Mythicism and Diametrically Opposed Ideological Propaganda

Mythicism and Diametrically Opposed Ideological Propaganda July 3, 2019

One of the scholars that I had the pleasure of meeting at the conference I attended in Romania is Anna Oracz from Poland. In seeking to connect with the academics I met there through sites like, I discovered that Oracz has written a review of Rene Salm’s denialist take on the village of Nazareth. Her conclusion is summed up well in this sentence: “anybody seeking an honest evaluation of the evidence in “The Myth of Nazareth” will be disappointed.”

As I mentioned in a recent blog post that I wrote in Romanian, which to my surprise some readers took the time to decipher even though they do not speak Romanian, the mythicist idea was part of Communist propaganda in Eastern Europe, being found in works in German and Polish as well as Romanian.

I’ve thus been thinking that it could be worthwhile to write an article about the ideological frameworks within which mythicism has been deployed as part of their arsenal. All of them have an anti-religious bent, whether it be Communist or modern online atheist opposition to religion in general, or Nazi and Eurocentric efforts to have Jesus be based on European myths rather than represent a Jewish messianic figure. Indeed, the fact that this particular stance has been used in such different ideological contexts is striking, and looking into it might help clarify what makes certain types of rejection of mainstream scholarship take root in the ways that they do within certain movements. What do others think? Would something like a ‘history of mythicism’ be worth writing? Would anyone read it? If I wrote it, mythicists would only read it to “debunk” it – the same way they read previously published historical scholarship (when they bother reading it, that is).

In looking into this, I also came across an article shared online on by Alina Petru, “Elemente de critică religioasă în mişcarea Zeitgeist.” Also related to this topic, whether directly or tangentially:

Jesus as second-temple Jew

Was Jesus a Real Person?

Philology and the Comparative Study of Myths

You Can’t Predict Where Questioning Your Beliefs Will Lead You

Simbologia tra Cristo e misteri orientali

Finally, here’s yet another effort to counter a silly counterfactual mythicist meme that circulates on social media.

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  • Okay, but, to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, even if everything you’ve said is true, you still aren’t one step closer to showing that Jesus was a real person, or that your god is real. And those who are making the positive claim must bear the burden of proof.

    The reality is, we don’t know if Jesus was a real person, because there’s no evidence for his existence. Same with unicorns and fairies – no evidence for their existence, and that is why most people are perfectly comfortable in simply asserting that unicorns and fairies don’t exist. I feel the same comfort in asserting that Jesus never existed, and that gods aren’t real. These are reasonable assumptions based on the complete lack of evidence for Jesus or God. Until you show me actual evidence to back up your claims, I’ll stay comfortable in my assumptions.

    So you can play around all you want with mythicist arguments. But when you do that, all you’re doing is attempting to distract your audience from the real issue. The mythicists don’t bear the burden of proof for the existence of the Christian god – Christians do.

    • You’re illustrating well the confusion mythicists have about this topic. Secular historians are not talking about fairies or some sort of divine figure when they talk about the historical Jesus. They are talking about the historical individual whose followers thought he was the one who would restore the kingship to the line of David. Addressing the likelihood of the existence of a historical person is a very different matter than claims to the supernatural or magical or whatnot.

      I’ve been writing about this for many years and do not repeat everything historians have said, or address every bit of mythicist denialism and pseudoscholarship, in every post on the subject. And so you might want to begin here:

      Alternatively, just click on the tag for “mythicism” and that will take you to some of the related content here on the blog.

      • I’m not interested in mythicism. It’s a distraction – it’s just a way for prominent atheists to make a few bucks. The Jesus myth “genre” is the atheist equivalent of books about any other mythology, or about ancient alien civilizations – fun to read, food for speculation, but not all that relevant to the important issues we face about religion: whether it’s healthy or harmful.

        As to the idea that Jesus was a historical figure, the reality is, he has not been demonstrated to be a historical figure. You’re merely asserting that he was. Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

        • Claims made on blogs which refer to the wealth of secular academic scholarship on a subject, whether the topic be history, biology, or anything else, but do not try to repeat a century’s worth of publications on the topic, can only be dismissed as “without evidence” either by those who think this internet debate tactic is actually meaningful or persuasive, or who are not informed either about academic work and publications on the subject, or perhaps who don’t understand that questions of science, history, medicine, or anything else are appropriately addressed in academic journals and monographs, with blog posts and tweets being able to at best make reference to them.

          • Milo C

            Indeed, I don’t think Jesus was divine but I do think there’s enough evidence to assume one such individual existed within the time and location suggested by gospel writings. Heck, there was probably more than one.

        • Mark

          > As to the idea that Jesus was a historical figure, the reality is, he has not been demonstrated to be a historical figure. You’re merely asserting that he was. Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

          There is ample evidence. You need a theory that takes account of this evidence, but manages to dispense with a Jesus character. Experience shows that these theories are weak, e.g. Carrier’s, and generally because of the writer’s ignorance of the underlying Jewish matrix, about which more and more has come to be understood in the last half-century or so.

        • Scott Paeth

          “I’m not interested in mythicism. It’s a distraction” … yet, here you are commenting on a post on mythicism, and making an essentially mythicist argument.

          “As to the idea that Jesus was a historical figure, the reality is, he has not been demonstrated to be a historical figure.” As James (and many, many … MANY others) have demonstrated, there is in fact ample evidence that Jesus was an historical figure. I guess I’d ask what evidence is lacking that you’d require. Do you believe Socrates was an historical figure? Because the evidence of Jesus’ historicity is no less than that of Socrates, and in fact, the evidence in favor of Jesus’ historicity is GREATER than many historical figures the existence of whom we take for granted. Seriously: What more do you require?

          • Most (if not all) of the people from the ancient world about whose existence we can be confident were either literate or prominent people themselves or did things during that brought them to the attention of literate or prominent people. Jesus was likely a backwater itinerant preacher who went unnoticed outside a small band of illiterate peasant followers until he annoyed the authorities sufficiently that he got himself crucified. He is only known to us as a result of supernatural events that are supposed to have taken place after his death. I think that makes his existence problematic in ways that are unlike anyone else.

            By the way, we have the writings of three people who knew Socrates, which is more than we have for Jesus.

          • Scott Paeth

            If you read Jame’s blog regularly, you’ve no doubt come across this argument on numerous occasions. But James has laid this out before. The evidence for Jesus’ existence is at least as strong as, if not stronger than, the evidence for Socrates’ existence.

            In addition to the Gospels, we have the writings of Josephus. There’s no better reason to think that either Plato or Xenophon was any more reliable a writer on Socrates’ existence than the Gospels were on Jesus, nor that Josephus as a commentator offers us a less clear picture into the nature of reality than Aristophanes — who, let’s recall was a dramatist, not a historian. Furthermore, we have Paul’s letters, who, though he didn’t personally know Jesus, attests to knowing Jesus’ brother James as well as Peter, direct disciples of Jesus.

            So again, the question is, what further evidence would you need?

          • Matt S

            Just curious – shouldn’t we take into consideration that Plato and Xenophon (and Aristophanes and some others?) were alive around the same time as Socrates and would have known him?

            As far as I know, none of the Early Christian sources you listed are considered to be eyewitness or disciple testimonies by many modern scholars.

            Paul is usually dated the closest to Jesus’ life but as you mentioned, he does not claim to know Jesus directly.

          • Scott Paeth

            Well again, James has addressed this extensively, but let’s stick with Socrates for a minute and then turn to Jesus. What can we glean from Xenophon’s version of Socrates in comparison with Platos? Well, for one thing, that they had substantially different conceptions of what Socrates’ philosophy was. And in the case of Plato, the deeper we get into his corpus, the more scholars would tell you that what we’re seeing is not Socrates’ philosophy anymore at all but more and more Plato’s. Add Aristophanes to the mix, and it turns out that his understanding of Socrates is even more radically different. So, what can we really say about Socrates on the basis of these accounts? Almost nothing except that these three guys agreed that there was a guy named Socrates in Athens in the 4th century, and that he was a … something. Philosopher? Sophist? They disagree completely, but he existed.

            Now, turn to Jesus. In this case, we have numerous first century sources. Four synoptic gospels, Paul’s undisputed letters, and Josephus. Paul’s letters are, in my opinion, most interesting, because he is straightforward that he did not know Jesus personally. If he were just making stuff up, it would make perfect sense for him to assert a personal acquaintance with Jesus, but he’s clear he did not have one. But what DOES he tell us? That he personally knew Jesus’ brother, and Jesus’ closest disciple. Now, could he be making THEM up? Maybe? But if he were going to make them up, why not just make up the direct connection with Jesus in the first place? PLUS, it’s clear from his letters that he often disagreed with them, vociferously. So again, why would he make up people whose authority his connection to the Historical Jesus relies upon, and then make up that he disagreed with them?

            Well, maybe THEY made up Jesus! OK, but then we have to remember that Paul was off persecuting Christians within a decade of Jesus’ purported death. So, where did these Christians come from within a decade in order for Paul to persecute them? Surely if they were spreading within the area of Palestine and Syria, they’d come across the problem that NOBODY had ever heard of this dude before Paul and James started talking about him! Furthermore, wouldn’t it be the case that someone, somewhere, in the area around Galilee, might have turned to someone else and have said, “Wait, James? I know that dude! He does NOT have a brother named Jesus (or Yeshua, or whatever).

            So again, we have to revert to the simplest explanation: That Jesus existed (at a minimum), and that he had followers, and that Paul persecuted and then came to know several of them, and that they disagreed substantially on the meaning of Jesus’ life. To me that makes far, FAR more sense than the idea that Jesus was made up by … someone (Peter? Paul?) and everyone in the area in which he purportedly lived just … went with it.

            So, here again, we’ve got a case of three contemporaries of Socrates who agreed on very little about him except that he lived in Athens (and in the case of Xenophon and Plato, that he was forced to commit suicide). And then we have a contemporary of Jesus who claims to know Jesus’ own brother, with whom he disagreed about Jesus significance. If you put Socrates in one hand and Jesus in the other and asked me which of those had a stronger claim to historicity, I wouldn’t be able to choose (and I’m not even getting into the raft of other first century evidence for Jesus that we DON’T have for Socrates), and yet no one credibly denies the existence of an historical Socrates.

          • Matt S

            Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful reply – I have to check Dr. McGraft’s blog out some more.

          • Mark

            > The evidence for Jesus’ existence is at least as strong as, if not stronger than, the evidence for Socrates’ existence.

            It’s trutherism-birtherism-creationism to reject the existence of either, but the evidence in the two cases is completely different in kind. The kind of dogmatic assertion you are making leads the student to anticipate the wrong kind of evidence for Jesus’ historicity. The way we know that Jesus existed is in many ways surprising and not what people expect; the mythicist fake news bureaux take advantage of this.

            The thing that is similar is the attempt to infer what either of them was up to.

          • Scott Paeth

            I don’t think I’m asserting anything “dogmatically.” I’m attempting to make an argument based on what was most likely given the kind of texts we actually have in both cases. Though I agree, the kind of evidence is different (I’m not sure I’d say “completely” different, that sounds dogmatic to me). And I also agree that the way we can infer Jesus’ existence is often surprising.

          • Historians reason by analogy. The reason that historicists infer Jesus’ existence in surprising and unexpected ways is the lack of good analogies. That’s the reason we can’t be as certain about his existence as that of other ancient figures.

            BTW, the lack of good analogies poses the same problem for mythicists.

          • Scott Paeth

            I suppose that depends on what is meant by “good analogies.” If you mean “People who subsequently had the kind of following that Jesus had, and had SO MUCH written about them subsequently that is clearly ahistorical,” I think that’s right. I think it’s also true referring to people who were not prominent in their lifetimes and left no personal writing behind. In that regard, I do think Socrates was as good an analogy as we’ve got going.

            But if you mean “how do we use texts to determine something about the historicity of the people we’re speaking of,” I don’t think the way we infer Jesus’ historicity from texts is particularly novel.

          • Socrates was prominent enough during his lifetime that three prominent people took note of who he was and wrote about what he said and did. Jesus was not. Jesus gained prominence as a result of supernatural events that were believed to have occurred after his death. We have no reason to think that any of the people who wrote about him took any note of him while he was alive.

            Historicists frequently cite their belief that Jesus must have been historical because no Jew would have invented the idea of of a crucified Messiah. I think that is an extremely novel basis for inferring historicity from a text.

          • John MacDonald

            Isn’t the idea of a crucified Messiah sort of against the grain when Jesus was believed to be the one who would restore the line of David?

          • Sure it’s against the grain, but it’s not any less against the grain by virtue of it being invented by the follower of an actual Messianic claimant than by being invented from whole cloth.

            I suspect that every religious movement begins with ideas that go against the grain of prevailing beliefs. Mormonism certainly did. I don’t think that justifies inferring some historical antecedent to the idea.

          • John MacDonald

            What do you make of it that Paul says Jesus was of the seed of David?

          • The same thing I made of it the last time we discussed it.

          • John MacDonald

            Refresh me, lol

          • I don’t make much of it. I think it supports the idea that Paul thought that the risen Christ had once been a man who walked the earth, but I don’t think that it carries much weight on the question of whether he really was.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, Paul says that Christ’s death, burial and raising took place over a three day period (1 Cor 15: 3-4) that happened recently (1 Cor 15:23, Christ being the ‘firstfruits’ of the general resurrection of people at the end of the age that had begun), so when combining that with Paul saying Jesus was of the seed of David it kind of seems to point in the direction of the idea that Christ was a human who recently died.

          • I don’t see how Paul saying that Jesus was of the seed of David adds any weight to anything. I think that Paul believes this based on theology rather than evidence.

          • Just to further nitpick: Paul does say that Christ’s death, burial and raising took place over a three day period, but he doesn’t say that happened recently. Scholars infer that he believed that based on their understanding of his eschatology, but that is a somewhat unusual evidentiary basis for establishing that an actual human being lived at a particular time.

          • John MacDonald

            If Paul says the resurrected Christ was the “firstfruits,” it would seem to mean Paul thought the end of the age had begun and the rest of the harvest of souls was imminent. It’s harder to think of Christ as the firsfruits if his death/burial/supposed resurrection happened hundreds of year before Paul, since there seems to be a connection between Firstfruits-Rest of the harvest. It may be an unconventional way of supporting historicity, but I think the inference has some merit.

          • I do think it is important to distinguish between what Paul says and what we infer from what Paul says: e.g., Paul doesn’t say that he knew Jesus’ closest disciple.

            I agree that it is reasonable to infer that Paul thought of the death, burial, and resurrection as relatively recent events. On the other hand, it isn’t hard for me to imagine someone thinking of these events as transcending usual notions of time and space. I am very wary of the level of certainty that scholars are wont to express concerning what was going on it Paul’s head.

            As I noted in another comment, historians reason by analogy, and when you start talking about unconventional ways of establishing historicity, I think you have to acknowledge that good analogies are lacking.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said: “As I noted in another comment, historians reason by analogy, and when you start talking about unconventional ways of establishing historicity, I think you have to acknowledge that good analogies are lacking.”

            – Historians don’t ‘only’ reason by analogy.

          • John MacDonald

            Also, I think it is likely Cephas and the gang thought Jesus was a historical person. Paul simply incorporates the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed into his writing, which wouldn’t make a lot of sense if Cephas et al thought Jesus was mythical, while Paul thought Jesus was historical:

            That Christ died for our sins
            in accordance with the scriptures.
            and that he was buried;

            That he was raised on the third day
            in accordance with the scriptures,
            and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

            As Ehrman points out, the first line of each part states the important salvific fact: Christ died, Christ was raised. The second line of each indicates that he did so in fulfillment of the (Jewish) Scriptures. And the third line of each provides the tangible proof of the statement (his death is proven by his burial; his resurrection is proven by his appearances). This is a very carefully and intentionally crafted statement. It is widely thought that it may have been some kind of creed that was recited in the Christian churches, or possibly a statement of faith that was to be recited by recent converts at their baptism, a creed that is being quoted by Paul here (not composed by him when writing the letter). It is often thought to have been crafted by someone other than Paul. It was a tradition floating around in the church that encapsulated the Christian faith, putting it all in a nutshell. Paul inherited this creed, just as he inherited the theology it embodies. He didn’t invent the idea that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought salvation. That was the view of Christians before him.”

          • I agree that the creed is often thought to have been crafted by someone other than Paul, although I don’t know whether there is really any basis for that other than the fact it coheres nicely with the generally accepted story. Even if Paul weren’t the author, I don’t know how anyone can establish that the creed was not influenced by his theological ideas as he had been involved with the movement for some two decades at that point. Paul is the most prolific writer and thinker of the movement (that we know of anyway), and he does not give anyone else credit for any of the ideas in his letters.

          • Gary

            This has nothing to do with your discussion with John, but I thought I’d add regarding…”go against the grain of prevailing beliefs. Mormonism certainly did.”…
            A little more complicated with Mormonism. At the time of Joseph Smith, the locals were finding many Native American mounds, containing very ancient artifacts, that to the locals, could not easily be explained considering the current Native American population. Also, magic, mythicism, divining, we’re popular with locals (explaining the creation of translation by Urum and , etc). Plus all kinds of religious movements were being created at the time. So Joseph Smith was in the right place and right time to convince locals that ancient Jews came to North America to establish complex civilizations (easier than believing Native Americans did – a little racism thrown in). So with Mormonism, it didn’t necessarily go against the grain for the locals to buy into a interwoven story of mound stories, magic, mythicism, new religion, gold plates, and eventually – many women under male control. Kind of fit into the Neanderthal minds of the 1800’s 🙂

            But I can relate the 1800’s to the crazy time of Jerusalem in ~70AD, when a whole civilization was effectively destroyed – out of chaos comes religion – Essenes living in the middle of nowhere is a good example.

          • That’s a fair point Gary. I would point out, however, that we have a lot more detailed data concerning the variety of religious beliefs in 19th century America than we have for the variety of religious beliefs in1st century Palestine. If we were looking back at Mormonism from two millinia in the future, we might not be able to see any of the cultural antecedents that we can see now. The general idea that God would disclose a new volume of holy scriptures to an uneducated bumpkin struck the majority of people as absurd and offensive. I have no problem believing that the majority of 1st century Jews found the idea of a crucified Messiah similarly absurd and offensive, but the fact that a movement based on the idea took hold suggests to me that it’s most likely there were cultural antecedents there as well.

          • Scott Paeth

            Well as I noted above, when taking account of the likelihood of the mere historicity of Jesus I think one of the strongest inferences can be drawn from the line to be drawn backwards from Paul’s letters, his acquaintance with Peter and James, and the fact that he was persecuting Christians within a decade of Christ’s purported death. All of those things suggest that there was indeed a person who meets the bare criteria of Christ’s historicity — that he taught, had followers, and was crucified by the Romans — regardless of other factors.

          • Is that a line backwards? Aren’t you reading later stories back into Paul?

            Paul does say that he was an enemy of the movement, but he never says why, so I have a hard time seeing how that justifies any inferences about the historicity of Jesus.

            For me, the fact that Paul (not to mention pseudo-Paul, Hebrews, and James) never says anything about Jesus being a teacher or having followers is a huge stumbling block.

            I find the backwards line from the gospels more interesting. With each succeeding gospel, the earthly Jesus becomes more fantastic. Maybe we hit a historical person by projecting the trend backwards.

          • Scott Paeth

            I’d simply suggest you go back to read my original post with respect to most of what you say here. I’ll just add the following. First, I’m really only interested in the undisputed Pauline letters. Nothing that the pseudo-Pauline letters, or Hebrews, or James have to say enters into this argument.

            Beyond that, I’ll add that Paul says a number of concrete things about Jesus having followers and teaching. He refers to Jesus’ disciples and mentions Peter explicitly as one of them. And again, he speaks of Jesus brother James. This is a fairly direct connection between Jesus and Paul. But my point as well is that while a lot of folks who doubt the historicity of Jesus point to a long period of time between the death of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels (it’s not really all that long, but whatever), the period between Paul’s letters and Jesus’ death is not really very long at all. If Paul is persecuting Christians within a decade of Christ’s death, then a fairly substantial movement has developed in Palestine in a decade, in the area where Jesus lived and taught. If in fact he hadn’t lived or hadn’t taught, my position is that the movement would not have grown at all, at least not in the very area where he was supposed to have lived, taught, and died, in such a short period after his death.

            I think people get the idea that people invented the idea of Jesus and then traveled to Rome to spread it about. But that wholly ignores the earliest Christians being based in Jerusalem.

          • David M

            “Paul never says that Jesus was a teacher or that he had followers…”

            Paul doesn’t specifically say that Jesus was a teacher but he does mention a couple of Jesus’ instructions, so Paul must have considered Jesus to be an authority on moral issues. We need a theory which can explain both this and the portrayal of Jesus as a moral teacher in the Gospels. One possibility is that Paul regarded Jesus as a moral authority even though he had no rational grounds for thinking this and that the Gospel writers then invented a basis for it. That seems unlikely.

            Furthermore, Paul clearly implies that Jesus had followers because he mentions that Jesus instituted a ritual at the last supper which those present were meant to practise in the future.

          • Paul claims to have received revelations from the risen Christ, and claims to have learned nothing from other men. The Eucharistic meal is one of the things Paul claims to have received.

          • David M
          • It’s so. It may “appear” to Hurtado that Paul meant something different by “received” in Corinthians than he did in Galatians, but that doesn’t make anything I said not so.

    • Mark

      > The reality is, we don’t know if Jesus was a real person, because there’s no evidence for his existence.

      What makes a person say stuff like this? There is plenty of evidence for the existence of Jesus. As with anything, someone could try to ‘explain away’ this evidence, and argue there’s better evidence for his non-existence, as occasionally happens.

      The question has zero to do with theology, and very much to do with comprehending the origin of Christian belief and late 2nd temple Jewish ideas. These are objects of incalculably high intrinsic historical interest.

    • Occam Razor

      You are confusing whether Jesus was a real person with whether he was a divine being or whether he died for our sins. There is lot of evidence he lived, none that he was part of the trinity or that his death has meaning for us today. You want to say that because he wasn’t God, therefore he was never human.

    • David M

      That is a very naive comment. The claim that there is no evidence for Jesus’ existence is an implicit claim that what we regard as evidence for his existence can be explained by appealing to various myth-making processes. If we examine the attempts by mythicists to do that and demonstrate that they are implausible, then we have good reason to accept that Jesus was a historical figure.

      For example, mythicists say that the existence of a Jesus movement is no evidence for Jesus himself because movements can have fictional founders. But the “best” example they can come up with seems to be Ned Ludd. However, the analogy is a poor one. The Luddite movement does not still exist to this day. Luddites do not still meet to talk about their shared interest in Ned Ludd or read extracts from accounts of his life. Nor were the Luddites able to portray Ned Ludd as a great thinker whose ideas would be remembered for generations.

      So it is not enough for you to declare that the evidence for Jesus’ existence is inadequate; you must also be prepared to show how the evidence can be better explained by an alternative hypothesis. If you can do that, you will have achieved something that no mythicist has done so far.

  • John MacDonald

    It’s interesting how a question can be Historically interesting, but not Philosophically so. For instance, Aristotle’s works would have the same import regardless of whether by some bizarre twist of events we discovered Aristotle never existed. Heidegger, in his required biography that he had to write on Aristotle for his dissertation, simply said “He was born, he worked, and he died.”

  • A book that explored the influence of ideologically driven scholarship on historicism as well as its influence on mythicism might be interesting.

  • Rafi Simonton

    I am interested in mythicism. Because its assertions show up on spiritual, Jungian, neo-Gnostic, and philosophical discussion sites. As you well know Dr. McGrath, it is next to impossible to explain the methods of historiography, nuanced theology, or comparative religion in anything greater than maybe 3 paragraphs or the reaction TL; DR sets in. It’s frustrating. It’s like arguing climate change with people who don’t understand how scientific research is done. I would very much enjoy “a history of mythicism.” I would like to know if there are parallels between the anti-religious propaganda of Eastern European Communists, the vehement atheism of reductionistic materialists, the mythicism of on-line neo-Gnostics, and/or the New Age amalgamists.

  • Mark

    > Paul’s letters deal with a heavenly being who manifests himself through scripture, revelation, and supernatural appearances.

    Paul talks about Jesus’ crucifixion and death in every other paragraph. Paul’s ‘historicism’ is totally unrelenting.

  • Mark

    > Paul’s letters deal with a heavenly being who manifests himself through scripture, revelation, and supernatural appearances.

    Paul talks about Jesus’ crucifixion and death in every other paragraph. His ‘historicism’ is totally unrelenting.

    Paul thinks Jesus is a heavenly being only in the sense that he is a resurrected human being and is thus now made of heavenly stuff. Paul doesn’t think Jesus has become anything he wasn’t brought up to think he himself would become. But he presumably thinks himself to be ‘historical’.

    • Paul talks about the theological significance of Jesus’ death as a part of God’s plan for His people. He says nothing to indicate that he is aware of any historical facts connected with the crucifixion—e.g., when or where it happened, who was there, the events or circumstances leading to it.

      Paul also thinks that Adam is historical.

      • David M

        “Paul also thinks that Adam was historical.”

        But would Paul have considered Adam to be a historical figure soon after the myth was invented? Admittedly, you could try to avoid the force of that point by arguing that the Jesus “myth” had already been around for a long time, but that would be very ad hoc. Furthermore, you would then have the difficulty of explaining why the myth suddenly burst into life in the first century, after (allegedly) coasting along for an indeterminate period before that.

        • If Paul thought he had had a vision of Adam raised from the dead, he might have believed in the existence of a historical person without any concrete evidence. Since I know next to nothing about what Paul thought about the pre-exaltation Jesus, I can’t see any way to determine the necessary historical antecedents to his vision.

          I think that a good starting hypothesis with respect to the origin of any set of religious beliefs is that some crackpot invented some crazy ideas and managed to convince some overly credulous followers that the ideas were divine revelations. If the evidence is insufficient to either refute or confirm that hypothesis (as I believe the evidence of Christian origins to be), I am inclined to think that any explanation is speculative.

          • David M

            You implied originally that Paul’s judgement was suspect because he believed that Adam was a historical figure. But since the story of Adam had been around for so long, Paul was not in a position to determine whether it had a historical basis. The question is whether Paul is a reliable guide to whether someone had or had not lived recently, and his beliefs about Adam have little bearing on that.

            You have now introduced a second argument, which is that Paul’s judgement is suspect because he had an experience which he interpreted in supernatural terms. That is a separate issue.

          • I think that’s an absurd way to frame the question.

      • Mark

        Yes, Paul thinks Adam is historical. Paul thinks Jesus is historical. He was made of unheavenly flesh and blood and was thus able to die; then he did die; now he is remade of heavenly stuff and is not able to die, whether of crucifixion or not.

        Every time Paul mentions the crucifixion and death he is talking about what he understands to be perceptible flesh and blood,. I don’t think he can be very wrong about recently crucified flesh and blood, though it is sort of conceivable in the abstract.

        • If Paul’s reasons for thinking that Jesus was historical are no better than his reasons for thinking that Adam was historical, I think he could be just as wrong about Jesus as he is about Adam.

          • Perhaps that is the way to get through to you on this topic. Do you think your reasons for judging Adam not to be historical are no better than your reasons for judging Jesus not to be?

          • No. I think I have much better reasons for rejecting the historicity of Adam.

  • Scott Paeth

    Just saw this. Apologies. As I noted above: Paul does explicitly attest to knowing at least two of Jesus’ disciples: Peter and James, which means Paul also attests to knowing Jesus’ brother. And Paul explicitly acknowledges the existence of Christ’s twelve disciples, and what is a disciple? A student. If Christ had them, he was a teacher.

    • John MacDonald

      Actually, Paul never says ‘disciples.’ He says ‘apostles.’

      • Scott Paeth

        OK, fair point. But Paul explicitly references “The Twelve” and specifically notes that he knew Peter and James personally. It’s hard to argue on that basis that Paul never claims to know Jesus’ followers. It seems the question of whether he “taught” is a rather abstract point — they were clearly following him for some reason.

        • John MacDonald

          Dionysus had “followers.”

          • Scott Paeth

            Did Dionysus have a brother that Paul claimed to personally know?

          • John MacDonald

            I think Vinny would say the ‘brother’ passage is ambiguous as to whether ‘sibling’ is intended, or rather ‘cultic brother,’ “Brother James.”

          • Scott Paeth

            Oh, surely! But at that point again he is so far from any reasonable reading of the text that it’s just special pleading. It’s about the only thing left once you’re confronted with what the text actually says.

          • John MacDonald

            If I remember correctly, Vinny prefers “James, the brother of the Lord” as a nickname, analogous to “Simon the Zealot.”

          • Scott Paeth

            I don’t suppose Disqus has an eye roll emoji?

          • John MacDonald

            Not a fan of analogical reasoning?

          • Scott Paeth

            Oh, is that what that is? Here I thought it was just making stuff up.

          • John MacDonald

            What part of Vinny’s analogy between James and Simon do you find unpersuasive?

          • Scott Paeth

            Apart from all of it? Or are you including that?

          • John MacDonald

            Again, I get you are rejecting Vinny’s analogy, but you are not explaining why. When children do math, they give their answer, but they also need to explain their thinking. I think you should be held to at least the same standard, don’t you?

          • Scott Paeth

            I don’t see why I need any reason to reject it beyond simply saying “that’s not a credible reading of the text,” particularly given the exceptionally large body of literature out there laying it out far better than I could.” When Donald Trump insisted over and over again that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, I didn’t think I needed any special reasons to rejecting it beyond the bare recognition that it was not in any sense a credible argument.

          • John MacDonald

            So, you don’t have an explanation, only a dogma. I’m afraid you only get half-marks. lol

          • Scott Paeth

            Yes, just like my dogmatic belief that Obama wasn’t born in Kenya and Hillary Clinton doesn’t run a child prostitution ring out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.

          • John MacDonald

            See, in the time it took to write that you could have explained what’s wrong with Vinny’s nickname hypothesis.

          • Scott Paeth

            In the time I took to write that, I did.

          • I hope you will excuse the snark Scott, but if you don’t know the difference between a “disciple” and an “apostle,” and why it matters, then you really shouldn’t be rolling your eyes at anyone.

          • Scott Paeth

            Well yes, it’s wholly my fault for following your lead in using the word “disciple.” But rest assured, your argument is eminently eye roll worthy.

          • No. It’s your fault for not understanding why I used the word “disciple.” Eye rolling is a poor substitute for understanding.

          • Scott Paeth

            Well Vinnie, you’re certainly well-versed in the mythicist practice of making something out of nothing. There are things for which eye rolling is the only appropriate response, lest they be treated with more respect than they warrant.

          • You need to learn the difference between “argument” and “contradictions.”

        • The point is that they, like Paul, are followers of the risen Christ, not the historical Jesus.

          • Scott Paeth

            Sure, they are all followers of the risen Christ. The difference however is that both Peter and James were asserted to know the Historical Jesus, and James was his brother (in a literal, not a metaphorical, sense). Truthfully, I do think that Christianity has not done itself any favors, at least under the influence of the Catholic insistence on the perpetual virginity of Mary, in trying to come up with non-obvious connotations of the word brother.

          • Peter was asserted to know the historical Jesus in the gospels. Paul never suggests such a thing. James was asserted by Paul to be “the brother of the Lord,” not” the (literal) brother of (the historical) Jesus.” Since the entire focus of Paul’s message is the risen Christ rather than the historical Jesus and he consistently uses the term ”brother” to refer to spiritual relationships rather than biological ones, the connotation is blatantly obvious.

  • John MacDonald

    Mythicism is back on the Bible and Interpretation website:

    • John MacDonald

      Dr. McGrath just posted what, to my untrained eye, was a really good content and methodological response to Lataster’s article:

      My favorite excerpt was when James said:

      Every academic knows just how intellectually invigorating (and at times downright delightful) it can be to read a work that argues an unconventional case, especially ones that provide such creative insights and attention to detail that you find yourself thinking time and again as you read it that you might just be persuaded by its argument. Even if you aren’t persuaded in the end, the intellectual exploration that reading such a work fosters is beneficial in its own right.

      It’s always exciting for me when I get an upvote for a comment I made because maybe my comment offered a slightly different perspective that someone appreciated!

  • John MacDonald

    Godfrey just finished a series of posts on Lataster’s new mythicism book. As always, Neil conveys the grandiosity of his vision/delusion and what it will accomplish:

    Both Carrier’s and Lataster’s books serve as sound stepping stones towards deeper and wider discussions. And I think we should thank Earl Doherty for setting the ball rolling for our generation.

    What is interestingly absent from Godfrey’s presentation is any substantial account of what Lataster’s arguments actually were. In fact, Godfrey’s most cogent point was actually one against the “Jesus was killed in outer space by sky demons” position of Carrier and Lataster when Godfrey remarked:

    I myself can’t completely push aside the idea that the logic of the text may allow for a momentary descent to Jerusalem for the crucifixion. (A later “gnostic” text known as the Second Apocalypse of James does explicitly state that Jerusalem is a major habitation of demons.)

    Mythicism is really up and running (on a few websites on the internet), lol.