How Mythicism Happens

How Mythicism Happens November 12, 2016

Mythicism is what happens Taylor Weaver quote

The quote comes from a blog post by Taylor M. Weaver, written as a reflection on the recent debate between Bart Ehrman and Robert Price. Click through to read the whole thing. On the one hand, I can’t agree that Taylor’s quote reflects all mythicists, since Robert Price is not “undereducated” – although as came up in the debate, he certainly doesn’t seem to have kept up with his field since he was a student, since his views on pre-Christian Gnosticism, which a century ago made mythicism seem slightly more plausible, are no longer tenable, at least in the form that he holds them. But the phenomenon of mythicism on the internet certainly fits this description on the whole. Would you agree?

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  • Brandon Roberts


  • jekylldoc

    Richard Carrier is not undereducated either. I know of a number of other respectable advocates of mythicism, doing valuable research on the fringes of the field. Yes, their energy comes partly from the perception that they are resisting the academic closing of ranks, a real phenomenon.

    The fact is that mythicism has some persuasive arguments, and it is partly the fear of the right which keeps Bible scholars from giving them a proper hearing and working out in detail what the problems are with their arguments. When a guy like Ehrman pushes to premature closure instead of going over the ground carefully, others can see that the debate is tainted by commercial considerations, and it adds to the environment of shedding heat rather than light.

    • I don’t find mythicism to have persuasive arguments that they have not borrowed from mainstream scholarship, in which context they are more persuasive because they are not (for the most part) turned into a framework into which all evidence must be forced to fit.

      I think Taylor’s emphasis on being educated in the relevant field(s) is they key here. I find it hard to imagine that, if Carrier had any specialization in first century Jewish history and literature, he would advocate the ideas that he does.

      • jekylldoc

        That makes sense to me. As an outsider to the relevant scholarly communities, it looks to me as though both sides have let the sociology of the matter get in the way of clear and careful argumentation. I think Carrier, for example, tends to dismiss Biblical scholarship because a lot of it is influenced by the pressure for apologetics, but in so doing fails to recognize the value of the mainstream secular work being done, (including by scholars who are personally religious but have no problem working in the secular framework).

        He has pretty openly declared himself to be part of the anti-religion movement. And so commercial considerations also drastically influence his argumentation.

  • arcseconds

    He also says he follows the 19th century Dutch radicals, who deny the historicity of Paul. I don’t think he was in graduate school in the 19th century…

  • John MacDonald

    I think the “Jesus Mythicism” hypothesis posits too high a Christology (Jesus as a dying/rising God) to interpret the Jesus of our oldest sources.

    For instance, a very early source about Jesus preserved in one of the speeches in Acts says:

    “Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God through miracles and wonders and signs THAT GOD DID THROUGH HIM … (Acts 2:22-24).”

    So, it is not thought here that Jesus was an all powerful God doing miraculous things on earth, but rather that Jesus was a man THROUGH WHOM God was doing miracles. That God, not Jesus, was the source of Jesus’ power is evident in the gospel of Mark where Mark has Jesus identify himself as a fallible human prophet who can’t perform miracles in his hometown (Mark 6:4-5). If Jesus had the powers of a God he would have been able to perform miracles in his hometown.

    • John MacDonald

      Many things also speak against interpreting Jesus as a “high Christology” divine figure resolutely going forth on a suicide mission to atone for the sins of the world (and expecting a speedy resurrection). Rather, Jesus is terrified of dying, as demonstrated by his desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42). This is even clearer when Jesus is on the cross, desperately questioning God as to why He has abandoned Jesus and begging for Elijah to miraculously come and save him from the cross (Mark 15:34-36). This is not a “God Incarnate” resolutely fulfilling his mission. The letter of the Hebrews also preserves the tradition that Jesus was frantically trying to get out of dying. Hebrews suggests Jesus offered up prayers and loud cries and tears to be saved from death (Hebrews 5:7)