Skepticism of Mythicism

Skepticism of Mythicism March 23, 2015

Daniel Gulotta did an interview with Miami Valley Skeptics about mythicism. Not only has he shared links to the recording, but on his blog he has also offered detailed typed responses to questions that he was asked. Here is a sample:

First and foremost, does the evidence indicate a historical Jesus Christ existed? 

Yes. Next question? Okay, I don’t think you will let me off that easily so let me be brief. From studying the letters of Paul, the Gospels, and some other ancient sources, I think it is absolutely clear that Jesus existed. We told from the earliest material that he was executed by Roman officials via crucifixion, the Apostle Paul talks about his brother James and indicates he had other brothers, and Paul also references Jesus’s teaching on divorce in 1 Cor 7:10. From very early tradition we can see a profile of Jesus emerging that places him within 1st century Palestine among historic locations like Capernaum, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. So I think it is obvious that Jesus existed. Really Jesus’s existence isn’t the issue… It’s how much we can know about him that is the issue! But let me explain the question of the historicity of Jesus another way: The man Gaius Octavius, who was born from Atia and later adopted by Julius Caesar, who defeated Cleopatra and Mark Antony, was crowned Emperor and changed his name to Augustus Caesar existed. The Augustus Caesar whose father was the god Apollo, who saw the heavens open to welcome the spirit of Julius Caesar joining the ranks of the gods, whose wars and battles were blessed for victory by Mars, and who was a god on earth, did not exist.  As a secular historian and as a non-Christian, I believe the same goes for Jesus. As Bart D. Ehrman puts it, “the Jesus of your Sunday school or stained glasses windows may have not existed, but Jesus did exist. Whether we like it or not.”

Click through to read and/or listen to the rest.

I meant to post on something related to this a while ago, but unfortunately it got neglected as a draft post until now, and so I will include it below. I was dismayed by the fact that Raphael Lataster had the audacity to take his poor online article and make it seem worse. In comments on Facebook, left on my posting of Mike Bird’s response to him, Lataster wrote the following:

Michael Bird’s piece is shockingly bad, such as his defending Ehrman’s and Casey’s recent books on the matter. Those books were rubbish and I have published about that, just not in my 800-page Washington Post ‘article’.

And so I responded:

When one writes an article that isn’t even clearly worded, never mind cogently argued, and then tries to pretend that it is an “800-page” article, it really undermines what little impact one’s vague and insubstantial claim that the work of mainstream scholars is “shockingly bad” and “rubbish.” If you could not tell that your own article fit those categories, why should anyone trust you to accurately apply it to what others have written?

One may disagree with the conclusions of Ehrman or Casey or any other scholar, if one is well-informed enough to do so. But I know that, as an undergraduate student and a conservative Evangelical at the time, I felt justified in dismissing and speaking insultingly about scholars I disagreed with. That is apologetics, and not scholarship. It is an emotional response to the drawing of conclusions that one does not like. Having studied the same fields in greater depth, I may still find some of the conclusions that I dismissed unpersuasive, but I now understand them well enough to know that none of them is “shockingly bad” or “rubbish,” and indeed, some works that I turned to in the interest of supporting my own ideology in that time period are more aptly so labeled.

Lataster wasn’t done yet, and so he asked me this:

James McGrath, do you, like Ehrman and Casey, derive your certainty over Jesus’ historical existence from sources that do not exist?

And here is what I wrote in response:

Raphael Lataster, if you were well-informed and/or serious about history, you would not speak as apologists do about “certainty,” but about probability. The extant sources persuade me that it is likely that there was a historical Jesus. And when mythicists engage in standard tactics of apologists and denialists, distorting the evidence and calling mainstream scholars insulting names, it reinforces one’s sense that the conclusions of mainstream historians and scholars are on target, since if mythicists had a serious case to make, they would not be resorting to such tactics.

If you look into the subject online, you will find that Lataster used to adamantly reject mainstream scholarship in advocating the primacy of the Syriac Peshitta. Now he has shifted his allegiances, but has not moved from fringe denialism to an embracing of the mainstream. It is quite sad to see.

Of related interest, Brandon Smith has an Evangelical response to the latest list of supposed pre-Christian Jesuses that has been circulating.

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