I am grateful that Neil Godfrey reminded me in a recent post of yet more parallels between mythicism and creationism. First, it seems that one can never successfully keep one’s denial of mainstream scholarship limited to one specific, narrow field. Knowledge is so intertwined that one cannot deny biological evolution without challenging our conclusions about geology, for example. And one cannot deny the existence of Jesus without also challenging (among other things) what we know about ancient Judaism and the variety of “messianic” beliefs and ideas found in ancient Jewish literature.
Neil quotes several scholars whose conclusions reflect our mainstream understanding: there wasn’t one single concept of “the messiah” in the Judaism of this period, not every Jewish author or movement shows evidence of being interested in such a figure, and even those who did use the term did so in different ways. This is common knowledge to anyone familiar with the current state of our knowledge about ancient Judaism - and very much beside the point as far as my argument about the unlikelihood that any ancient Jews would invent a crucified Messiah.
In connection with my argument about the historical Jesus and the crucifixion (to which Neil was responding) what matters is that we do know a great deal about a range of mediator figures and human deliverers that a wide range of Jews were expecting. And those who were expecting God to restore an anointed one descended from David were expecting the restoration of the role denoted by that anointing (from which the terms “messiah” and “christ” derive), namely the institution of Jewish kingship. We have evidence for such “messianic” beliefs in the Judaism of this period, and conversely, we have no evidence whatsoever from pre-Christian Judaism for the view that the restored Davidic king would die at the hands of his enemies.
The closest one can find is perhaps the reference in Daniel’s pseudo-prophecy to the anointed high priest Onias being killed (Daniel 9:26). And it should be noted that there we are dealing with a brute historical fact that the author had to find a way of making sense of, not a mythical invention of an executed messiah.
Another major category of resemblance between mythicism and creationism is the failure to realize that what they accuse their opponents of doing, they are doing themselves. Neil claims that Jesus was a “God” for Paul. New Testament scholars are aware that there are no unambiguous or undisputed references to Jesus in this way in Paul’s letters. Mythicists are reading later Christian theology into Paul’s letters – the very thing they accuse “historicists” of doing. To the extent that they are willing to adopt what is (at best) a minority position on the existence of Jesus, because they think the majority is misled by Christian assumptions, why would they not adopt the minority view that questions traditional interpretations of Paul in the same sort of way? Paul certainly shows evidence of exalting Jesus to a heavenly status, and perhaps (depending on the authenticity of Colossians) also depicts him not only as Wisdom but as one “in whom the fullness of the godhead bodily dwells.”
Finally, when we look at the aforementioned mythological Wisdom language Paul (or someone writing in Paul’s name) applies to Jesus, two major questions arise. First, what is the point of identifying a well-established mythological figure with a newly-invented one? Why did Paul not just talk and write about Wisdom, as other Jews were doing? The flexibility of the figure of Wisdom can be seen by comparing the identification of Wisdom with Torah (see below), the universalization of Wisdom (as in Wisdom of Solomon), the esoteric approach (as in 1 Enoch), and even Wisdom as fallen mother of the demiurge in Gnosticism. Given this adaptability, the question arises why early Christians, if mythicism is true, would have created a new mythical figure and then identified that figure with Wisdom, rather than simply talk about Wisdom. This too is something mythicism needs to explain in order to seem plausible. Once again, the closest parallel from Judaism is perhaps the identification of the Messianic Son of Man as “full of wisdom” in the Similitudes of Enoch. But there too we are dealing with a figure that the author expected to appear in history in the future.
Second, in Jewish literature we find such Wisdom language applied to Torah (Ben Sira 24:1-23). Following the “logic” that at least some mythicists seem to use, this would seem to allow one to draw the conclusion that the Torah did not exist, since it is spoken of using mythological terms and identified with a pre-existent heavenly figure. If that conclusion seems too bizarre to contemplate, then perhaps it is time to double check the methods that seem capable of leading to such strange conclusions. For it isn’t clear why the penchant in ancient Judaism to identify or connect tangible things and people with things intangible and mythical should have any bearing on whether or not the existence of a person or thing is probable.