Better Atheist Fact-Checking

Better Atheist Fact-Checking June 29, 2012

Tom Verenna shared a short image reflecting common mythicist misinformation, and (quite justifiably) complained about it. It appears that someone also went through it and illustrated point by point how fact-checking should be done. Here is the result:

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  • Rich

    About time someone is setting the record straight…kudos.

  • William J E Dempsey

    No doubt popular atheism will be nearly as silly as popular Christianity in many examples. Sill, cross-referencing your own facts as stated above, I notice some problems.
    For example, the first thing I notice is that in the course of rejecting the idea that Horus is born of a virgin, it is said that the dead Osiris was revived long enough to have sex, and conceive Horus. But 1) this is not true of another version of the myth, by Diodorus, where the dead Osiris is assembled and revived .. but specifically without his sexual organ.
    Then too, doesn’t this mean in any case, that there was therefore another dead god coming to life, in Egyptian legend, before Jesus? Signifiantly, Osiris was pictured wrapped up like a mummy, or like the dead Jesus. “Out of Egypt I will call my son”?
    Associated with death or burial, and rebirth, Osiris was thought to be god of the underworld, and of resurrection. But also, strangely, of the rise of vegetation in the spring. What is the link between resurrection, and agronomy? As in the similar Greco-Roman myth of Persephone, many scholars suggest that probably the idea behind resurrection, came from observing seeds, roots, that remained dead underground in the winter … but then came up in the spring. Around easter time or earlier. These common ANE legends of “vegetative rebirth,” are thought therefore to be the myths behind the legend of Jesus; the new element of the godhead, wrapped in burial clothing, coming back to life precisely, in the spring; in Easter.
    Are the parallels between Jesus and Osiris exact? No they are not. It might be hypothesized here that the Jesus legend is actally a confused conflation of dozen of different Jewish and ANE myths. But because of many key points of resemblance between Osiris and Jesus in these matters, many today hypothesize that these specific local myths were in the minds of the writers of the gospels; particularly when they wrote their (often problematic and conflicting) accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
    Conservative scholars today reject the idea of any influence of any other cultural than Jewish culture, on Christianity. Probably because conservative Judaism often spoke against the worshiping of other gods than Jehovah. But Jews often lived in foreign countries like Babylonia, and picked up ideas there: the “Daniel” tales seem to come from that source, say many scholars. While earlier, while in bondage, no doubt Judaism picked up many Egyptian elements too; the very name “Moses” is actually a common Egyptian suffix, in effect.
    And much later, c. 60 AD? More liberal Jews seems to have allowed, some say, an expansion of the old ideas of Jehovah; allowing a new adjunct to their old God; a “son of” God. And though the original (and more historical?) account of Jesus, in Mark, had no resurrection in it? Another verision of Mark, and then later gospels, soon incorporated into the legend of Jesus, legends of a “god” or “lord” that dies, but is then resurrected. Especially in the spring; around the time of … Easter.
    In the chaos and confusion and anguish, the psychological trauma after the death of Jesus and the “empty tomb” of Mark, could confused rumors in the multi-cultural environment of 30 AD, Roman-occupied Jerusalem, and the extreme psychological need of Christians to see their Jesus return, have lead to half-understood accounts of a more properly Egyptian tradition or god or “lord,” to be incorporated into the legend of the new godhead, of the new lord, Jesus? Particularly in the conflicted and problematic accounts of the resurrection?

    • Jonathan Bernier

      “Conservative scholars today reject the idea of any influence of any other cultural than Jewish culture, on Christianity.”

      Who are these scholars? Please cite names. Yes, certainly, in the post-war era, scholars have tended to emphasize the Jewishness of early Christianity, but who actually denies that there was input from non-Jewish cultures?

  • Sixth Sense

    Bretton, the “original” Mark DOES have the resurrection of Jesus within the gospel story. The disputed verses may contain the actual stories of Jesus’ appearances to others, but the original ending of the Gospel of Mark does include the message, “He has been raised, he is not here….But go, tell the disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” That the appearance stories were (possibly) added to the Gospel of Mark at a later date does not make the stories untrue.

    • William J E Dempsey

      You are partially right: according to conventional accounts, the brief ending in Mark includes some cursory account of Jesus behing raised and being found elsewhere in the tomb (cf. being lifted up/carried away); in an account by an angel or white-garbed person.
      But? There is next, almost a half page of text or so, that appears or disappears from our Bibles, next, according to the whims of our editors: many Bibles end with Mark 15.8; others insert an entire ten verses more or so, detailing the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.
      So just how reliable are our Bibles? And how immune are they to insertion of foreign text, especially in their accounts of dead persons like Jesus coming back to life? 1) Any such very considerable variability of our primary texts as described above – like the omission or inclusion in different BIbles, of the complete ending of our reputedly earliest Mark, 16.9-19 – demonstrates a very, very considerable instability in the canon. Which does in fact, suggest unreliability. 2) Especially when this instability is corroborated by other findings: as scholars note instability/inconsistency, in accounts in the various gospels, of what happens immediately after Jesus is dead; his resurrection.
      Then too, the 3) magical/miraculous (and therefore some would say, unreliable) nature of this 40-day resurrection, combined with 4) obvious trauma and confusion among believers, provided very, very considerable opportunity for invention, conflation; for the narration of confused rumors, as fact.
      Within just this single, very, very considerable moment of confusion and unreliability, was plenty of opportunity for the insertion of many confused rumors, into our holy texts. Especially when 5) the confusion of this particular moment was added to dozens of later theological crises, and opportunities for the redaction/editing of text. Redactions and editings whose existence are rather well accepted by scholars.
      For that matter, the Bible is still being changed, edited, to this very day: in current editions of the Bible, some editors choose to add the longer ending of Mark; others do not.
      The alternating appearances and disappearances of major parts of our Biblical texts, the obvious partiality of editors, do not in themselves prove our Bibles are entirely untrue; but they definitely demonstrate instability and variability even in our most holy texts. Enough that unreliable or foreign material might well have found its way into them.

      • Jonathan Bernier

        Are the texts in question really that unstable? There are in fact only two major “instabilities” in the gospel tradition: the ending of Mark and the first half of what is now John 8. In the broader NT there are some problems with the originality of Romans 16, but not much else in terms of major “instabilities.” There are a few other passages that might be interpolations, but nothing on a scale comparable to these passages. There are of course variants for every verse–that’s the inevitable consequence of having to copy everything by hand. We have a lot more variants available to us simply because we have so many more copies of NT fragments and manuscripts than most ancient works. And in any case, there is a sub-discipline called textual criticism that has been working for over a century to work out the significance of these variability, and whilst I don’t always agree with everything every text critic says they have as a group done a fine job, such that we have enough of a sense of what the texts looked like in the first century to go about the work of interpretation and history.

        • Depending on what one means by “instability”, don’t forget the four Pauline epistles that 80% of scholars consider, pseudepigrapha, the two that most consider disputed, and the two Petrine epistles that most consider pseudepigrapha.

          William also mentions the “obvious partiality of the editors” as a mark of instability. By this, I assume he means the “instability” of the texts as historical records. You are correct of course that the final form of the gospels and epistles has remained “stable” for centuries, thanks to the oversight of ancient church orthodoxy. But the process that produced the texts originally indicates that the editors copied and altered their sources to suit specific agendas.

          I just realized, Jonathan, you’re reviving comments we made two years ago! (Which is fine, by the way.)

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I realized only after I posted that this thread was from two years ago. I didn’t realize that was the case. If I had I wouldn’t have posted in response to this comment.

            That said, I’m not sure about your first paragraph. Are you saying that there are eight disputed Pauline epistles?

            As for the second paragraph, yes, of course, the textual traditions evident variation. One of my pet peeves is the tendency of fundies to argue that there is no or little such variation, for apologetic purposes, and the inverse tendency of your angrier atheists to argue that there is variation to the point that we do not know the shape of the NT texts. Neither really fits the data. The NT is quite variant, in some cases extremely so–consider Acts in the Codex Bezae, for instance. Yet even that extremely variant (and I suspect fairly idiosyncratic) text is recognizably the Acts of the Apostles. The variance is greater than the fundies want and less than the angry atheists desire.

          • I don’t think it’s a problem that you commented on a two-year old thread. Someone else restarted the commenting and you, James, arcseconds and I all joined in. Happens frequently on James’ blog, and he doesn’t seem to mind.

            No, six disputed Pauline epistles (disputed authorship): Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians – the first four generally agreed to be pseudepigrapha; the last two more equally disputed.

            Then two disputed Petrine epistles.

            If by angry atheists you mean mythicists, then I would agree that mythicists are extremists in seeing no historical basis in the gospels whatsoever.

            I’m not sure what you mean when you mention “the shape of the NT texts”. To the question of where the texts reflect actual historical content, variation in the gospel texts, themselves amalgamations of earlier oral traditions, is only one part of the picture. I think most atheists would consider textual variation a minor issue for historical value compared to the numerous miracle stories that pervade each text.

            I wonder why atheists get the “angry” adjective but not the fundamentalist Christians. Alliteration? From my perspective, the anger of fundamentalist Christians does far more damage to our society than that of “angry atheists”.

            Angry Christians (I’m speaking specifically of the fundamentalist creationist type) cause real world problems. They are actively working to legislate creationism back in the classroom, they create community pressure that makes it very difficult for science teachers to do their jobs teaching evolution. They often tend to be those who actively oppose global warming science and it’s ramifications, oppose marriage equality, and create climates in which doctors are afraid to perform abortions even when a mother’s life is at stake (can’t we admit there is a gray area between pro life and pro choice activism?). In other countries fundamentalists (Christian and Islamic) have created death penalties for gay citizens.

            In other words, to me, angry Christians are not just annoying – they are dangerous.

            I’m not sure the same could be said of angry atheists. Annoying sometimes, perhaps. But dangerous? Not so much.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Sorry: I realize that I misread your initial paragraph. I saw “Petrine” and read “Pauline.” My bad. Now it makes perfect sense.

            Clarification: there was nothing polemical in referring to “angry atheists” as “angry.” I just wanted to acknowledge that most atheists aren’t as extreme as mythicists, and was trying to come up with a word to describe those that are more extreme, and I came up with “angry” on the fly. I’m always open to more precise and less potentially offensive terminology.

            Definition: “shape of the NT texts.” I grant that wasn’t very precise. I mean simply the texts in their broader strokes. This has to do with the purposes for which we use the texts. In most cases I think that the variants in question have little bearing on the area that most interests me, namely study of early Christian institutional development (all my other work really aims towards figuring out how to best go about such study). If your question is the number of times that a given verb shows up in John’s Gospel then the variants are significant; if your question is whether the Twelve took up a leadership role in the immediate post-Easter church, not so much.

          • Thanks for the clarification.

  • Really, James? Tom?

    Sure, Jesus does not equal Osiris.

    And, atheists do not equal mythicists.

    Can I dispel one more myth for you? Most atheists are not mythicists. Most atheists could care less.

    • glennsbuttbuddy

      Most atheists could NOT care less.

    • Yeah … what he said …

    • Onno Westerman

      There is no historical Jesus anywhere to be seen..he does not exist ! Jesus is the representation of the sun in the zodiac and that is a fact ! Can I tell you what a myth is Christianity is a myth .

      • One can assert anything that one likes, if the evidence does not matter. Christianity contains a great deal that is mythological, but a historian would be foolish to therefore ignore data suggesting that it is mythologized history. The earliest sources depict Jesus as a Jewish Davidic messianic figure, not as the sun.

        Don’t you think that the evidence ought to determine our view of matters of history?

        • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

          What evidence do you have that Jesus was an historical figure?

          • Paul, who had met his brother, wrote about him within a couple of decades of his death. Other writers, both Christians an others, mention him not that much later. He has an ordinary human name, and early Christians were claiming that he was the awaited restorer of the Davidic throne, but also that he was crucified, and that is something the would be unlikely to make up if they weren’t dealing with inconvenient historical details. You cam find treatments of these points in most historians’ work on this subject.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            According to Earl Doherty, the Pauline Epistles predate the Gospels, and Paul envisioned, not an historical Christ, but a cosmic one. There’s no definitive proof that James was the brother of a crucified human Jesus, either. As Carrier points out, “brother of the Lord” may have been a title akin to how Christians address each other today. Christian accounts and/or speculation regarding what people are likely or unlikely to do is also not clear historical evidence, so, maybe don’t be so critical of those who point out mythological parallels–as mythological parallels are far more plentiful than evidence for an historical Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament.

          • I am not sure why you would turn to someone outside the field entirely, and someone else who has chosen not to work in the academy and whose views have not been found persuasive by other historians, for your information. This is the equivalent of consulting Michael Behe and Bill Dembski for your inforion about evolution.

            This point, like most others in these discussions, has been dicssed many times befor on this blog, not to mention in actual publications in print by historians and scholars. Why not start here, which boils the problems with Carrier’s claim about Jesus’ brother:


            Then you can take a look at my multi-part review of as much of Doherty’s nonsense as I cold stomach blogging through.


            See also some of my earlier round ups of highlights from previous years of blogging about this subject:

            Please note, in case you have ended up here by mistake, that this is not a blog where I or most other commenters are interested in engaging in apologetics for Christianity. I’m interested in defending mainstream scholarship against those who attack it from the fringe, preferring to accuse an entire field of experts of incompetence or conspiracy than engage in the harder task of persuading us, and accepting the implications of an inability to do so. That applies equally to matters of history, biology, or any other specialist field.

          • MattB

            Is the argument that Doherty and Carrier make (that Jesus was a celestial figure) based on old arguments from the 19th and 20th century?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I have no idea what “clear historical evidence” means. Please elaborate.

          • Kristyn, you seem to miss that one might equally well ask “What evidence do you have that Jesus was a mythological figure?”

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood
          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            The higher the score, the greater the chance of the character being mythological rather than historic. As you can see, Jesus scores higher than Zeus.

          • You are sharing these things as though they are news, and not something that has been discussed over and over again in the academy and on this blog.

            No one seriously disputes that Jesus gets turned into a figure that is heavily mythologized, as many others have been. Have you conidered the implications of the fact that many of the details on the Ranglan scale are not found in our eriest sources, but only get applied to Jesus subsequently?

            See further the discussion here:

            and also here:


          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            Just go by the four Gospel accounts, then. Be as conservative as you wish. Jesus still can’t go five minutes without something miraculous happening to him.

          • I take it you haven’t read much popular ancient literature, then?

            Acts is full of miracles. Perhaps Paul and Peter and the rest of them were also completely fabricated, and not only Jesus but the existence of early Christanity is fabricated. And that isn’t impossible, but I hope that at some point, as the speculation you have to weave to make sense of this becomes more and more elaborate, you might realize that it is not the most parsimonius explanation of the evidence.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            Read it all, in terms of the Bible. I graduated from an Evangelical Christian College. I got tired of the speculation I had to weave in order to make sense of the Biblical stories in any literal manner. There was, indeed, much parsing to be done in that line of thought. As much as I wanted to believe, I am glad to be tethered to that world view no longer. Christ as myth and allegory makes much more sense and expresses much deeper truth, but one has to take off the spectacles of literalism in order to find it.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Who here is a literalist?

            This, I suspect, is the problem. You think you’re dealing with fundamentalists, but you’re not. You think we’re saying that it’s all true, every word, in every conceivable way, but we’re not. So you’re not actually arguing with us, but with your former professors.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            No. I wasn’t a fundamentalist. The question is at what point does one stop throwing pieces of the bible into the mythology pile–stop struggling to dig up a speck of history. I feel the book has more meaning when intentionally read as myth and literature. It has value–just not as history.

          • MattB

            It seems that your approach to the Bible is that of the same of fundamentalists. Either the Bible has to be correct on everything or it collapses on itself. That is not how history works and what historians do when approaching the Bible.
            Historians have found more reliable evidence for Jesus in the gospels than 100 years ago when the Gospels were considered mythology instead of a biography. Archaeology and improvements in historical methodology have disproven mythicist claims that Jesus was a myth, and that his life takes place in a mythological celestial realm.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Fundamentalist or not, you’re operating with their logic: all is true historically or none is true historically. You simply have switched from one pole (all) to the other (none). But, as Prof. McGrath and I have said multiple times, history don’t work that way. How about, instead of just repeating your assertion, you deal with our responses thereto?

          • I’m not at all surprised to learn that your background is in conservative Evangelicalism. That is true of many mythicists. Unfortunately what often happens is that people go from accepting all that Evangelicalism claims about Jesus as true, to viewing it all as false, but without ever questioning the accuracy of what conservative Evangelicals claim that the sources actually say.

            When I asked about ancient literature, I wasn’t referring to the ancient Biblical literature, but other literature from the ancient world, whether Jewish, Greek, or Roman. It provides plenty of examples of mythologized history, in which the divine and what we would call the supernatural is thought to be ever-present, even when narrating events that are at least an attempt to describe actual historical events.

            I would encourage you to become acquainted with mainstream critical scholarship, rather than merely swinging from the fringe views of conservative Evangelicalism on one end of the spectrum, to the fringe views of mythicists on the other, and missing out on the kinds of work and conclusions that most scholars find persuasive regardless of their background and upbringing.

          • Jonathan Bernier


            This is actually something I’m writing on in the second chapter of my second book: that fundamentalism proceeds by saying “All is true,” and that mythicism simply responds by saying “None is true.” Both operate with a philosophy of history which is a century out of date, at least (read Collingwood’s devastating critique of such a philosophy of history in “Idea of History,” written more than 70 years ago). That philosophy of history supposes that the work of history is to determine what in the sources actually happened and what did not, but the more that one looks at things the more one realizes that it doesn’t work that way, anymore than the natural sciences proceed by asking what physical phenomena really occurred and which did not. Rather, like the natural sciences, the task of history to treat the sources as data, and then to seek the best explanation for the current state of the data. So, again, as I observed and I believe you ignored, the question isn’t “Can you prove that Jesus existed?” or “Might he not have existed?” but rather “Is the data more intelligible if there was a figure such as Jesus of Nazareth at the origin of Christianity or not?” That’s it. And I’m saying it is, and I defy you to show otherwise: not just that an alternative scenario is possible but that it is better.

            Edit: I realize in looking back at this that half-way through I shifted from speaking to James McGrath to speaking to Kristyn Hood. The “you” in the above paragraph thus refers to the latter, even though this is a reply to the former’s post.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            You hit the nail on the head here, Prof. McGrath. What happens in many instances is that people newly exposed to the complexity of the gospel material find themselves overwhelmed. They see that scholars are not overwhelmed by said complexity, and assume that is because we are ignorant and naive. What they fail to consider is that we are not overwhelmed because we have spent decades processing this complexity. And I’ll bet that if we asked someone like Jimmy Dunn he’d say that he’s still processing the complexity. But he’s not overwhelmed by it, because that stage in his development is behind him.

          • MattB

            It should also be noted that the Rank-Ranglan scale was not intended for disproving the existence of historical figures but was made for judging narratives about heroic figures.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            Yes. Jesus scores high on the mythical narrative, and there is precious little historical evidence for him. He, if not entirely myth, certainly more myth than historical human.

          • MattB

            But you can’t use the Rank-Raglan scale when its use or intent is not for showing that figures didn’t exist but for rating narratives. The Rank Raglan scale is irrelevant to showing the existence/non-existence of a historical figure.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Never mind, Matt. Kristyn has demonstrated time and again that she is uninterested in engaging in actual discussion. She doesn’t respond to critiques of her position. She’s an ideologue, nothing more. It’s sad: she went from being a religious ideologue to an anti-religious ideologue, confusing a shift in ideology for intellectual advance.

          • I think Jonathan is right, Matt. Kristyn has backed into a position in which she conflates the existence of Jesus with the existence of miracles and the resurrection.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            I’m not saying they are news. This information has been out for quite a while. We’re merely arguing over whether Jesus began with high Christology or low. Whichever direction one wants to strip myth from the bones of the Gospel Jesus, he is whittled down into just about nothing.

          • Thank you for being honest about your aim, which is to strip away myth from the Jesus that you were presented earlier in your life. For many of us here, the aim is historical accuracy. That is not opposed to the stripping away of myth – indeed, historical study did pioneering work in that area. But it involves doing so in a way that fits the historical evidence, and the overwhelming consensus of historians and scholars is that mythicism, the view that Jesus in the Gospels is a historicized celestial figure rather than a mythologized historical one, does not fit the evidence nearly as well.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Increasingly there is a movement towards seeing that high Christology was an early rather than a late development. But so what? There are gurus in India, alive today, who are considered to be divine during their lifetime. John Paul II has been made a saint less than a decade after his death, a declaration that requires “documented miracles,” yet no one doubts that JPII existed. Given even a passing familiarity with the world I see no reason that Jesus could not have been considered divine already in his lifetime and yet existed. There is conceptually and empirically no incompatibility at all between a person’s existence and a belief in her or his divinity. And once that is realized your entire edifice, which is predicated upon such incompatibility, crumbles.

          • MattB

            Jonathan, you are on point my man. Christology is simply irrelevant to the existence of Jesus of Nazareth because Christology addresses who Jesus was. It does not deal with was there a historical Jesus.
            The problem with many mythicists is that they think that by showing an early Christology in the historical Jesus, that somehow supports their views. However, the current mythicist theory is that Jesus was a mythical celestial being. The mainstream position, no natter how you dice it(Evangelical or Liberal) is that Jesus from our early sources existed on earth.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            And the “early high Christology” crowd, to the best of my without exception, emphasize the Jewishness of early Christology. So, the Lord giveth, Lord taketh. You have an early high Christology, yes, but one that has absolutely nothing to do with the mythological parallels they adduce from everywhere but Judaism.

          • MattB

            As the old saying goes “You can’t eat your cake and have it too”. Mythicists can’t claim an early high Christology supports mythicism when it disproves it

          • arcseconds

            And yet the figure with the highest score is Mithradates VI of Pontus, who fought Pompey, etc. Do you think he’s mythological?

            I don’t see any claim on this page that the figures aren’t or can’t be historical. It seems to be an analysis of the stories (which no-one denies contain mythological elements) coming to fill a common pattern. Who says the greater the score, the more mythological? Is that something you’re bringing to the matter?

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            Yes. There is Raglans’ score and the historical record. In Jesus’ case, he scores high on the hero pattern indicator and virtually non-existent in the historical record. There are no contemporary extra-Biblical accounts of his life. In his case, behind the mythical motifs, there’s nothing, which begs the question of whether Jesus was really meant to be a person in the first place. Maybe he was originally meant to be a god–something cosmic and purely divine.

          • arcseconds

            Does, for example, Sienkewicz think a score based on Raglan’s work in the 1930s (cutting edge scholarship there) show that Jesus doesn’t exist? Or have you just taken this out of context for your own purpose?

            Surely it’s obvious that no matter how much mythological material we find, that doesn’t somehow override evidence that the person existed, as the case of Mithradates shows. So this score is just irrelevant, isn’t it?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            First, I think you mean “Leads to the question,” not “begs the question.” It might the former, but it certainly does not the latter. Second, you still have not dealt with my point that the demand for contemporaneous extra-biblical accounts is predicated upon a defective philosophy of history. Until you do no one has any reason to take that demand seriously.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            Until you provide some valid contemporaneous extra-biblical accounts that Jesus did exist, no one has any reason to tae Christian demands, that Jesus is the risen son of God, seriously, either. I doubt many on this board believe the Bible to be 100% historical fact. In the end, we are simply debating which parts are more fictional than others. Over time, more portions of the Bible have been categorized as myth and fiction. This is a trend which is likely to continue, but, just because the Bible’s exoteric stories are seen as implausible, it doesn’t mean they contain no esoteric wisdom. There are many levels to these stories, and perhaps in this age, that is where we need to begin to look for Biblical truth.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Well, again, we detect a significant problem with your thinking: you are confusing a metaphysical with a historical argument. Your real concern is the divinity of Christ, but rather than look at the disciplines relevant to that discussion (viz. doctrinal and systematic theology) you look to history. But that is a category error, and it seems predicated upon a failure to recognize that Jesus could well exist, could even do many of the things attributed to him in the gospels, and yet not be the Son of God. In short, you are confusing necessary and sufficient conditions: it is necessary that Jesus existed in order to have been God incarnate, but his existence is insufficient to establish that he was.

            And you still haven’t shown me why I require “valid contemporaneous extra-biblical evidence” of Jesus’ existence. You still have not dealt with my point that such demands would make the work of ancient history impossible. Continuing to simply assert the problematic, whilst refusing to deal with the substantive, confirms to me that you have only rhetoric and no substance. It certainly does little to convince that you have reason on your side.

          • Just dismissing what early sources say, and then offering “maybe” in response, is a denialist tactic. It is how creationists respond to work on evolution – they dismiss scholarly conclusions, but think that mere speculation is adequate when it comes to “proving” their own views. In our earliest sources – Paul’s letters, and then perhaps a decade after the last of those, the Gospel of Mark – Jesus is depicted as a real human being, with an ordinary human name rather than one of the sort given to angels and other celestial beings in Jewish literature in this period. He is depicted as being of Davidic descent – which may be as true as most family claims to have noble ancestry, but it indicates that these sources are talking about an actual human being and not a deity. He is depicted as being crucified, and so for all intents and purposes failing miserably to accomplish what Jews hoped the Davidic anointed one would do. This is not the portrayal of a deity. I know that, as a former Evangelical, you will have read the idea that Jesus is God into all the New Testament documents. I would encourage you to read them without that assumption. You may find that some are beginning to “deify” him, especially through a post-humous exaltation. But I suspect that you will find that some of what you were told about what the sources say and mean will turn out to be inaccurate, and deserves to be critically examined and rejected.

          • arcseconds

            Also, Nicholas II has 17 and Harry Potter a mere 8.

            Are you quite sure the greater the score the greater the chance of them being mythological?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I’ll bet Rhett Butler comes in very low. So is “Gone With the Wind” historical?

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            As historical as the Gospels.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            The scale is not an indicator of non-historicity, it is an indicator of mythology. The one flaw it does have, however, is that historical persons of actual royal birth will skew higher on the scale. That Jesus scores higher than Harry Potter should tell you something.

          • arcseconds

            It tells me that the Gospel story incorporates more of Raglan’s list of elements than the Harry Potter series does.

            It tells me nothing more than that. What more could it tell me?

            It’s also nothing I don’t already know… you did get the part where everyone here agrees that there’s plenty of mythic material in the Gospels, right?

            You admit yourself that it doesn’t tell us anything about the historicity, so can we agree now that Raglan is beside the point?

          • This is your answer? Raglan’s hero parallels? That’s not evidence or history. That’s speculative comparison. In the first place, not every element of the “pattern” fits for either Jesus or most other mythological heroes. In the second place, many elements can be made to fit actual historical characters.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Good points. Raglan represents a sort of approach to folklore and mythology that really no one has practiced since, well, pretty much Raglan. It’s pseudo-science, really.

          • Yes, Lord Raglan was an amateur scholar at best with no academic credentials. His hero “study” was published in 1936, and wasn’t the last of his hair-brained ideas.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I often think of Father Jean Hardouin, who c. 1700 declared that almost all classical literature were 13th century forgeries and that all the church councils prior to Trent in the 16th century were fictions. It’s silliness of the highest order, but it always seems to me that once we follow the pseudo-scientific down the rabbit hole we’ll end up in a position that makes even Father Hardouin look overly optimistic when it comes to thinking about what knowledge we might be able to recover from the ancient world.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            I’m going to leave you with a quote from Dr. Price. This is pretty much the sum of it: “The Gospels come under serious suspicion because there is practically nothing in them that does not conform to this “Mythic Hero Archetype,” no “leftover,” secular information such as we do find in the case of Caesar Augustus and a few others, which serves to tie them into the fabric of history.”–Robert M. Price “The Incredible Shrinking son of Man”

          • Jonathan Bernier

            The problem is that Dr. Price’s argument is fallacious and unsound. I’d explain why that is obviously the case if I thought you would read and respond to my explanation, but you have shown repeatedly a refusal to do so, so I see no point in so doing. Simply repeating your arguments, such as they are, without ever engaging with counter-arguments, seems unlikely to persuade anyone. The only people you’ll persuade are the choir.

          • Yes, we’re familiar with Price’s position (he’s a rare bird), but if you’re making an argument based on authority – I’m afraid you’ll lose. The mythicist scholars that you can count on one hand are a drop in the ocean of historicist scholars. Even if you limit yourself to only atheist New Testament scholars, you will still find the mythicist “authorities” vastly outnumbered.

          • arcseconds

            One wonders why this is apparently being used as part of a unit in a contemporary second-year classics course.

            However, there’s something to this nevertheless, is there not? Births being somehow miraculous or unusual are a pretty common trope in ancient biographies, at the very least.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Looking at the course website, it seems that the professor is helpfully providing students with a host of resources on myth and myth-and-ritual theory. I don’t get the sense that he’s actually endorsing any particular theory, but simply saying “Okay, we’re studying ancient myth, and here’s some stuff that has influenced how people think on the matter.” In other words, he’s being a good and diligent teacher.

          • I’ve thought of getting my own students to do something with Otto Rank’s version of the hero pattern when we look at the gospel birth stories. I think Rank and Raglan could be useful ways to prompt discussion about the nature and purpose of the stories and how they relate to tales of other figures that would have circulated at the time (e.g. the presence of some of the tropes mentioned above).

            I think you can buy in to the general idea of a hero pattern without accepting any of the claims mythicists attach to it (I suspect most of them haven’t actually read Rank or Raglan, just internet mythicist regurgitations of their work).

          • Jonathan Bernier


            With all due respect, might I suggest that you need to do some more serious thinking in this matter. I’m not saying this polemically, nor am I trying to convince you to re-convert to Christianity. It makes no existential difference to me whether you are an atheist, a Christian, a Buddhist, or a Pastafarian. Rather, I am speaking as someone who, like you, came out of an evangelical background. Actually, calling the people from whom I come “evangelical” is charitable: they were died-in-the-wool fundies. And leaving that was a painful process that took many years. Now, like many leaving such a background I went through an angry atheist phase, then a less angry atheist phase, then eventually came back to what I find to be a much more intellectually robust and spiritually nourishing Christianity. I detect that you are on a similar journey, although I would not presume to know where it will take you.

            What I sense is that you are discovering that hyper-focus upon the literal sense of the text is spiritually unhealthy and intellectually detrimental. That is absolutely the case, and good on you for making that discovery. It’s a sign of growing spiritual and intellectual maturity. The difficulty though is that you have been taught, and accepted as true, that the literal sense is identical with the historical sense, such that rejecting the literal also means rejecting the historical. Certainly the medieval and early post-Reformation church had this problem: they lacked the conceptual capacity to distinguish the literal from the historical. But in the 19th century we developed that capacity. Now we recognize that the letters of the text–the letter-al, i.e. the literal–is not the same as the historical. We’re still puzzling out how best to relate these two senses, never mind relating them both to the spiritual senses (what the medievals called the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses).

            Put otherwise, you have moved in your thinking from a single sense of scripture, the literal, to two senses: the literal and the spiritual. That is good. But a further step remains: to move from there to thinking in terms of three senses: the literal, the historical, and the spiritual. And if the move to two senses blew your mind, just imagine what will happen when you move to three.

      • Onno, there is a difference between saying that the bible contains mythological elements and saying that nothing in the bible is historical. The second statement is clearly untrue. Any historian can point out that there are places and people depicted in the Bible that clearly existed.

        You don’t have to be a Christian, for example, to believe that a Roman Jew named Paul wrote letters to early churches, or that Pontius Pilate was a Roman official in Jerusalem. You can remain an atheist and still believe that the mythology of Jesus began with a real 1st century rabbi. Most atheist historians do.

        • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

          Onno is right. The Bible is mythologized history. There are historical figures and places portrayed in the Bible, but they are mostly anachronistic. To point to the Bible as history on the basis of the inclusion of historical characters and places is tantamount to arguing for the historicity of “Gone with the Wind”! If the uncomfortable similarities between Jesus and other divinities isn’t enough to convince you, read up on the lack of historical evidence for these tales via the works of Dr. Robert M. Price, Dr. Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, Earl Doherty, Raphael Lataster , Dennis R. MacDonald and Kenneth Humphreys.

          • Lumping Dennis Macdonald wit the mythicists misunderstands his work. As for the others, how would you react to someone saying “just look at Michael Behe, William Dembski, etc. to get a sense of the current state of biology?” Surely people who are not even doing scholarshp, and a handful who are but have not managed to persuade their peers, are not the place to turn for a sense of what those with relevant expertise gave to say on a topic.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            That’s just an appeal to authority. There was a time when most scholars agreed the Earth was flat–and to suggest otherwise was done at great peril. I didn’t say MacDonald was a mythicist, however, his work clearly illustrates the connection between the Gospel narrative structure and the Homeric epics. Enough of the usual apologetic deflection. Can you prove Jesus was a historical person or not?

          • Pointing out that the world’s biologists agree about evolution, or pointing out that the world’s historians agree about Jesus, is not an appeal to authority. An appeal to authority would be saying “Richard Carrier has a PhD so he must be right” even though his views have not persuaded his peers in the academy.

            Asking for “proof” of the existence of the existence of an ancient figure misunderstands how history works. It isn’t math. There is evidence, and I mentioned some of it. If you are expecting that an itinerant exorcist and possible messianic pretender is going to leave behind the kind of evidence that an emperor would , your expectations are misguided. Jesus is a figure like John the Baptist, or Hillel, or Honi the Circle Drawer, or further afield, like Socrates. We know of them from the texts of those who wrote about them. Many of the details about them may be legendary fabrications, but the evidence still points to their having existed.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            No. Scientists adjust their views according to evidence. Scholars of history have long been in the stranglehold of the church. How many institutions of higher learning began with religious affiliation? Quite a few. Many still have funding tied to religious organizations. As Raphael Lataster quotes Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” However, this grip is loosening. What will you say if, in twenty years, most historians agree that Jesus was not an historical figure? As for me, I’m not expecting an itinerant exorcist or a messianic pretender. What I am expecting is EXACTLY what the Gospel narrative is saying that he is: Son of God, Savior, Redeemer, the Risen Christ. In the realm of mythology, these attributes express a truth, but in the realm of history, Jesus must be stripped of everything the Gospels imbued him with, in order to fit into a plausible version of an historical person–and that may be worse than anything the Romans could have done.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            “Scholars of history have long been in the stranglehold of the church.”

            No one familiar with the history of history could say this. First off, you fail to distinguish between history in terms of what is studied in a Department of History and history in terms of what is studied in, say, a Religious Studies Department. Is the study of the American Civil War really strangled by the church? Really? That’s just absurd.

            As for the history of biblical studies, again, only someone utterly unfamiliar with the discipline could think it strangled by the church. Quite the opposite. Modern biblical studies began as a revolt against ecclesiastical authorities, and in truth for the most part it has operated independent of such authorities.

            Your characterization of the modern study of history, including that of the early church, is demonstrably and disastrously false. And if you can’t get the last two centuries right, up to and including today, please forgive if I am less-than-confident in your capacity to get events of two millennia ago right.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            Sounds like I struck a nerve.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Yes. It’s called the “Impatience with silliness” nerve. It’s first cousin to the funny bone. But again, you spew rhetoric rather than engage with substance. Engage with substance, or I continue to assume that you have none.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            Speaking of evolution, the Genesis accounts of creation don’t agree with biologists on evolution. Are they myth? Of course–and they are now accepted, even by most Christians, as myth and not history.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            1) How is this news? 2) How is this relevant?

          • Of course. But you seem to be reflecting your former conservative Evangelicalism, treating the entire Bible as though it were a single book and not a collection. When we read Josephus’ history, it includes many events and people which are mythical, legendary, and of uncertain historicity, as well as events that we can confirm happened, although the speeches are surely Thucydidean in nature, and details are wrong in places. Not only each piece of separate literature, but each detail, must be assessed on its own merits, when treating these texts not as what you experienced them as – texts that some people today pretend are the inerrant word of God – but human products from antiquity, with the potential to be no more and no less useful to historians than any other human literature.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            And what evidence what you accept as “proof”?

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood
          • Jonathan Bernier


            Okay, here’s your problem. With these criteria you have no ancient history. None. Not a whit.


            It’s in the second test. If the only acceptable data for a person’s existence is a text dated “via science” (which presumably must refer to radiocarbon dating; I have no idea what other “scientific test” one could mean) to within twenty years of a figure’s supposed death then we have no evidence for anyone in the ancient world, because no figure will pass that test. None. Not one.

            That will include Paul, by the way, especially if you exclude all Christian texts, because Christian texts are our only source for Paul’s existence. Now, if Paul doesn’t exist then you can’t with any security date his letters to before the gospels, and all the arguments regarding development from his writings to the gospels evaporate.

            If you say that this test applies only to Jesus then you are engaged in special pleading, and I can dismiss your argument as fallacious.

            Reductio ad absurdum, or special pleading. Either way, this dog won’t hunt.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            I said “Pauline Writings”–not Paul.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            That won’t help you, as the only reason for dating the letters before the gospels is that they are attributed to Paul. But we only know when he was active because of the combined evidence from the gospels and Acts (i.e. he became a Christian sometime after Jesus died, and was before Gallio in Corinth, whose time in that city we can independently date to c. 51). So if we either say that the letters in question were not written by Paul or that the gospels and the Acts are wholly unreliable then we have no idea when these were written. And if we have no idea then we cannot know whether they pre-date the gospels.

            But I notice that you don’t deal with the more substantive issues, namely those regarding your defective philosophy of history. That suggests to me that all you have is rhetoric, that in fact there is no substance.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            You can insult me as much as you wish, if it makes you feel better. I’ve spent a lifetime around Christians, and I’m more than comfortable with such treatment. Cognitive dissonance brings out the worst in people. However, I was wondering if you can explain why the Pauline writings display such a lack of interest in, and knowledge of, the biography of Jesus?

          • Jonathan isn’t insulting you. He is pointing out that you are not dealing with the substantive issues, and seem not to have any interest in the fact that these points have been discussed on this very blog recently, not to mention that they are discussed in historical scholarship.

            Paul provides very little in the way of detail about Jesus, either mundane life details or mythological details about a celestial Christ. And so the obvious explanation is that the genre is the reason for this, and that Paul can allude to a great many things that his readers already know. Mythicists are not offering a profound insight, much less an “explanation” for the things Paul doesn’t say. They are just inserting different things into his silences, some of which are at odds with the things Paul does say.

            Here’s a post on this this point was recently discussed:

          • Jonathan Bernier

            As Prof. McGrath notes, there is no insult, neither intended nor actual. I was pointing out that you are bringing little substance and much rhetoric to the debate. And, whilst it is sad that others have treated you poorly, I’m not them, and it’s simply neither fair nor productive for you to lump me in with them.

            Now, re: lack of substance. The way you are proceeding is to throw out an argument, and then when a counter-argument is presented simply ignore that, aside from perhaps a snide remark about cognitive dissonance or some other ad hominem, and then throw out another argument. Why should I give counter-arguments to any further arguments if I know that you will not deal with those counter-arguments, but rather engage in ad hominem responses? How is that a good use of my time?

          • I’m not saying that the bible is history; I’m saying that there are historical elements in the bible – just as you say. Quite a bit of mythology, and among the historical elements, some are anachronistic, some are not (there’s a huge range of writings from numerous periods represented).

          • Jonathan Bernier

            False analogy: no one has ever claimed that “Gone with the Wind” is anything other than fiction. Oh, and while we’re at it, pick up David Hackett Fischer’s Historian’s Fallacies, and read his wonderful section on the “analogical fallacy.” You’ll see quickly why the sort of parallels to which you refer have little to no evidentiary value. Or pick up Samuel Sandmel’s famous article, “Parallelomania.” There’s a reason the arguments that Doherty, Carrier, et. al., don’t impress those who actually know the discipline: because they are simply rehashing arguments that were considered and rejected a century ago, without giving us any reason to think that those rejections were unwarranted. You think their stuff is cutting edge, when in fact it’s patently Victorian. Give me new evidence or new arguments, then I’ll reopen these century-old matters.

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            Whatever you need to do in order to keep the cognitive dissonance at a minimum.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            What cognitive dissonance? I have not a whit. I need not have a whit, as I am holding to the most reasonable construal of the data. That is what you miss here. The question is not “Can you prove that Jesus existed?” It is not “Is it possible that Jesus did not exist?” It is something in fact much more modest and difficult, namely: “Which accounts best for the data, Jesus’ existence or non-existence?” And that means one has to account for the origins of Christianity. And that’s what I find lacking in mythicism. Where did these communities that supposedly venerated Jesus come from? Why did they make up this figure? Christianity had to come from somewhere, and I would argue that if we didn’t have a figure like Jesus in the record we’d have to invent one. But we do have a figure in the record. So why dispense with him and invent another?

          • Kristyn Whitaker Hood

            Even if you are correct and there is a historical figure on the record, he has been so heavily mythologized that we have already dispensed with him and invented another.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            That’s worlds apart from saying that he never existed.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      That’s a fair point. Most atheists I know roll their eyes at mythicism. Yet let’s be honest, when atheists critique “Christianity” they often mean “Christian fundamentalism.” And you know what? That’s damn frustrating to scholars who happen to be Christian, because almost none of us are fundamentalists. If it’s fair game for atheists to go after the lowest denominator then why can’t their opponents? Do only atheists get to go after low-hanging fruit?

      • I’m grateful that Christian scholars aren’t fundamentalists. Now, would someone please inform Al Mohler, William Lane Craig, Stephen Meyer, and their friends.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          I should clarify that when I say “scholars” in this context I mean biblical scholars and theologians. I don’t know enough about other fields to speak intelligently to the matter. That said, I’ve never gotten the impression that Craig is a fundamentalist. Conservative, yes; apologist, yes; perhaps treading the line between philosophy and theology…but fundamentalist? Not so sure.

          • Fundamentalist or not, Craig makes ridiculously flawed arguments for the resurrection and for a type of objective morality and Divine Command Theory that takes him to silly extremes defending the historicity (and theological soundness) of OT genicidal depictions of God. He uses this steal-trap thinking about morality to argue against marriage equality and for stereotyped roles for men and women.

            He makes embarrassing forays into science. He argues that animals don’t experience physical pain to avoid that particular problem for theodicy. If physicists propose models for multiverses or precursors to the Big Bang, he accuses them of trying to avoid the beginning of the universe at the Big Bang – as though physicists even give a hoot about his Kalaam Cosmological argument.

            Fundamentalist or not, Craig is a piece of work that fundamentalists love to reference.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Oh, not defending his work. I actually don’t know it well enough to do so. I just got the impression that he’s not a fundamentalist.

          • Come to think of it, I doubt you could call Stephen Meyer a fundamentalist either, so maybe I should back up and correct this point. The Christians that atheists (and hopefully reasonable Christians) should critique are not only Christian fundamentalists. They include any Christians whose religious biases lead them to damaging opinions towards society; in Stephen Meyer’s case, the attempts of the Discovery institute to discredit evolutionary science, something of which we still feel the effects in Texas.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            That’s fair. The real concern here is life together, and there are demonstrably Christians who make life together difficult for everyone. Perhaps I’m less sensitive to that issue because in Canada, where creationism, etc., has nothing taken hold, Christianity is a much more benign to constructive factor in society. As examples: the architect of our universal health care system was a baptist preacher (and Kiefer Sutherland’s maternal grandfather), and the United Church in Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, was one of the strongest voices advocating legal recognition of same-sex marriage. And when it came out in 2000 that a candidate for prime minister was a Young Earth Creationist he plunged in the polls and never really recovered. So very different experience with religion up here.

          • I have good friends from a wide range of beliefs, so for me, it’s not about the good vs the bad things that atheists or Christians do. It’s about the bad things that their ideologies lead them to do. Ideologies that harm society are worth critiquing, whether they are religious or not.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Agreed. I think that the task for humanity in the coming decades and centuries is for every religion and non-religion to work out a theory that allows them to recognize the legitimacy and value of other religions and non-religions. So in Christianity you have the Catholic idea that if God and more specifically Jesus is the source of truth than whatever is true in any belief system comes from God and more specifically Jesus. Thus they can affirm much that is out there, without having to give up being Catholic. That’s the sort of thing that is needed as we move forward.

          • Some variation of the Golden Rule would be a likely starting place, partly for its applicability and partly for its universality in religious and philosophical thought.

  • C.J. O’Brien

    Yes, that original list is silly in conception and quite misinformed in execution. However, this particular debunking isn’t entirely correct either.
    On Horus, there are at least four dimensions to consider, whereas both the original list here and the debunker are really only considering two, his role in the Isis-Osiris myth and the Greco-Roman identification of the infant Horus as the deity Harpokrates. Also to consider are the ancient role of Horus as solar and creator deity, sky god, and idealized king, and the Greek identification of the adult Horus with Apollo. On three of the four, it might be allowed that Horus has some association with healing. And the Eye of Horus was worn as a protective amulet.
    On Mithra, the debunker makes several references to “Mithraic literature” “texts” and “stories” but no such texts survive. We have several vague and contradictory notices in the classical authors and a late treatment by Jerome (and possibly earlier patristic writers?), but nothing beyond inscriptions and graffiti that can be identified with adherents of the Roman mysteries of Mithra. Too much discussion of Mithraism, from all positions, goes on without acknowledging these facts. There is a great deal we do not know, that various scholars have inferred from sculpture and associated inscriptions, but that must remain hypothetical. However, Mithra was identified with the sun, and along with Sol Invictus the adherents of the mysteries probably did celebrate the solstice. That the Saturnalia and Sol Invictus and possibly Mithraism revered the date may well have influenced the eventual adoption of it for Christmas, but so what? It would seem to have little to do with the creation of the foundational Christian beliefs, and the nativity stories do not appear to partake of any of the later syncretism with solar deities.
    On Dionysus, he was “the twice born god.” This concept finds expression in the narrative myth, where as the debunker says, Zeus impregnated Semele, but he or she is wrong about the lightning bolt part. Semele was already pregnant with D. when Zeus’s jealous wife Hera tricked her into demanding a theophany, so Zeus manifested as lightning and killed Semele but was able to save the fetus and stitched the prenatal Dionysus into his thigh from which he was later also “born”. But the myth is not the origin of the idea of Dionysus as “twice born” but an etiological narrative incorporating it. Dionysus as the personification of wine, is “twice born” because grapes are harvested and newly fermented wine is produced at different times of the year.
    The Attic Greek festival of the grape harvest was the Oschophoria, celebrated in the month of Pyanepsion, roughly our October. The so-called Rural or Rustic Dionysia was held at various places in Attica on various dates and so cannot be difinitively tied to January 6, December 25, or any specific date. It celebrated Dionysius’s rebirth in the new wine; his second birth. The Urban Dionysia, the famous Athenian theater competition, was held later, in the Spring. Two other Dionysian festivals were also held in late Winter/early Spring, the Anthesteria and the Lenaea, and while these probably had local origins in parts of Attica, they were folded into the Urban Dionysia at Athens.
    tl;dr: The bullet list format is a lousy way to communicate complex and often obscure ancient religious concepts, whatever the motivation.

    • A better solution is that the religions of Greece, Egypt, and Palestine were all derived forms of the prehistoric “cult of the dead”–as I show in my book, From the Bodies of the Gods.

  • Alice C. Linsley

    The claim that Christianity is a copy-cat religion, based on the Horus Myth is false because Christianity emerges from the Faith of Abraham’s Horite ruler-priest caste. This is demonstrated in analysis of the marriage and ascendancy structure of the Horites as it is detailed in the Bible. Jesus is a direct descendant of the Horite ruler-priests, and the fulfillment of their Messianic expectation. Horite beliefs must be distinguished from the syncretism of later Egyptian religion. Tom Verenna has failed to do this.

  • Alice C. Linsley
    • Engaging in the sort of pseudolinguistic treatment which treata similarly-spelled names as evidence of a linguistic connection and then on that basis positing a historical connection is not something that ought to pass for scholarship in our day and age.

      • Alice C. Linsley

        Sorry about the duplication.

        You apparently didn’t read the article which traces Jesus’ Horite lineage. There is nothing here that isn’t found in the Biblical text. Should you be interested in knowing more you will find 30+ years of research. Use the INDEX.

  • Ringo

    10/10 Well said… showed the ignorant people the truth…

  • glennsbuttbuddy

    Note it was an atheist who did the fact-checking for this image.

    As an atheist, I couldn’t care less, but I do wonder if a Christian has fact-checked the bible. Any version of it.

    • You ought to look into the history of liberal Protestantism and its role in pioneering and promoting the historical critical study of the Bible.

  • Morgan Freeman

    You my friend are stupid as fuck. I did research and it is true that they are all like Jesus was completely true

    • I try to prevent vulgarity on the blog. Please edit your comment or it will be deleted.

      As for your claim to have done research, I would point out that young-earth creationists regularly assert the same thing. What mainstream professional historians and scholars did you consult?

  • Buck

    Just take a look at all the biased sources at the bottom. That should tell you all you need to know as they’re all Xian apologists except for one lousy atheist website that does more harm embarrassing atheists than good, and it has been thoroughly debunked in the link below demonstrating how ignorant they really are on the subject:

    Skeptic Project / Con-Sci on ZG1, DEBUNKED

    I especially love this one where Ed makes a complete fool of himself with the “Ferseus” bit (in red) because he has absolutely no clue what he’s talking about:

    Oh, and Rook/Tom Vern isn’t any better.

    “Take notice on how at his blog he posts every negative, trashy link he can find but, he NEVER provides Acharya’s responses to them proving them wrong. Rook could not be any more intellectually dishonest”

    Primary sources and scholar commentary on them support ZG1:

    Sourcebook (transcript, sources & citations)

    Primary Sources & Scholars cited in the ZG1 Sourcebook

    Rebuttal to Dr. Chris Forbes

    Forum: Zeitgeist Part 1

    Scholars and others who’ve actually read Acharya’s work are supportive of it:

    “I find it undeniable that many of the epic heroes and ancient patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament were personified stars, planets, and constellations.” … “I find myself in full agreement with Acharya S/D.M. Murdock”

    – Dr. Robert Price, Biblical Scholar with two Ph.D’s

    • You do realize that one can make the same sort of defense of creationism and other kinds of denialism, right? I too would have much preferred that the fact-checking go straight to the historians and scholars. But the fact that you can find someone who teaches at an unaccredited seminary who thinks Acharya S is praiseworthy really demonstrates nothing. There are PhDs who support young-earth creationism, intelligent design, and so on. You need to ask what the consensus of experts is.

  • Adam

    -Horus’s mother was a virgin:

    “The Pyramid Texts speak of “the great virgin” (hwn.t wr.t) three times (682c, 728a, 2002a…); she is anonymous, appears as the protectress of the king, and is explicitly called his mother once (809c). It is interesting that Isis is addresseed as hwn.t in a sarcophagus oracle that deals with her mysterious pregnancy. In a text in the Abydos Temple of Seti I, Isis herself declares: “I am the great virgin.””[1]

    -Star in the east:

    “You are this lone star that comes forth from the east of the sky, and who will surrender himself to Horus of the Netherworld…”[2]

    -Horus walking on water:

    “The command over water includes the crossing of the “celestial river”: “Upon reaching the sky, the life-essence of the King approaches the celestial gate and/or the celestial river.” When the king reaches the river with his “mentor” Horus, he requests the god to take him with him: “Since Horus has already crossed the river with his father in mythical times…, he can apparently then cross the river at will.”[3]

    -Horus raised from the dead:

    “[S]he discovered also the drug which gives immortality, by means of which she not only raised from the dead her son Horus, who had been the object of plots on the part of Titans and had been found dead under the water, giving him his soul again, but also made him immortal.”[4]

    [1] G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Volume 2, pp. 338-339 (See also:
    [2] R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, pp. 173-174
    [3] D.M. Murdock, Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection, pp. 296-297
    [4] Diodorus Siculus, Antiquities of Egypt, 1.25.6,*.html

    • The fact that you simply assume that referring to Murdock, despite the issues with her work, is adequate evidence of something is itself illustrative of the problem. When one Googles the TDOT reference you provide, for instance, it turns up the same Murdock stuff, not the original source that this purports to come from. And of course, even that is suspect – why a Biblical studies reference work, and not something about ancient Egypt?

      But apart from that, there is the problem of parallelomania clearly at work. The number of figures who have been purported to have died and then been raised to life in some sense or other is quite large. And so the suggestion that each and every one of them has some direct connection to every one of the others is quite preposterous, is it not? Merely noting similarities across mythologies is nothing profound. And ignoring the frequent application of mythical symbolism to historical figures means one is dealing with only part of the relevant data.

      • Adam

        Have you actually read her book? If not, then I can only assume you’re taking for granted the word of other people bashing her, many of them who (ironically) have also not read her book. People constantly criticized her for supposedly not providing sources to back up what she says. The book, while containing a few flaws here and there (since almost no book is perfect), is extremely scholarly and contains an abundance of primary sources. Essentially, she spent nearly 600 pages addressing her critics. They asked, and she answered. I don’t know what else you want from her.

        The TDOT references the original Egyptian texts which call Isis a virgin. The fact that the book itself is not specifically an Egyptology text shouldn’t deter from the information provided. Read the Egyptian text for yourself:

        But if you want this specifically from Egyptologists, here you go:

        “The Egyptian goddess who was equally “the Great Virgin” (hwnt) and “Mother of the God” was the object of the very same praise bestowed upon her successor [Mary, Virgin Mother of Jesus]” -Dr. Reginald E. Witt [1]

        “Isis and her child had an even bigger following: she came to be worshiped as the primordial virgin and her infant the Savior of the World.” -Dr. Bojana Mojsov [2]

        And a few other sources for you too:

        “The infant Horus was begotten of the resurrected god Osiris and the Virgin goddess Isis.”[3]

        “In Egypt the epithets ‘dd.t, rnn.t and hwn.t, ‘girl; young woman; virgin’, are applied to many goddesses, –eg- Hathor and Isis– who had not yet had sexual intercourse.”[4]

        No one is suggesting that “each and every one of them has some direct connection to every one of the others.” One of the points simply being made is that the concept of a god dying and then rising from the dead is not unique to Christianity. Never was. And Christians would have no problem dismissing these other resurrection tales as pure mythology and nothing more. But in the case of Jesus, that tale always seems to get a pass from Christians. But indeed, the Egyptian religion has had such a profound impact on Christianity, I certainly would find it “preposterous” to suggest the resurrection motif wasn’t similarly influenced as well.

        “…it is not improbable that even early Christian texts were influenced by ideas and images from the New Kingdom religious books.”[5]

        “‘Salvation’ and ‘eternal life’ are Christian concepts, and we might think that the Egyptian myth can all too easily be viewed through the lens of Christian tradition. On the contrary, in my opinion, Christian myth is itself thoroughly stamped by Egyptian tradition, by the myth of Isis and Osiris, which from the very beginning had to do with salvation and eternal life.”[6]

        [1] Reginald E. Witt, Isis in the Ancient World, p. 273
        [2] Bojana Mojsov, Osiris: Death and Afterlife of a God, p. 94
        [3] Ivan Van Sertima, African Presence in Early Europe (Journal of African Civilizations, Nov. 1985, Vol. 7, No. 2,) p. 110
        [4] Karl van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Second Edition, p. 891
        [5] Erik Hornung, The Valley of the Kings, p. 9
        [6] Jan Assman, Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt, pp.115-116

        • I think that you are missing the big picture. The point of the graphic is not whether Isis is ever called “virgin” but whether the sort of parallelomania that many like to engage in offers a plausible explanation for the origins of Christianity. When people focus on details that are added later, such as the virginal conception, or even much later still the connection with December 25th, they are not taking a historical approach to a historical question.

          If a specific detail turns out to in fact be problematic in the image, as often happens also in graohics defending evolution, that doesn’t ultimately affect the conclusions of professional scolars and their work, but the presentation thereof in a popular meme.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Nail on head. This isn’t about any particular work. This is about a group of mostly outsiders to the discipline using methods that were rejected a century ago and declaring that they have found something new and radical that scholars have missed. Scholars haven’t missed the parallels with Osiris. They’ve looked at them and said that they aren’t relevant, for a number of reason. Saying that scholarship hasn’t dealt with these issues because contemporary scholars don’t think them that important is like accusing contemporary biologists of not seriously wrestling with Lamarckianism because they don’t discuss his theories very often. It’s not because they don’t know them. It’s because a very long time ago their discipline looked at them and realized that they didn’t work.

          • arcseconds

            This kind of thing impresses me more and more with the parallel with the ‘evolution contradicts the second law of thermodynamics’ nonsense. It’s ridiculous to think that the scientific community has somehow missed this glaringly obvious point (if it were obvious), yet somehow you and your youth-group friends have worked it out in five minutes.

            Similarly it’s simply absurd to think that you and your sceptic buddies have noticed the parallels with Osiris, but somehow scholars who deal with the ancient near east, who read the original period texts every day, have managed to overlook this for a century or more.

            Though, to be fair, I think a lot of people just don’t have any idea they’re getting fed a fringe viewpoint. Infographics are created by the ignorant and the wise alike. I think a lot of people suppose the Osiris parallels are in fact the latest in scholarship, and when they encounter resistance from the likes of you and James, they think you’re Christian apologists. Which, you know, isn’t that unreasonable: it’s really not hard to find people defending the New Testament as literal truth on the basis of things they try to pass of as historical arguments, and it wouldn’t be that surprising if there were a continuum of apology from literalism through to minimalism. After all, there’s exactly that continuum of belief amongst Christians (extending even to mythicism, apparently).

          • Jonathan Bernier

            It’s understandable, yes. But it’s still unreasonable, and for a particular reason: it’s a failure to recognize the significance of credentials and experience. They aren’t just letters beside a name. Take an obvious example: medicine. There is a reason that I go to see a physician about my health concerns rather than, say, an automotive mechanic. Now, the automotive mechanic, she or he is probably quite good at her or his job, but I’m not confidence in her or his ability to adequately diagnosis and treat my physical ailments. The medical doctor, by contrast, has spent the entirety of her or his professional life learning to do so, through schooling and experience. So if the doctor and the automotive mechanic give me contradictory advice regarding my health, I’d be a fool to prefer the latter’s advice over the former. There’s no guarantee of course that the physician is right and the mechanic wrong, but all things being equal it’s a safe bet.

            Now, if all but two physicians in the world say that a given hypothesis regarding human health is completely mistaken then as an outsider I’m on safer ground if I follow the majority. Now, the overwhelming majority might be mistaken, but far more likely the two dissenters are just crackpots. And if the majority are mistaken I have to trust that medical doctors will eventually detect their error and reverse it. I can’t do it for them, because I lack the requisite expertise.

            That’s also why, all things being equal, I’d rather an experienced physician than an inexperienced one. Someone two days out of medical school is still a physician, and presumably her or his training was adequate a competent one. But she or he lacks the value of experience. Thus, all things being equal, I tend to look to what the most senior members in a field are saying. Again, they might be mistaken, but I’m probably on safer ground here.

            And I wonder: why would any field of study be any different? (And note that I say the above as a recent Ph.D. grad, one still searching for a more permanent academic home, and thus not at all senior; and also one who holds in many cases to minority positions in the field. But you know what: as long as they remain minority positions in the field, although I do think them correct, outsiders are on safer ground siding against me and with the majority. My job, if I want that to chance, would be to convince credentialed NT scholars that these minority positions are more persuasive than long thought to be the case).

            Edit: and holy crap, that ended up a lot longer than I anticipated. I suppose that once I got going the rant just came out.

          • arcseconds

            My point is, though, it’s not obvious to someone entirely ignorant about this area who the relevant experts are, and what it is they say. And it’s certainly not apparent that just because someone on the internet says they’re reporting expert opinion, that they really are reporting the opinion of the relevant experts. Mythcists make this kind of argument all the time. Just recently a mythicist said “look at all these scholars who are mythicists or starting to question: Fr. Brodie, Doherty, Dr. Richard Carrier, Richard Price, &c” there were a good half-dozen names there. How is anyone outside this area to know that that’s a bunch of amateurs plus a couple of rather fringe professionals? How are they to tell the difference between that list and Ehrman, Goodacre, Crossan,

            Everyone knows that an M.D. and a practicing license means you’re qualified to practice medicine

            (Although even then one wouldn’t want to believe some claim on the internet just because someone’s got an M.D. after their name. There’s plenty of M.D.s who say plenty of strange things. )

            But they don’t know that ‘Professor of New Testament Studies’ is similar. Everyone even vaguely familiar with the academy in the USA knows there’s a lot of sectarian institutions, and it’s reasonable to be somewhat suspicious about their commitments. I’ve seen a couple of rather dubious social studies come out of such places, for example, and on directly religious matters I’d be even more suspicious. McGrath’s certainly indicated that these suspicions are quite warranted. More generally, worldwide there are lots of institutions within universities that are otherwise functionally secular places that retain sectarian ties, ranging from whole institutions in their own right (seminaries and so forth) through to individual chairs.

            (I happen to know in Europe the academic freedom of chairs tied to specific religious communities has been under intense debate, partly because the occupants of those chairs have been known to exercise such freedom. But not everyone knows that. )

            So, if you know the above, but don’t know anything more than that, what are you supposed to make of ‘Professor of NT Studies’? If it’s N. T. Wright, you then find out they hold their position at something called ‘St Mary’s College’, and they’re an ordained priest and former bishop. And he thinks the dead literally rose from their graves after Jesus’s death. None of this sounds like someone you can trust for a disinterested opinion on what the evidence actually shows.

            You also ask ‘would any field of study be any different?’.

            There is a general background suspicion in certain circles, particularly in the sciences, and in the sceptic community, that there actually are areas in the academy which are not actually doing anything much worthwhile, and that expertise in such areas shouldn’t be taken too seriously. This can range from feeling that a certain area is overly speculative or a bit woolly through to accusations of full-scale intellectual bankruptcy. As to how far the rot spreads, occasionally it’s just an isolated area, but some people seem to hold the entire humanities in contempt.

            ( And sciences aren’t necessarily entirely immune from such criticism: there’s been a lot of criticism of string theory in recent years, for example, by actual physicists (one of the books is entitled ‘Not Even Wrong’). )

            Now, I think we can say that the more extreme versions of these suspicions are ridiculous. But I don’t think a degree of suspicion that isolated areas could become doctrinaire and stagnant and maybe even rather silly is unwarranted. I used to be a lot more dismissive of certain areas of activity than I am now, and I’m therefore perhaps inclined to fume less about the others and are more open to being proven wrong (again), but I confess I find I still have little sympathy for Luce Irigaray’s opinion that E=mc² is a ‘sexed equation’. Freud is still taught in English literature departments, and I’m a bit suspicious about that, too, considering he’s been pretty much abandoned as being anything other than of historical interest in psychology.

            And while I don’t particularly like or subscribe to the biases that usually lie behind it, I think there’s some truth to the idea that it’s more likely to an area to wander off into space the less it robustly encounters reality.

            (I’d also have to point out that one of your earliest comments to me was pooh-poohing analytic philosophy’s approaches to naming… so you don’t exactly treat everything with magnanimous acceptance of all areas of expertise and experience, either)

            So let’s say I’m an atheist. I’m not Dawkins, I don’t hate religion, I’m not doctrinaire, perhaps I even kind of like some of it, but I don’t believe in it and I think all God-talk is just factually wrong, at best a pleasant fiction. And I believe roughly what I’ve said above: I know institutions and parts of institutions have significant religious commitments, I strongly suspect that that means they’re not going to treat the evidence with an even hand, and I think more generally that it’s quite possible for areas of the academy to disappear up their own arses.

            So, then I see Stephen Fry on QI present the Mithras parallels argument, and I see the infographic on atheist sites, and I see Jerry Coyne endorse it. I submit it’s not unreasonable for me to think this is a legitimate perspective. The knowledge authorities in my community, who seem like intelligent people and have usually been reliable in the past (QI’s not above criticism, but normally it doesn’t present things that are just plain and obviously false) are saying these things. The argument seems plausible.

            Then you come along and say “I’m Jonathan Bernier, and I’ve got a Ph.D. in new testament studies, and me and the rest of the NT crowd say this is bunk. Trust the experts!”

            I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to not take this particularly seriously. I wouldn’t even give someone with an M.D. all that much weight, and I’ve even less reason to trust someone with a Ph.D. in a dubious sounding area I’ve never heard of and have reasonable grounds for thinking may be attached to sectarian institutions.

            If you still think that I am being unreasonable, then flip it around. I’m a Christian, but not all that scholastic, but I’ve seen people like N.T. Wright claim that Jesus exists. Then I meet someone with a post-graduate degree in history who assures me that there’s a number of scholars, growing daily, who think that Jesus never existed, and who argues that N.T. Wright simply cannot be trusted on the matter.

            I submit these cases are pretty parallel, or could be made so. If someone in the first case should be persuaded, than someone in the second should, too.

            Of course, I could investigate the matter, and find that actually there are a lot of scholars of different religious commitments and no religious commitments involved in the area, that many of the religious ones have come to question almost every other part of the traditional story, and that there’s as much overlap as could be expected with other areas (ANE history and archaeology, for example), and the evidence itself is treated pretty much with the same level of seriousness as in any other branch of ancient history, and there’s nevertheless consensus. If I did that and continued to assert that the parallels with Mithras show that Jesus was a myth, then I’m certainly being unreasonable.

            And that’s what I did! (Except I didn’t continue (or ever believe) the Mithras parallels story.) But it actually requires a non-trivial amount of effort and dedication to do that. I don’t want to pat myself on the back particularly, and it certainly doesn’t count as studying the matter seriously, but it has to be recognised that it’s more work than most people are ever inclined to put into working out whether something someone says on the internet is true or not.

            Sorry that’s a bit long, but, you know, good for the gander and all that :-). I also think that these considerations are more generally important than just the mythicist debate.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            You make fair points, none of which I particularly I find particularly objectionable. I would merely rejoin that the problem ultimately is one of attitude. It was precisely opening myself up to the possibility that professional biologists aren’t just peddling bunk that allowed me to first affirm and then fall in love with studying evolution. I’ve since discovered that if I suspend my disbelief long enough to listen then I will actually learn something.

            And that’s the issue: mythicists are too busy listening to themselves talk to listen to others. You see it when you interact with them online. This is typically how it goes. Mythicist makes objection; substantive critique is offered of said objection; mythicist ignores substantive critique, often by belittling the person making the critique or accusing her or him of bias. There are exceptions, of course; Kris Rhodes, who posts here, comes to mind immediately as someone who knows how to interact intelligently. But most mythicists, in my experience, aren’t interested in the truth but rather in their ideology.

  • Jonathan Bernier

    Wait. I just saw that post was originally from two years ago. How did it suddenly flare up like this now?

    • It happens. Probably someone happened across it and shared a link to it somewhere.

  • Menacing Phantom

    The great Catholic retcon of all this pre Jesus stuff, to the extent that the pre-Jesus stuff is accurate, is that God was prefiguring Jesus through encoded cultural ideas and myths. Get out of jail free card.

  • n8r0n

    Just following the very first reference, I find (1) broken link, (2) non responsive server, and (3) a blog post by a mathematician writing about Krishna.

    The information very well may be accurate. But, in the context of serious social science, this doesn’t look like much of a “debunking”.

    • Yes, I agree completely. I wish the image that inspired the post had cited books and articles by historians and scholars, rather than some iffy sources which happened to draw on accurate information.

  • Rod

    Of course this website says it’s not right… It’s w Christian website they have a bias opinion

    • Which website are you referring to? It is unfortunate that the image simply linked to sites which are for the most part Christian. But the point is that, when one traces the references back to the scholars and historians, the claims of parallels do not pan out. The point was that some atheists think they are debunking a religion when they share things that are themselves bunk. Isn’t that self-defeating?

  • Paul Brown

    And they didn’t even mention Apollonius

  • Giauz Ragnarock

    Is it alright to summarize the disagreement in the comments to say that it’s methodologically irresponsible to say a possible mythologized person did not exist when an account with plausible elements does not conflict with more verifiable evidence and accounts? I’d also like to bring up the comments section of a ‘Cross-Examined’ post on Patheos about a failed Isaiah prophesy. In the comments, Greg brings up a plausible conflict between Galations and James as well as how Mark, which the other gospels show evidence of being based on, may have been an allegory for what early christians like Paul and James believed about Jesus with a fitting ending for why the story became “forgotten” by Christianity. Lastly, can someone summerize the key evidence that makes Jesus have good historical probability? I may try to get Greg over here if he isn’t already as I want to know the limits of both views (historical and mythicist).

    • I didn’t understand what you were trying to say, but perhaps consider starting with a round-up of previous blogging about mythicism here?

      • Giauz Ragnarock

        So, I skimmed through some of the articles and comments, and it looks like history doesn’t have anything concrete to say about Jesus. Perhaps as a minor but still historically probable figure it is best to take a neutral position that we as yet don’t know whether he was real and what teachings in the NT were ones he orally taught.

        • It sound as though you need to read the posts in question and not merely skim them. Or better yet, why not read a book by a historian or scholar on this topic?

          • Giauz Ragnarock

            Sorry, time crunch before work feels cruel. Perhaps just sugest a book I could read (I am specifically interested in whether Mark could be an allegory that was later thought to be an historical account by early Christians).

          • That seems to ignore the evidence from Paul. Christianity does not begin with the Gospel of Mark.

            Any mainstream introduction to the historical Jesus by any major historian or scholar in the field ought to provide what you need. E. P. Sanders, Bart Ehrman, Dale Allison, John Meier, Theissen and Merz – they will all provide the key points. Why not see what your local library has?

          • Giauz Ragnarock

            Neither does Paul seem to be connected with the Jesus of the gospels. Secondly, if there is a god, I would imagine having a conversation over what it meant in a few of the worlds holy texts rather than just talk like a person (who never needed to use book technology) and address concerns about life directly. I don’t know what I’m on about-ugh.

            Thirdly, thanks for the author recommendations. Iused to be a little more interested in the theology long after I stopped caring that no god is corroberating any holy texts as of late.

          • I thought we were talking about the historical Jesus. If you are interested in discussing whether there is a God, that is a very different matter, and what historians have to say about Jesus won’t help you answer that question.

  • bviner

    ZEITGEIST Sourcebook: Part 1–The Greatest Story Ever Told:

    • Yes, that is indeed one of the major sources for the false information that circulates widely on the internet.

  • HelenaConstantine

    Evidently the “fact checker” thinks there is such a thing as Mithraic literature or Mithraic texts. That sort of undermines his credibility, doesn’t it?

    • Perhaps he meant the literature about and related to Mithras and Mithraism?

      • Helena

        Perhaps he meant the corpus of attestations you link to, but even in theat case the usage would be highly unusual. If you read the phrases “Christian literature” or “Christian texts” would you think of the mention of Christinaity in Porphyyr’s Philosophy from Oracles?

        But really, that is just the tip of the iceberg in that section.

        he says Mithras ahd a battle with a bull. This interpretation is not mainstream in Mithraic scholarship, nor does it seem an obvious way to describe a stereo-typical animal sacrifice which is all we see in Mithraic art about the bull.

        The so-called rock birth image shows the sun rising over a mountain, nothing to do with a cave.

        Who are the “bystnaders” that witness the tauroctony the author talks about? The sun and the moon? The scorpion and the snake? It seems a very strange way of talking.

  • Where’s the Reddit meme rebuttal meme? At

  • Brien

    ‘A’-theists do not need to fact check!!
    Atheists reject the ‘facts’ given by the religionists…Theists need to do the fact-checking….

    The onus of proof is NOT upon atheists – but upon the claimants!