Maurice Casey responds to Thomas Thompson

James Tabor wrongly refers to an “all-out war among the experts” regarding the question “Did Jesus exist?” At present, the only person who can be considered an expert in New Testament in any sense, and who has disputed the existence of a historical Jesus in academic publications, is Robert M. Price. He teaches at an unaccredited seminary, but his PhD is legit. That isn’t “all-out war” – not by a long stretch. Price’s “case” for mythicism is nothing but unimpressive parallelomania of the sort that has long been discredited, in which anything that bears a resemblance however remote to something else is claimed to be derivative from that source.

Tabor was referring to some interaction between Thomas Thompson and Bart Ehrman, and subsequently between Maurice Casey and Thompson. But his title was in fact alluding to an earlier post by John Loftus, in which John referred to a war in the blogosphere, in which the mythicist side was represented by people who were not historians but rather for the most part biologists.

Thompson’s work gives the impression of supporting or at least sympathizing with mythicism in places. But in fact it really addresses a separate question. It is an Old Testament scholar’s assessment of the pre-existing mythology about a messiah-figure which is then found in the earliest portraits of Jesus. That Jesus is depicted through that already-existing lens is not at all controversial, and has no bearing whatsoever on the matter of his historicity. But as Casey rightly points out, to whatever extent Thompson entertains the possibility of a mythicist view of Jesus might be feasible, it reflects his view as a minimalist who is an outsider to the field, one used to dealing with texts written centuries later than the events they purport to depict, rather than within years or decades, which is a very different sort of situation.

At any rate, those interested in this topic should click through and read the various articles and blog posts to which I have linked.  And see also my review of Richard Carrier’s book on methods in the quest for the historical Jesus, which I posted earlier today. Carrier is a historian by training, but since he has yet to publish an actual case for mythicism, I did not list him alongside Robert Price as a professional who has made a case for mythicism in print.

  • Erlend

    Not directly related to this, but did you see that there is another book coming out this year that argues for mythicism: “Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus” by Thomas Brodie and published by Sheffield Phoenix Press. thttp://www.sheffieldphoenix.com/showbook.asp?bkid=217

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Brodie has long been doing much what Robert Price does, so this does not surprise me. But his work has long shown signs of being infected with the parallelomania of which mythicism is but one particularly egregious example, i.e. the view that anything which remotely resembles an earlier story derives entirely from that story.

      I will have to see if I can get a copy to review it, so thanks so much for drawing it to my attention!

      • Erlend

        To me the most interesting debate would be for the parallelists (to coin a new phrase) to discuss whose parallels are accurate. Is Dennis MacDonald seeing the true parallels from Homer? Carrier and Price from Graeco-Roman religion? Thompson from ANE myths and Kingship ideas? Or Brodie from the Old Testament? They are all different from each other. That’s the debate I would pay to go see first before a mythicist and conventional scholar engage each other in discussion. In this sense Brodie’s book start to make the mythicist’s case look less tenable. Each new dramatic parallel that is brought forward shows how easy it is to make differing cases, and well, as you say, is parallelomania…

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          That’s beautifully put!