Circular Reasoning Isn’t Evidence for a Historical Jesus

just say no jesus
Speaking FRANK-ly About Jesus: Critique of alleged evidence of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

(Ed. Note: This is the 31st post in Frank Zindler’s Speaking Frankly About Jesus blog which is dedicated to the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. This is part W of a mini series debunking “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus“.)

Lies: So short in stating, so long in negating!

We now have reached the final argument of “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus,” an “anxiousbench” blog posting written by the apologist Philip Jenkins. In it, Jenkins sneers at the charge that “ ‘Jesus’ was a mythical figure like those of the ancient mystery religions, with many analogies to figures in other world religions, such as Krishna or even Buddha.”

No explanations are given for the many parallels that exist between Jesus “of Nazareth” and the ancient mystery religions or solar cults—only an implicit denial that they exist. Instead, Jenkins commences his rebuttal of the notion that the savior-god Jesus resembles other savior gods with the fact-filled comment, “Ah, the golden oldies.” Writing as though it were superfluous to add any further facts or evidence supporting the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth to that logically compelling four-word “argument,” Jenkins crowns his tour-de-farce with four paragraphs of claims:

“Look for dates with publication dates before 1920 or so, and those theories run riot. Usually, they arose from superficial knowledge of those other faiths, commonly by people with a Christian background who projected those understandings into other religions, where they did not belong. We now know vastly more about the cults of figures like Attis, Adonis, Tammuz, and the rest than we did a century ago, and the more we know, the less they fit the ‘dying and rising god’ propounded by great writers of historical fiction like Sir James Frazer, of Golden Bough fame.

“As to the degree of resemblance to Christian stories, I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s complaint about people who ‘are always insisting that Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism.’

“So count the credentialed scholars today who give such ‘Christ was a version of other myth figures’ theories a moment’s credence. Do you get to double figures?

“Some issues are worth arguing about, others aren’t. Jesus of Nazareth existed. As to what he said and did, we can discuss that at leisure.”

Before going further into this final appeal to credentialed authority and velvet-covered ad hominem attack on the great Mythicist scholar Sir James Frazer, we must note that these fallacies are but the tip of an iceberg of false reasoning known to logicians as “affirming the consequent.” Structurally, the argument can be outlined as follows:

If P is true, Q is true

Q is true.

Therefore, P is true.

In the case in question, we have the fallacious argument that:

(1) If Jesus existed, the Mythicists are wrong about mystery-religion parallels.

(2) The Mythicists are wrong about mystery-religion parallels.

(3) Therefore, Jesus existed.

We see then, that in this final attempt to prove the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, Philip Jenkins has added not a single datum of evidence. This leaves his final score—after all those paragraphs of trying to convince his readers that he is providing evidence for the historicity of Jesus—at zero (if we are feeling charitable), or even reduces it to minus one (if we dock him a point for false evidence)!

We could, if fatigue had become irresistible, have ended this long series of blogs refuting “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus” right here. But there are things that my readers need to know apart from their need to understand the rhetorical fallacies of a famous apologist. And so I will proceed to discuss a few more topics touched on in the long quotation that begins this installment.

Jenkins pretends to be refuting the idea that “ ‘Jesus’ was a mythical figure like those of the ancient mystery religions.” This is reminiscent of Bart Ehrman, the popular New Testament scholar who tried to refute my similar claim in his New York Times best-selling Did Jesus Exist? (It would appear that Jenkins derives much of his misinformation from that book.) As I point out in Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth (available on Amazon.com in Kindle as well as paperback editions), there really can be little doubt that Christianity began as a mystery cult. The word “mystery” (mysterion in Greek) occurs 27 times in the New Testament itself, not only in the gospels but in the Pauline literature and Revelation as well! (It should be mentioned that the related word mystēs means “one who has been initiated,” and readers will be reminded that baptism by immersion was a common initiation ritual in earliest Christianity and in other ancient religions.)

In the gospels we learn that the mysteries were communicated in the form of parables: “And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: [Matt 13:11 has “kingdom of heaven” here] but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” [Mark 4:9–12]. (I have argued elsewhere that this “kingdom of the heavens” [“heaven” is actually in the plural in the Greek text] referred to the new age dawning as the vernal equinox was moving from the constellation of Aries the Ram into Pisces the Fishes at the turn of the era.) “The mystery of the seven stars” of Revelation 1:20 adds to the astral interpretation of the primal mystery on which Christianity seems to have been founded.

The mystery-cult origin of Christianity is even more clearly to be detected in the Pauline epistles. In I Corinthians 2:6–7, we read:

“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect [Greek teleios: initiated, brought to perfection; with full authority; fulfilled (of omens or predictions); (of gods) having power to fulfill prayer]: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.” A bit farther on, in 4:1, we find “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards [in the singular, the Greek word oikonomos was also the title of the master of the Serapeum, where the healing and resurrection mysteries of Serapis were believed to take place] of the mysteries of God.”

A few other of the 27 passages may be cited to give readers a sense of the mystery-cult nature of New Testament Christianity:

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits…” [Romans 11:25]

“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, 26 But now is made manifest and by the scriptures of the commandments of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith…” [Romans 16:25–26] (This almost looks like “Paul” has spilled the beans, revealing the mysteries and turning a previously secret mystery cult into a relatively open, equal-opportunity affair.)

In the third chapter of Ephesians we get a more distinct impression of early Christianity being both a mystery fellowship (brotherhood?) and an astral cult:

“3 How that by revelation he [God] made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit…9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifest wisdom of God…”

Given that both Philip Jenkins (peace be upon him!) and Bart Ehrman (p.b.u.h.!) have read the Bible carefully, we must wonder how anyone seeing just these few of the 27 passages mentioning the Christian mysteries could doubt, let alone deny, that Christianity began as a mystery cult.

It is unclear what the intended purpose was for Jenkins’ quoting G.K. Chesterton about comparisons of Christianity with Buddhism. Chesterton was a notorious Catholic apologist and author of ridiculous mottoes such as “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of men.” Worse yet, he couldn’t follow his own advice. After uttering the sensible comment that “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashion,” he continued on with the fashionable fallacies of Roman Catholicism, even as Philip Jenkins continues to defend the fashionable fallacy of an historical Jesus. It’s a pity Jenkins could not follow Chesterton’s advice.

Concerning the alleged deficiencies of Sir James Frazer in his multivolume treatise The Golden Bough, I have dealt with this briefly in one of my earliest replies to Jenkins. A much more detailed and definitive defense of Frazer and dying-god parallels in ancient mystery religions is provided by Earl Doherty in his chapter “Mythicist Inventions,” in Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth. Doherty deconstructs the two most notorious authors who have disparaged the deep scholarship of Frazer—Gunter Wagner and Jonathan Z. Smith—and shows that both fail miserably in attempting to do away with the dying-and-rising-god mytheme parallels in ancient religions. (It would appear that Wagner’s Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries and J.Z. Smith’s Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity were the source of much of Jenkins’ misinformation on this score. However, I cannot rule out the possibility that he got this second-hand from some other apologist.) Doherty’s review of Wagner and a treasury of Mythicist materials and links can be found at: http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net

A further, comprehensive discussion of ancient parallels to Christianity can be found in Michael Paulkovich’s new book, Beyond the Crusades: Christianity’s Lies, Laws, and Legacy, available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle editions.

This brings us to the end of this 22-part rebuttal to Philip Jenkins’ blog “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus.” I regret that I cannot enlist the aid of Elmer Fudd to announce “Ubadee, ubadee, ubadee… that’s all folks!” Without that stentorian speaker’s aid, I can merely remind my readers that nowhere, in any paragraph, in any sentence, in any meaningful phrase of Jenkin’s lengthy blog have we found any evidence even slightly supportive of the historicity of any Jesus coming from Nazareth—a place that didn’t exist at the turn of the era. René Salm’s debunking of Nazareth and a library of mythicist materials can be found at: http://www.nazarethmyth.info

A fortiori, we have found nothing to compel us to believe in the quondam bodily presence of the Jesus god-man on planet earth. It has all been smoke and mirrors. Indeed, it has been the same smoke and mirrors that have been used since antiquity to conceal the mystery-cult nature of the riotously varied Christianities that infested the Mediterranean world during the first three centuries of the current era.

Christianity may not be factual, it may not be true—but it is the biggest and most profitable and pollution-producing business on earth. It is an industry that creates no useful product but consumes precious resources. The toxic effluent of that ignorance industry beclouds and bewilders our world like the cuttlefish’s cloud of ink. Unlike the cuttlefish’s cloud, however, which is produced as a defensive act in response to aggression, the mind-dementing, suffocating cloud discharged by religion is deployed aggressively. The stupefaction and disorientation it creates are designed to help the Lord Jesus Christ “subdue all things unto himself” [Philippians 3:21].

Christianity wastes the wealth of the world. It is a parasite of planetary proportions that drains the mental and physical energy resources of a species that now faces extinction if its reality-testing skills should fail. It provides few useful services, and even those are far outweighed by the pervasive effects of its untiring, unrelenting, and unending labors to wear down and weaken our ability to separate fact from fancy, reality from wishful thinking, and wakeful attention from the paralyzed sleep of dreams. Without those skills, Homo sapiens will not survive these perilous times.

You can’t solve problems if you don’t even realize they exist.

Next time: Just who is Philip Jenkins?

Frank Zindler is the past interim President of American Atheists, a member of the American Atheists board of directors, the chief editor of American Atheists Press, and an esteemed academic and activist. 

(Photo credit: Eric Lin via Flikr; https://www.flickr.com/photos/phonescoop/214501602/)

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