Skeptical of Mythicism

Skeptical of Mythicism June 4, 2017

Guignebert quote

Ron Huggins shared the following on Facebook:

The French scholar Charles Guignebert, Professor of Christian History at the Sorbonne in Paris, wrote a very critical book on Jesus in the 1950s. He was far more skeptical of the value of historical data on Jesus than most New Testament scholars liberal or conservative would be today. Compared to him, for example, people like Bart Ehrman, Marcus Borg, or John Dominic Crossan come across looking like sawdust-trail walkin’, Bible-thumpin’ Fundamentalists. (James McGrath knowing how much you love the mythicists, I thought you might appreciate this quotation)

Still, as skeptical as Guignebert was of the New Testament evidence, he was even more skeptical of the fanciful reconstructions of the Mythicists (historical Jesus deniers). I don’t think I’ve ever run across a better summing up of why scholars as a whole tend to reject the theories of the Mythicists:

“It is evident that if the personality and influence of Jesus disappeared from history, the birth of Christianity has still to be explained, and it is to this task that those who deny his historicity have applied themselves, with a confidence only equaled by the variety of their theories and the flimsiness of their arguments. Popular opinion, always susceptible to novelty, and entirely indifferent to the cautious reservations of scientific exegesis, impressed by their air of conclusiveness [64] and originality, has more than once given an enthusiastic reception to such theories, and encourage the amateurs by its admiring applause. For “amateurs” they nearly all are who uphold the negative and mythological point of view; some naïve and superficial, quite unconscious of the pitiful inadequacy of their knowledge, others well documented, that is to say, conversant with the subject, sometimes even learned in it, but equally ignorant or impatient of the humble and patient discipline of exegesis. They are ever ready to thrust aside or mishandle the texts instead of cautiously and respectfully attempting to extract truth from them; to impose upon them whatever conclusions their own convictions demand, instead of keeping within the limits to which a scrupulously critical and historical sense would confine them. Such flimsy and unfounded speculations may perhaps yield interesting works of the imagination, and exhibit a fascinating ingenuity, but they do no service to science.”

Charles Guignebert, Jesus (trans. S. H. Hooke; New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1958), 63-63.

Compare that quote with how Robert Price apparently spoke of Guignebert’s perspective:


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  • Iain Lovejoy

    To be fair to Robert Price, perhaps the problem is that he doesn’t accept as reliable the evidence that Charles Guignibert wrote the books attributed to him?

    • Croquet Player

      Ian is a brainless t urd.

      • Iain Lovejoy

        And you can’t spell even when all you have to do us copy a word straight in front of you – Iain.

  • Erp

    Strictly speaking the English translation of his book came out in 1935 (the book was published in French in 1933) and, since Guignibert died in 1939, he could not have been writing in the 1950s.

    • Iain Lovejoy

      I think the confusion has been caused by the Hooke’s translation being produced in 1958, at least according to the citation. (Obviously, however, the date given for the “translation”, the fact that the person writing the article has given a date incompatible with Guignibert’s so-called “death”, and the undeniable fact that the overwhelming majority of people in the US in 1958 would not know enough French to translate such a book mean what has actually happened is that Hooke wrote the book himself and invented “Guignibert” as a mythological figure to support his own assertions. No other explanation us plausible.)

      • Erp

        My local research university library has a 1935 English translation by Hooke. My guess is the 1958 may be the American publication date rather than the British publication date. However the entry in the library’s catalog must be a later interpolation.

  • The Price quote is a line from his short bio of Guignebert contributed to The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (10 years ago – 2007) Guignebert spends time in his book, Jesus, refuting a number of specific mythicist writers. Presumably, since Guignebert takes time in his book to refute mythicism, Price sees that as taking mythicism quite seriously.

    • John MacDonald

      Does this mean Ehrman and Mcgrath take mythicism seriously? What about Young Earth Creationism, which McGrath frequently debunks?

    • This is why some scholars will turn down debates or other interactions with those whose notions or arguments they consider unscholarly or without merit. Any attention from a scholar can be credited as “taking an idea seriously”.

      Or, as Richard Dawkins says about debating creationists, “they’ve won the moment you agree to have a debate at all. Because what they want is the oxygen of respectability.”

      • John MacDonald

        Here is a quote from Dr. McGrath from a few years ago about Doherty finding out that Ehrman was writing a book on mythicism:

        ‘As might be expected, mythicists are happy about this. Earl Doherty writes, “Great. Finally something that will give mythicism a shot in the arm. After all, if someone like Bart Ehrman feels the necessity to take it on, that implies a certain degree of legitimacy. It can no longer be dismissed as a fringe crackpot theory not worthy of mainstream scholarship’s attention.” Sigh. Just like creationists.’

        • Bruce Grubb

          Considering the Christ Myth theory got a peer reviewed scholarly published book on the matter that no one really has taken to task this comparison is a non sequitur.

          Young world creationism requires ignoring good solid evidence across multiple fields. The more down to earth Christ Myth theories don’t do that. Heck scholars like Hector Avalos admit that New Testament studies are a joke compared to any other field of history.

          You do know that David Strauss’ theory regarding Jesus (which accepted him as a flesh and blood man) was called mythical (February 06, 1910; The Times), right?

          More over people who accepted that Jesus was a flesh and blood man have been called Christ mythers. The most infamous of these was Sir James George Frazer (“My theory assumes the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth”) who along with John M. Robertson was grouped with those “who contested the historical existence of Jesus” by no less then Albert Schweitzer.

          It is hard to take the pro-historical Jesus side seriously when they can’t even agree on what “historical” or “mythical” even are!

          • You will find that in every field there are differences regarding the use of terminology – especially if you compare things from more than a century ago with today.

            You seem to misunderstand the significance of something being peer reviewed – and to misunderstand even more badly the significance of no one finding a peer-reviewed publication even worthy of engagement.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Is it really a case of “no one finding a peer-reviewed publication even worthy of engagement” or no one finding a reasonable refutation of the peer-reviewed piece?

            It is not well known but Wegener got a few peer-reviewed papers on his theory which was refuted all over the place. Sure his mechanics were off but people still argued that continental drift was a ‘crazy’ idea until the ocean ridges were found in the 1950s.

          • An independent scholar’s idiosyncratic views, which he makes dependent on an equally dubious claim that a whole different way of practicing history is necessary, are unlikely to get much attention.

            And it isn’t strictly “no one” – that was hyperbole. I assume you have read my review series about his book in The Bible and Interpretation?

          • John MacDonald

            It should also be kept in mind that Carrier’s publisher for his peer reviewed “On The Historicity Of Jesus” was Sheffield Phoenix Press, who previously published Thomas Brodie’s mythicist autobiography “Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery Paperback – September 6, 2012,” so they seem to like publishing that sort of thing.

          • Mark

            Note also that Carrier let slip that the two referees were chosen by himself; I don’t know if this is Sheffield Phoenix’s standard procedure, or was selected for this case, but I’ve never heard of it.

          • John MacDonald

            That’s news to me. Where did Carrier say that?

          • Mark

            He’s moved his blog around. Here’s one where it comes up


            there is some surly discussion here from some people, some academics:


            The Press explicitly refused to characterize its procedure.

          • John MacDonald

            Thanks for clarifying. In the link you provided Carrier says:

            “I sought four peer review reports from major professors of New Testament or Early Christianity, and two have returned their reports, approving with revisions, and those revisions have been made. Since two peers is the standard number for academic publications, we can proceed. And Sheffield’s own peer reviewers have approved the text.”

            So it sounds like Carrier got the go ahead from 2 reviewers he picked, and 2 from Sheffield, although he doesn’t clarify whether the 2 from Sheffield were New Testament experts.

          • Mark

            Where do you get 2 from Sheffield? They don’t appear in the text. He says ‘Sheffield’s own peer reviewers have approved the text’, meaning: all of them, but doesn’t number them. Then he refers to ‘two others’ who hadn’t reported back; these must be the other two of the four he chose.

            Note that he is counting the receipt of the two as the news and the reason why the project is going forward – now we’ve arrived at the magic number – but the two are his.

            Whoever he is talking about when he speaks of ‘Sheffield’s own peer reviewers’ – by which I think he means some members of an editorial committee – they only ‘approve’ but, it seems, don’t write reports, so they’re something different. If Sheffield had independently procured referees they would have reported and he would have arrived at least 3.

            It may be that the Sheffield people are brought into the paragraph simply as approving the revisions suggested by his two referees. Revisions made in response to a referee’s objections needn’t be sent back to the referee, the press oversees that they are met.

            Note also that Carrier often says his book is the first peer reviewed mythicist work, but Brodie’s overtly mythicist work had already undergone whatever Sheffield’s process is.

          • John MacDonald

            I was just guessing 2 because Carrier refers to the Sheffield readers in the plural. Carrier calls them “Sheffield’s own peer reviewers,” so I guess there is a reason Carrier is calling them “peer reviewers.”

          • Mark

            By the way, Brodie argues also that /Paul/ didn’t exist, and that passed Sheffield Phoenix’ ‘peer review’. The most recent book has an appendix criticizing Ehrman’s book on historicity. (Brodie doesn’t use the language of ‘myth’ but of a character being merely ‘literary’ or ‘symbolic’.)

          • John MacDonald

            I wasn’t aware Brodie argues that Paul didn’t exist. Price argues that Paul was really Simon Magus, the Samaritan sorcerer who opposed Peter (an idea Price says originated with F. C. Baur) in his book “The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul” see

          • John MacDonald

            I think Price, in his theory about Paul, follows Hermann Detering in thinking the Pauline epistles are second century forgeries. About Detering, Price said:

            “Hermann Detering once again proves himself the most keenly insightful New Testament scholar of this generation, worthy to stand among the neglected giants of the radical criticism whose work he has brought to light to stir today’s Bible students from their deep dogmatic slumbers. My own debt to his work is profound.” – Prof. Robert M. Price

            One of Detering’s books has been translated into English. It is “The Fabricated Paul. Early Christianity In The Twilight.” See

          • Mark

            Detering has all these strange arguments that ‘Paul can’t possibly be Jewish’ that, as usual, seem to involve back projecting rabbinical practice onto Paul’s period. How could an idiot like Paul have been a student of R. Gamaliel!! No Jew would think it’s a dishonor to men to pray with head covered!! — as in 1 Cor 11:4 (widely thought an interpolation anyway) But in fact no one knows quite how the existing head covering traditions arose. (Interestingly Gamaliel is not attested before the Mishnah except in Acts. Josephus mentions a later member of the family.)

            Other arguments are really silly – like only a Greek would use the word ‘barbarian’ as Greeks do, a Jew would stick to the Jew/gentile distinction – as if it were impossible for a Jewish person to know Greek.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes. I think that a ringing endorsement of Detering by Price has to be taken with a grain of salt. After all, Price also endorses Eisenman (see ), despite scientific evidence contradicting Eisenman’s dating of the texts he is using.

            And anyway, I have my own pet conspiracy possibility that I can bust out at parties to impress the ladies, lol: . After all, everyone likes a rebel, which would explain Carrier’s success with polyamory, lol.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Brodie’s work was a MEMOIR (says right there in the full title of the thing) and as such would have different criteria then Carrier’s actual research. Brodie’s memoir is no more relevant to how good or bad Sheffield’s criteria then Steiner’s A Long Saturday has on the University of Chicago’s.

          • Mark

            It would be subject to whatever their standard procedure is. Thus e.g. the critique of Ehrman is self-standing would have been read by whoever they have reading this stuff.

            Note that as Brodie says all his Sheffield Phoenix books are mythicist, which as far as I can tell is true. Already ‘Birthing of the New Testament’ seems to be a giant mythicist argument of sorts. This was noticed by reviewers at the time eg Robert Morgan J Theol Studies (2006) 57 (1): 232-234..
            Brodie speaks in terms of a character’s being ‘literary’. I mentioned Paul above to bring out how deeply wacky Brodie clearly is, – and already was in 2004.

          • Bruce Grubb

            The question boils down one where on the large mythist range Brodie is.

            If you put together the ideas of Remsberg (1909), Rudolf Bultmann (1941) used by Richard Carrier in 2014 used to form his definitions) and Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall (2004) you get the range of the “historical” Jesus going from reductive to triumphalist.

            Reductive theory (Remsburg’s Jesus of Nazareth): Jesus was an ordinary but obscure individual who inspired a religious movement and copious legends about him, rather than being a totally fictitious creation like King Lear or Dr Who

            Triumphalist theory (Remsberg’s Jesus of Bethlehem): The Gospels are totally or almost totally true, rather than being works of imagination like those of King Arthur.

            See for more details on the implications of that range.

            So how much of the Gospel account had to fit with what he found for Brodie to accept a “historical” Jesus?

            Some time ago I made satirical “historical” Jesuses to highlight the problem:

            1) In the time of Pontius Pilate some crazy ran into the Temple trashing the place and screaming “I am Jesus, King of the Jews” before some guard ran him through with a sword. Right place right time…and that is it. No preaching, no followers, no crucifixion, nothing but some nut doing the 1st century equivalent of suicide by cop.

            2) Paul’s teachings ala John Frum inspired others to take up the name “Jesus” and preach their spin on Paul’s visions with one of them getting crucified by the Romans by his troubles whose teachings are time shifted so he is before Paul. (John Robertson actually came up with a variant of this in 1900 with this Jesus being inspired by Paul’s writings rather then teachings)

            3) You could have a Jesus who was born c 12 BCE in the small town of Cana, who preached a few words of Jewish wisdom to small crowds of no more than 10 people at a time, and died due to being run over by a chariot at the age of 50.

            These are all “historical” Jesues and yet none of them are the Gospel Jesus.

          • Mark

            The question is whether there is a reference-preserving causal chain linking the use of the word “Jesus” in the letters of Paul to a unique human individual /about whom/ he is speaking, irrespective of what he says about him. See e.g. Kripke “Naming and Necessity” on the reference of proper names.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Considering Paul stated his knowledge of “Jesus” came through visions the link is very iffy to begin with. It could he simply heard that a Jesus was regarded very highly by these “christians” (not their name at that time based on a statement in the 4th century) and had his vision.

          • More misconceptions on your part. Paul emphasizes that the message that he proclaims does not depend on the authority of the Jerusalem apostles, but he also indicates his receipt of information via more mundane channels. And I would love to know where you got the idea that “Christian” – a term that in Paul’s time was not yet coined but was known to Luke – stems from the 4th century,

          • Bruce Grubb

            You misread what I wrote. The group Paul persecuted “did not name themselves after Christ or with Jesus’ own name, but Natzraya.” (Epiphanius (4th century) Panarion 29) a term that was applied to all followers of Jesus. He then relates that they were even called Jessaeans for a time.

            In fact, the very word “Christian” appears nowhere in the oldest manuscripts of the NT. The closest thing is “Chrestian” which when you know what related words mean makes perfect sense.

            chraomai: consulting an oracle
            chresterion: “the seat of an oracle” and “an offering to, or for, the oracle.”
            Chrestes: one who expounds or explains oracles, “a prophet, a soothsayer”
            chresterios (χρηστήριος): one who belongs to, or is in the service of, an oracle, a god, or a “Master”
            theochrestos: “God-declared,” or one who is declared by god.

            Fits Jesus a lot better then a term what would have to be explained to non-Jews don’t they?

          • Acts 26:11 is relevant, again unless you are not expressing yourself clearly. Everyone knows that Paul does not use the term “Christians.” But it does appear in the New Testament.

          • Bruce Grubb

            The oldest versions of Acts do NOT use “Christian” they use “Chrestian” until the Codex Alexandrinus (c 450 CE). As I said the word “Christian” appears nowhere in the oldest copies of the NT.

            In fact, “Christian” doesn’t appear anywhere until Codex Alexandrinus. Before that work it is “Chrestian” which in its Latin form of Chrestianus appears on an inscription that has a date range taking it to the 1st century BCE.

          • What manuscripts are you referring to as having Acts 11:26 but not reading Χριστιανούς?

          • Bruce Grubb

            Codex Sinaiticus – (330–360) for one; they used χρηστιανος, Codex Vaticanus – (c 300–325) for another. Codex Bezae (c. 400 CE) for a third.

            “Metzger says that Codex Bezae, supported by other Western witnesses, reads “Chreistianoi”) in Acts 11:26 (344)” In fact the original χρηστιανος appears in certain copy lineages all the way into the 11th century!

            And before we get into the whole only one letter difference nonsense the same is true of chef and chief; Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse weren’t great bakers. ;-P

          • What you seem not to realize is how frequently words were spelled differently throughout history, before literacy became widespread and so too did dictionaries.

            This is a common variant spelling of the term, and as the article you linked to indicates, it is not clear that Luke’s aside is providing a chronology of use, nor is it clear that the inscription is from before the time of the movement that would eventually be generally known as Christianity. But if it is, then that would offer another explanation of the variant spelling particularly in Latin sources: the new nickname was being confused or blurred with an already-existing word.

          • Bruce Grubb

            What aside in Luke? Luke NEVER uses the term (at least in the shorter version used in modern Bibles). In fact, Chrestian/Christian appears in three and only three places in the NT manuscripts (headers with these terms were added much later): 1 Peter 4:16, Acts 11:26, and Acts 26:28.

            And NONE of this explains an inscription dated from 36 BCE – 37 CE that uses the Latin form “CHRESTIANI” when at best the followers of Jesus weren’t calling themselves Chrestians until c 44 CE.

            Since this “Chrestian” cannot be a follower of Christ (remember by their own statement the group didn’t start calling themselves that until the mid 40s) what IS it? What did it mean to to be a “Chrestian” in that time frame?

          • That is not what the aside in Acts says. It merely mentions that that is where – not necessarily when – the term Christians was first used. But if Luke is wrong about this, as about other details, so what? How does that lead to the conclusion that there was never a Jesus of Nazareth?!

          • Bruce Grubb

            We aren’t sure that Luke and Acts were written by the same person. We do know that this event happened after Paul’s vision (which was no later then 37 CE)

          • How do you know anything about the chronology of the nickname from the fact that Acts inserts a parenthetical remark in the section when he tells the story of Christianity spreading to Antioch, to the effect that this is also the place where that nickname was first used?

          • Bruce Grubb

            Uh, you do realize that “Jesus of Nazareth” has a huge range of meaning, right? WHICH “Jesus of Nazareth” are you talking about? The Gospels are entirely accurate historical accounts one, the some obscure preacher who had so much mythology added later that next to nothing related to true history remains, or something between those two extremes?

          • Bruce Grubb

            You are reading things into my posts that are NOT there. I never said the term ‘Christian’ itself came from the 4th century, only the statement about what the group called itself came from that time period.

            Also you keep using Luke when referring to Acts. Some modern scholars reject the idea they are written by the same person. Furthermore some scholars put gLuke in the early 2nd century long after Luke himself is thought to have died (c 80 CE) and Acts is later then gLuke.

            More over the actual term ‘Christian’ appears NOWHERE in the NT until c 450 CE. Rather it is ‘Chrestian’, a term that can be traced as far back as the 5th century BCE.

            For the TL;DR crowd, you have a man talking about visions, the very term used to describe the group until the mid 5th century is ‘Chrestian’ (which goes back to the 5th century BCE), and the work the term appears in would be as late as 130 CE…long after the author is thought to have died.

          • The convention of referring to “John” and “Luke” rather than the tedious and cumbersome “the author of the Gospel of John” and “the author of Luke-Acts” is well-established. I apologize if this longstanding practice confused you and led to you getting off topic.

          • Bruce Grubb

            That is why gJohn and gLuke are used as short hand for Gospels of those names. There a host of theories about Luke-Acts including meant to be together and even they were by different authors.

            There is a 19 point correlation between the “Testimonium Flavianum” and Luke’s Emmaus account ( ) Instead of going with one author used the other Goldberg postulates the ad hoc existence of a common source for both (“This explanation appears to be the simplest.”).

            The reasoning Goldberg gives is nonsense when you realize how much detail Josephus give to minor player including Athronges who “had been a mere shepherd, not known by anybody.” (He and his brothers get some 5 paragraphs on their actions and fates) Never mind Goldberg steps around the elephant in the room: why the Testimonium Flavianum doesn’t seem to fit and in fact that section of Josephus flows far better if you remove the thing.

            While we are at silly concepts from the experts there is dear old Thallus (Thallos). Gads, where to begin on _that_ train wreck. This piece of ‘evidence’ involves (wait for it) a ninth century a Byzantine writer named George Syncellus referencing a third-century Christian historian named Julius Africanus (whose writings are now lost), who referenced an unknown writer named Thallus.

            But the insanity doesn’t end there. The Armenian translation of Eusebius actually gives us the date range of what Africanus work covered: from the sack of Troy (1184 BCE) to the 167th Olympiad (which ended in July, 109 BCE). To make this be about Jesus the ad hoc idea that the numerals in the Armenian translation are corrupt resulting in 207th Olympiad (ending in July, 52 CE) or the 217th Olympiad (which ended in July, 92 CE).

            Thallus is so face-palmingly bad that one one wonders how any expert can even suggest it.

          • Mark

            Paul represents himself as having ‘seen’ /someone he had already heard of/. He represents himself as having ‘seen’ /someone who already has followers he was ‘persecuting’./

            Even if you give a ‘mythicist’ account of the ideas of existing members of the ekklesia, Paul’s use of ‘Jesus’ depends on theirs. He is stuck talking about whatever they were talking about. Thus Paul’s ‘visionary’ knowledge of his supposed commission and its content is irrelevant to the question what he is talking about. The ideas he shares with the existing ekklesia about whatever they are referring to with the name “Jesus” make Paul’s visionary acquaintance with him intelligible to all of them, however silly we think it is.

          • Bruce Grubb

            You do know that a memoir is a totally different thing from a scholarly paper on the subject in question, right?

            All of Howard Carter’s writings on his discover of the Tomb of Tutankhamun were memoirs rather then formal archeological papers even by the standards of the 1920s which was the height of the Boasian period (i.e. reams of detail next to no interpretation as historical particularism was all the rage).

          • John MacDonald

            Supposing, for the sake of argument, I grant you that the Gospel of Mark is a work of fiction. This still has nothing to do with whether Jesus existed or not. Mark may have wanted to create a work of historical fiction with historical figures he knew of like Jesus, John The Baptist, and Pilate, and put them in a narrative about the end of times. After all, by analogy, some scholars consider Acts to be mostly fictitious, and yet concede it is about real, historical figures.

          • Bruce Grubb

            This goes into Remburg’s narrative being essentially false section of the historical myth. if gMark is effectively a 1st-2nd century dime novel or penny dreadful then it tells us no more about the actual man then George Washington and the Cherry Tree or Davy Crocket and the Frozen Dawn tells us anything accurate about those people.

            There is a man, supposedly the author of a work those translation you can hold in your hands and whose life is detailed in the works of a professional historical who noted his records weren’t in the best of shape…and experts debate if Sun (Wu) Tzu ever really existed.

            Why does Jesus get a free ride but Sun Tzu doesn’t?

          • Mark

            Carrier can’t say often enough that his book was peer reviewed, even speaking of ‘the peer reviewed thesis of mythicism’ and so on.

          • John MacDonald

            This is kind of interesting. This is Carrier’s list of academics that are sympathetic to mythicism. Carrier writes:

            “Ehrman falsely claims in his book that there are no hyper-specialized historians of ancient Christianity who doubt the historicity of Jesus. So I named one: Arthur Droge, a sitting professor of early Christianity (previously at UCSD; now at the University of Toronto). And of those who do not meet Ehrman’s irrationally specific criteria but who are certainly qualified, we can now add Kurt Noll, a sitting professor of religion at Brandon University (as I already noted in my review of Is This Not the Carpenter) and Thomas Brodie, a retired professor of biblical studies (as I noted elsewhere). Combined with myself (Richard Carrier) and Robert Price, as fully qualified independent scholars, and Thomas Thompson, a retired professor of some renown, that is more than a handful of well-qualified scholars, all with doctorates in a relevant field, who are on record doubting the historicity of Jesus. Most recently, Hector Avalos, a sitting professor of religion at Iowa State University, has also declared his agnosticism about historicity as well. That makes seven fully qualified experts on the record, three of them sitting professors, plus two retired professors, and two independent scholars with full credentials. And there are no doubt many others who simply haven’t gone on the record. We also have sympathizers among mainstream experts who nevertheless endorse historicity but acknowledge we have a respectable point, like Philip Davies.” see:

          • Bruce Grubb

            And your point was?

    • Iain Lovejoy

      It’s simple: if no-one reputable disputes their nonsense, that’s because their case is unanswerable and mainstream historians have no answer to it, while if anyone reputable does bother to point out that it’s nonsense, that means their theories are being taken seriously. I don’t see what the problem is.

      • I’m not sure what problem you’re referring to.

        • Iain Lovejoy

          There is no problem. Both refuting and not refuting mythicism are taken as equally validating mythicist theories. It seems a perfectly reasonable position to me.

          • Oh, I get it. Internet sarcasm doesn’t always register on me right away.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            No worries. I generally put “(NB – Sarcasm)” somewhere in there, but forgot: it’s extremely difficult to pick up tone in an internet post, I find.

  • James, is there a theory that Jesus did not exist, which is not in itself “mythicism”?

    In Guignebert’s “Jesus”, in the paragraph immediately following the one quoted above by Huggins, Guignebert says:

    “We are not here referring to the position that Jesus had no historical existence, which is in itself a perfectly legitimate theory entitled to serious discussion. The paradoxes we have in mind are the extravagant or arbitrary interpretations imposed upon the texts and the facts by the adherents of the mythological view, the far-fetched connexions and rash and unfounded assertions into which their abuse of the comparative method leads them.”

    In the remainder of the chapter he describes and critiques mythicist positions. But I’m curious what he means by:

    “the position that Jesus had no historical existence, which is in itself a perfectly legitimate theory entitled to serious discussion”.

    • My understanding is that he is saying what I have often said, namely that the issue is not whether one can legitimately make a case for the non-historicity of Jesus in principle and have it taken seriously, but whether the actual views and arguments being offered by the proponents of Jesus mythicism are substantive or silly. One can in principle make the case that aliens have visited Earth, and deserve to have it taken seriously, but that does not mean that any of the cases thus far offered are at all plausible. In principle we should be open to possibilities, but we may still be justified in finding all the cases made up until now for those possibilities to be quite ridiculous.

      • That makes sense. It was a bit confusing as I read the chapter because he introduced the notion of the position as a “legitimate theory”, but then never elaborated.

      • John MacDonald

        “[W]e may still be justified in finding all the cases made up until now for those possibilities to be quite ridiculous.”

        I like the title of the post Dr. McGrath had a while back called “The Brilliance of Mythicism.” Because mythicism is such a difficult position to defend, it can be an intellectually stimulating test of one’s creativity to try to defend it – much like playing chess against the computer at a higher level of difficulty than normal. This also helps me test my assumptions as a Jesus historicist.

        • Bruce Grubb

          Considering “mythicism” in regards to Jesus has had two parallel lines of thought one of which did NOT say the man never existed ala Charles-François Dupuis but rather followed Constantin-François Volney’s concept that allowed for confused memories of an obscure historical figure to be integrated in a mythology that compiled organically saying that “mythicism is such a difficult position to defend” is silly.

          Drews and John Robertson were on the Volney side of the spectrum. Remeburg similarly held to the Volney side of the spectrum and went to great pains to distinguish between the Jesus of the Gospels and an actual man of that name.

          Remeburg went further and used “mythist” Strauss’ terms of Historical, Philosophical, and Poetical Myth. The story of Lincoln being a beloved President is a historical myth (In reality he was arguably the most HATED President from contemporary records) while the stories of George Washington and the Cherry Tree and Davy Crocket and the Frozen Dawn are Philosophical or Poetical Myths.

          The “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J” of 1982 and 1995 defined mythicism as the story of Jesus (rather then the man himself) being “a piece of mythology, possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes…”
          You known stories like that of Troy and the Norse discovering Vinland (America).

          If “mythicism is such a difficult position to defend” then defending the story that Davy Crocket did kill a bear and use it to defrost the dawn must be a sensible and easy thing to do.

          It would help if people who derided mythistim knew what in the sam hill they were talking about and didn’t make statements that make the historical Jesus position look like it belongs in the same dustbin as the Sun orbiting the Earth.

          • John MacDonald

            Paul says he met Jesus’ brother. If that doesn’t make mythicism hard to defend, I don’t know what could. lol

          • Bruce Grubb

            And John Frum has Prince Philip as a brother according to one sect of the cult. One little problem…Prince Philip has only sisters. Yet the natives who were able to be there when Prince Philip traveled to Tanna and talk to him can truthfully say they met John Frum’s brother.

            In fact, as Guiart, Jean (1952) “John Frum Movement in Tanna” Oceania Vol 22 No 3 pg 165-177 ( ) shows in a seven year period you have three natives saying they were “John Frum” and several sons of John Frum.

            As you can see from Guiart’s 1952 article, a mere 11 years after the John Frum movement become noticeable by nonbelievers it is not clear if John Frum is simply another name for Karaperamun (the High god of the region), a name that various actual people use as leader of the religious cult, or the name of some other person who inspired the cult perhaps as much as 30 years previously. If to confuse things further it has been suggested that Tom Navy, a companion to John Frum, is based on a real person: Tom Beatty of Mississippi, who served in the New Hebrides both as a missionary, and as a Navy Seabee during the war.

            Then there is Hong Xiuquan of the 19th century who said he was the younger brother of Jesus. Either Hong was over 1800 years old, lying, or stark raving bonkers nuts.

            So Paul saying he met Jesus’ brother doesn’t mean squado even if you dismiss all the theories that suggest he meant ‘brother’ as follower of the Lord or the phrase was inserted later.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t think so. Price made a similar argument to yours. Here is Ehrman’s response:

            “But as a clinching argument Price appeals to the nineteenth century revolutionary leader in China named Taiping Messiah Hong Xiuquan, who called himself “the Little Brother of Jesus.” Price finds this figure to provide compelling evidence of his view. In his own words ‘I find the possible parallel to the case of Hong Xiuquan to be, almost by itself, proof that James’ being the Lord’s brother need not prove a recent historical Jesus.’ That is, since Hong Xiuquan was not really Jesus’ brother, the same could be true of James. Now we are really grasping at straws. A nineteenth-century man from China is evidence of what someone living in the 30s CE in Palestine thought about himself? Hong Xiuquan is living 1800 years later, in a different part of the world, in a different social and cultural context. Among other things, he is the heir of eighteen centuries worth of Christian tradition. He has nothing to do with the historical Jesus or the historical James. To use his case in order to cinch the argument is an enormous stretch, even by Price’s standards.”

          • Bruce Grubb

            Ehrman doesn’t seem to understand how comparative historical anthropology (which is what Price is using) works.

            Origen himself states that Dositheus pretended to be the Christ (Contra Celsum,” i. 57, vi. 11; in Matth. Comm. ser. xxxiii.; “Homil.” xxv. in Lucam; “De Principiis,” iv. 17.)

            Thing is Dositheos the Samaritan was so obscure that the Christians couldn’t agree if he was before or after Simon of Peraea (killed 4 BCE – 15 CE) The only Dositheus Josephus mentions lived in the time of Herod the Great (Josephus 94, 15.165.) and there is nothing in the passage to show that was the Dositheus Origen was talking about.

            If people were claiming to be “the” Christ then it isn’t that far off via comparative historical anthropology that someone would claim to be the brother of Jesus. The various natives who said they were John Frum (or his son) were trying to take the movement in a practical direction. If Jesus himself wasn’t on the table then a blood relative would have been a obvious choice.

          • John MacDonald

            Bruce said: “If Jesus himself wasn’t on the table then a blood relative would have been a obvious choice.” I don’t understand what that sentence means?

          • Mark

            What Origen is saying is just that Dositheus was claiming to be a messiah, or his followers claimed this – same as plenty of others in Jewish, Samaritan, Islamic history.

            Price would like to bury the topic in ‘comparative historical anthropology’, sure. But really we have to do with ‘comparative Israelitic messianic movements’, or something like that, a topic about which there are definite laws.

            The scholarly opinion seems to be that there was a Dosithean sect, in which (as usual) the messianic figure was supposed to have gone into occultation somehow. There can be no reasonable doubt that //the Dositheus of the Dositheans// existed, if the Dositheans existed, given the structure of what they are saying as ‘realized messianism’

            It may be that most of what we can know about this Dositheus is that he existed was the target of Dosithean messianism, just as perhaps most of what we know of Jesus is that he existed and was the target of Jesus messianism. Certainly we know much more about, say Sabbatai, Scheerson, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad etc etc etc. These movements, wacky as they may be, are never confused about the target and never wrong about his existence.

          • John MacDonald

            Bruce said: “Ehrman doesn’t seem to understand how comparative historical anthropology (which is what Price is using) works.”

            Actually, what Dr. Price is doing is trying to invoke the principle of Analogy between James and Hong Xiuquan, and Dr. Ehrman is pointing out that it is a weak analogy.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Considering that anthropology in general uses analogy (a comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification) my statement stands. Look at how many cultures around the world were (and in some cases still are) said to have an African kinship system (Eskimos for example).

            More over Ehrman himself has made comparisons (i.e. analogies) between Christ Myth theory and denial of the American Moon Landing, Holocaust denial, and the idea that there wasn’t just one gunman involved in the assassination of JFK ( something the Congress itself considered valid based on the evidence presented.)

            Carrier at least made analogies that made sense in terms of comparative historical anthropology: “A viable theory of historicity for Jesus must therefore instead resemble a theory of historicity for Apollonius of Tyana or Musonin Rufus, or Judas the Galilean (to list a few very famous, men who escaped the expected record more or less the same degree Jesus did.)” – Carrier, Richard (2014). On the Historicity of Jesus Sheffield. Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2. pg 291

            Ehrman’s own analogies are more then weak…they are a total joke. So taking his claim Price’s analogy (i.e. comparative historical anthropology) is poor at face value is laughable. Ehrman is comparing Christ Myth to something (idea that JKF may have had more then one assassin involved in his death) the US Congress considered valid for a while!

          • John MacDonald

            Bruce said: “Ehrman’s own analogies are more then weak…they are a total joke. So taking his claim Price’s analogy (i.e. comparative historical anthropology) is poor at face value is laughable.”

            We are not taking Dr. Ehrman’s criticism of Dr. Price’s analogy “at face value (whatever that means),” we are evaluating it:
            (1) Why do you think Dr. Price’s analogy between James the brother of the Lord and Hong Xiuquan is a good one?

            (2) Dr. Ehrman’s criticisms of Dr. Price’s analogy were that:

            “A nineteenth-century man from China is evidence of what someone living in the 30s CE in Palestine thought about himself? Hong Xiuquan is living 1800 years later, in a different part of the world, in a different social and cultural context. Among other things, he is the heir of eighteen centuries worth of Christian tradition. He has nothing to do with the historical Jesus or the historical James. To use his case in order to cinch the argument is an enormous stretch, even by Price’s standards.”

            Please explain to me what you think are the faults in Dr. Ehrman’s case against the analogy.

          • Bruce Grubb

            It all goes back to comparative historical anthropology. Its parent profession, archaeology, makes analogies between current cultures and cultures that lived for TENS OF THOUSANDS years ago all the time.

            Heck, Robert Dunnell and Lewis Winford spent well on 20 years hammering out how form could be “function” and they were using analogies between wildly different cultures in wildly different times.

            Never mind anthropologist Peter Worsley (who gave us the term “third world” among other things) directly compared the supposed leader of a cult that formed c 1940 to Jesus: “Belief in Christ is no more or less rational than belief in John Frum.” and Worsley was referencing an older peer reviewed article for that piece: Guiart, Jean (1952) “John Frum Movement in Tanna” Oceania Vol 22 No 3 pg 165-177

            I noticed you didn’t even go near Ehrman’s comparisons of the evidence on Jesus to 20th century events like Moon Landing (they had TVs and tape recordings in 30s CE Palestine?) , Holocaust (there was 3000 tones of evidence for Jesus with a 62 volume and later 92 volumes index on it regarding Jesus?), and that Oswald was the only assassin involved with killing JFK (there are films, TV, and tape recording of Jesus?)

            Ehrman says comparing Jesus to a 19th century Chinaman “has nothing to do with the historical Jesus or the historical James” but is perfectly willing to compare the evidence of Jesus to three of the most well documented events on the 20th century (and we aren’t even sure regarding Oswald)?!? Tell us how does that makes a freaking bit of sense!

            Please explain to us how Ehrman’s comparison of the Evidence on Jesus is comparative to that of the Moon Landing, Holocaust, that Obama was born in the US or any of the other silly analogies Ehrman has made are valid. Its effectively a Catch-22 for Ehrman no matter how you figure it.

          • John MacDonald

            Ehrman means that for mythicism to be more than just a fringe theory that ignores the evidence (like Young Earth Creationism), it has certain hurdles it needs to overcome.

            For instance, the idea that the messiah is crucified is a stumbling block. Historicists say the idea that the Messiah is killed is not found in Hebrew scripture and would have been a stumbling block for the Jews (see 1 Cor 1:23).

            A mythicist might respond that Paul says ” For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: how Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES (1 Cor 15:3-8).” So there might have been an idiosyncratic reading of scripture that allowed, for some Jews, the messiah to be crucified. But which scripture?

            Paul says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree (Galatians 3:13).” Here Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 21:23, so mythicists might claim Paul could have meant that the original Christians learned of the celestial Christ’s atoning crucifixion by an allegorical reading of Deuteronomy 21:23 (cf. “Christ died ‘ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES 1 Cor 15:3-8”).

            But what about the resurrection? From the same passage, Paul says Christ “rose again on the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES (1 Cor 15:3-8).” But what scripture?

            Matthew may provide a clue here. Matthew says:

            “38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:38-40).”

            So the first Christians may have learned the celestial Christ was raised on the third day according to an idiosyncratic, allegorical reading of the story of Jonah.

            That’s not to say I agree with mythicism, just that these are the types of things you need to answer when debating with historicists.

          • And then you also need to do justice to the fact that in other/earlier sources, the sign of Jonah does not represent a prediction of the resurrection. Ignoring the chronology of sources when it suits them, while overemphasizing it in others, is another problematic characteristic of mythicism.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, it is certainly a sporting act of intellectual contortions to try to squeeze the round mythicist pegs into the square holes. Regarding your point, as you say,the sign of Jonah doesn’t really help as a source for the resurrection because it is relatively late (Matthew). While Paul may have had the sign of Jonah in mind in characterizing the resurrection, or he may not have, it seems Paul had “some” scripture in mind, since he said Christ “was buried, and rose again the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES (1 Cor 15:3-8).” I wonder what scriptures Paul had in mind? Paul may have just had in mind that Jesus was the firstfuits of the general resurrection at the end of days, which scripture predicts.

          • Bruce Grubb

            That argument only make sense if the evidence for a flesh and blood Jesus similar to the one in the Gospels is good…and it is NOT.

            Also Ehrman shows that he doesn’t understand ‘mythicism’ is NOT just Jesus didn’t exist as a human being but ALSO ‘Jesus didn’t exist as the Gospel portray him’.

            Let me list some ‘mythicists’ who INCLUDED the idea that Jesus may have existed as human being but ‘the Gospels didn’t really tell us anything about that man’ version of the Christ Myth theory: Constantin-François Volley, Mead, Remsburg, Drews, John M Robertson, and GA Wells’ from _Jesus Myth_ (1999) on – and perhaps as early as _Did Jesus Exist_ .

            While we are at it lets not forget the ‘mythicists’ who accepted Jesus existed as a human being: David Strauss, Mead, Remsburg, Sir James George Frazer, and GA Wells’ from _Jesus Myth_ (1999) on.

            Ehrman himself stated that a Jesus who existed but “had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity”

            Here is one of the possibilities mythicist John M Robertson put forth:

            “An historical Jesus may have “preached a political doctrine subversive of the Roman rule, and . . . thereby met his death “; and Christian writers concerned to conciliate the Romans may have suppressed the facts.”

            This mythicism is a fringe theory?! Last I checked it has become pretty mainstream even among apologists.

            Oh here is a mythicist argument from a 1934 Cambridge University Press book: “The sociological fashion reflected in the rise of Formgeschichte lends colour to Christ-myth theories and indeed to all theories which regard Jesus as an historical but insignificant figure.”

            Last I checked the idea that Jesus was historical but an insignificant figure for that time is mainstream.

            Ehrman really needs to go back an learn just what ‘mythicist’ really involves rather then go with a narrow sunset of the term. Otherwise he looks like Captain “Know-nothing” Clueless.

          • John MacDonald

            The Christ Myth theory states that Jesus was never on earth, and was crucified, and resurrected in outer space (you say you have Carrier’s book, so check out what he says about the minimal mythicism theory). Virtually all critical scholars agree that the Jesus of history was different from the Jesus of the New Testament. If I adopt your understanding of the Christ Myth Theory (which I don’t), the way it is true is trivial (that the New Testament Jesus is different from the Jesus of history), and the way it is not trivial (that Jesus was never on earth) is unfounded.

          • That the Jesus of history is not the same as the Jesus of the Gospels is the conclusion of mainstream historical study. Mythicism is something different.

          • Bruce Grubb

            No it isn’t as there is historical mythicism.

          • Mark

            Every secular person believes that the gospels are full of false & imaginary miracle claims & and that ‘the Christ of Faith’ is a phantasm in one way or other. Your criterion makes ‘mythicist’ = ‘non-Christian’ and is thus absurd.

            The 1934 book by Wood, “Christianity and the Nature of History” is not a mythicist work – the author was a Quaker – and it uses the expression “Christ myth theory” ///exactly/// as we use it today. It compares various theories, and is saying that the ‘sociological’ approach he finds in e.g. Kautsky can be used by mythicist theories … but also by non-mythicist theories that make Jesus out to be not so significant, etc. A theory that makes Jesus out to be historical but insignificant is for Wood, as for everyone, by that very fact NOT a Christ myth theory.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Its not my criteria…it is how others have defined ‘Christ Myth theory’ over the last 100 plus years.

            For your claim about Wood to make any sense he would have to be using the conjunction ‘and’ to mean ‘as well as’. What English book shows ‘and’ being used that way?

            More over Wood is not the only one to use this definition of ‘Christ Myth theory’; Constantin-François Volney used it as well ( Wells, G. A. “Stages of New Testament Criticism,” Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 30, issue 2, 1969.)

            Close variants appear in:

            Dodd, C. H. (1938). “Christ Myth Theory”. History and the Gospel. Manchester University Press.

            Walsh, George (1998). The Role of Religion in History. Transaction Publishers.

            Then you have International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0802837851. which defines ‘Christ Myth theory’ as the idea the story of (rather then the man himself) “Jesus is a piece of mythology, possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes…” Problem is the stories of Troy and Vinland have some basis in reality but we aren’t sure how much.

            I note you didn’t even go near John M Robertson’s criteria.

            Face it the range of Christ Myth theory is so broad that claiming it only means ‘Jesus didn’t exist as human being at all’ is delusional at best and dishonest at worse.

          • Mark

            Again, on your account anyone who rejects Christianity holds to the ‘Christ myth theory’. I won’t deny you the right to call rejection of Christianity ‘communism’ either. But it renders communication pretty hopeless.

            There is no such work as Dodd, C. H. (1938). “Christ Myth Theory”. History and the Gospel. Manchester University Press.

            The book is /History and the Gospel/; the chapter is “An Historical Religion”. The words “Christ myth theory” are no part of the structure or text of Dodd’s book. The phrase appears at the top of the page in a now forgotten type of editing where some leading theme of a given page is printed at the top. To make the point clearer, the words “Christ myth theory” would not appear in any translation or reprinting of Dodd’s book. They may well be due to the typesetter or an editor, since it is only once type is set that final pagination is known.

            I won’t bother with the rest. You seem to be cutting and pasting material from febrile talk pages without actually looking at any of the works in question.

          • Gary

            I don’t plan on getting into this argument, bor continue it. But I think you are reading way too much into Ehrman’s “moon landing” reference. It’s been awhile since I read his book on the subject, but I think he wasn’t comparing the history of Jesus to the history of moon landings and JFK assassination stories. He was referring to how people add/change/exaggerated stories. Just like the “each time a story is told by another person, it changes,” scenario, he gives in his book.

            Ehrman was not doing “comparative historical anthropology”.

            “Please explain to us how Ehrman’s comparison of the Evidence on Jesus is comparative to that of the Moon Landing, Holocaust…”

            Ehrman was NOT comparing evidence on Jesus to evidence on moon landings. He was comparing how people “shape” stories – Ehrman’s word “shape”.


            “I try to make a major methodological point that there is a very big difference between saying that a story has been shaped in a certain (non-historical) way and saying that the story is completely non-historical.”

          • Bruce Grubb

            I noted you avoided Ehrman’s comparison of the Jesus story to the Holocaust:

            “There are people out there who don’t think the Holocaust happened, there wasn’t a lone JFK assassin and Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.,” Ehrman says. “Among them are people who don’t think Jesus existed.”

            “In a society in which people still claim the Holocaust did not happen, and in which there are resounding claims that the American president is, in fact, a Muslim born on foreign soil, is it any surprise to learn that the greatest figure in the history of Western civilization, the man on whom the most powerful and influential social, political, economic, cultural and religious institution in the world — the Christian church — was built, the man worshipped, literally, by billions of people today — is it any surprise to hear that Jesus never even existed?” – (March 20, 2012) “Did Jesus Exist?” Huffington Post

            “The denial that Christ was crucified is like the denial of the Holocaust. For some it’s simply too horrific to affirm. For others it’s an elaborate conspiracy to coerce religious sympathy. But the deniers live in a historical dreamworld.” Bart Ehrman, interview with Reginald V. Finley Sr., “Who Changed The New Testament and Why”, The Infidel Guy Show, 2008

            Please explain to us how Ehrman’s comparison of the evidence on Jesus to that of Holocaust is sane!

          • Gary

            “Please explain to us how Ehrman’s comparison of the evidence on Jesus to that of Holocaust is sane!”

            Ehrman is not comparing the evidence of Jesus to the evidence of the Holocaust! He is comparing idiots who deny the Holocaust with idiots that deny that Jesus was a walking, talking man around 33AD. Nothing to do with individual questions of questionable birth, crucifixion, or resurrection.

            No offense, but since this subject has over 200 comments on it, it is a royal pain in the ass to keep track of comments and responses. As a result, don’t consider a lack of response, a lack of interest. More a difficult time in sorting through all the comments.

          • Bruce Grubb

            “He is comparing idiots who deny the Holocaust with idiots that deny that Jesus was a walking, talking man around 33AD.”

            Again, the major flaw with the comparison is the two events are so radically different in term of amount and quality of evidence that any realationship between the two is a total non sequitor.

            “A viable theory of historicity for Jesus must therefore instead resemble a theory of historicity for Apollonius of Tyana or Musonin Rufus or Judas the Galilean (to list a few very famous men who escaped the expected record more or less the same degree Jesus did.)” – Carrier, Richard C. (2014). On the Historicity of Jesus. Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2. pg 291

            Read Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire: A Look into the World of the Gospels (1997) ( ) for a historical anthropological snapshot of Paul’s time.

          • Mark

            John Frum is a brilliant parody of the Jesus story tailored to oppose Christian missionaries. Frum’s absence (and probable non-existence) is part of the parody. Paul’s letters affirm the realization of pre-existing Davidic messianic memes. There are no other examples of this sort of thing in the Jewish tradition, though other would-be messiahs were supposed went into some sort occultation, like Jesus; it is the same with the various mahdis and the like – many of whom are, like Jesus, in occultation in different branches of Islam.

            All of these people really existed and realize some imagined pre-existing prophetic idea. I don’t think there is anything like this conceptual division – preexisting prophetic job description vs. supposed job-holder – in the case of Frum. The Frum movement thus lacks structure of realized messianism. All religious movements with the structure of realized messianism refer to historical persons like Sabbatai Sevi, Menachem Schneerson, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad etc. etc. With the death of the messianic figure either the movement goes out of existence or somehow declares the figure to be in occultation, as in the case of Jesus and all the others I mentioned.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Historical Anthropology says otherwise.

    • John MacDonald

      Docetism doesn’t completely fit the description, but it’s something like that. One of the mythicist arguments is that the apparently pro historicity passages in Paul (e.g., “born of a woman; of the seed of david; James the brother of the lord”) are post Pauline interpolations meant to combat Docetism (it seems kind of silly of Paul to point out Jesus was born of a woman unless there was a faction contending he wasn’t).

      • Docetism is about the non-fleshly character of a person believed to have existed in history, and so is very different from mythicism.

        Phrases like “sons of men” and “those born of women” sound odd and unnecessarily cumbersome and verbose to us, but that is how people spoke in that time, about people whose status as the offspring of other human beings was not in question.

        • John MacDonald

          I know Docetism means the person existed on earth. I just meant that the”James The Brother of the Lord” passage may have been an interpolation to show Jesus was not the Jesus of Docetism (it may have been a polemical interpolation against the view of the Docetism of Jesus).
          N.B. I am a very firmly convinced Jesus historicist. I find it very wrongheaded to think Jesus started out as a mythical figure, but that this original standpoint that had numerous churches (as Paul attests) never even survived as a heresy.

        • Bruce Grubb

          “This skeptical way of thinking reached its culmination in the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth. In ancient times, this extreme view was named the heresy of docetism (seeming) because it maintained that Jesus never came into the world “in the flesh”, but only seemed to…” – Grant, Michael. Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels. Scribner, 1995; first published 1977, p. 199

          Here you have a scholar expressly the idea that docetism = “the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth” so this isn’t something that doesn’t have any basis.

          • The fact that Michael Grant, a historian who is interesting precisely because he came from outside of the field of early Christianity, made a not-very-precisely-worded comparison between docetism and mythicism does nothing to help the case for mythicism.

          • Bruce Grubb

            The fact that the point was reiterated (it been around since the mid 19th century) by a late 20th century scholar whose speciality was the Classical and Roman periods shows that the idea had (and still has) merit.

            “Dr. Grant’s 50 or so books of nonfiction and translation elegantly synthesized familiar material about ancient Mediterranean history while introducing new scholarship.

            He explored ancient Greece, Rome and Israel to write both overall histories and biographies of giants like Julius Caesar, Nero, Herod, Cleopatra, Jesus, St. Peter, and St. Paul.” – Michael Grant, Who Wrote Histories of the Ancient World, Is Dead at 89 ( )

            This “outside of the field of early Christianity” mind set is exactly what Hector Avalos was lambasting the profession for its really crappy methodology (doing stuff that in another other part of historical researched would be laughed out of the room) and echo chamber like mentality. His view was things had gotten to the point that the best thing to do would be to academically nuke the current version (preferably from orbit) and start over from scratch.

          • Your last point misunderstands what I wrote, and the fields of study. New Testament scholars collaborate and interact with historians of related periods and with Classicists all the time.

            My point was that Grant’s wording is imprecise. But a charitable reading will still see that he meant a Jesus who was a celestial figure rather than the historical human being – not the mythicist Jesus who never makes it to Earth.

          • Bruce Grubb

            A “charitable reading”? Any sane standard reading shows that he was directly connecting docetism with “the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth”

          • If the only way to be sane is to view Grant as having made an error about docetism, that option is open, as I said.

  • Rafi Simonton

    I’ve been reading all the previous posts here on mythicism in order to understand the arguments. That it’s a fave of smug atheists should be a warning in itself. But it is also a theme with several of the neo-Gnostic groups. People whose approach is based on their own intense experiences of the divine. Plus some who just do not feel at home with mainstream religion. I am myself of that experiential group and was not raised with religion at all. But I tried my best to fit in somewhere and even did studies at the GTU. Therefore I respect scholarly methodology. And find reprehensible that some alt. religion writers do not bother to chase down where their info comes from. Quotations of century old unsourced Theosophist books or of ancient Egyptian mythology taken out of context hardly inspire confidence. What’s odd to me is that if you claim a gnostic encounter, why would that make any sense as a form of mythicism? Symbolic, maybe, but of something deeply impersonal and ultimately meaningless. Does anyone here know of books or articles that refute the materials dragged in from religions other than Christianity to support the mythicist claims? I’ve been asked to write something for one of the on-line groups defending historicism. I’m comfortable enough with Christian theology, ancient Gnostic studies, and Jewish mysticism to handle that myself. But I’d be happy to defer to what any expert has to say about those areas as well.

    • Erp

      For Mithraism you can check out
      I would double check against sources. Mythicists sometimes states that Christianity borrowed from Mithraism; however, the Roman cult of Mithra seems to have arisen about the same time as Christianity so who borrowed from whom and how much is debated (the eastern cult of Mitra is older but apparently quite different).

      • Bruce Grubb

        Even Carrier says Mithra is NOT an example of a dying and rising god. At best he is an example of a savior god.

        • Erp

          I didn’t say Carrier said that but you can’t deny some mythicists have said it (and note I did say ‘some’ not all in my original post).

          • Bruce Grubb

            That is one of the reasons Carrier pointed it out. He has pointed out that the Christ Myth theory (as he defines it) is full of bad nonsensical theories.

            I should mention that Carrier went ever further with Kersey Graves and The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors (2003) ( ) showing that the majority of bad Christ Myth can one way or another trace itself back to that work.

            “The only pre-Christian man to be buried and resurrected and deified in his own lifetime, that I know of, is the Thracian god Zalmoxis (also called Salmoxis or Gebele’izis), who is described in the mid-5th-century B.C.E. by Herodotus (4.94-96), and also mentioned in Plato’s Charmides (156d-158b) in the early-4th-century B.C.E.”

            “The only case, that I know, of a pre-Christian god actually being crucified and then resurrected is Inanna (also known as Ishtar), a Sumerian goddess whose crucifixion, resurrection and escape from the underworld is told in cuneiform tablets inscribed c. 1500 B.C.E., attesting to a very old tradition.”

            You will have to use internet archive to read the ‘Osiris and Pagan Resurrection Myths: Assessing the Till-McFall Exchange’ link at the bottom of that piece but the rest are on the same site so shouldn’t be a problem

            There are some similarities between Jesus and various savior gods but none of them come anywhere to close parallels claimed by the armchair Christ Myth brigade.

          • Erp

            Agreed. BTW Inanna seems to have been hung on a hook after she was dead which isn’t quite the same as crucified.


    • Mark

      The heyday of the Christ Myth theory was indeed the early twentieth century, and it seems always to have involved a focus on Paul’s letters, Hebrews and Revelation. In those works very little is said about the life of Jesus. These were then seen as the ur-documents of ‘Christianity’ and, as you say, the ‘mythicist’ strategy was to view them in the light of general comparative religion, a point of view then arising. This procedure is still pretty much followed by the current ‘mythicist’ guru , R. Carrier. The view never had much scholarly uptake except under Soviet tutelage – the formulation in Drews’s ‘Christ Myth’ had been praised by Lenin. (Drews and Couchoud are actually pretty sensitive writers – it’s not surprising though that both are philosophers by training and not scholars or historians of any relevant type.)

      After WWII and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls there was a double development of a) much more knowledge about the diversity of 2nd Temple Jewish views and b) a far greater sensitivity to specifically Jewish phenomena, joined with the will to shred every trace of anti-semitism. With these developments it became obvious that texts crucial to ‘mythicism’ like Paul’s letters, Hebrews and Revelation – all clearly by Jewish writers – must be understood as phenomena of 2nd Temple Judaism and the immediately following period. One of the crucial elements that worked in mythicism’s favor was a reading of Paul in line especially with the latently anti-semitic Protestant tradition of interpretation – as a sort of anti-Jew propounding a new ‘religion’. A sort of Lutheran Paul was taken for granted by everyone. As a crucial element of b) above, this also has fallen completely to pieces with the so-called New Paul and the various more radical ‘Paul as Jew’ doctrines.

      Sorry, that was laborious, but the crucial move of ‘mythicism’ is indeed to extract a few crucial texts as if they had nothing to do with 2nd T. Jewish religious ideas – they are manifestations of something called ‘Christianity’ – and view them in the light of comparative religion. So in come Osiris, Mithras and Inanna. It is obvious now that they must be viewed in a much narrower comparison class of ‘moderately feverish 1st c. Jewish religious ideas’ – as a part of this range of ideas and indeed as pieces of evidence about its more general character. (It is totally characteristic that Carrier, the indisputably knowledgeable doyen of internet mythicism seems not to have bothered to pick up any Hebrew or Aramaic or to have any interest in the period. He knows all about Roman and Hellenistic history, and looks for his lost keys under that lamp-post.)

      If the question is historicity, we are in the first century, and the anachronistic concept “Christianity” is an extreme distraction and must avoided. Some of the later developments in purely gentile milieux can perhaps best be understood in the light of ‘pagan influences’ – how far this might have been so was a favorite theme of Protestant anti-Catholic propaganda, which provides some of the artillery recycled in mythicist combat. But in fact we know this is hopeless for the preferred documents of mythicism.

    • John MacDonald

      One place where Carrier’s mythicism breaks down for me is when he says things like:

      ““Why did they invent the idea that the messiah got crucified? Because they needed one … It accomplished what they needed: the elimination of dependence on the Jewish temple cult and its Jewish leadership. It also created a plausible Jewish variant of a massively popular fashion among salvation cults at the time (Carrier).”

      The problem with the claim of Carrier’s that Christianity originated with this celestial Jesus replacing the temple cult which Paul and those like him were claiming ignores the point that there were apostles prior to Paul who, in Paul’s words, taught a “different Christ, a different Gospel.” For instance, Paul writes:

      “4For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily. 5I consider myself in no way inferior to those “super-apostles.” (2 Cor 11:4-5).”

      It is perfectly reasonable to claim that there were Jewish Christians prior to Paul who didn’t teach Paul’s gospel of atonement, who went back to the original teachings of the historical Jesus. What these two factions did seem to have in common was the apocalyptic message (firstfruits in Paul).

      • If there were Jewish Christians who were citing the historical Jesus as the source of their preaching, I think it likely that Paul would have been required to address the meaning and authenticity of those teachings because it would have been vitally important in the early church to know what Jesus had said about any particular topic. I think that the most logical inference to draw from Paul’s side of the disputes is that his opponents’ teachings were based, like his, on personal revelations rather than a different type of source to which Paul lacked access.

        There may have been a historical Jesus, but I doubt that he was viewed as an authoritative teacher during the time Paul was writing. My guess is that the earliest teachings were attributed to revelations of the risen Christ and that it was somewhat later that they were attributed to the earthly Jesus.

        I also think that Carrier doesn’t sufficiently address other possible explanations for the relationship between Paul and his opponents.

        • John MacDonald

          Paul says “I consider myself in no way inferior to those “super-apostles,” which seems to suggest there may have been very good reason for someone back then to think the message of those super-apostles (which contradicted Paul’s gospel) would have had authority over Paul’s message.

          • Given his disparaging attitude in Galatians towards the Jerusalem Christians, the simplest thing for Paul would have been to split with them completely while denouncing them to his followers. That he didn’t suggests to me that they had some authority that Paul couldn’t avoid even though he never expressly acknowledges it.

          • John MacDonald

            Sounds to me like Paul couldn’t completely split from the other faction because they both had the historical Jesus as the source of their respective movements.

          • John MacDonald

            If they were just 2 groups that had contradictory visions of a celestial god, then, as you say, Paul could have easily split with them and there would be no reason the other faction would have authority over Paul.

          • It seems to me to point to something more than mere visions of a celestial being, but I’m not sure how much more.

          • John MacDonald

            A human Jewish Jesus and his original followers as distinct from the atonement interpretation of Pauline Christianity would explain why Paul was largely silent about Jesus’ life. Paul may have been distancing himself from the Jewish Christians of his time who were preaching the great life of works of the Jewish Jesus. Paul said: “For I decided to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2),” so maybe Paul was trying to get his audience to focus on the salvific atoning act of Christ that rendered useless the temple cult. Mark emphasizes the corruption of the temple cult (Mark 11:17), and Mark may have been heavily influenced by Paul. It’s hard to see back to the legacy of the opponents of Paul because so much of the New Testament is colored by Paul and Mark. Paul seemingly advocates for a “pure and simple” faith in the salvific atoning sacrifice of Christ, not the more complicated ideas of the great works of a Jewish Jesus Paul’s opponents were probably selling: “I am afraid, however, that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily.…(2 Cor 11:3-4)” My guess is that Paul’s innovation (or the innovation that Paul inherited) was the salvific atonement of Jesus’ death that rendered irrelevant the temple cult.

          • It’s not just Paul who is silent, though. It’s James, Jude, Hebrews, pseudo-Paul, and the Johaninne epistles. In none of the earliest writings does the author support an argument by referring to anything the earthly Jesus said or did, nor does he respond to an argument that does. That seems very strange to me if, in fact, the life and teachings of Jesus were important or normative for early Christians.

            I think the far simpler explanation for the silence is that the earliest message was concerned solely with the risen Christ. Even if there were a historical Jesus, his time on earth was unimportant, perhaps because, as suggested by Romans 1:4, he only became the Son of God upon his resurrection. It was only later, as the earliest visionaries passed from the scene, that people started attributing their teachings to the (or an) earthly Jesus.

          • “Rarely” is not the same thing as “completely silent.” And this ignores the extent to which so much is merely alluded to even among things said in letters, which leads to an extremely obvious conclusion that has been pointed out to you over and over again: in their correspondence, early Christian letter writers behaved as letter writers typically did and do, not offering a systematic record of all they knew, but conversation that took a great deal as given.

          • I have no doubt that there was much that was left unstated, and it might very well change my view of that which was stated. That is why I don’t pretend any great certainty about what was actually going on (unlike mainstream scholars). I realize that I only have a handful of pieces in a very large puzzle.

            It is of course possible that there are many allusions to the life of Jesus in the early epistles. On the other hand, when mythicists rely on that kind of reasoning, they are accused of “parallelomania.”

          • You seem not to understand what “parallelomania” refers to. 🙁

          • Sure I do. Parallelomania refers to authors who perceive apparent similarities and construct parallels and analogies allegedly without historical basis. It’s that for which a mythicist like Thomas Brodie is mocked when he tries to connect passages in the gospels to the Jewish scriptures upon which they are allegedly based. On the other hand, when a mainstream scholar connects a passage in Paul to the gospel story upon which it is allegedly based, It’s apparently just good scholarship.

          • I wonder whether you yourself, based on what you wrote, can see the difference between those examples…

          • One difference I can see is that the mainstream scholar assumes that the gospel stories are antecedent to Paul.

          • You clearly need to inform yourself better about what mainstream scholars write, and on what basis.

          • Unfortunately, life is too short to inform myself about every topic to the degree that I might wish. Nevertheless, I can still draw reasonable conclusions about the things I do read. One of the things I can judge is the extent to which a scholar addresses obvious alternative possibilities.

            Any claim that a writer is alluding to a story that is first found in a later written source raises the pretty obvious possibility that the it was the later writer who relied on the earlier one.

          • Of course it does. But surely you don’t think that historians ought to spend all of their time discussing over and over again topics that have been weighed and investigated substantially, until such time as a powerful new argument or new evidence suggests that the matter ought to be revisited?

          • I may not be as well informed as I would like to be, but I am well enough informed to know that there is no consensus concerning Paul’s knowledge of gospel traditions. I also know that there is considerable controversy over which elements of the gospels might predate Paul and which ones might be later inventions.

            I have never read anything in any discussion of Paul’s knowledge of the historical Jesus that suggests that there is anything that is so well established as to justify ignoring the possibility that any allege allusion in Paul might actually be a case of a later invention in the gospel.

          • Can you provide any evidence at all to support your claim that scholars are not nearly unanimous on the question of whether Paul’s letters include pre-Pauline traditions about Jesus that a few years later were incorporated into the Gospels?

          • That’s not my claim.

          • Gary

            “Paul’s letters include pre-Pauline traditions about Jesus that a few years later were incorporated into the Gospels?”…

            That’s a given. True. Scholarly consensus. I don’t know about “a few years later”. If you mean a few years later after Paul’s death, true. If you mean a time period after Jesus’s death, which would be the more important date, then more like 30+ years, which is a little more than “a few”.

            As to Vinny’s suggestion,
            “the possibility that any alleged allusion in Paul might actually be a case of a later invention in the gospel”…

            I would reference Elaine Pagels, “The Gnostic Paul”.

            A rather interesting, if not old book by Pagels. I have not finished it yet. But she compares various letters of Paul, both from orthodox, and Valentinian points of view.

            The interesting premise:
            Orthodoxy claims Paul was very much anti-gnostic. Valentinus and his followers claimed Paul was gnostic, and considered Paul their apostle.

            All scholars think Valentinus was brilliant, even his enemies. So we are presented with a problem.

            Either Valentinus was stupid, or an “alleged allusion in Paul” (that he might have been anti-gnostic) “might actually be a case of a later invention in the gospel”, or Acts, or deutero-Paul.

            Of course, nothing to do directly with “historical” Jesus. But all the fuss about gnostic/anti-gnostic Paul in 100+AD seems to reinforce an historic Jesus. If he was mythical, why on earth would anyone even care back in 100AD?

          • Gary

            I should have mentioned the “you”, was directed to the Professor. However, I’ll let it go. I don’t exactly seek out direct interaction, since it seems to snowball.

          • The fact that scholars may be nearly unanimous that Paul’s
            letters include pre-Pauline traditions about Jesus that were later incorporated into the gospels is not sufficient to establish that any specific passage in Paul includes allusions to such traditions because scholars are also nearly unanimous (or so I would hope) that Paul’s letters address matters concerning the risen Christ that he claimed to know by revelation as well as matters that he based on interpretation of scripture. As a result with respect to any specific claim that Paul is alluding to a tradition about Jesus that is also found in the gospels, there is the obvious possibility that the second writer used the first writer. I don’t see how any argument for any specific Pauline allusions could be persuasive without addressing the possibility that the object of the alleged allusion was in fact a later invention of the gospel writer.

            In the articles I have read about Pauline allusions, the mainstream scholars have either ignored the possibility that the dependence ran in the opposite direction or given it extremely short shrift.

          • The reason they give it extremely short shrift is that skeptical scholars have looked at this both broadly and in relation to specific details and have drawn persuasive conclusions about the more likely direction of influence.

          • Given the difficulty that mainstream scholars have in agreeing on the authenticity of specific details of gospel stories, that sounds like wishful thinking to me.

          • Your comment betrays your lack of familiarity with the literature on the historical Jesus in general, and more importantly the specific details. Denialists and dogmatic agnostics regularly claim – about all sorts of subjects – that the fact that there is in a given field (as in every field of study) significant disagreement about some details, therefore everything is uncertain. But on the contrary, that extensive disagreement reflects the skeptical investigation of every matter, which leads those familiar with how scholarship works to recognize that points of consensus are hard-won and deserve to be treated with the utmost seriousness.

          • As I’ve said, I am not as familiar with the literature as I would like to be. Nevertheless, I am aware that when mainstream scholars like E.P. Sanders compose lists of the things that can be known with certainty about the historical Jesus, they tend to be pretty short lists; moreover, the items on the lists tend to be short on detail. It follows then that the list of things which are open to question would have to be very long.

            So unless a scholar is arguing that Paul is making an allusion to something on the short list, I don’t see how the argument could be credible if it didn’t take seriously the possibility that the dependence ran in the other direction. Even if it were on the short list, I would still expect some discussion of the point.

          • Gary

            Everyone has their particular quirks. I have them myself. Although I do find the use of the term “Parallelomania” as a derogatory term, coming from a Professor that named his blog “The Matrix”, is obsessed with parallels between Dr Who and biblical ethics, politics, Star Wars, and SciFi in general, rather strange. And actually connects SciFi with academic biblical conference presentations, and book authorship, I would expect “Parallelomania” would be considered a complimentary term!
            Just between you and me!

          • John MacDonald

            How is a critical-scholarly approach to Star Wars any different than a critical-scholarly approach to David Copperfield?

          • Gary

            For a religion critical-scholarly approach, probably similar to “tight” and “loose” translation theories on Mormon sacred text.

          • John MacDonald

            Granted, mythicists like Lataster and Carrier argue that Ehrman in “Did Jesus Exist?” bases much of his argument on hypothetical sources that may not exist.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Ad hoc is a real bug a boo in any of the sciences but it shows up in the social sciences far more often.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Star Wars falls into range Campbell’s _Hero of a Thousand Faces_ while David Copperfield far less.

          • The term refers to those who view everything that is similar as noteworthy and having potential explanatory power. I would love to know where I show an indication of being obsessed with parallels between Doctor Who and biblical ethics or politics, as opposed to looking at what are likely to be genuine explorations of political or religious matters on the show.

          • Gary

            Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “obsessed”, since it has a negative connotation. I should have said “in love with”, and added the Seinfeld quote, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not sure what James, Jude, pseudo Paul, and the Johaninne epistles have to do with the historical Jesus. And anyway, as I said, Paul said “I determined to know nothing among you but Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2),” which seems to imply he knew much more about Jesus that he didn’t share because he wanted to keep the audience on point with his simple gospel of salvific atonement, and not confuse them with what his other Christian opponents were claiming.

          • John MacDonald

            Jesus Christ was believed to have fulfilled the two greatest annual Jewish sacrifices, those of Passover and Yom Kippur, effectively replacing the Jewish Temple. It seems to me that Paul wanted to transfer reliance on the corrupt Roman loving temple cult to reliance on faith in the salvific atoning death of Jesus. Paul was an apocalyptic thinker (1Corinthians 15:20), or at least he sold himself as one (Paul could have been just making this all up as a noble lie: the world is ending, so you better get right with God and start loving one another and join the winning team!), so he may have thought the temple may eventually be abandoned or destroyed by what he was doing, and this would help to bring about the end times. It’s so hard to figure out exactly what was going on, since Paul seems to have influenced Mark, and Mark influenced Matthew and Luke (and perhaps John), so it is difficult to draw out the message of the historical Jesus and his original followers from behind the theological agenda of Paul. What people don’t notice is that Paul, after his incident on the road to Damascus, goes off and preaches what may be a very different message than what Jesus’ family and disciples taught after having spent a 3-year mentoring process with Jesus (and, in the case of James his brother, a lifetime). If all it took was a vision, then what was the purpose of a 3-year discipleship? Paul’s so-called ‘conversion’ experience makes no sense at all …. Except as a cover story for ingratiating himself into the Jewish orbit.

          • If there were a vibrant oral tradition concerning the things that the earthly Jesus said and did, there would also have been frequent discussions of the meaning of those stories and how they applied to the practices of the earliest Christians. I suspect that there would also have been discussions about the authenticity of various teachings attributed to Jesus because some people would have invented stories about him to bolster their side in disputes.

            I find it hard to believe that these discussions would not have been reflected in the earliest writings. Even if Paul had some personal reasons for avoiding discussions of the earthly Jesus, that wouldn’t explain the absence of references in other early writings. Moreover, I think Paul would have been hard pressed to avoid such discussions when his opponents citing (and inventing) stories in support of their positions.

            I think that the simplest explanation for this is that the stories about his life arose later and teachings that were originally based on claims of revelation were later attributed to the earthly Jesus.

            I don’t think this disproves a historical Jesus, but I doubt he bore much resemblance to the Jesus portrayed in the gospels.

          • They are reflected in many of our earliest writings. The question is why they are not reflected in our earliest and also much later letters. Given that they are relatively rarely incorporated even in letters that are written after the Gospels were known, by individuals who indicate their acceptance of the Gospels, this suggests that letter writers then behaved in ways that only mythicists think letter writers should not have behaved.

          • I tend to think that 1 Cor 2:2 is just Paul’s way of saying “I’m all about the gospel,” but you could be right that the implication is that he knows more than he shares. Even so, I can’t see how we are justified in drawing any strong conclusions about what it was that he didn’t share. By the same token, I think that it is reasonable to believe that there is more there than meets the eye in the fact that Paul didn’t split with the other apostles, but I don’t think that I can have much certainty about what it is.

          • Bruce Grubb

            This is dependent on how 1 Cor 2:2 is translated ( ) The Greekbible site give the Greek as ΟΥ ΓΑΡ ΕΚΡΙΝΑ ΤΙ ΕΙΔΕΝΑΙ ΕΝ ΥΜΙΝ ΕΙ ΜΗ ΙΗΣΟΥΝ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΤΟΥΤΟΝ ΕΣΤΑΥΡΩΜΕΝΟΝ.

          • And how would you render that into English? Simply quoting the Greek does not indicate how you think it ought to be understood nor what you think is significant about the difference(s).

          • John MacDonald

            Regarding Hebrews (although I am by no means an expert on Hebrews), as far as I know it is clear that the writer of Hebrews believed in an historical Jesus. Hebrews 7:14 says “For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.” Thus, he considered Jesus being from the tribe of Judah – a real person with a particular lineage. He also wrote about Jesus as follows: “in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear (Hebrews 5:7).” In other words, when Jesus was on the earth, he prayed hard.

          • Mark

            In Paul’s case, it isn’t clear that he thinks anything said by his Christ before his obedience, crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation would be authoritative. They predate his gaining his awesome messianic status. (Take the familiar Philippians 2 passage supposing it’s original.)

            It’s the messages or ‘gospels’ that Christ is sending now through his apostle-messengers, that are authoritative – since now he has messianic authority.

            On the other hand, even if that’s wrong and Paul would have thought the dicta of the unexalted Jesus binding – and supposing that there was material about what to do and how to live (suppose it was the stuff in Mark), Paul would have noticed that this stuff tends to be addressed to Jews, is frequently narrowly halakhic in character – and accordingly calculated that it had no bearing on the lives of his gentile auxiliaries.

            The common teaching on divorce is one of the things that speaks against this. If Paul knew the Mark 10 statement he might have inferred from its peculiar form that since his gentiles didn’t get a special permission from Moses, they didn’t even have that pretext.

          • Occam Razor

            No, no. The reason Paul didn’t mention the historical Jesus much is the same reason behind the dispute with the apostles. Their authority was simply that they LIVED with Jesus and this had claim to represent his teachings accurately.

            Paul was trying to figure out how to trump the fact that he didn’t know Jesus personally, so his message was designed to get around that.

            Whoever was right, clearly the fact that there was a living Jesus known to one group and not the other was a central part of the debate.

          • How is that clear? Where do you see evidence that Paul’s opponents based their claims to authority on knowing the earthly Jesus rather than basing them on revelations of the risen Christ?

          • Mark

            I agree that Occam Razor’s claim isn’t at all clear. It is perfectly possible that Paul didn’t think Jesus /had/ any ‘authority’ before the resurrection, Philippians 2:9-10 effectively entails that he didn’t. (Others, at least later, were of a different opinion.) But Paul in Philippians 2 seems to affirm a ‘historical’ Jesus e.g. saying he was born, crucified and died.

          • Gary

            “Paul didn’t mention the historical Jesus much is the same reason behind the dispute with the apostles.”

            “But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden”; “speak”, not written”. So not necessarily written in Paul’s letters.

            A possible explanation, pneumonic versus psychic, per Valentinus.

            Paul’s bifurcated interpretation circa 100 AD, gnostic versus orthodox.

            Elaine Pagel “The Gnostic Paul”;
            Valentinus exegesis:

            1 Cor 2:6-7
            From Oxford NRSV Commentary: “Mature” (Greek “teleios”) is a technical term in the mystery religions, designating one who has been fully initiated.

            “6 Yet among the mature (pneumonic) we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age (psychic), who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”

            1 Cor 2:14 “Those who are unspiritual[a] (psychic) do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual (pneumatic) discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.”

  • If the influence of Jesus has disappeared from history (or if that position can be reasonably held), that would seem to leave room for doubt about his existence since the former is the grounds for inferring the latter. The problem for mythicists is that nailing down other influences isn’t any easier, so they are compelled to massage their methodology pretty vigorously in an effort to turn an intriguing possibility into a likely scenario. On the other hand, it is hard for me to place any greater stock in the methodology of mainstream scholars who claim to be “almost certain” about things that the historical Jesus said and did. The log that they are unable to see in their own eyes gives me little confidence in their ability to accurately assess the magnitude of the lumber elsewhere.

    • John MacDonald

      Ooo, it sounds like the start of another “Vinny/Dr. McGrath” idea battle. I love these!

    • Nick G

      If the influence of Jesus has disappeared from history (or if that position can be reasonably held)

      That is, very clearly, not what the quote from Guignebert is saying.

      • Although my comment was inspired by a phrase that Guignebert used, it was intended as my own thoughts and not an interpretation of the quote. I actually decided not to put the phrase in quotation marks in order to avoid misunderstanding; I guess that didn’t work.

    • John MacDonald

      Vinny said:

      “The problem for mythicists is that nailing down other influences isn’t any easier, so they are compelled to massage their methodology pretty vigorously in an effort to turn an intriguing possibility into a likely scenario.”

      Mythicism is a very difficult position to try to defend. The one historicity point that most mainstream scholars seem to agree upon is the crucifixion, so I think mythicists would need to try their luck with focusing on that. Just for the fun of playing Devil’s advocate, I’ll take a run at it:

      Maybe the reason Mark develops narrative details about the crucifixion through scriptural allusions is that Mark’s source for the crucifixion is Paul, and Paul doesn’t give any narrative details about the crucifixion. So where did Paul learn about the crucifixion? It may have been from sources about the historical Jesus, but maybe not. The only detail Paul gives about the crucifixion is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3).” This may mean that Paul learned of Christ’s atoning death through an allegorical reading of Hebrew scriptures. But what scriptures? Paul says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,” wrote Paul, “for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). Paul was quoting a phrase found in Deuteronomy 21:23. So the mythicist argument could be that Paul learned of Christ’s atoning crucifixion through an allegorical reading of Deuteronomy 21:23.

      And this business of Christ being hung on a tree as meaning Christ’s crucifixion also shows up in the following passages from Acts and 1 Peter:

      Acts 5:30: “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘…The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.’”
      Acts 10:39 – 4: again Peter: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day…”
      Acts 13: 28 – 29: Paul: “… they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead…”
      1 Peter 2: 24: “He… carried our sins in his body up onto the tree…”

      So, just for the fun of playing Devil’s advocate, that’s how I would put forth the mythicist argument against the historicity of the crucifixion.

      • John MacDonald

        Or if not Paul (if you view the Corinthian Creed as pre-Pauline), this allegorical reading of Deuteronomy 21:23 may have been how the Christians before Paul, such as Peter, learned of the crucifixion of the mythical Christ.

        That’s the best way I can argue it, anyway.

      • A pious Jew fervently prays for God to send a champion to deliver His people from the Roman yoke. His hopes rise every time a new challenger appears on the scene only to be dashed by the Romans. As he desperately searches the scriptures for an explanation, he stumbles on the idea that God’s anointed one must first suffer for the sins of His people before delivering them. He has a vision of a crucified Messiah returning in glory.

        Could this pious Jew have been the follower of a particular Messianic claimant from Nazareth named Jesus? That certainly seems plausible. Is that the only way the idea could have arisen or is that way any more probable than any other? I don’t see how we can know that.

        • The way we tell which of these scenarios is more probable is the same way we tell which of ANY two scenarios is more probable: by having experts weigh the evidence for each.

          People uninvolved directly in criminal cases regularly either second guess the investigators and jury, or insist that we simply cannot know. But that doesn’t undermine the validity of the system that is in place which we use as a society to evaluate evidence and draw conclusions. And as in history, sometimes new evidence comes to light that merits revision of a conclusion drawn previously, but that fact does not invalidate the earlier conclusion still possibly being the right one, the best that could be drawn, based on the evidence previously available.

          Are you agnostic about all matters of criminal justice, too?

          • If you don’t have a healthy dose of skepticism about experts in the criminal justice system, you haven’t done enough reading. I suggest that you start with the case of Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in Texas based on the testimony of “expert” arson investigators.

            It turned out that the criteria by which the experts determined when a fire was deliberately set were based on little more than wishful thinking, old wives tales, and group-think. Actual scientific testing proved that accidental fires were just as likely to produce the supposed signs of arson.

            High degrees of certainty about theories that have not been verified empirically and failure to address obvious alternatives are good reasons to take the claims of experts with a grain of salt.

          • And that is where academic history’s advantage over criminal court is apparent. We don’t just have two opposing sides, and a jury without the relevant expertise having to choose between their claims. We have a global conversation and debate among the world’s experts, meaning that not only will an expert using dubious methods me cross-examined by numerous if not all the representatives of their field, but experts are also the jury.

        • John MacDonald

          A people under the Roman thumb, in a society centering around a corrupt Roman loving temple cult. We should never underestimate what people will do out of desperation. A historian must also be a psychologist.

        • John MacDonald


          You might be interested in this. It’s an interview with Carrier explaining why and how he thinks Christianity emerged when it did, and why it became as successful as it did:

        • John MacDonald

          Hi Vinny,

          I just wanted to share a couple more Carrier clips with you:

          Carrier says the Gospels were created as a pesher where the first Christians were scouring ancient writings to find secret messages by God about things like the apocalypse and creating scripture out of these sources showing their new religion was greater than that of the older stories, like the way some members of the Dead Sea Scroll community searched the Hebrew scriptures for secret messages and patched scriptures together as a pesher: see time 14:07 – 17:19

          Here Carrier makes the absurd claim about Dr. McGrath that in answering him Dr. McGrath is just defending his religion, and not mounting an academic argument. This is in line with Carrier calling people who disagree with him liars or crazy: see time 10:01-10:30

        • Mark

          Anything’s possible, after all. So, you really never know. And /maybe/ this inspired person was using sacred mushrooms. I mean, what /are/ the parameters for 1st c. palestinian jewish thinking? We just don’t know.

  • John MacDonald

    I have finally finished reading “Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Lataster/Carrier, 2015). I enjoyed the book, although I have 2 quibbles:

    (1) Lataster writes “The evidence Carrier used in deriving the crucial prior probability was basically that the Gospels portray Jesus in a way that is typical of entirely fictional characters. That doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t exist, but it does mean that a low prior is justified and we would thus require extra evidence (quantitatively or qualitatively) than normal to be convinced of his historical existence (pg. 388).”

    – This comment by Lataster is absurd. Even if the Gospel of Mark is a literary narrative that doesn’t reflect the events in the life of the historical Jesus, this still doesn’t make more probable the theory Jesus didn’t exist. Maybe Mark wanted to write a narrative piece of eschatological or apocalyptic writing depicting historical figures he knew like John The Baptist, Pilate, and Jesus caught up in events at the end of time. After all, Acts is also a piece of historical fiction that is largely fictional but still about people that existed.

    (2) The Rank Raglan mythic hero archetype has nothing to do with the mythicist/historicist debate, because all Jesus’ high score on the Rank Raglan criteria might mean is that Jesus had legendary material added to his biography to make him imitate someone like Oedipus who scores on virtually every category of the Rank Raglan scale (portraying Jesus as greater than Oedipus, like the way the Gospel of John portrays Jesus as greater than Dionysus cf. on Dionysus and Jesus see Dennis MacDonald’s new book).

    • John MacDonald

      I just wanted to share one further thing about the book “”Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Lataster/Carrier, 2015).” Carrier sums up a core aspect of the prior probability of his position in the afterword to the book when he writes:

      “It must be acknowledged that unlike most average people in antiquity, Jesus belongs to several reference classes that more commonly contain mythical people than historical ones … Worshipped dying-and-rising savior gods. Conveniently exemplary counter-culture heroes. Tragic god-kings. Suffering righteous holy men. Angels. Pre-existent creator beings … It must be acknowledged that all of the non-existent dying-and-rising savior gods, conveniently exemplary counter-cultural heroes, tragic god-kings, and suffering righteous holy men, were all placed in earth history somehow and somewhen, often with whole biographies. Not one was left without this development. Whether they actually existed was never relevant to this outcome … It must be acknowledge that these two facts entail Jesus is more likely to be non-existent, like them. Not certainly to be. But more likely. Because that is true of all the others: most dying and rising savior gods placed in history with biographies are nevertheless mythical; most conveniently exemplary counter-cultural heroes placed in history with biographies are nevertheless mythical; most tragic god-kings placed in history with biographies are nevertheless mythical; most angels and pre-existent creator beings are mythical … We cannot privilege Jesus. If they are most likely to be mythical, he is most likely to be mythical (Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Lataster/Carrier, 2015), pp. 417-418).”

      Carrier commits such a glaring non sequitur here it is a wonder the God of Logic didn’t have an aneurism when Carrier wrote it, lol. It is irrelevant that Jesus fits into these reference classes, because while this might suggest he was mythical, it just as easily might suggest that Jesus was being interpreted as being greater than figures like Moses and Dionysus, and so it makes sense that there would be some legendary material added to his biography. Think about it! If you were telling stories about a man who you thought was terrific beyond words, would you talk of him in terms of being a normal average guy, or better than the best heroes you know of?I think what people need to come to realize is that Carrier’s appeal to fantastic sounding math is just a show with no actual conceptual rigor standing behind it. Whether other non-existent being belong to a certain reference class is not evidence that Jesus was non existent, since there is a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why an historical Jesus would have such legendary embellishment. It certainly isn’t evidence in favor of the contention that Jesus didn’t exist.

      • Mark

        The natural reference class is ‘purported Jewish messianic figures’, except that of course they all exist.

        • John MacDonald

          That’s just an excellent point! I quoted you on another site where I was debating this topic!

          • John MacDonald

            One big problem for the mythicist position is that positing a “possible” literary imitation model for a particular for a New Testament pericope requires considerable evidence to grow beyond the status of “mere possibility” to “probable complete basis for the pericope excluding any historical content.” .

            For instance, I am currently reading amateur bible enthusiast David Fitzgerald’s three volume work “Jesus: Mything In Action (2017).” Fitzgerald tries to argue in favor of a positive case for mythicism by tracing New Testament pericopes back to Hebrew Scripture and Greek literary types, as is the common tactic among mythicists. But Fitzgerald is betrayed by his own analysis when he concedes things like, regarding Simon the Cyrenaean and sons and his argument for possible imitation, that besides his own analysis, “there are other intriguing ‘possibilities’ [of imitation], (Volume 1, pg 283).” Crying “literary dependence” here is not “probable,” but merely “possible.” We can push this deconstructive reading of Fitzgerald further in showing how bankrupt mythicism is for providing a ‘positive’ case for literary dependence when Fitzgerald writes a little further down the page that: “If all these [apparent examples of imitation] sound unduly speculative, we should keep in mind there is every bit as much evidence for any one of these theories as for the notion that [the example in question] … derives from authentic historical tradition (Volume 1, pg.283).” In other words, Fitzgerald spends three books arguing against the historicity of Jesus’ various characterizations in the New Testament (some of which are interesting), while failing to offer positive evidence in favor of mythicism using the core mythicist’s “imitation argument.” Not exactly a major accomplishment for a book series called “Jesus: Mything In Action.”

            And even in cases of obvious literary dependence, like when Amy-Jill Levine points out that Jesus’ infancy narrative in Matthew recapitulates the story of Moses, does this mean (1) Matthew started with some facts about the historical Jesus and then shaped them to imitate the story of Moses in the Hebrew scriptures, or did Matthew start with the story of Moses and then invent the infancy of Jesus out of whole cloth? This is a hard and sophisticated question, with two poles of possibility with lots of room in between, and so excludes the mythicist from citing apparent literary dependence as a positive argument in favor of mythicism.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Let’s admit that the majority of the Jesus didn’t exist at all as a human being camp is producing really bad theories but let’s not forget that the pro-historical Jesus side has its share of off the wall theories that get more and more crazy the more and more of the Gospel account they take as actual history.

            The efforts of trying to make Luke and Matthew agree are comical at best and a demonstration of the worst the pro-historical Jesus has to offer. If we used those as the benchmark the pro-historical Jesus would similarly come of a frothing at the mouth bonkers.

          • Nick G

            Carrier takes those extreme parts of the pro-historical Jesus side as the basis for a tongue in cheek study of the whole historical Jesus argument.

            I know of no evidence at all that Carrier is anything other than serious. On what do you base the claim that his study is “tongue in cheek”?

          • Bruce Grubb

            Study was the wrong word: lecture what what I meant.

            The entire lecture is at and one fo the funnier comments is Revelation being a “Five hour acid trip so bizarre if you actually made it into a movie it would actually outdo Eraserhead for the title of ‘Most Annoying Weird Movie Ever Made’. It’s basically the ramblings of a guy who has an hours long conversation with the dead spirit of Jesus who appears in the form of fucked up mutant that makes John Carpenter’s The Thing look cuddly.”

            And in case you are wondering yes somebody did make Revelation into a movie–several of them ( ) in fact – with one of them ( ) adding the Uncanny Valley of *bad/cheap) CGI to the already off the wall bonkers story.

          • Paul E.

            Ugh. If that’s one of the “funnier” comments, I shudder to think how flat the others fell.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Personally I didn’t consider it falling “flat” especially as one of the Christ Myth theories had the Christians higher then kites (The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross) so Carrier is poking fun not only at Revelation but the more extreme Christ Myth theories.

            Let’s face it; Revelation is totally off the wall bonkers.

          • I suppose it must seem that way to those unfamiliar with Jewish apocalyptic literature…

          • Bruce Grubb

            At least with Daniel 7–12 you got a well here is what this meant. With Revelation it is the raw vision and so comes of at really trippy.

          • Mark

            Try the ‘Animal Apocalypse’.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Yes, if you’re completely ignorant of ancient apocalyptic literature. Yeesh, no wonder Carrier can’t get a job.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Any yet people who say that Adam and Eve were real people and the resurrection as described (along with the undead jamboree in Matthew 27:52-53) are real historical events exactly as written CAN get jobs. And the handful that say Adam and Eve are myths are either fired (Steve Bitterman – 2007) or forced to retire (John Schneider – 2011).

            When a profession is that off the wall bonkers saying one can’t get a job in it is not saying much. If anything it suggests that they are not crazy enough to get work. ;-P

          • This comment is bizarre. Why would Carrier apply for a job at a sectarian school?! We are talking about the mainstream secular academy here.

          • Bruce Grubb

            You do know that secular schools have problems with how Christian history, especially that of Jesus, is handled within their walls, right?

          • Can you please be more specific? What kinds of problems do you have in mind that exist today? And how if at all are they different from problems that other fields face? And how if at all do the things you refer to justify denialism with respect to the conclusions of mainstream academic scholarship?

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            That’s great logic, because we all know that universities are packed with idiots, right? Every professor is a flaming idiot, and only geniuses like Carrier realize it.

            I swear, for people who are so fervent about “idiots believing myths,” you guys are the worst examples of it. The irony is overwhelming.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Not so much “idiots” but trapped in their own echo chamber. The handful who are saying ‘hey we’re doing this wrong’ are either ignored (paleographic dating being used with a fineness that it simply isn’t capable of) or only halfheartedly listened to (as in the case of Hector Avalos).

            This isn’t anything unique to Bible studies; other fields have gotten into their own little echo chambers and ignored those who decades later where shown to be right ( Alfred Wegener had the right idea but the wrong mechanics but his theory got the baby in the bath water treatment for close on 40 years)

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Um, no.

            Universities and colleges are not controlled by a religious hegemony that expels anyone who is critical of religion. While it is true that there’s always a sort of inertia to any community of knowledge that is initially resistant to change, that’s not what’s happening here.

            Carrier is not rejected by scholars because his ideas are new and radical and shake things up too much; he’s rejected by scholars because he’s a crackpot who’s almost chronically unable to produce anything cogent based on sound methodology or evidence. Instead of absorbing the critiques of those who would be his peers, he publicly insists they are “lying” about him, and the only reason they are resistant to his work is because they’re just not ready, man. He’s just too radical, dude.

            That is not the case.

            I agree that one can demonstrate that someone is ridiculed by the community of their peers because their ideas are true, but too radically different than the accepted truths of the community to get a fair shake. This happens in history.

            However, another reason people are ridiculed by the community of their peers is that they are wingnuts who are unable to substantiate their claims, and Carrier clearly falls into this category.

            Also, you should probably be aware that Carrier’s degree is not in biblical studies.

          • Bruce Grubb

            There are ” crackpots” working at universities right now: ones that believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, Adam and Eve were real people, that Moses really existed, the Exoduses really happened, that the ENTIRE NT is historically accurate, that the Jews are trying to take over the world, I think you get the idea.

            Regarding “wingnuts who are unable to substantiate their claims”, one only has to look at Palaeographic dates that are far too fine for what the field is able to produced (a range of 50 years for 66% accuracy with 70-80 more realistic) and are often misrepresented (a range of 125-225 is presented as c 125 CE; P52) to see that idea die a miserable death.

            In _Day the Universe Changed_ James Burke gave many examples in “Worlds Without End” where things ‘fitted’ the model so well that the scientific community wouldn’t listen to evidence.

            In France peasants would talk about ‘these here stones that fell from the sky’. They were written off as crazy…then the Revolution happened. Within a few years a scholarly work on meteorites was published.

            David Waterston of King’s College London (1913), French paleontologist Marcellin Boule (1915), and Franz Weidenreich (1923) could all “substantiate their claims” that Piltdown Man was a hoax…and we all know how well they were listened to.

            In 1956, Horace Miner wrote his bitingly satirical “Body Ritual among the Nacirema.” which took the ‘Look at these poor primitives who believe in magic that we are so much wiser than’ attitude so common in professional anthropological publications of the time and turned it on the then modern US. The field listened and the concept of Emic vs Etic came about.

            No, the real reason Carrier can’t get work is the field is the same reason that for a while there were geology PhDs selling shoes: the field had too many people for the number of positions around (and that was including the private oil sector with geology)

          • Ah, so you don’t just reject mainstream history, but also geology, biology, and other subjects as well. That is sad, but understandable if you have failed to notice that in our time, in almost every instance, the overturning of older ideas by new and better ones happens because professional researchers engage in the scholarly process. That is what academics do for a living – investigate, question, try new ideas, and submit our case for a new interpretation to the scholarly community for evaluation. Not every new idea withstands that scrutiny, because not every new idea is capable of doing so.

            That is what your comment is missing – an understanding of what separates the fringe idea that the earth is merely a few thousand years old from the fringe idea that rocks fall from the sky. No claims are in principle off limits in the realm of secular academia. But some claims have already been through the process and found to be unconvincing if not indeed false. Those who continue making them are thus marginalizing themselves by rejecting the scholarly process. It is unfair to blame the academy for not accepting a young earth as though this is unfair discrimination. This is a rigorous committment to investigation and following the evidence where it leads at work.

          • Bruce Grubb

            How on earth did you go from not enough jobs available to this nonsense?!?

          • If you think it is nonsense, and genuinely cannot understand why I wrote it, you must not grasp the implications of your comment’s confused jumble of fringe ideas that turned out to be incorrect, and have been adequately demonstrated such through the academic process, and ideas that turned out to be correct through that same process.

          • Bruce Grubb

            You are still not making sense.

          • John MacDonald

            Bruce said: “I have a firm grasp of the Christ Myth theory (… ).”

            – You have a “firm grasp” of something because you have read the Wikipedia entry about it? That pretty much renders universities superfluous. lol

          • Bruce Grubb

            See those little numbers? They are what are known as references.

          • John MacDonald

            You said you read Carrier’s “On The Historicity Of Jesus,” but didn’t know what “Minimal Mythicism” was. I am skeptical about how many of those “little numbers” you have actually followed up on.

          • Bruce Grubb

            As the the article ( ) points out there is an area BETWEEN Carrier’s “minimal theory of historicity” (pg 34) and his “minimal Jesus myth theory” (pg 53), there there are versions of Jesus that don’t meet either set of criteria. A sort of “Ahistorical realm” if you will.

            I see from your comment you didn’t even look at the Fossil Record. If you had you have never made that insane “how many of those “little numbers” you have actually followed up on.” comment.

            I’M THE ONE WHO PROVIDED THEM. Sheesh.

            I noticed you didn’t go near that point of how references to Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, University of Chicago Press, University of South Carolina Press, Indiana University Press, Oxford University, etc makes those very same universities superfluous as you claimed.

            Heck, Ehrman’s version of the Christ Myth theory isn’t in agreement with Carrier’s “minimal Jesus myth theory” because a Jesus who took over an already existing Christianity cult or one whose Jewish cult was turned into Christianity by those after him would both be examples of a ‘minimal mythist’ Jesus as Ehrman defines it but NOT as Carrier defines it.

            Eddy-Boyd has a version of mythical Jesus so broad it includes those who accept there is a man behind the gospel account (GA Wells).

          • Mark

            The existence of the gospels is basically irrelevant to the question of historicity of Jesus himself. The question can be posed on the basis of the authentic letters of Paul. We know what a ‘mythicist’ account of these looks like; it’s pretty hopeless.

            The theory of degrees of mythicism-historicism you are making up on that wiki page is nonsense. We are comparing secular accounts of the actual content of 1st c. history – the origin of the Jesus movement or Christianity or whatever you want to call it. An account is not ‘more historicist’ by crediting miracles like the raising of Lazarus, and more ‘mythicist’ by discrediting them. In questions of history of course we don’t credit miracles.

          • Bruce Grubb

            It seems you have not really read the page in question. Here is the most relevant part:

            The biggest problem with talking about a “historical Jesus” is that there are two “historical” Jesus Christs forming the ends of a huge spectrum of hypothesis. Touched on by Remsberg in 1909, by Rudolf Bultmann in 1941 (and used by Richard Carrier in 2014), and reiterated by Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall in 2004, these two ends (the italicized clarifiers are from Marshall) are:

            1. Reductive theory (Remsburg’s Jesus of Nazareth): “Jesus was an ordinary but obscure individual who inspired a religious movement and copious legends about him”_ rather than being a totally fictitious creation like King Lear or Doctor Who_

            2. Triumphalist theory (Remsburg’s Jesus of Bethlehem): “The Gospels are totally or almost totally true” _rather than being works of imagination like those of King Arthur._

            Marshall warns “We shall land in considerable confusion if we embark on an inquiry about the historical Jesus if we do not pause to ask ourselves exactly what we are talking about.”

            However, as Carrier notes, “Either side of the historicity debate will at time engage in a fallacy here, citing evidence supporting the reductive theory in defense of the triumphalist theory (as if that was valid), or citing the absurdity of the triumphalist theory as if this refuted the reductive theory (as if _that_) were valid)”

            Too many times when apologists talk about a historical Jesus they are actually talking about the Jesus of Bethlehem and too many times Christ Mythers are trying to disprove the Jesus of Bethlehem rather than a possible Jesus of Nazareth.


            Note on the Triumphalist side of the historical Jesus range Marshall uses King Arthur as a counterpoint; a person so steeped in myth and legend that we aren’t even sure _he_ existed.

            That means by Marshall’s criteria Jesus Agnosticism would be a reductive historical Jesus position _and_ a triumphalist mythical Jesus position. It all hinges on what one considers a “historical” Jesus.

            The Evidence page ( ) goes into depth regarding all the evidence for Jesus and there simply is not much there.

          • Mark

            Again, this is all based on what Kripke calls the ‘disguised description theory of names’. There are not many Jesuses ‘the Jesus who raised Lazarus and who also …’, ‘the Jesus who was either killed by Pilate or … and …’ etc etc. This confuses the /truth of a statement/ with /the reference of a name occurring in it/. I cannot recommend reading “Naming and Necessity” highly enough; of the great works in the canon of the history of philosophy it is among the most readable.

            The fact is that /either/ the use of the name ‘Jesus’ that comes down to us by the copying of the letters of Paul and the gospels etc. refers to a particular human being /or else/ it doesn’t.

            The question, as Kripke shows, is very simple. Paul’s particular use of the name ‘Jesus’ (a common Aramaic name in the period) //defers// to the use of his predecessors whom he had formerly ‘persecuted’. When he says he saw ‘Christ’ whom he also calls ‘Jesus’ in e.g. 1 Cor 15, he means that he ‘saw’ the one they were already talking about, inter alia under the name ‘Jesus’.

            To find the referent, then – if there is one – we now go to the usage of this popular 1st c. name for boys by ‘those who came before’ Paul – this is what the reference of Paul’s usage depends on and inherits. (People in Paul’s congregations also used the name ‘Jesus’; the reference in the sentences they formed by repeating this expression depends on or inherits the reference of Paul’s uses – and perhaps on the uses of the other independent Jesus-messianists who came their way). The question is whether /Paul’s predecessors’/ use of ‘Jesus’ depends on and continues, in the familiar causal way, a particular use of the name ‘Jesus’ for a particular 1st c. Palestinian human being. Either it does or it doesn’t. If the chain of repetition comes to a limit in a human being, then “Jesus” refers to a human being, and it is true to say “Jesus really existed”.

            Given a genuine proper name referring to a real individual, there is no limit to the nonsense people can go on to attach to it as predicates. No amount of false predication affects the reference of a genuine personal name, if it has any. I don’t get to invent ‘a Jesus’ for each such predication – e.g.
            “Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead” and ask ‘whether that Jesus exists’. I just ask whether the sentence is true.

          • Bruce Grubb

            You clearly didn’t read the entire page as this is dealt with indirectly in the ‘Jesus Frum; John Christ’ section ( :

            Guiart’s 1952 Oceania paper also shows the complexity involved regarding determining if Jesus was a man or a celestial being. ( )

            We are told that “A man named Manehevi had posed as a supernatural being by means of ingenious stage management.” But later we are also told “From elsewhere rail the rumour that, in spite of the Administration statement, Manehevi was not John Frum, and that the latter was still at liberty.”

            Here we are told John Frum was a “supernatural being” while the believers are saying he is an actual man who “was still at liberty”

            If that isn’t enough we are also told “John Frum, alias Karaperamun, is always the god of Mount Tukosmoru, which will shelter the planes, then the soldiers.”

            Here we are told that John Frum is Karaperamun (who is a long existing volcano god) but we were also told that Manehevi was (or pretended to be) John Frum and that John Frum was another person who was still at liberty.

            As you can see from Guiart’s 1952 article, a mere 11 years after the John Frum movement become noticeable by nonbelievers it is not clear if John Frum is simply another name for Karaperamun (the High god of the region), a name that various actual people use as leader of the religious cult, or the name of some other person who inspired the cult perhaps as much as 30 years previously. If to confuse things further it has been suggested that Tom Navy, a companion to John Frum, is based on a real person: Tom Beatty of Mississippi, who served in the New Hebrides both as a missionary, and as a Navy Seabee during the war.

            As Against Heresies (c 180 CE; ) just what Jesus was was all over the freaking map. One group had this idea, other group had another idea, and so on. That shows that any idea that that ‘Jesus’ is some form of rigid designator even back in the 2nd century was deader then the dodo. And it doesn’t deal with those who thought Jesus lived a century earlier

            To reframe your point in modern terms: The question is whether /their /use of ‘John Frum’ depends on and continues, in the familiar causal way, a particular use of the name ‘John Frum’ for a particular early-mid 20th century person. Either it does or it doesn’t.

            Basically who _is_ “John Frum”? Is he Manehevi, some other person who used that name, or a name given to already existing deity?

            I should point out that anthologists have kicked around the meaning of names and terms for well over 50 years (Dunnell and Binford are the real giants on this topic though they aren’t the easiest people to read). So this is a been there got the T-shirt situation.

          • Mark

            > just what Jesus was was all over the freaking map. One group had this idea, other group had another idea, and so on. That shows that any idea that that ‘Jesus’ is some form of rigid designator even back in the 2nd century was deader then the dodo.

            Right this is the same confusion over and over and over again. If the referential chain exists, all uses of the repeated name refer to the original bearer. It doesn’t matter what people are saying /with/ the name through which they intend to replicate the chain. The point is developed with overwhelming force by Kripke. People can say wilder and wilder and more diverse and impossible things about Jesus –
            but they keep the same referential chain, saying ‘Jesus’ /because/ some predecessors said ‘Jesus’ – so they are along referring to the same 1st century individual whatever they say. You say “One group had this idea, other group had another idea” – and this is about the predicates they apply and have //no bearing// on the question of the referent of the name; it doesn’t change what they are applying these predicates to. They can’t change this, it is fixed by iron in the fact that even as they change doctrines they repeat the received expression ‘Jesus’ and entering into dispute with their immediate predecessors. Of course they are all massively wrong; but it’s a first century Galilean they are massively wrong about.

            Our question is about 1st c Palestine; it is historical not anthropological.

            If there is an original John Frum, an American soldier say, then that’s John Frum; sentences containing ‘John Frum’ are true just in case they are true of John Frum. The claim that he is identical with Manehevi, even if this is directly asserted, is in that case simply false, even if Manehavi exists. If ‘John Frum’ was introduced as a name for Manehevi, then things are different. The case is in fact of zero interest, as I said above. Frum is mirror and parody of Jesus; the reproduction of the cult depends on this internal relation to the Christianity they are rejecting.

            In proto-Christianity have to do with a Jewish messianic movement. The charismatic target of all such movements actually existed and is unique and unambiguous. It is the same if we extend the expand the notion to include e.g. corresponding Islamic phenomena. Thus Menachem Schneerson, Sabbatai Sevi, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad all of course existed. Similarly, Jesus existed. John Frum and General Ludd and Robin Hood are not names preserved for us by Jewish messianic movements.

          • These comments of yours make the point so crystal clear. May I quote them in a blog post sometime?

          • Mark

            Sure, of course!

          • Bruce Grubb

            I don’t know how clear the comments make it as they remind me too much of the anthropologist Binford who half the time seemed to forget what an introductory paragraph was for. He and Dunnel were kicking around such fun topics as ‘does style have function?’ for nearly 20 years.

            Historical Anthropology has changed the relationship between history and anthropology. One of its methods is to try and form an anthropological framework through which any written historical documents must be evaluated. In many respects it came out of the whole emic vs etic paradigm Miner’s 1956 paper helped trigger but didn’t really hit is beginning stride until the mid 1980s.

            The emic vs etic paradigm is one of the areas philosophy has a real problem with. I have been talking about emic aspects while Kripke is going on about potential etic aspects.

            There are all kinds of Jesus’ one can formulate that would fall into Ehrman’s definition of Christ Myth:

            1) In the time of Pontius Pilate some crazy ran into the Temple trashing the place and screaming “I am Jesus, King of the Jews” before some guard ran him through with a sword. Right place right time…and that is it. No preaching, no followers, no crucifixion, nothing but some nut doing the 1st century equivalent of suicide by cop.

            2) Paul’s teachings ala John Frum inspired others to take up the name “Jesus” and preach their spin on Paul’s visions with one of them getting crucified by the Romans by his troubles whose teachings are time shifted so he is before Paul. (John Robertson actually came up with a variant of this in 1900 with this Jesus being inspired by Paul’s writings rather then teachings)

            3) You could have a Jesus who was born c 12 BCE in the small town of Cana, who preached a few words of Jewish wisdom to small crowds of no more than 10 people at a time, and died due to being run over by a chariot at the age of 50.

            And this is ignoring the c 100 BCE Jesus that has been talked about in Jewish writings since the 4th century.

            Abraham ben Daud of the 12th century writes “The Jewish history-writers say that Joshua ben Perachiah was the teacher of Yeshu ha-Notzri [the Nazarene], according to which the latter lived in the day of King Janni [Jannaeus]; the history-writers of the other nations, however, say that he was born in the days of Herod and was hanged in the days of his son Archelaus. This is a great difference, a difference of more than 110 years.”

          • Bruce Grubb

            “Our question is about 1st c Palestine; it is historical not anthropological.”

            You clearly haven’t heard of Historical Anthropology. Harvard gives a good overview of just what that is. ( )

            A textbook to get up to speed on this is

            _Historical Anthropology_ (2009) Oxford University Press ISBN-13: 978-0195699357

          • John MacDonald

            My plan for new scholarship isn’t to deny that Jesus existed (because people have already argued that, lol), but to argue new interpretations, like the idea that the resurrection tales about Jesus were lies (see along with the reader comments) or else that the gospel of Mark may have been a satire: The Sanhedrin trying Jesus on Passover Eve? Not a chance. And finding him guilty of blasphemy for his messianic claims? There was nothing blasphemous about Jesus, Bar Kochba, or anybody else claiming to be the messiah (though of course they might be mistaken). And Jesus going around teaching in parables that nobody could understand. And, as Dr. Avalos said, Jesus sets a horrible example, such as telling people to leave their families. You don’t find it even a little comical that Jesus went around teaching in parables when he freely admits that none of the people he was teaching had the key to them to understood them? lol And the cluelessness of the disciples wondering how Jesus could perform a feeding miracle when he had just performed one. Maybe Mark was writing a parody or satire of Christians, in the way Aristophanes wrote “The Clouds” lampooning the intellectual atmosphere of his time (especially Socrates). Maybe the young man in the tomb at the end of Mark was a practical joke: the young man lying that Jesus had risen when all that had really happened was he and some of his friends had stolen the body as a prank. This is the sort of thing you need to argue to be shocking, not the Christ Myth theory, which is Old Hat by now. lol

          • Bruce Grubb

            But that IS part of the Christ Myth theory!

            “The myth theory is not concerned to deny such a possibility [that Jesus existed as a human being]. What the (Christ) myth theory denies is that Christianity can be traced to a personal founder who taught as reported in the Gospels and was put to death in the circumstances there recorded.” – John M. Robertson’s 1900 version.

            “The Jesus of the New Testament is a supernatural being. He is, like the Christ, a myth. He is the Christ myth. … Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist.” – Remsburg (1909)

            Christ Myth theory is NOT only limited to the ‘Jesus didn’t exist as a human being’ domain. It _includes_ the idea that the actual human Jesus and the Gospel version are so different that other then their names their relationship to each other is nil.

            Heck, the 1982 and 1995 _International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J_ says “This view [Christ Myth theory] states that the story of Jesus is a piece of mythology, possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes…” There are stories of known historical people that are “possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes…” _Davy Crocket and the Frozen Dawn_ being one of the more blatant examples of this.

            I recommend a reading of which has references out the wazoo on just how broad the Christ Myth really was and still is.

          • Nick G

            Alfred Wegener had the right idea but the wrong mechanics but his theory got the baby in the bath water treatment for close on 40 years

            And very reasonably so. What you omit is the astonishing speed with which plate tectonics was accepted, once a new and convincing form of evidence – of the correct mechanism – became available.

  • Bruce Grubb

    The massive elephant in the room regarding mysticism is the very meaning of “historical Jesus” differs on both sides of the debate.

    Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall stated there are “two views of the historical Jesus which stand at the opposite ends of a spectrum of opinion about him. (…) [W]e shall land in considerable confusion if we embark on an inquiry about the historical Jesus if we do not pause to ask ourselves exactly what we are talking about.”

    Carrier used the terms Reductivism and Triumphalism as the names for the ends of his historical Jesus spectrum but the whole thing boils down to ‘how much of the Gospel account is actual history?’

    A reductivist Jesus can get so minimal that _any_ person called Jesus from c100 BCE – !00 CE who was responsible for ‘founding’ Christanity would fit the bill.

  • John MacDonald

    I was just thinking about mythicism, and something occurred to me. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that “So from now on we regard no one according to the flesh. Although we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:16).” Paul seems to be saying here that Jesus was once viewed as a flesh and blood man, but now he is not. But it still seems to mean Christ was once just a man – which seems to exclude mythicism.

    • It should exclude mythicism – but as you know, people like Richard Carrier will bend over backwards and invoke celestial flesh and even celestial sperm in order to avoid following the evidence where it leads.