Mythicism can be traced back to the Age of Enlightenment, when history began to be critically analyzed, and was revived in the 1970s. Proponents broadly argue that a mythological character was historicized in the gospels, and that thus a historical Jesus never existed.[q 2][q 5][q 6] Scholars such as Robert M. Price and G. A. Wells argue that evidence of the historical Jesus is so obscured by myths and dogma that nothing about him is certain.[q 6] A view closer to the mainstream position is that the historical Jesus was the Galilean preacher preserved in the hypothetical Q source, and that details about him were added via Paul's mythical Jesus.[q 7]
Most mythicists employ a threefold argument: they question the reliability of the Pauline epistles and the gospels to establish Jesus's historicity; they argue that information is lacking on Jesus in secular sources from the first and early second centuries; and they argue that early Christianity had syncretistic and mythological origins as reflected in both the Pauline epistles and the gospels, with Jesus being a deity who was concretized in the gospels.[q 8][q 9]
Mythicism is rejected as a fringe theory by virtually all scholars of antiquity,[q 10][web 1] and is criticized for commonly being presented by non-experts, its reliance on arguments from silence, lacking evidence, the dismissal or distortion of sources, questionable methodologies, and outdated comparisons with mythology.[note 1]
Mainstream scholarship recognizes that there was a historical Jesus. However scholars differ about the accuracy of the biblical accounts about Jesus, with only two events supported by nearly-universal scholarly consensus: Jesus' baptism, and his crucifixion.[q 3] The mainstream scholarly view is that the Pauline epistles and the gospels describe the "Christ of faith", presenting a religious narrative which replaced the historical Jesus who did live in 1st-century Roman Judea.[q 11]Martin Kähler made the famous distinction between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith", arguing that faith is more important than exact historical knowledge. According to Ehrman, Jesus was a first-century Judean Jew, who was not like the Jesus preached and proclaimed today,[q 12] and that the most widely held view by critical scholars is that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who was subsequently deified.
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, 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 existed, which propagated divergent interpretations of Jesus' teachings. A central question is how these communities developed and what their original convictions were, as a wide range of beliefs and ideas can be found in early Christianity, including adoptionism and docetism,[web 2] and also Gnostic traditions which used Christian imagery, which were all deemed heretical by proto-orthodox Christianity.
A first quest for the historical Jesus took place in the 19th century when hundreds of biographies about Jesus were proposed. German theologian David Strauss (1808–1874) pioneered the search for the "historical Jesus" by rejecting all supernatural events as mythical elaborations. His 1835 work, Life of Jesus, was one of the first and most influential systematic analyses of the life story of Jesus, aiming to base it on unbiased historical research. The Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, starting in the 1890s, used the methodologies of higher criticism,[web 3] a branch of criticism that investigates the origins of ancient texts in order to understand "the world behind the text". It compared Christianity to other religions, regarding it as one religion among others and rejecting its claims to absolute truth, and demonstrating that it shares characteristics with other religions.[web 3] It argued that Christianity was not simply the continuation of the Old Testament, but syncretistic, and was rooted in and influenced by Hellenistic Judaism (Philo) and Hellenistic religions like the mystery cults and Gnosticism.[web 4]Martin Kähler questioned the usefulness of the search for the historical Jesus, making the famous distinction between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith", arguing that faith is more important than exact historical knowledge.Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976), who was related to the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule,[web 4] emphasized theology, and in 1926 argued that historical Jesus research was both futile and unnecessary; however, Bultmann slightly modified that position in a later book. The first quest ended with Albert Schweitzer's 1906 critical review of the history of the search for Jesus' life in The Quest of the Historical Jesus—From Reimarus to Wrede. The first quest was challenged in the 19th and early 20th centuries by authors who denied the historicity of Jesus, notably Bauer and Drews.
The second quest started in 1953, in a departure from Bultmann. Several criteria, the criterion of dissimilarity and the criterion of embarrassment, were introduced to analyze and evaluate New Testament narratives. This second quest declined in the 1970s due to the diminishing influence of Bultmann, and coinciding with the first publications of George Albert Wells, which marks the onset of the revival of Christ myth theories. According to Paul Zahl, while the second quest made significant contributions at the time, its results are now mostly forgotten, although not disproven.
The third quest started in the 1980s and introduced new criteria. Primary among these are the criterion of historical plausibility, the criterion of rejection and execution, and the criterion of congruence (also called cumulative circumstantial evidence), a special case of the older criterion of coherence. The third quest is interdisciplinary and global, carried out by scholars from multiple disciplines and incorporating the results of archeological research. The third quest primarily yielded new insights into Jesus' Palestinian and Jewish context rather than the person of Jesus himself. It also has made clear that all material on Jesus has been handed down by the emerging Church, raising questions about the criterion of dissimilarity, and the suitability of ascribing material solely to Jesus rather than the emerging Church.
These critical methods have led to a demythologization of Jesus. The mainstream scholarly view is that the Pauline epistles and the gospels describe the "Christ of faith", presenting a religious narrative that replaced the historical Jesus who lived in 1st-century Roman Judea,[q 11] but that there is no doubt that a historical Jesus did exist. New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman states that Jesus "certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees".
Following the criteria of authenticity-approach, scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the biblical accounts of Jesus, but the baptism and the crucifixion are two events in the life of Jesus that are subject to "almost universal assent".[note 2] 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.
Historical portraits of Jesus have often differed from each other and from the image portrayed in the gospel accounts.[note 3] The primary portraits of Jesus resulting from the third quest are: apocalyptic prophet; charismatic healer; cynic philosopher; Jewish Messiah; and prophet of social change. According to Ehrman, the most widely held view is that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who was subsequently deified.
According to New Testament scholar James Dunn, it is not possible "to construct (from the available data) a Jesus who will be the real Jesus".[q 13] According to Philip R. Davies, a biblical minimalist, "what is being affirmed as the Jesus of history is a cipher, not a rounded personality".[web 6] According to Ehrman, "the real problem with Jesus" is not the mythicist stance that he is "a myth invented by Christians", but that he was "far too historical", that is, a first-century Judean Jew, who was not like the Jesus preached and proclaimed today. According to Ehrman, "Jesus was a first-century Jew, and when we try to make him into a twenty-first century American we distort everything he was and everything he stood for."
Demise of authenticity and call for memory studies
Since the late 2000s, concern has grown about the usefulness of the criteria of authenticity.[web 7] According to Chris Keith, the criteria are literary tools, indebted to form criticism, not historiographic tools. They were meant to discern pre-gospel traditions, not to identify historical facts, but have "substituted the pre-literary tradition with that of the historical Jesus". According to Anthony Le Donne, the usage of such criteria is a form of "positivist historiography".
Keith, Le Donne, and others[note 4] argue for a "social memory" approach, which states that memories are shaped by the needs of the present and that instead of searching for a historical Jesus, scholarship should investigate how the memories of Jesus were shaped, and how they were reshaped "with the aim of cohesion and the self-understanding (identity) of groups".James D. G. Dunn's 2003 study, Jesus Remembered, prompted the "increased ... interest in memory theory and eyewitness testimony".[web 8] Dunn argues that "[t]he only realistic objective for any 'quest of the historical Jesus' is Jesus remembered." Dunn argues that Christianity started with the impact Jesus himself had on his followers, who passed on and shaped their memories of him in an oral gospel tradition. According to Dunn, to understand who Jesus was, and what his impact was, scholars have to look at "the broad picture, focusing on the characteristic motifs and emphases of the Jesus tradition, rather than making findings overly dependent on individual items of the tradition".
Le Donne elaborated on Dunn's thesis, basing "his historiography squarely on Dunn's thesis that the historical Jesus is the memory of Jesus recalled by the earliest disciples".[web 8] According to Le Donne, memories are refactored, and not an exact recalling of the past.[web 8] He argues that the remembrance of events is facilitated by relating it to a common story or "type", which shapes the way the memories are retained and narrated. He therefore means that the Jesus tradition is not a theological invention of the early Church, but is shaped and refracted by the restraints that the type puts on the narrated memories, due to the mold of the "type".[web 8]
According to Chris Keith, an alternative to the search for a historical Jesus "posits a historical Jesus who is ultimately unattainable but can be hypothesized on the basis of the interpretations of the early Christians, and as part of a larger process of accounting for how and why early Christians came to view Jesus in the ways that they did". According to Keith, "these two models are methodologically and epistemologically incompatible", calling into question the methods and aim of the first model.
Views of Christ myth theorists
Mythicists variously argue that the accounts of Jesus are completely or mostly of a mythical nature, questioning the mainstream paradigm of a historical Jesus in the beginning of the 1st century who was subsequently deified. Most mythicists note that Christianity developed within Hellenistic Judaism, which was influenced by Hellenism, and that early Christianity and the accounts of Jesus are to be understood in this context. Yet, where contemporary New Testament scholarship has introduced several criteria to evaluate the historicity of New Testament passages and sayings, most Christ myth proponents have relied on comparisons of Christian mythemes with contemporary religious traditions, emphasizing the mythological nature of the Bible accounts.[note 5]
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. They hold that 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 'Jesus atheists' are Paul-Louis Couchoud, Earl Doherty,[q 2]Thomas L. Brodie, and Richard Carrier.[q 14][q 15]
Some authors argue for the Jesus agnosticism viewpoint. That is, whether there was a historical Jesus is unknowable and if he did exist, close to nothing can be known about him. Notable 'Jesus agnosticists' are Robert Price and Thomas L. Thompson. According to Thompson, the question of the historicity of Jesus also is not relevant for the understanding of the meaning and function of the Biblical texts in their own times.
Wells in his early works and Alvar Ellegård have argued that "the first Christians had in mind Jesus who had lived as a historical figure, just not of the recent past." Ellegård identified this figure with the Essene Teacher of Righteousness, de facto proposing an historical Jesus. Wells, in his later writings, came to view the gospel stories of Jesus as containing elements of a historical figure "traceable to the activity of a Galilean preacher of the early first century," preserved in the Q-source, who was added to Paul's mythical Jesus in the gospels, arguing for "two originally quite independent streams of tradition", which were fused in the gospels,[q 7] leaving open the question regarding Paul's Christ "as to whether such a person had in fact existed and lived the obscure life that Paul supposed of him." According to Wells, "There is no means of deciding this issue."
Overview of main mythicist arguments
According to New Testament scholar Robert Van Voorst, most Christ mythicists follow a threefold argument first set forward by German historian Bruno Bauer in the 1800s: they question the reliability of the Pauline epistles and the Gospels to postulate a historically existing 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 had syncretistic and mythological origins. More specifically:
Paul's epistles lack detailed biographical information—most mythicists agree that the Pauline epistles are older than the gospels, and note that 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, nor do they cite any sayings from Jesus, the so-called argument from silence.[q 16] Some mythicists have argued that the Pauline epistles are from a later date than usually assumed, and therefore not a reliable source on the life of Jesus.
The gospels are not historical records, but a fictitious historical narrative—mythicists argue that although the gospels seem to present a historical framework, they are not historical records, but theological writings, myth or legendary fiction resembling the Hero archetype. They impose "a fictitious historical narrative" on a "mythical cosmic savior figure", weaving together various pseudo-historical Jesus traditions, though there may have been a real historical person, of whom close to nothing can be known.[need quotation to verify]
There are no independent eyewitness accounts—No independent eyewitness accounts survive, in spite of the fact that many authors were writing at that time. Early second-century Roman accounts contain very little evidence and may depend on Christian sources.
Lack of detailed biographical information in Pauline epistles
Dating and attribution
The mainstream view is that the seven undisputed Pauline epistles considered by scholarly consensus to be genuine epistles are generally dated to 50–60 AD and are the earliest surviving Christian texts that include information about Jesus.[q 19] Most scholars view the Pauline letters as essential elements in the study of the historical Jesus, and the development of early Christianity. Yet, scholars have also argued that Paul was a "mythmaker", who gave his own divergent interpretation of the meaning of Jesus, building a bridge between the Jewish and Hellenistic world, thereby creating the faith that became Christianity.
Mythicists agree on the importance of the Pauline epistles, some agreeing with this early dating, and taking the Pauline epistles as their point of departure from mainstream scholarship. They argue that those letters point solely into the direction of a celestial or mythical being, or contain no definitive information on a historical Jesus. 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. 85 – c. 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 that de-emphasized the Gnostic aspects.
Price also argues for a later dating of the epistles, and sees them as a compilation of fragments (possibly with a Gnostic core), contending that Marcion was responsible for much of the Pauline corpus or even wrote the letters himself. Price criticizes other Christ myth theorists for holding the mid-first-century dating of the epistles for their own apologetical reasons.[note 6]
Lack of biographical information
According to theologian Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Bethel University, modern biblical scholarship notes that "Paul has relatively little to say on the biographical information of Jesus", viewing Jesus as "a recent contemporary". 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."[note 2]
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.
Among contemporary scholars, there is consensus that the gospels are a type of ancient biography, a genre which was concerned with providing examples for readers to emulate while preserving and promoting the subject's reputation and memory, as well as including propaganda and kerygma (preaching) in their works.[note 7] Biblical scholarship regards the gospels to be the literary manifestation of oral traditions that originated during the life of a historical Jesus, who according to Dunn had a profound impact on his followers.
Mythicists argue that in the gospels "a fictitious historical narrative" was imposed on the "mythical cosmic savior figure" created by Paul. According to Robert Price, the gospels "smack of fictional composition",[web 10] arguing that they are a type of legendary fiction and that the story of Jesus portrayed in the gospels fits the mythic hero archetype. The mythic hero archetype, present in many cultures, often has a miraculous conception or virgin births heralded by wise men and marked by a star, is tempted by or fights evil forces, dies on a hill, appears after death and then ascends to heaven. According to Earl Doherty, the gospels are "essentially allegory and fiction".
According to Wells in his later writings, a historical Jesus existed, whose teachings were preserved in the Q source. Wells said the gospels weave together two Jesus narratives, namely the Galilean preacher of the Q document, and Paul's mythical Jesus. Doherty disagrees with Wells regarding the teacher of the Q-document, arguing that he was an allegorical character who personified Wisdom and came to be regarded as the founder of the Q-community. According to Doherty, Q's Jesus and Paul's Christ were combined in the Gospel of Mark by a predominantly Gentile community.
Ehrman notes that the gospels are based on oral sources, which played a decisive role in attracting new converts. Christian theologians have cited the mythic hero archetype as a defense of Christian teaching while completely affirming a historical Jesus. 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".
No independent eyewitness accounts
Lack of surviving historic records
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,[q 20] adding that Jesus left no writings or other archaeological evidence. They note that Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria did not mention Jesus when he wrote about the cruelty of Pontius Pilate around 40 AD.
Bart Ehrman estimates that there are about 30 surviving independent sources written by 25 authors who attest to Jesus. Mainstream biblical scholars point out that much of the writings of antiquity have been lost and that there was little written about any Jew or Christian in this period. Ehrman points out that there is no known 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.Robert Hutchinson notes that this is also true of Josephus, despite the fact that he was "a personal favorite of the Roman Emperor Vespasian". Hutchinson quotes Ehrman, who notes that Josephus is never mentioned in 1st century Greek or Roman sources, despite being "a personal friend of the emperor". 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."
There are three non-Christian sources that are typically used to study and establish the historicity of Jesus, namely two mentions in Josephus, and one mention in the Roman source Tacitus.
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. 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.
Myth proponents note that the Testimonium Flavianum is likely a forgery by Christian apologist Eusebius in the 4th century or by others.[note 9] 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 the Jesus of Christianity. 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.
Christ myth theory supporters such as Carrier note 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.
In Jesus Outside the New Testament (2000), 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. He 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".
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. 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 10]
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. The Roman conquest of this area added to the cultural diversity, but also to a sense of alienation and pessimism. 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. Yet monotheism was also offered by Greek philosophy, especially Platonism, with its high God and the intermediary Logos. According to Doherty, "Out of this rich soil of ideas arose Christianity, a product of both Jewish and Greek philosophy", echoing Bruno Bauer, who argued that Christianity was a synthesis of Stoicism, Greek Neoplatonism, and Jewish thought.
Robert Price notes that Christianity started among Hellenized Jews, who mixed allegorical interpretations of Jewish traditions with Jewish Gnostic, Zoroastrian, and mystery cult elements.[q 21] Some myth proponents note that some stories in the New Testament reinforce Old Testament prophecies and repeat stories about figures such as Elijah, Elisha,Moses and Joshua in order to appeal to Jewish converts. Price notes that almost all the gospel stories have parallels in the Old Testament and other traditions, concluding that the gospels are not independent sources for a historical Jesus, but "legend and myth, fiction and redaction".
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 that arose at various places and competed for support. Paul's arguments against rival apostles also point to this diversity. 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.
According to mainstream scholarship, Jesus was an eschatological preacher or teacher, who was believed by his followers to be exalted after his death. 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'. These pre-Pauline creeds date to within a few years of Jesus' death and developed within the Christian community in Jerusalem. The First Epistle to the Corinthians contains one of the earliest Christian creeds expressing belief in the risen Jesus, namely 1 Corinthians 15:3–41:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,[note 10] and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,[note 11] and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
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."1 Corinthians 15:11 also refers to others before Paul who preached the creed.
According to New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado, Jesus' death was interpreted as a redemptive death "for our sins" in accordance with God's plan as contained in the Jewish scriptures.[note 10] The significance lay in "the theme of divine necessity and fulfillment of the scriptures," rather than the later Pauline emphasis on "Jesus' death as a sacrifice or an expiation for our sins." For the early Jewish Christians, "the idea that Messiah's death was a necessary redemptive event functioned more as an apologetic explanation for Jesus' crucifixion", "proving that Jesus' death was no surprise to God."[note 12] According to Krister Stendahl, the main concern of Paul's writings on Jesus' role, and salvation by faith, is not the individual conscience of human sinners, and their doubts about being chosen by God or not, but the problem of the inclusion of gentile (Greek) Torah observers into God's covenant.[web 12][note 13]
The appearances of Jesus are often explained as visionary experiences, in which the presence of Jesus was felt. According to Ehrman, the visions of Jesus and the subsequent belief in Jesus' resurrection radically changed the perceptions of his early followers, concluding from his absence that he must have been exalted to heaven, by God himself, exalting him to an unprecedented status and authority. According to Hurtado, the resurrection experiences were religious experiences that "seem to have included visions of (and/or ascents to) God's heaven, in which the glorified Christ was seen in an exalted position", and that may have occurred mostly during corporate worship. Johan Leman contends that the communal meals provided a context in which participants entered a state of mind in which the presence of Jesus was felt.
The Pauline creeds contain elements of a Christ myth and its cultus, such as the Christ hymn of Philippians 2:6–11,[note 14] which portrays Jesus as an incarnated and subsequently exalted heavenly being.[note 15] 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.[note 16]
Recent scholarship places the exaltation and devotion of Jesus firmly in a Jewish context. Andrew Chester argues that "for Paul, Jesus is clearly a figure of the heavenly world, and thus fits a messianic category already developed within Judaism, where the Messiah is a human or angelic figure belonging ... in the heavenly world, a figure who at the same time has had specific, limited role on earth". According to Ehrman, Paul regarded Jesus to be an angel, who was incarnated on earth.[note 17][note 18] According to James Waddell, Paul's conception of Jesus as a heavenly figure was influenced by the Book of Enoch and its conception of the Messiah.[web 14][note 19]
Christ myth theorists generally reject the idea that Paul's epistles refer to a historical individual.[note 20] According to Doherty, the Jesus of Paul was a divine Son of God, existing in a spiritual realm where he was crucified and resurrected. This mythological Jesus was based on exegesis of the Old Testament and mystical visions of a risen Jesus.
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 and Zechariah 3 and 6, Daniel 9 and Isaiah 52–53. Carrier notes that there is little if any concrete information about Jesus' earthly life in the Pauline epistles. According to Carrier, originally "Jesus was the name of a celestial being, subordinate to God," who came from a tradition of "dying-and-rising" savior gods like Romulus, Osiris, and Zalmoxis. Along with Mithras, these gods were all the children of a higher god, underwent a passion, conquered death, and existed on Earth within human history. According to Carrier "[t]his 'Jesus' would most likely have been the same archangel identified by Philo of Alexandria as already extant in Jewish theology", that Philo knew by all of the attributes by which Paul knew Jesus.[note 21] 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 9]
Raphael Lataster, following Carrier, also argues that "Jesus began as a celestial messiah that certain Second Temple Jews already believed in, and was later allegorised in the Gospels."
Ehrman notes that Doherty, like many other mythicists, "quotes professional scholars at length when their views prove useful for developing aspects of his argument, but he fails to point out that not a single of these scholars agrees with his overarching thesis." Ehrman has also criticized Doherty for misquoting scholarly sources as if in support of his celestial being-hypothesis, whereas those sources explicitly "[refer] to Christ becoming a human being in flesh on earth—precisely the view he rejects."[web 1]
James McGrath criticizes Carrier, stating that Carrier is ignoring the details, adding that "Philo is offering an allusive reference to, and allegorical treatment of, a text in Zechariah which mentioned a historical high priest named Joshua."[web 16]
According to Hurtado, for Paul and his contemporaries Jesus was a human being, who was exalted as Messiah and Lord after his crucifixion.[web 17] According to Hurtado, "There is no evidence whatsoever of a 'Jewish archangel Jesus' in any of the second-temple Jewish evidence. ... Instead, all second-temple instances of the name are for historical figures."[web 17] Hurtado rejects Carrier's claim that "Philo of Alexandria mentions an archangel named 'Jesus'", instead stating that Philo mentions a priestly figure called Joshua, and a royal personage whose name can be interpreted as "rising", among other connotations. According to Hurtado, there is no "Jesus Rising" in either Zechariah nor Philo.[web 18][web 19][note 22]
Ehrman notes that "there were no Jews prior to Christianity who thought that Isaiah 53 (or any of the other "suffering" passages) referred to the future messiah." Only after his death were these texts used to interpret his suffering in a meaningful way, though "Isaiah is not speaking about the future messiah, and he was never interpreted by any Jews prior to the first century as referring to the messiah."[note 23]
Simon Gathercole at Cambridge also evaluated the mythicist arguments for 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.
Jesus should be understood in the Palestinian and Jewish context of the first century CE. Most of the themes, epithets, and expectations formulated in the New Testamentical literature have Jewish origins and are elaborations of these themes. According to Hurtado, Roman-era Judaism refused "to worship any deities other than the God of Israel," including "any of the adjutants of the biblical God, such as angels, messiahs, etc."[web 20] The Jesus-devotion which emerged in early Christianity should therefore be regarded as a specific, Christian innovation in the Jewish context.[web 20]
According to Wells, in his early years, 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.[web 21] 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.
According to Doherty, the Christ of Paul shares similarities with the Greco-Roman mystery cults. Authors Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy argue that Jesus was a deity, akin to the mystery cults, while Dorothy Murdock argues that the Christ myth draws heavily on the Egyptian story of Osiris and Horus. According to Carrier, early Christianity was one of several mystery cults that developed out of Hellenistic influences on local cults and religions.
Alvar Ellegård has argued that Paul's Jesus may have lived far earlier, in a dimly remembered remote past. Wells argues that Paul's Jesus did not have a definite historical moment in mind for when he was supposedly crucified.[q 22]
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 century 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".[note 25]
Mainstream scholarship disagrees with these interpretations, and regards them as outdated applications of ideas and methodologies from the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule. According to Philip Davies, the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed "composed of stock motifs (and mythic types) drawn from all over the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world" but this does not mean that Jesus was "invented"; according to Davies, "the existence of a guru of some kind is more plausible and economical than any other explanation".[web 6] Ehrman states that mythicists make too much of the perceived parallels with pagan religions and mythologies. According to Ehrman, critical-historical research has clearly shown the Jewish roots and influences of Christianity.
Many mainstream biblical scholars respond that most of the perceived parallels with mystery religions are either coincidences or without historical basis and/or that these parallels do not prove that a Jesus figure did not live.[note 26] Boyd and Eddy doubt that Paul viewed Jesus similar to the savior deities found in ancient mystery religions. Ehrman notes that Doherty proposes that the mystery cults had a neo-Platonic cosmology, but that Doherty gives no evidence for this assertion. Furthermore, "the mystery cults are never mentioned by Paul or by any other Christian author of the first hundred years of the Church," nor did they play a role in the worldview of any of the Jewish groups of the first century.
Boyd and Eddy criticize the idea that "Paul viewed Jesus as a cosmic savior who lived in the past", referring to various passages in the Pauline epistles that 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 timeframe as the persecution of Paul.
Late 18th to early 20th century
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.
According to Walter Weaver, 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. Volney and Dupuis argued that Christianity was an amalgamation of various ancient mythologies and that Jesus was a totally mythical character. 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. 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. Volney argued that Abraham and Sarah were derived from Brahma and his wife Saraswati, and that Christ was related to Krishna. Volney made use of a draft version of Dupuis' work and at times differed from him, for example, in arguing that the gospel stories were not intentionally created, but were compiled organically. Volney's perspective became associated with the ideas of the French Revolution, which hindered the acceptance of these views in England. Despite this, his work gathered significant following among British and American radical thinkers during the 19th century.
In 1835, David Strauss published his extremely controversial The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (Das Leben Jesu). According to Elisabeth Hurt, Strauss "arrived at a Christianity depersonalized and anonymous, reducing Jesus to nothing more than a gifted genius whom legend had gradually deified." While not denying that Jesus existed, he did argue that the miracles in the New Testament were mythical additions with little basis in fact. 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' 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.
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. 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. 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.
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", and that Christian editors "either from roguery or folly, corrupted them all". 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 including Richard Carrier, and are largely dismissed by biblical scholars.
Starting in the 1870s, English poet and author Gerald Massey became interested in Egyptology and reportedly taught himself Egyptian hieroglyphics at the British Museum. In 1883, Massey published The Natural Genesis, in which 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.
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.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.
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. 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.[note 27]
The work of social anthropologist James George Frazer has also influenced various myth theorists, although Frazer himself believed that Jesus existed. 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 position assumed a historical Jesus.
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. The English school master George Robert Stowe Mead argued in 1903 that Jesus had existed, but that he had lived in 100 BC. 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.
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. 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 gospel accounts were reasonably accurate, but who did not.
Beginning in the 1970s, in the aftermath of the second quest for the historical Jesus, interest in the Christ myth theory was revived by George A. Wells, whose ideas were elaborated by Earl Doherty. With the rise of the internet in the 1990s, their ideas gained popular interest, giving way to a multitude of publications and websites aimed at a popular audience, most notably Richard Carrier, often taking a polemical stance toward Christianity. Their ideas are supported by Robert Price, an academic theologian, while somewhat different stances on the mythological origins are offered by Thomas L. Thompson and Thomas L. Brodie, both also accomplished scholars in theology.
Revival of the Christ myth theory
The French philosopher Paul-Louis Couchoud (1879-1959), published in the 1920s and 1930s, was a predecessor for contemporary mythicists. According to Couchoud, Christianity started not with a biography of Jesus but "a collective mystical experience, sustaining a divine history mystically revealed". Couchaud's Jesus is not a "myth", but a "religious conception".
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 death, implying that there cannot have been a ministry by a teacher called Jesus.
George Albert Wells
George Albert Wells (1926–2017), a professor of German, revived interest in the Christ myth theory. In his early work, including Did Jesus Exist? (1975), Wells argued that because the gospels were written decades after Jesus' 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.
From the mid-1990s onwards, Wells came to accept that the Jesus of the gospel stories was partly based on a historical figure. In The Jesus Myth (1999) and later works, Wells argues that two Jesus narratives were fused into one, namely Paul's mythical Jesus, and a historical Jesus from a Galilean preaching tradition, whose teachings were preserved in the Q source.[q 7] According to Wells, both figures owe much of their substance to ideas from Jewish Wisdom literature.
In 2000 Van Voorst gave an overview of proponents of the "Nonexistence Hypothesis" and their arguments, presenting seven arguments against the hypothesis as put forward by Wells and his predecessors, detailing his criticisms. 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 ago, for reasons which were very well known".
Canadian writer Earl Doherty (born 1941) was introduced to the Christ myth theme by a lecture by Wells in the 1970s. 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".[note 29] 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. Doherty agrees with Richard 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 the Jews.[note 16] 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 that wrote the Q source. Eventually, Q's Jesus and Paul's Christ were combined in the Gospel of Mark by a predominantly gentile community. In time, the gospel narrative of this embodiment of Wisdom became interpreted as the literal history of the life of Jesus.
Eddy and Boyd characterize Doherty's work as appealing to the "History of Religions School". In a book criticizing the Christ myth theory, New Testament scholar Maurice Casey describes Doherty as "perhaps the most influential of all the mythicists", but one who is unable to understand the ancient texts he uses in his arguments.
American independent scholarRichard Carrier (born 1969) reviewed Doherty's work on the origination of Jesus and eventually concluded that the evidence favored the core of Doherty's thesis. According to Carrier, following Couchoud and Doherty, Christianity started with the belief in a new deity called Jesus,[q 14] "a spiritual, mythical figure".[q 15] 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 14] 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. Those allegories were subsequently believed as fact during the struggle for control of the Christian churches of the first century. Citing the methodological failure of the criteria of authenticity and asserting a failure of the "entire quest for criteria", Richard Carrier writes, "The entire field of Jesus studies has thus been left without any valid method."
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). Price uses critical-historical methods, but also uses "history-of-religions parallel[s]", or the "Principle of Analogy", to show similarities between gospel narratives and non-Christian Middle Eastern myths. Price criticises some of the criteria of critical Bible research, such as the criterion of dissimilarity and the criterion of embarrassment. Price further notes that "consensus is no criterion" for the historicity of Jesus. According to Price, if critical methodology is applied with ruthless consistency, one is left in complete agnosticism regarding Jesus' historicity.[note 30]
In Deconstructing Jesus, Price claims that the Jesus 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. 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", and that the historical Jesus has become obscured behind the dogma. Price concluded that it is plausible that there might have been a historical Jesus, whose story was completely assimilated into the "Mythic Hero Archetype", but that it was no longer possible to be sure there had ever been a real person underneath all the fiction.
In Jesus is Dead (2007) Price again stated the possibility that the gospel Jesus is not based on a historical individual, and that the "Christ of faith" is "a synthetic construct of theologians".
In his later contribution, "Jesus at the Vanishing Point", appearing in The Historical Jesus: Five Views (2009), Price concludes that the gospel story is a "tapestry of Scripture quotes from the Old Testament." He further states that the gospel story also incorporates many of the recurrent features of the Indo-European and Semitic hero myths—what Price calls the "Mythic Hero Archetype". Price acknowledges that he stands against the majority view of scholars, but cautions against attempting to settle the issue by appeal to the majority.
Thomas L. Thompson
Thomas L. Thompson (born 1939), Professor emeritus of theology at the University of Copenhagen, is a leading biblical minimalist of the Old Testament. According to Thompson, "questions of understanding and interpreting biblical texts" are more relevant than "questions about the historical existence of individuals such as ... Jesus". In his view, Jesus' existence is based more on theological necessity than historical evidence. He believes that most theologians accept that large parts of the Gospels are not to be taken at face value, while also treating the historicity of Jesus as not an open question. In his 2007 book The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David, Thompson argues that 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. Those accounts are based on the Messiah mytheme, a king anointed by God to restore the Divine order at Earth. Thompson also argues that the resurrection of Jesus is taken directly from the story of the dying and rising god, Dionysus. Thompson concludes, "A negative statement, however, that such a figure did not exist, cannot be reached: only that we have no warrant for making such a figure part of our history."
Thompson co-edited 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. In the introduction he writes, "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."
Ehrman[q 23][q 24] and Casey have characterized Thompson's position as mythicist, and Ehrman has criticised Thompson, questioning his qualifications and expertise regarding New Testament research.[q 23] In a 2012 online article, Thompson defended his qualifications to address New Testament issues, and objected to Ehrman's statement that "[a] different sort of support for a mythicist position comes in the work of Thomas L. Thompson."[note 31] According to Thompson, "Bart Ehrman has attributed to my book arguments and principles which I had never presented, certainly not that Jesus had never existed", and reiterated his position that the issue of Jesus' existence cannot be determined one way or the other[need quotation to verify]. Thompson further states that 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. In response to Thompson's article, Maurice Casey dismissed Thompson as "an incompetent New Testament scholar".
Thomas L. Brodie
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 led Brodie to the conclusion that Jesus is mythical. 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. Brodie then views the Elijah–Elisha story as the underlying model for the gospel narratives.
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. According to Gerard Norton, "There is an unjustifiable jump between methodology and conclusion" in Brodie's book that "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.
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 exist as a 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.
Influenced by Massey and Higgins, Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880–1963), an American Theosophist, 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. 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.[note 32]
In modern scholarship, the Christ myth theory is considered a fringe theory, and finds virtually no support from scholars,[web 1][q 10] to the point of being addressed in footnotes or almost completely ignored due to the obvious weaknesses they espouse. Common criticisms against the Christ myth theory include: general lack of expertise or relationship to academic institutions and current scholarship; reliance on arguments from silence, lack of evidence, dismissal or distortion of what sources actually state, questionable methodologies, and outdated or superficial comparisons with mythologies.[note 1]
According to agnostic scholar Bart D. Ehrman, nearly all scholars who study the early Christian period believe that Jesus did exist, and Ehrman observes that mythicist writings are generally of poor quality because they are usually authored by amateurs and non-scholars who have no academic credentials or have never taught at academic institutions. Maurice Casey, an agnostic 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".
In 1977, classical historian and popular author Michael Grant in his book Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, concluded that "modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory". In support, Grant quoted Roderic Dunkerley's 1957 opinion that the Christ myth theory has "again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars". He also quoted Otto Betz' 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". 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.
Graeme Clarke, Emeritus Professor of Classical Ancient History and Archaeology at Australian National University stated in 2008: "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".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 position. 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.[web 22] Hoffmann also called the mythicist theory "fatally flawed".[q 25]
Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, wrote, "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."[web 23]
According to Daniel Gullotta, most of the mythicist literature contains "wild theories, which are poorly researched, historically inaccurate, and written with a sensationalist bent for popular audiences."
According to James F. McGrath and Christopher Hansen, mythicists sometimes rely on questionable and outdated methods like Rank and Raglan mythotypes that end up resulting in misclassifying real historical persons as mythical figures.
Questioning the competence of proponents
Critics of the Christ myth theory question the competence of its supporters.[q 24] Maurice Casey has criticized mythicists, pointing out their complete ignorance of how modern critical scholarship actually works. He also criticizes their frequent assumption that modern New Testament scholarship is Christian fundamentalism, insisting that this assumption is not only totally inaccurate, but also exemplary of the mythicists' misconceptions about the ideas and attitudes of mainstream scholars.
According to Bart 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. ... These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99% 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 on in a bona fide department of biology
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."Paul L. Maier, former professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University and current professor emeritus of its Department of History has stated, "Anyone who uses the argument that Jesus never existed is simply flaunting his ignorance."
In 2000 Van Voorst gave an overview of proponents of the "Nonexistence Hypothesis" and their arguments, presenting seven arguments against the hypothesis as put forward by "Wells and his predecessors":
"Arguments from silence" are to be rejected, because "it is wrong to suppose that what is unmentioned or undetailed did not exist". Van Voorst further argued that the early Christian literature was not written for historical purposes.
Dating the "invention" of Jesus around 100 AD is too late: the Gospel of Mark is generally considered to have been written around 70 AD.
The "development [of the Gospel traditions] does not necessarily mean wholesale invention, and difficulties do not prove nonexistence".
Wells could not explain why "no pagans and Jews who opposed Christianity denied Jesus' historicity or even questioned it"
Proponents of the "nonhistoricity hypothesis" are not driven by scholarly interests, but by anti-Christian sentiments.
Wells and others do not offer "other, credible hypotheses" for the origins of Christianity.
In 2003, Van Voorst added an eighth "final argument"—that Wells had since accepted the "historical basis for the existence of Jesus".
In his book Did Jesus Exist?, Bart Ehrman surveys the arguments "mythicists" have made against the existence of Jesus since the idea was first raised at the end of the 18th century. Regarding the lack of contemporaneous records for Jesus, Ehrman notes that 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. He adds 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. Ehrman writes that although "our best sources about Jesus, the early Gospels, are riddled with problems ... written decades after Jesus' life by biased authors", they "can be used to yield historically reliable information". He adds, "With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul)", which he says is "pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind". 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, and repeatedly insisting that the idea that there was never such a person as Jesus is not seriously considered at all by historians or experts in the field.
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."
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 laying 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".[note 34]
In a 2015 poll conducted by the Church of England, 22% of respondents indicated that they did not believe Jesus was a real person.
Ehrman notes that "the mythicists have become loud, and thanks to the Internet they've attracted more attention". 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.[note 35] Doherty created the website The Jesus Puzzle in 1996,[web 24] while the organization Internet Infidels has featured the works of mythicists on their website and mythicism has been mentioned on several popular news sites.
According to Derek Murphy, the documentaries The God Who Wasn't There (2005) and Zeitgeist (2007) introduced the Christ myth theory to a larger audience and gave the topic broad coverage on the Internet. 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 26]
According to Ehrman, mythicism has a growing appeal "because these deniers of Jesus are at the same time denouncers of religion".[q 27] According to Casey, mythicism has a growing appeal because of an aversion toward Christian fundamentalism among American atheists.
Since 2005, several English-language documentaries have focused—at least in part—on the Christ myth theory:
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.
Tuckett 2001, pp. 121–137, esp. 125 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)."
^According to Lataster, a Christ mythicist, "the only thing New Testament scholars seem to agree on is Jesus' historical existence".[web 5]
^Crook (2013; Foster 2012, 2013; Keith 2011; 2012a, 2012b; Rodríguez 2012, 2013); Le Donne (2011; 2012a; 2012b); Schröter (1996; 2012; 2013)
^A notable exception is Robert Price, who has used those same criteria to dissect the Jesus to the "vanishing point".
^Michael Vines notes that the gospel of Mark may have aspects similar to a Jewish novel, 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.
^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."
^No one seemed to notice this passage until the 4th century, not even Origen who quotes Josephus extensively in his works, thus leading mythicists to think that the Testimonium Flavianum is a forgery of the 4th century, perhaps written by Eusebius in order to provide an outside Jewish authority for the life of Jesus.
^ abThe kerygma from 1:Cor.15:3–5 refers to two mythologies: the Greek myth of the noble dead, to which the Maccabean notion of martyrdom and dying for ones people is related; and the Jewish myth of the persecuted sage or righteous man, c.q. the "story of the child of wisdom". The notion of 'dying for' refers to this martyrdom and persecution. James F. McGrath refers to 4 Maccabees 6, "which presents a martyr praying 'Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs' (4 Maccabees 6:28–29). Clearly there were ideas that existed in the Judaism of the time that helped make sense of the death of the righteous in terms of atonement."[web 11] See also Herald Gandi (2018), The Resurrection: "According to the Scriptures"?, referring to Isaiah 53, among others:
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed ... Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
See also 2 Kings 20:8: "Hezekiah said to Isaiah, 'What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?'" According to Sheehan, Paul's reference to Jesus having risen "on the third day ... simply expresses the belief that Jesus was rescued from the fate of utter absence from God (death) and was admitted to the saving presence of God (the eschatological future)".
^Hurtado cites Green, The Death of Jesus, p.323.
^Dunn quotes Stendahl: "Cf Stendahl, Paul among Jews and Gentiles, passim—e.g "... a doctrine of faith was hammered out by Paul for the very specific and limited pupose of defending the rights of Gentile converts to be full and genuine heirs to the promise of God to Israel"(p.2)"
Stephen Westerholm: "For Paul, the question that "justification by faith" was intended to answer was, "On what terms can Gentiles gain entrance to the people of God?" Bent on denying any suggestion that Gentiles must become Jews and keep the Jewish law, he answered, 'By faith—and not by works of the (Jewish) law.'"[web 12] Westerholm refers to: Krister Stendahl, The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West, Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963), 199–215; reprinted in Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 78–96.
Westerholm quotes Sanders: "Sanders noted that "the salvation of the Gentiles is essential to Paul's preaching; and with it falls the law; for, as Paul says simply, Gentiles cannot live by the law (Gal. 2.14)" (496). On a similar note, Sanders suggested that the only Jewish "boasting" to which Paul objected was that which exulted over the divine privileges granted to Israel and failed to acknowledge that God, in Christ, had opened the door of salvation to Gentiles."
^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.
^The New Testament writings contain both an exaltation and an incarnation Christology, that is, the view that Jesus became Christ when he was resurrected and taken up to Heaven, and the view that Jesus was a heavenly being who was incarnated on earth. According to Ehrman, the synoptic Gospels reflect exaltation Christologies, which present different views on the exaltation, from the resurrection to the moment of his baptism, and still earlier to his conception; whereas Paul and the Gospel of John reflect incarnation theologies.
^ abThe 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". This "exaltation Christology" may have developed over time, as witnessed in the Gospels, with the earliest Christians believing that Jesus became divine when he was resurrected. 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. 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". Yet, as Ehrman notes, this subsequent "incarnation Christology" was also preached by Paul, and even predates him. According to the "Early High Christology Club", which includes Martin Hengel, Larry Hurtado, and Richard Bauckham, 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.
^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,[web 13] as well as the similarities between Jesus and this chief celestial angel.
^The Book of Enoch (3rd–1st century BCE) is the first text to contain the idea of a preexistent heavenly Messiah, called the "Son of Man".[web 15] He is described as an angelic being,[web 15] who "was chosen and hidden with God before the world was created, and will remain in His presence forevermore".[web 15] He is the embodiment of justice and Wisdom, seated on a throne in Heaven, who will be revealed to the world at the end of times when he will judge all beings.[web 15]
^(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
^According to Epiphanius in his Panarion,[note 24] the 4th century Jewish-Christian Nazarenes (Ναζωραιοι) were originally Jewish converts of the Apostles. 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".
^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. 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. 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, or may be guilty of parallelomania and even misrepresentation of religious (both Christian and non-Christian) and linguistic sources (for example, ignoring the false cognate relationship between Christ and Krishna).
^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".
^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. 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. Public meetings asking "Did Christ live?" were organized, during which party operatives debated with clergymen.
^According to Doherty, it was Paul's view that Jesus' death took place in the spiritual not the earthly realm. 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".
^Price: "One wonders if all these scholars came to a certain point and stopped, their assumption being "If Jesus was a historical figure, he must have done and said something!" But their own criteria and critical tools, which we have sought to apply here with ruthless consistency, ought to have left them with complete agnosticism.
^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. 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. In 2007, Harpur published a sequel, Water Into Wine.
^John Dickson, Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University and once a teacher of Lataster himself, wrote on ABC News that "as his former lecturer, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that Raphael's 1000 words on Jesus would not receive a pass mark in any history class I can imagine, even if it were meant to be a mere "personal reflection" on contemporary Jesus scholarship"; Dickson also accused Lataster of distorting the truth to support his views (such as claiming that there is a scholarly debate about the historicity of Jesus, while in fact there is no debate about it) or stating that many scholars believe that the description of Jesus in the Pauline Epistles is believed to be celestial and uncorporeal (a view that is actually rejected by the scholarly consensus).
^See also Stephen J. Bedard, Jesus Myth Theory, for an overview of blogs by Bedard on the Jesus Myth Theory.
^Doherty 1997b, pp. 12–13. 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.
^Gullotta (2017, p. 311): "Originally known as the 'Christ Myth theory,' this school of thought has more recently adopted the moniker 'Jesus Myth theory' or 'mythicism'."
^ abc(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."
Dunn 2003, p. 339 states of baptism and crucifixion that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent."
Crossan 1995, p. 145: 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."
^No consensus about the historicity of the other major details of the gospel stories, or on the extent to which the Pauline epistles and the gospels replaced the historical human Jesus with a religious narrative of a supernatural "Christ of faith":
Beilby & Rhodes Eddy 2009, pp. 38–39: "Contrary to previous times, virtually everyone in the field today acknowledges that Jesus was considered by his contemporaries to be an exorcist and a worker of miracles. However, when it comes to historical assessment of the miracles tradition itself, the consensus quickly shatters. Some, following in the footsteps of Bultmann, embrace an explicit methodological naturalism such that the very idea of a miracle is ruled out a priori. Others defend the logical possibility of miracle at the theoretical level, but, in practice, retain a functional methodological naturalism, maintaining that we could never be in possession of the type and/or amount of evidence that would justify a historical judgment in favor of the occurrence of a miracle. Still others, suspicious that an uncompromising methodological naturalism most likely reflects an unwarranted metaphysical naturalism, find such a priori skepticism unwarranted and either remain open to, or even explicitly defend, the historicity of miracles within the Jesus tradition."
Vermes 2001, ch.8 "By the end of the first century Christianity had lost sight of the real Jesus and of the original meaning of his message. Paul, John and their churches replaced him by the otherworldy Christ of faith."
Ehrman 2012, pp. 13, 298, 334–335: "The problem with the historical Jesus for Schweitzer was that he was in fact all too historical. That is, Jesus was so firmly rooted in his own time and place, that he does not translate to modern idiom. The Jesus proclaimed by preachers and theologians today had no existence. That particular Jesus is (or those particular Jesuses are) a myth. But there was a historical Jesus, who was very much a man of his time."
Ehrman 2012, pp. 268–270: "As I have repeatedly emphasized, different scholars come to radically different conclusions about how to understand the life of the historical Jesus...Nearly all critical scholars agree at least on those points about the historical Jesus. But there is obviously a lot more to say, and that is where scholarly disagreements loom large - disagreements not over whether Jesus existed but over what kind of Jewish teacher and preacher he was."
Levine 2006, pp. 1: "No single picture of Jesus has convinced all, or even most, scholars; all methods and their combinations find their critics as well as their advocates."
Price 2000, p. 34: "The historical Jesus has gotten lost behind the stained glass curtain of the Christ of dogma".
Watson 2001, p. 168: "All this suggests that the relationship between Christian faith and historical research is to be seen as an ongoing critical dialogue about Jesus and his significance. There is no pre-established harmony between the two sides, and the hope for an eventual consensus is in current circumstances utopian. But neither is this a purely negative relationship of absolute antagonism or indifference. The dialogue may at least serve to clarify why it is that for some Jesus is one of the prophets, whereas for others he is the Christ. Each side in the dialogue remains an unresolved problem to the other—and, as such, an opportunity to learn something new."
Dunn 2005, p. 80: "When Christians tried to make the Messiahship of Jesus credible in their sermons and then in epistles and gospels, they always made use of two kinds of evidence: personal testimony to his resurrection, based on experience, and the witness of the Scriptures. As the living Lord he was for them the Messiah of the Old Covenant. Therefore we, too, speak of the historic Christ of the Bible."
(Komoszewski & Bock 2019, p. 23): "To look at the situation from the other end, all of the generally accepted facts about Jesus are consistent with the church's beliefs about Jesus. That is, there is not a single well-evidenced historical fact about Jesus that undermines the "orthodox" view of Jesus."
^Proponents broadly argue that a historical Jesus never existed:
Gullotta 2017, p. 311: "In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Constantin-François Volney, Charles François Dupuis, and Bruno Bauer all advocated for the theory that Jesus did not exist as a historical person. While their arguments failed to convince the academy, their questions have persisted and inspired a new movement within North America, which also argues that Jesus did not exist. Originally known as the 'Christ Myth theory,' this school of thought has more recently adopted the moniker 'Jesus Myth theory' or 'mythicism'"
Price 2000, p. 17: "Generations of Rationalists and freethinkers have held that Jesus Christ corresponds to no historical character: There never was a Jesus of Nazareth. We might call this categorical denial "Jesus atheism"
Price 2011, pp. 18–19: "G. A. Wells, like his predecessors advocating the Christ Myth theory, discounted the gospel story of an historical Jesus [...] implying that there was no Jesus tradition floating around in either oral or written form at the time Paul and Peter were writing letters"
Price 2000, p. 17: "What I am describing is something different, a "Jesus agnosticism". There may have been a Jesus on earth in the past, but the state of the evidence is so ambiguous that we can never be sure what this figure was like or, indeed, whether there was such a person."
Price 2000, p. 34: "The historical Jesus has gotten lost behind the stained glass curtain of the Christ of dogma."
Price 2000, p. 518: "It doesn't prove there was no historical Jesus, for it is not implausible that a genuine, historical individual might become so lionised, even so deified, that his life and career would be completely assimilated to the Mythic Hero Archetype. But if that happened, we could no longer be sure there had ever been a real person at the root of the whole thing."
Wells 2013, p. 19 leaves open the question regarding Paul's Christ "as to whether such a person had in fact existed and lived the obscure life that Paul supposed of him." According to Wells, "There is no means of deciding this issue."
^ abcIn his later works, Wells argued that Paul's Jesus was a mythical character, which was woven together in the gospels with stories about a Galilean preacher. Wells insisted that this figure of the Q-source is distinct from the sacrificial Christ myth of Paul's epistles and other early Christian documents, and that these two figures have different sources before being fused in Mark:
Wells 2009, pp. 14–15: "When I first addressed these problems, more than thirty years ago, it seemed to me that, because the earliest Christian references to Jesus are so vague, the gospel Jesus could be no more than a mythical expansion and elaboration of this obscure figure. But from the mid-1990s I became persuaded that many of the gospel traditions are too specific in their references to time, place, and circumstances to have developed in such a short time from no other basis, and are better understood as traceable to the activity of a Galilean preacher of the early first century, the personage represented in Q (the inferred non-Markan source, not extant, common to Matthew and Luke; cf. above, p. 2), which may be even earlier than the Paulines. This is the position I have argued in my books of 1996, 1999, and 2004, although the titles of the first two of these—The Jesus Legend and The Jesus Myth—may mislead potential readers into supposing that I still denied the historicity of the gospel Jesus. These titles were chosen because I regarded (and still do regard) the virgin birth, much in the Galilean ministry, the crucifixion around A.D. 30 under Pilate, and the resurrection as legendary."
Wells 2009, p. 16: "What we have in the gospels is surely a fusion of two originally quite independent streams of tradition [...] the Galilean preacher of the early first century who had met with rejection, and the supernatural personage of the early epistles, [the Jesus of Paul] who sojourned briefly on Earth and then, rejected, returned to heaven—have been condensed into one. The [human] preacher has been given a [mythical] salvific death and resurrection, and these have been set not in an unspecified past (as in the early epistles) but in a historical context consonant with the Galilean preaching. The fusion of the two figures will have been facilitated by the fact that both owe quite a lot of their substance in the documents—to ideas very important in the Jewish Wisdom literature."
Compare David Tacey (2015), Religion as Metaphor: Beyond Literal Belief, Transaction Publishers: "I do not doubt the existence of a real Jesus, but I adopt the view that the representation of this figure in the gospels is not historical but mythological. This has caused some to draw a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of theology. We know little about the former, but I concur with Jung that "this Christ of St. Paul's would hardly have been possible without the historical Jesus. My reading of Jesus is not to be confused with the tradition known as the "Christ Myth Theory".
^ ab(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."
^ ab(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]."
^ abThe Christ myth theory is regarded as a fringe theory in mainstream scholarship:
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."
Patrick Gray (2016), Varieties of Religious Invention, chapter 5, Jesus, Paul, and the birth of Christianity, Oxford University Press, p.114: "That Jesus did in fact walk the face of the earth in the first century is no longer seriously doubted even by those who believe that very little about his life or death can be known with any certainty. [Note 4:] Although it remains a fringe phenomenon, familiarity with the Christ myth theory has become much more widespread among the general public with the advent of the Internet."
Larry Hurtado (December 2, 2017), Why the "Mythical Jesus" Claim Has No Traction with Scholars: "The "mythical Jesus" view doesn't have any traction among the overwhelming number of scholars working in these fields, whether they be declared Christians, Jewish, atheists, or undeclared as to their personal stance. Advocates of the "mythical Jesus" may dismiss this statement, but it ought to count for something if, after some 250 years of critical investigation of the historical figure of Jesus and of Christian Origins, and the due consideration of "mythical Jesus" claims over the last century or more, this spectrum of scholars have judged them unpersuasive (to put it mildly)."
Michael Grant (2004), Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, p.200: "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."
Bart Ehrman (2012), Did Jesus Exist?, p.20: "It is fair to say that mythicists as a group, and as individuals, are not taken seriously by the vast majority of scholars in the fields of New Testament, early Christianity, ancient history, and theology. This is widely recognized, to their chagrin, by mythicists themselves."
Raphael Lataster (2019), Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse, BRILL, p. 1: "One common criticism is that we are on the fringes of scholarship."
Robert M. Price, The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-Four Formative Texts (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2006) p. 1179: "New Testament criticism treated the Christ Myth Theory with universal disdain." Price, a Christian atheist who denies the existence of Jesus, agrees that this perspective runs against the views of the majority of scholars; Robert M. Price "Jesus at the Vanishing Point" in The Historical Jesus: Five Views edited by James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy, 2009 InterVarsity, ISBN0830838686 p. 6.
^ abVermes 2001, ch.8 "By the end of the first century Christianity had lost sight of the real Jesus and of the original meaning of his message. Paul, John and their churches replaced him by the otherworldy Christ of faith."
^Ehrman 2012, pp. 13, 334–335: "The Jesus proclaimed by preachers and theologians today had no existence. That particular Jesus is (or those particular Jesuses are) a myth. But there was a historical Jesus, who was very much a man of his time."
Dunn 2003, pp. 125–126: "the historical Jesus is properly speaking a nineteenth- and twentieth-century construction using the data supplied by the Synoptic tradition, not Jesus back then", (the Jesus of Nazareth who walked the hills of Galilee), "and not a figure in history whom we can realistically use to critique the portrayal of Jesus in the Synoptic tradition".
Merrigan 2000, pp. 77–78: "Dunn points out as well that 'the Enlightenment Ideal of historical objectivity also projected a false goal onto the quest for the historical Jesus', which implied that there was a 'historical Jesus', objectively verifiable, 'who will be different from the dogmatic Christ and the Jesus of the Gospels and who will enable us to criticize the dogmatic Christ and the Jesus of the Gospels' (Jesus Remembered, p. 125)."
^ abc(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."
^ ab(Doherty 2009, pp. vii–viii): "[The Mythical Jesus viewpoint holds] that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical figure..."
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."
^(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."
^(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."
^(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."
^Martin (1993), p. 52: "[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."
(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.]"
^Wells 2004, p. 34: "My view is that Paul knew next to nothing of the earthly life of Jesus, and did not have in mind any definite historical moment for his crucifixion. As we saw, holy Jews had been crucified alive in the first and second centuries B.C., but traditions about these events, and about the persecuted Teacher of Righteousness, could well have reached Paul without reference to times and places, and he need not have regarded their occurrences as anything like as remote in time as they in fact were."
^ ab(Ehrman 2012, pp. 11, 15) "[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."
^ abCasey 2014, pp. 10, 24: "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."
^Hoffmann 2012: "This essay is in part an attempt to clarify procedural issues relevant to what is sometimes called the 'Christ-myth' or 'Non-historicity' thesis—an argumentative approach to the New Testament based on the theory that the historical Jesus of Nazareth did not exist. I have come to regard this thesis as fatally flawed and subject to a variety of objections that are not often highlighted in the academic writings of New Testament scholars. ... It is my view, simply stated, that while facts concerning the Jesus of history were jeopardized from the start by a variety of salvation myths, by the credulity of early believers, by the historiographical tendencies of the era, and by the editorial tendencies of early writers, the gospels retain a stubbornly historical view of Jesus, preserve reliable information about his life and teachings, and are not engulfed by any of the conditions under which they were composed. Jesus "the Nazarene" did not originate as a myth or a story without historical coordinates, but as a teacher in first century Roman Palestine."
^Gullotta 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. ... [T]he 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."
^(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."
^Bromiley 1982, p. 1034. "... the story of Jesus is a piece of mythology [possessing no] substantial claims to historical fact".
^"He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on certain and clear evidence." B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of GodISBN978-0-06-207863-6. p. 256-257
^Levine 2006, p. 4. "There is a consensus of sorts on a basic outline of Jesus' life. Most scholars agree that Jesus was baptized by John, debated with fellow Jews on how best to live according to God's will, engaged in healings and exorcisms, taught in parables, gathered male and female followers in Galilee, went to Jerusalem, and was crucified by Roman soldiers during the governorship of Pontius Pilate (26-36 CE). But, to use the old cliché: the devil is in the details"
^Komoszewski & Bock 2019, p. 22-23 "...a considerable number of specific facts about Jesus are so well supported historically as to be widely acknowledged by most scholars, whether Christian (of any stripe) or not:...(lists 18 points)...Nevertheless, what can be known about Jesus with a high degree of confidence, apart from theological or ideological agendas, is perhaps surprisingly robust".
^Powell 1998, pp. 13-15 "During the period following the Enlightenment, scholars embarked on what came to be known as "the quest for the historical Jesus." They went beyond the production of Gospel harmonies to write biographies, called Lives of Jesus....Hundreds of these Lives of Jesus were produced, mainly during the nineteenth century".
^Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell, Westminster John Knox Press, 1998 ISBN0664257038 pages 13–15
^ abcThe Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. by Ben Witherington III, InterVarsity Press, 1997 (second expanded edition), ISBN0830815449 pp. 9–13
^Soulen, Richard N.; Soulen, R. Kendall (2001). Handbook of biblical criticism (3rd ed., rev. and expanded. ed.). Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 78. ISBN978-0-664-22314-4.
^ abEdwin Broadhead "Implicit Christology and the Historical Jesus" in the Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus edited by Tom Holmen and Stanley E. Porter, Brill 2010 ISBN9004163727 pp. 1170–1172
^ abThe First Christian by Paul F. M. Zahl, Eerdmans 2003 ISBN0802821103 pp. 23–25
^Price, Robert M. (2012). "Ch. 2: By Posthumous Post §. The historical Paul". The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul. Signature Books. ISBN978-1-56085-216-2 and ASIN B00IB3YSMO.
^ abStephen Prickett (1995). "The Bible as holy book". In Peter Byrne; James Leslie Houlden (eds.). Companion Encyclopedia of Theology. pp. 154–155. ISBN978-0415064477.
^Hurth, Elisabeth (2007). Between faith and unbelief : American transcendentalists and the challenge of atheism. Leiden: Brill. p. 77. ISBN9789004161665. Strauss arrived at a Christianity depersonalized and anonymous, reducing Jesus to nothing more than a gifted genius whom legend had gradually deified. In this account, the Christian faith could be explained without reference to the Jesus of history. Strauss in this way firmly stayed on the side of the negative critique. He did not arrive at a historical core of the life of Jesus...
^Beiser, Frederick C. (2020). David Friedrich Strauß, father of unbelief : an intellectual biography (First ed.). Oxford. ISBN9780198859857.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
^ abDavid Friedrich Strauss (2010), The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, ISBN1-61640-309-8 pp. 39–43, 87–91
^Price 2000, p. 34 "The historical Jesus has gotten lost behind the stained glass curtain of the Christ of dogma"..
^Price 2000, p. 518 "It doesn't prove there was no historical Jesus, for it is not implausible that a genuine, historical individual might become so lionised, even so deified, that his life and career would be completely assimilated to the Mythic Hero Archetype. But if that happened, we could no longer be sure there had ever been a real person at the root of the whole thing.".
^Pfoh, Emanuel (2012). "Jesus and the Mythic Mind: An Epistemological Problem". In Thomas L. Thompson (ed.). "Is this Not the Carpenter?": The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus. Thomas S. Verenna. Equinox. pp. 80–81. ISBN978-1-84553-986-3. The main reason for holding to the historicity of the [gospel] figure of Jesus ... resides not primarily in historical evidence but derives instead from a modern theological necessity.
^Ellegård, Alvar (1993). "Theologians as historians". Scandia. 59 (2): 169–181 (170–171). [M]ost present-day theologians also accept that large parts of the Gospel stories are, if not fictional, at least not to be taken at face value as historical accounts. On the other hand, no theologian seems to be able to ... admit that the question of the historicity of Jesus must be judged to be an open one.
^Casey 2014, pp. 245 "I therefore conclude that the mythicist arguments are completely spurious from beginning to end. They have been mainly put forward by incompetent and unqualified people. Most of them are former fundamentalist Christians who were not properly aware of critical scholarship then, and after conversion to atheism, are not properly aware of critical scholarship now. They frequently confuse any New Testament scholarship with Christian fundamentalism.".
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