Jesus, John, Paul, George, and Ringo Mythicism

Jesus, John, Paul, George, and Ringo Mythicism June 28, 2012

Commenter Admiral Mattbar shared a link to a site, “The Beatles Never Existed.” I got a glimpse of it, but the next time I tried to reload it, it was as though it was not there. I began to wonder if perhaps I should become a “The Beatles Never Existed” web site mythicist… But then there it was again.


The argument on the web site seems as though it could have been inspired by – or an intentional parody of – the line of argument used by some mythicists. It is not as though there was no one at the core of the mythos. It is just that there were many people who played the roles, or parts of them, and thus contributed to a legend about four figures, or one, when in fact there were more than that.

Loren Rosson chimed in to declare Thom Stark the winner in his recent debates with Richard Carrier. He also offers a helpful assessment of the nature and usefulness of the criterion of embarrassment.

Tom Verenna shared the following image, commenting that it is 80% wrong, adding:

This image represents precisely the sort of misinformation and false arguments commonly made within the mythicist community.  This is why serious scholars don’t take you seriously.  This is why you are like creationists–because you continue to fabricate data to support your flawed conclusions.

If you don’t know what’s wrong with it, feel free to ask – or better yet, sharpen your critical thinking skills by fact-checking its claims. Which of them are supported by the relevant primary sources? Which are found widely online but, no matter how hard you try, the web pages in question never seem to lead you to primary sources?

R. Joseph Hoffmann offers a wonderfully satirical commentary on the activity of mythicist apologist Kenneth Humphries.

And finally, Ricky Carvel wrestles with the fact that, even for those who accept that a historical figure of Jesus is more likely, separating history from myth with certainty is impossible much of the time.

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  • steven

    The Messiah ben Joseph would wage a war against Rome and retake Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, according to the tradition. But he would later come under attack by “Gog and Magog” and in that battle he would be slain.

    Thom Stark produces strong evidence that Jews would come up with a Messiah born to a father called Joseph, who would be killed by his enemies.

    Clearly, no Jew could have thought of a Messiah who was killed. That would have been too embarrassing to invent, unless it had actually happened. Just ask Stark.

  • steven

    I should point out that Stark denies that a Messiah ben Joseph who was to be killed had anything in common at all with Jesus of Nazareth, as Messiah born to somebody called Jesus , who was killed.

    Anybody who sees any parallels between the Messiah ben Joseph who was to be killed and Messiah, the son of Joseph, who really was killed, is frankly cuckoo and not deserving to be taken seriously.

    These are such utterly different concepts that Stark presents evidence that Jews could invent a fictional Messiah ben Joseph who was to be killed, and never possibly conceive of a Messiah born to somebody called Joseph , who was killed. (unless that had really happened)

  • Steven Carr seems to be getting his Josephs mixed up in his comments below. Perhaps he thinks that Jesus of Nazareth was really one of the patriarchs, Ephraim or Manasseh?

    Our early sources view Jesus as descended from David. The name of Joseph as his father only comes into the picture late. No surprise that the earlieness of a tradition ceases to be important when ignoring such matters allows mythicists to concoct any sort of argument in their favor, however ridiculous and half-baked the result may be.

    • steven

      Gosh, who would have thought that early Christians didn’t know who the name of Jesus’s father was and so his father only came into the picture ‘late’.
      They knew Jesus was descended from David, that was certain, but didn’t know who the father of Jesus was?
      And so later came up with ‘Joseph’ – a name which only enters the picture ‘late? (Just how late was that Gospel of Matthew? Pretty late, it seems, according to McGrath.)
      Why didn’t they ask James, the brother of Jesus?

      And. of course, McGrath remains silent about Stark’s masterful demonstration that Jews would invent a Messiah who would be killed by his enemies….

      • Steven the infamous troll continues with his inanity. Perhaps we can presume that he does not know anything he does not explicitly mention in his earliest comments?

        Many mythicists claim that Paul does not treat Jesus as a historical figure – which is itself a bogus claim – and that Jesus only gets turned into a real human being in the Gospels, which are later. Yet if a detail – such as his father being named Joseph – appears in relatively later sources which they do not have confidence in when it comes to Jesus’ historicity, they will gladly use that detail and regard it as the wellspring of Christianity.

        What a wonderful illustration of why mythicism is garbage and not scholarship!

        • Tom Verenna

          “Many mythicists claim that Paul does not treat Jesus as a historical figure – which is itself a bogus claim.”

          I don’t believe it is bogus. Many nonmythicists find the same problem in Paul’s letters–he is entirely silent on Jesus’ humanity. But my argument in my chapter in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ is to show that the reception of Paul’s Jesus in the early church (that is to say, Paul’s expression Jesus in his letters) was not earthly–that isn’t to say Jesus didn’t exist, just that Paul’s revelatory language and his hangup on visions and finally his use of scripture to construct his theology have been largely ignored (though not entirely; Hayes’ work is significant). It is more or less a structuralist piece on Paul. The conclusion is that I don’t think Paul can be used to construct a historical Jesus because Paul’s Jesus was ethereal–and ethereal (heavenly) messianic figures are known from the Dead Sea Scrolls (so this isn’t a stretch). But you’ll have to read the paper to see if I make a convincing case or not.

          • Tom Verenna

            As an addendum, I should add I’m not saying that Jesus never existed because of this; of course Jesus could have existed and Paul was just wrong about it or didn’t care.

          • I disagree that Paul is entirely silent. Being born of a woman, born under the Law, crucified, bleeding, buried, and having a brother are not an example of being “entirely silent.” And so I view mythicism as taking a relative quiet and trying to make it complete silence by eliminating those references which interfere with the silence they had already determined to try to achieve.

  • William J E Dempsey

    Curiously though, much of the very same objection made here to Beatles Mythicism, could be applied to Jesus Historicism as well. Historicism has always read different gospels, different parts of the Bible, as in effect portraying different pictures of Jesus. In fact it was that very insight, that lead Historicists to their search for a “real” or historical Jesus, behind all these different, conflicting accounts, these different verbal/written “pictures” of Jesus.
    So what is our homilitic moral here, for anti-mythicists? (The apostle) Paul said that we should beware of accusing others of things; because we will be found guilty of the same things ourselves. (As Psychology later clarified, by way of the phenomenon of “projection”).
    In the present case, the Historicist outcry against an alleged sin in Mythicists … turns out to be a “sin” that exists also, in Historicists themselves. As indeed, their very foundational insight.

    • What an interesting bit of projection on Bretton Garcia’s part! It is only mythicists who claim that, since there are different portraits of Jesus in the New Testament, then either there were lots of Jesuses or none at all. Yet he can only see this. In some incomprehensible way, as something mainstream professional historians do, and not his own purveyors of pseudoscholarly bunk. Classic!

      • William J E Dempsey

        Here as usual, Dr. McGrath utterly misconstrues remarks, in his un-Christian eagerness to vilify everyone who does not believe in his over-simplistic verision of Religious studies.
        Historicists also follow the Beatles example, in the form that it is briefly cited above. That is, Historicists look at the various different, conflicting images of Jesus, in different Biblical texts … and then go looking for “real” one under them all. Thus far, my point is, their method is quite like that of Mythicists.
        But I did not say there is no difference between them, eventually: the difference of course, is that though Mythicism begins with the same first step, it then to be sure, diverges. Historicism pares down one unlikely image after another, but believes there is a final historical residue: Jesus as at least a man, if not a God, etc.. Here Mythicism follows the same method, but comes to a different conclusion: When it goes looking for the vestiagal “real Jesus,” it finds effectively, no last residue at all; only the locus of dozens of ANE myths.
        My point was that the FIRST STEP of two of Historicism and Mythicism, are essentially the same; not that they are alike in every subsequent way. But indeed, they are quite similar. In fact, Mythicism builds on Historicism. Note that the “HIstorical Jesus” model, generally eliminates , subracts one biblical element after another from its view of Jesus; regarding the the promises of physical miracles, characteristically, as not entirely true; or as, in effect, myths.
        So that? Historicism follows Mythism, quite a few more steps than Historicists will publically admit.
        Finally in effect, Historicists are just … compromised, watered down Mythicists. Or you might say, watered-down Christians. Who just don’t have the courage to face the implications of centuries of critical scholarship. Being content to issue pseudo-scholarly bunk derived from a few of their own absurd methodologies: like the “Criterion of embarrassment.” A method which was criticized by Dr. Mark Goodacre and many other real scholars. (As noted in our comments on an earlier post). HIstoricists unfortunately follow this obviously and even ludicriously flawed methodology; which they continue to regard with superstitious reverence, as their new Authority figure, their new god. Flawed, false as it is.

        • Tom Verenna

          Bretton Garcia doesn’t fully understand the concepts under discussion; instead Garcia is bent on changing how methods actually work so that the evidence fits the conclusions. Unfortunate.

          • William J E Dempsey

            Equations, note, work both ways.
            Does Historicism in your account, 1) examine the accounts of Jesus in the different gospels, and note the differences in them? or not? In your opinion, Biblical Studies never refers to “Jesus as portrayed in Luke,” vs. “Jesus portrayed in Paul,” for example? And 2) in any such notations, in your account, did Historicism attach any importance to these perceived differences? And on the basis of such perceived differences, did it or did it not begin its attempt to discover the “real historical Jesus”?

          • William J E Dempsey

            Examples? Early studies of the New Testament, examined it carefully … and noted that the different gospels for example, often had say, 1) different geneologies for Jesus; or 2) different nativities; or 3) different accounts of the crucifixion. It was in part because of these perceived structural differences in the narrative of Jesus, that scholars began to become anxious about discovering what the “real” Jesus might be.

  • This “Stark” guy sounds like a convenient idiot. I wish he didn’t share my name. People might confuse what this “Stark” guy is claiming, according to Carr, with what I have said.

  • ralfellis


    So when a Tom Verenna’s article is reviewed, Verenna makes many comments and clarifications about the review.

    But when Verenna reviews a book, and makes a myriad of very basic mistakes because he did not even bother reading the book, he will not allow the author a single comment – and hides behind censorship and name-calling like a spoiled little child.

    Beware, Verenna has tried doing political hatchet-jobs on many authors, and his word cannot be trusted on any topic. In fact, he does not have a qualification to his name.

    Tom Verenna biography:

    • Since you are trolling around this site posting the same thing over and over again, I’m afraid that I will have to ban you. I asked you what your qualifications are, and you did not respond. I have no problem with pointing out someone’s lack of qualifications – but not when you are unwilling to subject your own to scrutiny!