Mythicism: As Unlikely on Earth as it is in Heaven

I recently received a question in a comment on an older post about mythicism, and thought I would share my answer in a post, since I doubt that many people are still following the post in question, which is from three years ago.

Mythicists often emphasize that Paul never explicitly says that Jesus was crucified on Earth, outside Jerusalem. My point is that he never says Jesus was crucified in the sky, upon the firmament either. In general, when Paul or other authors are referring to celestial, non-mundane regions or entities, they feel the need to make this clear, in a way that simply isn’t necessary when one is referring to the terrestrial and everyday. When we meet someone, we just say that. If we meet someone in a dream or a vision, then we need to specify that.

Another problem is that mythicists are willing to place lots of things in the celestial realm, sometimes in a way that fits awkwardly with what the texts say. Except for in the Ascension of Isaiah, the realm beneath the moon essentially means the Earthly realm. Since there are references to a celestial Jerusalem, one might perhaps even grant that, had Paul said that Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem, it would still not be entirely unambiguous. But when he says that Jesus was born of a woman like all humans are, born under the Law like all Jews are, and of the seed of David according to the flesh, it is only by strenuous effort that one can relocate those things into the celestial realm – and even then, Paul never says explicitly that that is where they occur, and so it seems that, however much Carrier might play with numbers, it simply will never be more likely that Paul meant what Carrier suggests, than that he meant what mainstream historical scholarship understands him to.

A review article has appeared about Richard Carrier’s book Proving History (discussed previously on this blog here). The review is by Aviezer Tucker and appears in History and Theory, and its title is “The Reverend Bayes vs. Jesus Christ.” Tucker is, as I understand it, a longstanding proponent of Bayesian methods in historical study, and so is an ideal person to evaluate Carrier’s book. Although Tucker shows himself to be less well informed about the details of the ancient evidence related to Jesus (as this is not his field), I would still like to see his evaluation of the application of Carrier’s proposed method in his follow-up volume, On The Historicity of Jesus.

This is the kind of thing that ought to be characteristic, if mythicism were simply a scholarly hypothesis. Someone argues for it. Someone else with relevant expertise evaluates their arguments. The academic consensus either changes or it doesn’t. But alas, the focus of mythicists is not on engagement in that arena, but the use of the books merely as purported evidence of the seriousness of mythicism in the context of online apologetics.

And so let me end with a paraphrase of a quote attributed to Alberto Brandolini: “The amount of energy necessary to refute mythicism is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” That quote is featured at the end of a long article on the topic of what we might more politely call “BS” in the sciences, but one can see a similar phenomenon to what that article is complaining about in history and other fields as well.

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