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Posted by on Aug 2, 2014 in Atheism, Featured, Jesus, Jesus Mythicism | 12 comments

Jesus mythicism. My opinion.

Cover sizedI am quite often asked as to whether I am a Jesus mythicist. David Fitzgerald, in that camp, kindly wrote the foreword for my book The Nativity: A Critical Examination, and Derek Murphy, author of Jesus Potter Harry Christ is also a mythicist, and he wrote some blurbs for a few of my books. That said, I am not a mythicist.  The work of some of the mythicists does raise a myriad questions which deserve good answers, and, as a result, I often call myself an agnostic who errs on the side of historicity. Richard Carrier’s second volume of his thesis on Bayes’ Theorem and its application to the historical Jesus has just come out at the time of reading this, though I am yet to get hold of the 700-page tome, although Hume’s Apprentice is reviewing it comprehensively here at SIN.

My conclusion to the debate is this:

The Jesus as reported in the Gospels is so far removed from the real and historical figure of Jesus, overlaid with myth, story-telling, propaganda and evangelist agenda, that the end result is synonymous with myth.

So though there probably was a historical figure, given that the movement did take shape and seemed to have real and accessible figures (to some degree) in the very early stages, we can’t really access the core historical truth of that original Jesus figure. It’s not cut and dried, and question remain, which mythicists tightly ask. I don’t really have a horse in either race since none of the options include a godmanspirit who resurrected to sit on his own right hand in atonement for the past and future sins of humanity which were known in advance, designed into the system and actualised by the very same entity. So I’d take mythicism over Christianity any day. And they call mythicists fringe asif the position is absurd? Now that’s crazy.

  • ncovington89

    “And they call mythicists fringe as if the position is absurd? Now that’s crazy.”

    I like that : )

    For me, the question of Jesus’ existence is purely one of historical interest. As you said, even if there’s a person at the bottom of the mythology, it’s still mostly mythology!

  • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

    I’m an agnostic on Jesus’ historicity. But I think Richard Carrier makes one of the best arguments against the historicity of Jesus.

  • sir_russ

    When I listen to Jesus historians who are also Christians, James
    McGrath, for instance, I’m amazed that they start their historical
    inquiries by jettisoning the supernatural stuff. If Jesus was really
    the god-man many claim him to be, then the supernatural stuff is part of
    the real world which should be considered every bit as seriously as
    anything else.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Like Ehrman says, though, you just can’t evaluate the supernatural with historical methods, really.

      • primenumbers

        Evaluating history means we must engage with the probabilities. But to do that we have to have a good idea of all the possibilities. If we presuppose supernatural intervention in history is possible, then we have to deal with all possibilities for our hypothesis generation and we cannot rule out impossible ones (like a character being in two places at once, having absolute foreknowledge of an event etc.). If we now have everything possible and physically impossible to put into our calculation we are now unable to figure out what is probable because now anything (absolutely anything at all) is probable. So yes, to do proper history we MUST rule out the supernatural, or else admit we’re not doing history but pseudo history designed to produce preconceived results based on our religious beliefs.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          I don’t think it needs to be ruled out a priori.

          • primenumbers

            Ok, but if you don’t rule out the supernatural, I don’t see how you can do history. The only way we can even begin to do history is on the assumption that physical rules as we know them apply, and that human psychology and physiology is relatively unchanged. For only then with those assumptions can we begin to figure what is probable by ruling out what is impossible and having a rational means to weight the rest.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I suppose one can pragmatically rule it out, but still allow for the theoretical possibility – that should be reflected in any Bayesian analysis, no? VERY low prior, approaching 0.

          • primenumbers

            Well say we allow for the supernatural could theoretically occur, even at a very low ratio of supernatural events to natural events. Even in that case, there’d have to be at least one supernatural event that has occurred at some time or other in history to have the probability > 0.0. That one event, now we’ve allowed for it, could be absolutely anything, and there’s no way to know what. It could change the nature of reality in an instant and corrupt any historical analysis we make. I suppose everything after that point could continue to occur following the normal rules of physics and human behaviour, but just that one supernatural even utterly breaks our chain of causality and now we know longer have a chain of probable events, but one impossible event that forever means we cannot predict any historical event from before it occurred.

            From a practical point for view though, a very very low probability of a supernatural event is always going to be less probable than a natural event and thus never be an event historical analysis will say probably occurred. On the other hand, allow historians even a single super-natural event and you know which one it will be, and then they’ll use that to bootstrap in the whole truth of Christianity, and then God, and then the rest of the supernatural.

  • pboyfloyd

    Seems to me they hide the fact that they have a saviour named ‘Saviour’. If faced with this I suppose they say that it was a common name, the same as ‘Joshua’, the great Hebrew warrior.

    Jesus is the ‘new Moses’ and parts of the Gospels reflect stuff that Moses is purported to have done, including some of his miracles. Is this ‘now’ supposed to be a coincidence?

    Jewish scholars will tell Christians that they have the ‘messiah’ thing all wrong, and I think they should know if anyone does, so, as far as theology goes, there’s that and ‘historicitiy’, that’s neither here nor there as far as I can see.

    The idea that Jesus is a sacrifice, taking the blame for ‘Original Sin’ from us, is theological, so that becomes convoluted. Sure Jews practiced that nonsense, so what? Once again, Jews themselves don’t regard Jesus as that ‘sacrifice’ and they don’t traditionally even(less historically) imagine their messiah was for that purpose.

    I’m unclear which part of the Gospels is supposed to be historical. Surely not the messiah bit, the saviour bit, any of the miracles bits, or, even, the main purpose of the story, unless Christians hang on to this notion of historicity as some kind of ‘foothold’, some kind of crossover from theology to history. But all the churches we see around us are ‘evidence’ of the historicity of Christianity itself, just not ‘Jesus’.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      I think the atonement aspect is a post hoc add on, shoe horned into doctrine way after the event.

      There is no clarity to historical truth especially because many of the Gospel accounts are midrashic replays of OT events – think Matthew here. As mentioned, Jesus becomes the new Moses etc.

      It is just impossible to actually know what, if anything, could be referring to the actual Jesus.

  • http://soi.blogspot.ca/ josephpalazzo

    It depends which “Jesus” we are talking about. The one depicted in the NT is a myth. Is that mythic Jesus based on a real character? Probably. None of that deflects from what religion is: a lie to stranglehold people into a mindframe that makes them ready to obey the authorities.

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