Two Nails in the Coffin of Jesus Mythicism, Coming Soon

The first of the additional nails that are coming soon is Maurice Casey’s forthcoming book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist MythsI’ve known for some time that Casey had a book in the works addressing mythicist claims directly and in detail, and am delighted that its publication is now imminent, as Jim West and Joseph Hoffmann have both mentioned on their blogs.

The second nail in the coffin is actually a book that aims to support mythicism. Tom Brodie’s book, Jesus Undiscovered? Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus, will offer more of the parallelomania that Brodie is well-known for. As a commenter on a recent post here on this blog put it,

Brodie’s book start[s] 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…

The very fact that some mythicists have been able to claim that the New Testament is entirely based on pagan myths, while others have been able to claim that it is entirely based on stories in Jewish Scripture, shows that people who want to find precursors will do so, and will find diverse and even mutually exclusive ones. So mainstream historical scholars will look forward to Brodie further illustrating this problematic aspect of the alleged case for mythicism.

  • brettongarcia

    The now-cliched calumny against Mythicism today, which Dr. McGrath now repeats, is accusing it of “paralleomania.” But in fact this current cliche demonstrates a serious gap in the education of religion-affirming scholars, including Historicists. The fact is that noting parallels between allegedly “different” stories, has long been the backbone of the discipline that Historicists know nothing about: Mythography.
    Scholars for years have been 1) breaking down various ancient stories analytically, into various key elements; and 2) counting up the number of similarities between them. And on the basis of these analytic categories – or “parallels” – determining whether the stories are related or not.
    This has been the common method in Mythography, Anthropology, for centuries; and was recent refined, after structural linguistics and then Max Muller, by the Structuralism of Vladimir Propp; and given a creative/imaginative expression by Claude Levi-Strass, and Roland Barthes.
    To be sure, structural mythology is not a science; but neither is historicism. Which admits it relies heavily, on merely written sources; not hard scientific evidence.
    While for that matter? The entire field of religion – including scholarly Religious Studies, and Historicism itself – have long relied, as one of its primary methodologies, on noting “parallels” or “analogies,’ or structural similarities. as for example, in its constant notation of analogies, borrowing, by the NT, of OT stories; the turning of OT stories – analogically – into spiritual metaphors, “parables,” in the NT.
    In fact, if you reject parallelism and analogy very much, then you must logically reject not just much of Anthropology; Mythography. But also you must reject the New Testament itself. Since it is to a very high degree, essentially an analogue – or “parallel” – to the Old Testament.

    • Erlend

      Bretton,

      But that problem is we aren’t dealing with comparative mythology. If you have a myth in the Jewish Bible that is reminiscent of one in ANE myths, that is akin to a Graeco-Roman one, I would agree with you. I had thought this might be the knee-jerk response but thought everyone would know that is not a relevant argument. ANE ideas of Kingship (Thompson) are not the same as estoteric religious myths (Carrier), that are not the same as the Homeric stories (MacDonald), that are not the same as the texts of the Jewish nation (Brodie). They do not think they are outlining the same sorts of myths and ideas. They are not complementary, they are exclusive.

      • brettongarcia

        It’s true that these various kinds of traditions often “do not think they are” similar, or that they are “myths.”. But that is precisely the problem; each thinks of itself as uniquely privileged, and above “mythic” status.
        However, there is a simple way to deal with this: without assigning the status of “myth” to any of them, suppose we simply hold the question of their facticity in abeyance or suspension, and deal with them simply as say, “stories.” With no attribution of being either fact or fiction. And then let us look to see to what degree they interact, and show signs of continuity, and borrowing, with known historical facts … and myths.
        If someone doesn’t like the phrase “comparitive mythography,” then let’s just use a phrase like say, “comparison of cultural narratives.”
        One of the ways that believers try to escape objective assessment, one of the ways they avoid facing their own sins or the sins of their own tradition, is to constantly assert their own supposed unique status or privilege. But that is mere Vanity. “All have sinned” even the Bible says. So let everyone stand up to be measured objectively. In this case, let their ideas regarding their stories be tested.
        By the way, the notion that specifically, the New Testament does not ressemble or “parallel” the Old, is untenable; even on its own terms. As Jesus constantly cites the “God” or “Father” of the OT as the source of his authority, as it has seemed to many.
        By the way? I hold that the main influence (or “parallel”) on the New Testament, was the Old. Though the tradition that is the catalyst for the crucial and distinctive evolution from Old to New, was basically ANE influence. Especially Greco-Roman influence. And most especially, Platonism. As seen in Philo; and in Paul (Heb. 8 etc.).

        • Erlend

          Bretton,

          Of course we try to see if the stories interact with each other. At no point did I, or anyone here argue against this. Nor do we have a problem comparative mythology. The issue is you cannot use comparative mythology for the various theories of the parallels listed above. That is the point.

          Well the N.T. does make use of the symbols and themes of the O.T., in fact it thinks it completes and draws them all together. But the reasons you provide don’t show this. You appeal to the authority of the O.T. and to God without paralleling them.

          You think that the basic influence on the N.T. was Ancient Near East culture, then you say especially Greco-Roman influence. You are aware that Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman are not the same thing aren’t you? Also Paul is not normally considered to be the author of Hebrews, so I wouldn’t cite him and bracket a book next to his name that he didn’t write. As for Platonism I would like if someone could show me how it could account for the gospel narratives. My own area is the philosophical context of Second Temple Judaism (specifically Philo), I am yet to be convinced that Paul is influenced by Graeco-Roman philosophy for his views, but am open to be shown otherwise. Brill’s Ancient Philosophical Commentary on the Pauline Writings will be a good resource to get a handle on whether it is, and how far it possibly did. But perhaps you could point me to some resources on this?

          • brettongarcia

            Here I appeal to “Mythography” as a general model; and even use it broadly to include subjects like Platonism. Whose influence you can clearly see in Heb. 8. There “Paul” uses in effect, the entire basic vocabulary and concept of specifically, Plato’s “Theory of Forms.” The writer sometimes known as Paul acknowledging there and elsewhere, that things here on this material earth, are just im”perfect” “copies” (or elsewhere, “shadows”; as in Plato’s allegory of the cave), of the ideal forms or ideas or “models” (“paradigms”), of the ideal forms or “models” in “heaven.”
            Clearly Heb 8, and many core ideas from Christianity are from Plato; the idea being in Plato that the universe is divided dualistically into two things: Matter and Spirit. And that things here on this material earth are just material, physical copies of ideal models, patterns, generated in Heaven (Timaeus 27d-29b). Further, since spiritual things are said to be immortal, and physical, material things get old and “rot” and “perish,” things here on earth, this world, are doubly inferior to heavenly things, spirits. Though Christianity adds we should try to conform ourselves some would say, to heavenly models; and thus perfect whatever spirit inheres in our flesh. In hope of somehow attaching ourselves more fully to immortal spirit.
            Scholarly literature supporting this is out there; lots of it is old, pre-Internet, written in Classics sources. I read all that decades ago in dozens of scholarly sources I have since forgotten; but above I’ve offered my own quick outline of what I have personally made out of it, from Heb. 8 and other “Pauline” sources.
            Here by the wa,y I provocatively refer to both the NT and OT as myth. But even if you reject that specific term, traditional Christianity often refers to the New Testament as in effect, “parallel”ing the Old. Jesus constantly refers to Old Testament, its God, as its authority. And many (and even all) things he says and does, are considered by scholars and believers, as continuing – paralelling – the Old. To say that Jesus “continues” the Old Testament, and his life “follows” it, in effect says it “parallels” it.
            Much of traditional theology and religious study therefore invokes in effect, parallels. Though it sometimes did not explicitly use that word, countless sermons attempted to harmonize the Old and New testaments, and prove they were compatable – in effect parallel – with each other. And if you object to the specific term “mythography,” perhaps you will accept the finding that traditional religious study is very, very heavily involved in noting “parallels” therefore.
            Showing that Christianity parallels not just the OT, but also Greco-Roman and ANE tales is a long process. But there is lots of literature on it “outside” “Christian” studies; in Philology, Classics literature, and so forth. (Some can be found in the writings of – as I recall vaguely – the OT scholar von Rad?). But my brief outline of Rom 8 paralleled with Timaeus, should give you the idea of how it is typically done.
            While McGrath’s assertion that these things have not been adequately documented in serious literature, just reflects the extreme insularity of current religious study; its ignorance of the Classics especially.
            Glad to hear you are concentrating on this neglected area!

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

              You still seem to be articulating yourself in such a manner as to suggest that you think Hebrews stems from Paul or has some connection with him. Is that the case? No one doubts that Hebrews is Platonic, do they? But to treat this anonymous oddball work that almost didn’t make it into the New Testament as though it were normative is not likely to help one make sense of the phenomenon of Christianity.

              • brettongarcia

                I will at times use simple conventional terms for things; I
                will at times conventionally refer to “Paul” as if
                he was a real person, and was the “author” of such
                works as are attributed to him commonly. This is merely for
                convenience of discussion; not to assert that I believe that
                Paul wrote, for example, Hebrews.
                Hebrews though, WAS included in the canon. And in fact, it
                is not entirely an anomaly, but its main themes – a rather
                proto-gnostic, hierarchial Platonicistic dualism;
                “spirituality” – are found to varying degrees,
                throughout the New Testament. Very often Jesus himself in the
                gospels, and certainly other writers of the epistles, seem to
                be flirting with something like Paul’s Platonistic dualism:
                with the idea that we here on this material “earth,”
                our “body” and “flesh,” are just imperfect
                copies of our ideal model (“Father”) in “heaven.”
                The idea that we should be less concerned with our physical
                “possessions,” but with our immortal “spirit.”
                Which is dualistic.
                To be sure, I think even the Bible itself often regarded this over-spiritual vision non-normative; and extreme, at times.

                • brettongarcia

                  But PLatonist “spirituality” was quite influential. in fact, among many, the hierarchially dualistic idea that we should disdain material things or this “earth” our “flesh,” and be “spiritual,” has been so extremely influential, that today to be “spiritual” and be religious, to be spiritual and to be Christian, are regarded as synonyms.
                  To be sure? As a Realist myself, interested in Science and the material world, I agree that Paul’s frequent spirituality (and say John’s “hate” for the “world”) was overdone; and perhaps over-influential. I believe that it in fact fatally conflicted with more materialistic aspects of the Bible itself.

                  Nevertheless, I would have to say that Platonism – in the form of “spirituality” – has been unfortunately, all too EXTREMELYinfluential throughout the history of Christianity; certainly after 55 AD. And possibly before that.

                  • Erlend

                    Bretton,

                    Paul was not a Platonic dualist. Paul believed that the body was good. At no point does he argue that we should distain it. This is the major difference between Pauline Christianity and Gnosticism. What resources have you read to have given you your stance on Paul?

                    • brettongarcia

                      To be sure, I would agree that in the END finally, ULTIMATELY, Paul is not purely a (hierarchially) dualistic Platonist. But I would say that the New Testament is OFTEN essentially a presentation of a rather Gnostic spirituality; the idea that religion can give up on the material world and flesh, in favor of the immaterial “spirit” and “Heaven”. As noted above, Heb.8..
                      To be sure, I’d agree that in the end, the NT is not Platonistic, or Gnostic. But over and over, the NT flirts very, very seriously with the Gnostic/Platonistic rejection of the importance of the physical world and body. And at times advocates “spirituality” over “worldliness” ; spirit, over matter.
                      Would you deny that 1) a “spiritual” orientation can often be seen in the Bible? One that 2) relates to Plato. And that 3) dominates “higher” spirituality, and our priesthoods? OF course it is often said that the churches firmly rejected a Gnosticism that said this material ‘world” and our material “body” were “evil.” But in my analysis, clearly priests for millennia, acted as if dualism, Gnosticism, were still in effect. Catholic priests taking “vows of poverty,” for example (“Poverty; chastity; and obedience”). While many parts of the NT spoke against the “lust” and passions, “greed” for “possessions.” Asceticism pursing the “mortification of the flesh” and so forth. While the physical “kingdom” was often all but abolished, in the interest of a “kingdom” of the spirit, in centuries of sermons and homilies.
                      My stance on Paul is primarily derived from my own independent research, and a few rough-draft manuscripts now being prepared for submission. And in them? I find that indeed, if the prevailing literature wants to have even Paul backing away from a one-sided spiritual asceticism, and rejection of material life, then I would largely agree that he EVENTUALLY does that. But?
                      Still, for all too many years, Paul – and much of Christianity; especially the priesthoods – continued major elements of the kind of Platonistic dualism, disdain for material existence (vs. spiritual, “heavenly” existence). Too much of the suriving Bible still too seriously entertains the views that had been formally condemned as “Gnosticism” (cf. Marcionism, docetism, etc.). though “hate” for the “world” and “flesh” are eventually redefined, so as not to imply that the creator of the material unverse (God) ws “evil,’ haveing just created perishable illusions and imperfect copies, still, somethign like that idea has always remained all-too-potent a force in the very core of the churches, to this very day; in our priesthoods. Who sequestered themselves in “retreats” from the “world” of business and “money” and “possessions”; who even “hate”ed and flagellated their own material “bodies” to try to contain their “lusts” for material sex, physical food and gluttony; physical pleasures, “possessions.”
                      To see our priesthoods as still all-too-Gnostic, might indeed be a fairly original thesis; though there’s a VERY rough draft text on this subject online. In Dr. Woodbridge Goodman’s very rough site; the text on “Over-Spirituality.”
                      Yes, it is still a rather original and groundbreaking thesis; we’re not embarassed by that.

                    • brettongarcia

                      “Your bodies are dead due to sin” (Rom. 8.10); “Put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8.13); “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7.24); “It is sown a physical body … raised a spiritual body’ (1 Corin. 15.44); “to die is gain” (q.v.); don’t follow “the desires of body and mind” (Eph. 2.3); “putting off the body of flesh” (Gal. 2.11). All from sources like “Passion makes the bones rot” (Prov. 14.30, et passin). “God is spirit” (John 4.24); “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9.17); “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit” (Gal. 5.17).
                      Yes there are in the end, JUST as many quotes supporting material life. And all these over-spiritual terms were eventually finessed, twisted into special terms, to try to defuse the Gnosticism in them. But in effect, clearly a violent anti-materialism, was given a very, very long audience in the BIble itself and in the ascetic priesthoods; before finally, only eventually, being struck down. By what we are calling God’s materialism, or the Science of God.
                      Though for centuries, millennia, humanity and the religious world were enchanted, hypnotized, by the all-too-vivid remants of Gnosticism, and a related Platonistic dualism.

                    • Erlend

                      Bretton,

                      If you want to draw parallels then Paul’s view of the body matches with a Stoic, not Platonic view. Now Stoics are naturalists, but they will constantly disparage the body, cite it as being the cause of our vices, bringing us down etc… In fact once time I made a list of the reference to the body that Epictetus makes. There were many references to the body, and almost all of them were qualified with the phrase “body of weakness” “feeble flesh” etc… Yet he was not a gnostic or a dualist. So if you are drafting a few submissions on this I would be cautious. There is a lot of work you will need to do to argue your case. You will have to interact with numerous studies, in particular Robert Gundry’s superb “Soma [the body] in Biblical Theology: With Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology” Robert Jewet and his “Paul’s Anthropological Terms: A Study of Their Use in Conflict Settings”; Turid Karlsen Seim, Jorunn Økland (eds.)
                      Metamorphoses: Resurrection, Body and Transformative Practices In Early Early Christianity”; etc…

                    • brettongarcia

                      Thanks for the references. But against them, I will argue that Plato himself – and even more, Platonism and Neo-Platonism – is indeed often seen as dualistic, in secular Philosophy; and as hierarchical. In that in Timaeus and elsewhere, the real models for things on this earth, are ideal forms in Heaven. While things here on this material earth like our “flesh,” are seen as often inferior, mere “copies” of the originals.
                      While to some extent “Stoic” models are themselves in turn, partially derived from Plato. Who preceded them by some years.
                      I would suggest that the reason for the many Religious arguments against any hierarchial dualism in Plato – arguments not found in secular scholars of Philosophy so much – is embarrassment about Paul’s embrace of the theory of Forms in Heb. 8 etc. .. and its conflict with the Church’s later condemnations of Gnosticism and over-spirituality. Which would leave the churches in frank conflict with much of Paul.
                      But embarrassing as those Platonic references and their hierarchial dualism may be, the dualistic scheme that puts “spirit” above the “world,” is indeed Platonic; and is indeed in Heb. 8.
                      Thanks for outlining some of my opposition; though merely noting possibly Stoic sources for asceticism does not preclude other – especially earlier, Platonic – sources.
                      (By the way, if you have the time: what did the churches do with all those slightly similar accusations of “Manichean dualist” influences from Persia, in Christianity? Were they acknowledged, or rejected?)
                      In either case, whether we are seeing Platonistic or Stoic influences, we ARE seeing non-Jewish ideas, inputting into Christianity.

  • angievandemerwe

    Humans do project their desires, which are means of promoting their own self interests (social conditioning). So, it seems to me that mythicists aren’t wrong in their assumptions that humans would use myths that had been passed down and “re-structure” or “re-condition” them to formulate their supremacy. This is what theology seeks to do. (My God is Bigger than Your God, which is really a fight over strength and power.) This is where academics are interested in promoting “understanding” among the religious traditions. The hope being “world peace”. But, I do not believe that humans are capable of being understanding when “stakes of domination” are involved. This is why America’s Founding Fathers wanted to promote religious liberty, not dominating structure as to belief systems. And I do not have hope that ways of understanding which are SO different will be bridged. There will always be those that assume a literalization of their faith and do damage to “peace”.
    Historically, it has been the Church that has ‘”created” out of myths the structuring of doctrine and Church History. But, when history is understood or interpreted totally by Christian myth, then there is a disconnect from “the real world” and the “spiritual one” where people battle supposed “evil forces”, which is really about self interests, and protecting one’s “turf”. This has been the history of the world and will continue to be the history of the world, because men “order” themselves after their own interests and seek to protect those interests.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    The very fact that some mythicists have been able to claim that the New Testament is entirely based on pagan myths, while others have been able to claim that it is entirely based on stories in Jewish Scripture, shows that people who want to find precursors will do so, and will find diverse and even mutually exclusive ones.

    Or it might show how common the mythological themes were. It is hard for me to see how the ease with which potential sources for borrowing can be identified makes borrowing any less likely.

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

      Given that most of the claimed parallels are barely similar at all, and yet all the supposed precursors are confidently asserted to have been the basis for the creation of the new stories, it becomes very clear very quickly that such alleged invention could fit any evidence at all and thus has no explanatory value. Even where there really are genuine parallels, one still has to consider whether we are dealing with an invention or a casting of events to echo particular archetypes.

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

        That the parallels are not really parallels strikes me as a perfectly legitimate argument. That the parallels are easy to find strikes me as an awful one.

        • Erlend

          Vinny, I find it hard, neigh impossible, to believe that an author in a passage, and across his work can be alluding to Homeric characters, and ANE themes of Kingship, the Hebrew Bible, and pagan religions all at the same time. They evidently can’t all be the underlying meta-narrative of the gospel’s stories as their various proponents suggest. They cannot all be held together in the same hand, and some will have to drop. Otherwise mythicism will become a circus tent that will have to accommodate every new leap of thought, every set of set of dots that the next imaginative author will insist on joining up for us, until it is a swirling mess of impenetrable, competing criss-crossing lines, while having to fallaciously pretend that a coherent picture is being outlined.

          As for the suggestion that “finding parallels is easy” is an awful argument, I disagree. As someone who had to sit through a lot of spurious and imaginative allegorical interpretation of the scriptures (I had a dispensationalist upbringing…) I can tell you there is no end of the parallels one can draw from scripture– in fact from the same passage– if you so desire. But as for scholarly enthusiasm for the practice I urge you to read an article “Parallelomania” published in the 1960′s by Samuel Sandmel in the Journal of Biblical Literature: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/parallelomania_sandmel.pdf, who will outline some similar enterprises that people attempted for the Old Testament.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Erland

            Suppose a new sitcom premiered on TV that featured a clueless
            dad, a wise-cracking preadolescent and buttinsky in-laws. You and I might disagree about from which of countless earlier sitcoms the writers borrowed those elements. Nevertheless, the fact that there were countless different sitcoms featuring those elements might be more than sufficient reason to doubt that the latest show was based on any original thought.

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

              Suppose a new presidential debate occurred in which each candidate accused the other of planning to rise taxes, not helping create jobs, and generally not being the right person for the job. There too I would doubt that there was anything original, but however much I might like to deny the existence if ine or both candidates, they would still exist. :-)

              • brettongarcia

                But they WOULD be following a fictive script. To that extent, even our “real” candidates would be … fiction.

                • Erlend

                  I would have little dispute if the characters of Homer’s books, ANE concepts of Kingship, Graeco-Roman religions, the O.T. narrative and theology (etc…) are all basically the same thing. But that entirely missing the point of the argument. The point is that they are all different from each other in a way that excludes the other highlighted possibilities. What one proponent sees in a gospel story as indicating one influence, the other sees as an stemming from entirely different enterprise that cannot be synthesized together. So we are now to believe that almost every story or action in the gospels is simultaneously actually a commentary on Ancient Near East kingship, actually a re-telling of Homer’s stories, actually a re-telling of the Hebrew Bible, actually a Graeco-Roman myth, and actually the result of Platonism speculation. You think this can argued together? Or do you think it shows the facile nature of such paralleling theories?

                  • brettongarcia

                    No: I think the rejection of Mythicism is frequently all too facile. The fact is that cultures are complex, filled with many different influences. And at any given time, 1) many given legends, cultural motiffs, impact any given individual. Today a single individual might think about theories of Marx, Buggs Bunny cartoons, and Hip Hop … and put all of that into a novel. Or use bits of all that to form his preference for what kind of automobile he will buy.
                    2) As Vinny noted, it is true that there are many different theories of Mythicism; just as there are hundreds of different theories of Historicism, theories about Jesus.
                    Do YOU think that the fact that many academic theories about Jesus conflict, effectively disproves them all?

                    • Erlend

                      Bretton, I think that mythicism should be seriously considered. I never argued otherwise. The story of Jesus might well be an allegory or taken from legend. The issue is that none of the arguments for it, as of yet, compel me to adopt this view over the established theory.

                      But anyway, as for Vinny’s point, it actually helps, not hinders, the argument. As for what role we can assign Jesus (wandering cynic, prophet etc…) as Vinny pointed out there is differing opinions. But the likely explanation is that there was indeed no model that can account for Jesus’ role, that it is a mistake to try and make a precedent where there is none (broadly though he fits rather will with the ancient conception of a teacher, e.g. see Classicist Graham Anderson’s work). So as with the likely explanation of all these differing and easily constructed paralleling motifs, they don’t work either, which, was is the point we are making.

                      The only other difference I can think that could be pointed it is what Jesus taught. There is indeed dispute over this, but that is not relevant to the issue over Jesus’ existence or whether he taught a coherent message or not for there is a difference in opinion in scholarship over what every ancient think thought. That is just the nature of scholarship and working with ancient sources.

                    • brettongarcia

                      Granted, finding multiple, even endless readings of Jesus, is a double-edged sword; and causes cynicism all around. But if anything, the Mythicist could live with cynicism about his own discipline … if Historicists would likewise abandon their proud postures of, often, Total (Bourgeois) Certainity.
                      There are many differences about what Jesus taught, most would agree. And furthermore, this is in fact impacting the question whether Jesus even existed at all. For example, if we find that Jesus taught Platonism … this impacts the prevailing notion of – and even the existence of – the prevailing notion of Jesus, as an almost wholly Jewish apocalyptist. And as we find one after another problem, with one after another of Jesus’ teachings – until at last the existence of Jesus in any of the accepted models is seriously in question? Then we should begin to seriously consider the Mythicist thesis: that it was all insubstantial; Myths, after all.
                      Here the Historicist misunderstands the Mythcist enterprise: it is 1) NOT entirely about providing still more “firm proofs” of this or that about Jesus; that in this case he comes from Myths, rather than historical facts. It would be nice if this could be accomplished. But if it cannot? Then 2) there is another goal, nearly as good as the first: to simply break down the inflexible dogmatic adherence to so many quasi-historical notions of the Historical Jesus; to develop a greater modesty – an “epistemological humility” it has been called – in otherwise all-too-inflexibly dogmatic believers, and HJ defenders.
                      THis 3) might even open us up to a more liberal Christianity, say. One that is not even committed to the real historical existence of Jesus. One that might see that there can be a kind of reality, even in ahistorical myths. Or opening to a broader Christianity that sees the fuller picture of Jesus; as connected to the rest of non Judeo-Christian humanity, through countless crosscultural myths and legends and philosophies.
                      If this is cynicism? Then note that in many Historicist models, Jesus himself, if he exists, is a “cynic.”

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                Dr. McGrath,

                That is unfortunately true. On the other hand, when they start claiming to be the heirs of Ronald Reagan or Harry Truman, I often suspect that the Ronald Reagan or Harry Truman that they have in mind is a primarily mythological being who bears little actual resemblance to any genuine historical individual.

            • Erlend

              Vinny,

              I have would little dispute if the characters of Homer’s books, ANE concepts of Kingship, Graeco-Roman religions, the O.T. narrative and theology (etc…) are all basically the same thing– so your sitcom analogy. But that entirely missing the point of the argument. The point is that they are all different from each other in a way that excludes the other highlighted possibilities. What one proponent sees in a gospel story as indicating one influence, the other sees as an stemming from entirely different enterprise that cannot be synthesized together. So we are now to believe that almost every story or action in the gospels is simultaneously actually a commentary on Ancient Near East kingship, actually a re-telling of Homer’s stories, actually a re-telling of the Hebrew Bible, actually a Graeco-Roman myth, and actually the result of Platonism speculation. You think this can argued together? Or do you think it shows the facile nature of such paralleling theories?

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                Erlend,

                It has been a long time since I did much reading about mythological archetypes so I’m not really sure which of the proposed parallels are mutually exclusive, but it does seem reasonable to suppose that at least some of the them are. However, even if most of the proposed parallels must be false, it doesn’t necessarily follow that all of them are.

                What I find interesting is the similarity between your argument and the one that mythicists routinely make. They point out all the different historical Jesuses that have been proposed–e.g., failed apocalyptic prophet, wandering cynic sage, social revolutionary–and conclude it most likely that none of them existed.

  • steven

    Wow! McGrath can now review books before they are published.

    And he is now reduced to claiming that there are not parallels between New Testament stories and Old Testament stories….

    Guess what?

    There are.

  • steven

    Anybody with half a brain can see that there are parallels between OT stories and NT stories in exactly the same way that the Book of Mormon rips off the King James Bible.

    http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm for photographic documented evidence of parallels, which McGrath knows for a fact that are accepted as genuine parallels by mainstream Biblical scholars.

    But give James some time, I’m sure he can dig himself in deeper with his claim that this is all ‘parallelomania’, Let’s club together and buy him a shovel, so he can keep digging a bigger hole.

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

      For those who may be new here, Steven Carr is an internet troll. You will note that he treats my statement about parallelomania as though I were saying that there are no parallels, which of course would be a ridiculous claim, and for that and many other obvious reasons I have never made it. We have plenty of instances of authors like Josephus or later Rabbis talking about recent or contemporary events in ways that echo the Jewish Scripture. For this reason, historians, unlike the internet mythicists, know that the presence of Biblical echoes in a story does not by itself allow one to determine historicity.

      And of course, my main point was that the mythicists try to make everything an invention based on Scripture, or this or that culture’s myths, with the alleged links to the earlier stories so tendentious that they are often laughable. They have no interest in serious historical investigation, alas.

      You will see that Steven posted three comments where one would have sufficed. I expect that even the mere fact that I have deigned to mention his comment will result in a plethora more, if past experience is anything to go by. And so presumably when I do not try to interact with him, given his frequent distortions, misrepresentations, and inanities in the past, everyone will be able to understand why. If others are more inclined to interact with trolls than I am, you are welcome to. If Steven had not posted comment after comment of nonsense and distraction in the past, refusing to answer questions or engage in human conversation (I mistook him for a bot at one point), I would have kept trying to engage him. But when someone has no interest in conversation or is only able to offer pseudo-criticisms of others while not being open to accepting criticism themselves, I simply do not have the time to waste.

  • steven

    Here is part of the review James links to ‘The primary literary model behind the gospels, Brodie argues, is the biblical account of Elijah and Elisha, as R.E. Brown already saw in 1971. In this fascinating memoir of his life journey, Tom Brodie, Irishman, Dominican priest, and biblical scholar, recounts the steps he has taken, in an eventful life in many countries, to his conclusion that the New Testament account of Jesus is essentially a rewriting of the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible,…’

    Wow, this really nails mythicism! Wait until mythicists are crushed by books claiming the account of Jesus is essentially a rewrite of the Hebrew Bible!

  • Torin

    I want to know why the Mythiscists ideas are an issue to a Liberal Christian. If you believe the Bible “Inspired” then your theology should be able to make accommodation for their theory. I thought the Mythiscits ideas would only threaten Fundamentalist Christians. Am I wrong?

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

      You are not wrong except in assuming that liberal Christians necessarily think that the Bible is inspired. :-) You are right that mythicism is not a threat to liberal Christianity. The only reason I have objection to mythicism is as a scholar, because evidence simply does not support their claims. The evidence strongly points to there having been a historical Jesus of Nazareth around whom later myths, legends and dogmas developed.

      • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

        Do you think the evidence is legitimately debatable?

        • tutor

          http://christianorigins.co.uk/2012/10/07/authenticity-criteria/ is an interesting article about how these criteria of authenticity ‘can give historical reconstruction the air of a pseudo-science, when in reality it is anything but ‘scientific’. ‘

          That must hurt James – a fellow academic telling him his methods are a ‘pseudo-science’.

          Just to rub in how bad Biblical studies are , the author suggests that as the standard criteria of authenticity don’t work, they should be used sparingly.

          That’s real scholarship for you! If something doesn’t work, don’t use it very often.

          No wonder James is furious when anybody doubts the tailoring behind the New Clothes.

          Even I am astonished just how rapidly these New Clothes of mainstream Historical Jesus studies are falling apart.

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

            I realize that scholarly discussions can be hard for outsiders to follow, and that just as creationists get/give the impression that there are problems with mainstream biology when discussions about method and detail take place, the same can occur outside the sciences in fields like history. But it is still worth making the effort to understand what such discussions do and do not mean for the fields they relate to. And it is not a reason to post the same comment twice (and so I hope you will not remind that I removed the duplicate).

        • tutor

          http://christianorigins.co.uk/2012/10/07/authenticity-criteria/ is an interesting article about how these criteria of authenticity ‘can give historical reconstruction the air of a pseudo-science, when in reality it is anything but ‘scientific’. ‘

          That must hurt James – a fellow academic telling him his methods are a ‘pseudo-science’.

          Just to rub in how bad Biblical studies are , the author suggests that as the standard criteria of authenticity don’t work, they should be used sparingly.

          That’s real scholarship for you! If something doesn’t work, don’t use it very often.

          No wonder James is furious when anybody doubts the tailoring behind the New Clothes.

          Even I am astonished just how rapidly these New Clothes of mainstream Historical Jesus studies are falling apart.

  • Azrael

    Get a grip! Old jesus was a fake.


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