Parallelomania and Mythicist Flood Stories

Parallelomania and Mythicist Flood Stories December 11, 2014

It struck me recently that the way many mythicists view Jesus in relation to other savior figures, is akin to how young-earth creationists view flood stories from around the world. The latter consider that all of the stories are copies from and reflect knowledge of a historical ancient flood. Someone with a tiny bit of skepticism might suggest that the stories are copies, but that doesn’t prove the historicity of a great flood – much as mythicists suggest that details about Jesus might be borrowed from other figures, and they then make lists of parallels which exaggerate and sometimes fabricate similarities. But a truly critical investigation would consider the possibility that there is no need for borrowing, that human experience of flooding on a local scale, and common human hopes for those they consider saviors, could have given rise to the disparate stories we find.

Not everything that is similar is related.

When mythicists suggest that Jesus is depicted with characteristics that are borrowed from other savior figures, thinking that this is them being skeptical with respect to Christianity, I want to insist that there is a need to be even more critical and skeptical. Humans attribute many of the same things to those figures they revere, and from whom they hope for something. In some cases there may be direct borrowing, but not all. Is your aim to follow the trail of evidence and to apply historical tools of inquiry, or is your aim to adopt the view that you consider to be most detrimental to Christianity, regardless of whether the evidence favors it?

In some cases there is good reason to conclude that deliberate borrowing has taken place. The Genesis account is clearly very closely related to earlier Mesopotamian stories. The former seems to most scholars to be a deliberate attempt to rework an existing flood tradition, perhaps in order to give it what we might call a monotheistic twist. But a look at the details of supposed parallels from further afield often suggests that, in fact, the only common element is flooding, which doesn’t require direct borrowing. And in some cases the additional similarities may be the result of contact with the Biblical material, for instance when brought by missionaries. Dates of sources, extent of similarity on specific details, and likelihood of direction of borrowing all need to be considered.

A close look at either the world’s flood stories touted by creationists, or the world’s savior stories touted by mythicists, suggests that they are not all genetically related, and that we need to pay close attention to their details in order to determine where there is evidence of direct borrowing, and where there probably isn’t.

Noah parallels


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  • Avenger

    This has given me the idea for a new kind of pseudoscience. We can use the scores that the mythic heroes get on the Rank-Raglan scale to create a phylogenetic tree of mythology. According to Carrier, Oedipus, Moses and Jesus are the three highest scorers on the scale. So these three should be the oldest mythical figures and the ones most closely related. The lower scorers would then be the ones that have drifted furthest from the archetypal myth. Joseph (son of Jacob) is a lower scorer, so we can conclude that he was invented more recently than Jesus. And so on.

    • Actually Carrier does not use the R-R elements to conclude Jesus was a myth — that is a misconception held by those who have not read his book. The RR is simply a classification scheme applied as a starting point just as all scientific method must first define and classify its data and questions, etc. Carrier concludes that readers are quite at liberty to propose alternative classification.

      Even if Jesus scored no more than Alexander on the elements it would make virtually no difference to the final result since the Bayes method actually serves to find its way back to correct any initial errors made at the start of the inquiry — according to the nature of the evidence found along the way.

      It also is not a bad idea to actually read Raglan’s book itself to understand what nonsense is being bandied about by some who say Carrier has somehow “misused” or “fabricated” the RR elements:

      Most significantly Lord Raglan explains how to distinguish between a historical and purely mythical figure — regardless of their RR “score”.

      I have yet to see any critic of Carrier address this key point by Raglan.

      • Avenger

        So you didn’t like the joke? Oh well.

        Actually Carrier does not use the R-R elements to conclude Jesus was a myth — that is a misconception held by those who have not read his book.

        I don’t remember anyone attacking that particular straw man.

        In fact, I agree that the exact score on the scale is not especially important; the context matters more. However, if Carrier thinks that the alleged high score of Jesus is significant then it is worthwhile to consider exactly how the score is judged. I followed the discussion that you had on the matter at earlywritings and I have nothing to add to what was said.

        • The joke was cute. I am attempting to address some other(s) who I know here are less likely to see it as a joke and run with it as a serious comment. Some people do seem to me to take this whole mythicism-historicism and their own views on it (and demonizing of others) far too seriously.

  • In your previous post you singled out mythicist Thomas Brodie as a fabricator of supposedly specious parallels (despite the fact that his work was peer reviewed and often published in collaboration with non-mythicist mainstream scholarly peers). Here you assume the motive of mythicists is to undermine Christianity even though several of the most prominent ones are on record as professing admiration for Christianity. Thomas Brodie has gone to great lengths to argue that one can still be a Christian — as he is — while remaining true to his scholarly convictions.

    I think any fair treatment of mythicism should acknowledge this, yes? (And Brodie is only one such name, as you are no doubt aware by now.)

    It should be noted that John Loftus of Debunking Christianity was very slow to pick up on mythicism and I myself posted that mythicism was the worst way to “attack” or “undermine” Christianity for the same reasons Loftus was very sceptical of it. That should tell you something, too, about real motives.

    As for floods, a more satisfactory explanation for their universality and specific features is not so much local flooding (how could it be when you stop and think it through?) but the consequences of genuine climate shifts that played havoc with the world entering the Holocene era:

    Some readers might be interested in understanding the actual meaning of the word “parallelomania” and understand how it differs from comparative literary analysis. It seems that some people carelessly confuse the two and unwittingly discredit a whole field of academic endeavour in both literary and classical studies: and