Mythicism: A Concise Summary

After I mentioned Paul Regnier’s draft on my blog, Jim West complained that he had hoped the post would offer my own definition of mythicism.

Since I plan to contribute to the Wiki too, I thought I should offer my own summary. And so I began writing this post.

But then a commenter named Ian summed it up more succinctly than I was going to. He wrote:

 man->myth or myth->man

That sums it up well. In a nutshell, while mainstream historians and scholars say that there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth who is later increasingly mythologized in written sources, Jesus mythicists (or mythicists for short) say the reverse happened: Jesus was initially a purely mythological and celestial figure who was subsequently historicized and claimed to be a human being that lived in history.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

    ‘Jesus mythicists (or mythicists for short) say the reverse happened: Jesus was initially a purely mythological….’

    No, they say it is perfectly possible Jesus was initially a purely mythological creature, and that the case for historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is not proven, and that it is unlikely that Jews started to eat the flesh and drink the blood of a recently crucified criminal.

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

      I do not know of any historian who thinks that the earliest Christians took such Eucharistic language in the way that some later Christians did. And this is perhaps the core reason why mythicism is so problematic. It isn’t about the careful, contextual, historical study of early Christian texts, but about Christianity as some modern people have experienced it and assume it to always have been.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

        ‘I do not know of any historian who thinks that the earliest Christians took such Eucharistic language in the way that some later Christians did. ‘

        Duh, Paul does say what he says. If you want to claim Paul doesn’t say what he does say, feel free to explain – ‘The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

        It hardly matters if Paul did not think every bit of bread had literally become the body of Jesus.

        Even symbolically eating the flesh of a human being is hardly an example of early recognition of Jesus as a normal human being, to be followed by later mythologising.

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

          Thank you for illustrating once again how mythicists are just like conservative Christian apologists. “Paul does say what he says” – the “plain meaning” of the text to a modern reader is what matters – unless of course you don’t like the plain meaning, as when Paul makes references to Jesus having had a brother, being born of a woman, descended from David, etc. etc.

          What hardly matters to mythicists is anything other than proof-texts. No one denies that the early Christians viewed Jesus as a human being who had been exalted to heaven and with whom they could mystically commune, or in Paul’s preferred idiom, in whom they could be present. But Paul’s entire soteriological system is based on Jewish assumptions regarding the resurrection. It is precisely because he views Jesus as a human being who entered the age to come ahead of everyone else, that he speaks of Christians who are “in Christ” already participating provisionally in that future age, and as having already been rescued from the present age.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

    ‘….Jim West complained that he had hoped the post would offer my own definition of mythicism.’

    Why? What was wrong with producing references and links to the best mythicist websites and books?

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

      “Best mythicist websites and books” – LOL!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

    ‘That sums it up well. In a nutshell, while mainstream historians and scholars say that there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth who is later increasingly mythologized in written sources…’

    In other words, Paul regarded Jesus as being the agent through whom God created the world, and being in nature equal to God, and later in Mark, Jesus was a man who was adopted by God.

    This is called ‘increasing mythology’ by mainstream scholars.

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

      Again, these remarks illustrate the problematic character of mythicism. If some mythicists actually tried to make a case that the Gospel of John were written first and Mark very late along with Luke, it might seem that mythicists cared about the evidence and plotting a plausible trajectory through them. But instead, such matters are ignored, except for selectively when it suits them. And even then, they ignore the fact that many scholars doubt that Colossians was written by Paul, and that many understand the reference to Jesus’ story starting with him in the form of God was a comparison of him to Adam rather than a turning of him into a celestial figure.

      Mythicism time and time again assumes that these texts mean not what historians and scholars conclude that they do, but what Christians uninfluenced by such considerations think they do. And yet they complain that historians are unduly influenced by Christianity, when mythicists embrace conservative Christian claims that mainstream historians and scholars challenge!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

        ‘And even then, they ignore the fact that many scholars doubt that Colossians was written by Paul,…;

        I see. So I allude to 1 Corinthians 8:6, and McGrath’s scholarship enables him to avoid that.

        Or else James simply forgot his Paul…

        ‘… many understand the reference to Jesus’ story starting with him in the form of God was a comparison of him to Adam rather than a turning of him into a celestial figure.’

        Yes, many scholars are forced by their prejudices to twist the text.

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

          Now we’re getting somewhere! 1 Corinthians 8:6 – what does it mean, and how did you determine that meaning? Is it about the initial creation, the new creation, or both? Is it Paul applying Wisdom language to Jesus just as other Jews applied it to Torah? Do contextual considerations matter?

          That even some scholars twist the text does not mean that non-scholars are less prone to do so rather than more. But given that mythicists tend to accuse scholars of embracing Christian assumptions when they ought to be challenging them, it is ironic, is it not, that you align yourself with those scholars who find the text to essentially be saying what the later creeds would define as orthodoxy, rather than with those scholars whose historical-critical conclusions challenge the penchant to read later dogma back into Paul.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

            Now we’re getting somewhere! 1 Corinthians 8:6…

            Indeed we are getting somewhere. You’ve managed to turn to the right book of the Bible.

            That is going to help the discussion a lot.

            After slamming me for not realising that Colossians was not written by Paul, you’ve managed to find the right letter by Paul , with only a bit of prompting by me.

            Now, where exactly was that apology for your slamming me for using Colossians?

            Not there? What a surprise!

            I think I will quote 1 Corinthians 8, just to dispel any delusions people may have that you know how to read ‘yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.’

            No wonder this wiki never got written.

            For James was stuck between writing his normal posts on mythicism, which would violate the idea of a wiki being objective, and would have been seen through at once.

            Or he could have linked to and quoted real mythicists and real mythicist writings.

            That would never have done.

            Hence the wiki stopped dead in its tracks.

            Faced with a website that had expectations of objectivity and scholarship, McGrath was forced to stop writing.

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

              Thank you for reminding me of your troll-like behavior that led me to previously stop interacting with you. Even the Colossians passage may not mean what conservative Christians take it to, but the passage in 1 Corinthians certainly does not mean even that explicitly, unless you read it in light of John or Colossians, themselves interpreted through the lens of later orthodoxy.

  • N

    So either Imhotep or King Arthur?

  • http://twitter.com/TheMysteryofGod John W. Kelly

    Serious question:

    What if it could be shown that the parables and
    miracle works of Jesus are merely word and image signifiers which exist
    for the purpose of helping to illustrate the pattern of an immense
    underlying puzzle, where it becomes necessary to include the character
    of “Jesus” because he fulfills part of the puzzle?
    man->myth or myth->man?

    John W. Kelly
    http://www.themysteryofgod.org

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

      That doesn’t sound like a serious question, but an advertisement for your web site. Does anyone seriously doubt that the stories of miracles were, if perhaps built on actual practices of folk healing and exorcism methods that are included in a few stories, nonetheless in literary form served as symbolic of particular interpretations of Jesus (as in the Johannine signs) or other points (as in the political satire in Mark’s story of the Gerasene demoniac)? And does anyone doubt that those parables that can be traced back to the historical Jesus include “word and image signifiers”?

      • http://twitter.com/TheMysteryofGod John W. Kelly

        Hi James,

        I tried to re-think my question over and over, but now I realize that I didn’t actually post my “Serious question”. Instead, I posted an abstract of my “Serious dilemma” as a question. Sorry about that.

        By stating that I had a “Serious question”, I was hoping to avoid being brushed off, or thought of as a troll or something. I am seeking answers to the question of man->myth or myth->man that years of my own bible study has raised in me. I inserted my web site link for the potential of feedback, discussion, guidance, criticism, …anything from anyone who takes an interest.

        Btw, I tweeted YOUR web site link….

        TY!


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