent, decent, honest individuals, but the views they present are demonstrably wrong....Jesus is better documented and recorded than pretty much any non-elite figure of antiquity."[291]

Simon Gathercole at Cambridge has written regarding mythicist arguments relating to the claim that Paul believed in a heavenly, celestial Jesus who was never on Earth. Gathercole concludes that Carrier's arguments, and more broadly, the mythicist positions on different aspects of Paul's letters are contradicted by the historical data, and that Paul says a number of things regarding Jesus' life on Earth, his personality, family, etc.[292]

Traditional and Evangelical ChristianityEdit

Alexander Lucie-Smith, Catholic priest and doctor of moral theology, states that "People who think Jesus didn’t exist are seriously confused," but also notes that "the Church needs to reflect on its failure. If 40 per cent believe in the Jesus myth, this is a sign that the Church has failed to communicate with the general public."[293]

Stanley E. Porter, president and dean of McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, and Stephen J. Bedard, a Baptist minister and graduate of McMaster Divinity, respond to Harpur's ideas from an evangelical standpoint in Unmasking the Pagan Christ: An Evangelical Response to the Cosmic Christ Idea, challenging the key ideas lying at the foundation of Harpur's thesis. Porter and Bedard conclude that there is sufficient evidence for the historicity of Jesus and assert that Harpur is motivated to promote "universalistic spirituality".[294][note 19]

DocumentariesEdit

Since 2005, several English-language documentaries have focused—at least in part—on the Christ myth theory:

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ a b The basic facts of Jesus' life according to scholars:
    • James D. G. Dunn (2003): "[these] two facts [of baptism and crucifixion] in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent."[295]
    • John Dominic Crossan: "That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus...agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact."[296]
    • According to Herzog, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, preached about the coming Kingdom of God, attracted numerous followers including the twelve disciples, and was subsequently crucified by the order of the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, which eventually lead to his immediate followers continuing his movement which soon became known as Christianity.[297]
    • E. P. Sanders, in "Jesus and Judaism" (1985), says there are eight facts that can be discerned about the historical Jesus: his Baptism, that he was a Galilean itinerant preacher who was reputed to do healings and other 'miracles', he called disciples and spoke of there being 12, that he confined his activity to Israel, that he engaged in controversy over the Temple, that he was crucified outside of Jerusalem by the Romans, that those disciples continued as a movement after his death. In his 1993 work, "The Historical figure of Jesus" he added six more: that Jesus was likely born in 4–6 BC under Herod the Great (the Gregorian calendar is wrong), Jesus grew up in Nazareth, Jesus taught in small villages and towns and seemed to avoid cities, Jesus ate a final meal with his disciples, he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities apparently at the instigation of the high priest, his disciples abandoned him at his death, later believed they saw him and thereafter believed Jesus would return.
    • Christopher Tuckett summarizes the view of mainstream historians regarding what Paul records regarding the historical Jesus: "Even if we had no other sources, we could still infer some things about Jesus from Paul’s letters. Paul clearly implies that Jesus existed as a human being (‘born of a woman’ Gal 4.4), was born a Jew (‘born under the Law’ Gal 4.4; cf. Rom 1.3) and had brothers (1 Cor 9.5; Gal 1.19). Paul also claims possible character traits for Jesus (cf. ‘meekness and gentleness’ 2 Cor 10.1; Jesus ‘did not please himself’ Rom 15.3) and he refers to the tradition of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (1 Cor 11.23–25), taking place ‘at night’ (1 Cor 11.23). Above all, he refers very frequently to the fact that Jesus was crucified (1 Cor 1.23; 2.2; Gal 3.1 etc.), and at one point ascribes prime responsibility for Jesus’ death to (some) Jews (1 Thess 2.15). He also occasionally explicitly refers to Jesus’ teaching, e.g. on divorce (1 Cor 7.10–11) and on Christian preachers or missionaries claiming support (1 Cor 9.14)."[298]
  2. ^ According to Lataster, "the only thing New Testament scholars seem to agree on is Jesus' historical existence".[24]
  3. ^ Price argues that passages such as Galatians 1:18–20, Galatians 4:4 and 1 Corinthians 15:3–11 are late Catholic interpolations and that 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16 was unlikely to have been written by a Jewish person.[72]
  4. ^ See Philippians#2:6–11 for full text:
    5 Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
    6 who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped,
    7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men;
    8 and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient [even] unto death, yea, the death of the cross.
    9 Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name;
    10 that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven and [things] on earth and [things] under the earth,
    11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
  5. ^ a b The development of the early Christian views on Jesus' divinity is a matter of debate within contemporary scholarship. According to a longstanding consensus, the oldest Christology was an "exaltation Christology," according to which Jesus was subsequently "raised to divine status."[86] This "exaltation Christology" may have developed over time,[10][15][87] as witnessed in the Gospels,[17] with the earliest Christians believing that Jesus became divine when he was resurrected.[87][88] Later beliefs shifted the exaltation to his baptism, birth, and subsequently to the idea of his eternal existence, as witnessed in the Gospel of John.[87] This "High Christology" is "the view that Jesus was a pre-existent divine being who became a human, did the Father’s will on earth, and then was taken back up into heaven whence he had originally come."[86][17] Yet, as Ehrman notes, this subsequent "incarnation Christology" was also preached by Paul, and even predates him.[17] According to the "Early High Christology Club," which includes Martin Hengel, Larry Hurtado, and Richard Bauckham,[85] this "incarnation Christology" or "high Christology" did not evolve over a longer time, but was a "big bang" which arose in the first few decades of the church, as witnessed in the writings of Paul.[85][17]
  6. ^ Ehrman-blog, Paul’s View of Jesus as an Angel: "Paul understood Christ to be an angel who became a human." See also Paul’s View of Jesus as an Angel, Christ as an Angel in Paul (10 april 2014), Christ as an Angel in Paul (7 juni 2014); and Carrier's response at Bart Ehrman on How Jesus Became God.
  7. ^ Price (2009):
    * See p. 55 for his argument that it is quite likely Jesus did not exist.
    * See pp. 62–64, 75 for the three pillars
  8. ^ The firstborn son of God (Epistle to the Romans 8:29), the celestial image of God (Second Epistle to the Corinthians 4:4) and God's agent of creation (First Epistle to the Corinthians 8:6). He was also God's celestial high priest (Hebrews 2:17, 4:14, etc.) and God's Logos.[96][web 2]
  9. ^ Panarion 29.5.6
  10. ^ No one seemed to notice this passage until the 4th century, not even Origen who quotes Josephus extensively in his works,[145] thus leading mythicists to think that the Testimonium Flavianum is a forgery of the 4th century, perhaps written by Eusebius[146] in order to provide an outside Jewish authority for the life of Jesus.[147][148]
  11. ^ Tacitus: "...a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus."[151]
  12. ^ In particular, the transformations faced by deities have distinct differences from the resurrection of Jesus. Osiris regains consciousness as king of the underworld, rather than being "transformed into an eschatological new creation" as Craig S. Keener writes.[169] While Jesus was born from a human woman (traditionally a virgin) and accompanied by shepherds, Mitra is born (unaccompanied by shepherds) from the goddess Aditi (to whom the word "virgin" is only rarely, loosely, and indirectly applied in a highly poetic sense), while Mithras (granted, accompanied by shepherds later) emerges full-grown from a rock.[170] The rebirth of many of these deities was a clear metaphor for the renewal of spring that repeated the death every year, rather than a historic event meant to proclaim the god's cancellation of death. Some of these parallels appear after Christianity (e.g. the earliest references to Adonis rising from the dead is in the second century AD, Attis a century later), and are often only known through later Christian sources. Most other and later parallels were made in the works of James George Frazer,[169] or may be guilty of parallelomania[171] and even misrepresentation of religious (both Christian and non-Christian) and linguistic sources[169][172] (for example, ignoring the false cognate relationship between Christ and Krishna).[172]
  13. ^ Joseph Klausner wrote that biblical scholars "tried their hardest to find in the historic Jesus something which is not Judaism; but in his actual history they have found nothing of this whatever, since this history is reduced almost to zero. It is therefore no wonder that at the beginning of this century there has been a revival of the eighteenth and nineteenth century view that Jesus never existed".[203]
  14. ^ Drews' work found fertile soil in the Soviet Union, where Marxist–Leninist atheism was the official doctrine of the state. Soviet leader Lenin argued that it was imperative in the struggle against religious obscurantists to form a union with people like Drews.[215][216] Several editions of Drews' The Christ Myth were published in the Soviet Union from the early 1920s onwards and his arguments were included in school and university textbooks.[217] Public meetings asking "Did Christ live?" were organized, during which party operatives debated with clergymen.[218]
  15. ^ Van Voorst:[227][228]
    1. The "argument of silence" is to be rejected, because "it is wrong to suppose that what is unmentioned or undetailed did not exist." Van Voorst further argues that the early Christian literature was not written for historical purposes.
    2. Dating the "invention" of Jesus around 100 CE is too late; Mark was written earlier, and contains abundant historical details which are correct.
    3. The argument that the development of the Gospel traditions shows that there was no historical Jesus is incorrect; "development does not prove wholesale invention, and difficulties do not prove invention."
    4. Wells cannot explain why "no pagans and Jews who opposed Christianity denied Jesus' historicity or even questioned it."
    5. The rejection of Tacitus and Josephus ignores the scholarly consensus.
    6. Proponents of the "Nonexistence Hypothesis" are not driven by scholarly interests, but by anti-Christian sentiments.
    7. Wells and others do not offer alternative "other, credible hypotheses" for the origins of Christianity.
    8. Wells himself accepted the existence of a minimal historical Jesus, thereby effectively leaving the "Nonexistence Hypothesis."
  16. ^ According to Doherty, it was Paul's view that Jesus' death took place in the spiritual not the earthly realm.[230] According to Ehrman, not only is there "no evidence to support Doherty's assertion of what Paul's view of Jesus was", but there are also "a host of reasons for calling Doherty's view into serious question."[231]
  17. ^ For example, he argues that the resurrection of Jesus is taken directly from the story of the dying and rising god, Dionysus.[241]
  18. ^ Harpur's book received a great deal of criticism, including a response book, Unmasking the Pagan Christ: An Evangelical Response to the Cosmic Christ Idea.[263] Fellow mythicist Robert M. Price also wrote a negative review, saying that he did not agree that the Egyptian parallels were as forceful as Harpur thought.[264] In 2007, Harpur published a sequel, Water Into Wine.[265]
  19. ^ See also Stephen J. Bedard, Jesus Myth Theory, for an overview of blogs by Bedard on the Jesus Myth Theory.

QuotesEdit

  1. ^ a b Ehrman (2012), pp. 12, 347, n. 1: "[Per] Jesus mythicism, Earl Doherty, defines the view as follows: it is “the theory that no historical Jesus worthy of the name existed, that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical figure, that the Gospels are essentially allegory and fiction, and that no single identifiable person lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition.” [Earl Doherty (2009), Jesus: Neither God nor Man: The Case for a mythical Jesus (Ottawa, ON: Age of Reason Publications), vii–viii.] In simpler terms, the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity."
  2. ^ Gullotta (2017), p. 312: "[Per Jesus mythicism] Given the fringe status of these theories, the vast majority have remained unnoticed and unaddressed within scholarly circles."
  3. ^ a b Wells (1999), pp. 94–111, §. Conclusion: The Origins and Development of Christology
    • Wells (1999b). "The Jewish literature describes Wisdom [personified] as God's chief agent, a member of his divine council, etc., and this implies supernatural, but not, I agree, divine status."
    • Wells (2009), p. 328. "I have always allowed that Paul believed in a Jesus who, fundamentally supernatural, had nevertheless been incarnated on Earth as a man."
  4. ^ a b c Carrier (2014), p. 52: "[T]he basic thesis of every competent mythologist, then and now, has always been that Jesus was originally a god just like any other god (properly speaking, a demigod in pagan terms; an archangel in Jewish terms; in either sense, a deity), who was later historicized."
  5. ^ a b Doherty (2009), pp. vii–viii: "[The Mythical Jesus viewpoint holds] that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical figure..."
  6. ^ Argument from silence:
    • Ehrman (2012), p. 34: "[The basic mythicist position is] the negative argument, that we have no reliable witness that even mentions a historical Jesus, and the positive one, that his story appears to have been modeled on the accounts told of other divinities..."
    • Eddy & Boyd (2007), p. 165: "[Some Christ myth theorists] make much of the claim that there is little or no credible information about the historical Jesus to be found in first—and second—century non-Christian sources or in Paul, the earliest Christian source. Surely if a miracle-working prophet like the Jesus of the Gospels actually existed, it is argued, Paul and pagan contemporaries would have mentioned his feats and his teachings. Instead, they argue, we find a virtual silence."
  7. ^ Carrier (2014), p. 53: "At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other. [...] Like some other celestial deities, this Jesus was originally believed to have endured an ordeal of incarnation, death, burial and resurrection in a supernatural realm [not on Earth]."
  8. ^ Eddy & Boyd (2007), p. 202: "While New Testament scholars agree that Paul has relatively little to say about the life and ministry of Jesus, most grant that Paul viewed Jesus as a recent contemporary. The most extreme legendary-Jesus theorists, however—particularly the Christ myth theorists—deny this. They argue that nothing in Paul’s letters indicates that he believed Jesus was a contemporary of his. Rather, they contend, the Jesus of Paul’s theology is a savior figure patterned after similar figures within ancient mystery religions. According to the theory, Paul believed that Christ entered the world at some point in the distant past—or that he existed only in a transcendent mythical realm—and died to defeat evil powers and redeem humanity. Only later was Jesus remythologized [i.e. historicized] as a Jewish contemporary."
  9. ^ Price (2003), p. 350: "This astonishingly complete absence of reliable gospel material begins to coincide, along its own authentic trajectory ...with another minimalist approach to the historical Jesus, namely, that there never was one. Most of the Dutch Radical scholars, following Bruno Bauer, argued that all of the gospel tradition was fabricated to historicize an originally bare datum of a savior, perhaps derived from the Mystery Religions or Gnosticism or even further afield. The basic argument offered for this position, it seems to me, is that of analogy, the resemblances between Jesus and Gnostic and Mystery Religion saviors being just too numerous and close to dismiss."
  10. ^ Johnson (2010), p. 241, §. Pauls Ministry and Letters: "Nearly all critical scholars accept seven letters as written by Paul: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. There is almost equal unanimity in rejecting 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Serious debate can occasionally be found concerning 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians, but the clear and growing scholarly consensus considers them to be non-Pauline."
  11. ^ a b vridar.org, Earl Doherty’s forerunner? Paul-Louis Couchoud and the birth of Christ. Doherty: "It wasn’t until the 1920s that Paul-Louis Couchoud in France offered a more coherent scenario, identifying Christ in the eyes of Paul as a spiritual being. (While not relying upon him, I would trace my type of thinking back to Couchoud, rather than the more recent G. A. Wells who, in my opinion, misread Paul’s understanding of Christ."
  12. ^ Martin, Michael (1993). The Case Against Christianity. Temple University Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-56639-081-1. [P]agan witnesses indicate that there is no reliable evidence that supports the historicity of Jesus. This is surely surprising given the fact that Jesus was supposed to be a well-known person in the area of the world ruled by Rome. One would surely have supposed that there would have been some surviving records of Jesus if he did exist. Their absence, combined with the absence of Jewish records, suggests that NEP [Negative Evidence Principle] applies and that we are justified in disbelieving that Jesus existed.
  13. ^ Price:
    • Price (2010), p. 103, n. 5: "Bolland, De Evangelische Jozua; Rylands, The Evolution of Christianity; Rylands, The Beginnings of Gnostic Christianity; Zindler, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, 340, and others similarly held that Christianity began variously among Hellenized Jewish settlements throughout the Diaspora, with allegorized Jewish elements being made almost unrecognizable by their intermingling with gnostic mythemes."
    • Price (2002), §. Suitors and Seducers: "The temptations and challenges of the Diaspora only served to increase the diversity of ancient Judaism, a diversity directly reflected in emerging Christianity, which demonstrably partakes of Jewish Gnosticism [Schmithals, 1975; Scholem, 1965], Zoroastrianism [Welburn, 1991], the Mystery Cults, etc.
      [Walter Schmithals, The Apocalyptic Movement: Introduction and Interpretation. Trans. John E. Steely (NY: Abingdon Press, 1975; Gershom Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition. NY: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2nd ed., 1965), esp. chapter IX, "The Relationship between Gnostic and Jewish Sources," pp. 65–74.] [Andrew Welburn, The Beginnings of Christianity: Essene Mystery, Gnostic Revelation and the Christian Vision (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1991), pp. 44–51. The identification of the Nag Hammadi Apocalypse of Adam as Zoroastrian in substance has enormous implications.]"
  14. ^ a b Ehrman, Bart D. (2012). Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. HarperCollins. pp. 11, 15. ISBN 978-0-06-208994-6. [Per "A Brief History of Mythicism"] ...some of the more influential contemporary representatives who have revitalized the [Mythicism] view in recent years. [...] A different sort of support for a mythicist position comes in the work of Thomas L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David. Thompson is trained in biblical studies, but he does not have degrees in New Testament or early Christianity. He is, instead, a Hebrew Bible scholar who teaches at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. In his own field of expertise he is convinced that figures from the Hebrew Bible such as Abraham, Moses, and David never existed. He transfers these views to the New Testament and argues that Jesus too did not exist but was invented by Christians who wanted to create a savior figure out of stories found in the Jewish scriptures.
  15. ^ a b c Maurice Casey (2014). Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?. A&C Black. pp. 10, 24. ISBN 978-0-567-59224-8. I introduce here the most influential mythicists who claim to be ‘scholars’, though I would question their competence and qualifications. [...] [Thomas L. Thompson] was Professor of Theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993–2009. His early work, which is thought to have successfully refuted the attempts of Albright and others to defend the historicity of the most ancient parts of biblical literature history, is said to have negatively affected his future job prospects.
  16. ^ Doherty, Earl (Spring 1997). "A review of a book by Burton L. Mack on the making of the Christian myth". Humanist in Canada. 120: 12–13. Archived from the original on August 30, 2000. Earl Doherty has published a much expanded version of this review at the following Web site, where he has also reproduced his series "The Jesus Puzzle," which appeared in recent issues of Humanist in Canada: http://www.magi.com/~oblio/jesus.html.
  17. ^ Gullotta, Daniel N. (February 2, 2015). "Why You Should Read Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus". Archived from the original on February 14, 2015.: "What is also significant about [Richard] Carrier’s body of work related to Mythicism is that it represents the result of a $20,000 research grant from various supporters and donations overseen by Atheists United, which demonstrates the public’s interest in the subject matter. [...] the academic community committed to the study of the New Testament and Christian origins needs to pay attention to Carrier and engage with his thesis (even if they end up rejecting his conclusions); and if for no other reason than that he has the attention of the public."
  18. ^ Ehrman (2012), pp. 337–338, §. Conclusion – The Mythicist Agenda: "[Some] mythicists are avidly antireligious. To debunk religion, then, one needs to undermine specifically the Christian form of religion. [...] the mythicists who are so intent on showing that the historical Jesus never existed are not being driven by a historical concern. Their agenda is religious, and they are complicit in a religious ideology. They are not doing history; they are doing theology."
  19. ^ Michael Grant (a classicist) states that "In recent years, 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus' or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary." in Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant 2004 ISBN 1898799881 page 200

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SourcesEdit

Printed sourcesEdit

Web-sourcesEdit

  1. ^ Ehrman, Bart D. (September 28, 2015). "Early Christian Docetism". The Bart Ehrman Blog. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Carrier, Richard (2014b). "Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt: Should We Still Be Looking for a Historical Jesus?". The Bible and Interpretation. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  3. ^ Ehrman, Bart D. (June 7, 2014). "Christ as an Angel in Paul". The Bart Ehrman Blog. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Price, Robert (2009). "Bruno Bauer, Christ and the Caesars, reviewed by Robert M. Price". Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  5. ^ Earl Doherty (2012), The Sound of Transition: from Paul to Orthodoxy
  6. ^ Carrier, Richard (February 13, 2016). "Can Paul's Human Jesus Not Be a Celestial Jesus?". Richard Carrier Blogs. Retrieved June 14, 2017.

Further readingEdit

Proponents
Scholarly critics

External linksEdit

Overview
Proponents
Evangelic critics